See a flower. Go back to your childhood.
On our recent holidays I rediscovered some of the flowers of my childhood and couldn't help but think of more of them. So many of our memories are connected to plants and flowers. Here are a few of mine.
I grew up in a dusty, third world city that wasn't exactly known for its lush greenery or exotic plant life. Yes, we had a garden, such as it was - a scuffed patch of grass surrounded by a few bushes and ferns - despite the constant water shortages. We also had flowers: these little cuties. Purple and precocious, they popped up regardless of the heat and the dirt and the dust.
I've never been a person who cared about plant names. I didn't know what these were called until this year. (They're periwinkles, FYI...) But I loved these flowers. As a little girl who didn't get to wear a lot of nail polish, these were exactly perfect for making small fingers beautiful.
Five petals. Five fingernails on each hand. Carefully detach the petals, gently lick your fingernails, and press the petals down. Hey, presto - you're gorgeous!
Other Karachi gardens had marigolds which we borrowed for our annual school flower arranging competition. (I don't think I ever won it. My flower arranging clearly lacked the necessary panache.) The garden at church sometimes had snapdragons which you could pick off, and then squeeze gently on the sides so that they 'bit' your friends. The colours were gorgeous; so many different shades. Colour stands out when everything around you is a shade of dusty brown.
The best place for flowers, however, was in Murree, the hill station 7,500 feet up in the Himalayan mountains where we stayed in the summer. We lived with other families at Marsden, a collection of five apartments with thick stone walls and windows that opened wide to let the swirling monsoon mists in.
Lal Ji was the caretaker of the property. He was the oldest looking person I'd ever seen when I first met him at the age of four, with a craggy, lined face, missing teeth and bent-over shoulders that seemed to drop a little every year. But he always had a smile for children, and he had a special love for the gladioli that he planted and grew in the garden on the side of the hill.
Somehow, that first year, Lal Ji found out that I celebrated my birthday in the summer, and afterwards he never failed to turn up on exactly the right day with a bunch of gladioli and a kind, wide smile.
"Shukria," I would say. "Thank you," and he would nod in reply. I didn't speak more Urdu than that, and he didn't speak English. But I have never forgotten Lal Ji, his flowers, and his generosity.
Murree was also the place where daisies grew wild in the summer. Tiny, fluffy ones and tall, sturdy ones, waving in the breeze. Daisies, as everyone knows, are perfect for making daisy chains, as well as braided flower wreaths. For the chains, you put a split into the stem with your thumbnail, thread the next stem through, and continue until you had enough for a crown, or a skipping rope, or to weave around a fence. They didn't last long, but they were the most beautiful things in world while they did.
Other flowers in my life have been the gloriously scented frangipanis. It was my constant childhood quest to make perfume out of them. (Hint: it doesn't work to squash the petals and add water.) I'll never forget smelling tea roses for the first time, and the flower seller's boat, full of blooms and fragrances, being paddled around Dal Lake in Kashmir, looking for customers staying in the houseboats. And then there was the Lalazar Plateau, at 11,000 feet in the Kaghan Valley, with pink, orange, gold and white wild flowers for as far as the eye could see. Luscious.
What are your stories with flowers? Which ones make your heart warm? I'd love to hear them.