Flowers in memory of Joan

Rosa Compassion

This blog records my gardening life, growing fruit and vegetables for the family, and flowers for friends and relatives. Over the past five years, I’ve written about growing flowers for my mother-in-law Joan as a way of keeping a connection when she started to suffer from dementia. Joan and I shared a love of flowers and flower arranging. When she no longer knew my name, she still enjoyed my flowers and knew I was someone close to her. Sadly, Joan died earlier this year. All bereavements are difficult to recover from, but I’ve been surprised just how much I’ve been affected by Joan’s death. I didn’t feel like talking, didn’t feel like writing, didn’t feel like gardening. All the activities I usually enjoy didn’t seem to make any difference. I suppose, all these years I’ve been able to ‘do something.’ There’s been a purpose to all the work of growing sweet peas, dahlias and roses for cut flowers. Just to see Joan smile and feel as if I was keeping a connection with her, made it all worthwhile. It felt like an impossible challenge sometimes when she got so muddled she couldn’t remember her children or grandchildren. But challenges drive you on and force you to try harder. I was absolutely determined that dementia wouldn’t get the better of us and destroy the special friendship we had. But in the end it did. I feel as if it stole the last few years of her life and any comfort she could enjoy from knowing she had a large and loving family. Dementia took her into a parallel universe where we just didn’t exist. And Joan’s death has left such a hole in our lives, it will take time to readjust and refocus. As a start, I’ve decided to post some flowers in Joan’s memory. Thank you to all the readers who have sent supportive messages over the past five years and have been with me on this journey. I’m a ‘glass-half-full’ kind of person, so I’m thinking what good can come out of this experience and what I can do next to help families with relatives suffering from dementia. I’ll keep you updated on my plans. Meanwhile enjoy these flowers. I hope they bring you joy, as they did for Joan for many years.

I started with the galvanised bucket which came from Jonathan Moseley and contained sunflowers last week. I wrote about them here:

Jonathan put crumpled chicken wire in the bucket to help support the stems. We are trying to use water and containers instead of florists’ foam containing plastic which contaminates the environment.

Jonathan used lemon-scented conifer as the foliage element for the flower arrangement. I’m using purple-leaved Physocarpus Diabolo which is one of the few plants looking good in the heat at the moment. I used seven stems.

Physocarpus is worth growing for its white flower heads which are followed by these glossy maroon-red seed heads.
I thought these Persian ironwood, or Parrotia leaves would add texture. They are turning pink already. Usually they turn red and then orange in the autumn.

I only had about ten flower stems to put in the arrangement. The whole garden has suffered in the heat. Sweet peas have gone over, the earliest I can ever remember. Anything in flower when the temperature hit 40C was bleached out and dried. However, the roses have been the first plants to throw out new flower buds. This one is Compassion, a gorgeous climbing rose with a fruit-salad scent.

This is a new shrub rose called ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ – Rose of the Year 2021. I wrote about it here :

These roses are perfect for floristry as they are long-lasting and disease resistant. Stems are virtually thorn free, and the scent is a cross between melon and pineapple, fresh and summery.

I found two stems of this gorgeous gladioli growing down the middle of the sweet pea A-frame. The willow frame means I don’t have to stake the gladioli and it makes good use of the bare space in the centre. These are butterfly gladioli which are smaller in stature than the usual cottage varieties. They are also called nanus, or small-flowered gladioli. These are more reliable in difficult conditions because you need much smaller corms to obtain flowers. The large-flowering gladioli have to have good, fertile soil which is also well-drained and you must start with top-size corms. I recommend Pheasant Acre nursery for supplies.

Gladioli flower for a good two weeks and are the right scale to go with cosmos and argyranthemums. I recommend Atom, Carine, Alba, Charming Beauty and Nathalie. Pheasants Acre Nursery sells collections at summer shows and are worth seeking out as there are often special offers.

I added a few stems of an argyranthemum my mum grew from seed. These grow to about 1.5 metres here and are good, reliable plants for summer floristry. Bees and butterflies love them too.

There is just one stem of dahlia Nuit D’Ete. Dahlias hated the heat and are now struggling in the drought. I haven’t watered them. It would be impossible to keep watering them as temperatures are still heading for 30C. I’m hoping they are just sitting there semi-dormant, waiting for the temperatures to dip and rain to come.

My plan of action for next year is to increase the mulching with home-made compost and sheep wool and bracken clay-breaker compost. I will also buy more builders’ bags of maize-based Plant Grow fertiliser. Plant Grow is helping plants cope with the extreme heat. But where I ran out of money and didn’t mulch, the beds are suffering. It just goes to show the power of mulch to hold moisture in during the summer and combat flooding in the winter. I recently visited Chatsworth for a head gardener tour to see the new Arcadia garden planted last year. Interestingly, all the new perennials, and the new rose garden, were planted into 6” of soil improver from Veolia. A no-dig project on a massive scale. I’ll be going back soon to see how the plants have coped with the heat. I’m also liaising with the gardeners as one of many people sharing experiences of working with different types of peat-free compost. All of us are mixing our own additives to try to find something that works well for us. I’ll share our findings when I know more.

I’ve added just two stems of highly-scented Bridal Star carnation. These are recommended for home-grown cut flowers. Plants repeat flower all summer. I’m growing mine in 10” containers in the doorway of the polytunnel. Flowers get some protection from the rain, tucked just inside the door.

This flower was a surprise. It’s a spring onion, gone to seed! I might grow some on purpose, as they make large 4” diameter flowers, later in the season than most ornamental alliums.

My wild flower patch produced these flat-headed creamy white achillea. Another plant which doesn’t mind the heat. These started out as a packet of mixed wild flower seeds from Mr Fothergill’s.

These lime green flower heads are from parsnips allowed to go to seed. Jonathan Moseley allows some of his herbs and vegetables to run to seed and they make striking and unusual additions to his flower arrangements. The white flower in the photo is Cosmos Psyche White. A tall-growing, reliable cosmos. I grew the new cosmos Lemonade last summer, but it didn’t do well for me and was a bit of a disappointment. This year I’ve gone back to tried and tested white cosmos.

There are a couple of stems of blue drumstick echinops. These perennials are probably Taplow Blue, and originally came as divisions from Joan’s garden.

How is your garden faring in the heat. Have you had any rain, or are you parched like we are?

Thanks to Cathy for hosting the In a Vase on Monday meme.

24 thoughts on “Flowers in memory of Joan

  1. My deepest condolences Karen. You knew how to maintain the bond with Joan with dementia thanks to your wonderful bouquets of flowers made with love. That love that united you and Joan in that very special relationship that you had for many years. Joan is still by your side forever, the Joan without dementia. The best gift and the best way to honor her is with these wonderful and divine flowers, so beautiful that Joan would like them so much: I love them. All the flowers are magnificent, but I really like the spring onion! Karen I’m here for whatever you need. Lots of health, encouragement, strength, hope, positive thinking and lots of love for your whole family, Mr B and especially for you. Take care of yourself. I wish you the best. Very loving greetings from Margarita xxx 😘🙏❤💐

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much Margarita. Every word you speak is true. I do feel as if Joan is still by my side supporting me in everything I do. It’s a wonderful, cheerful, happy thought. Thank you. Thanks as ever for reading my blog and for your very kind words. Loving greetings in return xxx ❤️🙏🥰


      • Thank you Karen, thank you for everything. Joan is and she will always be by your side watching over you. I have only written my feelings when reading your endearing blog in honor of Joan. Much love to all. Very loving greetings from Margarita xxx 😘🙏❤🌼

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  2. What a touching post, Karen. I suppose none of knows what the full impact of someone’s death is going to be until it happens. From what we knew of your relationship with Joan though, it was inevitable it would hit hard. You have always produced wonderful tributes to her, and of course this is no exception. I was interested to read what you said about the conditions required for gladioli! The butterfly type look really appealing and I will have a peek at Pheasant Acre’s site. I saw the Physocarpus in an NGS garden recently but the owner wasn’t sure what it is – something else for me to look out for!

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    • Thank you Cathy. Yes, the butterfly types can easily be grown in a pot too, planted about half way down in the compost and then topped up when they emerge from the top of the container. I love that Physocarpus as it comes into leaf early, has lovely prolific flowers and then good autumn colour too. Thank you for your very kind words. Much appreciated. Xx


  3. Thank you for all the beautiful flowers. I think flowers are a powerful connector that brings together friendship, love and compassion, and of course many happy memories. I’ll be interested in your blogs on soil improvers to cope with drought. Although roses are not my favourite plants, I have to admit that hey cope better than one would imagine in the drought. Amelia

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Amelia, you are so right. Flowers and gardens do bring us all together. I have such happy memories. I’ll keep you posted on my progress with soil improvers. It’s fascinating to see what the gardeners at Chatsworth are doing. Yes, the roses are all coming back into flower. Some of the perennials look like they are done for the year. Have a lovely weekend, and thanks again for reading my blog and for getting in touch. It’s always appreciated. Karen x

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Your flowers are lovely Karen and a wonderful tribute to Joan. How lucky you were to have had such a good friend, and how hard it must have been when she no longer recognzed you and other family members. This has been a trying gardening summer for us too. Everything is parched, singed and some shrubs and perennials may not recover. The annuals didn’t stand a chance as it is impossible to water everything! Oh well. Each year brings its trials and tribulations. Let’s hope for a damp autumn! Take care. 🤗

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Cathy. That’s so true, each year does bring its trials and tribulations. In fact, no two years are every alike. Tried and tested plants do fabulously one year and inexplicably fail the next. I’m sorry to hear about your garden woes. Some really large shrubs here are seriously wilting. There is just one I’m watering, an evergreen my grandfather bought me for my 30th birthday. I’m also taking cuttings just in case. Yes, I’m so lucky to have had Joan in my life. She was a truly special person and someone I will try to emulate. She always put everyone else first and cared deeply about her family, which is why dementia was particularly cruel for her, and painful for us to witness. I’m starting to pick myself up and move forward, although I admit, it’s been hard. Take care, and thanks again for your kind words which mean a lot. Xx

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    • Oh yes, and I’ve just checked and my Plants from Love Orchids have just come into flower again. Such a joyful sight. Have a great weekend. Keep an eye out for more book review. There’s three coming.


  5. I’m so sorry Joan’s mind went before she did. I found the posts you wrote about her very touching. You worked hard to keep her grounded in reality. That kept her connected far longer than if you hadn’t grown and arranged flowers for her. What a lovely bond you had!

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  6. Lovely arrangement, Karen. Gardening and flower arranging are a good remedy for a sad heart, I find. I’m sorry for your grief, but it is an indicator of the great love you shared. Kahlii Gibran wrote: ‘the more sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.’ May time ease your loss.
    It has been so dry here as well, presently 34C with another day to go before it breaks. I use soaker hoses in the cutting bed, but all else is looking bleak. I fear for my lace cap hydrangea, which had such a lovely June bloom, but it is looking quite wilted and crisping. I’m hoping for thundershowers tomorrow, fingers crossed!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Eliza. Wise words. I’ll heed them. Thank you. They are a comfort. We are heading for 30C again next week . There’s no sign of any rain. Soaker hoses might be the way forward. I have a gorgeous lace cap hydrangea called Gypsy. It looked wonderful in June and is now a very sad sight indeed. Hopefully it will recover next year. Fingers crossed. Thanks for reading the blog. Have a good weekend. Karen

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  7. You have created a really superb flower arrangement. It does you and Joan proud. How long did it take you to prepare and complete the arrangement; also, where are you going to keep it? Do such arrangements thrive for very long? I suppose the main care instruction would be to ensure they are regularly watered.

    One of the issues with many Dementias is maintaining old memories. In the two years where family and friends contact was cut, there were more quicker complete demise of memories than perhaps we may have seen. It has been a very difficult time for so many people. We now have a need to live again for our current and future generations. Producing as you do, such beautiful arrangements, having such a personal and palpable connection to your gardening will, I am sure, have a role to play in the development of the task. X

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    • Thank you for your kind words. Very true. The two years where contact was limited due to covid didn’t help at all. Our care homes were in lockdown longer than any other in the country. With regard to the arrangement, it took me about half an hour to cut the flowers and arrange them in the container. It’s currently on the kitchen table and because it’s high up, all the notebooks, magazines and general clutter are below it. It’s not a tidy household I’m afraid. The scent from the roses is worth having it close up, mind you. I water it every day with very cold water. Sometimes a drop ice cubes in the middle which is an easy way to water and keeps flowers cool. I also mist over the flowers twice a day. I keep my mist spray right by the container to remind me. I expect it will last about 7 days. I’ve dead headed the roses, and I’ll probably add a couple of fresh flowers and remove the faded ones because the foliage will last a fortnight at least. The echinops, carnations and gladioli last the longest. Roses go over quicker. Thanks as ever for reading my blog and for taking the time to write. Karen

      Liked by 1 person

  8. My condolences on your loss, Karen. It’s so lovely to hear of the close relationship you had with Joan. You must have many lovely memories of her from the years before dementia affected her. The flowers are gorgeous, despite the drought. I particularly love the gladioli – and the spring onions! Best wishes to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your very kind words Denzil. It is much appreciated. I do have wonderful happy memories and the friendship will always be something I’ll treasure. I was so lucky to have Joan as my mother-in-law. She was one of life’s truly special people, kind and generous and always putting others before herself. Thanks again for reading the blog and taking the time to comment. Best wishes to you in return. Karen

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Noelle. Yes, some of the cracks are wide enough to trip you over here! I’m going round filling all the bird baths up as the pond has completely dried out. Luckily the tadpoles have all hatched now and there are some dragonflies patrolling the garden. My poor mature beech trees are looking very sad indeed. A row of them has lost a quarter of the leaves. Thanks for reading and for your kind comments which are much appreciated. x


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