Nurturing Neighborliness on May Day
This week has been rainy and cool and I’ve been eagerly eyeing local flowers; will they last another few days? A strong of warm, dry days brought on a flurry of flowers, but many hastily browned off in the unseasonal heat. At this time of year, there’s always something lovely waiting in the wings but I have a special reason for wanting to find flourishing flowers by Friday. Saturday is May Day, and I want to celebrate the old tradition of making flower-filled May baskets for friends and neighbors. It’s such a simple way to give a little pleasure to our neighbors, and something that’s pretty much guaranteed to please. Who wouldn’t be heartened and comforted to find a little bundle of beauty hanging on their doorknob?
When I was a child in Massachusetts, kids all over the country spent the last days of April making little baskets to fill with flowers. The first day of May was observed almost exclusively by children as a simple celebration of the arrival of spring. We delivered our little baskets as secretly as we could, dangling them on our neighbors’ doors, ringing the bell, then rushing, giggling, to hide in the nearest bushes. We’d watch happily as our elders graciously pretended not to hear or see us, loudly expressing their pleasure in our sweet, childish offerings.
Simple And Informal
In elementary school, the art teacher taught us several ways to make baskets. In kindergarten, we rolled construction paper into cones and pasted on paper strips for handles. By grade school, we mastered baskets made like a paper cocked hat; fold a letter sized sheet in half length-wise, then again (but lightly this time) in half width-wise. Bring the two ends of the folded edge in and up to create a cone with a closed point. Fold the upper edge flaps down to make the pointy little “hat”. Flip the hat upside-down and it becomes a little basket. Tape or staple on a handle of paper or ribbon, line the cone with waxed paper or an old plastic bag and it’s ready to fill with flowers, bunched up, with their cut ends rolled up in a damp paper towel. Making these little flower bundles takes me straight back to Second Grade art class and my immense pride in mastering the art of the May basket.
As for the filling, almost anything will do. I always searched the spring garden for whatever was in bloom, which could vary wildly depending on the length and severity of the Massachusetts winter. Usually the mini bouquets combined fragrant lily of the valley and sticky azalea blossoms with velvety pansies, and they always included a few bluebells and dandelions. Though adults see them as weeds to eradicate, children and bees see dandelions as beautiful, like glowing, shaggy little stars. Just as I did, my grandkids now appreciate the adorable way that hollow dandelion stems curl up at the base, forming tight little coils.
Enjoying The Common
This year, the grandkids are making some now-traditional living May Day garden baskets, using saved pint-sized cardboard berry boxes. Lined with waxed paper, the flat boxes are filled with a handful of potting soil, then clumps of moss, the ubiquitous wild violets and tiny lawn daisies are tucked in to make enchanting mini gardens. For these, we use criss-crossed pipe cleaner handles, taped and stapled for strength since planted baskets are heavier than the usual kind. It’s devastating to see a lovingly filled basket hanging upside down from a door knob, its broken flowers scattered, so sturdy handles are a must.
We’re also making woven paper heart baskets in cheerful colors to fill with handfuls of garden bounty. This Friday, I’ll be filling several dozen of them for a special project, as well as making some for neighbors, so finding a lot of flowers will be especially important this year. They don’t have to be fancy flowers; in fact, the more common, the better. Part of the joyfulness of such artless tussy-mussies is the way they turn the ordinary extraordinary. If we walk by a tangle of rank grass and dandelions, we may smile a bit at their golden cheer, but a single blossom begs and repays more careful inspection.
The Intricacy Of Nature
Indeed, even a carelessly chosen assortment of the most common of garden blooms becomes beguiling, rewarding close attention with unsuspected beauties. Examine almost any flower with a magnifying glass and you’ll discover a wealth of astonishing details, from delicately frilled petals to stamens temptingly tipped with trembling anthers laden with pollen in various shades of cinnamon and gold. Nature is famously generous, pouring out beauty unstintingly, and with seemingly endless levels of detail. No wonder bees love to burrow into the heart of each blossom, wriggling in a dance of delight; it must be like having a luxurious wallow in a soft, cushy pillow while enjoying a delectable dinner from an insect’s point of view.
No matter what the weather will do this week, I’m not really worried about finding enough flowers to fill my little baskets. I’ve got my eye on a large patch of calendulas, always cheerful and sunny in citrus colors. My daily stroll takes me past vacant lots bright with clouds of forget-me-nots in spring-sky blue, and sheaves of Spanish bluebells in blues, white and pink. No matter where I walk, I’m sure to find as many dandelions as any heart could wish. I’ll fill in any gaps with sprigs of rosemary, lemon balm and mint for added fragrance, as well as some variegated Euonymus and trails of Vinca minor, all too abundant in local alleys. Even if I’m all I can find are these most plentiful and ordinary of garden blooms, they’ll still make enchanting little bouquets to greet each recipient with the sight and scent of spring.