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Floracide, or Killing Your Dahlias

 

My mom takes her gardening so seriously that when the dahlia specialist in the next plot over from her at the community garden started killing off his less than perfect dahlias, she felt like he was killing living things, like small animals, maybe fish. She didn’t fall on the floor crying, or run at him with a gardening fork, which she would have done if he was slicing off the heads of small puppies instead of flowers, but she did feel the flower deaths in her gut, like a punch.

An imperfect Dahlia, on the chopping block.

An imperfect Dahlia, on the chopping block.

A bucket of imperfect Dahlias, saved, for the moment.

A bucket of imperfect Dahlias, saved from the compost pile.

This dahlia man clearly believes in killing off anything that is not competition worthy or perfect, even if it is beautiful. And my mom would prefer to keep everything, no matter how imperfect, even if the whole becomes chaotic as a result. I don’t know where I fall on this spectrum.

I’ve recently discovered dead heading. When the marigolds in our home garden were still flourishing, Mom told me to pluck off the dead and dying flowers, to make it possible for more to grow. There’s a satisfying snap to the decapitation of these flowers – like snapping off the end of a piece of asparagus. I was in danger of snapping off the heads of healthy flowers, just to feel the satisfaction of it, when there were no more dead ones left. I can get a little bit carried away. I was saved from becoming a flower killer by the overnight frost that knocked all of the flowers out in one shot.

The Marigolds, before the frost.

The Marigolds, before the frost.

Snapping the head off of this one would be bad, right?

Snapping the head off of this one would be bad, right?

There’s a piece of writing advice that’s often quoted, that you have to be willing to “kill your darlings” in order to make the whole piece of writing work. You shouldn’t hold on so tightly to the perfect sentence, or the scene you love, or the character who inspired you to write the book, if the book would work better without it. But I’m not sure. Sometimes, if you remove the thing you love most, the whole thing falls apart. I’ve been known to keep the one line I love in a piece, and trash the rest, because the heart of the thing is the most important part.

Cricket has been known to kill flowers. She doesn’t mean to, any more than she means to harm a cat or squirrel who runs past her. She wants to catch it and subdue it and then play with it. With plants, she wants to dig them up, and chew on them, and toss them in the air, and run after them. She likes their taste of green and dirt and bugs. She likes their crunch, and the different textures on her tongue. She plays with cherry tomatoes the way I used to play with a tiny bouncing ball from the treasure chest in the dentist’s office.

"Play with me, green thing!"

“Play with me, green thing!”

"Mine!"

“Leaf is mine!”

There’s something to be said for letting nature decide which plants to support and which ones to kill off, if only because the feeling of responsibility, and guilt, is too much for me. Winter is the natural death of the growing season. We grieve the loss, but we don’t feel guilty or responsible. The leaf storms at the end of the growing season are like a celebration, a wake for the leaves and flowers, with the dead and dying coming out to dance one last time.

The leaves are dancing!

The leaves are dancing!

 

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

51 responses »

  1. I’m all for natural. If we killed everything that was imperfect, what a horrible world this would be. There is beauty in even a tree with no leaves.

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  2. Lovely thoughts here! Thank you!

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  3. Seems like killing something you love, even if it makes your writing better would be like losing a part of yourself? I guess I am not that great a writer to make the sacrifice! Looks like your mother has some nasturtiums in that marigold bed (fellow gardener). And yes, they make the most satisfying pop when you deadhead a marigold, unlike many other flowers. But they do not go to seed, therefore can continue using their energies in the production of flower heads. Sorry about the frost but it pretty much solves a lot of agonizing over the flowers. That way their deaths are not our fault, I think…

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    • It was amazing the way the frost came and wiped everything out overnight. I’m sure it happens every year, but I just noticed it this time. I was really looking forward to snapping some of those marigolds.

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  4. I am a bad gardener because I cannot bear to cut anything back. I keep the front yard ‘tidy’ in a wild way, but the backyard…can you say ‘Wild Thing?’ I would have had a fit with Mr Perfect
    Dahlia.

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  5. What a great post from beginning to end! The floricidal dahlia man is almost a sympathetic character – what a tortured life he must lead if he seeks perfection in all things. That being said, I would gladly chip in for bail money if, one day, your mother “accidentally” bipped him upside the head with a spade. Your admission of trashing the rest for the love of one line made me smile – been there, done that! 😀

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  6. Such a lovely post, Rachel! I love everything about it. And sipping a cabernet sauvignon, I don’t have the juice to explain. Anyway, thanks, sister, John

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  7. You have to watch out for that dead heading. It becomes addictive. Before you know it you will be dead heading the neighbor’s flowers.

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  8. Such a profound post, Rachel. I really like the way in which you weave your ideas of finality and rejuvenation, focusing on flowers, writing, and nature itself.

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  9. That pic of your doggy with the leaf in her mouth is too cute.

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  10. I used to cringe at the directions on seed packets: Place three seeds in pot. When they sprout, pinch off the two smallest growths. Noooooooo!!!! But then all three plants would be weakened. Sigh. I understand your dilemma exactly.

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  11. What a great post!

    As an aside, I love hearing of someone else who deadheads like there is no tomorrow. Funny enough, though, the only ones I don’t like to deadhead are the marigolds. The pop is satisfying, but the smell that lingers on my hands is too much.

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  12. Very nice! And I love the leaves swirling through the air!😺

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  13. It is winter here every thing is asleep momwithoutpaws misses her garden

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  14. I have a lot of “rescues” in my garden and even when they were not good enough in the eyes of my neighbor, for me they are beautiful :o)

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  15. My husband discovered dead-heading last summer and he too gets carried away. I cringe when I see him stalking the gardens, looking for a head to lob off. Good for Mom. That Dahlia is beautiful and perfect in its own way. Mine didn’t look like that. Of course I have the executioner living with me.

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  16. I guess Mr. You’reDeadIfYouAreNotPerfect never looked in the mirror.

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  17. I’m with your mum (always rescuing damaged plants etc.)

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  18. Oh goodness, we felt the punch in our tummies too when you said he was killing off the weak or imperfect plants. Horrible. Imperfections are what make the world perfect to us. That is why we are as natural as possible. Mom does ‘dead head’ the marigolds, but then she composts the heads. She sometimes would like to ‘dead head’ Sofie, but she doesn’t.

    Reply
  19. Hear hear for letting nature do its thing as far as gardens go! Those dahlias were gorgeous!!! Thank goidness your mom couod see that!

    Reply
  20. I stand with your mom, all flowers deserve their shot in the sun, beauty is in being, not only in perfection. Deadheading can be a chore at times even though it is very good for the plant and its future blossoms, I am with you on that one. 😀

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  21. The rejected Dahlias all looked lovely. Why obsess over an imperfection?

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  22. meandcoffeefairy

    Ok, I had green beans overflowing my kitchen table not so long ago and where was you hiding then, I would have been so happy to let you snap them babies head off, pull the string down and off, then snap it a few times more. I could have keep you happy for several hours, hearing that snap, snap, snap.

    Reply
  23. “Leaf is mine!” Sooooo cute!!!

    Reply
  24. Tweeting this and two other of your awesome posts 🙂

    Reply

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