Column: It's May, and it's time for flowers to bloom around city

Editor's note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run "Isn't That Something" columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and...

Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared May 5, 2007.

WORTHINGTON - Peonies across our region are well on their way. People once crossed their fingers: with luck, the peonies would be in bloom for Memorial Day.
Peonies, lilacs and spirea. Bridal wreath. Those were the bouquets we used to press into quart fruit jars or coffee cans half-filled with water to decorate our cemeteries.
The peony is Worthington’s official flower. Credit Jan Rickers with pressing the effort to win that designation.
One thing is too bad. I am looking at one of the catalogs that came in February. There is a wonderful white peony called Queen Victoria ($15). There is a full, curly pink peony named Shirley Temple ($18). If the City of Worthington had bought three peonies a year through the last 10 years, there now would be quite an awesome addition to Worthington’s peony displays when we get near the sunset of May.
There is a thing I find hard to believe, although I understand how it came to be.
An Earth Day news story told of a survey of school kids in New York City. Forty percent of those kids do not know plants are living things. They do not know trees are living things. Well - those kids are in a school bus or in a car, rolling along city streets. Along the curbsides they see trees, buildings, cars. To them, none of these seem to be living.
In our country, of course, we are focused on farms and farmers, on gardens. Plants and seeds are big in our lives, especially each new springtime. We appreciate that plants bring us food for our tables and the very oxygen we breathe.
In times gone by, most people were involved with plants.
Christopher Columbus was disappointed - there were no orange trees in America. On his third voyage, Columbus brought orange seeds to the New World.
The Showy Lady’s Slipper is Minnesota’s state flower. Charles Darwin in Britain heard of Minnesota’s lady’s slippers and asked to have some sent to him. He learned the flowers trap insects and he marveled that the flower “ … acts like one of those … traps…which are sold to catch beetles and cockroaches in London kitchens …”
George Washington Carver prayed. “Please, Mr. Creator, will you tell me why the peanut was made?” Carver developed more than 100 products from peanuts, including peanut butter.
In the same year Worthington was born (1872), Luther Burbank perfected the Burbank russet, which is the only potato even now that McDonald’s uses for its French fries. Luther Burbank had patents for 800 plants including the Santa Rosa plum and the Shasta daisy.
That’s how the world was. Everybody - Christopher Columbus to George Washington Carver - was concerned for plants. The old, bald prophet Jonah once focused on a gourd plant. King Nebuchadnezzar paid a king’s ransom to build the hanging gardens at Babylon.
Have you seen the stone beside Okabena’s east shore - beside Lake Street? That stone has “Florence’s Garden” etched into it. Jim Vance, who once was publisher of the Daily Globe, ordered that stone and made arrangements with the City of Worthington for the perpetual care of the flower garden beside it. It is Jim’s tribute to Florence, his wife.
Jim Vance loved flowers. He would drive around Worthington. Wherever he saw flower beds he would stop and walk over to them. He met a lot of people doing that.
I think of Helen Bixby this time of year when there is a new focus on flowers. Willard Bixby was a World War I veteran. Helen and Willard were married in 1919. They moved into a little house on Grand Avenue.
Helen had many flowers. Somewhere, she saw an ad for Flanders poppy seed, direct from Flanders fields in France. Helen ordered the seed as a special gift for Willard.
Flanders poppies thrive in Worthington. Through decades, those brilliant red Flanders poppies bloomed in Helen’s garden. She never knew from one year to the next where the poppies would be. Poppies pop their seeds. Helen’s poppies were somewhere in her big garden every spring, her tribute to the Doughboys.
I hope we never come to a day when half our kids across southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa know computers but don’t know plants are living things. I hope we always will have people like Jan Rickers, Jim Vance and Helen Bixby who love flowers.

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