Novels and Wildflowers

Novels and WildflowersI’ve lived in Florida now for two and a half years. Although I started life here, too, so Florida immediately felt like home again.

What do you look for when you choose a new home? Price, of course, but beyond that? In the past we’ve chosen by job and school district, but this time with no children left at home and my husband retired we had so many options. What we discovered immediately is that setting makes all the difference to us.

After searching for more than a year, we walked into our present home and knew we were home. For us, it was the view. Our house backs up to a state park, and the only separation is a narrow, marshy body of water we call our lagoon. We took a cursory look at the house, noted it had enough bedrooms and that the previous owners had upgraded almost everything. All that was a formality.  They had us at the view.

After we moved in we noticed that the plantings in the back of our house blocked sight lines. Everything was standard issue Florida and not doing that well. So little by little shrubs disappeared. Now the bed outside the lanai was ours to plant with annuals and perennials.

We settled on native wildflowers and butterfly annuals and perennials. Not everything we have fits that category, but close to it. We have milkweed, three colors of sage and bleeding heart from a favorite neighbor. The back bed is a wide expanse and we wondered how we would find the energy and time to fill it. No need to worry. This year Mother Nature decided to help. The sample plants I’d bought and put in last year, many of which hadn’t made it over the summer, had reseeded.

At first I thought I had weeds. Lots of weeds. But since I wasn’t sure, I decided to wait a bit. As time passed I noted that the plants were starting to look familiar. I know Ohio weeds. I know Virginia weeds. But I wasn’t so sure I knew Florida weeds, despite having grown up here. Good thing, because these weren’t weeds. Not even the tall rye-grass looking plants that seemed to be cropping up everywhere.

I recognized the gaillardia or blanket flower first. I had planted this for the butterflies last year, and now, there it was again. Two clumps in new places. Then half a dozen coreopsis, which developed buds quickly. The last, though? That rye-grass? Surely I needed to pull those. Except that just before I did I suddenly remembered that the year before I’d planted something similar, and just as we were about to despair and remove it, the plant put out a glorious profusion of tiny yellow flowers.

And yes, apparently now my Florida tickseed (another form of coreopsis) had seeded and found new homes in the mulch. The clusters of flowers waiting to be born were everywhere. And did I remove them?

Not a one.wildflower garden 2

Why did I choose to blog about this today? Does it have anything at all to do with writing?

Truth is, ideas for novels are like these wildflowers of mine. We novelists can think about what will sell, the absolute sure thing. We can cultivate a book with sales in mind, mulch and fertilize and prune every time the idea is getting out of control. We can tame it, never mind how predictable or boring it feels. We can follow trends. We can follow rules.

Or we can see what surprises come our way. We can trust the process, assume that whatever is about to flower may not be a weed but a wildflower. We can toss predictability out the window and allow surprises to take root.

I think of that every day when I look over my garden. Not many butterflies have yet discovered us. Maybe we need more butterfly specific flowers. Or maybe we’ll just wait and see. But yesterday we saw a hummingbird. And a black racer zig-zags through the garden when he thinks we aren’t looking. Bees love our flowers, too.

Most of all, so do we.


  1. April Mc Vey on May 5, 2015 at 4:19 pm

    The butterflies will come. Nature is always full of surprise!

    • Emilie Richards on May 5, 2015 at 5:19 pm

      If you plant it, they will come. You’re right. They’re out there.

  2. Karen Burshnick on May 7, 2015 at 8:07 pm

    Dear Emilie,
    Patience pays off. What a treasure! Enjoy each day looking out your lanai.

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