The language of summer

Communication is everything. Being able to make yourself understood clearly is at the base of all good relationships. We are not alone in this need. Every mote in creation communicates with every other mote, but our methods are not the same. Humans do not speak the same language as the plant world.

Our human method involves several platforms. We have our verbal layer, we have the facial movements and we have the body language. We also have a less understood level of some other messaging going on, pheromones or subtle aromas that communicate on a more or less unconscious level and arouse in us emotional responses that have no easy way to see sources.

We are surrounded by a complex net of messages to which we are oblivious, they are not meant for us. If we were able to perceive them we would be bombarded by blatant requests for attention, for pollination, for insects to come calling, for the ancient reproductive dance to proceed. This is the message broadcast by the flowers as they wave and sing to each other all across the world.

Last week the Pacific crabapples burst forth into glorious flowering, suddenly appearing where we had forgotten them. They pop out along the edges of the wetlands, in ditches and alongside the roads. Wreathed in white flower clusters, they announce to the world that they are interested, that they are available, and that they are actively seeking contact.

Lilacs call to other lilacs, rhododendrons to rhododendrons, and even irises to other irises. This is the way of the world, and was ever so, long before we were around to notice such things.

This time of year the symphony of plant life is at crescendo level, and our big deep-voiced, basso profundos, the spruce trees, are just about to start their songs. When they let loose it is a reminder that there really are some heavy hitters in the world, the mass release of the Spruce Pollen only lasts a couple of days, but it coats every surface. This is a reminder that even before there were insects to pollinate flowers, there was life, pollination and reproduction.

We humans have developed a liking for a certain level of this orchestration. We appreciate the display of the flowering plants so much that we have figured out how to encourage specific types of messaging, selected desirable aromas and colors and promoted them. Ever since Ogg the Caveman, we have been busily selecting and promoting our preferences.

Now, in early summer, the greatest display of flowering plants is keying up for the show, and we are among the lucky who get to enjoy it. Our appreciation of the display, and indeed of the whole sequence of display, is a measure of the interactive style developed by many generations of gardeners, plant breeders, landscape designers and growers.

Walking through your neighborhood is a great way to open yourself to the abilities, fancies and preferences of your environment. We can profit from the research, experience and history of our community. Juneau has always been a gardening society. Ever since the first Europeans arrived bringing their historic and familiar plants, one of the main avenues of familiarity has been the garden.

No matter the national or social origin, gardening was the mark of culture. Early social organizations like the Alaska Garden Club encouraged people to communicate via their plant choices. We see it today: The favorite roses, lilacs, peonies and above all the primroses are memories made flesh.

When we see the plants communicating with one another, they are also bearing the signature of the people who brought them here. Miners, weavers, fabricators, merchants, lawyers, explorers, sailors and every other social group came, carrying their language, their customs and their family ways. They also brought their favorite plants, and we are the inheritors of their passions.

We see the roses they loved, the lilacs they treasured, and the garden flowers they managed to bring here with them. They are all still here, and their message is the same as the one they shared when they first arrived on these shores. They speak to each other, they speak to the insects and they speak to us.

They carry the ancient message of partnership, we carry them around the world to please ourselves they make themselves at home and please themselves.

Native and imported, we are all local, and we speak to one another in a language we all understand.



• David Lendrum and Margaret Tharp operate Landscape Alaska, a nursery and landscape business located on the Back Loop Road in Juneau. Visit their website at, or reach them at This column “Landscape Alaska” appears every two weeks.



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