I cannot see a lupine flower without thinking of children’s book author and illustrator Barbara Cooney. In Miss Rumphius, Cooney tells the tale of a woman who returns to the coast of Maine after leading an adventurous life and sets out to fulfill her father’s admonition to “do something that makes the world more beautiful.”
For Miss Rumphius, beauty and lupine flowers are synonymous and so she spends her remaining years harvesting their seeds and scattering them on walks along her beloved Maine coast. Cooney’s paintings, strewn with the periwinkles, blues and violets of Ms. Rumphius’ lupines, made my heart ache with their beauty. One day I wrote her a note of thanks for all the joy her books had given my children and me.
When a card arrived with the postmark — Damariscotta, ME, I tore it open, stunned that Ms. Cooney had taken the time to reply. “My drawing board is lying fallow at the moment,”, she wrote, “but I expect to be back at work momentarily. Still waiting for inspiration to fall from the sky!”
Her confession of a drawing board, metaphorically and literally fallow, touched me deeply. Her? A Caldecott winner twice over? But I understood that fallowness did not mean barrenness. It only meant the creative spark was regenerating. I took comfort in her confidence that she would soon be painting again, her canvass coming to life from heaven-sent inspiration.
For that is how it so often happens. A chance overheard conversation inspires the plot of a novel; the seemingly incongruous melding of maps and dictionaries comes together in searing artwork; a father’s admonition to make the world more beautiful comes alive in the pages of a children’s book.
I planted lupine in my garden with Barbara Cooney in mind. For all of Miss Rumphius’ success, my experience with this luscious flower has been spotty. I have finally found a place in my garden where it is happy but have been warned by experienced gardeners not to try and transplant the seedlings that sprout nearby in potentially inhospitable patches.
Gardening entices me for a myriad of reasons — the pure joy of digging in the dirt while the sun beats warm upon my back; the joy of watching seedlings take root and blossom; the fire of righteous anger I direct at the rabbits who dine on my carefully tended plants; the infinite metaphors to child rearing. There are marvelous names that I husband into the loam of vocabulary — scabiosa; heliotrope; scaevola; bee balm; dicentra; holly hock; delphinium; cleome. Who wouldn’t want a plant called “party girl” in her garden? One seedling planted years ago has morphed into a girl gone wild showing up in back yard and front, confronting the astilbe and sidling up against the asters.
And then there is the lupine. This year one plant has sent up five, count them five, plumes of violet and white! I admit to indulging in the sin of pride. But it is so much more that that. The lupines take me back to the days of rocking chairs and bed time stories, back to the years when I tended the slender shoots that were my children, weeding out sass, striving to cultivate kindness and character. The lupines remind me of the marvelously talented author and illustrator who took a moment from her drawing board to write a fan, unwittingly imparting her faith to a fellow writer that inspiration, like rain, can be counted on to fall from the sky.