Somewhere the seed of a story is germinating in my mind. It has been over a year since I first began entraining the idea of writing a book about the history of heirloom bulbs in the South— their evolutions and adaptation and the intense fascination they evoke in some people. My first exposure to this sub-culture was with a “bulb hunter” named Chris Wiesinger. We spent a day driving around north Louisiana looking for elusive varieties of iris and lilies. Later that year I took a trip (described here) to a man named David Atkins’ house. He was rumored to have one of the largest collection of rare flowering bulbs in the area, maybe the largest collection anywhere. It ended up that the rumors were true and the trip we made to see his plants was something of a pilgrimage for my mother and friend Ashley Fox-Smith.
Yesterday we repeated that pilgrimage and returned with more bulbs and, for me, an even deeper belief that there was a story in all this flower fascination. In my mind, there is an irresistible appeal to the intersection of obsession, history and science. The way people feel about these bulbs and the lengths they go too to acquire them are astounding. How they made their way from their native soil in Turkey and the Mediterranean, then aboard creaking, wooden-hulled sailing ships in the 18th century to homesteads in the Mississippi Valley sings out marvelous truths about human priorities. When you add to that the fact that these bulbs are extraordinarily beautiful and long-lived then you have the makings of a darn compelling tale. The fact that most of the bulb expeditions I have participated in end with lunch at some rural diner consisting of a chicken salad sandwich and a very fine slice of pie, then you can probably guess that my enthusiasm for the subject throws its harness and goes galloping off into the fields of imagination. I am not saying that you should expect to see a book length exploration of crinums, lilies and amaryllis with my name on it anytime soon, but it does feel like things are moving in that direction.
I shot about 800 photos yesterday. There has not been time to sift through them all, but I think this is a pretty good representation. There just is nothing like a day full of flowers and sunshine.