Author: Saila Seppo
Nature has meant a lot for me ever since I was a child. I grew up surrounded by flowers and trees in my parent’s market garden. I was already moving around the greenhouse by the age of one, and I saw how my parents treated the flowers. When I was three years old, I used to answer the phone and talk to customers. I knew that the strawberries and the flowers were on sale to would-be customers. We had large strawberry fields when I was a toddler. It was a bummer that the strawberries were kept for customers, because then we couldn’t have them. I had to learn the difference between garden flowers and field flowers. I was allowed to play with the field flowers and with the forest trees. I got to pick beautiful bouquets of wildflowers at will.
We used to play house on a large rock. It was a huge boulder, probably a leftover from the last Ice Age, and it was our playground until it was blown to pieces to make way for a new road. There were more rocks in the forest, but the boulder was like our second home. In spring we would watch water flowing in the brooks. In summer we gathered berries from the forest. In autumn we looked for mushrooms with my parents. You had to be alert with the toxic mushrooms. We even ate some of the plants in the forest, like Oxalis leaves (Oxalis acetosella).
We grew Carnation flowers, Chrysanthemum and Roses in the greenhouse. These plants grew by the sides of the greenhouse on a soil floor. If there was a spot where nothing grew, there was a table. On top of the table were, for example, pot plants. The Chrysanthemums, which were growing in the greenhouse in autumn, had to be covered carefully every evening by black plastic sheets, which were removed in the morning. Chrysanthemums required a long night to flower beautifully. The summer days in Finland are quite long. The Chrysanthemums came in many different colours and cultivars. One really magnificent white cultivar would topple if you poked its spherical flower even a little. Therefore we had to be really precise when handling the flower, and we also had to warn the customers. A vine rotated the roof of the greenhouse, and we could eat grapes in the summer. I was proud of our own grapes. A wooden frame, where beautiful orchids grew, hung from the ceiling of the greenhouse.
Tulips of different colour were grown from flower bulbs by Christmas: parrot or told tulips, blue, white or pink strong-smelling hyacinths, blue, yellow or white crocuses, red and white poinsettias and fresh white or red azaleas. By Easter, the flower bulbs would turn into different sorts of daffodils, which were mostly yellow. I was born in spring, around Easter, so yellow daffodils are related to my birthday.
In the summers, there were flowers growing outside, too, and I learnt to identify perennials, which rose from the ground every spring: great coloured Phlox flowers (Phlox panicualata) and white Baby’s breaths (Gypsophila paniculata). Other plant seeds were sown in the field, such as yellow-orange marigold flowers and blue cornflowers. Plants that were particularly vulnerable to the cold were sown under glass. The spring nights could be very cold, so cultivation pallets were important. They were almost like a smaller greenhouse. Glass windows were put to a wooden frame, so seedlings had more favourable growing conditions. Many plant seeds were sown in boxes, first in wooden boxes, then in plastic ones and finally in Styrofoam boxes. I got to know every box in my parent’s market garden. The boxes had to be moved from place to place because of temperature variations, for instance. Eventually the seeds developed into seedlings. Violet seedlings were planted incrementally into the mould box. In the end, the violets were planted into the ground or had been sold earlier. Flowerbeds were bullied by weeds, which had to be pulled out. Especially on hot days flowers had to be watered using long water hoses. I made deliveries to customers and it was always great to see happy customers.
In summer, petunias were grown in pots. They were dark blue, deep red, pink and white. Other summer plants on sale included strong-smelling brown-orange velvet roses, stunning high gladioli, deep blue irises, beautiful differently coloured asters, red and white Christmas begonias, various kinds and colours of other begonias, light orange twiggy cresses, sturdy differently coloured dahlias, blue starlets, red and white geraniums, which survive the cool winter thriving in the window, mysterious snapdragons (antirrhinum majus) of different colours, red waterdrops, shiny red sages (Salvia splendens), blue or white lobelias, white beautiful arums (calla), magnificent lilies, red peonies (Paeonia), and marguerite daisies. Red-flowered cyclamens, which had ear-shaped leaves, were sold in late summer.
In summer, there were cut flowers of a variety of roses with different colours. Queen Elisabeth was a beautiful, magnificent pink rose; Mercedes was a salmon-red and resistant rose variety; and Peace was a beautiful subdued yellow rose. When the roses were refined to keep longer in a vase, their pretty scents could become diluted. The roses were yellow, different shades of red and white. There were long-handled grand roses, like Queen Elisabeth and beetroses, and bright red Nina Weibull roses. On Mother’s day, we sold potted roses labelled as “Mother’s day roses”. They may have been rosevine or roseroot, which were planted in the yard. I loved roses. I even knew how to bring a withered rose back to life: I carved the stem and put it in cold water until it was revived. The roses could also cause pain when I had to get rid of the weeds in the rosebed in a hot greenhouse. It was very easy to get scratches on your arms and it was painful to work.
I remember that we didn’t have as many different begonias as our competitor in the market square. Red, yellow or white blooming begonias were exiting flowers, because their twigs were easily broken.
Carnation flowers (Dianthus caryophyllus) were cut flowers from the greenhouse. Carnation growing required work, because the weakest branches had to be removed. White carnation flowers were painted in different colours. Carnation flowers suit many different occasions. The wonderfully fragrant white lily of the valley is a suitable option for the finest of events, even for weddings. Sweet peas grew against a high net, using it to climb upwards. Sweet peas had that lovely scent and their colours were as thin as a petal. Pansies were great when making beautiful corsages. I especially liked the perennial blue-flowered Viola cornuta, which grew in large areas. With baby’s breath (Gypsophila paniculata) you could make white-blue set-ups, which I happily did. Yellow or white freesias were beautiful, like blue irises and differently coloured gladioli. Sunflowers were magnificent and their weighty inflorescence needed a strong stalk. I made bouquets to sell at the market square. The first time I sold flowers at the market square I was around ten years old. I had to calculate the prices of the products in my head, if the customers bought more than one product. I knew how to count and enjoyed my work. When I turned 18, I rented a flower stall for the summer and I sold flowers. I priced my products based on the market square prices, only I duplicated them. When the customers complained about the prices, I lowered them. And when they were super happy about the prices, I raised them.
The yard and the field were filled with more flowers, chimneys and vascular plants, which grew by themselves, without care or planting. In spring I found white anemones in the forest. High, brown, baton-like bulrushes and yellow marsh marigolds I found in the stream. The pond was filled with beautiful water lilies. I could find true grass, bluebells, spreading bellflowers, daisies, light blue forget-me-nots, poisonous yellow buttercups and yellow tough dandelions. Dandelions left nasty goo on your hands. The dead inflorescence was replaced with seeds and their parachutes. It would have been fun to blow the seeds to make them fly, but the adults didn’t want me to spread the seeds around. Sometimes I made salad from dandelion leaves. Other flowers, like daisies and bluebells and other wild flowers, I used to make a corsage.
We also had bushes for sale: white spiraea, yellow cinquefoils, blue or white floral lilacs, burnt red small-leaf barberries, white berry blossoms, snow berries and high cedars. Rhododendrons came in different colours. Rhododendron requires the same kind of conditions as azaleas indoors. Soil acidity had a large impact on rhododendron’s growth. The plant also required continuous moisture. We also sold plants that thrive along the water: willows, redcurrants, white currants and blackcurrants, pink-berried raspberry trees and green-berried gooseberries. Plum and apple trees, which grew in the yard, brought in good money.
We had also other kinds of trees on sale, such as yews, oaks, beautifully leaved maple trees, dense junipers, and high cedars. In autumn, I collected leaves that had fallen from the trees, and dried them between a book’s pages. I still have some of those stored in a box.
My mother and father made wreaths from spruce needles and flowers for funerals. Customers could choose their own customisable text on the wreaths. Sometimes a nosegay was made for the grieving people. Heathers grew in the autumn, and my mother made lichen wreaths from them to be taken to the graves. We got lichen from the woods. Chrysanthemums were sold in vases in the autumn. They had beautiful and almost scentless flowers and were beautiful everyday flowers.
We also sold houseplants. These included many-coloured Paul flowers, rubber plants, palm trees, ferns, anthurium plants and Chinese roses.
Wild wines grew up along the walls of our brick house. In the spring they had green leaves, which then turned red in the autumn and finally dropped off before winter came.
As a child I learnt how to differentiate between plants. Their inflorescences were different, just like their leaves and stems were. There were really many different varieties of flowers. I was mostly attracted to their scents and colours.
Sadly, I have since become allergic to scents. Now I can’t bring any flowers to my home at all, not even Christmas flowers. These days I only admire flowers from afar or from photos. Greenbutton flowers are good for me and the are beautiful.