For whom the Bells toll.
Every morning when we arrive to the farm, McFarmer and I walk, coffee cups in hand, through each bed of vegetables. After parking the truck in the shade of the barns, we dial the clicking electric fence to off, hop the wires, and amble between the peas, the green beans, salads.
The peas that have doubled in size overnight get an early-morning taste test. Notes are made to give the rapini a little more fish emulsion and which beets should be harvested for a restaurant order later that day. We take turns pointing out something new to one another, keeping an eye out for signs of overnight nibblings or perhaps the emergence of something wonderful, a bright little gift that wasn't there at dusk the evening before.
At times, this morning stroll transforms our entire day--the discovery of a fungus on potato leaves or a massive leak in the irrigation can cause us to cast aside any previous plans in order to avert further disaster. Most often, these few minutes are one of my favorite parts of the day. The birds watch us, hopping from branch to branch in the willow that centers our field, and we take a handful of necessary moments to evaluate the potential quality of the day. We take it all in.
Then there are those mornings when our amble yields something I've never seen. This happens more often than you might think (the outdoors being an endless wonder filled with all manner of the bizarre and super cool and me having much to learn), but there's a particular, special satisfaction when that discovered new wonder is a something you've been waiting for.
Bells of Ireland have been something of a white whale for me for nearly 4 years. This apple-green flower, also called Shellflower, is native to lands near Turkey and not a particularly rare flower. But I am obsessed.
Let me tell you why:
When Alex and I began our farming adventures on an organic farm in New York several years ago, we helped grow many types of flowers. Statice, zinnias, dahlias, peonies, cosmos, lobelia—you name it. I loved frolicking in all the flowers, but among the hundreds of delicate transplants we raised from seed, one certain strange flower with a nostalgic, misty-sounding name became very important to me.
The farmers had never grown Bells of Ireland before, and had ordered the seed on a whim. A clumsy google search revealed to me an odd tower-like plant unlike any I'd seen before. Instantly curious, I began to take a deeper interest in the Bells. I managed the greenhouse, and as time wore on I grew quite attached to that tray of soft, bright-green seedlings. Yet after a while, I began to notice that my favorite tray and I were starting to spend too much time together. As the other transplants left the greenhouse to find homes in the field, the Bells stayed behind.
Day after day, no plans were made to move these now gorgeous and very-ready-to-go plantlets into new soil—no chance to show us what they could do. Each of my inquiries into my Bells' welfare was ignored—didn't I know how busy we all were?
I did know. But I also knew these freaky flowers with their sweet promise of green flowers deserved a chance. And so it was that one late afternoon, after my work was done, that I carried out my first-ever act of guerilla farming. Picturing myself a renegade farmer, I whisked the Bells away from the greenhouse to transplant each one into a similarly-forgotten bed near some kale. I felt defiant. I felt justified. And as I watered my eccentric little orphans in, I swore I could hear the tolling of the bells of justice, each peal a pat-on-the-back for both my clever sneakiness and for helping innocent flowers carry out their pollen-scented duty.
And they died.
The irrigation having been turned off one hot July day, the tender little Bells shriveled in the heat, never to bloom. Needless to say, I was devastated, and have carried the regret of the Flower That Could Have Been ever since.
Until now. I won't say it was easy, as getting our Bells of Ireland seed to germinate in our greenhouse ended up feeling like a task suited to a better zealot than I, but we did manage to get about 60 flowers growing in our Spring field. For some time, just watching them exist has been quite the thrill for me.
Yet the moment I've been waiting for since that hot New York summer finally came to me last week. I reached down to inspect the underside of a scalloped leaf, and there she was. My Bells of Ireland, my long longed-for daydreams, had begun to bloom.