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Trick-or-Treat Flowers

If you ask a florist for a Hallowe'en decoration, you'll probably be offered an arrangement of orange, yellow and brown chrysanthemums, with little plastic toys added, in the shape of pumpkins, black cats, ghosts.... But I wanted an arrangement that suggested the spirit of the occasion entirely with plant material, without resorting to artificial mimicry.

In addition, although mums are my favorite flower, to my eye they're just too pretty for this holiday. For All Hallows' Eve, I want to see weird, tricky, garish, outrageous. And I know just the flower for the occasion: a pansy called 'Joker Poker Face." Deep purple petals have a bright orange "face" toward their center, with black spots for the eyes and jowly mouth. I've long admired the shocking color contrast, and felt convinced there's a mocking smile on the face of this particular pansy.

It deserves a special location, but I've never found the right place for it. It's a challenge to coordinate those colors with others.

On top of that, pansies in general are a challenge to grow. They're perennials, but short-lived and picky. They need moist conditions, and cool weather — even cold: they continue to grow after frost; so they winter over well, and planting them in fall is ideal. But in summer they're likely to give up the ghost! Unfortunately, most people think of them as spring flowers — and so lose half their fun.

When I thought of Joker Poker Face for Hallowe'en, an image flashed into my mind of planting some in a little pumpkin. Let's see... hollow out the shell and fill it with soil? Probably better make drainage holes if I do that. Or just a small hollow, and set the pot in? Carve a face on the pumpkin, or paint one? I couldn't stop thinking about it.

I called 22 garden centers. Many don't sell pansies in the fall; those that do were mostly out. Or offered me a poor second choice: combining some clear black and some clear orange. Some knew the one I wanted. Some had it earlier this fall, or in the spring. One saleswoman thought she might get some in soon; I left my number.

I spent most of a day on the phone. I passed along my idea of planting in the pumpkin; maybe someone will get to try it sometime! How appropriate a way to observe Hallowe'en: pursuing an oddball obsession.

© Copyright 2003 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 31 October 2003

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