The kale is flowering. Tall sprigs of tiny buttercups bursting from a sturdy stem. They’re as tall as me, which takes me by surprise. I didn’t even know kale had flowers, let alone my size.
Apparently it’s a biennial. Its full life-cycle is two years; it doesn’t blossom until the middle of the second. It overwintered this past year. Usually it dies off in February, never reaching this point. But while we had a prolonged period of isolation, we didn’t have a prolonged hard cold.
The turnip is flowering, too. Another surprise. It started as a rosy root from a produce box that sprouted before we could figure out how to eat it. Alan pressed it into a planter just to see what would happen. What happened were clusters of tiny yellow flowers as tall as my shoulder.
I walk through the bank barn garden to take it all in. “What’s that,” I ask Alan of the bouquet in the corner, a shoulder-height flower that looks like an exploded view of a hyacinth. “Brussels sprouts,” he shrugs.
Brussels sprouts? I take it in.
It was only last year I saw a Brussels sprout on an actual plant. (It was only last year I learned it was Brussels sprouts, as in Brussels, Belgium.) I feel like a young child who only just discovered her food comes from plants, except that what I discovered was that flowers come from plants, too. Not just the “normal” ones. Who knew you could plant such a beautiful bouquet of brassicas?
We miss this beauty when we get stuck on old fashioned notions of what beauty should be. As if the only flowers worth planting are daisies and day lilies. Don’t get me wrong; I love a good day lily. But what if we shift our definition? What if we don’t predecide what gets to blossom? What if we let each plant be all parts of itself, food and flower and medicine?
I think it would challenge us. We’d be forced to explain our own pigeonholes: she’s the smart one. He’s the talented one. She’s the athletic one. But we’re all a bit of everything. Some of us just take longer to flower.
The stories we tell ourselves are important. The names we call ourselves matter. The labels we give – or don’t – tap into our identity. They seep out into the world around us. If we don’t call kale a flower, how do we comfortably call ourselves an artist or musician or author? Even when we don’t have some magical piece of paper to bestow a title upon us, even though we haven’t done it for long enough or haven’t achieved some arbitrary level of success?
When we don’t call ourselves that name, we thwart the process. We pick the bitter greens before they ever have a chance to blossom.