Enjoying Faded Summer: appreciating the beauty of faded flowers

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After reading this post you are going to end up agreeing with me on something you never knew you believed… or getting one of your own beliefs validated (as if you needed that!)…
or simply deciding I’m just a little bit weird. And truth be told, I’m okay with any of those outcomes!

It’s simply this: there is stunning beauty in faded flowers!

Not that long ago, I owned a motorcycle. I learned to ride the year I turned 40, and rode for about 15 years. I explored a lot of my beautiful home state and even a little bit outside of it.

Rebel Biker Mom
Rebel Biker Mom, contemplating crossing the line!

I learned that as a rider, you have to be acutely aware of your surroundings at all times. This means observing details you might miss or even dismiss in a car, because the consequences can be so much more severe if you aren’t paying attention.

Leading the way around gorgeous curves, but always looking for deer and distracted drivers.

In riding defensively and looking for details, I also learned to notice the beauty of a landscape. Sure, a lot of it was farm fields, but in fact they are all different: various shades of green depending on specific crops, different textures depending on the time of year, different compositions of land and buildings.

Lush green Iowa farmland
A chunk of managed prairie after a controlled burn.

In short, riding taught me to notice and appreciate the details all around me, and this soon carried over into home – and garden – life. Because of those experiences, I’m able to notice and appreciate the details found in nature to a degree I simply couldn’t – or didn’t – before. This led me fairly quickly to the realization:

Flowers are stunning in all phases!

Yes, even the wilty ones. Sometimes, especially the wilty ones. This is the picture – and the bloom – that first convinced me of the incredible beauty of fading flowers.

The sunflower itself had been dyed, I assume by the florist who had provided a series of arrangements for an event I was managing. As the flower wilted and the dye leached out into the water, the most incredible color variations began to occur in the petals.

Upon studying the flowers in my own garden, I realized: flowers don’t have to be dyed for this magic to happen – left to their own natural devices, many kinds of flowers go through a phase of fading, changing hues as they age.

I daresay, if you study fading flowers long enough, you’d be hard-pressed not to arrive at the same conclusion: flowers are stunning in all phases! Think about it:

A seed is a wonder.
A seedling is a miracle.
A young plant is a promise.
A flower bud is anticipation.
A bloom is a gift.
A fading bloom is a treasure.
A seed pod is a marvel.
And a seed is a wonder!

What I’ve come to realize is that none of those things are less beautiful than the others. Every stage is filled with beauty (and purpose, and beauty in its purpose) if we train our brains to see it.

Shades of brown? Yes please!

But how do we thus train our brains? Here are some of my favorite ways to sharpen my observation skills – and therefore, my level of appreciation for faded flowers:

Let them be! Locate a small patch of something in the garden, and just let it stand as the flowers fade and the seed pods form. (Many plants, such as echinacea, even bring architectural interest to the garden in the dead of winter – not to mention providing a home for beneficial insects – if the stalks and seed heads are left standing.) Pause to really look at the plant at various times in all its stages.

Blanket Flower going to seed.
Sunflower seed head – picked, dried, and harvested.

Take a picture! In your own garden or while taking a walk, take a picture when you notice something that catches your eye in a fading bloom. You don’t have to get particularly “artsy” about this – just use your camera or phone and try to get a nice clean shot of the bloom itself. Better yet, dead-head some of your flowers and just toss the clippings into a pile. Snap an overhead picture – you won’t believe the range of colors and textures! Some of my favorite garden photos are of dead-head piles and blooms that are well past their prime.

Dead-headed detritus – geranium, coneflower, daisy, and more. There was nothing difficult about this photo – I just pointed my phone camera down into the pile and clicked.
Zinnia seeds attached to faded petals.
Seed heads and seed pods from cornflower, cleome, and others.

Allow cut flowers to dry! Roses dry beautifully when hung upside down, as does lavender. (Bonus: potpourri and scented sachets!) If cut at the proper time, hydrangeas can be allowed to sit in a vase until the water evaporates, then the petals turn papery and all sorts of variegated colors. Many other flowers look stunning when dried as well.

Drying sunflowers and roses.
Incredible color variety in a drying hydrangea. This bloom started out as a bright pink!

What I’m trying to say in my typical round-about way (I could write 10,000 words on this topic!) is this: taking time to notice the fading blooms is one of the cornerstones of enjoying Faded Summer. And it’s so easy to take a moment now and then to just stop and appreciate a fading bloom for just what it is: a flower on its way to creating seeds and perpetuating itself.

My wish for you is that you’ll soon be the weirdo out there taking pictures of dead flowers! 🙂

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