Punctual surprise

One of my favorite bouquets, not least because it returns yearly. York County, July 2019

“Let a thing be but a sort of punctual surprise…let it be delicate, painted and gratuitous, hinting that the Creator is solely occupied with aesthetic considerations…”
Hope Mirrlees

Mirrlees has captured one of the things I so love about flowers. “Punctual surprise” is the perfect way to describe them. They come back every year at around the same time, and yet the first sight of them each season is somehow an unexpected delight, like fireworks going off in my heart, lighting things up with color and pizzazz.

When I read this quote, I also realized why it’s so hard for me to let go of our York home, and why I love to return there. It’s partly because we have planted so much around the home and yard over the years that we have some sort of botanical color in every month and season. Although I generally spend a few days out of every two weeks there, I almost always find a punctual surprise waiting for me.

As if that were not enough, the York neighborhood is full of people who obviously love flowers as much as I do, so the neighbors’ homes offer their own regular seasonal shows. No matter my mood, it’s enough to lift my heart and bring a smile to my face. The children on bikes and dogs being walked and runners jogging by add to the festivity.

Recently, one of my favorite surprises waiting for me in York County was the lily plant that I wrote about during July of last year. This year, the number of flowers had more than doubled, with a dozen gorgeous blossoms on that one stem. Despite the weight of so many brightly-colored posies, the stem did not bend at all, displaying the bouquet with a flourish of greenery that enhanced the floral beauty.

What punctual surprises do you most enjoy at this time of year?


  1. Good morning, Julia!
    My lilies appear to be a year being yours (?!) having also doubled in number of buds (not quite open, though), and having about half a dozen this year!
    Two weeks ago I was greeted by blooming wine cap mushrooms, but now it is too warm.
    The yard is full of delights, with the various items I’ve planted over the years, so I understand.
    I wonder if those Stargazer lilies will ever form more bulbs, like the daylillies do? It would be great to be able to propagate more!

    • Susan, I had never heard of wine cap mushrooms until your comment. Do you eat the ones you grow? I don’t know whether Stargazer lilies form additional bulbs other lilies, irises, daffodils etc. do. My guess would be no, based on the one I planted at our Alexandria home which came up and bloomed reliably each year, but never more than one stem. Unlike the York stem, the one at the Alexandria home never had more than one or two blooms. But it seems that, if the bulbs were doubling, there would be more than one stem? In any case, they’re quite inexpensive to buy. I got several to plant at the Potomac Shores home and they already bloomed just weeks after being planted. So, even if propagation is out for them, at least they are readily available to buy for very little money.

  2. Chris

    Hi Julia,
    Wow, beautiful flowers! I can imagine that your yard radiates with color and excitement. I’m sure it’s a lot of work keeping the grounds, but worth it. Our yard has diminished over the years (21 years ago, we built this house). Due to many things, it’s gotten harder to care for the beds, and “protect” them. I think I’ve mentioned that we are fairly secluded, and have wildlife homesteading on the property. In recent years, the deer (or other critters) have found culinary delight in so many of the flowers. Once they bloom, it won’t be long until they’re a gourmet meal for my “pets”. That’s just life in “the swamp”! 😊 Speaking of critters, we haven’t seen Robert in a couple weeks. I hate to think he’s moved on, or found a better home.
    Well, no surprises here. I simply agree with Forrest: “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get?” 😀
    Have a blessed week!

    • Hi Chris, I hope that Robert comes circling back soon. Perhaps he tapped out the supply of “varmits” in the immediate area but he may return. I can identify with what you’re saying about it getting harder to tend the grounds. It’s amazing how much stuff can get overgrown (even good stuff) and of course the critters love overgrown stuff. Our back yard, which has about half the lot outside the fence in a wooded area that backs up to a creek, is much harder to keep up with than the front yard, but even that is a lot of work. After years of hand weeding I finally gave up and started using Preen in the mulching, which is helping a lot. But the crabgrass is a constant battle. I’m very thankful to have found a very reliable lawn care guy to help me with the York home. No telling what it would look like if he wasn’t taking such good care of the place. Hope you are having a nice week and staying cool! Here in Virginia we are predicted to have triple digit temperatures this week.

      • Chris

        I sent you a message in Messenger. I know you don’t look at FB often, so wanted to let you know to check it out. 😊

        • Thanks for the tip, Chris. Yes, I sometimes find stuff on FB that was sent weeks or in some cases even months ago. It took me forever to realize that the little icons in the top right corner would tell me if there was a message!

  3. Sheila

    Julia, I didn’t expect to receive flowers from you this morning! Just think how many lives you brightened today or even tomorrow or anytime someone chooses to DEFEAT DESPAIR here! 🌺🌸 The bouquet really looks as though it’s being held out in a beautiful gesture of giving! Thank you so much! I’m walking on sunshine, thanks to wonderful YOU! 💛

    • Sheila, thank you so much for being here. Your kind words and thoughtful ways brighten my days. I’m lifting a mug of iced-cold tea in a toast to you! Y’all stay COOL this week. It’s a great time of year to live at the beach! 🙂 Of course, any time of year is a great time to live at the beach. 😀

  4. Judy from Pennsylvania

    Your lilies are gorgeous! No wonder you like to go to the home in York. Sometimes I think that the things we plant become almost like garden children. We care for them, worry over them and take special delight in them being there. Watching them grow and helping them through difficult times gives them a dear place in our hearts. Also, I think that they often can be like living touchstones connecting us with earlier days when we planted them, who was with us when we planted them, or who chose them for us. We have several plants like that.

    The words “punctual surprise” give me a whole new way of thinking of the things that delight me every spring and summer. I love it! Flowers that surprised me this spring include the johnny-jump-ups that suddenly appeared in wild abundance near both sides of the walkway at our front door. So delicate, colorful and eager to grow higher and higher until they made themselves into miniature bushes. And then there are the petunias in shades of bright pink and purple that also came up in the same areas, as we say, “volunteer” from last year’s secret seeds. They sowed themselves thick and are growing into the azalea bushes, using the branches as ladders to stretch higher and higher. It sure is fun to see what flowers will show up on their own when springtime comes!

    • Judy, you are so right about the connections we have with plants. Several of ours are attached to memories of when we planted them. Jeff was always so good to plant everything. We’d bring home a haul from the nursery, then he’d tell me to place them where I wanted them, and off he’d go. He loved yard work and took such good care of our homes, even after his illness meant we had to hire the mowing done. He would still patrol the grounds, do some weeding or other odd jobs, and was quick to spot anything that needed attention. Oh how I miss that diligent care!! While he was battling his illness, especially in the final few months, he seemed to discover what I had always known: weeding is quite therapeutic! Some of my final memories are of looking out the window and seeing him in the yard, pulling weeds.

      I had the same reaction to the phrase “punctual surprise” – I will probably remember that phrase during every seasonal change for a long time. Don’t you just love it when our flowers do the work for us, self-seeding surprises for us that we won’t know about until the following year? How wonderful that you have those johnny-jump-ups to brighten your front door. I wish I had some. I love petunias! Their bright colors and modest care requirements make them such a great staple for any garden. I can’t think of another flower that comes in so many different colors and shades. The older I get, the more I intend to rely on nature doing the gardening for me. Your comment is an encouragement!

  5. Brilliant capture. What I love most about flowers is there willingness to bloom, without receiving anything in return. There is no quid pro quo. They bloom because that is what they were meant to do. Georgia O’Keeffe wrote: “Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” Punctuality – there is so many thoughts that come to mind. The first one is that friendships are based on the idea of being present, honoring commitments. One of the ways to confirm a friendship is to fulfill promises.

    • So true! I love that Georgia O’Keeffe quote. From the first moment I read it, it really did make me think about how unwise I can be with my use of time, squandering it on things that really don’t matter while cheating those that do. For example, as you (and O’Keeffe) mention, having a friend does indeed take time as well as punctuality. I fear this is why there is such an epidemic of loneliness, especially among the younger generations. Our generation was coached to “manage” time and “delegate” and “say no” etc., in essence becoming misers where our time and attention were concerned. But our attention is perhaps the resource most needed by others. (Marge Piercy has a great poem about this.) The result is that community groups, churches, schools, neighborhoods and so many places that have long depended on volunteers, have suffered greatly as we pursue individual, digitally-driven agendas. Little wonder that the toll has gotten worse on successive generations. Not only do we often have a problem with fulfilling promises and honoring commitments, but nowadays, it seems to me that people are very reluctant to make them at all. In the end, I don’t know which is worse; a friend who is constantly cancelling plans without rescheduling, or one who never bothers to reach out to make any plans to begin with. Much to think about here!

      • Yes, there is much to think about, especially as we move along our timeline. My mother, Frances, lives in a complex devoted to seniors. There is a difference in how time is used. Some go out for a walk, talk in the hallways, attend happy hour and some decide to stay in their suites and watch television. We choose our destiny with ever decision we make. As for managing time, we are living in a world that measures value by the amount of productivity that is expended in a given time period. We have become an equation. Yikes!!! I love the Marge Pierce poem and am now reading up on her bio. Thank you so much for the introduction. Have a wonderful weekend.

        • I’ve read in a few sources lately that the biggest challenge for the current generation of retirees is how to use the time. One article I read said that as a generation, many of us are fairly well prepared financially for retirement, but fewer are prepared psychologically. I think part of the problem is that we find it hard to shake the idea of needing to be productive. Even with all the years I spent as a stay-at-home wife and mother, I still filled every minute and more (in fact, I used to say that I was less busy when I had a full time or part time paid job, than when I did not, because my time was more respected by others). I’m happy your mother is in a community where she has many choices and lots of potential companions. Hope you have a great week coming up!

          • Always an adventure. We may be on opposites of the continent, but I believe that we are following the same path! Hugs!

            • Clanmother, I agree! 🙂 Thanks so much for being here with us.

  6. Connie W Reed

    Beautiful blog Julia. I think I most enjoy the seeds I plant each early spring. I do love the “punctual surprise” that my Sweet William, Butterfly Milkweed, and Zinnias display to me by summertime.

    • Connie, I was unfamiliar with Butterfly Milkweed, but I looked it up and loved the photos, many of which feature butterflies that show where the plant gets its name! I love that about Google – being able to do an image search. There’s a lot I DON’T love about Google, but being able to look at flowers is a great advantage. I’ve never had any luck with Sweet William or Zinnias, both of which are beautiful. I can never find Sweet William seedlings to buy, and the seeds I plant don’t ever come up. Any hints on how to get seeds to grow? I have bought both zinnia and dahlia plants, but since we left California, where I had great luck with them and even grew them from seeds, I’ve never been able to get them grow very well. Isn’t it striking how location determines the growth of plants? I guess people are the same. What is good for one is not so great for another. And sometimes moving a plant even a few feet away can make all the difference. Thanks for being here and sharing. I love picturing your garden in my mind.

  7. Julia, such a nice post. We moved recently from an historical neighborhood renowned for its yards/gardens and my walks always took me around and bout the most gorgeous blooms, trees, etc. The amazing variety of plantings and blossoms always moved me to stop and admire, then snap pictures.
    I still miss the old place…have returned just to walk about once or twice… and those streets and gardens, and families out and about, the kids playing basketball and other games here and there. Now we live in a more secluded spot amid overarching treetops. It is lovely here and more peaceful. But I do miss the color and wonder that flowers bring!
    I have on my balcony within emerald trees a white begonia that is outdoing itself with full ruffled blossoms!

    • Cynthia, thanks for sharing about your former neighborhood. I imagine that is how I’ll be talking about the York home in a year or two when I find the heart to sell it. “More peaceful” is a very good trade-off, I think. At some point the benefits of saying farewell to a much-loved home will outweigh the disadvantages. I think I’m getting closer to that point as time goes on. Your ruffled white begonia sounds gorgeous! As much as I love begonias, I’ve never had any of the ruffled variety. When I see them, I always say to myself “I really need to get some of those.” I find that begonias do better for me in containers than in the ground. I’m not sure why. Maybe they are just easier to tend and enjoy on a balcony or porch. Especially one with a backdrop of emerald trees!

  8. PS We are a City of Roses and I never appreciated them as I do in the Pacific NW–these are some I always watch for!

    • Cynthia, I have become increasingly fond of roses as I get older. They are so undemanding, and right now with temperatures in the triple digits, my roses are blooming abundantly. I can imagine that in the much more garden-friendly climate of the Pacific NW, they are even more stunning.

  9. Chris

    Hey, it’s definitely hot. Although, being a couple miles off the beach probably helps some. Still, low nineties or high nineties, either way is hot!
    I’m sending you a PM thru Facebook. Look for it. 😊

    • Hi Chris, I checked the PM and went immediately to the video– then got interrupted about halfway through– but I’m going to go back to it and YES, I loved it. Fred Rogers gets more amazing the more one learns about him. Thanks for sending me the link. I just asked Alexa about the weather this week and she says it will be a bit cooler here (highs in the 80’s) for most of the week. I didn’t realize you were close to the beach too! Lucky y’all. I’m always imagining myself on Sheila’s Verandah looking out at the ocean. But I can’t imagine actually living where I could do it anytime. My friend Peggy finally sold her condo on the beach in Hawaii and I know she misses just the idea of it even though she knew it was time to give it up (after 30 years of living between the mainland and Oahu).

  10. Alan Malizia

    Julia, For the first time this summer I’ve realized that we have been in our home for the better part of 16 years. This I know by the density of the wooded area outside my window. Those saplings that were so small have grown to really fill out the scene that I’m looking at right now. My punctual surprise has been one in progress.

    • Alan, isn’t it amazing how quickly it all grows? If I didn’t have photos taken when we first moved into our York home 15 years ago, I would never believe how tiny the shrubs and trees looked then. When we plant things, they don’t seem to grow very fast while we are looking but then when we look back – WOW. It’s the same way with kids, too! Good thing we never look any older ourselves, hee-hee.

  11. Rene

    I got a surprise this year in the form of an orchid that a student gave me last year for Teacher Appreciation Week. While at school, the plant got knocked off my desk and I forgot to give water it many times. I took it home but was sure I’d killed it. But, I diligently gave it an ice cube three times a week and this spring it nearly explored with blossoms. Most fell off weeks ago but there are still a few. I will try to remember to take & share a picture next year if I get another punctual surprise.

    • Rene, I am so impressed! I have never known anyone (personally) who was able to keep an orchid alive very long. It sounds like you had the Energizer Bunny of orchids, if it went through all that and kept growing. I would love to buy an orchid plant for myself but I always figured it was a loss cause before I ever got it home. But the ice cube idea just might work for me. It’s extra-special that yours came from a student. Maybe that gave it some incentive to survive. 🙂 Thanks for telling me about it. It put a smile on my face.

  12. Rene

    The directions to give it an ice cube three times a week came with it. It was labeled an “ice cube orchid.” I don’t know if it is a special variety or just the distributor’s name (but I could probably look it up). Sadly, the last few blossoms fell overnight. The little girl who gave it to me was named Yaniah, a very bright, thoughtful young lady. I think of her whenever I see the plant. She will be going to middle school next year and has some health concerns; I should (and will) take that as an opportunity to pray for her.

    • Rene, I will pray for her too. Middle school can be such a tough time. 6th grade, as I recall it anyway, was pure misery for me, as was 8th grade. 7th grade was somewhat better mostly due to having a good and kind teacher– takeaway lesson: you have a powerful role!– and I’m sure that lovely flower was given in esteem and gratitude. I’ll have to look for an ice cube orchid. Something with very specific instructions might actually work for me.

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