Just the flax, ma’am


I’ll admit it; I’m a gardening snob. I tend to look down my nose at those seed mixtures that companies sell: “shade mixture,” “sun mixture,” “cutting-garden mixture”–you know the type. This is really stupid and short-sighted of me, because I’ve discovered some of my favorite flowers through growing seed mixtures.

When we first moved to this house, 17 years ago, I bought several packets of “all-purpose mixture” seeds and sprinkled them out in the new, empty garden beds I’d created out back. While I made a lot of mistakes that first year–including painstakingly transplanting tiny tufts of crabgrass INTO my beds–I also learned a lot. One of the flowers I learned about was flax, a.k.a. linum. It’s a lovely plant, airy and light in foliage, sort of like ‘Moonlight’ coreposis, only shorter. And the flowers are blue, a lovely clear sky blue. And I do love blue flowers.

But beyond all that, I love to grow flax flowers because “linum” is what we make linen out of–still. It had to be one of the first plants humans used for fabric-making purposes. And I imagine it happened something like this: Women picking the flowers because they’re so pretty noticed how strong the stems were, and braided them together to make string or rope. Or they idly picked the stems apart and noticed they were made up of fibers like hair, and braided those together. I like thinking about how much time early humans had to ponder, and to try things out, and to innovate, without such distractions as People magazine and reality TV and the Internet. I do realize they had other things to occupy their time, such as trying to find food and avoiding predators! But there also had to be a lot of what my husband’s dad calls “wool-gathering”: just wondering about the world around them, trying to decipher patterns, endeavoring to make life easier, day by day.

Speaking of which, you know how when the movies or Geico commercials show “cave people,” they’re always wild-haired? I bet cavemen and cavewomen were better groomed than that. I bet a lot of those hours of downtime were utilized in braiding hair and decorating it with feathers and flowers and such. And I’ll also bet it was hair-braiding that led to fabric-making.

Growing flax in my garden makes me think about such things!

Photo by Dr. Hagen Graebner. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License.



  1. Jean Potuchek said,

    September 1, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Sandy, I just discovered your blog yesterday and am very much enjoying it. (I will quote you in my next blog entry on Jean’s Garden.) I, too, love Linum. I was fascinated by your description of it as shorter than Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam;’ mine is definitely taller than my ‘Moonbeam.’ I notice, however, that my local nursery carries two different cultivars of Linum perenne, one that is 15″ tall and one that is 24″ tall. I am definitely growing the taller one; perhaps you are growing the shorter one. Or perhaps you have some completely different varieties of Linum available to you in zone 7. No matter, they are all beautiful!

    • mshingston said,

      September 1, 2009 at 7:32 pm

      Hi, Jean! Marcy told me I might see you here. Take good care of my girl out there. I love your blog as well but am jealous of how much growing space you have … and TWO homes! You do pinpoint the downside of growing from seed mixtures; there’s a definite loss of control, since the seed packets rarely give more than a general name. Still, I love the serendipity.

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