Mark Ballard

Gardenias, hydrangeas and magnolias spread joy through blooms

Mark Ballard
Mark Ballard

Every year the month of May drives into town loaded down with a trunk full of beautiful Southern blooms. They range in size, color and scent, but each flower is a masterpiece.

Some of my favorite flowers — gardenias, hydrangeas and magnolias — are ushered in this time of year. Just like all things in nature, if we take a closer look, there are lessons to be learned.

Seeing these flowers each May reminds me to pause and enjoy their beauty and scent. In our hectic, fast-paced lives, the things around us often times blur into the background.

As the old saying goes, we seldom miss things until they are gone. That’s the message flowers always give me. “Here we are,” they say. “Enjoy us now because we will be leaving soon!”

I was walking to my car the other day and, before I even rounded the corner of our house, I realized something magical was happening. The gentle breeze was the first to offer me a clue as it slowly floated past emitting a heavenly scent. There was no doubt the origin of the distinctive and fragrant smell that lingered. It was from a large group of blooming gardenia bushes in our yard.

A beautiful staple in any Southern landscape, the gardenia bush has unselfishly offered its scented blooms for hundreds of years. I encountered my first one in my grandmother’s yard. I plucked one of the pristine white blooms and ran inside to give it to her. Its invisible trail of perfume chased me into her house. Since that day, gardenias and I have been the best of friends.

Completely different in almost every way possible, hydrangeas refuse to be ignored when you pass them. They may not lure you closer with an intoxicating scent, but their large, multi-faceted blooms certainly call your name. They know they are gorgeous, and they unapologetically hold their heads high.

Apparently, hydrangeas can’t decide which color they want to be, so they choose many colors, including stark white. Every shade of blue, violet, pink, bright green and even deep purple blend together to form these larger than life beauties. Hydrangeas stand out like colorful spheres hovering against the green landscape.

Clusters of tiny flowers join forces to become one magnificent hydrangea bloom. Hydrangeas always remind me of little communities working together for a single cause. I’ve always said that humans should take a lesson from them. Flowers not only seem to get it right, but also radiate beauty in the process.

Magnolia blooms view the world from a higher place. It takes a tree to support their elegant beauty. Large and regal, the magnolia bloom slowly unfurls around a cone-like stamen. When it is fully opened, its beauty is breathtaking. During its blooming period, you can hardly turn your head in the Deep South without catching sight of a tree filled with them.

Like the gardenia, magnolia blooms are usually white and have an aromatic scent. It has always been amazing to me that gardenias give off much more fragrance even though they are only a fraction of the size of magnolias. Both exist in harmony nestled in a dense profusion of deep, shiny green foliage. Their flower petals are very fragile and easily bruised. Flowers need to be handled with care — another lesson we can apply to our relationships with other humans.

None of these flowers asks for much. Bright sunshine and rain water are their only requirements. Hydrangeas visibly show you when they are thirsty and will wilt without a moment’s notice under the oppressive heat of a Southern sun. Like so many things in life, we have to handle these blooming gifts with care while they are visiting because, unfortunately, they don’t last forever.

I suppose that’s why I like to paint and draw these pretty blooms as often as possible. It’s my way of having a permanent record to rely on when the real ones are no longer here. These flowers are an artist’s dream — a perfect lesson in shapes, texture and color.

I’ve already begun to sketch the flowers in our yard. I can’t resist. Upon closer observation, each bloom has a beautiful story to tell. They have risen from the earth and are shining examples of spreading joy with their beauty. After all, that’s why they’re here. I, for one, am very grateful!

Send your questions or comments to Mark Ballard at P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email