Another installment of Growing Up on a Flower Farm in Queens


May was one of the busiest months at Frank, Florist and Gardener (62-15). The summer flowers had to be grown and set for transport to the cemetery. The pansies had to be pulled from the plots, and not thrown away but set aside for the women folk to harvest the seeds for next year’s crop. The bag of seeds hung in the basement to dry over the summer.

Some of the cold frames were prepared for Gramma’s vegetable garden. If I close my eyes I can conjure the delicious odors of the manure, the pansy seeds, and the tomatoes soon to hang from their vines.

Machinery needed to be serviced for a season of grass cutting and shrub trimming.

Amid all these busy, busy activities another yearly event would come to pass in the form of a dump truck loaded with horse manure deposited in a redolent pile near the cold frames. The earthy pungent miasma it would give off in the increasingly warm days of May signaled the most important event of the year to me, the end of school was just around the corner.

At that age, I hated school. On my best days, drowning in boredom, I just wished we could move on to the next thing, a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g. I didn’t know there was something different from sixty kids in a classroom with a nun, God bless her, who never went to college to learn the secrets of classroom management and good lessons. Discipline came in the form of going to Hell for any infraction. Good lessons shouldn’t bore you into becoming a minor league juvenile delinquent.

She was doing her best to control the lot of us, while drumming something into our thick skulls.

To teach the kids who had some difficulty with the 3R’s, Sister sat the class according to grades. So, there we were, the ten to fifteen “smarties”, all sitting together with an assignment we finished in fifteen minutes. Trouble, here we come.

We hatched various schemes, wrapping our jump rope (a staple of city school kids) around whole rows of chairs in the lunchroom. It created a racket that was music to our ears. We made unauthorized visits to the church where we lit candles. Oh boy, did that get Sister’s attention. She was probably worried we would burn the church down and she’d be blamed for it. Silly stuff, you say. Sure, but that was Catholic school in the 1940’s.

June was on the way.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, horsey doo was spread in the cold frames with a layer of sand over it. Very tiny plants of red Alternanthera and blue Lobelia rooted in neat rows, filling the cold frames with new stock. Things grow really fast in horse manure. Try it sometime.

The white Sweet Alyssum was already in tiny pots ready for transport. Soon the Alts and Lobelia would follow them. There were referred to as the “decoration day” (old term for Memorial Day) flowers, red, white and blue.

The long hot days of summer and no school were soon to come with the sweet smell of mown grass wafting through the neighborhood of florists, gardeners, and cemeteries. The sound of baseball bats smashing balls would dominate the murmur of the stadium crowds as the radio blared the major league games to millions of fans.

Every afternoon the Bungalow Bar ice cream truck would make its way along the side streets tinkling its bell, bringing my favorite treat, a toasted almond ice cream pop. Life could be sweet and simple in Middle Village in 1949.