I first became familiar with foamflowers as part of a nature trail my dad maintained in Lake Placid. My mom played in the Sinfonietta there every summer for over 50 years, and when I was a teenager, they bought an old house with a couple acres of mostly woods. As a professor, my dad had summers off though he had many projects that filled his time. He spent his mornings working, mainly writing technical papers and books. In the afternoon, he would enjoy the outdoors, especially hiking, swimming, and gardening. We had no real formal garden there, but he spent a lot of time nurturing the plants that grew wild. Among other wildflowers, there was a small patch of foamflowers. 

In the Adirondack Mountains, foamflowers bloom from late May to mid-June, so we would see them on a brief visit at the end of May to get the house ready for the summer. At over 100 years old, the house accumulated new maintenance demands every year. On this late spring visit, we checked for winter damage, patching the endlessly leaky roof, slathering on a new coat of paint, and of course admiring the nature trail. We would return for my mom’s concert season in late June, after school was out. By then the flowers would be gone, but I still admired their beautiful leaves.

My mom sold the house before moving to Asheville to be closer to me, and I made one last visit to enjoy the nature trail. I left most of the plants, hoping they would remain as a wild woods for future owners. But I took a few small starts of foamflower.

They have now multiplied to dozens of plants sprinkled around my garden here, and just started flowering this week. I enjoy their star shaped flowers, and toothed leaves. Though some of the leaves persist through the winter, they are getting a new flush of fresh leaves along with the flowers. Depending on how much sun and moisture they get in the microclimates of my garden, they flower a few weeks for me. In this photo, they are waving in a breeze and are enjoying a gentle rain. My camera and I are also getting wet, though I don’t really appreciate the soaking.

In my first garden, in North Carolina, I had around 10 cultivars of foamflower, and enjoyed the variations. I have a couple of my favorites here, but over the years I’ve found I enjoy the regular wildflower as much as any of the fancier forms. Sometimes it’s hard to improve on nature. Maybe I like these simpler flowers because they bring back childhood memories of lazy summers, and the fun of sharing a magical woodland.

As a child I followed literally in my father’s footsteps. Over many summers together we climbed the Adirondack High Peaks, the 46 mountains over 4000 feet in the mountains of northern New York. Now in a figurative sense I continue in his footsteps, building my own nature trail with these flowers that we admired together. Like he once did, I seek to create a habitat with a profusion of wildflowers, in an idealized version of nearby undisturbed forests. Our two paths are separated in time and space but converge in the goal of gathering the beauty of wilderness in our gardens.