The couple set out for a stroll from their Piedmont home last Thursday.
Peter and Wendy Hind put on their walking shoes every night — varying their route.
This night, they took a longer loop through the streets around Roberts Park. They turned a corner and there, lo and behold, a flower shop in the middle of the suburbs.
They took in the sea of blossoms and read the handpainted sign: Please Feel FREE to cut a bouquet!
A pair of scissors hung on a hook affixed to the sign, Peter Hind said.
“We both said, ‘Wow, look at that. In a stay-off-my-lawn, stay-out-of-my-country time, it was refreshing. … I immediately thought, ‘This is a story.’”
Wendy immediately thought: bouquet. Peter grabbed the scissors and began to snip the red and white gladiolus his wife had her eyes on.
And Julia Jones was happy he did.
Jones lives with her husband, Bruce, and their yellow lab, Mimi, in a mid-century ranch where flowers line the driveway and spill down to the corner — and around it — creating an island of pink and purple and yellow and green. A Monet on Circle Drive.
Jones used to be the lunch lady at Lefler Middle School. And this is the first August she won’t be heading back to the industrial kitchen.
She retired early so she could enjoy life, Jones says. Travel, relax, pick up her grandbabies from day care and let them wander, admiring butterflies and picking flowers.
Jones inherited the gardening gene from her parents and when she and Bruce bought this place 23 years ago, she started tearing up the bluegrass.
She planted tea roses and sunflowers and chrysanthemums and wildflowers, coreopsis and lilies and oodles of zinnias.
She buys a pound of zinnia seed each spring, she says, scatters seeds far and wide, trowels them in and waters.
Some of her flowers are gifts from friends that have spread; some of them she can’t name.
“I want to share them,” she says. “It’s so fun.”
The zinnias are the stars of the show. Perfect cut flowers that last forever in a vase, but everything is up for snipping.
That lone sunflower? Take it. Enjoy it!
Those glamorous gladiolus? Here are the scissors. Cut!
Neighbors come to pick, strangers wander by. Earlier this week, Jones came home to find an unfamiliar car out front and a family wandering through the yard collecting blossoms.
“I just parked and went inside and let them be.”
Sometimes she chats with pickers. Offers them a vase. She especially loves it when kids stop.
“My granddaughter got in trouble once for picking flowers,” she says. “That’s what flowers are for.”
They attract butterflies and hummingbirds and make perfect backdrops for nature lessons with little Payton and her baby brother Miles.
Bruce loves to pull into the driveway surrounded by blossoms.
Jones loves them, too, weeding and watering and watching, spending time on her shady front stoop, where her current bouquet features hydrangea and black-eyed Susan.
“Day cares come by,” she says. “Neighbors of course, elderly people.”
Her free flowers have gone to nursing homes and potlucks and birthday parties.
The mother of a 4-year-old once left a thank you note on behalf of her daughter: She relished the thought of actually being allowed to take flowers from someone’s yard ...
The Flower Lady’s response: “I always say, ‘Cut more.’”
Her garden has always been there for the taking, Jones says, but a few years back her sister convinced her she needed a sign and offered to make one.
It’s jaunty and pretty and eye-catching.
“I focused on the ‘free,’” Kathy Burke says. “That gets people’s attention.”
Burke works in the health office at Holmes Elementary. At the start of the school year, the staff all get jelly jars filled with flowers.
“I tell my friends, too,” the sister says. “It’s just such a bright spot.”
Wednesday, Tayna and Lee Christensen passed by the free flower shop on Circle Drive, walking their dog, Roxy.
Their last bouquet is still blooming on the patio, they call out to Jones. They’ll be back for more — a niece is getting married and company is coming!
They love the flowers, the couple say.
Last year, they stopped by with all their extra vases and cut away — leaving the bouquets on front porches in the neighborhood.
“Oh, was that you?” Jones says, remembering the vase on her stoop.