Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Lessons from Woman with Flower

a single sunflower in bloom against a blue sky

Hello fellow readers, While searching my stash of questions and garden of life tidbits, I came across an influential poem by Naomi Long Madgett titled Woman with Flower that I first heard over a handful of years ago. Most that review Naomi’s poem believe it pertains to a mother-child relationship, logically so given the title. However, I like to think of it as Mother Nature’s guide to caring for our dear earth and each other.

About Naomi Madgett’s poem Woman with Flower 

three African violets in bloom on a windowsillEach line of Naomi Madgett’s magnificent poem is a lesson itself. It starts with, “I wouldn’t coax the plant if I were you.” Meaning it’s best not to lead or influence others with your opinions. Or change the inherent nature of things.

Like sunflowers in the field and houseplants in a window, people will find their light on their own. “The leaf’s inclined to find its own direction; Give it a chance to seek the sunlight for itself.”

Upon researching the history of Naomi Long Madgett to share with you, I learned she passed away just a few weeks ago, on November 4th, 2020, at 97 years old. Undoubtedly, she lived through almost a century of change and contributed to propelling a positive shift.

Naomi Long Madgett’s remarkable life

Born in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1923, she lived in East Orange, NJ as a child, where she first began to write. Her family moved to St. Louis, where Madgett published her first book of poetry just after high school. She attended Virginia State College (now a university), then moved to Detroit after she married and became a teacher, writer and publisher, and advocate of change.

I first heard her poem, Woman with Flower, on Wayne Dyer’s PBS presentation Living The Wisdom Of The Tao. Wayne closed his presentation with Naomi’s poem citing, “it sums up all that I have been saying” about living the wisdom of the Tao. Deserving praise for a woman with great understanding.

The Detroit Free Press wrote a tribute on November 7th to recognize Naomi Long Madgett’s remarkable life. During a reading in 2017 given at the Charles Wright Museum of African American History, Naomi said, “I believe the purpose of my life is to serve. To make a positive difference in someone’s life. To redirect someone who is heading in the wrong direction, to be a good role model. To inspire someone to lead a more meaningful life.” (Link to Naomi’s speech below).

Woman with Flower sums up Living The Wisdom Of The Tao.

While the Tao Te Ching dates back 2500 years, the philosophy of living is relevant today with 250 translations in western languages. The 81 verses of the Tao are the teachings of Lao Tzu, a Chinese philosopher and prophet, who left the turmoil and strife of warring states to live in the desert and live in “the way.” The Tao is not a religion; it’s a philosophy to live our true peaceful nature in nature’s rhythm.

Naomi’s prose goes on to coach, letting things be. Too much nurturing and prodding can harm or stunt the flower. “And wait until it’s dry before you water it.”

Overwatering is just as harmful as under-watering. Too much water causes shallow roots or, worse, root rot.

pink and purple flowering African violets in one potA lesson gained from Mom’s African violets

I have African violets adopted from my dear old mom. Carefully re-potting them, I maintained a weekly watering schedule. Sadly some died. Too much doting, which now makes me smile. Because one of the things that I remember most about mom is that she let her five-pack fly, encouraging us to become independent. To be who we wished to be while being kind and respectful of others. Words were scarce in her ending years due to dementia. Some of her last were things like, “you look like Mary. You’re your own person.” Cherished memories.

Thanksgiving is a time we celebrate gratitude. And while traditions of gathering with friends and family are not the same this year, just like those on the other side, our loved ones still sit with us.

I adore how Naomi’s Woman with Flower poem ends. “The things we love we have to learn to leave alone.” It’s all about love. Happy Thanksgiving. Garden Dilemmas? (and now on your favorite Podcast App.)

You’ll enjoy the podcast version of this story in Episode 36 of the Garden Dilemmas Podcast  (green button below or on your favorite podcast app). 

Link to a previous column about Mom’s violets titled Frozen in Time African Violets

Inspiring Links: 

Naomi Long Madgett’s poem Woman with Flower  and her speech given at the Charles Wright Museum of African American History

Detroit Free Press article about Naomi Long Madgett

The Kresge Eminent Artist Award honors Naomi Long Madgett





Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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