Gaillardia of the Outer Banks, NC - Jobell Flower
If you ever have the opportunity to visit the Outer Banks, it’s well worth the trip. They are barrier islands along the Atlantic coast of North Carolina.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see a beautiful flower blanketing the landscape: gaillardia. This flower normally blooms in summer, but on a recent visit to the Outer Banks, I found clumps of them blooming in early spring.
They seem to thrive in the most inhospitable of conditions. I found them growing near the ocean amongst the straggly grasses of the sand dunes. I also found them growing along the side of the road. Every gaillardia flower I found, though, grew in the wide open sun, and grew best surrounded by sand.
The locals have a story for how all those gaillardias got to be all over the sand dunes and along the sides of the road.
Facts About Gaillardia
- Nicholas Sparks popularized the story of the Jobell flower in his book The Rescue.
- Gaillardia is native to North and South America. It prefers sandy soil.
- The plant grows from 1 ½ to 2 feet tall, sometimes with single flowers and sometimes in clumps.
- The flowers usually have two colors, ranging from red and orange to yellow.
Meet Joe and Josephine Bell
In the early part of the twentieth century a middle-aged couple was very much still in love. Their names were Joe and Josephine Bell.
Joe doted on Josephine. You could tell it was true love that they shared.
They loved to frequent the Outer Banks in the summers. At that time, the Banks weren’t very developed and the Bells loved the rustic appeal of life near the ocean. They found friends among the fishermen, groundskeepers and hunters that lived there.
The Bells stayed in various vacation homes when they went to the Outer Banks. They always paid their way, but enjoyed meeting all the different people who frequented the area. They enjoyed helping to keep house in the places they stayed and loved helping people who crossed their path.
Josephine’s kindness was known all over the Outer Banks. She would even take on the role as a midwife if needed, though she wasn’t a midwife by trade. Joe was never far away, and always willing to help. He willingly ran errands for Josephine, helped expectant fathers and was a great handyman.
Time passed and the Bells grew older. One winter, at their home inland, Josephine fell very ill. She made Joe promise to return to the Outer Banks to continue their tradition of staying there in the summers and helping people. She died, not long after Joe made his promise.
Joe indeed returned to the Outer Banks the following summer. But after sharing so many fond memories with Josephine, it was almost too much to bear. The sunrise was beautiful, but filled him with an empty longing for the love of his life. The beaches were peaceful, but lonely without Josephine.
Distressed and sullen, Joe returned inland.
North Carolina Outer Banks
Will You Plant the Jobell Flower in Your Garden?
A Sign From Josephine
Unexpectedly, he found a clump of gaillardia flowers growing in a garden where Josephine often liked to work. These flowers surrounded a large seashell that Josephine had once brought back from the beach. He didn’t plant those flowers; they had never been there before. He knew, however, that they were Josephine’s favorite type of flower. They were fiery orange with a reddish center.
He knew what he had to do.
Carefully digging up the flowers and tediously keeping the roots moist, Joe journeyed back to the Outer Banks. He started in Nag’s Head, he planted those flowers one by one all along the sand dunes. When they seeded, he took them and scattered them wherever he went.
He was sewing the seeds of his true love.
The locals liken Joe Bell to Johnny Appleseed. He spread that flower all over the barrier islands so that now, they blanket the landscape as if they were native flowers. They grow amazingly well and don’t seem to mind the salt spray from the ocean.
The seeds happily ride the ever-present winds in the Outer Banks and thrive in the sandy soil.
Now, the locals fondly refer to Joe’s flower as the Jobell flower – often as one word: Jobellflower.
I first heard this story courtesy of Charles Whedbee in his book Outer Banks Mysteries & Seaside Stories. When I visited the islands recently, a National Park employee re-told the story to me and I share it with you.
© 2012 Cynthia Calhoun