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Gaillardia of the Outer Banks, NC - Jobell Flower

Cynthia is a digital marketer, writer, and artist. She writes about a variety of topics, especially digital marketing, languages & culture.

A beautiful gaillardia flower on Ocracoke Island.

A beautiful gaillardia flower on Ocracoke Island.

The Jobellflower

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

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.

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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


Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 24, 2019:

Hey, hey, RTalloni! Great to see you. I was just in my garden this morning admiring the gaillardias I'd planted. I was at the beach earlier this week also appreciating the wild gaillardias growing wild along the road. I love this flower! I'll also take your advice about cutting them back in the winter. :) Thank you for teaching me something, too! Have a wonderful weekend.

RTalloni on May 23, 2019:

Glad to find this hardy flower's back story. I will smile more every time I see my gaillardia growing so faithfully by the front walkway. They are real survivors and after finding this post a little research revealed there are several varieties. Now to find them all... :) I learned from experience that cutting them back to about 6" in winter is a help to them going into the next spring.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 03, 2013:

Vicki - hehe, I'd never heard of it until I went to the Outer Banks last year and heard this story from a shopkeeper. Then, I was hooked. ;)

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on May 02, 2013:

I've never even heard of this flower! Well done hub. I love the photos! Many votes!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on September 18, 2012:

Mvillecat - you have them in your garden!? Beautiful! I want to, but I'm afraid it's waaay too wet and loamy for these flowers where I live - those that thrive in bogs are what seem to go best where I live, lol. I'm glad you got to see them on Tybee Island. I would love to go there. :)

Catherine Dean from Milledgeville, Georgia on September 17, 2012:

They are one of my favorite flowers and love to have them in my own garden. I saw some in the dunes on Tybee Island, GA a few weeks ago while on vacation. Very nice Hub.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on September 17, 2012:

Thank you, Kelley! Enjoy your evening and thank you so much for commenting. :)

kelleyward on September 17, 2012:

What a fascinating hub. Enjoyed this thoroughly! Voted up, tweeted :) Kelley

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on September 17, 2012:

Dahlia Flower - that's awesome! I actually didn't know that it looks like the passion flower, but you're absolutely right. I love the comparison. :)

Dahlia Flower from Canada on September 17, 2012:

Very nice story of love. The flower looks a bit like a passion flower which is quite apropo to the story. Voting up.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on April 27, 2012:

alocsin - it's crazy how flowers have been blooming a little off kilter lately. Of course, it was a very mild winter. Thanks for stopping by. :)

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on April 26, 2012:

Wow, I like that the flower has two contrasting colors. It may be this is blooming earlier because our climate is getting out of whack. I've noticed flowers blooming earlier and earlier here in Southern California as well. Voting this Up and Useful.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on April 09, 2012:

randomcreative - aw, shucks. Thank you so much. I appreciate your kind feedback and wonderful insights. :)

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on April 09, 2012:

Tammy! (HUS) Great to see you! Since you haven't seen them, here's a virtual bunch of gaillardias ('"*"') hehehe. Thank you so much for your feedback and kind words. :)

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on April 08, 2012:

Gorgeous flowers and it was great learning about the story to go with them!

Tammy from North Carolina on April 08, 2012:

Fabulous hub. The flower is gorgeous. Every time I have gone to the Outerbanks it has been in late summer or fall, so I have not seen these beauties. Gorgeous and well written!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on April 08, 2012:

catsimmons - thank you for your feedback. :) I am really glad that you found the map helpful - that gives me some ideas on some future hubs. Thanks again! (HUGS)

Catherine Simmons from Mission BC Canada on April 08, 2012:

Lovely hub and a beautiful flower:-)

I really liked that you included a map so that we can see where the place is that you're referring to...

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on April 08, 2012:

xstatic - thanks for stopping by! I'm glad you found this interesting and I appreciate your feedback. :) This was a very beautiful place to visit, and I especially love little stories like this that are uplifting.

Jim Higgins from Eugene, Oregon on April 08, 2012:

What a beautiful love story and interesting HUB! Sounds like a very interesting place to visit for sure. I will certainly read more of these great Hubs.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on April 08, 2012:

Happy Sunday and Easter to you! Hehe, yes, a hub about a flower. I didn't even really realize that until you pointed it out. I am fascinated with gaillardias. I might have to try to grow some, but I'm not sure how they'll do in our not-so-sandy soil. In any case, great to see you and hugs to you!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 08, 2012:

What a great hub! You wrote an entire hub about one that is talent! I'm pulling for you and in your corner all the way. Great job and Happy Easter!...unless you don't care about Easter in which case Happy Sunday!

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