Friday, May 30, 2008

Rescue Me

Mars and I have started a "Rescue Garden" on the parcel of earth that in previous years has been the site of our vegetable plot. That wasn't what it started out to be - it is however what it has become.

After thirty years of competing with them, we finally decided that the local farmers in our neck of the woods can in fact grow a greater variety of higher quality fresh produce than we are able to generate in our little thirty feet by six feet piece of ground.

And of course there were the rabbits that on several occasions during those years have decimated our burgundy bean crop.

In the morning we would see several rows of newly sprouted shoots ready to germinate. By evening it had become a trail of stubs neatly gnawed off with the precision of an automated grim reaper. One time we caught one of the floppy eared decimators in flagrante delicto. Mars rushed up to him in the garden shouting obscenities in transit and stopped within a foot of the rapidly moving rodent mouth. She continued her tirade. He looked up at her as if she were a crazed religious zealot interrupting the peaceful meditations of the Dalai Lama, and left. Later that night the remainder of the beans was destroyed.

But the Rescue Garden really got started with Monica's hollyhocks. Last October we were visiting Monica and Bram in Santa Fe when Mars noticed the tall Eurasian plant of the mallow family, widely cultivated for its large showy flowers growing along their driveway. Since it was seed harvesting season she liberated some of the plant's little reproductive units with the intention of redeploying them somewhere in what was then still planned to be our mostly vegetable garden.

After a little thought we decided to convert the entire plot to flowers with the hollyhocks being the centerpiece and the majority of the remainder being perennials.

My first plan was to have every flower in the garden be cut-able. Actually "plan" is way to strong a word. I had a vague notion that we could have a flowerbed filled with a combination of perennials and annuals that would reach bloom in carefully ordered succession beginning in mid spring and extending through the autumn and thus provide a steady supply of flora to decorate the vases within our domicile. I actually even looked in a couple of brochures that had been given to me by one of the speakers at the men's garden club of which I am a member. In reality the only plan that we had was to go to our favorite local nursery on Memorial Day weekend, purchase some stuff, and plant it.

Then I saw the peonies. I had been working at the town rose garden. It is our garden club's major civic project. And as I walked back to my car I spotted several of the burgeoning plants sitting neglected and abandoned in what was once the town's "Heritage Garden" at the adjacent town hall. The building is undergoing significant renovations. The work that is involved and the consequent placement of equipment have largely decimated the area. Prior to the construction our club relocated many of the plants to various other public spots in town. Somehow we had missed the peonies.

I checked with the appropriate authorities and went back later that day, with Mars, to save them. After I had dug them up Mars asked that always-fateful question, "What is that maroon feathery plant up there against the wall?" And I gave my traditional answer, "I don't know. Let's bring it home, plant it, and see."

So we did. Along with the wispy, white-flowered plant next to it and the green-leaved, possibly Daisy bush to its other side.

Since we already had three peonies I potted them for future disbursement to other parts of town. The three unknown plants, however, looked pretty desperate so we planted them immediately. The plumed plant still was not looking well so we gave it extra water and cut off its dead-looking appendages. Two more days and it looked as healthy as the other two.

Then, during the week before Memorial Day I, along with several others, received an email from one of my fellow garden club members.

"Subject: Inventory reduction event

Giving away assorted perennials and andromeda, burning bush, azalea (red, white, pink), yews (upright and spreading), globe thistle, white pine, lilly of the valley, arborvitae, juniper, rhododendron, astilbe, jack in the pulpit, boxwood, tiger lilly.
All in pots and ready to go....Be there."

Mars and I have seen stories like this on local television - house overrun by hundreds of cats or dogs; overwhelmed pet owner shown with their sweatshirt over their head being led away by the authorities; pitiful pictures of orphaned pets; plaintive pleas for willing adopters from the news anchors. If it happens with fauna it could happen with flora. This was obviously an SOS in advance of the crisis. And we were there within hours to help.

We rescued a globe thistle, a trio of jacks-in-the-pulpit, and three other plants the names of which we no longer remember although we think one is "kind of like" a sunflower and should be pinched off early in the season to encourage growth, and another is "probably" low-growing and ground-spreading.

We placed the plants with the erect spadix overarched by the spathe that resembles a person in a pulpit into the small woodland area along our south border. And we put the others into our rescue garden. Because we couldn't go completely cold turkey in the homegrown vegetable department we also put in eight tomato plants. And we placed an octet of Zinnia plants in some of the remaining empty spots.

The centerpiece Hollyhock seeds were installed in a side altar abutting our Iris and Chive bed. Thus far we have seen no signs of life from them. Perhaps the plane flight from the southwest to the northeast was just too traumatic. Or maybe the surfeit of water has proven to be more than they can handle.

"In the language of flowers, hollyhock stands for fertility and wealth... A stalk of hollyhock is sometimes incorporated into celebrations of Lammas [the festival of the first wheat harvest of the year] as a way of ensuring the fertility of fields." (

Including themselves we hope. Although not really a rescued plant, the hollyhocks were the initial inspiration for the new garden. It would be both ironic and dispiriting if instead of being the stars of the show they instead became its first - or even worse, only - casualty.

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