Friday, December 04, 2009

Sole Survivor

It is nearing wintertime in hardiness zone 6.

The leaves have fallen from the oak, maple and elm trees on our property. Our perennial plants have pretty much all packed it in for the year. But one lingering sunflower is still standing tall -- so to speak.

The remaining Helianthus is actually quite short (eight or so inches), with a gravity-defying anorexic stem, and a seedless head comprised entirely of small yellow outer florets. It lives in a moss pot hung from a wrought iron pole-hanger -- a home it shares with some still--green vinca that Mars planted, along with pink petunias, at the first sign of spring. I took care not to disturb the fragile looking plant when I removed the pale red dead nightshades at the beginning of autumn. I did not figure it would still be here at the end of the season.

It is a volunteer -- a plant that neither Mars nor I deliberately planted. Or if we did, not in its current location. Some squirrel, or bird, probably deposited the seed there after looting it from an adjacent bird feeder. Over time some of our best greenery have been similarly unplanned freebies -- for example.

A couple of late summers ago a pumpkin plant mysteriously appeared in the midst of our vegetable garden. We had never planted this gourd, or actually any other, anywhere on our property. Earlier in the year we had however sown some yellow squash seeds with some success. Due to a quality control error one of more of those could have been future jack-o-lanterns.

It is more likely though that they were the unplanned offspring of some pumpkins we had purchased last Halloween for our front steps. Our resident squirrels promptly decimated them. They also may have stowed away a few of the pips in our vegetable bed for future use. If so, they got their wish when the two resulting orange gourds, like their forebears, were put on display and quickly destroyed.

We've also had cherry tomatoes in that veggie plot and, at least as I remember it, we only put plants in for the first couple of years -- didn't have to after that, they just kept showing up. All that I had to do was to carefully hand-weed the area so as not to inadvertently rip up that year's crop of "Sweet 100s". Last growing season we surrendered to the lure of locally grown vegetable stands and converted our food garden into a perennial bed for rescued plants (a long story) and emigre flowers from New Mexico (yet another tale). The tiny tomatoes, if there were any, got lost in the shuffle.

For several summers we had a red tulip that grew in the middle of our front lawn in a location that neither Mars nor I would possible have selected -- even on a really, really bad gardening day. Amaranths have also grown in our yard every year since my in-laws gifted us with some over thirty years ago. They are" self-seeding" annuals, but the distances traveled from year-to-year cannot possibly be accomplished without outside help.

This year the scarlet Dutchman was gone and the Amaranths were not as far ranging as usual, but several sunflowers appeared around the base of our flowering crab/bird feeder tree. And five or six more sprouted up in our new perennial bed alongside the garage.

They are not the strongest plants. I had to prop up most of them with plastic tomato poles. But the heads were relatively large and colorful in the classic sunflower manner, and the disc floret in the center ultimately provided enough food for several finches for several days. I never saw a squirrel nibbling them, even though I suspect that they are the sowers of record.

After the seeds had been ravaged I ripped up the plants and tossed them. That happened a few weeks ago. The chrysanthemums that Mars planted at the cusp of autumn are also gone. So basically it is the remaining Helianthus and its accompanying vinca that are keeping the gardening season going.

On Sunday Mars put up our Christmas yard ornaments, including a string of silver balls that normally displace the hanging moss pot containing the solitary sunflower. However I lobbied successfully for the planter and the plant to remain -- along with the holiday trimmings -- for an undetermined period of time.

Mars and I both do volunteer work. So we know that these workers toil day-after-day, in the background, doing stuff that you couldn't possibly pay people enough to do. Decorating our hardy Helianthus for all of its labors just seemed like the right thing to do.

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