Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ambition, Adoration and Sanctuary

Hollyhocks are one of our ways of feeling connected to New Mexico.  Four years ago Mars harvested the seeds with which we started them from plants in the front yard of our daughter-in-law and son’s house in Santa Fe.  We flew back home with the dry, little kernels safely ensconced in a Ziploc sandwich bag nestled within layers of soft clothing in her carry-on and scattered them into one of our perennial gardens at the start of the next planting season.
It turned out to be the wettest spring in Connecticut since Noah’s flood, and the flowers – probably because they received more rain in twenty-four hours than they and their forebears had received accumulatively in the history of the species – developed “rust”.  This was not a good thing.  We, per instructions from the Internet, tore off all the infected leaves and trashed them.  Then it precipitated some more.  And we ripped off more leaves.  Still more rain.  And we pulled out the plants.
They came back next year – without corrosion – and every annum since.
And, even though we love them, we don’t make it easy for them.  But it is partially their fault.  Every year they move a little bit.  Which means we can never be totally certain where they will pop up the next time.  Plus the particular perennial bed where they are looking for space has several other inhospitable residents – some also from New Mexico – of the bunch-close-together-and-grab-land school of self-perpetuation.
The good news is that weeding is never a problem because those invaders that actually get even a small foothold in the garden are quickly dwarfed and rendered invisible by the taller, thicker-stemmed, meaner and more stubborn vegetation that we actually want there.
So the hollyhocks really have to pick their spots – which they seem to have found two this year.  One pink one is standing a couple of feet tall on the periphery of one of its former southwestern cohorts.  The other is just starting to assert itself in a small gap pretty much in medias res.
Hollyhocks don’t seem to have any good mythological stories – like narcissus or hyacinth involving the transfer of life or identity from a dying person to a flower.   They do however symbolize ambition and fecundity (“capable of producing abundance of offspring or new growth”) – definitely important attributes for any living thing that is uprooted from its native soil and forced to live in a not totally welcoming environment.
This is less true for the sunflowers that are popping up in multiple sites around our landscape.  None of them are the result of Mars or my efforts – except indirectly.  We supply the seeds to the birds and squirrels that, in turn, propagate them around our property – an unintended consequence of our desire to surround ourselves with a feathered as well as a floral framework for our lives.  I doubt that any of these so-called “volunteers” will even come close to photo-worthy prize-winning status - once a regular feature of late summer local newspapers – but each vibrant yellow flower head provides another splash of color for our daily viewing pleasure
The open face of the sunflowers gazes at the sun itself, hence the plant symbolizes warmth and happiness, adoration and longevity.  Just the type of ingratiating attitude that probably allows the aspiring plant to insinuate itself into nooks and crannies amidst its less sycophantic competitors. 
Plus many of the tiny disc florets in the center of the head will mature into seeds –possibly to be eaten by the same birds that sowed the flower.  How much nicer could one plant be?
Our third successful interloper this year, and another regular, is Queen Anne’s Lace.  This attractive flower (or weed depending upon your perspective) is by far the easiest of our trio of occupiers to grow.  Just look at any roadside in the state and you’ll see hundreds of examples of the white-flowered wild carrots – each one started from one of the multitude of wind-spread seeds.  Our preferred growing method is to assume we are going to have lots of them and then pull out the ones in inconvenient places.
Whence the name?   

“Legend has it that Queen Anne, the wife of King James I, was challenged by her friends to create lace as beautiful as a flower. While making the lace, she pricked her finger, and it’s said that the purple-red flower in the center of Queen Anne’s Lace represents a droplet of her blood. Also called Wild Carrot (since Queen Anne’s Lace is the wild progenitor of today’s carrot), Bishop’s Lace or Bird’s Nest (for the nest-like appearance of the bright white and rounded flower in full bloom), in the language of flowers, Queen Anne’s Lace represents sanctuary.”
Ambition and fecundity; happiness, adoration and longevity; sanctuary; color and texture – all it took was plane ticket, a bag of bird food, and the local air currents.
 Who knew landscape design could be this easy?

Friday, July 05, 2013

What Is This Plant?

Many of the perennial plants in Mars and my gardens are “rescues” – plants that I have pulled out of abandoned or about to be abandoned public and private gardens,  and then replanted in our land.  The good news is they are free.  The bad news is that I frequently have not a clue as to what they are.
Such was the case of a flower I saved from the yard of a new homeowner who “just wanted the stuff out of there!”  We took a picture and “email blasted” it to several gardening friends who, by consensus, identified it as Gooseneck Loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides for you classicists).
Interestingly, I had written the last two lines of this haiku before I knew what its subject matter was called.  But I could not come up with an opening phrase.  Then, after I learned the flower's identity, I found the beginning five syllables in the White Flower Farm online catalog’s description of the plant.

Gooseneck Loosestrife

Slender arching spikes
Like a flock of flower swans
Tethered to the earth.