Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Always Room for One More

Okay. So Mars and I are now the proud owners of three, possibly four, teasels, two agastache and a pair of perillae.   And a week ago I didn’t even know what they were.  

It all began when we returned from our week of golfing at Penn State University – a school run by the Women’s Varsity coach and her staff under the auspices of the Road Scholar (nee Elderhostel) Program.  Among the seven messages left on our answering machine was one from F*, a fellow member of my men’s garden club, urgently requesting that I call him ASAP, immediatly followed by a second more insistent communiqué left the following day talking about a “once in a lifetime opportunity’.

Normally I ignore such telephonic entreaties but knowing the caller I overrode my bias and phoned him.  Still I was half expecting to hear a deep male Nigerian accent (which F* is not) telling me in halting English that he was stranded in some European country with his credit cards and passport stolen and needing $350.00 to buy his way home. Instead I got, “The number you have reached is no longer in service”

I checked the online white pages, called again, and got the same message.  Figuring that he might have some sort of electrical or telephonic problem, and having his office phone number I left a message on that machine and went about the business of retuning home.   It was the same story the next day so Mars and I took a ride to his house to investigate.

 F* and his wife were in the throes of changing their home landline service provider and without connectivity for a few days during the cutover – hence the communications blackout.  All was well but F* wanted to go for a short ride with Mars and me to see the source of his great excitement.

We slowly weaved our way through the short, narrow streets of the historic district of our town and pulled up in front of the house belonging to C* – master gardener extraordinaire and widow of a former club member.  Along the way F* told us that C* is moving from her house and the new homeowner planned to bulldoze under all of her plants, mostly perennials, and replace them with a solid grass lawn.  So C* is allowing her friends to come and take what they want in order to save the plants.  

He warned us to expect to see a few cars and trucks parked at the scene – there were four plus a large trailer.  It was ninety degrees and sunny.  And there were a larger number of gardeners armed with thick glove, black plastic pots, and shovels working diligently in the hot August sun – not all of whom were visible among the literally hundreds of plants of various kinds and heights that were growing on pretty much every inch of C*’s property.

A few of the bushes were already reserved with paper tags and yarn much like you might find at a Christmas tree farm in early December – some by horticulturalists from our state university; a couple by savvy landscaping companies; and one or two by other master gardeners.  Many quite rare breeds, still unclaimed, sat hidden in the shadows of more pedestrian strains such as a ten-foot tall purple Butterfly Bush, behind which nestled a type of evergreen that apparently lost its needles every fall and completely regenerated them in the spring ,yet still retained its “evergreen” status.  I personally could identify about half of what I saw in front (and on every side) of me.

You couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting an unusual plant.

Well actually there wasn’t enough room to brandish a departed,  or living, feline.  – probably by design.   The garden’s theme was plants that attract birds – a purpose towards which Mars and I decided to work in our own yard a couple of years ago.  In light of that, and under C*’s expert guidance, we selected some teasel – a three to eight foot tall plant with purple, dark pink or lavender flowers that form a head on the end of the stem. 

The seeds mature in mid autumn and can be a winter food resource for Goldfinches and other birds.  (The dried head of the plant was used in the textile industry to provide a natural comb for raising the nap on fabrics, particularly wool.)  It is a self-seeding biannual that apparently spreads like crazy.  I am used to that however, already spending a good chunk of my gardening time corralling the tansy, goose-neck loosestrife, Chinese lanterns and other space seeking plants that we have previously adopted.

We also took a pair of agastaches which we mistakenly thought were “just the right size” butterfly bushes.  Pale purple in color these perennials also attract goldfinches – which Mars and I personally can never get enough of.  The small leaves smell like mint – the plant is sometimes called Hummingbird Mint – and like its namesake and our other acquisitions it apparently it also is an inveterate land grabber.


Our final acquisition was perilla – an actual member of the mint family, which can be added to salads.  According to Wikipedia “the plant is self-sowing….has been widely naturalized in parts of the United States and Canada, from Texas and Florida north to Connecticut and into Ontario, and west to Nebraska. It can be weedy or invasive in some of these regions.”


I planted the three varieties in a largely sunny area within a few feet of each other and near to some of the other perennials that provide stalking shelter to the neighborhood cats that hunt on our property.

 I am not trying to crowd out these domesticated predators – there is still more than ample room to twirl one of more of them about should the opportunity present itself.  Nor am I attempting to attract more bright yellow meals for them to prey upon.

The “theme” of our garden, if any, is that there is always room for one more plant – especially if otherwise its next stop would be the compost pile, or even worse the hostile blade of a maleficent bulldozer.

 Thanks C*.


Bram said...

Agastache, I think, smells more like root beer. Attracts the hummingbirds.

Jim said...

Someone else mentioned the root beer aroma. Double checked and still not sensing that. We'll hope for hummingbirds - never had luck with them here in our part of the northeast.