Saturday, July 16, 2016

Having A Fruitful Discussion

As I mentioned in an earlier post – this year in Mars' and my garden is the “Year of Teasel and Hollyhocks” – and now it turns out, to my dismay, Rose of Sharon.  I came across the latter this past weekend when I thought I would grab a quick half hour of easy pruning prior to heading off on one of the Walking Tours at a local historic rural cemetery. 

My intended task was to quickly prune back the overgrowth from two sets of bushes that demarcate the pathway to our compost bin along the south boundary of our property.  The branches of the shrubs had grown long enough to create a green, leafy turnstile that I had to push my way through on my evening foray to add to the fenced-in pile of decaying yard and kitchen waste.  It was annoying enough to be scolded each eventide by the family of catbirds that nest in my nearby arborvitae.  But the thwack of the whip-like branches on the backs of my bare legs as I retreated after quickly tossing the collection of lettuce leaves (or whatever) onto the slow-cooking heap was, unlike the silencing the meowing avians, easily solvable with a few minutes of lopping.
The compost bin itself is a hexagonal corral of wood slats, about three feet high and six feet across, with a front gate held in place by an L-shaped metal rod that inserts into the unhinged end of the front gate, and sticks into the ground.  No compost, as far as we know, has ever escaped.
We have lived here since 1977, and have had the container for at least twenty-five of those years after purchasing it from what was, at the time, my favorite garden catalogue to read, and perhaps order from, “Gardens Alive!”.  (I was particularly fond of their descriptions and pictures of nematodes and other such beneficial predators.)  Over the years ivy has totally enveloped the bin making it no longer possible to open the door but giving it an all-natural look that would make the folks at “Gardens Alive!” quite pleased.  This apparent lockout is not a problem for me since, being 6’ 5” I have always turned and removed the compost from above anyway.  Plus the green vines blend in rally nicely with the increasingly woodsy background.
Which brings me to the Rose of Sharon – one of the principal things that are adding to the forestation. 
The compost bin is adjacent to what used to be our shade garden but now has become, by default, a sun garden due to the unplanned and unfortunate demise of the tall, noble trees that had previously provided the shadowy cover.  In addition to the frying of the shade-loving plants that had previously occupied the space, another surprising consequence of the explosion of sunlight was the emergence of several flora which Mars and I had no idea had roots in that area – Flowering Crab and Pokeweed for example. 
And Rose of Sharon, which I now have to learn something about.
I have found that reading the folklore associated with a plant can sometimes teach you something about its horticulture.  For example, our hollyhocks, whose seeds we imported from the high desert region of New Mexico, seem to react badly to an abundance of warm weather Connecticut precipitation.  I figured this was probably due to its arid place of origin – but folk tales tell a slightly different story.     

Hollyhock (mallow family Malvaceae) “…in Polish is called MALWA. There is a legend that it’s favorite plant of ferries and forest flying creatures. There is also a legend that once a girl name Malvina wanted to place some flower on the grave of her loved boy that died tragically. The only flowers she could find was these. She cried a lot by the grave and her tears was falling to the flowers causing them to close. Now when ever it’s raining this plant will close its flower to protect from rain. And many time it will loose flowers after one small rain, because flowers are very delicate. Some of the type of this plans will also close their flower by rolling them in to trumpet shape tube for night.”

And Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), which we grow and it does okay but not great, has a backstory that is intertwined with that of Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus), a flower that we do not plant.  Apparently, according to an old English poem by John Gay, the former would do much, much better if we also had the latter.

"All in the downs the fleet was moored, banners waving in the wind. When Black-eyed Susan came aboard, and eyed the burly men. 'Tell me ye sailors, tell me true, if my Sweet William sails with you.'’
So, what of the Rose of Sharon?   According to, "’Sharon’ means ‘Fruitful’ a word that Torah associates with good pasturage for sheep.”   There apparently are more mentions of the plant in both the Old and New Testaments such as within the Song of Solomon  – "I am the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valley.”  But “fruitful” was more than enough to tell me all that I need to know about our newly arrived Hibiscus syriacus.
Prior to the passing of the shade, and the rising of the sun on that part of our yard we had zero/zip/zilch Rose of Sharon.  This time, when I went out to clear my path to the compost bin, I was immediately confronted by two of the bushes – one at each side of the container.  The tree on the right was slightly taller than me, and looked to be within minutes of blossoming.  I had been watching it for a couple of years and liked both its location and its look.   

The leftmost one was less fecund and half the height – but much taller and fuller than I had recalled (if I even remembered it) – and was already beginning to block access to my compostable matter dumping site. Its trunk was thicker than my hand clippers could handle so I retrieved my Japanese pruning saw and hacked it down.  While picking up that felled shrub I noticed another six inch tall R of S; then another; and another… a whole forest of pint-sized products of (presumably) the progenitor I had just admired and whose life I had once again pardoned.
And each time I bent over to snip off one of the little intruders I noticed at least two more.  It was either an arithmetic progression or a geometric one.  I once knew and cared about the difference between these two mathematical concepts, but now all I cared about was losing control of my property, or at least this section of it, to this invasive “fruitful” Hibiscus.  So I spent the next ten or so minutes bent over in a u-shaped posture snipping off the invasive semi-triangular serrated leaf holders until I was satisfied that, for the moment, my immediate surroundings were clear of them.
A small skirmish won.  But the more that I think about the fable of Rose of Sharon, I more I can foresee a long term conflict of near Biblical proportions.

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