Monday, April 13, 2015

Persevering Plants

Resilient Crocus
This is the time of year when I fold my needlework, put away my art and craft supplies, and become a servant of the plants. J.D. keeps his camera handy, but deserts his computer to rake and hoe, plant and cultivate, water and weed. Most of our daylight hours are spent in the greenhouse or the various garden plots tending vegetables and fruits for our stomachs and flowers for our spirits.

I have always surrounded myself with plants. As a child on the farm, I used to take my little red wagon and follow the men as they cleared the roadside ditches. I would fill the wagon with clumps of wildflowers, take them home, and plant them around our house. At one time I had eight kinds of wild violets. I have one kind here. It planted itself in one of the garden spots last year and has now established several “colonies”, including one on bare rocks. I admire its tenacity, perseverance, and determination to grow and thrive.

Our eighty-seven-year-old next-door neighbor has an apricot tree that is more than one hundred years old. Despite its age, in good years it bears hundreds of firm, luscious fruit. The few branches that hang over our yard provide all the apricots we eat during the summer, plus plenty to freeze for winter. We had two mild freezes in March, while the tree was in bloom, so we must wait weeks to find out if there will be an apricot crop this year.

Crabapple Blooms
Crabapple Blooms
In our front yard is a crab apple tree that has been my favorite tree for more than thirty-five years and it was old when we moved here. I don't make jelly from the fruit any more because it requires too much sugar; I leave the fruit for the birds to enjoy. A small flock of cedar waxwings stays with us for a day or two in the fall, eating the fruit to fuel their bodies for migration.

We feed the birds all year long and maintain several birdbaths. Soon after we moved here, I noticed plants growing here that had not been here when we arrived and that I had not planted. I realized that at least some of them had probably been introduced by the birds. Many were annuals that bloomed for a season and disappeared, but some became permanent residents. The most spectacular of these is an Oregon holly-grape. It started as a tiny seedling beside our homemade greenhouse. I liked its glossy, spiny foliage and watered it from time to time. Today we have a dense cluster of plants that reach to my shoulder and are about eight feet (2.5 meters) in diameter. They are spectacular in the spring when they are covered with spikes of vivid yellow flowers. In the fall their berries supply food for birds and other animals.

Oregon Grape Holly
Oregon Grape Holly

The evergreen tree beside the holly-grape was also a surprise. It suffered a lot of damage from the deer the first couple of years. As its prickly companion grew behind it, however, the deer lost interest in it. It is taller than I am now and has regained its symmetry. It grows more attractive each year. I really approve of the birds' landscaping efforts!

Rhubarb, bent on world domination
Not all our prodigious plants have been so welcome. We had a rhubarb patch that grew much more than we could eat, preserve, or even give away. My husband would dig it up, but it would come back the next year. At that time we had a small boat that we used for fishing. One autumn, he overturned the boat on the rhubarb, sure that it would die over the winter. The next spring I noticed that the boat appeared to be several inches above the ground. Removing the boat revealed a healthy boat-shaped rhubarb patch that had raised the boat with stems and leaves. Then he had a load of crushed rock dumped on the plants. I was afraid he had finally succeeded. As you can see, he had not. As J. D. uses the rock for landscaping, I expect that patch to grow and grow and grow.

Forsythia "tree"
Some of our plants have delusions of grandeur. Our forsythia and snowball bushes are fast becoming small trees instead of shrubs. They appear to be having a contest to see which one can grow tallest. Currently the snowball is in front. The remarkable thing is that they can do this in our arid climate without requiring additional watering.

Coral Rose
Coral Rose
Then there is our most ambitious rose. It is a climber that produces lovely coral blossoms. It is often the first of our roses to bloom and always the last one to stop blooming, producing blooms even through three frosts last autumn. It long ago outgrew its trellis and now supports itself on the greenhouse. It doesn't seem to need much support, however, since it now grows a good four feet (125 cm) above the greenhouse roof.

Lenten Rose
Lenten rose, making a home under the mock orange
We planted a mock orange bush at the end of a nice lilac hedge. Everyone said it wouldn't survive our cold winters. Not only does it perfume the neighborhood every May, but it has grown over, under, and through the lilac hedge (which is now taller than the house) for more than the length of the entire house. Then it “jumped over” a large garden plot and, perhaps with some help from the birds, grew another large bush against the side of a storage shed.

So, whenever you get the opportunity, stop and smell the violets and the mock orange and the roses. And, like the plants,

Strive to thrive!

Red and white tulips
Early tulips celebrate the arrival of warmer weather

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