Sunday, September 03, 2006

Rose of Sharon

What’s blooming in the area: Apache plume, winterfat, lance-leaf yellow brush, golden eye, purple aster, tahokia daisy, stickleaf, white evening primrose, horseweed, toothed spurge, ragweed, Russian thistle, white sweet clover, golden hairy aster, goldenrod, bigleaf globeflower, purple mat, bindweed, roses, sweet pea, purple phlox, canna, heavenly blue morning glory, cardinal climber, trumpet creeper, silverlace vine, Maximilian, native and farmer’s sunflowers, muhly ring and black gramma grasses. Some pigweed, velvetweed and cosmos plants over 7' in village. People had serious allergy problems to pigweed midweek; state mowed shoulders of the main road.

What’s blooming in my garden, looking north: Black-eyed Susan, blanket flower, lance-leaf coreopsis, chocolate flower, perky Sue, Hartweg evening primrose, fern-leaf yarrow, Mexican hat, yellow cosmos, creeping zinnia, nasturtium, butterfly weed, chrysanthemum, miniature roses (Sunrise, Rise and Shine).

Looking east: Yellow evening primrose, garlic chives, California poppy, crackerjack marigold, tall zinnias, winecup, floribunda (Fashion), large flowered soapwort, pink bachelor button, larkspur, thrift, Shirley poppy, sweet alyssum.

Looking south: Bouncing Bess, small zinnias, crimson rambler morning glory, sensation cosmos, heath aster, blaze, rugosa and rugosa hybrid (Elisio) roses, tamarix.

Looking west: Perennial four o’clock, purple coneflower fading, white phlox (David), frikarti aster, lead plant, catmint, Russian sage, ladybells, purple ice plant, caryopteris.

Bedding plants: Dalhburg daisies, marigolds, sweet alyssum, snapdragons, petunias, profusion zinnia.

Animal sightings: Gecko, more grasshoppers, ants rebuilding, mosquitoes, sheep, horse.

Weather: Noisy last weekend as one neighbor down the hill ran a backhoe and another up the road used his weed-whacker on the pigweed. Mornings are cooler. Mild winds in mornings and mid-afternoons are pollinating late summer grasses and plants like pigweed.

Weekly update: After ten years, my Roses of Sharon are finally blooming. I discovered I wasn’t growing what I thought.

I planted three shrubs in 1997. I remembered them as double red and bare roots from one of the local hardware stores. In fact, they appear to be Collie Mullins hybrids of Hibiscus syriacus bought in pots from the other hardware. I have labels for both, The flowers are dusty pink with lighter streaks.

I bought them because they grow in the village and are related to hollyhocks which naturalize here. I assumed because they flourish a few miles away, they would survive. And they did start blossoming in 2001, but only produced a few flowers. Every year since things began well, then late frosts killed the leaves. Last winter the gopher burrowed in winter, followed by the grasshoppers. The frost got them again this year, so I was surprised to see any signs of color.

They bloom on new wood, need moisture to develop, and open best in shade. After last year’s depredations, they have nothing but new wood. This year has been remarkable, first for the cool nights, then the past few weeks for rain and clouds. In the early morning I can see them in all their glory.

Only glory may not be the word for them. When they first opened, the blossoms were stunted and the color an ugly purple red. The deformities reappeared when they shriveled from age. They took several days to fall.

More flowers turned the brush into pincushions - neat urns with decorations randomly stuck about. All faced away from the house where they couldn’t be seen. The cactus imitation is more pronounced in the village where one person pruned a group into a low, rounded hedgerow. A few grape moons with prominent stamens protrude into the road.

When even more flowers opened they resembled cocktail toothpicks with curlicues lodged on the tips of woody stems. The bushes have yet to develop any width. L. E. Cook says this hybrid only gets 4' wide for its 8' to 10' height. Mortrello Nurseries cautions patience, suggests the shrubs get tall before they expand.

Once enough flowers opened, their complex, camellia form emerged. It’s easy to imagine Carmen plucking one for behind her ear. Unfortunately, it’s just as easy to see their imitations on the hats of older women in period stage productions.

Up close, Roses of Sharon are fascinating, especially when they catch the afternoon sun. At a middle distance, merged into a mixed shrub border, they look like poor quality climbing roses. When I step farther away, they dissolve into skinny, pretentious poplars.

I drove through the village to see how I could have been so wrong about nature In addition to the formal hedge, another man put in a fence row a few years ago, probably ordered from one of the catalogs sent from Bloomington, Illinois. It looks just like the pictures, with no obvious gaps for dead bushes.

The most glorious mounds are taller than a double wide, three next to the house, one a little away. Two are red, the others single whites with red centers. Nearly as magnificent is a tall white column as tall as a garage near the post office. The shrubs at eight other houses are specimens, planted away from the house where the similarity to roses is best seen. They’re all about the same size as mine, probably hybrids. Most are double. None have surviving seedlings growing near to suggest old plants.

I’m reassured. When they grow here, they’re wonderful. I just have to wait a few more years for mine to broaden. Or, maybe the neighboring shrubs will fill in and provide a greener background for the blowsy blooms. In the slow time of near desert, I have adolescents waiting to grow into their flowers.

L. E. Cook Company, "Collie Mullens Althea," on-line catalog.

Mortellaro Nursery Inc. "Althea, Collie Mullens," 1998, on-line catalog.

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