At Happy Acres we like tough plants. We don’t have a lot of time to coddle and baby our plants, so we tend to lean towards ones that survive with a minimum of fuss and bother. We have large number of easily grown and colorful perennial plants like hostas, coneflowers, daisies, peonies, daylilies and irises.
One such tough plant I had forgotten about made itself known this week. One afternoon I saw a bright red blossom towering above the crowded jungle at the back of our property. We alternately refer to this wild area as ‘the bottoms’ or ‘the swamp’, depending on the season. I knew right away what was blooming, because there was a story involved.
My wife was in charge of our 2009 Master Gardener garden tour, which is a biennial fundraiser our organization holds to raise money for a scholarship fund. In 2008 I helped her visit some of the candidate gardens while they were in their summer glory days. One of my favorites was a garden we called the Two Sisters Garden. It was the creation of two charming sisters who had crafted a backyard oasis for wildlife.
One of the many lovely plants blooming in their garden was the Scarlet Hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus). This member of the Mallow family serves as a nectar source for both butterflies and hummingbirds. I had never seen this plant before, and after one of the sisters told me all about it she gave me a packet of seed she had saved from the previous season.
In 2009 I started some seedlings, and since the plant loves swampy conditions I planted them in our very own swamp. It bloomed that year, but I had planted it in an area we later decided to let go wild since it had wild blackberries and a good stand of milkweed. I thought that would be the end of the hibiscus.
Of course, I was wrong! Last year we didn’t see any blooms, no doubt because of the dry weather we had in 2010. The plant can easily survive dry conditions, but it really needs lots of water in order to bloom and flourish. Which, of course, describes 2011 pretty much to a ‘t’, where we have had record rainfall through the spring and early summer months.
The five petaled blossoms only last a day, but new ones come along all summer and fall. The plant dies back to the ground here in winter, but comes back in the spring.
My wife has suggested that maybe we should start some more plants next year and give them a more prominent position. That way we won’t need a pair of binoculars (or a telephoto lens) to admire them! I think that is a great idea.
And speaking of survivors, another tough plant worthy of mention is the giant tulip poplar tree in the cemetery across the road from us. It was struck by lightning earlier this spring, an event which had me literally jumping out of my chair the night it happened.
I was hoping the damage wouldn’t kill the tree, and so far it is wounded and scarred but still alive. The jagged strip of bark still juts out from the trunk.
It would be a shame to lose the tree. It stands tall in the cemetery, providing shade and beauty to all who visit. On a recent foggy morning the sun rising behind it give it a ghostly presence, rays of light burning through the fog and filtering through the leaves. So for now it’s a survivor too, an irony given that it’s the largest living thing in the cemetery.