Fawning Over the Flora

If there is one thing I’ve learned from my gardening efforts, it’s that plants hold grudges.

Never mind planting instructions, I need a book on plant psychology.  Trying to explain to them that I’m doing something  for their own good makes my flora frowna, to drop a little plant lingo on you.  If they don’t like it, they pout and take to their metaphorical fainting couches where they go into decline, hibernation, or compost. 

Once I planted Appalachian Mountain Mint –easy to grow.   Its fresh  fragrance scented my patio and, I hoped, discouraged fleas and mosquitoes.  Eau de Ricola.  Mountain mint and I had a wonderful relationship for a couple of seasons, but when it outgrew its bed and headed for my roses, I  moved it to another part of the yard and planted annuals around the patio, 

There was no reason for it not to thrive in its new location.  There was plenty of room to spread and send forth enough minty fragrance to give the whole neighborhood fresh breath.  Instead, it went  into a snit and  refused to take hold.   Even when I tried to grow it years later in a completely different city,  it refused.   Mountain Mint has me on its Enemies List.

Sweet Annie “diss-ed” me too.  A little goes a long way, so after she started to swagger around our Memphis yard I moved her to a strip between our fence and the alley.  Sweet Annie said thanks, but no thanks for that plot to nowhere.  Perhaps she ran off  to find Daddy Warbucks. I never saw her again.

Native plants around here don’t accept that I’m a native, too.    I sometimes ask a developer who’s about to clear a natural area if I can remove some of the plants that are going to be destroyed.  Even if I dig up a dozen little sassafras trees, no matter what time of year,  not one will make it to our first anniversary together.  I don’t know whether  they’re not interested in being moved or whether my soil says, “Sassafras, my ass!” and regurgitates them.  No little mitten leaves to show the grandchildren around here.  Ferns and sweet bay magnolias usually appreciate my rescue efforts, but the native southern hollies that I love side with the sassafrases.  I don’t even want the beauty-berry bushes, but they follow me home anyway. 

I’m not a plant dunce.  The  roses do well.  The Daphne Odora dazzled us this year.   There’s no rhyme or reason to what goes on out there.   The service berry that I brought with me from Minnesota thrives, but the one I purchased locally lasted only one season.   Perhaps in protest that I’d brought in a ringer from out of state?

Years ago when my mother saw a deutzia in bloom in a friend’s Virginia garden, she wrapped  a small cutting in a wet paper towel, brought it back on a Greyhound bus, and stuck it in the ground.  It became a springtime showoff in her garden.  Could I duplicate her success?  HA!  Deutzias don’t like me.  Even my  purchased deutzias laze without any attempt to advance past Go.    Maybe the plants around them whispered, “Don’t grow.  She’ll just move you to another spot.”


Years ago Pogo, watching me putter in the yard, asked, “Why do other people plant real stuff and we plant sticks?” 

Those sticks are  family.   A camellia from under the tall pines of  my uncle’s yard, a flowering almond passed down from my mother’s favorite aunt.   And then there was the lilac which had flourished under the window of my grandmother’s kitchen, thumbing its lavender nose at suggestions that lilacs don’t do well in eastern North Carolina.  The fragrance of the flowers wafting  through the window screen in those years couldn’t take away the smell of my grandmother’s greasy collards which I swear had permeated the plaster walls, but it gave me something else to concentrate on from my seat by the window.

Daughter Boo took a rooted cutting of that lilac back to Indiana and it grows there so well there she was able to start  a tiny one for me to try here at the Beach House-Not-On-The-Beach.  It was out there somewhere when landscapers came in with Bobcats and backhoes to reconfigure our yard, ‘dozing  the unwieldy berm into a  raised bed.  The width of our back yard, the elevation change  made it necessary to  build tree wells for the ones which  had been on the down side of the berm.    Although the landscape crew had  tried to dig  any plants worth saving (Hasta la vista, wax myrtles!)  the little lilac never showed itself.   We do, however, have a showoff summer lilac (buddleia) bush which has long since grown into a tree  and is now taller than the house. 

Behind the cracked birdbath now used as a planter is a treewell with Encore azalea, dogwood, and pine tree inside.  Uh oh.  (sigh) Spiderworts at 3:00!
Behind the cracked birdbath now used as a planter is a treewell with Encore azalea, dogwood, and pine tree inside. Uh oh. (sigh) Spiderworts at 3:00!

Ever since I saw a white garden at NC State Arboretum about 15 years ago, I’ve wanted  a moonlight garden. An area outside our bedroom window, originally drawn on the plan as a water feature, is now a work in progress, with white flowering plants.  The guy who drew the original plan did not realize that the last thing  a 60-something couple needs outside their  bedroom window is the sound of running water.   We look at it during nocturnal trips to the bathroom,  in hopes that its dreamy moonlight shimmer will send us back to dreamland.



Sometimes I think the shrubs draw pinestraws to see which one gets to be the bully of the season.   If the Virginia Sweetspire knows what’s good for it,  it’ll stop harrassing  my azaleas.   The friend who gave me the spiderwort plants couldn’t have been a friend after all.   Those things  slingshot their seeds into places no plant should be able to grow. 

The chartreuse spirea and the ruby loropetalum refuse to cohabitate in  peace.  The spira became so pushy that I cut it back to give  the loropetalum a little breathing room, but what did it do but start going all greenie on me.   What causes that?  Ruby, I’m not patient with sassy plants.   Where I wanted green, I PLANTED green. 


So far, along with contact dermatitis and a sunburned neck, I have enough clippings to build a hut to show for my efforts.   Fingers crossed that the Japanese snowbell will  flower before we leave.   A few Jonquils opened overnight– Jonquil-come-latelys, we’ll call them.  Some of the annuals I planted WAY too early seem to be coming up anyway.  Always, there are surprises in a garden. 

Am I delusional, or does this tiny plant look like a lilac to you? 



2 thoughts on “Fawning Over the Flora

  1. cw

    Mary, that yard is beautiful!! Sling shooting seeds, huh? LOLOLOL…. Lady, you always make me smile or cry or both… special, special, speeeeeeeeeeecialllll!!!

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