Sunday, May 29, 2016

Masochistic Flowers

Take a close look at a rose bush, clematis vine, or slender columbine stalk. You’ll see perfectly formed leaves that bugs can chew to look like fishnet stockings in a feeding or two and fragile blooms that appear as if they’d unravel at the seams during high winds. Anything this delicate looking ought to frighten new gardeners. Not so. My mom has tested these three species and discovered they like abuse. In fact, they thrive on it.

For the last five decades, Mom has grown lovely roses in yards in two states. Her plants are always healthy and bloom profusely through the summer. Last year, her plants continued to produce huge, scented blossoms into mid-November when a visit from Jack Frost nipped them and ended the display. In this case, she feeds the plants regularly. Then in late February or early March, she grabs her clippers and takes out any stored up winter aggressions on those thorny stems. When she’s done, stubs of the former plant remain. By May, it’s clear the roots enjoyed this shearing as they produce hordes of new shoots that soon sport lovely red, white, and pink flowers she can enjoy on the plant or cut to put in a vase to perfume her house.

Mom’s green thumb includes more than roses. This last summer, Mom’s showy clematis overtook much of her front flowerbed draping itself over surrounding plants. Unsure of how to handle this issue, last fall she grabbed her shears again and took after those dry stems, cutting the vine back like a pedicurist trimming too-long toenails. All winter long, she worried that she might have gotten carried away and killed her favorite spring harbinger. Imagine her delight when she saw new growth earlier this year. Triple that emotion to describe how she reacted when she came home from a short trip to find over fifty saucer-sized blooms climbing her trellis.

Not surprisingly, cutting back that aggressive clematis also benefitted the yellow columbine growing in the area in front of Mom’s treasured vine. Last year her Colorado flowers were two feet tall. This year, they’re at least six inches to a foot higher. And she didn’t fertilize them. This growth is the result of receiving more sun along with abundant spring rains. You’d think towering, long stemmed blooms would succumb to some of the “breezes” we’ve enjoyed lately. Not these guys. We had a doozy of storm the other night and by sunrise, those yellow flower stood at attention to welcome those bright rays.

I tend to garden cautiously, but after seeing the results my mom gets by energetically trimming her plants and then not worrying about what the weather does to them, I’m going to change my ways. I’ve concluded that plants are like feet and hands. Anyone watching a pedicure or manicure for the first time would swear the technician was abusing the client during the process of softening and pushing back cuticles and dealing with calluses. In reality, anyone who’s enjoyed such services knows the treatment feels great, and like my mom’s treatment of her garden, produces lovely results.

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