For The Moment of "Ah!"

Do you ever look at one of your plants and ask yourself: why did I buy this damn thing?

I have few, if any, out-of-the-ordinary plants, preferring plants with needs on a par with my somewhat limited horticultural skills and even more limited attention span. Oddities that require meticulous care--I can't manage them.

Provided you don't count gardeners, there are two kinds of garden oddities. First, common plants grown far out of their typical zone--these are odd only in location--Spruce in San Diego, Adeniums in Fairbanks. Second, plants which so few people grow they are truly uncommon--Boswellia elongata, anyone?

I avoid both kinds. The first kind make no sense to me: there are more plants appropriate to this climate than I will ever be able to grow, so why look beyond that? The second kind make no sense for me: I honestly admit I'm not that skilled of a grower. Our mild climate more than makes up for my lack of expertise.

My limitations have become obvious since I impulsively bought two Massonia echinata, which is a South African bulb in the hyacinth family. Luckily it's a summer-dry/winter-rain type, and so is perfectly suited for this climate. That put it in the "not-common" category, rather than in the "wrong zone" group. So I have no excuses to kill them--placed correctly, watched a bit, they'll prosper. But I remain uneasy.

This plant is the equivalent of a small, thoughtful, but inappropriate gift: you say "Thanks!", admire it, appreciate the thoughtfulness of the giver, then stick gift in a drawer, and forget about it. You come across it every so often, and think: "That was thoughtful, but I wonder if I'll ever use this. I can't throw it out because it was a gift, but..." The plant version of this is: "It grows, it's alive, I bought it, I can't throw it out, but..." But it wasn't a gift. I inflicted Massonia echinata upon myself.

This plant grows two leaves in the fall when the rainy season begins, blooms, and then goes dormant for the dry summer. The flower looks something like a shaving brush, and has a sweet perfume and nectar. It's the amazing product of millions of years of evolution, but...what do I do with it? It vanishes for the summer. It must be protected from snails, who find the leaves delectable. It's small, perhaps ten inches across when mature, so could be easily lost if not given its own little uncluttered space.

I got them in a misguided fit of botanical enthusiasm at a local University plant sale. The flowers were already finished by the time I bought it, but the seedpod was there. Today, the dried flower clusters detached themselves from the plant. There are small black seeds--like poppy seeds--apparently not difficult to germinate. I'm telling myself I'll try to start them this fall, so I can have even more copies of a plant I don't know what do to with.

The best cultivation information I found was on Scottish Rock Garden club site, here.

Scottish people who grow this South African plant--now those are real horticulturalists. Their entire summer consists of 3 hours on a Wednesday afternoon in July, yet here they are growing South African dryland bulbs to perfection. Is heather nae enough for ye, Laddie? Obviously their skills require something more challenging than shading out their neighbor's yard with Leyland Cypress.

Why do people fix on certain plants to grow well, or badly? Ego? Boredom? Self-delusion? A memory of a wonderful vacation? A curiosity to show off? Because someone else grows it? True love?

Why did I buy Massonia echinata? It was not True Love. And that's sad. A plant should always be for love, for the moment of "Ah!" whenever you walk out into the garden and see it there.

Rosa 'Golden Celebration'

Rosa 'Sombreuil'


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