Practicing My Aitches

When Eliza Doolittle, the Fair Lady herself, needed to practice her aitches, Professor Higgins gave her the exercise, “In Hertford, Hereford, and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly happen.”

When I need to practice my aitches, I wander my garden. My litany goes something this:

With hydrangea, hollyhocks, and hostas, hibiscus and honeysuckle happen (and heuchera, tooooo).

How did we end up with so many plants that start with the letter “H”? I only have one A (astilbe), two Bs (begonia and bee balm), and 3 Cs (coneflower, catnip, and chokecherry). 

But I have 6 aitches (or Hs, or even haitches, if you prefer). We used to have a seventh until the hops grew out of control and had to go.

These plants share almost nothing, in spite of starting with an aitch–it seems that letter of the alphabet provides plants for every occasion.

The honeysuckle vines grow up, up, up. They cover the pergola and appeal to ‘ummingbirds.

The heuchera, often called coral bells, come in different colors. It’s all about the foliage.

The hostas, in seemingly infinite variety, glow from the shady spots. They grow large and small, and cover the Pantone range of greens.

The hibiscus is almost sexual in its showiness. It has a high need for attention with blooms the size of a dinner plate.

The hollyhocks are old-fashioned and seem very feminine to me–tall spikes with ruffled skirts in unpredictable colors–some deep and saturated, some so subtle.

And the beloved hydrangeas. I think they are sort of out of favor right now among hip gardeners but I’ve never claimed to be hip. We have huge shrubs of different cultivars, as well as an oak leaf hydrangea, a climbing hydrangea vine, and a tree standard. I love them all.

I get confused about my H-plants on a regular basis. I want to refer to the one that grows on the pergola and I say hollyhock or pause a long time before I can come up with honeysuckle. 

Or I just ask my husband to water the one that starts with an aitch and he says, “That’s ‘ardly ‘elpful.”

Does your garden have a preponderance of plants that begin with an aitch? Or a P, per’aps?

Don’t Hate Her Because She’s Beautiful

IMG_7805Isn’t she lovely? She and her sister blooms stop me in my tracks every day, in sheer admiration.

They look so out of place, these lush tropical-looking beauties. How does something this extravagant, this opulent, this voluptuous dare grow in Zone 4, in upstate New York, a few miles from Canada?

I don’t even remember where the plant came from but my guess is that my husband brought it home from the deep-discount rack at the big box hardware and garden center. He regularly brings home nearly-dead plants—waterlogged marigolds, root-bound daisies, dry-as-dust coleuses. Some we save, some are already dead and just don’t know it yet.

The hibiscus lived! It bloomed last summer and then looked really, really dead after our long, nasty, icy winter.

But like a colorful, vibrant phoenix, rising from ice instead of ashes, it came back.

I have to admit, as pretty as they are, I’m not entirely comfortable with the hibiscus blooms.

They’re so . . . showy.IMG_7745

They make me think of those girls and women I’ve known who love attention and love to show off their amazing looks. The ones who wear the low-cut tops over their fabulous figures and lots of make-up. They pluck their eyebrows all the time, and do their nails, and always look perfectly turned out for every occasion. They’re even pretty when they cry. I’ve always been suspicious (and envious!) of that.

I feel more comfortable with the geraniums and hostas in my little garden. Like me, they’re more traditional and homey. The hostas, in particular, are happy in the shade and don’t really need people focusing too much attention on them. That’s how I feel, too. I am uncomfortable with bright colors and with looking like I’m trying too hard.

I can relate to the hostas!

The only thing that reassures me about the flashy hibiscus is how short-lived its gaudy blooms are. One day, they’re all done up in total perfection—seductive and impossible to ignore. But the next day, each bloom has drooped and faded. Their petals look like a skirt that’s lost its starch or maybe a bouffant hair-do that’s come undone. Maybe they simply had too much fun on their one-day-long coming-out party and have a wicked, final hangover.

I tell myself that we, the hostas and I, hold up better in the long term. We’re not drop-dead gorgeous but we are sturdy and constant and slow to fade. The garden needs us.

In fact, I realize, my garden is big enough for, and benefits from, all of us—the stately and the understated, the hot and the cool, the extroverts and the introverts. I’ve also learned, across the years, that the prettiest can be the pleasantest, the flashy exterior can contain an interior of integrity and strength. After all, the hibiscus plant can withstand temperatures well below freezing and come back strong, even if its blooms don’t last for long.

So, I’m rethinking my anti-hibiscus prejudices and committing myself to a more open-minded garden policy. Bring on the showy and flashy, those that live fast and fade soon. We welcome you and your vibrancy to our understated world.

We balance, and complete, each other.IMG_7744