Wednesday, October 9, 2013

October Romance

     It's rendezvous season with basil. Basil wants to be pesto. Why else would it grow in such profusion? As the summer ends the basil plants grow flowers at the stem tops. You're supposed to pick these off to encourage more production of basil leaves, but inevitably I get behind and the seed stalks grow long and grow seeds. There they are in the photo (top left), happy as kings with their very own crowns of seed stalks jeweled with tiny white flowers.

            Even after I turn the leaves into pesto, I keep the flowers around. They retain a touch of the plant's balmy late-summer scent as the kitchen puts on a puffy hat and celebrates a brief happy basil season.

            October is white Montauk daisies, violet asters, late roses, a few new arrivals -- the white anemones finally blossoming from a couple of plants I introduced into the late summer program last year -- and of course mums, plenty of garden mums.

            Morning glories, especially the big blue throaty ones, they look like trumpets warming up to sing, still climb up the back of the house. I have a new generation of them under the study window this week. A small chorus of annuals -- zinnias, viola cultivars, snapdragons -- pitch into the ensemble to light up the corners.

            Then the spotted toad lilies arrive to put in their annual appearance.

            We go back a long way, these toadies and I, relatively speaking. One year, maybe the first summer in this house, I found a little nursery and florist shop in the nearby commercial center. I was innocent in the ways of Wollaston then. I would go buy coffee in the least-trafficked shop in the square just to try to keep the little guy going. It didn't happen. The shop was so empty that sometimes I heard the proprietress speak low in a sad but consoling tone of voice, taking heavy phone calls in the next room while her husband poured me my coffee. Illness in the family? I felt like an intruder.

            Even I couldn't drink enough coffee to keep this place in business.

            But in the little garden center I found a winner. The proprietor actually knew plants. In the florist side of the business, you sell cold cut flowers grown anywhere -- in the southern hemisphere, for example, around Valentine's Day. The flowers of winter in New England that time of year tend to be snow flakes, accidental creations piled up the snow, icicles, other drippings of serendipity, or ice sculptures in Boston Commons carved for First Night.

            But on the garden side he had a greenhouse packed with favorites.

            Whenever my infant garden flagged in providing new thrills that first year, which was often enough, I would wander over to the Wollaston Square garden center and ask, "What do you have that blooms this time of year?"

            By the time it got to be October, not so much.  

            But I was greedy for color, endlessly desirous of new plants. (Anne used another word: addicted.) Well, he said, there is this one unusual plant. Not too many people have heard of it.

            I certainly hadn't. But I could have made a very long list of plants I had never heard of. Then I asked, as I always did (and still do now), "How much sun does it need?"

            When the answer was "part-sun," as it often is, especially when someone wants to sell you a plant, I said 'OK we're good to go.'

            The plant is the spotted toad lily, its botanical  name Tricyrtis. The common name refers to to the spots on the flowers. On its leaves too, as I learn, but on my plant the leaves are a green monotone. I picked up the "three" in what I took to be Latin, but according to the resource I checked the genus name is actually from the Greek for "three" and "convex" because the 3 outer petals have tiny bags or swellings at the base.  I must say that "convex" is not the obvious word that leaps to mind when examining the intricacies of this flower.

            It's sometimes hard to keep track of a plant that doesn't bloom until autumn. I've planted other perennials, groundcovers mostly, in the same area, and sometimes the toad lily gets overrun and I have to remember it's there and clear out some of the invaders. I even backed it up by buying another Tricyrtis plant in another shop and planting it in another location. This patch grows taller and I'm less likely to lose track of them.

            But seeing old friends in their season is part of the romance of the garden. I've learned (at least I flatter myself that I'm on the right track) to appreciate whatever you have and offer no complaint for whatever you don't -- in gardening, as perhaps in other areas of life as well.

            Whatever is there, is good. Sometimes it's also beautiful.