Thursday, June 27, 2013


People collect all sorts of things. One need only go to an estate sale or to our mother in laws' house to prove it. There are the Hummel figurines, the McCoy Pottery bowls, the old state license plates, a locked cabinet of bass plugs and fishing lures.

Till recently I worked with a woman who collected dolls.

Dolls of every size and vintage. Hundreds of dolls. She showed me the pictures.

There they were-in chairs, on the window seats, on a bed. Everywhere.

But not in her house. They were in their own little house, built by the woman's husband. Large enough for full grown people to walk around in, but private enough for the secret life of dolls. Who knows what they were up to when she was not looking-

A few weeks ago I went through an old trunk where I kept watercolor paints, pastels, old short stories never seen by anyone other than myself, and I found an old monograph on the David Austin roses that I had written twenty years ago for the Cheekwood Botanical Gardens here in Nashville.

I did not remember writing it, and did not realize I had saved it, but the first line I wrote took me back to my own collecting days.

"In my Bellevue garden", I wrote"I grow over two hundred fifty varieties of roses".

And I did. Until the trees I planted shaded the beds out. Until I began to be unfaithful with other plants.

Many gardeners have been afflicted with this mono-cultural monomania for roses ever since the first roses came out of Persia and China. It is a passion even the layman, the non-gardener can understand.

But other gardeners develop a taste for other plants not so admired by ordinary people.

The Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina sells twenty plus varieties of Arisaema , otherwise known as Jack-in-the Pulpit. These are woodland plants, and if I had a shaded garden and room for them I might have a cluster of three or four of the common variety found in the eastern woods. This would be enough for me.

But to a collector, enough is not enough. He, or she is infected with a horticultural Pleonexia.

If a plant explorer finds a 1/2 inch tall Arisaema growing in moss on the north side of a Nepalese rock, the collector must have it.

Back many years ago,when I was out and about in horticultural world more than I am now, I visited several collectors' gardens.
No Jack in the Pulpits there. These were gardens for day lilies and for rare species tulips and daffodils.

The latter garden belonged to a sweet elderly Yankee lady who belonged to the Daffodil Society and the Herb Society. (The Herb Society being a social signifier, since membership was by invitation only to the right sort of people, a group to which I have never belonged).

This lady, for she truly was one, had tiny, rare species of spring blooming bulbs that came from the dry regions of the world. From Turkey, from Iran, and the Caucasus. Since winters in those places are dry, and Nashville winters are soggy, these bulbs would not survive here without special measures.

The day I visited her duplex in a cul de sac , I saw those special measures. There were two of them. Two six foot conical mounds of dirt and grit on either side of the front entrance walk. What the neighborhood association thought of this I do not know, but I expect they were not happy to see dirt piles that looked as though some race of giant fire ants had moved in to start their assault on the city.

For the purpose of these strange cones was to keep the little tulip bulbs dry with sharp drainage.

Perhaps it was the lady's graciousness that kept her neighbors mum. Perhaps it was the blue gingham shirt waist dresses she always wore, remnants from a more genteel time.

I saw this garden in summer, sans tulips. The owner had planted some creeping verbena on the mounds, but it was insufficient camouflage.

Barbarian that I am, I remember commenting to the Lady that her garden mounds must be beautiful in spring. I was gently rebuked by another Garden Lady, one of the owner's friends, who reminded me that this garden was beautiful now.

The daylily garden was on a side street off Woodmon Boulevard. And it was not in the lawn or in beds around the house.

It was the lawn. Every inch of it.

Daylilies are a common plant. Most everyone knows what daylilies look like, and if they do not, they need only to drive Highway 70 into my suburb of Bellevue to see feral orange daylilies blooming in the waste areas along the road.

Orange was too narrow a color range for hybridizers. Tasteful gardeners wanted pale yellow,pale pink, apricot, butter yellow.

Add bronze,rust,red, and brown to these tints, and make the plants miniscule or altissima.

They were all in this garden. Hundreds of them, and carefully labeled. I do not even remember if this house had foundation shrubs. All I remember was daylily after daylily, different colors, but all alike.

I did not comment on this garden to any of the other visitors. Words seemed superfluous. But even now I can remember the last daylily I looked at before I fled to my car. It was small and brown and ugly, hybridized by someone with a sense of humor. It had a label, and a name.

It was called "Little Wart".

1 comment:

troutbirder said...

Oh my. What a thoughtful and fun post. Yes and my new hobby is "collecting birds". That is on a list of "lifers" and I won't be satisfied until my 257 tops 300. And maybe not ever then....:)