Our Rose of Sharon's are blooming and I thought of Willene today. She was an independent spinster in her 70’s and 80’s when we knew her, years ago when we owned a business in town, and later worked at another one, she would come to visit us.
When she noticed my daughter's interest in gardening, she began sharing a sampling from her hordes of accumulated plants . She had a beautiful old home with a gambrel roof and a tumble down barn tucked in back, on a corner lot. This was right in town. All the folks, with manicured lawns and one complimentary evergreen shrub, would complain about "her jungle" as they called it. Some would hint what young boy would be available to help her "clean it up", and others would come right out and say it was a disgrace.
The current ‘town fathers’ would be assigned the task of "talking" to her. Once in awhile she'd thin out a little or make a few passes with a lawnmower, but her heart was never inclined to disturb her gardens.
But, through the years, nothing much changed and as she grew older the yard grew up into even more of a jungle.
One time we’d stopped by her yard, at her request, to pick up a few starts for yet another planting.
I noticed a very large and unique stone laying haphazardly in the yard, when I commented on it, she said
“ My daddy carried that home for me when I was a teenager (she must have been 80 if she was a day when she was telling this story to us) boy, he sure was strong, carried it home cause I liked it, and right there is where he threw it down, we never got around to moving it!”
Another time she asked us if we’d go with her out in the woods on a piece of property she owned but was afraid to go alone, we hiked down a long old logging road, badly washed out, to an old pond deep in the woods, the reason for the trip? she wanted to dig a start of Vinca Minor that she’d seen there years before, she shared just a couple of sprigs with us that day ( nearly 20 years ago ) and now I have more of the stuff than I know what to do with and share it with anyone I can.....................
The same can be said for my Rose of Sharon’s that line my garden fence (well at least the original ones she gave us line the fence, now they also spread throughout the garden, the back yard, the front yard, my daughters house and several friends and neighbors yards......she didn’t tell me they were invasive....come to think of it she probably wouldn’t use the term invasive.....looking at the things she grew and shared and knowing more about plants now.......she LOVED things that were ‘easy to grow’ (read: invasive).
When the state highway was widened a few years back, the highway department seeded the new shoulders with pink primrose, blanket flowers, Coreopsis and Echinacea, then promptly began to bush-hog it down while it was in full bloom and before it had a chance to go to seed for next year, Willene was irate! She made a 100 mile round trip to drive to the Highway department headquarters and inform the ‘man in charge’ of the road crew that they were bush hogging at the wrong time of the year and simply HAD to wait until the flowers went to seed first!
Over the years she'd bring more & more plants for us, old home standards like Rose of Sharon, Forsythia, Irises, Day Lillies, Peonies, Wisteria, Dame’s Rocket, Mock Orange, Poppies, Resurrection lilies, & October Plums to name a few. At the time we thought we were too busy to be planting, but as we were the first to live here and there were no old homestead plants we kept accepting and planting.
As you might imagine she had a bit of a reputation around our small town, when my daughter married and bought a piece of property in town just a block away from Willene’s house , she and her husband started planting many things there ( ironically many of these plants were starts from Willene’s place).
Since they didn’t live on the place, they were “warned” by more than one neighbor that they better be careful or their plants might come up ‘missing’, seems Willene was known to scout around town for new starts of plants to add to her collection, and wasn’t at all past stepping up into a yard to take a cutting or gather seeds from a plant she didn’t already have! (one neighbor ‘suggested’ she’d even dug plants right from people’s yards before, but I tend to think this was an rumor that had been exaggerated a bit!)
Though I must say this story did remind me of seeing her driving very sloooooowly around town in her old white Oldsmobile station wagon with the wood paneled sides through the side streets of our town.......hmmm scouting for new recruits for her jungle, I wonder?????
Now Willene is gone, Her house in town has sold and much of the yard has been “cleaned up” (meaning they took most of her plants out---but when I drove by this spring--guess what? they didn’t get the Jonquils, they were blooming all over the place!) . We so appreciate her kindness in sharing what she loved with us, through the knowledge and plants she entrusted us with her jungle still lives on, all around our homestead....................