Friendships sow garden glories / Cuttings from pals brighten the landscape
Susan DeMersseman, Special to The Chronicle
Published 4:00 am, Saturday, March 13, 2004
My friend Krista warned me years ago as she gave me a big clump of pineapple sage from her backyard: "Be careful. This can take over." But I loved the smell of its crushed leaves and the look of its dainty red blossoms. Krista was right about the undisciplined nature of this plant. It has grown well beyond its share of the garden. Still, I love the pineapple sage, for its own qualities and as a reminder of a friend who was always generous with her time and her cuttings.
When I look around my garden it's hard to find a plant that doesn't have a friend attached. There is a cranberry red abutilon taking over the bed by the back porch. It came from tall cuttings my friend Pam shared with me when she pruned her bushes. There is a sparrow's hoop rose flouncing over the fence. I remember the day in the Napa garden of my friend Rita, when she cut a giant bouquet of the roses for me. We later learned that its actual name is 'Sperry's Hoop,' but in my yard its name is sparrow's hoop.
The 'Nikko' blue hydrangea came from a tiny cutting my daughter snipped on a night walk. It bloomed for the first time this year. Another deep rose hydrangea is the result of a cutting my husband got from the garden of a resort where we spent an anniversary. The color is not as deep as it was on the ocean cliff, but it is beautiful in its own right and for the memory.
Climbing into the birch tree is a rose we named 'Cotton Candy.' It smells so good it's tempting to take a bite out of its plump pink bud. This bush grew from a cutting of an old rose in the yard of my neighbor Kathy. It has also been the source of several second-generation bushes, each as fragrant and elegant as the original.
On the side of the house there is a 'Sally Holmes' rose from Helen and Dutch iris from Jan. I also have a spindly little peony bush that has never bloomed. I brought it from the old homestead in South Dakota, where it was always provided with a blanket of snow each winter. Here it has become the "never-blooming" variety of peony, but hope springs eternal. Maybe if I throw ice cubes on it for a week or two in February ... maybe not.
Even my indoor plants have history. On my kitchen windowsill is a sprawling Hoya carnosa. It came from a giant plant that covered one sunny wall in the living room of my mother's little cottage. This plant spawned hundreds of other plants. It was hard to get out of my mom's house without a cutting. She was the Johnny Appleseed of hoyas in our small town. Even now when I go back to visit, I notice offspring of her plant in the shops and homes.
"Oh, your mom gave me that, and when it blooms it fills the whole room with the most exotic fragrance." Everyone says that. The scent is unique. My mom would be pleased to be remembered in that way. And she would be pleased that my kitchen windowsill is also filled with small bottles containing hoya cuttings, ready to pass along.
In the garden there are some plants that came from the nursery. The most prized of these form a neatly trimmed boxwood hedge. It provides the perfect backdrop for all the plants that came into my garden through the hands of friends. Propagating from cuttings and finding just the right mix of sand, vermiculite and peat moss to nurture the potential along is a gardening challenge. The successful results yield a garden filled with flowers and friendships.