Saturday, October 8, 2011

Hostas and the Funkia of Scenic Decay

Post 10

It is easy, but unproductive, to imagine the garden as an idyllic Eden beyond time's throes.  There is no garden without time. Gardens are made of time

How I wish I had taken pictures a few winters ago when a heavy frost hit the uncut-back garden. A pale hosta, which had remained in leaf, wilted overnight, its fronds decayed into ghost leaves. The limp leaves, which fell away from their roots to splay out in a circle, had gone greyish white.  Unhappy at the time, I'd gathered them up and hung them from the bishop's hooks behind the Buddha. For a day or two they dangled there, tokens of decay, translucent, beautiful and properly sad.

In my carpool this week, I told a colleague how I like to let some plants visibly decay, while removing others--it all depending on how attractive the decay is. Since she is a new gardener, she asked me when to cut back her plants, most especially her hosta. It made me remember the ghost leaves, and note how a popular 19th century plant like hosta, once called funkia, remains perpetually in style. Every year there are new varieties while the old ones remain ubiquitous. Everyone, it seems, has some funk.

What other factors, I wondered, can make for good garden funk, a bit of scenic decay?

A surge of fresh roses blooming beneath a turning tree.

A scattering of fallen rose petals on a stone staircase.

"You love the roses - so do I.  I wish the sky would rain down roses, as they rain from off the shaken bush.  Why will it not? Then all the valley would be pink and white And soft to tread on.  They would fall as light as feathers, smelling sweet; and it would belike sleeping and like waking, all at once!"  -  George Eliot, Roses 

The froth of spent flowerheads nuzzled by a strand of Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate

Fading flower of Oak Hydrangea against turning leaves and an Autumn Joy sedum blooming in a cute thrift-store vase .

Or how about the sight of zinnias with new blooms, mature blooms, and old blooms all in one gaze?

Pastorius Park
 In our culture such a huge amount of resources: time, money and effort, is spent erasing time. And to what end? To deny that in the long run there is only one end for mortal creatures?  One cosmetic company is now developing a pill to keep your hair from turning grey. Only drawback--you have to take it for at least 10 years before your hair starts turning, and then, for how many years after? What's next, some soil additive to keep tree leaves from turning color and falling in autumn? To erase time erases life, erases change, erases us.
Pastorius Park

My perennial question behind this blog -- how does gardening change the gardener? --has perhaps one answer. Gardening embeds us in time. Most of our common culture does the opposite--it disembodies us into spectators while erasing time. By gardening we partner and co-operate with time.

Hence we learn through our bodies' labors that sometimes it is better and more graceful to accede to time's reality. To trust to something beyond our self-gratifying egos.  And so to let the leaves, all the leaves, fall where they may.

How-to Hosta:  Hostas are originally native to China.  From there they were brought to Japan and Korea, and then, from there, in the mid-19th-century, to the Western world. Older versions make great groundcovers for shade and semi-shade. They come in all sizes, from smaller than an unabridged dictionary to bigger than a multi-cushioned sofa, but most end up at about 3 X 3. They also come in all shades and varigations of green, white, chartreuse and a waxy blue-green.  Some of the newer varities can take sun: most others will get leaf burn. They love our local clayey soil, sending down deep roots to deal with dryish shade. To make more plants just divide in spring or fall; small plants will fill in quickly. Be sure to keep watered for a few weeks after transplanting. Hosta are tough, adapatable, low care plants. So --  Enjoy your funk ( just, as they say, don' impose it on others.)


Becky said...

Kay - I love this!! So insightful. I agree with your thoughts on accepting life's course and finding the beauty in its flow AND ebb.

Glad we've found each other on the blogosphere!

Eric S said...

It's November 9th, and my common green hosta - planted in a sweeping serpentine curve has finally turned a rich yellow gold and collapsed in a series of radial whorls......truly some scenic decay. I'm curious to see how long it stays handsome, but even when it's not, I'll likely leave the leaves until next spring. Lifting the mat of wet hosta leaves with other fall leaves & pine needles on top makes it easier for spring clean-up.