Monday, May 07, 2007

Party plants

Last weekend was our son's bar mitzvah (lots of family in town, proud grandparents — and parents, a great time had by all). We shared the day with our former next-door-neighbors, whose daughter was our son's bnei mitzvah partner. Malka — the mom — and I became gardeners together. We both started gardens of mostly native plants about the same time, more than ten years ago. Over the years the gardens between our two houses merged into one. We shared and swapped plants and seeds and advice with each other.

Then a couple of years ago, Malka and her family moved about 20 minutes away and we haven't seen nearly as much of them since. But before they moved we made a plan for our son and their daughter to have their bar and bat mitzvahs together. When we moved into this house, our son was six months old and their second daughter was a few weeks old so the two of them grew up together. When they proposed that the kids share their bnei mitzvah day, we agreed immediately.

The day's events included a luncheon following the bnei mitzvah service. Malka and I talked about centerpieces for the 20 tables and I told her how much I had admired their decision to use small, one-gallon native trees as centerpieces at their older daughter's bat mitzvah luncheon several years ago. Guests were encouraged to take the trees home and we still treasure a Texas mountain laurel from that occasion. For various reasons the tree idea wasn't feasible this time around so we decided to go for flowering perennials.

Malka and I met at Barton Springs Nursery week before last and pondered the possibilities. We wanted to keep it to $5 per plant which meant we needed sale items. We also wanted flowers so we looked for plants that were either budded out or already flowering. We ended up with various salvias — red salvia greggii, some kind of pink salvia (greggii-like, but I don't think that's what it was), salvia "Indigo Spires" and salvia leucantha/Mexican bush sage. We also got fleabane, Chrysanthemum pacificum, and bamboo muhly.

As we wandered through the nursery, enjoying the chatting about plants that we haven't done together in two or three years, Malka suddenly said, Oh, I have a great idea. Instead of getting flower arrangements for the front of the sanctuary, let's get some kind of small flowering trees. So we wandered some more, looking for something in bloom. We narrowed it down to mock orange or Barbados cherry and ended up with two of the cherry trees, covered in small pink flowers.

At the end of the afternoon we lingered beside Malka's car after we had loaded the plants. Our children brought us together in the first place — years back and forth from one house to the other, sitting together under the magnolia that shades both our houses while the kids played incomprehensible games up and down the front yards. And now it was our kids that had brought us back together again. But just as our gardens sealed our friendship years ago, I know that one of my fondest memories of this bnei mitzvah celebration will be that hour wandering together through the garden store.

Malka kept the plants at her house for a week, watering them and protecting them from the winds and lashing rain of last week's thunderstorms. Last Thursday we met to wrap the black plastic pots in layers of colorful tissue paper and shiny mylar. We trimmed back some broken branches and spent bloom stalks and then set the decorated plants out and admired our handiwork.

During the luncheon on Saturday, as I wandered from table to table, chatting with the friends who had come to celebrate with us, people kept asking, Is it true we can pick a plant and take it home? When I told them that was the plan, they had questions. Would this one do well in shade? What about this one in a pot? I watched people make their choices, make trades to get a plant they liked the looks of better. Several friends came up and said, Look what I got. This is going to be lovely in my garden. I have just the spot for it. Many of these friends have gardens I know and imagining the plants growing in them was an added pleasure on an already extraordinary day.

I had my eye on one of the bamboo muhlys, which I staked a claim to early, and we also brought home one of the Barbados cherry trees. I have a spot in mind for the muhly but I'm not sure yet what I'll do with the tree. It may have to live in a pot for a while but I know eventually I'll find the perfect spot and then every year when it blooms it will remind me of this lovely weekend with our beautiful son and our family and friends all around us. And maybe I'll visit some of those other gardens and see the party plants growing and — I hope — thriving there as well.


Pam/Digging said...

What a great party favor, Susan. And you ended up with two of my current favorites for your own garden.

FYI, my Barbados cherry is about 10 feet tall. It's in a protected location but still suffered some burn damage during the ice storm. Give it a little protection from north winds and room to grow, and enjoy those pink flowers and red berries.

Susan said...

Pam — Is your tree more like a large shrub or do you keep it pruned up like a tree? And how wide is it? I really don't have a sense of how much space to give this plant.


Annie in Austin said...

What a wonderful story, Susan. I love the idea of all the party plants growing and reminding the guests of this special day.

My Barbados Cherry was top killed by the winter, but is coming back. A friend has two Barbados Cherries planted close to the stone wall of her kitchen, pruned into tree forms, about 6-7-feet high with canopies about 6-feet across. They get the shelter of the wall, some midday shade from a live oak, and have birds nesting in their crowns. Good luck with yours!

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Pam/Digging said...

Mine is more like a tall, thin shrub than a tree. It was bushier last year, but I had to prune out frost-killed branches early this spring, so it looks a little thin right now. Here's are photos from last May: Interestingly, it has not a single flower this May. I wonder if that will be another casualty of the freeze.

Blackswamp_Girl said...

Susan, what a wonderful post... and what a wonderful idea the two of you had, to do these native plants as centerpieces for people to take home. I smiled when I read about people discussing the needs of specific plants and how lovely theirs would look in their garden. That had to make you feel great. :)

Congratulations to your children on their special day as well.

Susan said...

Annie and Pam — Thanks for the information about the Barbados cherry. And Pam, thanks for the link to the pictures. I can only hope my little tree is as beautiful as yours someday.

Blackswamp Girl — Thanks for the kind words. It was a great feeling to share my love of plants will some of those who came to the lunch. It certainly was an improvement on some short-lived arrangement of cut flowers, as were the trees decorating the front of the sanctuary. And I got to bring some of them home with me!

Robin said...

Susan, this is a very sweet post. I enjoyed reading it and hearing about the special bond of children and gardening that you had with your neighbor.

Sonia said...

Susan, you brought tears to my eyes. I too would treasure a wonderful neighbor like yours. I remember the shared garden and it was a delight to meander.