Master Gardener vs. Garden Terrorist

Marcia’s gardens are things of beauty. (As is she, but that’s a separate post). She’s researched, experimented, planted, shuffled, replanted and coordinated her selected plants and their locations to give us pretty much a spring to fall extravaganza of coordinated colors, textures and vistas. We’re in what I think of as the purple season right now, as her largest garden finds various irises, mints and other things with names I don’t know replacing the pink season’s bleeding heart plants and tulips. Irises are my second favorite flowers in the world. So complex, yet so transient. We purchased some large bearded irises years ago from a farm in Texas, and we’ve got some smaller varieties out there as well. They are spectacular flowers, and I love going out there and just standing and staring at them while we’ve got them. (As opposed to the Stupidendrons, which are also in bloom right now, which is nice, but which look like boring evergreen bay leaf bushes the rest of the year).

Marcia is indeed the Master Gardener, while I play the role of her foil, the Garden Terrorist. She represents order and structure in the garden. I represent chaos and unpredictable complexity. I have one crucial tool in my efforts to infiltrate her staunch gardening defenses: the glorious Viola cornuta (Violaceae), better known among fellow travelers as the Johnny Jump Up. I am told by gardening books that these fabulous flowers are compact annuals or short-lived perennials, native to Spain and the Pyrenees Mountains. They have been used extensively in floral gardens and have escaped from cultivation to roadsides, fields and waste areas throughout much of the United States. The vibrant blooms are deep purple and yellow, creating a solid carpet of color for weeks.

It’s their fecundity that pleases me so deeply. All I need to do is sneak a couple of them into the yard in a potted arrangement, and hey presto, the next year, we’ve got Johnny Jump Up Central throughout the mulch beds that line the entire yard. Only rabbits and wire coat hangers breed faster than they do. And the great thing is, they cross-pollinate and through the marvels of genetics produce all sorts of different color patterns and schemes. I find it endlessly fascinating to find variants that I’ve not seen before. There are plenty of them every time I look.  The Johnny Jump Ups are also surprisingly robust and sturdy: dump a giant bag of mulch on them and walk away, and the next morning they will be peeking through, perky and unbruised, just as if they’d wanted you to bury them.

The only more tenacious things I’ve ever planted were tiger-striped Asian lilies, that reproduce by dropping corms any time you try to dig or pull the main plants out of the ground. These are my lasting contributions to the garden then: chaos, entropy, surprise. All achieved with absolutely no effort whatsoever on my part. Which, come to think about it, might be the most bothersome thing of all for the master gardener!

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