Friday, August 6, 2010

Plant Immortality

It's sometimes astonishing to me how fleeting the life of plants in my garden can be.  Planted one minute and dead the next, particularly if I forget to water in the midst of our annual summer drought.  Or planted one spring and never seen again the next spring, despite strict adherence to zone recommendations, site preparation, and cultural requirements.

But there are some plants who are not nearly so ephemeral.  Trees are often the one plant everyone can name, even gardening neophytes, that often outlive the planter.  Even a common American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) often transcends a simple human lifespan, let alone the better examples given by giant California Redwoods (Sequoiadendron giganteum) or Great Basin Bristlecone Pines (Pinus longaeva) that outlive entire human regimes and societies.  But such immortality is also seemingly given to less obvious plants that are all around us.  Herbaceous peonies are a prime example of a "plant it once and it's with you ever after" plant.  They are often seen in older unkempt graveyards from more than a century back or found around old homesteads as the sole survivors of a young pioneer bride's dowry.  The peonies pictured below form a line, a herbaceous wall if you will, separating my father's orchard from the vegetable garden.  They've been there for at least 60 years, planted and left behind by the previous owners of the farm who themselves are now long deceased.  The peonies sit unknowing, their survival unaffected by the ravages of thunderstorm and snow, partially in sun and partially in shade, cared for only in a minimal way by mulch-mowing them off at the end of the summer season for the past 50 years.

So if you want to touch immortality, your choices seem to be to live a quiet life rooted in the soil, unaffected by the passage of years and seasons, or perhaps, sometimes, to just to plant a peony.

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