by Bev Wagar

Rose of Sharon turns on the charm–but who is she fooling?

“Fraud!” is third in the Hort Court series. These little stories were originally printed in The Point (the community newspaper of the Crown Point neighbourhood in East Hamilton, Ontario) in my regular gardening column “Lovin’ Your Garden.”

Not since the famous “snowball viburnum” scandal of 1962 had Horticultural Court heard a case of fraud. No one expected the defendant, Hibiscus syriacus, to sashay into the courtyard and blow kisses at the crowd. The court clerk eventually got her attention and read the charge. “How do you plead, Ms. Hibiscus?”

The stand was far too small for the buxom shrub yet she quickly stood up with a theatrical flounce of her pink-flowered frock. Smiling demurely she cooed to the judge: “Oh sweetie, just call me Rose. Most people call me Rose of Sharon but I don’t go for formality.”

Judge M. (Mama) Nature, accustomed to such tactics, merely sighed and gave the clerk a weary look. He asked again. How did Rose of Sharon plead?

She fluttered her petals at the judge. “I am innocent your honour. I would never stoop so low as to impersonate another flowering shrub.”

The prosecutor pounced. “Didn’t you say that people call you Rose? Rose of Sharon?”

“Yes, but that’s just a name they gave me ’cause they’d been reading the bible a lot. Song of Solomon mentions a Rose of Sharon, which was probably a lily or a crocus. But they knew their old testament better than they knew their botany so Rose is what they called me. And, as you can see, I’m no rose. ” Flouncing again she sat down with her big stamen waving at the plants in the courtroom gallery.

“But you allow the error to persist, don’t you? You like being mistaken for a rose! You don’t want gardeners to know how late you bloom, how big you get, how utterly common you are!”

The hibiscus bristled with anger. “I am a well-bred southern lady,” she cried. “Many a mint julep has been enjoyed under my branches. Don’t you dare call me common!”

The prosecutor dusted pollen off his suit and sidled up to the so-called rose. “Your botanical name—Hibiscus syriacus—even that is fraudulent. Your family comes from China and India, not Syria.” Gasps were heard from the gallery. Common names were easy to get wrong. But latin binomials? This was a rare and damning error, not to mention the potential for invasiveness in native ecosystems.

Pausing to aim a long glare at the frowsy shrub, he launched the final offensive. “And how do you explain the babies?”

The courtroom exploded with shouts and catcalls. M. Nature swung her gavel and spread a cool citrus-scented breeze through the courtyard until calm returned. “Continue,” she told the prosecutor. “But watch your language.”

He continued in a derisive tone. “Your blooms. There are so very many of them. And each one becomes a seed, launched indiscriminately to germinate in the garden, the grass, the neighbour’s garden. Every year you make hundreds of seedlings that must be pulled or cut. We’re all tired of your babies popping up in fields, ditches, ravines, parks—everywhere. Not only are you a fraud, you’re a tramp!”

Rose of Sharon, sobbing and shaking, wailed at the gallery. “If I am a fraud, then so is Physostegia. That plant is anything but obedient—it spreads everywhere! And what about those daylilies all over the place—they aren’t lilies at all. They’re Hemerocalis! And that Prunus glandulosa, that so-called ‘flowering almond’—it has no connection with almond nuts! And don’t get me started on Lily of the Valley!”

Everyone looked to Mama Nature to end the debacle and make a pronouncement. Was Rose of Sharon guilty or not guilty?

But Mama Nature’s spot was empty. She’d quietly left the courtyard for the pumpkin patch where she was helping some squirrels carve jack-o-lanterns. She’d left a note, in her wide, loopy script, on a piece of birch bark.

“Rose is a rose is a rose” was all it said.

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