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.


by Bev Wagar

Ailanthus faces the most serious of charges.

“Murder!” is second of my Hort Court stories. These little pieces 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.”

Ailanthus takes the stand.
Drawing by Elizabeth Seidl

With a murder charge on the docket, security was tight at Horticultural Court. The usual shrubs on guard duty were joined by a contingent of red cedar trees who parted briefly to allow the accused, Ailanthus altissima, alias “Tree of Heaven” to pass. The stench was awful. Ailanthus moved quickly—too quickly—and put roots down on the stand before the courtyard crowd could respond. The extreme allelopathy of this tree caused much shuddering and wilting, but despite their distress the onlookers were out for sap, hoping to see Ailanthus, notorious asian thug and gang leader, sent straight to the chipper.

The court clerk read the charge and Ailanthus, with a sneer, replied “Yes, I’m guilty. Foolish humans brought me to this land 200 years ago and it’s been a candy store, let me tell you. My toxic roots have killed thousands of you. Not one of you can compete with my rhizomes and clonal colonies. I’ve ruined countless gardens, ravines, and parks. And me and my gang are out to get your forests, too. Just try to stop me!”

Ailanthus had visibly grown several feet taller already, and was casting shade over the wildflowers in the front row. The tree’s roots were already affecting the jury, a mix of sugar maple, beech, trillium, and native viburnum.

Then ailanthus did something unthinkable–it cast seeds, thousands of them, all around the courtyard. It was a female tree! Most of the onlookers ran for cover. Only a few ornamentals, the cedars, and the judge, M. (Mama) Nature remained. Judge Nature looked uncommonly worried.

“Is there anyone here to provide a defense for Ailanthus?” she asked. A hybrid tea rose looked up from her book of poetry and stepped forward.

“The accused was the subject of a famous novel and movie called A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It survived drought, neglect, and decades of isolation in a bed of concrete. It became a source of joy and inspiration for a downtrodden inner-city neighbourhood.”

“The amusement of a few humans is irrelevant” Nature stated flatly. “Humans have carelessly unleashed too many alien plants into unsuspecting ecosystems. I am far more concerned about the survival of my forests. Humans keep cutting them and this Ailanthus keeps moving in.”

By this time Ailanthus had sent up a few clonal shoots and most of its seeds had sprouted. The cedars, wary and beginning to feel the toxins from the accused’s fast spreading roots, had begun to desert their posts. The rose, the jury, and all the onlookers had already left. The courtyard was bare, the stink overpowering, and the gloating smirk on Ailanthus face exuded pure evil.

Nature alone would decide this case.

“Surely you know about the Circle of Life. In China you evolved with insects who ate your leaves and roots. You were part of an interconnected web of food and feeders. Now, in North America, there are no creatures to curtail your invasive behaviour. Something needs to feed on you.”

Ailanthus roared with rage as its huge pinnate leaves shook and snapped like whips. Then it attacked, releasing a squadron of high-speed clonal shoots. Reaching into her dress pocket, Mama Nature quickly tossed a handful of spores of Verticillium nonalfalfae, a native fungus, near the trunk.

“You will die in 10 to 16 weeks and the soil will be innoculated against your return. This fungus has no effect on most of my native flora. I have presented it, as a scientific discovery, to human conservationists. Your decades of murderous thuggery may soon be over.”

With Ailanthus already beginning to squirm and wilt, Mama Nature turned and floated out of the courtyard. It had been a trying day and her creatures needed some dormancy. Yuletide celebrations had begun in certain lands. So, looking forward to a winter recess, she headed north.

Hosta on Trial

by Bev Wagar

Does Hosta get the justice she deserves? You be the judge.

“Hosta on Trial” is the first Hort Court story I wrote. These little pieces 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.”

“Order! Order! Next up is case # 114 in the Horticultural Court of Shade Plants.” The judge rattled her drumstick allium, and the garden quieted. “The defendant, Plantain Lily, also known as Hosta, is accused of multiple garden crimes including: ubiquity, monotony, and ecological idleness. Hosta, how do you plead?”

“Innocent, your honour” Hosta snarled. “I’ve been framed! Those darned environmentalists are out to get me!”

The garden buzzed with anticipation. Not since the great goutweed massacre of 2011 had a high-profile ornamental faced such scrutiny. These were serious allegations, and Hosta was visibly nervous. His shaking leaves had flung a few slugs into the courtyard and Robin Redbosom, court stenographer, hopped over to gobble them up.

Presiding judge, M. (Mama) Nature, smiled. “Continue, prosecutor” she said.

“Hosta, you are accused of deliberately foisting yourself on busy and inexperienced gardeners, using their naivety to dominate shade gardens and suppress other plants, especially natives. You and your gang of back-room plant breeders have not only created thousands of Hosta varieties but your marketing machine has stoked the fires of gluttony with an endless stream of patented, expensive, and look-alike introductions.”

“It’s not my fault if people are greedy and gullible,” Hosta replied. “I only go where I’m planted. My stolons don’t creep around like some of the thugs around here.” He glared at Vinca and Mint who were holding hands and giggling in the front row, oblivious to the insult.

“But you deliberately mislead people. You are not low maintenance. You need trimming, dividing. You harbour those fugitive slugs. You’re fussy about water and soil, complaining when it’s too hot, too sunny, too dry. You’re all hype.”

Hosta bristled. “I resent that! I am a law-abiding herbaceous perennial. If people see me as the patron saint of shady backyards, able to overcome neglect, drought, dog pee, tree roots and SUV tracks, well, I’ve done nothing to encourage that.”

The prosecutor changed tactics. “Tell me, Hosta, which species of pollinator did you evolve with? I mean, you are from Japan, China and east Asia, aren’t you? Are you a larval host for any of the insects around here?. Do you even know what “biodiversity” means? What good are you? You don’t belong in this ecosystem.”

“It’s true that I’m new to these parts, been around since 1800 or so. And it’s true that I don’t support any local insects. But the deer and the slugs love me! So far as pollination goes, I am self-fertile, same as a tomato,” Hosta replied. “I don’t need insects to pollinate my flowers. And most of my cultivars are sterile, anyways”.

“You seem proud of this abherration.”

“I don’t tell the breeders what to do,” Hosta snapped. “And so what? The bees love my flowers.”

The prosecutor moved in close, hovering over Hosta’s waxy leaves, making no effort to hide the disdain.

“Nobody grows you for your flowers. You hardly bloom any more and when you do the scent is gone. You’re a one-trick pony. Face it, Hosta. You’re boring. All you’ve got is leaves. You’re nothing but foliage. Always smooth, always boring. A whole lot of you, plunked in there surrounded by that horrible red mulch, well you’re as interesting as a dot on a polka-dotted picnic blanket!”

The force of this outburst roused the audience. The bees landed, the butterflies pulled up their wings. Even the worms came to the surface to see the drama unfolding.

“Enough!” cried Hosta. His leaves drooped, the dew long gone. In an anguished voice he whispered “Don’t you think I know this? I hate the tyrant I’ve become. I’d love to play with other plants. I’d happily make room for other shade lovers, especially the natives who used to grow here. I’d change if I could, but the humans keep planting me. Passing me around like a dirty secret. I used to be a Japanese woodland lily but now I’m nothing but a space filler. A convenience. The microwave of the plant world. They put me next to sidewalks! House foundations!” Something like a sob escaped his central rosette.

The prosecutor sat down, rested her case.

Everyone looked to Mama Nature to make a pronouncement. Was Hosta guilty or not guilty?

But Mama Nature’s spot was empty. She’d quietly left the courtyard for the aster patch to officiate the wedding of two Fritillary butterflies. She’d left a note, in her wide, loopy script, on a piece of birch bark.

“Garden On!” was all it said.

More than a pretty blog…

I’m starting out on a positive note with a new web site, mainly to showcase my recent work for potential clients. WordPress’ new “block” system is a challenge, and so are the design limitations! As I learn more there may be some changes, possibly to a full WordPress installation.

This blog area will be used for some of my writing (including the “Hort Court” series) and educational articles old and new.

All for now!

Here’s a little eye-candy. My own back yard in July 2017. I hadn’t yet started replacing the larger shrubs with natives.