Saturday, June 03, 2006

My Hibiscus Tree: a gift from a librarian

I met Ms. E*, a librarian, few years ago, while visiting a school library in Dallas. She epitomized southern belle — feminine, polite, hospitable — Texas drawl. She’s one librarian I’ll never forget. She went over and beyond to make sure I had everything I needed for the visit. She thoroughly prepared the children for my arrival by having them read my books. The visit went off without a hitch — storytelling, drawing demonstrations, prizes. I finished my presentation to an uproarious encore from about 50 third-grade students.

Ms. E. thanked me, helped carry my presentation materials to the car, kissed my baby son (because of shyness, school visits used to be a family affair), then presented me with...a tree. If I remember correctly, it was a Confederate Rose Hibiscus tree. At the time, it was nothing more than a frail leaf with a bent stem. It was planted in a Dixie cup, which, actually, was more substantial than the plant itself.

"No thanks." I thought to myself. "The honorarium will do just fine." Besides that, I don't have a green thumb. I manage to kill my grass every spring, so I had no idea what to do with a tree — especially a sickly runt of a sapling. It was a 3-hour drive back to Austin; the tree was stepped on once, knocked over several times, and eventually forfeited it's dirt to the floor of my rental car. But, somehow, it survived.

As the story went, if I’m recalling it accurately, Ms. E’s father had planted a Confederate Rose Hibiscus tree in his back yard, and it grew into a glorious neighborhood landmark. The father had recently passed away, so, as a way of keeping her father’s memory alive, somehow, she bred (is that the right word) a couple dozen saplings from the original tree, and was passing them out to the students that day.

I’ll admit, once I got home, all I wanted to do was throw this thing away. But, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. So I did the next best thing, I ignored it. I left it sitting on my porch. Eventually, the wind blew it into a corner, exposing it’s roots. I felt bad, sat it up, and forgot about it again. One day, I grabbed a spoon, a bag of potting soil, the half dead sapling, and carried everything out to the side of the house. There, I dug a small hole and planted this so-called tree. The grass towered high above it!

I fully expected this thing to die because, not only do I lack a green thumb, but I'm really not a yard person. The tree probably never tasted any water until it rained — and it doesn’t rain much in Texas. But, the tree didn’t die — and, in fact, two years later, was taller than me. Late one November, it blossomed the most beautiful pink softball-sized roses I've ever seen. I couldn’t figure out how it’s tiny little branches could support such huge blossoms. I was so thrilled that I actually started opening the shades on that side of the house, so all who visited could see my Hibiscus tree. But, one season following that beautiful bloom, the tree died. For the next couple years, its skeleton stuck up out the ground, a monument to my lack of gardening skills.

Last week, I decided it was finally time to dig the tree up, and trash it’s remains. But, as I approached it, I noticed it’s once grey stem, was dotted with green buds, and a few completely open leaves. You can't see them very well in the picture above, but this Confederate Rose Hibiscus tree is determined not to be beat, yet again by a Yankee!

So, I guess it worked — Ms. E’s plans to keep her father’s memory alive, because every time I see this tree, I think of him.

* I don’t remember her name.


rindamybyers said...

You're a far better gardener than I! My dear neighbor filled my flowerbeds with her prize iris plants before she left for New York, and I must humbly say that they are surviving probably to their having been healthy plants in the first place...but it's wonderful to see them come up each year and to be able to remember her. I have two black ones this year, very, very dark purple velvet, very lovely. It's a wonderful way to remember someone...planting something green and growing.

Melinda said...

I'm not sure if Austin is in zone 8 or what, but the plant is hardy in zone 9 and 10. It might simply be acting like a perennial. Up here in Missouri, hibiscus do the same thing. They die back in the winter and then they take forever to come back in the spring. Most of the other garden plants are off and running when the hibiscus decides to wake up from its beauty nap.

What you might do to make your hibiscus happy is to 1) give it a thick, wide layer of mulch -- three bags should be good 2) give it a little water occasionally in the summer if you haven't been already, and 3) in spring, cut the dead branches off about five inches above the ground.

Hibiscus don't take a lot of care ... thank goodness! The hibiscus you have wouldn't survive up here, I don't think -- I've seen only the regular hibiscus, but they're pretty cool, their flowers are big as dinner plates. So I can't complain.

Melinda said...

Oh, duh, I forgot to include a link from your Texas University Extension for your perusal:


Melinda said...

Okay, let's try again. I'm going to cut it in half this time, so just paste both halves together in your web address thingy.

Okay, that's better.

Pearl said...

What a cool story.

My librarian gave welded copper butterflies. Your tree will probably outlast it.