This post is dedicated to Grandma Bluma, my diminutive but very formidable Eastern European grandmother who lived to be 91. In her later years, if you were to ask her how she was, she would invariably reply, "Still alive, thanks God."
Never were four simple words more open to multiple interpretations. They might mean, "As long as I am alive, everything else is trivial, so I'm grateful." Or they could mean, "I'm absolutely horrible. The only thing that can be said about my condition is that I'm still breathing." My theory is that she meant both, simultaneously.
I've been thinking a lot about that phrase in connection with my garden. One year ago, it seemed a vast wasteland of dead or dying plants. If you remember, last summer was brutally hot - during one especially delightful interlude, we had temperatures above 100 degrees for 2 weeks straight - and my plants were not pleased. In June, my ajuga got crown rot, with swaths of it dying off in circular patches. In July, a previously healthy "David" phlox turned brown, wilted, and vanished, for still mysterious reasons. In September, one of my just-planted Vernonia lettermannii followed suit.
Then there were the 5 new phlox that I purchased from Bluestone Perennials. They came in those new, eco-friendly coir pots, which you pop directly in the ground. Now I love Bluestone Perennials, but to me, those coir pots are the New Coke of the botanical world. In my garden, they took their own sweet time bio-degrading, and in the meantime were stifling all root growth. Or at least that was my theory. By the end of last summer, their one-year anniversary in the ground, three of the phlox were basically the same size as they were the day I planted them. Two had disappeared completely.
You can see why I might have concluded that my plants were dead. I'm no scientist, but mid-season shriveling and vanishing means dead in my book - or rather, it used to mean dead in my book. Because today, to my great surprise, all my dead plants are "still alive." My ajuga is filling in after the crown rot debacle. Phlox "David" is also alive, in the Grandma Bluma sense that it came back and is breathing, so who's complaining. My Veronia lettermannii showed up this spring as if nothing untoward had happened and has been blooming for a few weeks now. And all 5 coir-bound phlox plants are present and accounted for.
From this experience, I have learned two things. One, that my plants are a lot tougher than they look. And two, that I am a very poor diagnostician. I really must remember not to dig up anything until I am certain that it is not still alive.
Which brings me to Dianthus barbatus "Heart Attack." It was billed as a biennial that acts like a perennial, or I would never have bought three for my garden earlier this year. Monrovia even claims that it is evergreen. Mine did beautifully, blooming like mad for about two months. Then this happened.
Behold "Heart Attack" in August, looking distinctly un-evergreen and behaving suspiciously like the biennial that it was not supposed to be. Will it be back next year? Or is it, as Grandma Bluma would say, "still alive"? Only time will tell.
The Galloping Horse Gardener is a native New Yorker who packed it in in 2005 to live under the radar in Cary, North Carolina. In 2014, she removed to a new secure location somewhere in Raleigh.
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