If only I had more willpower, I’d identify and commit to memory the correct common names of my favorite plants. Then whenever I’m asked, “What is that?” I could answer in a heartbeat, rather than hesitating and sheepishly grinning because I don’t have a clue.
What I can remember is each plant’s story.
About 15 years ago, my husband, Emil, and I admired the pretty shrub growing in the yard of our friends, Wilbur and Dora Hoehne. We really weren’t hinting, but Wilbur picked up on our interest. He dug up a piece of its root and proudly presented it to us. The plant’s pretty bright red flowers would never open, he warned us, and it would freeze back in the winter.
“I don’t remember who we got it from,” Dora says. “It could be 20 or 30 years ago. Back then, people never spent much money on perennials. We’d all pass plants along to one another.”
Wilbur passed away in 2013. However, his Sleeping Hibiscus that’s also called a Turk’s Cap continues to thrive. It is a member of the mallow family, which also includes okra and cotton.
When I dropped by to see Dora at Christmas, I assured her that Wilbur’s Bush had survived for yet another year.
Grandma Stolley’s Jade
Emil’s maternal grandmother, Anna Marie Stolley, once lived in a little white farmhouse on Rangerville Road south of Harlingen, Texas. For at least 70 years, a huge jade plant sat on a bench in her screened porch. It was beside the daybed where Emil slept when he visited his grandparents.
Occasionally, a crop-dusting airplane spraying the neighbor’s field across the highway would cause Grandma Stolley great anxiety.
I’m told that when she heard the light plane zoom over that cotton field dropping a fog of defoliant, Grandma Stolley would rush out of her kitchen. Hands on her hips, she would look up at the by-then vacant sky and utter a growl of displeasure that started deep in her throat. Then she and Grandpa Stolley would get to work washing off the defoliant quickly before it damaged their plants.
Thankfully, Grandma Stolley’s jade survived the aerial assaults and, no doubt, other perils, too. Emil’s cousin, Doris, who inherited her grandmother’s green thumb, brought us a piece from that jade about 10 years ago. It has flourished on our porch.
Since I always feel deep remorse when a pass-along-plant dies, I could certainly commiserate with Doris when she told me recently that her jade had died.
Not to worry! The next time we get together, we’ll take Doris a cutting and she can grow another pot of this family heirloom.
Junette’s Hawaiian Plant
Our friends, Junette Rodecap and her late husband, Bobby, were stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, from May 1980 to December 1983, where he was serving in the U.S. Navy. Some worrisome occurrences, such as unexplained noises and feeling the presence of something in the house, took place at their home in a military housing development.
Someone suggested the site on the rim of a crater might once have been a burial ground. Someone else said the Filipino people believed a Ti plant placed outside both the front and back of a house would drive away unwanted spirits. Respectful of another culture’s beliefs, Junette dutifully planted two.
“After time went by, I realized those unexplained incidents were no longer happening,” she says.
When Bobby was transferred stateside, Junette purchased several small Ti plant cuttings, each with some new growth. Junette shared the cuttings with her immediate family and later with us. All the plants have thrived.
“I only have one Ti plant,” she says. “It’s in a pot on the pole barn porch. It loves the morning sun and is good outside to about 45 degrees, but then I put it in the greenhouse.
“When you have enough leaves off several plants, you can use them to wrap fish or meats for the grill or oven. I’ve done that a couple of times,” Junette adds.
In 37 years, not one of Junette’s Ti plants have died. I sincerely hope I don’t break that chain!
I was formally introduced to the late Grover Cleveland (Cleve) Friddell after I expressed an interest in interviewing him about his experiences in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
I was amazed at Cleve’s memory and found his wry sense of humor amusing. He was an articulate, entertaining storyteller.
First, Cleve shared his Navy service with the Black Cat Squadron, where he served as a captain on a Consolidated PBY Catalina, an amphibious aircraft that could set down on land or water. Next, he meticulously handprinted page after page of notes that are still in my files to help me better understand key events in the war in the Pacific.
My phone would ring and, when I answered, I heard, “Hello, Elaine, this is Cleve. Say …” Then he told me about another photo he had unearthed, a clipping I hadn’t seen or a map he’d found that was better than the one I had.
“Just drop by when you’re over this way,” he always said at the end of the call. Therefore, I made a number of trips to his very old, well-maintained little white house in Fayetteville, Texas.
Cleve’s help was invaluable. We became good friends through working on the newspaper story and later on a chapter in my book, “Veterans’ Voices and Home Front Memories.”
As I was leaving his tidy home one day, I admired a shallow container bursting with cactus on Cleve’s front porch. He had bought it at the Fayetteville Store just around the corner.
“Let me put these in a plastic bag for you,” he said, reaching over and breaking off some pieces.
“I’m going to call it Cleve’s Cactus,” I told him, very pleased with his thoughtful gesture.
His smile told me that he appreciated the idea. Unfortunately, he didn’t live long enough to see his cactus win a blue ribbon at the Fayette County Fair a couple of years later. Earlier this spring, Cleve’s cactus had grown so large that I had to repot it. When we drink coffee on the porch in the morning, it shares a table with my coffee mug.
My dear, sweet mother-in-law, Geri Thomas Gross, never met a plant she didn’t yearn to take home. She was the rare kind of gardener who can tell a stick to grow and it would ask how tall. Her pockets constantly were filled with seed pods and she never returned from a trip without an assortment of cuttings wrapped in damp paper towels.
When Geri closed her home in East Houston in 1996, Emil and I were a tad intimidated at becoming the caregivers of many beautiful plants from her yard.
“I know you’ll do your best to look after them,” Geri told us. “Remember, though, don’t ever say thank you for a plant. If you do, it won’t grow.”
The responsibility lay heavily on our shoulders, especially after Geri died in 1997. Over the years, we have waged countless battles with grasshoppers and other bugs, mold, mildew, wind, cold and heat, plus boisterous pets and kids.
Fast forward to 2020, and some, but not all, of Geri’s plants have survived. Truthfully, we’ve enjoyed them almost as much as she did.
We nearly overlooked one last plant that Geri left in our care. A few days before her death, she had scooped up an oak sprout no thicker than a matchstick from a flowerbed and placed it in a plastic water bottle on her bedside table. Emil brought the tiny sapling home and planted it in our yard.
Now tall and strong, Geri’s Oak is a constant, reassuring reminder that a mother’s love is forever.
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I saw it in our house-front flowerbed. Peeking up thru the ground Juniper, ‘Yuck, a weed’, I mumbled as I grabbed and jerked.
It came out quite easily, wasn’t even three inches tall. The surprise was what was dangling from its slender root –
a Half of a Walnut.
My stomach took a plunge as I thought I had destroyed a Walnut Tree (I’ve always respected and admired Walnut trees, but never had one to care for.) Neighbors down the road have several Walnuts and there are one or two in the other direction, but not at our place. I took my treasure to the garage and snuggled it into a small pot filled with good soil. I stuck it in front of an East facing window and forgot about it for a few weeks.
When the weather had warmed up enough to get the window boxes filled, I noticed this little sprig on the potting table…that 1/2 Walnut had turned into a viable plant. Meticulously choosing the perfect spot for this little guy to grow, I dug the hole and tossed in the proper fertilizer and extra soil. Surveying my rescue Walnut, a name popped to the surface and the orphan became “Wally Walnut”.
That was four years ago. My hopes for my very own Walnut tree seemed to be fulfilled – but, I never hoped to see ‘Wally’ mature into a real, grown up tree. They are slow growing and long lived & already in my early 70’s, I had no expectations of seeing this result. Wally was a sturdy survivor and has surprised everyone. Many in the neighborhood know the 1/2 Walnut planting story and check on him as they pass the house. I may not get to hang a ‘tire swing’ from his branches, but it appears I will get to stand in his shade before my time is completed.
Planting for the future.
Loved your walnut tree memory, Jeanie. Emil still regrets missing the opportunity to bring home a walnut tree seedling he once spotted. You’re so right, when we plant a tree, we are showing our belief in tomorrow.
I love your comments, Elaine and also this means of keeping in touch. My mother and grandfather were like Geri, anything would grow for them. I, unfortunately did not inherit that talent. I have only a couple of indoor plants, of the hardiest type that thrive no matter how casual their treatment. I was born to live where flowers grow, can only appreciate them from afar. Unfortunately (or however you choose to view it) I lived a couple years in Victoria BC and brought with me when we left a wealth of flower sights and memories that will never leave me (I was only nine). Thanks for sharing with me Elaine. xo Bonnie
Bonnie, I can see that the little girl who was enthralled with the flowers in Victoria still lives in your heart. That little girl also has very fond memories of her mother and grandfather who, like my mother-in-law, could grow anything. What dear, sweet memories and I thank you for sharing them!
Loved all your plant successes and it makes me sad, because I usually kill everything I repot or try to grow from a seed or a cutting. I either water it too much or not enough, so I don’t do plants in pots any more.
However, I missed having fresh tomatoes in the garden that my husband used to grow with success. So this year, I bought 2 tomato plants and planted them in two large “tubs” that had some soil in them. So far they have survived the strong winds and heavy rain we had this week and haven’t lost their blooms. Maybe I will have my own tomatoes this year. My neighbor, Sondra, called and she had some okra seeds left over from her planting experience. So when my son was here a few weeks ago, he tilled up a long row for me to plant about 14 seeds. So far there are eleven seeds sprouted, and now have their third leaf after this wonderful 3 + inch rain we had this week! Maybe small pot plants are not my thing! We’ll see.
Isn’t it wonderful to check daily on how the plants are coming along? The only down side is when they’re not doing well. I hope you grow so many tomatoes and okra that you have to give them away. I think you are, indeed, a big pot person! Thank you for sharing your stories.
Update on the tomatoes and okra plants. The tomato plants have some tiny tomatoes on them and the okra plants are growing. I do know that I will have to thin out the plants because they are too close together. I hate that!!
One plant is about 5 inches tall and has about 6 leaves on it. However, the rest are still small and I noticed that it looks like either birds or a predator have eaten or broken off the center stem on most of the other plants. I am so disappointed. I will have to talk with my neighbor and see how hers are doing! Tomorrow!!
I can tell that you are getting a big kick out of seeing your tomatoes and okra grow! You’ll have to grit your teeth when you thin your okra plants, though. It will be worth all the trouble. Looking forward to another update soon!
Your photos are amazing!
Thank you, Kathy. I’m so glad you enjoyed them. They are a labor of love for both Emil and me.
Great stories Elaine. Love reading them, Junette
Thanks, Junette. When we slow down, we often find stories are all around us just waiting to be shared.
Thank you for the stories. They were very enjoyable. When someone can write a story as you do, remembering a plant’s name doesn’t matter.
Thank you, Pete! You’re not going to believe this, but when we went outside to drink our morning coffee, a bloom was opening on Cleve’s Cactus. I’ve taken a photo and will post it to Facebook. Isn’t that interesting timing?
My mother, Isabella Henniger Tschiedel, grew up on a farm at Cummins Creek a few miles outside Fayetteville. She was the oldest of the four daughters of Emma Schmidt Henniger and Reimund Henniger. She helped her dad in the fields and learned all about what it took to care for a single plant and/or a whole crop. When my mom married, Kermit Tschiedel, they moved to Spring Branch, a suburb of Houston to make a living and raise a family. We lived on a plot of Approximately two acres. We raised chickens, grew a full garden, And picked pecan, figs, pears and such from our trees, My mom And dad seemed to be able to grow anything. When they became sick, we took care of them, their home and garden as long as we could. In time it became necessary to divide their estate and I must confess there was turmoil on how to divide their plants. Being the baby of the children, my siblings and grandchildren, were fine with me keeping the mother plants and they took cuttings. Over time, these mother plants have grown into so many plants that even grandkids have offspring of Mawmaw and Pawpaw’s Plants. Your stories are so moving that I often cry. Not because they are sad but they bring back precious memories. Thank you. Gesine
Oh, my goodness, your description of Mawmaw and PawPaw’s plants is so endearing. Since you were elected to take care of the “mother plants,” I have a hunch your siblings and grandchildren knew they would be in good hands. You must be so proud of growing these living and breathing family heirlooms. Thank you so much for sharing these precious memories! I wish I could see photos of them.
Oh, thank you, Elaine for starting this blog. There are so many beautiful and charming stories around plants.
And all the plant stories remind us of people whose memories we cherish!
I love this article!! Great job!! I have aloe Vera plants from my father, Lawrence Loessin, daylillies from my Aunt Elva Belt, a shrimp plant and some iris plants that were in my grandmother, Emily Loessin’s yard.
They are very special plants indeed!!
So glad you enjoyed these plant stories, Jenny. Wouldn’t it be fun to know where your dad got the aloe vera, your aunt found the daylilies and shrimp plant, plus where the iris that your grandmother grew came from? I bet each one of them has a story to tell! At least when you pass these plants along, you can share stories about your dad, aunt and grandmother!
The plant stories are inspiring. Thanks to all for sharing. In 1961 being in the Army I bought a small house at an US Air Force housing facility on the outskirts of Tokyo. Coming from cotton country & missing my small Rio Grande Valley family farm, I asked my Mom to send a few cotton seeds. Planted those in the bright Sun & wow they grew prolifically, produced cotton which I proudly showed visitors. As I relocated from fort to fort in different locations I planted & grew a few cotton plants for several years. I enjoyed those cotton plants producing their pink blooms turning yellow, then like blossoms the boles opening w/ bright white cotton spilling out. Moving around I lost track of my seeds, so in about 1996 I asked a brother to send me a few. He sent an unusual, for me, a few seeds of brown, not white, cotton. A beautiful luxuriant bright light brown cotton. I grew those several years in Northern Virginia. Telling a farmer turned veterinarian about my brown cotton he smirked there is no such thing. He originally from Georgia had been a large animal vet in Nebraska & however it happened he retired in Northern Virginia, starting a new practice of small animal (pets) vet services, but like large animal vets he came to your home to tend your ailing dogs & cats, not the other direction. So on his “no such thing as brown cotton” I got him, from his childhood on a Georgia farm, to commit that cotton is white never brown, & questioned how he knew that? Then w/o explanation I went to my garage picked up my dead brown cotton plant hanging there w/ numerous boles of brown cotton draping from their abode & presented it to him w/ the comment, what color do you call this cotton? He begged me for seeds which I gave several.
Fred, we thoroughly enjoyed your cotton stories. We bet they were a satisfying link to the Rio Grande Valley wherever you happened to be stationed. Emil’s Mom would echo your thoughts on brown cotton because in later years she ‘found’ some seed and grew a couple of short rows in the backyard in her home in East Houston. In fact, in her shadowbox in the hallway, there’s a couple of bolls of her brown cotton. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us.
My dad was a cotton (tenant) farmer and he raised only acres and acres of white cotton. We called them “bolls” of cotton, especially when they were in the green pod before they opened up to the fluffy white bolls!
However, yes I have seen the brown cotton bolls since those days years ago in the 1940’s and 1950’s
Yes, you’re correct, Barbara! Thanks for clarifying the spelling. Do you have good memories of those days?
Ooooh, I remember hot sweaty days in the summertime. Dad would pay my brothers and me a penny a pound to help! We complained that the hired hands got 3 cents a pound. Daddy would remind us that we get a house to sleep in and food and clothes! So then we couldn’t complain. While I was in high school, I could get close to a hundred pounds in a day, but not every day! Mom sewed all my clothes (she was good at it), but my goal one year was to get enough to order a wool straight skirt. Yes, I did it!! I don’t remember how much it cost!
However, in my junior and senior years, I worked at the local Dairy Mart in town (Ganado, TX). Lots more fun than picking cotton and paid off more!! I can’t even look at cotton fields any more; those white fields are not so pretty in my mind!!
Barbara, I laughed out loud at your description of trying to negotiate higher wages with your Dad. A wool straight skirt? I bet you looked fabulous in it and felt fabulous, too! Thank you for sharing this memory that you tell so well!
Back in the 70s we lived in SW Houston. Our neighbor had 2 magnolia trees in the front yard. Everyday he hand picked up the fallen leaves. Our older daughter, Heather–age 6, often wanted permission to cross the street and help. When we moved to Kingwood in 1978, my parents came to help and mom (Pearl Schaefer Kaminski) found 2 magnolia tree sprouts behind our garage. She dug them up and put them in pots. We took one to Kingwood and planted it in our front yard; it is still there. She took the other one to the farm near Moravia and when their house was finished; she planted it in the front yard. It is still there making leaf mess regularly for me to clean up..
I bet your magnolia is a big tree by now! Your Mom sure knew what she was doing. It doesn’t seem like there are a lot of soils in this area that magnolias will tolerate. Maybe she told that sprout it had better grow! Thanks for sharing this memory.
My neighbor across the street had a magnolia tree there, planted by the original owner. It was a very old tree. The neighbor moved away for several years, but kept the home there. In the meantime, there were several years that had not much rain – drought conditions. The tree was gone when she moved back. End of sad story! Barbara
Those drought years really took a toll on trees, especially those like magnolias that aren’t really thrilled about growing around here anyway. When a big tree like that dies, it’s like a landmark has been taken away and we miss it. Hoping this year won’t bring a drought or a flood!
Thank you for sharing your plant stories! They speak to me directly. My Mama was like Geri. She always carried paper towels and plastic bags in the car “just in case” there were plants or seeds she wanted to collect. Gardening was her therapy and always a joy to her. I remember when in my teens my Mama woke me up in the middle of the night once to show me her Night Blooming Cereus. She was so proud of that bloom, but I was maybe not as excited as she to celebrate it at the time! I wish I had her picture with it now! Mama spent more and more time in her gardens as years went by. She was never a member of the local garden club, but the club asked to put her home on their garden tour in Wimberley. Her yard was a botanical garden. Friends brought her their sick plants to nurse back to health, and she usually was able to make them flourish. Though not as capable, I inherited Mama’s love of planting and swapping plants with friends. Elaine, I am more like you in that I remember the plant stories but not always their proper names!
Deb, what a special memory to recall getting up to see your Mom’s Night Blooming Cereus! That sounds exactly like something that Geri would have done. Having moved so many times over the years, have you saved some of your mom’s plants? I don’t have to ask if you have saved their stories because I know you have! Thank you for sharing these joys with us.
Oh yes! I have babies that were propagated from some of Mama’s plants or grown from her seeds. I also have been pleased to share babies from them with our daughter and granddaughter who cherish Granny’s plants!
That’s great! I know the plants and flowers grown from heritage seeds bring you joy and contentment. Wouldn’t your Mama be pleased?
Elaine, I love your stories. This one really stuck with me. I’ve thought of it often, particularly when I’m outside walking our dog Roxie. What touches me is the memories that washed over you when you described caring for these plants.
Thanks so much, Martha. Isn’t it interesting what stirs memories? I only wish that some other plants I was given had lived. Unfortunately, some didn’t make it. I always feel bad when that happens because it seems like I have let the giver down.
Update on the tomatoes and okra: Tomatoes have been abundant and they are about at the end of their season. I have given them away to neighbors and have enjoyed them too. I have about 5 good okra plants that are about three feet tall. They must be a different variety than what I remember from my mom’s garden! They really do take a lot of water, just as the city is asking us to cut back on watering the yards! The plants are getting yellow blooms and when the bloom falls off there is a tiny okra! So the okra grow in clusters of the tiny okra. I water them in the early morning and they are thriving and they love the hot weather (if they get lots of water!)
Thanks for the update, Barbara! I hope it rains so your okra will continue to flourish since you’ve put so much work into growing them.
THANKS, YES I AM PRAYING FOR RAIN. THIS MORNING I PICKED 3 NICE OKRA WHICH I WILL PROBABLY COOK FOR MY LUNCH TODAY! 🙂
Oops, I should have slowed down and watched my spelling errors. One finger gets ahead of another!
Sounds good! Congratulations on making a crop!
Thank you again. There are several clusters of tiny okra on each plant, so if I keep watering them, they will make a great crop that I can share with neighbors, too!
The rain today has been wonderful!! So far it’s just a little over half an inch, hoping for more tonight!! The okra are doing fine. I have really had to water them!
Nothing like rain to make a garden grow!
Yes, Elaine. I have had over an inch and a half this weekend…so far! And more showers expected. I won’t have to water this weekend. I also collect rainwater for my hedge that has just been trimmed and will need a drink after the rains quit. What a blessing rainwater is for all of us!