Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Friday, July 4, 2014

A Rose of Sharon by any other name

I may not be especially old fashioned, but I'll admit it - I am old.

Old enough to remember a time in the late 1950's, growing up right here in Austin, when farmers and ranchers and gardeners alike were all talking about the ongoing drought.  Since it simply would not rain, they wanted information on what plants people had that could reliably survive the heat of summer, withstand winter's freezes and add either some utility or beauty to their spaces without needing much in the way of watering.

Sound familiar?

This was long before anybody had snapped to the idea that using native plants was the ideal solution to our recurring problems of too much heat/too little rain.  Back in those days, the vast majority of the plants in widespread use for landscapers and gardeners in Central Texas were well adapted imports.  If it looked pretty anyplace else and didn't die outright?  Texan gardeners would give it a try.

My Dad's garden spaces were no different.  A full blooded Italian, he was especially happy gardening around his retirement home near Lake Travis.  He felt the hills west of Austin were strikingly similar to the foothills of the Abruzzi Appenines in Italy where his family originally came from.  He had a special place in his heart for one particular stalwart of Austin gardens because it was a plant his own mother had grown and loved.

Some refer to it as a Rose of Sharon, my Italian grandmother knew it as St. Joseph's Rod, my father called it Althea, botanists label it Hibiscus syriacus, and I call it....gorgeous.
As dedicated as I am to planting and growing natives to our area, I'm also a sentimentalist. Long ago when my family and I moved back to the Austin area and my father offered me two starts from his collection of beloved Althea bushes, I was overjoyed to welcome them into our plant scape.
Decades later the dozen or so althea growing in our beds are all the offspring of those two plants my father originally gave me.  One a light pinky-purple and the other nearly white, over the years both varieties have either self seeded or survived my transplantation efforts to appear in all our spaces.  I like to think my Dad would be proud of how well we've all done, plants and gardener alike.
Some Althea I've trimmed up into tree like form, others I've left to their more customary shrub shapes.  They are very forgiving.  But, central trunk or multiple trunks, trimmed away from the sidewalk or left to stretch up into the sun, white, light pink or purple, Althea are all beautiful to my eyes.
Bumblebees seem to appreciate them in their own enthusiastic way.
Whether you yourself are a hardy native or are a well adapted transplant to our Central Texas spaces, here's wishing you and yours a Happy Fourth of July.  Long may you thrive and bloom here, and may we all get the rain we need!


Debra said...

Happy 4th. Rose of Sharon is a lovely shrub/tree. mmm pink. We had some growing here when I moved in and I thought they were lovely and exotic. As the climate changes I am not sure it is appropriate to stick ONLY to native plants. Some are not equipped to cope with the changes and will need to be planted elsewhere to survive. I think gardeners are in a position to help with those shifting patterns. Sometimes it will mean taking the time to make wise decisions. Will the plant survive? Provide wildlife benefit? Not push something delicate to extinction? I personally see no problem with diversity.

Tina said...

Happy Independence!1 And thank you for this lovely look at althea, rose of sharon, whatever! Like you, I have a soft spot in my heart for these plants. I grew up in Corpus Christi and these beautiful shrubs were in every yard, including mine. I mostly remember the lavender and white ones, though I seem to recall a smaller, very ruffly pink one too. And thank you Deb for the one you gave me--there are two buds and I eagerly wait for them to open!

TexasDeb said...

Debra: Your point is well taken. As the freeze zones shift and weather is disrupted worldwide, what will it continue to mean to call a plant "native"? Altheas have not been designated invasive to the best of my information and they've certainly been on the scene long enough for that tendency to have become clear, so I'm happy the local pollinators are as pleased with the flowers as I am. Win/win!

TexasDeb said...

Tina: Some plants are like songs for me - they bring back a certain time or place in my life and I truly enjoy the associations they evoke. I've had Althea plants growing in the yard of every house I've ever lived in (in Texas anyway). To me they are part of what makes a place feel like "Home". (Yay! Buds!)

Pam/Digging said...

Rose of Sharon is very beautiful -- and tough. I inherited a fenceline row of them at my first house in Austin. They bloomed even in heavy shade, though they grew thin. One day I need to plant one myself and enjoy those flowers again.

TexasDeb said...

Pam: I'll bet you can garner a passalong... Through the years I've shared several and they typically withstand my amateur transplantation efforts pretty well.

And as you know, even with just a little sun they'll keep you in blooms all summer long. This year with the extra early summer rains the althea are putting on an especially extravagant display (as are the crepe myrtles) all around town. So pretty!

Linda/patchwork said...

Althea or Rose of Sharon....these are pretty plants.

I don't have one, but maybe I should.

The best part about yours, is the wonderful memories they hold.

TexasDeb said...

Linda: My Althea bushes do evoke wonderful memories. They are marvelous performers in our areas but the deer will nibble them to the ground so they must be grown in a protected spot or kept off limits until they are tall enough to escape browsing. I suppose that is where I got my preference for a tree like form - my Dad trimmed his that way to protect his Althea from the deer out around Lake Travis where he lived.