An underground secret gives a boost to neighborhood blossoms Gardens: A casual walk reveals some truths about growing things: Some flowers have a built-in advantage.

June 20, 1998|By Jacques Kelly

THE OTHER MORNING I was headed out to get some exercise by taking a walk, but I got sidetracked. Who needs to do laps when every garden in the neighborhood is blooming?

For those of us who would rather see a columbine than a running shoe, this was an ideal June diversion.

I took off in the direction of Howard Street to inspect a small patch of hollyhocks I'd spotted from a passing bus last spring. These tall, waving flowers were peach and yellow then. This year, they came out red, jazzier than the pastels I'd remembered.

A woman I'll call the Hollyhock Lady was out tending this small, city front yard. We chatted about the variables of color.

Her hollyhocks were well staked -- tied to long supporting sticks -- exactly the same sort of structural strength that mine needed before the wind and rains of the past two weeks

My own crop snapped in half. And when I went to survey the damage and picked up the little plastic tab that came with the new plants, I discovered it did indeed warn, "May require staking." I should have spied on the Hollyhock Lady earlier.

On the other hand, my walks through city alleys have convinced me that the best roses bloom in the most broken and beat-up spots, on rusty garages and over old wash lines. The less care they get, the better they bloom.

This rule also holds true for scattered seeds -- the larkspur, poppies and bachelor buttons. Left to come up on their own, they are more natural and pretty.

I've also noticed that there are places where things just grow better -- a phenomenon that has more to do with geography than the hard work done by conscientious gardeners who build up the soil with peat moss, cow manure and other treats.

Sometime 100 years ago, a builder plowed around where we live today to run the streets and alleys through before the houses arrived. Fields, forests, meadows and streams vanished in the process.

In the Charles Village neighborhood where I do my garden spying/walking, infrastructure covers a stream that runs through the area. Old maps show it as Sumwalt's Run, and to hear it all you have to do is listen in a quiet alley. Even if there hasn't been too much rain, the thing still gushes in some hidden cavity.

Last week, my neighborhood had an organized tour of gardens in the area where this stream flows. And wouldn't you know, gardens -- and especially trees -- near the secret stream were robust and healthy.

I also noticed a certain cool and dank feeling in this urban stream valley that is now occupied with front porches, laundromats, asphalt and people.

If the Hollyhock Lady supplied some helpful hints, my Charles Village neighbors delivered a spectacular show.Here, in these small city gardens, my neighbors had created exquisite Edens off the kitchen door. No market packs of common marigolds and petunias would do here.

By the end of the afternoon my feet were aching from a three-hour garden pilgrimage. My eyes were bulging with envy, too.

Pub Date: 6/20/98

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