Inhospitable gardens yield a bountiful profusion

Irony: Some flowers seem to thrive only where they shouldn't.

June 19, 1999|By Jacques Kelly

THE OTHER SATURDAY my father and I were heading off to Rehoboth Beach, expecting to find nothing but traffic. But it turned out to be one of those rare Memorial Day Saturdays when the backups evaporated and the weather was warm and perfect.

There, as we cruised along Maryland Route 404, just outside Denton, we encountered roadside fields of billowing poppies, the red, orange and white blossoms as light as tissue paper.

It was just the look I wanted for my own garden -- a patch of seed-sown poppies blooming away on a fine late spring day.

Guess what? I struck out. Despite carefully planting poppy seeds, I got nothing this year.

Somehow, poppy seeds dropped by the highway, where the only watering comes from rain and the only care from birds and insects, seem to prosper. But in my own garden, where I fuss and pray, nothing happens.

Consider the case of the disappearing lupines.

Maybe I've read too many murder mysteries set in England, stories where the body is discovered in a garden filled with lupines, those densely flowering tubes of pink, white and blue.

Maybe 15 years ago, I decided that lupines were what my St. Paul Street garden needed. I think I wrote away to a nursery in the Carolinas, paid plenty, then waited for the postman.

For one season, I had some fair lupines. But they disappeared the next year. Someone told me they don't prosper in Baltimore's heat.

One morning I was about to cross Abell Avenue and 32nd Street and there, in a rowhouse front yard, exposed to heat, pets and cigarette-tossing pedestrians, was a fine stand of lupines -- healthy, graceful, just what I'd wanted. Maybe I should have planted my lupines in the cracks of the broken sidewalk. I would have had a bumper crop year after year.

I get a heavy case of gardener's envy -- which borders on contempt -- when flowers pop up where they shouldn't.

One of the toughest urban survivors is the snapdragon, which regularly droops and conks out in my border but blooms and reblooms in the cracks of concrete alleys and sidewalks. Shasta daisies seem to grow like weeds in other people's plots. Not mine. They vanish.

If you want to see glorious roses, visit Highlandtown's back alleys this time of year. There, in tiny gardens that test the ability of even the most blessed growers, are blooms that could win prizes. Sometimes I just disappear from my desk and head to the garages, back porches and wash lines to see this bumper crop of June roses just off Eastern Avenue.

For a long while I admired -- and more than once envied -- flowers that seemed to bloom so effortlessly by the side of the road and in the cracks of the sidewalk. Then I surrendered happily, declaring a truce on my discontented desire.

These days, when I spot a incredible day lily on a vacant lot on Greenmount Avenue, I look, enjoy and keep going.

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