Island Mallow, you grow up so fast

Botany-geeking time! Over two years ago, I brought home a tiny young island mallow (Malva assurgentiflora), and planted it in a shady spot across from my desk window.

I had first learned about this species during an environmental horticulture class I took in college, and, several years later, I found one for sale (at the amazing plant nursery Annie’s Annuals). The species is endemic to California, originally growing only in the Channel Islands, and it is quite a lovely plant.

Here’s how it looked then:


Since then, it has grown slowly but heartily, surviving two winters and a pack of rowdy squirrels. It is now almost as tall as my shoulder. And today, I glanced out the window and thought I saw something pink near the top of the plant. I investigated, and indeed: my island mallow has opened its very first flower!


This is a small thing, but this is a thing that makes me very happy.

Anthropomorphizing poppies

In my previous post, I mentioned how, every time one of our Iceland poppies blooms, it’s a wonderful surprise, since we don’t yet know which color petals each plant will produce. As the flower develops, it’s protected by two hairy sepals, which normally fall off when the flower blooms. However, a few mornings ago, I was lucky enough to spy a bud immediately after it had opened, with the sepals still stuck onto the outside of the petals. (By noon, the sepals had dropped all the way off.)

Hanging on for dear life.
Well hello there.

You may visualize these sepals either as snazzy sunglasses or as a thermal bra, whichever you prefer.

In the garden

Have you read The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett? That book was a favorite of mine when I was a bairn, but not for any of its characters. Instead, its appeal lay within the titular garden: a magical, private nature-place, neglected and overgrown, but receptive to care. Through its fresh moor air and roses, it changes a sullen child into a vibrant one, an imperious brat into a warm friend, and it even manages to heal a shattered family. Near the end of the book, the roaming patriarch of the family hears his deceased wife calling to him in a dream. He asks where she is, and she replies, “In the garden, in the garden!” He gallops home and reunites with his son and niece, who have become robust and joyful by the mere influence of the outdoors. It’s a little dubious, but it’s very romantic.

I suppose my point is that I always expect to be magically revived by gardening — and, oddly enough, I sometimes am.

In front of our house, we have a little scrap of dirt that, each spring, we convert into a semblance of a garden. Read More