Monday, June 28, 2010

Hollyhock Memories

What a sweet surprise: our one Hollyhock bloomed today with our favorite color, a deep, deep ruby red. We never know what color we're going to get. They can be pale pink or bright rose or dark magenta or yellow or white, but this is the hue we love best. We used to have lots of Hollyhocks, and they'd bloom in all the colors at once, but over the years our Box Elder tree shaded their patch of ground and they petered out -- with the help, too, of some kind of insect that ruined the buds before they even bloomed. We had thought our Hollyhock summers were gone for good, but one seed seems to have found its niche and sprung up in the only sunny spot we still have. Welcome back, dear Hollyhock.

Probably more than any other, this flower speaks to me of summer and all its carefree connotations. For several years as a child, I spent my summers at my grandmother's farm, an apple orchard on a Michigan lake. My bed was on a screened porch facing east, so I woke each day with the bird-chorus dawn and after breakfast dashed out the door to the morning's waiting delights. I can still hear that screen door banging behind me, my bare feet feeling cool dew in the grass before I reached the sunlit path that led to the lake and the day's adventures. Tall stalks of Hollyhocks, buzzing with bees, guarded that door that led to that happiness. Sometimes in the cool of the morning the bumblebees would still be asleep, sheltering in those ruffled-taffeta blooms, and I would feel so exquisitely privileged to sneak a finger in to caress the bee's furry back. No wonder I love Hollyhocks.

Another memory I have of those summers was the Hummingbird nest in the Spiraea shrubs just outside the screens where I woke each day. That tiny lined-with-lichens nest, no bigger than an egg cup, held eggs the size of green peas, and oh, what excitement when those wee hummers hatched! Such a buzzing and coming and going as mom flew off to fetch the nectar and bugs to pump into those babies, who doubled in size in about a week and soon crowded the nest with downy adorableness. I hadn't been able to witness such wonders again until this week, when I found that Robin's nest in the Trumpet Vine behind my front porch swing. Today, I caught Mom Robin hurling some egg bits out of the nest and ventured a peek: there was a second baby! (Hardly a nestful of downy adorableness, but hey, that cuteness will come.)

But still two eggs to go. How long does this whole process take? So far, Mom mostly stays on the nest to keep those naked babies warm. I haven't yet seen any feeding going on.

There've been lots of Mallard Duck babies in Congress Park this summer (as every summer), and most are getting pretty big by now. This duckling still had its fuzzy down and its baby-voice peep, peep, peep.

Housekeeping duties kept me at home today, but I did take time for a turn around the park, just a block from my house. Although Congress Park is famous for its Olmsted-designed formal gardens, I go there to visit the weeds -- the many wildflowers that bloom unbidden in the marshy spots and unkempt edges where the mowers can't reach. Two Willow Herbs were blooming today, the tiniest one and the giant. Here's the wee one, called Northern Willow Herb, and it's so small you have to hunt for it.

And here's the giant: Hairy Willow Herb, which towers well over six feet tall and has beautiful showy flowers.

Here's another showy-flowered giant, and one that comes well-armed with prickles: Bull Thistle.

I've never loved Day Lilies all that much, especially the orange ones, but they do put on quite a show in Congress Park.

Like Hollyhocks, Day Lilies are not really wildflowers, although left to their own devices they sure can run wild. I think it's grand to see such showy flowers grow like weeds.


chinnb said...

Great post. Keep us updated on the robins!

Caroline said...

Hollyhocks and daylilies, the epitome of old fashioned summer! I am waiting for mine to bloom, they had a early pruning by the dratted deer, so they are late.
I know my favorite color is the one in your picture, no question.

Bird said...

What a beautiful evocation of childhood! You had me aching with nostalgia as if it were my own :)

I finally got a hollyhock of my very own last year, I was given a small plant which never grew very tall but had the deepest wine red flowers - my favourite hollyhock colour. It will flower again soon, provided the foxes don't dig it up. I'm hoping next year more than one will grow - we are deliberately lazy at springtime weeding, just in case!

I am deeply envious of your robin nest. And I can't imagine how fabulous it must be to see a hummingbird nest - so tiny! Having seen this picture, I'd say the robin nest most resembles a European song thrushes nest - they don't line theirs, either.