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A Different Kind of Heirloom

Several days ago I returned from a brief trip off-island to discover that it still hadn’t rained here and the garden and pots were in dire need of some hose action.  The garden is filling in, plants are spreading and blooming like crazy and there is a ton of color going on in the yard.  But there is a corner, an area that needs some work, that I haven’t paid much attention to since earlier in spring.  There are Itoh Peonies whose scarce flowers have long since gone by, and some cleome that has re-seeded itself and has begun to bloom.  But the one plant that made my heart soar is the single white hollyhock that began to bloom a few days ago.  I noticed the three tiny plants growing very early in the spring. A curious thing since I hadn’t planted any hollyhocks there in several years.  And the only one I ever recalled planting was from some seeds from my childhood home.  I left them alone and silently hoped that they were the ones I remembered.

The old farmhouse was surrounded by rock gardens and perennial gardens full of phlox, hollyhocks, daisies, lilacs, tiger lilies, iris and numerous other old-fashioned plants.  Three generations tended those gardens and eventually, in November of 2005, my mother’s ashes were spread there.  As we said farewell, it was evident that the garden had been neglected for most of that summer. In the midst of the overgrown leaves, there was one stalk of hollyhocks with a single, forlorn white flower. Almost as an afterthought, I tucked a handful of the papery seed pods into my pocket to bring back to Nantucket.  I planted them the following spring and they produced several tall, single-flowered plants.  Rust grew on the leaves that the earwigs didn’t eat, but the white flowers bloomed all the way up the stems and they reminded me of mom and her garden. 

I collected and saved the seeds for a few years and continued to plant them, but after a time, I didn’t collect any more seeds. I stewed about my neglect for a while, but I remembered that I had taken lots of pictures and decided that I would have to rely on those for my memories.  For two years, there haven’t been any hollyhocks in my garden, so when I saw the three baby plants this spring, I hardly dared to hope that they might be the white ones. 

They are. And I am so grateful.