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That Which No Longer Serves

Friday, December 23, 2016

A 10 x 12'  hobbyist greenhouse is like a very small boat. It can only hold so much. 

My natural tendency as someone who loves and actually needs flowers is to stuff it to the gills with plants I think I can't live without. 

Which is OK until the plants get big and old and start taking more than their fair share of space. Even that I can deal with, until they also begin harboring insect pests. A plant I adore can  easily overstay its welcome and become a liability almost overnight. 

Such was the case with the original edition of Hibiscus sinensis "The Path."  This monster is head-high to me, and taking up the whole southwest corner of the greenhouse. 

She was given to me by my dear friend Donna as a foot-tall youngster in the spring of 2014, as a sort of greenhouse warming gift after the Great Greenhouse Apocalypse of November 24, 2013.  She was part of that which saved me, the replacing and planting and salvaging of all the plants that I had loved that died that awful night. I loved her with my whole heart, and set about making her happy.

 And she set about making me happy. By April 25, 2015, she was quite a specimen, in her prime. Amazing what two years and some cow manure will do. And she's ready for a larger pot!

By midsummer 2016, The Path had turned from a manageable little filly into a gigantic rangy horse, despite some severe pruning in the winter of 2015.  The growth potential of a happy hibiscus is awe-inspiring, incredible. Even The Path, who famously "blooms more than she grows," still grows a ton. 

Being big isn't necessarily a sin in a small greenhouse, but I'm afraid that being chronically bug-infested is.  
The unwelcome confetti of mealybugs--one of the worst pests I know

An explosion of aphids on a new blossom.

Not only these pests, but The Path was harboring red spider mites and scale as well. I've got to hand it to hibs--they have absolutely cornered the market on insect infestations. Everything loves them. The only thing The Path didn't have was whitefly.  One Typhoid Mary in a greenhouse is one too many. Thanks to her great size, it took a lot of effort to turn her around so I could spray her from all angles. That didn't happen, so the pests just multiplied in the myriad places my homemade Dr. Bronner's soap/isopropyl spray never reached.


 In a 1 qt. spray bottle, mix

3/4 cup 70% isopropyl alcohol
2 T Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Castile Soap
1 QT water.
Shake well and spray all surfaces of the plant,
concentrating on the undersides of leaves and growth tips.  You're welcome!

I walked into the greenhouse on the first snowy morning of December and knew it was time for The Path to go. When I was a kid, my dad used to tell me stories about the Eskimos turning elderly people out into the snow. I don't know for sure if that was an actual practice, but with what I've read about Inuit culture, and with greatly limited food to go around in an Arctic winter, I could see it happening. He also used to talk about people chewing food for those who'd lost their teeth, so clearly there are two sides to every story.

For me, saying goodbye to The Path was a test of my resolve, of the strength of my vision for a better world, in this one microcosm in which I can exert some control.
As I attempted the first lift of her lead-heavy planter, I felt the muscles all across my lower back stretch and then give. Oops. Note to self: Commit  all executions before watering. 

I dragged her the rest of the way out into the snow, groaning and cursing my foolishness for even trying to hoist that leaden pot.

Even covered in aphids, she was still so beautiful.  But I couldn't even cut the flower to bring it inside, for all the aphids.

Enjoy your strained back! Serves you right, she seems to say. I was in bloom, in bud. I could have gone on 'til May.

Ow, I answered. So was I. Now I'm going to be hurting for two weeks.

You were killing everyone else in there. No fault of your own, but true nonetheless. It's time.

While I was at it, I brought out "Queen of Persia," a beautiful lime and magenta geranium I've been propagating and trying to grow for three years. No matter what I've done: starting it over from apparently healthy cuttings; consistently cutting back all the diseased parts,  leaving it out for the summer, taking all the soil off the roots and repotting, the new growth of this plant always turns brown and shrivels. I suspect it's infected with a virus, and there's nothing I can do about it. I think she's given it to "Petals," too.  So goodbye to you too, Queen of Persia.  Out in the snow with ye.

When I came back into the humid warmth of the greenhouse, Creole Lady was looking wan and hanging her head. She'd caught red spider mites from The Path, and now needs daily spraying. 

The greenhouse was a bit darker for The Path's absence, but it wouldn't be for very long. That unprepossessing looking plant on the far left has a secret.

Just three days later, The Path's understudy, carefully nurtured from one of only two cuttings I've ever been able to root, would burst into glorious bloom.

You see, the understudy is the same plant, just rejuvenated. Through a cutting, I've made a clone of the original.  Oh, the power and the glory of plant propagation. Ain't it wonderful? Plants, for me, are an endless Fountain of Youth, the ultimate renewable resource. I can only be this heartless when I know an understudy's got my back. 

There are metaphors in this, and they are rich. I've written and deleted several paragraphs here. No sense in leading the witness. I think it's best that we each have the room to draw the metaphor that fits our situation.

For the New Year, look around. See if there are things in your life that no longer serve you. 
 That once brought you joy, but no longer do.
Examine your attachment to them. Why are you keeping them around? 
Because you think you're expected to?
Because you can't imagine getting rid of them?
Because it would be mean to do that?
Because people would be appalled if you got rid of them?

Because it's never occurred to you that you had the right to throw them out? Who are you waiting for, to give you permission?

Let it go.

Maybe the end of usefulness is only natural, like insect infestations, like decay and rot. Part of the great process.  Perhaps it's even to be celebrated.

Smithiantha says YES. No more mealybugs on me.

 Gardenia is planning a fragrance party in a month or two.

Little Alpine Geranium (also from Donna!) keeps a-bloomin', looking toward spring. Mama's taking cuttings...

Life goes on, in a less-fraught, simpler, more beautiful and less buggy way.

And the greenhouse becomes a happy place once again.

Do you have a skin to shed? A load to lighten, a path to clear? 
Why not give yourself permission to do it?
Merry Christmas! and thanks for being here with me for my ELEVEN YEAR blogaversary! 

2,073 posts
2,518,013 pageviews
52K unique pageviews last month alone
Eleven years.


I admire that...the ability to know when to let go. I am not so good at that. Glad you have your "new" path to enjoy and thank you for the recipe!

Ok, I'm inclined to severely cut back my explosion of patio plants that are overwintering inside. Merry Christmas, Julie! Happy Blogiversary too!

Great story, such blog dedication! Amazing.

The showy blooms against the black and white wintery backdrop - great contrast. The gift of an pest solution recipe, a good New Year challenge, and an impressive milestone. Three cheers for 11 years! Thank you. Merry Christmas to you and your family. Kim in PA

Congratulations on your blogaversary and on having anything blooming at all during the solstice...hello!!!
When you want to hear my force-them- into-dormancy trick let me know, but alas I am more on board with the shedding and letting go than I ever have been before. Amen sistah!!!
Also...Murphys oil soap is a great pest control trick...and lots of finger rubbing and smushing! Those aphids kinda Pop between your fingers and it's gross but oddly satisfying. ��
Merry Christmas Julie!!!

I know exactly why hibiscuses are irresistible to bugs: their sap is very sweet and tasty. (Yes, I tasted a droplet of sap that was on its leaf. Yum!)

We lost a "bisky" early this year. First it had thrips, which killed most of it. Then, when it was still stressed and barely recovering from the thrips, spider mites settled in and finished the job. We also have an "understudy" (L'il Bisky), but it also has been decimated by spider mites, and it doesn't look good. We've had these plants for over 25 years, and it hurts to see them die this way. The original "bisky" was rescued from a pile next to the incinerator at a restaurant where my husband and I worked. It was basically just a leafless trunk with roots, but he nursed it into a huge, beautiful plant that took up a good portion of the room and seemed to have perpetual red blooms. When L'il Bisky goes, I don't ever want another hibiscus. They are gorgeous plants, but as you say, very vulnerable to infestations. I will content myself to admire them from afar.

Posted by Anonymous December 23, 2016 at 5:52 PM

This is about my dead 1982 GMC truck rustng away in the yard isn't it?

And Happy birthday blight!

Auto correct... You bastard! "Bloggy" not blight!

Always enjoy your posts, thank you for writing so frequently. Have a happy and healthy 2017 and hope your back is better soon.

A wise, inspiring post. We spent Christmas with family, their house and property overburdened with STUFF and obviously causing much stress and draining of energy. It steeled my resolve to destash and declutter while declaring 2017 a "non-acquisition" year.

I've started the clean out! Thanks for the boost. Biggest thing is knowing in your heart that moving some things along in one way or another is NOT a lack of gratitude. Also found that taking a picture and having it stowed on the Mac is enough (unless it's a handwritten letter or meaningful note...those I must handle.) Kim in PA

Happy Blogversary and Happy New Year!! You've inspired me to lighten the load in the spare bedroom.
Lynda in Michigan.

Happy Christmas! Happy 11 years! Happy almost new year! I've just binged my way through the past couple of months here - I have to have this on the 'big screen'; my phone won't do. Thank you so much as always, Julie.

My "no longer serve" plants go into the compost bin. When I open the lid to add items to it a week or two later, sometimes I see a leaf reaching out of the top trying to get some light and I feel like the executioner all over again. Thanks for the recipe and I hope your back is already healed!

Ruth B. in MD

We've just read this post. She's always more prone to "dispose of" than I am. But WHY is she looking at me that way?

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