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There May Be Kiwis! and Other Garden Delights

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

 In the fall of 2015, my friend Caroline from South Dakota sent me a few rhizomes of an iris her grandmother, Cora, had planted in her yard as a newlywed in upstate New York. That's a long time ago. But the iris went along, as irides do, and it prospered and multiplied and was handed down to children and grandchildren. Caroline sent it to me, and this was its first blossom in 2016.

I've divided it three times, and this is the clump now. It's a giving plant, smelling of sweet grape bubblegum. Yum!!


The bleeding hearts that bloomed so beautifully and fully this year were given to me as wee seedlings by my friend Lucy from Northfield, MN several years ago. The kids and I had a wonderful visit there when we came out for my mom's interment in Iowa in the spring of 2016. While doing a little weeding in Lucy's garden, I found the babies, and asked if I could have some. And look at them now! I've never seen such long stringers of beauty!! And they're throwing seed children everwhere, just like Lucy's do.

 Yep, we windin' up to seed your garden with bleeding hearts you can give away in a couple years. Sweet little peas in a pod. I'm excited! Nothing the Propagation Chimp loves like good plants that reproduce. She also loves plants with a backstory.

You may remember the Dean's Fork peony that I dug in the fall of 2011 from in front of this tiny tumbledown house that's since collapsed and been utterly swallowed by the forest. Nobody would know there's a house there now.

 But on a late May walk with our friends David and Mary Jane, we saw something glimmering through the weeds and young saplings. A peony, persisting.

 That smelt of heaven and lily of the valley and dry grass, with a shell pink outer ring and a big pouf of starchy white in the middle. I came back that fall and just barely managed to find the peony in all the weeds and woods, and dug two little eyes off its side.

They grew and prospered in my Heirloom Garden, two small eyes becoming two enormous bushes.

And still it grows, and there's a new dog in the yard now. Peonies go on for a century or more, if you let them.

But the big news in Zick's gardens this year is going to be the hardy kiwi vine. I think it was 2004 when I saw a plastic box full of smooth-skinned green kiwi fruit, the size of a very large grape, at Giant Eagle. I bought them. They were a flavor explosion. I eyed the tiny black seeds in them and wondered to myself if I might grow a vine. Knowing kiwis were dioecious (meaning they have both male and female plants, and both are needed to make fruit), I planted a bunch of seeds. Three eventually germinated and became plants, and I prayed there was at least one male in there. Or that they weren't all one sex. That's a tremendous leap of faith, to grow three enormous vines for nine years, because what if I planted all three and didn't get both sexes? I'd have a tower of vegetation and no fruit.

And here's the kicker: I wouldn't know for NINE YEARS, until they bloomed and either did or didn't set fruit, what I had!

But I grew them on and planted them out, and waited.
Oh, how I waited. Sometimes I cursed that vine (or those three vines) as they scrambled over my deck and had to be trimmed back several times a year. I didn't water them even when it was dry. I kind of hated them, because year after year went by with nothing but greedy leaves.

This is what they look like, Year 15. That's about 13' of biomass there, and I have to trim it back so it won't engulf the tea roses and run its tendrils into the house! It reaches for the sliding glass door and I have to bat it back.

On Year Nine, it made some small flowers, but it didn't set fruit. I think it's so interesting that the plant has to be nine to bloom. How does it know it's nine?   It made a few more each year. And to my great joy, on Year 10, it set a few fruits. WE HAVE A MALE, PEOPLE!! It turns out we have TWO FEMALES and ONE MALE and THEY ARE DOING THEIR THINGS!! I started feeding and watering the vines. That made a difference.

 Below are the male flowers. See that black ring of stamens?

There's nothing in the center of the male flowers. No ovary like the females have. Just a ring of stamens, shedding pollen. The whole vine is humming with small bees!

Now here are the female flowers. See that lovely green ovary and the starburst of the white stigma atop it? Ready to receive pollen!

When the petals fall, as they have on the middle two flowers, you can see the nascent kiwi baby forming!! EEEE!!!

I think we could have the bumper crop of all bumper crops this year. Last summer, there were enough to let some of our friends taste them. And Phoebe was here for the harvest! She was as excited as I was. I fed some to Sara Bir, the celebrated forager who is author of a new book called The Fruit Forager's Companion.  I was privileged to feed her lunch, with homegrown kiwi for dessert. I was also privileged to write a review and blurb for her book! She lives in Marietta, Ohio, and greatly enhances the food scene here. She and I both can be found in October, rummaging around under the fabulous persimmon trees in town. :) When Sara tasted them, her face became thoughtful and still. I forget exactly what she said, but it was something like, "This is a new and explosive taste sensation for me." Oh yeah. Explosive. These kiwis are A-MA-Zinnnnggg!!

So I just wanted to crow a little bit, about the fabulous informed chance that led me to grow three little black seeds, to hope, for 10 years, that I had at least one male; to get, by pure luck, one male and two females; and now, in Year 15, to finally be looking at reaping the harvest of that faith, that care, that love. Good things take time and faith.

 Curtis, relaxing and panting like a steam engine after a long, long hunt.

Geraniums in my hanging baskets, all of which miraculously lived through the Great Greenhouse Freeze of January 30, coming back from the roots. Or, in the case of Happy Thought in back, from a cutting I'd taken into the house. Hope and care and time and faith.

 Grandma Cora and some Granny's Bonnet columbines, which strew their seeds everywhere and pop up in the funniest spots. My kind of flower.

 Petunia "Night Sky," which, for me, evokes stars, galaxies, comets, planets, and sometimes hearts (do you see it?)
 Scoff not at petunias. A purple petunia was the first plant I ever grew from seed. I was in kindergarten. I brought it home in a paper cup and tended it all summer, and it was beautiful, and so are these. Open your heart to petunias. If someone has told you they don't like them, and you've decided you don't, either, it's time to examine your prejudices. Because this new variety makes me squeal with delight.

Lobelias, another favorite. There are so many favorites in May.


It is wonderful to sense your heart overflowing, Julie! Enjoy it!

I have a similar iris, so gorgeous. I confess I am one of the petunia discounters. They seem too needy. You are a more reliable nurturer. Of plants, of pups and of us, your steadfast fan base.

My petunias are the hardest working flowers I have. All summer long. Love them.

Beautiful, Julie, I love them all! Made me nostalgic for peonies in northern gardens past.

What a wonderful post! So excited for your kiwis.

Kiwis! Just fascinating reading about them and seeing the flowers, I always learn something reading your posts. You do have so many beautiful flowers, I love petunias especially the ones with dark purple. Love seeing your photos of Curtis too. He's obviously where he's meant to be.

I rescued a Peony that looks just like the one you have rescued. I wonder how old is the peony variety. Kiwis are a pretty vine when they finally start growing. Lucky you getting fruit too. Your patience is amazing. I am trying to think of what flower isn't most appreciated in May. Nope can't think of a one, all are appreciated. Cheers.

You go girl! Grow your own, they taste better with all that anticipation! After treating the folks to Dragon Fruit at our senior center, I decided to plant some of the seeds. Dragon fruit comes from White Fleshed Pitahaya, a cactus!! A bazillion sprouted!?!?! Unlike your kiwi, these plants are monoecious and should fruit in 3-4 years. My house is dessert like in the winter! 💙 💙I LUST after a blue dragon fruit plant!!!!

Oh what garden glories! Marvelous. So lovely to see and read about.

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