In the side yard of the house where we are staying are several Rose O Sharon bushes. They are in flower now, and against the otherwise unkept landscape they look like well dressed cousins in for a brief stay. Three of them stand in a row and hold out their purple flowers (of so my flawed sense for color tells me) and bring some elegance to these otherwise wilting hot days in August.
It's taken me almost a week to notice them, and I finally feel like I've broken out of a rut. I'm not sure if the rut came from work or from the demands of my son's health or from some other source, but I know when I start to notice a Rose O Sharon and don't feel compelled to turn away to some necessary task, that summer has stopped lingering on the doorstep and has finally come in to stay.
I feel especially attached to Rose O Sharon from the days when I worked through college and graduate school as a landscaper. My first graduate degree was in English Literature - I've always been a bit of a dreamer - and when I read Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath again after many years, I was struck by the tragic character that took her name from their flowers. There was no internet for me at the time, so I actually had to use one of my trips to the library as a chance to look up a picture of the flower and the bush.
Though I don’t remember the original text, the website www.backyardgardener.com has a good description, “Hibiscus syriacus or Minerva Rose O Sharon ... is loved primarily for its large, to 5 inches wide, funnel-shaped blooms that resemble those of tropical hibiscus, yet not as flashy...” I like this overview because is both concise and evocative and manages to sneak in the word love into an otherwise business like overview; love and the even more hidden (and invisible) word unassuming (as opposed to flashy tropical petals). It captures some of the secret grace I feel when I’m around the plant.
Not that I gave the matter this much thought at the time. I just felt curious and attracted - not all that unusual for a young man - and once I knew more about it, I started looking for Rose O Sharon in every yard I worked in and would stop my mowing or trimming or pruning and admire the them quietly.
I began to find that wherever I discovered plant like this, there was a well loved garden with many other hardy local bushes: Forsythia, Roses, Rhododendrons, Double File Viburnum, Burning Bushes and others beyond my simple knowledge. All of them were common to my home in the Northeast, but none were quite so beautiful to me as the Rose O Sharon. It became a hallmark, almost a secret sign of a place I could feel at home.
I suppose it's partly my own doing that I don't see them so much these days. I live near and work in the city, where most flowers are confined to pots and window boxes. Sometimes, I'll wander down to the flower district on 27th street in Manhattan or for a quick trip into Central Park, where the colors run nearly wild and drive away the glum grey colors of city life. Those places (and many others like them) are part of what's make New York special to me, but it's not the same. As much as I love those Oasis and draw some peace from them, they are only respite from city life, not a home.
But for this week at least, I'm blessed to be on vacation (and feeling at home) when they are in bloom. I only need to open the window near the breakfast table in the morning or at lunch to be near them. It's a rare pleasure that I know I'll have to leave shortly.
I’ll think of them when I climb into my car or descend into the subway next week. I’ll try to recall some of the easy summer pleasure they convey. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to hold onto the relaxed feeling I have now; necessity is a hard master. I suppose I could take a picture, or go to a website occasionally to remind myself of them, but somehow it’s not as fulfilling as a simple memory. I’ll do my best and think of them and know that there are hidden places where they linger even as I move away.