Shared plants are living reminders of special relationships|IN THE GARDEN

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 27, 2008

Color makes a garden come alive, and no one can miss the bright yellow-orange cosmos in Ruth Gay’s garden and in the adjoining field on Porters Chapel Road. For the past 10 years, they have grown and re-seeded themselves there for all to enjoy.

“Wind and birds give me much of what I plant,” Gay states. Cosmos are easy to grow and thrive from neglect. Drought tolerant, they love the heat and are not fussy about soil if the drainage is good. The birds love the seeds, and the butterflies and bees find the blooms irresistible.

 Cosmos were first introduced to U.S. gardeners in the early 1900s and were an instant hit because of their clear, bright blooms. Originally from Mexico, the Spanish priests grew them in mission gardens. The evenly placed petals led to their name that comes from the Greek word cosmos meaning harmony and order of the universe.

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Gay acquired the seed from her mother who started growing the Klondyke cosmos to the back of her property off Fisher Ferry Road in the early 1970s. The house, built before the Civil War, is now the home of Gay’s son Joe and his wife, Roxanne. Gay says that her mother loved to sit on the porch and view the garden long after she had grown unable to tend to it herself.

“Mother didn’t start gardening until her later years after retirement,” according to Gay, “but she was always in the garden digging and had quite a garden for many years.” Her camellias are still on the property. Some are the japonicas and others are the sasanquas that produce smaller blooms than the japonicas.

The jonquils and blue woodland phlox planted across the front of Gay’s property came from her mother’s garden. They make quite a showing each spring. A large wisteria, which Gay thinks may date to Civil War days, as well as several quince bushes, grew in her garden. Perilla, or wild basil, an old garden annual with rich purple foliage that re-seeds with gusto, is also from the old family home site.

A fall bloomer that will soon compete for attention with the cosmos is a helianthus that Gay identifies as an African daisy sunflower. She had a hard time identifying it until her daughter gave her a Louisiana wildflower handbook. Her first start of this plant came from Elizabeth Payne, a longtime friend and neighbor, well over 25 years ago. It grows quite tall and produces bright yellow flowers with dark centers up and down the stalks. Under optimum conditions, it can grow to 12 feet tall. An aggressive multiplier, there are several large clumps in various spots on the property.

Gay has long been interested in wildflowers and has books to help her identify species that grow in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana. She has several stands of Indian pinks, a member of the jessamine family that produces a bright red funnel-shaped bloom. The bloom is yellow on the inside and has what looks like the flame of a candle protruding from the red funnel. The protrusion is really the stamens of the bloom. They are one of the Mississippi native wildflowers found along roadsides and woods blooming in early May. The fall flowering obedient plant, spring blooming sundrops, and native morning glory and cleome also grow in her garden.

Gay says she finds gardening a relaxing pastime. Whenever she is in the garden, she gets to experience the beauty of many of the same plants that gave her mother so much pleasure.

Miriam Jabour, a Master Gardener and master flower show judge, has been active with the Vicksburg Council of Garden Clubs for more than 20 years. Write to her at 1114 Windy Lake Drive, Vicksburg, MS 39183.