Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Lost and Found II / Kayıp Eşya Bölümü II

Sometimes a plant becomes loaded with so many memories that it's hard to imagine not growing it, and there is one such plant in our family.

Years ago, when I was maybe 8 years old, my grandmother gave my mother what looked like nothing more than a pot of dirt and said, "grow this." My mother asked what it was, and all she would say was "something beautiful!" Mom never did know just what it was supposed to be, but what did come up was a seedling of an evening primrose with larger and more fragrant flowers than any I have ever seen. I sent seeds to somone for identification and he told me it was Oenothera biennis. I'm not convinced though, because I've never seen an O. biennis with 1) such large flowers, 2) such fragrant flowers, and 3) such a frequently branching habit. It does sometimes get a bit tall and gangly but when it's growing well, it also branches frequently.

The plant seeded itself in the rocks on our back patio, and each evening new flowers would open like time-lapse photography, releasing a heavy scent of jasmine tea into the humid Iowa summer air. When we had summer parties, there was always a crowd of people gathered around the stand of evening primrose (which we just called "night flowers"), watching in anticipation as the buds swelled slowly, then suddenly opened completely over the course of about 20 seconds, the sticky pollen stringing between the anthers in wait of the hawk moths who would be visiting, almost immediately. It turned out their larvae also liked to eat it as much as they did tomatoes.

When I moved to Seattle, I made sure I got seed of this plant that was such a part of my childhood, and grew it in the front garden of the first house I live in. It did beautifully there, and even produced one almost-white flowering plant which unfortunately did not recur. I moved to a second house and the night flowers followed me there too. Finally I moved to the last house I'd live in Seattle, where I gardened for nine years. I planted some older seed I'd saved, but it didn't come up - evidently I hadn't kept it dry enough. I went back to my old place to find a seed pod, and the entire garden had been dug up and replaced with a vegetable garden (oh, the horror!). My mother had since moved to Arkansas and though the plant will grow there, it seems to be a favorite of the deer, and she's given up. (The local O. biennis survives though, which also makes me suspect it's something else.)

So I got desperate and searched through the lawn near where my flower garden had been, and found three tiny seedlings. They became the parents of a new overgrowth of evening primrose. This time I was sure to share seed with friends as well!

When I came to Istanbul, I had no garden, but after a year or so I was living in a place with a balcony and tried growing seed I got from a friend back in Seattle in pots. It didn't like the pots, or more likely the insubstantial fluff that is sold as "potting soil" here. I saved the rest of the seed, and when I found a place with a garden a few years later, one of the first things I did was to plant "our" night flowers! And once again, the seed was no longer viable. This time, finding seed was a bigger adventure. On my next trip to Seattle, I called all my friends, and one person did have one plant growing in the garden. About to leave town, he told me he'd leave a stem of it on the chair on the front porch. A day later I went by...there was nothing there. He later said he'd put it there but evidently a housemate had been cleaning... I couldn't find anyone who had any, so in a last-ditch attempt, I went to my old house. And there, right on the edge of a sidewalk, in among the weeds, was a stem with about 8 seedpods in it. I nearly threw my back out, I leaned over to grab it so fast!

So now I've learned that it has a name here too - "Ezan Çiçeği" - the ezan is the call to prayer, which no doubt refers to the fact that it starts opening about the time of the evening ezan. I've seen seed of it offered, but it's not quite the same as mine, so I don't grow any other varieties. It's now seeding happily around my garden, so it appears that this plant will be with me for a while to come.


Deano said...

That is a very pretty flower and a interesting story. From Iowa to Seattle to Turkey, what a trip this flower has made.

If we end up trading some seeds, send me a couple of seeds for this flower and I will try to grow them and be a possible seed bank for your future.

Did you get my email to your yahoo account?



Pat Temiz said...

I have tried to comment before and failed. Now I am hoping it will work as I loved your latest post and am hoping I can get some seed from your scented night flower. My partner and I garden near Fethiye, having relocated from north west UK. I am especially fond of all scented plants. If this comment works you can expect many more!!

Iowa Gardening Woman said...

What a wonderful interesting story! Flowers that bring us memories are that best. It is the scents that I remember the most. Great post.

Sazji said...

Hi Pat,

Yes, you did it! Let me see how much seed I get this year; if it's a good bunch I'll be glad to share!

Deano - I never use my yahoo account any more but I guess we connected. :)

Iowa Gardening Woman - Another Iowan, fun. :) Where in Iowa? Yes I'm definitely addicted to scent in flowers...Hopefully I'll get a good show out of my Brugmansias once the weather cools a bit...