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Garden Reports and Rejoicing – September 25

I have a White Chiffon rose of Sharon that I love, except for one tiny habit…it self seeds prolifically. Not all rose of Sharon do this. For fifteen years I grew a double flowering pink variety that didn’t produce any offspring at all. This white one, however, manufactures dozens of eager-beaver seedlings every spring, to the point that I’ve decided to spend twenty minutes each fall cutting off the seeds and putting them in a trash bag.

Today as I pruned the plants I remembered that several people commented on them when they visited my gardens last weekend. “That must be a late-blooming variety,” one person said, while another commented, “Look at those big buds…it will be wonderful when they come into bloom!”

To all of these comments I responded by saying that these weren’t buds but seeds. Although my rose of Sharon still had a few flowers on them, they were the last of the blossoms not the beginning. What I realized after the third or fourth comment about the shrub’s “buds” was that the seedpods are much, much more showy than the developing flowers are.

This led to an ah-ha! moment. At least twice a month someone calls GardenLine and asks about a rose of Sharon that has buds that don’t open. I explain that there are, rarely, such plants and in the trade they’re called “mules.” As in stubborn as a… This seems to be something genetic to a few plants and I usually suggest pruning the canes hard in the spring to see if the plant will be shocked out of their mule-ness.

After hearing one person after another comment about the big “buds” on my shrubs, however, I realized that most of my callers aren’t seeing buds that won’t open, but the larger seed pods. I am willing to bet that most have just missed the main flowering period and because the seeds are much bigger, and showier, than the actual developing flowers, they are assuming that these are buds that don’t open.

It’s human nature to be more aware of what’s large and showy, and miss what’s smaller and subtler. And once we’ve decided that what we’re seeing are unopened buds, it’s hard to reverse directions and admit that perhaps we haven’t paid attention until the larger object was put in our path. Sometimes we humans are the mules…

Seeing such large, round pods with a few flowers, it's understandable that people think that they're buds.

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