Each year, Snow-on-the-Mountain plants pop up around my yard. I like them, but sometimes they are unwelcome — growing too densely or erupting where they don’t belong. So I pluck them out. That works. Show over.
I don’t mind their wandering habits because they are pretty and need little care. In fact, last summer one adventurous specimen popped up through the gravel on the shoulder of the road by my mailbox. I was curious how it would fare so I left it alone — all alone. It may have picked up a little moisture from the drift of a sprinkler in a nearby flower bed, but it got no other help from me. It grew into a healthy little green- and white-striped bush.
My oldest son, Glen, who lives in Illinois, enjoys collecting seeds and growing new plants. He wanted seeds from these plants when he was here in September, but they were still green. I promised to gather some when they matured. Up to now, I haven’t paid much attention to how the Snow-on-the-Mountain seeds mature. They just do.
As October waned, green and white bracts fluttered to the ground, leaving the three-lobed seeds dangling on the skeletal plant. Always in a hurry, I broke off a large stem, took it to the kitchen and dropped it on a tray to catch the seeds as they dropped. Then I rushed off to other things.
In the next few hectic days, I didn’t pay much attention to the wilting stem. However, as I fixed meals and did dishes, I was puzzled by an occasional light clicking sound followed by tiny skittering noises. At first I thought it was my imagination, but every so often I heard it again. When I investigated, I found tiny curved green husks and tiny seed balls scattered about on the tray, table, nearby windowsill and some as far afield as the living room floor.
The seed pods had been bursting and flinging the seeds that bounced and rolled making the skittering sound. Some were lobbed several feet. (Now I know why these plants pop up in all over the yard.)
I swept and gathered the seeds. Intrigued, I left the plant on the tray for another day before I got smart and put it upside down in a paper grocery bag. Tiny intermittent clicks and bounces continued inside the sack.
I sent an email to my seed-collecting son to share this interesting discovery.
He replied, “Cool! I had two plants do this, even jumping out of an ice cream bucket I had stowed the seed pods in. Dwarf California Poppies (a long banana-like pod, not like most poppies, not genus Papaver), and cleome. Made quite a mess despite my best efforts. Sadly, some were out at the same time, and they look almost identical, so I had to throw away a small handful.”
I am delighted that he shares my intrigue with such things. Maybe my son inherited his affinity for plants from his horticulturist father and the gene matured as he did. My other children also seem to have strains of that gene.
But I cannot claim that despite my parents’ gardening days. I definitely learned this fascination.
It all began in 1974 when I signed up for a vocational horticulture program taught by Utah State University in conjunction with Bridgerland — a post-secondary education program in Cache Valley. For a much smaller fee than college tuition, I could participate without university credit. It was perfect for our student budget. I already had my B.S. in Food Science and our tight funds were earmarked for my husband, Larry’s graduate studies.
I signed up because I had discovered that the man I had married a year and a half earlier was a single-minded, passionate horticulturist. He hadn’t just chosen a major; he was embarking on his life’s dream. How I could have known him for as long as I did before we were married (6 years) and not known this?
It became clear even to me that I needed to know at least enough to avoid yawning in his face when he talked about this love. I am ashamed to admit it, I signed up thinking that since I had managed to sit through a few boring courses during my college career I could stand a few more. With that inauspicious attitude I started classes that fall.
Larry and I traded our oldest baby back and forth in the halls of USU’s Plant Science building so one of us could tend him while the other was in class. A gracious instructor allowed me to wheel Glen in his stroller to the greenhouse for the afternoon hands-on labs. The baby watched with interest perched in his moving throne as students moved about — often taking a moment to squat down and say hello. To no one’s surprise, when our son uttered his first word during those busy months, it was “apple.”
In complete amazement, I too caught the vision. Larry was right. Horticulture is fascinating! I aced every test, and within weeks I was in the midst of my own love affair with the subject — and it has never ended. Who’d have guessed that such a thing was even possible?
I was never in the same league with Larry for passion and expertise, but those classes started us on a joint adventure that took us to gardens across the U.S. and abroad, gave us shared garden experiments (our landscape has always been more of an experiment than a showplace) and opportunities to research, learn and teach. It even provided a topic for my other passion — writing.
Knowing my love of writing, Larry encouraged me to contact Charlie Roberts, then editor of The Tooele Transcript, to write freelance garden articles. Charlie took me aboard as a filler writer in 1987 and another adventure began. When Dave Bern took over as editor a couple of years later, my filler blossomed into a weekly column that has continued for 25 more years. Through the years I also wrote weekly gossip and homemaking columns, articles for special publications, the Spring “Home and Garden Magazine,” and an assortment of feature stories. I have done the occasional news story but that was never my forte.
Sometimes people ask me how I find time to write. My answer is always the same: “Writing is my idea of a good time.” So is horticulture. Combining them has been a sweet serendipity.
It has been a wonderful journey writing for the Tooele Transcript and working with exceptional people who are also excellent professional journalists. Writing is not a career for me — it is a part of me.
Now, after months of debate, and with mixed feelings, I have decided to end my tenure at the Tooele Transcript. This will be my last column for the newspaper after more than 27 years. I hope I have entertained or helped someone along the way.
I am simplifying my life to move to other long-delayed pursuits. I’ll spend time with my children and grandchildren. There are family histories to write, research to carry out, a story or two in my head waiting to get on paper, church work to do, a sewing machine beckoning, service to perform, and a wide world of gardens still to visit. Who knows what other adventures await?
I will undoubtedly continue to make intriguing discoveries like the Snow-on-the-Mountain volleying tiny cannonballs against the sides of a grocery bag on my kitchen table.
I am not leaving gardens or writing behind. They are still my idea of a good time and I will find new avenues for them.
As a final gesture I would like to recommend that my readers take a chance on learning to love plants. You may never personally like to dig hard soil, pull weeds or battle insects, but you can enjoy lovely gardens. People grow beautiful landscapes and Mother Nature has the process down pat without us.
You may be surprised where you find them. There is even a pretty little garden in front of the Extension office in downtown Tooele. They are everywhere. Big and small, you can find them here and worldwide.
With a little exploring, you too might find yourself in the midst of a love affair with gardens and growing things. Who knows? Maybe it will become your idea of a good time. I certainly hope so.