Wednesday, September 28, 2011


            My cold is much better, thank you. Or—in the interest of clarity—I should say “My cold is much diminished, thank you. I feel better.”

            Today Tim and I gave a talk to the Winding River Garden Club entitled “Falling for Bulbs.” As usual, we had a grand time. The WRGC always pulls a great crowd. Plus they coaxed me out of the house for the first time and into the first non-rainy day since we got home from Chicago.

Clear as mud, right? I mean, today I left the house for the first time in a week; and, today was the first dry day in a week. Better?

Because of the effort required to overcome the cumulative force of 144 hours of inertia on a fundamentally lazy personality, and because I spent most of Monday and all of Tuesday pulling together a script and over a hundred pictures for our Power-Point presentation, I’m temporarily written out. So today’s post is a Field Note I penned for my friend Sally a few weeks ago. Under the circumstances, it’s the best I can do.

(kos-stee-LETS-kye-uh ver-GIN-ih-kah)

            The main problem facing plant collectors with small gardens is lack of space for rambunctious perennials. In my own little yard, muscular Joe Pye weeds (Eupatorium maculatum, E. purpureum) had to go after a few seasons, as did their companion, Helianthus angustifolius. Canna lily hybrids merrily multiplied, eating up one whole bed before they got the axe (literally). Mountain blue-star (Amsonia tabernaemontana) threatened a beloved Baptisia minor: I moved the Amsonia five years ago, and it’s been in a puny sulk ever since.

            One herbaceous big boy weathered this parade of comings and goings, secure in the knowledge I could never bear to banish it. Native to salt marshes from southern New York to Florida and as far west as Texas, Kosteletzkya virginica goes by several common names: Virginia mallow, swamp mallow, seashore mallow, marsh mallow, fen rose. A member of the Malvaceae (mallow) clan, its clear pink blooms resemble two-inch-wide hibiscus flowers, complete with prominent yellow stamens topped by dainty pink pistil crowns. The four-to-five-foot high subshrub has large, mid-green, spear-shaped leaves and a three-to-four-foot spread. A stately presence in the garden, Kosteletzkya’s coarse texture offers the eye a place to rest amid the fussy foliage of lesser perennials.

         My herbaceous seashore mallow,
 full-size and blooming big in August
   My specimen came in a two-inch pot from Woodlanders Nursery out of Aiken, SC, back in the late 1990s, when they still offered a hard-copy catalog. It’s been a fixture in our garden ever since, surviving in situ numerous plant shufflings, bed reconfigurations, and purges. It endures with good grace an occasional root-whacking to keep it in bounds. Kosteletzkya doesn’t require cosseting: once established, it grows without much in the way of supplemental water or food. It tolerates wet feet (swamp mallow, marsh mallow, fen rose) and salt air (seashore mallow), but also does fine in my sandy soil amended with compost every other year or so. Although late to emerge in spring, once it’s up, it attains full size by July. That’s when the flowers start appearing, becoming prolific as nighttime temperatures begin to moderate in late August. Blooming continues into November most years here in southeastern North Carolina.

Closer, oh Kosteletzkya, to thee
            Maintenance is a dream: just cut down—or break off—the hollow woody stalks in late winter. Pest problems are negligible, and I’ve never seen foliage or flowers marred by disease.

Kosteletzkya increases by suckering, which suggests one method of propagation. In my yard, the seed also germinates readily enough in pots of soil inadvertently left around: I imagine a purposeful sowing by someone who actually knows what he’s doing would work as well.

The only problem with Kosteletzkya virginica is its scarcity in the trade. I know from experience it does as well in pot—even accidentally—as it does in the ground. Not picky about soils, this easy-to-get-along-with plant is easy to propagate, salt tolerant, low maintenance, and virtually pest-free. With a native range encompassing nearly the entire East and Gulf Coasts, its selling points include a long bloom season, a self-cleaning nature and a pleasing habit. Is there something nurserymen know about Kosteletzkya that I don’t?

BOTANICAL NAME:  Kosteletzkya virginica

COMMON NAMES:  Virginia mallow, swamp mallow, seashore mallow, marsh mallow, fen rose




CLASSIFICATION:  Herbaceous subshrub

LANDSCAPE USE:  Specimen, perennial gardens, mixed shrubberies

ORNAMENTAL CHARACTERISTICS:  Prolific 2” clear pink, hibiscus-like flowers July to November; pleasing coarse-textured habit; ease of culture and maintenance


Okay, that’s it for me. Thanks for understanding. And thanks for dropping by.


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