Teri Orr: Standing tall…
Sunday in the Park
Park Record columnist
The hollyhocks all over town just tip me over this year. Purple and raspberry and white and pale pink. Dark purple too, a kind of black, really. The best display for weeks has, once again, been alongside of Windy Ridge Cafe. But all over town there are happy hollyhocks tall and strong and brightly on display.
I have tried unsuccessfully for years to grow them again. Sometime in the 90s I had them in my yard. And then just like that — I didn’t. During a lot of those years-late 90s and early 2000’s I was too tired and sick to grow anything. Getting around without oxygen for a few hours and coming home to get back on it for most of the day. There was no “garden” or gardening. The house, the yard, and me were all just surviving.
When I got better, I got busy in a kind of frenetic way, trying to make up for all that time, not lost exactly, but waylaid. Gardening wasn’t high on the list but it finally made the list. Adding a little new deck, after the snow of ‘08 fell from the roof and wiped out the old one, was a plus. Ditto the stone patio. Planting some flowering thyme between the stones was a project that took months, really years, to complete. My kids gave me a tree one year for Mother’s Day that flowers each May to make it pretty in pink. Some years I planted vegetables in my little postage stamp-sized garden, and some years they grew.
During the 2000s my dear friend moved out of town and over to the riverbank in Peoa. She designed a home in stages, like might have happened at the turn of the century. A smaller space to start with, a silo/barn-like space and then a sprawling ranch house in wood and stone with great gardens that stretched out to the crashing river banks.
Alongside the barn buildings first and then the silo and then the home were the most spectacular hollyhocks I ever saw. They were giants, six feet tall, in all colors. And it made those buildings feel like they had been there for a century.
When JoAnn died unexpectedly one summer, her friends created lovely seed packets, to give to guests who attended her service. They included hollyhock seeds. So I planted them and they bloomed the next year and then they went away.
More than once since then I have not-so-secretly plotted a late night harvest of Bill White’s beautiful seed-producing spectacular giant flowers. And one night, on the verge, I confessed to my gardening friend. She told me she often admired criminal behavior and mine certainly seemed victimless enough but she had lots of seeds from her own garden and she was happy to share.
So last fall I tried again. I planted the seeds in a few strategic places. Along my back fence line, next to the garage, inside the old cast iron bed frame I separated and “planted” in my garden decades ago to become a “flower bed.” And this summer, long after the wild flowers had shot up and the lavender returned and the flowering thyme flowered, I noticed a bit of green at the base of the fenc,-then next to the garage- and finally the flower bed. Slowly the leaves grew taller and wider and tiny tight bumps appeared on the stalks. And finally a bloom — first pale pale pink appeared and then shocking purpley pink and finally white!
I have watered them and talked to them and for weeks now and they have been blooming and re-blooming around the yard. It is a bit of mystery how they stand so straight and tall without support and bloom repeatedly. For me their appearance comes with a certain kind of sadness, that mixes lost time with thyme and lavender with longing.
I took a ride this week up the Old Town chair lift and hiked around some old mine buildings. It was beautiful up there and I hadn’t been in the summer in years. There were tiny wildflowers and something big and purple that looked kinda tropical blooming next to a crumbling rock wall. On the ride back down the chairlift I had to force myself to look around at the tiny bits of yellow appearing on the aspens. Though it might have been the swish of the other chairs passing by the towers, I thought I heard whispers of fall.
School starts next week for most elementary school kids and even most college students. You feel it in the crisp mornings and earlier sunsets. Pretending the days will stretch out again and the nights will stay warm until midnight is now a fool’s errand. Fall is coming and the signs are as vibrant and tall as the late-summer flowering hollyhocks.
And yes, I did have a column filled with sadness and horror and righteous anger about the events of the past frightening week. But I’m really not processing any of it well and I don’t feel I have any reflective space yet. But there is something there/here about reaping and sowing and seeds planted, taking root, that I know runs deep. Something I am going to consider how to get to the roots of this Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.