May 11 is Susan G. Komen's "Race for the Cure" here in Boise. An annual event, honoring breast cancer survivors and those who have not, will transform the city of trees streets with the flow of pink.
Breast cancer affects a staggering one in eight women. Men can develop breast cancer, too. Cancer will affect all of us in our lifetime. My grandmother was an ovarian cancer survivor, an aunt has survived breast cancer and recently a sister (one of seven) is now facing the fight of her life. She will need all the strength and love of family to lift her up through her personal journey of eradicating cancer. It is a triumphant courageous fight and well worth it!
You may wonder why a gardening writer would choose to put words on paper about breast cancer. How does it relate to gardening and nurturing plant life?
Well, it is quite simple to me. Nurturing is the foundation of family and truly the essence of womanhood. We nurture all the people in our lives: our parents who first taught us the meaning of nurture and unconditional love, our curious children throughout their lifetime of experiences, devoted loving husbands, amazing unique sisters, extended family and cherished friends who help us through the most challenging of times, and ourselves. Nurturance is vital to the survival of our species, much as it is in the garden.
Nurturance in the garden begins when we plant a seed, let the sun shine warmth on it and provide it with water and nutrients. It eventually grows tall and strong. It thrives. We praise it, share it and remark in its beauty. Sometimes we share the vegetable or fruit harvested with family and friends. Nurturing family is not much different from nurturing plants, aside from the fact that the plant is not able to sass you around!
In honor of my remarkable triumphant aunt and courageous sister beginning her battle with cancer, I have decided to add more splashes of vibrant and soft pink flowers into my garden beds. It will be a daily reminder to me of their courage, strength and hope in fighting breast cancer.
Several pink flowers already rooted and thriving in my garden are lavender, climbing pink roses and hydrangea.
Lavender Melissa was a gift from my sister Katie two summers ago. Standing tall at 24 inches, Melissa's delicate pink flowers bloom early summer and are a lovely contrast to the violet depth of Lavender Grosso. When the flowers are in full bloom, I cut and dry them upside down (to keep their upright form) for a lasting fragrant bouquet. Clipping the flowering stalks also ensures more blooms the following year.
My climbing pink roses are one of the most aromatic flowers in the garden. Last year they reached a height of just over six feet. My husband and I recently pruned them back so I am excited to watch them grow tall and bloom again. They are ideal as fresh-cut flowers. I am always delighted at how sweetly fragrant they are. Their aromatic, alluring and romantic scent fills a room.
Hydrangea macrophylla ("forever pink") is growing next to the climbing roses. They produce giant 6-to-8-inch flower heads. Choosing a location to plant hydrangeas is very important. The right location can make a difference between growing a lavishly blooming shrub and one that produces scrawny blossoms and scant foliage. Hydrangeas prefer morning and afternoon sun. Some species will wilt in extreme heat. I learned that the hard way many years ago. My very first hydrangea scorched by the sun, in one afternoon, never grew back.
Hydrangeas particularly fascinate me because their blossoms can change dramatically by altering the pH in the soil. When Hydrangeas are grown in containers it is far easier to control or alter the pH, rather than planted in the ground.
Changing the color of blossoms from pink to blue is relatively simple by adding aluminum sulfate to the soil. A solution of one tablespoon of aluminum sulfate per gallon of water, recommended by Hydrangea cultivators, should be only be applied when the plant is 2 to 3 years old. Be sure to water the plant well in advance of the application and use the solution sparingly as too much can burn the roots.
It is more challenging to change the color from blue to pink, as it involves removing aluminum from the soil and raising the pH to 6.0. Adding dolomitic lime several times a year will help raise the pH but caution is advised; a pH above 6.4 can cause an iron deficiency in your hydrangea. You can also use a fertilizer with high levels of phosphorus to help to prevent aluminum from creeping into the root system. Choose a fertilizer ratio of 25/10/10 (phosphorus is the middle number).
Hydrangeas can sometimes change color on their own when transplanted. It is not uncommon to see several different colored blossoms, on one shrub, a year after transplanting. I recently transplanted mine as an experiment and am excited to see if the "forever pink' blossoms stay true to their name. I hope so.
A couple new 'pink' additions to my flower garden are silvery Pink Astilbe and Carmine Astilbe. They have an attractive mounded foliage growing 16 to 20 inches and produce rounded flowering heads. They are also quick to grow and visually attractive because of the optimal relation between the flowers and the length of the leaves. They prefer partial shade and will be a perfect addition next to the hydrangeas.
Lastly, intermixed between the white and purple blazing stars, I recently planted Liatris Spicata, otherwise known as "pink" blazing stars. They are part of the aster family. Emerging from grass-like foliage, Blazing Stars shoot up erect spires of white, purple, and pink flowers. They make a dramatic statement in any garden and attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees. They can grow to 3 feet tall and are lovely in fresh-cut bouquets. I am eager to see the new pink spikes blooming.
Grow and nurture pink splendor in your garden. Let it be a reminder of the hopeful triumph every woman affected by a breast cancer diagnosis needs to kick cancer's ass, every survivor's rejoice in being healed, and a lasting memory of those who have lost their lives.
I love the dynamic and courageous women in my life and do anything to help them through their life journey and the challenges they face. That is what caring women do. That is what sisters do.
If you have questions or ideas for future garden articles zip me an email to: IdahoGardenGirl@gmail.com