MY FIRST hollyhocks of this season bloomed this week after many Junes of trial, hope and threadbare leaves, the same day I dug up and tossed an expensive English rose bush that had died. Over the years, I've come to the conclusion that Baltimore's heat and humidity are not the ticket for what the gardening books prescribe for the garden of dreams.
The gardening authority I trust is just outside my front door, on Baltimore's streets. I walk around the city, see what will actually grow here, then try these varieties myself.
Now I'm not talking about the in-ground pipe irrigated and cosseted gardens I've visited occasionally. I'm a fan of the beautifully landscaped, well thought out garden, but I have a crush on the flower plantings that jump out and say hello.
I think I caught the hollyhock bug at the corner of Calvert and Read, outside a delightful ancient house I pass every night. I've named the stand of yellow-blooming giants the Hollyhock Corner.
On Catbird Lane, a real passage hidden away in old Waverly, the spiderwort thrives next to the ubiquitous common organ daylight. There is rose hill on Grindall Street in Federal Hill.
I have a favorite Larkspur Lane, a Fernway, Hosta Alley and an Aruncus Alley that makes me envious, because I've failed the aruncus (goatsbeard) test in my own garden.
The flower of downtown Baltimore is the canna, which the city plants in big beds. Nothing kills it; it's big and showy and screams out loud, this is Baltimore, it's summer, it's hot and endure it.
There's a category of Baltimore gardening that fascinates me, it is the tree well plots. I mean the sections of city sidewalk paving where the truly dedicated tend, seed, plant and water.
I bless the person who came up with the idea of plantings the rows of old-fashioned sycamore trees along Russell Street at Oriole Park. This type of tree was once the preferred street tree in the city, the way the Bradford Pear seems to be today.
My rules of Baltimore gardening have their exceptions. For years, I tried to grow the wonderfully willowy gaura, whose tall flowery stems seemed to dance in the summer breeze - not mine, but other peoples' gauras. I told myself they just didn't take to Baltimore. But then, the other spectacular June morning, while flower snooping in Federal Hill, I spotted a large semi-public flower pot on a corner. Now its gaura were flourishing.