sphaeralcea_nov.jpgI was walking past my front porch a few days ago when a tiny bit of orange made me stop in my tracks. My orange globe mallow (Sphaeralcea munroana) had two little blooms on it!! In NOVEMBER!! I grabbed my camera and took the photo at the left. If you recall, I’ve already sung this particular plant’s praises on this blog (“Meet the Natives,” on June 9, 2009), marveling at its long bloom season. Well, I never expected to see it blooming now. (As I snapped this photo, I noticed there are a few more buds on the plant.)

gazania_nov.jpgIn past Novembers, twice I’ve been surprised to see a ‘Tanager’ gazania blooming until nearly the end of November on the south side of my house along the driveway where it is hot and dry. By then, the shade line of my neighbor’s house puts that part of my garden in complete shade until the following April.

I just love surprises in my garden. We serious gardeners can get pretty near-sighted, paying close attention and giving the most effort to the new plants we’ve put in or hovering over particularly prized specimens. So there is just something so sweet about being caught off guard by something wonderfully unexpected – something that happens without any effort or attention on our part!

agastache.jpgMy garden seems to offer me at least one surprise each year during the regular growing season too, not just surprise winter bloomers. One year, someone brought me a plant from a plant swap that languished in a tiny pot on my deck until I decided to finally throw it in the trash. I was standing next to the trash can when I noticed a small patch of bare space in that same hot dry bed next to the driveway that my gazania was in. I decided “What the heck,” and put the poor unidentified little plant in the ground and forgot about it. Two years later, it was my garden surprise. It grew to five feet tall and had gorgeous coral-orange-pink flowers all over it in the late summer (finally, I discovered it was some sort of agastache). One evening, I pulled into the driveway and as I got out of the car, I noticed a blur by the mystery agastache. A hummingbird!! The first I’d ever seen in my garden!! I dropped everything (really), left the car door open, ran up the porch stairs and into the house to get my husband. The hummingbird cooperated by staying there until we came back.

tithonia1.jpgA few years later, I agreed to open my garden to local master gardeners and members of the Horticultural Art Society. I was eager to show off my big agastache (and when I had to write up my garden description in April, I said it would be the main attraction). Well, I got a double surprise. My prized agastache languished that year (I would actually lose it the next) and was a mere shadow of its former self. But…the annual Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifolia ‘Torch’) that I’d popped in by the shed shot up to six and seven feet tall that year. I’d grown them before and never had them get more than two feet tall (I’m pretty stingy with the water), so I was pretty amazed when I returned from a trip that August to see how HUGE they’d gotten. They were the hit of the open garden. The bonus surprise was the heavy painted lady butterfly migration that year in September. The tithonia flowers were covered with butterflies.

morningglory.jpgPlant swaps are marvelous sources of surprises for me. Two years ago, I brought home a little morning glory seedling in a dixie cup just because I felt sorry for it. I added it to a container near my deck and it limped along for weeks. One day, while sitting on the deck for lunch, my husband noticed a tendril grabbing for one of the deck posts. It quickly became our favorite thing to watch at lunch, my husband taking responsibility for pulling it out of nearby plants and coaxing it on to more of the deck posts and rails. It seemed it would never bloom, and then one day, TA DA! A gorgeous blue flower greeted us at lunch. It bloomed and bloomed until frost. I think my favorite part of this surprise was discovering a plant that my husband “bonded” with and enjoyed taking responsibility for. This past year, we enjoyed a volunteer morning glory that sprouted from one of the seeds of the first (fortunately, they are not nearly as invasive here in Colorado as they can be in other areas of the country).

pumpkinflower.jpgSome of my neighbors and fellow gardeners wring their hands and curse the squirrels (okay, I am guilty of this on occasion), but the squirrels have been responsible for some of my garden surprises too. Good surprises, I mean (yes, they do surprise me in other ways as well). A few years ago, we found we had a pumpkin vine growing in the corner of the vegetable bed. I hadn’t planted it, but someone (I won’t mention my husband’s name) had been feeding the squirrels pumpkin seeds. I was sure this was a result of a squirrel-buried seed. The vine grew rapidly, and I frequently had to hack it back when it would grow across the driveway. That vine produced a 25 pound pumpkin that we used for our jack-o-lantern that year. Since then, we’ve had other squirrel-planted pumpkin vines (since we put our jack-o-lantern debris in the open compost bin that they dine in), but often the squirrels eat any pumpkins that form. And I can’t get too angry with them for that; after all, they planted them.

Now, whenever I have a disappointment in the garden, there is a tiny voice in my head that urges “But just wait for this year’s garden surprise!”