Hydrangea paniculata 'Phantom', great perennials, and then remembering how times have changed!

I hope you all had a happy and restful Memorial Day, if you had the day off. It’s a shame that so few people really spend much time thinking about the whole reason for the holiday in the first place, although I’m sure all of you get it. At any rate, say a prayer for those who serve in the military, and especially for the families of those whom we’ve lost. 

The macrophylla Hydrangeas are blooming and are beautiful, and the paniculatas are not far behind. I don’t know if you got a chance to see the ‘Phantom’ Hydrangeas bloom last year or not, but they are very impressive. As you may know, Phantom is a non-patented relative - a sister, I think - of Limelight. I think I like Phantom better because it has thicker stems, and therefore doesn’t tend to droop as much. I know I very much like the fact that it’s not patented and does not have to be planted in a special container. If you’re looking for a way to extend sales into early summer, look no further; Phantom Hydrangea, like Limelight, will stop traffic when it’s blooming.

The Rudbeckias are also especially nice at the moment. They’re just starting to send up some blooms too, and will be very eye-catching for the next three weeks or so. And although we don’t have many of them left, the New Gold Lantana are looking really good. I tell all the lay people I meet, when we’re talking about gardening, that a Lantana’s three favorite things are heat, drought and neglect. It’s no wonder they’re so popular.

If you’re into container gardening, you might want to try the Carex ‘Bronzita’. It is a most unusual color (for a live plant, anyway) of bronzy-brown. They tend to look very good and to thrive in mixed container plantings. For lack of a better analogy, they’re kind of like khaki pants, they look good with almost anything.

I have gotten a good bit of feedback lately about the stories I tell in this commentary. So far, all of it has been positive, which is good because I have to struggle to keep from getting too political when I speak or write. As you might expect, I have some very firmly held opinions on politics, and just about everything else for that matter. But unlike some of the talking heads I see on TV, I don’t find it absolutely necessary to impress my views upon you. So, rather than start an argument, I’ll try to stay clear of any real controversy. 

Having said that, I am struck by how much our culture has changed its views on guns in the last couple of decades. I have read recently about small kids getting suspended from school for drawing guns, for pointing their fingers and pretending to shoot guns, and, in one case, of a boy who bit his sandwich into the shape of a gun and pointed it at someone. Like all normal people, I am heartsick when I hear of a school shooting and am of the opinion that all rational steps should be taken to prevent them. But to suspend a second grader for something like that shows that a big chunk of our society has completely taken leave of its senses.

I know you are not going to believe this story, but it’s true, and it’ll show you just how much our attitudes have changed since I was a boy. I have written a number of times about my parents’ sense of humor, especially my mother’s. This time it’s all on my dad, because this little stunt was his idea.

Every year at Rocky Creek Elementary, which ran from 1st through 8th grades, we had what we called a Halloween Carnival, and it was a very big to-do. There weren’t all that many entertainment opportunities in rural south Mississippi at the time and a lot of folks came to the Halloween Carnival whether they had any real ties to the school or not. There is the real possibility that I’m remembering big here, like we all do sometimes, but as I recall it the Halloween Carnival was almost as popular as the county fair.

My parents were in charge of the haunted house one year, and it must’ve been when I was in the 6th or 7th grade. My dad, in collaboration with the principal and a couple of teachers decided they needed to set the stage for the carnival that night by having an “incident” at an assembly during the day. 

Sometime after lunch the entire school was gathered in the gym and Mr. Dossett, our 7th grade science teacher, hiding in one of the dressing rooms, put on a pair of shoulder pads, a big, loose-fitting jacket and one of those rubber masks that covers the entire head. He bore a striking resemblance to the hunchback of Notre Dame by the time they got him fixed up and would have been startling to any adult who happened upon him. For a bunch of elementary school kids he might as well have been a real, live werewolf.

At the appointed time, as the principal was reminding everybody about the big carnival that night, Mr. Dossett burst into the gym. As if the sight of a monster wasn’t traumatic enough, my dad ran in right behind him, shooting at him with a .22 caliber blank pistol. Almost none of the teachers were aware of the hoax and were just as horrified as the children, a situation that only made the whole thing more frightening for the students. It is very unsettling, when you’re eight years old, to see your teacher hysterical. Pandemonium doesn’t even begin to describe the scene.

What is beyond my comprehension now is that, once Mr. Dossett took off his mask and everything settled down (it took a while), everybody there thought it was funny. Nobody in his right mind would even think of pulling a stunt like that now, and if you did you’d wind up with a very long time to contemplate the error of your ways. And rightly so.

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