A Hosta for Mrs. Malloy

A minor miracle in my garden.

decorative border
ILLUSTRATIONS BY CHRISTINA HESS

I came to my senses in the nick of time, deciding not to throw out an old galvanized watering can that leaked. Instead, I pounded a 40-penny nail into the side of it, then hung it on the garden shed. I tipped the spout downward, so it appeared as if the can was ready to water the flowers that grew beneath it in a whiskey barrel planter. A couple of weeks later, it occurred to me that the can might look even better if it had a plant growing out of its top. I looked for something small, since I was working with a gallon-sized container, but against reason, wound up choosing a hosta.

This spring, I was certain I’d have to drill the plant out of the can.

The hosta thrived in the can. I told myself that I would uproot it in the fall and plant it in the ground so it could survive the winter, but I neglected to do so. The can, hosta intact, hung on the side of the shed all winter, with nothing to protect it from Northeast Washington’s below-zero temperatures.

Come spring, I expected to have to replant the can. But then new hosta spikes poked up through its opening. Again the plant thrived, even though some leaves struggled to grow around the can’s handle. I watered it regularly and applied organic fertilizer when I thought of it, hoping to make up for leaving it out in the cold. A tree frog made its home in the spout of the can. It often hopped up onto a leaf if I overwatered.

This spring, its third season, I was certain I’d have to drill the plant out of the can because it had hung on the side of the shed all winter again. But no, the spikes reappeared, undaunted, burgeoning forth with a vigor that defies reason. The plant even seems to have adapted to the handle, unfurling leaves around it. It’s so blowsy now that it nearly hides the can. Hanging on the side of the shed, it resembles a tropical palm sans trunk. It’s difficult to water this year because the leaves are so crowded. I have to use a tiny funnel. Last week, I spotted a troop of tree frogs camouflaged in the folds of the leaves.

My odd planting is a minor miracle in my garden, a reminder that plants, like people, can learn to adapt to less-than-perfect environments. I like tending it. As I do, I muse about Mr. and Mrs. Sam Malloy, Steinbeck’s Cannery Row couple who lived in a boiler discarded by the Hediondo Cannery. The missus would have liked my canned hosta. It might have prevented her from crying over the boiler’s lack of curtains.


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