Saturday, May 9, 2009

Grandma’s Blue-Ribbon Elephant Ears

I don’t think we’ve officially passed the last frost date, but we planted the elephant ears today, anyway. There’s nothing near freezing in the forecast for the next week, so I think we’re free and clear.

We have about a dozen of these things—elephant ear plants, also known as taro (Colocasia esculenta)—that all came with the house. They were Grandma’s. Before we bought the house, I had some experience in planting these; Grandma would supervise, reminding us to mix plenty of those fluorescent blue sprinkles of Miracle Gro into the soil as we refilled the holes around the rhizomes. (Yes, I know that goes against the package directions. But we water them thoroughly right after planting, and for the last several decades the track record is good.)

The rhizomes, which have to be planted upright into reasonably deep holes, range in length from two to about three feet, and the biggest ones are about five inches in diameter. In other words, they are like logs.

Over the years, Grandma planted them in different places in the yard, but mostly she kept them in the flower bed under the yew tree, where we have them now. The soil is particularly black and rich there, smooth, easy to dig a dozen log-sized holes in.

Although . . . it was harder digging today on account of all the recent rain. I guess gardening can’t always be perfectly easy (gardeners: snort with laughter at that comment).

Our usual m.o. is to dig them up in the fall, cut off the leaf blades, and prop them up in large garbage cans in the basement for their winter dormancy. Last fall, we waited until the last possible moment—the first frost and the first hard freeze were supposed to come on the same evening—and there we were out in the dark, shoveling the elephant ears out of the ground. It would be awful if these big beauties all got frozen.

So now it’s half a year later and time for them to get pumping for the new season. They don’t look like much now—just some yellow spikes and a few assorted leaves veering off the tuber tops. But we’ll mulch and fertilize them; we’ll give them lots of water. By August and September, they’ll be budding and blooming, turgid and crowned by majestic huge shieldlike leaves.

“Blue Ribbon” Claim to Fame

I’m telling this story third-hand, so bear with me. If I’ve got something wrong, let me know so I can fix it (Dad). Years ago, one of my grandma’s cronies and fellow garden-club lady, Bonnie Mae Dunlap, dropped by. She told my grandma that she was heading up to Tipton for a flower show, and she asked if my grandma wanted to enter anything.

I guess Grandma was busy. I guess she wasn’t about to drop everything and whip up a quick ikebana or other flower arrangement. I guess she must have just “thought fast.” So she walked over to the elephant ears, snipped off one of those tremendous leaves, and sent it to Tipton with Bonnie Mae. (I’m trying to picture Bonnie Mae tooling up Highway 50 with a huge elephant ear leaf bobbing around in the backseat.)

The garden club ladies in Tipton probably had to devote an entire table to Grandma’s entry!

And then Bonnie Mae returned that evening with a blue ribbon for Grandma’s prizewinning elephant ears!

And that is why when we have guests, I can put my nose in the air and show off our “blue-ribbon elephant ears.” Because it’s completely true.

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