Sunday, June 9, 2013

Hibiscus 'Ruth Wilcox'

Australian coastal suburb with Norfolk Island Pine in the background
and Hibiscus 'Ruth Wilcox' 
Ruth Wilcox, like her namesake in the E M Forster novel Howards End is a tough old bird, tall and aristocratic, and a source of confusion to all those around her.
 She belongs to the arnottianus group of Hibiscus which include 'Wilder's White' and 'Apple Blossom', all originating from this large shrub/tree species native to Hawaii . Depending on where you live in the world 'Ruth Wilcox' can be pink or white and may go under the name of 'Albo Lacinatus' or 'La France'. Confused? It is worth reading the book Hibiscus Around the World by Ross H Gast as he mentions it growing in Nairobi as a tall standard, pruned bare to 3 metres so you could walk underneath it. The local native species to this part of Africa is H. schizopetalis which is a possible parent of 'Ruth' in combination with H arnottianus.
Regardless of origin, it is has lots of desirable traits which make it garden worthy. It is a very hardy variety , resistant to pests and diseases including borer and has very low water requirements. For this reason it is the main variety grown for use as a grafting understock particularly for all those large flowered but genetically weak Hawaiian hybrids. Grown on its own it makes a terrific hedge or screen plant and is never without a flower

A wall of green to 6 metres from Hibiscus 'Ruth Wilcox'

Ruth Wilcox was probably not named for the character in Forster's work of literature but she is certainly luminous in the pages of the novel which was published way back in 1910.
Early in the book Forster drops the hint that she is not long for this world when the effervescent Helen Schlegel, who is at 'Howards End' for an ill-fated engagement to her son Paul, spies on her in the garden 'looking tired, trailing her long dress through the wet grass and silently watching a red poppy open'. Red poppy being that symbol of opiates associated with pain relief. Ruth is stoically Quaker 'whose life has been spent in the service of husband and sons' , 'yet she and daily life are now out of focus and show blurred'. Despite her loss of vitality she develops a friendship with Helen's sister Margaret but is unable to communicate to her nor her immediate family the state of her health which leads to confusion on the part of family and friends. This is how Margaret reacts': 'Was Mrs Wilcox one of those unsatisfactory people -there are many of them - who dangle intimacy and then withdraw it ? They evoke our interests and affections, and keep the life of the spirit dawdling around them. Then they withdraw. When physical passion is involved, there is a definite name for such behaviour - flirting- and if carried far enough is punishable by law. But no law - not public opinion even- punishes those who coquette with friendship, though the dull ache that they inflict, the sense of misdirected effort and exhaustion, may be intolerable. Was she one of those?
Ouch!  And then a couple of pages later comes the sentence 'The funeral was over'. 

1 comment:

  1. Wow! That is really fun knowing about hibiscus. Definitely one of my the favorite flower in my garden.