Love of plants bonds gardeners; the gift of a rare shrub

October 7, 2017 | Doug Oster comments

Several years ago Kathleen Hansen walked up to me at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens where I sat at a table during May Market answering garden questions. She had just delivered a rare Spirea billiardi shrub (sometimes identified as Spirea tomentosa) to Jayme Visnesky, who owns Penn Hills Lawn and Garden.
The two had talked about the plant, and Jayme wanted to try growing one.

Spirea billiardi, sometimes referred to as Spirea tomentosa  has been around since the 1800's, but is a little known shrub. Photo by Doug Oster

Spirea billiardi, sometimes referred to as Spirea tomentosa has been around since the 1800’s, but is a little known shrub. Photo by Doug Oster

There’s a special connection between gardeners that’s hard to explain to those who don’t enjoy spending time playing in the dirt.

Kathleen Hansen and I reconnected in North Park. Photo by Maryann Brendel

Kathleen Hansen and I reconnected in North Park. Photo by Maryann Brendel

As Kathleen stopped to chat with me, she wondered if I’d like one of those shrubs too.
We had bumped into each other at various garden activities over the years and she knew I love growing “weird” stuff.
Kathleen inherited the plant over 30 years when she moved into her Beechview home. She wondered what it was, searching through book after book, finally identifying it when discovering a black and white line drawing in “The Guide to Garden Shrubs and Trees” by Norman Taylor, 1965. She continued her research online matching the colorful pink flowers she saw for decades in her own yard with the photos on web sites.
I planted the shrub at the base of some other standard spirea plants, where it gets a few hours of sun in the afternoon. This July it finally bloomed with fluffy, small rose colored flowers. I was thrilled and hoped Kathleen and I would have a chance encounter somewhere.
In August I saw her walking around North Park at the Gardens in the Park event put on by the Penn State Master Gardeners. I was answering garden questions again and couldn’t get away watching her slip away out of the corner of my eye.
I gave my friend Maryann Brendel Kathleen’s description and pleaded with her to search the grounds to find Kathleen. Maryann gladly agreed and as she searched, I saw Kathleen first, calling her over. I breathlessly told her about the success the spirea had and asked her “why me?” for the plant. “I just thought you would like one,” she said with a smile.
Sharing is part of the culture of gardening, one of the things that makes the hobby so wonderful. It’s gratifying to turn someone else onto a plant you love. Whenever Kathleen’s spirea blooms, I’ll always think of her, the happiness she received from sharing the unique plant and the satisfaction I get from those beautiful flowers.