Slender and statuesque, stretching for the sky on delicate swaying stems, this majestic—albeit anorexic—monkshood bears little similarity to the “mighty monkshood” of Towers of Indigo fame (also made famous in Last Plant Standing). This version of monkshood is a frail and temperamental plant, susceptible to disease; and more often than not, it fails to survive from one year to the next, even following an exceptionally strong showing, as if it burned itself out from such a magnificent performance and has nothing left to give. Perhaps it carries, in its DNA, a history of trauma, and then, if not treated with proper care, it is triggered to perform in maladaptive ways.
While the Mighty Monkshood (Last Plant Standing) have multiplied prolifically (from 4 plants to about 300, and I’ve given away dozens), this fragile variety is hovering around zero population growth (4 original plants—all long gone—producing a meager remaining population of 6 plants in 10 years, and only 3 will flower this year). Sometimes, for no apparent reason, a healthy-looking plant will just stop growing midseason, frozen in time—arrested development—at half of its potential height, as if it just got too tired and changed its mind, deciding instead that it isn’t up to the task this year after all, just doesn’t have enough energy for such a long growing season.
I like having tough plants. I could build an incredible army out of the hydrangea and the astilbe, and the mighty monkshood, and they would just keep coming at you no matter what you threw at them. I admire their fortitude, their versatility, their grit. They show up and do their job in stellar fashion—no excuses—with incredible consistency. But the fragile and the delicate, the sensitive and reactive have a purpose as well, and if we can figure out how to help them thrive we will all be better for it.
You have to be present, you have to be patient, and you have to be perceptive and discerning as you note the subtle changes in wellness and try to relate these to the circumstances. What does it need to survive and what does it take to truly thrive, to be the best it can be? You have to be attentive, attuned. If you are willing; this delicate, teetering, toothpick tower of indigo can teach you a great deal.
What they set out to do, and what they can achieve if they get what they need, if they avoid excessive adversity, if they budget their energy; what they strive to accomplish, is to rise up more ten feet above the earth, above all other plants in the garden, and sweep the sky with their elegant yet bony arms, gracing those below with a magnificent display of deep indigo beauty. Paradoxically, they don’t have the stem strength to support their own ambitions. You need to be at your best to help them grow, and once you’ve succeeded in that, you have to stay with them, lending support throughout their growth by anchoring them to bamboo poles, adjusting to new poles as they grow ever taller. Their one survival strength is that they will wrap themselves around whatever they find that is sturdy and substantial.
If they manage to reach their full potential, you will not be disappointed. They will grace your every day, bowing in the breeze as you pass, smiling their regal beauty down on you, thanking you profusely for believing in them, fighting for them, for figuring out how to help them become their best. When the season turns—the days are warm and the nights are cool—I can sit quietly on my back deck, listening to the morning come to life, and witness the quiet majesty of the delicate and the sensitive, as droplets of morning dew glisten and hang from each exquisite blossom—rich pearls of indigo subtly illuminated in the trace of early sunlight filtering through the tree canopy.
Your patience, your kindness and compassion, your dedication and determination, your sensitivity and creativity will be well-rewarded in your efforts to nurture the fragile, the delicate and the reactive, and we will all be better for it.