Sowing seeds of cheer and neighborliness during high-stress times

by Patrice Johnson

The month was July, the year 2018. SCN writer Bob Castle wrote a terrific story about Mark “Baler Man” Smith retiring at age 89. I offered to snap a photo to accompany the story so stopped by the Smiths’ home. Afterwards, I complimented wife Arloa on her lovely display of hollyhocks lining the barn.

Soon after, an envelope of hollyhock seeds arrived on my doorstep with a thoughtful thank- you note. I planted a flat of seeds the following spring, hoping a few seedlings might grow. Ten days later, I had green shoots sprouting everywhere.

I gave seedling six packs to daughter Kelsey Rasmussen, to Lori Zick, to Becky McKim, and to anyone who might enjoy them. Then I planted as many as I could.

Arloa’s seeds thrive at the home of Patrice Johnson, also of Stockbridge. Photo credit Patrice Johnson

A year passed, and my seedlings sprouted over a foot tall but produced no blossoms. Then 2020 hit with Covid-19 and protests/riots rocking the nation. In contrast to despair, the hollyhocks appeared to symbolize hope. Oblivious to chaos and fear, they stood strong and tall, towering six-feet high with multi-colored flowers ascending toward the skies.

“Over the years,” Arloa said, “farmers have asked about the flowers and we’ve given them seeds, so they’re probably flowering all over the area. The seeds’ ancestors came from the Smith family farm on Heeney Road—the one that burned down,” she said.

Lori Zick said it all. “I have been so blessed to have these hollyhocks. They are the first things I see when I look out to my garden because they’re so tall. But what makes them so special is they are from Arloa Smith’s garden. She used to be my neighbor for years.”

Just as the virus knows no politics, Arloa’s hollyhocks may be said to know no strangers, only neighbors.

Link to original story:

Hollyhocks from Arloa Smith’s garden bloom in Lori Zick’s garden outside of Stockbridge. “I have been so blessed to have these hollyhocks,” Zick says. “They are the first things I see when I look out to my garden because they’re so tall. Photo credit: Lori Zick

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