Nokomis gardener passionate about growing rarest of flowers and shrubs

By Jed Buelow

Co-Editor, Sports, Nature Editor

Even before knocking on the door, the first rarity was spotted growing in a pot next to the front steps at Ruth and Jerry Warner’s residence in Nokomis.

Potted next to some other plants this fellow gardener had never even heard of or seen before, the orange trees were something Ruth started after finding a couple seeds in a fruit a while back. As she showed the leaves of the roughly two to three foot shrubs, she winced, as one of the two bushes was covered in long, sharp thorns. The other had a smooth skin, which she said might mean one is a male and the other is a female. Which one she thought might be equipped with the fangs she didn’t say.

The encounter with the orange tree kind of served as a foreshadowing for what was just around the corner. As it turns out, Ruth has long held a passion for growing all kinds of interesting things.

“My husband always jokes that I could stick a toothpick in the ground and could probably get it to grow,” she said while standing next to another rarity growing at their home on Heuser Road just north of Tomahawk.

Given to her by her friend Judy Peterson about three years ago, the passion flower vine grew up a trellis next to a clematis vine that was also in full bloom. A Zone 8 flowering vine, the passion flower was named for the death of Jesus Christ by Christian Missionaries back in the 16th century.

The purple crown (corona) of the passion flower is said to represent the crown Christ was forced to wear on the day he died. The three sepals represent his hands and feet that were nailed to the cross. And the vine tendrils represent the whips that were used to scourge Jesus.

The passion flower is indigenous to an area from the southeast to Argentina to Brazil. While not indigenous here, the flower sure seems to have a passion for growing in Ruth’s yard, as to date this summer she has had almost 70 blooms flower from the couple potted plants. However, the beauty is short lived as the flower lasts just one day before it wilts and hopefully a new flower blooms to take its place.

Ruth said she has always been into growing things a bit out of the norm. Prior to moving to Nokomis back in 2004, the Warners grew peanuts at their place in Stevens Point. A cardinal bush brought along during the move grows in the front yard and a high bush cranberry tree growing in the back makes for some very tasty jam – just don’t eat the berries off the stem as they are poisonous.

Ruth said she has toned down her gardening a bit from her days back in Point, when she once had a row of dahlias alone that stretched a good 50 feet or more to go along with her other plants, since moving to Nokomis. Along with the exotics, Ruth also grows plenty of flowers that are much more accustom to Northwoods’ winters.

She hasn’t had to buy any new marigold seed since moving up north, as each fall she seeds away the flower heads that are then planted and grown the next spring. And that’s how her Zone 8 passion flower makes it from year to year living in a Zone 4 that can experience some pretty intense cold. The vines get cut when the cold weather arrives and the containers are brought indoors. Some cuttings are also started in water so they can be put in soil the next summer.

“We always get a kick of trying different things,” Ruth added in noting that a bunch of cherry trees growing in a fenced-in area in the back were also started from seed. “My mother was really big into gardening. I guess you could say I inherited her green thumb.”

A green thumb and a passion for gardening – that was evident from the moment an orange tree was spotted growing in a pot by their front door.

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