July 21, 2018  |  

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Kathy and Larry Bolanowski have had unprecedented—and unexpected—success with the moonflower vines that now encircle the spiral stairs (and several other parts) of their Essex home. Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier

Kathy and Larry Bolanowski have had unprecedented—and unexpected—success with the moonflower vines that now encircle the spiral stairs (and several other parts) of their Essex home. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)

It’s Only a (Flower) Moon

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They are big—very big—reaching up more than 20 feet; they are wide, very wide, each clump more than 20 feet around; and they do their best work at night. Extraterrestrial visitors? One thousand clones of Kermit the Frog chirping ribbit in unison? Relatives of the Big Green Blob?

None of the above. They are Kathy Bolanowski’s moonflower plants. The moonflower vines in her garden in Essex have a shot up the second floor balcony of the house as their tendrils wind their way around a spiral staircase.

What’s most remarkable about Bolanowski’s plants are the huge, white blossoms they produce at night. The blossoms, emitting an alluring fragrance, come out as dusk approaches and continue to unfold until after sunset. On a recent visit, they were beginning to appear a bit before six in the evening. Once blooming, the flowers glow with an almost iridescent whiteness until morning. And then they are gone — forever. A moonflower lasts only one night. Then it shrivels up and dies. Still, there is consolation. By dusk the next night, a new batch of moonflowers is ready to unfold for their one spectacular night of glory.

Bolanowski planted the moonflowers from seed in late May. She prepared the seeds by scratching their exteriors, and soaking them in water. Then she started the flowers in little peat planters. When they were a couple of inches tall, she set the plants in her back garden. After all that work, she added, she just threw some seeds on the ground in the garden and they too grew, and grew, and grew—and then grew some more.

“We’re not sure they stop growing,” she said, adding that the first frost will likely kill the plant.

Since moonflowers are annuals they will have to be started from seed again next year.

Bolanowski and her husband Larry tried various props for the climbing vines, but the stakes they put in collapsed with wind and the weight of the plants. Larry Bolanowski repaired what he could with string, but they have a better plan for next year. They saw a large, triple-arched trellis in a garden shop and think that would make an excellent climbing frame for the moonflowers.

Kathy Bolanowski, who earned a master gardener’s certificate when she lived in Texas, had moonflowers growing along the side of her house in Houston, but still she was surprised by her current plants. The ones in Texas never climbed as high as moonflowers she has now.

She is a reading specialist and teacher of English as a Second Language (ESL) now retired in the way that busy people often retire: She is working. At the moment she is teaching one ESL class at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell. Larry Bolanowski, also retired, has recently agreed to take on leadership of a group writing a history of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Essex.

The moonflowers, Kathy Bolanowski admitted, are not only taking over part of her garden, they are also assuming a larger place in her life. They are the wallpaper on her tablet; she has photos of them on her mobile phone. She runs out to the garden in the morning, even without flowers in bloom to check on what is happening. During the day she finds herself thinking about how many flowers will open that night.

“It has become kind of an obsession with me because of their beauty and their scent,” she said. “It gives you an ‘aha’ feeling when you see them.”

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