Almacs gardenia bush still flourishing 30 years later

Almacs gardenia bush still flourishing 30 years later

The Rev. Vasily Lickwar, of the Holy Dormition Orthodox Church in Cumberland, says a $10 gift purchased 30 years ago has turned into this large flowering gardenia bush at his home next door to the church on Manville Hill Road. The bush has always lived in a pot. (Breeze photo by Ethan Shorey)

CUMBERLAND – Consider it the Mother’s Day gift that keeps giving.

Thirty years ago, the Rev. Vasily Lickwar and his son, Michael, went shopping at Almacs to buy a $10 potted Mother’s Day plant for Vasily’s wife, Katherine.

That one-foot-tall gardenia bush, now standing five feet tall and spreading five feet wide, has never gone into the ground and it never receives fertilizer, says Lickwar. This year, after never seeing more than about a dozen blooms, it has shown 60 or more blooms, starting just before Easter, says Lickwar, pastor of Holy Dormition Orthodox Church at 71 Manville Hill Road.

“It has an amazing number of buds,” he said.

Vasily and Katherine live next door to the church. Each winter, said the reverend, he moves the blooming bush inside the church, where it is protected from the elements. The bush particularly likes when the heat is shut off, as it likes cool periods. In southern states such as Georgia, huge gardenia bushes are common, he says, but large and flourishing ones in New England are quite unique with the scarcity of cool nights and warm days the plants love so much.

Southern Living magazine puts the gardenia bush in its top five plants for a classic southern garden. It needs plenty of sun, it says, but not too much sun.

Seeing 25 or 30 flowers on a gardenia bush at any one time is “extremely rare” in New England, Lickwar said.

Lickwar plucks off the flowers as they begin to die and adds soil. As the bush has grown, he’s transplanted it into new and larger pots. Nowadays most of what’s in the pot is roots, he said, with only a few inches of soil around them.

He said he’s never used spray or pesticides, but takes every other step to make sure the bush continues to thrive.

“I pamper this thing; I take care of it,” he said. “There were a couple times I thought I’d lost it.”

Gardenia bushes can grow up to eight feet tall, said Lickwar, and he sees no reason, with life expectancy for similar bushes down south reaching 70 years, why this one can’t improve on its unlikely longevity.