Pssst! I got jewels of Opar and a string of pearls… wanna make a deal?
My garden is stuffed with hard-to-find plants that came to me with sweet folk names and back stories.Their charms have been spread over and under fences around the world, cutting across cultures and languages.
But worthy as they are, many are not easily found for sale – to get a start, you gotta have informal connections.
They are passed around like the simple string game which has no written instructions yet is known by children worldwide.
For decades, as the co-author of the Passalong Plants book, I’ve been overseeing small and large-scale plant swaps. Often there is little in common between participants except a love of plants.
True anecdote: Some years back the Pulitzer Prize winning author Eudora Welty told me over dinner that her mother “stopped going to her garden club meetings when they stopped swapping plants.”
But not to worry, thanks to folks with generous spirits, the tradition is alive and well at plant swaps around the world. I’m featuring just three here.
While checking on my garden’s rainfall drainage patterns during a recent downpour, I caught one of the longest worms I have ever seen as it ventured out of a sodden raised bed. When I tried to gently tug the foot-long creature out of the soil, it resisted, clinging, alarmed, to the sides of its burrow with tiny, claw-like bristles similar to those that so swiftly propel “graboids” (Caederus mexicana, the twenty-foot long terrors of the Mojave Desert). Continue reading “Worming Their Way Into My Affections”
It’s nothing new, marking the turning of seasons by the waxing and waning appearance of the sun. Certainly the most striking is during the morning of the winter solstice, when once-lengthening nights roll over into ever-lengthening days and the promise of warmth, new crops, and renewed life. So of course ancient people celebrated the midwinter return of the sun.
And where better to experience it than through the carefully-aligned great trilithon, the largest of the standing stones of Stonehenge? It and the others were lined up thousands of years ago to pinpoint the specific morning that for eons has heralded the return of Grian – which Celtic people called the sun.
My old truck with the garden in the back has been driven to countless flower shows and events across the eastern half of the US. It has been featured in magazines, online sites, garden books, and on NPR programs. It still drives fine, and the garden still flourishes through heat and cold, year in and year out, with only twice-a-year replacement of a handful of seasonal annuals.
The antique truck is better known than I am. Over the thirty or so years I’ve had it, it has been through many makeovers. Its current, cheery form has been preserved on film – as a result, people often call out a greeting while I’m driving through Jackson.
Booglify: Felder verb; to become mushy after freeze and thaw. “My canna’s leaves booglified into slimy cell goo.”
Far as I know, there ain’t a formal word for what happens when, come Autumn’s first freeze, summer plants melt into a putrid glob. But it’s nasty.
Want technical? Me neither – studied plant physiology in college, and can make your eyes cross with esoterica. Short version, with apologies to Professor Price, is that in general plants are organisms made of living, multiplying cells with fairly rigid walls filled with gooey protoplasm made of tiny functional bits suspended in water. Water between the cells holds soluble nutrients, proteins, enzymes, salts, and other stuff which normally moves in and out of cells to keep things running smoothly.
In cold-climate plants, some of the substances act like antifreeze and some plants can shift them around to reduce cells’ drying out or bursting; some plants don’t.
Savory pies are the soul food of northern England. The go-to salve that sells out early the morning after a lost football match, or when BBC coverage of politics gets too much to bear. When a local lass needs a little comfort or cheer.
And – apologies to every opinionated foodie out there – the very best are hand-crafted at The Real Thai Pie Company, offered for sale at tiny Haworth’s Bakery. It’s just a short hike uphill from town center in Darwen, nestled in the West Pennine Moors of Lancashire. Right across from the Vic, if you get lost or need directions (ask anyone).
On his travels in Thailand some twenty years ago Doug, the laid-back but passionate baker, came up with a unique, award-winning creation – chunks of meat, potatoes, carrots, and piquant pinch of fiery spices in just enough creamy gravy to keep it just right for eating out of hand. In a word, addictive.
This is just a photo. Can’t capture the friendly Lancashire gemutlichite found at this fragrant little shop, much less the steamy wares of the Real Thai Pie Company. Get there early.
“Quell’orror bello che attristando piace” – that beautiful horror which delights while it saddens (Italian poet Ippolito Pindemonte)
Stumpery. First time I heard the word was one of those finger-snap moments, a cerebral light bulb thing.
I mean, who’da thought it was a thing? I mean, we’ve been doing it all along, right?
But here I am, nearly thirty years later, actually standing in the oldest stumpery in the world, and thinking about how to enlarge my own backyard collection of tree trunks, stumps, and gnarly limbs (and how my kids will have a hell of a time dismantling or burning it all down when I’m gone). Continue reading “Stumperies – Beautiful Horrors”
OUCH! Say “G’bye” to one of the South’s most cherished landscape trees.
In spite of their maybe being a tad overplanted, I love crape myrtles – the lilac of the South. I even made the trek to South Carolina to hug the oldest crape myrtle in North America, planted in 1786 by André Michaux at Middleton Place near Charleston. I don’t even have a problem with their being pollarded (what some folks call “crape murder”), especially when gardeners like me weave the trimmings into wattle fences. For more insight on this check this blog post out.
TROUBLE IN EDEN
But just like whether to spell it “crape” or “crepe” or want to argue about pruning, they’re all moots point now, water under the bridge, as our beloved crape myrtles are being pushed out of the garden entirely by a new pest that is for all practical purposes uncontrollable. Get used to it.
This blog is about what the problem is, and what we can – or can’t – do about it.
One of my main elements of design is mixing round, spike, and frill shapes. When nothing else works, I often add “non plant” materials to fulfill one of the shapes – including rocks, containers, even the occasional bowling ball.
I have a handful of shrubs pruned into tight meatball or gumdrop shapes, if for nothing else than to show neighbors that I actually know how to do it in my otherwise naturalistic cottage garden. When a large yaupon holly tree on a property line got whacked by a neighbor, I got even by turning it into a three-ball poodle plant.
Anyway, while knocking around the garden and neighborhood in early November I collected quite a few roundish Autumn fruits and laid them on a bed of maple leaves collected from the garden of Mississippi author Eudora Welty and accessorized with flowers of “country girls” (‘Clara Curtis’) and a couple other hardy garden mums (Chrysanthemum x rubellum).
See if you can match the names of these “passalong” heirloom and native fruits with their image:
Pomegranate, sweetgum , Oriental persimmon, native persimmon, chayote or mirliton (Sechium edule), Pyracantha, Nandina, pecan, air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera), contorted hardy orange (Poncirus trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon’), American beautyberry, ‘Callaway’ crabapple, osage orange (Maclura pomifera), bird’s eye pepper (chile pequin), toadstool, red buckeye, and mango melon or “vine peach” (Cucumis melo variety chito)…