Like a lava flow from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island slowly enveloping houses and cars in its path, this crape myrtle is inexorably encasing the metal porch rails and panels of a business in Jackson, Mississippi.
It’s what happens when food being made in a tree’s leaves gets interrupted as it translocates (moves) downward towards roots. Happens to stones and even tombstones in old cemeteries, too.
If it runs into a part of itself or a similar species, it can actually graft and form a strong bond. Otherwise it simply swells and envelopes.
Nothing quite like a porch swing to get you outside where all the senses can kick in, where you will notice stuff. You will hear birds and evening frog songs, smell flowers and fresh-mowed lawns, see the dusk flicker of lightening, feel the breeze, and enjoy a quiet beverage of choice (depending on time of day).
But when I was a kid, I knew better than to disturb my father whenever his gaze drifted off into the distance while he was swaying to and fro on a big porch swing – he usually had a genesis of an inventive idea going on.
The college professor, holder of patents to several cutting edge robots and/or the computers that managed them, fleshed out most of his unique creations with one hand on the nearest suspension chain; he spent so many hours there his upper arm literally grew around the chain, developing a permanent deep dent in the muscle.
He actually outlasted two of the S-hooks that supported the chains, slowly wearing them clean through. They set him on the floor. Twice.
And amazingly it was just fast enough to confound the ‘skeeters, which couldn’t attack a moving target.
All you had to do to join him was back up towards it until it gently scooped you up in such a smooth motion with so little disturbance nobody would likely spill their drink (an important consideration). With just a nod of the head, you could get his heavy swing moving quietly with a just-audible sigh, either forward and backward or even a little side to side.
Over the years we had lots of quiet murmuring conversations, during one of which he explained why his swing was so much more relaxing than the small A-frame contraption Granny had out in side yard that was too frenetic, squeaking rapidly back-and-forth on its short chain and so wobbly it prevented anyone from sitting in it easily once it got going.
He said “The period of the arc is proportional to the radius of the circle.” Other words, the longer the chain, the longer the swing took to complete a cycle. So to this day every time I start to sit in a swing, I look up to calculate whether it will be a slow, smooth, relaxation or a jerky roller coaster.
A dear garden corresponding friend from Crawford, Mississippi, recently wrote to me that “Times change, people change, but, like the porch swing, there are some things that just need to be brought forward into the present. Both to recreate the peace they brought us in our younger days, and to share this peaceful pastime with those who never experienced it so they can grow some memories too…”
But this week I got a leg up on even my dear old Dad – in the form of a pair of shiny oversized springs made specifically for porch swings. Strong enough to support the weight of the swing and at least three passengers, but resilient enough to add a sweet little bounce. Not anything sexy, just a cushion of comfort that can’t be described. You gotta experience it to understand.
Here’s to a resurgence in porches, and swings with long chains. And bouncy swing springs.
Oh, and if you are interested in learning about a couple or three really cool “garden -saints” – including one for garden swings – check out this blog of mine…
Five years ago I didn’t think it could get any better when I, accompanied by my sweetheart, was the Grand Marshal of the 30th anniversary St. Paddy’s Parade, a major event in Jackson, Mississippi, with nearly ninety thousand people lining the route.
But this year when I showed up just as a spectator driving my antique pickup truck – painted a brilliant John Deere Green (how apt for this auspicious event), and with its decades-old herb and flower garden planted in the back – the parade founder pressed us back into service…and once again put me at the front of the queue.
The parade was founded on St. Patrick’s Day in 1983 by Malcolm White, the current Mississippi Arts Commission executive director, at a local pub with a couple hundred of his close friends. It caused a massive traffic jam in Jackson’s busy city center. It has grown now to where the entire downtown is cordoned off for huge colorful floats and marching bands.
With marching bands giving it everything they’ve got, to music blaring from loudspeakers on every float, we can barely hear the “throw me some beads” chants from the crowd, which is in places ten deep with people in every imaginable combination of green costumes, hats, flags, and other accessories. While you’re imagining that, throw in the indescribably delicious aromas from hundreds of portable barbecue grills loaded with Southern outdoor cuisine.
The truck garden, which was refurbished two years ago (visit the video link here), is already over-accessorized with an old gnome rescued from Darwen, Lancashire, and my grandmother’s concrete chicken from Indianola, in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. And bottle sconces, a bird house, and more.
Today EVERYONE is – or at least all decked out as – Irish!
So I wanted to do my bit. I quickly cobbled together some faux bottle trees from crape myrtle branches, cast-aside green soda bottles, and strands of green beads from other revelers.
…and a bow for the eagle, and a hastily-assembled custom-crafted wreath from nearby vines, magnolia leaves, and stems from a flowering Forsythia.
Yeah, my Celtic roots run deep – my Rushing ancestors hail from the Isle of Man – so it’s extra satisfying to lead out one of the largest Irish festivals in the country…
Most horti-holier-than-thou professional garden writers get a little peeved when people call plants by the wrong names, or downright irritated when Latin names are mispronounced. Doesn’t bother me at all, as long as we’re still communicating, talking about the same flower.
I mean, I have to switch back and forth every time I cross the Atlantic on how I say tomato (to-MAH-to), oregano (or-e-GAH-no), and ain’t (oops – no translation in the Queen’s English). I even switch hands when picking up my fork and knife.
It isn’t about being ignorant, it’s called going vernacular. And it’s okay. Breathe in, breathe out.
When lecturing on the West Coast, Midwest, or New England I understand that when they say “hen and chicks” I know they’re referring to Sempervivums; in the South, hen and chicks are Graptopetalum. And though I grow dozens of different kinds, including some from my horticulturist great-grandmother’s garden, I’ve long since stopped arguing over the difference between Narcissus and daffodils (they’re the same; one is Latin, the other is folk name for English speakers. And don’t get me started over jonquils versus paperwhites!).
Graptopetalum Hen and Chicks
Sempervivum Hen and Chicks
Both Graptopetalum and Sempervivum are called “hens and chicks”
So I don’t get my shorts in a knot over all the different buttercups, zebra plants, or wandering Jews. Let’s quickly get onto the same page and move on with our talking about whatever it is.
Quick aside: My old friend Brent Heath, 3rd-generation bulb grower from Virginia, says there is nothing “common” about common plant names – they are really folk names.
All that said, I have to just ignore it when someone in Mississippi talks about their snowdrop bulbs, when they’re referring to snowflakes. The similar early-flowering bulbs are pretty closely related and are used the same ways in gardens, but are different enough to a make a point, if you feel the need. Sorta like how apples and pears are very close relatives, but not quite the same thing.
I’ve photographed early-flowering snowdrops (Galanthus) from coast to coast and all over England, including a fascinating personal tour by Lady Carolyne Elwes of her vast Galanthus collections at her Colebourne Estate halfway between Cirencester and Cheltenhamin in the heart the Cotswolds (here’s a nice link to a winter visit there). They’re pretty, and hardy, but they have poor to no tolerance for the hot, humid summers and mild winters of the lower and coastal South.
On the other hand, snowflakes (Leucojum) spread pretty rapidly from home gardens to roadsides and moist ditches, even in wet clay, and are among the earliest flowering bulbs even in Florida.
Rather than make your eyes bleed with unnecessary details (the petals are technically tepals, and, short of writing a book, there are too many species and cultivars to get into), here are two simple photographs. Look at them, and decide if yours is one or the other.
And call them what you want, as long as we’re admiring the same beautiful early flowers.
The climates of Africa range from hot, wet tropical rain forests bordered by vast savannas to mountains, large deserts, and a mild Mediterranean climate found on both the southern and northern tips of the continent.
Many of the African plants I enjoy in my garden are hardy herbaceous perennials and bulbs, but those unable to tolerate even mild frosts are simply grown as annuals planted from seed, or as favored potted specimen to be brought indoors in the winter.
With clasped hands and half-hidden smile, his stoic, contemplative, non-judgmental demeanor is immutable, whether checking out seasonal pomelos at the local market, or communing eye-to-eye – at a safe distance, of course – with an ancient garden gnome whose eerily-unchanging mute smile is as enigmatic as the Señor’s taciturn regard.
Only thing breaking the silence is a sigh, which may just be the soft susurrus of a breeze wafting through the thyme.
(For a little background on Señor Misterioso click here)
I’ve gardened in sunny South California, where weather reporters are all but unable to forecast anything out of the ordinary – there’s a joke in San Diego that seasons are more about whether or not it rains.
But for the past eight years of shuttling between my gardens in Mississippi and Lancashire, northern England, it seems to me that there are mainly two distinct seasons in the British Isles – a brilliant if cool summer with long, long days, and a seemingly never-ending wet, chilly winter, with fairly drawn-out segues of what pass for spring and fall.
My Mississippi garden, on the other hand, has five seasons, from a mild occasionally-frozen mid-winter through two nearly imperceptibly drawn-out and overlapping springs (early and late, with completely different sets of weather and flowers); a long, torrid, breathtakingly-humid summer with temperatures that remain warmer at night than England rarely ever even gets up to in the daytime; and a month or so of subtle changes in Autumn color.
No matter. There are countless combinations of evocative accessories to carry gardens in all climates through the changes of weather, and weather-tolerant plants to boot.
This is saying a lot, but “Dirt” was without a doubt one of the most overflowing humans I have ever encountered. Bigger-than-life he was – tall, colorful, thoughtful, bawdy, humorous, and, yes, easily outraged and loudly opinionated (usually spot-on).
First met him by accident, while cruising backstreets of small-towns looking for interesting cottage gardens and the pass-along plants usually found in them – one of the best ways to uncover hardy, garden-variety plants.
His unmissable garden stopped me in my tracks. The outstanding “total yard show” was overstuffed and overflowing with kaleidoscopic combinations of plants and home-made yard art made from found objects. Its care-taker – a tall, lanky man with a do-rag on his head and a Kaiser blade in hand – met me at the gate. He wouldn’t invite me in, much less tell me his name, instructing me to just call him Dirt.
NOBODY really knows who he is. Or much of anything about him, other than the whispered rumors that the Dos Equis guy – who is said to be the “most interesting man in the world” – wants him dead. Don’t know why he wears such an impeccably-tailored glow-in-the-dark suit and fedora. And even less is known about the even more enigmatic Senorita Misterioso – his sister perhaps?
I first found him alone on the second shelf of a dusty VooDoo shop hidden on a side street of New Orleans. For years he stood on the dash above the steering wheel of my antique truck, one time helping comfort and guide me and Dr. Dirt through a Texas deluge so heavy we couldn’t see the edge of the pavement.
When the old truck was temporarily stolen, he disappeared for awhile, along with our dashboard hula girl (a ceramic beauty I rescued from an antique shop in Hawai’i). They have made it back, and while she gyrates around America in the truck, he travels the world with me, occasionally coming out from his special pouch of my canvas murse.
With clasped hands and half-hidden smile, his stoic, contemplative, non-judgmental demeanor is immutable.
Oh – and have I mentioned that he glows eerily in the dark?
Other than claiming somewhat cheekily that “I’ve got Señor Misterioso in my pocket – at least for now” there’s really nothing more to say. Either you get it, or you don’t.
Visits remote towers in the moors of England
Still Dapper in the Jungle
Real Ale Pub
Communing with Gnome
Señor Misterioso Examining the Pomelos
Glows Eerily in the Dark
Quietly Hiding in Snow
Admiring a local Czech ale in Prague
Really getting into a local Czech ale in Prague
ADDENDUM: An alert follower shared a possible connection to a Venezuelan physician and popular folk figure, Dr. José Gregorio Hernández, who died in 1919 and has been venerated by the Catholic church (and considered a candidate for sainthood). Striking resemblance, and there are many small statues of him – including this small one – which strongly suggests he may be the original inspiration for Señor Misterioso…