Fall plant swap time

Savannah Morning News column

September 20, 2015



Seriously, is there some kind of special self-help program for plant junkies? No? Then it’s time to indulge thyself, time for the plant swap. Good morning, fellow hoarders, addicts, collectors, enthusiasts, connoisseurs, lovers of the Great Mother, fanciers of the earth. Good morning, dreamers. My name is Jane and I can’t get my hands on enough plants – no matter the color of the flower, the pattern of the leaf, the season of the bloom, the origin of the species. I’m open-minded. I don’t care if it’s from China, Argentina, Persia (that would be Iran), South Africa or Effingham County (that would be in Georgia). If it’s something I haven’t seen before, if it promises to grow with minimal attention, if it will catch my eye if not the eye of a butterfly or a bee or a bird or a ladybug, if it has a big and fuzzy leaf, if it’s edible or a cousin of a cousin to something I already have, then I’m there and I want it.

I have more plants than I have dirt, more seeds than I have sense, more cuttings than one person should be allowed. But perennials, once a beginning gardener’s new best friend, have taken over my life. They’ve overstayed their welcome. They don’t hesitate to occupy every bit of space they can find. They’re so comfortable where they are that, without asking, they have started to invite their whole extended family, Amish-style, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great grandchildren and I’m too weak to throw them out.

But I’m running out of room, which is a problem since this is a perfect time to grow kale, collards, broccoli, garlic, onions, lettuce and kohlrabi. The seeds, thank you, plant gods, thank you, rainy season, have already started to sprout. The little seedlings have already put out their first two sets of identical leaves (oh, so itty bitty, barely showing except they’re not really leaves, they just look like leaves. Some people call them antennae because they lead the way so photosynthesis can do its job: to draw energy from the sun. Eventually a fifth leaf, which looks nothing like the first two, will emerge. This leaf – don’t ask me why – is known as a true leaf.)

Confused? Me too. But this is why we meet, to pass along information, to pass along plants.

Picture someone who keeps buying more shoes, more dresses, more books, more record albums. They don’t need to build another closet or another bookshelf. They need to extract. They need to edit.

I need to extract. I need to edit. I like to share.

Do you need to bring plants to the swap to take plants? Not necessarily. For the first visit, at least. We usually have more plants than people. But you might consider bringing something to eat. That’s a good thing. Or a story about how you got the plant you’re giving up. That’s a very good thing.

Some people will be bringing fifth- and sixth-generation plants they got at an earlier swap. Monkey grass, beach daisy, horsetail, loquat trees, crocosmia, Jewels of Opar (or do you say Pearls of India?), queen’s tears or amaryllis bulbs.

But there are no guarantees. Maybe none of the above will show up (although I’m always good for about a dozen loquat trees and don’t worry about Jewels of Opar. I’ll be bringing plenty of them because right now they are coming up between cracks in the sidewalks, in my jade tree pots, in between lettuce plants and in the compost pile). But like the red surprise lilies (or naked ladies) that are popping up willy-nilly everywhere these days, there will be surprises, as well as seeds, rhizomes, bulbs, five-gallon buckets and plastic pots. And a few samples of my new favorite plant: the lovely dotted horsemint. And oh, Lordy, there will be advise – on what to grow under pine trees, what to grow that the deer don’t like, what to grow if you like to sequence colors, what to grow in shade. None of it’s guaranteed, either, of course.

What is guaranteed is chatter and meeting new people and maybe someone who can explain true leaves.


The fall plant swap is Sat., Oct. 3 from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., at Jane’s garden on W. Boundary St. The garden is snuggled between Chatham Steel (504. W. Boundary St.) and Creative Coast (415 E. Boundary St.). There is no charge. For more information call Jane at 912-484-3045. Plant swaps are held the first Saturday of October and May.




Poverty: the elephant in the room

Savannah Morning News column

Sun., Sept. 6, 2015

Poverty: it’s the elephant in the room. It’s the seven-ton creature no one wants to look at, the 10-foot tall impediment we can’t do anything about anyway, right?

So what if one in four people you stand next to every day in the supermarket, sit next to at the doctor’s office or pass on the new half-million-dollar walking path the city just built around Daffin Park are never going to inherit any money from their family (or get a holiday bonus at work), were never given a piggy bank as a kid or a dollar for every A they brought home on a report card, don’t know how to walk into a bank and negotiate a new bank account for the first time because no one told them they could, don’t know they can get a GED if they never finished high school or were never taught how to look a teacher in the eye and say with confidence and good manners, “I don’t understand what you’re talking about. Can you explain that again?”

They do not have mentors who can pave the way, people who can help them fill out voluminous forms to borrow tuition money or introduce them to people in the know. If they move to another city they don’t have people taking them to lunch and filling them in on the lay of the land.

Poverty, a hydra-headed problem, is all just too much to think about. Maybe that’s why so few candidates running for office this season bring it up in their cocktail-heavy launch parties or talk about it on their beautifully designed website. It’s not a sexy subject; it’s not an easy subject.

But there are things we can do to help that are not rocket science. That’s what Mary Willoughby says anyway. Willoughby was one of the early members of Step Up Savannah, an anti-poverty initiative that is celebrating 10 years – God bless them – of parsing, analyzing, scrutinizing and just plain scratching their head trying to figure out what we can do to even the playing the field just a tad because when one out of those four fellow Savannahians is better educated, better prepared to enter the world of work, then – kaching, kaching – more companies will want to come here for the better prepared workforce that some may argue we don’t have right now. And that, bottom line, again, means more money will start flowing around the circuit.

“We can fix some things,” says Willoughby, a native of New Hampshire who earned her Savannah stripes when she worked at Youth Futures with former Mayor Otis Johnson, about whom she had nothing but great things to say.

It has to be a collaborative effort, “which Step Up is very, very good at, “ she said, “getting people around the table to talk, but let’s face it, the opportunity to move up the ladder is just not there the same way it used to be in this country. There’s less stability in the employment area, more disparity. People are holding on to their money.

“Plus, fifteen or 20 years ago we spent $7 on juvenile detention centers and $700,000 on outside school activities,” she said. “Those figures,” which have increased exponentially, I’m sure, “should be reversed. Yes, we have peewee football and high school football but what about activities for middle schoolers? What about lightening up on the way we kick kindergartners out of school so quickly? One study I saw showed that something as simple as a five day absence from school over the school year is a huge academic inhibitor.”

Willoughby called Youth Futures an “irritating voice back then.” The problem is nonprofits such as Youth Futures and Step Up can only be so irritating since they get a lion’s share of their budget from organizations like the City of Savannah and United Way.

But that’s what they’re supposed to do, I countered. To be the irritant. To make the situation real. To keep reminding the rest of us about the 26 percent – 26 percent! – who live in poverty.

“To discomfit the comfortable,” Willougby said. “One of the best things Step Up can do is keep the issue in front of everyone. It is an issue for the whole community. But they can’t get discouraged. They have to realize it’s a hard needle to push. Thirty people in an apprentice program out of a population of 30,000 in the poverty level doesn’t sound like much but it’s a great start and that’s how they have to look at it. We need them and they need us.”

Poverty: it’s the elephant in the room.