Savannah Morning News column
Sunday, September 28
It started out as a lark, these plant swaps.
Instead of throwing away all these Mexican petunias – those purple beauties brightening up our streetscape as we speak – we thought, “Hey, let’s give them away to someone new to town, someone who has a whole blank canvas of a yard to fill.”
Instead of ripping up those banana trees that never do anything but take up space and offer empty promises, we reasoned, “Let’s see if someone else can get them to bloom, perchance produce bananas.”
Instead of composting, dumping or trashing those rows and rows of monkey grass that could be plastic they are so boring, we argued, “Let’s hand them off to someone who needs to define a space, who has a different definition of boring.”
It seems to be working, these biannual plant swaps, every spring and every fall, because if you have 10 people in the room or in a garden you will get 10 different opinions about a plant. Lantana? Me, myself and I? Can’t stand their smell. Can’t abide their prickly nature. Can’t put up with their wandering, won’t-take-no personality. If I had a chainsaw I’d haul them out and hand them off to someone else.
For this plant swap I’m thinking about seeds. I keep looking at the purple salvia in our front yard, waiting for the spent blooms to finally call it a day and leave behind some hardened seeds. Soon, they tell me. Soon. This has been a banner year for salvia – or sage, same thing. Maybe because I finally dug up the ginger lilies that never, ever bloomed, giving the salvia some room to grow and be happy. I guess they like space because they have been blooming for months, attracting every fuzzy-winged, down-covered, wooly-headed creature in the neighborhood. Must be something mighty tasty there.
But not everything propagates through seeds. This year I’ve been inundated with a plant that carries the glorious name of jewels of opar, a moniker borrowed from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel, “Tarzan.” At first I thought, “OK, well, you’re cute. You know your spot. You won’t take over.” Wrong. Just because this kissing cousin of the delicate baby’s breath is so, well, delicate, doesn’t mean it knows its place. This plant, which never seems to know a bad day, has spread far and wide in my garden. It has earned a place in the “invasive by nature” category of plants, IBN for short. But who can get angry at it? It’s easy to pull out. It plays well with others. It’s not half-bad as a cut flower. But there’s so surprise at its longevity. I pulled one out the other day to take a closer photograph and the root stem is as long as the plant.
My biggest problem at the moment in the IBN category are the millions of bidens alba or maybe you say beggar tick or stickseed. They’re everywhere, something I realized when I went to prepare a bed for the early-December planting of garlic and I couldn’t find the bed. Talk about a crazy-making moment. That’s because the bidens alba – I remember the name by thinking Joe Biden – had taken over the bedroom. This pretty and promiscuous plant is a kissing cousin of the sunflower side of the family, which means it is related to the asters (not to be confused with the Astors) and the sprawling composite clan, all innocuous and innocent plants, except when you want to put something else in your garden and you see they have sprawled over everything.
And yes, one year someone did bring the offending bidens alba to the plant swap, the same way someone brought the scarlet cypress vine, all sweet, dainty, innocent, a brilliant red and EVERYWHERE. Its cousin, the small red morning glory, both members of the ipomoea family, is a tad more respectful but a bit easier to unwind and remove. Both would be beautiful in open fields, not gardens with limited space.
“Invasive but worth it”: that’s what one plant swapper wrote on the tall swamp sunflower she was sharing a few years ago, the gloriously yellow bloom that is popping up all over now, in September, in the fall. That’s a good nickname for the plant swaps: invasive but worth it. Or, you might say, invasive by nature.
No plants? Come anyway. There are plenty to share, plenty of seeds, rhizomes, stories and, if you get there in time, coffee and sweet things.