Savannah Morning News column
March 29, 2015
What will it be this time? What will arrive that will knock our socks off? A stag horn fern the size of Connecticut? A baby persimmon tree or better yet maybe a pomegranate? That would make me happy. Maybe some young purslane seedlings – my new favorite green to grow and eat – ready to pop into the garden. I know there must be someone out there who has them potted up and ready to go. That is the question for professional and novice plant-swappers, every spring, every fall. That is always the question at Savannah’s biannual plant swaps. This year the Saturday spring swap, which is always the first Saturday of April (and October) falls between Friday night’s Passover Seder and Sunday’s Easter celebration. The quintessential trifecta of events, spiritual, ritual and earthy. All festivals of a sort.
“Life is about balance and eating well.” I just read this on a can of gluten free French onion soup from Wolfgang Puck. To that I would add the act of sharing, sharing what we have, sharing what we have too much of, sharing stories, sharing warnings (“This plant is after world domination. As long as you know that you will get along just fine.”). That is what the plant swaps have become. Part bragging, part swagger, part acquisition. Maybe I should change acquisition to greed. Because that’s part of what makes up a gardener. We always want something more or something different. That’s who we are. It’s in our DNA.
But when a plant does well and exceeds its allotted space – can you say Mexican petunias? – we face a conundrum. To rip it out of the ground and compost it or give it away, maybe to someone who just moved to town and isn’t sure what grows and what doesn’t, maybe to someone who has a whole field to fill up? Either way it’s time to say bye-bye, Mexican petunia, and, if we’re going to be honest, to offer warnings. Keep an eye on this plant or you won’t have room for anything else.
That’s the question we growers of perennials pondered some 18 years ago when we decided to get together and swap our good fortune. How much walking iris does one person need? Once you have a successful pot of billbergia or queen’s tears (and I’m here to tell you: that non-complaining plant does reproduce), you want to share the booty. At last year’s fall swap, there must have been a dozen rooted stalks of this epiphytic bromeliad left behind, which is a shame because this plant is the master of neglect. This beauty can survive mostly anything (except too much attention).
The same thing applies to swamp sunflowers. They personify the nickname of our swaps: “invasive by nature.” That’s why we love them. That’s what some anonymous person must have been thinking when he or she dropped off a flat of itty-bitty starts on my then-Tattnall Street house. She called them green monsters. I’m brave. I’m intrepid. I planted them. Then I found out how tall they get, how beautiful they look in the fall when there’s not very much color left in the garden, what a good cut-flower they can be. But now I can recognize them in their baby stages. Now I can pass them along.
The same with my umbrella flatsedge. Easy to root. Easy to give away.
The plant swaps have become down and dirty. People arrive early, some dragging Radio Flyers filled to the brim, some pulling up to the garden with their pickup truck to unload, some with a bowl of oranges or homemade coffee cake or fresh donuts to share if they are new to gardening or new to town and want to come with something to give away.
We operate on the honor system. Take some, leave some for others, leave your money at home. We welcome seeds, tubers, roots, starts and hand-written notes (we love hand-written notes) about where the plant came from. We like information on bees and vermicomposting. We encourage warnings (“invasive by nature”), but we’re a forgiving bunch because if the ipomoea quamoclit or cypress vine gets away from us (and it will, just so you know) we know what to do with it: bring it to the fall plant swap.
The plant swap is at my garden on West Boundary Street. There is no street address. It sits between Chatham Steel (501 W. Boundary) and Creative Coast (415 W. Boundary St). Need more information? Call me at 912-484-3045 or check out our Facebook page, Savannah Plant Swap.