From hurricane to plant swap

Savannah Morning News

March 26, 2017



Jean Carson likes a project. She may not know what it is but she knows it’s out there. For 15 years she’s been remodeling the house she and her husband Robert bought 19 years ago when they relocated to Pooler from central Pennsylvania. They loved their house.  So when Hurricane Matthew whooped them bad last September they did what persistent, stubborn people do. They moved their furniture into a pod, lived in one or two rooms that weren’t damaged, started pulling up the sodden floors and waited for their contractor to put it all back together again.

The property was perfect for them. They had woods on both sides and the city’s recreational park behind them. While they waited to rebuild they continued on with their lives. Robert is an orchid aficionado. He’s got close to 700 beauties in his two greenhouses. Jean, a gardener and a receptionist in the emergency room at St. Joseph’s Hospital, had an acre and a quarter of land to play with.

“See that pile over there?” she said pointing to a stack of plants. “I got them at the fall plant swap eight days before Matthew. They’re still in their pots. I never got around to planting them.”

Matthew was a whopper of a hurricane, but it was the second storm in January that did it. That’s what made the couple sit up and reevaluate their decision to stay and remodel. After the rains stopped Jean slipped on her wading boots and went outside to examine her plants and Robert’s orchids. That’s when she saw the extent of the damage.

“We knew it didn’t used to flood when we moved in,” she said. “But when the city of Pooler decided to cut down the trees and put in a parking lot that’s when it started. That’s when we could see the retaining ditch they dug wasn’t deep enough. The parking lot they wanted made sense. It opens up to the park. But the concrete slab they put in was higher than our property. We used to drain into them. Now the water has nowhere to go but into our yard and in a really big storm into our house.”

The second big storm arrived in January – two days before the contractor was due to start working on their house. That was it for Jean, who is nothing if not practical.

“No sense in throwing good money after bad,” she said.

The city did right by them. A deal was struck. It bought their cinder block house and property. Not long after, the couple found another home on two-and-a-half acres in Rincon. In a few weeks they’ll move to their new property, along with their submersible pump, a tank less water heater, some of the windows in the house, the collapsible greenhouses, the stack of wood from a bookshelf and the pile of plants she got from the fall plant swap, the plants she never had time to put in the ground.

All that means leaving behind tons of other plants, trees, bulbs and vines Jean planted, babied and watched grow. That’s when she thought about the spring plant swap next Saturday. A three-year veteran of the biannual swap she knows the deal, she knows the people, she knows the drill.

“I really didn’t want to have a giant give-away here so I thought you might want to come out and get them,” she said in an email. “I can’t stand the idea of the bulldozer coming in and destroying them.”

When they bought the house, which sits across from the Pooler wastewater treatment plant, it had two selling points, Jean said – a separate dining room and some big, impressive elephant ears along the back of the house. She’ll be taking a few of those elephant ears, but the rest are on the list of plants she’s anxious to share. She’s got white amaryllis with red pinstripes, sweet shrubs, quince, day lilies, blueberries, red passion vines, lime trees, elderberries, scarlet spider lilies, queens tears, milk weed, cockspur, coral trees, banana trees, daffodils, oregano, snow drops, ferns, mums, gladiola, canna lilies.

“I just want to find good homes for them,” she said.

It all sounds possible – and very generous – as long as my back holds out and the creek don’t rise (again).






Ships of the Sea gardens and lettuce

Savannah Morning News

I go out for a bike ride on a chilly Sunday morning after losing an hour of sleep to the “time change” no one can really explain and I come home with some tree collards. Not some. One. A cutting. Tree collards! Ridiculous. And they’re supposed to be perennial. So says Chloe, my favorite 51st street gardener. Someone in her gym told her about them. We’ll see. That’s in California; this is Georgia. She told me something else too. When I complained about not being able to germinate lettuce she told me she never has any trouble. Humpf. What’s the matter with me? I keep her on the subject. I press her for more information. Then she gives in (my interpretation) and tells me the trick. This from George, she says, George, my favorite 44th street gardener and purveyor of greens in the Forsyth Farmers Market, and textbook smart of all things good and green. The trick? Chicken manure! Not the kind that comes straight from the chicken coop. That’s too “hot” and I don’t have enough hens. This stuff comes in a bag. Five dollars. I can handle that.

“But how much lettuce can you eat?” she asks.

“A lot, especially when I sauté it,” I say, remembering how it shrinks down and how much you need to start with.

“You and Thomas Jefferson,” she said.

Huh? I like the sound of that.

“He planted a thimble of lettuce seeds every week. He had a lot of people to feed.”

Amazing what you can learn when you’re on a bike (out of a car), when you’re on the street (eyeball-to-eyeball). Thank you for the idea, Mr. Jefferson. Thank you for passing it on, Chloe and George. It takes a village.

Speaking of lettuce and villages and planning ahead for all things bright and beautiful, thank you (again) John McEllen, landscape planner supreme, Dan Snyder, architect extraordinaire, and the late Mills Lane for the original pie-in-the-sky idea for expanding the Ships of the Sea Museum and replacing the deteriorating Kramer building auto shop with a garden. All this in a prime spot of Savannah real estate. The gardens at the Scarbrough House/Ships of the Sea Museum and Gardens are a place of beauty, peace, and sanity, all the more exciting when you realize they are smack dab in the middle of downtown Savannah’s explosion of revelers, bumper-to-bumper traffic, endless festivals (and runs) and the almighty dollar, another form of greenery. At no time was this contrast more obvious – and more necessary – than last week during the pre-St. Patrick’s Day revelry.

Mr. Jefferson, you might be interested to know this meticulously kept and beautiful 1.25-acre garden has lettuce, too. Lactuca sativa. I know this from the list of plants someone from the gardens or the museum thought to list and offer in a rack attached to the outer garden walls –  “cool weather plantings, fall/winter, revised 2/24/09.” The diagrammed plot of names, common and Latin, is available to anyone who wants it. Did I know there was lettuce in the garden or that lettuce was a sativa and a kissing cousin of the humongous family of asters?  No. Not a clue.

During last week’s Stop Over Music Festival hundreds – maybe thousands – of people walked past and around the gardens as they headed to the music, but I doubt too many stopped to look for lettuce. I know I didn’t. I grabbed the list, jammed it in my pocket and read it when I got home. But from my seat – when I was sitting, not dancing or schmoozing or ordering something from the food trucks (imagine that: food trucks in Savannah and the world didn’t end, which means maybe next year that could be a few more?) – I did catch a healthy whiff of some flowering citrus tree, somewhere near that wide window between the roofed open-air Assembly Room of music and the garden, strong enough to draw me closer for a better smell. Would that I were a bee so I could get past those spikey spears without getting impaled.

I did step away from the madding crowds long enough to stroll through the grove of Trident maple trees not yet in bloom but looking oh-so-promising in that beautifully designed perfect square of open space. I did sit in a corner of the garden by myself – maybe even near the lettuce – trying to put some space between me and the music. I couldn’t have found a better place to regroup.