Slow gardening produces surprises

Savannah Morning News

June 4, 2017

Everyone wants answers. Quick answers. Quick fixes. Note to anyone writing a book on gardening: don’t subtitle a book you’ve called, “I Grew It My Way” with an after-thought that reads, “How Not to Garden.” That’s not what people want to hear. They want to know how to garden. Today. Right now.         Ah, to be that fish swimming upstream. It’s not easy. To tend that asymmetrical, unbalanced, crooked garden, to be that laissez-faire, permissive gardener who looks for surprises. We’re a whole different category. We lead with our strength. We live for surprises. We embrace the unexpected guest.

Take the amaranth (at least I think it’s an amaranth; it’s tall with a lovely touch of pink on the top). I got it from the seed bank at the public library in Tattnall County in Reidsville. It did so well last year along the side of the house it decided to jump to the lane – skipping over the backyard entirely – where it has established a whole new colony onto itself. But maybe I pulled and piled it out there where it decided, “This is a nice place to live. I think I’ll stay here.” Aside from saying the name and watching the word float out of my mouth, I don’t think amaranth is good for much unless I decide to dry the seeds and grind them into an eatable grain in the event of some major disaster. Not going to happen.

By now I’m used to the ethereal jewels of opar taking up residence wherever it pleases but the delicate panicles (a new word for me) are so pleasing who can refuse it a place in the sun (or the shade), in a crack of the sidewalk (or the middle of a potted plant)? It doesn’t hurt that it’s a green, a succulent that grows in the heat of summer or that it’s not mucilaginous (I think we can figure out the gooey root of that word), like Malabar spinach, a green that will also do well in heat but is too soft or viscous to eat (yuck), or that it’s not persnickety like lettuce, not a fan of Savannah’s summer heat.

Sorrell is another story. This storybook plant, a ruby-red, expansive hibiscus with the makings of a tasty winter drink (with rum), is a gem. I used to have such good luck growing it. Now that I want it so badly it’s playing coy. It doesn’t reseed – at least for me it doesn’t; I hear it does for others, even on a friend’s downtown rooftop garden, probably because they don’t want it as badly as I do. Maybe I am over-thinking this. It doesn’t germinate that well either. No matter. After careful looking – and proper fretting – I’ve identified four little babies that look as if they’ll make it.

Except I want more. Of course. Like maybe a dozen. And I’m still hoping for more. But for now at least I can worry about something else, like the double-fluted purple brugmansia. My friend and cousin Bob Ketai from Bloomfield Hills sent me seeds he harvested from the seeds I mailed him a few years ago. Talk about ornery seeds. And resistant. These little specks of spore play hard to get. They are not anxious to germinate. It doesn’t help that neighborhood cats think every bit of scratched earth is a perfect place for them to do their business. (They don’t even thank me.) So now I’ve taken to broadcasting the seeds and placing a few bricks as a base before I take a round and rusty discarded grill and rest it on top as a deterrent. It seems to be working. After checking on them two or three times a day I do believe there are three itty-bitty seedlings.

The indigo seeds that dropped last year (or are they the seeds I tossed out a month ago?) are starting to take hold, unlike the ones I seeded and tried to transplant (they don’t like being displaced, except for one thing: the shriveled young leaves have turned blue, almost the color of indigo); the horehound (a mint with that crazy name) didn’t complaint too much when I separated and replanted it; and a Gerber daisy acquired from a lovely young woman named Sarah who handed them out years ago to mothers and people related to mothers on Mother’s Day. It has resurfaced among the chaos just below the removal of a eucalyptus tree, a miracle onto itself.

There are other victories too. At least a hundred or so garlic plants to pull, hang and cure. A couple eggplant that look as if they’ll make it along with four pepper plants. My lime and fuyu persimmon trees, both of which are both putting out fruit for the first time. And there’s a pineapple – a real pineapple – growing out of the top of a potted pineapple plant.

None are quite as striking as the two sego male palms across the street. They’re both sporting giant brown phallic cones in their centers. Hopefully there will be some willing female within striking distance so we can have a family. Welcome to the neighborhood. May you live and be well.