After this winter? Come to the plant swap

Savannah Morning News column

Sun., March 16, 2014

Wait! Be patient! Don’t give up yet!

I know it’s tempting (you can’t stand the way the yard looks). I know it’s mouth-watering (who doesn’t like preparing for a clean slate and starting over?). I know it’s seductive (brown: get thee behind me). I know it’s alluring (snip-snip, says the clippers, just waiting for you to pick them up; snip-snip, says Conrad’s mother in The Tiger Lillies’ song from “Shockheaded Peter,” a very, very dark Off-Broadway play).

But don’t do it. Not yet. Use a little restraint. Go out into the yard and rake a little instead: that’s satisfying. Turn the compost pile and count the worms (or go fishing with those little red wrigglers). Clean the chicken coop — if you can get your broody hens to move without a major kafuffle (good luck on that one). Better yet, find a chair, lean your head back into your old friend, the sun, and catch a few vitamin D rays before it’s too hot and she’s not your friend anymore.

Finally, before you do anything drastic, before you snip-snip those brittle and weak limbs (there’s no Scotch-tape in gardening), try the fingernail test. Scratch the stalk ever so slightly and look for green, look for life. You might be surprised at what’s hiding, what’s hibernating, just waiting for a little warmth before deciding to pop out.

Or maybe you’re perfectly happy to get rid of the oleander; I know I am. I never liked it anyway. I just don’t like cutting down a tree. Maybe this is the perfect time to say sayonara to the brugmansia (or angel’s trumpet) that has come to take up so much room in your limited real estate of a garden. Now you no longer have to debate over the sprawling, labor-intensive, bushy umbrella flat sedge that is such a pain in the neck to cut back every spring (except it will come back; that’s one hardy plant).

The good news is you’re not alone. Maybe you scrambled to cover your plants and beat the frost, maybe you didn’t. Some people who dragged out the sheets and did the responsible thing say it didn’t matter. The fact it, things still died because this was a doozy of a winter.

Which means come Sat., April 5, we’re going to have a doozy of a plant swap.

Without looking too hard, here’s what I have to share: beach daisy (a no-fail ground cover I mow over, forget about, and plant around by mistake); swamp sunflowers (another no-fail, towering plant that blooms yellow in October and seems to have come through the frost with no trouble at all once I cut away all the crunchy upper-level debris); a potted amaryllis whose tongue of a stalk is growing two- or three-inches a day; some hardy umbrella flat sedge roots; tons of yarrow (good for stanching bleeding wounds, don’t you know, just in case), that stays a lovely shade of green summer and winter and is supposed to speed up the compost process, according to Rudolf Steiner and his theory of biodynamics.

In case anyone is interested I might be interested in sharing some stinging nettle. But beware. It will sting. Stinging nettle, I’ve decided, might just be my dream cash crop. It popped up a few years ago in some horse manure I got from the city stables. I swore at it for the first few years. Then I learned to embrace it. If those stinging, hypodermic-like hairs on the marijuana-look-alike leaves aren’t good for something – arthritis? cancer? depression? — I’ll eat my words – or at least some stinging nettle, which, harvested and cooked down, is not bad at all. Trouble is, like a lot of greens – can you say spinach? – once you start cooking, it disappears, boom, gone, reduced to a fraction of what you picked. Still, I’m collecting it, giving it a bed of its own and planning for my retirement years.

I’m anxious to see what people bring this year, what made it through the hard times. Usually we’re inundated with stuff. This year? I’m not so sure. Even the ubiquitous, wall-to-wall, indefatigable bed of ferns looks a little dicey.

But the sad-looking citrus and pathetic pomegranate? I’m seeing new itty-bitty leaves, full of life.

Instead of plants we might have a bumper crop of brunch food, which is what we encourage people to bring if they’re new to the game known as plant swapping, if they don’t have any roots, rhizomes, bulbs or seeds to share. Stories work, too. We love stories.

Plant swap information: Jane Fishman’s West Boundary street garden between Chatham Steel (501 W. Boundary St.) and SCAD’s Boundary Hall. It’s free. It’s open. It’s fun. Call 912-484-3045 with questions.

 

Still standing

The glorious and oh-so-common salvia — or do you say sage? — still standing, two days before the new year. This is the first yellow one I’ve seen — a gift from the plant swap, no doubt. So hardy. So beautiful. And one of the easiest plants to identify — look for a square stem. Works every time. I hear you can smoke it. Me? I’d rather look at it.

salvia