Savannah Morning News
September 4, 2016
It’s one thing to be drop-dead good looking and low-maintenance to boot but to have function and purpose as well? We call that a two-fer. That’s exactly what you get when you plant the pine cone ginger. Plus – get this – the plant’s nickname is “shampoo ginger.” Could that be, especially when it thrives with no water, no soothing words, no worry, when it cares nothing for shade or no shade? Last year I used the oozy, medicinal center of the comfrey plant – nicknamed “bone knit” – to heal a busted knee cap. This year I followed instructions, plucked the bloom, took it into the shower, squeezed the squishy liquid center and used it to “restore luster and brilliance” to my hair, just like the Breck commercials used to promise.
My only beef is this: pine cone gingers spread. They make themselves at home. They take over. And all of this on a spot of land I’ve taken to calling “the garden that used to be a driveway.” The beautiful Texas red-star hibiscus a few feet away? Dwarfed. Overshadowed. Complaining (“Hey, what about me? Last year you thought I was the cat’s meow. What am I now? Chopped liver?”). Dear red-star: I have not forgotten you. You are my first-born (sort of). In a few months, when plants can be moved with minimal stress I will give you a new spot. You’ll have your own turf again. I promise.
I’ve made a lot of these promises lately. Gardens are mutable; they’re liable to change, sometimes for the worse. Last year’s favorite (or was it two years ago?), the delectable dotted horsemint, a member of that sprawling monarda (or perhaps you say mint) family, took my breath away, so delicate, so subtle was she. And that was before I was even sure of her name. But then, wouldn’t you know it, the swamp sunflower, prized for its stature and hardiness, edged closer and closer, took more and more territory and, in a battle royal, edged out my sweet little horsemint. None of this happens quickly. You think all is well, that you’re in control and then you look away, maybe go away for a few days. When you return you forgot you ever had horsemint. Horsemint who? But then this survivor of the fittest pops up in the middle of your drought-tolerant, non-complaining variegated zebra grass and you remember. Aha! Horsemint! Must do something about horsemint. Put it on the list.
Then there’s the beloved indigo. Last year it towered 10 feet high, more a statement than a material for a dye. I’ll leave the dyeing to the good people at the Ossabaw Island Foundation. I just do the planting. Up until now, I never worried about shaking out seeds and replanting it because I never had to. For the past seven or eight years my indigo has always come back on its own. Until this year. Until I broadcast some itty-bitty amaranth seeds I snagged from Janisse Ray’s seed-sharing project at the Tattnall County Library. I thought I had tossed them a safe distance away. Au contraire. I forgot to factor in the strength of those seeds. After all, the grain known as amaranth does go back some 8,000 years. It’s got some pretty good staying power as well.
And it’s a stunning plant. I don’t have any flowers yet and I’m not sure I’ll ever get around to grinding this gluten-free product, but the leaves are two-toned and striking. And it’s tall. At least as tall as the indigo, which it seems to have been dislodged and/or displaced. Boo hoo.
Even worse is what I did to the Scarlett runner beans, another plant I have grown for the heart-shaped leaves and the red, red color – who doesn’t love red? – but which I have never eaten. In my zest to clear some real estate for more runner beans I inadvertently unearthed some roots of the mother plant. Quick like a bunny I tried to bury them back before anyone noticed the error of my ways. But no dice. No cigar. No one likes to be disturbed that way. The vine died. And I silently cried. They were no beautiful. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world. I didn’t ingest some brain-eating amoeba while swimming in a lake. I didn’t dislodge the remote control and leave the batteries for some child to put in his or her mouth. I didn’t nick the spleen of a cat in the process of trying to neuter her (not me – someone who should have known better). I merely made a few mistakes in the garden. But that’s OK. Gardens are very forgiving places. Even if certain plants do tend to take over.
Anyway, it’s unseemly for Breck girls to complain.