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.


A city we are vs. the city we could be

Savannah Morning News column, March 9, 2014

          This is a friendly city. We invite newcomers to dinner. We chitchat as we walk our dogs in the neighborhood. We chitchat in the grocery stores. We nod good morning to people we pass in the park (at least the first time around). We rally to fund-raising events. We have a children’s museum, a dog park and a baseball team (go Sand Gnats). We have a huge art school, a well-used downtown park, a beachfront, several art museums. We have tennis courts where people invite you to play if you hang around long enough. We have a bike share program (well, 16 bikes). We have bike paths (well, three that I can think of although sometimes it’s hard to know because the painted words – “bike path” – are faded). We have two farmers markets and a thriving food co-op that’s been around since 2007. In general we leave 15 minutes before we have to be somewhere. Other places might be more spectacular but every time we leave home we say, “Nice, but it wasn’t very friendly.”


            All this good stuff without an ounce of leadership from the top. Amazing, no?


            Quick: name an alderman. Now, name another. All of us who live in the city have two – our own neighborhood alderman who is supposed to be in touch with us, even after the election (especially after the election when we’re ready to get things done) and an alderman-at-large that we share. Full confession: I do not know my alderman-at large. I hear more from real estate people than I do from her (him?) and more about what’s happening in the city, too.  If I can get all these pizza flyers every other day, wouldn’t you think a form letter would be in order now and then?


            P.S. If you mentioned Estelle Shabazz as one of the aldermen I asked you to name, well, this does not count. She’s been in the news too much lately. Oh, you haven’t heard? She’s the alderman who said people raising bees should consider putting a net over the hives to cut down on possible danger. Excuse me? Pollination? Reproduction? Fertilization?


            By the way, has anyone told Alderman Shabazz that the Hyatt Regency Savannah, her City Hall neighbor one or two addresses to the west, has bees on top of its roof? The beehives are part of the hotel’s plan to “go green.” The last time I checked on the Savannah Cams website I did not see a net.


            Our City Council is “beeeing” cautious on the bee issue. I think I heard plans of a study to “beeee” done.


            I like the Savannah Cams idea. Too bad it doesn’t extend south of downtown. Then, without leaving home, you could see the utter and complete destruction of Abercorn Street somewhere along the curve south of the post office and the car dealerships and you wouldn’t have to weep in your car. Remember Abercorn, where there used to be a large swatch of trees, perfect for those sunny hot summer days when you were stuck in your vehicle? The shade made driving quite pleasant. I think they left six trees. Lots of sky.


            This is a friendly city. This is an easy city. But it’s not a city that thinks beyond the immediate. We’d rather get a C than work for the A. We’re cautious. We’ve forgotten about the relationship between human beings and nature (and bees). We like our tourists better than our residents or trees (or bees). Ask anyone who lives downtown. He or she will tell you and will ask at what point does the tail wag the dog?


            News flash: No city can ever provide enough parking spaces or parking meters or highways. So why not go radical and make downtown a walking city, a biking city, a special bus city? Short of that, why not get rid of all the parking meters and turn the meter maids and maidens into street ambassadors? Post office? Over there. Liberty street? To your left. Visitors will remember that.


            Will we be like Berlin, a city that vows to become car-free within 20 years? Doubtful. Will we limit the number of downtown properties that can be rented out to short-term vacationers at the expense of residents? Don’t hold your breath.


            Maybe it doesn’t matter that most of the things we like about this city have nothing to do with what goes on in City Hall. Even with the vacuum at the top we seem to be doing pretty well, but think what could happen if more people with real intentions, real heart, real ideas decided to run for office. A person can dream.