Fall plant swap ahead

Savannah Morning News

October 1, 2017            Question: What treasure will next Saturday’s plant swap bring?

Answer: You’ll just have to amble on over to see. Treasures abound.


There have been summers when we danced for rain, prayed for rain, begged for rain.

This was not one of them.

There have been times when we set out buckets to catch any few droplets of moisture we could, when we saved water after hard-boiling eggs to pour directly on struggling plants, when we searched high and low for a rain barrel so barren were we, without finding a one.

This was not one of those times either.

You want to know why our night-blooming cereus plants have produced overnight beauties four, five and even six times instead of the normal one or two? Why the vine from a volunteer butternut squash plant has wrapped itself around the lime tree, through the sweet and tasty shishito peppers and over the next-door neighbor’s 10-foot fence? Why this year, out of all the other years, your pineapple plant (and those of friends who have sent along photos), the one you started with great hopes but modest expectations from the top of a – yes – an actual pineapple decided to put out its own pineapple? Why your modest collection of indigo plants has migrated exponentially to the side of the house, the back of the house and the lane behind the house?

Rain. That’s the answer. That’s why. Oodles and oodles of rain. And not just the brief afternoon showers we all know.

While very few days this summer have topped 100 degrees (although it might have felt otherwise), many afternoons (and mornings and nights) brought more rain. As soon as you walked around the premises and emptied all the vessels you could find to avoid any chances of mosquitoes, the skies would darken, the moisture level rise and the rain would start. Again.

It should be very interesting to see what shows up at next Saturday’s fall plant swap, what surprises the rain unearthed and encouraged.

I wish my crop of indigo didn’t cringe every time I tried to transplant it. I have tons to give away. We could be dyeing all our tattered shirts, pants, napkins and tablecloths. I have already started harvesting lots of seeds though – those teeny, weeny half-moon-cups of DNA – that show promise for next year. I’m telling you, It’s a cottage industry in the making for this part of the country (especially if it continues to rain so much).

I will be bringing my usual supply of loquat babies (they don’t mind transplanting and for me at least they do not stop reproducing) whose lusty leaves guarantee lots of green in the winter, an ample supply of the delicate Jewels of Opar (or pink baby’s breath: a lovely cut flower) and some dotted horsemint (from the well-behaved, bee-loving monarda family).

I will have my usual hardy crocosmia that seem to bloom for everyone but me, the omnipresent four-of-clocks (yellow) that won’t stop spreading even when I throw a huge root ball in a trash pile, and a banana tree or three. If this year is anything like previous years there will be mounds of queens tears (billbergia) that have bunched up and not produced anything, a stack of monkey grass (liriope), plenty of prickly pear opuntia (warning: they attack; suggestion: plant them under a window to discourage home invasions), the usual Mexican petunia that just won’t quit, and a variety of ginger plants (often unidentified), maybe even some offspring of a batch of pinecone gingers I offered last year. This is the plant sometimes known as shampoo ginger (“But is there a conditioner ginger?” my favorite-five-year asked. “Not that I know of,” I answered. “But good question. Good extrapolating. You may be on to something.”

Plant swaps are casual affairs. We have no membership lists, no initiation fees, no board of directors, no dues, no meetings, no committees, no fund-raising events, no finance sub-committee, no mandatory attendance, no RSVP requirements, no rules – except to be polite and not too piggy. Bring what you can, what you’re tired of looking at, what you want to throw away (something you may not be able to bring yourself to do), or maybe something to eat. There’s lots of righteous hunger among gardeners. Swaps are held the first Saturday of April and October.

People who attend are generous sorts who want to share (make that get rid of) plants that won’t leave room for others. They’re chatty types who have stories behind the plants they’re bringing. They’re newcomers who sense that growing in Savannah might be a tad different than growing in Kentucky or Minnesota. Or they just may be ordinary folks who have discovered the beauty of watching a seed develop, a tree produce a fruit, a plant turn colors, people who are tasting homegrown parsley (or kale or Swiss chard) for the first time, who have never seen anything quite so beautiful as an okra bloom.

It’s another world – the world of plants.

Plant lovers: we’re a family – a big, inclusive, curious, feisty, inquisitive, questioning, talkative (or taciturn), analytical (or artistic), welcoming clan. Come check us out.


Dear President of Amtrak

Savannah Morning News

Sept. 24, 2017

Dear Mr. Richard Anderson,

I hear you are the new chief at Amtrak – welcome aboard! –  that you are moving over from Delta Airlines, where everyone said you did such a good job. Before that it was United Healthcare. Wow. impressive. I heard most of that from Victoria, the car attendant on the Capitol Limited out of Chicago.

She’s excited about you coming on board. Me too. There’s so many great things about the train. Like Victoria. Flight attendants don’t hold a candle to train attendants. Airline people never have anything nice to say. They’re plastic. And they’re not particularly helpful. Or sure. They tell us we can unbuckle our seat belts and walk around if we wish. But walk where? I want to ask. They act as if we’re doing them a favor when we squeeze into our seats. Trains are human. Train people are human beings, not robots.

I know you’re pretty busy with numbers and tracks and switches and all the things it takes to run a big company. But I was thinking maybe every once in a while you should hop a train, lean back in one of those reclining seats in coach, feel the gentle starts and stops and ride incognito. Then you could remember why people take trains instead of planes. It’s not because they’re afraid of flying. They just prefer the de-stress level.

A couple weeks ago I rode the Texas Eagle from Dallas to Chicago. It arrived late, which kind of complicated my trip since I had two legs in front of me. It messed up other people too. But oddly enough no one in that beautiful downtown Beaux Arts Dallas station with those 48-foot ceilings and original chandeliers (where 80 trains used to go in and out of) seemed too put out about it.  The New York deli across the street, Cindi’s, might have had something to do with that. I recommend the bagel and lox plate. The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, where Lee Harvey Oswald shot President Kennedy, was a pretty great way to spend some time too. The Texas Eagle is one of the longest routes in your company (well, my company too since Amtrak is a quasi-public corporation) so it’s bound to be late with the mish-mash of freight trains. But that’s another subject, right? Freight trains? Everyone knows they get preferential treatment. There’s got to be something you can do about that. If you come from the complicated, counter-intuitive world health care you can help solve this.

It doesn’t take long to get comfortable on the Texas Eagle. Even before I made it to the dining car for my 7:30 reserved dinner seating I passed through the Sightseer Lounge (using the exaggerated penguin step recommended by Victoria). That’s where I saw Danny and his son, Tim. They were sitting next to one another shoulder to shoulder in at table watching a ballgame on a laptop, a light blanket thrown over their shoulders. (Temperature control on the train might be something you look into, Mr. Anderson. It’s either really, really cold or really, really hot). Amtrak pins festooned their hats. They were tuned into an Oakland A’s – Red Sox game while traveling from Tucson to Philadelphia.

“Got a score on the Cubs?” I asked.

Danny said he’d check and get back to me.

The dad is in real estate. He likes to unwind on the train. The son, 12, is a train freak. “I hope he never outgrows it,” said Danny. Then I noticed the earplugs they both wore and the scanner sitting on the table. I asked about it. They like to listen to the chatter between conductor and car attendants. Sometimes there’s drama. In real time.

“Once they were throwing a guy off the train,” Tim said. “I think he had a knife. We were riding through Oregon going through Donner Pass and we watched the cops chase him in the snowy road.”

Note to self: get one of the hand-held radio scanners.

The next day I saw Tim sitting next to the window with another kind of device – a video camera attached to the glass. He downloads what he shoots on a YouTube site.

Not everyone sitting in the Sightseer Lounge is that productive. Some people sit by themselves and look at the scenery – fields of sunflowers, piles of tires, backyards with trampolines and above ground pools, cemeteries, silos, sand piles, solar farms, random couches in the woods. Nothing exciting. Small town America: Ned’s Barber Shop, American Legion Post 13, Senka’s Carpet, LV’s Pub, KMK Insurance Co., Growden Heating, faded Coca-Cola signs on red brick buildings.

That night at dinner I sat with an IT man who works in a fine arts museum in Buffalo. He’s from Bangladesh but his family moved to Toronto.

“If you visit the museum call me, I’ll give you a tour,” he said.

“Thanks but I’ll never remember your name,” I answered.

“Just ask for the brown man,” he said. “They’ll know it’s me.”

Riding the train is a time warp. I felt very far away from Hurricane Irma and all the disruptions – until I got a message from Amtrak announcing the cancellation of the Silver Star, that I should call the “reaccommodation desk.” The tracks carrying No. 91 may have been compromised by Hurricane Irma.

Danny, the real estate guy from Tucson, couldn’t believe it when I told him I decided to fly back to Savannah. “You did what?” he said. I felt like a traitor.

After taking two long metro rides and one shuttle bus from Washington, D.C.’s Union Station to Dulles International Airport, waiting in a security line the length of the California coast and transferring planes in Charlotte, I landed in Savannah four hours before the Silver Star would have arrived.

That’s another story. Someone before you had the bright idea to cancel the dining car on the Silver Star. Pity. See what you can do about that, Mr. Anderson. OK?