Garden Madness

Really, it was only a matter of time.

I was looking for something to read in the tub the other day, and reached out at random and grabbed "Noah’s Garden," by Sara Stein, which is a kind of suburban gardening manifesto. The premise is that we cannot hope to recreate the lost ecology of a place–it’s too complicated, too dependant on conditions that often no longer exist, and can’t be done alone–but we CAN start to create a new suburban ecology that supports wildlife (and not just the weedy species, like deer and starlings.) It’s a fabulous read, I cannot recommend it highly enough, the garden plans work on as small as a sixteenth of an acre, and I have been wanting to jump into something like that with both feet, but have been limited by available conditions.

So, anyway, I got maybe three chapters in, and sometime yesterday a green haze passed over my vision and I screamed "I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!" and went to the garden shop to fetch me a shrubbery.

Actually, I went to two garden shops.

The first one–Cary Garden Supply Co–had almost no natives. The nursery owner looked down my list of fruiting shrubs and indicated that he might have sparkleberry holly, and that was it. (They were lovely, I must say, but they also wouldn’t have fit in my car.) "I don’t carry many natives," he said, shrugging. "They’re all hybrids." 

The second–Fairview Garden Center–was marginally better–they had Mt. Airy witch hazel, which I hadn’t ever seen before but was willing to give a shot to, given the price, and winterberry holly, in a transportable size. That was it, though. No coralberry, no elderberry, no inkberry, no bayberry. Plenty of Viburnum, all of them Japanese and Chinese hybrids. No spicebush or cranberrybush, no currants*, no serviceberry. A spectacular purple beautyberry…from Japan.

Being an ethical gardener requires some legwork.

Undaunted–and with a couple of Joe Pye weed and anise hyssop, just, y’know, since they were THERE–I went and met Kevin for dinner, who viewed my sudden onslaught of garden fever with the amused resignation of a man who suspects he will be digging holes come the weekend. He’s very supportive of my gardening insanity, although I will only get rid of the honeysuckle fence over his dead body. However, to his eternal and undying credit, he immediately offered to chainsaw out the boxwood foundation planting in front of the house and replace it with anything more useful and less obnoxious. (I’m not sure if this is ecology, or if he just despises those boxwoods, mind you.) I’d love to try an elderberry or American cranberrybush hedge, but that’s a major undertaking that’ll have to wait until spring.

Today I located a couple of places online that sell the natives I’m after, generally very cheap, bare-root stuff. I’ve never planted bare-root before, but the on-line guides are pretty straightforward, and if we lose a few, at four and five bucks apiece, I’m not gonna cry too hard. I got coralberry (endangered in part of its range) spicebush (beloved of butterflies, host to the spicebush swallowtail, which I have seen in the yard here) and chokeberry, a hardy native who likes crappy soil. (We have lots of crappy soil. I’m sure it will be very happy.) Deer are supposed to leave all three species alone, which is a definite selling point in this area.

My madness was actually pretty well timed. This is the best time of year to plant shrubs in the south–we don’t get killing frosts through most of the range, so it’s the heat that kills everything, and by planting in fall, everything gets well established before summer. We’ll see how these guys all do in the yard…as easily as I could go insane online with the native shrubs (It’s disturbing how exciting names like "blackhaw viburnum" can be…) I’m trying to stay within SOME limits.

Reports, obviously, will follow.

*I later found that currants are banned for sale in NC, since they act as a host for white pine rust or something like that.

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