In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
June, 2012
Regional Report

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The newest cleomes are noted for their drought tolerance, flowers that are long lasting and self cleaning, and for a less pungent aroma than the classic types.

Fathers, Daughters, and Gardens

Daddy grew magnificent roses for Mama and his baby namesake, my older sister. There are pictures, but I still cannot imagine my lawn mowing, dewberry hunting, tomato growing father surrounded by flowers with fancy names. Just shows you that a good gardener can grow anything.

Learn by Watching
There are lessons we learn from our parents whether they intend to be teaching them or not. We learn by watching. Daddy showed me his heart when he refused Mama's order to cut down the mimosa tree. We loved to climb it, oblivious that it kept her car covered in messy flowers, seed pods, and leaves, depending on the season. Instead he washed the car weekly and let us play.

When a blight began destroying other mimosas in the area and ours began to weaken, he let us pick all the powder puff flowers we wanted and cut the tree back hard. Sometimes radical pruning can save a tree, but this was an onerous task that did not pay off. The pulpy wood flew everywhere and jammed up his saws but still he cut. A few weeks later, the tree began to sprout but every bit of new growth turned black and died, and soon the trunks got soft. He hooked the remaining trunk to his truck with a chain, yanked it out of the ground, and had daylilies for Mama in a new bed by the next afternoon. I learned fast that kids need to play, that it is better to try and save a beloved tree than not to try, but also that a wise gardener or spouse knows when to cut his losses and move on.

My father also showed me how to stand my ground as when I advised him that the named dwarf azaleas he was planting were in fact small in leaf and flower size only, not height. For years he complained of having to prune them so much each spring to keep them low and bemoaned the loss of flowers to the process. I never mentioned our conversation, but after a decade, as he was moving the lovely Coral Bells to another place in the yard, he casually admitted that he should have listened to me Never one to gloat, I mulched them for him.

Keep On Gardening
Landscaping after a stroke can be a form of horticultural therapy, and Daddy wrote the book. This was before ergonomic tool handles and ratcheting pruners, but he adapted everything to suit his new gardening style. He gardened from a woven mesh lawn chair because it folded up and was light enough for him to carry or lift into the garden dump cart he favored. The beauty of these big wheel carts is their design that tips at the lift of a finger with a front panel that slides up to allow further ease of use.

Since sports started my knee problems and gardening complicated them, I often garden from a chair, too, and have never found a better cart design than his. He taught me to cut tool handles to create the perfect length for chair gardening and created padded wraps to protect his skin and joints. I do the same thing, but instead of rags, I cut pieces of gray flexible foam pipe covers to fit my tools that do not have modern, body-friendly designs.

I will never love lawn mowing the way he did and I've never shared his passion for a clipped hedge. But I did discover how important it is to find a niche in gardening and enjoy the heck out of it every day.

Respect the Men
Modern times have not always been kind to fathers, as witnessed by stupid commercials featuring clueless dads. Regardless of the humor at their expense, fathers remain important and the same is true in much of the plant world. Some trees bear both male and female flowers, but others are segregated into male and female trees. Great male plants are noted for their beauty and form but especially for their lack of fruiting bodies. They are the pollen providers, but it is female trees that drop blooms, berries, and ruined fruit onto front yards, driveways, and vehicles. Sometimes female trees should be avoided because the fallen debris smells vile, like ginkgo.

Popular male front yard trees include junipers, yew, ash, willow, maples, and pistachio, and most landscapers would be lost without them. They are stalwart and well-groomed, reliably hardy and tolerant of human foibles. There is one caveat to these choices and that is the sneeze factor. If you or your family has severe pollen allergies or other chronic respiratory problems, female trees may be a better choice.

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