Houston Tribune March 2003
Bridgette Mongeon © 2003
I 'm addicted! I'll be the first to admit it. There is no denial. I am addicted to gardening. I just can't do without it. I love the smell of the dirt, the idea of encouraging things to grow, and changing my surroundings. Basically I have a horrible horticulture habit.
I remember once while on a two-week vacation in another state, I was taking a walk and noticed a man digging in his flowerbeds. I could not resist, and asked him if I could help. I just had to interact with the dirt, without it I was going through withdrawal. I have even found myself pulling weeds at the post office while mailing the monthly bills. When March rolls around I'm just itching to get out and dig. Throughout the winter months I try to appease my addiction. December and January kept me busy with the holidays, and cleaning up from fall, but come February I was spending spare moments in the nursery, even during the rain, looking at plants, writing down names and dreaming. It is the feeling of being around all of the flowers and foliage that puts me in good spirits, gives me my fix.
I've been true to my plants and my addiction through the cold spells. I have covered and uncovered, and tried desperately not to be betrayed by the cunning weather. I am bound and determined to give those tender plants an extra boost of growth for the upcoming season. Every piece of cloth in our house is used on plants during the winter. My hubby encourages me to buy frost protective coverings for my winter ritual. I am not sure if he is embarrassed by the look of the calico covered yard, or if he is just concerned for what appears to be the suffocation's of the brugmansia by the bedspread.
I watched as my neighbors intently raked day after day, reaching every corner, pulling every leaf out from under and behind things. I confiscated those very same leaves, ripping open the tightly tied bags and dumping them all over my yard. Covering the tender feet of some plants, protecting them from the freeze, and pouring the leftovers into piles to be run over by the lawn mower, and then added to the compost bin.
A gardening friend swears that the 17th of March is the last freeze date for Houston. I fool myself into thinking that certainly I can do something before that date; it is part of my addiction, and probably an example of some denial. By March my sheers have been out for a month. I cannot help myself, I'm very sick!
According to Texas garden lore you can tell that it won't freeze anymore if the mesquite is budding, others have said the same about pecan trees. I keep looking at my neighbor's pecan trees and once again enter denial, snipping, digging and planting and saying, "It is spring, the weather is warm." I am totally deceiving myself but for all intended purposes I'm gardening and happy.
I have found ways to feed my addiction with free plants. This is definitely a rush. There is nothing more exciting! My suppliers and I meet in parks and under trees, providing each other with our drug of choice, nursing each other's horticulture high.
Garden plant swaps are located throughout the Texas area. Usually held once in the fall and once in the spring, it is a premium deal for plant addicts. The concept is simple bring what you have too much of and politely ask for what you don't have. Pre-trades done on the Internet intensify this whole concept. I'm searching for someone out there that has an extra tropical ornamental banana pup, or bamboo, or tropicals, or citrus, or succulents that they are willing to dig up in trade for something I have.
When it comes to trading plants, I'm really not that picky. The great thing about plants is that they multiply, giving you a bounty of stash to trade for in the future. When visiting a plant swap you will not go home empty handed, even if you are just coming to observe. Gardeners are very friendly and giving people, if you are not careful each gardener will be insisting you have one of their special plants. Gardeners like to get other people hooked on gardening and are more than happy to share their expertise, advice and stash. As an addict myself I know if I give you a little of my stash, you will be coming back for more. At the end of each plant swap there is an orphan plant area, a place where everyone puts their leftovers that they brought and simply do not want to take home again. A quick adoption of orphans and you are sure to have more than a handful.
You can find more information about Texas plant swaps at www.plantmeet.com and www.moment.net/~wingnut/swaps/swaps.htm. I have also thought about starting a plant swap for Heights area residents, at my sculpture studio in the Heights. If you are interested and would like to participate in a Heights area plant swap please feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com, please title the message PLANT SWAP, and check out my own trade list at www.creativesculpture.com/mygarden.html. My plant list will be updated as more things are dug from the yard come spring. I'm also interested in visiting Heights area gardeners to feature their gardens and their gardening secrets in upcoming articles, but be warned, I may bring my clippers.
There are other essential things to bring to the plant swaps, besides your trade plants. A wagon to transport plants to and from your car is helpful. Everyone appreciates getting labeled plants. Cutting up slats of old plastic Venetian blinds and marking them with a grease pencil can make great plant labels. I always bring my own table, a portable camping or cooking table will do. I also bring a long sheet or tablecloth. I put this tablecloth over my table and hide all of my found treasures underneath. It is plant swap etiquette that plants under a table are not for trade and plants on the table are. I like the old adage; out of sight out of mind, and keeping my treasures out of sight help to make sure I get to take them home. Most swaps are potluck so a dish to share is appreciated. Newcomers are always welcome to swaps but I would RSVP for all swaps, as the space is usually limited.
When I am not playing in the dirt in the garden, I am sculpting in clay at my art studio. I always bring extra sculptures, and hand made planters to plant swaps to entice traders out of their most prized possessions or coveted door prize. Other traders might bring garden related items, rocks, flower press, fertilizer, etc. to trade. Gardening related items are always appreciated as door prizes at swaps and when everyone brings a little something for a door prize it makes the experience even more fun.
Trading on the Internet is also a viable resource for plants and seeds. Start collecting your own seeds and you would be surprised what you could trade for. Many people will also provide their seeds for a self addressed stamped envelope. You can find many different trades on the forums of www.gardenweb.com. The forums are also a great place to go when it is raining and you need a garden fix. There are forums on everything from Accessible Gardens to Xeriscaping. My favorites are of course the Exchange Forum, Texas Forum and within it the Texas Exchanges, followed closely by the Pond Forum and Southern Gardening. For a general chat with gardeners Garden Party is a good choice. There are so many forums at www.gardenweb.com I am sure it will meet the needs and answer the questions of any gardener.
Ninety percent of my plants are from the gardens of others. I remember when a friend begged me to take her cannas. She was tired of them and wanted to put something else in. Eight years later, I am sharing a lot of those cannas and trading them for other rare tropical plants on the Internet.
I'm always admiring the gardens of neighbors. As I am out walking, or even driving, if I see a gardener out working, I'll stop. I should probably put a bumper sticker on my van that states, "I break for gardeners". I always request a tour, and so far, everyone has obliged my addiction, often digging up or snapping off a cutting for me to take home. When someone offers you a fern that they dug from their great-grandfather's yard, and they themselves are a senior citizen, you know you have been given a treasure and a family heirloom to cherish.
As the weather warms, I'll start my walking ritual of the garden; at least twice a day weather permitting, I'm walking the front yard and back. I don't think things change much in a couple of hours but the walk enlivens my spirit and fills my soul. The botanical buzz is a part of my addiction.
As spring approaches and the swaps near, I know I'll receive a lasting fix. In the mean time I'll dig up some more cannas, divide some lilies and protect my stash for other addicts. Bridgette Mongeon is a sculptor, writer and educator residing in the Heights area.
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