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Birney Imes: Garden walk


Birney Imes



Walk out into the backyard at 4 a.m. and the first thing you notice is the birds. A million of them there must be, all singing their particular songs. The result is a symphonic composition more complex and beautiful than anything a human could conceive. An insistent rooster from afar chimes in. His cock-a-doodle-dos sound as though they're coming from somewhere near a place I used to take the kids a few blocks from Mitchell School, Pip's Store. 


Pip's -- so named for its owner -- was a little jot-'em down store that sold candy, soft drinks and a handful of essentials. Hardly more than a room, the place was cluttered with merchandise, leaflets advertising gospel singings and yellowed campaign posters. We'd stop there on our outings. 


There was another one of these little stores on Northside in Frog Bottom not far from Sanderson Plumbing. All the streets there are named for fruits: Apple, Peach, Plum. The store was on Strawberry Street. I took daughter Tanner and her friend Lindsey Neyman there one afternoon and bought them a peach soda. Made a picture of them by the street sign, drinking a peach soda on Strawberry Street. 


Lindsey is a mother now. Tanner will be 30 next week. The store is a memory.  


Miss Prissy, one of our cats, sits high on an arbor roosting like a chicken. Some nights armadillos show up to dig for grubs, sending the dogs into orbit. Tonight, it's been quiet, that is if you don't count the birds. 


On these nocturnal garden tours I take a small flashlight to see if any new plants have poked their heads up out of the earth. 


The vinca given to me by a Mennonite woman who lives in Noxubee County is flourishing. Recently I called her and asked if she had more; we have a spit of ground uptown we're trying to beautify. She sent me an email saying she had plenty and I was welcome to it. Said the plants I gave her she calls "Birney plants." 


I understand. People have given me all sorts of plants. Invariably when I see the plant, I think of its origin. A little lady who must be dead now but lived behind the health department on Military had a yard teeming with hens and chicks. It's a succulent easily propagated and she had many dozens of them growing out of everything from coffee cans to plastic chickens. She gave me one once and scolded me when I thanked her. She said it was bad luck (for the plant) to give thanks. 


Melchie Koonce and I got into a conversation about gardening at the Rosenzweig one evening. Next thing you know I'm in his living room and he's showing me his gardening bible, "365 Days of Gardening." Part of his yard is devoted to vegetables, the rest to roses, camellias and fruit trees. Melchie gave me a red-flowered ground cover, a dianthus called Sweet William. It's doing well. There's not a time I look at it and don't think of him. 


Same for the antique pink rose Pat Wheeler gave me during a benefit garden tour of her splendid flower garden down the road from the old Straight Eight Junior. Pat is one of Columbus' fabled master gardeners and she propagates roses and sells them at fund raisers. Pink is not a color I would have chosen, but a 3-year-old granddaughter thinks it swell and that's good enough. 


We've got cannas everywhere that have come from all over the place. They are those tall paddled-leafed plants with large flowers you see in the yards of shotgun shacks and in the formal gardens of antebellum homes. Cannas are easy to grow and they spread like crazy. After a year or two, you have to divide them. People are always giving them away or leaving them at the curb to be hauled away. 


On a back-road trip two summers ago a clutch of yellow and orange cannas growing next to a small beauty shop in Durant necessitated a U-turn. 


"My daddy planted those," said the boy who answered the door in a nearby house. 


I asked if his daddy would sell me a couple of the plants -- they were in need of division. He went to ask. "How much would you pay?" I told him. He walked around the house and found a shovel with a rotten handle, which he handed to me. 


The shovel broke as I was digging the plants. 


"You don't owe anything for those flowers," the wife of the gardener told me when I returned with the broken shovel. 


Before leaving town, we drove down to the local Fred's and bought two shovels, one to take back to the beauty shop and the other for the next time. 


Birney Imes is the publisher of The Dispatch. Email him at [email protected]


Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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