Possumhaw: Gardening is not for pansies

September 16, 2013 9:51:22 AM

Shannon Bardwell - [email protected]


Just the other day Tjajuan Boswell was working on the flowered medians in downtown Columbus. Heat radiated at 107 degrees, and she was working like a Trojan. With the back of her forearm she wiped sweat from her brow. I complimented her on how wonderful the flowers looked and thanked her for her efforts to beautify the city. It's no easy job.  


Sometimes while sitting at a red light I daydream about the flowers and wonder how they keep all those concrete pots spilling over with roses, purple hearts and ornamental sweet potatoes. Then I imagine deer venturing downtown for a little nightlife. Deer can clean you out in a single night. I know. Pansies are munched, petunias are gone, sweet potato vines are yanked, but the nice thing about sweet potato vines is that they'll come back if the deer leave so much as a root or a tiny bit of vine. 


What the deer don't eat they strew across the yard like used-up Kleenexes. Putting the vine in water will plump out the leaves in minutes. After a few days roots will sprout and you can plant them all over again.  


I rooted my sweet potato remnants, planted them in pots and waited for the lime green leaves to reappear. This time the pots were placed on top of the barbecue grill on top of a wooden deck in the backyard. Deer proofing. 


The barbecue grill is up two steps to the deck and around the corner. A couple of days later the plants were gone -- nothing but a pot of dirt and one wilted vine draped across the deck railing. They were not yanked out but torn off. A few feet away lay more wilted sprigs. 


A deer finding its way up the deck steps and around the corner would be like a horse finding its way onto the porch. Sam thinks maybe it was a squirrel.  


And that's not all: ants.  


While turning the soil, thousands of ants fell from my spade and landed between my toes. "Yeowwww." The ants stung my toes and fingers; there were tens of thousands. 


I fired out an email to Extension Service Horticulturist Dr. Jeff Wilson, "What can I do about ants in my flower pots? Deer yanked my plants out and I want to reuse the soil." 


Dr. Jeff suggested Permethrin, which is guaranteed safe. He said dump the soil out, spray, and plant the next day. The clay pots were heavy, the plants were in pieces, the dirt was filled with ants, the air was dry, the heat scorched and I was starting all over.  


Gardening is an "extreme sport." The conditions are brutal and physically demanding as well as discouraging and unpredictable. But then ... a plant survives, a flower unfolds in the most astonishing color; you wipe your brow and you know you did it, you beat the odds.

Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.