Lower South

BY FELDER RUSHING / Jackson, Mississippi, USDA Zone 8


Many old southern plants are passed from gardener to gardener as they share divisions and start new gardens. It’s best to acquire new plants from gardeners you know, but there are other ways, too. Often master gardeners and local plant groups have perennial swaps and sales of unusual plants. Several southern states continue to publish market bulletins—free or inexpensive listings in which farmers can sell or buy land, equipment live-stock, and the like—which usually include sections for homegrown heirloom flowers, bulbs, seeds, and shrubs. For information, call your state’s agriculture marketing agency, or your county extension service office.

There is a risk, when getting plants from strange gardens, of bringing in hitchhiking weeds, diseases, and other pests; plant new acquistions in an observation bed for at least a year before introducing them into your garden.

A Visit Home, 1914

Pearl Townsend Boyer was Felder Rushing’s great-grandmother—the horticulturist who taught him about the value of both wild-flowers and daffodil cultivars. These are her unaltered notes, taken from a handwritten account she made in July 1914 (at about age 27) during a visit to her childhood home, built by her grandparents in Arkansas.

The place where I was a child was a “double-log” house with a porch all the way across the front and a half-story above. My mother had gone to the woods and transplanted young cedars into a hedge on each side of the front walk and then at right angles to the fence on either hand, thus forming half-squares of cedars. This hedge, a beautiful bit of green the year round, was kept clipped in beautiful shape by my mother. She did the work herself with sheep shears and woe betide bare feet that came tramping down the cool sandy walk when these clippings were scattered about! This hedge behind the whitewashed scalloped picket fence was really beautiful and showed the refinement of a hard-worked mother trying to beautify a humble place with what she could obtain locally.

There were plants and shrubs in variety, but these stood out in memory as individuals connected in some way with incidents. There was the moss rose on the left side and a white ‘May’ (our latest blooming daffodil) remembered because I got a boutonniere for Uncle Boyd when he was getting ready to go “sparking” Miss Mallie (later Aunt Mallie). There was the wild tradescantia that grew on each side of the front gate, remembered because my mother, all dressed up to go to church one day, followed the custom of ladies of that day and gathered a large bouquet of flowers which she carried in her hand, and among the red roses were the delicate blue tradescantia with their long bright green streams of leaves. Despite my uncomfortable Sunday starchiness I marveled at the beauty of tradescantia.

And there was the lilac and althea bushes (miscalled “rosy sharon”) on the opposite end of the log house from the family room, used as a spare bedroom and, on rare times such as typhoid fever, for a sick room. At the other end of house and close to the orchard gate were birds-eye and ticklish bushes, later heard to be properly called Symplocarpus and Philadelphus, respectively named, which carried nothing like the memory of childhood days. “Ticklish” bush was so named because we children would tickle each other’s noses with the blooms for the fun of seeing the smear of yellow pollen left on each other’s noses.

There was the box of portulaca which topped the stump on the right side of the front gate which lured me out into the blazing hot sun to see its brilliant blossoms which only the hot kisses of the sun could awake into gaudy beauty. And last, some fans of “ground ivy” made into hanging baskets. I loved to catch the yard-long streams in my hand and press them to my nose for its peculiar pungent fragrance.

Of all this yard, there remains only two leggy cedar trees, the sole survivors of the long out-grown hedge. The two red oaks in front of the house had been cut and their stumps were sad reminders of the temporariness of all fine earthly things. H


Spiderwort (Tradescantia spp.)

Tradescantia species are native woodland and prairie perennials with grasslike foliage topped with clusters of three-petaled flowers. Considered weedy by some gardeners, choice cultivars help me appreciate its tenacity. Old standards include ‘Snowcap’, ‘Purple Dome’ and ‘Red Cloud’. My favorite is the fairly new ‘Sweet Kate’ (pictured), with brilliant yellow foliage and deep blue flowers. Sources, page 122.

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