Upper South 5

BY TONY AVENT / Raleigh. North Carolina, USDA Zone 7

The Curse of Green Meatballs

When America was founded, the early residents went out of their way to divest themselves of anything English. While I can’t argue with most of the results, I do wish we had maintained the English tradition of great home gardens. Instead, from neighborhood to neighborhood, from state to state, and from sea to shining sea, our country is blighted by the green meatball syndrome.

I think this is the influence of the Italians. The older, more famous gardens in Italy are not known for being diverse plant collections blending colors, forms, and textures. Instead, they are prized for large expanses of lawn and lots of shrubs pruned into little green meatballs. Sound familiar? With our utilitarian mind set, we are now taught to landscape with a pair of hedge shears and a sprayer.

Americans have heartily adopted this “control over nature” philosophy and have become fixated on these verdant spheres, wanting to proudly show them to their community. Green meatballs along home foundations have become a sign of wealth and influence. If you have more than eight meatballs, then you must know the builder. If you have green meatballs down the side as well as the front, that’s a sure sign of prominence. Not only can you afford more green meatballs than your neighbor, but you can afford to have someone else shear them.

All meatballs are not created equal, however. In the Southeast, we have Ilex crenata and I. cornuta (Japanese and Chinese holly). Every homeowner thinks he has boxwoods, so these have gained the nickname “poor-man’s box.” In the Middle Atlantic states, wealthy people actually have real boxwood (Buxus sempervirens). In the Northeast and Midwest, gardeners have Taxus baccata and Thuja occidentalis (yew and arborvitae) as meatballs of choice. On the West Coast, gardeners can have all kinds of meatballs, thanks to their wonderful climate, although I’m most fond of the rhododendron meatballs. In the Southwest, many plants naturally look like meatballs. You don’t even need a set of pruners to make an echinocereus (barrel cactus) into a meatball.

So, how do we get people over their love affair with green meatballs? We could try to explain that the comparable idea of having eight identical green vinyl chairs against the wall in your home would not be a “good thing.” But what about people with naturally bad taste? I think legislation is the answer. First, we ban hedge shears. If New York can ban the use of cell phones when driving, we can certainly ban the use of hedge shears while gardening.

Next we must change the regulations for mortgage lenders. Did you know that you can’t close on a loan for a new house without the requisite number of green meatballs in front of your new home? There’s a case of horticultural discrimination if I ever saw one. Surely there’s something in the Constitution that we can interpret to make this illegal. Where is the outrage? Where are the plants’ rights groups when you need them? If we’re ever going to see busloads of gardeners from England coming to America to see gardens, something has to change. Join me in my campaign to put meatballs back where they belong: in spaghetti! H


Amsonia ciliata var. filifolia (prostrate form)

This amazing native plant was discovered by Bob McCartney of Woodlanders Nursery in South Carolina. Amsonia ciliata var. filifolia (syn. A. ciliata var. tenuifolia) has a wide range from Missouri south to Texas and east to North Carolina. In a small region of the South Carolina sandhills, Bob discovered an entire population of prostrate plants. The delicate, lacy green foliage emerges from the crown in March, topped with clusters of small, sky-blue flowers in early April. As the season progresses, so do the flat branches, which make a two-foot-wide carpet. In fall, the leaves change to yellow before the plant disappears back into the crown for the winter. Designers find the fine-textured foliage a delight to weave through bold-textured plants. Amsonia ciliata var. filifolia prefers dry soil and full sun, but is very tolerant of moisture. USDA Zones 5–8. Sources, page 122.

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