Okay. For our inaugural Real Post, let’s talk about what I’m working with here.
I am currently living in Pittsboro, North Carolina, a teeny rural community that was founded in 1787, which kinda weirds me out because I’m originally from the West Coast where stuff is Not That Old. I was listening to the radio earlier today, and they had the mayor on, who mentioned casually that General Sherman avoided Pittsboro on his march south. There are historic markers up everywhere, and a statue to the Confederate war dead in the middle of town.
We don’t do this sort of thing in Oregon. *
Also unlike Oregon, it is humid. The Southeast is incredibly lush, just-about-tropical, warm and wet as a sauna. Summers here are like walking into an armpit. It gets to the high nineties, maybe cracks a hundred occasionally with global warming, everybody swelters, your plants gasp for mercy and wilt in the sun. This is ultimately far more of a limiting factor on gardening than the winters, which are relatively mild and only get below zero every few years. The plants I can’t grow because it gets too cold–French lavender, say–are nothing compared to all the things I can’t grow because it gets too hot. (Most lilacs, which is a damn shame, raspberries, and a lot of blueberries. I have some new blueberries this year that are supposed to be well adapted to the climate, but you have to keep them well-mulched and well-watered and I’m not sure if they’ll ultimately be worth the trouble. And they make a heat-resistant lilac named “Miss Kim” that grew at my old place in Raleigh, but I haven’t found a spot for one here.)
The area I’m in is called the Piedmont. You can see a map over on the right. It’s basically a plateau between the mountains and the coast. Lots of pine trees, low hills…and clay soil.
Lord, the clay soil.
There are many potters in my immediate area, and not just because I live in an arty kinda place. You go down three, four inches and you’re in solid orange clay. You could dig it out, wedge it, and throw pots with it. There is a whole lotta soil amending going on.
Being in the Southeast, we are also in a serious invasive species war-zone. Mild-mannered little plants that barely register in their home environments grow eighty feet tall and eat cars once you move them to the South. Kudzu is the famous one, and yup, there are kudzu forests in a lot of places, huge sculptural swoops and planes of green draped over dead trees. Fortunately, I’m not fighting that here…I have Japanese honeysuckle, my most hated enemy, Japanese stiltgrass, autumn olive, and mimosa (silk trees.) There’s some others, like annual bluegrass, that are also running rampant, but that’s more an aesthetic annoyance–it’s the nasty invasives like the Japanese honeysuckle that cause me grief. (I am in temporary truce with the Himalayan blackberry, because pulling it out would require a backhoe and you gotta pick your battles.)
My particular garden is a clearing in a wooded area at the end of a small housing development made of a dozen houses and their manicured lawns.** Lots of part-shade, only a few areas that are full sun, mostly in the middle of the yard. Because no one can see through the woods, my boyfriend Kevin does not manicure the lawn. He hates the lawn. The lawn is not seeded, treated, fertilized, or sprayed. Our ultimate goal is to enlarge the flowerbeds until the lawn ceases to exist.
Unfortunately, because the developer had to flatten the ground, the clay is even closer to the surface than usual, and in a few places, it’s just a baked clay hillside, which drains into deep mud.
Through the wooded area surrounding our clearing run a pair of drainage ditches, which funnel the runoff for most of the housing development. God only knows what kind of chemical stew runs in there from those aforementioned manicured lawns, but apparently it’s not enough to dissuade the chorus frogs, who go nuts every spring. This makes me very happy. Unfortunately, since it stays wet there for a good chunk of the year, mosquitoes also breed in it, which makes me less happy. Not much grows, except at the edges of the woods–everything under the trees is deep leaf litter without much in the way of plants, except where enough sun gets through. Then it’s mostly stiltgrass and honeysuckle. (Sigh.)
There are lots of good bits, however. Native dogwoods, several kinds of oak trees, lots of tulip poplar and long-leaf pine, old woodpecker stands hosting pileated woodpeckers, and the blow-downs from the last hurricane form piles in the woods and gives homes to a surprising array of wildlife. In the front, in what I call the Deathbed (a yet-untamed area filled with ticks, invasive honeysuckle, stunted saplings, and oddly enough, daffodils planted by the previous owner) we’ve got a small stand of native pokeweed, and in the back, there’s hearts a-bursting and at least one cedar tree not yet killed by honeysuckle.
There’s a whole catalog of wildlife too, but that’ll have to wait for another post.
There’s a lot to work with, if I can just keep the honeysuckle from eating the world.
*Arizona, the other state I grew up in, is full of ancient structures, but they were generally built by the Anasazi or the Hohokam, and are old on a whole ‘nother scale.
**And one neighbor who’s a falconer and has a sullen red-tailed hawk in a mews out back. And also some trucks up on blocks. The South is a very odd place.