Thursday, July 12, 2007

Plant Rescue

I have never been so glad to see rain as I was Tuesday afternoon. I finally got some help in trying to keep alive the native plants my husband and I had dug up and transplanted this weekend, one day ahead of the bulldozers that are leveling most of a 70-acre woods to create soccer fields and a swimming pool at Southern Community Park. My hope that these plants would readily adapt to their new home was wilting as fast as the 98-degree afternoon sun scorched the leaves of two little dogwoods. (I know transplanting dogwoods in July was an act of either foolhardiness or optimism, but they would have died anyway, so there was nothing to lose.)

I had not expected to spend much of a brutally hot July weekend digging and transplanting plants. By mid-June, I was burned out after spring planting, as I am each year. I was tired of imagining combinations of plants in my garden and researching what might do well in part shade and clay soil while also being unpalatable to deer. I was tired of digging and amending the soil and mulching. I was even tired of watering and had been doing it somewhat grudgingly during the recent days of drought. I vowed I was done with planting until fall. Then I read on Saturday over breakfast about the plant rescue and decided I needed some Christmas ferns.

I adore Christmas ferns. They stay green year-round and thrive in the woods in Piedmont North Carolina. Deer don’t eat them, they don’t need special watering, and they seem to like our clayey soil. But despite their commonness in the wild, they are somewhat difficult to find in nurseries and are priced high, usually at more than $8 per plant.

On Saturday, when my husband and I arrived at the site, I was surprised not to find hordes of other plant enthusiasts competing for free plants. I half-imagined the woods would attract crowds of early risers, as would a closeout sale or garage sale. But we had the area to ourselves.

Despite the heat and humidity, we had fun hunting for plants. We dug dogwoods, what I think are arrowwood viburnums, and the Christmas ferns I craved. They lost many roots in being dug up, so we transplanted them immediately when we got home (ignoring the hot mid-afternoon sun), watered them, and hoped for the best. We enjoyed the experience so much that we went back on Sunday. This time we went to a different part of the site and ran into several others rescuing plants--as well as several handwritten signs saying “Tree Rape in Progress.” I don’t have anything against community parks, but I still feel sad for the loss of one more patch of Carolina woods.

Tuesday’s rain temporarily revived one dogwood, but today its leaves are just as crispy as those of the other two. I remain hopeful about the 18 Christmas ferns, although many of their fronds were flattened by the wind while they rode in the back of the pickup. One arrowwood viburnum looks likely to survive, and the American hollies are looking okay. The vaccinium immediately died, but surprisingly a clump of running cedar (supposedly difficult to transplant) has not yet wilted.

My garden burnout has evaporated, and I have resumed doing rounds in the garden several times a day to check on my plants’ health. My new plants don’t yet look enthusiastic to be in my garden, but once again I am.