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Swapping plants -- and stories
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A few years ago, when I had a regular job and more time (and need) to schedule leisure activity, I played golf with a woman who used to say, “Have fun with your game. You want to move your ball out of that divot? Move it. You want to forget about finishing that putt? Then pick up your ball. It’s your game. Have fun with it.”

I heard the same thing last week from an art teacher who was talking about fudging a scene -- you know, taking something from here and putting it there.

“Hey, it’s your picture. You’re the artist. You have artistic license. If you want to present something exact, take a photograph.”

I feel the same way about gardening. Yes, you can go to the garden centers in the Big Box stores (if you can stand the smell of the chemicals, the long lines, the narrow aisles and the out-of-control carts) and and fill your car with gorgeous plants with outrageous color and humungous leaves from companies that have web sites like “provenwinners” or “can’tmiss.”

Or you can find a spot in your yard (the sunnier the better), take a shovel, turn the earth, pull out the roots (maybe find some marbles or broken pieces of porcelain), add some egg shells and coffee grounds, toss in a few seeds, water every day and look for some activity. It’s more fun than television.

I did that a week ago. The spot I chose still had some purple-stemmed kale that could have gone a few more weeks -- they’re still good eating greens -- but I had some elsewhere. Plus, I was anxious to get on with the show.

So I pulled them, scattered in half a packed of fennel and half of borage and waited for germination. Sure enough. The stars were lined up right. We got rain, the right temperature. And this morning I saw baby fennel, baby borage.

There are more seeds I’m just dying to plant, but right now there’s no room at the inn. I couldn’t possibly pull the collards or the broccoli.

Not because I’m still eating broccoli or collards. But because they have bolted straight up with the most gorgeous yellow flowers I’ve seen anywhere. Which means the plants, the tallest and most majestic in the garden, have finished their cycle - they did their jobs - and now are trying to make seeds, to ensure their future, their legacy.

For the longest time, greedy for more broccoli, I pinched off the bolting stems, trying to delay the process. But I gave up. They’re tired. They’re ready for some R&R.

Just for the record, I didn’t plant either of them by seed. I bought six-packs from some local garden stores, puny looking plants with two or three puny looking leaves.

I’m weak, like everyone else. I lust. I look for shortcuts. And if there’s something great -- like the clubfoot fern I bought at the downtown Polk’s -- I’ll hand over the money.

But truthfully, much of the stuff in my gardens -- the really hardy and proven plants -- have come from the plant swaps we started about eight years ago. These are happy plants. They know and apparently like our weather. They are so happy they tend to take over, and who wants that? Which is why we provide the time and space to exchange, to swap, to beg other people to take our extras.

This Saturday, April 16, we’ll be doing just that, from 8 to 11 a.m. We will gather to swap stories, trade plants, offer testimonials and other fish tales about our gardens.

It’s doubtful anyone will be bringing any greenbriar or Virginia creeper, though that’s just what I spent a few days doing last month, digging up (and replanting) that prickly, thorny, thoroughly nasty greenbriar and the innocent looking Virginia creeper that despite the name can crawl with the best of them.

I was helping out Julia Barton, a landscape sculptor from Great Britain who is about to launch a most unusual project at the old prison on Habersham Street. She calls it “Resurrection.” It’s based on the resurrection fern and about 15 other plants that liked the derelict 19th-century prison so much they stayed on and colonized, way past the time any prisoners or guards inhabited the place.

For the installation, Barton, who taught a class at SCAD last semester called, “Botanical Formations: Collaboration with Nature,” will use thin steel cables, wire mesh and a series of scaffolding to display the plants.

For the past six months she and a crew of volunteers have been gathering botanical beauties such as golden rod, morning glory, shepherd’s needle, wild poinsettia, wood sorrel, asparagus fern, holly fern and tradescandia - all the things that most of us like to extract from our gardens, not add.

Clearly, Barton, sculptor, artist, collaborator, has learned to have fun with her game. I’m glad she’s letting the rest of us play along.

Reminders: Spring plant swap. Saturday, April 16, 8 to 11 a.m. Jane’s garden on Boundary Street, north of Gwinnett Street, south of Louisville Road, west of MLK, Jr., Blvd. Call 234-8926.

“Resurrection,” Julia Barton’s project at the old jail on Habersham Street. April 29.

E-mail Jane at