Thursday, April 30, 2009

A legacy of leaves

I promised more on the aftermath of my father's recent death. First, here's a recent view of his backyard. Bear in mind he didn't live at home for the last year of his life, which accounts for a little of the overgrown-jungle aesthetic, but even in his heyday Dad was into letting things grow a bit wild:

Those tall, cornlike stalks to the left are ginger, my niece's husband told me. Dad had given him a little a couple of years back, and Lynn loved the smell when it was in bloom, so he was hoping to get more on this trip. (I'm pretty sure, but not positive, that it's this edible kind and not some poisonous ornamental variety. Fingers crossed!) That request, and my own desire to get some more clippings of his mammoth "shrimp plant" (Justicia brandegeana, which used to adorn the entrance to the house where I grew up, and which grows abundantly throughout Louisiana), gave me the idea to bring back to Buffalo a few examples of my father's handiwork as a living reminder of his lifelong devotion to growing things. As I noted before, most of what Dad grew is not really that hard to find in my current neck of the woods; they're just houseplants up here.

Let's continue the tour for a moment. Here's one of my favorite parts of his front yard:

Those ferns popped up everywhere, including this unusual (to me) instance where they almost appear to be growing out of the house itself, midway up one wall:

You can find them anywhere, but they also seemed easy to transport, so I snagged a couple of smallish ferns, along with the ginger, a couple of colocasia/elephant ears (they literally grow like weeds in his yard), a bit of kalanchoe, sanseveria, and his beloved aloe vera. I figured it was mainly a conceptual gesture and I had nothing to lose if the transplants didn't survive. (Somewhere during my labors my sister walked through the yard and pointed out large amounts of poison sumac throughout the property, and then I began to worry I was bringing that with me, too.) Several of my family members expressed skepticism that you could mail plant material across the country in the age of bioterrorism, but UPS said that was not an issue at all. (Besides, nurseries do it all the time, right?) My first thought was to pack everything in plastic pots with a bit of the surrounding soil, but then I found several online resources that all suggested that bare-root is the way to go, both economically and for the health of the plants. (I'd intended to include a link here to a helpful how-to video, but I seem not to have kept the URL. But hey, you can find it yourself if you're that interested. You wrap the roots or bulbs with a moist papertowel, then wrap that inside some plastic wrap or a baggie, taking care not to cover the stalks or leaves. Long story short, it seems to work, which is to say, my specimens did not look dead when they arrived.)

UPS packed everything up for me for not much money; alas, overnighting the smallish box would have cost a whopping $200 or more, which would completely have undermined my "I have nothing to lose" mantra, so I settled for the slowest possible shipping rate: the box sat unsent in their office over the weekend, then left Louisiana on Monday and arrived in New York state on Thursday for a still-hefty 40 bucks. In retrospect, I wish I had told the UPS crew to be sure and leave the box open as long as possible, and to double check the moistness of the paper towels, but that all worked just fine. Everything has subsequently been potted, and I've got my fingers crossed that at least a few will grow again. The kalanchoe's doing best as of now, but I'm also starting to see sprouts on the elephant ears. We'll see what else happens in the fullness of time.

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