Musings From Miss Sam

The Look of Incredulity! You cannot imagine the look of incredulity on Mr. O.J. McGriff’s face when I declared that Privet is a wonderful plant which benefits all sorts of animals and the landscape if properly managed. I had just opened Bits and Bobs in January of 1993 and I had been tending the privet when O.J. and Martha came to visit the shop. With pruners in hand, I extolled the virtues of Chinese privet as a hedge, small tree and source of bird feed and switches for naughty children. Goodness, I had even seen darling bird houses built from the wood. During the spring, honeybees and people swoon over the heavenly fragrance of privet flowers. If you happen to know a beekeeper, he will welcome a bundle of rooted plants to placate his hungry bees. I have heard that an excellent honey is produced from the flowers of the privet. My 1993 attitude towards the cultivation of privet was colored by my experience with it as a little girl growing up in Bessemer, AL. My Mother had a beautiful hedge in front of the front porch. As far as I knew, she was able to keep it trimmed into a nice boxy structure which bordered the porch quite easily. There were never any problems with the privet hedge mentioned in my presence. Do you know that we should thank the Augusta National Golf Course for the privet bushes? When the course was built, the need for a wind screen arose. Experts decided that Chinese privet would be perfect and ordered ten bushes. The bushes were a perfect wind screen and perfectly covered the South with offspring. The other fond memory of that front porch was the kudzu trained on strings to form a privacy screen behind the privet hedge. Many a summer afternoon was spent in the front –porch swing enjoying the coolness that the kudzu screen provided. The tender spring leaves provided livestock with food and the deep roots and fast growing vines kept the fields from eroding. When I came back to Alabama as an adult, I could see that kudzu growth had gotten out of bounds. We had plenty of it encroaching on the Bits and Bobs’ building—and all around. My Dad made clearing it out of the old house I use as a shop interesting. He said, “You better watch; snakes love kudzu.” Every time I heard a rustle, I jumped to the ceiling until I had the walls, floors, and ceilings clean of the trailing vines. My British friend and helper took one look at the pliable vines and said, “In England, we take such vines and make wreaths and baskets. Such was the beginning of a great part of our stock for sale during the next few years. What a great way to rid the place of kudzu. In fact, there were times I asked Dick not to cut the grass until I reaped the vines. In other parts of the world, kudzu roots are used to make a thickener similar to arrowroot; the leaves are used for tea; the flowers which resemble wisteria clusters and smell like Grapico cola make jellies. Bamboo is also one of the blessings found on the property. At first, bamboo was a novelty for us; we had never seen so much growing so tall. We put some of the stalks to immediate use. Dick cut a few of the 20-footers and built a scaffold which we covered with fabric. This structure was erected just inside the front door of the shop to keep the plaster from falling on customers’ heads as they entered. Twenty years later, the bamboo scaffold is still standing. So is the bamboo patch. This year, the copious rainfall has enabled the bamboo to spread into new territory rapidly—faster than we can cut. I have encouraged anyone needing poles for any purpose to come and cut. So far, bamboo growth is outpacing the need for bean poles, fishing poles, plants, and all other possible uses including culinary. When the bamboo first sprouts from the soil, the heart can be cut out, steamed and eaten. I read this spring that sweet potato vines were toxic to bamboo plants. I have planted sweet potatoes that were blessed with eyes a-plenty; I have planted sweet potato vines purchased from LeCroy’s Greenhouse. I am waiting for the bamboo glade to diminish! If one could keep just a nice border of bamboo, I would relish having the supply. I have plans for wall-covering, sculptures, furniture, picture frames, etc. I read recently that bicycles were being built of bamboo in south Alabama. I have saved the address; I want to offer them a great crop free. On the days when I am out pulling up out-of-place plants (weeds to some), I see that almost any plant can be classed as invasive. Oaks sprout here as if they were willows. Winged elms wing their way into every grouping of shrubs. Virginia Creeper is trying to outdo the kudzu. Beauty Berry grows in the most inconvenient places—next to narrow walkways and entrances. Blue Rug Juniper is actually crawling over and covering an arbor without benefit of soil. Red buds and dogwoods are vying to see which will have the most seedlings. With enough time, pots, and soil for the pots, I could furnish several landscape businesses with plant stock. HELP! Editors note: Privet, Kudzu, and some Bamboos are on the list of Nonnative Invasive Plants Of Southern Forests.