Post-Katrina Garden Rebuilt

Southern Revival

By Therese Ciesinski


Vital Statistics
Location: Delisle, Mississippi
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone: 8b
First/last frost dates: Late November/March 15
Average rainfall: 60 inches
Amount of light: Sun to part shade, now Soil type: clay (with a pH of 4.4!)
Age of garden: 17 years Size of garden: 5 acres, with 10 more left wild

If Life Gives You Lumber... John Walrod's "waste not, want not" ethic went into overdrive after Katrina. "There's an amazing amount of waste here," says John, referring to how much Gulf Coast debris is being thrown away rather than reused, repurposed, or recycled. Here are some uses he's found for the various parts of downed trees:

1. Stack it: Large piles are scattered all over his property. They look like debris, but they are actually wildlife habitat, providing food and shelter for an entire food chain of bugs, birds, mammals, and reptiles. John makes them by crisscrossing large logs on the bottom to create hollow spaces and then piling smaller, brushier branches on top. The piles eventually decompose, become covered with vines, and blend into the landscape. They make the garden feel more enclosed and create vital hiding and nesting places for wildlife.

2. Save it: To save a fallen Southern Magnolia, John circled the dripline iwth rocks so the soil wouldn't become compacted by feet and lawn equipment. He also protects it with deep mulch and watering.

3. Stake it: John props up leaning trees with stakes made from branches cut from fallen trees. Using branches that fork, he cuts the bottoms at a sharp angle to make them easier to drive into the ground. He uses two or three, interlocking them so they stand upright and make a sturdy cradle for the tree.

4. Plant it: A tree-bark planter holds in moisture for thirsty tomato plants.

5. Trellis it: Muscadine grapes are just beginning to cover the 9-foot-tall structure the family calls the "spider arbor." It replaces one made from copper tubing that collapsed in the storm. The cedar trunks are varnished to preserve their warm amber color.

Plants for Gulf Coast Gardens
Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum). A native that gets to 10 feet tall, this is one of the few shrubs that will bloom in the shade of a live oak. Birds love the fall berries.

Bull nettle, or horsenettle (Solanum carolinense). This thorny weed, with flowers that look like oversize tomato flowers, is native to the southeastern United States. It blooms continuously until frost, and pollinating insects love it.

Catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides). Native to the South, this is a beautiful landscape tree, with large yellow, white, and purple flowers in spring.

Coral bean (Erythrina herbacea). This native attracts hummingbirds, and its root system is a large, water-storing tuber, making it drought-resistant. In warmer climates, it becomes a shrub, but in Delisle, it's a perennial about 2 to 3 feet tall.

Elderberry (Sambucus spp.). Besides berries, it bears white umbels, and it attracts bugs and birds. The Walrods make jelly from the berries.

Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum). John calls this the perfect landscape plant for his area. It offers flowers, fruit, and fall color. Melanie makes blueberry muffins and serves them with honey from the couple's three beehives.

Sweetspire (Itea virginica 'Henry's Garnet'). Another native that's good for wet areas and holding back slopes, it has spring flowers and fall color.

Tree huckleberry (Vaccinium arboreum). This slow-growing plant adds an architectural element to the garden and has great fall color. It is related to the highbush blueberry, but its berries are not edible.

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