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Musings About Family, Travel And Gardening With Allen Martinson.


Time Well Spent

I KNOW IT WOULD be a surprise that I wouldn’t be writing about the army worm invasion. I’m sure by now everyone has heard about the marching menaces. I hope everyone was able to get to their favorite garden center and get the advice they need. Those buggers worked me so hard in my yard and other peoples yard that I guess I’m a little mad at them and tired of the subject.

On a way better note, Mimi and I went to Tulsa for a little business and a whole lot of fun. It had been way to long since Mimi had crossed paths with our son, Max. Max drove the 45 minutes from the ranch where he works and lives to meet us at our hotel. He had recommended a Caribbean restaurant he knew we would love. I like to think I learned a thing or two about a thing or two about cooking Caribbean food during my Peace Corps experience in the Caribbean. He was correct in his choice of restaurants.

The owners and chefs of the restaurant are from Dominica, not to be confused with the Dominican Republic that is the large island country that is attached to Haiti. Dominica is a very small island that is mostly known for its agriculture and a little eco-travel because of its volcanic mountains. It surprised me when I discovered there are a lot of soybeans grown for the tofu processing industry that for some reason popped up there,(Most likely a past Peace Corps project). Not a lot of soybeans compared to our Mississippi delta farmers, but a lot for the small areas available to produce them on. There aren’t any picture perfect beaches so it doesn’t get any cruise ship action. I’m sure they wish they could prosper from a little tourism but I got the feeling that they appreciated that their culture is somewhat preserved. I went there a lot because it is such a chill environment and it was one of the islands where I conducted training classes to farmers about the cultivation and marketing of papaya.

The owners of the restaurant were at the entrance when we walked up so I had a chance to introduce myself and talk a little smack about Dominica with them. They named a few villages that were names I recognized. It brought back some good memories and the meal also brought back some culinary memories. By the way, my Caribbean cooking just doesn’t have the magic of the authentic food but I try.

The next morning we visited the ranch where Max is putting in some long days and apparently happy as a clam. We hung around with him while he ran irrigation, injected nutrients into the lines and checked for any clogged tubes. Mimi and I did a little clean up and weeding with him until it was time to go to the main house to join in a gender reveal party for one of the fellows who works with Max. It was wonderful seeing this young couple as they were spring boarding into grown up life. The gang that works together on this ranch seemed like a family and they had taken Max in like he’d been one of them forever. Mimi and I felt great about the whole thing and knew we could say goodbye to him knowing that he is happy. That’s everything.

We drove back to Tulsa to meet some friends for dinner and a big night out on the town. I think we actually stayed out past midnight, rare for us. The next day we had an afternoon flight home which we intentionally planned so we would be able to spend plenty of time at the Tulsa Botanical Gardens. Max told us the gardens are a “don’t miss” and he was right again. The gardens are a little far from town in an area that seems to be right in the path Tulsa is headed. I figured it was a good thing being little out in the boonies because that usually means they have lots of elbow room to do some cool stuff. As we walked out of the visitors center and onto the deck that overlooks the grounds Mimi likened the scale of the area to Biltmore Estate. Some lucky horticulturalist had the reins of what looked like a very well funded project.

The botanical gardens are fairly young. We like the older gardens with giant trees, mature understory and ideas from another era as much as we like newer gardens with perfectly fresh starts, aggressive plantings and plans that are more applicable to todays changes in the climate. In 2004, 170 acres were donated to become the garden site. In 2006 a huge amount of grant money was awarded for construction of the site and in 2007 the ground was broken.

The one and a half mile meandering path around the seven acre lake took us past several distinctively different themed areas. The first being the children’s discovery gardens which lulled us in with a giant stone work of art in the shape of a dragon, big enough to walk into. Inside the dragon there is stained glass and prisms making the opened mouth with a waterfall echoing sounds even more trippy and confusing. I have a photo taken through the mouth opening of Mimi standing on the outside looking in.

One of the people working there was very friendly answering our questions and seemed to love her job. When we couldn’t find the sign beneath a tree we didn’t recognize she radioed the horticulturalist in charge and got the answer, it was a Paper Mulberry. From what I could tell from looking that plant up it should do fine in our area. Maybe there are some around Jackson and I have not noticed them but we will be trying to find some. They make a very nice, small ornamental tree. The girl also told us that in the spring they annually plant 100,000 bulbs. She said on their website they give weekly reports about the stages of the plants so we could pinpoint the exact day that would be prime viewing time, we shall do just that.

WE CAME ACROSS A xeric garden in preparation for what seems to be coming. The garden was full of Yuccas, Agaves and lots of new-to-us drought tolerant plants for us to scribble down names of on our sweat drenched pad. It was exciting to see the Cholla cactus growing there. Dried Cholla Cactus is one that we offer in the sunroom at our garden center along with our air plants for attaching them to. Apparently they are winter hardy as they were growing outside in Tulsa. We will begin cultivating as many of the drought tolerant plants as we can because they can make gardening so much easier and its a great look.

We were vey excited to see more of the trees that are being bred by growers that grow tall and slender like the shape of an Italian cypress. We have been using the slender silhouette sweet gum for years and they do great in Mississippi. I have been hoping the slender, upright growth habit breeding would take off because it is such a great feature in the yard. Many homes have crepe myrtles and magnolias and other trees too close to the house that can wind up causing roof problems and sometimes foundation problems.

The slender concept is great because the diameter of these new trees is only three to four feet wide giving that Italian Cypress look without all the problems that come along with Italian Cypress. Don’t get me wrong, I love Italian Cypress but they will just flare up and die sometimes. The other trees that we saw at these gardens that have the tall, slender growth habit are true Mississippi trees. We saw two kinds of oaks, tulip poplar, some kind of hackberry, and the sweet gum which have had the painful-to-step-on gum balls bred out of them.

One of our favorite features that was used three or four times throughout the walk was the use of rills. We’ve seen and loved the concept of using a rill in the garden for years and planning to add one to our yard one day, but we’ve never seen any of such magnitude. Rills are made in array of materials, concrete, steel, stone, anything that will carry water from one place to another. The sound of water flowing and the rippling visual adds a lot to a space and allows for some very interesting plant material to be used around the stream.

I don’t know when I’ll ever learn that going to botanical gardens are going to cost me a fortune because we always come home with big ideas.

We are getting close to a plan for a really cool moon gate that we discovered in a garden in Virginia. Now I believe we have a rill running through our yard in the near future. I guess there are worse things to spend money on and it looks like making our home a place we’d rather be more than anywhere else in the world might be good idea. I get the feeling this pandemic mess is going to drag on for a few more years so we might as well make ourselves at home.

I’m so glad to have had a chance to get to know Tulsa, see Max happy and to have seen these great gardens. Time well spent.

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