Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
May, 2010
Regional Report

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The Peggy Martin rose represents our regions' ability to tolerate adversity and come back strong.

Reinventing our Gardens

Think globally, act locally may be cliché by now, but our regions need to do just that. Recent events may give us pause, but our actions at home can have positive impact on the overall situation.

Environmental pro-action
Our regions are defined by and depend on our proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. Some will be greatly affected by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, but the complete extent of the impact may not be known for months. In terms of vulnerability, barrier islands are always at risk and those off the Louisiana coast are first in line for oil intrusion. Marshes, mangrove swamp, sheltered flats and shallows are the most difficult to clean up because no heavy equipment can be used in those environments. Sandy beaches are easier to clean, but the plant life there is often just as fragile.

Those of us not directly involved in clean-up efforts yet can still play an important role in remediation. As suggested on the website of Mobile Baykeepers (, the wisest way to prepare for the arrival of oil on our shores is to do something we should do anyway. Everywhere that the shore is accessible, take a walk and pick up the garbage. The cleaner the shoreline is when oil hits it, the simpler it will be to clean it up afterwards. Many such efforts are underway in coastal communities such as Ocean Springs, Mississippi and Navarre Beach, Florida, where 250 volunteers gathered 155 pounds of man-made garbage recently.

Should the worst happen and attempts to stop the oil flow from reaching the Jet Stream fail, beaches along our Atlantic coast will need to step up their efforts too. Wear gloves and use a pointed stick or grabbing tool to avoid touching the trash. Take along a bucket or bag to collect non-organic debris. You are advised to move drift wood and other organic materials to higher ground but not to remove them.

Cautious reaction
Most gardeners are, by nature, "outdoorsy" people, and the lifestyles of our regions take full advantage of that. While we are motivated to get out and DO something, please heed this advice. Even if dispersants at the well head and burning on the surface stem the flow of oil, some of it will reach our shores. This oil is described as a pasty emulsion forming brown tar balls gathered into patchy strands of sticky mess. Some of the tar balls are as small as peas and will be able to penetrate grassy stands easily. The masses of strands will stick to water and land-based vegetation, to reptiles, birds and fur-bearing mammals. Your first instinct upon finding a creature in such distress would likely be to try and help it. But you are advised not to touch anything contaminated by the oil, and to immediately wash well with soap and water if you do. Indeed, it is strongly suggested that you leave the area if you can even smell it, unless you have the know-how to deal with it. Cleaning animals, for example, is a delicate task that many can perform well after proper training. However if you are pregnant or have a compromised immune or respiratory system, you are advised not to volunteer in such toxic circumstances.

Act at home
Everyone in our regions knows someone whose livelihood depends on offshore resources, ranging from fishermen and restaurateurs to tour operators and oil businesses. At the end of the day, our sense of place depends on our bodies of water, and their health is ours. No matter the politics of our energy future, conservation is an old idea whose time is now. In the garden, that can mean changing to a drip system with a cistern that feeds it by gravity instead of an electric pump. Or perhaps it's time to set up that solar panel system to supply outdoor power needs much of the year. No-till gardens grow great plants and do not require power tillers to build. Passive solar heat for greenhouses and outdoor vegetable beds are as near as a pallet of bricks. In a column to come, I will delve further into energy conservation in the garden.

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