Atlanta, Georgia—Plants on roller skates! October and November are the prime months for rearranging the herb garden and moving perennial herbs around to better suit my taste and their needs. Suggestions noted in my garden journal remind me of what would look better where. The lavender needs more sun, the oregano is to be divided and tamed, and the red daylilies must swap locations with the pink ones.
For this job, my spading fork is the tool of choice in Georgia’s heavy, acid red clay. With it, I first dig an extravagant hole in the new location, then mix the soil I’ve dug out with pulverized dolomite lime to sweeten it and compost to lighten it. When the hole is ready, I lift the target plant out of the ground with a generous root ball, plop it into my green wheelbarrow, and trundle it to the new hole, where I quickly plant it and water it in thoroughly. I mulch thickly around the root zone with composted wood chips. Before long, it will settle in at its new home.
Fall is also the best time of year for planting the woody ornamentals that add structure and definition to the herb garden. The soil is still warm after the long, hot summer; the leaves of deciduous plants are falling, and their moisture demands diminish as growth slows down. The autumn rains do my watering for me.
It has been four years since my son, Larry, helped me plant the autumn-flowering cherry, Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’, which blooms yearly on my birthday at the end of November. I’m confident that the tree got off to a good start because I planted it in the fall.
When planting a tree, research has shown, it’s best to dig a hole the same depth as the root ball and three times as wide; it’s also wise not to add any organic matter to the soil. The firm soil at the bottom of the hole will keep the tree from sinking below its optimum depth, new roots will have an easy time growing laterally into the loosened soil, and the tree will quickly become established.
My young friends Jennifer and Mike are planting a tree to celebrate their upcoming marriage. They have the usual to-do list of young couples before a wedding: they’ve set the date, picked out the dress, chosen a caterer, and listened to more bands than I could count. They added tree planting to the list because it’s important to them. I think that their celebratory tree is the most romantic aspect of their wedding plans. First, they considered the ideal place to plant their tree. Options included their parents’ homes, the city park where they met playing softball, the college campus nearby, and their place of worship. The church was glad to accept the donation of a living tree, and it will be wonderful to see it flourish over time on the beautiful grounds of the church. Perhaps someday, their grandchildren will sit in its shade.
The tree they chose to plant was a little-leaf linden (Tilia cordata). There couldn’t be a more perfect choice for a wedding tree: In the language of flowers, the long-lived linden symbolizes conjugal love and marital virtues; the leaves are heart-shaped; and the honey-scented blossoms may be gathered in June and used to make an herbal tea.
If you think you might want to plant an honorary tree yourself, consider herbal trees that grow well in your climate, taking into account the sun, wind, rain, temperature, and soil conditions. Also consider plant symbolism and both ornamental and sentimental aspects such as coordinating a time of bloom, beautiful fall color, or winter berries with the time of the celebration. If you’re not sure which tree to select, ask your county extension agent, a city arborist, or professionals at your local public garden or a nursery for suggestions. Among the herbal possibilities are bay laurel, sweet gum, sassafras, elder, eucalyptus, juniper, sumac, and spicebush.
Jennifer and Mike will be planting their tree about a month before their wedding November 22, and they plan to videotape the event. In the middle of the last-minute preparations, they will carve out some quiet time and pack a romantic picnic for two to share under their little tree. They plan to take anniversary photos beside the linden each year.
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