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Observations From The Old Hat Gardener
by Helena R. Keefe

Swamped with Swamp Ideas

I don’t know what has started me thinking of swamp lands. Maybe it is the recent publicity of the Amorphophallus Titanum or corpse flower down at the Huntington Library that set my thoughts into this pattern. Suddenly I begin thinking that I have never, never seen even one small swamp and smelt its so-called special fragrance.

How I would love to explore many of these matted awesome jungle-like areas. I can roll their names around, from Okefenokee or Congaree and Hawaii’s Alaki, to the Big and Great Cypress swamps in many states, to the mystery of the Everglades.

In the book called, Swamp, by Bill Thomas, I recently read the story about Mrs. Alice Bradford’s experience building her own swamp. She lives south of St. Paul, Minnesota, and her experience made exciting reading for any nature lover.

I think I could be satisfied if I could build a swamp into my memory banks. I could pretend I had a small plot of land somewhere in Iowa, Montana or Wisconsin where some kindly relative would allow me to plant swamp stuff. What a beautiful dream.

Of course I made the mistake of telling family members and relatives and even friends about what I was dreaming about. Never again! I was deluged with cautions, odd type looks from the kids, and helpful hints that would be stating it mildly about their idea of my idea.

One thing which helped me over the hump was to remember only to tell the grandchildren about odd ideas. They understand these things, and two of them offered to loan me $20 if their unusual grandparent wanted to try out the dream idea.

Everyone should have something to plan on doing in retirement, even if it is just make believe. When I talked to the botanist son when he gave me updates on the stinky flower, I told him about my ideas. He very kindly listened and said if I really was to become serious about the idea he could loan me his very special red striped, little, green frog. It is about the size of a small hickory nut and could fit in anywhere. I decided as long as I liked to make lists, this could be the starting point for me.

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I would have to think very seriously about the type of environment that Joe’s frog would need. First, there would have to be plenty of stale, gooey, muddy water with marsh weeds to grow all along the edges. Then I could plant lots of cattails, perhaps from some area of Steckel Park north of Santa Paula (California). A start of water hyacinths with two or three pitcher plants would be handy to capture insects. Maybe I could add a few small, reddish, fish and some roses to add color.

I’d like to attract wildlife, not large beasts, but maybe on the softer side as sulphur butterflies. It would be possible to add a few damselflies or their cousins, the dragonflies. Of course I would need some natural thing that could keep down the mosquito larvae. I have read, somewhere, that there is a water hyacinth that comes from Latin America which has been found to be helpful in purifying water. I don’t want alligators, but could have a few tadpoles so visitors could have one and start their own swamp.

As my family is always telling us oldsters we need a variety of interests in retirement, I will take them up on that idea. Probably the first way to start is to take a trip to think over these excellent ideas. I will have to decide which would be the best place to start my rest while I mull over these splendid ideas.

It might be a good idea to pack some swim gear and arrange accommodations for a hotel on the ocean in Hawaii. I know from past experiences this fairly good surfing weather. I know I can rent a small board to try to catch a few old timer waves and enjoy the beautiful summer evenings.

After I am rested enough I could plan to travel in May to see the wild iris bloom at the Okenfenokee Swamp in Georgia. I’ve never been there or into Florida, and I hear Key West is great any time of year. I think I’ll even try some of the tasty wild plants and try to decide what to do about a swamp idea.

Swamp concerned family members are sending me travel folders about Mississippi River cruises and trips to Denmark or Holland. One old timer “swamp rat” seems to have developed the ideal situation. With heavy boots on, he wades into a foot or two of swamp water in areas of Mississippi where cypress trees grow in abundance. Naturally, the older trees spread their roots in all directions upon which grow “knees” or bumps of wooded root growing up through the water into the air above about 2 to 3 feet. These cypress “knees” are harvested (without harm to the tree) by the old timer who dries them out, drills a hole up the center for wiring, and with a coat of stain, make beautiful lamps covered with gnarled wood grain patterns.

Though surfing in Hawaii sounds attractive, trudging through huge swamps filled with gators and snakes puts a limit on my swamp ideas. So, to broaden my retirement horizons other interests come to mind. Come to think of it, I have never been in to a big cheese factory to see how that works. I’ll ask our very helpful librarians at Dean Hobbs Blanchard Memorial Library to see what they have to recommend about a cheese making hobby for retired people. Everyone tells me to keep active… I’m trying!

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Published by Helena R. Keefe, Santa Paula, CA 93060

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