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Audio: The gardens of good and evil, an interview with Taylor Williams

Growing up in Louisiana, horticulturist Taylor Williams has admired, maintained, and planted his share of gardens. For all of us who live in Louisiana, we know that the average garden here can require herculean efforts. In New Orleans alone, there’s cutting back and dealing with cat’s claw, Cayratia, the Mexican “petunia,” and who can ever forget torpedograss.

Torpedograss isn’t just a grass that makes horticulturists like Williams moan with dread when they see it in a yard; it is also a grass with a story behind it. As Williams recounts, the legend is that the Army Corp of Engineers brought the plant here as a stabilization plant. Specifically, it was brought to stabilize the levees. That legend, though, is highly debated, and many plant researchers will state that torpedograss was introduced way back in 1876 through seed used as forage crops. No matter its history, it is here to stay.

It grows in spillway sand, which is often the main choice for new homes nowadays. That means those homes are being built on the mother land of torpedograss, and it loves to make itself comfortable. Williams is candid about the fact that it will grow in, around, and even over the top of anything that gets in its path. Much like the people who love living in the South no matter how flooding, threats of hurricanes, or the summer heat tries to deter us, torpedograss also refuses to uproot and leave. As Williams explains, “I’ve heard of people using glyphosate on their lawn, and the plant refuses to die.” Glyphosate is basically the nuclear weapon among plant life, so that really puts torpedograss into cockroach territory.

As with everything, however, gardening and the wild life in New Orleans isn’t all invasive or out to irritate the epidermis. One of Williams’s favorite plants is the loquat tree, or “Japanese plum.” It’s an evergreen shrub that has fruits with a yellow skin and a light yellow flesh, in shape and size similar to plums. Not only does this tree provide nourishment for people on a stroll around town, but it is one of the perfect planting choices for even the laziest gardener.

Williams explains, “It’s an evergreen tree from China that is extremely adaptable to our soil here.” It can be small enough to live as a courtyard plant or it can sprawl out if planted in a yard. It doesn’t require much maintenance, and it gives back sweetness tenfold with its fruits.

The superlative among all of this is that we in New Orleans can plant year round. There isn’t a season of full death here, which allows us to see blossoms, colors, and smell those lovely plant scents no matter the month.

“The best growing season is actually the fall or the winter,” Williams says. Transferring the plants from pot to ground isn’t as shocking to the plants, and the root growth is strong during that time.

Now that the promise of fall is in the night air, or at least that one breeze we feel in the night, you can start thinking about where you want to prune, pick, and place your garden. If you have a soul similar to Williams, all you will need is a pair of shears and a love for nature, no matter how wild it is.



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