By The Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis Botanic Garden is showcasing some plants that are more associated with farms than backyards as it pays tribute to the South’s agricultural past.
Horticulture director Rick Pudwell told The Memphis Daily News that staff drew on their own experiences and conducted historical and horticultural research for the patch known as the Delta Heritage Garden.
Featured are three kinds of cotton, a crop that shaped Memphis and the rest of the Delta region.
The heritage garden is also growing edible crops, including black-eyed peas and okra.
Executive director Jim Duncan devised the garden theme.
“This was originally just going to be an annual color bed,” Pudwell said. “But then Jim thought it would be a great idea to do the cotton and the vegetables.”
The cotton isn’t the white, fluffy variety most often associated with Southern plantations. Instead, the garden is planted with three varieties of natural-colored cottons. These varieties were grown by slaves for their own use in the antebellum South but fell out of favor because their short fibers make them harder to spin and dye.
The Erlene’s Green variety produces an olive green boll that fades to yellow green when it is washed and spun.
Another cotton in the garden is nankeen. Its brown lint is a dark copper that becomes brighter after washing.
The third cotton, red foliated white, has brightly colored stems and foliage that emerge green and then turn a rich red over the summer with white bolls.
The cottons and other plants are being grown from heirloom seed that came from Seed Saver’s Exchange, a nonprofit dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds, and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.
“We’re losing a lot of knowledge about what people did a generation ago because our lives have become so mechanized,” Pudwell said.
Staffers picked some plants based on what they remembered their own families growing, Pudwell said.
Part of the patch is dedicated to watermelon. The Amish Sun, Moon and Stars variety is named for light markings on the foliage and fruit that resemble celestial bodies.
The garden also is growing pole beans, a variety of gourds called “homemade pickles” and okra, a staple for many Southern dishes.
Okra was introduced to the South from Africa through the slave trade and soon was tapped for many uses. Its roasted seeds were sometimes a coffee substitute, its juice could clean metal or stop bleeding, and stem fibers were sometimes used to make cord.
Memphis Botanic Garden: http://www.memphisbotanicgarden.com/