Sick and wet

No, nothing wild and crazy going on in our corner of the woods, sadly exactly the opposite. Jack is back but Yva and I have been sick, sick, sick and I had to cancel my date with the other gardener. But she said, please come when you’re feeling better- so that is good. Also on the plus side, it is raining today and I am home basking in our woodstove’s goodness. Yva is feeling much better, thank goodness, and she is out with Jack killing a wild pizza and bringing it home to Mama- yum!

So what have I been doing with my sudden exciting moment to myself? Studying up on allelopathic plants of course. Our dying walnut finally hit the ground and Jack has been breaking it up for kindling. I had a sudden and neurotic worry that it would be bad for us to breath the smoke from a tree that killed all the vegetation underneath it when it is alive. So I have been doing a little research. The chemical that the walnut produces is known as juglone which is sometimes used as a herbicide but it apparently not toxic in all forms since it is used as a coloring agent for foods and cosmetics.  However, walnut is not recommended as chips (they can still poison plants and some animals- in particular horses!). There is a nice site about walnut toxicity from the West Virginia Extension Service which lists the plants walnuts effect and don’t effect. But I have yet to find anything about smoke toxicity- I think mostly you just aren’t supposed to breathe too much of any smoke :), but there were no warnings out there for the walnut unlike with Oleander.

Anyway, we have a chestnut on one of the properties we work on that appears to be allelopathic (looking it up, I found a 2002 study on chestnut allelopathy). It makes a lovely little hidey hole under it’s huge branches for our compost. Hum… it just occurs to me that might not be such a great idea to have the compost under there, but, darn it makes the best compost I have seen yet. I’ll have to look into it. Ah, I just figured it out, it’s not in the chestnut family, it’s a Aesculus hippocastanum, a horse chestnut. So the void of plant material beneath it must be due to competition (it blocks out all the light and water) rather than a chemical secretion. So our compost is safe. Whew. Did I mention I was feeling neurotic?

I was just thinking about using plant’s allelopathic responses in design, as a way of keeping weeds down in places where you don’t want to have to weed. No need for concrete, or other hardscaping options, just plant a walnut! But no, it doesn’t keep down all vegetation, I have a lovely tall black walnut which has lots of grass and a huge iris underneath it. The iris was one I plopped down on the grass there about ten years ago and it decided to plant itself since I was so mean as to not oblige. So competition and mulch really are the better alternatives. And old fashioned weeding. Yummm… weeding, be still my anal soul.

But I digress… did I have a point? Was it pointy? Ok, let’s see, I’ve totally discombombulated myself. (Yes, I know it’s discombobulated but isn’t discombombulated so much better?) Oh, I was thinking about the study about the decline of chestnuts as allelopaths in the southern Appalachians (due to the blight). I had a sudden very vivid, and possibly completely fantastical, image of all those huge trees sheltering the Appalachian people and of what those trees dying and being replaced by a coniferous forest, eastern hemlocks to be precise, would have meant.  I like hemlocks but chestnuts seem so lovely and musically inspiring to live under. I still remember the time I got to eat a roasted chestnut right off the ground from under a grove of chestnut trees in the Pyrenees (France). They had been burning the vegetation under the trees and so some of the chestnuts got roasted at the same time. It was magical. Thinking of chestnut forests disappearing makes me so sad, I am glad they are working on bringing chestnuts back. Perhaps that is what I will replace my walnut with.

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