creeping spot-flower (Acmella decumbens)
“Do not think about tomorrow;
let tomorrow come and go.
Tonight you're in a nice warm boxcar,
safe from the wind and snow.”
from Hobo's Lullaby by Reeves & Goebel
Yes indeed, no time like the fall for learning about the gentle art of Hobo Gardening down on the Gulf Coast. Fall is when all the prettiest of the “pretty weeds” bloom down here; so now's the time to study up on 'em.
So what's Hobo Gardening? It's a gardening precept involving the release of enough control on the part of the gardener, so as to allow the possibility of unpurchased/unplanted-but-oh-so-cool new plants to find their way into one's garden. God's the designer. Animals, wind, and floodwaters are the landscape crew. All that remains for us humans to do is to learn what's cool enough to keep by simply allowing unknown interlopers to grow where they sprout until they finally bloom – as opposed to weeding everything that comes up that you didn't plant there yourself. Savy??
Plant-wise, the best Hobo Garden candidates are local species – native or introduced – which are prone to “run” via the production, dispersal, and germination of lots of viable seed. In 2+ decades of promoting the use of wild plants in garden settings, I cannot count the number of times I've been admonished by gardeners who say, "Oh, but doesn't that (insert name of wild plant here) 'run'?" Uh, yes m'am, it's a runner. It's a rambler and a gambler and a sweet-talking ladies man. I mean, what else can a person give for an answer? Here's a group of plants that will spread beautifully in many many situations (roots of trees, ditches, niches, floods, droughts, what-have-you...) -- without your help, advice, or expense. For the love of God, if they run, be thankful........and just pull 'em up where you don't want 'em!
It does help if the Hobo Garden is located out in rural – even suburban – areas which are prone to receive a much higher diversity of potential species than in urban areas where for generations such plants have been systematically eliminated as “undesirables.” Plus, far fewer hobo lanscape crew members hang out in urban settings. That said, if you happen to live in the city, consider a modified verson of Hobo Gardening: human-assisted hobo gardening (see below).
Throughout much of the U.S., one of the most common and easiest to “obtain” of these Hobo Garden candidates are the wild asters. Here in south Louisiana we've got 3-5 native aster species constantly floating around on wind and water. They all bloom in the fall. Most all of them possess very tiny leaves – no more than several millimeters long/wide; so it's fairly easy to learn to recognize them in their non-blooming stage. They average 12-30” in height/width, and will happily grow, bloom, and reseed in just about any sunny site.
Creeping spot flower (Acmella decumbens) is another of my local favorites. It's a low groundcover that squeezes into spaces that the lawn mower can't get to. Come fall, voila', it combines beautifully with all manner of store-bought and other Hobo species.
Lydia (my hobo gardening partner) dislikes smartweed (Polygonum amphibium[?]). She apparently thinks it's a tad more weedy than smart. But since I'm the main weeder in our garden, and because I happen to think it's smarter than weedier, I leave it wherever I find it; and man does it combine beautifully when it comes into bloom.
found their way into this spot, where i had
originally planted some black-eyed susans;
now, the black-eyed susans do their thing
in summer, and the mist & iron take over
Whether they know it or not, I guess everybody's favorite hobo plant here is blue mistflower (Conoclinum coelestinum, formerly Eupatorium coelestinum). Only an idiot would weed this, eh? Alas, most gardeners don't recognize this plant when it's not in bloom; so BAM! They weed it out. Solution. Study the foliage of this plant when/where you find it in bloom. Armed with a tiny bit of knowledge/experience, and patience, you'll learn what to keep and what to weed.
pokeberry is gorgeous in
all stages of flower & fruit
Hobo trees and shrubs are fair game as well. Locally, rough-leaf dogwood (Cornus drummondii), elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), and pokeberry (Phytolacca americana) are all fine examples. True, they tend to throw lots of seed, and they're harder to weed out in places where you don't want them, but in certain situations, they're wonderful additions. And birds love 'em.
Human-assisted Hobo Gardening
Not actual Hobo Gardening – but the next best thing – is human-assisted hobo gardening (note small caps.....). This is where the gardener actually collects seed of true Hobo Garden candidates from remote sites and tosses the seed into his/her own garden. From there, the plant runs where it will.Then, just pull it up where you don't want it, and leave it where you do want it.
we got our start of this from the legendary
native plantswoman Zoe Segrera Lynch
who grew up on Cheniere au Tigre.
Note the pink-colored "sports" in the
back. This plant throws a lot of pink seed!
of oak trees! obviously, it's a hummer/butterfly favorite,
and birds love its fall fruits......
For Gulf Rim gardeners, three outstanding examples of hobo plants to consider for human-assistance are tropical sage (Salvia coccinea), bird pepper (Capsicum annuum spp.), and turk's cap (Malvaviscus drummondii) – all native to Louisiana's cheniere forests down on the coast.
Believe me, the list of potential Hobo Garden and hobo garden candidates goes on an on, ya'll -- particularly way down here on the Gulf Rim, where we've got a ton of herbaceous plant diversity.
The coolest thing about Hobo Gardening is the "letting go and letting God" part......again, this calls for patience, and patience is a much needed virtue these days.....the only way to get it is to practice it....there's just something so..........................liberating.....................about reliquishing control................i guess 'cause truly we humans are not in control...........our brains have just temporarily convinced us otherwise......
In my 27 years of experience at this particular garden, God's designs have consistently outperformed my own -- ecologically, functionally, and aesthetically. It's truly been an awesome wondrous thing to witness.