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Master Naturalists: We never know when experience helps

By Paul and Mary Meredith
March 22, 2012 at midnight
Updated March 21, 2012 at 10:22 p.m.

Native azalea Rhododendron flammeum is not native to Texas, but is to the far Southeastern states.  This deciduous azalea is crossed with other native azaleas to yield beautiful hybrids that grow outside its native area.

Western Pennsylvania and Southern Indiana introduced us to "sun-less syndrome" of winter months. But those months, we learned, provided planning time for the coming year's "outside."

Up north, we learned more about plants and animals than ever before. Much was because of living in areas with outdoors foreign to what we grew up with. Paul never lived north of Tyler. Mary lived in Kansas and Oklahoma, without learning much about outdoors except for summertime grasshopper roasts.

Indiana plant fun

Plant fun in Indiana included watching what we thought was impossible - the corn growing "as high as an elephant's eye." And hearing it "whisper" while growing.

We were told its rapid growth causes stalks' "brushing" against each other while moving to facilitate the rapid growth. (There are more sounds and explanations for them, we learned.)

Western Pennsylvania plant "not-fun"

Our Western Pennsylvania strawberry plants got too much rain and too little sun in 1972 (from Hurricane Agnes, believe it or not). We had lush, beautiful plants without a single berry.

Trees also made too many leaves, then had to drop those several weeks later.

Back South

Since moving back south, we're also enjoying using our learning - and learning more from our and others' experiences. Everywhere we've lived, we try to learn about our area's outdoors (wildlife) - plants and animals.

We've never known what and when we may need or want to know for future possible use wherever we live.

Sometimes it's been ideas about how to tackle our problems or take advantage of opportunities presented to us.

We try using indoor months - both too hot and too cold - and any other downtime re-evaluating our current outdoors, and planning for future ones.

Our earlier learning's often helped where we've lived later: Southeast Georgia, Cajun Country and Victoria. Perhaps those don't seem particularly similar.

But our earlier experiences have helped more than we'd thought they could. One of our favorite examples is deciduous azaleas.

We first learned about them, enjoyed planting and watching them bloom in Pittsburgh. We've later enjoyed growing them in SE Georgia and Cajun Country. They don't grow well in Victoria.

One of the native azaleas we've grown, Rhododendron canescens, is native to Southeast Texas - reminders of the beautiful understory rhododendrons at Fallingwater, in Pennsylvania.

Habitat plants' challenges, assets

Selecting plants where we've lived has been easier than finding what's smart. For example, habitat we enjoy and encourage means we cannot find all our plants at many stores. Some we even grow ourselves, a challenge in itself.

We experiment with how to's of habitat, while conserving water and having easy-to-grow habitat for our helpers to check and water as needed.

And we try plants folks may enjoy - even learn from.

Paul and Mary Meredith are master naturalists. Contact them at



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