Like everyone else in Garden America, the woman working the counter of the Pleasant Valley Garden Center on Saturday morning looked stricken when we mentioned the black walnut tree.
“They kill everything,” she said. “I’m going to call Melody. She helped someone with a vegetable garden this morning, so she’ll be able to help you.”
Finally, an expert. Someone paid to traffic in plants.
“Melody? Melody to the front for customer assistance?” The redheaded woman at the front counter called over the P.A. out into the greenhouse, and in minutes, a perky woman with her hair in two low, side ponytails, appeared from somewhere out back.
We explained to Melody what the problem was, and no surprise, her face fell, too.
“Those trees are poisonous,” she said. “I don’t think anything grows under them.”
I tried to hold my information close to my chest, partially because I didn’t want to appear like a know-it-all, and partially because I knew the chances that I didn’t know what I was talking about were fairly high. “I’ve heard there are a few plants that can make it, but we’re trying to figure out whether we can even save the plants we have.”
“Tomatoes, right? And peppers?”
“You can definitely do those in containers,” she said. “I’d recommend just transplanting them so you can locate out of the way of that tree.” She shook her head sadly. “But as for the plot, I don’t think anything will grow there.”
“Well, we have some stuff growing there that’s doing fine,” I said. “I think there are plants that can tolerate what comes off the tree.”
Her eyebrows rose. “You know, let’s go look that up.” She turned on her heel and headed toward a desk in the back corner of the store. I followed, and Steve trailed behind me.
She sat at a computer terminal, and pulled up Internet Explorer. “I love Google,” she said. “It’s the best thing ever.”
I could just about hear Steve snorting behind me. “I’m going to go look around,” he muttered, clearly disgusted with the fact that the “expert” wasn’t any better versed in this stuff than we were. But me? I was determined. I was sticking with this, even if it meant I had to watch Melody look up search terms like “black walnut underplant,” which does not mean anything, and therefore yielded no usable search results.
“Maybe I need to try something else,” she said, typing furiously. “Ah, yes, here we go. OK, so it says here that the poison is called…hmm…juglone. Interesting.”
I strongly considered taking off my sandal and beating Melody with it. But I gritted my teeth and smiled. “Yes,” I said. “Interesting.”
“Oh!” She turned and glanced at me over her shoulder, a big smile on her face. “There’s a list here of plants that grow under black walnut trees!”
Yes, Melody, I thought. We found that page with Google on Friday. Again, I smiled through clenched teeth. You go, girl.
“Squash, beans, cantaloupe, corn, onions and carrots,” she said. “I know we don’t have all of those, but we do have some, and all our veggie seedlings are two for one!”
A veritable bargain.