A lit of people think I have a green thumb just because I have a densely planted yard, and because I talk a lot about growing plants for food and wildlife habitat and stormwater mitigation and heat mitigation and restoring the rain cycle and such.
Actually, though, I do not have a green thumb; I’m just very persistent because honestly, plants are non-optional, for the abovementioned reasons and more.
As a person with a NOT-green thumb, who nonetheless feels a strong duty to add as many trees and other plants as possible to our denuded landscape, I am everlastingly grateful for the existence of plants that grow really easily.
There are some plants you can literally grow just by sticking them in the ground. As in, just take a cutting or a twig or whatever, stick it in the soil, and voilà. Sure you might have to water them a bit to get it established, but basically they are a guaranteed success even for someone like me who has a proven ability to kill even the hardiest plants.
Where I live, my go-to’s in this “stick in the ground” category are prickly pear (both spiny and spineless variety), plumeria, chaya (Mexican Miracle Spinach Tree I’ve also heard it called), and a couple of non-edible succulents whose names I don’t know.
Prickly pear is edible (both the pads and the fruit); plumeria offers beautiful fragrant flowers (that are also edible); chaya is delicious and nutritious (but needs to be cooked a certain way to remove toxins, so do your research and don’t just eat it off the tree!!).
But the main thing I value all these plants for is their usefulness in creating a living privacy screen, and some shade. It’s easier and cheaper to make a living fence than it is to build or replace a conventional fence.
A popular fence-plant for drier climates is ocotillo. Here’s a beautiful example of a living ocotillo fence.
And here’s my TikTok video of a living fence I’ve started as a privacy screen for our shaded patio area.
Though not a fence per se, these gorgeous living bridges in India can be hundreds of years old, and I include them here as another inspiring example of how plants can serve as a super durable and lovely part of the human-built environment if we’re nice to them and recognize their value. As Katie Hunt writes in the article on cnn.com, “They’re not the world’s tallest or longest bridges, but a string of humble river crossings sculpted from tree roots in India are engineering marvels that contain lessons for modern architects.”