Atlantans is a first-person account of the familiar strangers who make the city tick. This month’s is West End resident Susan Lasby, as told to Kamille Whittaker.
When I was in high school, my best friend lived in Sylvan Hills in one of those historic bungalows with gorgeous hardwood floors. I thought her house was so cool. It was very different from the kind of house that I grew up in. I would get off at her MARTA stop and, since there used to be a Nabisco factory around there, her neighborhood always smelled like Nilla Wafers. That was my introduction to Southwest Atlanta.
I grew up and went away to college up north, and then, I lived overseas for work. When I came back in 2007, I was working in Southwest Atlanta, near West End, and I really wanted to buy a house here. There was a lot of profiteering and speculation in this area, and I couldn’t afford anything at first. But then, we had the big Recession, which was a horrible time, but it had a silver lining: I was able to buy my first house.
I knew I had to get a new roof and water heater, but the first thing that I wanted to spend my money on was planting trees and flowers. Everything that I needed to do inside the house, I could do at any time. But I wanted to get planting right away, because I knew it was going to take forever, at least 10 years, for trees to grow.
When I moved in, there was only one small holly bush in the front yard and a pecan tree in the back, so one of the first things I planted was a plum tree. It was just a Home Depot plum tree—no fancy pedigree or anything like that.
I had just moved back home to Atlanta, and one of the countries I had lived in was Japan, which has a plum, or ume, season in February. Japan is famous for its cherry blossom season that happens in March. But before that is plum season, and it’s such a beautiful time. It’s like the early harbinger of spring in Japan.
I did try to plant a cherry blossom tree in the front yard . . . but it died.
The plum tree is a small tree, about 15 feet tall. I’ve never really done anything to or for it. I didn’t know much about gardening or how to prune or fertilize a tree. My modus operandi was just to stick it in the ground, and that was it. But this little tree just grew and grew, and it has been the most incredibly bountiful tree, very quickly, bearing more fruit than anyone could ever possibly eat. Baskets and baskets of plums.
At first, I just started telling the people on my street, Y’all, please come and eat these plums, because they would drop off and start to ferment, and then, it would smell like the floor of a frat house in my front yard.
I live on a relatively small street. I had to get more and more people to come because there’s only so many plums people can eat. I’d bring them to work. I posted on our neighborhood Facebook page. I got to meet a lot of the new neighbors this way: Hey, nice to meet you, have a plum.
I’m not much of a cook—I leave that to other people—but we do keep talking about making wine with the plums. One year, Honeysuckle Gelato at Lee + White asked if they could come over. I’m like, Come and take as much as you want. They made a goat cheese and honey plum gelato batch.
They also made me a giant goat cheese and honey plum gelato cake that was too damn big for me to eat. I was walking up and down my street going, Y’all want some cake? This is the tree of humble origins that just keeps on giving and giving.
Back then, West End used to be a little bit more wild. Now, we have neighbors cutting down the trees in their yards because they’re afraid they’re going to fall on their houses.
The neighborhood is more hemmed in and suburbanized and manicured. What’s going to happen to the lightning bugs and the hawks when people don’t replace these trees, or if they’re replacing these oaks and pecans with smaller, decorative trees?
Now that I know more about what grows and what doesn’t, I have noticed how many trees just grow naturally. I can walk in my backyard and see tiny seedlings that are coming up, or I’ll see a little three-inch pecan tree or water oak and I’ll just leave it alone. Ten more years from now, I’m going to have a little forest in my backyard.
And I’m old enough that when those trees get mature, if they fall on the house, I’ll be long gone. Not really going to be my problem.
This article appears in our May 2022 issue.