Greetings from Wilmington, NC

Loropetalum beginning to bloom in our front yard

Loropetalum beginning to bloom in our front yard

After what always seems like an eternity (in other words, getting through January), I made it down here to Steve’s in Wilmington.  I’ve been here a week and, already, I feel the relaxation and calm streaming into my body and the stress and tension slowly draining out.  The air is not all that much warmer down here–though I don’t sense the chill that emanates from the ground in Arlington at this time of year–yet the sun is much, much brighter, warmer, and intense.  It’s done wonders for my outlook!

We’ve had lots of rain.  That’s a good thing since there have been many years of drought and heat down here and the soil is practically all sand.  Great for digging (compared to the rocky clay in Arlington); not so great for holding moisture or nutrients.

With the rain and warmer sun, the plants are responding with bloom.

Carolina Jessamine around our front porch

Carolina Jessamine around our front porch

Camellia 'Taylor's Perfection'

Camellia 'Taylor's Perfection'

Cheerful Daffodils in the bright sunlight

Cheerful Daffodils in the bright sunlight

Carrying over from Winter, Tea Olives powerfully fill the garden with a deep, sweet fragrance

Carrying over from Winter, Tea Olives powerfully fill the garden with a deep, sweet fragrance

One of Wilmington’s crown jewels is the annual Azalea Festival.  This year, it’s happening April 10th-14th.  The entire town is filled with blooming Azaleas, gorgeous gardens (there’s a big fundraising tour) and glamorous belles–yes, in hoop skirts.  I was asked to write an article on a couple of the featured gardens for the April issue of Wrightsville Beach Magazine. Today, I met my charming contact and she took me by two of the gardens.  They are all that and some change, and I can’t wait for you to see them…but for that you’ll have to wait.  Meantime, I did snap some close-ups of flowers in these two gardens, and I’m sharing those here.

Camellias...

Camellias...

Forsythia...

Forsythia...

Variegated Winter Daphne

Variegated Winter Daphne...

And a lovely, canopied street here in Wilmington--appropriately called Live Oak Drive

And a lovely, canopied street here in Wilmington--appropriately called Live Oak Drive

Tomorrow, we are heading South for a week in the Low Country:  Charleston and Beaufort, SC, and Savannah, GA.  We can’t wait to get to our beloved Low Country and savor the gardens, history, architecture, and surprises along the way.  We want to explore the Sea Islands and see as many plantations and gardens as we can.

Photos by the blogger; if you copy, please link back.

Posted under Fragrance in the garden, Garden Tours, Garden Travel, Gardeners, Southern Gardens, Spring Flowers, The Spring Garden, The Winter Garden, Travel

Kinda Pretty Here in Arlington Right Now

Beautiful week one is now running into beautiful week two here at Woodland Cottage.  It’s astounding.  I’ll let the pics speak.

Camellia japonica

Camellia japonica

The same Camellia, looking out through the dining room windows...

The same Camellia, looking out through the dining room windows...

The Loropetalum has never been more floriferous…

Loropetalum chinense 'Zhuzhou'

Loropetalum chinense 'Zhuzhou'

Heavenly scent…

Variegated Daphne

Variegated Daphne

Pieris japonica

Pieris japonica

Vinca minor

Vinca minor

Corydalis

Corydalis

Edgeworthia papyrifera (against an English Boxwood)

Edgeworthia papyrifera (against an English Boxwood)

A beloved, late-blooming pink Camellia japonica

A beloved, late-blooming pink Camellia japonica

Posted under Climate Change, Fragrance in the garden, Southern Gardens, Spring Flowers, The Spring Garden

Often, I Don’t See the Forest for the Trees

I work outside, in Nature, almost every day of my life, either in my own gardens, in Arlington or Wilmington, or in other’s gardens.  Yet I miss so much of the beautiful detail because I am so caught up in the “doing” versus the “being”.  I’ll bet a lot of my landscaping co-horts can sympathize with this realization.  How many times have you gotten to June 1st and thought, “I missed [experiencing] Spring…again”?

April 2007, Woodland Cottage

April 2007, Woodland Cottage

My wonderful friend H/D once observed that I notice so many details in gardens/Nature.  It’s true, to a point–that’s my job.  It’s my job to notice if a plant looks a bit off, or the soil in a particular spot is washing away…if a spot is sunny or shady, or what is growing natively in an area.  These are all clues.  I constantly look for clues.  I try to solve the mysteries of insect/disease invasion, nutrient/soil deficiencies, water imbalances…that’s my job.  That’s the horticulturist Jeff, the scientist Jeff.  But what about what’s beyond my job?  What about the birdsong?  What about noticing that exact day in June when the lightning bugs appear?  Or the exact moment at dusk, in Mid-Summer, when the deafening sound of the cicadas suddenly dies and the chirps of the katydids instantly take over the chorus? What about that exact, glorious day in Spring when the fat, beside-themselves buds burst into chartreuse leaf?  In these moments, I swell and burst myself, with a knowing deep inside me.

For me, Nature calls on me to sit up and take notice in many ways.  She’s in my face to make me notice.  With a fragrance, too strong to ignore, leading me to the source of the scent.  I stop.  And let the flood of sense-memories draws me back in time.  A hummingbird, buzzing inches from my face.  I stop, in delight, and say hello to these lovely creatures that exude energy, and a renewed energy flows into me.  The songs of the birds, at dawn and dusk, calling to me, “Who am I?”  The sudden visits of the birds and squirrels outside the windows where I sit.  The fox.  The raccoon lumbering up my woodland pathways, headed for a morning constitutional dip in my pond.  The blue heron searching my pond for fish.  The rushing sound of my waterfalls.  And the trees.  The trees.  The old, all-knowing trees.

Yesterday, after intensely concentrating on the layout of a new walk we began building, and satisfying myself that it was the way I wanted it, I relaxed and stood back a ways to observe.  Suddenly, a large flock of birds swept up out of a nearby tree, swooped down over us in murmuration, looped around in unison several times and then landed back in the tree they’d left.  It was a stunning, brief performance that stopped the crew and me.  A moment in time.  Nature saying, “Pay attention to the beauty that I have to offer you, the beauty that is always here, if you’ll only look and see.”

What are the ways that Nature tries to make you sit up and notice?

Photo by the author.  If you copy, please link back.

Posted under Animals in the Garden, Fragrance in the garden, Insects in the Garden, Random garden thoughts

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on January 10, 2012

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Honeybees in January!

What a glorious day to be alive here in the Magical Mid-Atlantic (I’m borrowing this phrase from my magical friend, H/D).  On my daily walk through the garden this morning, I stopped in front of the biggest Leatherleaf Mahonia, Mahonia bealei, and lo and behold, the half-open blossoms are covered with honeybees.  Very active and happy honeybees–in JANUARY.  This may not be the earliest they’ve emerged to feast on the Mahonia’s nectar, yet it is the earliest certainly in my memory.  And the fragrance of the Mahonia is intoxicating when I get up close to the flowers.  What a treat and delight!

Look closely and you’ll see the bees:

Photos by the author.  If you copy, please link back.

Coming in for a landing on the left...

Coming in for a landing on the left...

Posted under Fragrance in the garden, Insects in the Garden, The Winter Garden

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on January 6, 2012

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The Sweet Scents of Spring

It never fails: every year, I am happily surprised by the powerful scents of early spring here in my garden. I have scented flowers all over my garden throughout the growing season, of course, yet these early ones get my blood pumping. Walking through, I encounter sweetness at every turn.

Entering the front walk, I have a big Variegated Winter Daphne, Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’. The pink buds open to pale pink, almost white, and have such a powerful scent you can smell them a couple of houses away. The entire front garden is smothered in fragrance. To my nose, they have a slight citrusy smell. Most people stop and try to figure out where it’s coming from. Daphne are notoriously finicky–they like some shade from the hot sun and do not like to be moved once established. Know that they can turn up their toes and die in a heartbeat…it’s just the way they are. But so very worth the risk, in my opinion. And by the way, yes–I have lost several. And yet I keep planting them.

Variegated Winter Daphne

Variegated Winter Daphne

Walking across the front of my house, hanging a left and heading down the steps past the waterfalls, a different sweetness hits my nose. This one is not so obvious because the flowers are largely hidden. Tiny, white flowers are covered by the evergreen leaves of the little Sweetbox, (it’s a tongue-twister) Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis. It doesn’t grow much higher than one or two feet, and makes a terrific groundcover, even for dry shade. I don’t know why, but I always think of dryer sheets (think Bounce) when I smell the Sweetbox…I happen to like the smell of dryer sheets, so it doesn’t smell weird to me.

Next to my lower pond is an odd-looking plant, Edgeworthia, or Paperbush, Edgeworthia papyrifera. It is a curious thing…deciduous in the winter, with stems that always remind me of long fingers like those of the movie character ET. The flowers, clusters of pale yellow with the look and smell of Daphne, come out on the tips. The leaves emerge soon after the blooms fade and have a tropical appearance to my eye.

Edgeworthia flower (with Daffodil below)

Edgeworthia flower (with Daffodil below)

Going left as I enter the woodland part of my garden, I see a Leatherleaf Mahonia, Mahonia bealei. It’s a coarse thing, with big, evergreen, holly-like leaves and clusters of bright, yellow flowers on the stem tips. The bees love them so there’s lots of movement and activity. The scent reminds me of Jonquils/Daffodils. Today’s rain is knocking off the flowers, so I don’t have much longer to enjoy them this year. The fruit ripens in about June and looks like clusters of blue-purple grapes. The bluejays and catbirds love the fruit and practically fight over it–they strip the fruit in not time.

Leatherleaf Mahonia

Leatherleaf Mahonia

And speaking of Daffodils, the garden is filling with their blooms (and fragrance). I think my favorite is ‘Tête à Tête’, a dwarf that blooms in tight little clusters. Looking at it just makes me happy that it’s spring!

\'Tête à Tête\' Daffodils

'Tête à Tête' Daffodils

I have a Winter Hazel, Corylopsis glabrescens, growing in front of the shed. I’d call this a large shrub or small tree. The hanging blooms are pale yellow and fragrant. It’s graceful and very elegant.

Winter Hazel

Winter Hazel

Finally, wafts of sweet Winter Honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) hit my nose as I get further into the lower garden. They’ve naturalized in the surrounding woods. As plants, they are not the prettiest things…just sticks in the winter and small-leafed shrubs during the growing season…but I do wait–and look forward to–their sweet scents in late winter and early spring.

It just occurred to me that most of the late winter/early spring flowers I have are yellows…to remind me of the sunlight I’ve missed so much over the winter?

Posted under Fragrance in the garden