Rash of Spring, Fever or Freeze?

Here’s an article I wrote last week, Rash of Spring, Fever or Freeze?  It was published in Lumina News of Wrightsville Beach/Wilmington, NC, on February 16th.  Enjoy!

Posted under Climate Change, Southern Gardens, Spring Flowers, The Spring Garden, The Winter Garden, Weather vagaries

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on February 20, 2012

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Delightful Richmond Hill and Darien, Georgia

I’ve been driving up and down Interstate 95 to destinations anywhere from Arlington, VA, to Key West, FL, for 30-some years now.  I’ve passed by, but never stopped in, Darien, GA.  It’s about an hour South of Savannah, GA.

Steve and I visit Savannah often.  We make Savannah our headquarters, and we always pick a day, hop in the car, pick a direction, and just drive.  Last week was no different–this time, we went South on Route 17, which I call the “Southern Coast Road”.  It runs from Virginia to Florida, and it was one of those roads everyone had to take to get North or South before Interstate 95 was built.  Route 17 runs through many small towns.  Many of them have died out since the interstate was built.  It’s always a delight and a surprise to discover a special town.

One of the outbuidings on the grounds at Ella's in Richmond Hill.

One of the outbuidings on the grounds at Ella's in Richmond Hill.

When we head South from Savannah, we always stop in Richmond Hill.  It’s near the Ogeechee River.  We love Richmond Hill (I confess one of the reasons I like it is the name…it has “Richmond” in its title and I am a Virginian…).  Prosperous rice plantations were abundant in the area before the War Between the States.  Sherman burnt it during the war, and it was a very poor area from then until 1925.  Henry Ford really put Richmond Hill on the map.  You’ll find more details about its history here.  We love to ride around and stop at some of the shops.  Ella’s is one of our favorites–great items for home interiors, and a great selection of regionally hardy plants (Zone 8b)  and decorative items for the garden in their small, adjacent garden center.  We’ve bought plants for Wilmington here, and learned a lot about what grows in the area and what doesn’t.  It’s always a treat to stop by.

Back in the car, we stopped at some pretty funky places as we headed South.  One is the antiques and collectibles shop at the Biltmore RV Park (and the owner is a native Virginian–we had lots to talk about).  We love to engage with the owners–we pick up area history, and always ask, “Where else should we stop?”  A tip:  Always ask–you’ll find out about places off the beaten path.  And these are often the best.  Same thing goes for local places to eat.

A street in Darien, GA

A street in Darien, GA

We ended up in Darien, GA, later in the afternoon.  It’s right in the Altamaha River delta–Darien, Butler, Champney Rivers and Cathead Creek.  It was a large cotton port prior to the War Between the States; now, it’s a shrimping town.  The shrimp boats line the river.  I thought immediately of two movie towns:  Bayou La Batre, LA,  in ‘Forrest Gump’ and Chinquapin, LA, in ‘Steel Magnolias’.  The streets are canopied with ancient Live Oaks draped in Spanish moss.

St. Church,
St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church, Darien.  It was built in 1876 for the African-American community.  Notice the “tabby” walls.  Tabby is a typical building material in the Low Country.  It’s made of of homemade lime, sand, oyster shells and water.  Walls with oyster shells are always a hint that they may be tabby.
A better view of the tabby walls.

A better view of the tabby walls.

We could live here.  We drove up and down the streets, slowly, buying and re-doing half the houses in town.  The parks and gardens are glorious.  Every, single person we drove by or walked past nodded and/or said hello.  Many stopped to talk.  We had time.

A Darien cottage, wrapped in Confederate Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides).  Sorry this is a little blurry!

A Darien cottage, wrapped in Confederate Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides). Sorry this picture is a little blurry!

After one false start selecting a place to eat supper (we walked in and felt like we were in a church hall serving Sunday dinner–not a bad thing; just not what we were looking for right then), we found a place called Skipper’s Fish Camp, right on the river.  When you walk through the entrance, you can go either left to the restaurant or right to the bar.  “Wait a minute”, Steve said; he thought the music might be live in the bar, and it was.  We walked into a lively, fish camp atmosphere; it was bustling for a small town.  Great happy hour prices, and full dinner is served on that side, too, so we grabbed a table.

The shrimp and grits, wings, and blackened mahi-mahi were To.Die.For.  And the collards.  THE COLLARDS!  Melt-in-your-mouth food from the gods!!  Were these boiled in sweet tea?  (hint: I’m going to try making them this way…)  All this, and the singer/guitar player, Jared Wade, was sublime.  If we’d stayed a bit longer, an overnight room would have been necessary!  But we caved and headed on back to Savannah.  Reluctantly.

We will be back to Darien.

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

Posted under Garden Travel, Southern Gardens, Travel

Early Spring in Savannah

Forsyth Park, Savannah

Forsyth Park, Savannah

We just got back to Wilmington, NC, from four days in the Savannah, GA, area.  Lawsy, it was nice.  Most of the time, it was cloudy and cool, but Thursday the sun popped out and the temperature went up to 75F.  We threw on some shorts and a t-shirt and headed into the historic district for a nice walk.

Peeking into a lush courtyard...

Peeking into a lush courtyard...that's Fig Vine or Creeping Fig (Ficus pumila) on the walls. I've seen it in the warmest parts of zone 7b, very protected, but it's probably best grown in zones 8 and higher, where it might still experience winter burn.

Rest easy, my Northern friends:  Spring is headed your way–it’s beginning already in the Deepest South.



Like most of the rest of the Deep South, Savannah had a freeze last weekend.  It happens most years–something in bloom gets fried.  This year, it was the Camellias and Tulip (or Saucer) and Star Magnolias, and even some of the early Azalea blooms.  Full bloom and frozen to mush.  That’ll be it for those Magnolias this year–darn–yet the Camellias still have lots of undamaged buds, and they will open as the warmth returns.

Frost damage, Tulip/Saucer Magnolia

Frost damage, Tulip/Saucer Magnolia

Frost damage, Azalea

Frost damage, Azalea

In South Carolina, the wild Carolina Jessamine is in bloom, climbing the trees everywhere you look.  Here in Wilmington it is just beginning.  Even in the mildest parts of the country, Spring is coming earlier this year.  The blooms are headed North soon!

Early Azaleas coming into bloom

Early Azaleas coming into bloom

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

Posted under Climate Change, Garden Travel, Southern Gardens, Spring Flowers, The Spring Garden, The Winter Garden, Travel, Weather vagaries

Books for Snuggly Days

If you garden, Winter is a time of major dreaming. Dreaming about how our gardens will do this year, dreaming about maybe traveling to see some gardens, and, well…dreaming while sleeping.  It’s a great time for naps, snuggled up in your favorite old blankets and afghans.

Personally, my reading time is just before I sleep–at night or before a nap.  I relax and dig into whatever book I’m reading (though I might have two going at once), and reading lulls me to sleep.  Right before bedtime is the only time I have to read, during most of the year…having the extra time in the Winter is a real luxury and treat, and I do take advantage of it!

After a hectic holiday season and January, I finally finished up my long list of things to do and now I’m in Wilmington, NC, for a nice, long stay.  Ahhhhhh.  Even after being here for a week, I’m just now coming down off the craziness and beginning to relax.  Let the naps and reading begin!

I just finished reading The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough.  It tells about creative Americans who went to Paris between about 1830 and 1900.  You’ll recognize the names of many of the movers and shakers of American history.  If you love Paris, as I do, you’ll recognize so much of the city in Mr. McCullough’s words.  I learned so much from this book.

Of course, I’m reading garden books!  A book I’ve wanted to read for awhile is And I Shall Have Some Peace There: Trading in the Fast Lane for My Own Dirt Road by the wonderful blogger, Margaret Roach.  She is a former executive from the Martha Stewart empire and finally threw in the towel so she could do her own thing.  I confess that I just started this one, but I can tell I’m going to get sucked into it quickly.

Dominique Browning, former editor-in-chief of House & Garden magazine, left the fast lane, as well, but not by choice.  The magazine folded.  She wrote the wonderful book Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas, and Found Happiness about her post-job experiences.  I’ve read all her books, and this is my favorite.  Though I enjoyed her other books very much, I sensed an underlying anxiety that I don’t sense in this book.  What I see in this book is a letting go, and I can feel it happening as I read.  Gardening helped her find her way.  I really enjoy reading her blog, as well:  Slow Love Life.

One book that has really excited me this Winter is One Writer’s Garden: Eudora Welty’s Home Place by Susan Haltom and Jane Roy Brown. I’d read over the years that Ms. Welty was a gardener, but who knew she was a capital “G” Gardener?  This book looks at the Welty garden in Jackson, Mississippi, which has been lovingly restored to the time Ms. Welty’s mother, Chestina Welty, was alive and tending it with her daughter.  I love the criss-cross of the history of the garden melded with Ms. Welty’s history.  I’ve maintained always that behind every garden and gardener is an interesting backstory, and the fact that Ms. Welty was a famous, Southern writer is not the main course here–her garden is.  This is a slant that we gardeners love.  It feels like a privilege to get a behind-the-scenes look at a very private part of this famous writer’s life.

Another book that just landed on the doorstep here in Wilmington is The Art of Creative Pruning: Inventive Ideas for Training and Shaping Trees and Shrubs by Jake Hobson.  I heard about this book here from the wonderful garden blog Garden Rant.  Okay–the photos in this book are plant porn, especially if you love your plants trimmed and controlled just so.  I’m not one of those people, but still…maybe I could try it, even a little?  This book is instructive, well-illustrated with examples and looks like a winner.  I’m looking forward to reading it, not just glancing.

I revisit two of my favorite books throughout the year (and years), not just Wintertime.  Mrs. Whaley and Her Charleston Garden and Mrs. Whaley Entertains were written by Emily Whaley, with William Baldwin.  Mrs. Whaley, who passed away a few years ago well into her eighties, had the most visited garden in the country.  She wrote these books in her eighties, and they are absolutely, wonderfully, cheekily delightful.  What a woman she was, and what a gardener.  The books describe not only her garden, but those of her childhood and old, old South Carolina family.  And we all get to listen to her life story, peppered with saucy opinions and comments.  She was Southern to the core.  These books are a quick read and great books in which to just get lost.  I love them.  (And I have a confession to make:  a few years ago, my talented Richmond friend, David Pippin, and I snuck into Mrs. Whaley’s garden on one of our Charleston trips.  We peeked quickly, then left in one piece.  Thank goodness!  We later found out she’d already died before we saw the garden.  How I wish we could have met her.)

As you can tell, my tastes go for essay-type books, whether they are garden or travel or cook books, which tend to be my favorites genres.  I like history, too.  But please:  don’t just give me the facts…tell me a story, too.  If an author does that, they’ve got me as a reader.

Steve and I are headed to our beloved Savannah, GA, tomorrow.  I don’t think I’ll have a lot of reading time (though some), but we will be trying to see every garden we can see.  First stop may be Boone Hall Plantation just North of Charleston, SC.  There was a freeze over the weekend, so some of the early bloomers may got zapped…I’ll keep you posted.

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

Posted under Blogs, Books, Garden Travel, Gardeners, Topiary, Travel, Writers