The Winter That [Seems Like It] Will Never End…

…but we know it will, of course–eventually.

From this (Bluffton, SC, February 2014)...

From this (Bluffton, SC, February 2014)…

...to this (Arlington,  VA, March 6, 2014)

…to this (Arlington, VA, March 6, 2014)

It’s good to be back home in Arlington, though not to this cold and snow! Except for the ice storm that occurred when I first arrived in North Carolina last month, the Winter weather down South this year was gorgeous.

Winter Damage

The lowest temperature got to 5F in my garden this Winter. Plus, there were several stretches of below-freezing temperatures for several days at a time (including this past week).

Almost all broadleaf evergreens have, at least, some leaf burn on them, as we head into late Winter and early Spring. Some have severe burn. Some leaf burn is very obvious; some not so obvious, yet.

In my travels this Winter, I have seen damage as far south as South Georgia. It has been a cold Winter in the eastern part of the U.S.

Winter damage, Bonaventure Cemetary, Savannah, GA, February, 2014

Winter damage, Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, GA, February, 2014

Ice storm, Wilmington, NC, early February, 2014

Ice storm, Wilmington, NC, early February, 2014

In my own garden, I grow some things that I would not plant in clients’ gardens (before years of testing in local conditions) because their true hardiness in the metro D.C. area is still uncertain. Believe it or not, I welcome a Winter like this one–at least in terms of testing the limits of hardiness for some of the plants in my garden.

The usual suspects have moderate to severe leaf burn: nandinas, loquats, cast iron plants, windmill palms, chindo viburnums, ligustrum, Carolina jessamine, fatsias, loropetalums, camellias, gardenias, mondo grass, liriope, etc.–even aucubas. With the exception of loquat (which is a hardiness zone 8 plant), all are listed in hardiness zone 7 (the predominant hardiness zone in the D.C. area, which covers average lowest temperatures 0F-10F), or lower/able to  take even colder temperatures. I’m even expecting some bud loss on my beloved camellias which, since I’ve had my garden here at Woodland Cottage, have always put on a spectacular late Winter/early Spring show.

Crapemyrtles can be adversely affective by severe cold, too, though we’ll have to wait until they leaf out (often not until May) before we know if they were damaged or not.

Winter damage on Sago Palm, Savannah, GA, February, 2014

Winter damage on Sago Palm, Savannah, GA, February, 2014

The difference this year, I think, is a combination of very cold temperatures and long stretches of below-freezing temperatures. Plants’ leaves dried out and burned because they could not get water into their systems to help prevent the dessication.

I’m expecting most, if not all, of these plants to drop/lose all their burned leaves before putting out new growth when the weather is, finally, reliably warm. They may have some stem/branch loss, as well, from the tips back.

Frozen pond/waterfall, Woodland Cottage, Winter 2014

Frozen pond/waterfall, Woodland Cottage, Winter 2014

The best thing to do–as I say every year–is nothing, now–WAIT. It would be a shame to cut back or remove a plant when it appears dead when, actually, its wood is still very much alive. Even if part of the top of the plant is lost, the roots may still be alive and strong, able to push out lush, new growth when the weather warms.

The other reason to wait, from a cost perspective, is that loss from Winter damage is not covered under the plant guarantee.

Spring can be fickle after a very cold Winter (and Easter is not until April 20th this year), so we may have to wait awhile until the weather settles down and balmy weather returns.

Please wait, and please try to be patient. Allow Mother Nature to work her magic. In most cases, it will be well worth the wait.

Here’s hoping for real Spring–soon!!

Camellia japonica, Savannah, GA, February, 2014

Camellia japonica, Savannah, GA, February, 2014

 

 

 

Posted under Southern Gardens, The Winter Garden, Water in the Garden

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

Time

Ralph, my wise, old garden gnome.  He sees all.

Ralph, my wise, old garden gnome. He sees all.

I have an article due later this week on the subject of peanuts.  I’m looking forward to writing it, yet I haven’t gotten the urge or the inspiration to get started.  The deadline will get me moving, I know, because I have a deep-seated need to fulfill my obligations to the best of my ability.  I still see my mother staring at me, arms crossed, with tapping foot and pursed lips.  It will be on time.  The Miss Joan in my head will make sure of it.

Tonight, I’m avoiding the article on peanuts by writing in my blog.  How convenient!  I know I am not alone…often, my dear, brilliant attorney friend, Catherine, has writer’s block with the briefs she must file on time.  She’ll finish in time and turn them in; meantime, she knits, and writes blog posts, and brilliant articles for magazines.  I get that urge to avoid when the writing “don’t come easy”, as Ringo Starr sang.

I’ve been feeling a little melancholy lately, for various reasons.  Steve and I just came off a wonderful, Summer vacation to Savannah, Beaufort SC, and St. Augustine FL.  More on the trip in another post (with Steve’s great photos); let’s just say it was hard to come home.  I’m still having dreams of moss swaying lazily in live oak trees.

It’s the “off-season” for me, also, so my days aren’t as crazy and I have time to fill as I see fit.  It’s kind of a crack in the wheel of the year for me because everything is in that lull between the end of Summer and the start of Fall.  I don’t have to think too much about appointments and installations and garden maintenance and schedules and deadlines (other than the article deadline, that is)–everything seems to be hanging in suspended animation until a switch gets flicked and time says, “Okay. It’s time for Fall.”  I’m working on redecorating a bathroom, reading, and just staring into space thinking about all kinds of things.  One of those things is time.  As much as I love Fall, I’m sad to see the Summer go.

I felt propelled to my bookshelf today and pulled down “Every Day in Tuscany” by my penpal friend, Frances Mayes, my favorite.  I was thinking about time and, sure enough, she discusses it much in this book.  I’ve been reading all day and stopped many times to ponder.  So many thoughts about time came to me today.

It’s funny how clients are so different from one another in terms of “garden time” (thank goodness–it keeps my job interesting).  Some are patient (they get that a garden needs to grow and can take years to develop), and some are not (they want the end product NOW).  We gardeners know the answer, of course:  great gardens develop over time.  I was having dinner the other night with my dear friend, Crawford, who will be 90 next year, and we were talking about gardens and time.  I told him about my impatient clients.  He said, “What a shame that they miss out on the joy and pleasure of watching their gardens grow.”  Indeed.  But I didn’t let him off the hook, either.  I said, “You are just as guilty!  You cajoled, fertilized, watered, and just about put stretchers on your Pieris to get them to grow, remember?!  You complained for three years or so, and the fourth year they doubled in size.  How quickly you forget!”  He said, “Welllll–it was all that encouragement I gave them that made them grow!!”  We laughed.  Even in your 80s, you can learn lessons about time.

Remember, with plants:  “It sleeps, it creeps, it leaps.”  And that’s not just about English Ivy, either.  In my experience, it’s pretty much across the board, at least in the Southern climates where I live and garden.  Seems like the plants take forever to grow, then one day you notice suddenly that they’ve doubled and need pruning.  Astounding!  What a pleasure to be a gardener with a few years under my belt…now, I sit back and enjoy the process because I know the reward will come soon enough, at a seemingly increasing speed.

Steve was up this weekend, and after a delightful evening with a dear friend and her nephew on Friday night, we had a full Saturday night.  First, we were privileged to be invited to a 50th birthday surprise party for our friend, Stephanie.  What a cordial group of people, and when Steph walked in and heard the “SURPRISE!!!”, she started to cry.  The crowd burst into a lively version of “Happy Birthday”, and in the amount of time it took to sing the song, I could feel the honest and devoted love for Steph.  Her years devoted to cultivating these loving friendships all came to fruit in that one instant.  A moment in time, and a lesson for all of us.  It’s very easy for gardeners to see the metaphor here.

After our quick appearance at Steph’s party, we went out to Wolftrap (which is a local venue set in a national park here outside D.C.) to participate in a sing-along viewing of “The Sound of Music”.  So much fun and so many memories associated with the film.  On the way home, we discussed how the huge crowd joined together, joyfully, as one big unit, to celebrate the fun of this film.  For those three hours, we all had one thing in common:  our experience watching the film–not our differences.  It was a congenial,  civilized and laughter-filled evening I will remember.  Yes, some melancholy there, too, for me–I was seven years old when “The Sound of Music” was released in 1965 and much in my life has changed.  But “The Sound of Music” has remained the same, even as my own life is flying by.

This time of year, for me, is a time of thought:  “What’s next?”  The seasons are changing, days are shortening, nights are cooling. What will you plant in your garden this Fall?

Posted under Books, Garden Ornament, Gardeners, Random garden thoughts, Southern Gardens, The Fall Garden, The Summer Garden, Writers

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.

Iris

Iris

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

It’s a Japonica Kind of Day

JaponicaCamellia.  Some say it like this:  Kuh-MAYL-yuh.  Here in the South, “Japonica” is a catch-all term for so many plants:  Winter/Spring-blooming Camellias, Pieris…any plant whose species name is japonica is fair game down here.  Whatever you call them, they’re all the same and they’re all Camellias.

I just took a turn around my woodland garden, and the early Camellia japonicas are blooming away.  Of the varieties I have, these aren’t my favorites (those will bloom later); yet any flower at this time of year is welcome, both indoors and out.  Indoors, I love to float them in shallow dishes.  I have my eye out always for vessels in which I can float Camellias.

Camellia dishes/bowls are an old stand-by, Southern style.  Actually, I got this flat dish in Murano, the island off Venice where the beautiful Venetian glass is made.  It’s perfect for floating Camellias.  I bought it for this use.  This one will hold several blossoms:

Here’s an old one I got at the gift shop of the Mercer House in Savannah, GA.  Steve and I get down there several times a year–we love it–and a stop at the Mercer House shop is a must.  (Remember the book/movie, ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’?  This is the house of Jim Williams.  Check it out here).  A clue that it’s a Camellia dish, and not a cigarette ashtray (though, yes, you could use it as an ashtray), is that it doesn’t have the notches in the rim where you’d rest a cigarette.  I love the cut glass and gold rim:

Many Camellia dishes are passed down through Southern families.  Many shallow dishes did double duty as condiment dishes and Camellia dishes, like these, which were passed down to me by my maternal grandmother, “Miss Lill”:

Sometimes, a Camellia may be blooming at the tip of a branch and have tight buds adjacent.  Every bud means a precious flower, so I’ve found that twisting off the flower, carefully, is the best way to pick them.  Just plop them in a shallow dish, Camellia or otherwise, face up, and there you have it.  They last many days in my house–probably because I’m cheap and keep the house so cool!

What a Winter!  To be able to walk around the yard daily–in JANUARY–and see what’s happening (because, yes, it is changing daily–hard to believe) is a treat beyond treats.  Good for the soul and what ails you.  The days are getting longer and the sun is getting warmer, too, here in the magical Mid-Atlantic.

I never thought I’d ever say this, and I may never say it again–and it may be a first:  Just for now, I’m loving Winter.  How about you?  Do you have any Camellia traditions?

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

Posted under Flowers in the House, The Winter Garden

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on January 28, 2012

Tags: , , , , ,