Return of the Great Pumpkin

I wasn’t surprised that so many enjoyed my recent Wordless Wednesday photo, but have a bit of explaining to do. The eye-catching display isn’t my creation, but the work of a talented neighbor. Here is a photo from October 2010, taken just weeks after Tim and I moved to our current home, along with excerpts from a column I wrote that year for The Greenville News.

Lisa's display is an eagerly awaited autumn treat.

Lisa’s display is an eagerly awaited autumn treat.

Return of the Great Pumpkin

There is a special essence about autumn mornings that make me eager to get up and begin my day. I love the awakening touch of cool floor boards against my feet, and soon after, the chill of outdoors on my cheeks as I walk the dogs up the still-quiet street.

There is a sense of expectation, not just at my house, but throughout the neighborhood. Dogwood trees have abandoned summer-green frocks to gather burgundy cloaks about their shoulders, and towering oaks pelt the earth with storms of acorns. Squirrels collect the bounty, flicking grey tails in excitement, while migrating Monarch butterflies, oblivious to hurry and scurry, flit their way towards the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico.

There is another sign of the season, too. On the front stoop of neighbors Lisa and Jeff Tice, an annual display of pumpkins slows traffic to a crawl.

The story of this exuberant and colorful show is as much about the circle of life as it is a celebration of the season. Now a long-standing family tradition, it was Lisa’s father who first collected pumpkins each October, delivered them to the Tice’s home, and helped arrange them. Since his passing six years ago, Steve has filled those big shoes. And every fall, Lisa has the pleasure of remembering happy times with her dad, as well as making new memories with her own family.

Truth be told, that’s why autumn is my favorite, too. The season’s cool weather and colorful foliage remind me of my agrarian childhood, especially tobacco and peanut harvests, and the loving grandparents who taught me about gardening.

The Tice’s Autumn Display

Lisa, an accomplished portraiture artist, puts her eye for color and form to work in her autumnal displays.

Two large urns, planted with trailing vines and stuffed with a vertical arrangement of faux branches and orange floral stems give height to the design and provide a backdrop for the fall fruits. Bright orange pumpkins of all sizes sit upright or are turned forward, so they showcase their serpentine tops and dried stems. Color contrast is provided by variegated green and white fruits, and several purple-tinged ornamental kale plants.

Steve and Lisa find their pumpkins at the Asheville Farmers’ Market, noting they have to go earlier each year to get the pick of the litter, as many of their friends and neighbors have followed suit.

The large pumpkins are probably ‘Big Max’, a hybrid squash-type pumpkin believed to be bred from Hubbard squash. The green and white crookneck-shaped fruit is a variety of Cushaw squash, a winter squash with yellow flesh that is very similar in taste to pumpkin. The extremely long, curly fruits are commonly called snake gourds. My guess is they are an edible gourd, possibly Trichasanthes auguina, commonly grown in India and eaten in curries or stuffed with spicy meats. One cultivar, ‘King Cobra’, grows up to 6-feet long.

In a Vase on Monday

This post doesn’t strictly follow the rules, but I’m excited to have a contribution to In a Vase on Monday, a meme initiated by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden and popular among blogging friends.

Last week, I attended a workshop by Marty Van Allen, a renowned floral designer and 2009 winner of the Garden Club of America’s Katharine Thomas Cary Medal. After demonstrating various designs, Marty coached participants in making a “modern mass” arrangement. This type of design requires a plain, stout container and features blocks of color and texture, rather than a mix of stems.

My first "modern mass" arrangement.

My first “modern mass” arrangement.

Florist roses were provided, but participants were asked to bring an array of foliage and berries from their garden. Not knowing what would be required, I took clippings of nearly everything that was presentable! In the end, I used the foliage of cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior), folded and secured into a loop; pink lorepetalum (Loropetalum chinensis ‘Burgundy’); gold dust aucuba (Aucuba japonica ‘Variegata’); plus unripe, green berries of heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica).

Seen from above, the arrangement features florist roses along with foliage and berries from my garden.

Seen from above, the arrangement features florist roses along with foliage and berries from my garden.

Marty noted that no more than five types of color/texture blocks should be used and their shape should be amorphous. The goal is to create rhythm with movement of the eye from one group to the next.

In addition to the low, wide-rim vase used for the workshop, Marty also created a modern mass arrangement in a nearly round vessel with a (roughly) 5-inch diameter opening at top. With a little imagination, it’s easy to see this contemporary style of massing could be adapted to nearly any simply shaped, portly container.

The big takeaway, however, is the exciting knowledge that I can make arrangements with foliage from my shady garden along with summer’s hydrangeas and winter’s camellias, or a small addition from the florist shop.

Driveway? What Driveway?

Portland has been described as “a community dedicated to gardening; all shapes, sizes, and purposes,” so when I saw Jason’s post this morning on Gardeninacity, this space popped into my mind.

Repurposed space for a Portland garden.

Repurposed space for a Portland garden.

Though I couldn’t attend the 2014 Garden Blogger’s Fling, I visited Portland in 2008 for a Garden Writers Association meeting and was astounded by the many exuberant and creative home landscapes, some squeezed onto the tiniest lots. This garden in particular, which was just a few paces down the street from the featured tour garden, deserves a gold star — don’t you think?

Friends Old and New

On Tuesday morning, I had the opportunity to present a gardening program, Making the Most of Shade, at the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville, just a short 90-minute drive up the mountains west of Greenville. I always look forward to a visit to NCA, which offers superb education programs and exhibits in addition to its gardens and hiking trails. Plus, I can always count on discovering something new or exciting.

Salvia madrensis

Salvia madrensis

On Tuesday, I did both. Upon arrival, I immediately bumped into an old and much-missed friend, Forsythia sage (Salvia madrensis), which I grew in my previous garden. This very large and vigorous salvia is a late-bloomer that grows to mammoth proportions, reaching 5 to 8-feet tall and spreading roughly half as wide. In the Upstate, it begins to flower in late September and carries on until frost, but in lower Florida and other frost-free areas of the South, it blooms until spring. For those in the Piedmont who want to give it a try, the cultivar ‘Dunham’ is more hardy than the species.

Equally exciting was the warm welcome of a new and dear friend, Louisa, who traveled to Italy with me in June and surprised me by attending my program. It was a thrill to see Louisa again and a great comfort to have a friendly face with me in the classroom.

A Hedge Against Extinction

A Hedge Against Extinction

On departure, a stroll through the garden provided other pleasures. The Arboretum’s well-known sculpture, A Hedge Against Extinction, by artist Martin Webster, was graced with the pink, cloud-like blooms of muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris). And the quilt garden, a great favorite of every visitor, was near the peak of its autumn glory.

Lacinato kale (Brassica oleracea) with chrysanthemums and pansies.

Lacinato kale (Brassica oleracea) with chrysanthemums and pansies.

The North Carolina Arboretum's quilt garden, October 7, 2014.

The North Carolina Arboretum’s quilt garden, October 7, 2014.