There’s a Nip in the Air

It’s hard to believe September has come and (almost) gone, but the forecast, with nighttime lows dipping into the 40s by the weekend, tells the tale — summer is being nudged aside by autumn. Pansies, mums, and pumpkins are replacing warm-season blooms, and before long black cats, witches, and goblins will make their annual appearance.

Need a gourd or two?

Need a gourd or two?

Just down the street at Roots (An Urban Gardener’s Oasis!), Wesley has outdone previous fall displays with a truckload of gourds of every size and description. That would be a 1950 Chevy truck, thank you very much, offering a big dose of nostalgia along with its seasonal charm.

Just motor down to 2249 Augusta Street.

Just motor down to 2249 Augusta Street.

In the garden at home, there’s a bit of excitement too. The Hemiboea subcapitata (glossy false sinningia), given to me earlier this year my friend, Jean Lindsey, is in bloom.

Hemiboea subcapitata

Hemiboea subcapitata

Though the flowers are not terribly showy, any plant that blooms in shade, particularly in autumn, is worthy of celebration. Plus, the lustrous foliage is especially nice. Tony Avent of Plant Delights notes the Chinese perennial, a relative of African violet, is hardy to zone 6 and can spread into a 5-foot wide patch in just a few years.

For gardeners yearning for one more trip to the Lowcountry, Laura Lee Rose, President of the Southcoast Chapter of the South Carolina Native Plant Society, has asked me to share news about the upcoming Native Plant Symposium scheduled for October 31st to November 2nd on St. Helena Island.

Nothing tops a SC beach trip, unless of course, it's beach plus plants!

Nothing tops a SC beach trip, unless of course, it’s beach plus plants!

Open to all, details to the 17th annual event can be found here.

Mirror Image

The recent tour to Italy, my second this year, was beyond all expectations. Though you might think it strange, I truly enjoy seeing a place time and again, and often find a second or even third visit more illuminating than the first. With gardens in particular, it’s impossible to take in everything on a single visit. Plus, experiencing a garden at different times of year affords a broader perspective.

The June tour (my third trip to Italy but first Hortitopia garden tour) provided a firm understanding of the traditional Italian garden — linear spaces dominated by green plants pruned into hedges, cones, balls, and other shapes, and accented by terracotta containers, which are arranged symmetrically at regular intervals and filled with citrus or herbs such as rosemary or scented geraniums. This month’s visit provided an opportunity to examine details — the iron gates that mark entrances and exits, the grottos and nymphaeums provided for entertainment or respite from summer heat, and the fountains and statuary that serve as focal points.

Water parterre at Villa Gamberaia, near Florence.

Water parterre at Villa Gamberaia, near Florence.

The design feature that captured my imagination most, though, was the reflecting pools that mirrored surrounding plants and structures, or even better, the cerulean blue autumn sky. Large or small, these shallow bodies of water added a measure of mystery and tranquility that made any garden special.

Reflecting pool in the Giardino dei Limoni at Villa Reale near Lucca.

Reflecting pool in the Giardino dei Limoni at Villa Reale near Lucca.

Take two at Villa Reale.

Take two at Villa Reale.

A pond at the base of the Fontana dell'Organo and Fontana di Nettuno at Villa d'Este at Tivoli, not too far from Rome.

A pond at the base of the Fontana dell’Organo and Fontana di Nettuno at Villa d’Este at Tivoli, not too far from Rome.

I was especially taken with the Spanish Pool Garden at Giardini della Landriana, a lovely country garden roughly 35 kilometers south of Rome. Designed by Russell Page (British garden designer and landscape architect, 1906-1985), this slender canal, offering a mirror image of surrounding hardwood trees, made me wonder if there’s room for a similar feature in my own shady haven.

The Moorish-style pool at Giardini della Landriana, south of Rome near Tor San Lorenzo.

The Moorish-style pool at Giardini della Landriana, south of Rome near Tor San Lorenzo.

Almost Wednesday, Almost Wordless

This past weekend Tim and I made a 24-hour trip to Charleston to celebrate the 50th anniversary of friends Carolyn and Wayne, our once across-the-street neighbors, and I snapped a few pics on a quick drive through the historic district before we headed home. So, here’s a quick look at a few things that lend charm to South Carolina’s oldest city.

Amazing window boxes!

Amazing window boxes!

Classic single-style house with piazza entered by door on the street.

Classic single-style house with piazza entered by door on the street.

Oaks filled with resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides)

Oaks filled with resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides)

Two Meeting Street Inn, the Queen of southern hospitality.

Two Meeting Street Inn, the Queen of southern hospitality.

In just a few hours, I’ll be at the airport to begin my final garden tour of the year. Stay tuned for bella Italia round two!

Riversweep

This weekend, Tim and I realized it was now or never. Well, maybe not “never,” but at least not until next year, as I will soon be traveling again and when I return the weather could be iffy. No one, especially me, wants to get in the river when it’s cold outside. So Saturday we put on our hip boots, hauled the necessary gear down to the Reedy, and celebrated Labor Day weekend with the Second Biennial St.Clair Riversweep.

Hip boots, work gloves, and shovel--ready for the Second Biennial St.Clair Riversweep.

Hip boots, work gloves, and shovel–ready for the Second Biennial St.Clair Riversweep.

Though I often write about the Reedy River in glowing terms, Friends of the Reedy note it is historically the most polluted river in South Carolina. Even from our home’s high perch, Tim and I can see aluminum cans glinting in the sunlight and the dark form of automobile tires half buried in river sand. On our first riversweep, undertaken on Labor Day weekend in 2012, we wrestled more than 45 automobile tires from a few hundred feet of riverbed, plus removed cans, broken bottles, old shoes, and other trash, including a typewriter.

Over the bank and into the river we go!

Over the bank and into the river we go!

Rather than struggle as we’ve done in the past, Tim fashioned an easy method of getting in and out of the river with a step ladder and length of rope. Getting down to the river is not much of a problem, but getting out with a garbage bag packed with debris can be a challenge.

Heading upriver to begin the sweep.

Heading upriver to begin the sweep.

Our focus area is the stretch of river which begins behind our upstream neighbor and extends just beyond our property. We start upstream since the trash there is headed our way next and clean roughly 300 feet because it’s what we can do in a day.

In all, we moved about 15 tires and collected three bags of trash on Saturday. This doesn’t sound like much, I know, but the cumbersomeness of the hip boots and the force of the rushing water, which is more than knee deep in some places, make the effort exhausting. Plus, everything is full of sand, tires must be scooped out and each can must be torn open and emptied.

Collecting tires from the Reedy.

Collecting tires from the Reedy.

In the photo above, the overhead tree branches indicate how high the river reached in the August flash flood–more than 11 feet above normal. And below, you can see that our neighbor lost another chunk of land to the rushing waters.

Recent erosion of the riverbank.

Recent erosion of the riverbank.

Despite the pollution, the river teams with wildlife. Small fish dart about and I frequently see a blue heron high-stepping through the shallows, focused on its next meal. The two snakes I scooped from the inside of an old whitewall in 2012 seemed healthy enough too, and thankfully, were as eager to escape from me as I was from them. Red-tailed hawks are frequent visitors, the great horned owl we hear at night has used the rail of our deck as a hunting perch, and we’ve even spied river otters on occasion.

A riversweep is physically demanding work, and at times even unnerving, but I know the effort we have put into the job, and will continue to make, is worthwhile.

For locals who care to lend a hand, Friends of the Reedy just announced plans for a community event…

Riversweep 2014

Land of Cotton, Part II

A visit to Virginia this past week gave me a second opportunity to examine the cotton growing in the fields surrounding my parent’s home, which was first highlighted (here) in July. My stepfather, born and raised on this land in the southeastern region of the state, has abandoned his love of farming to care full-time for my mother, and the acreage has been leased to a younger farmer who rotates crops from season to season and year to year.

Cotton field in late August.

Cotton field in late August.

The cotton now stands about 4-feet tall; when you look across the field it’s nearly impossible to distinguish the rows of individual plants. Though still in bloom, the crop is nearing the end of its growing period. At maturity, plants have 12 to 16 fruiting branches, each with several fruits.

Flower and foliage of a cotton plant.

Flower and foliage of a cotton plant.

Cotton belongs to the genus Gossypium of the Malvaceae (mallow) family, and when you look closely, its easy to see how much it resembles its plant cousins–okra, hollyhock, and hibiscus. Each flower opens a creamy white but begins to darken when it’s pollinated, deepening to yellow, pink, and then rose. Cotton can self-pollinate, or it can cross-pollinate with the help of bees. The flowers drop away within a few days leaving a small football-shaped pod, called a boll, which is filled with seeds.

One of the earliest cotton bolls, roughly 6-weeks into its growth period.

One of the earliest cotton bolls, roughly 6-weeks into its growth period.

The cotton plant is constantly adding squares (a flower bud enclosed by three bracts) to the plant and then aborting squares or young bolls to balance out the demand of the growing boll load. Boll retention gradually declines during the bloom period as the plant reaches its capacity for supplying bolls with the carbohydrates necessary to produce cotton fiber. The largest bolls on these plants, which formed in mid-July, are now roughly the size of a golf ball.

Immature cotton fibers within a green boll.

Immature cotton fibers within a green boll.

As a boll begins to grow, moist fibers push out from the newly formed seeds to fill the chambers of the pod. In time, as the boll ripens, it will begin to turn brown and crack open. Freed from the pod, the fibers expand in the warm autumn sunshine. I hope to show you the end result on my next visit, which is planned for October.

Turkeys on the go!

Turkeys on the go!

The soybeans which typically grow in these fields are sorely missed by the whitetail deer and the turkeys, which have no shame in eating their fill. Though the deer stayed out of sight, a flock of wild turkeys, comprising at least a dozen hens and two toms, risked exposure to forage in the tall grass around the farm.