Hello Mr. Sapsucker

I’ve been excited in recent weeks to see a few uncommon bird species at the feeders. First, the tiny and excitable ruby-crowned kinglet, one of last year’s surprise visitors, returned, and then the brown-headed nuthatch, common to the pine forests of the Midlands and Lowcountry, showed up too.  Most exciting of all, though, is a male yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius), the first of his kind to visit the garden.


Mr. Sapsucker, puzzled but not ready to give up.

Mr. Sapsucker, a stocky woodpecker with a stout, dark bill and a brilliant red crown and throat, seemed at a loss when he first arrived. He would cling for long minutes to the feeder of black oil sunflower seeds, but couldn’t figure out what to do next (probably because the feeder was nearly empty).  Finally, he discovered the suet feeder filled with my homemade recipe, and now he’s a frequent visitor.


Female northern cardinal at the safflower feeder.

Of course, offering a variety of foods will always draw the most species of birds. In my garden, safflower seed is favored by the titmouse, Carolina chickadee, and northern cardinal, while black oil sunflower seed lures wrens, sparrows, finches, nuthatches, and some woodpeckers.  Thistle is the favorite of goldfinches, who are just beginning to exchange their winter drab for spring’s bright yellow plumage.


It’s suet, however, which is the object of the large woodpeckers, as well as the small and sprightly Carolina wren (in the photo above with a red-bellied woodpecker at the suet feeder). Regular readers will have seen this before, but for newcomers, here’s my tried and true recipe for homemade suet.


Easy-to-make homemade suet is a bird magnet!

Peanut Butter and Jelly Suet

For three cakes, mix one cup lard (or shortening) and one cup crunchy peanut butter until soft, and then add one cup whole wheat flour, and two cups each of plain cornmeal and uncooked quick oats. Finish by adding a handful of raisins.  Cakes can be easily formed in plastic sandwich containers (lined with wax paper), or the mix can be spread on tree trunks, branches, and pine cones.

Linking this post to Tina’s Wildlife Wednesday at My Gardener Says, where other gardeners and nature lovers are sharing their wildlife experiences today.

In a Vase on Monday and the Big Snow

The new week begins with a bit of fanfare this morning, as a holiday Amaryllis snapped up just before Christmas offers two snowy blooms to match the frosty landscape outside.


Holiday Amaryllis illuminated by morning light on the sunporch.

Typically, I pot this type of bulb in soil, but on this occasion I took the lazy route by just putting it in a glass vase with marbles.  The method has not proved satisfactory, with the blub tilting first one way and then another as the bloom stalk grew to an immense height.

Friday’s sleet and ice, followed by 3 or more inches of snow later in the night, fashioned a winter wonderland for the weekend.  Rising temperatures, reaching a high in the mid 50s today, should soon send Frosty and other snowmen hurrying on their way.


Our street of towering hardwoods outlined by snow.

In many respects it was a perfect snow.  School children had a day at home on Friday, the early ice caused fewer difficulties than expected, and it was a thrill to see our world transformed. Best of all, we were not snowbound longer than we could bear.


The back garden and woodland comprise four terraces that reach down to the Reedy River.


Tim and I set out for a long walk early on Saturday.  Along the way, I took photos from the far side of the Reedy River showing our home high above the waterway.  There are four terraces, including a narrow back garden and three sections of woodland.  Looking carefully, you can see a stairway on the second terrace just beyond the substantial retaining wall, and then look left to find a stairway descending the third terrace which ends at a lower retaining wall. The final terrace, along the riverbank, is the section of the garden which floods after heavy rains.


The Reedy River must rise 10 or more feet above normal to flood the lower terrace of the woodland garden.

From another angle, you can see how much the river rises before it overflows its banks, plus the kitchen window above the sink that provides a dreamy view when I wash dishes.


A dreamy view for washing dishes.

Has winter reached your neck of the woods yet?

For some of the most eye-catching flowers around the world today, visit the queen of Monday vases, Cathy, at her blog Rambling in the Garden.



The Beth Chatto Gardens


Home of Beth Chatto, with the water garden in the foreground.

Not long ago I remarked how nice it would be to have a snowy day on the sunporch and today my wish was granted, although it is sleet and ice that blankets the Upstate. For company, I choose The Shade Garden by Beth Chatto, a best-loved book I’m revisiting as I formulate plans for a renovation of the back garden.


A view of the gravel garden.

In September, I visited Chatto’s renowned gardens for the first time. In addition to her own books, much has been written about the gardens, so I won’t attempt to explain what others have already expressed better than I can, other than to say I’m thankful I was able to visit the gardens in her lifetime and that they are even better than pictures can possibly show.  For those not familiar with Chatto and her method, often called “ecological gardening,” I recommend a short collection of notes on a 2008 exhibition held at the Garden Museum, found here.


Called ecological gardening, Chatto’s method matches plants to conditions where they can thrive.

The main object of my visit was the woodland garden, but I found its late-summer charms were overwhelmed by those of the gravel garden and water garden. In fact, I’m afraid shady spaces were mostly overlooked that day, which adds to my impatience for another visit.  Since the gardens are only a short train journey from London, I hope, with time, to enjoy them in every season.


Korean reed grass, Calamagrostis brachytricha, adds interest with striking foxtail-like flowers.

Tomorrow’s column in the Greenville News features a small handful of grasses grown in the drought-resistant gravel garden and the photos on this blog fulfill a promise to show more views of Chatto’s landscape.


The scree garden.

Without a doubt, British gardens are among the most beautiful and noteworthy in the world. The best, such as the Beth Chatto Gardens, exhibit the highest standards of horticulture.  And, in general, British gardening professionals have been the primary leaders in both design and plant cultivation for the past 400 years.


The nursery at the Beth Chatto Gardens.

If you haven’t noticed the Hortitopia Tours page, take a peek every once in a while. Currently, I’m featuring a June 2016 garden tour to southern Wales and England.  Among other highlights, the trip includes Cothay Manor, distinguished as one of the “20 Best Gardens in Britain;” Montacute House, featured in the recent BBC production of Wolf Hall; Veddw House garden, a celebrated contemporary garden and favorite of Piet Oudolf; the National Botanic Garden of Wales, a nearly 600 acre garden that looks clearly to the future; and a visit to the home of Dylan Thomas.  For details, click here.


One of Somerset’s finest historic houses, Cothay Manor is surrounded by 12 acres of magical gardens.



Celebrating in Charleston

This time last week I was in Charleston to cheer my baby boy, Daniel, on his  birthday.  Sunday brunch at the Grocery, our favorite meal of the week, was followed by a meander through the historic district, south of Broad.

Though temperatures in the Upstate have reached the low 20s (F), the Holy City has yet to experience a frost, so container gardens are still thriving.  Here’s a quick look at a few of our favorites.


Pretty color and fresh foliage create a warm welcome on Meeting Street.


Love the drama of light against dark.


The total package–grilled windows, overflowing baskets, old brick, and a handsome crepe myrtle to boot.

And that adorable baby boy?  He’s pretty cute, too.  And believe it or not, he just turned 30.


Daniel, captured by camera phone, striking a pose with a handful of holiday gifts.

In a Vase and Other Monday Happiness

Just before Christmas, I remembered to visit a local nursery to gather a few bulbs for forcing.  Pickings were slim, but I bagged a couple hyacinths and an amaryllis.

Hyacinth bulb

Hyacinth bulb

The anticipation of a flower can be just as enjoyable as the bloom itself, I think, especially when it’s kept close at hand so its growth can be observed each day.  This vase, which typically sits in a north-facing kitchen window, was moved to a sunny location to illuminate its roots for the photo.  If the flower comes to fruition, it will be as white as its roots and its sweet fragrance should fill a large room.

I’m making bean soup today and had such a smile on my face when I pulled my vintage bowl out for soaking the dried beans, I thought I would share a photo of the mismatched trio which filled my carry-on bag during the trip home from England in September.

A trio of English mixing bowls.

A trio of English mixing bowls.

Found at the Cirencester Antiques Centre, I have to admit I get quite a thrill every time I see Mrs. Patmore using similar ware in the Downton kitchen.  And yes, everyone in the tour group had a good chuckle over my “big find,” but I dearly love them.

Visit Cathy at Rambling in the Garden to see how other gardeners are filling a vase today.