Quercus Closeup

In typical spring fashion, our April weather has run the gamut. Luckily, we’ve had more than of our share of “just right” conditions for gardening, with cool temperatures warmed by sunshine. A few days ago, however, our first major thunderstorm swept through with a squall line of strong winds and heavy rain.

Thankfully, we didn’t experience any damage and in the course of picking up the small branches that always litter the garden after high winds, I found something amazing.

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Comparison of mid-April foliage of white and red oaks.

It was the branch tip of a white oak heavy with catkins (the male flowers that produce the wind-borne pollen that fertilize the female flowers) and best of all–tiny, perfectly formed baby leaves.

There are more than 600 species of oak worldwide (60 in North America) and the genus, Quercus, comprises two groups, white oaks and red oaks. White oaks, which typically have rounded lobes on their leaves, produce acorns that mature in a single year, while red oaks have pointed lobes and acorns that mature in two years.

Additionally, the groups can usually, but not always, be distinguished by their bark. In general, white oaks have bark that is a light to medium shade of gray, sometimes exhibiting a scaly appearance, while the bark of red oaks is typically darker in color and lined with deep furrows.

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Comparison of the treetops, with the white oak on the far left.

Here, in my garden, the red oaks break dormancy a week or two before the white, and if you look at the treetops now, you can clearly see the difference. There is an even greater contrast in autumn, as the white oaks cling to their leaves into early December, well after all other deciduous trees are bare.

My Top Ten March Blooms

It’s been a long time (149 days to be exact) since I’ve visited you here, but spring inspires and encourages in a way that can’t be denied. And besides, what better time is there to write about a garden, especially a shady garden, than when it offers its finest flowers. So here is a happy look at the best of March with a nod to Chloris at the Blooming Garden and the other bloggers who post their top ten at the close of each month.

Halesia carolina is the undisputed Queen of this Upstate garden, where it grows in abundance on a north-east facing hillside reaching down to the Reedy River.

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Halesia carolina

Commonly called Carolina Silver Bell, this medium size tree can reach 30 to 40 feet tall and nearly as wide under a broken canopy of towering hardwoods. Just as its leaves begin to emerge, the tree blooms  with bell-shaped white flowers that look like old-fashioned petticoats and then, later, it forms four-winged seedpods that often persist into winter. In autumn, its deciduous foliage turns a rich golden yellow.

Although the Erythronium americanum (trout lilies) and Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot) have completed their bloom period, there is still a mix of wildflowers to be found in the woodland.

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Trillium cuneatum

Trillium cuneatum (little sweet Betsy) ranks high on my list of favorites. Arising from a fleshy rhizome, each stem has a whorl of three leaves topped by a single flower with three petals. This species is the largest and most vigorous of the sessile trilliums found in the eastern U.S.  If you’re willing to get down on your knees for a whiff, you’ll find it has a slightly sweet fragrance reminiscent of bananas.

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Jeffersonia diphylla

Known as twin leaf (for obvious reasons), Jeffersonia diphylla was named by John Bartram to honor the third U.S. President. Unlike the above trillium, which is naturally occurring here, this species was purchased and added to the woodland garden a few years ago. The southern end of its range includes the mountains of Tennessee and Georgia. Surprisingly, it is a member of the Barberry family.

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Mertensia virginica

Many will recognize Martensia virginica, called Virginia bluebells, which are easy to grow in the right conditions (rich, moist soil and full to part shade), but seem to spread ever so slowly. With luck and patience, they form loose clumps about 18-inches wide.

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Rhododendron austrinum

In a nearby opening with a bit more sun, I’ve planted a collection of native deciduous azaleas, including this Rhododendron austrinum, known as the Florida flame azalea, or sometimes called the honeysuckle azalea. As you would guess from its common names, its fragrant blooms create a show-stopping display.

Above the river terraces, the back garden features two ‘Autumn Brilliance’ Amelanchier x grandiflora, better known as serviceberry.

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Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’

A hybrid of two southern natives, the small tree’s March flowers produce May fruits, which are loved by the birds and are a valuable source of food during their nesting season. This particular cultivar is distinguished with strong stems and vibrant orange-red color in autumn.

And here is a quick look at what’s blooming in the ornamental spaces surrounding the house:

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Ajuga reptans ‘Chocolate Chip’

The dwarf ‘Chocolate Chip’ ajuga makes a handsome mat of bronze-tinged foliage but, thankfully, doesn’t self-seed as aggressively as many of its kin.

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Helleborus foetidus

My favorite hellebore with especially fine foliage and erect stems of lime-green flowers.

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Phlox divaricata ‘Blue Moon’

A stunning woodland phlox with outstanding color and very full flower petals.

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Dicentra spectabilis

And finally, this eye-catching bleeding heart, an old garden favorite with big, rose-pink flowers on long stems reaching from a beautiful mass of blue-green foliage.

I’m sorry to say I can’t promise an equal number of blooming beauties every month, but I do hope to begin blogging again on a more regular basis.

In the meantime, remember these words written by Christopher Lloyd: “An early spring is always tremendously encouraging, and never mind what follows in the way of April frosts, or what have you. The great thing in life is to fling yourself into wholehearted enjoyment of the present, whenever there’s something to be enjoyed.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peek–A Peony for Fall

Do you know this plant?

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Japanese forest peony (Paeonia obovata)

No? Well, it’s new to me too. I saw it on a September tour that I led to Philadelphia and the Brandywine Valley, in the garden of David Culp who wrote The Layered Garden.

Commonly called Japanese forest peony, Paeonia obovata is a woodland species native to forested areas of Siberia, Manchuria, China, and Japan. In spring, the plant’s fresh foliage emerges red before turning green. Its single-form flowers, which bloom in early summer and have a mild fragrance, range from white to rosy-purple and feature bold yellow stamens.

Autumn, however, is the peony’s best season. In late summer or early fall, its seed pods begin to split, revealing glossy blue-black berries set among infertile, luminous red kernels.

David grows a cluster of these perennials in the garden of his home, Brandywine Cottage, where they are nestled at the base of a massive fir tree. The tree has a raised canopy that creates an outdoor room, including walls made with a collection of potted plants and a picnic table for enjoying alfresco meals.

While signing books for the group at the picnic table, David noted the peony is easy to grow in good soil with part shade and regular moisture.

I hope to show you more of David’s garden soon; this is just a peek to whet your appetite, which is linked to this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge: Peek.

In a Vase on Monday–October 16, 2017

This “vase” breaks all the rules, beginning with the fact that it’s not a vase but a wooden box, probably about the same age as I am, that was made to hold shotgun shells.

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A mix of fun textures and fall colors make this container perfect for the season.

When I found the discarded box I knew it would come in handy one day and it did. It served as inspiration for a lunch table I coordinated for a Greenville Museum of Art event, which was held late last week.  Hunting is still an important sport in the South and in my mind it interweaves with the excitement of the harvest season and the many holidays that are celebrated in the coming months.

A “Harvest Pumpkin Tablecloth” from Pottery Barn was laid with green Bordallo Pinheiro pottery from Portugal, wine glasses made from Mason jars, napkins embroidered with chickens from the gift shop at West Green House (home of Marylyn Abbott), my best silver, small pumpkins painted with white chalk paint, and this colossal arrangement.  If only I’d remembered to take my camera!

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Surprisingly, boxes like this one sell for about $75 online.

The plants, found at Roots on Augusta, include a large rosemary, ornamental peppers, mustard, and cabbage, with a couple of variegated crotons and golden creeping Jenny. The dramatic grass-like plant, which maintains its golden brown color throughout the growing season is Carex flagellifer ‘Cyperacea’, commonly called weeping brown sedge. The arrangement is highlighted with the colorful berries of bittersweet.

Pulling everything together for the table was a fun effort, but not one I want to repeat anytime soon. Now, I hope life will begin to quiet down a bit and that the cooler weather arriving this week will be here to stay.

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The small pumpkins, covered in white chalk paint, were gifts for those at the table.

To enjoy what others have made for their vase, visit our host, Cathy at Rambling in the Garden.

And, please, keep the good people of Ireland and Britain in your hearts and prayers today and tomorrow, as hurricane Ophelia pays them an unwelcome visit.

 

 

Tuesday View–October 10, 2017

It’s been a long time since I’ve shared any news, but I haven’t had the heart. These photos, taken on Tuesday, September 12, the morning after Hurricane Irma crossed the Upstate, tell the story.

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View looking towards the carport from the front porch.

 

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Towards the house and carport from the top of the drive.
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And down the street, with our house on the left.

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The white oak from our garden that pulled down a telephone pole (seen just beyond the tree) with electric, cable, and telephone wires.

Irma, a tropical storm when it reached South Carolina, brought several inches of rain and wind gusts of 50 to 60 miles per hour, which was a misfortune for us and our neighbor to the north. Together, we lost six towering trees, and many smaller trees, including three eastern hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) that provided a barrier between the two properties and a beautiful Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) beside our carport.

One of the largest trees in our front garden, a white oak (Quercus alba), toppled a telephone pole as it fell. So, we were without electricity for 4 days and had neither cable nor telephone (landline) for 10 days.

When you live through a storm like this, however, you count your blessings. No one here was hurt and nothing was damaged that can’t be fixed.  And soon after the photos above were taken, good neighbors arrived and helped us clear the driveway.

Many others suffered much worse and are still suffering, especially those in the Caribbean. Not only from Irma, but also Harvey, Maria, and Nate. Today, sadly, there is news of a new tropical storm, Ophelia, which is forecast to reach hurricane strength by Thursday.

In the next weeks, we will have 3 additional trees removed, since they’ve been left in precarious position. Then, repairs will be made and a new roof put on the carport and house. All should be in good order again before Thanksgiving.

Even today, when the sun finally broke through the clouds after soaking rains, I could see a bit of the old magic.  After just four weeks, the garden is already recovering its charms.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

 

 

 

Dahlias for Southern Gardens

It’s been nearly three years since I set off on a late-August morning for Cashiers, North Carolina, for a visit to a meeting of the Carolinas Dahlia Society, but I’ll never forget the enthusiasm and comradery of the members that day, nor the buckets of glorious blooms they brought with them.

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Buckets of blooms and good friends at a meeting of the Carolinas Dahlia Society.

Dahlias, a group of tender, tuberous plants, begin to flower just as the growing season starts to wane, extending the garden’s splendor when most daisies, daylilies, and other summer perennials have finished their show. Typically, they provide the vivid colors that make fall gardens so satisfying and are excellent companions for the asters, salvias, and sedums, which also bloom this time of year.

Since their initial introduction in the late 1700s, dahlias have been selectively hybridized into a remarkable group of ornamentals. While most plants have just two sets of chromosomes, dahlias have eight, allowing a much greater variation among hybrids.

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Eight chromosomes allow for a wide variation among hybrids, as exhibited here by ‘Hilltop Sapphire’, ‘AC Angie’, ‘Hilltop Mimi’, and ‘Hilltop Glo’.

Cultivars range in size from just inches to towering heights and flowers comprise a wide array of sizes, shapes, and colors. Plus, once dahlias begin to bloom, they’re the epitome of cut-and-come-again. The more you pick, the more they flower, with blooms opening nonstop until frost.

Not all dahlias are equal, however, especially in the hot and humid growing conditions of Upstate gardens. Careful selection of heat-tolerant dahlias is critical to success in the Carolinas. Native to the high mountain plateaus of Mexico and Guatemala, most dahlias prefer warm days and cool nights.

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Dahlias with single-form flowers, such as this ‘Bishop of York’ in the display area of the Cashiers garden, are easy to mingle with other plants.

Heirloom dahlias that are heat-tolerant include ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, ‘Juanita’, ‘Kidd’s Climax’, ‘Prince Noir’, and ‘Thomas Edison’. Among newer cultivars, look for ‘Ben Houston’, ‘Elsie Houston’, ‘Hilltop Glo’, ‘Island Dynasty’, ‘Kenora Firefighter’, ‘Otto’s Thrill’, and ‘Zorro’. The best single-form flowers, which mingle easily in both borders and containers, include ‘Alpen Cherub’, ‘Honka’, and ‘Marie Schnugg’.

For a comprehensive list of recommended plants, visit the website of the Dahlia Society of Georgia.

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‘Otto’s Thrill’, which can measure 8 to 10-inches wide, produces one of the biggest blooms among dahlias recommended for Carolina gardens.