Boxed In

I made a quick two-day trip to Charleston late last week  for the Annual Festival of Houses & Gardens, followed by a regional meeting of the Garden Writers Association.  Thursday was enjoyed with my friend Carolyn, who lives in the historic district, and we spent the biggest part of the day crisscrossing our favorite blocks near the Battery, fortified by good food and wine at the Gaulart & Maliclet Café.

Though spring came late to Charleston, as it has throughout the state, many window boxes were elaborately dressed for the pleasure of visitors.  Oftentimes the historic homes abut the sidewalk, thus bloom-filled window boxes and other containers comprise the front garden.  I’m always charmed by these displays and thought you might be too.  The dozen pictured here provide a good sampling.

Pretty in peachy-pink and white, with accents in bold blue and chartreuse.

Pretty in peachy-pink and white, with accents in bold blue and chartreuse.

A tropical punch of orange combines nicely with Easter egg colors against the gray house.

A tropical punch of orange combines nicely with Easter egg colors against the gray house.

Dramatic but my fingers itch to give the ivy cascades a little trim.

Dramatic but my fingers itch to give the ivy cascades a little trim.

A handsome purple and white combo accented with Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) suits this old building.

A handsome purple and white combo accented with Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) suits this old building.

Cyclamen of all colors were featured in various boxes.  I particularly like these bold pink ones.

Cyclamen of all colors were featured in various boxes. I particularly like these bold pink ones.

Almost periwinkle and soft yellow are a winning mix.

Almost periwinkle and soft yellow are a winning mix.

A successful focus on foliage.

A successful focus on foliage.

My favorite color scheme--silver and gold.  A tiny touch of blue would provide contrast to make the harmony pop.

My favorite color scheme–silver and gold. A tiny touch of blue would provide contrast to make the harmony pop.

Hmmm.....I wonder what color the snapdragons will be.

Hmmm…..I wonder what color the snapdragons will be.

Second-story drama.

Second-story drama.

A touch of class with an ivy swag topped with a box ball.

A touch of class with an ivy swag topped with a box ball.

Technically a window bed, rather than box, but too pretty to pass up.

Technically a window bed, rather than box, but too pretty to pass up.

The 68th Annual Festival of Houses & Gardens continues through April 19.   The city’s fabulous window boxes, however, can be enjoyed every day of the year.

 

 

 

Wordless Wednesday–Magnolias

M. x 'Raspberry Ice'

M. x ‘Raspberry Ice’

M. x 'Betty'

M. x ‘Betty’

M. 'W. B. Clark'

M. ‘W. B. Clark’

M. x 'Frank's Masterpiece'

M. x ‘Frank’s Masterpiece’

M. 'Sayonara'

M. ‘Sayonara’

M. x 'Purple Prince'

M. x ‘Purple Prince’

With many thanks to Boris Bauer (left) for a bloom-filled afternoon.

With many thanks to Boris Bauer (left) for a bloom-filled afternoon.

A Garden Place (Hortitopia)

On Saturday, I had the good fortune to hike with the Greenville Natural History Association, by invitation of Bill Robertson, an acclaimed Upstate nature photographer.   I was a bit worried about the expedition to Chestnut Ridge, especially after I saw the elevation profile.

Elevation profile of Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve

Elevation profile of Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve

Bill said he was only hiking the first mile, however, and I really should come along.   I’ve been eager to hike with Bill, who’s very generous with his knowledge and encouragement, and decided to plunge in.  Once I met up with the group at the car-pooling location on Saturday, I noted I was younger than most and was optimistic I could hold my own on the trail.

On the ride to the Heritage Preserve, I met and got to know Ian and Jane, members of the Association and frequent hikers.  I later learned Ian routinely hikes 10 miles several times each week and is an excellent photographer, as well as a photography teacher for OLLI at Furman University.

The early blooms on Chestnut Ridge are mostly the same as those in my woodland garden, primarily sweet Betsy trillium (T. cuneatum) and bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), but it was instructive to watch the process of the photographers in the group, who true to Bill’s word, pulled up at the first area of native wildflowers while the rest of the hikers continued on towards the Pacolet River.

I took a few pics with my new camera, a Nikon D7100 which is well beyond my grasp of understanding.  On this occasion, however, I knew time was better spent watching Bill and Ian, who were taking macro shots using a tripod and diffuser.

Bill (holding diffuser) and Ian working on macro image of bloodroot

Bill (holding diffuser) and Ian working on macro image of bloodroot

Bill's bloodroot

Bill’s photograph, shown here, uses the stamens of the second flower to create a golden glow around the foreground bloom.

After a while, Ian decided to hike to the river to have lunch with Jane and, foolish in my new-found confidence, I invited myself to go with him to rejoin the group.  As soon as we topped Squirrel Mountain and began the steep decent to the river, I had serious misgivings because I knew the return trip could well get the best of me.

I love hikes that have a treat at the terminus and the Pacolet River didn’t disappoint.  Though the waterway is small, it is located in a deep valley gorge and offers a sandy bank at the river crossing that is perfect for a picnic.  When we arrived, the group was just dusting themselves off for the return hike, so Ian and I quickly ate a few bites.  Lynne, the hike leader, stayed behind to “sweep” and I was much relieved to have a second encourager as we watched the group quickly disappear up the trail.

Pacolet River

Pacolet River

On the return, as I usually do when I’m in over my head, I just put my head down and pressed the gas.  Though I was huffing and puffing, our small group was about halfway up Squirrel Mountain when Lynne spied a garter snake writhing beside the path.  Closer inspection showed the snake had snared a Southern Appalachian salamander (Plethodontid teyahalee) and we watched as the snake slowly worked its way from the amphibian’s mid-section down to the tail so it could turn its prey and devour it.

Common garter snake, about 18-inches long, with Southern Appalachian salamander

Common garter snake, about 18-inches long, with Southern Appalachian salamander

Garter snake devours its prey

Garter snake devours its prey

Needless to say, we thought this would be the trill of the trip, but we were surprised a second time only steps beyond the summit, when I discovered a Luna moth (Actias luna), just emerged from its chrysalis and drying in the warm sunshine.

Luna moth (Actias luna)

Luna moth (Actias luna)

Luna moth, drying its wings

Luna moth, drying its wings

If you look closely, the moth can be distinguished as a male by its antennae, which are larger and wider than those of the female.  Though not rare, the Luna is seldom found because its life is brief.  The adult doesn’t have a mouth or eat because its single purpose is to mate, and thus it only survives about a week.

Stopping along the way to photograph the snake and moth allowed me to catch my breath.  The return trip was strenuous, but luckily and with many thanks to Ian and Lynne, I made it back to the start of the trail without too much discomfort or embarrassment.

The name of this blog, Hortitopia, is a word (horti + topia = garden + place) made to describe, in part, the amazing region where I live.  I’m grateful every day to enjoy its unique and wonderful species diversity.  To learn more about the Upstate,  read my first blog post here.

A clump of sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum) flourishing among a large patch of  spring-beauty (Claytonia virginica)

A clump of sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum) flourishing among a large patch of spring-beauty (Claytonia virginica)

And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.  ~ William Shakespeare

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day–March 2015

After surviving a week of cold, wet weather in Washington, DC, I’m back in my office this morning, window open, relishing bird song, blue skies, and a warm day, with temperatures predicted to reach 80 degrees F (26 C).  Best of all, look what I found blooming in the garden when I returned home.

Flowers & Foliage, March 2015

Flowers & Foliage, March 2015

The collection of Camellia japonica includes (top, left to right) ‘Jordan’s Pride’, ‘Memphis Bell’, unknown white, (bottom) ‘Glen 40′, ‘Memphis Bell’, and an unknown red.  All of these cultivars were likely planted in the 1950s and/or 1960s.  The other flowers are forsythia, Helleborus orientalis (Lenten roses), Edgeworthia chrysantha, Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’, pansies, violas, Pieris japonica ‘Temple Bells’, and Narcissus ‘Tete-a-Tete’ (miniature daffodil).  The foliage is Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’, Rumex sanguineus (bloody dock), Asarum (Chinese ginger), Nandina domestica, Aucuba japonica ‘Gold Dust’, and Gardenia sp. ‘Variegata’ (commonly called “double variegated”).

The millefliori-style photograph is inspired by the work of Ellen Hoverkamp, but my process is much simpler.  Here’s another inside peek at my studio…

To see what’s blooming in other parts of the world, visit May Dreams Gardens.

Something to Sprout About

Typically, I make a long list of resolutions, but on New Year’s Eve 2015 I made just one.  I simply resolved to attempt a new gardening activity each month.  So far, I’d say it was an inspired idea…it hasn’t been a matter of one thing, but how many new things I can try. 

Spring Salad Sprouting Seeds

Spring Salad Sprouting Seeds

So, when I visited Sow True Seed (specializing in organic and heirloom seeds) in Asheville, NC, on the recommendation of a new friend, I grabbed the only thing I could grow in my shady garden, a fat packet of Spring Salad Sprouting Seeds.  After all, how could I resist a label that touted, “Taste of spring all year round! — mix of broccoli, radish, red clover & alfalfa.”  

As promised, sprouts were just days away.  I soaked a tablespoon of seeds for several hours in a wide-mouthed quart jar (covering the opening with a scrap of cheese cloth) and then drained the water.  Seeds were rinsed twice each day while the jar resided in bright, indirect light on my kitchen counter.  Though sprouts could be spied within days, a week seemed to be the optimum time for development, after which the jar could be moved to the frig.  

The taste of spring!

The taste of spring!

Sprouts are easy to use in sandwiches, soups, and salads, but I like them best right out of the jar.  They’re tangy and crunchy, and as advertised — taste just like spring! 

And while I’m dishing out tips, you might like this too…

An inside peek at the photographer's professional studio.

An inside peek at the photographer’s professional studio.

A Turn Towards Spring

It’s unlikely we’ve said our final goodbye to winter, but the Upstate looks decidedly more spring-like this week with the sudden flowering of the colorful ‘Okame’ cherry.

Among our earliest and longest flowering ornamental trees, ‘Okame’ is a hybrid that grows to 25-feet tall and 20-feet wide.  Developed in the 1940s from two species, Prunus campanulata and Prunus incisa, it typically blooms before Valentine’s Day, but this year’s extreme cold altered its timetable by nearly a month.

Cheerful flowers of Prunus 'Okame'

Cheerful flowers of Prunus ‘Okame’

Flowers of the ‘Okame’ feature carmine-pink petals that flutter on the slightest breeze above a rosy-red calyx.  Since blooms appear well before the green leaves begin to break bud, the flowers create an attention-grabbing pink cloud.

In addition to its beautiful flowers, there are a number of other reasons to add this tree to the garden.  It’s a relatively fast grower, especially when young, adding two or more feet to its height each year.  It has an upright, oval shape which works well in any size landscape.  Plus, it’s beautiful in every season.  The tree’s vibrant red-orange foliage is a highlight of autumn, while its glossy bark with horizontal striations is especially eye-catching in winter.

Like other cherry trees, ‘Okame’ prefers full sun (at least 6 hours each day) or very light shade,  regular moisture, and fast-draining soil.  It’s fairly adaptable to various pH levels, but will not tolerate wet feet.  In adverse conditions, the tree is particularly susceptible to root rot, so take care where soil is heavy.

Mature 'Okame' in the home landscape.

Mature ‘Okame’ in the home landscape.