Wild Things

I visited the riverbank a few days ago during a survey of drought damage to the lower garden and discovered wild ageratum growing in clumps above the river’s edge. Though pretty in situ, it seemed a meager offering for “In a Vase on Monday,” so I looked for other blooms that could add to its modest charm.  Quickly assembled, the vase was put aside when I found the camera’s memory card was AWOL (once again) and then abandoned when I became busy with the concerns of the day.


Wildflowers from the bank and floodplain of the Reedy River.

Perched initially near the kitchen sink and then moved to the sunroom, these wild things have required a startling amount of water. Every time they’ve caught my eye, I’ve found their vase nearly empty.  And though they’re not quite fresh anymore and many gardeners would call them “weeds,” they still make me smile.  So why not share?


Conoclinium coelestinum

Wild ageratum (Conoclinium coelestinum), also called blue mist flower and previously classified as Eupatorium, is a perennial wildflower native to the West Indies that grows from New Jersey to Florida and as far west as Missouri and Texas. The clusters of purple-blue flowers at the tip of each stem are surprisingly like those of floss flower (Ageratum), and though both plants grow best in full sun or part shade with rich, moist soil, their similarities end there.  The smaller floss flower is an annual with thin, fibrous roots, while this vigorous perennial grows from a mass of interwoven rhizomes, reaching up to 3-feet tall and about half as wide.


Persicaria longiseta

Oriental lady’s thumb (Persicaria longiseta) is an Asian knotweed that grows in the eastern half of the U.S. and much of Canada.  A common nuisance in the rice paddies of its native wetlands, it can grow in both moist and dry habitats, as well as sun and shade, and is found in marshes, meadows, and forests.


Unknown native aster.

I’ve never learned to distinguish one little white aster from another and find them impossible to decipher, so your guess is as good as mine with this tiny native. I think it’s spray of sunny yellow disks and thin white petals are delightful though, don’t you?

Storm Brewing

It’s a worrisome night.  In anticipation of Hurricane Matthew, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has declared a state of emergency and ordered an evacuation of more than a million people from the coast.  Now, after a few hours sleep, Dan and Cori (our newlyweds) have closed house in Charleston and are headed our way.

Everyone across the state will breathe easier when the evacuation is complete, but there is still much at stake.  Here are a few photos of the natural beauty and wildlife found across the Carolina Lowcountry, taken just days ago when I traveled with Tim to Kiawah Island for a conference.


Kiawah Island is touted as having the most beautiful of all of South Carolina’s magnificant beaches.


It’s impossible to argue the point, but I think every mile of the Carolina coast is breathtaking.


Just steps from the beach, this male Northern Cardinal enjoyed a breakfast of beautyberry fruits (Callicarpa americana).


Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera)


Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)


Dark form of the Easter Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)


And a first for me–the Long-Tailed Skipper (Urbanus proteus)








Get Ready for a Flower Throwdown!

Lucky for those who live in the Upstate, the local farm-to-table movement includes fresh, sustainably produced flowers, as well as fruits, vegetables, and meats. My friend Julie Hill is one of the growers, as well as a member of SC Upstate Flowers—a lively group with an array of horticultural knowledge and a great sense of fun.


Amanda McNulty of Making it Grow with Julie Hill at Julie’s urban flower farm.

Really, a great sense of fun?  Yes!  And for a chance to join in, you’re invited to join Julie and her cohorts tomorrow at the TD Saturday Market on Main Street for Greenville’s first Flower Throwdown!

Scheduled for 10 a.m. at Main and McBee Streets, the throwdown promises to be a friendly competition of flower arranging using locally-grown, seasonal blooms such as coneflowers, zinnias, celosia, dahlias, sedums, sunflowers, and millets and grasses. Floral designers will be paired with flower farmers to compete in the three timed challenges, from simple bouquets to more elaborate arrangements.


Diane VanAcker Hopp, of Tyger Valley Farm, and Erin Howe, of Red Maple Flowers, work together to create a large centerpiece.

No competition worth watching would be complete without judges, of course. Amanda McNulty, of Clemson Extension and host of the award-wining PBS television show Making It Grow, will be there, along with Mike McGirr of Feed & Seed, an Upstate organization that connects local farmers with chefs and other consumers. I’ll be there too.

The event is a great opportunity to learn more about flower growers, what they offer, and how their flowers can be used for weddings, dinner parties, and other special occasions. And to spread the joy when the day is done, all bouquets and arrangements will be donated to area hospitals and other health care facilities.


Melisa Smith of Fraylick Farm offered a posy of pink blooms for Making It Grow.

As a preview, I joined Julie and Amanda on what must have been one of the hottest days of summer in Julie’s garden, meeting many of the members of SC Upstate Flowers (www.scupstateflowers.com) while they were filmed for an upcoming segment of Making It Grow.

It was an eye-opening experience. I hadn’t seen Julie’s garden since my spring visit and I was astounded by the beds filled with colorful blooms, giant bumble bees, and hundreds of butterflies. And the bloom-filled buckets supplied by the growers quickly disappeared under a growing collection of beautiful bouquets and vases.


Hundreds of butterflies, including this Gulf Fritillary, find sustenance in Julie’s garden.

For gardeners contemplating a cutting garden of their own, Julie offers the following advice. Plant flowers in color groups, so they are easy to collect and you can quickly see how many are available. Don’t hesitate to harvest, as cutting encourages more blooms. Gather flowers early in the morning when they are most hydrated. And finally, keep flowers at their best by immediately putting them in a bucket filled with a couple of inches of tepid water, along with a few of drops of bleach to kill harmful bacteria.



Les Jardins de Sardy


Our host in the gravel courtyard filled with fragrant plants.

There are magic moments on every tour and on the recent trip to France one of those moments came at Les Jardins de Sardy, a romantic garden east of Bordeaux. With an invitation to admire its scented trees and shrubs, the garden’s owner drew us into a gravel courtyard and then, with a spicy fragrance lingering on the air, led us to a shady overlook to tell the story of his Irish mother’s 1950s restoration, including efforts to grow English flowers before she capitulated to the allure and drought-tolerance of Mediterranean plants.


The Italian inspired pool at Les Jardins de Sardy.

Before us in blinding sunlight, the mirror-like surface of an Italian pool reflected the 18th century stone house with its pale shutters and upright cypress trees.  Eager to get closer, the group surged forward as our host guided us to the water’s edge and noted its resemblance to the garden at Alhambra, minus one important detail.  Suddenly, inexplicitly, the pool sprang to life with jets of water reaching for the sky and falling back in graceful arcs, breaking the reflections of house and garden into thousands of brilliant diamonds.



Wordless Wednesday–On the Wing in the Dordogne


European Peacock Butterfly (Agais io)


Small Cabbage White Butterfly (Pieris rapae)


Hummingbird Hawk Moth (Macroglossum stellatarum)

Dordogne Flip Flop

I’ve just arrived home from a trip to the Dordogne that exceeded all expectations.  Unfortunately, there’s lots of catching up to do before I can indulge myself in blogging, but here’s a quick look at the countryside around Beynac.

On a morning drive towards La Roque-Gageac, I caught this great view of Chateau de Beynac high above the Dordogne River Valley.


Chateau de Beynac from the Dordogne River Valley.

Then, days later when visiting Beynac, I captured a photo flip flop, by photographing the Dordogne River valley from the high ridge near the Chateau.


The Dordogne River Valley from Chateau de Beynac. To the right is Chateau de Castelnaud.

What an amazing place.  Even though the region suffered from a hot and dry summer this year, I think it’s the most beautiful part of France I’ve visited.