End of an Era

I’m not quite ready to be put to pasture, but I recently made the hard decision to give up my newspaper work.

In June, I was elected President-elect of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, an international volunteer organization dedicated to community improvement, and there’s much to be done before July 2020 when I move to Washington, DC. There, I will work and live for two years at GFWC Headquarters, located near Dupont Circle, just blocks from the White House.

It’s an exciting prospect; one that I’m eager for and have dreamed about for years.

Even still, giving up the newspaper column and feature articles that I provided for more than 16 years — work that encouraged local gardeners — was a wrench. In some ways, I feel that I’ve lost a bit of myself, much like the day our younger child left home for college.

Many thanks to The Greenville News and specifically my first Editor, Wanda Owings, for the opportunity to grow my passion for gardening in a public forum, and for the many years of exploration and learning that go hand-in-hand with with being a writer.

Simply put, it was a thrill from beginning to end. Here, then, is the last chapter of a very happy story.

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The joy of being above the fold! The final column (center), published on August 18, was even highlighted with a FULL first page. Now that’s cool!

The Things that Grow in a Garden (published in The Greenville News as “It’s an exciting time to be a gardener”)

If we were sitting down for a chat over a cup of coffee this morning, I would tell you what an exciting time it is to be a gardener.

Sixteen years ago, when I began writing for The Greenville News, I did not know anyone who was a bee keeper or a worm composter. As gardeners, we did not realize the usefulness of matrix plantings, or build bug hotels, or even worry much about organic methods. Gardens were packed with flowering plants, while vegetables and fruits, where they existed at all, were relegated to hidden plots behind a fence or shed.

New York City’s celebrated Highline had not yet been created. This elevated park with naturalized plantings, now the city’s number one tourist attraction and the inspiration for public green spaces everywhere, was still a dream with little support and no funding.

Gardeners and their gardens have changed since the turn of the 21st Century. Not in baby steps, but in bold leaps.

Last week, when I was in Asheville for the annual Speaking of Gardening Symposium, I heard Julie Messervy relate “naturescaping” to wabi-sabi, an Asian aesthetic that sees beauty in transience and imperfection. And I listened to Kelly Norris promote plants that “create a sense of place,” in the conviction that we have a more satisfying gardening experience when our spaces are connected to the wider world that surround them.

Best of all, I watched wide-eyed as Tom Ranney revealed, slide by slide, the transformation of his sedate, private garden into a mountain bald; positioning huge boulders on the broad shoulders of his mountain-side property and creating niche habitats, including a bog, to support a large and diverse population of plant and animal species.

My own garden took a similar turn recently, when I abandoned the effort to impose a formal layout on my backyard. Instead, I’m following the lead of my friend Glenn, who has created a woodland walk to one side of his city garden that is filled with native-plant treasures.

Here, with the help of Green Hill Landscaping, I’ve recontoured the two-tiered back garden with curves punctuated by boulders and added stone steps for easy access to the lower terrace. A splashing waterfall speaks to the proximity of the Reedy River, which can be spied though the adjacent woodland winding its way towards Lake Conestee Nature Park.

Like many hobbies, gardening expands the knowledge and understanding of those who enjoy it and gives each individual a fuller sense of themselves. It does more too.

Gardening adds significance to our lives by connecting us to the rhythms of nature — the passing seasons, the ebb and flow of tides, the sunrises and sunsets, and the repeating cycles of growth and decay. It teaches us that we’re not as invincible as we might suppose, but are probably more powerful than we thought.

Through its practice, gardening molds us into inquisitive students, measured risk takers, and brilliant artists. Through its trials we learn to be patient, tenacious, optimistic, adaptable, humble, and grateful.

Perhaps most importantly, gardening makes us happier. It gives us enormous pleasure to immerse ourselves in our private havens and also to connect with other gardeners, through clubs and associations, horticulture societies, and symposiums. Together, we relish seed exchanges, plant swaps, garden tours, and every opportunity to welcome newcomers into our fold.

All of which makes it very hard for me to tell you that this is my final gardening column. We’ve learned and experienced a lot together in the last 16 years. We’ve grown as gardeners and as people. We’ve embraced new plants and novel ideas. We’ve built lasting memories.

I’m happy to say, from my perspective, it has been time well spent. I hope it has been the same for you. If you want to chat, you will not have to look far. I’ll be blogging at Hortitopia (https://marianstclair.wordpress.com), showing up at local gardening events, puttering in the garden on Riverside Drive, and available by email at marian.stclair@gmail.com.

Until we talk again, remember the garden is full of fleeting pleasures. Get outdoors and enjoy them.

Beth’s Garden

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One of many scenic viewpoints in Beth’s gravel garden.

Long after Beth Chatto became famous for the “right plant, right place” ethos in her damp garden and woodland garden, and had launched an award-winning nursery and collected 10 consecutive gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show, she demonstrated what it truly means to be an ecological gardener by turning her hands to a compacted and parched parking lot.

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Artistry in the gravel garden.

There, she carefully prepared the soil and then selected plants to match the site’s inhospitable conditions. The number and variety of plants that thrive is remarkable, but it is the gravel garden’s exquisite beauty that makes it such a spectacular success.

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A peek at the damp garden from the elevated position of the Chatto home.

I’ve been lucky to see the Beth Chatto Gardens in Essex twice, visiting first in September 2015 and then again in late May of this year, just days after Beth passed away at the age of 94. This recent visit was especially poignant as Beth’s right-hand man, Garden and Nursery Director David Ward, lead a tour of the garden for the group I hosted on “Gardens of East Anglia.”

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David Ward

During our time with David, he emphasized Beth’s artistry, pointing out the triangles created by plants, a consequence of Beth’s early training in Ikebana, as well as the many plants featuring exceptional foliage and form rather than flowers or fruits. He frequently said, “I don’t know how she did it,” and noted, “she was always working — sitting on a fold-away stool, observing and jotting down plant descriptions.”

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Iris ‘Benton Susan’, a Cedric Morris cultivar.

Best of all he promised, “We won’t go far wrong here, this will always be a garden for plant lovers.”

Learn more about Beth and her many contributions to gardening on the website of The Beth Chatto Gardens.

 

Six (Gardens Galore) on Saturday

Some of my blogging friends have adopted a new meme organized by The Propagator, “Six on Saturday,” and I thought it would be fun to follow suit…especially this week when I’m just home from hosting a fabulous garden tour to East Anglia, England, where I visited some of the most remarkable gardens I’ve ever seen.

So, here are six gardens visited in the first days of the tour. If I’m lucky, I’ll have time to tell you more about each of these special places. Not this week, though, as I’m headed to St. Louis soon for another adventure.

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The Old Palace (1485) at Hatfield House, where Queen Elizabeth I lived as a child, and its recently updated garden. (Not in East Anglia, but near Heathrow Airport where we arrived.)

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Beth Chatto’s remarkable gravel garden. Notice how the bark of the eucalyptus tree gives prominence to the silver and gray foliage plants.

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Helmingham Hall, built and owned by the Tollemache family since 1480.

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A stunning scene at Wyken Hall Gardens and Vineyard. Our group also had a fabulous lunch at the café and the gift shop was top-notch too.

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The sunken pool centering the rose garden at Houghton Hall. Imagine how beautiful this scene will be when the lavender and climbing roses are blooming!

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Sandringham House, the much-loved country retreat of the Queen and the home where Prince Phillip, now retired from public life, spends a good portion of his time.

 

Oh, the places we’ll go!

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Hydrangea radiata

There is a suitcase waiting to be packed and I’m excited beyond reason about the trip ahead, but I’m calling a two-minute time out to tell you I had all good intentions of writing a blog post yesterday when I zipped around the garden photographing its May blooms. And though time has slipped away, I had to share this one image–a photo of a native Hydrangea radiata, which is flourishing in the woodland garden among ferns and fading trilliums. It’s such a pretty image of a flower and its shadow, don’t you think?

Now back to that suitcase and happy thoughts of the friends I’m joining at the airport for a garden tour of East Anglia.

Oh, the places we’ll go!

 

Almost Wordless Wednesday–Aphrodite

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Calycanthus chinensis ‘Aphrodite’

I received this ‘Aphrodite’ sweetshrub as a tiny plant from Proven Winners a few years ago at a Garden Writers (GWA) meeting and this is its first flower! The bloom, very similar to ‘Hartlage Wine’, has a lightly sweet fragrance similar to honeydew melon. Don’t you just love it? I do!

April Blooms & End-of-Month View

My, oh my, time has gotten away from me again. Although this post is a few days late, I hope you will enjoy the April blooms (10 again, yippee!) and the surprise end-of-month view! Read on…

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Iris tectorum (Japanese roof iris)

Sadly, iris flowers don’t last long, even in a cool spring such as this one. This photograph was actually taken a few weeks ago, but I had to include Iris tectorum because it’s such a charmer. The flowers are always so fresh and pretty and the foliage looks good throughout the growing season.

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Rhododendron canescens ‘Clyo Red’ (Piedmont Azalea) with Hyacinthoides hispanica (Spanish bluebells)

Here is Rhododendron canescens ‘Clyo Red’, the most red of our natives, which looks especially lovely against the periwinkle of Hyacinthoides hispanica in the front garden, mid April.

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Polygonatum biflorum (Solomon’s Seal)

At the end of the month, April was just as exciting in the woodland garden. The Polygonatum is nearly 4-feet tall and the bumblebees are getting their fill. See that pollen pocket on its hind leg?

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Asimina triloba (Paw paw)

I hope some pollinators will visit the nearby Asimina trilobla too. I planted two trees in 2012 and a third one a year later. I saw the first blooms last spring, but no fruit developed. Fingers crossed for round two!

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Disporopsis pernyi (Evergreen Solomon’s Seal)

Back in the ornamental garden near the house, there’s a relatively new introduction from China, Disporopsis pernyi. The foliage is evergreen, as the common name suggests, but it looks terrible by the end of winter and thankfully it falls away as the new foliage begins to grow.

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Speirantha convallarioides (False Lily-of-the-Valley)

This Speirantha convallarioides should be called “sputnik,” don’t you think? Also from China, it’s glossy foliage grows less than a foot tall, but who cares about leaves when you have flowers like this?

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Heuchera

I wish I remembered the name of this dark-leaf Heuchera because the flowers are so pretty. Maybe you know it?

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Rosa ‘Abraham Darby’

This rose was given to me by a friend when my mother passed away. Introduced by David Austin in 1985, the full, old-fashioned flowers of ‘Abraham Darby’ have a fruity fragrance and the perfect color mix of apricot swirled with yellow.

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Paeonia ‘Festiva Maxima’

And hello gorgeous! If you haven’t heard, ‘Festiva Maxima’ is the very best peony for southern gardens and its perfume is simply heavenly.

Even I’m shocked at how pretty the garden is just now. Luckily, we’ve had a cool spring (the camellias are still blooming, for goodness sakes!) with nights dipping into the 40s or 50s, plus a fair amount of rain. And while this garden is still essentially shady, I’m getting better at finding the sun spots. Plus, there was that infamous hurricane–big, bad Irma–that paid us a September visit, so there are more sun spots than ever.

That’s not the big news, however. Take a look at these “before” and “after” photos of the back garden…pretty much a wasteland since the sun porch was completed in 2016.

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Before!

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After!

This amazing transformation happened within a few weeks! In fact, Joe Zawistowski of Greenhill Landscaping and his crew worked for only three days to set the rocks and build the waterfall. Most of the planting will be undertaken in fall, but even with only a few plants in place, I love it.

I’ll give you a full tour soon, but I want to drop three more quick footnotes here before I need to finish packing my suitcase for an early morning flight to Vermont for a GFWC state convention.

First, there has been a unexpected cancellation on my upcoming tour, “Gardens of East Anglia,” scheduled from May 29 to June 8, so there is space for one person. The tour includes the Beth Chatto Gardens, the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show, the private (and plant-filled) garden of one of my very favorite garden bloggers, and so much more. If you want to review the itinerary, email me at marian.stclair@gmail.com. It’s such a fabulous trip, I don’t want to leave any stone unturned.

Second, I will be answering gardening questions and providing two programs, “Arranging Cut Flowers” and “The Secrets of Container Gardening,” at an event in Columbia on Saturday, May 12, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon. I will also be selling a large selection of gardening books from my personal collection.

The occasion will include brunch-like refreshments and beverages and a silent auction of gift totes filled with the most tempting items, plus the sale of strawberries, fruit baskets, cut flowers, hanging baskets, and other garden plants. Tickets, which are $10, can be purchased at the door at 1511 Laurel Street, the headquarters of GFWC South Carolina.

It promises to be a really fun morning! If you live in the Midlands area, come laugh with me and learn something new about gardening!

Finally, did you notice I have a new haircut? I call it the “summer chop.” When a friend saw it for the first time, she said it takes y…e…a…r…s off my age. If I’d only known, I would have chopped sooner.

Smiles!

Garden Tours & Plant Sales

One perk of writing a newspaper column is working with local gardeners and groups to promote events that help the horticulture community grow. In spring, that means lots of fun garden tours and plant sales.

Nearly every weekend this April has featured a sale, but two of the best are still to come…the local Master Gardener sale scheduled for this weekend and the Piedmont Plant & Flower Festival on May 3-6. Believe me, you don’t want to miss these!

Our first local tour, the Christ Church “Joyful Garden Tour,” is also this weekend and will be followed by two more:  “Gardening for Beauty and Wildlife Habitat,” sponsored by the Greenville Council of Garden Clubs on May 11-12, and the SC Koi & Water Garden Society’s Annual Pond Tour on June 9.

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The Whelehan’s garden is on this weekend’s “Joyful Garden Tour.’

Kim and Rory Whelehan’s garden, which is featured on this weekend’s tour, offered a remarkable display of tulips when I visited for an interview. The Van Engelen bulbs, which Rory prefers because they produce the tallest and most spectacular flowers, formed a sweeping arc around other spring-flowering ornamentals, including a flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), a mass of colorful azaleas, and a yellow trumpet honeysuckle vine (Lonicera sempervirens ‘Sulphurea’).

Luckily, the weekend weather forecast is looking great (partly cloudy to sunny with temps in the low to mid 70s), so gather your friends and get ready for a few fun days out.

Here are details for local tours and the remaining plant sales to be held in Greenville:

 

April 27 & 28:  The Christ Church “Joyful Garden Tour,” is planned for 10 am to 5 pm on both Friday and Saturday and will include seven gardens in the Alta Vista and Greenville Country Club areas, as well as the newly renovated Church and its courtyard addition. The work of talented local artists depicting garden scenes will be available for silent auction in the Parish House from April 20 until a reception on April 29 at 12 noon. Tour tickets, which are $25, can be purchased at the Church bookstore, at the receptionist desk in the Parish House, at numerous local businesses, or online. For details, visit the website at http://www.ccgsc.org.

April 28: The annual spring plant sale of the Greater Greenville Masters Gardener Association will be held 8 am to 1 pm at Roper Mountain Science Center. This sale features the best ornamentals, herbs, and vegetables grown in local gardens and a Collector’s Corner featuring heirloom, rare, and unusual plants. Look for the rummage sale, plus hand-crafted art and ornaments. Prices start at $1.00. For more information, visit the website at http://www.greatergreenvillemastergardener.org.

May 3-6: The Piedmont Plant & Flower Festival with more than 30 vendors of plants, plus garden items and equipment, will be held at the Greenville State Farmer’s Market on Rutherford Road, Thursday through Saturday from 8 am to 6 pm, and Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm. Call (864) 244-4023.

May 11 & 12:  The Greenville Council of Garden Clubs will offer “Gardening for Beauty and Wildlife Habitat” from 10 am to 5 pm on both Friday and Saturday.  The tour highlights seven gardens in the suburbs of Greenville and Greer, each featuring plants and designs that offer tranquility, beauty, and a safe haven for wildlife. Tickets can be purchased in advance at various locations for $22 or on the day of the tour at any of the gardens for $25. For more information call 232-3020 or visit http://www.kilgore-lewis.org.

June 9: The SC Koi and Water Garden Society’s 20th Annual Pond tour will feature 8 or more gardens open from 9 am to 6 pm. A brochure providing highlights of the gardens plus their locations, all in the greater Greenville area, will be available on the Society’s website. Tickets, $10, can be purchased at the gardens or from various local businesses beginning on May 14. Children under 12 are free. Visit the website at http://www.sckwgs.org.

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