Author Archives: Marian St.Clair

About Marian St.Clair

Marian St.Clair is a freelance garden writer, public speaker, garden-tour coordinator, Master Gardener, and Master Naturalist who nurtures an earth-friendly garden in Greenville, SC.

Acanthus Summer Beauty

In the past year, because of damaging storms and drought, it seems my garden story has been more about failure than success.  So I’m excited to show you this cluster of Acanthus Summer Beauty, which survived March and April’s crazy temperature fluctuations to produce an amazing 15 bloom spikes.

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Acanthus Summer Beauty

The group, planted near the front door to add textural interest to the green garden designed to soften a large expanse of asphalt driveway, includes three plants that have knitted together to make a handsome show.

Imported from China by Chet Tompkins of Oregon, the hybrid is believed to be a cross between A. mollis and A. spinosus. Of all acanthus species and hybrids, this one holds up best in our hot summer climate.

A close look shows the complexity of individual flowers, which have been described as “a little frog-like creature hiding under a hood (calyx) and holding up a white hanky.”

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Look a little closer…

Winter or summer, everyone is curious about this plant.  It’s a beauty, don’t you think?  

This quick post, like many others in recent months, is a quick hello and goodbye.  Just home from an event in Minnesota, I’m frantically repacking for an afternoon departure for a long-planned garden tour to the Netherlands and Belgium with some of my favorite travel friends.  Hope I can post a few photos…and will plan to catch up with you soon.

Tot ziens voor nu!

 

 

 

First Flower

South Carolina’s native cowcumber magnolia (M. macrophylla) bears the largest leaves and flowers of all North American trees.  After days of heavy rain, I looked out the window this morning into a gray fog and noticed a brilliant white bloom on the cowcumber I planted in the woodland garden almost exactly 5 years ago.

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Magnolia macrophylla

Purchased as a seedling at a spring sale of the Upstate Chapter of the SC Native Plant Society, the small tree now stands about 5-feet tall.  A few hours into the day, when the flower began to open, I took photos to record the momentous occasion.

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First flower highlighted by morning light.

The leaves of this deciduous magnolia can reach 32-inches long and its blooms up to 20-inches across, but the largest leaf on this immature tree measures 24-inches and the flower’s tepals are 6-inches long, which would make a 12-inch spread when fully open.

The underside of leaves have a sheen that is silver to white and the tepals are marked with purple at their base, which is another unique feature.

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Purple markings at the base of the flower tepals are an identifying feature.

Found in scattered populations throughout  the Southeast, M. macrophylla is very rare in South Carolina, with only two small viable populations remaining in York County (primarily due to a preference for neutral soils).  Thus, the tree is listed as critically imperiled in this state.

Luckily, however, it is fairly easy to grow in cultivation and is popular with native-plant aficionados and in-the-know gardeners for its spectacular leaves and flowers.

 

 

Almost Wordless Wed–Window Boxes–Charleston Style

If you’re a gardener, two days in Charleston, South Carolina, in March is about as good as it gets.  The main object of our visit was to be with our son and daughter-in-law, but strolling through the historic district south of Broad Street was also high on the list.  To give you a small sample of delights, here are a dozen window boxes–Charleston style–that I hope will put a smile on your face.  Enjoy!  And be sure to let me know which one you like best…

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Did you spy the Carolina anole?  If you missed it, take a closer look at photo #3.

Weather & Wildflowers

The Upstate was plagued in 2016 with spring windstorms, summer drought, and an extended hot and dry autumn. Unfortunately, it looks like 2017 might prove equally unkind. A mild January and warm February stimulated an early spring that was squelched in March by the return of winter.  In the past week we’ve seen a low of 23 F (-5 C) and a high of 86 F (30 C), a difference of 63 degrees in just a few days. Then, on Tuesday evening, mighty thunderstorms swept across our region, pelting some areas with 2 inches of hail and others with nearly 4 inches of rain.

So, in my shady garden, where spring is the main event, the azaleas droop with brown flowers and there will be no blooms on the bigleaf hydrangeas (H. macrophylla)  this year. (Sigh.)

Thank goodness there is joy to be found in the woodland garden, where a group of “rescued” sweet Betsy trilliums (T. cunneatum) are thriving.

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Sweet Betsy trillium (T. cunneatum) moved from a nearby area.

Moved just 2 years ago from a property being bulldozed for construction,  the plants are already beginning to spread. Trilliums reproduce vegetatively from small rhizome offshoots, as well as by seeds. When seeds mature, they attract ants and yellow jackets to a lipid-rich food body (elaiosome) attached to their seed coat. Ants move the seeds short distances and yellow jackets disperse them further afield.

Here is another happy surprise.

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More Sweet Betsy.

This naturally occurring patch of sweet Betsy has more than doubled in size since 2011. In fact, this group of trilliums is the very first I found here, surviving under a cloak of English ivy, which spurred our determination to clear invasive plants and reestablish natives.  Six years ago there were 18 flowers. When this photo was taken a few days ago, I counted 38!

Typically, the flowers of bloodroot are finished by now, but not this year.

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Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Bloodroot is one of the most cherished signs of early spring.  The flowers, partially encircled by a single unfolding leaf, appear well before the trees leaf out.  Can you see the pollen on the lower petals?  Pollen eating bees and flies are attracted to the nectarless flowers, but if cross-pollination doesn’t occur within 3-4 days, then the anthers bend toward the stigma and shower it with pollen.

Look what else is waking.

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Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)

Burned by frost, but with a bloom in the making.  Thank goodness all parts of this plant, except its fleshy fruit, are highly poisonous.  The local deer family, a doe with twin yearlings, was back for a browse yesterday.

In the garden, we can’t predict what tomorrow might bring…but fingers crossed for more good things ahead.

 

 

 

 

Good Fortune

You might look at this photograph and say, “Ho-hum, just another daffodil,” but you would be wrong.

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Narcissus ‘Fortune’

Purchased at half price in late autumn to layer in containers with tulips and other bulbs (yet to come), these ‘Fortune’ daffs have delivered more than I bargained for. A stately 20-inches tall, their large flowers are sweetly fragrant and long-lasting, persisting 3 weeks and still looking fresh. Plus, they’re awfully pretty with their ruffled orange cups, don’t you agree? The package label, which I saved, notes the bulbs will multiply easily and grow in part shade.  Hmm, I think I’ll put them to the test.

 

In Living Color

I very much enjoyed hearing your advice about selection of best image for the upcoming Flower Show Photography Contest. Thank you! The deadline for entries is today, so the photograph is at J&D Photos now being printed and mounted on black foam board.

Since there were wonderful comments about each photo, I thought you might enjoy seeing them in color too.  Look how different they are!

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Beach Walk: Sunrise on Pawley’s Island

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Can you hear the waves and feel the wind on your cheek?

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Winter Reflections: Ashmore Heritage Preserve

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So quiet and barely a breeze here. The dark red you see in front of the split-rail fence is a bog filled with hundreds of mountain sweet pitcher plants (Sarracenia rubra ssp. jonesii).

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Solitude: Glacier Bay, Alaska

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Alone in one of the most beautiful and remote places on earth, with 3,000 other guests and a crew of 1,200. You could have heard a pin drop.

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Fresh Catch: Bald Eagle in Clover Passage, Katchikan, Alaska

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There are simply no words to describe an experience like this!

Do the images look the way you thought they would?

Does the addition of color change your favorite?

After more thought, I eliminated two photos. Beach Walk was taken with my older camera and the resolution was not quite up to par. Solitude, one of my favorite photos of all times, was too risky. One of the contest guidelines noted works should “reflect the interests of the Garden Club of America,” and I was afraid the judges would discredit the photo because of the cruise ship.

The selection came down to the final two, but both had slight problems. The first, Winter Reflections, is dramatic but not unusual.  In fact, it looks like an image you would see in a calendar or made into a puzzle. Plus, there is a class for trees, which might influence its appraisal. Fresh Catch is dramatic, but the tips of the eagle’s wing feathers are not in the frame and the focus on the subject is good, but not fabulous.

In the end, I decided to take my chances with Fresh Catch.  Why?  It is as powerful as a monochrome image as it is in color.  Plus, your comments proved it is a subject to be reckoned with. I know the photo will be admired, even if it is not the winner.

Fingers crossed!