Author Archives: Marian St.Clair

About Marian St.Clair

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

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.

 

Mothers

It’s been said that a mom’s hug lasts long after she lets go.

It’s true.

What I remember most about my own mother, though, is not her many hugs goodbye, but the hug that always welcomed me home.  And the knowledge that she was happiest when the house was full of family.

My mother-in-law, Arleigh, was like that too.  She spent hours on end preparing for company, making pecan tassies and other family favorites, arranging pretty tablescapes for special meals, and making a welcoming wreath for the front door.

When our boys were little, she knit sweaters for them in winter and planned happy excursions for their summer visits.  Childhood rooms were decorated with hand-stitched samplers celebrating their birth and any notable occasion was always marked with a special card and message from Grandma and Pop.

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At Arleigh’s funeral on Friday, while leafing through publications featuring her award-winning floral designs and fingering her hand-made quilts, a sweet friend noted that whatever Arleigh did, she did it best.

For those she loved, that included hugs, provided in sugary treats and tiny stitches, the thrill of fishing trips and spotting deer along the farm road at dusk, and many, but not enough, unhurried summer days floating down cold mountain rivers.

Sunflower Daze

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A small part of the 10 acres of sunflowers on the Pellett farm.

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When the plants are young and supple they rotate with the sun, but as their stems grow rigid they become fixed in the direction of the sunrise.

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The rays of this immature bloom are just beginning to color.

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One tallboy backlit by the afternoon sun.

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And all host to a multitude of pollinators, including variegated fritillary (Euptoieta claudia).

In A Vase and more…

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Easy-to-love sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) add an extra measure of charm to the sunporch.

Even though it’s a bit overwhelming for the small French table, I couldn’t resist putting this vase of sunflowers next to my favorite chair where I enjoy my first cup of morning coffee with Bella (seen here) and Rudy, both snuggled in my lap. It’s a great place to watch the sun come up and, in winter when the trees are bare, to observe the squirrels welcome the day, leaping from tree limb to tree limb.

Perched above a steep slope that reaches down to the Reedy River, the sunporch provides pretty views throughout the year, especially in spring when the Carolina silverbell (Helesia tetraptera) blooms. Last summer, miserably hot and dry from May through October, was cause for complaint, but we’ve had plenty of rain so far this year. The total for the first six months was just shy of 30 inches, which puts us nearly seven inches ahead. Fingers crossed our good luck holds, so nature continues to rebound from the drought of 2016.

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The native sunflower is grown as a crop in all contiguous 48 states.

Sunflowers, such as these beauties, were domesticated in the western U.S. from native plants more than 1,000 years ago and were introduced to Europe courtesy of the Spaniards in 1510. It wasn’t until the plant reached Russia in the late 1800s, however, that its value was recognized and it began to be improved as a modern crop. Today, oilseed varieties contain nearly 50% oil, more than twice the amount of native species. Vegetable oil is the plant’s primary use, but it’s also cropped as a snack food, for bird and livestock feed, and for industrial uses. The hulls, a side product, are made into poultry litter, fireplace logs, and other high-fiber products.

These sunflowers were grown for a different reason, however. They came from a friend who plants 10 acres of the flowers on his farm to attract birds. Finches, he notes, will eat immature seeds, but most others wait for the heavy heads to mature. ‘Peredovik’ is the most common variety selected for wildlife.

Did you notice the vase? It’s a salt-glazed jug I found on my recent garden tour to Flanders, plucked from a flea market in Bruges for 10 euro. I have a weakness for old pottery and this jug, with its two-tone finish, reminded me of pots in Vincent van Gogh’s sunflower series. The vendor said it dated from the 1930s and was probably used to bring beer from a barrel in the basement up to the table. Overall, I found Bruges disappointing because of its commercialism and horde of tourists, but I did manage a few pretty canal photos, including this one.

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Bruges, May 2017.

One visit on the tour that didn’t disappoint was the Kroller-Muller Museum in the Netherlands where I learned a great deal more about Van Gogh. Helene Kroller-Muller was one of the first to recognize the genius of the artist and the museum she founded has the second-largest collection of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings, after the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

No print can do Van Gogh justice. Viewed in person, the colors and brushstokes of his paintings convey indescribable emotion.  I was particularly drawn to Wheatstacks in Provence (1888).

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Wheatstacks in Provence, Vincent van Gogh, June 1888.

Wheat was a frequent subject for Van Gogh, who saw sowing, plowing, and harvesting wheat as symbolic of birth, life, and death; a way to find meaning in nature and its cycles. He wrote to his sister, Wil, “What the germinating force is in a grain of wheat, love is in us.”

Any gardener, I think, will appreciate this sentiment…and perhaps question if Van Gogh was as crazy as conventional history teaches.

Back in the sunroom, I’m celebrating nature on a much smaller scale with a little collection of houseplants, including staghorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum), crocodile fern (Microsorum musifolium), and beefsteak begonia (B. x erythrophylla). This trio is nearly all that remains from the 30 or so potted plants I grew this past winter for a spring flower show. The begonia, cultivated from a stem cutting, received a blue ribbon, the staghorn fern a yellow, and the crocodile fern a white.

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(L to R) Staghorn fern, crocodile fern, and beefsteak begonia.

Until recently, I’ve never taken to houseplants, but the shady garden here and lack of blooms makes growing any plant more rewarding. These, of all in the bunch, were the easiest to grow and were kept simply because I enjoyed them most.

There’s another collection of sorts too. These small ginger jars are also loot from the recent trip, found in a antique store in Weesp, just after the visit to Jacqueline van der Kloet’s Tea Garden.

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More old pottery with a bit of bling.

Despite their grime (the jar in the foreground has been cleaned), I guessed they were vintage rather than antique. I don’t remember jars like this in use, but was told they were made for importing ginger from China, perhaps as recently as the 1950s and 60s.

The lamp is created from a pottery piece of unknown origin found at a flea market in Charlotte, North Carolina. The sparkling knife rests, also once covered in dirt and grime, were found in a tiny shop at Chateau de Loose on last summer’s trip to the Dordogne. They proved to be real treasure–lead crystal–when the airport x-ray machine read them as metal weapons, triggering a bag search.

Sunflowers, dogs, pottery, weather, hybridization, birds, art, travel, houseplants, souvenirs…goodness, I have rambled on, haven’t I? But it’s good to be home after a long stretch away, to relish family, friends, and the comfort of my nest, and to find, finally, the leisure to write.

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday–On top of the world!

Although gardening is the usual topic here, I hope you’ll enjoy a few pics from a sightseeing tour preceding the 2017 GFWC Convention in Palm Springs, California, sharing incredible views of the Coachella Valley from Mt. San Jacinto State Park. Accessed by the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which travels two-and-one-half miles up the Chino Canyon to an elevation of 8,516 feet, the park is typically 30 to 40 degrees cooler than the valley below. During the eight days our group of 800+ clubwomen were celebrating another year of community service, the daily high temperature in Palm Springs ranged from 122 to 115 degrees F.

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Palm Springs, partially hidden in this view by tall evergreens, is a desert oasis along the San Andreas Fault that collects moisture from surrounding mountains.

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Mt. San Jacinto State Park offers observation decks with stunning views, a natural history museum and documentary theaters, a gift shop and two restaurants, and 50 miles of hiking trails…but keep an eye out for rattle snakes.

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Enjoying the fun and a cool breeze with my friend and cohort, Jolie Frankfuth, GFWC Director of Junior Clubs.

 

Bloom Day–A Tale of Two Hydrangeas

When I moved to this shady neighborhood with towering hardwood trees nearly seven years ago, I was happy to find several species of hydrangeas growing in the garden. Since then, I’ve added even more of these beautiful and easy-to-grow shrubs.

My favorite hydrangea was not planted here, however, it grows wild. Hydrangea radiata, though limited in its native range to the southern Appalachian region, is common in the Upstate and I often see it on my wildflower hikes. In the garden here, it grows on a moist, north-facing slope above the Reedy River.

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Hydrangea radiata, commonly called silverleaf.

Called silverleaf by those who prefer common names, this hydrangea has striking foliage as well as pretty flowers. While the upper surface of the leaf is green, the underside is bright white, a tale-tell feature easily seen when ruffled by wind.

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Hydrangea foliage (top row, left to right): a small unidentified cultivar with pale pink booms, H. radiata, and H. arborescens ‘Incrediball’; and (bottom row, left to right): H. macrophylla and H. quercifolia.

In June, creamy-white blooms open at the tips of the shrub’s spreading branches.  Clusters are flat-topped, with larger, sterile flowers surrounding a center of fertile flowers that produce pollen and seeds. One of the nicest things about this hydrangea is that it attracts a wide variety of pollinators.

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A very bee-friendly shrub.

In early spring 2012, I added a (then) new selection of hydrangea to the garden that also blooms in June. Named Incrediball, this Hydrangea arborescens, commonly known as smooth hydrangea, is touted as an improvement over its popular parent, Annabelle, offering thicker, sturdier stems that prevent flopping after rain.

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Incrediball hydrangea (H. arborescens)

Like others of its species, Incrediball blooms on new wood, so even when killed to the ground during a hard winter, new branches produce summer flowers. It’s also said to be more floriferous than Annabelle, with up to four times more flowers.

This selection, with its bold white blooms that fade to parchment and persist throughout the winter, has become a great favorite. Sadly, it’s also much-loved by voles, but that’s another story.

Linking to Garden Bloggers Bloom Day at May Dreams Gardens.