Category Archives: native plant

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.

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.

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.