Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, January 28, 2007

I’ve always loved this photo. It captures many of the things I like best about the winter garden–blue skies, eye-catching bark, handsome evergreens, early bulbs pushing above the grass and, most importantly, bare branches etching a lacy pattern upon the earth as the sun sweeps across the sky.

I’m sorry to say I don’t remember the name of the sculpture or its maker, but I love the form of the spinning figure with outstretched arms and its placement among pirouetting crepe myrtles.

SHADOW is the theme of the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge. To see where others have found inspiration, visit:

Beauty of the Beech

The winter view from the sunporch includes the colorful leaves of American beech trees.

The winter view of the woodland includes the colorful leaves of Fagus grandifolia.

When I posted this photo on Monday to highlight the flowering Hippeastrum, I couldn’t help but look beyond the windows to admire the parchment-like leaves of a group of young American beech trees (Fagus grandifolia), and the warm color they add to the mostly gray and brown winter landscape.


Smooth gray bark makes a beech tree easy to identify.

The native beech is common in our neighborhood and easy to spot any time of year because of its smooth gray bark, which is sometimes carved by lovebirds and others who want to make their mark. In fall, the tree’s green leaves turn yellow and then russet brown, but rather than falling, many cling tightly to their branches throughout the cold season, eventually fading to pale parchment and curling into cylinders that rattle against one another in the slightest breeze.

What accounts for the winter dress of the beech tree?

Most deciduous trees shed their leaves by producing an enzyme that creates an abscission layer between the leaf petiole and the tree branch. When the cell walls of this specialized layer disintegrate, the leaf easily detaches in a gust of wind or sprinkle of rain.

Beeches, however, belong to a group of trees that are marcescent [märˈses(ə)nt], meaning they hold on to all or most of their leaves until spring. Like some oaks and hornbeams, beeches either fail to form an abscission layer or delay its development, so leaves stay on the tree long after they become lifeless and dry.


A neighborhood oak with dull brown leaves on its lowest branches.

Marcescence is more common on younger trees and on the lower, more juvenile, portions of older trees. In my garden, this is particularly true of oaks, but these dull brown, crinkled leaves are a poor substitute for the beech’s tiers of lacy, warm-hued foliage.

No one really knows the purpose of marcescence, but there are theories. Some believe the unpalatable leaves keep tender buds and branches from being browsed by hungry herbivores like deer and moose. Others suggest the leaves provide protection from injury when conditions are especially dry or frigid.

Whatever the reason, I love the rich color the beech trees add to the winter landscape and the whispered conversations offered by their shimmering leaves when I walk among their branches. Surely they must be chatting about spring, and the many blue skies and warm days just ahead.


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Hippeastrum ‘Blossom Peacock’

After spending nine mid-January days in Washington, DC, I was thrilled to arrive home early last week to find blooms, inside and out, including the first flower on a Hippeastrum I ordered just before Christmas. I chose ‘Blossom Peacock’ from Brent and Becky’s online catalog because it was described as Brent’s favorite for its incredible symmetry, color, and mildly sweet fragrance. Now, I think it’s my favorite too.


‘Blossom Peacock’ illuminated by the morning sun.

As soon as the bulb arrived, I “planted” it in a container of pebbles, but as the flowers opened and the top-heavy stalk tilted one way and another, and I worried I might have to cut its stem before finding it could be squeezed, bulb and all, into an upright glass vase. Moved from the kitchen window to the sunporch, where it shines each morning in the early light, I can barely take my eyes off it.

Today, it’s perfect for In a Vase on Monday, hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden.

The first warm welcome home, however, was hailed by ‘Peggy Clarke’, a Japanese flowering apricot (Prunus mume), which I spied even before turning into the driveway.


Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’

Although the small tree’s common name would lead you to believe it’s native to Japan, where it was first found in cultivation by Europeans, it’s actually indigenous to China and Korea. In China, the plant is commonly called mei, or plum, and it’s known as one of the three friends of winter along with pine and bamboo.

Like others of its kind, ‘Peggy Clarke’ blooms January to March when the weather is mild. Its 1-inch wide, rosy-pink, double flowers, each accented with a red calyx and many long, thread-like stamens, perfume the garden with a spicy-sweet fragrance. Today, which is rather warm for the season, the tree is buzzing with a variety of bees and other insects in search of nectar and pollen. Some buds, however, are still tightly closed, waiting for winter’s next warm spell.


‘Peggy Clark’ close up.

Surprisingly, I also found paper bush (Edgeworthia chrysanthia) beginning to open its fragrant flowers and ‘Wisley Supreme’ witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis) in full regalia, with epaulets flying.


Edgeworthia chrysantha (so hard to photograph!) with it’s bell-like clusters of flowers just beginning to open.


‘Wisley Supreme’ Hamamelis mollis

In the week that followed, I was glad to have these cheerful friends as I was caught off guard by a debilitating cold while struggling with a full schedule of meetings, appointments, and work. Then, when the weekend arrived, I don’t know that I’ve ever been so happy to enjoy a quiet Saturday and Sunday.

Now, it’s time to be up and at ’em again, and I’m excited to see a week of fine weather ahead. Fingers crossed for an afternoon or two in the garden.

For those hoping to hear a little about the Women’s March on Washington, I’m happy to share. It was an amazing event, though I was sad to see later (on television) that much of the rhetoric from the rally was not representative. Madonna….really? I don’t think 1 in 10,000 would say she speaks for them.  Certainly I wouldn’t.

It was a great crowd, very friendly, patient, and upbeat, and lots you didn’t see in the
media. Varied ethnic and religious groups participated, as well as disabled persons. There were lots of young families with children, many mother and daughter pairs, and an astounding number of young people under 30, including young men.

All in all, it was a positive and hopeful experience. The March on Washington might not make an immediate impact on policy, but I believe it will make all the difference for those engaging in human rights for the first time.

Here’s my favorite image of the day–a little girl named Maeve promoting equality on her third birthday!


Marching on Washington, January 21.



Celebrating Democracy


Donald John Trump, 45th President of the United States, delivering his Inaugural Address.

From a January 17 message from the Dean of Washington National Cathedral:

“I understand the strong disagreement many people have with the decisions to accept an invitation for the Cathedral choir to sing at the Inauguration and for the Cathedral to host the Inaugural Prayer Service. I am sorry those decisions have caused such turmoil and pain. Yet I stand by those decisions–not because we are celebrating the President-elect, but because we want to model for him, and the rest of the county, an approach to civility.

Understand that civility does not mean endorsing a president’s views, behavior or rhetoric, nor compromising our own Christian values. Our willingness to pray and sing with everyone today does not mean we won’t join with others in protest tomorrow. We will always strive to bridge the divide and repair the breaches in our life together. As a Cathedral, we have decided that we will approach that moment as open-handedly as possible.

In this and in all disagreements, we should never turn away from the opportunity to engage in any conversation. We can have no conversation, and this Cathedral can have no convening authority, if those with whom we disagree only see a turned back or are met with condescension or derision. God meets us where we are, and we must do the same for one another.

At the Inauguration on Friday, our choir will sing “God Bless America,” among other pieces, not as a political endorsement, but as an affirmation that we are still one nation under God. Why are we going? For the same reasons Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and others are going: To honor our nation, to support our democracy, to promote the peaceful transition of power, to celebrate our aspirations and to lift up the values that have blessed this nation.”


“I believe our job is to work together to build a country where everyone feels welcome, everyone feels safe, everyone feels at home. We will need all people from across our nation to be a part of that process, and we cannot retreat into our separate quarters if we have any hope of accomplishing this task. We must meet in the middle, and we start through prayer and song.

It pains me that our decisions have caused such anguish. But, if these gestures serve as a catalyst for bridging the divide then, God willing, we are on the right path.”

–The Very Rev. Randolph “Randy” Marshall Hollerith


The newly restored Capitol dome…


…and the thousands who came to celebrate democracy.

Snow Days

Winter arrived in full force this weekend with temperatures dropping late Friday, changing rain to sleet and then snow.  Though newscasters claim Greenville received 5 inches, our total was about half that amount if you measured generously.


Saturday morning, January 7, 2017.

By afternoon, the sun had appeared and most of the snow melted from the roads, thank goodness. The temperature continued its nose dive, however, and it was a very brisk 16 F (-9 C) when I took the dogs out this morning.

The birds seemed to know bad weather was headed our way. They’ve been busy at the feeders since early Friday, with some waiting in the camellia hedge for their turn. At one point yesterday, I counted a dozen Northern Cardinals. I also saw a bluebird, which is rare, as they seldom visit feeders. There have been a great number of woodpeckers here too, including two large species which I particularly enjoy watching, the Red-bellied and the Northern Flicker.


Birds at the feeders and in the camellia hedge.

After breakfast on Saturday, Tim and I took a walk on the golf course where we can see our street from the far side of the Reedy River.  I love the winter view when the homes are more visible and you can pick out details of the terrain.


Our street in Marshall Forest, built in the 1940s and 50s, from the golf course.

Sadly, three massive trees in our woodland garden were toppled by a March wind storm. In the photo below, you can see one is sprawled across the upper terraces…cut into lengths, but still much too heavy to move. The second was cut and piled on the riverbank by city workers when they needed access to repair a pipe on a neighboring property, and the third reaches across the river.


The three trees toppled in a March wind storm are a fixture in the woodland garden, at least for now.

I have to admit I was disheartened by 2016’s weather, since spring storms were followed by a summer drought that extended through autumn.  Hopefully, 2017 will be a better year for the garden and I’ll shake off my apathy to move forward more productively in the coming months. We’re off to a good start with precipitation, with nearly 4-inches in the first week of the year.

Today, as you might have guessed, I’ll be taking down Christmas decorations.  I’m a stickler for the full 12 days of Christmas and with snow on the way, I couldn’t resist leaving the tree up just a little longer!


Ridleys Cheer


Welcome to Ridleys Cheer!

Your enthusiasm for Ridleys Cheer has prompted me to write more about one of my favorite English gardens. Located in Wiltshire, the garden has been created by garden designer Antony Young and his wife, Sue, since the early 1980s. The couple initially planned a short stay, but were able to purchase additional land and so made the happy decision to improve their home and stay put. With time, they’ve doubled the size of the house and expanded the garden to include many new spaces, including a stunning wildflower meadow.


A first peek from just inside the gate shows the rose ‘Cecile Brunner’ in full bloom.


The dramatic stairway garden includes the (almost hidden) pale yellow noisette climber, ‘Alister Stellar Gray’, a repeat flowering rose with strong fragrance.

Now comprising 14 acres, Ridleys Cheer is an informal garden with sloping lawns, stone walls, and many interesting plant collections. Chief among these are its roses, including 125+ species and hybrids seldom enjoyed, and many magnolias, acers, daphnes, and other plant groups. On my first tour of the garden (more than 10 years ago), Mr. Young greeted visitors with a list of hundreds of plants that could be found in bloom that very day.

When I visit the garden of a designer, I expect a well-planned and executed layout. Mr. Young meets and exceeds that expectation. It was a surprise, however, to discover he is also an expert plantsman who excels at creating niche habitats, providing conditions that allow him to expand the plant palette, as well as show plants to their best advantage.


The reverse view highlights a standard Wisteria venusta with twisted stem, plus sweeping lawn and garden beds.


Everyone fell in love with this Clematis montana ‘Broughton Star’ on the garden’s front wall.  Look closely at the photo above, and you can spy it just left of the wisteria.

The origin of the property’s name is not what you would expect. The Bishops Latimer and Ridley were led to their martyrdom in 1555 in Oxfordshire and before being burnt to death Latimer’s last words to Ridley were, “Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and pay the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”

Hmm…I’m not sure how that worked out in the long run, but I can say anyone would be cheered by this enchanting namesake.

The beauty of Ridleys Cheer and the hospitality of Mr. and Mrs. Young lived large in my heart long after my initial visit and so I was particularly excited to add Ridleys Cheer to the itinerary of the West Country Gardens tour, which was carried out in June 2016. As you can see from the photos here, it was another wonderful day in the garden with Mr. Young, just as I hoped.


Entrance to the arboretum, a wonderland of trees, shrubs, and woodland perennials.


And a quick look at the wildflower meadow which is at its best in late summer and early autumn.

In addition to opening for the NGS and by appointment, Mr. and Mrs. Young also offer plant sales, and bed & breakfast. Their address is Mountain Bower, Chippenham SN14 7AJ. They can be reached at Tel: (01225) 891204 and by Email:


Gracious hosts, Sue and Antony Young.


One last look before boarding the coach. The pink climber is ‘Aloha.’

Don’t worry, I haven’t shown you everything; there are still many surprises to discover on your own!  And don’t miss the compost pile, it is the best I’ve ever seen.

When you make the trip to Wiltshire, I also strongly recommend a visit to Iford Manor, Harold Peto’s personal Italianate garden near Bath. If time allows, consider another nearby garden too, The Priory, the personal garden of French designer Mme. Antia Pereire. Fans of the classic landscape garden will be glad to hear Stourhead is not too far distant.


This planting of Guem (perhaps ‘Flames of Passion’?) was one of my favorites.  Can anyone confirm or offer another cultivar name?