Tag Archives: Kelly Norris

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.


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.


I admire gardeners who spend time each fall choosing top-notch bulbs for their spring displays and pay a fair price to the premium retailers we all rely on.  Oftentimes, I do the same.  But I also love plundering local DIY stores during the big bulb markdown that coincides with Thanksgiving.  These leftovers, though not “choice,” are perfect for a one-time show.


Bargain basement bulbs, including Darwin hybid tulips, and Tete a Tete, Fortune, and double mix daffodils.

I was a bit late in my search this year, so selection was limited.  I’m happy, however, with the cheerful collection of 165 tulips and daffodils that cost less than $25 total, or roughly 15 cents per bulb.


Tulips first!

Luckily, I ended up with the perfect number for the four black plastic pots I’ve used in past years.  Will you think I’m a cheapskate when you hear I recycled old potting mix for this project too?  I hope not.

The containers are the perfect depth for 3 layers of bulbs.  Tulips go in first, and then the big daffs before the small ones.  Pot pairs will be slightly different when they bloom, as two containers are planted with ‘Fortune’ daffodils, while doubles fill the other set.

While on the subject, have you ever wondered where “cheapskate” comes from? Here is some of what World Wide Words has to say:  “The best suggestion we have is that skate was originally a Scots contemptuous word, still known in a weakened sense in Australia and New Zealand, where it’s usually written as skite. We retain it in blatherskite for a person who talks at great length without making much sense.”

Finally, here’s another good value for bargain hunters–Ideas for an Inspiring Garden–the Greater Greenville Master Gardener’s 16th Annual Symposium to be held on Saturday, February 11, 2017.

Featured speakers will include Kelly Norris, Director of Horticulture at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden who will present an “A-list” of stunning plants; Gary Smith, NY artist and landscape architect on harnessing your creative spirit for expressive design; and Bill Thomas, Executive Director and Head Gardener of Chanticleer, with a behind the-scenes-look at what the Washington Post has called “one of the most interesting and edgy public gardens in America.”


Chanticleer, known as “interesting and edgy,” will be featured at the upcoming GGMG symposium.

The symposium also offers two sessions of concurrent programs provided by Norris and three additional speakers: plant explorer and nurseryman Ted Stevens of Nurseries Caroliniana, garden writer and photographer Pam Beck, and permaculturist Eliza Lord.  The first session offers a choice of Stevens on plants for Southern gardens, Beck on mixed border design, and Lord on sustainable gardens, while the second offers Stevens on soil science and plants, Beck on shade gardens, and Norris on bearded irises.

Registration, including morning refreshments and lunch, plus a fabulous vendor’s market full of plants and other garden necessities, is a steal at $70 ($75 after December 31 if there’s still room).  If you’re eager to go, don’t hesitate, as tickets are already dwindling.  To register, simply print a brochure from the GGMG website and get your check in the mail pronto!


Oh, for the perfect shade garden…maybe I’ll learn a new trick or two from my friend Pam Beck.