Friday, April 30, 2010


We have a lovely native wisteria, Wisteria americana, which is much more well-behaved than its Asian cousin.

Chinese Wisteria, although fragrant and lovely, is rampant and invasive, when not carefully confined on an arbor or fence.  It's a memory plant for me;  when my sister and I took piano lessons through our teens (she's now a music teacher and musician), we alternated being at the library, which was just down the street from a tremendous wisteria vine, filled with fragrance in the spring.

Wisteria sinesis, now, is a nemesis, something that we remove from strangling native trees and shrubs, and other plantings.

So I was quick to recognize and root out these wisteria seedlings--volunteers from some delivered mulch.

It may have been a single pod full of seeds, as they were all near each other!

Yikes, a vine that not only spreads through underground rhizomes, but also through seeds.  No wonder it's so 'successful'!

Labels: ,

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A lovely spring day

Much cooler than normal, we had another fabulous spring day here in the Carolinas. I was whining about our exceptionally cold and rainy winter weather through late February, but March and April have been quite nice. 

We've had only a few hot spells, along with lower than normal temperatures.  Now, if rainfall amounts get back up to 'normal' - we're still three inches short for the year - that would be great!

Labels: ,

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Night hikes and a luminous moon

I wish I'd been able to capture an image of the moon as it appeared above the horizon, following my Garden night hike.

We didn't see the moon before the program ended, but saw Mars, remarkably luminous in the night sky. The cool, clear evening meant that not many insects or frogs were singing, but stars and planets were clearly visible.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Growing vegetables in containers

I like to think the soil in my garden beds is excellent (hmm), but often lettuce, greens, and mustards grown in flats or containers filled with planting mix and organic fertilizer do far better than when directly sown.

I'm quite sure it's because of extra nutrients and 'fluffier' soil; it does question the idea that healthy soil webs and organic-rich soil is the only way to grow vegetables, at least in my mind.  There's a reason that vegetables grown hydroponically flourish in solutions of water-soluble major- and micro-nutrients.  But remember my challenges in the fertilizer department, too!

Even' star mustards
So, I wasn't surprised to have a lovely harvest of mustards from this small container recently.  Quite tasty!

Labels: , ,

Monday, April 26, 2010

First hummingbird of the season

Hummingbirds have been seen for weeks around us, but not one had stopped by our feeder until today.

Perhaps we missed early scouts simply by being at work or elsewhere, but it was great to hear the familiar chhirring-chip of a hummingbird this evening.

It almost seemed like he/she (I didn't get a good look) was looking for the feeder that normally hangs on the crepe myrtle near the potting bench, but that's probably fanciful thinking.

Shortly thereafter, I saw him/her visiting the porch feeder, just before flying up to perch in the big oak, a favorite hummingbird circuit.

The photo posted above was taken last summer at the venerable Campsis radicans-covered arbor that overlooks the terrace at Biltmore House, in Asheville, NC.

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Plant combinations

I never imagined a sedum bed would be such a nice addition to the front of our small mountain house.

Practically care-free, it was planted in a curved area defined by the previous owner's landscape (but left mulched). It glows with different colors and textures. We planted it in June, 2009, and it's sailed through a harsh winter and is looking great.

Sedum bed with raised stone vegetable beds beyond
Early in the morning, the view out the staircase window is pleasing. Exactly what you want from a window view.

And a happy combination of striped tulips (also from the previous owner) is combining nicely with a coppery Heuchera and vigorous Celadine poppy.

It's not a color combination that I'd normally plan, but with the vibrant colors of the cedar shake siding, it's striking.

(Click on the photos for a larger image.)

Labels: , ,

Friday, April 23, 2010

A bluebird family

I've enjoyed monitoring bluebird houses over the last few years, but it's been a thrill to be able to spy on a bluebird family this spring, thanks to an Eagle Scout project last year installing a bluebird box with a webcam adjacent to the Bob Campbell Geology Museum (part of the Garden where I work).

Click here to see what's happening now. 

You might enjoy a couple of related posts on What's Happening at the Garden?   This is the latest news.

Labels: ,

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Phlox, Penstemon, and shared plants

Gail, of Clay and Limestone, kindly sent me some Penstemon X last year, which included a bonus Phlox (I'm assuming it's the PPP that is a standout in her garden).

Both are flourishing and the phlox is flowering now, after a season heeled into a rich potting mix in a container.

I'll be transplanting both to suitable permanent spaces this spring, which will be a lovely passalong plant to think about.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Creating a natural garden

I like to do some short classes and programs for our local Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

A volunteer-led organization, the classes are taught by volunteers and organized by paid staff members (based in Clemson University's Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Dept.) who are supported through program revenues and endowment income, provided by Bernard Osher, who has provided support for lifelong institutes throughout the U.S. through his foundation.

I offered up a program last fall about creating a natural garden that was well-received, so I did so again.

Yikes, 25 people have signed up (the limit), and one of them recently mentioned to me that the draw for her was visiting my garden. Who knew? Hmm, I was planning to skip that part. But maybe that's a good addition to my presentation about transforming lawns to an interesting mix of native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers, with patches of vegetables?

So, I'm enlisting my gardening companion to tidy up a bit before then.

But, it's a natural garden, after all.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gardening, stewardship, and sustainability

Transforming lawns to a vibrant wildlife habitats, growing vegetables, and carefully tending 'our' patches of land are sustaining activities, ones that ground me in what I can do, and away from worrying about the difficult environmental times that face us.

My work (as a garden educator) is also encouraging: I help folks learn how to be better stewards by being better gardeners, promoting native plants and restoring wildlife habitats, and am definitely an encouraging voice about growing more vegetables and fruits in the open spaces (lawn or not) that many Americans have access to, whether on their own 'property' or not.

I love the idea of guerrilla gardening - planting plants where they should be, but aren't! These are the curbside planting areas, empty 'hell strips' between sidewalks and roads, and barren parking lot edges.

Gardening and stewardship provides hope, for restoration of both native and created garden space. At least that's what true for me.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, April 19, 2010

Vegetables and nutrients

I have such a hard time realizing how MUCH I need to fertilize vegetables, conditioned by the sparse habits of native plants and their parsimonious ways. 

I always think I add plenty of compost, and dig in composted manure, and add Espoma organic fertilizer, etc. etc., but in looking at Jim Wilson's excellent new vegetable gardening book, obviously I'm not producing anything close to spinach and lettuce with the size of the leaves shown in the photos. Vegetables are definitely nutrient and water hogs, being domesticated, to be sure.  And then I see that he recommends a 1/2 cup of organic fertilizer at the base of each transplant.  Yikes.  No wonder my vegetables are modest in size.

It'll be interesting to see how the tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables do in the raised beds this summer in the mountains.  The 'soil' is essentially straight compost with additional composted manure.  I'll take a sample for a soil test this weekend and see what I have.  And I'll do the same for my Piedmont beds.

I think my leafy greens do well in flats because I've heavily amended the potting mix with organic fertilizer!
My guess is that in my home vegetable garden areas, the soil may have become somewhat depleted of nitrogen and other nutrients, since I haven't been adding lots of extra fertilizer (I do fertilize, but not a lot).  Adding mushroom compost,  composted cow manure, and homemade compost helps, but in our warmth and humidity, it decomposes quickly.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Herbs in containers

I really enjoy my containers, especially the glazed terracotta ones. They survive our winters well (not chipping like regular terracotta) and provide an attractive array of colors in my container medleys: 1) near the potting bench and 2) near the bird feeders.

This container, with relatively young plants of Spanish lavender, evergreen thyme, and silver thyme, survived last winter nicely, and looks cheery in the evening light. 

And since I've cropped some stray winter annuals out of the photo, it looks even nicer!

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Growing food, building community

This is the tagline for Garden Fest, an event in its second year at the South Carolina Botanical Garden (my workplace).

SC Master Gardeners providing advice about planning a garden

Supported by a network of groups from SC Master Gardener volunteers, Clemson University's Home and Garden Information Center, (CU) Students for Environmental Awareness, Upstate Locavores, CU Dirt to Food, a troop of middle-school Girl Scouts, and SCBG and Bob Campbell Geology Museum staff, it was a rewarding event.

Ellie Taylor of Upstate Locavores sharing ideas about container gardening

We're basically encouraging folks to grow more of their own vegetables, and providing information about how to do it.

At the introduction table, I talked to young families, retirees, and mid-life folks, all who were interesting in growing more of their own food. It was a nice event.

Joey Williamson and Janet Scott, from CU's Home and Garden Information Center providing advice
Vegetable transplants (a variety of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, tomatillos, and herbs) went off to new gardens (I donated the seeds so I feel a lovely sense of potential bounty shared).

Labels: , , ,

Friday, April 16, 2010

More organic veggie stuff

I do wish I could buy colorful peppers (fresh or frozen) grown nearby. My post yesterday presented the conundrum. Hopefully, we'll be able to crank up the cooperative systems that will allow local growers to preserve (freeze) their peppers at competitive prices, so we'll be able to buy them in the off-season, as well as enjoying them in our growing period.

It's a complicated system. Obviously, it's still cheaper for a small Pennsylvania-based company Village Grown Organics to contract-grow organic peppers in China. Oil is still cheap enough and container ship and truck transport is efficient, so a small company's product can appear in a local Southeastern U.S. grocery store.

That's essentially nuts as far as a real ecological footprint is concerned.

Village Grown Organics launched their product line within the last year. Here's a trade show video that popped up in a Google search.

I have zero connection with this company. I was impressed with the quality of their frozen peppers, and I think about the Chinese small (organic vegetable) farmers that produced them, too.


Labels: , , ,

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Organic red peppers, local food, and other conundrums

Colorful peppers are a good thing; they're full of nutrients and low in calories, in addition to being tasty. The hothouse peppers available in the supermarket from the Netherlands, Canada, and Mexico are tasty, but bear a burden of energy costs, food miles, etc. Balancing nutrition and one's ecological footprint isn't always easy.

In our warm summer climate, we can grow lots of nice peppers, spicy anchos and poblanos, as well as mild Italian roasting peppers, pimentos, and 'pizza' peppers. What we (at least I) can't grow well is large, juicy 'bell' peppers, whether green, red, orange, or yellow.

This time of year, my home-grown frozen peppers add a nice kick to sauces and stir-fries, but they're pretty meager compared to what's available in the market. These seem to be a product of pampered greenhouses, kept at optimal temperatures, with abundant moisture and nutrients through the growing season.

So I was interested to see frozen organic pepper slices for sale at a modest cost in one of our local supermarkets.

They're nothing but peppers, unlike one of my favorite frozen vegetables 'Pepper Stir-Fry' from Birdseye,, which includes onions, too (cheaper, of course).

OK, these are village-grown, organic, all peppers, about $2.25 US dollars (roughly equivalent to the Birdseye product on sale). So what's the story?

They're grown in a Chinese organic vegetable village (certified). Hmm.

We visited a very interesting organic vegetable village in Southern Vietnam last winter -- a remarkable place. Maybe this village is similar? Who knows?

But, perhaps the trade-off isn't so difficult after all. Supporting organic vegetables grown in China certainly can't hurt, but I'm thinking why can't I buy nice frozen peppers grown closer to home?

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wind-pollinated trees


In spite of glorious spring weather in late March and April in the Southern U.S., the combination of a long, cold winter (extended into February) followed by a series of suddenly warmer days has meant that pollen from our native oaks and hickories has been released all at once, showering EVERYTHING in a golden dust.

Rain last Thursday settled things down for awhile, but this week, more sunny days mean more pollen.

The counts are remarkable and setting records.


Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hawks and Chrysogonum virginianum

A early morning walk found us (a good friend and me) admiring Green and Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum) and the emerging green of the oak-hickory forest in the 'back' of the Garden.

It's a lovely forest, with Piedmont azaleas and sweet shrub in flower (not to mention the oaks and hickories, achoo!)

We heard one of the red-shouldered hawks calling in the forest and coming out towards the meadows, we saw a pair soaring high up, barely within reach of my camera lens.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, April 12, 2010

A morning view through the gate

Leaving for work this morning, the light was perfect -- soft and mellow.

The young coral honeysuckle next to the gate is thriving, and in full flower.

And through the gate (or really over the fence), the side garden looked lovely, too, cloaked in spring greens, with dogwood white.

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, April 11, 2010

More raised beds, lettuce, mesclun, and radishes

The two raised beds below the house turned into three, with 'leftover' stone and soil. The third is just to the right of the deck, barely visible in this photo.

The view from above.

And from below.

I tucked the rest of the leek seedlings and lettuce into one bed, and sowed mesclun mix, radishes, and arugula in another.

They're placeholder crops, and probably won't amount to much without frequent watering. There isn't rain in the forecast this week, so I hope that the rich organic soil will hold moisture well. But experiments are fun.

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Leeks, beets, chard, lettuce, and herbs

After I finished two more stone beds this morning (below our small mountain house), my gardening companion filled them with soil.

They're yet to be planted, but I worked on the previous four beds this afternoon.

Planting new beds is fun.

An afternoon trip to a local nursery snagged herbs, a couple of Cherokee Purple tomato plants, a Sweet Million cherry tomato, and seedling leeks.

Added to the flat of lettuces that I'd brought up from Clemson, and along with radish, beet, and chard seeds, among others, I'm set for now.

And waiting for the weather to warm up!

Labels: , , , , , ,

Friday, April 9, 2010

Isn't it (almost) time to plant warm-season vegetables?

I'm anxious to get going, but the weather is still unsettled. In the mountains of North Carolina (Zone 6), where my main summer garden will be this year, it's going to be close to freezing tonight.

NOT weather for tomatoes, peppers, or eggplant, nor time to plant beans, squash, or cucumbers.

In our main Piedmont vegetable garden (the satellite garden), I've put in asparagus crowns and artichokes (nice perennial vegetables) to accompany the onions, garlic, and leeks already planted.

But it should be excellent weather to finish the last two raised beds (in the mountains) and fill them with soil, and hopefully plant some hardy herbs in the corners of the beds above the house.

I'm also planning to sow beets, turnips, 'small' carrots, an Asian green mix, summer-mix lettuce, and late spinach, too, as an experiment -- you never know, it might be a long cool spring!

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Spring green

The haze of green leaves has expanded rapidly, as record-high temperatures encourage rapid leaf expansion and growth.

In the cool, pre-storm light of mid-day, the forest in the back presented a contrast of fresh green, punctuated by purple wisteria.

The yellow sassafras flowers were striking.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Growing garlic

I plant cloves in the fall, usually in October since I'm in (US) Zone 7.  They usually sprout and grow a bit, overwinter, and then continue with strong spring growth, producing new cloves in late spring and early summer. These plants show robust new growth following warm weather.

I've had a lot of fun growing garlic.  It's remarkably easy and garlic seems to be pretty trouble-free.

I'm trying to resist harvesting too much 'green' garlic this spring.  It's totally delicious -- fresh young shoots are excellent in stir-fries and other dishes.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Oconee Bells

Going up in elevation pushes back the spring time clock.

Oconee Bells (Shortia galacifolia) were flowering in mid-March in the Piedmont, but in the Botanical Gardens of Asheville, these plants were in full flower on Easter Sunday.


Labels: , , , ,

Monday, April 5, 2010

Iris cristata

Rodger's iris is blooming. It's a lovely native iris, Iris cristata (Crested Iris). It's small, and doesn't flower for long, but it forms delightful clumps in the understory of woods (and woodland borders).

Rodger gave me several clumps from his garden years ago, which I planted under the big red oak near the garage. We've moved some to the front of the stone pathway, too, now that the soil is developed enough.

It's a wonderful memory plant for us; Rodger was an extraordinary volunteer at the Garden (where I work), giving so much time to so many projects, from construction to plants.

He's no longer with us, but left a rich legacy, both in his work as a volunteer, a wonderful family, many things I don't know about, but also for all the plants he gave away.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter and spring

Easter, even for us secular folks, means that spring has arrived. Here in the Southeastern U.S., it was a lovely day: warm, sunny, and glorious with spring flowers (wild, ornamental, herbaceous, and otherwise).

My gardening companion filled up the new raised beds with the rich 'created' topsoil this morning, so we're ready to plant next weekend (and build two more new beds!)

Back home in the Piedmont, I tidied the satellite garden, and turned over all of the soil blocks in the main vegetable garden. It's beautiful soil there, but it will either be fallow or filled with marigolds this summer, as an control for the root-knot nematodes that have been a problem in recent seasons (for susceptible cole, pepper, and tomato varieties).

The garlic is looking great in the satellite garden, and the onions are coming along. And the asparagus plants (grown from seed last year) have popped up new foliage, wispy to be sure! The robust asparagus crowns that I planted last week may be better contenders for permanent space, but we'll see.

I've got 3 artichoke plants to put somewhere -- probably in a spot that shallots didn't come up. I can't imagine woodchucks liking artichokes.... do you think?

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Stone raised beds

Raised beds can be edged with landscape timbers, wood boards, concrete blocks, old railroad ties, brick, stone of various sorts, or nothing at all (just mounded up).

But we opted for permanence and appearance in these new beds, converted from empty 'driveway' space to growing space for vegetables, herbs, and flowers.

It was a process, but not actually all that difficult, although physically taxing (I knew I should have been spending more time lifting weights this winter!)

The sequence is hard to make accurate, as arranging images in Blogger can be quite exasperating -- but maybe I've fixed them with draft Blogger.

Hopefully, you'll get the idea.

Mocha (our gardening assistant) enjoys supervising.

And I'll have plenty of lovely 'top soil' created from vegetable compost and composted manure to nourish our summer vegetables.

We have more than enough stones (and 'soil') to create two more beds below the house.

That'll be a project for another weekend.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, April 2, 2010

Clematis armandii

A relatively unfussy clematis, Clematis armandii is evergreen, providing a nice alternative to deciduous Clematis spp.

It's flowering now.

This plant, in the corner of the fence outside our breakfast room window, in spite of losing branches over the couple of years to (maybe) Clematis wilt, has managed to survive quite nicely to produce a lovely array of white to pink flowers.

Quite nice.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A pair of squirrels

There's a 'squirrel tail' tree in the Garden (where I work). Apparently an elderly or ill squirrel crawled into a favorite hole, leaving only an emergent tail to mark a final resting place.

But looking for a red-shouldered hawk nest nearby (the squirrel tail tree was a landmark), I saw a pair of squirrels scampering into a hole higher up in the tree.

They poked their heads out enough for some decent photos.

It was nice to see squirrels taking advantage of cavities in trees, for nesting spots.

Labels: , ,