Plants: How to Woo a Woman

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When my son Greg met his soon-to-be wife, he was obviously smitten. I knew this for several reasons, but it was the energy he put into a gift for her upcoming birthday that confirmed it for me. He considered several options, then settled on a plan: he would assemble a menagerie of houseplants for her sunroom/office and keep everything secret until the Big Day arrived.

After many trips to buy greenery and other supplies, Greg spent hours mixing soil, matching plant to container, and potting each specimen up. He added some divisions from his collection and mine. To make sure the plants were kept secret and, also, watered and cared for in the interim, he brought them to my house for safe-keeping. You can see them above, in all their diversity of texture, pattern, color, and form, spread out in the driveway on delivery day.

I know I’m partial as a judge, but I think this is one of the sweetest, most from-the-heart gifts I’ve ever seen. Maybe it’s the thoughtfulness — not the gift — that made an impression. Either way, it’s not a bad way to impress a woman.

Hellebores: They Can Stay a Little Longer

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None of my lenten roses are special cultivars. They’re just seedlings of half a dozen plants I bought years ago. Over time, they’ve cross-pollinated and spread all over the garden. They’ve loved the rich soil here and have become so plentiful they’re verging on being intrusive and unwelcome. Last fall, I decided to select the white ones and those that were extraordinary or bright-hued, then give the rest away.

After the rough winter we’ve had, with camellia buds and other flowers stunted, I’m wavering on my plan. Hellebores are one of the few things in bloom now. From a distance, they play a subdued, but welcome, role in the landscape.

Up close, the flowers of lenten rose are anything but low-key. Variations in color and reproductive parts make me marvel at nature’s complexity. Still…. I need to make room for other things. Maybe things that won’t deposit hundreds of seedlings on the paths leading through the woods.

Looming

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Hinoki falsecyress: It’s cold out here. Let me in!

One evening recently, I was startled to see the Hinoki falsecypress pressing its branches against the window, as if to say, Let me in please! Maybe it was how the light reflected on the panes, but the tree seemed to have moved closer to the house since I looked out earlier that day.

Now, the snow is gone and the falsecypress appears to have resumed its place against the stone wall behind.

Have patience, little tree. Soon spring will be here and the birds will build nests in your soft, sheltering branches. They’re already scouting for just the right spot.

On Turkeys (and Blogging)

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Wild turkeys on a late, Carolina morning

Mom looked out the window last week and saw a flock of wild turkeys picking at the dormant grass in the front yard. The birds were oblivious to the humans standing behind the glass just a few feet away. By the time we’d stopped fiddling with cameras and technical mishaps (dead batteries,etc.), the flock had proceeded to the end of the driveway, just beyond the rough-scaled ‘Heritage’ river birch on their left.

The birds headed across the road to the field (it becomes full of Queen Anne’s lace and sweet peas in summer), then veered toward a dilapidated old barn with a metal roof that threatens to fly off into the sky every time the wind blows hard. As a child, I helped the neighbor boys set up a general store in that little barn. We had old glass bottles, clunky tin cans, and small boxes with lettering muted by dampness from the building’s dirt floor.  I always wanted to be the shopkeeper. The boys bought some of my make-believe groceries and goods to humor me.

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I’ve been a bit of a turkey with my blogging recently — wandering, picking at things, keeping my head low to the ground. Blogging requires commitment and time, and the ante gets upped pretty often, I think. An example is how many photos to provide for a posting. When I write about gardening, I feel compelled to include a lot of images, following the trend.  But it takes a lot of time to sort, re-size, and prepare photos for the web, then write a story, and do the behind-the-scenes work that makes the blog come together technically. Then, every few weeks a new app or social media platform surfaces, compelling bloggers to join in order to be relevant, or searchable, or whatever. So far, I’ve resisted, though I admire those who use those resources well.

For now, I need to be relevant to the social circle that’s in the flesh, needs my help, and doesn’t care if I’m search-engine optimized. In other words, blogging needs to take a back seat to parental and other responsibilities in the coming months.

When Meander Mountain first started, my goal was to have a very simple blog. For each posting, I wanted to show one or two photos that were nature-or-garden-related or that illustrated something  compelling or offbeat about traveling or life in Southern Appalachia (mostly east Tennessee and western North Carolina).  I want to re-commit to that approach, and also post more frequently — just without too many shoulds in my brain.

Too, I want to reach out more, to readers/other bloggers, who have made the past three M. Mountain years so enjoyable and worthwhile. For you, and for those who have made it to the end of this epistle, I am grateful. I look forward to staying in touch!

Cheers — to blogging and to wild turkeys,

DJ

Craving Color

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It’s been a long winter.

When you live in the woods, you get used to subtlety. You learn to appreciate delicate shades of blue, and the muted yellows and pinks of wildflowers. You’re amazed at the nuances of white in blooms of trillium and fothergilla and sweetbay magnolia. You love the giant oak trees and the dark, humusy soil, and the way the light filters through the canopy at different times of the day.

But wait!  You’re forgetting about the vivid colors of red buckeye and native columbine, and the bright blue of the ajuga, and the fuschia camellias, not to mention the wonderfully-fragrant, lemon-colored witchhazels. And that’s just Spring. What were you thinking?

Color in a shade garden

Still, there are February days when the garden looks woefully brown. You fantasize about farmer’s markets, cut flower farms, and daylily nurseries — all that bright-hued goodness a gardener takes for granted in warmer months. It would be hard to incorporate all those colors in a garden.You know that. But, today, you’re dreaming…. just waiting for Spring.

Palmetto Valentine, Crafted by the River

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On a snowy Valentine’s week, I’m remembering some sweet bouquets, made by a young man working in a park beside the Cooper River in Charleston. He’s using leaves from the palmetto palm (Sabal palmetto), South Carolina’s state tree. Along the coast, it’s a tradition in some families for children to learn this craft at an early age. Here’s an article and video about one *budding* business, along with directions on how to make your own palmetto rose (in case it’s a skill you’d like to add to your repertory).

February Morning. My Version of Groundhog Day.

First appearance. My version of Groundhog Day.

Emerging from the crevices. Spring coming soon?

Winter Walk: Charleston’s Leafy Appeal

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Outstanding architecture, restaurants, gardens, and a rich cultural history — Charleston offers it all in abundance. On the rare occasions we get to visit there, we head downtown, park the car, and walk the Battery and side streets until feet and backs say “no more”.

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Even on a cold, winter day, Charleston is a feast for the senses. Always tuned into plants and gardens, I gravitate toward the private courtyard spaces, peeking through delicately-filigreed gates and fences wherever I can.

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I’m fascinated by the toughness of street trees, crammed within sidewalks into tiny rectangles of soil. Crape myrtles are prevalent here, but there are plenty of live oaks, as well. They’ve all survived decades of car emissions, extremes in weather, and foot traffic across their roots.

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It’s hard to imagine a tree with more site adaptability than these tree-form crape myrtles. Many of the ones downtown appear to be ‘Natchez’, an excellent cross of two species that was developed by the U.S. Arboretum. ‘Natchez’ is more mildew-resistant and cold hardy than most older, shrub-form varieties. Fortunately, those in charge of downtown pruning have rejected the increasingly-common practice of topping crape myrtles and turning them into summer-blooming lollipops.

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Of course, there’s always an exception.

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The cemeteries of Charleston are rich in plant variety and texture. Camellias (C. sasanqua, most likely) were in bloom a few weeks ago, but may now have succumbed to the ice and record low temperatures of the past few days.  It felt a little intrusive to walk the paths threading between weather-worn tombstones of people who died so many years — even centuries — ago.

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Palmettos (Sabal palmetto) are an iconic tree in Charleston and the state tree of South Carolina.The fronds are used by local crafters to make baskets and “rose” bouquets. At this park beside the Cooper River, palmettos form a backdrop to a sign that amuses tourists, advising them there is no lifeguard stationed at the pineapple-topped fountain.

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We saw plenty of evergreen plants, including creeping fig vine (Ficupumila) and Podocarpus, a conifer called yew pine. Here, these plants nearly obscure walls surrounding this secluded entryway and garden.

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Japanese aralia (Fatsia japonica) is an evergreen shrub that grows in many gardens here. It’s not hardy in my area, so I took time to enjoy the gorgeous white flowers, glowing in front of a richly-patterned, textured wall.

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Live oaks (Quercus virginiana) are a cherished part of the history and charm of Charleston. They, too, seem to thrive in narrow strips of soil along the street. Such a regal,beautiful tree.

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The massive, splendid specimens of southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, look happy and completely at home in the Charleston landscape.

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One courtyard had the native eastern dogwood, Cornus florida . It’s very common in southern Appalachia — not so much in the deep south.

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Many gardens visible from side streets had dwarf boxwood hedges — Buxus x ‘ Suffruticosa’, I would imagine. These boxwoods work well in small gardens where the constraints of straight-lined driveways, iron fences, and houses call for more geometric, formal design. The appearance of perennials and flowering shrubs would enhance these boxwoods come springtime. Yes…. springtime… I think I must (have to) go back and see the transformation!

Winter Light! Charleston, S.C.

Despite appearances/time between posts, I am not snowed in with Gardenopoly at the home place in Asheville. Instead, I’ve been holding off a bit, waiting to write about a recent visit to my favorite southern city, Charleston, South Carolina. With so much of the U.S. immersed in extreme, snowy weather, it just didn’t seem right to ramble on about a wonderful, balmy place in another part of the country.

But now things are thawing in most places, and I figured some posts about the Charleston/Kiawah area would be appropriate — maybe remind us that spring is not so far away.

Soon I’ll write about the gardens and sights of Charleston, but for now I want to show three photos of the glorious landscapes we saw.

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It’s hard to know where to look first: the sky above the Cooper River, the reflections on the water near the pier, the sparkling water in the fountain, or the gradations of light on the stone. All so beautiful at dusk.

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The interplay of light on the sides of old houses, brick-lined driveways, leaves, and tree trunks is striking this time of year. There are so many courtyards like this throughout the historic parts of downtown Charleston — every one is a vignette of its own.

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Yes, a sunset is a sunset and pictures of them abound. This sunset, watched from the Battery, was spectacular, I have to say.

Next time: Roses on the Pier

Snowed In With Gardenopoly

Pass Grow and Collect $200

For the Mogul Gardener

Yesterday I heard a poem on the radio, “Monopoly 1955″ by Barbara Crooker. It got me thinking about a game I  bought for my mother in May of last year.

I’d spent the morning volunteering at the Botanical Garden of Asheville and noticed a colorful box displayed on a top shelf in the gift shop. GARDEN-OPOLY, the box said in floral and leafy letters. Two of Mom’s favorite things — gardening and playing Monopoly. How could I lose for a Mother’s Day gift?

Greenhouses Instead of Hotels

Pass Grow and Collect $200

Instead of hotels and houses, the game has little greenhouses and clay pots to place on real estate acquisitions. Just like Monopoly, the more “development” you’ve done, the more you can charge anyone who lands on your properties.

Greenhouses are worth more than pots. Mom put up greenhouses on Regal Rose Way and Orchid Estates. I was hoping to buy Hydrangea Haven but, instead, ended up with two pots on Poison Ivy Way and one or two on Dandelion Drive. (How does this game know my garden?)

As the game progressed, both of us acquired more properties. I learned that my 88-year old mother is very competitive when it comes to the nuances of building an empire with a board game. She bought everything she could and I kept having to Go To Weeding (Jail). I also seemed to land on Aphid Infestation a lot, further depleting my supply of money. Mom kept a poker face throughout, but I could tell she was scheming in her mind the whole time.

It took us over two hours to finally finish and we were pretty well wiped out at the end. Much as we liked the game, we decided the short version was our choice for the future. But then, we weren’t snowbound, or we might have looked at things differently.