Requiem for Cherished Crape Myrtles

Say “G’bye” to one of the South’s most cherished landscape trees.

Crape Myrtle
Crape Myrtle flowers

In spite of their maybe being a tad overplanted, I love crape myrtles – the lilac of the South. I even made the trek to South Carolina to hug the oldest crape myrtle in North America, planted in 1786 by André Michaux at Middleton Place near Charleston. I don’t even have a problem with their being pollarded (what some folks call “crape murder”), especially when gardeners like me weave the trimmings into wattle fences. For more insight on this check this blog post out.

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Architectural crape myrtle trunks with beautifully mottled bark

But just like whether to spell it “crape” or “crepe” it’s a moot point now, water under the bridge, as our beloved crape myrtles are being pushed out of the garden entirely by a new pest that is for all practical purposes uncontrollable. Get used to it. Continue reading “Requiem for Cherished Crape Myrtles”

Fall’s Balls

Bowling Ball and Nandina
Bowling Ball and Nandina

One of my main elements of design is mixing round, spike, and frill shapes. When nothing else works, I often add “non plant” materials to fulfill one of the shapes – including rocks, containers, even the occasional bowling ball.

I have a handful of shrubs pruned into tight meatball or gumdrop shapes, if for nothing else than to show neighbors that I actually know how to do it in my otherwise naturalistic cottage garden. When a large yaupon holly tree on a property line got whacked by a neighbor, I got even by turning it into a three-ball poodle plant.

Yaupon Poodle and bottle tree (1)
Yaupon Poodle and bottle tree

Anyway, while knocking around the garden and neighborhood in early November I collected quite a few roundish Autumn fruits and laid them on a bed of maple leaves collected from the garden of Mississippi author Eudora Welty and accessorized with flowers of “country girls” (‘Clara Curtis’) and a couple other hardy garden mums (Chrysanthemum x rubellum).

See if you can match the names of these “passalong” heirloom and native fruits with their image:

Fall's Balls resized
Autumn Fruits, Mississippi 2018

Pomegranate, sweetgum , Oriental persimmon, native persimmon, chayote or mirliton (Sechium edule), Pyracantha, Nandina, pecan, air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera),  contorted hardy orange (Poncirus trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon’), American beautyberry, ‘Callaway’ crabapple, osage orange (Maclura pomifera), bird’s eye pepper (chile pequin), toadstool, red buckeye, and mango melon or “vine peach” (Cucumis melo variety chito)…

Plant Swap Treasures – Memes of the Garden

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Night blooming Cereus (Epiphylum oxypetalum) is a commonly shared passalong plant

Pssst! I got jewels of Opar and a string of pearls… wanna make a deal?

My garden is stuffed with hard-to-find plants that came to me with sweet folk names and back stories.Their charms have been spread over and under fences around the world, cutting across cultures and languages.

But worthy as they are, many are not easily found for sale – to get a start, you gotta have informal connections.

They are passed around like the simple string game which has no written instructions yet is known by children worldwide.

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Simple and easily transferable

For decades, as the co-author of the Passalong Plants book, I’ve been overseeing small and large-scale plant swaps. Often there is little in common between participants except a love of plants.

True anecdote: Some years back the Pulitzer Prize winning author Eudora Welty told me over dinner that her mother “stopped going to her garden club meetings when they stopped swapping plants.”

But not to worry, thanks to folks with generous spirits, the tradition comes back to life twice a year  Continue reading “Plant Swap Treasures – Memes of the Garden”

Fake Grass – Better Than NO Grass?

Don’t go getting all emotional on me, as I confess that this hardcore horticulturist doesn’t have a real problem with fake plants – especially if they are GOOD fakes and are used well, typically where living plants are not practical.

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Artificial lawn in drought-stricken California

I mean, faux is faux; to the self-proclaimed horti-holy among us, there will never be a consensus on whether a shedding, one-shot “real” Christmas tree shipped from hundreds of miles away is more important emotionally than the practicality of an artfully-mastered artificial one that lasts for years. It’s usually a matter of degrees anyway. Pardon me, but anyone who has ever worn polyester, eaten a soy burger, put on a wig or mascara, replaced a lawn with a patio or deck, or set out a hummingbird feeder with sugar water, can Just. Shut. Up. Continue reading “Fake Grass – Better Than NO Grass?”

Peek at RHS Chatsworth Flower Show ’18

Welcome to RHS Chatsworth Flower Show
Welcome to RHS Chatsworth Flower Show

I never take for granted the privilege afforded me by the Royal Horticulture Society to attend its world-famous flower shows, especially on Press Day when a few selected journalists are allowed to mingle with and interview designers, horticulturists, craftspeople, and vendors. Over the years I have visited behind the scenes numerous shows including Chelsea, Hampton Court, Tatton Court, Harlow Carr, Sissinghurst, Wisley, and others; in their unique ways, all are just…WOW.

Sculpture by Fantasywire
Sculpture by Fantasywire

This summer kicked off with a new one for me, held for the second year at Chatsworth, a magnificent house and gardens nestled high in the Peak District of Derbyshire, central England. Though last year’s Press Day was closed early due to horrendous downpours – what the British correctly call “chucking it down” – this year the weather was perfect. Continue reading “Peek at RHS Chatsworth Flower Show ’18”

Bottle Trees on the Big Stage

Ever see an old guy jump with joy and click his heels in the air?

Bottle Trees at RHS Chatsworth Flower Show
Bottle Trees at RHS Chatsworth Flower Show

Exactly what I did when I first walked into the HUUUUUGE tent – over ten times bigger than my entire home property – that housed the astounding floral exhibits for the 2018 Royal Horticulture Society’s flower show held on the grounds of the majestic Chatsworth estate in the Peak District of north central England.

First thing I and all the other visitors saw was a pair of bottle trees adorning a major display, right under the big marquee. Not by a long shot the first of the many popular glass garden sculptures found at every RHS flower show, but the first authentic, home-made bottle trees. Ever. Continue reading “Bottle Trees on the Big Stage”

Trees Eating Stuff

Porch Eating Tree (1)
Tree Eating a Porch

Like a lava flow from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island slowly enveloping houses and cars in its path, this crape myrtle is inexorably encasing the metal porch rails and panels of a business in Jackson, Mississippi.

It’s what happens when food being made in a tree’s leaves gets interrupted as it translocates (moves) downward towards roots. Happens to stones and even tombstones in old cemeteries, too.

Porch Eating Tree (2)
Bark Growing Around Porch Rail

If it runs into a part of itself or a similar species, it can actually graft and form a strong bond. Otherwise it simply swells and envelopes.

Rude Tree
Move, Get Out of the Way, or…