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…

St. Paddy’s Day Parade, Jackson, MS

aFive years ago I didn’t think it could get any better when I, accompanied by my sweetheart, was the Grand Marshal of the 30th anniversary St. Paddy’s Parade, a major event in Jackson, Mississippi, with nearly ninety thousand people lining the route.

But this year when I showed up just as a spectator driving my antique pickup truck – painted a brilliant John Deere Green (how apt for this auspicious event), and with its decades-old herb and flower garden planted in the back – the parade founder pressed us back into service…and once again put me at the front of the queue.

Greenery
The truck garden is green all year round

The parade was founded on St. Patrick’s Day in 1983 by Malcolm White, the current Mississippi Arts Commission executive director, at a local pub with a couple hundred of his close friends. It caused a massive traffic jam in Jackson’s busy city center. It has grown now to where the entire downtown is cordoned off for huge colorful floats and marching bands.

My son Ira, his wife Stevie, and her sister TJ visited before the parade kicked off
My son Ira, his wife Stevie (festive glasses), and her sister TK visited before the parade kicked off

With marching bands giving it everything they’ve got, to music blaring from loudspeakers on every float, we can barely hear the “throw me some beads” chants from the crowd, which is in places ten deep with people in every imaginable combination of green costumes, hats, flags, and other accessories. While you’re imagining that, throw in the indescribably delicious aromas from hundreds of portable barbecue grills loaded with Southern outdoor cuisine.

Truck Garden Passengers
Rescue gnome and Granny’s concrete chicken

The truck garden, which was refurbished two years ago (visit the video link here), is already over-accessorized with an old gnome rescued from Darwen, Lancashire, and my grandmother’s concrete chicken from Indianola, in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. And bottle sconces, a bird house, and more.

Today EVERYONE is – or at least all decked out as – Irish!

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St. Paddy’s Day Spirit

So I wanted to do my bit. I quickly cobbled together some faux bottle trees from crape myrtle branches, cast-aside green soda bottles, and strands of green beads from other revelers.

Bottles-and-beads
Green bottles… of course!

…and a bow for the eagle, and a hastily-assembled custom-crafted wreath from nearby vines, magnolia leaves, and stems from a flowering Forsythia.

Truck-accessorized
Hood eagle with green bow and garland

Yeah, my Celtic roots run deep – my Rushing ancestors hail from the Isle of Man – so it’s extra satisfying to lead out one of the largest Irish festivals in the country…

Beannachtai Na Feile Padraig Oraibh

(St. Patrick’s Day Blessing Upon You!)

Gestalt Gardener Panel

Snowdrops, Snowflakes, WHATEVER

Most horti-holier-than-thou professional garden writers get a little peeved when people call plants by the wrong names, or downright irritated when Latin names are mispronounced. Doesn’t bother me at all, as long as we’re still communicating, talking about the same flower.

I mean, I have to switch back and forth every time I cross the Atlantic on how I say tomato (to-MAH-to), oregano (or-e-GAH-no), and ain’t (oops – no translation in the Queen’s English). I even switch hands when picking up my fork and knife.

Large cup or trumpet Narcissus
Narcissus… or Daffodil?

It isn’t about being ignorant, it’s called going vernacular. And it’s okay. Breathe in, breathe out.

When lecturing on the West Coast, Midwest, or New England I understand that when they say “hen and chicks” I know they’re referring to Sempervivums; in the South, hen and chicks are Graptopetalum. And though I grow dozens of different kinds, including some from my horticulturist great-grandmother’s garden, I’ve long since stopped arguing over the difference between Narcissus and daffodils (they’re the same; one is Latin, the other is  folk name for English speakers. And don’t get me started over jonquils versus paperwhites!).

 

Both Graptopetalum and Sempervivum are called “hens and chicks”

So I don’t get my shorts in a knot over all the different buttercups, zebra plants, or wandering Jews. Let’s quickly get onto the same page and move on with our talking about whatever it is.

Quick aside: My old friend Brent Heath, 3rd-generation bulb grower from Virginia, says there is nothing “common” about common plant names – they are really folk names.

All that said, I have to just ignore it when someone in Mississippi talks about their snowdrop bulbs, when they’re referring to snowflakes. The similar early-flowering bulbs are pretty closely related and are used the same ways in gardens, but are different enough to a make a point, if you feel the need. Sorta like how apples and pears are very close relatives, but not quite the same thing.

I’ve photographed early-flowering snowdrops (Galanthus) from coast to coast and all over England, including a fascinating personal tour by Lady Carolyne Elwes of her vast Galanthus collections at her Colebourne Estate halfway between Cirencester and Cheltenhamin in the heart the Cotswolds (here’s a nice link to a winter visit there). They’re pretty, and hardy, but they have poor to no tolerance for the hot, humid summers and mild winters of the lower and coastal South.

On the other hand, snowflakes (Leucojum) spread pretty rapidly from home gardens to roadsides and moist ditches, even in wet clay, and are among the earliest flowering bulbs even in Florida.

Rather than make your eyes bleed with unnecessary details (the petals are technically tepals, and, short of writing a book, there are too many species and cultivars to get into), here are two simple photographs. Look at them, and decide if yours is one or the other.

Snowdrops
Snowdrops – Galanthus
Snowflake
Snowflake – Leucojum

And call them what you want, as long as we’re admiring the same beautiful early flowers.

African Plants in American Gardens

Portion of ancient tapestry in Accra, Ghana
Detail of a hand-painted fabric I photographed in Accra, Ghana

The climates of Africa range from hot, wet tropical rain forests bordered by vast savannas to mountains, large deserts, and a mild Mediterranean climate found on both the southern and northern tips of the continent.

Croton
Croton in West Africa

Many of the African plants I enjoy in my garden are hardy herbaceous perennials and bulbs, but those unable to tolerate even mild frosts are simply grown as annuals planted from seed, or as favored potted specimen to be brought indoors in the winter.

Some I would have a hard time doing without – coffee and cotton come to mind – while others are cultural staples; what kinda Southern cook would I be without blackeye peas, okra, or fig preserves? Continue reading “African Plants in American Gardens”