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”

Silence Personified

Señor Misterioso is silence personified.

Señor Misterioso Examining the Pomelos
Señor Misterioso Examining the Pomelos

With clasped hands and half-hidden smile, his stoic, contemplative, non-judgmental demeanor is immutable, whether checking out seasonal pomelos at the local market, or communing eye-to-eye – at a safe distance, of course – with an ancient garden gnome whose eerily-unchanging mute smile is as enigmatic as the Señor’s taciturn regard.

Communing with Gnome
Communing with Gnome

Only thing breaking the silence is a sigh, which may just be the soft susurrus of a breeze wafting through the thyme.

(For a little background on Señor Misterioso click here)

Weathered

An authentic old Mississippi whiskey still in my garden has weathered beautifully with its copper patina

Patina on Authentic Copper Mississippi Whiskey Still
Patina on Authentic Copper Mississippi Whiskey Still

.

This old wooden swing has seen its better evenings…

Weathered Old Swing
Weathered Old Swing

Winter Wonders

I’ve gardened in sunny South California, where weather reporters are all but unable to forecast anything out of the ordinary – there’s a joke in San Diego that seasons are more about whether or not it rains.

Light Frost
Light Frost

But for the past eight years of shuttling between my gardens in Mississippi and Lancashire, northern England, it seems to me that there are mainly two distinct seasons in the British Isles – a brilliant if cool summer with long, long days, and a seemingly never-ending wet, chilly winter, with fairly drawn-out segues of what pass for spring and fall.

My Mississippi garden, on the other hand, has five seasons, from a mild occasionally-frozen mid-winter through two nearly imperceptibly drawn-out and overlapping springs (early and late, with completely different sets of weather and flowers); a long, torrid, breathtakingly-humid summer with temperatures that remain warmer at night than England rarely ever even gets up to in the daytime; and a month or so of subtle changes in Autumn color.

No matter. There are countless combinations of evocative accessories to carry gardens in all climates through the changes of weather, and weather-tolerant plants to boot.

Mississippi Snow
Mississippi Snow

Continue reading “Winter Wonders”

Dr. Dirt’s Legacy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Leon “Dr. Dirt” Goldsberry

This is saying a lot, but “Dirt” was without a doubt one of the most overflowing humans I have ever encountered. Bigger-than-life he was – tall, colorful, thoughtful, bawdy, humorous, and, yes, easily outraged and loudly opinionated (usually spot-on).

First met him by accident, while cruising backstreets of small-towns looking for interesting cottage gardens and the pass-along plants usually found in them – one of the best ways to uncover hardy, garden-variety plants.

His unmissable garden stopped me in my tracks. The outstanding “total yard show” was overstuffed and overflowing with kaleidoscopic combinations of plants and home-made yard art made from found objects. Its care-taker – a tall, lanky man with a do-rag on his head and a Kaiser blade in hand – met me at the gate. He wouldn’t invite me in, much less tell me his name, instructing me to just call him Dirt.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Dirt Garden in Autumn

Continue reading “Dr. Dirt’s Legacy”

Señor Misterioso

Senor Misterioso
Inscrutable Expression

NOBODY really knows who he is. Or much of anything about him, other than the whispered rumors that the Dos Equis guy – who is said to be the “most interesting man in the world” – wants him dead. Don’t know why he wears such an impeccably-tailored glow-in-the-dark suit and fedora. And even less is known about the even more enigmatic Senorita Misterioso – his sister perhaps?

I first found him alone on the second shelf of a dusty VooDoo shop hidden on a side street of New Orleans. For years he stood on the dash above the steering wheel of my antique truck, one time helping comfort and guide me and Dr. Dirt through a Texas deluge so heavy we couldn’t see the edge of the pavement.

When the old truck was temporarily stolen, he disappeared for awhile, along with our dashboard hula girl (a ceramic beauty I rescued from an antique shop in Hawai’i). They have made it back, and while she gyrates around America in the truck, he travels the world with me, occasionally coming out from his special pouch of my canvas murse.

Senor Misterioso in Felder's hand
Pocket Size and All-Weather

With clasped hands and half-hidden smile, his stoic, contemplative, non-judgmental demeanor is immutable.

Oh – and have I mentioned that he glows eerily in the dark?

Other than claiming somewhat cheekily that “I’ve got Señor Misterioso in my pocket – at least for now” there’s really nothing more to say. Either you get it, or you don’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blackpool Tower
Blackpool Tower

ADDENDUM: An alert follower shared a possible connection to a Venezuelan physician and popular folk figure, Dr. José Gregorio Hernández, who died in 1919 and  has been venerated by the Catholic church (and considered a candidate for sainthood). Striking resemblance, and there are many small statues of him – including this small one –  which strongly suggests he may be the original inspiration for Señor Misterioso…

Statue of Dr. José Gregorio Hernández
Miniature statue of Dr. José Gregorio Hernández

Swinging Garden Saints

Feel a little oddly uneasy on your garden swing? There’s a saint who may offer comfort.

There are some quirky saints, to be sure, patrons of every imaginable profession or situation, from farming to protecting beekeepers, even keeping ants out of the house. But some are peculiarly suited for gardeners.

One of my favorite garden sculptures is my three-foot concrete statue of a saint – not Francis, the environmental/wildlife guy with the bird on one hand, but St. Fiacre, the most popular and official patron saint of gardeners.

St. Fiacre in Felder's garden
St. Fiacre in Felder’s garden

St. Fiacre is said to have sailed from Ireland to France looking for a quiet place where he could devote himself to God. An obliging bishop offered him as much land as he could turn up in a day,  and clever Fiacre, instead actually plowing the expected small plot, used his wood staff to dig a row all the way around and enclosing a larger area. His garden became a hospice from which he shared his vegetables, herbs, and flowers with travelers, some of whom claimed he performed miracles. He is now recognized as the patron saint of gardeners – and, by the way, of Paris cab drivers, whose taxis are called fiacres – because the earliest commercial rides-for-hire in Paris originated near the hotel Saint-Fiacre. Continue reading “Swinging Garden Saints”

Bark Side of the Wood

In spite of my laid-back approach, sometimes I think I notice little details that don’t bother other gardeners. But have you ever run across a wood deck barefoot, or sat on a wood bench, and got splinters? You can blame whoever put the boards on in the first place.

Not bogging down in all the details, ’cause it’s eye-rolling even to this retired scientist. But in general if you live in a warm, moist climate like mine, wood won’t last long without rotting, and before that happens the boards will probably  cup or form raised edges and begin to splinter.

Which way you lay a board can make a difference between smooth and safe, or a butt full of splinters. Continue reading “Bark Side of the Wood”

Fastest Garden on Earth

Moving Pollinator Garden
Moving Pollinator Garden

For the past thirty years – since my now-grown son was still in a child restraint seat – my old antique pickup truck has had a diminutive but productive potager garden overstuffed with flowers, herbs, and vegetables. That’s right, the working truck has a working garden in the back!

Truck Garden in Mid-Summer
Truck Garden in Mid-Summer

I started it out from frustration with one too many people whining about not having a place to garden. Thinking “What’d be the hardest place, the acid test, to give it a go?” I decided to try it in the back of my pickup truck.

Continue reading “Fastest Garden on Earth”