Stumperies – Beautiful Horrors

Summer Stumpery 2020
My summer stumpery

“Quell’orror bello che attristando piace”  – that beautiful horror which delights while it saddens (Italian poet Ippolito Pindemonte)

Stumpery. First time I heard the word was one of those finger-snap moments, a cerebral light bulb thing.

St. Louis Botanic Garden
New stumpery at the St. Louis Botanic Garden

I mean, who’da thought it was a thing? I mean, we’ve been doing it all along, right?

But here I am, nearly thirty years later, actually standing in the oldest stumpery in the world, and thinking about how to enlarge my own backyard collection of tree trunks, stumps, and gnarly limbs (and how my kids will have a hell of a time dismantling or burning it all down when I’m gone). Continue reading “Stumperies – Beautiful Horrors”

Requiem for Cherished Crape Myrtles – updated 2-2021

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

“You’re not gonna like any of this.”

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 Charlesto (see last photo). I don’t even have a problem with their being pollarded, which in Japan is a form of topiary called “fist pruning” (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

TROUBLE IN EDEN

But just like whether to spell it “crape” or “crepe” or want to argue about pruning, they’re all moot points 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.

This blog is about what the problem is, and what we can – or can’t – do about it.

SPOILER: YOU’RE NOT GONNA LIKE ANY OF THIS 

Continue reading “Requiem for Cherished Crape Myrtles – updated 2-2021”

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)…

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!)

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