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”

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”

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”

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”

Poison Ivy and other Autumn Favs

Posion ivy has gorgeous fall colors
Poison ivy has among the most gorgeous fall colors

Autumn is a reflective time, a slow page-swipe from sultry, busy summer.

As the day length slowly dwindles and nights get cooler, fall wildflowers light up the countryside, and even poison ivy’s fall colors appear to be red and yellow flames licking up into trees. Where friends have patio fireplaces fueled from gas cannisters, my old iron fire bowl is the real deal, replete with smoke that takes me back to days far more ancient than my childhood.

Chores are more earnest now, with fallen leaves heaping everywhere in need of raking or blowing into a mounded kaleidoscope of colorful foliage.

They’ve been there all along, the sometimes-brilliant hues of Autumn. But as Summer wanes, green leaves of deciduous trees start shutting down, revealing the underlying blushes. Continue reading “Poison Ivy and other Autumn Favs”