Thursday, December 31, 2009

Thai Exhibition Garden

2005 was the inaugural year of the Charleston Garden Festival at Middleton Place Plantation. As a fledgling entrepreneur and young Charleston Horticultural Society Board Member, I was eager to participate.

I enlisted Chip Chesnutt of Other Side of the River to be my co-conspirator and we blindly entered the world of display gardening.

In the spring of 2005, we selected our site- a vast 60x80 foot green space with a view of the Ashley River. If you've ever done a display garden, you know this is an enormous space to fill. We simply didn't know any better.
Over the summer, we drew and submitted plans to the CGF powers-that-be, ambitiously deciding to build a tea house and create meandering paths into several well-designed rooms. Mixing hardy Lowcountry plants like Oleander and Viburnum with exotic orchids, gingers, bananas and palms, we designed a tropical garden that would thrive in the Southern landscape.

We bought a book on how to build bamboo fences. Chip and his crew spent the summer in a forest with machetes, harvesting invasive bamboo. The canes were held together with intricately woven black rope, as seen below:SET-UP
Set-up began on a Monday and we had four days to complete our garden. Plants were delivered on loan from local wholesale nurseries. A disturbingly heavy Buddha statue was borrowed from Hyam's Garden Center. Twenty-foot tall bamboo was cut from the forest and hauled to the site. We were overwhelmed to say the least!

I coordinated the layout of the site, with a crew of Americorps volunteers and Middleton Place Plantation employees.
Because the plants stayed in their pots, we had to water them every day to keep them from drying out:
Pine straw was artfully arranged around the bases of the plants to give the appearance that they were actually planted in the landscape:
Chip and his crew built a surprisingly sturdy tea house with a bamboo thatch roof (there was no plan and he had never constructed anything before....though he told me over and over that it was "to code"). He surrounded the boards with bamboo:
Then, Chip and his crew took the cut timber bamboo and created a "forest" around the perimeter. They did this by driving a piece of rebar 2-feet into the ground, removing the rebar and inserting a piece of bamboo. They did this over and over until the desired affect was achieved. It was really ingenious....I wish I had picture of the process. You can see the bamboo in this image:COMPLETED
Somehow, it all came together. I lost 8 pounds that week and my feet were so swollen that I had to soak them in Epsom Salts before the garden party. But it was worth it.

On Monday, we dismantled the garden and returned the plants, stone and borrowed items. The pine straw was used on a landscape installation later that week and the fence became a screen in Chip's backyard.

I had about 10 meltdowns that week, but looking back, I'm glad we chose to tackle the entire 60x80' space. It was quite an experience.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year, New Website

Check out my new website at!

Prepare to be wowed. Or underwhelmed!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

You want this book

Even though I'm a warm-weather gal, I love having a week of cold, short days between Christmas and New Years. In between reconciling my books (quite a task) and finishing up chores, I am feasting on Michael Pollan's book, Second Nature: A Gardener's Education.
You've heard of him if you are at all interested in the food that you eat. His books The Botany of Desire, The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food are all at the top of my list of faves. He writes the way that I think, combining science with a back story. If I ever get the chance to develop my own college course (!), it will be on the social implications of agricultural advancement (and the historical impact of plant diseases). Pollan is an expert on these topics.

Here's an except from the introduction of Second Nature:

"For soon I also came to the realization that I would not learn to garden very well before I'd also learned about a few other things: about my proper place in nature (was I within my rights to murder that woodchuck that had been sacking my vegetable garden all spring?); about the somewhat peculiar attitudes toward the land than an American is born with (why is it that the neighbors have taken such a keen interest in the state of my lawn?); about the troubled borders between nature and culture; and about the experience of place, the moral implications of landscape design, and several other questions that the wish to harvest a few decent tomatoes had not prepared me for.

Love this.

Well, back to my bookkeeping. But first, I'm going to stash my new book in the storage room under my house to alleviate the temptation to curl up on the couch and keep reading.....

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

These may be my favorite trees in Charleston

If only you could have walked down King Street today in Charleston. Not the shopping district (absolutely not),but just above Broad Street. That is where you would have found a pair of Ginkgos flanking the entrance to the Charleston Library Society at the peak of their fall display.

And they are two of the grandest trees in Charleston.

They go fairly unnoticed through the year; We are a city that worships the Live Oak. But every year, just as everyone is hanging wreaths and stringing lights, the Gingkos command all the attention.

I particularly love the two Gingkos on King Street because of their surrounding architecture and landscape. There is something to be said for a strong, simple design supported by a Podocarpus hedge, two Gingko trees and a manicured lawn.

And the heavy dose of Spanish Moss hanging from the branches just makes me love them more. (How is that possible?!)

I could go on for days, but I'll let the pictures make you jealous that you weren't here to see it for yourself.Perfection.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Re-thinking Natives

When "native plants" are mentioned, what do you envision?

A free-flowing meadow of grasses and wildflowers? An informal hodgepodge of fruit-bearing trees and shrubs that attract songbirds? An overgrown, impenetrable mixture of vines, shrubs and trees?

..........Well, what about this?

No, this garden is not all natives. But the unifying element, a Yaupon Holly hedge, is indigenous. By tightly shearing it, this evergreen plant becomes a integral part of the design.

Could you have used Boxwoods instead? In my experience they don't do well on the barrier islands (this garden is on the Isle of Palms). Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria) has greater salt tolerance and therefore is more vigorous in this situation.
Wow, right?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

When the sun rises, I go to work.
When the sun sets, I take my rest.
I dig the well from which I drink,
I till the soil from which I eat.

Kings can do no more.

-Chinese Proverb

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


For all of you landscape contractors that are looking for consistency and quality in large, containerized trees, look to Casey Nursery in Goldsboro, North Carolina. These trees, in 15 and 25 gallon pots, are specimen plants. They have the well-developed canopies of field-grown trees with the convenience of container-grown trees. It's a hard-to-find combination.

Monday, November 30, 2009

I love my job

While scouting Dudley Nurseries in Thomson, Georgia last Wednesday and full from a plate of fried turkey (thanks for lunch, y'all!), I took a few minutes to be thankful for the wonderful opportunity I have to work with great people at beautiful nurseries.

I'm one of the lucky people in this world that truly loves what they do for a living. When it's icy and windy or hot and muggy, I may question my decision to become a horticulturist.....but most of the time I'm happy as a lark.

After all, not many people get to stand in a greenhouse full of Fragrant Tea Olives (Osmanthus fragrans) that are in full bloom. If you've ever smelled one Tea Olive, then you'd know that over a hundred in an enclosed greenhouse will send you over the moon:
And the fragrance of Mahonia coupled with the glowing yellow flowers will make you pause for a moment in gratitude:
Lastly, everyone always asks what is my favorite flower. This time of year, it has to be Camellia. When the Camellias are in bloom, I get to wander through greenhouses and shade frames surrounded by these flowering shrubs.

Look at this Camellia japonica 'Pink Icicle'. The flowers are absolutely amazing. That pink flower set against a dark Charleston-green leaf is stunning. It has been my favorite cultivar for the last two years.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tried and True: 'Mine No Yuki' Camellia

Can you imagine a more heavenly sight? On my way from Goldsboro to Charlotte last week I drove past this row of Sasanqua Camellias, turned my car around and stopped to admire. Each shrub is about 6-7 feet high and wide, collectively making an impressive display.

The skirt of petals surrounding each plant adds to the beauty, like a dusting of snow. The flowers of Camellia sasanqua "shatter" into individual petals as they fall from the stems (alternatively, Camellia japonica flowers stay whole).
This cultivar, 'Mine No Yuki,' was selected in the 19th century and the name literally translates to 'Snow on the Mountain.' The white peony-form flowers occur in late fall.

I love this plant.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Nursery Note: Southern Red Mites are back

If you have a nursery and you are growing Japanese Hollies, Azaleas, Japanese Camellias or Magnolias, scout for Southern Red Mites.

They are easy to manage if they are caught early. If you wait, they can cause leaf damage and defoliation.

If you are planning on covering these crops with frost blanket or plastic through the winter, make sure that you have properly managed the mites before you cover the plants.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tar Spot on Maple

I love when I find this disease on Red Maple (Acer rubrum).
It doesn't show up until late summer or early fall and it usually only affects a small portion of the leaves. But the spots are large and very distinctive- and they look like tar, hence the common name.

The fungus is Rhytisma acerinum. The specific epithet indicates that the fungus will only infect the leaves of Maple.

When you run your fingers over the leaf, it feels rubbery, as if a dollop of tar dried on the leaf.

Tar Spot can cause premature defoliation, but unless the infection is bad you won't notice.

If your Maple has this disease, the best way to manage it is to rake up the leaves in the fall so they can't cause reinfection the next year. I wouldn't bother unless the trees are being grown for sale.

Wow, right?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Boron Toxicity

We've got an interesting water situation in certain areas of the Lowcountry- excess boron. It was a surprising discovery for me and it took me a long time to figure out. When a landscape is being irrigated from a municipal source, you don't expect a toxicity I never tested.

Well, finally I did. And as it turned out, the aquifer that a certain municipality pulls water from has high boron levels (it is safe for human consumption) . I have found excessive boron in the well and municipal water in Mount Pleasant, Meggett, Edisto and John's Island.

Boron toxicity is fairly easy to diagnose, but it requires a water or foliar test for confirmation.

1. It occurs on the older growth. It takes a while for the element to accumulate in the leaves, so only the older leaves will show injury.

See how the new growth on these Sago Palms is unaffected? This is a typical injury pattern:

2. A marginal "burn" shows up on the leaves of dicots, while a "tip dieback" happens on monocots. The excessive boron accumulates at the very ends of the leaf veins. In a monocot, the veins run parallel and straight to the tips of the leaves. A good example is shown on 'Evergreen Giant' Liriope:It can also be seen at the tips of palms, like this Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei):
When a dicot like a Hydrangea is suffering from excessive boron in the water, the edges become burned. The necrosis will sometimes look wavy:
Magnolia is extremely sensitive to high boron levels and the injury is very distinctive. In fact, I commonly use this species as my "indicator plant" in a landscape if I suspect high boron.3. It generally doesn't persist in the soil. If the pH is high or there is a lot of calcium in the soil, boron can be bound to the soil. But generally, boron easily leaches from the soil profile. Once the contaminated water is removed as the irrigation source, the plants will recover.

4. Contaminated soil and certain fertilizers can be responsible for excessive boron levels. In my experience, this has never been the source, but it should not be overlooked. If you have fertilized with potassium chloride or amended the soil with marine sediment or animal manure, this may be the cause of the toxicity.

5. Some plants are more sensitive than others. Magnolia, Hydrangea, Palm, Liriope, Cycads and Viburnum show substantial leaf burn. Other plants, like Fatsia and some Camellia cultivars become slightly "off color", but don't have distinctive symptoms. And then there are a few species like Ligustrum and Cleyera (Ternstroemia gymnanthera) that don't seem to be affected at all.

The take-home message is that soil and water tests are a good idea- they eliminate a lot of guess work. As you can imagine, boron toxicity is often mistaken for drought or fertilizer burn.

If the tests confirm that boron is to blame, the best option you have is to limit irrigation. Turn off the irrigation system in the dormant season and run it no more than once per week during the summer.

Use a rain barrel to collect rain water for supplemental irrigation (this is very important for house plants).

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Not about plants

I've been missing my grandmother, Mary Jo, so much...and with Thanksgiving coming up, I've got a lump in my throat thinking about celebrating a holiday with the matriarch of my family gone.

Well, last week, I went to Florida for a meeting concerning the development of a USDA Specialty Crops Research Initiative (SCRI) grant. On my way home, I stopped for the night at my family's farmhouse in Mystic, Georgia. It serves as a rustic weekend retreat and I felt that a night alone in the country would do me some good.
Of course, everything in the house reminded me of my grandmother. I hadn't been to South Georgia in years, but it was just as I had remembered. That night, I saw a short note on the fireplace mantel in Mary Jo's handwriting. Broke my heart!
Naturally, I went through every drawer and closet that evening. In the kitchen I found the instructions my grandfather wrote concerning the opening-and-closing of the house. I love the is so telling of their personalities.
Grandpa was always so orderly and practical. And Mary Jo just loved a good fire.


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