Monday, August 31, 2009

High Quality: Okatsune Pruners and Shears

If you want the best pruners, buy Okatsune. I was lucky enough to be introduced to this brand by Miles and Bobby at Aukland Nursery in Walterboro, South Carolina. For the last eight months I have been using Okatsune pruners and I am smitten. These pruners are better than Felcos.

Okatsune pruners are hand-forged from "Izumo Yasuki Steel" which is the same steel used to make Japanese swords. The dangerously sharp blade seems to slide through stems and small branches, making clean cuts. And they make a satisfying sound when they finish a cut- like a knife on a chopping block.

These pruners cost about $40-50 and are well worth the price. You will probably call to thank me after you buy your first pair.

Plant Pest: Hosta Virus X

There is a relatively new virus called Hosta Virus X (HVX) that has been showing up in nurseries for the last few years. It can be hard to detect because of all of the variations that have been bred into Hosta leaves.

I have read somewhere that the viral discoloration looks the way ink bleeds on fabric- that's a pretty accurate description.

Hosta Virus X does not kill a plant the way a blight or root rot would. Instead, it slowly weakens its immune system, making it less vigorous than other plants. Each year the diseased Hosta will produce smaller leaves and less flowers until it dies.

If your Hostas are infected with HVX, remove them and do not propagate from them. If you are a nursery grower, make sure that any divisions or plants you purchase have been virus-indexed.

This virus spreads on pruning shears and through vegetative propagation (division). When the knife cuts through the fleshy root, it picks up the virus. When a cut is made on another plant, the virus is transferred off the knife and into the plant.

The virus that causes HVX will only infect Hostas.

There are many viruses that infect plants- and many of them create beautiful patterns on the foliage (in a pathologist's eyes):

Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus on Hosta

Nandina Mosaic Virus on 'Firepower' Nandina

Camellia Mottle Virus on Japanese Camellia

Canna Yellow Mottle Virus on Canna Lily

Just like in humans, there is no "cure" for a virus. Therefore, the best way to manage this disease is to dig the infected plants out of your garden or cull them from your nursery stock.

Focal points in the landscape

I was in a beautiful downtown landscape today with Ryan Snyder, owner of Ryan T. Snyder Group (843-425-1663). For a few moments we talked about focal points in that garden and their importance.

A focal point can be anything, really. A fountain, a piece of sculpture, a well-formed tree- basically anything that captures your attention.

For example, in this landscape, a large Stonehenge-inspired rock is the focal point. And I liked it enough to stop my car as I was driving through this North Carolina town. Simple and effective.
Not all focal points are intentional, nor are they attractive. A mile or so later, I saw this badly brutalized tree in the front yard of a house:
Even though the landscape is uninspiring, it is more than adequate for this house. But all I see is a sad-looking Bradford Pear. Unfortunately, this tree became the focal point of this landscape. The tree should be taken out of it's misery and cut down.

This is my cardinal rule for landscapes: Remove what looks bad and everything else will suddenly look better.

Poetic? No. But you will be amazed at the difference. A flat of impatiens can't compete with the removal of a dead Dogwood.

So before you rush off to the garden center, take the time to pull everything out of the yard that is dead or dying. Then take a few minutes (or hours) to prune out dead limbs from trees and shear the old growth from perennials.

Think of your landscape like it is a room in your house. Would you hang a new piece of art on a wall that needs a coat of paint? Not likely. You'd see the scuffs, not the painting.

It's really no different in a garden.

"Gardens are a form of autobiography" -S. Eddison

You know the best part of being a plant pathologist? I get to make house calls.

Every time I go to someone's house to look at a browning lawn or ailing tree, I also get to soak in the surrounding garden. And these gardens are fantastic. They are a gardener's soul and personality expressed in plants and I get to see it all.

I can tell as soon as I walk into a garden if you are meticulous or messy, laid-back or Type A, a dreamer or a doer. When I lived downtown, I watched a woman who lived on Broad Street pick fallen leaves out of the Mondo grass every day. Every leaf. Even though I've never met her, I know a lot about her from the way she gardened.

Even the flower colors you choose tell me something about you. Blues, whites, purples and greens signal a gardener who likes to sit under the shade of a large oak with a glass of iced tea. Reds, oranges and yellows tell me you like a little more action and that you may have a fiery temper.

If there's a point to this, I guess it is to thine own garden be true. Don't worry about the neighbors or the trends or the magazines. Take what you like from these inspirations and move on. If you like a garden that is overflowing with colors and textures, do it. And if you crave straight lines and repetition, do that.

When a garden bares the gardener's true personality, I can feel it. And even if the garden needs some weeding or isn't my style, I love it.

P.S. Not sure what to do with your old artificial Christmas tree? You can turn it into a bottle tree like the James Island gardener did in the picture above. Simply remove the branches and arrange pretty bottles on the metal stems.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Vertical Gardens

I went to the Vegetable Gardening 101 class at the Charleston Horticultural Society and left there thinking about the reasons people don't garden. For one, if you've never done it, it can be intimidating. And two, some people don't have the space for a vegetable garden in their yards. Or maybe no yard at all!

I found these vertical gardens on a couple of websites. Easy, easy, easy. And a great solution for those with limited space or sunlight.

This garden is made from reclaimed gutters that have been nailed to the side of the house. Drill holes in the bottom, fill with potting soil and plant shallow-rooted plants like lettuces and herbs (this will not work for potatoes, carrots or onions). I found this image on Green Upgrader:
A canvas shoe organizer is an even easier solution for small-scale gardening. Just hang this in a sunny spot, fill with potting soil and plant with herbs. I like it.
My favorite interpretation of a vertical garden is Flora Grubb's design:
Of course I loathe her for being incredibly talented and for being born with a horticultural name. She used felt pieces(made from recycled soda bottles) that have been attached as pouches on a board. Instead of herbs and vegetables, this is an ornamental display of succulents. Perfect for a screened porch.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mexican White Oak at Specialty Trees

If you've never heard of the Mexican White Oak, Quercus polymorpha, take notice. This drought tolerant oak grows quickly and is a great option for the Southeast. Growing up to 40 high and wide, this tree works as a landscape or street tree. The hardiness zones are listed as 7 to 10- simply perfect for this area.

And one of the best features is the new growth in the spring. The leaves emerge bright pink and are highly pubescent- like a mouse's ear. As the foliage expands, the leaves become a muted blue-green.

The only place I've ever seen them grown is at Specialty Trees at Ashe Point Plantation. Call Tony at 843-324-1437 to make an appointment and he'll show you the incredible selection of container-grown trees.

This is a plantsman's nursery and you'll enjoy every minute while you are there.

This nursery selects trees with multi-season interest like Weeping Hornbeam, Evergreen Maple, Dawn Redwood, Weeping Bald Cypress and Persian Ironwood. Specialty Trees is open to both wholesale and retail customers.

Since it is located off Highway 174 towards Edisto Island, I suggest making an afternoon out of your excursion. After looking at trees, stop in Po-Pigs BBQ for the best barbecue ever, then stock up with double-yolk eggs, pimento cheese and fresh local veggies from King's Market. Finish it all off with a quick dip in the Atlantic Ocean and I think you'd have a pretty exceptional day.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Re-Birth of Venus

I'm a summertime girl, but I think I'm ready for a change in the weather. It's going to feel so good once the humidity drops and the mornings are crisp again.

Cool fall weather reminds me of the Charleston Garden Festival which always took place in mid-October.

Other Side of the River's Chip Chesnutt and I designed and built three exhibition gardens for the Garden Festival. In 2006, we decided our garden would be an interpretation of Botticelli's The Birth of Venus. Made completely of plants and natural materials, this developed into a very challenging project.

First, let me say that trying to make a painting into a life-size display garden is difficult- particularly when the focus of the painting is a woman standing in a shell.

Once we had settled on this theme, I bought a mannequin off of eBay that was to be our Venus. This is certainly the most interesting purchase I have ever made.

A few days after I "won" the mannequin I selected, she arrived in the mail. I put her together, styled her in one of my more formal dresses, and let her live in my apartment for a few weeks until we were ready to work on her.

While her legs were in the right stance, her arms had to be changed to resemble the painting. So Chip sawed off her arms at the elbow and we re-attached them in the right position using fiberglass webbing (graciously donated by a local doctor). We performed this "operation" at night, adding to the weirdness:

Over the next few days, I covered her entire body with live sheet moss using spray glue:

Our site was located in the Octagonal Garden at Middleton Place. Notice that everyone else had already started setting up when our quadrant was still empty:

Jeff Jackson, owner of Lowcountry Roots , collaborated with us and built this amazing shell out of tabby. The "ocean" was created using different species of Junipers and Cedars. Slowly, the garden started to take shape.

As a final touch, I wove a lavender ribbon through her Spanish Moss hair. The mannequin suddenly transformed from the Swamp Thing into Venus.
I had serious doubts of about this project (and had stress-induced strep throat), but somehow, it all came together.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tree Cattle

Over the last few days, several people have called (in a panic) to ask me what is covering their trees. They describe a ghostly sheath that envelops the branches and trunk. "Spooky" is the adjective that everyone seems to use when describing this phenomenon.

The fine webbing is spun by tiny insects called psocids- commonly called bark lice or tree cattle (I prefer the latter). They spin their webs over the bark to protect themselves from wind, weather and predators. Under this silk stocking, the tree cattle "graze" across the bark's landscape feeding on lichens, fungi and debris.

Tree cattle are beneficial insects, cleaning off the tree and helping it be healthy. Expect to find them on hardwoods like Magnolia and Oak from about mid-August to October.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Food for thought, thought for food

I love living in a part of the country where people know how to live off the land and sea.

At low tide today, I watched these men pull their seining net through Ellis Creek, catching blue crabs and fish. They made it look so effortless and were able to work the net without saying a word to each other.

After dragging the net for a while, they would walk it up onto an exposed bank and collect the desirable crabs and fish from the net.

I've touched on the subject of self-sustainability before and it is a topic that I think about a lot. There is a gap between the farmer and the consumer- so much so that if you were to ask a young child where grapes or corn or peaches came from, they would probably answer "the grocery store". I enjoy the endless options of produce, bakery items, wines and other items that are at my fingertips and I would rather live in a time of feast rather than famine. But regardless of the cornucopia available at the market, I think it's wise to have the ability to be able to harvest a portion of your food- even if it's just a window box of herbs.

Gardening, fishing, seining, hunting....these activities keep us connected with the earth and with ourselves. There is a reason that it is a compliment to refer to someone as "grounded".

Monday, August 17, 2009

Plant Pest: Sunflower Moth

If the flowers on your Coneflowers, Black-Eyed Susans or Sunflowers seem to be fading faster than they should, check to see if they have been infested by the Sunflower Moth. Now is the time of year that they, and other caterpillars, are at their peak.

Caterpillars, the larval stage of moths and butterflies, are particular about the plants they feed upon. The Sunflower Moth (Homoeosoma electellum) only feeds on the flower heads of plants in the Compositaceae Family like Zinnias and Coneflowers.

Something is going on if you look at the center of the flower and it looks dusty like this:

Cut one of these flowers open and you're likely to find a caterpillar hiding inside!
To manage this pest in your garden or nursery, simply prune off the damaged flowers and throw them away.

Or, you can simply revel in the fact that your garden is hospitable to moths and butterflies and congratulate yourself on the oasis you have created.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

An unexpected twist on Charleston style

I love subtle twists on traditional design. When I saw this wrought-iron railing with a pink Mandevilla vine twining through it, I was instantly taken by the effect created by the green coat of paint (the front door is painted the same color). So unexpected.....As my grandmother would say, "It winked at me".

The bright green railing instantly cools this full-sun location. Typically, an open area along a sidewalk feels hot and uninviting during the brutal summer months. By painting a black railing a crisp green color and adding larger-leaved plants like Banana, Coleus and Mandevilla, this area evolves from the common "front stoop" into a charmingly unexpected focal point.

Carolina Landscape, Inc. installed this garden a couple of years ago. The design, drawn by the himeowner, was thoughtfully executed to ensure that the landscape looks good every season.

And the parrot-green railing gives just enough pop to keep it from being ordinary.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Bird Watching

I saw two Wood Storks, a Blue Heron, a Green Heron and a Roseate Spoonbill this morning all taking advantage of the low tide.

I love seeing Wood Storks, but the Roseate Spoonbill is exiting! This species, Ajaia ajaja, usually does not come this far north; It's range is along the Gulf states and south down to Chile and Argentina.

Roseate Spoonbill, John James Audubon:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Southern Blight

Every year, around the Fourth of July, a disease called Southern Blight appears in gardens and nurseries. And while it is not something you want to have in your garden, it one of my favorite plant pathogens. And yes, only dorks have a favorite plant pathogen.

This is how it happens: When it gets so hot outside that it hurts to breathe and we start to get afternoon thunderstorms, this fungus awakens from dormancy. It begins to grow around the bases of plants like Hosta, Ajuga, Iris, Creeping Jenny and other perennials.

As it grows, it feeds on the crowns of the plants and actually severs the stems from the roots at the soil line. You can see the white fungus on the petiole base of this Hosta leaf:

Seemingly overnight, affected plants wilt and and begin to turn brown. And if you look closely at the soil, you will see tiny spheres that look just like mustard seeds.

These "seeds" are how the fungus survives until the next summer. They hang tight-protected in their own little shells- until the days are hot and humid, causing destruction in your garden all over again.

And the worst part? The seeds can survive in the soil for up to seven years. That means you could put these seeds (they are really called sclerotia) in an envelope, file it away and in seven years disperse the sclerotia in a rival gardener's flower bed.

Since this disease is soil-borne, it is hard to manage. The best way is to remove the infected plants carefully (put them immediately in a plastic bag and do not compost) and then dig out the soil to about 1-foot deep.

If plants are growing in a nursery, there are additional tools for management of this disease- call for information.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Action expresses priorities." -Mahatma Gandhi

Vegetable Gardening 101

I'm going to this one-hour class at the Charleston Horticultural Society next week- anyone else want to come?

Thursday, August 20, 6 - 7 PM

Join Roger Francis, Agricultural Extension Agent for Clemson University Extension Service, for "the basics and beyond" of Vegetable Gardening. Learn how to plant cool season crops this fall and how to apply these principles to your warm season crops next spring. This presentation will equip you with the knowledge and confidence to begin your edible garden!

Cameron, Caroline, Anne, Katherine, and Nathalie (maybe) are coming (in addition to people that have already signed up)! If any one else is interested, this will be a great intro to vegetable gardening- and it will be fun!

Island Retreat

This is a small garden on Sullivan's Island that I designed last year. Of all the designs I have done, I'm most pleased with this one.

In January, Chip Chesnutt of Other Side of the River ( began installation on this project. In the end, this became a collaboration between the two of us.

Chip and I have worked together on many landscapes and we make an effort to make sound ecological decisions. We purchased all of the plants from local growers, the hardscapes are permeable and we did not use plants that are known to be invasive.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Attempts at Self-Sufficiency

I've gotten pretty good at throwing the cast net and I have caught enough shrimp for several meals (I'm obsessed). While I've grown my own vegetables, I had never before harvested the meat that I eat.

And I have to say, it is empowering! It has made me think about how even though I know how to grow my food, I currently don't.

I'm ready to change that.

My weekend project is going to be a compost bin. No more throwing kitchen waste into the trash can.....From now on it will all go into my compost bin.

It's embarrassing that I haven't composted since I moved to Charleston. I just read that 23% of all U.S. waste is "yard trimmings and food residuals" (EPA)! So shameful.

The compost bin will be simple and utilitarian (I'm no Martha Stewart)- four metal posts in a 3'x3' square with wooden snow fencing attached around the perimeter with wire.

Anything that is biodegradable* (fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and filters, paper towels, fallen branches, leaves, etc.) will go into the bin and I'll be on my way to having compost for the vegetable garden!

I'll take pictures when I'm done and let you know on a scale of 1-10 how much work it ends up being.

*The EPA has great information about what can and can not be composted

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sweet Grass

When the temperatures get hot, many plants in gardens and nurseries literally wilt.

A lot of the posts have been about grasses- and for good reason. Ornamental Grasses are at their peak in August, September and October. They love the heat.

I'm already seeing a few plumes on Sweet Grass (Mulenbergia capillaris) and in just a few weeks they will put on a spectacular display.

Sweet Grass,also called Mulhy Grass, has become a landscape staple- particularly in coastal areas. This native grass takes full sun and can tolerate a range of growing conditions. It works along salt marshes, it's deer-tolerant and it can take wet or dry soils. This picture was taken at Middleton Place Plantation in mid-October along the Ashley River:

The best crop I have seen this year is at Dudley Nurseries in Thomson, Georgia. The foliage color is great, they are well-rooted, and they do not have any thatch at the base. Plus, they are well-spaced, so you don't have to worry about them being floppy in the landscape.

Friday, August 7, 2009

This is so typical

I promise not to make this into a blog-blog. Just this once, I wanted to share a glimpse into my personal life. It's not glamorous, but it's real.

A little background: I have wanted a cast net since I moved into my house to catch shrimp and whatever off the dock. They aren't cheap (around $100 maybe?), so I have never bought one. (I'm getting better about separating the "needs" from the "wants", I suppose.)

So, when I was in Georgia the other day, my aunt said that she had a cast net and I could just borrow it and keep it at my house. I was beyond excited.

As soon as I got home last night, before I even went inside, I unpacked the cast net and ran to the dock. After a couple of terrible throws (I need training), I caught a delicious little creek shrimp. This was so thrilling that I ran back to the house to get my camera so I could take a picture of my first shrimp:

Well, apparently you are supposed to tie the net to yourself or something- I forgot to do that on a subsequent throw. And I threw the darn net into the water and watched it sink to the bottom of the creek. At high tide.

Here is the actual toss into the water when I lost the net (notice the "What have I done" body language):

It was too high of a tide for me to get in there and try to find it and I was already late for dinner. So I had to leave it there at the bottom of Ellis Creek. I checked the tide chart to see when a low tide was coming up and decided to look for it the next day. I just knew it was gone forever.

At 3:30 today it was low tide. I had an appointment scheduled for I canceled it.

I rushed home, jumped in the creek and I FOUND IT!

When I later called a good friend of mine to tell him of my good fortune he said, "That is so Lowcountry. And that is so Scout." Absolutely.

Maggie- I'm sorry the cast net spent the night on the bottom of the creek.
Dad- You were right when you predicted that I would do this within 15 minutes.


Silverband Iris

I have been watching this iris growing at Dudley Nurseries all summer and I am impressed. Unlike many irises that fade once they have flowered, Siliverband Iris (Iris ensata 'Silverband') has continued to thrive.

There are other variegated irises in the market, but this one is superior. The other variegated irises have floppy leaves with brown edges and tips this time of year.

Silverband Iris likes part-shade to full sun and gets about knee-high. In June-July, the deep purple flowers appear- and they are gorgeous in contrast with the striped foliage.

I love that 'Silverband' still looks good after it flowers! This picture was taken yesterday at the nursery- every plant is perfect. They would look great in large drifts or as a focal plant (they really light up a shady spot).

This iris has looked good the entire growing season- and that's rare for an iris. This plant is garden-worthy.


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