Wednesday, September 30, 2009

This just works: Hydrangea and Shrimp Plant

While at a landscape on James Island, I saw this simple plant combination that I thought was really effective.

Under a mature Live Oak, the landscape architect combined sky-blue Mophead Hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) and buttery yellow Shrimp Plants (Pachystachys lutea) to create a soothing shade garden. The low boxwood hedge pulls the area together and lends year-round structure.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Plant Pest: Downy Mildew

Rainy, cool weather is Downy Mildew weather. So, with all of the rain and flooding in the Southeast over the last few days, it seems to be an appropriate topic.

Downy mildew got its name because when it is sporulating (the fungal equivalent of fruit), the spores make a fluffy white mat on the undersides of the leaves. This Black-Eyed Susan leaf has a terrible infection:
When you turn the leaf over, you can see that it is purple in the infected areas. That's because the fungus really lives on the inside of the leaf, taking nutrients from the cells. When areas on the leaves turn purple, it is a signal that the chlorophyll and sugars have been used by the fungus.

One of the interesting things about the fungus that causes Downy Mildew is that it is bound by leaf veins. That means that it creates angular leaf spots, like on this Butterfly Bush:

Downy Mildew is a common disease of Roses during the fall and spring. If the infection is bad, the entire plant will quickly defoliate. Cool, foggy and wet weather is the trigger for this disease.
The best way to control this disease is to keep the leaves dry. Use drip irrigation, if possible. When using sprinklers to irrigate, water early in the day so that the leaves can dry before nightfall.

Plant mildew-susceptible plants in areas where there is good air circulation (this lowers the humidity). And rake up fallen leaves in the winter.

Some varieties are more susceptible than others- so choose strong plants. For example, yellow and white flowering roses are typically more prone to Downy Mildew than other colors.

I haven't really shown my dorky side in a while and I'm feeling a little repressed. So, I want to show you what the spores look like up close (this is how I identify a fungus). I love this one, because the part that makes the spores (sporangiophores) look like deer antlers! At the tips, round spores are formed:
The spores splash in water droplets from plant-to-plant, causing new infections. Wow, right?

Windowbox Wednesday

Charleston is famous for its courtyards, but we have gotten really good at window boxes over the last few years, too. I am constantly wowed.

These window boxes at the Vendue Inn are some of my favorites. Each season, the flowers are changed (the ivy stays) and it makes a big impact along the facade of this East Bay hotel.

Jennifer Stringer from Living Colors designs and maintains these planters (as well as the rooftop garden at the Vendue Rooftop restaurant).

She used a great combination of textures and colors- Angel Wing Begonias, Foxtail Ferns, Ivy, trailing Coleus and Caladiums.

Angel Wing begonias are made for our Charleston summers and are really versatile. They take sun or shade- I love that. And even though it's the end of summer, they look better than ever.


Throughout the Northern Hemisphere, farmers are harvesting the fruits and vegetables they have cultivated over the summer. The brightly-flavored summer crops of cucumbers and tomatoes have passed their peak and we've moved into the deeper flavored pumpkins, winter squashes, pears and apples.

To celebrate the recent Autumnal Equinox, here are some images of harvests occurring around the globe (courtesy of Huffington Post).

Grape harvesting in FrancePumpkin picking in MaineGala Apples from Germany
Coconut plucking in Bangalore, India
Wheat harvest in Afghanistan
Potato harvest in BelarusGrape harvest in Bulgaria
Rice harvest in Hanoi, Vietnam
"No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden." -Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Merry Marigolds

I have a feeling about Marigolds.

I think that are going to make a resurgence in gardens next summer in a way that feels fresh and current

I realize this is a bold statement considering that in years past this lowly bedding plant was mixed ruthlessly with red Salvia (oh my). And that it was often used to line sidewalks or in a ring around flower beds.

Despite all of that, when I look at the ruffled flowers and ferny foliage, I see the potential for greatness.

Taking a cue from the color wheel, tone down the saturated oranges and yellows with blues, purples and lavenders. Tie it all together with an abundance of vibrant green foliage plants.

Take for instance, this landscape. The mass planting of Marigolds is edged with deep blue Lobelia and is framed in green by a lush lawn and woodland edge:

You don't have to dominate a container garden or landscape with this bedding plant. Just a few will make a big impact if they are combined with the right plants.

Or how about one small pot (maybe a blue glazed container) with nothing but Marigolds? Or Marigolds and Basil- they would work beautifully together.

  • As the interest in gardening increases, particularly vegetable gardening, I think Marigolds make sense. They are often thought of as companion plants for Tomatoes (discourages insects and nematodes) so they are a natural fit in the backyard vegetable patch.
  • Marigolds are very easy to grow, producing flowers all summer long. Simply pop off the spent flowers and they will bloom through the summer.
  • They provide some nostalgia for those of us 30 and older. I remember as a kid having Marigolds planted along the front walk- and I loved them.
  • Flower breeders have developed Marigolds that bloom in colors like Lemon Yellow, Creamy White, Tomato Red, Egg Yolk Yellow and Burnt Orange- and every hue and combination in between. As long as you have sun, there is a Marigold that will work in your landscape.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Windowbox Wednesday

For those of you that don't realize the power of plants:They change everything.
Church Street, Charleston

Plant Pest: Bacterial Leaf Spot on Ivy

The most common English Ivy (Hedera helix) disease in the South is Bacterial Leaf Spot. This disease, caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris pv. hederae, causes large, irregularly-shaped lesions on the leaves.

As the Latin name indicates, this bacterium only infects Ivy. The abbreviation in the name stands for "pathovar" (the pathology equivalent of "cultivar") and the word hederae tells you that it infects Hedera.

An easy way to identify this disease: Hold a leaf up to the light. If there is a yellow halo around each dark-brown spot, the Ivy is likely infected with Bacterial Leaf Spot.

Why is there a yellow halo? As the bacteria progresses, it uses enzymes to break down the leaf cells. The yellow area is where the bacteria is active.
Bacterial Leaf Spot will be worse in environmental conditions where the leaves stay wet for extended periods of time. Xanthomonas spreads from leaf to leaf via water-splashing or direct leaf contact.

The best way to manage this disease is to keep the leaves dry. That means no overhead irrigation, if possible. Grow in an area with good air circulation and periodically clean up debris and dead leaves.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mastering the Art of Southern Gardening

Have you ever been to a Whole Foods grocery store? If you have, then you know that they have managed to turn a tedious errand into a sensory experience. Everything they have, I want.

They somehow meticulously stack every fruit and vegetable known to man in such a way that even collard greens look cosmopolitan. The fish and shrimp all look like they were pulled from oceans and streams only moments ago. And I can't leave without at least one cookie or another treat from their bakery.

What I'm basically saying is that if they want to offer truth in advertising, they will change their name immediately to Whole Paycheck.

Just to be clear on what happens when I shop here:
  • I never go in with a plan or recipe
  • I am usually hungry when I go
  • I wander up and down each aisle, salivating at all of the choices and putting things in my cart
  • I go through a second time and put back half
  • I get home and have the most beautiful assortment of fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, and assorted treats
And I realize that they make, well.....nothing. And as a result, much of it goes to waste before I figure out what to make with it.

Without a recipe to follow, I'm essentially lost. I am not one of those people that opens the fridge, sees a mix of ingredients and magically whips up a world-class dinner. I am a recipe-follower. I need guidance the first few times I make a dish- and only then am I able to improvise with the ingredients.

So what does this have to do with mastering the art of southern gardening?

When many people go to the garden center, I see a similar scenario unfolding:
  • They go in without a plan or design
  • They are usually hungry when they go (commonly called "Spring Fever")
  • They wander up and down each aisle, salivating at all of the choices and putting things in their cart
  • They go through a second time and put back half
  • They get home and have the most beautiful assortment of annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs and other assorted treats
And they realize that while each plant is an eye-catcher, they don't make a garden. And the plants don't get planted that day so they stay in their pots. Often, they don't get planted at all and they end up like my poor, unused vegetables.

Think about a seasoned chef like Julia Child. Every dish that Julia made- no matter how improvised- was rooted in a recipe she had done before. She knew which herbs complimented which meats and which cheeses would overpower a dish and the basic ingredient proportions for baking cakes.
When she first tackled French cuisine, she followed the recipes. And even when she had mastered French cooking, she didn't alter the bones of the recipe much.

Gardening is no different. Gardeners talk about the "bones of a garden" all of the time. In the south, our gardens are often anchored and defined by evergreens- A sidewalk lined with Liriope, a hedge of boxwood or a holly at the corner of the house. Walkways, patios and other "hardscapes" are also part of this garden foundation.

The garden pictured below work is effective and it only has one type of plant. The low boxwood hedge and brickwork provide the structure needed (think walls).

The area between the hedge and the building would be the perfect spot for a medley of perennials like Black-Eyed Susan, Salvia, Plumbago and Iris (think artwork on the walls).

What makes this corner good is that even without the "artwork," it is attractive. In other words, it has good bones.
Once we have established the foundation of a landscape, we can change the seasonings with perennials and annuals- those plants that wink at you when you are at the garden center.

Now imagine that same mixture of perennials in the middle of a flower bed with no structure or definition. Would it look like a plant stew?

As you develop your palate (or really palette), you will naturally become more daring with the designs you create. That is when gardening becomes truly fun.

I've been cooking regularly for about a year now and I'm good enough to have a few friends over for some satisfying meals. Mostly, I make simple, effective dishes with 4-5 ingredients. I'm sure as I get more confident, I will expand my repertoire .

The gardening equivalent would be starting with mixed container gardens by the front door- simple, yet wholly satisfying. Then as you succeed, expand.

Before you go to the garden center next time, identify an area you want to plant and the types of plants you'll need for that area.

And please,
do as I say and not as I do......and make a list of the ingredients you'll need.

Native Plant Society Lecture Tonight at Duckett Hall

This is last minute, I realize, but I think that some of you who read this journal would be interested. The Native Plant Society lecture fall lecture series begins tonight:

September 15, 6:30 pm Biology Auditorium, 101 Duckett Hall at The Citadel - The Importance of CSAs and How They Work in This Economy - Babs and Pete Ambrose, Owners of Ambrose Family Farm

Following a dream to have the local community eat and enjoy what they grow, and to retain the acreage of their Wadmalaw farm, Babs and Pete have established a way of life based largely on Community Supported Agriculture to accomplish this and more. CSA is a partnership of mutual commitment between a local farmer and the people who consume his/her seasonal produce. Members purchase a "share" of the farm's anticipated fresh produce, which in turn ensures the survival of the local family farm by guaranteeing the farmer a fair economic return for his efforts. Babs also owns and operates the Stono Market and Tomato Shed Cafe with her youngest daughter, Barbara Ambrose.

Hope to see you there!


Sunday, September 13, 2009


Native plant pairing

I saw this combination at a nursery I was scouting last week (Fair View Nursery). Although the pairing was unintentional, it looks great.

The dark rosy flush on the Dwarf Yaupon Hollies is accentuated by the pink plumes on the Sweet Grass.

This works.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Head's Up

If you need really large Podocarpus (Podocarpus macrophyllus) for a hedge or screen, they are available at Green Meadow Nursery in Meggett, South Carolina.

These 25-gallon specimens have the height needed to make an instant impact in a garden.

They would also be perfect for replacing a dead or dying Podocarpus in an established landscape.

Call Josh to reserve the plants that you need. This size Podocarpus is not often found in the Lowcountry and numbers are limited.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Prepare to be Wowed Shrimp

I'm not a great cook, but when my sister came to visit me a couple of months ago, I wanted to make something Lowcountry. And I found a recipe that I decided I could handle.

When I set the large pan of roasted shrimp on the table, I kiddingly said, "Now, Kelley.....Prepare to be wowed!" Of course, she rolled her eyes and laughed.

Well, as a surprise to both me and my sister (who is a great cook), it was fantastic. And from that day on, the dish changed names from Barbecued Shrimp to Prepare to be Wowed Shrimp.

It's a simple dish of shrimp, citrus, garlic and pepper that involves virtually no kitchen skills. Just be sure to use fresh local shrimp.

Although I would like to take credit for this creation, props go to the editors of
Coastal Living magazine. This recipe was featured in the 2007 "Best of Coastal Living" issue. And it deserves to be shared.Prepare to be Wowed Shrimp

5 lb unpeeled, large fresh shrimp
1 bunch celery, with leaves
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 (2 ounce) jar cracked pepper
2-3 teaspoons salt
1-2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon hot sauce
6 lemons, cut into wedges
2 cups butter, cut into pieces

PLACE shrimp in a large roasting pan.
CUT celery into 4-6 inch lengths. Add celery and next 6 ingredients to shrimp.
SQUEEZE lemon wedges over the top. Stir wedges into shrimp mixture.
DOT with butter

BROIL shrimp 5 inches from heat, stirring often, 5 minutes or until shrimp just begin to turn pink. Reduce temperature to 350F and bake, stirring often, 20-25 minutes or until shrimp turn pink (do not overcook).

Makes 8-10 servings.
I know what you are thinking- that's a bunch of butter! It is.
But you need it for the delicious sauce that is created at the bottom of the pan. Sopping up that goodness with some crusty bread is essential to the enjoyment of this dish.

When I made it for Kelley and myself, I quartered the recipe. It reduced the cooking time significantly, so just know that its done when the shrimp turn pink.

Natural swimming ponds

I struggle sometimes when a homeowner tells me that they are interested in having a pool incorporated into their landscape design. Because a pool takes up a large portion of the available space, it is the dominating focal point. And if not done right, it can be an eyesore.

My conscience is particularly strained when the land is along a marsh or waterfront because I don't want a man-made pool competing with the landscape nature has provided. It can make a pool seem coarse and misplaced (although I have seen many that seemed perfect).

I like it when houses, pools, hardscapes and other elements seem to grow up out of the land, giving the feeling that they are supposed to be there.

When I found this example of an "eco-pool," it seemed like this was a good way to gracefully merge a pool into the landscape:
These pools, also called swimming ponds, are chemical-free and self-cleaning. The vegetation (like water lilies, iris and cattails) regenerates the water before it flows back into the swimming area. There is no need to worry about algae or sediment in these natural pools because the "regeneration zones" are separated from the swimming pool by walls designed to look like ruins. The sides and bottom are made of stone, so there's no worry about stepping on something squishy.
Most swimming ponds are in Europe, but the concept is being adopted in the United States as well. More information is available at Chester County Dwell.

The swimming ponds can be designed to accommodate any design style. A great catalog of examples can be seen at Biotop Natural Pool. If you are interested in a natural swimming pond, contact Scout Horticultural Consulting for more information.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Plant Pest: Wax scales

Why are scales so much harder to treat than other insects?

It's because many of them cover themselves with a protective waxy coating.

Indian Wax Scales illustrate this topic very well. They are easy to identify because they look like chewed gum and are usually found on the stems of plants like Gardenia, Magnolia and Holly. Adults are completely immobile (they don't have legs) and simply attach themselves to stems or leaves like a tick on skin. For the duration of their lives, they feed on plant sap and reproduce (how sad). Since they can't run and hide like other insects, they protect themselves from predators and the environment by secreting a waxy coat.

This image is of the underside of a Wax Scale that I picked off a stem. The actual insect is dark pink and the waxy secretion is white:
The wax is easily separated from the body of the scale and is the consistency of peanut butter. The soft-bodied insect within is very vulnerable and cannot survive without this coating. This coating prevents insecticides from reaching the insect inside. Next time, try horticultural soap. If applied correctly, soap can break down the waxy barrier and dry out the insect inside.

Banshin Azalea at Fair View Nursery

For a truly unique, low-growing Azalea, try the culitvar 'Banshin'. I am drawn to this Satsuki-type Azalea because of the layering growth habit and dark green (think Charleston green) leaves. Even when not in bloom, this plant would hold its own in the garden. (Click on the picture above to see the the detail of these plants)

The large late-spring flowers are white with sections of deep pink that contrast nicely with the rich foliage. Growing only 2-3 feet high, this plant would be ideal in borders along brick walks or around of the base of a blue-foliaged evergreen like Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodara).

The only nursery I know that grows this cultivar is Fair View Nursery in Wilson North Carolina. I scouted it yesterday- each plant is perfect and has excellent roots. Azalea 'Banshin' is garden-worthy.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Garden Finds

Attention, gardeners- I found great garden items at Hungryneck today.

LOVELY BIRD BATHI'm not a fan of most bird baths because the scale is usually wrong for the garden and they can seem dinky. But this one is the perfect height (almost waist-high on me) and has a beautiful scalloped edge. It would work well in a downtown courtyard or suburban garden. And $125- I've seen tacky bird baths for more than that.

I also like these urns. For under $130, you can have all three. Perfect for a lazy gardener like myself because you can "stage" plants in them if you have a party coming up. Here's what you do:

1. Go to the garden center and buy three gorgeous hanging baskets. Remove the wire hangers from each basket.

2. Take a few empty soda cans out of the recycle bin and put them in the bottom of each urn.

3. Put a hanging basket in each urn on top of the soda cans (the cans make a lightweight base for the hanging basket to sit on so you don't waste any potting soil). Do not remove the plastic "basket" from the plants.

4. Prepare to wow your friends with your horticultural skills.

I think this tool caddy was only $18. It would be a great gift on its own. Or you could make it an extra-special gift if you filled it with daffodil bulbs and a bulb planter (Wilcox brand, of course).


I had a horticulture professor in college who wore the silliest-looking hats. Now, I've joined the club. I can't believe I let this one get away.....

Gardening trends

For everyone that is trying to recruit young gardeners- garden centers, horticultural societies, communities- you must read this:

The Rise of the Internet and the Death of Gardening

Not only is Matt Mattus on the right track, it's also an enjoyable read.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

High Quality: The best trowel

Most garden trowels are worthless. They can dig a hole into a bag of potting soil, but that is about it.

Have you ever tried to dig into the actual earth with a trowel? I have. And it is about as discouraging as trying to water your garden with a hose full of kinks.

I have a trowel that works. It is the Wilcox All-Pro No. 100. This 10" fine-pointed trowel can cut through roots and soil. And the sharp edges can slice through a nursery pot if you have a root-bound plant. It is great for breaking up a root ball, opening a bag of potting soil or quickly cutting twine.

This tool is so sharp that when you purchase one ,the beveled sides of the stainless-steel trowel are covered with a piece of plastic so you won't hurt yourself. Love, love, love.

Hyam's Garden Center on James Island has this trowel for sale for only $12.95 each.


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