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.


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