Thursday, February 10, 2011

Self-Proclaimed Underground Railroad for Birds

I've heard that Cedar Waxwings are back in town. If they don't come back to my weeping yaupon tree this year, I may weep myself.

For the last two years, I've watch the spectacle from my office window as they descend upon this tree and strip every last berry from its branches. And all in a matter of hours.
Waxwing with her cool black mask

I'm starting to stress that either they are going to skip their annual stopover on their way back north or that I'm going to come home from a trip to the market (or worse, work) and see the tree without its berried ornamentation.

Come on, Waxwings! Keep me on your official/unofficial underground railroad. And come when I'm home.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The luxury of doing without

Remember when it was actually a big deal when watermelons arrived in the stores and farmer's markets in the summers? I can remember being really excited about eating ice-cold slices of sweet watermelon right about the fourth of July- and the anticipation of it was as good (or almost as good) as the watermelon itself. That absence of melons in the fall, winter and spring enhanced the olfactory experience when they came into season. Now, because melons apparently ship well from warm climates (the thick rind and relatively long shelf life assist with this), watermelon tastes pretty good year round. And as a result, it lost some of its magic.

Thankfully, we haven't figured out how make winter tomatoes taste like summer tomatoes. And although I'm all for horticultural innovation, I hope that breeders and growers never figure this out. There's nothing I dream of more than a tomato sandwich on white bread made with tomatoes ripened in the southern summer sun. Tomato sandwiches should only be eaten when you're wearing a short-sleeved shirt while in the shade of a porch. I don't think a tomato sandwich (no matter how good the tomatoes) would taste as good while wearing a sweater sitting by the buck stove.
So there's my plea. No good tomatoes in the winter. Keep them mealy and tasteless.

This idea transfers into the landscape as well. I'm tired of azaleas the bloom in the spring and fall. I don't want a garden where every plant blooms all the time. If all plants flowered year round, they'd lose their magic. Just like watermelon did.

I think we've forgotten than doing without can actually be luxurious. The anticipation makes it something to be acknowledged and savored when they come into our worlds, much like a vine-ripened tomato.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Native Replacement for Leyland Cypress

It's time to embrace an evergreen for screening other than Leyland Cypress (x Cupressocyparis leylandii) or Giant Arborvitae (Thuja plicata 'Green Giant'). Both of these trees have longevity issues in the southeast and pest problems (particularly with Leylands) abound. Needle blight, root rot, lodging and cankers plague these plants.

And they get too big for many urban landscapes. And quickly.

My replacement choice is 'Hillspire' Redcedar, Juniperus virginiana 'Hillspire'. You can get these commercially from Green Meadow Nursery in Yonges Island, South Carolina (containers) or Auckland Trees in Walterboro, South Carolina (field-grown).

Native tree with a narrow, upright growth habit, this tree will only get 20-30 feet tall and 8-10 feet wide. Much better for a garden than the imposing 60-80 feet of a Leyland Cypress.

Hillspire is a handsome plant that will work easily within your landscape- It's an underused, underutilized native with great potential.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Mary Jo

Already February first and I haven't really acknowledged my little blog (I don't like that word) in the new year. I had high hopes about a daily entry. It just wasn't meant to be.

I'm in a hotel room at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education tonight in the great Athens, Georgia. It's strange to be here as a professional, within eyeshot of my old dorm (Rutherford Hall for you Georgia grads). During my time at Georgia, I may have entered the Continuing Ed Center three or four times, with the first time being my most memorable.

I was seventeen or eighteen and my grandmother, the epic Mary Jo Whitley, drove me to "the university" as she called it to allow me to register. The parking deck was full. After a couple of rounds through the parking deck, my able-bodied grandmother pulled into a handicapped spot and proceeded to limp across the garage, gently holding onto my elbow. I was mortified. Here I was, at the University of Georgia, with all of these cool college kids walking around. And my otherwise dignified grandmother was faking an injury to avoid searching for a spot. (She couldn't remember which leg she had been limping on when we returned to the car. Hilarious.)

And here I am 15 years later, preparing to give a talk that the program says is titled "Going from Good to Great: How to Design, Install and Maintain Color Displays." And unbeknownst to the people attending the conference tomorrow, I retitled it "Lessons from a Walled City: Using the Gardens of Charleston as Inspiration for Color Displays". It's a very Mary Jo move.

It's been a week of Mary Jo.
Me and my grandmother

On Thursday, Chris and I drove to Callaway Gardens so that I could give a workshop and talk at the Southern Gardening Symposium. At the banquet and live auction Friday night, we chose a table at the back of the room where four people were sitting. One couple was from Tucker, Georgia (where I grew up), one lady-who was a real firecracker and insisted I introduce myself the next morning as "The Plant Whisperer"- was from St. Petersberg, and the other lady was from Columbus, Georgia. Their average age was probably around 80.

I mentioned that my grandparents lived in Columbus and wondered if she knew of Dr. Whitley and Mary Jo. She gasped, put her hand to her heart and said, "Your grandmother was one of my very best friends." I couldn't believe it.

She came over, held my hands and told me that seeing me brought her back to when she was young and friends with my grandma. They lived around the corner from each other and had children the same age. And during one of the summers in the 1950's, they decided to entertain their children by taking day trips to each of the state parks in Georgia.
Mary Jo Whitley, 1940's

I remember my grandmother telling me about those trips. They'd pack food for the day, load the kids in the car and take off. When she told me about these adventures she'd laugh her devilish laugh and talk about all of the trouble they'd get in (trouble in a very 1950's kind of way).

There were so many great things that happened on this trip. My mentor, Dr. Michal Dirr was there when I gave my talk, as were my parents. When I told my jokes in the talk, I could always pick out Chris' laugh in the crowd. The people at the conference were wonderful. The weather was perfect. But I still can't get over meeting Mrs. Betty Turner.
My sister Kelley, Grandma and me at Middleton Place


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