Monday, March 16, 2015

Mepkin Abbey, Monck's Corner, SC

Deposition of Christ. Mepkin Abbey

In the final analysis there is no other solution to man's progress but the day's honest work, the day's honest decision, the day's generous utterances, and the day's good deed.
--- Clare Boothe Luce. God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. 
--- Philippians 4:19.

Mepkin Abbey (formerly Mepkin Plantation) is home to twenty-one monks of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, also known as Trappist. The abbey is situated on a bluff above the western
Cooper River Bluff, Mepkin Plantation
branch of the Cooper River, in Berkeley County, South Carolina. One can not stroll the grounds or gaze across the river without a sense of its fascinating history.

The area was originally settled by Native American tribes, mainly Kiawah. Wanting protection from their immigrant, cannibalistic Westoe neighbors, and the Spanish to the south, the Kiawah tribes welcomed the English.

As the English expanded their territories in North America, the Crown set up a system of Lords Proprietors to oversee them. Few  Lords Proprietors, if any, ever set foot on their territories. The original Lords Proprietors of the Province of Carolina included:
Though they may have never visited, their names remain as places on maps.

Joel Gascoyne, “A new map of the country of Carolina.” Ca. 1682. American Memory, Library of Congress

Proprietary Grants were often given to heirs of Lords Proprietors. The Mepkin Plantation site was part of such grants made to three of Sir John Colleton's sons: Peter, Thomas and James. Mepkin belonged to James Colleton. The plantation passed to James's son, John, then to John's son, John, Esq.

Lords Proprietors responsibilities included protecting the colonists from invasion. They didn't do a good job of it. The colonists had to defend themselves from French and Spanish troops, pirates and hostile tribes. The colonists complained and petitioned the Crown again and again to take over the administration, which it did, finally. The Crown purchased the interests of seven of the Lords Proprietors in 1729 for £22,500 - about what they had in them.

Carolina was declared a Royal Colony and assigned to Governors. Some Governors were grandsons or great-grandsons of Lords Proprietors. Sir John Colleton of Exmouth, Devon was named Governor.

No doubt the Colletons were noted for the day's honest work, the day's honest decision, the day's generous utterances, and the day's good deed. But tremendous accomplishment was also achieved by Sir James Colleton's Attorney and plantation manager, John Stuart. John gained land and wealth, and achieved much more, however he claimed that his boss, James Colleton wrongly took credit for many of his contributions.

In 1762, John Colleton, Esq. sold Mepkin, including the original 3,000 acres of the Proprietary Grant to Henry Laurens. Henry Laurens was an import/export merchant in Charleston. His business included the slave trade. He quit the import/export business in 1776 to become a planter and statesman.

The time was ripe. Laurens rose to positions of importance in the emerging nation. Elected to Minister to Holland by the Continental Congress in 1779, he set sail in 1780, but was captured en route by the British. Laurens was imprisoned in the Tower of London for fifteen months until being released prematurely in anticipation of a prisoner exchange to get Lord Cornwallis back. Cornwallis was returned a little later than expected.

Laurens family cemetery.
Laurens returned to Mepkin in 1784. His house had been burned. Another was built, but no remains are left. Though elected to other important positions, he declined. He was tired. Henry Laurens died in 1792. His remains were cremated and buried at Mepkin.

Henry left the plantation to his son, Henry. The latter sold Mepkin in 1916 to J.W. Johnson, Esq. Johnson left it to his daughter, Mrs. Nicholas G. Rutgers. Rutgers sold it in 1936 to Henry R. Luce and his wife, Clare Boothe Luce. The Luces enlisted noted American landscape architect Loutrel Winslow Briggs to design their gardens at Mepkin.

On January 11, 1944, Clare's nineteen-year-old daughter, Ann Clare Brokaw, a senior at Stanford University, was killed in an automobile accident. Her death devastated her mother. Seeking solace, Clare turned to Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen for counseling. Clare Boothe Luce converted to the Roman Catholic Church in 1946.

In 1949, the Luces contributed a large portion of Mepkin Plantation to the Church for use by the Trappists. Twenty-nine monks moved from Gethsemani, Kentucky to found the Abbey.

St. Benedict of Nursia
Life at Mepkin Abbey is guided by the Rule of St. Benedict of Nursia. Some of his precepts include: 
  • Idleness is the enemy of the soul.Therefore the sisters should be occupied at certain times in manual labor, and again at fixed hours in sacred reading.
  • ...then are they truly monastics when they live by the labor of their hands,as did our Fathers and the Apostles.
  • The tenth degree of humility is that he be not ready and quick to laugh, for it is written, "The fool lifts up his voice in laughter" (Eccles. 21:23).
  • Let us do what the Prophet says: "I said, 'I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue. I have set a guard to my mouth.' I was mute and was humbled, and kept silence even from good things" (Ps. 38[39]:2-3). Here the Prophet shows that if the spirit of silence ought to lead us at times to refrain even from good speech, so much the more ought the punishment for sin make us avoid evil words.
  • Let all things be common to all, as it is written (Acts 4:32), and let no one say or assume that anything is his own.
  • Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for He is going to say, "I came as a guest, and you received Me" (Matt. 25:35). And to all let due honor be shown, especially to the domestics of the faith and to pilgrims.

If you don't see men in religious habits when you visit Mepkin Abbey, they might yet be working in plain sight. For example, you won't see someone mowing the lawn in a tunic, scapular and hood. Look, instead, for a man on a tractor in coveralls and cap. If not seen working in public, the monks are not idle.

The Trappists live by the work of their hands. Enterprises might include many things such as egg production, jam and jelly making or brewing. The monks at Mepkin Abbey grow shiitake and oyster mushrooms, operate a gift shop, sell books and art work, and provide a columbarium. Everything is reasonably priced, too, though I haven't inquired about the price of a niche in the Mepkin Columbarium. As St. Benedict ordered, The evil of avarice must have no part in establishing prices, which should, therefore, always be a little lower than people outside the monastery are able to set,” so that in all things God may be glorified.

While in the gift shop, I asked where we could find the Columbarium. I had heard about it before. The shopkeeper told me where to find it. He confided that "people are dying to be buried there." Keep in mind that St. Benedict didn't forbid laughter but discouraged quick laughter. I smiled in acceptance. That left me to wonder whether the shopkeeper was a Trappist monk, or just teasing me.

Except for possible lawn mowing, there is an air of silence at Mepkin. We only spoke to the gift shop attendant, and I wasn't sure he was a monk. Even at work, the monks only speak when necessary. There was no idle chatter. The silence enriched our experience.

There's no way a casual visitor would know for sure, but a friend of mine who retreated to Mepkin Abbey confirmed that, according to their Mission Statement, "all things are common to all" with the exception of a few simple, permitted items such as toothbrushes.

That brings me to the subject of hospitality. Christians worldwide have been known since their earliest history for hospitality, grace and mercy. The Trappists at Mepkin Abbey may receive you for a retreat at Mepkin Abbey if there are enough beds available. Men and women, husbands and wives are welcome, but will have to sleep apart.

If you want to become a retreatant at Mepkin Abbey, feel free to apply. Don't expect your life to be easy, full of leisure, mindless meditation, enjoying the beauty, sniffing the flowers and photographing while someone else works hard. You will, no doubt, experience the day's honest work, the day's honest decision, the day's generous utterances, and the day's good deed. Work hard at it. But, in the final analysis, God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. 
---Philippians 4:19.

If you're scratching your noggin and wondering whether Monck's Corner, South Carolina was named for the monks at Mepkin Abbey, it was not. The place pertains to George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle, mentioned above.

Follow me now to see what grows behind the garden wall. Here are some of my photographs.

St. Clare's Store and Gallery
Creche. Mepkin Abbey
Garden Walk. Mepkin Abbey
Holy Family. Mepkin Abbey
Camellia japonica. Mepkin Abbey
Holy Family. Mepkin Abbey
Garden Walk. Mepkin Abbey
Nandina, Crapemyrtle, Aucuba. Garden Walk. Mepkin Abbey
Creche. Garden Walk. Mepkin Abbey
Flight to Egypt. Mepkin Abbey
Columbarium. Mepkin Abbey
Pond Walk. Mepkin Abbey
Nancy Bryan Luce Garden. Mepkin Abbey
Live Oak Allee. Mepkin Abbey
Detail of Deposition of Christ. Mepkin Abbey

The spiritual life is first of all a life. It is not merely something to be known and studied, it is to be lived.
― Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude   

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

The 80th Annual Savannah Tour of Homes

The Gingerbread House aka Asendorf House c. 1899

The 80th Annual Savannah Tour of Homes and Gardens is practically upon us. Beginning March 26, the Tour will open more doors to some of Savannah's loveliest residences for four wonderful days. Come and enjoy Savannah's Historic Landmarks.

Though The Gingerbread House (pictured above) is not included in the tour, you'll enjoy a wonderfully rich experience visiting historic homes and gardens around some of Savannah's most notable squares.

The Savannah Tour of Homes and Gardens will begin Thursday at 5:30pm with a Welcome Reception in Chippewa Square followed by a Worship Service at The Independent Presbyterian Church at 207 Bull Street. Worship ends at 7:00pm.

Each day presents a new tour and special events. On Thursday, a self-guided walking tour explores the Southeast Historic Landmark District including Calhoun and Whitefield Squares. You'll be surrounded by 200 years of history, intricate wrought-iron, wide sidewalks and well-groomed tree lawns. Ornate mansions, row houses and simple duplexes nestle together, their architectural styles including Romanesque, Victorian and Italianate.

Friday's walking tour meanders through the Northeast Historic Landmark District including Washington, Warren and Columbia Squares. Here you'll find some of Savannah's earliest homes dating from the 18th century. Spared by fires that devastated other parts of Savannah, smaller homes constructed of wood and Savannah Gray brick present a cozy, charming atmosphere.

On Saturday, you'll explore the Southwest Historic Landmark District surrounding Madison, Monterey and Chatham Squares. This area dates from the 19th century Cotton era. Wide, oak-canopied streets, row houses and magnificent Forsyth Park make the day very special. Small shops filled with unique designs provide for a lot of shopping.

Sunday's tour includes the Ardsley Park - Chatham Crescent District. Developed around 1910, the district is one of the first automobile subdivisions in America. Broad, shaded avenues, circular and crescent-shaped parks, a grand mall and eclectic architectural styles characterize the district.

All four days are packed with special events including seminars on gardening, historic preservation, antiques and design. Lunch will be served in some of Savannah's most famous restaurants, or catered by our best chefs.

Take time for Sunday worship in one of Savannah's grand downtown churches. I recommend The Independent Presbyterian Church or Christ Church Anglican, founded in 1733 with the establishment of the Georgia colony, now meeting in its new home at 2020 Bull Street, on the corner of Bull and 37th.

Christ Church Anglican also presents Compline - Saying Good Night to God (Gregorian Chant by Candle Light) from 9:00pm to 9:30pm. Compline in the Anglican Church is in the Christian monastic tradition, the last service of the day, invoking God's peace and protection for the night. Compline at Christ Church Anglican is held on Sunday nights.

For event details and ticket information, visit The Savannah Tour of Homes and Gardens web site.

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Friday, March 6, 2015

Must-Have Plants: Primula vulgaris 'Belarina Valentine' (PPAF)

Primula vulgaris 'Belarina Valentine' (PPAF)

Name(s): Primula vulgaris 'Belarina Valentine' (PPAF), Primula acaulis, Primula malacoides, Hardy Primrose, English Primrose.

Flower Color: Deep red.

Bloom Time: Mid-spring to early summer.

Foliage: Semi-evergreen.

Height/Spread: 8 inches to 12 inches x 8 inches to 12 inches.

Climate Zones: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9a.

Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full shade.

Soil Condition: Moist, loamy, pH 6.1 to 7.5.

Features: Repeat bloom from mid-spring to early summer. Attracts butterflies.

Uses: Shade gardens, butterfly gardens, container gardens.

Comments: You will fall in love with hardy primrose, Primula vulgaris 'Belarina Valentine' (PPAF). Flower color is wonderful deep red. Mature size is 8 inches to 12 inches x 8 inches to 12 inches.

'Belarina Valentine' (PPAF) thrives in partial shade to full shade in USDA climate zones 4 to 9. Soil must be loamy and consistently moist with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.5. Space from 10 inches to 12 inches apart.

Hardy primrose is great for shade gardens, butterfly gardens and container gardens.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Must-Have Plants: Phlox subulata 'Emerald Pink'

Phlox subulata 'Emerald Pink'

Name(s): Phlox subulata 'Emerald Pink', Thrift, Creeping Phlox, Moss Phlox.

Flower Color: Pink.

Bloom Time: Spring.

Foliage: Evergreen, sharply pointed, mossy appearance.

Height/Spread: 4 inches to 6 inches x 10 inches to 12 inches.

Climate Zones: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Sun Exposure: Full sun.

Soil Condition: Well-drained to dry, average to poor, pH 5.5 to 7.5

Features: Drought tolerant, deer resistant, showy flowers, low maintenance.

Uses: Xeriscaping, massed planting, ground cover, erosion control, borders.

Comments:  Phlox subulata 'Emerald Pink' is also known as Thrift, Moss Phlox and Creeping Phlox. This popular evergreen ground cover forms a dense carpet. Foliage is sharply pointed and mossy in appearance. Pink blooms appear in abundance in spring. Mature height is 4 inches to 6 inches. Creeping Phlox is perfect for small or large areas, beautiful around patios, between pavers, and in perennial borders. Creeping Phlox is drought tolerant, and deer resistant.

It thrives in full sun in USDA climate zones 3 to 9, tolerating a wide variety of soil types with pH ranging from 5.5 to 7.5. Space from 10 inches to 18 inches apart.

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Friday, February 27, 2015

"What can you do with a blackberry lily?"

File:Belamcanda chinensis 2007.jpg
Photo courtesy of Tom Murphy VII

"What can you do with a blackberry lily? The answer is, anything you want. All gardens are made better with the addition of this persevering heirloom iris. You thought I said blackberry lily, and now I am referring to it as iris. Yes, Virginia, it has always looked like an iris from the standpoint of foliage and recently its scientific name has been changed from Belamcanda chinensis to Iris domestica."

Norman Winter, director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm in Savannah, GA has written a wonderful article on the blackberry lily. I think you'll enjoy it.
ead more here:
ead more here:

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

FAQ: How many Liriope spicata plants do I need?

I have about 1,200 sqf area in the backyard to cover with Liriope spicata. It will replace the existing bermuda fescue turf. The goal is to produce a tidy, formal look and dense cover. I'd prefer potted plants of a sufficiently large size. I am looking at at least six vendors and you are one of them I have contacted. Please advise me on:
  •     How many plants do I need?
  •     When would be the best time to plant them, considering my location and zone (Norman, OK zone 6B)?
  •     Considering the large size of the area to be covered, what would be your best, competitive price?

The planting distance depends on your budget and how quickly you want the plants to grow together and cover the area. They will cover more quickly if spaced closer. You must balance one against the other.

You may plant those from 2-1/2 inch pots as closely as 8 inches apart, or as distant as 12 inches apart. You may plant those from 3-1/2 inch pots as closely as 12 inches apart, or as distant as 18 inches apart.

Plant spacing is measured from the center of one pot to the center of the next pot.

If you plant at 8 inch spacing, you will need 2.25 plants per square foot.
If you plant at 10 inch spacing, you will need 1.45 plants per square foot.
If you plant at 12 inch spacing, you will need 1 plant per square foot.
If you plant at 15 inch spacing, you will need .64 plant per square foot.
If you plant at 18 inch spacing, you will need .44 plant per square foot.

This is a link to the Liriope spicata in 2-1/2 inch pots showing quantity discounts:

This is a link to the Liriope spicata in 3-1/2 inch pots showing quantity discounts:

If you have irrigation available, plant in spring when danger of frost is past. If you do not have irrigation available, I suggest you wait until fall when natural rainfall is usually more abundant.

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Cypress Gardens, Moncks Corner, SC

Bateau. Cypress Gardens, SC
14 February [19]35      
Villa Margherita, Charleston, S. C.

Dearest Papa Woojums,

It is a lovely Charleston but very lonesome, all your friends have been so sweet to us considering that they almost feel we didn't bring you, they don't see that we are the ones who suffer the most. Miss [Josephine] Pinckney was charming and intriguing and a little mysterious, the Dubose Heywards even more charming, so little mysterious that one felt that one had known them always and so loved them at once, and the unknown Mr. Ben Kittredge Jr. sat next [to] me at lunch at Oxford in '25 or '26 and he has a beautiful car but a marvellous garden, the famous cypress garden and we rode on boats on the swamp for hours this afternoon. This I tell you so that you may know what you are missing.
--Gertrude Stein, The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Carl Van Vechten, 1913-1946

The "marvellous garden, the famous cypress garden" of Mr. Ben Kittredge, Jr., was actually owned by his parents - Benjamin R. Kittredge of New York and Elizabeth Maynard Marshall of Charleston, S.C. - when Stein visited. Cypress Gardens was created by the elder Kittredge after he purchased Dean Hall Plantation in 1909.

Dean Hall Plantation was established in the 1720s by Alexander Nesbitt of Dean, Scotland. It passed through the hands of several owners before Kittredge obtained it.The plantation had fallen into disuse. The reservoir which once held fresh water for the rice fields had become a swamp. Kittredge aimed to turn it into a duck hunting preserve. Trails were constructed around the swamp and the landscape was planted with ornamentals. He opened Cypress Gardens to the public in 1932.

Benjamin Rufus Kittredge, Jr. was the author of an unremarkable novel, Crowded Solitude, which he published in 1930. Perhaps his book, the fact that he was already known to Stein, and the famous garden included him in her itinerary.

Benjamin Junior sold the 162-acre Cypress Gardens to the City of Charleston in 1963 for $1.00. The city turned it over to Berkeley County about 30 years later.

Cypress Gardens was heavily damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, but a recent visitor would hardly know it. Time, hard work and money have healed much.

Just as Gertrude Stein, we visited Cypress Gardens in winter. Admittedly, it is not the time one would usually make a garden visit, even in the Lowcountry. Indeed, there were few other visitors, but the solitude enhanced the pleasure.

Indoor exhibits are nestled near the Visitor Center. Among the Cypress Garden attractions are the Butterfly House, Heritage Museum, Swamparium and Nature Center. A live bird exhibit, alligator display, children's and heirloom gardens are also nearby.

The Butterfly House exhibits a good number of plant species that feed butterflies or their larvae, but the Butterfly House was not alive with butterflies when we visited, at least in their winged form. We spotted one monarch and a caterpillar, but there were many chrysalides in protective boxes. The Butterfly House is also home to koi and a few birds such as the Diamond Dove, native to Australia, and the Wood Duck, native to the swamp just outside the door.

The Heritage Museum tells the fascinating story of Dean Hall Plantation. Many of the artifacts were unearthed thanks to DuPont™ , which bought part of Dean Hall for its Kevlar® fibers plant. Though it's easy to mourn the loss of the historic site, most of what we know of it would be mouldering still in the cold, cold ground if not for "progress".

Upon entering the Swamparium, one is greeted by the big, toothy grin of one of the largest alligators you've ever seen. Don't worry. It's stuffed. But it and the bronze image of a large alligator snapping turtle on the wall give some of idea of the dangers inherent in a southern swamp. For more creepiness, other live reptiles, fish and amphibians are also on display in the darkened rooms.

More of nature is on display in the Nature Center. A stuffed Red Fox and Bobcat stalk upon a shelf, and hands-on exhibits provide tactile learning for everyone.

There are about 3.7 miles of walking trails and paths at Cypress Gardens. The paths are less developed. If you wish to explore as Stein did, boats are available for guided and self-guided tours.

Cypress Gardens Walking Trail
With a map of Cypress Gardens in hand, we set out. Swamps seem more dismal on cold, cloudy days. Buzzards spied upon us from ahigh. Cypress Gardens, however, was brightened by seasonable camellias and unseasonable azaleas, and scented with fragrant tea olive. The patterns and colors of crapemyrtle trunks and cypress knees looked more vibrant under the gray sky. We took our time, otherwise we would have overlooked the beauty of camellia-strewn trails, aquatics in black swamp water and the silhouettes of dried flowers against duckweed.

Cypress Gardens evokes nostalgia with its seemly structures: the wedding gazebo and Memory Garden gazebos, romantic pergola, stone span, a wooden Chippendale-esque bridge for sighs.

The garden is furnished to encourage wildlife. The bat hotel and Wood Duck nesting boxes are examples. I kept an eye out for fauna, especially Wood Ducks. If not sighting some, I kept my ears open for their distinctive calls.

I neither heard nor saw any.

Perhaps you are wondering, "What about the water-skiers and picturesque belles I've seen in postcards?" They were at another Cypress Gardens, now aka Legoland Florida Resort. This Cypress Gardens is at 3030 Cypress Gardens Rd., Moncks Corner, SC 29461.

In the words of Gertrude Stein, "This I tell you so that you may know what you are missing."  Visit sometime soon.

If you've enjoyed the images in links above, follow now to view more from Cypress Gardens.

Golden Shrimp Plant (Pachstachys lutea)

Flaming Glory Bower (Clerodendrum speciosissimum)
Camellia japonica
Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide'
Camellia japonica
Joggling board
Indica azalea
Indica azalea hybrid
Indica azalea hybrid
King's Mantle (Thunbergia erecta)
Heritage Garden

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Monday, February 16, 2015

What plants do you recommend for cut flowers?

Dahlias and gladiolus in a cutting garden

What plants do you recommend growing for cut flowers? I need something easy to grow, and I want to plant in spring.

Depending on your climate zone, try the following bulbs and such:

Anenomes - A. coronaria De Caen and St. Brigid are best.

Caladiums - While they're not grown for flowers, the long-lasting foliage works well in some arrangements.

Callas - These belong to the genus Zantedeschia. The waxy-looking, long-lasting flowers are very elegant.

Dahlias - Dahlias dominate. For inspiration, visit a nearby dahlia society show. They are usually held in September.

Gladiolus - Plant them after danger of frost is past. For a longer season, plant a few corms each week for several weeks.

Ixia - Sometimes called corn lilies, they are excellent for exhuberant country-style arrangements.

Liatris - They are available in blue shades to white, and have a feathery appearance.

Lilies - I'm referring to true lilies in the genus Lilium. There are lots of plants called "lilies", but not all are. For my money, the longer stemmed varieties are the best. The short-stemmed lilies are great for container growing.

Poliantes - The familiar tuberose lends a sumptuous fragrance to elegant arrangements.

Ranunculus - Ranunculus are exceptional in cut flower arrangements.

Many perennials are noteworthy for cutting, including the following:

Achillea - Commonly called Yarrow, the long-stemmed varieties are excellent for fresh and dried arrangements.

Convallaria or Lily-of-the-Valley - Just a few in a small vase are perfect for an intimate table setting.

Coreopsis - The long-stemmed varieties are best.

Daisies - Look for Leucanthemum.

Echinacea - Cone flowers are fine for fresh arrangements, but it doesn't end there. The dried seed heads sans petals are perfect for drying.

Ferns - While there are several species of ferns that will do, evergreen Polystichum acrosticoides - Christmas fern - provides the greenery you need all year long.

Iris - The best include Dutch hybrids (available in the fall as corms) and perennial Siberian iris. I wish the flowers lasted longer.

Kniphofia - These are stunning. You can use the flowers and foliage.

Rudbeckia - Black-eye Susans are excellent.

Scabiosa - Better known as Pincushion flower, plant them in your butterfly garden, too.

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Got a small yard with lots of shade?

I have a small yard that doesn't get much sunlight, and there is a lot of moss. What to do you suggest to get grass growing? I live in Columbia, MD.

Forget about grass. You should grow dwarf mondo grass instead. Mondo (Ophiopogon japonicus) is not true grass, but it looks like grass. Mondo performs well in full shade and in slightly moist soil. Maintenance is minimal. Mondo has few pest and disease problems, and tolerates poor soil. Dwarf mondo (O. japonicus 'Nana') leaves grow to 1-1/2 inches to 2 inches long, so mowing is unnecessary.

To learn more about growing mondo, read my article - Mondo Possibilities For Your Landscape.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

That ugly cottony scale.
Icerya purchasi

From a comment left at - Since the subject came up and there is a likelihood of that ugly cottony scale this time of year, could you address it too?

I'm assuming you are referring to cottony cushiony scale on indoor plants. If you're referring to another, please let me know, though I might suggest the same remedies.

Cottony cushiony scale can afflict many plants including edibles and ornamentals, especially citrus and pittosporum. By sucking sap from plants, they may weaken them to the point of death. At the very least, they suck vitality from plants. Ants feed on honeydew produced by cottony cushiony scale, so they try to protect the scale insects from predators.

Cottony cushiony scale is difficult to control in the adult phase because the cottony cushiony covering protects the little critters from insecticides. If they have infested deciduous plants, spray the plants during dormancy with horticultural oil. Another strategy you should use early in the season is to reduce the ant population. Ant baits or sticky materials applied to plant trunks and branches may help.

A few other insect predators are effective in controlling scale. If ants are controlled, the predators might have a chance to help you out.

Some insecticides such as Malathion can be effective in controlling this scale if applied in spring or fall when young scales are active. Some systemic insecticides might be effective, but check the label to see if the chemical is listed for cottony cushiony scale. Always follow label instructions. Never use systemic insecticides on edible and fruit-bearing plants.

The downside of using chemical pesticides is that they also kill beneficial insects, such as the predators mentioned before. Cottony cushiony scale is indeed a tough insect to control.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Question: How can I control mealybugs on my Japanese hollies?

How can I control mealybugs on my Japanese hollies?

First, make sure those are mealybugs on your Japanese hollies (Ilex crenata). Some species of scale insects resemble mealybugs, but they require different methods of control. If you've established that your pests are mealybugs, there is a relatively safe solution you can make at home that should work. Make a 50:50 solution of isopropyl alcohol and water in a 1.5 liter spray bottle. Add about 1 teaspoon of liquid dish soap. Mix well. Spray to cover the mealybugs. The treatment may need to be repeated several times over the course of a few weeks to destroy eggs and emerging insects.

Take care, though, that the liquid dish soap not be too strong. A stronger concentration than that recommended can damage to foliage. If in doubt, try the spray on a few leaves not readily visible to see if the solution causes damage before covering the entire plant.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Must-Have-Plants: Canna 'Cleopatra'

Canna Cleopatra
Canna 'Cleopatra'

Must-have plants are among the best plants for appropriate garden situations. When you need great garden plants for ground cover, naturalizing, wildflower gardens, perennial borders, butterfly gardens, hummingbird gardens, herb gardens, heritage gardens, cutting gardens, woodland gardens, shade gardens, bulb gardens, container gardens, bog gardens, water gardens, rain gardens or xeriscaping, look for the best among our must-have plants.

Name(s): Canna x generalis 'Cleopatra', Canna Lily

Flower Color: Yellow/red.

Bloom Time: Summer to fall.

Foliage: Herbaceous, green.

Height/Spread: 30 inches x 16 inches.

Climate Zones: Hardy in zones 7, 8, 9, 10, 11.

Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full sun.

Soil Condition: Organic, pH 6.1 to 6.5.

Planting Depth: 4 inches to 6 inches.

Features: Colorful flowers, bold foliage.

Uses: Container gardens, mass planting.

Comments: 'Cleopatra', a dwarf selection, produces yellow and red flowers. Depending on your climate zone, you may have bloom from June or July through November.

Cannas are perfect for mass plantings. The large flowers and foliage make a bold statement in the garden. They are also excellent for containers, for those who have limited space.

Cannas are hardy in USDA climate zones 7 to 11. Plant outdoors 4 inches deep and 16 inches apart when danger of frost is past. Gardeners in colder zones should lift the rhizomes in the Fall and transplant in Spring after the last frost. Cannas grow in partial shade to full sun, preferring organic soil and plenty of water.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden, Bishopville, SC

Mr. Pearl Fryar with the author
The Man

A visit to Pearl Fryar's topiary garden is not complete without a visit with Mr. Pearl Fryar himself. He is a "people person" with a positive attitude. Like other home gardens, his is a reflection of his own creativity, ingenuity and personal philosophy.

The Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden is located in Mr. Pearl's yard and adjacent lot in what might otherwise be a typical but unremarkable suburban neighborhood in Bishopville, SC. Before visiting in late December, we understood that visitors are welcome to stroll about the property so long as they respect the Fryar's privacy and don't inconvenience the neighbors. We were strolling about when Mr. Pearl arrived from running errands, parked his car, got into his Gator utility vehicle and pulled around to greet us. He introduced himself as the man "who created this monster."

Mr. Pearl Fryar

The average homeowner who is loath to prune his shrubs more than once a summer would agree that Mr. Pearl's yard is, indeed, a demanding beast. All topiaries are pruned every four to six weeks, inspected more frequently, and it seems that every living plant is topiaried. But this has been his pet project for over 30 years, and he has no plans to give it up.

Foundation plants. Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden, Bishopville, SC
Though he itched to do something creative, Mr. Fryar was employed in a mundane business to provide for his family. Eventually he established this home when it was in "nothing but a corn field", and began landscaping. That's when he began to carve a niche for himself. In fact, his creative self began cutting lots of fantastic niches in his shrubs and trees.

Fantastic topiary forms. Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden, Bishopville, SC
Mr. Pearl acquires most of his plants from local nurseries, but seldom pays full price. Here in the south, nurseries tend to pitch the remains of diseased, damaged and dying plants onto piles at the edge of the woods. That's where he looks. Then Mr. Pearl brings some home, nurses them to health, and turns them into something unique. Rather than yank out the annoying "volunteers" that spring up in his garden, he lets them flourish and turns them into topiaries, too. He prefers to work with plants proven to succeed in the Deep South, but isn't afraid to experiment with plants such as Weeping Blue Atlas Cedars (Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca Pendula') and Alberta Spruce (Picea glauca) that aren't supposed to do around here.

Visitors kiosk. Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden
Pearl Fryar's creative streak doesn't end with topiaried plants. He also fashions wonderful "junk art" sculptures and features them in his garden. The first one we noticed was an embellished barrel near the street that silently begged me to open it and explore. Inside were garden brochures and a jar for visitors to deposit donations. Mr. Pearl operates on the "honor system", expecting donations to stay in the jar until he gets around to emptying it. I took a brochure.

His sculptures are made of scrap metal left over from industries and stuff he scrounges from junk yards. Many of them were designed with interchangeable parts that he can pop off from one and replace on another creating a slightly different look. Some are fountains, some have messages welded on, one celebrates music, some mean nothing at all. Noting that "junk art" has become popular among collectors, Mr. Pearl doesn't sell them, though people have begged him. He said it takes too long to make one, so doesn't want to be bothered replacing them.

Many of us can understand and identify with Mr. Pearl's life story. As a little boy, he liked messing with things and being creative. He took academic achievement tests with mediocre results, but, he explained, tests don't measure creativity and passion, so he just got on with life doing what he had to do. He didn't do what he really wanted to do until he had enough money and the time to get on with it. That's when he started "cuttin' bushes" because he wanted to win a local "Yard Of The Month" contest.

Free-form topiary sculptures, traditional clover leaf and fountain.

When you're cuttin' bushes, you have time to think. Reflecting on his experience, Pearl Fryar considered that there are lots of young people who are just as he was. Because they don't test well, their callings in life elude them. Face it, academic scholarships go to the highest academic achievers. The rest either trudge along or give up. He decided he could try to help. So, he established a charitable organization to grant scholarships to "C-students" who exhibit creativity and gumption, attend a local technical college, and commit themselves to succeeding.

After awhile, people began to notice his works. The word spread near and far. Mr. Fryar has been given the ceremonial keys to three cities. Two separate days have been declared Pearl Fryar Day (once by the SC House of Representatives and once by the Mayor of Bishopville). He has won numerous awards for accomplishments, been featured in publications such as The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Southwest Airlines Spirit Magazine, twice in the Charlotte Observer, Guideposts magazine, National Geographic and the local Lee County Observer, and on Martha Stewart's show.

A documentary movie, A Man Named Pearl, was released in 2006 to critical acclaim, and has been shown many times nationally. But, you gotta know, pearls can be overlooked even in their hometowns. Mr. Pearl told us about a young lady, a native of Bishopville living way across the country, who saw the documentary and called her mother in Bishopville to tell her about it. "Oh, Dear, you must be mistaken. There's nothing like that here in Bishopville." Well, the young lady flew more than a couple thousand miles to visit and show her mom Pearl Fryar's famous topiary garden nearly around the corner.

Mr. Pearl has been invited to speak to plantspeople at important venues around the country. He is amused that he often shares the stage with professional horticulturists. Though he claims he don't know nothing about plants, he once spoke at such an event at Harvard University. "They wouldn't even let me in there academically, but they invited me to speak 'cause I cut up bushes!"

Mr. Pearl Fryar discusses Eleagnus pungens espalier

We wandered with Mr. Pearl to a back corner of his yard. There was a fresh restroom with a plaque attributing it to Coca Cola and a local government's generosity. As we discussed an Eleagnus he was training to espalierg, my wife asked about the restroom. Apparently, here's how it happened; some well-heeled visitors needed to pee. He probably would've invited them into the house, but they declined to impose. But one of the visitors knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody else in the Coca Cola company and made a call. Within a few months, the restroom appeared magically with attributive plaques. He said, "You don't just write a letter to Coca Cola and ask them to build a restroom in your back yard."

When we arrived at the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden, I spied Mr. Pearl's old iconic ladder platform that he used to prune his taller topiaries. I took a picture of it. "How quaint", I thought. Later on during our visit, he said he doesn't use it any more. It's there for show. He wanted us to see his new platform. Before long his apprentice came roaring out from behind the grown-up hedges on a humongous crane-like vehicle. So, where did that come from? Well, he explained, some visitors appreciating his art, age and philosophy of life couldn't bear the thought that he might fall off that old ladder, so they pitched in and bought him a new platform.

Apparently, Mr. Pearl is a regular customer at the nearby Waffle House. We noticed their toparies on the way into Bishopville. Well, the Waffle House in Bishopville, SC has paid to publish a calendar featuring the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden. The profits benefit Mr. Pearl's local scholarship program. He had a small stack of calendars in his vehicle. I bought one and contributed more.

Pearl Fryar recently celebrated his 75th birthday. Naturally, we asked who will continue his work. Apparently his family is not that interested, but the Garden Conservancy is, ensuring that the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden will be preserved for many years to come.

Mr. Pearl Fryar's neighborhood.
Enthusiasm is infectious. Inspired by Mr. Pearl's work, several of his neighbors have begun cutting their own shrubs and trees into fantastic topiaries. (Actually, Mr. Pearl helps prune their shrubs, too.)

Isn't that the way it works? No matter where you're from or where you hope to go, if you have a creative spirit and gumption, aspire to do well, will climb the ladder, meet and greet, share your passion, get a little help from friends and family, and have fun along the way, you should succeed. Why not?

His Garden

This is what happens when you really want to win "Yard of the Month" contest.
As mentioned before, Mr. Pearl began cuttin' bushes because he wanted to win the "Yard of the Month" contest. A driveway that looks like the one above doesn't give others much of a chance.

Juniperus chinensis 'Hetzi Columnaris'
Some plants' growth habits lend themselves to particular forms, such as these upright Green Columnar junipers (Juniperus chinensis 'Hetzii Columnaris'). The arch in the foreground was formed over curved PVC pipe.

Hollywood juniper (Juniperus chinensis 'Torulosa'), foreground.
The naturally twisted shape of Hollywood Juniper, aka Kaizuka, as seen above, is another example that lends itself to sculpting.

Water Oak (Quercus nigra)
The native Water Oak (Quercus nigra), above, appeared as a seedling volunteer. Neither it nor the native Live Oak (Quercus virginiana), below, are typical subjects for topiary. But Mr. Pearl will work with just about anything that suits his fancy.

Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)
Grafting detail. Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden, Bishopville, SC

In the grafting detail (shown immediately above), you can see how Mr. Pearl has taken branches on either side, bent them, wrapped each one with wire and lashed them against the main trunk. As they grew, the branches and trunk self-grafted. At which point, he removed the wire forms. As you can see on the the left branch, he left that wire on a bit too long resulting in scar-like marks. He uses the same basic technique with other plants on which he forms arches, loops and twists.

Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) pollarded. Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden, Bishopville, SC
This gnarly Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) is pollarded, a pruning technique often used in European cities to control the size of street trees. Mr. Pearl said the reason he prunes it so is simply because he doesn't like raking leaves from deciduous trees. One good trimming each fall enables him to dispense with the leaves and trimmings in one fell swoop.

Still Life Snag with Inverted Clay Pots. Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden.
If a plant subject dies, he could yank it out, or trim and adorn it. Pearl Fryar doesn't worry about failures, but sees them as opportunities.

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