Monday, August 24, 2015

My crape myrtles are covered with black on the leaves.

My crape myrtles are covered with black on the leaves. It won’t wash or wipe off. What is it and how can I get rid of it? Will it kill my crape myrtles? 

The black stuff is called sooty mold or sooty mildew which includes several species of fungi that thrive in honeydew. Honeydew is a sticky secretion from the bodies of aphids, whiteflies, scale insects and similar pests.  Honeydew reminds me of tiny droplets of corn syrup spray. Wherever it falls – on other plants or even your walkway – sooty mold will appear.

It’s futile to try removing the existing mold on leaves, but you can prevent it from appearing on new ones. Get rid of the insects. You’ll get rid of the mold. Shop your local garden center for insecticides labeled for the target insects. If mold occurs on ornamental plants, I prefer products containing systemic insecticide/fertilizer combinations. If applications are begun early in the season, you may prevent insect and sooty mold infestations all summer long.

Sooty mold will not kill your crape myrtles. However, the black film does interfere with exposure to sunlight, which is essential to photosynthesis. Repeated infestations can weaken your plants.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

My creeping phlox died. What, if anything, can be done?

Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata)

I planted creeping phlox in May. I lost some within the first few weeks. I figured I would loose a couple, however every one of them died. I'm not sure why they died, the flower bed has a sprinkler system and it waters early morning and late evening. I thought phlox was a hearty plant. What, if anything can be done? Thank you!

I'm sorry to hear that your creeping phlox didn't survive. You said that they were watered twice per day. I'm sure your phlox drowned.

The soil condition for Phlox subulata should be well-drained to dry. The sun exposure should be "full sun." You didn't say whether they were planted in full sun. Should you think about planting phlox again, make sure they get full sun. You'll also need to reduce the irrigation significantly. Otherwise, I recommend you consider groundcovers that will tolerate moist soil and partial shade.

Lysimachia, for example, thrives in full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 3 through 10 in moist soil. Because it needs consistent moisture, partial shade is recommended in the hottest climates, though heat itself is not the issue. Recommended soil pH ranges from 5.6 to 7.5.

Acorus gramineus thrives in moist to wet soil in partial shade to full shade.

Carex grows in wet to very moist soils but prefers evenly moist, well drained, loamy, sandy or clay soils. It may tolerate shallow standing water for awhile, but never dry soil. Depending on the species, they like partial to full shade. Some tolerate full sun.

Mazus reptans produces blue or white flowers. It is cold hardy in USDA climate zones 4 to 9, thriving in consistently moist soil in full sun to partial shade. Some protection from the sun is appreciated in very hot climates. Recommended soil pH is 6.1 to 8.5. Plants spread rapidly, rooting as they go. Small, plug-like portions can be dug and re-planted elsewhere.

These are but a few suggestions. I hope this helps.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Must-Have Plants: Blue Pacific Juniper

Juniperus conferta 'Blue Pacific'

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): Juniperus conferta 'Blue Pacific', Shore Juniper.

Flower Color: Not applicable.

Bloom Time: Not applicable.

Foliage: Evergreen, blue-green, needle-like.

Height/Spread: 6 inches to 18 inches x 36 inches to 48 inches.

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

Sun Exposure: Full sun.

Soil Condition: Well-drained to dry, average to poor, pH 5.1 to 7.8.

Features: Drought tolerant, deer resistant, salt-tolerant.

Uses: Xeriscaping, massed planting, ground cover, erosion control, coastal gardens.

Comments: Juniperus conferta 'Blue Pacific', also known as Blue Pacific Juniper, is a big improvement over the well-known Shore Juniper because the height is shorter and foliage color is better. Blue-green foliage is needle-like. Mature height is 6 inches to 18 inches. 'Blue Pacific' spreads to 48 inches.

'Blue Pacific' prefers full sun in USDA climate zones 4 to 9. Average well-drained garden soil is fine. It adapts to a wide variety of soil types and pH levels, and is salt-tolerant.

Juniperus conferta 'Blue Pacific is an excellent ground cover solution for medium to large areas. It performs well in coastal gardens, and dry, sandy soils. 'Blue Pacific' is superb for erosion control.

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Monday, July 6, 2015

Leucojum - White Violets of Spring and Summer

Leucojum aestivum in Peaches Garden

Leucojum species, members of the Amaryllidacea family, are native to Europe, the Middle East, the Caucasus region, but you will find them naturalized almost everywhere. L. vernum is hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9. It blooms late winter to early spring. L. aestivum is hardy in climate zones 4 to 9. It blooms late spring to early summer. Of the two, L. vernum is shorter, growing 6 inches to 12 inches height. L. aestivum grows from 12 inches to 18 inches.

Leucojum comes from Greek words "leukos" and "ion" meaning "white" and "violet." The Latin word "aestivum" translates "summer."  "Vernum" means "spring."

"But," you might say, "they're not violets." True, if you're thinking of Viola species or African violets. But, African violets aren't Violas, either.

By now you've learned I like to study names (onomatology), wondering why things are dubbed so.

Apparently, Leucojum was named "white violet" because there was a time when "violet" was applied to many adorable plants and daughters. Peter Lauremberg (26 August 1585–13 May 1639) aka Petru Laurembergius, in Apparatus plantarius: de plantis bulbosis et de plantis tuberosis, opined, "Vox Violæ distinctissimis floribus communis est. Videntur mihi antiqui suaveolentes quosque flores generatim Violas appellasse, cujuscunque etiam forent generis quasi vi oleant."

Not knowing much Latin, I went to Google Translate which rendered: "The voice Violets distinctissimis flowers is common. It seems to me the old sweet-scented flowers men generally Violas appealed, irrespective of the kind that would force oil." There you have it. However, not even that ended my wonderment.

There's also the issue of common names. L. aestivum goes by Summer Snowflake, Dewdrop and Snowdrop. L. vernum is called Spring Snowflake and St. Agnes Flower. Why these?

Galanthus species are also called Snowdrops. Leucojum and Galanthus (meaning "milk flower") bloom near the same time and they do look somewhat similar, therefore that may explain the shared names.

So, when Wordsworth wrote,

"LONE Flower, hemmed in with snows and white as they
          But hardier far, once more I see thee bend
          Thy forehead, as if fearful to offend,
          Like an unbidden guest. Though day by day,
          Storms, sallying from the mountain-tops, waylay
          The rising sun, and on the plains descend;
          Yet art thou welcome, welcome as a friend
          Whose zeal outruns his promise! Blue-eyed May
          Shall soon behold this border thickly set
          With bright jonquils, their odours lavishing               
          On the soft west-wind and his frolic peers;
          Nor will I then thy modest grace forget,
          Chaste Snowdrop, venturous harbinger of Spring,
          And pensive monitor of fleeting years
!" - To A Snowdrop,

there's no telling which he was musing about.

Why St. Agnes Flower? Probably in memory of Agnes of Rome (c. 291 – c. 304), a virgin–martyr, patron saint of chastity, virgins (traditionally females, but not necessarily so), holy innocents of both sexes, gardeners (who are always pure in heart), engaged couples (men and women who should be chaste until their weddings), and rape survivors.

Tiffany, in her Family At The Foot Of The Cross blog, wrote, "Some people refer to snowflakes as St. Agnes flowers because she holds a winter feast day." Snowflakes are usually considered to be pure, until they touch the ground. Leucojum seldom bloom as early as the Feast of St. Agnes (21 January), but if you look into an open Leucojum flower and use a little imagination, you'll see the shape of a snowflake.

Voilà! or maybe Violà!

Plant Leucojum bulbs in full sun to partial shade, in slightly moist to well-drained garden soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8. Planting hole should be 4 inches deep or 2-1/2 times the height of the bulb. Space the bulbs 4 inches apart.

Leucojum species are good for cutting, bulb gardens, perennial borders, container gardens, rock gardens, naturalizing, theme gardens, shade and woodland gardens.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

How can I attract more birds to my yard?

How can I attract more birds to my yard? Can you recommend the best bird feeder for that purpose?

Since all birds don't eat the same food, I recommend a feeder that presents a diverse menu or several feeders containing different offerings. Bluebirds, for example, primarily eat insects, larvae and small berries. They also may eat suet with peanut butter. Woodpeckers love suet, fruit, insects. Finches love niger. You get my drift. You will find all kinds of bird feeders at

You shouldn't rely on bird feeders alone to attract more feathered friends. You'll do well to improve the habitat around your property.

There are four things good habitat requires:
  • Food
  • Water
  • Shelter
  • Cover
Bird feeders, of course, provide food, but you should also consider landscaping with plants that do so.  Ilex, crabapples, Eastern red cedar, Vaccinium and Viburnum are good fruit sources. Vines such as Campsis provide nectar. Perennials such as Achillea, Asclepius, Coreopsis, Echinacea, Mondarda, Rudbeckia, and Salvia provide seed or nectar.

Bird baths help provide water, but so do rain gardens and shallow ponds. Drippers and misters also attract various species.

Bird houses provide shelter, but so do dense trees and shrubs. Many of the food plants provide shelter. Also consider providing yarn, left-over cotton and linen cloth for nesting material. I've seen birds make off with wads of dog hair left in the yard.

Cover has more to do with providing safe places from predators. Bird houses don't always do it, as anyone who has found a snake in her bluebird house can attest. Again, dense shrubs and trees that are somewhat out of reach provide roosting places. Thorny plants such as roses and blackberry thickets act as deterrents from predation.

So, you can see there are many ways to attract more birds. As a bonus, you will find other wildlife species will also be attracted to the habitat you create.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Hopelands Gardens - A Remnant Of The Gilded Age

Camellia japonica at Hopelands, Aiken, SC

Scattered throughout the South are historic winter retreats of the Gilded Age where wealthy northerners have come to exploit, rest and play. Drawn by some salubrious attractions, the rich and famous have established enclaves for their pleasure and left their mark. One such is in the city of Aiken, South Carolina.

Aiken was incorporated in 1835 at the Savannah River terminus of the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company's line, and named for the company's first president, William Aiken (1779 - 1831). As a seasonal resort for millionaires, it became home to the Aiken Winter Colony in the late 19th century. Among its well-heeled families were Vanderbilts, Harrimans, Astors, Pinkertons, Graces, Hitchcocks, Whitneys, Bostwicks, Eustis, Goddards and Iselins. The community was so popular that a direct rail line was established from New York to Aiken.

Life was tough for everyone during the Great Depression and World War II, but not so difficult for the Winter Colony residents that they couldn't establish two horse racing centers. The Aiken Mile Track was built about 1935 or '36 for training and racing trotters. Subsequent infield tracks were added for hurdle racing and steeplechasing. The Aiken Training Track was established in 1941 around what is probably the country's oldest polo field. No doubt the tracks contributed to Aiken's continued prosperity. Aiken continues to be a training ground for "the sport of kings."

The Winter Colony attracted the attention of William Goddard (1825 - 1907), a decorated Yankee Civil War hero from Rhode Island. After graduating from Brown University, he traveled internationally gaining experience in manufacturing and mercantile businesses, and carrying secret dispatches to American allies oversea. He and his brother Thomas established Goddard Brothers working as agents for textile mills owned by their uncles. Goddard Brothers grew to be an important management firm. William went on to become the president of Providence National Bank, and Chancellor of Brown University.

Goddard gained a reputation for his yachting prowess. He was a founding member of the Narragansett Yacht Club.

William Goddard bought property in the Aiken Winter Colony and named it Hopelands, like his other large estate in Warwick. Hopelands in the South was in a fine neighborhood. He was all about hope.

Rye Patch, the winter home of Edmund Pendleton Rogers (1882 - 1966) and his wife, Dorothy Virginia Knox Goodyear Rogers (1896? - 1980) was right next door. Even their names strongly hint of American enterprise and shoulder-rubbing with nobility. The Goddards often stayed with the Rogers when wintering in South Carolina. Goddard saw how much his daughter Edith Hope (1868 - 1970) enjoyed their stays, so he gave his property there to her upon her marriage to Charles Oliver Iselin (1854 – 1932). The New York Times effused “Hope Goddard Engaged to C.O. Iselin, Well-Known Yachtsman to Marry Heiress of  Millions.”

Charles Iselin was a banker and a member of a wealthy family. He grew up sailing near Long Island, New York in difficult little boats prone to capsize. With that experience, he excelled to become "one of the greatest American Yachtsmen of his time, participating in and winning six consecutive America’s Cup races." No doubt, his love of sailing and more drew the attention of William Goddard, and his daughter's.

Charles and Hope married and made their home at the Iselin New Rochelle estate - All View - where he docked his yachts "Defender’’, ‘’Reliance’’ and ‘’Columbia’’. Hope became the first woman to serve
Edith Hope Iselin
as a crew-member of an America's Cup yacht.

Hope outlived her husband.

Sailing with Charles was not Hope's only sporting interest. She was also an avid equestrian and loved the "sport of kings." She supported horse racing in Aiken.

The home in South Carolina must have seemed like a cabin in the woods compared to her magnificent mansions up north, but she loved it. Hope took care to landscape properly with the influence of Frederick Law Olmstead, the architect who designed Central Park, Druid Hills in Atlanta, and other great American landscapes. Olmstead was the Iselin's personal landscape architect. She probably enjoyed watching guests from her porch enjoying her gardens. She could stroll easily to the her stables and equestrian venues.

If you visit, you'll see the old house no longer exists. It was razed according to the terms of her bequeathing the property to the City of Aiken. I asked a docent why. He had no idea, but opined that the home needed extensive repairs. Perhaps she wanted to spare the city the expense of fixing it. Her gardens remain.

With history in mind, you should visit Hopelands Gardens. The appreciation of a place makes it stand out in one's experience.

Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum

Right after after walking into Hopelands, you'll see the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum, "Home of Aiken's Racing Champions." Keep in mind it's not a memorial to all the great race horses of the world, but if you want to delve deep into the history of horse racing in Aiken, South Carolina this is your place. Housed in a former stable, it is truly amazing. Once you're drawn in, you will be ready to mount a horse, start looking for a bookie, or buy a souvenir.

Live Oak (Quercus virginiana). Hopelands, Aiken, SC

Hopelands is gracious. Wide paths curve beneath century-old live oaks and among impressive specimen shrubs such as camellias, hollys and tea olives. In summer, concerts are performed on a stage near one of the ponds.

Performing Arts Center. Hopelands, Aiken, SC

Strolling through the garden, one can't help but muse about what life must have been like here during the Gilded Age. Hope Goddard would be pleased to know that her gardens are still enjoyed by all who visit.
Pyracantha. Hopelands, Aiken, SC

Pansies in terra cotta. Hopelands, Aiken, SC

Espalier arch. Hopelands, Aiken, SC

Hopelands, Aiken, SC
Greyhound sculpture. Hopelands, Aiken, SC
Pond and amphitheater. Hopelands, Aiken, SC

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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Aloe vera is turning brown.

My mother gave me some Aloe vera she had grown on her window sill. I read it will take full sun, so put it on my patio. It's slowly turning brown. HELP!

Aloe vera will grow in full sun, but apparently it was not getting so much on her windowsill. When transitioning such plants from shade to full sun, it's best to do so gradually so they harden off. If yours haven't spent too many days in the sun, I suggest you treat them to afternoon shade for a few weeks before moving them back to the patio.

If you live in USDA climate zones 9 through 11, you can even plant aloes outdoors in a cactus garden. They're excellent for xeriscaping.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Junipers turning brown.

I have a lot of juniper ground cover and have a problem of them turning brown after having been in ground for 2 plus years. What can I do? 

You need to know the source of the problem before you can remedy it. Here are a few things to consider.

First, your Juniperus species might not be getting enough water. While it's true that junipers are generally drought-tolerant, gardeners often rely too much on drought tolerance, and neglect watering when necessary. There is a point of no return. If junipers show drought stress by exhibiting dull, dry foliage, it's already too late to save them. By the way, the same is true of most conifers.

Second, your junipers might be suffering from a pest infestation. Mite and bagworm populations can easily increase to the point that they kill host plants. Miticides (also known as acaricides) might be effective. Follow label instructions. The best way I've found to control bagworms is to identify the bag-like cocoons early on, remove and destroy them. The cocoons are easy to overlook. They're covered with brown twigs and resemble small pine cones.

Third, your junipers might be afflicted with a type of canker. These diseases are caused by fungi that enter plants through wounds. Affected plants are often already under stress for other reasons. Dying branch tips and weeping wounds are notable symptoms. Fungicides are seldom effective. The best course of treatment is to remove the diseased plant portions. If the disease is advanced, remove the plants and replace them with another species not affected by canker. Fungal spores will continue to be present in the soil.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Large black worms attacking in large numbers...

1st instar larvae on Vitis rotundifolia

Help again? I was checking the vines this morning and there are small black worms attacking in large numbers the leaves of the scuppernongs and muscadines.  I would assume this is some sort of moth or butterfly larvae, but cannot find suitable information on the internet.  Any ideas would help.  I hate to attempt to get rid of them with the wrong pesticides if I have to use them at all.

They might be Hyalophora cecropia , 1st instar phase. I can't tell if the ones in your photo are as "hairy" as the ones in the links below.

The reason they don't show the coloration and size that you might see in photos of the big, green caterpillars is due to their immature phase.

I don't think you need to bother getting rid of them. More grape leaves will appear. They won't denude your vines. There are probably enough predators to keep them in check. Some type of BT dust might benefit.

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

When I Returned to Mt. Hope Cemetery, Bangor, Maine

Mt. Hope Cemetery, Bangor, ME

The calendar read "spring", but the weather felt like winter when I returned to Mt. Hope Cemetery, Bangor, Maine in late March. The low was 9 degrees Fahrenheit the day before. Some locals thought the weather was warming; others disagreed. If it was mud-season, it was only around the edges. The Penobscot River looked pretty solid to me.

Penobscot River near Mt. Hope Cemetery, Bangor, ME

Having visited Mt. Hope Cemetery when the lilacs were blooming, it seemed bidding in a strange way to visit when the weather is harsh and the landscape bleak. Except for the fact that Mainers know how to keep the roads cleared, it was bleak, indeed.

Gate post. Mt. Hope Cemetery, Bangor, ME

The gateposts looked grayer.

2nd Maine Memorial

The 2nd Maine Memorial death angel seemed more ominous.

Superintendent's Lodge. Mt. Hope Cemetery, Bangor, ME

I imagined the occupant(s) in the Superintendent's Lodge preferred to be left alone.

Receiving House. Mt. Hope Cemetery. Bangor, ME

The Receiving House (aka "Death House") suddenly made sense to me, for it is the repository for those who die in winter to be kept chilled until the frozen soil is soft enough for grave-diggers to plunge their shovels into the cold, cold ground.

Actually, I don't know if the Death House is still used. Modern machines have been invented that can bust through concrete, and powerful pumps can keep water out even during mud season.

The grove formerly covered with bluets was nearly inaccessible.

Memorial Fort. Grand Army of the Republic. Mt. Hope Cemetery, Bangor, ME

I drove to the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Fort to take a closeup picture of it in the snow. I hadn't stepped more than a yard before I sunk to my knees in snow. I wished I'd thought to bring the snowshoes I'd learned to use two days before.

Stone bridge. Mt. Hope Cemetery, Bangor, ME

I took pictures of the "fort" from afar, and also images of ducks, the stone bridge, and the omnipresent crow.

After filling my shoes with snow, I didn't range far. I photographed several views of the Mount.

Station House. Mt. Hope Cemetery, Bangor, ME
I captured a couple of images of the Station with its intricate ironwork where mourners - mostly women - stepped off trains to grieve or celebrate before ceremonies commenced.

After leaving the cemetery, I parked beside the road for pictures. Frankly, it's difficult to enjoy a great view of the Penobscot River from the road. There are guard rails, passing vehicles and denuded trees.

Upon returning to my car, I gazed again at the Mount Hope Cemetery Station and remembered that death is an occasion for grief and/or celebration. It depends, I suppose, on the perspective and hope within.

Mt. Hope Cemetery, Bangor, ME

Mt. Hope Cemetery, Bangor, ME
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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)

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): 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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