Monday, August 31, 2009
Fall, glorious FallIt's September again and my Lowcountry garden is just awakening from it's summer stupor. Summer in the lower south can be brutal, (not unlike a bitter February in the Midwest.) There are often daily storms, unbelievable humidity and mosquitoes the size of Rhode Island. People and plants find it a difficult time of year. It is much easier to enjoy fall, winter and spring in South Carolina. Fall has always been my favorite.
You hear and see a lot about springtime in the south. That's when they shoot the movies and travel videos and many writers have waxed poetic about it. Everywhere you look the view is splashed with azaleas of every shade from purest white to the deepest red with hot pink predominating. There are purple wisteria panicles seemingly dripping from tall pines. Yellow jonquils and blue scillas are but a few of the bulbs that grace our gardens. The whole picture is softened by a multitude of white dogwood blossoms but it is still overwhelming with color and scent. The scent of a Magnolia grandiflora is both light and heady at the same time. Traffic slows to a crawl in the spring as tourists flock to see this admittedly amazing spectacle. However, those of us who live here know spring can be a fickle and fleeting beauty. Heaven on earth can quickly turn to hades seemingly overnight.
Winter is usually lovely with the camellia japonicas reliably blessing us with the most amazing flowers on full shrubs with the deepest of green shiny leaves. I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite cultivar and there isn't an easier plant to grow around here. Hellebores also prefer the cooler months and it is always a surprise to find their nodding flowers. It can be damp this time of year and even *feel* cooler than you might feel in colder parts of the country but the temperature is usually mild and every time you think it can't be any colder it turns out to be 65 and sunny the next day. Perfect gardening weather.
But fall, beautiful fall, is when I feel most connected to the garden. The hellish hot nights have yielded to temperate evenings and the plants love it as much as I do and show their appreciation by bursting forth with new growth. Plant metabolism part re: hot nights
The colors are different; perhaps it can be attributed to the different light as the sun lowers in the sky but they seem deeper and richer almost sensuous in their lushness. If I did my job and pruned well around the Fourth of July, the perennials will be at their best. Roses, which have languished over the summer are waking up. The flowers are larger and brighter than they have been inmonths and the foliage seems to be more resistant to the usual rose related problems like black spot. Tropical flowers like Hibiscus rosa sinensis, tend to fade badly in the heat. By September however they are significantly deeper in color and the flowers often last several days at a time. The gingers are at their lushest, the citrus fruits are showing their colors and the bottle brush (bot name) which has bloomed sporadically throughout the year is at it's best and the branches are so heavy with flowers they are practically touching the ground. The salvias are lush with flowers and they have filled in all the bare spots in the garden. I can't imagine what sage honey would taste like but there must be a lot of is as the honey bees love those plants.
Crape Myrtles provide a consistent show of fall color in their leaves for us. We do not often get the blazing colors on other deciduous trees that many parts of the country get but sometimes we do and it is always magical to see a brilliant maple, sometimes adorned with lacy spanish moss, among the towering palmettos.
It is time to change out the birdfeeders and put the millet away and bring out the thistle. The Painted Buntings are about to leave for warmer climes and the Gold Finches are beginning to show up at their winter digs. I have been blessed with hummingbirds year round most years. I always make sure to have plenty of deep throated red flowers like the Bouvardia ternifolia or Jatropha integerrima for them. These plants bloom reliably most of the year for me.
The butterflies proliferate in late summer and by September you can't look at the garden and not see many, many. They love the fresh supply of flowers and new leaves on their host plants. I tend to share willingly with them even sacrificing an oleander now and then to the beautiful moth. As I look out at my cassia (?) this afternoon the sulfurs are flitting all over it laying their eggs. When the bright yellow flowers finally open it will be hard to tell them from the little yellow sulphurs.
All of this makes for some very pleasant gardening. Because the soil is reliable warm it is the very best time to plant. Roots on trees and perennials have plenty of time to develop and stretch out before a plant goes into dormancy. The temperature is not too hot so new growth won't burn so easily. This is also the time when we can plant some annuals like snapdragons, pansies, calendulas among others. They like to get started in the fall and while they bloom well then, they truly shine in the early spring before the temperature goes sky high. Sweet peas go into the ground before Thanksgiving as they too prefer a period of cold. If your vegetable garden gasped during the worst part of the summer now is the time to plant another crop of early ripening tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and beans. Fall planted brassicas like broccoli, cabbage, kales, etc. love the cooler weather.
The watermelon and shrimp festivals are all over but ones celebrating the fall fruits like apples and seafoods like oysters have replaced them. The very best garden tours take place in the fall when you can see a mature plants. It is truly a bucolic time of year in the south. It feels so good you just have to go out and pull those weeds with a smile on your face.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Dogs in the gardenDoes you dog help in the garden? Having been blesssed with a wonderful and enthusiastic "digging and tail wagging machine" in the past I couldn't wait to teach my present dog, Boolie, a thing or two about our back yard. Sadly, he has no inclinations in this area, in that regard he sort of takes after my spouse I am afraid.
It is not all bad however. Boo's favorite passtime is to run hell bent all over the property including through the planted areas. He weighs about 60 lbs and can really get going. A friend was astonished recently when she noticed that although he was going at top speed he managed to miss all the plants with those big feet of his. He doesn't have a set path but bounds in whatever direction strikes his fancy.
He also loves collecting the sticks I have pruned and delights in keeping the very best ones to chew on. Like any good dog, he loves golf cart rides. We live in one of those neighborhoods where everyone has one. No, we are not golfers but the carts make wonderful trailers for a garden wagon full of weeds, pine cones and stray branches. As soon as I start piling clippings, etc in the wagon Boo heads for the cart to wait until my wagon is full. He then sits proudly and smiles at all we pass on our way to the neighborhood yard waste dumping spot.
You can't help but love Boo's cute silliness but I often think of my dearly departed Chipper, the gardening dog. Poor Chip was always in the dog house for digging holes in inappropirate places. One day as the whole family, myslef, my husband, two young sons and my 80 year old mother, trying to dig out some smilax vine, I noticed how intently Chip was watching what we were doing. Just for the heck of it (we were getting tired and goofy) I asked him if he wanted to dig and showed him a particularly tough root. Lickety split, he started digging and promptly had the root out. We were amazed and he was as proud as a pup could possibly be. After that we would cut back the vine, show him where the root was and let him go to town. With the dog's help we managed to clear several acres of that nasty vine in just 3 weekends.
He also learned to dig where I asked him in the garden making it easy for me to plant new material. It seems to give him some ownership and the plants became part of the family he carefully protected. This sweet boy also liked highly scented flowers and was frequently seen smelling the roses. What we could learn from our pets!
One day he was acting like Lassie and indicating I should follow him. Not knowing what he was trying to tell me I followed quickly. He led me to a neighbor's mailbox where there were some newly planted chrysthamums. Whether he just recognised that they were new or maybe he wanted some for our garden; we'll never know but it was an eye opener for me to realize how much he understood about his surroundings.
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