Thursday, May 20, 2010

Down the Garden Path called I-20

I hit the road with some gardening buddies a few weeks ago for a tour of a few gardens around the state. We left home at 7:30 in the morning, traveling east toward our first stop, a private garden in the Pee Dee, where Beech Island native, Jenks Farmer is curator.

Now you can imagine that a private garden that has its own curator is a pretty wonderful place, though it is hard to imagine how the sandy flat soil, good for growing tobacco and soybeans, could ever host such a breathtaking ornamental garden.
Carnivorous pitcher plants, ablaze in chartreuse and red, grow near the farm’s offices. The bog garden is fed with water collected in a cistern on the building’s roof.

Jenks is partial to bulbs, and a meandering path through the garden takes you past spent narcissus and burgeoning iris and crinum lilies oversewn with multicolored Toadflax. There are dozens of places to sit and ponder around this garden, many with a view of the pond. Purple Louisiana Iris frames the view from one spot, Spider lilies frame another. Pomegranates were in flower this day.

Take a seat under the thatched roof of the tea house and swing awhile in the swing that’s as comfortable as a sofa, or move along to the gazebo, where, if you’re lucky like we were, you happen upon Botanist John Nelson, the USC professor who writes the “Mystery Plant” column in the Sunday paper. Dr. Nelson sat a spell with us to explain what he was doing with some plants he was collecting (pressing them in a homemade press he had with him) and to tell us all about the A.C. Moore Herbarium at the University where he studies and teaches.

The $10 fee that’s collected from the folks on this tour – you can give more in you like, goes toward support of the herbarium. Like Dr. Harry Shealy here in Aiken, Dr. Nelson was quite the raconteur and we left his company reluctantly, in time to eat lunch and move on to our next stop, Pearl Fryar’s garden in Bishopville, South Carolina.

If you travel over I-20 between Columbia and I-95, you’ve probably come within a mile of Pearl Fryar’s amazing topiary garden. Take a left off the main road, down an ordinary street, with neat ranch style houses and well-kept yards, and you come to Pearl’s place. Fryar got his start, the story goes, back in 1984, when he decided he wanted to have the yard-of-the-month in Bishopville. He began sculpting a few evergreens near his front door and he liked the result.

Today he has at least 145 trees and shrubs in the garden surrounding his home. They are as intricate and expressive as any sculpture, made all the more impressive by the modest man who created them. There’s even a movie about him, “A Man Named Pearl” and he has addressed audiences as diverse as a garden club at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the local elementary school in Bishopville. His work has been exhibited at Spoleto and the State Museum, and a story about him appeared in Newsweek Magazine.

South Carolina has dozens, maybe hundreds of private gardens from the mountains to the sea that exhibit the iconoclastic creativity and imagination for which South Carolinians are often known. Some of those gardens are open to the public all year (Fryar’s is open Tuesday through Saturday). Others, such as the first one we visited, are open only a few times a year and by invitation only. Both these gardens have websites with plant lists and more information about how to get an invitation if you want one.

Pearl Fryar’s garden is a preservation project of the Garden Conservancy, an organization whose goal is to save and preserve America’s exceptional gardens for the education and enjoyment of the public. His is the only South Carolina garden in that group. Elizabeth Lawrence’s Charlotte garden is the only other one nearby. He is in pretty fine company.

The Garden Conservancy sponsors Open Garden Days in twenty-one states across the country, mostly in regions other than the southeast (Charlotte and Raleigh have Open Garden Days in September).

Maybe Southern gardeners consider everyday Open Garden Day. Like Pearl Fryar or Aiken gardener Linda Christine, we love our gardens and we want other people to love them too. People who tour gardens aren’t likely to steal the silver or write graffiti on the garage wall. Still, it might be nice to dedicate a few days when we know it’s OK to ramble through your neighbor’s rose beds. What do you think?

Click to learn more about the first garden we visited
Click to find out about Garden Open Days and the Garden Conservancy
click to see photos of Pearl Fryar's topiary

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I guess Hank and I are just getting old. I’m not sure what we used to do for fun on a weeknight, but nowadays, one of our most pleasant and relaxing evenings are spent watching British mysteries we order from Netflix. Many of them have confusing and complicated plots that you can barely follow without taking notes. One Hank likes, “A Touch of Frost,” is a dark and gritty police detective drama set in Leeds. Another one I like is about two women named, cleverly, Rosemary and Thyme. One is an amateur sleuth and the other is a plant pathologist. There are, of course, lots of plants, and plant problems to be discussed amidst the whodunit drama and the setting, always some lush, scenic English garden, is better than a travelogue. “Midsomer Murders” is another favorite with great scenery.
Hank’s greatest favorite has just returned to Masterpiece Theater on Sunday with new episodes. It’s called “Foyle’s War” and tells the story of a police detective in the south of England who is constantly called on to solve some murder or other. The female character is Foyle’s War also has a lovely name – in real life, she’s called Honeysuckle Weeks.
Now somebody named Honeysuckle Weeks sounds like she could be from Aiken, even though she is clearly quite British. We have a lot of Weekses around here, and we have a lot of Honeysuckle. So now do you see where I’m going with this?
Japanese Honeysuckle is in full bloom right now around town. It’s the plant we remember fondly from our childhood, but the plant Dr. Jeff Priest, in a class I took from him once, called only “Bad Plant!”
The fragrance of Japanese honeysuckle evokes memories of spring and walking barefoot and holding hands and sucking the drop of sweetness from the fuzzy corolla. How could it be that bad?
It was introduced into this country in the 1800’s as an ornamental vine and for erosion control and eventually escaped into the wild across the country. It is most abundant in the southeast where it is considered a “pernicious weed” that is almost impossible to control. Though there are wholesale nurseries around the country that supply Japanese Honeysuckle to retail outlets, it still has maintained a bad reputation with conservationists.
Perhaps because of the relative size of its leaves and flowers, the Oriental interloper doesn’t seem nearly as treacherous to me as say, Wisteria or Kudzu or Water Hyacinth. I’ve never seen a barn or a mule swallowed up by honeysuckle (actually I’ve only heard that about the mule and the kudzu). I’ve never heard of Honeysuckle clogging up a waterway. And I’ve never had honeysuckle choke out a perfectly good tree, though I’m told that it can.
The genus Lonicera contains about 180 deciduous or sometimes evergreen species of bushy or climbing shrubs, many of which are less invasive than the Japanese variety. It was named by Linnaeus after Johann Lonitzer, a German naturalist. They are usually grown for their masses of trumpet shaped, perfumed flowers.
A mannerly choice for Aiken gardens is our native honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens or Coral Honeysuckle, so named for its coral color blooms which resemble those of its Japanese cousin. It will withstand our winters, sometimes even putting forth a bloom when our landscape is otherwise gray and bare. It will grow is in dry shade but thrives in rich, moist soil in full sunshine, and will grow to twenty feet or so.
Several years ago I planted a yellow variety of the native honeysuckle named “John Clayton” on the fence that is crowded with ivy and Virginia Creeper and roses. It’s always sent out growth, but never flowered. This year, the growth is even thicker, but miraculously it has chosen to bloom, quite beautifully. “John Clayton” was found on the grounds of historic seventeenth century Abington Church in Gloucester County, Virginia and was named for the colonial botanist Rev. John Clayton of Gloucester County.
Woodlanders Nursery, where I got “John Clayton,” says it is a compact repeat bloomer selected by the Virginia Native Plant Society, a favorite vine for mailbox posts or small garden arbors.
There appear to be many cultivars of Lonicera sempervirens, and some claim to bloom longer than others, all are quite lovely though, and I think Dr. Priest would never call them bad.
Another good honeysuckle for Aiken gardens is Gold Flame Honeysuckle or Lonicera heckrottii. It is a vigorous vine which grows 15 to 25 feet but can also be pruned back to form a dense shrub 4 to 6 feet round. It has long, very fragrant 1 1/2 inch coral pink to purple flowers with a pale yellow inside that more closely resemble Japanese Honeysuckle.
So now I am thinking of changing my name. How does Honeysuckle Elder sound? Or maybe I should just get a cat. Honeysuckle would be a fine name for an orange tabby.
click to read about Foyle's War and the Real Honeysuckle Weeks

Thursday, April 29, 2010

First Rose of Summer

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Banksia Rose

Both White and Yellow Banksia Roses bloom on the same bush! Because of someone's long ago goof, we can enjoy both flowers at once.
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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Bird man?

Enjoying an Easter Egg Hunt with our grandchildren at The Church at Sandhurst in Florence, SC, I spotted this birdnest in the low branches of a crepe myrtle. The nest looked like a bird had made it, but there was a pliable branch woven around the nest and branches that appeared to be holding it in place. Could any kind of Coastal Plain bird have made such an intricate arrangement? Was somebody giving the bird a hand? Was it an elaborately conceived Sunday School lesson?
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