Sunday, August 27, 2006

Flower Children Need Love, Too

Henry Shaw was an Englishman who moved to St. Louis, Missouri in the early nineteenth century and later became instrumental in establishing the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Shaw never married. His real love was his garden. A story is told that a lady visitor was amazed that he could remember so well the names of the garden’s rare plants. “Madam,” he is said to have replied, “did you ever know a mother who could forget the names of her children? These plants and flowers are my children. How can I forget them?”

Well, sad to say, if my flowers were my children, I’d probably be hauled into family court on the grounds of neglect.

There are, fortunately, a few late summer bloomers that can take the heat and my periodic negligence. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is one of my favorite summer flowers with dusty pink daisy-like flowers that start blooming in mid-spring and keep right on into the fall. The dried flower heads bequeath hundreds of seeds that can be left to self seed or harvested and started in flats for next year’s bed. Go ahead and get them started now. Don’t wait until spring.

Shasta Daisies (Chrysanthemum X superbum) inhabit another corner of my side bed and are still going strong now in late August. Shasta daisy is a member of the Asteraceae family and is a hybrid created by Luther Burbank in 1890. The name “Shasta daisy” is said to come from the fact that the clean white petals of the daisy reminded Burbank of the snow on Mount Shasta in California. This cheerful, sun-loving, long-lasting daisy has white petals surrounding a yellow center atop sturdy stems that make it great for cutting. Leucanthemum ‘Becky’ was named the 2003 Perennial Plant of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association. Like the coneflower, it starts blooming in spring and will last into fall. Just give it sun, regular water, and keep it groomed. It will reward you with years of beauty.

Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida) is yet another popular, sun-loving perennial that makes a good cut flower. It tolerates poor soil and drought and blooms from summer into fall across a wide range of climates. ‘Goldsturm’ grows about three feet tall and was honored by the Perennial plant Society as the 1999 Perennial Plant of the Year.

Autumn Joy Sedum must be one of the hardiest plants in my garden and, though we don’t get the bright flowers that appear in cooler climates, there are flowers still, and this sedum is certainly worth growing for its foliage. There are hundreds of plants in the huge and varied sedum genus. Some are low-growing. Others are upright. Most are succulent with thick, fleshy leaves. The best thing about the sedums in my garden, I think is the fact that in the deep, dreary winter when the garden is bare, you happen upon a pot of them and already the new baby plants have begun their spring journey.

Salvia leucantha, or Mexican Bush Sage has tall, deep purple flower spikes that don’t show up until late in the summer. It’s worth the wait, however, and this handsome tender perennial graces gardens from the upstate, where it’s not likely to survive the winter to Charleston, where it probably will. In my salvia madness period in early spring, I bought a pot and left it on the west side of the house where it doesn’t get much water. It’s hanging in however, and will burst forth any day and last until frost. I might have sheared it back a few times during the summer to get lusher blooms.

So, at least my more resilient flower children have nearly made it through another Aiken summer that seems to be getting hotter as we plow into September. Maybe when it cools off I will become a more attentive mother.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Aiken's Weather Suits Tung to a T

Aiken city horticulturist Tom Rapp tells me he had several problems when trying to replace the Bradford Pear trees planted up the Laurens Street Hill near Aiken's famous fountain. Bradford Pears, though quite eye-catching, tend to split as those trees did, so he didn’t want to plant more of them. Bell South had a large line under the planting strip and recommended that the city not plant any big trees there.

Tom searched for something unusual that would be attractive, fairly drought tolerant and hardy and that could take whatever stress might come from standing so near the street. Aleurites fordii, or Tung Oil tree, was his pick, and that it what is planted there today. Though they look a little scrawny now, they promise to spiff up that spot come spring.

According to Floridata, a website that gives in-depth information about many flowers, trees and shrubs that grow in Florida, Tung Oil trees grow best where summers are long and hot and temperatures are consistently warm day and night throughout the growing season. Aiken sounds like the perfect spot.

The Tung Oil tree is a spreading round-crowned deciduous tree that should grow to about twelve to twenty feet tall. If you’ve ridden by, you can see the leaves are large (3-5 inches) and heart shaped. In the spring, before the tree leafs out, we can expect to see creamy colored blooms, growing in clusters.

After they’re pollinated by honeybees, the female flowers develop into two to three inch round fruit that contains nut-like seeds. The oil from these seeds is used as a waterproof coating for wood and as a drying agent for paints and varnishes. It has many other industrial uses.

Tung Oil trees like slightly acidic soil, thoughthey will tolerate a wide range of soil types.

All parts of the tree, especially the fruit, are toxic.

Like the Bradford Pear, this Tung Oil tree promises a handsome display to announce the arrival of spring.

On a visit last year at the home of Gloria Farmer, mother of well-known South Carolina horticulturist Jenks Farmer, Jenks cut open a Tung Oil fruit to show the valuable seed inside.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Not So Far from the Madding Crowd

St. Thaddeus Church and the churchyard surrounding it stand between busy U.S. Highway 1 and a spot that is, for nine months a year, the Mead Hall school playground. It doesn’t sound like a spot you would go for quiet meditation. Nevertheless, it is a peaceful place. Old live oak, cedar, and magnolia trees tower over dogwood, camellia, an assortment of colorful annuals, perennials, and an historic graveyard.

Some of the graves and some of the trees in the churchyard predate the Civil War. The flowers are new, however, and for this our congregation can thank the efforts of Tim Garvin. Tim spends hours of his time all year, tending these beds, experimenting with plants that will thrive in conditions that are sometimes less than ideal.

Soft purple Mexican petunia waves its willowy leaves along the drive.

Bengal tiger canna dances behind the brick wall.

Melampodium blankets the bed near the ramp that leads to the front doors.

Friday, August 04, 2006

By the Sea, By the Sea

You can drive from Aiken to Folly Beach, South Carolina in less than three hours. Only one stoplight slows you down after you get out of town, through Salley and North, past Bull Swamp and onto I-26 north of Orangeburg. It's a peaceful ride, skirting downtown Charleston and across the wide and easy James Island connector, out Folly Road to the Island.

Sea birds, outboard motors, and a violent Saturday night thunderstorm were just about the only sounds we could hear from the deck of the condo that overlooked the Folly River.

Oleander, not native to the area, but very much at home here, lines the causeway from the mainland, as it lines many of the roadways near the southeast coast. Other wildflowers catch you eye as well, if you risk jumping out of the car for a quick shot.

Can anyone identify this dainty pink flower I found growing beside the road?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

'Spellbound' has me Spellbound

I shot a quick photo of the 'Spellbound' Rose blossom before we left town on Friday and it and the remaining blooms succumbed to the heat. This is a perfectly beautiful rose I added to my garden this spring and so far it's been quite happy there. 'Spellbound' is a hybrid tea with thick satiny petals and delicious coral blossoms. So far it's been resistant to black spot and keeps coming back despite the heat. The weather this week, with temperatures hovering around 100, will put it to the test.