Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Atlanta May Not Have Water, But It's Got the Varsity

“It’s hard to imagine civilization without onions,” said Julia Childs. Spaghetti Sauce, pot roast, enchiladas, potato salad, cornbread dressing, the list goes on for miles. Onions are a staple in our diet, no doubt about it.
Allium cepa, the common garden onion, is consumed at a rate of approximately 21 pounds per year per person in the United States, and a half cup of chopped, raw onion contains one gram of fiber and 5 milligrams of vitamin C. What more delicious way to ingest those necessary nutrients than in an order of that great comfort food - fresh, hot Varsity Onion Rings?
Having made the three hundred mile round trip to Atlanta three times in the past three weeks (one funeral, one wedding, and a reunion) Hank and I felt that a trip to the Varsity was the least we could do for ourselves.
The Varsity, we are sure, is as much a part of our shared family tradition as Thanksgiving dinner or church on Sunday. My parents went to the Varsity on dates, when chili dogs were two for a nickel, long before it became necessary to negotiate the harrowing, ever evolving, mass of interstate highway that surrounds downtown Atlanta.
My daddy would take us there when we were kids, and we’d eat in the car, since only old men and Tech students ate indoors. He was very particular about the condition of his cars. “This car will smell like a weenie joint for a week,” he’d complain. But it was worth it, even to him. As a teen-ager I made more than one spin around the parking lot in a souped-up Chevrolet, and Hank and I went there on a few dates ourselves.
So, we went on Friday, and enjoyed once again together the unmatched flavor and perfect texture of a Varsity Chili Dog and side of Rings. It was just as good as we remembered.
Since I moved away from Atlanta, I’ve noticed that there are certain topics that seem to be on everyone’s mind at any given time. For years that topic was the fearsome, eternal traffic. Traffic that was getting bad when I lived there forty years ago, is now nearly intolerable.
There’s a new worry on everybody’s mind these days. That is the problem of water. “We were supposed to get four inches,” my Uncle Jeff said, when we stopped by for a visit. The sky was already growing lighter on a day that was to have been filled with thunderstorms. “Instead we only got a half inch, if that. It’s the worst drought since 1931.”
There are water restrictions so intense that neighbors turn each other in, and if you dare appear to be extravagant, you risk having your water turned off with a thousand dollar fine to have in turned on again.
Aunt Faye, a dedicated gardener, has maintained the small garden of their condo with efficiency, having saved the latest advice from Georgia’s garden guru Walter Reeves, and having come up with some ideas of her own. She passed the paper along to me.
“Make better dirt when you plant and dig deep,” says Reeves. The soil’s moisture is more constant the deeper you dig, and you should amend the soil around your new planting with plant matter.
Spread a double thick blanket of mulch. “Stay away from hockey puck sized nuggets,” he said, “and stick to mulch that’s more finely textured.”
And, speaking of mulch, here’s a hint from the Terminix man I talked to a few weeks ago. Cockroaches, or as we South Carolinians say, “Palmetto Bugs” are attracted to many kinds of mulch that we use near our homes, taking a thick blanket of pine straw or pine bark as a welcome mat to come on inside, BUT they don’t like cedar mulch. So he advises, if you’re planting near your foundation, use cedar.
Aunt Faye plans to work some type of “water grabbers” into the soil around her pansies when she plants them. I’ve had good luck with these in potted plants. I expect they’d work the same in the ground, though it might get expensive if you have a lot of plants.
I’ve also heard many people talk of using dishwater or shower water, if you have a way to capture it, to water plants. It seems a good idea, and I can’t find any advice against it. One thing I read said that dishwashing liquid won’t affect the pH, but that detergents from the clothes washer might and that it might be illegal to water with what’s called “gray water” anyway.
I expect be the time we make that trip over I-20 again, the leaves will finally have changed and fallen off, and North Georgia will, I hope, have come up with some long term solution to its water shortage. Georgia’s problems should be an object lesson for us. We are fortunate here in Aiken to have a good source of water, but it is not endless. As gardeners, we must consider more sustainable, adaptable garden practices. As citizens we need to be sure that our state’s and city’s growth is planned around the resources available to us.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

You Can Take A Ride Around Aiken's Old Downtown

“At the request of Major Alex Black Ag’t of the S. Carolina Canal & Rail Road Company we have surveyed and laid off 27 Squares or Blocks in the Town of Aiken bounded on the North by Edgefield St., on the East by Williams St., on the South by Rail Road Avenue and on the West by Newberry St, as in the above plat represented – This 19th September 1834.”
(signed) Cyril O. Pascalis
(signed) Andrew Alfred Dexter

And so Aiken was born. The plat that Pascalis and Dexter, two of Aiken’s resident engineers, refers to shows twenty-seven neatly ordered rectangular blocks, lined up in three rows of nine, where the first residents of Aiken would build homes and shops and around which our beautiful, vital city would soon grow. The outer perimeter of the city went from South Boundary on the south, Charleston Street on the east, North Boundary (now Hampton Avenue), and West Boundary (now Florence Street). The railroad ran down Railroad Avenue, now Park Avenue. The streets were one hundred fifty feet wide and lots, which we would call city blocks, were four acres. Could those first citizens have ever imagined what good things would come of Aiken in the next one hundred and sixty-three years?

To get an idea of the size of Aiken in its infancy, you can take a short drive around the perimeter of those twenty-seven blocks, starting in front of the Washington Center at 124 Newberry Street, a relatively new building that stands comfortably beside the century old Aiken Club Room and Court Tennis Building.

Stop at the lights that cross Richland Avenue and continue north past St. John’s Methodist Church. This active and ever growing church has been doing the Lord’s work here in Aiken since before the turn of the century (the last one).

Continue up Newberry and before you turn right on to Edgefield Avenue, have a look north. It’s peaceful vista with wide parkways and comfortable homes that very likely hasn’t changed much over the past century.

Turn right onto Edgefield Avenue and continue as far as you can. At Kershaw Street, you’ll come to the sprawling campus of Schofield Middle School, another of Aiken’s historic sites.

The Schofield Middle School website tells us that Martha Schofield, a young, determined Quaker lady from Buck’s County, Pennsylvania came to Aiken following the Civil War in order to help educate young Negro children. With help from the Society of Friends and others throughout the state, she was able to have begun one of the most important schools for Negroes in South Carolina. The original building here was completed about 1870. There were sixty-eight students and a total of three staff members. Schofield has grown considerably since then and has recently been renovated into an attractive modern building that sits on grounds that cover several of Aiken’s original twenty-seven blocks.

To get around the school, turn left onto Kershaw Street, then right onto Abbeville. When you reach Williamsburg (called Williams in the original plat) turn right and you’ll be back on the perimeter road. If school’s out, on the weekends or after 3:30, you can stop and have a look at the park and Wetlands project established several years ago on the grounds of Schofield Middle School. Listen for the bullfrogs and watch other tiny frogs skitter across the pond abounding with water lilies and purple flowering pickerel weed.

Continue south on Williamsburg, crossing Richland Avenue. On your left, you’ll see the Aiken Farmers Market, bursting with activity if you happen by on a Saturday morning. When you reach Park Avenue, called Rail Road Avenue in the original plat, you’ll face the railroad track and remember that, like many towns across the country, the railroad was in large part responsible for Aiken becoming a town.

Ride several blocks and look to your right and you’ll notice something new growing out of the old Aiken setting. Five new, beautifully landscaped Charleston type houses invite folks to sit a spell on a side facing porch, originally designed to catch the sea breezes that blew in from Charleston harbor.

Keep driving, past the old caboose and railway cars that are soon to be part of the Aiken Depot project and you’ll come to the first of several blocks of shops and galleries. If you’re lucky you’ll encounter Bill Jackson in his beautiful and ever evolving garden. You can stop and look in, through the wrought-iron gate and notice the outstanding collection of Japanese maples and unusual sculpture that could be at home in any big city.

You can’t see the train for much farther here. A railroad cut that takes it below street level was completed in 1852.

Keep going and you’re almost done. Pass more magnolia filled parkways and stop for a minute to look south at handsome St. Mary’s Catholic Church and then at the Aiken County Courthouse and the monument to the Confederate dead that stands in front of it.

Now past the antique shop and the Chesser building and you’ll find yourself back at the Court Tennis Building, one of only eight active Court Tennis courts in the country.

These twenty-seven blocks, still identifiable after over a century and a half after they were first laid out, remind us of Aiken’s artistic and educational and agricultural and horticultural and religious heritage and why I think those first Aiken citizens would still be happy to call Aiken, South Carolina “home.”

Friday, October 05, 2007

All You Ever Wanted to Know about Naked Ladies

“In the South, fall comes like a second spring, but with decidedly tropical overtones…It’s as if a gentle breeze from Africa had blown into the garden to awaken the inhabitants. This rich and rewarding season includes a surprising number of bulbs,” says Scott Ogden in his book “Garden Bulbs for the South”, published in 1994, with a second edition in February, 2007.

Take a ride around town or into the countryside and you might spot a row or a patch of one of the bulbs Ogden tells us about. Lycoris radiata is the botanical name of this handsome red flowering, fall blooming bulb that reminds us of the native azalea, with its long, feathery stamens. The stems are graceful and slender.

In his book, Ogden goes into great detail to explain to us the origin of this handsome flower. In the South, he says, they were long referred to as Guernsey lilies because of the similarity to another lily, Nerine sarniensis, that is said to have washed up after a shipwreck onto the island of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands between England and France, where it thrived.

Our Lycoris radiata is quite a different genus altogether. Nerine lilies are better as cut flowers, but don’t grow well in America. Lycoris, on the other hand, is quite comfortable in our hot, southern climate.

“Lycoris,” by the way, he says is correctly pronounced LYcoris, if we are alone or among botanists, but that we would probably say liCORis if we want to be understood around other gardeners.

As for the preponderance of names for this handsome flower, we shouldn’t call it “spider lily” lest it be confused with Hymenocallis or Crinum, so we must call it “Fall Spider Lily.” It may be called “Hurricane Lily” since it often comes into bloom during hurricane season, or, since the Lycoris come into bloom without accompanying foliage, it is fancifully and properly, and, I suppose, uniquely called “Naked Lady.”

Studies performed by geneticists found that the old Southern Lycoris, probably itself an import, is a triploid, meaning it has an extra dose of chromosomes. This gives it tremendous vigor and hardiness, but also makes it sterile. After World War II, commercial growers in Japan began supplying American dealers with Lycoris at inexpensive prices. They are fine bulbs, says Ogden, and the flowers of the diploid types come into bloom a few weeks earlier than the triploid. If you’re lucky enough to have both types, you may have Naked ladies around your garden for a month.

We can plant Lycoris radiata in well drained slightly acidic soils (perfect for Aiken), in a woodland garden among trees or in borders of shrubs or in full sun, though full sun can cause premature withering of the delicate flowers. All Lycoris like soils enriched with leaf litter and humus. If you are fortunate to have some of the old garden varieties passed along to you, you may plant them in soil with more clay. Five to seven flowers appear on each stem, and after the flowers have withered basal leaves appear and deteriorate by the following summer.

Divide Lycoris in spring and don’t be surprised if they take a year off before blooming again. Naked ladies can be persnickety.

There are several similar species of Lycoris: golden spider lily (L. aurea), white (L. albiflora), salmon/orange (L. sanguinea). Another close relative, (L. squamigera) has more typical lily-like flowers that are light pink.

You can get Lycoris radiata bulbs now at Cold Creek Nursery here in Aiken. Plant them now and you should have flowers next year, but remember to mark them. The strap like foliage that comes up unattached to any flower might fool your highly efficient yard man into thinking it’s a weed. He’ll whack it, and you know the rest - no leaf, no photosynthesis. No photosynthesis, no flower. It, I am sad to say, has happened to me.

Finally Fall

Aiken is blessed with a number of good nurseries that offer handsome, healthy plants for our fall planting. One of them, Woodlanders offers many unusual and sometimes rare perennials, vines, shrubs and trees. I stopped by the nursery the other day and saw at least a dozen plants I was dying to try. At the top of that list was a vine called Evergreen wisteria. If I’d heard just the common name, I’d probably have stomped the thing to death, since I have spent the last twenty years trying to get wisteria out of my yard and wouldn’t think of introducing another Wisteria. Fortunately, Woodlanders never leaves us with anything so common as a common name, and I found that this plant isn’t another evil cousin in the wisteria family, but a more mannerly Milletia reticulata.

This Milletia is a vine that has beautiful deep purple flowers that bloom about now on racemes that resemble those on Wisteria and leathery dark green compound leaves that stay on through the winter. It has twining stems that grow twelve to fifteen feet or more and needs good support. It also needs full sun and regular watering. It is hardy down to zero degrees.

I can’t find anybody with a bad thing to say about Milletia reticulata, though I think it’s good to remember that it is not native to this area, but to China, and that probably when people first planted Wisteria here they didn’t know how invasive it would become. In any case, it’s a beautiful plant for a late summer show.

Years ago when I visited a Spring sale at Woodlanders, I asked Robert McKintosh, one of the nursery’s founders, if he could just buy one plant, a perennial, not a tree or shrub, what would it be. He answered without hesitation, “Lobelia Cardinalis.”

Lobelia Cardinalis (wasn’t there an Italian movie star with that name?) or Cardinal flower, as it’s also called, grows in clumps one to three feet tall, with tubular flowers that are the reddest red in your flower bed.

It’s a plant native to North America from New Brunswick west to Minnesota, and south to central Florida and eastern Texas. It grows in moist meadows, bogs and stream banks, so it needs moist soil and will even tolerate flooding, but not drought, in full sun to partial shade. If you grow it in ordinary garden soil, keep it watered.

Among the best things about this flower is that it’s pollinated by the ruby-throated hummingbird, and I’m told they are attracted to it in droves.
If you end your spring or fall planting season with a garage full of empty black plastic nursery pots that look like they will outlive the planet, recycle them! Woodlanders asks us to put our recyclable pots inside the gate on Beaufort Street. Cold Creek Nursery and Palmetto Nursery will take them also.
Sam Stephens at Palmetto Nursery has snapdragons ready, as well as lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, collard, and onion plants. Pansies will be ready about the second week in October.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Christines' Heavenly Garden Offers Many Scenic Views

I paid a visit to the Kalmia Hill garden of Linda and Sam Christine the other day. Even though I visit several times a year, there's always something new to see.
Sun coleus invites you to stroll in, past the old iron bed Linda found at the dump and painted blue

Duranta Erecta - Sky Flower, Pigeonberry or Golden Dewdrop, dies back in winter the resprouts in spring

Clerodendrun Ugandense - Blue Butterfly Flower also dies back in winter, but so far has survived our Aiken temperatures (zone 7)

Pineapple Lilies

Stargazer Lilies

And a pot of purple

A Love of Gardening Should Be Passed Along

My Grandmother Remelle Wilhite
My mother taught me many things. She taught me how to fry chicken and bathe a baby and make a prom dress and many other necessary skills that I’ve been doing so long I forgot where I learned them.

She did not, however, teach me but one thing about gardening. When I bought my first twelve pack of pansies to plant in the three by three foot square of red dirt next to our apartment in Stone Mountain, she suggested I work in some “woods dirt” from my grandmother’s yard to improve the soil. The hard red clay was not likely to inspire my pansies to perform at their best she said. It was a valuable lesson, but it was the only lesson.

Though she would attack indoor dust and dirt with inspiring vigor, she did not like to get dirty outside. She planted hydrangeas along one side of the house in Decatur and climbing roses across the back fence and that was all. Whatever foundation plantings came with the house when we moved in when I was thirteen were only replaced once in the thirty-five years my parents owned the house.

Her mother, my grandmother, on the other hand, must have enjoyed gardening, and shared her pleasure in it with me. She had lived most of her adult life in the city, but was not far off the farm, and, after my grandfather retired, she moved with him to Stone Mountain when it was still rural Georgia.

I remember digging potatoes with her in a small field where the soil was enriched by the chicken manure from my grandfather’s chickens, and I can see myself and one or two cousins dunked in a bath of something lethal, to get rid of chiggers after a morning spent picking blackberries on land that stood between her house and Stone Mountain,. In an old photo, taken at a family gathering in the early fifties, I can pick out canna and aspidistra near the mortared granite pillar beside the porch, and in one of her letters, she mentions planting “hollyhawks.” In another photo I have on my desk, taken when she was in her seventies, my grandmother stands smiling under an arbor of lush, pink roses that she must have tended herself.

I have one brother who started gardening late in his life and only after he had been married for some years to a Tennessee Farm Girl who had to explain to him exactly what "compost" is.

Now he understands what compost is, AND the importance of horse manure, and even better, when it comes from you own horse. So every year this brother, who grew up in the same household with the same mother as I, puts in tomatoes, pole beans, turnip greens (he has finally learned to love them in his mid 50's) and swaps them with neighbors and friends for watermelons and cantaloupe.

Nothing like your own garden, he writes. Nothing like your own "stuff" just to give to friends, eat for yourself or "put up".

Then another brother, the youngest, says the only gardening advice he remembers is, "You’d better get that grass cut by the time I get home." By the time he got old enough to hold a hoe, our grandfather had died and our grandmother had moved to a smaller house where there was no potato patch.

I always wished that my children and their children could have the experience of spending time on a farm as I did, but we’re city folks so they must settle for a bit of a garden where they can find it. My grandson and his parents and little brother have just moved into a new house in Florence with a lush, green yard. The house came neatly landscaped with manicured shrubs and a tree or two, but over in one corner, up against the back fence, is a rectangle of bare soil that measures about three by seven feet. The first thing three-year-old Aiden showed me when we visited a few weeks ago was this spot. It was nothing but a patch of dirt at the time, but he got out his “shuggles” and began to dig, moving the dark PeeDee dirt from one end of the plot to the other.

This weekend we planted a garden in Aiden’s corner. It’s a heavenly place, with Sunflowers, perennial and annual, Moonflowers, a few watermelons, and seeds for pumpkins. I think, as enthusiastic as I was about the plants, he would just as soon have spent his time digging, but, when the moonflowers start to bloom, I’ll read him Jean and Peter Loewer’s beautiful book, Moonflower, that tells the story of a moonflower vine and all the night creatures that are drawn to it, and I’ll be sure that he notices when he wakes up one morning to find that the yellow flower at the end of the watermelon vine has become an egg shaped green fruit.

“How long until Aiden's big enough to lift a fifty pound bag of pine bark?” asks my youngest son, just to be sure I don’t get too serious about this issue. “Uncle Dave is ready to turn over that piece of his childhood to the next generation.”

Maybe a love of gardening runs in families, like twins or red hair, but isn’t bestowed on everyone equally. Or, maybe, it’s more like Aunt Bessie’s silver tea service - a family treasure.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Some Roses to Take the Summer Heat

While our hybrid teas and polyanthus are taking a breather during the hottest part of the summer, there's another rose blooming now, not of the genus Rosa, that revels in the heat. That is the Rose of Sharon, also called "Althea." The name comes, I suppose, from the Rose of Sharon referred to in the Old Testament's Song of Solomon. Though there are, I read many flowers thought to be that rose, Hibiscus syriacus is the one to which the name stuck. It's also called "Althea."

‘White Chiffon’ Althea or Rose of Sharon is blooming now in the back bed. ‘White Chiffon’ is a relative of the old Rose of Sharon shrub that used to bloom in your grandmother’s garden, but so much better. With flowers that resemble those of cousin tropical hibiscus, which won’t survive our winter, these Hibiscus syriacus hybrids are hardy to -15ºF. They are also deer resistant, and heat and drought tolerant. They are deciduous and may be heavily pruned in late fall or early spring. The varieties offered by Proven Winners other than the Chiffon series include the Satin series- Blue, Blush, Violet, and Rose.

‘White Chiffon’ has delicate, 3-inch single white flowers with lacy centers, almost camellia-like. It will grow from six to eight feet and spreads to six feet. There is a pink variety called ‘Lavender Chiffon’ as well.

Besides its wide open appearance, this Hibiscus has other differences with the old-fashioned Altheas. The older varieties were notoriously invasive, since they bore hundreds of seed pods which were easily spread by birds and then sprouted willy-nilly all over the country. In addition, the spent blossoms would fall from the shrub and leave a sometimes slippery mess. Some folks considered it a weed.

‘White Chiffon’ is a hybrid that shouldn’t even be propagated without a license, so it won’t be included in the next edition of Passalong Plants, and it shouldn’t take over your perennial bed.
A walk around the block shows me that I’m not the only one to have discovered this great midsummer flower. ‘Lavender Lady,’ still bearing her label, is blooming now in the garden of a neighbor. It is more nearly pink than lavender, with a deep maroon center and pronounced stamens that beg for the attention of passing hummingbirds. There are other varieties as well. The Chiffons are available at Cold Creek Nursery.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Another Good Reason to Live in Aiken

There is no more perfect time of year, I think, than these gardenia-scented days of June. The promise of a bouquet of fresh blue hydrangeas and creamy white gardenia blossoms beside a bowl of peaches, still warm from the stand, is what keeps us going through the dreary days of February.

Once warm weather arrives, it’s always a fun to see what handsome combination of plants city Horticulturist Tom Rapp has come up with for the parkways and beds around Aiken. He has so much territory to cover these days, he has to choose plants that are reliable, drought tolerant and pretty showy as well. Imitating Tom’s beds is a safe bet when choosing plants for our home gardens.

Aiken’s signature fountain this year has two annuals to grace the feet of the laughing children who stand for eternity beneath the umbrella at the corner of Laurens Street and Park Avenue.

Against a backdrop of boxwood that stays there year round, Tom planted Pink Dragonwing Begonia and Alternanthera ‘Purple Knight.’ In this and other city plantings, the bed begins with a fresh layer of Bricko Farms’ soil conditioner called ‘Aiken Mix.’

Dragonwing Begonias are a cross between Angelwing begonias and the old wax begonias that have been a staple of our partial shade gardens for years. Dragonwing has glossy green, wing-shaped leaves and flowers in red or pink. It will grow in full sun but will thrive in part sun as well. It grows eighteen to twenty-four inches tall with an eight to ten inch spread. Plant it in a bed, like the one around the fountain, or in a pot.

Alternanthera, the foliage plant in the fountain bed, is just one of about eighty plants in the genus with the same name. Many of them have become popular lately as accompaniments to their flowering brethren. This particular alternanthera, with purple, metallic foliage, appears to be a vigorous grower and may want to engulf its bedmate if not kept in check.

Tom has also interplanted chartreuse potato vine with the begonias in some of the other beds, for an appealing effect.
You may also see around town another species of alternanthera. Low growing Chartreuse Alternanthera is a great accompaniment to many summer annuals and perennials. The plants grow in a compact mound, from four to eight inches tall and six to twelve inches wide with small linear shaped leaves. It is sometimes called “Joseph’s Coat” owing to its many colors. Unfortunately, it shares that name with another colorful plant, Amaranthus, so landscapers use its botanical name.

Landscapers call this Alternanthera an “echo plant” because it tends to enhance or echo other colors, making them appear more vibrant. A favorite of the University of Georgia Trial Gardens in 2004, it is, they say, a favorite addition to container gardens and hanging baskets, where it spills over the side like froth from a bubbling stream. Joseph's Coat is actually an heirloom plant that was popular in the Victorian era when formal gardens were in vogue. Today, thanks to the introduction of several exciting new cultivars from Mexico and South America, there is renewed interest in the plant. It is an excellent plant for today's busy gardener because it provides season-long color while requiring little routine care.

‘Red Threads’ has deep burgundy colored foliage that is almost grass-like, with narrow leaves. ‘Summer Flame’ has multicolored foliage in pink, white, and green with a broader leaf. Both prefer full sun and are low growing.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Tomatoes and Freewill

Our neighbor, Richard, is an interesting person. As a dermatologist, he spends his days warning people of the damage brought on by too much time in the sun. As a gardener, he know that the good tomatoes he craves must have plenty of sun to produce the sweet, red, juice-running-down-your-chin tomatoes we expect from our back yard gardens.

Despite the efforts of the tree-trimmers that the power company sent to massacre the live oaks on his side of our street, in the name of protecting our power lines, or maybe because of it, Richard found one spot sunny enough to support his tomato plants – smack in the middle of his front yard, between the driveway and the street. So he dug up the tired old azaleas and in their place set his tomato plants.

Ever the inquisitive gardener, Richard further researched and built a self watering contraption in which to plant his tomatoes. It is sure to provide them with that other necessary element – plenty of water.

He then had hauled in a truckload of the compost the city sells that they make from the yard waste they collect around town, put down a layer of newspaper, and he gradually spread the compost across the bed, where he planted more tomatoes and peppers.

In these days of neighborhood covenants and deed restrictions that would give some people apoplexy at the thought of tomatoes in the front yard, Richard has struck a blow for independence I admire - though he yielded eventually to that most persuasive covenant – the marriage one. At the request of Richard’s wife, the workmen came Friday and planted a row of pickets that hides the vegetable garden. But I know it’s there. From the window where I sit at my computer I can see over the fence the tops of the tomato plants, stretching for sun, and my mouth is watering already for that first real taste of summer.

To find out how to build Richard’s self-watering tomato planter, go to www.josho.com/Earthbox.htm

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Aiken has a great variety of trees and even greater variety of people

According to an interview on ETV’s Road Show, Aiken has such a variety of trees that it has been declared an arboretum. These trees not only give Aikenites something different, or even exotic, to see, but also give them the opportunity to watch the Memorial Day parade in the shade.

Aiken has, within a four-mile radius of downtown, one of the best tree collections in the southern United States. Twenty-five years ago, when Robert and Julia Mackintosh and Bob McCartney first established Woodlanders Nursery on the grounds of an old house of Colleton Avenue, they began planting new and unusual trees on some of the nearby parkways. A few years later, with a $10,000 grant from the South Carolina Forestry Commission and a matching grant from the city, they worked with the Aiken Parks Department to establish Aiken’s citywide Arboretum project.

The grant paid for a dedicated computer and an intern who labeled trees at Hopeland Gardens, Rye Patch, Odell Weeks, and the Arboretum Trail. The Arboretum trail begins at a slash pine beside the library on Colleton Avenue, where there’s a box containing a brochure that lists the names of and information about each tree. It continues for seven blocks to Marion Street. At Marion the trail turns back, winding through the wide parkways and crossing over itself until it ends at a Strawberry Tree on Park Avenue.

There are eleven species of oak on the trail, five different pines, ordinary trees such as Dogwood, Sweet Gum and Crape Myrtle, Eastern Red Cedar, valued for its wood used in cabinetwork and cedar chests, and the graceful Deodor Cedar. There are several Magnolias. The Saucer Magnolia sends out extravagant blooms on bare stems every spring, making us wish we’d made room for it in our patch of garden, and no southern arboretum trail would be complete without a Southern Magnolia.

There are a few hollies, a Pecan and a Redbud along the way, as well as Osage Orange and Honey Locust. There’s no Palmetto Tree, but there is the slightly hardier Windmill Palm.

A total of 48 trees are listed in the walk brochure, but Bob has continued to plant trees around town anywhere he can find the space and a reasonable belief that the trees will be cared for.

City horticulturist, Tom Rapp, has “branched out” in his choices of trees for Aiken’s public places, too. Chinese Pistacia trees, relatives of the edible pistacio nut tree, are planted in the Laurens Street Parkway. They produce attractive hanging blossoms in the summer and nice fall color.

Last fall, Tom removed the Bradford Pears near the corner of Laurens Street and Park Avenue and replaced them with unusual Tung Oil trees. After a rough spring, the trees are beginning to leaf out and should add yet another bit of interest to our treescape.

Not far from the end of the arboretum walk, beneath the shade of a crape myrtle tree, we witnessed a great Memorial Day parade. We honored those who served and those who fell. Included were veterans from World War II, Korea, Viet Nam, Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom and other actions. Some vets were undecorated, some highly decorated and one was a Medal of Honor recipient. We don’t all agree on the wisdom of the wars, but we honored all the veterans with cheering and applause.

The crowd watching, as well as the crowd of participants, included people from different backgrounds and different age groups. There were many native to our town, and people, like us, who have lived here thirty years and feel like natives. There were newcomers, too, who must have felt right at home.

Where else could one band play “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” receive enthusiastic acknowledgement, followed by Confederate Re-enactors marching to “Dixie”? And no one seemed to catch even a hint of irony. Good for us. There’s room for everyone here in Aiken.
I’ll bet there are more kinds of people in Aiken than there are varieties of trees here.