Thursday, September 18, 2008

This is the last weekend of summer, 2008

We know it by the calendar, but our senses also hint that season is winding down. The sunlight falls at a different angle through the kitchen window, the Chessers’ dogwood is sporting its first blush of red, and the birds are quieter, their chirps replaced by the occasional pop of a wisteria seedpod setting seeds for spring. And, best of all, it is blessedly, blissfully cool.

One of best things about writing a garden column in a small town is the contact it gives you with lots of people – people you see often and people you’ve never met. They call you and invite you to come by and look at their unusual plants, or send you a photo by email or snail mail.

The past few weeks yielded a bumper crop of those kinds of contacts. One call came from New Ellenton. Like me, June Cofer is a plant collector. Less concerned with design and more interested in finding interesting plants, she and her husband have a huge garden filled partly with vegetables – she was harvesting the last of the peas when I arrived – and partly filled with unusual plans she’d purchased, been given, and in many cases, dug up.

The promise of a clump of Coral vine was the thing that tempted me to the Cofer’s garden in the first place. Coral vine is an annual or perennial vine, depending on how the winter treats it, that is evergreen in warmer climates where it may become invasive. Here it will die back in winter and, if mulched and protected a little, will reappear in spring with a mass of delicate pink flowers and arrow shaped leaves. “Give it something to climb on,” she warned me. “It grows a lot over the summer.”

Though Ms. Cofer’s Coral Vine had no flowers, my friend Linda Christine knew where there was one blooming and took me to Gem Lakes to see it. The Shealy’s garden in Gem Lakes is abounding in color now, and the Coral Vine, buzzing with bees, made a lush cover over the trellis where it was planted.

Mrs. Cofer had other plants she wanted to share that I would have loved to take off her hands if I could - a healthy loquat tree, a sprawling Angel Trumpet.

It’s Angel Trumpet time now. Kathy Walker, also of New Ellenton, sent me a photo of her Angel Trumpet, taller the roof of her house.

I don’t know if there’s a more beautiful, more elegant flower than the easy to grow Angel Trumpet. Like hydrangeas of early summer, we can’t let fall go by without at least acknowledging its presence. We whacked it down to the ground after the freeze killed it last winter. Then, with the first warm days of spring, shoots begin to emerge from the mass of roots. By now, it’s gigantic, with fragrant, trumpet-shaped blossoms dangling from its branches.

Lisa Roberts sent me a photo of another plant on steroids she has growing in her front yard. She’d purchased the seeds for Castor Bean at the Pascalina Herbe Faire in the spring and said she felt like Jack that planted the Beanstalk. The plants are already twice the height of her 6’2” son with burgundy palm-shaped leaves and fuzzy seed pods that are a great contrast in shape and texture with many other late summer flowers and foliage plants. They grow from seed fairly easily. Just be careful. They are quite poisonous.