Savannah Garden Diary

May 7, 2008

Purple and Blue


My favorite Lobelia, ‘Crystal Palace.’ Unfortunately, it won’t take the heat of our summers, so it is with us only briefly.


The bog has turned from yellow to blue because the Iris pseudacorus is over and the purple pickerelweed (Pontaderia cordata) is in full bloom. It’s not really purple. It’s a clear blue. A few deep blue Siberian iris add to the blueness.


And the bees love it.

Verbena bonariensis in full blow. It will soon get untidy and need trimming. It’s a pity more of the California poppies behind it are not still out. That’s a pretty spectacular combination.

May 6, 2008

Sweet Peas

Filed under: In bloom now, Vines — Tags: — karen @ 9:57 am


Sweet peas in full flower. And they are VAST–about 10 foot tall. I don’t think I have ever seen them as tall as this. It must be the cow manure I dumped on the veg garden last fall.


April 29, 2008

Spring Colors

I finally finished this over the weekend. This dragon guards the entrance to the vegetable garden. It was once much bigger and it was once a fountain (long story). Now, it merely guards the water feature. (What do you call one of these overflowing pots with a reservoir under the gravel?) I’m not sure whether the colored aquarium gravel tastefully echoes the color of the dragon or is merely tacky. There a still a few bits and pieces I need to tidy up.
Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ will fade to a fairly ordinary green by midsummer, but it is a lovely color at the moment.
The first water lily blooms in the pond, surrounded by white nymphoides. It’s a bit early this year. We don’t count on water lilies until June.
Pontaderia has burst into flower in the last week. As usual, the blue color is washed out compared withe the original. I also have a few white pickerelweeds. The bog is supposed to be full of purple irises–Siberian irises and Iris pallida. I think, however, that I. pallida doesn’t like to be as wet as that. It doesn’t look happy, so I have hauled it out of the bog and planted it as a marginal and we’ll see how it looks next year.
‘Souvenir de la Malmaison.’ This is my idea of what a REAL rose should look like. All those cabbagey overlapping petals.
I simply love this chartreuse variety of Tradescantia, which I acquired over the winter. I don’t remember the cultivar. It looks particularly good with the turquoise cinder blocks of the yaupon holly planter! This photo doesn’t do justice to the very deep purple of the flower.

April 21, 2008

Pretty in Pink

Amaryllis ‘Apple Blossom,’ one of Coz’s leftovers. I have all too many red amaryllis, so I cherish the pink and white varieties. Of course, if I didn’t move most of the bulbs every year, they might have a chance to multiply. I find that when I buy a new bulb, it takes a year or two to get established and bloom. Some of the red ones have 6 flowers on a stem. My newer white ones are lucky if they produce three.
The sweet peas are very sweet this year, but what I want to know if why they are all pink? At first I thought the blue and purple ones must be later bloomers, but it’s been a month now and still no sign of them. Maybe I inadvertently bought 2 packets of the same variety. (From Territorial Seeds?) It’s a mystery. Better luck next year.
I think this is Tulipa clusiana. It has pink stripes outlining each petal, which don’t show up properly in this color-challenged photograph. It is exceedingly gorgeous, with the disadvantage that the flowers are very short-lived, perhaps because our springs warm up too rapidly.
I think I am finally getting the hang of pruning Knockout roses. This is Pink Knockout. The surprising thing about this particular plant is that it never gets full sun. It is in dappled shade under the pergola. It is doing much better than Red Knockout which is in full sun in the jasmine bed. When I realized how little sun this one was getting, I decided to move it into the sun, and then it puts on this show… What to do?

April 8, 2008

Pond and Bog

At Spring Fling I sort of promised that I would post about building the pond. I’m also still mulling a desultory conversation about creativity. I said something along the lines of my creative outlet is gardening because I’m no good at design. Which didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to the audience and, when I thought about it, didn’t make a lot of sense to me either. I realize, however, that a garden is always a work in progress, so my designs progress by trial and error, which seems to be the only way I can achieve anything that satisfies me.

Design Considerations
marsh in January
Our back garden is constrained by our view of the marsh. Here it is at its most beautiful in January. (The neighbor’s dock house collapsed in a January storm, so that is no longer there.) The garden has to be over, under, or to either side of the marsh view; it can’t be in the middle. (Except for the palmettos. When we removed the trees from the middle of the garden, Thom wouldn’t let me take out any palmettos, so there they remain in their uncompromising solidity, to be worked around.)
After the patio was finished, here’s what we had: one palmetto trunk, a path from the patio to nowhere, bare spots in the lawn where trees were removed, and the vegetable garden, which was sited in what was the only sunny spot in the garden when we first moved in. (The bird feeder is at the left of this photo. Despite its concrete anchor, Thom knew he was going to have to move it because a particularly agile squirrel had learned how to jump onto it from the palmetto.)
It was obvious where the pond had to go. Borrowing madly from every pond I had ever admired and wise words in various books, I wanted a beach, a viewing area, water deep enough for lotuses, hiding spaces so the herons couldn’t eat all the fish and, most of all, a bog garden reminiscent of a ditch in Okefenokee Swamp, my probably favorite place on earth. Here are a few shots from Okefenokee:
Golden club (Orontium aquaticum) and water lily (Nymphaea odorata) in Chase Prairie.
Water lily and nymphoides from the boardwalk.
Ferns and a pitcher plant (I think it’s Sarracenia minor) by the boardwalk. While my imitation of an Okefenokee ditch has been modestly successful, I do not have a pitcher plant. My bog is not a true peat bog and all pitcher plants are endangered, so I haven’t dared to try one.


With the help of a backhoe rented from Westside Rental for $275 for 3 days, I dug the hole. It wasn’t exactly the shape or size I had imagined. While there are no rocks in our sandy soil, I encountered mega roots. A better backhoe driver than I could probably have gotten them out. I just worked around them, leaving some odd ridges in the pond where none had been planned. The pond isn’t as deep as I had planned, either. This was the fault of rapidly approaching summer. I wanted to have something to show for my labors before summer heat took over, so I sacrificed depth. As with all such compromises, I shall have to pay for it with many hours dredging muck out of the pond so that it doesn’t become any shallower.
The next step was to put the liner in the pond, put some water in it, and find out where the banks are too low. Probably the most difficult bit of designing a pond on even the slightest slope is ensuring the edge of the liner is more or less horizontal so that water doesn’t flow out of a low spot. Never cut off so much as a millimeter of the liner until the pond has been full of water for a month. (Everyone does it, and everyone regrets it.)

You can see here that the bog/ditch is going to be a horseshoe-shaped thingy around the east (left) end of the pond. Opposite it will go the viewing patio (which is partly laid). The beach will be in the upper left, and a low wall on the right will prevent everything washing into the pond from the path to the patio. Two of the necessary piles of rock are shown here. In addition, there are 2 pallets (how do you spell that?) of pea gravel and 5 tons of “river rock.” (The pallets wouldn’t be any use for Simon’s construction projects. Most of them are falling apart already.)


I couldn’t resist putting some plants in the pond, even though the stonework was far from complete. The thought of a naked pond for the summer was intolerable. Stones hold down the edge of the liner, and separate the pond from the bog on the left. The deepest part is the far left portion of the pond. Here, I built a sort of brick carport to give fish somewhere to escape the herons. It is also just deep enough (nearly 30″) to plant a lotus. Water lilies (foreground) make do in shallower water.

In the left foreground, surrounded by bricks, is the water inlet. Water evaporates at a rare rate of knots (about an inch a week) in this climate, so a pond needs a permanent dribble of water. While installing the plumbing for the pond (PVC pipe buried in the lawn), I extended the water works to the east side of the garden so that I could start a new vegetable garden over there.

The low wall that prevents junk washing into the pond is complete to the right of the water inlet, and the path from the patio is dug out but not laid.
I didn’t complete the path until the following Christmas, when my son paid a visit and helped with some of the heavy lifting. Here it is in mid-winter.
The following spring, here is the little patio (there must be a better name for it than that) with the rather handsome bench from Gardeners Supply, two Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ in flower, and a Fatsia japonica, which I stuck by a palmetto for reasons that now elude me. Beyond the bench is a trio of box. These are supposed to echo the esferas, three of artificial stone and two of box, at the edge of the patio by the bird bath, but they are not yet very spherical.

I cannot think why I got into spherical boxwoods. They are the devil to prune. Square or conical would be much easier. Every box in the garden (and there are some large ones) is a cutting from one that a friend on Tybee tore out about 10 years ago. Here is the final view from the patio, one chilly winter morning. The bird feeder has been moved to a long way from the nearest tree and in front of the kitchen window.

The bank of the bog was the last thing to be planted. The first summer I planted pond and bog. Last summer we spent in Europe and trumpet vine invaded everything. This winter, I cleared out most of the mess, and started planting the bank, which is a work in progress.
The pond is not very colorful because I stuck to native plants. No flashy purple tropical water lilies; just dear old Nymphaea odorata. The lotus, with leaves held above the water, is also native, Nelumbo lutea. There is a yellow Nymphoides, but that is about it for color in the pond itself.
Here is the lotus. Its only vice is very tough stems that I can’t reach from the bank, so they stick up brown and bristly in the winter after the elegant seed heads have fallen off.
I don’t seem to have a good photo of a water lily. Or of the flowers in the bog for that matter. Here is a solitary purple iris. The bog also contains healthy populations of white Sagittaria latifolia, Sagittaria graminea, and pickerelweed (Pontederia lanceolata).
There are also some non-natives because I had to find a home for a number of irises that I moved from the front garden, where they were not happy in dry soil.
Here is Iris pseudocorus (I think it’s English), photographed this morning, with some of the early efforts at planting the bank in the background (also a bluebird box, currently inhabited by brown-headed nuthatches). Those white concrete pavers are a permanently overgrown path around the pond. People are going to walk around a pond, no matter what you do, so you might as well give them a path and minimize the number of plants they step on.

And here is the bench in April with a clump of rather horridly colored snapdragons in the foreground next to a palmetto. I show this because the snapdragons are something of a horticultural triumph, since palmettos have millions of tiny surface roots and getting anything to grow on top of them is a struggle.

April 7, 2008

Spring Fling in Austin

A million thanks to , , , , and all the other Austin bloggers who made this such a success.

to Pam’s overview.
Lady Bird Johnson Wild Flower Center
Here we are at the Lady Bird Johnson Wild Flower Center. On the left is our docent, Jenny, who has the most n, immortalized by Pam the day before.
Here is a gorgeous clump of Phlox drummondii in the formal part of the garden. It is gorgeous because it is the wild type, with all those wonderful colors. The ones I grew last year were a horrid assortment of pale pink and browny purple, which was all I could get from Thompson & Morgan. (By the end of this trip, I had acquired what I hope are wild type seeds from Natural Gardens.)
Hinckley columbine
This is the lovely Texas native columbine, Aquilegia chrysantha var. hinckleyana, another plant I covet, since I miss Aquilegia canadensis, and this Aquilegia is reputed to survive in Savannah. Note that here it is in pretty shady, shade. I see, from Googling it, that dry shade is recommended. (Someone suggests shade of deciduous trees is ideal so that it gets some winter sun.) Now all I have to do is find some seed or cajole some from Pam later this month when she has some.
green roof
I am quite impressed with the environmental consciousness of Austin (although the natives seem to think they are pretty backward). Here is the green roof on a Starbucks in a shopping center. Very sensible plants–grasses and succulents.
Every garden seems to have rain barrels, Vicki is installing a monster cistern in hers, and here are the cisterns at that Starbucks, draining water from a metal roof.

April 2, 2008


Filed under: Annuals, In bloom now, Roses, Weather — Tags: , , — karen @ 8:07 am

‘Blush Noisette’ is in flower. Here it is at daybreak absolutely dripping with dew. Such high humidity is unusual for early April. You can feel it in the air, even though it’s not particularly warm at this moment.
I cannot get over the health and vitality of the California poppies that have seeded themselves all over the gravel and elsewhere. This is a single plant with the flowers all closed up for the night.

March 29, 2008

Amaryllis Colors

Filed under: Bulbs and such, Design, In bloom now — Tags: , — karen @ 7:39 am

amaryllis, Hippeastrum
I love having enough amaryllis to pick bunches for the house. This red one is one of two varieties that have gone native in our suburb. They are in essentially every garden. These I picked from in front of a camellia in front and they need to be moved. They don’t show up against the dark camellia leaves. Moral: plant pale-colored ones there and move the red ones to a sunny area in back.

March 27, 2008

You can’t Fight City Hall

Filed under: Projects, Trees — karen @ 2:13 pm

Wilmington Island Garden Club and allies protest the destruction of 2 mature live oaks by Chatham County, Georgia. The oaks are the first two in a glorious, mile-long canopy of live oaks, each more than 100 years old, that meet over Johnny Mercer Blvd. on Wilmington Island. At the zoning hearing for this site’s development, the site plan showed that the oaks would not be harmed, and all seemed well until a notice of traffic disruption to fell the trees appeared in the paper.

The police, standing dangerously in the road, are arguing with the protesters. About a dozen armed policemen confronting about 15 little old ladies in tennis shoes looked pretty silly, as you can imagine.

The police said, “Move.”

We said, “We’re on a public right-of-way, not private property, and we won’t move.”

Possibly because 2 television cameras were rolling, the police drifted indecisively away to the other side of the road. All this took place at a fairly major intersection with traffic lights. The miracle is that nobody was killed. The inattentive driving as people peered to read the signs and then honked and waved encouragement was a sight to behold. We certainly have the support of the islanders.

One contractor stopped by to chat and told us how contractors and developers circumvent the zoning laws and ordinances of the Chatham County Commission. No surprise, because it’s exactly the same method we civilians use: show the planning board an acceptable plan, get it approved, and then do exactly what you want because never, in the 20+ years I have lived on the island has the county ever enforced building codes, zoning laws, sign ordinances, etc. It doesn’t matter how many rules and regulations you promulgate, if no one enforces them, you might as well not have them.

We stayed until the tree-cutting permit expired, which means the trees are still standing, although not, I imagine for long.

I told a colleague what we were planning and he said, “Oh Bobby Chu owns that property, doesn’t he? In that case, you’re toast. He’s a big contributor to the county commissioners.” As if I didn’t know it.

We got great coverage on 3 TV stations and in the newspaper (with photo) and the Wilmington Island Garden Club gained a little stature in the community, but I’ll bet the trees are toast.


Next day, here are Garden Club members tending some of the 135 live oaks and crape myrtles we planted on Johnny Mercer lo these many years ago. These were to beautify the island for the Olympics. In exchange for the thousands of dollars and hours of volunteer labor we put into this, the county promised that it would complete the bike paths around the island. 12 years later, I need hardly say that the bike paths are incomplete. The only thing the county has planted on the island in the last 25 years is half a dozen hollies, which they put in the wrong place and which are now merely dead or nearly dead.

Ah me, what can you say? The rich get richer and we the people get screwed.

March 15, 2008



Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ is in flower, the pretty little thing. Although the young leaves are a gorgeous purple, the color fades by midsummer in our heat.

On I-81, somewhere in Virginia (at least I think it is Virginia), there is a straight stretch of road between hillside cow pastures where they have planted forsythia in the median. One year, the forsythia flowered at the same time as redbuds bordering the forest above the pasture. The complementary colors were breathtaking.

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