Savannah Garden Diary

May 23, 2008


Filed under: In bloom now, Pond — karen @ 9:15 am


The lotuses have burst out all over (Nelumbo lutea). They are bigger and more beautiful this year. You can even see the seed pods clearly. They are impossible to photograph because you need an aerial view. Thom says I can borrow the 17′ ladder.


I am slightly concerned that the lotuses are taking over the pond. They were supposed to stay in the deep end and leave the shallow end to water lilies. But I have had only 2 water lily flowers this year and there are lotuses in most of the pond. I shall have to get rid of some of them. They are native, and obviously happy. I believe there is also a more yellow version, but I like this creamy one.


And in the lawn by the compost piles, the ground orchid Spiranthes vernalis. I am so happy to see it. We had it at our old house, but this is the first time I have seen it here. That’s what you get when you seldom mow the lawn. (The wildflower book calls it “Spring Ladies’-tresses.” I don’t think much of that for a common name.)

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.

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 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.

February 19, 2008

Spring, Perhaps?

never-wet.jpgRather to my surprise, since I hacked everything in the bog to the ground about ten days ago, this never-wet (Orontium aquaticum) has started blooming. The bog was designed as a homage to a ditch in Okefenokee, a reminder of possibly my favorite place on earth, and it is full of unglamorous natives. Never-wet is so-called because its leaves are very waxy and repel water more than most leaves. 


  Viburnum tinus is in full flower in the front hedge. This particular one is a very slow grower, only about 5 feet tall at 5 years from a cutting. 


Lady Banks is in full flower on the pergola. So is Lonicera sempervirens, but I can’t get up high enough for a photo. I know Lady Banks blooms only once a year, but that’s NOT a problem since there are 7 or 8 other vines on the pergola that bloom at other times. And what’s not to love about a thornless rose that is such a glorious yellow.


Chionodoxa luciliae is just beginning to flower. There’s probably something I can do to the camera to produce a better blue than this washed-out affair, but I don’t know what. I should really take a course or get a better camera, or read the instruction book, or something. 


After considerable debate about various species of jasmine, I am convinced that this is pink jasmine, Jasminum polyanthum. I moved it to the veg garden fence about 18 months ago and it is doing just as I hoped, working toward an imitation of a gorgeous fence I saw on a Charleston garden walk:


February 1, 2008

Birds chasing our Goldfish

Filed under: Animals, Pond — Tags: , , — karen @ 9:16 am

Here’s a great blue heron sitting on a bush that looks too frail to support it. It is lurking at the edge of the marsh hoping to have another go at our goldfish. We seem to spend our time recently shooing large birds out of the pond. First the egrets, now this. I hope the pond still has the goldfish shelters that I built into it in the first place: hideyholes under large stones propped up on bricks. I know stones and debris have fallen into the pond. I just hope they haven’t blocked the hiding places, but it is much too cold and wet at the moment for me to get into the pond to find out.

January 3, 2008


Filed under: Design, Patio, Pond, Weather — karen @ 1:36 pm

Very cold weather over most of the country last night. The bird bath was frozen and so was half the pond. No sign of the fish, which have doubtless disappeared to the bottom. That was our 5th freeze of the year. It was supposed to go down to 15°F but I don’t think it did.

This is also a nice view of the esferas, fiberglass spheres, which are a tiny, lightweight tribute to the stone esferas we so much enjoyed in Palma Sur.

It appears that I have done a nice job of trimming the boxwood on the right, but that the one on the left is in sadly shaggy shape.

It looks here as if the bird feeder is falling over. I think we had better check that, but since it is Thom’s erection, it is doubtless bedded in masses of concrete and won’t be easy to right if it has got a list to starboard.

December 26, 2007

Egret Fishing in the Pond

Filed under: Animals, Pond, Weather — Tags: , , — karen @ 12:33 pm
egret in pond

This is an amazingly bad photo of a crested egret fishing in the bog garden this morning. It caught at least one goldfish. It is hard to photograph because when I open a window, it flies away and it is too cold to leave the window open.

We have had great blue herons fishing in the pond before now, but this is the first egret I’ve seen. One glorious afternoon, I came home and found 2 great blues displaying at each other on our small back lawn. The winner hung around for a few days and caught a few fish, but eventually it went away and didn’t come back.

We’ve been in Ithaca for Christmas, where the weather is exactly as it is here today–gray and chilly.

Everyone thinks we’re in the middle of a drought, what with dear Sonny praying for rain and all. But here on the coast, we’ve had plenty of rain. I just looked it up in the paper. Normal precipitation year to date is 48.65″ and this year we have had 48.93″. Including about 4″ while we were away, which is excellent. In fact, it’s a damp December. I need to plant the pimientos de Padrón this afternoon.

Despite good average rainfall for the year, however, we have had long periods with no rain and I have lost several plants. My longleaf pine is dead, as well as 3 camellias I planted last March. Of course you should never plant anything in March in Savannah if you don’t have irrigation. Which means you have to buy camellias when they are not in flower. Better, however, to have to rip out a perfectly healthy camellia you don’t like than to have 3 that you do like die on you.

December 21, 2007


Filed under: Design, Pond — karen @ 12:59 pm

I just oiled my bench. What virtue! And I need to get around to the other garden benches. Maintenance chores are not my favorite, but there is no doubt that they vastly improve the appearance of the garden. At the same time, I swept up the heap of palmetto berries in front of the bench. Palmettos are very attractive, but they are messy.

This is the bench you are supposed to sit on while meditating in front of the pond. I got it from along with a can of expensive Penofin Oil. I suppose I could just let it go gray, like teak, but I like this golden color, so it has to be oiled occasionally.

I love having benches scattered through the garden. The theory is that the gardener and guests will sit on them and admire the garden. This doesn’t work very well, at least for me, because I only have to sit down and look around and I spot some chore that should be done to vastly improve the appearance of the garden, and up I leap. In practice, I use the benches as focal points or, in the case of this bench, to complete the appearance of the pond.

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