Kalmia Ever After

Mountain Laurel in full bloom at Briarwood Nature Preserve.

Mountain Laurel in full bloom at Briarwood Nature Preserve.

I’ve always wanted to have my own stand of mountain laurel.

My desire began as an adult the first time I saw Kalmia latifolia in bloom.

I was blown away by the shrub’s elegant form and eccentric branching.  The flowers were uniquely cup shaped with dimpled buds that looked like cake decorations.

After that first sighting I took every opportunity to admire this beauty  – mostly on mountain vacations.

When I moved to Meridian in the lower third of Mississippi, I was surprised and elated to find that mountain laurel was native practically in my own backyard.

Mountain Laurel flowers are one of my favorites.

Mountain Laurel flowers are one of my favorites.

Here in the deep south if soil conditions are right, mountain laurel grows along many of our creeks and rivers.

I was delighted to find it on the Chunky River in my own county.  I have even witnessed it in full bloom in LA (lower Alabama) within 30 minutes or so from the Gulf of Mexico.

I began to purchase mountain laurel every time I happened upon nursery plants with southern genetics.  Most of my plants came from my friend Tommy Dodd and were seedlings of the previously mentioned LA strains.

I planted them along my ephemeral creek, at the edge of the woods and even in front of my house.

I planted this Mountain Laurel on my creek at least 20 years ago & it has yet to flower.

I planted this Mountain Laurel on my creek at least 20 years ago & it has yet to flower.

I learned that the best time to plant a container mountain laurel here is early winter.  I learned to practically bare-root the plant when I set it in the ground.

After I figured these things out, I had a pretty good survival rate.  So technically… I did have stands of mountain laurel.  But… there were no flowers.

It seems that plants grown from seed take longer to bloom than those grown from cuttings.

One theory is that a seedling has to accumulate a reservoir of floral hormones before it is capable of flowering.  This can take as long as 20 years.

So every year about this time I begin to peer anxiously at my mountain laurels looking for a sign that this will be the year of the blossoming.

This little kalmia will flower in spring.

This little kalmia will flower in spring.

Mountain laurel flower buds are probably formed in summer.  They do not become visible, however, until early winter when clusters of short scaly floral branchlets appear on the stem tips.

Last week I was walking past one of my young mountain laurels.  I saw something unusual and did a double take.  That’s when I spied the clusters of inconspicuous scaly little green stems.

Those anonymous sprigs didn’t look like flower buds but experience has taught me that they are.

So next May there will be a blooming mountain laurel right in front of my house!  I am thrilled to say the least.



Signs of Autumn

The late great Woodrow Culvertson was a beggar lice (a.k.a. Desmodium) magnant.

Here in the Deep South, our seasonal changes are often less dramatic than they are in more northern states.

When Autumn rolls around here, the quality of the light changes and the sky becomes intensely blue.

The goldenrods, asters and rosin weeds begin to bloom in wild places and spider lilies pop up around old house sites.

Daytime temperatures are still fairly warm but nights begin to cool.

Another sure sign of Autumn is the sudden startling appearance of beggar lice.

Right now we are in the midst of the Desmodium (beggar lice, tick-trefoil, tick clover or hitch hikers) phase.

This plant is a member of the pea family.  The most common species here has bright pink flowers in late summer.  Triangular seed pods soon form and attach to clothing and fur with hooked  hairs.

My dog Woodrow could accumulate hundreds in his long hair on an average fall walk.

Woody passed a few months ago and this fall it seems like there are a lot of beggar lice with no place to go.




A Gift from New England

New England aster blooms with a fall coreopsis.

I am ridiculously happy every fall when the asters start busting out around here.

One of my favorites, the New England aster (Symphyothichum novae-angliae), is just starting to bloom.

I first learned of this aster when I was in college.  I was having difficulty keying out a beautiful royal purple aster because I couldn’t possibly believe that a New England aster was growing in Mississippi!

But it was indeed!

It turns out that New England aster ranges from Canada south to Mississippi and Alabama.

New England aster is a great garden plant but in the wild I have learned to look for it in sites with prairie soils.

Bumblebees love it!

A couple of years ago as I was driving to visit my mother I spied a nice little stand of New England aster in full bloom.  As expected, they were growing in a prairie remnant.

I stopped to admire them and made note of the location.  

I returned a few weeks later and gathered seed.  

Asters can be difficult from seed.  Some years the seed look viable but most are empty.

This time, however, I hit the jackpot and ended up with a whole flat of little New England Aster seedlings.

I have one of these planted out front in the driveway bed.

This Monarch butterfly was nectaring on a New England aster in a prairie near here.

I walk past it  every day and usually pause to admire the beautiful fringed flowers.

The bumble bees are often lingering nearby as well.

New England aster is a great nectar plant for bees and monarch butterflies.

Plants are robust and can reach 6′ height in full sun.

I’ve always wanted to go to New England to see the fall color.

For this year anyway, a trip to the front yard is as far as I’ll need to go.

A New Reason to Love Goldenrod

Goldenrod is an important fall food source for honeybees and native pollinators.

I’m digging the goldenrod right now.

It’s such a lovely shade of yellow and is blooming in the most unexpected places.

I’ve been using it in flower arrangements and photographing it.  Every time I closely inspect it, I find honeybees and native pollinators foraging there.

Goldenrod is a really important late season food source for these pollinators.  I’m convinced that the extra food stores help my honeybees to make it through the winter.

The most common goldenrod around here is Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis).  I weed it out of my flower beds because it is an aggressive grower.  I leave it for my honeybees though along my nature trails.

Roughleaf goldenrod does well in prairie gardens or more manicured beds.

Two of my other favorites, sweet goldenrod (Solidago odora) and rough goldenrod (Solidago rugosa),are well behaved enough to earn a place in a flower bed.

There are many other landscape worthy goldenrod species.  But… in spite of their wildlife benefits, ease of cultivation and knockout fall color I rarely see goldenrods in landscape plantings.

Native plant lovers and beekeepers have been giving goldenrod a lot of positive press for years.  But still every fall, I am surprised how many people claim that they are allergic to goldenrod.

Goldenrod pollen is sparse and relatively heavy.  It is designed to be transported by insects.  So… how in the world do these people think they are inhaling goldenrod pollen?

I staged this picture to compare leaves and flowers of common ragweed, giant ragweed (center) and Canada goldenrod.

Instead, of course, fall allergies that occur when goldenrod is blooming are likely caused by ragweed.  Ragweed is wind pollinated.  It produces lots of lightweight pollen that is designed to float through the air.  It drifts on the wind to other ragweed plants and up the nose of anyone who happens to be breathing in the area.

I realize this is old news to most people but seriously this year I have heard dozens of people complaining about goldenrod allergies.  The thing that annoys me the most about this is that I seem to be unable to stop myself from correcting them.

But I didn’t know everything about goldenrod.  Last week I discovered goldenrod tea.

My research indicated that goldenrod has anti-inflammatory properties and is a natural diuretic that is really good for your kidneys.  According to my reading it was said to have a pleasant taste.

I found that interesting because I have in the past tasted herbal teas that invoked the gag reflex.

I said to myself – “I must have some of this goldenrod tea.”

Goldenrod tea is tasty!

Later that day I was making a flower arrangement.

When I stripped the lower leaves off the goldenrod, I saved them.

The next day I added them to boiling water and let them steep for about 20 minutes or so.

My husband and I drank the tea iced and both of us thought it tasted remarkably like green tea.  It was really good.

I researched a little more and found that leaves and flowers can be used for tea.

When flowers are added, the goldenrod tea prevents allergies!!!

We tried a tea made from the flower/leaf mix and found it to be a little more bitter but still not unpleasant.

I liked goldenrod tea well enough that I plan to gather enough to have tea this winter.

I’ll try not to harvest too much goldenrod though.  My girls down in the beehives need it too.


Fishing for Peppers

I’ve missed blogging but have been unable to write these days.  Now that cooler weather is rolling around, I’ve decided to make an attempt to blog again.

The very tasty fish pepper comes in a rainbow of colors

During the last year I have become increasingly involved with a community garden.  I am the Garden Directress of Love & Peas Community Garden.  My work at the garden has been loads of fun.   The garden is a “Teaching Garden”  Our policy is that when volunteers come to work in the garden, they learn to grow food.  At the end of every work session we divide the produce among our group so everyone takes home whatever produce is in season.  Richard and I have been eating really well, by the way.

At our last work day, I scored a bucket full of hot peppers. Among these were one of my favorites – fish peppers.

Fish peppers are an heirloom that was used by African American fish merchants in the Baltimore area. These entrepreneurs chose the pale creamy white ones and used them to make a white paprika that would not “muddy” the color of their seafood sauces.

Here is the finished product.

Today I decided to make some pepper sauce using my fresh fish peppers.

I used a whole rainbow of fish peppers for my hot sauce so that it would look really pretty in the jar.

Fish peppers are not extremely hot.  They are milder than cayenne peppers. So my sauce will probably be pungent instead of smoking hot.

The peppers were so pretty with their variegated streaks I had to stop and do a photo shoot.

The plant itself is lovely too,  The foliage is a dark healthy green and is marked with creamy white.

I stuck a few cloves of garlic, whole peppercorns and a bay leaf in with the peppers and vinegar.

We used sprigs of the plant in the flower arrangements for a recent Volunteer Appreciation Dinner.

Next year I think we will plant this very ornamental pepper plant in the front “flower beds” at the garden.

I love growing food but am limited in what I can grow here at home.  My garden is nestled in the woods and that is a wonderful thing for an old Tree Hugger like me.

Vegetables need full sun.  Instead of struggling to grow them in my few sunny spots, I’ll just keep on heading to Love & Peas.  I’ve been blessed there by the friendships I’ve made as well as by the food I’ve harvested.

Frienships, food and fish peppers are hard to beat.

RIP Woody

Woody was a happy dog. He always seemed to be grateful to have been rescued.

On Saturday my number one garden dog passed.

He had a good run – fifteen and a half years.  I am proud to say that he was able to die at home surrounded by his people and his pack.

Our dear friend Marc dug a grave near the creek that Woody loved so well.  We planted a seedling of Mississippi’s state champion bur oak beside him – a fitting tribute.

But still I miss him.  I found this story that I wrote about him many years ago.  I will post it here.


A.K.A Woodrow, Woodrow Culvertson, Booger, Boogie, Woodjananda, Eraser Nose

One cold rainy February day I noticed three young dogs roaming the roadside looking lost. As I stopped, the two brown pups ran in alarm.

When I approached the white pup, he laid down in a rut full of rainwater and quaked in fear. I touched him gingerly, afraid he would bite. Instead he continued to shake. So… I picked him up and took him home. Later that morning, the vet told us that he was probably part airedale and about 3 months old. Since I was on my way to get wood when I found him, we named our road find – Woodrow.

Woody’s brown siblings were later adopted by a friend of ours. She told us that the three pups had been living in a culvert under the interstate.

That first day, Woody was so traumatized that he would not look at us or wag his tail. We expected that it would be days or weeks before he relaxed into his new situation. He was traumatized further when we bathed him. Later that day,however,he began to realize his good fortune. He started wagging his tail and look deeply into the eyes of his newfound humans with gratitude.

Woody immediately found his place in the pack. He offered obeisance to all even to the smaller dogs. He quickly realized that Skipper was his mentor. Skippy, the alpha male was going on 15 years. He was one quarter pit bull, one quarter Australian ridge-back and half free-breeding street dog. He was a force to be reckoned with.

The young Woodrow Culvertson receives instruction from his dog mentor, Skippy and my husband Richard.

Skippy initiated Woody by putting the fear of dog into him. Every time Woody committed some grevious act, he would cower as Skippy towered over him snarling and snapping the air around Woody’s head. When the lesson was over, Skippy turned his mind to other matters and Woody immediately became giddy and gleeful again.

Woody’s favorite place is the creek behind our house. Every morning, he makes a bee line for the creek. He returns in about a half hour wet, muddy and happy.

In the photo, Richard and Skippy pause on one of our creek bridges to give young Woody a lesson.

After Skippy went  on to the Happy Hunting Ground, Woody rose in the pack to a position second in command (behind little 10 pound Malva of course).

Magnolia Musings

Ahhh!  The sweetbays are blooming.

It’s a major event around here.

Sweetbay flowers are 4" across or less. The leaves are silver-backed and about 6" long.

Every evening about 7:30 the sweetbay magnolias (Magnolia virginiana) emit a deliciously wonderful scent.  The fragrance drifts through the air like a force of nature.

We are certain to be sitting on the deck about that time.

We breathe deeply and the air around us is infused with the fragrance.

The scent wafts from a nice little grove of sweetbays in a low area that we call “The Bottom”.  It drifts over the hill past the giant white oak and settles around us

The fragrance is familiar and recognizable to me.

I was returning home a few days ago around the specified hour when an olfactory jolt stopped me in my tracks.  I smiled and then said to the ephemeral manifestation “There you are!”

It never occurred to me that the scent originated from the blooming southern magnolia a few feet away.  It WAS the intense magnolia-lemony essence of sweetbay.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora).  They are considered by many to be the stateliest of trees.  The flowers are large and beautiful. Their scent is delectable if you take the time to bury your nose inside and inhale.

I also love my cowcumbers (Magnolia macroplylla).  They are startlingly beautiful with 3′ leaves and flowers that measure a foot across.  They are like supermodel magnolias and are fragrant in a very fulfilling way.

Sweetbay is a kind of plain Jane magnolia with medium textured leaves and the smallest flowers of the three.

And as long as I’m talking trash, let me add that sweetbays habitually throw a late spring funk .   Just after new growth resumes the old leaves turn a pitiful yellow and gradually fall from the tree.

Compared to the others, sweetbays are kind of low brow. After all they are a pioneer species that will volunteer in swampy wasteland while the other two are climax species that require a pristine woodland setting.

Some of our trees have obviously been mown or bush-hogged to the ground during the old days when this was a cattle farm.  After the butchering, many came back as multi-trunked trees.

But being pioneers, they did come back.  They grew and are now over 60′ tall.   I admire their tenacity.

And I am delighted that their blooms are the sweetest of all.  I could pick them out of a lineup even if I was wearing a blindfold.




Just One More Vase of Daffodils

I photographed one more vase of daffodils on April 3.  Most of these are gone now – beaten into submission by 5+ inches of rain.


I consider these beauties to be late daffodils.

For this arrangement I picked stems of:  ‘Ice Wings’, ‘Hawera’, ‘Dreamlight’, ‘Beautiful Eyes’, ‘Aspasia’, ‘ Angel Eyes’, ‘Cheerfulness’, ‘Yellow Cheerfulness’, ‘Sweetness’ and ‘Falconet’.

I love the fact that many of these late bloomers are white.

Two or three of these varieties were recently planted so they may bloom at a slightly different time next year.

For now, though, they are lovely companions.


The Kitchen Sink Project

During winter and early spring I usually keep a vase of daffodils by my kitchen sink.

I am such a fool for dafs that I want to study and admire them as closely as possible during bloom season.

As I work at the sink, my eyes settle on the details of a particular variety and sometimes I get a delicious whiff of their fragrance.

It also has occurred to me that the series of arrangements that I make allows me to remember which varieties bloom together.   This knowledge helps me to place them more wisely in my landscape.

So today – I will share with you the blooming sequence this spring for the past month.  I am embarrassed to admit that the photo quality is not that great on some of these shots.  I believe all were taken with my cell phone – many under low light conditions.  The pictures were not intended to win any photography awards but were taken as a garden record.

On 2-26-2014, I was thrilled to see the early daffodils.

This arrangement contains the earliest bloomers for me this year and includes: ‘February Gold’, ‘Campernelle’, ‘Barrett-Browning’, ‘Grand Primo’, Lent Lily and Little Sweetie.  Notice how I padded the arrangement with boxwood greenery and used a disfigured blossom or two.  Dafs were in short supply!

Eleven days later on 3-9-2014, more daffodil varieties were blooming in the garden.

Most of the varieties mentioned above were still in bloom but I focused on collecting the newcomers for this arrangement.  Roman hyacinths and summer snowflakes are included along with the daffodil varieties: ‘Rapture’, ‘Petrel’, ‘Sir Watkin’, ‘Tete a Tete’, ‘Trevithian’, Texas Star (Narcissus x intermedius), ‘Grand Primo’ and Little Sweetie.

The weather was nice and my husband was cooking so I assembled this one on the deck railing on 3-15-14.

This week I chose to make an all daffodil (except for the lone Roman hyacinth) arrangement.  This arrangement contains: ‘Beryl, ‘Trevithian’, ‘Falconet’, ‘Petrel, ‘Little Sweetie’ ‘ Mrs. Langtry’ and a found ‘Incomparabilis’.  I still remember how good this arrangement smelled!

On 3-22-2014 I included the first azalea flowers from 'Vittatta fortunei' along with these mostly mid-season daffodils.

The daffodils were peaking when I made this arrangement.  It was hard to chose which contenders to put in the vase.  However, there is only so much room beside the kitchen sink so I picked stems of: ‘Barrett Browning’, ‘Pipit’, ‘Geranium’, ‘Trevithian’, ‘Tahiti’ ‘Little Sweetie’ and an unknown tazetta from Bill the Bulb Baron.

Today (3-27-2014) I picked these dafs which are mostly representative of the late season even though we had a hard frost 2 nights ago!

I picked one of the last pink camellias from an unknown variety and settled it into a vase with these (mostly) late season daffodils.  My arrangement includes:  ‘Beryl’, ‘Yellow Cheerfulness’, ‘Geranium’, ‘Stainless’, ‘Niveth’ ‘Sweetness’, Narcissus fernandesii, ‘ Hawera’, ‘Falconet’ and ‘Seagull’.

I wonder how many readers stayed with me until the end of this self-indulgent rambling.

If you hung in there I thank you for bearing with me.

You may now consider yourself an official daffodil fool and as my friend Peachie Saxon says “You are sick, sick, sick!”


This daphne meatball is covered with hundreds of flower clusters.

The last couple of days have been cold windy cloudy and miserable.

But this weekend was a different story.

On Sunday we sat on the deck.  We basked in a delicious spring-like breeze and inhaled the delightful scent of daphne.

Sweet daphne (Daphne odora) is one of my favorite winter blooming shrubs.  It is low and mounding – almost a little too meatball-like for me.

I’m embarrassed that someone might think I sheared it to look like that.  But, I swear, I never prune it except to extract a sprig to put in a vase.

It is an Asian evergreen that is said to be short lived.  I have had daphnes that lived 20 years or more with no special care, however.

These flower clusters survived temperatures in the single digits with only a little burn.

The white form blooms a week or two later. Both are beautiful in bud.

When they go it is usually due to a wilt disease that progresses quickly.

The shrub appears to be thriving one day and a couple of days later, it is dead as a hammer.

I just learned also that it is poisonous.

So it’s a short lived poisonous Asian meatball.

And against my better judgement, I dearly love it.

For the six winter weeks that it is in bloom, the smell of honeysuckle drifts through my garden.

And that, as they say,  is priceless!

I walk through the back yard almost drugged by the fragrance.  I think about Dorothy and the lion snoozing away in a field of poppies.

I keep walking though.

I realize that I am just a little woozy and I smile.

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