Archive for the ‘Flower Arrangements’ Category

Dirt’s Garden

Many of my favorite people are plant fools.  These souls cherish and admire the green world above almost anything else.

On one of my visits, Dr. Dirt made this “bokay” for my Mama.

I am happy to hang with them.  Their tales of heroic propagation, amazing encounters with rare plant communities and inspired plant combinations move me to tell my own stories.

Leon Goldsberry was one of these Flower Children.  As a child, he learned a bit of gardening from his mother Millie.  Leon and Millie lived on the wrong side of the tracks in the small racially charged community of Edwards, Mississippi.

During the Vietnam Era, Leon headed for Toronto where he raised a family and became a chef.  In the late 1990’s he returned to Edwards to care for his mother.

After Millie’s death, he inherited her house and remained in Edwards.  For the next two decades, he spent almost every day on a mission to make the garden his own.  In the process, Leon Goldsberry transformed himself into Dr. Dirt.

He honored his mother by calling his place “Millie’s Garden”.  The garden was graced by Millie’s large old specimen plants – an ancient pecan, robust quince bushes, centenarian hydrangeas and a giant fig tree that towered over the house.

Dirt added antique roses, pomegranates, altheas and trumpet honeysuckle.  He planted a carpet of pass-alongs like Turk’s cap mallow, summer phlox, soapwort, tickseed and narrowleaf sunflower.  These garden inhabitants were gleaned from abandoned house sites or traded and bartered from other gardeners.

This quiet sitting place was one of my favorite parts of Millie’s Garden. If Dirt chanced upon reduced sale paint in a color he liked, he would repaint the glider, concrete & accents.

Millie’s Garden was a difficult site with heavy soil, drainage issues and a high-speed train track that skirted the property line.  Dirt dug channels to drain the water.  He mounded the excavated soil into his beds and paths to raise them.

He planted extensive container gardens in old shoes, buckets, toy trucks and sinks that he foraged from the roadsides.   And, for the most part, he learned to ignore the trains.

The garden was astonishing, Dirt had turned his artistic chef’s eye toward the green world.  The plantings included aggressive species that were meticulously groomed every day.  Native plants and wildflowers mingled with the exotics and with the original folk art that Dirt made from found objects.

In 2004, Dirt was “discovered” by Felder Rushing and the two began to co-host the Mississippi Public Radio show “The Gestalt Gardener”.  The radio show was a mixed blessing for Dirt.  He relished the new contacts he made with avid gardeners and most importantly the new plants he procured for his garden.  He travelled with Felder and was inspired by many of the gardens that he toured on these trips.  He was, however, diminished by each day that he was not present in his own.

Eventually Dirt left the radio show and began spending almost all his time in Millie’s Garden.  During this time, I was on the road a lot & would frequently exit I-20 and drop in to see Dirt.  I tried to always bring a plant he might like and he always had a new flower to show me.

The garden was a peaceful paradise.  As we rambled, though, Dirt would pause, check the time and signal that I should cover my ears.  Seconds later a screaming earth-shaking  locomotive would pass on the tracks barely 50’ away.

In October, the narrowleaf sunflowers were a sight to behold.

I loved Millie’s Garden and I testified about it.  I took my Horticulture students there on field trips, visited with Landscape Architect friends and even invited the Mississippi Native Plant Society to see Dirt’s narrowleaf sunflowers in their golden October glory.

The best times though were when I just stopped in and followed Dirt around as he showed me his favorite flowers of the day.

I recently learned that after a battle with cancer, Dr. Dirt passed on April 9.  I imagine that as he grew ill, his garden became less groomed and wilder but still I pray that it was a comfort to him rather than a worry.

Many of my favorite people are plant fools and flower children.  Of all these stellar characters, Dr. N. Dirt loved flowers more than anyone I have ever known.

I choose not to wonder what will happen to Millie’s Garden now that Dirt is gone.

I know that a garden never survives the gardener.  It is a fact of life.   As Dr. Dirt often said “Everything starts from dirt. Everything returns to dirt”.

I am grateful to have been with him in his garden on many a beautiful day – grinning, sniffing the blooms and recalling my love of the flowers.

RIP Friend Dirt –  I’d love to see you put your spin on the Garden of Eden.

And Farewell Millie’s Garden.  I’ll not see the like of you again.

Wahoo! Yahoo!

Hearts a' busting has possibly the most colorful fruit ever!

Hearts a busting has possibly the most colorful fruit ever!

So… we recently had a taste of winter.

It wasn’t actually that cold – just in the 50’s – but it was cloudy, chilly, humid and reminiscent of a Mississippi winter.

So I’m dreaming of the blue skied crisp fall days to come.

The asters are budded and the magnolias have red seeded cones.  The grasses are seeding and Maryland goldenaster is blooming on the roadsides.

A scattering of colored leaves is beginning to tint the woods just a bit.

But right now Euonymus americanus is the most fallish plant in my garden.   It has nary a stained leaf but it offers the most interesting and lovely fruit.

Each plant is loaded with fruit right now.

Each plant is loaded with fruit right now.

Euonymus americanus (aka hearts a busting; wahoo, strawberry bush, brook euonymus) is a fall precursor.  By the time our fall color really lights up, the hearts a busting fruit will be gone – shattered or consumed by hungry birds

Now, though, it is peaking and showing out on this gloomy day.

The hot pink warty covering has split to expose several intense orange pulp covered seed.  The scarlet arils are oblong and pendant with a seed that is curiously shaped like a baby tooth.

The orange and pink medley is as lovely as any flower and the plants are loaded.  They reflect the light and capture my attention.  Even on this overcast day, they are begging to be picked and tucked into a flower arrangement.

Here are 2 fruits with a top view of the warty pink cover & an inside view of the scarlet pulpy fruit.

Here are 2 fruits with a top view of the warty pink covering & an inside view of the scarlet pulp covered seed.

Euonymus americanus is a narrow upright shrub that suckers to form small colonies.

Foliage will turn strawberry pink or creamy before falling.  The angular green stems will be left to dominate during winter.

In the wild this native is found along creek banks with river birch, pawpaw and Christmas fern.

Generally, in a woodland setting, though, the fruit set is scanty.  Deer nibble young leaves and stems so that flowering and fruiting are minimal.

My back yard is not a deer free zone by any means but the close proximity to my house allows the wahoo to persevere.

On this murky day I am grateful for that!


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.


Five Reasons I Love My Mume

These blooms were buds that survived snow and nine degree temperatures,

I am a big fan of the Japanese apricot (Prunus mume).

My trees are the ‘Peggy Clarke’ variety.  They sport deliciously fragrant pink flowers as early as December here.  They flower for a month or six weeks.

With record low temperatures this year, I have had intermittent blooms since mid January.  The open blooms did not survive the snow or the single digits.  The buds, however, hunkered down and then popped open as soon as the ice was gone.

This tree is one tough cookie.  The mume in my old garden was crushed beneath a giant pine during Hurricane Katrina.  After the pine debris was removed and all the damaged wood was pruned, the mume was little more than a stump.  The tree regenerated from the trunk and scaffold branch stubs into a nice specimen.

This Japanese apricot regenerated from a stump after Hurricane Katrina.

Mume flowers are particularly lovely.  They are a clear bright pink and are borne on bare green twigs.  They look like cake decorations and are a wonderful addition to winter flower arrangements.

On warm winter days I like to stand beneath the tree and just inhale.  The floral scent is intoxicating – sweet with a hint of cinnamon.

Just this year as I was basking in the mume scent, I noticed a persistent droning buzz coming from the blossoms overhead.

I investigated and there were a lot of honeybees foraging on the mume.  After I began paying attention I realized that every day (weather permitting) the mume was full of honeybees.

Mume blooms look like lovely pink cake decorations to me!

I also noticed that my own little worker bees were returning to their hives with pollen baskets full.  Click on this link to see a short video I made of  Honeybees on Japanese Apricot

I’ve always loved my mumes because they bloom for a long time in a season when floral color is lacking.   I’m appreciative that they are tough, fragrant and lovely in a vase.

And now I have yet another reason to love my mumes.  Their fragrance beckons to my queens – Elizabeth, Latifah and Maria – and the worker bees come forth and return to the hive loaded with pollen.

And there you have it – Reason #5.  The mumes feed my honeybees in winter.   That, my friends, is really special!




I gathered early daffodils, a pink camellia and Japanese apricot twigs for this New Year's flower arrangement.

I’ve been in the throes of a remodeling project and have done little gardening or flower arranging for the duration.

Now that the kitchen is remodeled and the porch has a roof, I am beginning to devote some time to the green world again.

After all, the winter flowers are beginning to bloom and I am a total sucker for winter flowers.

Today I picked the first yellow daffodil of the year – ‘Princess Hallie’s Gold’.  This is one of Bill the Bulb Baron’s selections. I also gathered a ‘Minor Monarque’ narcissus bloom.  This is a white and yellow passalong pilfered from an old house site.

I harvested a mysterious pink camellia and the first blooms off the ‘Peggy Clarke’ Japanese apricot.

I assembled all of these with some dried wildflower seedheads and have enjoyed my little arrangement all day long.

It was a good way to begin a new year.


Inspired by a pair of visiting friends I spent a rainy Sunday afternoon perusing a junk store.

This vase of winter blossoms reminds me of Icey, who taught me to love flowers.

Inspired by the color of my Professor Sargent camellia, I bought a red vase.

Inspired by the new vase and the waning Japanese apricot flowers I decided to make a flower arrangement.

Inspired by the flower arrangement, I cleared a place for the vase on my table.

My wet muddy dogs enjoyed helping me gather the flowers from the gloomy garden.

We found quite a few blooms on this cold rainy day.  Included in the vase are: white daphne (Daphne odora ‘Alba’), Professor Sargent camellia, an unknown pink camellia, Japanese apricot (Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’), sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans), star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) and several clusters of bunch dafffodils (Narcissus tazetta).

I placed a stem of Michelia maudiae in the front center of the arrangement.  This Chinese banana shrub relative has blooms that look like a white Yulan magnolia.  Unlike the Yulan, this plant is evergreens with leaves similar to a sweetbay magnolia.   I searched high and low and could not find a common name for this uncommon plant.

I set the vase on the table and realized the arrangement needed just one more thing.

And so… I added a picture of the woman who raised me to love flowers.

In the photo, Miss Elise Price (a.k.a Icey or Sister) poses with my sisters circa 1966.  That was forty-six years ago and I am still inspired daily by the things I learned from her and by the love of green things that she bequeathed me.


'Honeybee' mingles with 'Autumn Pearl', 'Peggy Clarke' Japanese apricot and the final roses of the season.

We’ve barely had any winter yet – just a few nights in the mid-20’s and I already have spring fever.

I’m fairly certain that ‘Honeybee’ is the cause of my dilemma.

A couple of months ago I splurged on some daffodil bulbs from Bill the Bulb Baron.  Many of the Bulb Baron’s hybrids have been selected for their early bloom time.  I planted two of these very early bloomers – ‘Autumn Pearl’ and ‘Honeybee’  in the front driveway bed where I could not fail to notice their first flowers.

‘Autumn Pearl’ bloomed first.   I have really enjoyed her wonderful bunches of cream and white blossoms that are reminiscent of ‘Grand Primo’.     ‘Autumn Pearl’ has appeared in several bouquets.  She has also inspired me to pause and watch the wild bees and sulfur butterflies that forage in her nether regions.  That is quite a gift for the hectic holiday season.

When ‘Honeybee’ came along just last week though,  I was even more smitten.  Both these hybrids have one tazetta or bunch daffodil parent.  ‘Honeybee’, however has a wild jonquil (Narcissus jonquilla) or “Little Sweetie” as the other parent.  This means that my sweet little ‘Honeybee’ is golden yellow and full of that delicious jonquil fragrance that I cherish.

I’m pretty sure that i t was not just the appearance of the first yellow narcissus of the season that sent me longing for spring.  I think the scent sent me!

Now I’m not saying that I want to cut the winter short… I love that season too.  I’m just saying that sweet little ‘Honeybee’ with her precocious golden delightfully aromatic flowers makes me smile with thoughts of things to come.

The Twelve Plants of Christmas

I spent some time yesterday assembling a wreath to decorate my door.

I started by coiling a long aggressive elaeagnus stem to make my wreath form.  Then I collected and added an assortment of greenery, fresh and dried flowers and fruit.

When I counted, I realized that I had chosen 12 different plant species.  Everything was selected for a purpose or sentimental reason.


So… for the twelve days of Christmas my garden gave to me:

Can you find all 12 plants in my wreath?


A budded mume twig

Aromatic Cedar

Holly from a friend

And dried roses for remembrance


Fruiting Possumhaw

Hypericum for health

A spray of silvery mums

And Star Magnolia to lead the wise


Wedding hydrangeas

First narcissus blooms

Vaccinium darrowii

And robust red camellias.

Mandy’s Rustic Wedding Flowers

When illuminated by the later afternoon sun the grasses and rabbit tobacco seem to glow.

Last year my niece Mandy Brister began planning her wedding to Brandon Clark.

Mandy wanted a rustic wedding with hay bales, burlap, mason jars and vintage furniture.

I volunteered to make wildflower arrangements for the tables.

The wedding was last weekend.  My sister Jean Mann and I had fun making the arrangements but we did agree that it was stressful!

My first dilemma what that I had no time to collect flowers until the last minute.

Due to our very strange growing season, the floral pickings were very slim.  I was worried about the lack of flower color.

But then – the native grasses came to the rescue.

Guests were greeted by this rustic bouquet.

I harvested stems of big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and bushy broomsedge (Andropogon glomeratus).

Then I gathered purpletop (Tridens flavus), river oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) , switch grass (Panicum virgatum), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) and sugarcane plume grass (Saccharum giganteum).

These grasses provided subtle color and tons of texture.

I collected lots of goldenrod (Solidago spp.), fruiting stems of purple beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) and golden narrowleaf sunflower (Helianthus angustifolium).

I was delighted to find a large stand of silvery rabbit tobacco (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium).

My sister arranged this lovely display of photos and flowers.

Rabbit tobacco is an excellent filler in fresh and dried arrangements.

I used a couple of dried exotics – green clusters of Chinese abelia flowers and dried mophead hydrangeas.  The hydrangeas had been collected over the past growing season by Mandy’s aunts.

I added in some greenery from native Florida leucothoe (Agarista populifolia) and Japanese cleyera.

I then purchased 3 bunches of white florist roses to match the roses in Mandy’s bouquet.

The effect I tried to achieve was a representation of a garden gone wild.

This is one of the eight Mason jar arrangements we made for the dining tables.

All together my sister Jean Barton Mann and I assembled about 20 arrangements.

We were really grateful that Mandy’s Aunt Judy Smith and Cousin Carlee Smith came in at the last minute and added the finishing touches to the reception area.

The wedding was beautiful and I feel sure that Mandy and Brandon will be very happy together.

As I harvested flowers and grasses around my property and on the roadsides, I channeled my floral design mentor, Ralph Null.

I think Ralph has done more than just about anyone to promote the appreciation and use of native plants in Mississippi.

He taught his students to gather some of their materials from the wild or from roadside stands.

Ralph called these collected materials “roadside-us”.

He inspired the garden club ladies of Mississippi to get down in the ditches and pick local flora.  Some tired of tramping through the mud, briers and chiggers and began planting native plants for their flower arrangements.

So thanks to Ralph for teaching me to pilfer the fields and roadsides.  Thanks to my sister Jean for working so creatively with me to get those flowers in the vases and on the tables.

My problem, though, is that every time I pass a pristine stand of goldenrod, narrowleaf sunflowers or native grasses, I feel a strong urge to stop and gather.  Maybe in a couple of weeks, I can see them again as lovely wildflowers and not just as an opportunity missed.



Hurricane Lilies

Since spider lilies are difficult to photograph, I brought some stems indoors and created this Ikebana arrangement on Saturday.

I grew up with spider lilies (a.k.a. surprise lilies or hurricane lilies).  In late summer they popped up unexpectedly in almost all the gardens of my childhood.  And yet… I never knew anyone who actually planted them.

Spider lilies (Lycoris radiata) are Asian bulbs.  In Japan they are called  Higanbana or “equinox flower” because they usually bloom around the fall equinox.   They were frequently planted around rice paddies because the poisonous bulbs are believed to deter rodents.

In 1854, Captain William Roberts, one of Commodore Perry’s naval officers, brought 3 withered spider lily bulbs home to New Bern, North Carolina – a little souvenir of his travels to Japan.

It took years for the bulbs to become established.  Then they began to multiply yielding the thousands of spider lilies that now populate our southern gardens.

The city of New Bern recently erected a 29′ spider lily sculpture in honor of these events.

Spider lilies do get around!   Once upon a time, Miss Eudora Welty, Felder Rushing and I had a pleasant dinner in a Jackson restaurant.  The topic of conversation was “passalong plants”.   When we were discussing spider lilies, Miss Eudora said that her Mother always said that it was “just indecent the way they multiply…”

Up close and personal with the hurricane lily.

But unlike some other indecently prolific Japanese plants, I don’t consider spider lilies to be invasive.  I can’t think of a single native plant that they have displaced.

Around here, their foliage pops up around December and is usually gone by the end of April.  The leaves are similar to liriope or monkey grass but with a lighter racing strip down the center.  The leaves shrivel and in late August and early September the red feathery flowers materialize out of nowhere – like magic.

I’ve always used the name spider lily for Lycoris radiata.  Recent events, however, have inspired me to adopt another common name.  From now on, they’re hurricane lilies to me.

You see, I live in what the Weather Channel has termed “the land mass between Mobile and New Orleans”.    Even though the Weather Channel forgets Mississippi, my state was at ground zero for two of the three most devastating hurricanes in my lifetime.  And these two, Camille and Katrina, both occurred in the last few days of August.

During that same late August to mid-September time frame, the southeast also experienced Hurricanes Fredric, Andrew, Ivan  and Dennis.  As I write,we’re hunkered down and waiting to see what Hurricane Isaac will do.  And the hurricane lilies are blooming up a storm!

So what I’m thinking is that at least if I call them “hurricane lilies”, I’ll remember to duck and cover when I see those flaming red blooms.

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