Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Christmas Memory

My two sisters and I were finally old enough to go home to our Dad after 6 years in the nearby orphanage where we lived when our mother passed away.  My 18-year old brother Cecil was away, serving in the Korean war .

Far from the nearest town , our log cabin on a hill in rural Northern Alabama was nestled in a forest of evergreens -pine, cedar , holly and fir. It was home to many critters - wild turkey, guinea fowl, ducks, fox, squirrel, rabbits, possum, racoons, and songbirds .  In what little spare time we had it was our favorite place to explore and play.  

My sister Wilma was 14, I was 10 and Linda was 9 and we were expected to take on the chores . Life on the farm without a mother was hard and we didn't have any experience .  We learned to plant and harvest the vegetable garden . We canned green beans, tomatoes, okra, beets,peaches, applesauce, apple, grape and strawberry jelly and corn.  Sweet potatoes and Irish potatoes were stored in the shed for winter . We prepared crocks of sauerkraut to be eaten with bacon and ham.  We churned butter and made buttermilk.  We grew everything we ate except for the large sacks of cornmeal , flour, sugar and lard  that we bought on our monthly trip to the town grocer.

Chickens provided fresh eggs daily and fried chicken on Sundays, the cow's fresh milk and the pigs bacon, sausage and smoked ham. Fruit and nuts were used for making pies, jams and jellies. 

My  sisters and I went to church in town every Wednesday and Sunday. Younger sister Linda and I would say a special prayer every Christmas for the thing we wanted most : Snow. But our prayers went unanswered for many years and we were beginning to wonder if what they taught in church was true.  We also prayed that our brother Cecil would be safe and return to us.

 With no money to buy gifts we had to be very creative. I  sewed a sock doll for Linda , wove a bracelet for Wilma, and made handkerchiefs for Dad and we drew and colored our own Christmas cards.

Each day I would go into the woods to get pine and holly to decorate the house. I also gathered hickory nuts, pecans, chestnuts and walnuts. We had a huge fireplace that heated the house and a crackling fire where we'd gather and read Christmas stories and the bible.

The night before our first Christmas in our own home Linda and I once again prayed for snow. We jumped in bed knowing full well that such a miracle would never happen.

Christmas morning we awoke to the smell of Wilma cooking breakfast. Instead of the usual grits in the bowls on the table there was something very pure and white that looked a lot like ice cream. Linda and I both stammered in surprise : " Ice cream for Christmas ? " No, sillies, " Wilma replied, " Go look outside. "

We opened the door to a most wonderous sight. Every tree wore a sparkling dress of white . Snow ! I was beginning to think that it was something I'd only read about in books or seen in movies like White Christmas that my brother took me to see.  We put on our coats and went outside to experience the magical mysterious white flakes falling from the sky.  

The next day the snow was gone, but Linda and I agreed that our first white christmas was the best we'd ever had and we were finally convinced that there was a God .  The following Christmas our brother Cecil came home safely from Korea which further proved that prayers did work.

This childhood memory brings to mind the words of the country song " someone said that Wall Street fell but we were so poor we couldn't tell . "   We were blessed that we were able to make a living with the sweat of our brow on God's good earth.  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cooking Korean in the Sweet Home Kitchen

During my almost half century of marriage to my Korean husband I learned to cook the dishes he loved as a child.  I apprenticed under a master chef -my mother-in-law who didn't speak much English but I managed to learn quite a few Korean words from her.    When all my other Korean sisters-in-law were gathered out my home for a feast she would pat me on the back and tell them how good a cook I was because I listened to her, unlike her daughters-in-law who had their own methods.  Of course I listened and followed because I didn't know anything about it.  Thank goodness Korean food is different from Chinese in its complexity and the number of recipes and dishes.

I'm happy that Korean food's popularity has finally taken told in America.  Kimchee, bulgogi, Korean Fried Chicken, and  Korean beef tacos are now household words.  In addition to its delicious taste, it's also healthy.  And, contrary to popular belief, it's not all spicy hot.  I also see many articles on healthy eating advocating kimchee  ( fermented cabbage ) because it's a probiotic like yogurt. Kimchee may also be the only vegetable dish in the world to have a museum dedicated to it.

Staples for the Korean pantry are rice, noodles,  kimchee, turnips, soy sauce, tofu, bean sprouts, sesame oil, sesame seeds, garlic, ginger, green onions, beef stock made from shank, soy bean paste, laver, seaweed and hot pepper sauce, most of which can now be found in major supermarkets.

Below are the ingredients for a simple, nutritious soup that will make a meal when served with rice and kimchee.

To make this bean sprout and spinach soup bring about 6 cups of beef broth flavored with 2 tablespoons of soybean paste  ( miso ) and 1 tablespoon sesame oil  to a boil.  Cut the tofu into 1-2 " cubes and add them and about 3 cups bean sprouts and spinach to the soup stock .  Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 8 minutes.  Lightly beat 3 eggs to which a tablespoon or two of water is added , then mince the green onions  ( about 2 ) and add them to the eggs.  Bringing the soup to a boil , drizzle the egg mixture on top the soup and let it cook until they're set.

Unlike Chinese rice which is very dry and tasteless, Koreans eat sticky rice.  During my many years of cooking I've never under or over cooked the rice using this simple method :  1 cup short-grain rice to 1 1/2 cup water. Bring to a rolling boil, stir the rice. Cover with lid and let steam for 20 minutes.  Open lid and stir to fluff up. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes.  Perfect moist rice every time.

When my children were young they were fortunate to have their Korean grandmother care for them while I worked and as a result that have a love of Korean food and cook it as well.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Last Rose of ?

In my Chicago garden I always dreaded the Fall cleanup which meant the end of the gardening season until Spring.  Months and months of gray skies, snow and bitter cold to endure before the first bulbs poked up out of the ground. Even after 4 decades of Chicago winters its the one thing I could never get used to much less love.  Having grown up in the sunny deep South anything below 70 is cold to me .

Here in North Carolina, however, my first garden ,which I planted a few months ago has thrived and is still in bloom.  I have been so bold as to even plant a winter garden of vegetables in pots on my back deck.  We've had a few nights of mid-30's and I've had to bring out the row covers but they still look good .

My favorite rose shrub , 'knockout ' is still blooming her lovely head off.  I picked up two of them at  Home Depot for $3 and $6 and they were looking sickly when I put them in the ground with plenty of compost and manure which they love.  They have since grown into beautiful shrubs that now fill the once empty space near my front entrance .

                         Unless December proves to be brutual this may well be the last rose of winter .

When the last roses of winter finally do fade I will than take the opportunity to prune them back to control their size.  Knockouts can get tall and leggy and  many gardeners tend to overfed them which only adds to their rapid growth.   I think they look best when kept at 4 ' and under.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My Winter Vegetable and Herb Garden

I'm so excited to be able to plant a vegetable and herb garden for the first time here in North Carolina.  Last year would have been the perfect one but I was too busy with my move .  I'm praying for good weather this year and, if it doesn't oblige, I'm ready with row covers and transportation to the garage if necessary.

Due to the danger of varmints such as rabbits and deer I have limited my plantings to pots on the back deck. I'm leaving the lawn a little tall in case they want to mow it for me .  I may have to get a dog house and have my mini-Schnauzer Jojo do her job as a rat terrier .

My selections above are :  Lemon grass, kale, lavender, thyme, oregano, giant red mustard, parsley, rosemary, society garlic, bay, and savoy cabbage .    I've planted six of the cabbage in individual pots .

I love being able to clip herbs for my soups and stews, it adds so much flavor.  And when the cabbage and mustard greens are mature I'll find a welcome spot for them as well.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

October in the Garden

In late August I installed a front garden at my rental house, investing as little time and money as possible since I don't plan to be there long.

It is simply amazing how fast the garden has filled in.  The two roses I purchased for $3 and $6  ( Knockouts ) are very happy in their new home.  The Lantana has performed beautifully , going from a neglected , scrawny plant in a small pot to a good size shrub filled with beautiful flowers.  The Japanese silvergrass have tassles at the top and the Mums have dropped their original blooms and developed new ones in a very short time because they were planted rather early.

Here's the amazing  transformation of my front garden .

October is still warm here in North Carolina with temperatures in the mid-80's so there is still a lot of gardening left to be done.  Don't look too close or you'll see the weeds I have yet to pull.  A gardener's work is never done.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Stars in the September Garden

Having experienced my first Fall in North Carolina last year I am in agreement with Miz Elizabeth Lawrence's opinion in My Southern Garden :   " In the garden this season should be the climax of bloom, rich in a new beauty of its own and not just a period where there is some leftover color from Summer. "  

While the traditional asters, annual mums and sedum are stalwarts of the Fall garden, I delight in seeking out other perennials and annuals to go along with them.    Although I do think that the "leftovers from summer " like Blackeyed Susan, Coreopsis , Coneflowers and Sunflowers and Zinnias fit into my favorite Fall color scheme.

                                                   Above :  Fall colors in my Chicago garden .

I've read that the early blooming Mums we favor in Chicago are not as desirable here and might not survive the heat . I tend to favor the daisy-like mums for their natural appearance and I absolutely love the "matchstick" mums which come in yellow, red and bi-colors.  It is difficult to find specialty perennial mums at even the largest garden centers so those searching will probably have to resort to online nurseries .

I've always been fascinated by the Japanese spider mums and must do further research to see if they can be grown in North Carolina .

In  the chapter on Fall in My Southern Garden  Miz Elizabeth mentions a flower that is popular in almost every garden in the South in September but one I was not familiar with .  Lycoris radiata , a bulb, springs up from the bare ground and its brilliant red graces the garden for two weeks.

The great thing about North Carolina is that one can garden year round here and I look forward to doing that.  In the meantime I am plotting and planning each season to include a lot of bloom and color.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

My First Carolina Garden

In my previous post titled A Practical Portable Garden I sketched out my plan for a small garden in the frontyard of my rental house which looks  like this :

Note the one and only lonely rose which was too far gone to save.  In search of plants for my garden I visited the local garden center which happened to have perennials at half price.  I purchased two coneflowers, 3 Japanese bloodgrasses , 3  Lantanas and 2 huge Japanese Silvergrasses.    Two Knockout Roses were put in the clearance area and they did look like the last rose of summer so I took pity on them and for $3 and $6 each you can't go wrong.  With all the rain we've had and the good soil amendments I gave them they are well on their way to recovery.

  Two 'knockout' roses agood rain and soil.nd 1 carpet rose purchased at clearance.  The newly emerged roses are the result of  good rain and soil.  The lower right one has newly emerging buds.

The most important thing in planting a new garden is of course the soil.  I worked in some good compost , manure , peat moss and top soil and created a raised bed on top of the clay soil.

In the plan I incorporated the holly I purchased last year and kept in a container over winter.  Because I took advantage of the half price sale my total expenditures on the garden was a little over $250. .  I purchased a cedar raised bed at home depot  ( $35 ) and filled it with mums and salvia.

      I framed the entrance with the two Japanese Silvergrasses which stand out against the heavy red brick.

To the right of the stairs I placed the Christmas holly and next to that is the Japanese bloodgrass which will come into its own soon with some brilliant color.  I see tassles are already forming.  The cedar raised bed is to be used for seasonal annuals.

On the left of the entrance is the beginning of my rose garden.  I plan to purchase some small evergreen shrubs as background to add structure.

As the roses fill in I plan to add some annuals such as lamb's ear to compliment them.  Once all planting is done I will add a thick layer of shredded mulch to retain moisture and prevent soil compaction.

Here's the garden thus far.  Of course it's always a work in progress and the fun of planting a new garden is watching it grow and fill in.  In the words of that famous Chicago Cub fan  " Wait 'til next year ! "

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


I've only lived in Chapel Hill for a year now and as a newcomer I have been quietly observing its uniqueness but didn't fully appreciate it until I read a very well written article by one of its
 "homies. "   I guess sometimes you have to leave your hometown before you appreciate it.

Local author turned famous Wells Tower writes about his hometown in  LIFE ON THE HILL .

Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is a town I wish I loved less than I do. I have lived in Louisiana, New Zealand, Oregon, Canada, Connecticut, Scotland, and New York City (where I currently dwell), yet I have never been entirely happy in any of these places, because, like the fool who can’t rid his head of memories of the girl he adored in eighth grade, I cannot let go of my hometown.

Sometimes described by its boosters as “the pat of butter in a sea of grits,” Chapel Hill (and its adjunct community, Carrboro) lies on a belt of high and wooded ground two and a half hours from the Atlantic Ocean and four east of the Appalachian Range. We are 140 miles east of Charlotte, and thirty miles north of Raleigh, our capital. But Chapel Hill’s citizens understand that what makes our town so agreeable is not that it lies in the gravitational field of other destinations, but that it is politely and resolutely a distinct place with an array of magnetisms (often counterpoised) entirely its own.

Chapel Hill’s Southernness is fitful. Our cosmopolitan vanity is wounded when friends in New York or Los Angeles say insufferable things like “Well, it all sounds very nice, but I could never live in the South.” We retort heatedly with examples of our village’s urbanity: its art house movie theaters (we have two!), our socialist bookshop (it occupies the lower floor of a venerable massage parlor), and the roster of dining establishments of which the James Beard Foundation has taken notice. Or we mention that, thanks to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill is part of the Research Triangle, which has the highest concentration of Ph.D.s in the United States. They have fetched up and washed out here in such numbers that you can hardly get your oil changed without the Jiffy Lube attendant offering his maunderings on Kierkegaard. We talk about the magicians of science out in the Research Triangle Park, designing snazzy new antibiotics and long polymers. We mention our cherished nightclub, Cat’s Cradle (in Carrboro), and our indie music boom in the 1990s, when bands like Superchunk, Polvo, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers convinced hundreds of young hairy people to load their cars with guitars and amplifiers and drive to our town. Or we quote the late long-reigning right-wing troglodyte Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), who, when asked his opinion about construction of a new state zoo, said, disdaining our un-Dixielike political tendencies " Why do we need a zoo when we can just put a fence around Chapel Hill ?"

And yet: While traditionally Red State Carolina may scoff at Chapel Hill and Carrboro’s dubious Southern bona fides, I submit that we have salvaged most of what is good about the Southern way of things and left the unpleasant bits at the curb. Our schools are excellent, and yoga is a local epidemic, yet on a summer night in Carrboro, you need not look far to find porches stocked with people plucking banjos with utmost sincerity. In our downtown, million-dollar green-built condominiums are springing up like kudzu shoots, but we still have springtime eruptions of old-growth azalea and dogwood blossoms to gobsmack a Savannahian. Free parking is increasingly hard to come by, but drive three miles to the north or west, and you are in swaying cornscapes and pasturelands comely enough to stop your heart. We have three “progressive” grocery stores and uncountable espresso peddlers, yet we are, to a citizen, people who will clench fists and go red in the face if told there are ways to eat pulled pork other than in a rinse of vinegar and pepper flakes.

Even as sprawl metastasizes at our margins and Priuses eclipse Ford pickups in the vehicle registry, we are a people nearly wretched with nostalgia. “How many Chapel Hillians does it take to change a lightbulb?” runs an old joke. “Ten: one to change it and nine to moon about how great the old lightbulb was.” The antique rites of village life are important to us. To pass an acquaintance on the sidewalk without saying anything is to gravely breach the social code (you’re acquainted with the entire phone book if you’ve been here more than two years). Urban transplants scorn our sociability as fraudulent Mayberryism, but we understand that the health of a community sometimes depends on listening to news that you are not interested in while the milk goes warm in your grocery bag. Sentimental bootleggers still sell moonshine in the outer county. Whole-hog cookery remains a cherished rite, and you cannot ascend to plenary status as a Chapel Hill native if you have not thrown at least one pig picking. Not long ago, I roasted my first hog with my friend Matt Neal, son of the great, departed chef Bill Neal, whose restaurant Crook’s Corner reintroduced shrimp and grits to the world. It was a chilly evening, and we stayed up all night, drinking bourbon, shoveling applewood embers into the cooker’s belly. We dared not open the cooker’s top, for fear we’d lose precious warmth and sour the meat. When we lifted the lid the following morning, we were surprised to find that the pig was on fire and had been that way for eight hours at least. We hosed it off. It looked like a fallen meteorite but dressed out at eighty pounds of good flesh. These days, Matt operates, contrarily, a New York-–style deli in Carrboro. His sandwiches surpass any I’ve found in my Brooklyn neighborhood. He does not sell barbecue.

            The garden in front of Crooks' Corner in Carborro which I always admire when on my walks to Chapel Hill. ( Carolyn )

Many of our citizens would tell you that the town’s most essential tribal marrow lies in our hatred of the sports teams and athletics boosters of Duke University, ten miles away in Durham. (Hatred is not too strong a word. Multiple books have been written about the purity of our loathing.) However, I think we privately adore Duke. Duke, which is exclusive, and expensive, and chiefly attended by people from New Jersey, allows us to feel like up-from-the-red-clay salt-of-the-earthers when we root for UNC, which is also exclusive, but a good value for its tuition fees, and which admits at least a token quota of North Carolinians. We might think the emerald quads and oak-limb vaultings of the UNC campus a bit too glorious and prepossessing if it weren’t for Duke’s architecture, built, supposedly, to replicate Princeton when Princeton could not be bribed into renaming itself Duke. The result is a gaudy fantasyland of Gothic spires and leaded glass raised in vulgar inversion of our state’s fine motto, Esse quam videri: “To be, rather than to seem.”

To my mind, Chapel Hill’s highest virtue is not its brittle preoccupations with sports or provincial tradition but the limberness of the place. It is a Shangri-la of indeterminacy: neither fusty Old South sanctum nor soulless New South suburb, neither metropolis nor boondocks. To live easefully in New York or New Orleans, one must strive to be a New Yorker or a New Orleanian. In Chapel Hill, a town too genial to demand much of its people, one can simply be.

In Chapel Hill, life is at once simple and civilized. I look forward to one day moving home to a town where basketball season and tomato season at the farmers’ market arrive to nearly equal fanfare, a pony-size city where you can catch a performance by a superb garage band or a world-class orchestra without worrying that your car is being stripped in the parking lot, a place to wake on weekend mornings to the sound of a police siren that on second hearing turns out to be a mourning dove cooing in the pines.

Reprinted from Guns and Garden Magazine
 Since writing this article, the author has moved back to Chapel Hill.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Practical Portable Garden

For the first time in over 4 decades I find myself without a real garden of my own.   The house that I'm renting is new and a proper landscape was not installed.  I must have some kind of garden so I started down the path of least resistance -a container garden on the back deck which has flourished very nicely.

The bare front yard was put off as I tried, in vain, to persaude the owners to install a proper landscape.   The owner is not willing to put in a landscape for fear that tenants in the future won't care for it.  Very lame as far as I'm concerned but, it is what it is .  I will probably be here for another year or so and don't want to spend a lot of money on someone else's property.

The other day I noticed that the first container plant I purchased last Fall, a beautiful Ilex Crenata , or Japanese Holly,  had outgrown its pot and needed re-planting.  I brought it around to the front yard to see if there was a place I could put it temporarily.   On either side of the front entrance to the house is a recessed space begging to be a real garden.  The soil on both sides is hard, compacted clay so I am not able or willing to dig it out .   After a good soaking rain the ground was somewhat softer and I dug out a hole and placed the holly in it, right next to the stairs .  I purposely planted it high because of the clay.  I also went to the forest in the back and borrowed some of the good leaf mold and top layer of good soil to surround it.

Since the recessed space is small I started getting more ideas on how I could turn this area into a portable garden that I could take with me when I left.  One thing led to another and before I knew it I had my eyes on a 4 x 4 ' raised cedar garden beg from Home Depot.  This bed will be filled with colorful long blooming annuals for seasonal color.

On the other side of the stairs was the only sign that one of the past tenants had a green thumb - a struggling, diseased rose bush which led to even more brilliant ideas.  Why not do a raised bed of  roses on that side which has a lot of sun ? 

Well, there you have it.   Right  now there's a holly and a rose , a good beginning but it won't be long before its joined by others and before you know it, a real garden will be created .

I know everyone loves before and  after photos and when I'm done I will post them.  Right now, here's my garden plan .  I hope to have it done before the snow flies.  Wait a minute I don't have to worry about the snow, I'm in North Carolina now.   Stay tuned for more updates.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Memories of a Southern Childhood


Flowers, trees and shrubs hold special memories of childhood.  I realized this more than ever while working in the tree and shurb department of a garden center where customers would come looking for a certain specimen to plant in memory of a departed loved one or to give as a gift for a wedding or anniversary.  Or, they wanted a tree from their childhood for their own garden or their children's.

After moving to North Carolina last year I  have started to become re-acquainted with many things I had forgotten about from my Southern childhood.   On a visit to the North Carolina botanical garden I saw an interesting looking tropical tree and peering closer I saw it's unfamiliar name Asimina trilob and beneath it the common name :  Paw-Paw tree.    It brought back memories of the folksong we sang at school.

Where, oh where is pretty little Susie?
Where, oh where is pretty little Susie?
Where, oh where is pretty little Susie?
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.
Come on, boys [or girls, or kids], let’s go find her,
Come on, boys, let’s go find her,
Come on, boys, let’s go find her,
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.
Pickin’ up paw-paws, puttin’ ‘em in her pockets,
Pickin’ up paw-paws, puttin’ ‘em in her pockets,
Pickin’ up paw-paws, puttin’ ‘em in her pockets,
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.
—The Paw Paw Patch

 The Paw-paw is the largest native fruit in America .  Daniel Boone and Mark Twain were said to be big fans of the Paw-paw  which is sometimes called the " poor man's banana. " According to Lewis and Clark it saved them for starvation on their expedition and Native Americans consumed them regularly as part of their diet.

We didn't know who owned the property near the creek where the Paw-paw trees were but they seemed to be fair game for the first to discover their ripening fruit in the early Fall.  We'd load up our baskets and pockets with them, licking our lips at the thought of them mashed up with a little milk and sugar. 

Fall also meant searching for  ripe persimmons , hickory nuts and chestnuts, all special treats when the fruits of summer were a distant memory.

As I gaze upon the familiar crape myrtles, mimosa, dogwood, magnolia and hollies that grow so prolifically here I feel as I've truly come home to my beloved South again after so many decades away.

What trees, shrubs and flowers hold special memories from your childhood ?   Have you preserved a little history by planting some in your garden ? 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Proven Flowers for Hot North Carolina Summers

I am following the wisdom of Miz Elizabeth Lawrence author of A Southern Garden, which is still fresh and practical as it was 50 years ago when she wrote her famous book.

Drought is something we must face sooner or later here and what flowers to grow that will endure it is key if one is to have a four seasons garden. Miz Elizabeth praises daylilies as one of the early summer southern gardens mainstays. They begin to bloom in late May and continue to mid-July. With these she planted spurge, white phlox, veronica, butterfly weed , tritonia, and cosmos for a bright and cool scheme.

If Miz Elizabeth was alive today I think she'd be amazed at how many wonderful varieties of daylilies there are now. This one is a triple .

Phlox paniculata

Coneflowers, Chrysanthemum maximum, Alaska daisies, yarrow, tiger lilies, and the torch lily are other summer favorites. She considered garden phlox the foundation of perennial borders in June and July . Her favorite companion plant with phloxd was a red Monarda, or bee balm , combined with a light purple aster. As Monarda colonizes rather quickly, one must keep a close eye on it, but it is easy to pull up and thin out.

Salvia azurea

Salvia greggi

Salvia patens

Long blooming perennials in Mis Elizabeth's garden were autumn sage, S. Greggii, gential sage,

Salvia patens, Salvia azurea, and the mealycup sage, S. farinacea which blooms from early June to November. From June to August, Achillea nitida or yarrow kept good foliage and tolerated drought very well. The New England aster, A. novae-angliae began in early June and goes steadily on until very late Fall.

The cornflower aster, Stokesia laevis , is one she considers the most satisfactory perennials for the South. Heliopsis and gaillardias are two perennials she named that bloom very long under all conditions.

Miz Elizabeth used indispensible annuals that re-seeded themselves and came back year after year, such as the prickly poppies, cosmos, zinnias, marigold and cleome. She considered Gazanias as the sturdiest of South African daisies and members of the Amaryllis family become the center of interest in summer and Fall.

Argemone, prickly poppy

Gazania rigens

I will certainly put these on my list of must haves for my future Carolina piedmont garden.

Monday, June 25, 2012

My First Garden

As a grandmother I want to introduce  my little Sweetpea Lea to gardening .  When she comes to mawmaw's house she loves to touch the flowers and vegetables and watch the butterflies and bees.  She's a picky eater when it comes to veggies as are many her age.  I've heard young mothers say that french fries were the only food their toddler would eat.    Of course things were so different in my generation.

Beginning at the age of 10 it was my duty, as well as my two sisters, to tend to the vegetable garden.  Watching our food grow was a satisfying experience.  We would plant green onions, cabbage, turnip greens, corn, peas, beans,sweet peppers, cucumbers,  tomatoes, beets, carrots, squash, strawberies and collard greens.   We grew peanuts and corn in large quantities in  a separate field , some to eat and some to sell .  Anyone who has a large vegetable garden knows that its a lot of work to keep up.

 I  remember picking a ripe sweet pepper or tomato off the vine, rub it off on my shirt, putting it in a biscuit and eating it for a snack.  We didn't use chemicals even back then and were organic before it became a trend . 

As we girls had to prepare meals for our widowed Father and ourselves all the vegetables we grew went from garden to table .  We ate very little red meat, if any, and raised our own chickens for both meat and eggs.   We drank milk right from the cow  .  The only things we bought from a grocery store were flour , cornmeal and  lard in bulk .  We churned our own butter and made buttermilk as well.   When the vegetables were ripe, the real work began and I can recall many summer days spent in harvesting and canning.  It was a lot of work but a healthy lifestyle and to this day I still prefer vegetables to meat.

When I get my own house here in North Carolina I will make a little garden for my Lea so that she can learn how food is grown and perhaps come to love vegetables as much as I do.  I was happy to read that there are many young families these days turning to organic farming as  a business and one expert said that farming will be the next big thing.  It's refreshing to see the renewed interest in vegetable gardening  and it's my hope that more parents will introduce their children to it .

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Flowery Trees and Shrubs of Summer

Spring and Fall are the main gardening seasons here in North Carolina, with summer often taking a backseat. I have, however, observed many showy trees and shrubs blooming in nearby public and private gardens this month . Some I know from my youth in Alabama such as the Mimosa or silk tree and the Southern magnolia . I saw a stunning blue flowering shrub that I had never seen before and managed to get its name. If you've never seen vitex you're in for some real eye candy. 

                                              Vitex is a very showy tree/shrub that blooms in June.

I've also observed some late blooming azaleas and rhododenrons as well as the familiar St. John's wort.  June of course is resplendent with roses of all kinds.

Some wise gardeners have a few of my favorite Abelia shrubs.  And of course, Hydrangeas of all colors and cultivars define so many Southern gardens .

Lagerstroemia indica, or Crape Myrtle  ( often referred to as the " Southern lilac " ) has begun its long show of colorful flowers in reds, pinks, white and lavender.

                                                               Abelia is a long-blooming evergreen shrub.

Lagerstroemia ' burgundy cotton ' - a gorgeous Crape Myrtle that grows 10-15 feet tall.  I love the color on this one.

I know that Mimosas are undesirable because of their invasiness but according to recent reports the burgundy colored cultivar is not. 

  Albizia julibrissin  'summer chocolate '  Its pink blooms are stunning against the burgundy foliage.  We Southerners have fond childhood memories of these trees that were present in almost every yard.

The secret to gardening in the summer in the South is to rise early to do your chores before the heat sets in , or wait until evening with it cools a bit.

I just can't imagine not gardening in the summer and when I get my own garden in the near future I will certainly include a lot of color for this flowery season.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Ain't Nothing in This World That I Like Better .....

Drumroll, please !  Back on April 10, 2012 I had the audacity to plant " Better Boy " tomato and today it has made me the Tomato Queen of the Neighborhood  when it turned bright red.  The less confident neighbors have just recently set out their tomato plants.

You may have read recently on The Grumpy Gardener blog that there are actually those among us that are 'mater haters. '  There are more of them than you think. Previously, I'd never even heard, much less imagined that there were people that actually hated maters.   It is a phobia known as lycopersicoaphobia, for which there is no cure.   I believe that the movie ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES might have actually been made by one of these mater haters to try to scare the rest of us.  I'm thinking of starting my own support group called Maters Matter.

So in honor of this auspicious occasion we will listen to a love song performed by none other than John Denver. It is aptly titled HOMEGROWN TOMATOES.  Take it away, John . Johnny Tomatoseed.

   " Aint nothing in this world that I like better ...than bacon and lettuce and homegrown tomatoes .  Homegrown tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes what would life be without homegrown tomatoes ? "

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Design Lessons from Mother Nature at The Gentling Garden

The hilltop home of Jasmin and Peter Gentling in Asheville, North Carolina has a wondrous garden that was developed by them during the 40 years they've lived there.  There are many lessons to be learned from these master gardeners that have used Mother Nature as their landscaper.
The flowers in the landscape are very natural looking as if Mother Nature herself had planted them.  Master gardener Peter emphasized his philosophy of considering texture and placement of plants over color. 

What could be more soothing on a hot Carolina day than this cool glade ?
An exbury azalea fits right in the woodland garden. 

Poppies are everywhere and add to the backdrop of evergreens seen throughout the garden. 

The placement of evergreens through out the garden guarantee year round interest.

A tranquil setting sans color is reminescent of a tranquil Japanese garden.

Water is so soothing and the seat next to the pond is a favorite spot to relax. 

A spectacular way to frame a view.

A vine covered arbor over the terraced steps to the garden below provides a strategic focal point.

An outcropping of stone and a natural stream look as if Mother Nature placed them there.

Again, with very little flower color, the textures and foliage are effective all season.
Yet another design from Mother Nature. 
Posted by PicasaThis wonderful path leads to a beautifully designed Asian-style gate and fence.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Hilltop Oasis in Asheville-The Gentlings Garden

A feeling of tranquility and harmony was my first impression of the garden of Jasmin and Peter Gentling.   No glitz, no prominent sculpture , no beds of bright, bold colorful flowers to dazzle the eyes - just Mother Nature in all her glory, the garden merging seamlessly into the forest beyond. 

It has a very impressive history -the Who's Who of society has owned the property or slept there.  But more impressive to me was what the Gentling's did during their 40 years of living here.  Except for the large trees they have selected and planted everything in the garden.  And what Mr. Gentling said was very dear to my heart - he plants with an eye for texture more than color, which is a philosphy I've always believed in.  A garden that  looks good when it's not in bloom is to me a great achievement.

Hearing the singing of the birds and breathing in the cool mountain air added to the serenity of this hilltop paradise.   As Jasmin Gentling said just going out in the morning with a cup of coffee and sitting on the back patio  ( lower right ) listening to the birds singing brings her more joy than just about anything else. 

Peter Gentling is a native Texan who attended college in Chicago and we talked a little about his days there as a student.  We're both artists and talked also about art.  His late brother is a very prominent Texas artist .  The Gentlings are just like their garden -down to earth, natural and very enthusiastic about welcoming over 80 gardening geeks to view their paradise, for which I'll always be grateful.  I've seen Versailles, the Biltmore, the grand gardens of Europe and Asia, but I've never seen anything lovelier than the Gentling's garden .

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


 A gardener's legs aren't always the prettiest -as evidenced by mine above.  Those aren't nicks from shaving, they're bug bites-Chiggers to be exact and those North Carolina chiggers are meaner than a billy goat in a pepper patch.

Getting all gussied up to attend the 2012 Garden Bloggers' Fling in Asheville, North Carolina this week and meet with 80 or more garden bloggers that are just as crazy, if not more so, that I am about all things garden.   Some of the garden bloggers' I've exchanged "howdys" with albeit all too briefly at the 2009 Chicago SpringFling when they visited my garden . I look forward to seeing them again, as well as meeting those I haven't had the pleasure to .

Although I respect and admire historical places like the Biltmore Estates I'm much more intrigued with the mountain home of Christopher C in NC where Mother Nature is the best garden designer of all.  I'm thinking too that he just might have some Carolina moonshine hidden out in the woods that he might want us to do a taste test on.

So I've packed enough stuff for the Queen's entourage, had a manicure and pedicure, and yes, I've shaved my legs for this, so it had better be worth it .   I'm about as excited as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. 

See Y'all in Asheville !

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