Gardening with natives instills an understanding of our natural world—its cycles, changes, and history. Communing with nature has a positive, healing effect on human beings. Learning how to work with instead of against nature will do wonders for your spiritual health.
Wing Haven’s Gardeners’ Garden Tour is a Mother’s Day weekend tradition for many, and this year my daughter made me a very happy mom by going with me for the first time. The weather was cool and gray on Saturday, which is actually quite good for visiting gardens (at least according to me!), but attendance was light so perhaps not everyone agrees.
From Wing Haven we walked down the sidewalk a few yards to the Elizabeth Lawrence Garden. A welcome sign at the entrance says,
Elizabeth Lawrence (1904–1985), one of the country’s preeminent garden writers, lived in this house for 35 years. Miss Lawrence designed the house and garden which were built in 1948–1949.
Miss Lawrence is recognized as one of the three greatest influences on Southern horticulture, along with Thomas Jefferson and J. C. Raulston. She is also listed among the Top 25 Gardeners of All Time. Enter through the garden gate …
Sufficiently awed, we did.
Elizabeth Lawrence Garden
The perennial borders from the back of the Elizabeth Lawrence house.
Miss Lawrence was a collector and, like many of us, didn’t seem to mind “drifts of one” one bit!
From the back of the garden looking toward the house
In contrast to the sunny borders near the house, the back of the garden is shady with woodland plants and her famous Treasure Tree, Stewartia pseudocamellia. It was still blooming, but the blooms were mostly too high in the tree to see (or photograph) well.
Kousa angustata ‘Elsbry’, Empress of China ™ Evergreen Dogwood
A dogwood faucet! My favorite detail of the day.
The Elizabeth Lawrence Garden is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday. The $10 admission fee also includes admission to Wing Haven which is a few yards down the same street, Ridgewood Avenue.
Tour Garden #1: Brian Caldwell & Robert Shore
While some gardens are designed with maximum plant capacity and ideal growing conditions in mind — plant-centric you could say — the hardscaping of this garden makes it a wonderful place for people to mill around and visit with each other. The sound of water and so many enticing spots to enjoy the greenery must make this garden a dream for entertaining.
A carefully pruned Japanese maple is diamond jewelry for this garden
Tour Garden #2: Suzanne & Harold Wilkerson
Two master gardeners have created a charming garden with something for everyone. There is plenty of sun, but also several shady spots, and the soothing sound of water from a fountain. A vegetable plot, as well as containers filled with ornamentals and edibles round out several garden “rooms.”
An ochre house is a beautiful backdrop for pink azaleas and blue hydrangeas.
The shady porch is a comfortable place to admire beautiful plantings.
The flowering topiary is pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana), a pretty ornamental that can also produce edible fruit.
Doesn’t this gazebo look just like the ones you see in miniature dish gardens? But it’s full size! You can actually sit in there.
How brilliant putting water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) in the fountain — so charming and attractive!
Tour Garden #3: Mary & Bill Staton
Whimsical garden art combines with annuals, perennials, and vegetables to make this large garden a personable space. It’s pleasant for wildlife too — a Certified Wildlife Habitat ®.
What an enviable potting space!
Beyond the sunny vegetable and perennial space is a wooded slope. As you follow the moss path you find yourself in a cathedral of trees so tall you won’t believe you’re in Charlotte. How old some of these trees must be! At the bottom of the slope a creek adds the sound of moving water. I apologize to the gardener/homeowner for not doing a better job taking photos. It is truly awesome back there.
Tour Garden #4: Roy Clark
This gardener invites visitors to indulge their own passion for plants, and to “garden from the heart.” It is clear that he has done that himself in this relatively new Charlotte neighborhood. The 7,600 square feet is just packed with plants of all sorts — my favorite kind of garden. The pleasant sound of water from tiny water fountains, bird baths, and a running stream is relaxing, and there’s a gazebo for hanging out with neighbors and friends, many of whom were there on Sunday. It is a welcoming, friendly place.
Tour Garden #5: Mary Powers
The transition from house to garden is blurred on this property by a beautiful pool area just outside the door, and several garden rooms dividing up the space beyond. The garden is chemical and pesticide free, and includes many native plants along with bird-planted volunteers. The gardener/homeowner considers it her “birdsong place of curiosity and wonder,” where she watches nature take its course and gets her daily dirt therapy.
Shady areas were packed full of lush plants; how in the world does she keep the deer off those hostas?
Apeach tree showed up one year beside our driveway in an obscure spot behind our neighbors garage. It went unnoticed for quite some time, but one day I saw peaches draped across the forsythia. I recalled how once or twice over the years, my children had buried peach seeds. Maybe it was from one of them? That’s where the trash cans sit as well. Maybe a seed or two missed the mark? I don’t know for sure how it got there, but now there are several more — seedlings from this little tree’s fallen peaches. Did you know peach trees would seed out like that? Apparently they even naturalize in some areas.
Now the tree is eight feet tall with the cutest rounded crown. When its pink blooms faded this spring, I picked and dried some of the fresh new leaves.
I think it’s interesting how infrequently we use the leaves of fruit plants. Peach leaves smell wonderful. It’s a subtle but peachy scent with a hint of sweet almond. I like to open the jar of dried leaves just to smell them sometimes. The leaves of raspberry, strawberry, blueberry, and various citruses all smell fruity and delicious, too. Most make good teas. We should use them more.
Peach Leaf Tea
◊ First, pick your own leaves, if at all possible, and dry them yourself. If you grow your own tree, you can be sure they are organic, plus you won’t miss out on the enjoyable process of interacting with the plant. Early season leaves are most tender and best. Yes, you can buy peach leaves, but they are surprisingly expensive.
◊ Once you have the dried leaves, crumble a few so that you have around a teaspoon of crushed leaves.
◊ Put the leaves in a tea ball or strainer.
◊ Pour boiling water over them.
◊ Cover the cup. This is an important step because essential oils and flavored steam escape when you don’t.
◊ Steep for 5–10 minutes. You can steep longer, but keep it weakish until you’ve tried it a time or two to be sure you tolerate it well.
Peach leaf has a fruity flavor with a hint of bitterness. The bitterness is one of the reasons peach leaf is used for digestive issues, including nausea, indigestion, and constipation. A little bitterness is good for us, but the typical American diet has very, very little of it.
Honey is a good addition of course, especially if the bitterness bothers you. Ginger honey is particularly good and adds another layer of digestive help if you want that.
I wasn’t sure what to call this, because it’s not honey from blackberries. In other words, the bees didn’t forage blackberry blooms. It’s a little thicker than a syrup, and not sweetened with sugar. It’s almost a butter, like the apple, peach or pumpkin kind. But it isn’t spiced, you cook it faster, and it isn’t quite as thick as those. Whatever you call it, it’s what happens when you flavor honey with blackberries, and it’s delicious!
I made a tiny amount because I had only a couple of handfuls of blackberries, but you could certainly double the recipe. Here’s how I did it.
1–6oz clamshell package of blackberries
½ cup apple cider
¼ cup orange juice
¼–⅓ cup honey, or to taste
Put the first three ingredients in a saucepan and bring them to a full, rolling boil.
Lower heat to medium and cook for about 15 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by half.
If you want to remove the seeds, strain it now.
Then return to the pot and stir in the honey. Bring back to a boil. This will activate the pectin in the apple cider and thicken the mixture a bit. Honey will foam, so watch to be sure it doesn’t boil over.
Boil until it starts to coat a cold spoon, about 10–15 minutes.
Pour into a half-pint jar and let it cool. Refrigerate. It will continue to thicken some as it gets cold.
I’ve spread Blackberry Honey on toast and stirred it into tea. It would make lemonade luscious and gorgeous. The color is deep and rich.
The ornamental value of Stewartia malacodendron has been described by authors of gardening and botanical literature for at least 200 years. William Bartram in his Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida (1791) mentioned the plant several times. Near Savannah, Georgia, he wrote of “this ancient sublime forest,” which besides Stewartia malacodendron, included Cornus florida, Halesia, Aesculus pavia, Sambucus, and Callicarpa, among others.
Even then the forest was giving way to development, but conservation was not yet a concern. Bartram wrote that the forest was “frequently intersected with extensive avenues, vistas and green lawns, opening to extensive savannas and far distant Rice plantations,” and that it “agreeably employs the imagination, and captivates the senses by scenes of magnificence and grandeur.” 
One hundred and seventy three years after Bartram, Elizabeth Lawrence wrote of a special trip to see Stewartia malacodendron at the North Carolina coast. Her host Miss Kate took them, after many miles of driving, to some woods that looked “impenetrable,” but then “parted some sweetgum branches and walked into the underbrush as easily as if she had opened a door and entered a country parlor.” Ms. Lawrence had less grace than her host in that situation, and stumbled, grumbled, and lost a few hairpins along the way.
The indignities must have been worthwhile, because Ms. Lawrence recalled the visit ten years after the experience: Eventually, “she [Miss Kate] stopped on the edge of a deep ravine. At the bottom of it a sluggish stream, fed by an old spring, ran through a carpet of fern, and the slope between was covered with a thicket of stewartias. Standing there above them we looked down on the flowers, and that is the way they should be seen—from above, with light coming through many leaves before it reaches the ivory cups that seem to hold the sweet mystery of the woods.”
In June of 1964 Ms. Lawrence wondered whether “the place has been cut up into building lots, or whether a superhighway runs through the ravine.” She fondly remembered how she had, “looked down on those white flowers growing gently among the green leaves.” 
More recently Gil Nelson and Larry Mellichamp have favorably reviewed Stewartia malacodendron in their books.
Dr. Nelson: “The flowers are about three inches wide when fully expanded, making them appear inordinately large against the 2–4-inch leaves. The blossoms are composed of five crinkled petals that start out pure white but change to creamy or yellowish white by maturity. A mass of deep purplish or burgundy-red stamens decorates the center of the blossom, lending a regal air to the flower.” 
Dr. Mellichamp: “Silky camellia is one of the most wonderful year-round trees I have grown. It’s also one of the most difficult. […] In bloom, it’s breathtaking, with dozens of gorgeous white flowers well displayed on the sweeping leafy branches.” He suggests growing the plant in moist, well drained soil, and never letting it dry out until well established. 
The rewards must be worth any extra attention Stewartia malacodendron requires as it’s getting settled into your garden. Mike Dirr is reported to have said about the silky camellia, “It’s every gardeners dream plant, like the finest piece of art or sculpture.” 
When you haven’t written a real post in months, it’s hard to jump back in! An intimidating backlog of photos from the past year or two brings to mind so much ‘never did,’ that I just want to give up before I start. But today was a sunny, plant-filled day, so I’ll just start where I am.
Live Oak outside Trask Colisseum at UNC-W
My niece’s graduation in Wilmington gave me a good reason to spend a few days at the coast over the weekend. For a couple of days, my daughter and her friend stayed with me, and granddog Stormin Norman entertained us all. He has his own Instagram account, being spoiled and prone to selfies and all, but he’s really cute.
My husband arrived just after Norm and the (grown up) kids left. We considered the deaths since last summer of two plants in the front yard — a parasol tree and a crape myrtle. My father-in-law was intrigued by the parasol tree, and had been charting its progress for years. The crape myrtle was a gift from family friends when my husband’s brother died in 2000. A hurricane took the plants. Matthew left two feet of water here last fall and neither withstood the salty inundation.
At some point I realized I wouldn’t get a chance to go to Shelton Herb Farm if I didn’t do it in the morning, so I headed out after breakfast. Barely a mile down the road, the new Ocean Isle Market was going on in the lot beside the island’s nature museum. For the rest of the summer, there will be a market here every Monday morning—an exciting development in this tiny town. I decided to turn around and take a look.
This is Michella of Ocean Therapy Potions. I talked with her for a bit about essential oils and bought her Sleep Spray — with clary, lavender, bergamot, and chamomile, and the Digestive Roll-on for stomach upset or motion sickness — with ginger, cardamom, peppermint, orange and chamomile. Both are really nice! Her apothecary and aromatherapy business are based a few miles away in Oak Island.
Richard is a local propagator of carnivorous plants who is passionate about the native flora. The pitcher plants for sale at the market were seven years old, all grown from seed on his property. His recommendations for those who would grow pitcher plants: Pot them in well moistened peat moss and don’t use nitrogen fertilizers. Full sun. They’re easy to grow, he adds.
Fresh local vegetables and herbs will be coming to the market soon. Woohoo!
Shelton Herb Farm is in Leland, about 30 miles north of Ocean Isle. Shelton’s is a favorite stop whenever I’m in the area because they have plants you usually find only through mail order.
Nearly any herb you’ve ever heard of or thought about will be there at one time or another. They have a nice selection of Southeast natives as well.
No credit cards accepted, but they do pass the savings on to you…and they have fresh eggs, too!
Today, I didn’t get anything I went there for— they lost a lot of plants during Matthew, too — but I did find a few other things. Duh.
Dwarf pomegranate (Punica granatum ‘Nana’) Camellia sinensis (the plant black tea comes from)
Sweet goldenrod (Solidago odora)
Betony (Stachys officinalis)
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
Coral trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’), a favorite native selection that I’ve just never managed to plant in my own garden.
The Stewartia Trail did not appear where I thought it should, and I wandered around for a while.
Someone had left this bloom on the picnic table where I stopped for lunch. If I hadn’t seen it, I might have given up too early and left disappointed.
But eventually, I did find them.
And aren’t they gorgeous?! I think they might be the prettiest flowers I’ve ever seen. Those stamens! Perfection. (More in the Folium.)
By the time I found these and then got back to the exit path, the afternoon was winding down and thoughts were turning toward getting back for dinner — the ‘D word’ to my husband and me. I think we are both ready to retire that domestic responsibility, but inconvenient evening hunger prevents it from happening. We managed with leftover lasagne and salad, which I liked a lot better than he did, and which probably means grilled wings tomorrow night.
There was a last stroll around the yard after dinner, to admire the new plants one more time, and to say goodnight to the evening primroses (Oenothera laciniata) in the nearly non-existent lawn (Matthew again).
And then a hello to the moon, whose incredible brightness demanded attention. I grabbed my camera, and after several shots of blurry white ball, I got the settings on the camera going the right direction. I had to pretend I was shooting in bright sun to get the ISO and aperture right…or at least closer to right. I wanted to be able to see the craters, and there they are!
Goodnight, moon. Goodnight, you. Thanks for reading!
I soon learned that rare and beautiful plants can only be found in places that are difficult of access…. Often one has to shove one’s self through or wriggle under briars, with awkward results to clothing and many and deep cuts and scratches…. Wading, usually barelegged, through countless rattlesnake-infested swamps adds immensely to the interest of the day’s work…. On several occasions I have been so deeply mired I had to be pulled out.
This pretty volunteer showed up in my garden one day. I noticed sulphur butterflies seemed to like it too, and it turns out that it is a host plant for them. What I didn’t want to know is that it is considered by some to be one of the world’s worst weeds. In America, in particular, it is controlled with herbicides because it competes for resources with agricultural crops, and it carries Asian soybean rust disease as well. 
In Asia and Africa it is more highly regarded and is often used as food or medicine. In the Sudan, leaves are fermented and then dried and eaten as a source of protein. 
In India the leaves and seeds are considered laxative, anthelmintic, ophthalmic, cardiotonic and expectorant. The leaves and seeds are used for ringworm, flatulence, colic, dyspepsia, constipation, cough, bronchitis, and cardiac disorders, among other things. 
One study  determined that extracts of S. obtusifolia demonstrated a broad-spectrum of activity against both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria and fungi, which the authors concluded may confirm its use in traditional medicine.
Caterpillars have nearly denuded the plant in my garden at least a couple of times, but there are several long seed pods still attached. They look a lot like haricot verts. I’ll save them and figure out what to do with them later. They’ve been roasted and used as a coffee substitute in some places …maybe that.
 Larry Steckel, “Sicklepod,” Extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/W125.pdf, accessed November 7, 2016.
 Steven Foster and Yue Chongxi, Herbal Emissaries: Bringing Chinese Herbs to the West, Healing Arts Press, 1992, pp. 311–317.
 Pankaj Oudhia, “Charota or Chakad,” Hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/CropFactSheets/cassia.html, accessed November 6, 2016.
 Doughari, El-mahmood, A. M. and Tyoyina, I.”Antimicrobial activity of leaf extracts of Senna obtusifolia (L),” www.academicjournals.org/article/article1380814322_Doughari%20et%20al.pdf, accessed November 6, 2016.
Every morning in the summer garden, the bumbles are asleep on the basil until the sun comes along to warm them up. They just hang on to a leaf and conk out, apparently. They’re so sound asleep that you can actually pet them gently and they won’t respond.
Nearby was this guy, but I don’t think he was asleep and I didn’t touch him. I believe he’s a native thread-waisted wasp (Eremnophila aureonotata). It’s good to see one of these because they indicate a healthy garden (no pesticides, lots of native plants – I bet he was checking out the mountain mint, which was right beside the basil). They like wildflower gardens, where skipper larvae are likely to be, because that is what they feed their young.
Once the sun has warmed things up and dried them off, the bees resume their busy-ness and head off for the pineapple sage.
When I decided to do this post I wondered how many kinds of bumblebees there are and thought maybe I should figure out which one/s mine is/are.
Wow, does that make writing anything take forever! There are at least 40 species of bumblebees in North America. Of course not all of those can be found in North Carolina, but many of them can.
But, none of the species looked right.
Eventually — it often takes me a while — I remembered that there is at least one other non-bumblebee that looks bumble-y.
Oops, there she goes!
It turns out she is a native carpenter bee. I think she’s most likely an eastern carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica), but there is a similar species, the southern carpenter bee (Xylocopa micans). The southern one has a mostly coastal distribution, and I’m in the Piedmont, so I’m going mostly by that.
You can see her at the base of the pineapple sage flowers stealing nectar (without pollinating!) by chewing through the flower. That’s something that carpenter bees do. They are excellent pollinators too, just crafty from time to time.
Carpenter bees are not specialists, so you might see them on nearly any flower. I don’t know what that little black insect beside the big (male) bee is.
Close by, on a Legion of Honor marigold, another male carpenter bee forages. (Did that just sound like PBS? The voice in my head did when I read back over it.)
The male’s head is slightly narrower than the female’s, and there’s a white patch on his face. When I first looked at the photo, I thought it was a reflection.
“What are you looking at?” He looks kind of perturbed. They are not likely to sting, fortunately.
He stops for a couple of seconds, but then it’s back to work.
Scientific name: Buddleja davidii, often spelled Buddleia
Common names: Butterfly bush, orange-eye butterfly bush, summer lilac, mimenghua, mi meng hua
Nativity: China and Japan
Location: Ev-Henwood Nature Preserve, Leland, NC
Date: October 24, 2016
Notes: The beautifully ornamental butterfly bush is widely planted in the southeastern United States, and all around the world. It is beloved as a nectar plant for butterflies, but is not a host plant for Southeast native insects. It has naturalized in Britain and is considered invasive in New Zealand, Australia, and the Pacific Northwest.
Since local butterflies don’t lay their eggs on it, and it has potential for taking over in areas where those host plants are needed, how about a native plant instead? Consider the butterfly magnet, buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), or fothergilla (Fothergilla spp.), or a North American salvia (Salvia coccinea, and others). All look beautiful and provide for local wildlife at the same time — and they add variety and some diversity to your landscape! Who needs a million butterfly bushes if you can plant some other nice things?
If you already have a butterfly bush or find a naturalized one, feel free to use it all up! They make good dye plants, producing shades of green, golden-orange and brown.  In China, Buddleja officialis, and perhaps this species as well , is used for pink-eye with swelling, watering of the eyes, and for sharpening vision.  Anecdotally, B. davidii flowers make a delicious medicinal syrup with sedative properties. 
 http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Buddleia+davidii, accessed November 4, 2016.
 http://flora.huh.harvard.edu/china/PDF/PDF15/buddleja.pdf, accessed November 4, 2016.
 Chinese Herbal Cures, Henry C. Lu, Sterling Publishing, 1994.
 http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Buddleia+davidii, see comment by Sally M., accessed November 4, 2016.
Flowers begin opening while the plant’s unfurling branches are lax, a curious but beautiful effect.
Gil Nelson, Wildflowers of the Sandhills Region, 2011
I‘ve heard more often about Amsonia hubrichtii because of its use in gardens, but A. ciliata is a good garden candidate as well. The fringed bluestar has the same things going for it that A. hubrichtii does — light blue flowers in spring, outstanding fall color — but the hairs (cilia) that characterize this species catch the autumn sun in a particularly beautiful way and make it appear to glow. 
In the garden, fringed bluestar is tolerant of dry soils and is resistant to deer and insect pests due to its milky sap. It likes a little sun; plant in an open woodland or in a sunnier spot at wood’s edge. A selection, ‘Spring Sky’, from the Philadelphia garden of botanist Mary Henry (1884–1967), is sometimes available in nurseries, or it can be grown from cuttings or seed.
Nineteenth century botanical doctor, botanist, and ethnobotanist, Gideon Lincecum, wrote in his notes, “I have not known this plant used for any thing or by any nation of people. But it possesses the characteristic marks for a good medicine.” He believed the root of the plant to be stimulant, sudorific, and emetic, and thought one day it could come into use.