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Wing Haven Gardeners’ Garden Tour 2017

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?

Peach Leaf Tea

A peach 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.

Try it and tell me what you think!

Blackberry Honey

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.

Blackberry Honey


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.

Long Weekend at the Coast

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.

About 5 or 6 miles south of Shelton’s on Highway 17 is Ev-Henwood Preserve, where I had seen the silky camellia (Stewartia malacodendron) blooming on Mother’s Day weekend a few years ago. That would be right about now, so I wanted to see if I could find them again.

It took a while.

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 thought they were bumbles …

Sleeping in the Basil — Carpenter Bee

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.

Weird Alien Scoping Out the Garden

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.

Carpenter Bee on Pineapple Sage 2

Once the sun has warmed things up and dried them off, the bees resume their busy-ness and head off for the pineapple sage.

Carpenter Bee on Pineapple Sage 1

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.

Carpenter Bee on Pineapple Sage 3

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.

Carpenter Bee Flying Away

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 Bee on Goldenrod

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.

Carpenter Bee on Marigold 2

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.

Male Carpenter Bee with White Patch on Face

“What are you looking at?” He looks kind of perturbed. They are not likely to sting, fortunately.

Carpenter Bee on Marigold 1

He stops for a couple of seconds, but then it’s back to work.

Carpenter Bees

Dandelion Puffs

Dandelion Puff

In all the years of blowing dandelion puffs to smithereens, I had never noticed barbs on the seeds. Or how many perfect little filaments make up all that fluff. Sometimes it’s worth it to zoom in on a so-so photo to see if you missed something. This dandelion is much more interesting up close.


Take a look at Neil Bromhall’s cool time-lapse video of the process from flower to puff!

Heirloom Plants

Heirloom Plants book coverI just got a new book from Ball Publishing/Chicago Review Press that makes me so jealous of all you vegetable gardeners! Heirloom Plants: A Complete Compendium of Heritage Vegetables, Fruits, Herbs & Flowers is scheduled for release on April 1.

Authors Thomas Etty, who owns an heirloom seed company in the UK, and Lorraine Harrison, who got her Master’s degree in Garden History from University of London and writes extensively about gardens and botanical topics, have compiled a collection of more than 500 cultivars with a long history and panache of one sort or another.

And, actually, you don’t have to be a vegetable gardener to enjoy the book — there are “directories” for fruits, herbs and flowers, too —but the tomato descriptions alone will make you want to be! The Herb Directory lists more than fifty plants, many of them known at least since the time of Culpepper’s Complete Herbal (1653). Pignut, dyer’s greenweed, and mountain arnica join the more commonly known basil, parsley and lemon balm.

Heirloom Plants book insideEntries describe the plant, explain the uses, and offer the occasional cultivation tip. Feature boxes throughout highlight “Garden Ghosts,” or botanists and others, who were part of a plant’s history.  And “Lost, Rare, or Simply Forgotten” features endangered plants and the stories associated with them.

Heirloom plants are those that have been around for at least 50 years (some say 100), and are open-pollinated. Open-pollinated means the pollen is spread naturally from one plant to another by wind or by insects. The seeds from these plants, unlike those from hybridized and GMO varieties, are likely to produce plants like the parents.

Besides connecting us to the past and our gardening ancestors, growing these plants preserves biodiversity, which helps secure our food supply into the future. As much as 90% of old varieties have been lost already.

Heirlooms often have superior taste, fragrance, or even nutrition, than hybrids. And they have great names! Learn about Moon and Stars Watermelon, Wolf River Apple, Corncockle Flower, and Mortgage Lifter Tomato.

Appropriately in the style of an old seed catalog, the book is as fun to flip through randomly as it is to read cover to cover. There’s a helpful list of heirloom seed sellers is in the back, which includes many US companies; discovering your own favorite varieties would be just as much fun as tracking down the ones highlighted here.

Savory Seedlings

This week I hovered over my sown seeds every few hours looking for any signs of life. A time or two, I came just short of getting out a hand lens. Maybe I’m a little impatient? These are all Southeastern native plants that I sowed in January to try to give them the cold period they need before sprouting. I’ve kept them on my unheated porch, where temperatures typically fall into the 40s or 50s at night. That may not be cold enough (or enough cold) for some of them, especially with the early warm nights we’ve had. We’ll see.

Where did I get seeds of native plants, you might ask. At the Southern Piedmont Chapter of the North Carolina Native Plant Society‘s December seed exchange, a propagation class at the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference, in the gift shop at the UNC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill, from a couple of gardening friends, and by collecting some from plants I already have. Seeds of native plants aren’t always easy to come by, but it is worth it to try to find them.

Here’s what I planted:

winter sown seedsButterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Phacelia (Phacelia bipinnatifida)
American vervain (Verbena hastata)
Hoary skullcap (Scutellaria incana)
Whorled-leaf coreopsis (Coreopsis major)
Firepink (Silene virginica)
Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)
Forked bluecurls (Trichostema dichotomum)
New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus)
Browneyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba)
Spurred butterfly pea (Centrosema virginianum)
Wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium)
Bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla)
Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus)

So far the spurred butterfly pea and the wild quinine have sprouted (yay!!), but the tray otherwise looks about the same. I’m looking forward to lots of beautiful natives for my woodland and butterfly gardens, though.

A little more satisfying at the moment is the green shooting up at the windowsill inside. I decided at the beginning of January that I would get back to my herbal roots — herbs (and miniature roses) are the reason I got interested in gardening in the first place so many years ago — so I ordered lots of herb seeds from Richter’s and Baker’s Creek, and picked up a few Botanical Interests packets from Pike’s.

I tried to choose things that might have a shot at growing in part shade, and also that had at least two or three potential uses. I’ve never grown herbs for medicinal reasons before, but this year I added a few of those as well.

Seedlings on the Windowsill

Here’s what’s coming up:

Basil, Dark Purple Opal
Basil, Greek Yevani
Bronze fennel
Thyme, Lime
Summer savory
Winter lemon savory
Creeping savory
Wild basil
Vietnamese mint
Lemon beebalm
Salad burnet
Wild strawberry
Cranberry hibiscus
Mexican Sour Gherkin
Agastache, Apricot Sprite
Nasturtium, Alaska Red Shades
Zinnia, Lilliput Mix
Tong Ho
Clary sage
Milk thistle
Dragonhead balm
Balsam, Camellia Mix
Sweet four o’clock
Marigold, Legion of Honour
Tassel flower, Irish Poet

That’s a long list for me! I’m fairly certain I’ve never had so many seedlings, and I still have more packets on the way.

We have several weeks until our last frost date (April 15), so keeping them all alive until then will be a challenge. They look too wet in this photo, don’t they? And too thin? This is most sun I can give them…maybe I should buy lights. Ugh, the concerns of a plant parent.

Did you start any seeds this year? Any favorites?

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

lucky oxalis

Cape Shamrock (Oxalis bowiei)


A Wish for a Friend

Wishing you a rainbow
For sunlight after showers—
Miles and miles of Irish smiles
For golden happy hours—
Shamrocks at your doorway
For luck and laughter too,
And a host of friends that never ends
Each day your whole life through!

Irish blessing via Island Ireland

NorCal: Fortuna and Centerville Beach

Fortuna Fog

The morning view a couple of weeks ago in Fortuna, California — a little bit of greening ground, a sunlit tree, and a fluffy strip of fog between us and the hills beyond.

Looks like Spring in Fortuna

It looks like spring in Fortuna. Many of the plants we have on the east coast won’t be as far along for a couple of weeks or more. Plum is in full bloom, with a few dark red leaves beginning to peek through.

Blooming Rosemary

Outside the hotel’s breakfast room (and everywhere in California) a prostrate rosemary blooms. Is this one ‘Golden Rain’? Mmm it smells nice.

Fortuna Riverwalk

After breakfast we walk along the river just across the street.

Fortuna Sky

The sky is always changing in Northern California. During a moment of brilliant sunshine (and 70° temperature), we decide to go to Centerville Beach.

Ferns on a Sandy Cliff

Even though the trip is just ten miles, the temperature drops ten degrees! And the clouds are no longer overhead, but on the ground …

In the Fog

… and we are inside them!

Burning Through the Clouds

This is not a Carolina beach.

Centerville Beach

Putting aside any notions of what a beach is, the fog and the cliffs and the dreamy quality of everything is exciting and beautiful.

Shorebirds in the Surf

Can you believe this is a color photograph? Even when the sun begins to burn through, color is slow to return.

Walking on Centerville Beach

There is not a shell in sight on Centerville Beach, but many of the stones are pretty and interesting. It turns out that waves and lots of time have the same effect as that rock tumbler your parents let you run in the storage room when you were a kid.

Looking for Fire Agate

If you’re lucky, you might find a fire agate here. That’s my son taking a shot at it.

Beach Stones

Centerville Beach has a long history of earthquakes and landslides. Layers of past events are evident all along the beach.

Sandy Cliff

Redwood burl tumbles in the surf along with the rocks, making huge pieces of driftwood.

Driftwood on Centerville Beach

Sun breaks through the high clouds, but the surf is still completely hidden by fog. It’s a fog that has often been deadly. More than 350 shipwrecks occurred off of this small bit of California coastline between 1850 and 1950.

Edge of the World

Facing west from this sunny shore, it would be easy to believe you’ve reached the edge of the world.

Just Before the Snow

Backyard Moon Over the Treetops

Just before the snow fell last month I noticed the light at day’s end hitting the tips of the trees, and ran inside to get my camera.

Moon Over the Trees

Winter skies are so variable, with clouds and colors and tree branches that make such nice patterns against them — I’ve been enchanted.

Moon Zoom

While I was paying attention to the light, I didn’t pick up on how fabulous the moon was. It was waxing this night and would be full in a week.

When I processed the photos, I found that I could zoom in close enough to see craters! Wow!

Next time I’ll have to focus on the moon on purpose…and use a tripod. I’m itching to get better shots now.

But how pretty it is!

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