Garden Diary - March 2009

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Saturday thru Tuesday, 7 to 10 March 2009
Patti's Charleston Garden

I was in Charleston, South Carolina to give a talk for the Charleston Horticultural Society.

Leslie, the organization's director was the one who invited me to come and speak about Into the Woods: Flowers and Foliage for the Shady Garden. She'd made arrangements, picked me up at the airport, and was now driving me to the home where I'd be spending the next few days. She assured me that not only are Patti and Peter wonderful people but also Patti is a knowledgeable gardener with a lovely garden that's often on tour.

Charleston city gardens are walled off from the street, with brick pillars and open ironwork.

Immaculately groomed boxwood hedges are traditional,

along with azaleas,crape myrtles, camellias and dogwoods.

South Carolina's state tree is the palmetto and they're used as street trees, lending a
Caribbean ambience (especially with pastel stuccowork buildings like this soft yellow one.)

Charleston is full of these wonderful porches, wide and gracious, on the sunny side of the building.
Locally called a piazza, popularly applied to a veranda, an arcaded and roofed gallery; a portico.
Supported by columns, in the summer when the sun is high, the porch roof blocks the hot rays.
And when the sun is low in the winter it can can shine through the windows and warm the house.

"You'll really like Patti and Peter." said Leslie as we arrived at their home.

A view out into Patti's garden, from the study and under the piazza.

A small square ornamental pool lends water music to the garden,
embellished with a stone orb as a fountain, and potted succulents.

It is especially gracious of Patti and Peter to host me. On Tuesday she's providing lunch to 40 garden club members from Camden, South Carolina. And while Spring has definitely arrived in Charleston, the garden needs to be tweaked and polished and embellished so it looks just fine in Patti's eye. There's a standard to be maintained when one has a reputation, as she does, for a garden made beautiful with plantings of tropical plants skillfully mixed with choice southern classics. She's raised the bar for Southern horticulture, with increased awareness, setting a high standard for regional gardening. As well, she's a dedicated board member of such organizations as the Garden Conservancy, Southern Garden History Society, the Charleston Horticultural Society, and more recently, with the Elizabeth Lawrence garden in Charlotte, North Carolina.

No wonder, then, that planters are being refurbished, hedges clipped, and the garden made to shine.

Truth be told, it looks quite fine to me.


One of Peter's tasks was to sweep - loose dirt from strenuous potting efforts
and endlessly, removal of the numerous small leaves fallen from the live oak.

Two substantial, harmonious, similar, but not identical glazed pots.
One with an agave and the other with succulents, Aeonium the color of the
brick facade of the column, and burro tail sedums trailing down.

A substantial spray of water from the hose, and Patti settles some plants into place.
She's fond of foliage, as am I. it's so nice to see what's been accomplished with
a range of plants mostly unfamiliar to me - other than as indoor house plants.

Bold texture of Aspidistra elatior, cast iron plant is seemingly de rigueur in Charleston gardens.
But not the thread leaf foliage of a new Mahonia, which I'd first seen at the Garden Writers Association
trade show in Portland, Oregon last September. Introduced by Novalis, 'Soft Caress' is characterized by
unique narrow, thread-like leaflets on plants with a vigorous growth habit. Alas, not hardy for me in
New Jersey. These were a bonus for Patti, left here after a photo shoot in her garden several months ago.

Variegated ivy twining like an interwoven tapestry with some ferns

and the bold, fingered foliage of Fatsia.


My bedroom had French doors, opening to the third floor piazza.
Temperatures so mild that I left them open at night, while I slept.
In March. Early in March. Leslie was spot on. She said I'd really
like Patti and Peter. And I did. She said the garden was wonderful.
And it is. I felt welcomed, like an old friend who'd just returned
for a visit. And I hope I do.

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