Southern Hospitality

photo by happy via
We recently had a family in our neighborhood over to our house for dinner for the first time. I think we all had a good time, but I had some pre-party jitters about being a good Southern host. When I socialize with native Southerners, there's a few things I still am uncertain about:

1) Should I introduce family friends as "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" or "Mr. Bob and Miss Sally?"
2) When exactly should my daughter be trained to say "yes m'am" ? After every yes?
3) How do I make the tea? I mean, how should I fix the tea?

From my experiences drinking tea around South Carolina, it seems like true Southern tea needs to be sweet enough that you can feel your teeth rotting as you drink it. And recently I saw how it's done; a lady in the local deli was mixing a big batch of tea, and I swear to you it was one part sugar to one part tea.

I like my sugar in my diet to come in cookie and candy form, so I usually "sweeten" my tea with Splenda. I arrived on a recipe that involves 8 cups of water and 4 packets of Splenda. Recently, however, I noticed the Splenda box had a recipe for "Southern Sweet Tea". The ratio of water to Splenda was 5 cups of water to 24 packets of Splenda! Note to self: just give up and buy some soda. I mean Coke.


Expanding my compost condos

I topped off another compost pile this weekend, so I made another "redneck composter". With all the leaves coming down now, it didn't stay this empty for long!
What you need:
Chicken wire
Wire cutter
Work gloves
Tape measure

I borrowed the wire cutters from my husband's fire gear, who warned me that if I didn't return them, he might end up stuck in a burning house unable to cut himself free from electric wire. Dramatic, huh? In his defense, I do have a habit of walking off with tools. I do have some of my own gadgets, like this awesome promotional tape measure .
Step 1. For a 5' diameter bin, you need to cut about 15 feet of wire. Cut so that you leave the wires poking out at the end (leaving a smooth edge on the roll).
[Note: If you want a different size, length of wire = 3.14 (pi) x desired diameter. ]
Step 2. Shape the wire into a large circle. Use the wires poking out on the end to wind around the smooth end, securing your circle.
Step 3. Jam into place on the ground, using a post to secure if desired.
So simple! I managed to complete this while my 3-year-old was watching, and her attention span is rather short.


Geometery in the Garden!

I never thought I'd be contemplating pi in the garden. No, that's not a typo: get your head out of the pumpkin pie!

I was wondering the length of chickenwire I'd need for a circular compost pile so that it'd fit in a 5' x 5' area. There's a formula for that! Circumfrance (length of chicken wire)
= diameter x pi.

Wow, maybe higher math is useful afterall. Well, somewhat. If calculus has come in handy in your day to day life, let me know.


Merlot Ivy Geranium

Although I never look forward to my basil becoming black and crunchy or the impatiens withering with the first freeze, one nice thing about annual plants dying each year is that you get to start fresh again. By the end of the summer I'm ready for a change of pace.

Once in while, though, you find an annual that you don't want to lose! I was pleasantly surprised by the Global 'Merlot' Ivy Geranium provided by the Garden Harvest Supply. I'm usually not a geranium person. When I think of geraniums, I think of the much over-planted bright red version that I've gotten bored with over the years. But these were different! The flowers were smaller and a deep velvety red.

This plant did great with minimal care in a container. (I had a newborn baby so I wasn't that diligent with my watering this summer.) I put it in a sunny spot and it just thrived and grew from a tiny transplant to a fairly large plant that sprawled nicely in the container.

So this is one plant I might try to rescue from the first frost!


Woolly worms

I found several of these guys in the garden recently. We used to call them woolly worms, but they are not worms at all, rather they are catepillars of a moth species, perhaps the Virginia Tiger Moth.

I came up with this identification on a really cool website where you can search by color and other aspects of the caterpillar.
Caterpillar identification made simple!




Fried Green Tomatoes

I'm "growing Southern" a bit more tonight as I'm about to fry up some green tomatoes. I've got all the key ingredients: lots of green tomatoes and my husband has a dinner meeting so he won't be around to complain about my "experiments."


Carolina Treat

I love the smell of these flowers. Even more, I love that it's Halloween and I still have flowers & it's warm enough to trick or treat without wearing a heavy coat.


Haloween cactus

This looks sort of creepy, doesn't it? A single orange flower and that spider-like shape. Maybe I need to market this.

(This is what happens when you give a "Thanksgiving cactus" mixed-up light signals.)


Who wants bugs in their garden?

I do! I do!

The speaker at a recent SCNPS meeting asked this question. It made me realize that my attitude towards insects has changed a lot in the few years I've been garden blogging. In the beginning, I obsessed over how Japanese beetles were eating my rose bushes. Now I'm becoming obsessed with what sorts of plants I can provide for caterpillars to munch on.


Accidental Gardening

Even though I've been busy since I've been back to work, some things are still growing around the house. This morning I found a baggie of "treasures" that my daughter brought back from a hike a few weeks ago. One acorn had actually sprouted . Cool.


I enjoyed a field trip this weekend in the coastal plain of South Carolina (near Orangeburg). A few things I learned were how to distinguish a Viceroy from a Monarch and caterpillar poop from butterfly eggs. It was fun to see all kinds of butterflies and caterpillars and plants, as well as this tree frog.
The most common caterpillar we saw was of the buckeye butterfly:

They loved to munch on the Gerardia, or false foxglove:


The cats have me trained

Our cats will drink water from everywhere but their water dish. At least one cat also has the annoying habit of tipping over glasses of ice water and vases of flowers in order to get a drink.

I've given up trying to train them. Here's how they've trained me:

1) I put floral arrangements only near sinks, for easier clean-up.
2) I created a kitty-friendly floral dish (see above picture).


Compost Experiment

In the left corner, we have the defending champion, the Redneck Compost Pile. In the right corner we have the Urban Composter.
Will the Urban Composter be quicker on its feet?
Or will the Redneck Compost Pile win because it's in a different weight class?
This should be a great fight!


WYFF4 Interview

For those of you who missed my live interview yesterday on WYFF4, our NBC affiliate in Upstate South Carolina, it's now available anywhere you have an Internet connection.

I was asked to share some general gardening tips and to dicuss what makes adjusting to Southern gardening so difficult yet so rewarding.

You can view the first interview and second interview on the WYFF4 website.

Interview at wowOwow.com

My garden tips are featured, along with the advice of six other garden bloggers who I really admire, in a recent article on wowOwow. This is a website for women and written by women, founded by several famous and fabulous women including Whoopi Goldberg and Lesley Stahl, so I was honored to contribute!

The South is represented well for all you southern gardeners out there, and it's an informative read and definitely worth taking a look at no matter where you live, male or female. Here's some of the questions they asked me to tackle:


Tune in Sunday!

Those of you living in Upstate South Carolina or Western North Carolina, you can watch me discuss this blog on WYFF4 this Sunday, August 16th during the 7 AM news.

For those of you in other parts of the world, don't despair. WYFF4 posts the weekly interviews at Sound Off South!


Cilantro Conundrum

Last night I made fresh tomato salsa with the tomatoes and peppers from my parents' garden. Ah, the perks of house-sitting!

I had to pick up some cilantro from the garden center, though. I'm trying to grow it indoors this time. I have had absolutely no luck growing cilantro in my herb garden. My friend's mom, from Charleston, told me that cilantro likes cool weather and doesn't do well for her in South Carolina.

From what I've read, it's true that cilantro likes some shade and cooler temperatures.

What I really don't understand, though, is how cilantro can be so popular in Tex Mex food. It's *hot* in Texas, right?


Eastern tiger swallowtail

A tiger swallowtail stopped by yesterday at the lantana, as if to prove my point from the previous post. From the time he spent on these flowers, I think he loves lantana almost as much as I do. I'm pretty sure it's a "he" from the lack of color around the "tail".


Love affair with Lantana

(Lantana "Sonset")

I've fallen hard for Lantana. It started as an innocent crush as a teenager visiting my grandparents in Georgia. I had never seen it as a child growing up in the Midwest, so the pure novelty of these beautiful flowers got me hooked at first.

Now I love lantana for a myrid reasons. Let me count the ways:

1) Attract butterflies
2) Tolerate hot and dry conditions
3) Thrive in the full sun of my backyard patio
4) Bloom consistently through spring, summer, and fall
5) Look great in beds and containers

What else can you ask for? Well, actually there are a couple things...and certain lantata cultivars have even more to offer.

How about a perennial lantana? Look no further than "Miss Huff". I've been amazed at how quickly these plants have grown since I first tried them out this spring. I've been warned they can become large shrubs after a while! They have the classic gold/orange coloration and are hardy even in Upstate South Carolina, zone 7.

How about pastel colors to suit my obsession with pink? Try "Sonset". The flowers are yellow at first but mature to beautiful coral and pinkish-purple shades.


The Compost Caper

My neighbor piles up his yard clippings in his backyard, forming large mounds with no apparent purpose. Meanwhile, I have this fantastic urban compost tumbler, plus an old-fashioned auxiliary compost pile, to fill up. Last night I actually contemplated using the cover of darkness to steal some grass clippings. Don't worry, I have not gone totally crazy; I'm planning to knock on the door and ask permission first. I still feel a little crazy.


Contain yourself when it comes to containers!

After several months of regular afternoon thunderstorms, I think it's safe to say that we've survived the drought here in the Southeast U.S. Our local water resovior is full again, and the only remaining signs of the drought in my backyard, several container plants that didn't make it, are now compost.

I love the look of lots of containers, but when you live in a hot and dry climate, they require a daily dose of water. That gets old quick. So here's some lessons I learned from the drought about container gardening:

1) Seek out drought-resistant plants. I found that lantana and salvia were two perennial flowers that could take the heat and keep on blooming.

2) Aim for shade. The impatiens in containers on my shady walkway didn't need water nearly as often as plants on my sunny deck.

3) Keep it simple. I have cut back the number of containers this summer. I've decided to focus on gardening right in the ground this year and to start investigating drip irrigation.

4) Water plants don't need regular watering! OK, so this sounds counter-intuitive, but my container with the water lily could survive a week with the water down three inches without suffering. I can water it when I have time.


Furry Friends: The Petting Garden

Wouldn't it be fun to have a corner in the garden just for plants that you and your kids love to touch? Mixing in a few scented and colorful plants would make a very kid-friendly garden. Below are some examples of furry plants. The first three I've grown in sunny, hot conditions in my garden, and I've heard the others also will tolerate that kind of treatment.

Lamb's Ear (Stachys byzantina)

Silver Mound (Artemisia schmidtian)

Salvia argentea

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

Photo by John Tann

Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis fruticosa)

Photo by Van Swearington


Interview at Fixr

If you are interested in finding out more about me and why I love garden blogs, check out the interview that posted this week on the fixr blog!

Doing the interview reminded me how much I appreciate the community of garden bloggers on the Internet. If you've read and commented here, I appreciate it! And if you have a garden blog of your own, I know I'm not keeping caught up with everyone, but I appreciate your bits of wisdom and entertainment when I get time to read them.

What's wrong with this picture?

Two species of snails have invaded my water lily plant, which I'm growing in a container. Also, I've noticed crows "fishing" for tasty tidbits in the container. What started as a purely ornamental piece has ended up as an established food chain. Isn't nature interesting?

Although snails are known as pests that munch away at vegetable gardens, in a water garden they can actually be useful as they eat mostly algae and dead plant material. So far I've seen my snails mostly on decaying leaves, and no holes are apparent when they gather under living leaves, so I don't think the snails are hurting anything. But I'll keep a close eye on them. The clear jelly-like eggs under the leaves indicate that my population of snails will probably continue to grow.

Another added benefit-- it's kept my toddler endlessly entertained to hunt for snails!

(Photo by Munki Deluxe)


The Benefits of a Neglected Garden

With a new baby and a jealous toddler, I haven't had much energy for routine garden chores this spring. So while my in-laws visited and watched the baby today, I took the opportunity to go on a weeding frenzy in the herb garden. Meanwhile, I noted that there were a few benefits to "letting things go" once in a while.

1) Since the weeds got really big, I felt like I accomplished a lot more. The big pile of large weeds in the compost pile looked impressive. And the garden looked significantly better afterwards.

2) If the weeds are getting really large really fast, then I reason my garden must have decent soil. That makes me feel good.

3) I realized the benefits of perennials. I haven't had time to purchase and plant any annuals, so it's nice to see the oregano, chives, fennel, mint, rosemary, lamb's ear, and lavender show up and start growing and blooming without any effort on my part. I'm now seriously considering scaling back on the annuals.


Almost Spring!!!

In the Midwest, we might be lucky enough to see a crocus poke through the snow in late March. So I'm always amazed every February to see the early signs of spring. These photographs were taken a few weeks ago at the SC botanical gardens near Clemson University. I was looking for their annual amazing display of camellias, but the early frost had nipped those. There were plenty of other blooms to enjoy, though!


Salmonella in the home garden?

Photo by Lisa Norwood

An article in Scientific American speculated that bird droppings might be the source of the recent salmonella problem in peanut butter. This leaves me with some disturbing logic:

1) Birds carry salmonella
2) Birds poo in my garden


3) Bird poo in my garden could harbor salmonella!

This is not so far fetched as it sounds. A couple years ago there was an outbreak of Salmonella in wild birds in the western region of Washington state. There were warnings at the time that people could become sick from salmonella after coming in contact with bird droppings.

OK, so I doubt anyone would eat anything from their garden with bird droppings on it! But from now on I'll be sure to wash my hands after refilling bird feeders or cleaning birdbaths.


Confused Cactus

photo by wa1ti
When my husband's aunt gave me cuttings, she said it was a "Thanksgiving Cactus." The first year it flowered, the peach color reminded me of autumn, but the timing was off a bit. Was it really a "Christmas Cactus"? This year, it decided to be a Martin Luther King Jr. cactus, just like my other seasonally-confused cactus. Will I end up with a "Valentine's Day Cactus" next year?
I was surprised to learn today that the Thanksgiving Cactus and Christmas Cactus are two different species! If exposed to natural light, the Thanksgiving Cactus should bloom a month earlier than the Christmas Cactus.
BUT...I keep my plants under artificial light in our semi-heated garage. The cold nights are good for setting buds, but since the day length is always set at an artificial 12 hrs, my cacti never know what time of year it is! (By the way, this is the same way trees know it's time to drop their leaves; they detect the longer nights in autumn.)
Mystery solved! For further reading, the Clemson Extension has an excellent page about the seasonal cacti.


KnockOut Roses: a rose for the rest of us?

A Knockout Rose in Texas (photo by ladybugbkt)

I've vented in quite a few posts here about my struggles with roses. I'm engaged in an on-going battle with blackspot, and the Japanese beetles also do their part to aggravate me every summer. In the past year I've been on the brink of giving up on roses entirely. Then I started to hear the buzz about the new knockout roses .
The knockout rose is advertised to be extremely disease-resistant, cold-resistant, and long-blooming. Sounds almost too good to be true, doesn't it?!?

From what I've read in the gardening forums, however, the knockout rose appears to live up to these claims. The knockout rose was especially bred to be resistant to my arch nemesis, the black spot, by William Radler. He actually would take leaves from diseased rose plants, grind them up in a blender, and spread the slurry of spores on his test plants. Then he went even further and watered his test plants with a sprinkler from above to make sure the leaves were nice and moist. (As you probably know, these conditions are a rose gardener's nightmare since it's the perfect environment for the growth of fungi, like those that cause black spot.) From this rigorous selection process, the black-spot resistant knockout rose was born.
Since William Radler developed the knockout rose in Wisconsin, the cold-resistance trait was obviously selected for from the very beginning. The knockout roses are advertised to be hardy in zone 4. They are also advertised to do well in the hotter climates, however, up to zone 10.

I've personally seen the knockout rose survive the hot summers in a friend’s yard here in 7b. And the knockout roses have proved to be neglect-resistant for her, also. She has two young boys and works full time as a nurse, so needless to say she doesn't have much time to pamper her plants. In fact, her knockout roses were conspicuously surrounded by weeds the last time I visited her house, and she admitted she hadn't done anything to them since her father-in-law planted them. And they were still blooming aware cheerfully!
Maybe roses aren’t just for retirement after all!

I tend to think of the knockout rose as more of a landscape rose, but the new double knockout roses might make for some nice cut flowers. Unfortunately, I hear they do not have much fragrance. Well, you can't have it all!

Double Knockout Roses (photo by Amy the Nurse)

Of course, Japanese beetles will still also pose a problem for the knockout rose, as several readers pointed out in a previous post. I'm looking for some ways to deal with these pests without the typical toxins. I'm trying to go as organic as possible, since insecticides also kill the good insects, like butterflies. Oh, and I also have a kid, and another on the way, and poisons are not so great for kids. I've heard that a soapy solution of water can work well to suffocate Japanese beetles- has this worked for you?