Sunday, December 28, 2008


Both of my grandmothers were huge fans of Camellias. Regrettably, the huge pink camellia that once belonged to my father’s mother at the house they currently live in is no longer alive. My mother told me that Mama Parkee was continuously rooting pieces of that bush for people. A ten gallon aquarium use to sit on top of the television when she was alive. Momma said she would walk outside, break off a limb, toss it in the aquarium as she walked by and it would root every single time. I wish I had a piece of that old bush, but it’s too late now.

Some of you have heard me tell this story before, but I’m going to repeat it since it’s blooming now. My grandmother on my mother’s side passed away about six years ago. Her estate was liquidated and the house was sold. My grandmother loved her flowers and she loved to work in the yard. Before the house was sold I went down there to see if there were any small plants I wanted to dig up to place in my own garden. Right before she passed my grandmother had rooted a piece of one of her Camellias. It was barely six inches tall and if I remember right, may have had a total of five leaves on it. I dug it up and brought it home to plant in my garden. Year after year I watched it inch up in height. After about the third year, it began to get buds but they would never open and they always fell off the bush. I now know that is the nature of Camellias, the first three or four years after they are rooted they don’t usually have the strength to support blooms so they never open and simply fall off. Last year for the first time, it finally rewarded me with blooms and this year it has started again. It’s about 3 feet tall and wide now. Here is a picture of one of the blooms, but I have no idea what kind it is.

Grandmothers Camellia

Judy, my garden buddy next door has Camellias planted in her yard too. Following in my grandmother’s footsteps I’ve decided to attempt to root a piece of Judy’s camellia. I’ll keep you posted on the progress. If I’m successful in my attempt, we will be adding this unknown beauty to our garden somewhere. Although I was just a small boy when Parkee’s Camellia was alive, I’m pretty certain it was the same one, so I’m really hoping I can do this.

Judy's Pink

Monday, December 15, 2008

In the Spirit

I was having the most awful time getting into the Christmas spirit this year. Finally, last Friday it hit me as hard as if I had been run over by a herd of reindeer and I found it in the strangest of places. I was walking around taking pictures of the blooms for the last post and there they were... the Nandina berries. I’m not certain why they put me in the mood, but a warm feeling just poured right over me and I was finally ready to decorate. Maybe it was the combination of green and red.


The minute Jamie walked thru the door that evening I told him of my plans for us to get started the next morning. Up into the attic I went to start dragging down the Christmas boxes. My goodness what a mess, there was all kinds of trash and stuff spread over every thing up there from replacing the roof this past February. Poor Jamie was showered with crud from every box I handed him. Before long the boxes were down and the Decorations were going up. I realize this isn’t a very garden like post, but we would like to welcome you into our home and share some of our decorations with you. Will you join us? Good! Grab your hot chocolate and get comfy.


Jamie and I have a “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree” in the truest sense. I have no idea why I love this ratty old tree so much. Every year when we put it up it drops more needles than a real one would. When I was a little boy we always cut a fresh wild cedar tree two weeks before Christmas. I guess when I was about ten years old Momma and Daddy got our first artificial tree. It was a second hand one that came from elderly cousins of my father. They purchased it some time in the early 50’s. About three years ago Momma decided to toss and it and I rescued it from a trip to the local landfill. Every year Jamie and I giggle as we put it up; it really is very pitiful as far as standards go for artificial trees these days. It’s not that we couldn’t buy a new one, we just happen to like this one.


To work we go. Jamie always puts the lights on the tree because I have no patience for it. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to hang lights on a tree that only has 36 limbs and a top piece? Most especially when you like as many as we do, not to mention the holes have been so worn over the years the limbs hang from the tree like a loose tooth. We stick a gold ball here, a glass ornament there…


… a sparklie chandelier crystal here, here and here. These were a very special gift from two wonderful gardening friends that lost their home in Katrina. These crystals were one of the few things they salvaged from the rubble of what was once their dream home.


This is my most special ornament of all. This little snowman is the first Christmas gift I received from Jamie.


I try to buy Jamie a dove every year for Christmas. Last year I broke one, its okay, turns out it was a glass robin anyway, not a dove. So this year I owe him two!

Gold Dove


When all is said and done, our Charlie Brown Christmas tree becomes a beautiful shimmering masterpiece covered in hundreds of crystal and gold ornaments. This picture really does not do it justice. The large tree use to be put up in the piano room and wasn’t immediately visible when you enter the house. Once a friend of ours was commenting on a smaller tree that I put up, since it was the only visible tree he assumed it was THE tree. Upon turning to look behind him he saw the Charlie Brown tree and actually gasped in surprise. Everyone that enters the house always seems to be mesmerized by it once they see it. Even I have a hard time turning away from it, it’s like a seven foot diamond.


This smaller tree is decorated in a similar way, but not in such a grand manner.


We put a little garland above the door to the room where the piano is and also across the piano itself.


This is one of the reindeer we have, it’s also glass and gold, albeit frosted glass. There are several other reindeer through out the house. All of them are abstract in nature. You can also see part of my doorknob collection to the left. Why do I collect old doorknobs? I have no idea. Aunt Clara use to do it on ‘Bewitched’ and I always liked the idea of it. Remember her?


This is one of my feeble attempts at a little Christmassy arrangement. I thought it turned out pretty good.


I tried it again here with these old ornaments. This is all that’s left of my mother's original Christmas ornaments from 1954. The little tin star is over 50 years old and was the topper for our Christmas tree for more years than I’ve been alive. I rescued it from a tattered old box about two years ago. It’s amazing that a little piece of tin could hold so many memories and be so valuable to me. Isn’t it funny how our ideas of what is valuable changes as we get older.


I hope this finds you with your heart filled with Christmas spirit. It only comes once a year, grab your special someone and make it a memorable one. What brought you the Christmas spirit this year? Share it with all of us.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Should I Tell Them?

We have had several weeks down into the 20’s and they shouldn’t be blooming right now. How is it, do you think, that something so fragile can have such a will to survive? This basket has been totally neglected for a couple of months now, yet these Petunias continue to give us blooms.


The Brazilian Bog Sage, while unable to produce but a few tiny specks of blue, still refuses to give up as well.

Brazilian Bog Sage

I despise the winter. Some years it’s a very difficult time for me. Where other people feel the friskiness in the cool air and find joy in the changing leaf colors, I’m not always able to see and feel the same thing. On those years I only feel temperatures that make me cold to the bone and no matter how hard I try, I can't get warm. I look around and I see my favorite colors disappear and everything turns shades of brown and gray and I become very tired. I withdraw and want to stay in the warmth and seclusion of my home. To help me on these rare seasons I fill my home with tons of objects that sparkle and shine to remind me of the summer sun that I love so much.


The garden seems to sense my reluctance to turn loose of summer this year. It’s trying very hard to still give me glimpses of color and to remind me of what will return this summer and replace all that is gone now. Just look at this Sky Vine still giving me a show of purple. The crispy brown vines of the one planted on the fence have been removed for over a week now.

Sky Vine

Even being protected from the frost by the eaves of the house the temperatures alone should have destroyed the vines. Yet, it still has more buds waiting to open.

Sky Vine2

This Daisy Mum is a volunteer. It wasn’t even planted, but it refuses to go away. She is totally unaware the temperatures have been as low as 22 degrees.

Unknown Chirssy

Clarence hangs on for dear life with its frost bitten, wilted bloom. There are still three more getting ready to open.

Cold Clarence

The Climbing Aster and Rosemary are still blooming.

Climbing Aster


Even the Azaleas refuse to stop providing me with that beautiful pink I love so much and have so little of in our garden. Walking around I suddenly realized that everything needs a period of resting, plants, animals and even humans. After all we are mammals are we not? And, a large majority of mammals spend their cold periods resting and sleeping, it is the nature of things. Maybe on those falls when we don’t feel as well as others it’s not really a seasonal disorder as so many doctors are quick to label it. Maybe it’s our bodies telling us, you have been way too busy these past few months. It’s time to return to the inward nature that you once knew and use this period to rest. All that being said, I made the decision to “Tell Them”. I explained that it was very important that they rest right now, because I was expecting a huge show of flowers the coming spring and summer, and it would use a lot of energy. I would be just fine and don’t worry about me.


The next morning a rather amazing thing happened. We had a very large frost, but no larger than the ones we have had several times a week for the past three weeks. I walked around the yard to check on them and they have all gone to sleep now, with the understanding of course that the Camellias will still be keeping an eye on me from time to time. Something else wonderful happened that day, but, that’s a whole nuther’ entry. I am happy.


Until spring, I shall live in a home filled with brilliant sparkles and hundreds of colored rainbows.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Is This Our Final Blooms?

Despite three heavy frost, our garden is still trying its very best to produce a happy bloom here and there for us. I would say at this point our little paradise is about half and half, half asleep and half awake. No matter how burned from the frost and the cold, as long as a plant is still producing blooms I can’t bear to cut it down.

This Hen and Chicks must surely have suffered from last night’s temperature of 25 degrees. Tonight it is expected to get equally as cold.


This Buckeye butterfly by now has moved on to a warmer place.


Jamie’s ‘Party’ Dahlia has sported its last bloom for this season and will soon wither to the ground.


This is the very first bloom on our tiny ‘Mine No Yuki’ camellia. I hope it’s the first of many to come.

Mine No Yuki

Grandmother’s rose seems to be very happy in its new home. This is its third recovery from a near death. I’m pretty certain this will be the final resting place.


Should the 20 degree weather spare any more blooms I will be certain to share them with you. Until then, happy Fall. :-)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Jamie Has Been On the Roof Again

Well, Jamie has been playing monkey again, this time he’s up on the roof with the camera. He always waits until I’m napping or no where around to do this stuff because he knows I can’t stand it. I’m glad he got these pictures though because I can get a good look at the garden without crawling up there myself.



As I ponder these pictures I’m making changes in my mind.


You can’t tell from these pictures but that back fence is planted with Spirea, Variegated Privet and Japanese Magnolias. In a couple of years those houses will no longer be visible from the garden.


Hmmmmm… Philip's irises are in these quarter round beds. Looking at these pictures and thinking something is missing. I can’t plant daylilies because one day these beds will be shade, but now the sun is too bright for shade plants… what to do…


Oh yea, there’s definitely too much grass here. We’ll be digging that up soon, I’m certain of that. I see a nice little spot for a bed.


Sooner or later this will be a tiny courtyard of sorts. It’s still just a concept at this point, but it will happen one day.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

All a Buzz About Bees

As I walk through the garden in the late evening taking pictures, I notice all the insects settling in for the night. The butterflies hang from protected spots in trees and shrubs and the bees curl up comfortably on flowers. I have just recently begun to notice, the instant the sun disappears over the horizon; the bees are ready for a rest. They curl their little antlers up, tuck their chins to their chests and off to sleep they go.


Late every afternoon I stroll around the garden to watch them nestle into beds of asters, sunflowers and sage blooms. I was thinking to myself; now that’s the life, fly around all day drinking sweet nectar and passing out exhausted on a flower. After the initial enthusiasm and amazement of my new discovery began to subside, I started to wonder why they do this. So, I set out to find the answer to my question. On my little research journey, I discovered bees are amazing creatures.

To answer the original question, they sleep on the flowers because they have no where else to rest. They are little boy bees that have been cast out from their homes. This is the story of how they came to live as they do. BEE fore warned this story does not have a fairytale ending.

In the very first days of spring, when all the flowers begin to bloom, the queen bees make their appearance. They are the large bees you see slowly flying around during the first warm days of the growing season. They are searching for the perfect place to build a palace. When she finds an area suited to her needs she gathers pollen to make a soft place to lay about eight eggs. After the eggs are laid, she will cover them with a thin layer of wax secreted from the gland on her sternum. Then, she will rest on them just like a chicken and raise her body temperature to a range between 98 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit. From this point forward, she will only leave the nest for periods of 30 minutes or less to gather pollen and nectar for nutrition. After about 20 days, the first brood of workers will be born and the queen commits the remainder of her life to laying eggs, leaving the nest building and daycare to the workers.


Bumblebees are very much unorganized nest builders compared to honey bees, but they are extremely efficient when it comes to recycling materials. The nest of a bumblebee rarely gets larger than half the size of a baseball. As the brood cells are emptied they become storage areas for nectar and pollen. As new workers emerge from the cells, house keeping workers will take the removed cell caps and use them to enclose other eggs. They waste very little materials when building the nest. As the larvae grow, the nursery workers feed them a combination of pollen and nectar that has been kneaded into a substance referred to as Bee Bread.

During the nest building process, the queen only lays eggs that will produce worker bees, all of which are female. 66% of these workers will remain at the nest constructing cells and caring for the young and the remaining 34% will gather food. You can recognize the workers that leave the nest by the large pouches of pollen on their hind legs. When she is satisfied with the size of the home her workers have made, she will begin laying the eggs for drones and queens. The queen determines what the eggs will be before she lays them. The female worker bees, which are born from fertilized eggs, do not have the hormones to produce ovaries. As a result, about mid summer the queen begins producing fertilized eggs with the necessary hormones to become queens and unfertilized eggs that will become the drone class of bees consisting entirely of males.

When the queens and drones are born, the queens are allowed to stay until they choose to leave, but the drones are forced to leave and never return again. The male bees are sent out into the world to feed on nectar and sleep on flowers until they meet their tragic end. The drones are the smallest of bumblebees and have no stingers, so they are completely harmless. Another interesting fact I learned concerning bumblebees is the buzzing that you hear is not coming from their wings. The buzz is actually the sound of them vibrating their bodies to shake the pollen off their antlers and out of their body fuzz. You primarily hear this noise from drones because they have no use for pollen.


So, the little bees we see sleeping on flowers are the homeless males whose sole purpose is to fertilize the new queens when they decide to leave the nest. This is where the poor male will meet his end. The breeding process between a drone and queen lasts about 30 minutes. When the queen has decided the mating is complete, she rips away from the drone tearing him so severely he is left to die. Poor thing, he is thrown out of his home at birth and when something good finally happens, it kills him. The young queen will repeat this process with several drones, storing up sperm in a special internal container called a spematheca. In the late fall she burrows under ground to hibernate until the spring.


The old queen, workers and remaining drones will perish with the first frost. The nest is now abandoned and will deteriorate over time. I learned so much more that I would love to share with you, but it’s simply too much information. But, if you have ever wondered why the little bees sleep on flowers you now have the answer.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Flying Works of Art

I can’t tell you the joy felt from the butterflies we’ve had in our garden this past season. The large bed at the end of the patios is an unorganized cluster of blooms that has been the feeding ground for a kaleidoscope of guests. No one knows for certain why we call them butterflies. The word can be traced back as far as the earliest parts of the eighth century. One notion is that butterflies would fly into kitchen to feed on uncovered milk and butter. The German word for butterfly is milchdieb, which when translated means milk thief. Legends and Myths suggest fairies stole butter in the form of these creatures at night. Other theories suggest it is because yellow is a primary color for them. My father has called them Flutter-bys for as many years as I can remember, and truthfully, what describes them better?

There are over 250 varieties of North American Skippers and over 3000 world wide. This is a picture of a male Fiery Skipper. He’s a wonderful orange color with brown spots. The female has the exact opposite colors, brown with orange spots. They are sometimes called Grass Skippers because as caterpillars they feed on St. Augustine and Bermuda grass. I’ve read that the caterpillars are pinkish green in color and have black heads. I’ve also read that they are hard to see because they protect themselves from predators by staying close to the grass roots. The adult butterflies keep their wings in a type of jet plane position until they warm up, and then they sometimes close them. If you have ever tried to take a picture of one you’ll see they move just about that fast as well.



The Dun Skipper is dark brown in color. The male has a dark colored stripe on each forewing called a stigma. A stigma is a dark or black colored streak of scales on the front wing that produces pheromones to attract females. The females are the same color except they have small light colored spots in the center of their forewings. Like the Fiery Skippers, they prefer sedges in the caterpillar stage of their lives. As adult butterflies they prefer moist areas near swamps, streams or meadows and choose white, pink or purple flowers over all others.


This little fellow is a male Common Checkered Skipper. The only distinguishable difference that I know between the male and the female is the color. The male has a bluish silver body with hair spreading to the wings and the female has a dark grey body that has little or no hair. The host plants for these butterflies before they earn their wings are Mallow plants. They prefer Apricot Globe Mallow and Hollyhocks. As adults they like the nectar of all flowers but prefer Asters above all others.


This Variegated Fritillary is a butterfly I don’t see that much of in our area. The host plant for this autumn colored beauty is varied. Some of the plants they will use as a host plants are May Pops, Violets, Sedum and Portulaca. As adult butterflies they tend to be partial to the nectar of Butterfly Weed, Common Milkweed and Red Clover. They can overwinter in the deepest parts of the South and in other areas they may migrate.

Variegated Fritillary

The yard is awash with Gulf Fritillary butterflies right now and I can’t resist the urge to post several pictures of them. I’ve always loved their bright orange color and when I see those perfectly colored silver spots on the underside of the wings I am simply amazed. How do they make that color? If you want these guys in your garden you should plant Passion Vines and lots of Lantana. Passion Vines are their host plants of choice, butthey find the nectar of Lantana delicious.

Gulf Fritillary


My favorite butterflies are the tattered ones. I know they have lived long fulfilled lives...

Tattered Gulf


Painted Ladies are another type of butterfly we rarely see in our garden. Once we get our Hollyhocks growing and plant a few more varieties of sunflower perhaps we can entice them to visit us more often. Who knew that a butterfly could have such finicky tastes when it comes to flower nectar. The one is this picture has tattered little wings. How many more trips to Mexico can it make for the winter?

Painted Lady

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail has always been my very favorite butterfly. The one in this picture is a female. You can tell the difference by the blue on the back wings. A male has very little or no blue on its wings, most of the time just a spot on each one. The can be either yellow with black stripes or just black. In the past I’ve mistakenly posted a Black Tiger Swallowtail as a Pipe Vine Swallowtail. That picture is listed below and you can better see the blue that indicates a female in the striped variety. One really interesting thing I learned is that sometimes these butterflies can suffer from gender confusion and be both male and female. When this happens they can have yellow wings with black stripes on one side and have black wings on the other. Or, the can also become some of the most amazing patterns and colors described as Mosaic. When this happens, the butterflies are called Gynandromorphs. Tiger Swallowtail butterflies tend to use trees as host plants, Tulip Poplar, Wild Black Cherry and Sweet Bay Magnolias to name a few.

Tiger Swallowtail

This is a black female...

Black Tiger

A few years back, the weather was starting to cool off at night and it was time to move in the house plants. One particular night the temperature dropped really low extremely fast and it was late in the evening when I drug the plants in for the night. The next morning I woke up, walked into the kitchen and the room was absolutely filled with fluttering Sulfur butterflies. They were everywhere, what a wonderful thing to wake up to in the morning. It’s not every day that you arrise from slumber to a house filled with butterflies. Evidently they had settled in the plants for the night and had become immobile from the cold. When the heat from the house warmed them up they were ready to fly again. Cloudless Sulfur butterflies will be in your garden no matter what flowers you have planted. But where ever you find Wild Morning Glories you are sure to find these yellow gems.


No butterfly post would be complete without a photo of a Monarch. The one pictured below is a male drying his wings. They are easily identified by the black dots on the rear wings. These are the glands that produce the pheromones to attract the ladies. We make certain to keep plenty of Scarlett Milkweed planted in our garden to keep these guys laying eggs and to provide the caterpillars something to munch on while they grow. After the show of Monarchs we had a couple of weeks ago, you can rest assured we will find a place for more milkweed in the spring.


It would be impossible for us to plant all the host plants we would like to have; we simply don’t have the room. We will certainly do what we can to keep attracting butterflies to our garden. Nothing has given me greater pleasure than these wonderful little creatures have this past summer. It already gives me something to look forward to next season.