Thoughts While Walking Back in Time

By: Jeanne Reynolds

If you find yourself in the most beautiful and charming of cities, Charleston, on a sunny spring day with the luxury of a free afternoon, the choices seem endless. Tour a historic house or visit an art gallery? Lunch and libations overlooking the water? Shopping on King Street?

All good, but to me, nothing can top a few hours strolling back in time through the gardens at Middleton Place. Here are some random thoughts from a recent visit I was fortunate to enjoy:

– Azalea beds are the only place pink, orange and red not only don’t clash but actually look amazing.

– What’s more important to enjoying the Lowcountry: no heat, no humidity or no gnats? Answer: Yes. Enjoy it while you can.

– A dogwood tree in full bloom festooned with Spanish moss looks like a decorated wedding cake.

– A single alligator attracts more excited attention than a whole field of flowers.

– The malicious destruction of beauty in an attempt to crush the hope of enemies is really sad.

– The amount of money, labor and, most of all, vision it took to create these gardens is mind-boggling — not to mention what it must take to maintain them today.

– Southern accents are generally more pleasing to the ear than those from “off.”

– Being led beside still waters really does restoreth my soul (I didn’t lie down in green pastures but I saw people who did).

– Bees will usually leave you alone if you leave them alone (at least one person lying in the green pasture didn’t think so).

– Looking closely at the intricate design of some flowers: Wow. Just wow.

– There are probably a lot of ghosts here, but I hope this incredible beauty is bringing them peace now.

Green Thumb? Not Me.

By: Shannon Boatwright

My Mama's Beautiful Flowers

My Mama’s Beautiful Flowers

While doing a little gardening research online, in an attempt to try to learn the correct way to plant some flowers I’d gotten,  I came across an article stating that this whole green thumb thing is a myth. The author wrote about how there is no divine gift, no such thing as being ‘born with gardening talent,’ and that it is merely a learned skill that one has to hone. Basically the claim was that anyone can read directions, stick something in some dirt and upon the right conditions, actually grow something beautiful.

My Aunt Susan's Pretty Flowers

My Aunt Susan’s Pretty Flowers

I appreciate all the info that I read, but here’s my deal… I flat out don’t like gardening or planting anything for that matter. I have a hard time admitting this, considering the fact that a majority of the women in my family all have what one would consider green thumbs! I do believe that they were born with some kind of special love and talent for plants and flowers and keeping them alive and beautiful. I can, with confidence, admit that I DO NOT have a green thumb – myth or no myth. I do not possess that talent, was not born with it and I do not enjoy attempting to learn the skills. Maybe the talent skipped a generation or something in my family, but I feel like I am one of few southern women that has zero green on her thumbs.

My Aunt Sandra's Gorgeous Flowers

My Aunt Sandra’s Gorgeous Flowers

Now, don’t get me wrong –  I do love flowers and plants! To look at, to gaze upon, to admire. But that’s about it. I walk past flowers and plants and depending on their looks and condition, I will either say, “Those are so pretty!”  “Wow, those need help.” or “Ugh, I don’t care for those.” One with a genuine talent, or green thumb as we say, looks at flowers and plants and immediately notices whether it needs water, needs to be pruned, needs more sunlight or fertilizer, etc. It’s amazing. I literally see a pretty or ugly plant and that’s about where it stops.

My Aunt Wanda even got Yard of the Month!

My Aunt Wanda even got Yard of the Month!

My amazing mother, my aunts, my step-mother, my mother-in-law – they have all told me names of flowers, plants, and trees, and have given me advice on planting, etc. For some reason, a majority of the information escapes my mind. They all possess the talents of the green thumb, yet even when I receive direction, I don’t seem to be very good at gardening and I just don’t enjoy it. I don’t mind watering, I don’t mind cutting grass or even weed eating, but ugh, I do not like any of the other yard work. At all.

So, I’ll just be grateful that my awesome husband has the talent, actually enjoys it and let all the green-thumbed ladies in my family guide him. I’m just fine with focusing on my other talents, which do not involve the messy, dirty process of planting any flowers or plants. A green thumb? NOT ME.

In The Garden

Every time I get the chance, I head to the garden. Or what’s left of it. I like to look about and see what’s new. I find the typical things like new blooms, remnants of pests, and on occasion, I find a sweet treat in the form of a friendly bug.  I recently found not one but two mantices. One was on the heirloom tomatoes and the other was in the basil. I was seriously so giddy and excited that I did a little happy dance. I’m sure my neighbors got a good laugh, but it had to be done.

Praying Mantis

With this growing cycle coming to a close, I took some time to reflect on how this year’s garden has progressed compared to last year’s. I must say, I have come to think that at this point one must just be flexible with their expectations. I say this because, as I look back, the only real thing I can control is the soil, location, seed type and how I deal with pests. The rest is up to God himself. I mean, it’s not like I can say, “Today I’m going to make it not rain for the rest of the summer,” which was the issue last summer.

This season has been challenging in its own way. We started with new soil, a hardheaded, I-can-figure-it-out-on-my-own gardener (aka: me), and of course the weather. Ah yes, the weather. This has been some trying weather, hasn’t it?

As you know, I started planting in February. Mostly to keep the kids interested and get things geared up for outdoor planting in mid March. Yup, that sure worked out real good. I think we shocked the heck out of them because these tomatoes have just started to ripen and the zucchini, squash and corn didn’t make it. I did manage to rehabilitate two sweet pepper plants, but they still don’t have any blooms. The Amish Peas did okay, but the yield was minimal. Honestly, I think I’d be in shock to if I lived through a crazy ice storm, was shoved into raw soil, and had inconsistent sunlight. Really now, who wouldn’t want to freak out at that point?

Anyways, the things I have learned over the past few months really can be compared to real life. For example; would you plant yourself in a life setting (the soil) you know nothing about? How can you flourish and grow in the unknown? Having yourself planted in a fertile foundation is instrumental in how you grow. If all of your roots are shallow and parched from lack of nurture, how can you produce fruit that will survive the storms? From now on, I will take the time to learn what is in “the soil.”

I always struggle with relationships. Mostly because, well, I think everyone is good. When I discover they are not, it shocks me. Even though I know better, I still get heartbroken. At church this past Sunday, a young man spoke about his mission trip to Honduras. He read from his journal, reciting things he had learned. It was really beautiful to see him grow in his faith. As he read his writings, he recited a message from God that “he will build us up and use us. Then break us down so he may rebuild us for another use.” I’m totally paraphrasing, but my take away was this: I will always struggle with relationships. I will because I am not in control. I am a tool that He uses to do His work; therefore, He will build me, mold me and break me down. I will learn new things along the way, some good and others…well, not-so-good.  Being God’s awkward tool sounds way better than being “shallow and parched.” With each changing season, I will learn how to grow and sow with the elements. I will plant myself in nutrient-rich soil. I will learn from the paths I am taken down, and hopefully do what it is I’m supposed to with those pests that pop up. Lord knows I’m not a good listener. It usually takes some blatant situations for me to “get it,” but when I do, there is no stopping me.

Now that it’s time for re-planting, I can apply these simple lessons. I will take a soil sample and head to the Clemson Extension to find out what’s needed to balance the soil. I will plant ornamental flowers that draw good bugs, and most importantly, I’ll have faith that with the right soil I can have a full harvest.

Presto! I Mean, Pesto.

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

If you enjoy growing plants, then you know how rewarding herbs can be. They grow fast and are easy to care for. Of all the culinary herbs, basil is probably the best known and can easily be crowned King. It’s ridiculously easy to grow, it’s packed to the gills with flavor and everyone likes it. You don’t really need a thumb of any shade of green to grow it. All you need to know is how to cut it back properly so that it will continue to produce all summer.

Fresh basilWe have a small kitchen garden this year. We have a beefsteak tomato, an heirloom “Mr. Stripey” tomato, cucumbers, zucchini, poblanos, jalapenos, habeneros, green beans, kale, parsley, thyme, rosemary, and of course, the basil. We both go out at least once a day to scrutinize the garden to see what has changed since our last inspection. About a week ago, my husband came in and asked me about cutting the basil. I was like, “yeah, yeah, I’ll go get some.” He kept on. He kept saying things like “Well, you better cut it before it goes to waste,” and “I think those leaves look pretty big; don’t want them to go to waste,” and “Don’t you think we should make pesto or something so that basil doesn’t go bad?” Finally, I turned to him and asked, “Why are you obsessing about the basil all of a sudden?”

Fresh BasilYou know how crazy it is that you can live with someone for (going on) 20 years and still learn something new about him? He proceeded to tell me that he’d never had fresh pesto until he met me. He loves it and just can’t bear the thought of the basil being right there in the yard and not in the form of yummy pesto (or anything else for that matter). Years ago, I taught him that when I have a good crop of basil, I make pesto and freeze it in ice cube trays so that when summer is gone, I still have fresh tasting basil to add to any dishes I want in the doldrums of winter. Apparently, it registered and he hasn’t forgotten it.

So, I went outside, cut the basil and whipped up a small batch of pesto for him.  For Fresh Pestothose of you who are unfamiliar with making it yourself, let me assure you that it is the easiest concoction ever invented. You probably always have parmesan in your fridge, right? Garlic and olive oil should be in every house all the time. I keep pine nuts in the freezer. So, when you cut your basil, you just toss all these ingredients into the food processor, give it a couple of spins and there you go: pesto. It couldn’t be faster or easier.

So what can you do with it? The first and most obvious is to use it as a pasta sauce.  It’s great mixed into mayo for sandwiches or pasta salad. If you freeze into ice cubes, you can pop a cube into pasta sauce or minestrone to add that fresh basil flavor. It’s also wonderful to add dollops of pesto to a pizza. Or, make a simple béchamel sauce with pesto and serve with grilled tuna, salmon or gnocchi. Mix into some softened butter to serve over grilled steak or with fresh, crusty bread. I guess you’re getting my drift that you can do just about anything with pesto. It is the quintessential taste of summer, in my opinion. Herbal, fresh, light and invigorating. And that’s just pesto. Don’t forget Thai food, Caprese salads, drying basil for later use…

Since we’re moving into July, it may be difficult to find plants at Lowe’s or wherever you usually buy your annuals. But, don’t despair. A lot of grocery stores actually have potted basil plants in the produce section. It’s also super easy to grow from seed.  You could start seeds in peat pots and then just transfer to the garden or to a container on your patio. And, with our growing season like it is, you could have basil well into October.

mangiare bere e divertirsi!

Elizabeth writes “Gastronomy (by a Wanna-Be Chef).”  Please read, comment and be merry! You can also follow on Facebook & Twitter.

Finally Flourishing

By: Sherree Thompson 

Flourishing garden

The garden is finally coming alive! The Amish sweet peas are taking off, the tomatoes have a few blooms and my rosemary is bouncing back from being frozen. I really thought it was a goner. It was just a bundle of sad twigs poking out of the soil.

Garden

It’s amazing how rapidly everything grew. One day I was thinking about the irrigation system, and then I seriously needed that irrigation system in place, which it is still not. Yikes! I thought I would have time to erect the proper size support for the peas, but nope! They have clearly out grown their home. This is becoming a running story throughout my life. I think I have enough time, so I put things off. Then I’m scurrying around like a kid wrangling chickens and get all stressed out. Anyone else do that?

Garden

At least I have been scoping out the bugs that have arrived. There have been some interesting little critters, not friendly either. I have already seen a leaf-footed bug that really liked my tomatoes last year. The only real way to get rid of that pain was to pick each one off and squish it. This totally grosses me out. Bug squishing is not my cup of tea. So when I saw the giant pest, my heart sank.  I found White Flies on my Basil and some other aphid type thing on the peas.

Bugs in the garden

My heart dropped when I realized that the corn and zucchini just won’t make it. I have a feeling my soil conditions are not where it needs to be for everything to flourish. I should have listened to the hubs when he told me to send a sample to the Clemson Extension for analysis. Ah, but that would be too easy. I mean, how will I actually learn my lesson if I follow instructions? Can you hear my sarcasm?

The Therapy of Dirt

By: Lydia Scott

Like most of us who’ve lived more than a few years, I’ve been through a lot of stuff in my life. I have done three stints in the “emotional improvement” medical facilities
during my first marriage; been to several counselors; and done the whole gamut of behavioral improvement prescription medications. While all of these things can be a Gardentremendous help to many people, none of them ever relieved my issues: stress and anxiety. I found two things that finally gave me peace and smiles: eradicating poisonous people from my life (divorce from said first marriage), and making things grow.

I’ve always loved Mother Earth and the mysterious wonders of her flora. Each plant has different needs and it’s up to you to speak their language and give them what they need to flourish. When I’m elbow deep in rich, black soil, with delicate seedlings in hand, I am at my most peaceful and fulfilled. My babies don’t always live, and sometimes it’s me that kills them, but they never hold it against me. I can say what I
like and they never share my secrets. As long as I pay attention to what they need, every day they will get a little strong, grow a little taller, shine a little greener, and bring me bigger smiles of satisfaction. They never whine or cry or scream or yell. They never rip or tear or maim. They just….grow and give. I can’t wait to walk around my yard and go to my garden deck everyday and see how these beautiful living things have progressed or if one seems to need extra attention. And when those bright, cheery blooms spring forth or we indulge in an especially tasty salad filled with garden-deck dill, parsley, and basil, my peace runs deep and my anxieties wash away.

GardenLong ago, my need for medications and head doctors dissolved. I learned that my stress came from myself and from living in a way that made me feel like I was running in useless circles. Green things, black dirt, and warm sunshine give me a measurable accomplishment that is not a life or death battle.

My private zen is indulging in a fresh cup of coffee in a pottery mug while rocking in a wrought iron chair on my garden-deck, sitting next to the vertical pallet planter my beautiful husband built me, surrounded by happy birds and rustling oaks. Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh…

What is your bliss, your thing that calms your soul and soothes the savage beast?

Convictions

By: Sherree Thompson

This has been a busy spring break. So much so that I cannot recall most of it. What I do recall is finally getting soil and developing some new convictions.

FlowersThe cost of 3 cubic yards of soil was much more than I had anticipated for our garden, so I had to accept that we wouldn’t be able to fill our raised beds. After I had phoned a few distributers, I literally said to my hubs “Not no, but h-e-double-hockey-sticks no.” There was no way I could justify the cost (right now). I planted half of one of the bigger boxes thinking we would make do.

Saturday morning came and the Hubs dropped the kids off with his parents. On the way back he stopped by a landscaping lot that we drive by every time we head to Manning, just to see what they had to offer. They were such amazing people that they met us after hours so we could get some reasonably priced top soil. The cost was about $30 for our truck full. Blue Moon Landscaping has by far been the best customer service oriented facility I have seen in a long time. And, they have great products.

So the soil is in. The boxes are not completely full, but we figured hey, it’s a start and we are trying to be budget-friendly here. We filled holes, seeded, put in a bed, and literally worked all day. We got as much done as we could and went to get the kids back.

We met his parents at his sister’s house in Pinewood, had a fun egg hunt, and she invited me to one of her church’s events. It sounded like fun, so I was in. Little did I know what would take place at that event.

That Thursday I made my way back to Pinewood. Before I get started with this part, I want to say that I believe in God. However, I have never felt the need to know the Bible inside and out, or discuss really anything about it with others. I looked at it as a personal “thing.” With that said, let’s move forward.

I got there, met up with my sister in-law and we head to the church. It was quite lovely. The tables were all set with fine china and decorated in a manner that suited each person’s personality that sponsored the individual table. The men were the servers and sported black tie. The food was catered and door prizes were handed out. The guest speaker was Dawndy Mercer Plank and what a speaker she is. As she spoke, I started to get that tight knot in my throat. You know the one that is paired with pursed lips? As I listened to her, it became very clear to me that it was no accident that I was present. Her words about being “F-I-N-E” described exactly how I’ve become: Frustrated-Insecure-Neurotic-Exhausted. I was so worried about fitting in, being accepted by the “right crowd” (whoever they are), focusing on injustices, and looking forward to what I want to do with my life, that I was missing it. I was missing the life that was going on right in front of me and I got so exhausted trying to keep up.

She gave several situations that were her own tests. But the one that struck me was, when she was given a specific verse to guide her. And that’s when I knew how important it really is to know God’s words.

When the supper was over, I made the hour-long drive home and had plenty of time to think. To think about all the directions I’ve been pulled, about how easily my eyes have been pulled away from what IS important. How I have already wished away so many sweet moments. I was so moved that I pulled over in the Food Lion parking lot to write down a few things I was thinking. This is a bit of what I wrote that night in the parking lot.

“Well, I’m pretty blown away with God’s love. You see, I have been having a difficult time with a number of things lately. Being pulled so many directions, I have become all that she spoke of. God is calling me back and tonight he was pretty direct. Giving me answers to the many, many questions I have been asking. He spoke to me as if I was the only one in the room and I wanted to bawl like a child who has been busted telling a lie. Conviction is a beautiful thing, and it’s why I sit in this lot writing my story.”

Receiving this message has given me the perspective that I really needed. I’m kinder to my children, more empathetic in rough situations and quite frankly, I am relieved to be able to stop trying to impress people.  I can breathe deep and know I am loved.