The Durham Council of Garden Clubs was founded in 1929 in federation with the National Garden Club and The Garden Club of North Carolina, Inc.
The Council served more than eight decades as the umbrella group for garden clubs and junior garden clubs in Durham, NC. Today, Durham Garden Clubs continue the same mission of philanthropic projects of preservation, conservation, education and beautification under District 9 of the Garden Clubs of NC.
Thursday, December 19, 2013
Musings from the Fall Garden: Californian Reflects Role as NC Gardener
By Barbara Goodman Durham Co. Master Gardener
As our decorative chrysanthemums fade and seasonal pansy
plantings begin to take hold, what brings enduring beauty to our fall landscape? Autumn leaf
colors, to be sure, but these are now falling and opening up the canopy to more sun. I continue to be surprised
each fall when I turn to see the bright white blooms of Camellia sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’ standing
tall along my front sidewalk. It always strikes me as too cold for such a
delicate beauty, but there it is! Then I glance around in the front and side
yards to find buds bursting on some of my individual
Camellia “finds.” Two I purchased from Duke Gardens more than 10 years ago were
no more than 8” tall when I bought them. They’ve held on bravely, finally adapting
to my hard clay soil and then thriving with regular application of rich organic
mulch for protection. Alas, their tags are long lost, as my gardening in those
early years was more about nourishing the spirit after a stressful workweek
than carefully documenting my efforts.
Dwarf Camellia‘Dwarf Shi-Shi’.Photo by B. Goodman.
We added a really stellar Camellia a few years ago that
has a low growing, dense habit, covered with dark rose-pink double blooms at
this time of year. It is a dwarf cultivar related to the C.
sasanqua ‘Shishigashira’, called ‘Dwarf Shi-Shi’ by some. It likes acidic soil,
adapts to sun or shade (east facing on our wooded lot), likes moisture but we
have not given them any extra water once established. We bought these in gallon
size and planted in multiples, so they have filled in beautifully.
surprises as I stroll the chilly garden are the racemes atop Mahonia bealei,
just beginning to show their bright yellow winter blooms. I see berries
on the hollies and the Nandinas, the latter with both red (N. domestica) and
cream white (N. domestica‘Alba’). And there, propped against the wooden pergola is the tough old
climbing aster (Aster carolinianus) that happily tolerates my haphazard pruning
efforts, rewarding me with a bevy of light lavender-pink blooms throughout each
Blooming Mahonia bealei. Photo by B. Goodman.
Not to be forgotten are the wonderful deciduous shrubs
and trees whose interesting shapes are emerging as the leaves fall. Stay tuned
for a walk in the winter garden to see what surprises we find.
Gardening and the
Are gardeners ever satisfied with the weather? I fear not
—at least I never seem to be. I constantly view myself as a mother hen clucking over—and coddling — her
chicks, which in this case consists of the plants in my garden.
With the awakening of the plants in late February and
early March, I typically go into a planting frenzy. There is no need to explain
to me that it is far more beneficial to do the heavy planting in the fall as I
get what must be a hormonal urge to plant in the spring. Then I worry, as
spring weather is fickle here. April can be very hot and very cold: I can
remember when the heat hit 90° and when we had the temperature fall to 26° on
April 22, far past our last frost date of April 15. Newly planted plants prefer
some time to get settled in before the heat begins, and while many young
perennials can handle temperatures in the 20°s, tender perennials typically
will not. Nancy Goodwin once commented to me that spring can be a very cruel
season—and I couldn’t agree with her more.
The summer heat takes a toll on our plants and I feel for
them because there is so little respite from the heat except for possibly a refreshing rain. But we don’t
typically receive refreshing rains here in the Piedmont: we either get thunderstorms that drench us for
twenty minutes or we get torrents that cascade down the sewer lines. Usually we complain about
not getting enough rain. Here in Chapel Hill, OWASA doubles its rates, making watering an expensive
activity. However, this summer we actually received too much rain, giving me
something else weather-wise to complain about. All this excess rain was especially tough, even on the roses planted in my
The first half of fall tends to be my most uncomplaining
part of the year when it comes to the weather. Typically we have some rain, the
cooler night temperatures cause the plants—especially the roses—to relax and
it’s fun working in the garden without fear of heatstroke. I planted (in a fit
of dementia) twenty-two roses in September and they were happy, really happy,
which in turn made me happy.
However, fall has a cloud hanging over it and it is this:
when will we experience the first frost?
This year it was a bit earlier than in the past and certainly a lot colder when
it hit. Usually our first frost hovers in the 30°-31° area, giving our plants a
chance to adapt; however this year it hit with a vengeance hitting the scale at
24° in a matter of hours. The roses had had almost seven weeks to develop their
roots and were fine but my MIC citrus needs kinder, gentler treatment and had a
burnt top. Now I cover it when the night temperatures fall to the mid-20°s, but
I wonder what I’ll do when it becomes the size of a camellia.
November is a respite from the garden, one I badly need.
Two weeks without gardening makes sense to me, but then I get an itch to garden and the weather—what
else? —it refuses to cooperate. It’s
cold, it’s wet, it’s dank, and it gets light later and later in the
morning. I’m not a midday gardener, I’m a morning gardener. Yes, I should be flexible but I have 73 years
of habit behind me. December might give me a couple of good gardening days as we can get those lovely
crisp winter days with blue skies. The huge tetrapanax leaves have fallen, leaves that are too big to
be raked. The chickweed is coming in with a vengeance, reminding me how many invisible seeds my soil
contains. There are gardening chores to complete, and sometimes the weather will cooperate,
thereby erasing what is my almost permanent grumpiness.
It is when I go out to California that I realize I am
destined to complain about the weather. You see, the weather in Marin County, right outside of San Francisco,
is absolutely perfect. Everyone lives outdoors. Temperatures fall in the evening so sleeping with open
windows is blissful. Temperatures rise to the 80°s during the day. It is one of three places in the
world that has a Mediterranean climate. However, as far as I can determine, most Californians don’t seem to
garden. There are three reasons for this: Californians have a lot of public land
but there is little private land so most housing plots consist of small parcels
of land. Without land it is hard to garden. Then there is the matter of rain:
California only gets rain in the winter so everyone has an automatic watering
system. It is the only place where I have ever been that people can safely
schedule outdoor weddings, knowing it won’t rain. The last reason is that lovely
plants seemingly grow all by themselves in Marin. Why bother to garden when the
plants do all the work?
So, I’m back looking at my acre of garden, thinking
February is right around the corner. In February the plants slowly start to awaken, the temperatures rise so
that it’s fun to be outside even in the morning, the sky is blue, the sun rises earlier and earlier, and I
don’t have to worry about the rain—too much too little—yet. I have narrowed down my complaining about
the weather: I do enjoy February and March, along with a couple of weeks in the