Interesting exercise.


Bought the laurels above for almost nothing, played with them for a couple of years, and gave up.  It is too hot here for Mountain Laurels, and they all developed holes in their leaves.  So not a lot of money was lost.


Neither was it with all these Agave.  They all come from one mother, which is in another place on the acreage.  These love the sun here.  Same pots on the columns; common Prickly Pear is in them now.  This pool environment has lots of spiky things, counterintuitively.


The Holly bushes on either side of the entry gate must be about two years old here.  A plywood box covers the machinery for the pool.


Above, the hollies make a tunnel over the gate.  Brick has been added to the entry, tile to the pool deck and a little silo to cover the pool equipment. Confederate Jasmine almost covers the back fence now.  It was completely covered about four years ago, so much so that its density absorbed garden space and we had to start over.


This is Sidney’s Live Oak, planted in 1997, the year he died.  Look at the sandy soil.  It is only with a system and a well that we can have grass.


Here is the adolescent live oak today.  Have more of these, it takes some work to photograph and crop to make a good comparison.


It is difficult to calculate where there is enough light to introduce ornamental trees when you live on acreage surrounded by woods.  There are also micro climates within our space which are so topical now that we are having our coldest series of days of the winter.  Remembering in the past that  it would get so cold here I would sleep in the studio and keep the greenhouse door open so the studio heat would migrate there, we have not had those temps for years now.  The cold wave we are now having is a low of 27 degrees, and just enough to damage things that are now budding in mid-February.

1-outside wall

The image above shows three redbud trees living outside the stucco wall surrounding the pool.  They were all planted at the same time.  It has to be light that dictates their size differences.  Or not?

1-fourth redbud tree

It may be hard to see, but there is a fourth redbud tree inside the pool wall to the right.  It is the only tree inside the pool area.  It is about as big as the tree to the far left, and that may be the reason for the slight size of the tree in the outside line.  Also, the redbud inside has its purply pink buds and those outside do not.  It must be warmer in there, but the wall is only four feet high.

1-two trees

Above is the redbud that is already budding.  I have to highlight my early gardening stupidity here.  Two tiny (like three inch) redbuds were planted here in 1997.  Why on earth did I think that two trees would merge into one?  And the form of the redbud is completely destroyed when mistakes like this are made.  All these trees came from seedlings around another tree.

blooming redbud

Redbuds can have a fine shape when one does not try to create a bizarro pair of conjoined twins.  Hate when I do that.


Back at home in SC, this picture from yesterday, travel day, seems like a dream.


A bad dream.  But the holiday trip to the Midwest was the finest of bad dreams.  The snow and ice we experienced was like this:  beautiful, untouched and viewed from inside our car which was going at normal speed.  What I most love about snow is how it reveals the forest floor, which one can never see in the summer.  Ice defines the lines of the branches of deciduous trees, snow fills out the big shapes of the evergreens, and traces the forest floor.  Defined by snow and ice, the whole forest makes a fantasy-like sense.  In the summer, the woods are deep and spongy like one alive but unreadable shape.

We all know about last winter.  Here in SC, where we live with the most marginal of heat sources (gas log, occasional space heater) it was all so marvelous.  We could be outside all winter.  Making soup in the kitchen was enough to get warm (having lived without real heat for 7-8?? years, I now understand about making soup, washing dishes just after dinner [think 1945]; it makes so much warm sense).  Eating soup was enough to get warm.


Contrast this picture above with the Midwestern winter; they were taken the same day.  My daughter’s two horses have a visit with the mother and grandmother of one.  They have warm sunshine and grass to eat.  Nice little vacation for two horses from Virginia.

1-garretts tree

Yesterday was Garrett’s sixteenth birthday, and we planted this little magnolia in celebration of that.  We have so many trees that stay green all winter here.

1-new tee-pee

It is also warm enough to finish the construction of our third tee-pee which protects certain bushes and trees from the deer.  I feel so lucky to have so much cedar, dead and alive, on our acreage.  It is beautiful and can do so many jobs.

1-two finished

This winter is not over of course, but here we are not seeing much difference from the moderation of last winter.


The only life force around here to challenge my Mouse’s would be in the little yoshino tree on the drive.  It is about ten years old and is a pygmy.  The deer strip it down to nothing every winter.  Now the deer are eating tiny leaves on my new pyracantha, so on this quiet Christmas Eve I went collecting fallen cedar in the woods.  Love doing this.


This is my Mouse, almost sixteen years old.

1-tee pee

You can hardly see the little tree with all these armaments.  We have these amazing vines in our woods.  They get very large and feel dense like hardwoods.  They grip and strangle a tree.  When you find a dead one on the ground, they can be configured in useful shapes.


This vine swivels on its crossbar.  That should shock the deer when they get their noses too close!  Maybe next year I will have some leaves, and later can lay off the tee-pee when the tree gets bigger than deer height.  I should live so long.


Above is the pyracantha which needs saving.  Having planted it around August, it is still leafing out, in the winter.   Another,  one of 12 cuttings taken and the only to survive,  is making new leaves like crazy now too.  I have a lot to learn.


This tee-pee, built last spring did a great job of keeping the deer from eating this snowball bush.  It has been blooming all fall, misstep-ping like the pyracantha.  What goes?  You can see the remainder of the last flowers.  In this fall blooming however, big full snowballs were not produced.  The flowers were less than half of a sphere, and flat on the bottom.

The “teeth” laying on the ground and pointing up did a good job.  Will do this again with the raw materials below.



And what year was that?  2004? 2005?  That was a difficult winter.

The ice storm continued for two nights, and my adolescent live oak tree about folded itself in half.  Living alone here then,  the damage was overwhelming.  I hauled and burned for weeks and FEMA picked up damage for months.  After they left, the county still picked up damage we all managed to haul to the road.

It was not until I figured out how to use some of the damage creatively that the work became easier to do.  In the pictures above, you can see that the gardens are circled by big oak branches.  I started doing that during the clean up.  And every year, I add more as the older wood disintegrates.   These pictures show just part of the gardens here.

The ice storm, or “Nature’s pruning” as some optimistic people call it, did a number on our woods.  Where the crowns of the trees had created a round and loopy line as they reached the sky, after the storm, it looked like Death Valley in an alternate universe.  There was no crown to speak of on any trees, and the tallest pines looked like Dr. Seuss designed them.  They had lost all their limbs save the very top ones, and those tops were round and poofy.

One thing this huge pruning did for our woods is that sun got into places it had not for a while.  It was maybe two years later that I noticed huge white flowers at the top of what I had thought to be bay trees.  Were they really magnolias?  This brings me around to my current topic, my new garden around the new bedroom addition.  Almost done with it now, and spending no money other than the 20 bucks spent on a pretty large Japanese maple,  I transplanted two magnolias from the woods to the new space yesterday.

Well I am confused between bay trees and magnolia trees.  Doing a little research, the names of these trees jump around in both varieties with a spectrum of hyphenated choices.  Google “magnolia” and you get a number of different names: swamp magnolia, swamp laurel, laurel magnolia, white bay, bay magnolia, sweetbay magnolia, loblolly- bay, holly-bay; it goes on and on.  It seems that both bay and magnolia have creamy white flowers.  Is anybody clear about these trees and their flowers?  Somebody is, but there is a lot of contradictory information on the net.

I also saw opposing opinions about whether deer like bay trees or magnolia trees.  It seems deer will eat the tender flowers of either, if hungry enough. Thinking that maybe I could deduce what we have here with the fact that deer do not eat what i know for sure to be a Little Gem Magnolia, this seems to be a specious task as well.

Above is one of my Little Gem Magnolias in a huge pot, during the ice storm and sometime after.  The tree is the perfect height for deer to eat it, but they do not.  Some entries on the web talk about deer not eating the trees, but rubbing up against them, which can do its own type of damage.  I see none of that here.

Back to the new garden.  Below, on the left with a shimmer,  is the first bay/magnolia transplanted yesterday.

And here is the second.

As one website advised, magnolias with their shallow root system like water that leaches from fallen leaves of their own.  So I raked up the fallen environment in the little magnolia (?) woods across the driveway, and imported them here.


I have wanted an outdoor shower for at least two decades after using one in a home on the Hudson River in upper New York state.  It was a fabulous experience with lush gardens all around and a deep back yard ending far out, trees small in perspective at the sunny river.  Much later now, finally one is going in here.

The white area at the bottom of the middle post supporting the deck is this:

While we are not looking out to the Hudson River here, we can create a fabulous shower experience.  The first picture above was taken from the woods.  Although we took out a lot of trees to facilitate the new bedroom, we still have acres between this area and the nearest neighbor.

The crescent shaped shower bottom is a remainder of an old porch we had to destroy to make the new room.  I had tiled it.  Our builder placed it where we wanted the outdoor shower.  Glenn then took his tractor and sculpted the whole area the way we wanted it for water drainage.  So lucky here in South Carolina, between the sand hills and the low country, we have much sand in our soil, and no ground freeze in the winter.  When laying bricks for various projects, you simply have to level them, throw sand on them and wash it down, do this many times, and the bricks are good.

I wanted a slight angle to the path up to the shower, and also wanted to use some of the broken brick that we have.  Starting in the basket weave pattern, as the angle cut in to the shape, the basket  weave drops out and eccentrically placed bricks take over.

Plantings around the bricks do a good job to help secure them.  Papyrus is being planted around the shower base which will grow up high in the same months we would want to use it.  Beyond them, coming towards the foreground of the picture, I am going to plant ginger lilies which get very tall and very fragrant for a good part of the summer.  They will provide great coverage and a great fragrance.

See the grid that is leaning against the deck?  After all other elements of the garden are in, we will position it for coverage and place a wisteria vine we have waiting on it, offering more coverage and wonderful purple flowers for part of the summer.  Wisteria is a real fast grower.

The basket weave pattern was started at the bottom of the steps and created a pad on the ground of about three feet by six feet.  Making a right angle, another three by six rectangle was made before the walk turned back on itself, creating a space for a bush in the vacant space near the deck.  The basket weave pattern is simply an alternation of two bricks placed up and down, and then two bricks placed side to side.  Then you repeat this.

The curved edge of the pathway will cut in and interfere with the basket weave and that is my plan.  This curve was drawn out using parts of broken bricks.  I want to use them, but use them intelligently.  As the curve draws in, less basket weave will be able to fit in, and the broken bricks will take over.

Here you can see how the basketweave pattern is disintegrating and the eccentric bricks are taking over.

I am going to add more partial bricks around the shower base to make it a little bigger, and then start planting more papyrus.


Around here, when it rains, we feel like prisoners.  We have had rain all afternoon, and it slows us down.  Hate to say that with all of the Midwest shriveling up like a dry orange peel.  We have to keep busy inside.

Warmer colors are starting to creep into the decking around the pool.  I am thrilled to see space on shelving where tile used to be.

Below is a urinal/sink that Glenn found in a ditch years ago.  We have been using it for pansies and creeping things outside in a garden.  The flowers are elsewhere now as this urinal is going into the master bath as a sink.  The particular hardware for this thing cost six hundred dollars.  Still below our allowance for the cost quotation.

Glenn says these have always had split personalities.  He has run into them as sinks as often as urinals.

Here is the sink waiting for installation.  Glenn has made a shelf to stand behind the top of the sink out of old barn wood, highly polished with polyurethane .  It has to be installed first.    Shelving will be custom made for under the sink.

The aged barn wood is from an old barn on Glenn’s former acreage in Missouri,  knocked down about two years ago.   We brought the wood  here to infuse this place with Glenn’s  history.  Below is a detail of the door he made for the enclosed commode area which will be just to the right of the sink area.   It still retains on the inside patterning from old paint and use.

So the old barn wood will be used in three places, the sink area, the commode area, and a strip will line the perimeter of the shower/commode/sink cluster at the top, at eight feet.  The ceiling is contoured to the design of the outside roof.

Below is another instance of old wood that will be in the new bedroom/bath:  the old pine siding from 1939.  You can also see a part of the contour of the ceiling.  Don’t know yet about paint color (or maybe sanding and poly) for that sided area.   Any opinions?


I bought an agave plant about fifteen years ago at the flea market.  Knowing nothing about it, the striking traces from the edges of an old leaf embedded in the next leaf like old shadows were wonderful.  The plant has had hundreds and hundreds of babies to plant elsewhere and to give away.  The old mother is probably in too much shade and is not as big as she should be.  Many of the babies are catching up as they are in the full sun.

A construction worker once asked, “Is that a century plant?”.  He said that every time I walk by it to give it a swift kick; they love that kind of treatment.  Don’t ever water it, or treat it nice in any way, or it will die.

Agave is called “Century Plant” sometimes, implying that it blooms only once a century.  Not true.  More like once a generation, 15-20 years.  My mother plant has never bloomed.  On my road into nearby Columbia, a big one was placed in a traffic triangle; within a year it bloomed and leaned over like damaged in a  hurricane. The highway workers must have been amazed.  All that work, then the bloom, and gone!  Reading today, I learned that they die after this big bloom, but remain in all the clones of course.  And that big dead spiny thing can be a mess to remove.

They take care of themselves and propagate at a lively pace.  I have over 90 along my pool wall, and they are a little lethal looking when regarding them,  standing in your swim togs.  But then again, so is all my broken tile.

I am covering an ugly cement pool deck with tile fragments, organized to relate to a preexisting tiled wall that has functioned as something of a sketchbook for me.  This is a real challenge: the unification of these two big spaces.   Having figured out how to do this earlier (can I  blink my eyes and have it done?),  one element of continuity not thought about at first are the plants in the gardens BETWEEN the wall and the cement deck.  They are elements in the composition too, and where the work is happening now, the plants are agave.

Although contrast can be nice (think of ST. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC surrounded by sleek tall mirrored buildings), recording these live plants on the deck will provide unity and serve as a record for the plant’s history.

Realizing this, the next job was to insert the silhouette of a tiny prickly pear plant around the corner from where the work is taking place now.


The adding of a new master bedroom to our 1939 farmhouse has created brand new areas for gardens.  That alone is exciting enough, but Glenn came home with something which could have been very lame—an old satellite dish.  And he wanted to make a water feature out of it.  I could imagine a huge thing with DISH painted along the edge, but what he came home with has possibilities.  Of course, the dish was free.  Who has dishes this size any more?

The dish is a bit over six feet in diameter, and the edge is three inches in depth.  It can hold water already as you can see the rain from last night contained.  There are two possible places to incorporate this into the blank yet-to-be gardens created by the new addition.  Below is the more sunny and public option, connecting with the central area of the yard, around which are the two other buildings.

The more private place to put the dish, which would be more shady,  is to the side of the front of the house to which the woods come up closer,  and is used less.  Come to think of it, our bed will look out to this garden and possibly we could get some bird activity going if we chose this side, with water and feeders.  The faint rectangular edges of two windows are visible through the house wrap.

The small tree left standing in this area was once at the edge of the woods.

The tile mess below is the floor of the old side porch which had to be knocked down to incorporate the new room.  There are two big chunks still here, and this one will be dug into the earth outside the new little deck and become the base for an outdoor shower.

Just got the plumbing for the new room and outdoor shower finished today!


The construction crew was nice enough to finish yesterday so we could have the evening to place the windows that are going across the back wall and bathroom of our new bedroom.

Originally, we thought some big windows would be included here, but a bit of homogeneity in the design was required.  Our contractor, who has worked with me on several projects, and is learning to love the unusual and the recycled, came up with a fine idea yesterday that we are going to implement.  For his idea, we will use the big windows that we rejected here.

Above, the windows are laid out the way they will stretch across the back wall.  To the left will be a glass door, which is missing here.

Here is the back wall showing the organization:  three rectangular piled at the left,  and six squares to the right.  The squares will have different divisions and alternate.  These are some of the same windows that we used for the barn a couple of years ago.

We used a recovered door for the entrance to the studio part of the barn.  We have two fine matched pairs for the new bedroom closets.

Glenn bought some bamboo a while back and I have been taught to be afraid of it.  It can get out of hand.  Just coming in from the real experience of seeing how uncovered our new bathroom will be with its windows, it will go in tomorrow.  I don’t think that simple pine trees will be enough cover!