Ruth, a recently retired English teacher, has lived most her adult life in San Jose, California, but relocated to Taylors, SC in May, 2011, to share her mother's golden years and to be near three sisters. Now she's excited to have a house with a yard 10 times the size of her property in California, and can't wait to get digging! Follow her blog to see how a recent transplant experiences gardening, both ornamental and vegetable, in the hot clay of South Carolina.

Recent Blog Posts

May 22
Blooms and Beds and Garden Buddies   (2 comments)

Apr 08
Cardinals, Crows and Thunder Snow.   (4 comments)

Jan 02
Minding the Future Garden as the Old Year Wanes   (3 comments)

Dec 30
Brimming Well of Winter and Goblets of Ice   (4 comments)

Dec 16
The Garden Green, Deep in December   (3 comments)

Nov 27
A Taste of Cold November   (3 comments)

Oct 28
In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the (Garden)..I’ll Be There   (4 comments)

Oct 11
Summer Garden Residents: The Original Earthlings   (4 comments)




Blooms and Beds and Garden Buddies
by Ruth Mason McElvain - posted 05/22/13

In my South Carolina garden, earth has long stretched out of winter's yawn and spring is full throttle.

The bleeding hearts I planted last year made a stunning debut..

and the peonies were grand in white ball gowns with cherry red waists.

Though the roses will languish soon in the furnace of South Carolina summer, they flourish now in tender spring, like this Double Delight..

and the Zepherine Drouhin, both nubile members of my young garden.  Love that dark pink, the ruffle of cool petals, gulping the fragrance.

And the most ancient of all my roses, hailing back some think to Shakespeare's age, the Autumn Damask twines on one of twin gothic arches..

along with ma cherie Madame Isaac Pereire, old quartered rose of delicious perfume and 130 raspberry petals I've counted in one bloom.


This has been a spring for the flowers; even tiny volunteer jump-ups in glowing gentian violet and frothy white-linen blooms of pyracantha were enrapturing.

Though I needed to relearn breathing after seeing these scarlet Asiatic lilies drenched in early morning light.

You'd think the veggie garden would pale in comparison to the splendor of my ornamental blooms.  Yet my farm blood sang  when seed potatoes arrived in late March.  I was ecstatic, cutting them and leaving them to air dry for a couple days, levitating with dreams of homegrown Yukon Golds to plant in the backyard.  I believe the stories of how better they taste than grocery store spuds.

So right as April stepped in, I planted my potato pieces.  Here in my "East Garden" beds, where I added the two new ones in front of the old five, I put the potatoes to the left of the center bed and at foot of azaleas.  You can see my dogwood-stick markers if you look close.  The farthest beds jutted together and only separated with an 8-inch gap, I label as #1 (seen with a crazed string grid of pea trellis I wove last fall) and #2 (with the bolted-mustard yellow blooms).  The potato bed is #3, the center one by the windmill is #4, the next bed over with the other pea trellis and the onions is #5, and the new beds are #6 and 7 from left to right.

To me, the greenery is gorgeous in the potato bed #3, seen a little closer this way a week ago, with companion kidney beans.  This is where okra grew last year.

This other new bed #8 is in my "West Garden" beds, glaringly new wood easy to spy next to the weathered#9 where my five sisters grew corn, squash, cukes, pole beans, and cantaloupe last summer.  Belle (that's my darling just visible in the right mid ground) is out with me one morning at 5:20 a.m. in early April as we overlook the asparagus bed I planted only two weeks earlier.

The treasured one-year-old Jersey Supreme asparagus roots rehydrate here in rain water mid-March prior to planting.  You can't rout a gardener's hopefulness.  I planted these in perennial bed #8, taking no more than an hour, with a thrill that I'll have asparagus growing here till I'm near eighty, my vision bright regardless of future apocalyptic possibilities in the intervening years.

A couple months later, the baby asparagus have put out their feathery foliage from the first ignored spaghetti-size asparagus shoots that rose.  These baby shrubs will grow larger through the summer and die to brown in the fall when I'll cut them back to the ground.  Next spring I'll let those first pencil sized shoots go another year like this one.  In 2015 I'll begin my spring harvesting.  Patience now will pay off for years after.  Under the foreground pine straw, incidentally, I have tucked Quinalt strawberries for my sister Kathy, though those roots, hopefully viable, are invisible around the borage you see growing there.  Down the center of the baby asparagus are planted Jackson Wonder butter beans, an old variety I found at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE), a favorite organic garden repository I just discovered online this winter.

Don't get dizzy, but back in the new east beds, I planted more treasured legumes.  The top #6 bed is edged with White Acres I also planted last year, from Cherry Gal Heirloom Seeds.  Down the center oft he bottom bed #7 is Whippoorwill southern peas, also from SESE, a variety planted by fellow gardener Thomas Jefferson.  The same company provided the bush cucumber Homemade Pickles, growing in two rows on the right, and the Old Time Tennessee muskmelons that we funny Southerners call cantaloupes, planted in four overzealous hills on the right, though only one in the middle is showing here.  They are supposed to be the fragrant football-shaped melons of memory that Daddy grew when I was a stalk-legged kid chattering with him out in his sunny half-acre garden, oblivious to our many future partings ahead of us, now permanently accomplished.  All of these are in his honor, all my gardening, so much of me, too.

Last week, as they promised, SESE sent my most recent garden package, Beauregard sweet potatoes..

Plunge your thirsty just-arrived roots immediately into rainwater.  And plant them that day!  They languish from their box journey and crave revival.

Under my crude scaffolding, the sweet potatoes rest in their new #6 home with temporary shade from punishing noon provided by dog blanket and clothes pins.  The infant potato slips that survive my clumsy handling can eventually cover the scaffold with beautiful rampant vines and hopefully leave room for my dearest White Acre peas surrounding them.  The spent peas will vacate the premises in August, leaving more room for the potatoes to form for a September harvest. 

Here, beds #1 and 2 (far right to diagonally near left) begin to green out.  In bed #2 lemon balm are in its far corners.  That's bee balm in deeper green at the foot of the tall center oregano.  On this closer side by the listing Park Seed trellis are Blue Lake pole beans.   A few crookneck squash nestle in there also, unseen behind the oregano.  Bed #1 beyond..

.. is home to sage you don't see here, with Burpee heirloom Country Gentleman shoe peg corn on the far end, and SESE Virginia peanuts on this end.

These baby peanuts are tribute, again, to my peanut farmer Daddy.  He and Jimmy Carter at one time walked Daddy's fields.  It seems the future President was curious about Daddy's success with rye at the time, a new closer planting or something.  But the peanuts I hope will yield a few pots of boiled salty luscious treats, though my family may grimace at that mention.  Once, a clueless teen, I left a pot on the stove at brisk boil to go bake cookies with a neighborhood friend!   HEL-LOH!   My eldest sister found the house filled with an acrid metallic smoke when she came home hours later, the peanuts glowing coals and the aluminum pot in molten pools on my mother's turquoise stove top.  I arrived in time to hack and choke in the remaining fumes, staring open mouthed at the damage on the stove.  Woo, a close call and me, dang it, undeniably guiiiiilteeeee.

In the middle bed around the water feature, I have planted a dozen okra, seen here as dime sized leaves.  Last summer these Clemson Spineless grew 8-9 feet high and my prolific 8 plants supplied us with many toothsome okra dishes.  We ate fresh pods sliced thin and mealed to fry crisp, and in chunks with tomatoes, so yummy, and in many soups over the winter from my frozen stash.  This bed #4 will also house sweet bell pepper.

Bed #5 currently sports Urban Farmer Seeds' Little Marvel peas, more of my prized legumes.  Barely visible through these peas are Texas sweet onions I put in last fall.  This week I perhaps mistakenly harvested them too early, as the erect stalks with buds clearly bulging at their tips had not withered and fallen, but I read that budding onions stop forming the bulbs.  Later further reading makes me think that this variety just performs that way.

The small onion bulbs are curing under my carport in trays like this.  The onion buds got browned in butter and went into mashed potatoes, the brown buds crispy and the softer green ones chewy and onionly yummy.

Last but not least of my new planting is bed #9, the largest at 16 X 5 feet, bristling with 20 tomato plants, onions on either end (and a few along the right side), interspersed with hot peppers.  Those are tobasco in the back center near the darker green yarrow.  Right in the middle is a little enclave of Burpee's Fordhook organic zucchini.  I have the deeply lobed Costoluto Genovese tomatoes that Thomas Jefferson also grew, Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Country Taste, Beefmaster, Early Girl and Better Boy (both that Daddy said you always had to include), Money Maker, and Mater Sandwich.  Basil and sunflowers, hyssop and morning glories, and marigolds will join the soon-to-be riotous welter of greenery here.  I hope to can a few more than the four quarts of tomatoes I got last summer after we gobbled my crop mostly fresh.

Meanwhile, my fellow beloved gardeners, Masie Cake, who thinks because I really got her at 5 weeks, that we are biologically mother and daughter,..

and Spud, otherwise known as Caspar, White Lightnin, Lil Spirit, and Mighty Snake Terrier (shhh he's really a Jack Russell but told me recently he's now a snake terrier, after he shook to death several harmless little serpents in our backyard dirt this spring);..

our adorable Bella, cutest feisty little street-smart rescue-Chiweenie always starting fights her backside can't finish..

and finally mighty mouse: Otto, aka Ottopilot, Ottomatic, Ottobot, or just Boo..these, my four garden buddies and I all bid farewell from the backyard dirt till next time.   Meanwhile where are those other seeds....



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Christopher (Louisiana - Zone 8a) - 05/27/2013

Wow! You certainly have a very productive garden. You'll have quite the harvest soon.
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Ruth Mason McElvain - 05/27/2013

I know! I JUST hope I haven't bitten off too much! Thank you, DB!
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