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 26
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)




Seed Fever and Monkey Business
by Ruth Mason McElvain - posted 04/13/12

You know how it goes: you've paged through the catalogs with shaking hands and feverishly pondered the tantalizing choices at online sites and store shelves; the neat packets arrive in the mail; you choose some at Lowes, and the list dazzles: sweet peppers, hot peppers, tomatoes chosen for their old tang and by your father's advice, white acre peas, Hales cantaloupe, squash, cuke, corn, pole beans, herbs and wild flowers to attract pollinators, marigolds and garlic to chase off chewers.

Spring fever dictates gardening action differently in South Carolina than in northern California.  February was still shivering in winter here, when there I knew fruit trees would be blooming.  But, ah, I did have seeds..

and a likely surface in the laundry room (much closer than my mother's offered basement 15 houses away) to tend seedlings, and a perfect cabinet bottom for mounting grow lights.

With grow lights in place, I inflated peat pellets with rain water, gathered my seeds, sower, markers, labels, scissors, and other paraphernalia of my addiction.  I charted rows of shy seeds which do not cotton, I had read, to direct sowing: 8 hot peppers (pimiento picante poinsettia), 10 cantaloupe (Hales Best organic melon), 6 sweet basil (ocimum basilicum), 6 hot pink tidal wave petunia (my first pelleted seed experience), 2 red double pirouette petunia (which would've been more, but the teensy seeds dropped in one fell invisible swoop from the little green sower shaped like a white-out wand), 4  Burpfree cukes (pepino burpfree), 8 bee balm (monarda didyma), 6 lavender (lavendula vera), 6 California Wonder sweet peppers (pimiento dulce), 6 sage (salvia officinalis), 6 Miss Butterfly (buddleia Davidii).

I rummaged up a disposable baking dish as my tomato seeder and in went rows of tiny seeds for five kinds of tomatoes: Better Boy, Early Girl, Costuluto Genovese, Country Taste, and Beefmaster. And I salvaged a foil sweet-roll pan for some Shady Lady impatiens seeds.

It wasn't long until the clever seedlings were sporting their cotyledon leaves, the cukes and melons bounding up when some seedlings were minuscule.

    I transplanted them last week, the cukes first. 

Yesterday, I saw the tomatoes needed transplanting, so I marked the pots: BB= Better Boy, EG=Early Girl, CT=Country Taste, CG= Costuluto Genovese, and BM= Beefmaster. 

And then chose the best seedlings to promote to the next grade.

Did sweet peppers (SP) and hot peppers (duh, HP) the same way

till we have new plants lifted to the light

or glowing in a southern window.  The cukes and melons are still the ones leaping the most, nearly ready to go to the raised beds, along with direct sown seeds this weekend.  It can really be a satisfying slake for postponed garden urges to take these seed sowing steps, when it's too soon to actually plant in the beds.

And so I felt my little trill of gratification, until, in the cool of one recent morning, out to weed the raised beds of volunteer wheat before planting this weekend, 

when what should I discover on closer inspection is that wheat was not all that volunteered in my garden.  What was left after pulling grass

was a virtual, random, prolific crop of volunteer tomatoes, these come of their very own volition without invitation or planning or my fevered preparation of any sort!  No grow lights, labels, catalog, mail order, shopping, seed packs, or my happy jonesing and shake.  Nothing was required.  Just nature, and, attending that, my own astonished and amused realization of great good fortune and garden chagrin.  This begs the obvious conclusion that my farmer father would find incredible I'm just seeing: sometimes perhaps the unmonkeyed-with basics (seed, dirt, sun, rain) may really be just the best way to garden after all.



Comments (0) | Leave a Comment | RSS | Print | Share on Facebook | Share on Twitter |

The Darling Buds of March
by Ruth Mason McElvain - posted 03/29/12

One of the great delights for a Southerner like me (born and raised in Georgia), returned home to the South after 40 years in the wacky and wonderful wilderness of California, is spring in my new state of South Carolina.  The first year in this house and yard means every season is a study in discoveries, mysterious treasures (and trials) former owners, along with nature, have hidden in the earth for me to find; often nameless, uncharted, undaunted by my arrival, they continue in their lives and twine unfazed and unimpressed into mine.

The cherry exchanges its pale pink blossom for new leafing, as the crape myrtles also begin to leaf at its feet.  I watch for their colors and where to transplant them in my yard, not wanting them to crowd the cherry, empress of my yard.  And what is the tree leafing out behind the mailbox?  The former owners have called it a Japanese dogwood, so I'm on the hunt to name it and to know it.

Azaleas in my new neighborhood reign supreme and my yard proves no exception, I'm thrilled to see.  I never knew such frothy bloom.  Just look at those white party frocks!

One thing I always wished for in my former zone 9 was peonies.  I promptly planted Margaret Trumans in a sunny curve of the bed under the cherry out front, understanding, of course, that it may be next year before I enjoy her arrival.  And then one morning, see what emerged from the backyard dirt, a peony, several, and maybe even that same magenta hue I chose out front.  The leaves are tender and so new, unblemished and perfect.

And, under azaleas, lilies of the valley appear, also, budding out their rich perfume my mother loves so much that all her five daughters gift her often with emollients and other aroma therapeutic toiletries in this fragrance.  I planted 8 of these last week, desiring those tiny wax bells and that delicious scent to show up some day under my dogwoods.  And here they already are, gems of sensory and familial delight rising from what I thought was hosta curls.

In the shady corner bed, that bare stem I hardly noticed last summer has become a red leaf Japanese maple, which I have plans to free from this tangle.

The Madame Isaac Pereire rose that I planted offers her two cents to spring surprises, the plus her ready bud so soon after arriving from Texas into my Carolina soil, supposedly the rose for the perfume industry.


And spring life does not omit winged friends, my darling future pollinators. This innocuous corner house which my son, visiting from suspicious California, dubbed 
"the triangular murder house," was once a little playhouse.  Behind there I'm planning my compost bin.   One morning I spied sawdust on the doorstep.  There are several perfect little portholes around the structure, like this one above, engineered by carpenter bees.  The long ragged strips were left courtesy of termites, I'm thinking.  I watched the busy "c" bee shoving out his saw by-product that recent morning, making his own house instead of settling for little ideas I planned to put out.  He is one reason I want poisonless gardening in my yard.

So I handle the inevitable other growth, chickweed, and his weedy thug friends with old fashioned pulling, opting away from the chemicals my lawn man suggested.  "Your yard back there is eat up with chickweed," he said in certain guilt as though he were responsible for the rampant carpet of weed invading my property like d-day and about to win the war.  My waiting wheelbarrow of pure chickweed keeps getting handfuls donated every time I venture out back.  I mutter promises to my pollinators.  And keep pulling.

Now take a gander at the growth in my newly layer-composted beds!  I suspect that's wheat come from all the seeds I eyed in the wheat straw used generously in my layering, per online and written advice.  Seeds, really, I thought, strewing the straw with great misgiving, expecting just this to happen.  How can wheat straw even be good mulch?  Doesn't wheat spring eternal in whatever beds it's mulched into?  In my avid reading, I've seen it often used, and now this first seeding will vie with my veggies.   Oh well, it's living dirt!  I hope earthworms plow it now, even as I tickle these very words out in the muffled patter of keys.  We share this planet, after all, with buds and bugs and poor ole weeds, and even errant wheat, somehow got the bad luck not to be wanted.

Comments (0) | Leave a Comment | RSS | Print | Share on Facebook | Share on Twitter |

Garden Drums and Spring in the Blood
by Ruth Mason McElvain - posted 03/20/12

It was just last May, after a four-day solo drive from California, that I wheeled my car into a modest Taylors neighborhood in the remnants of a forest.  There it was, on a drowsy side street, the little brick house of my dreams, just fifteen houses from my mother's, and for sale.  I rolled past in slo-mo, heart pierced by the front yard full of trees and South Carolina sun, and the glimpses I caught of a fenced backyard ready for a gardener and two digging dachshunds to move in.  Wuff!


And this is where I call home now.  This first spring has dug deep into my psyche, awakening garden drums, the farmer's daughter in me obsessed with dirt, seeds, sun, rain, visions of greenery and the bumbly buzz of bees .  The Yoshino cherry by the drive and white thrift under the mailbox shimmer in my mind, wild violets scatter in unexpected places...


even what looks like wild muscari at my halted feet surprise me in the backyard one morning, here brimming along with pale trumpets redolent of garlic, like nothing I ever saw in proud California.   February weeks ago shook awake my garden fever, driving me to seed catalogs, online googles, local garden shops, junktiques, garage sales, my mother's tool shed, blogs to make my thouhts reel,

and trips to the library for armloads of books.  I jot down ideas in a fresh garden journal till


a rough garden scheme forms.  Time to choose the herbs and flowers to attract garden friends, visualize fat tangy tomatoes, nasturtiums, and cukes climbing trellises,   southern veggies like white acre peas, okra, mustard greens, hot peppers for bottles of pepper sauce, squash, sweet potatoes, beets and carrots, a crazed tangle to separate into seasons and likely companion planting, and new things to try: borage, bee balm, hyssop, along with the old buddies: alyssum, marigolds, and zinnias.

The site dictates itself with wise logic.  My back yard is half bisected crosswise by the shade of forest trees behind my backyard fence.  The sunny horizontal half near the house only offers this side pictured in the top right since the top left portion you can't see hides a septic tank.  Besides, it's right under my kitchen and mudroom windows.  Perfect!

A good neighbor's truck and a trip to Lowe's deliver carefully planned lengths of untreated lumber.  I settle for pine because I can afford it now, fully expecting to replace this wood of my rasied beds gradually with expensive cedar, probably in the near future as the soft pine disintegrates in weather and dirt.  The frames assembled on my screened-in porch,  corners connected by galvanized screws and inside metal braces, become only five beds of the seven my plans anticipate since funds dwindle for right now.  Okay to start smaller.. just start, I say.

I line them up in early March where I've plotted my garden, even if a little truncated at present, and assemble newspapers, bags of organic compost (reeking grandly of chicken manure), wheat straw, worm castings,  the garden hose, wheelbarrows and pitchforks, buckets, trugs and concrete blocks.   Piles of summer grass clippings and shredded fall leaves are mounded behind my fence in the woods.  And my mother has many years of deep, rich compost waiting, just fifteen houses away.


First I lay down heavy wet overlapping pads of newspaper directly on the sleeping sod, which,  I've read in Lasagna Gardening , will kill the grass and draw the diligent earthworms.   Next I layer bagged "compost"--mostly gooey chicken manure, then several inches of wheat straw, ditto a similar layer of mixed leaves and lawn clippings, more wheat straw, my mother's compost, and finally 15 bags of top soil.

I finally end with a set of filled beds, orphaned right now on the edge of the lawn and lost-looking.  Soon, however,  I'll sow seeds, erect trellises,  add some kind of enclosure and paths, put out a birdbath, a bee bath, add a water system, get a rainbarrel, let the windmill blow.  Sheeesh, I'm excited.  But hot sweaty work is best attended in South Carolina by our old friend...


a tall cool glass of raspberry iced tea on the screened-in porch, in view of my incipient garden and springtime dazzling the yard.

Comments (5) | Leave a Comment | RSS | Print | Share on Facebook | Share on Twitter |

Jump to page: « First  <  7 8 9