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)




Brimming Well of Winter and Goblets of Ice
by Ruth Mason McElvain - posted 12/30/12

Yes, it's winter, for sure, with wonders to ponder on a cold morning, like an ice goblet sprung in a engineering enigma from the birdbath

hollow, and brimming with irresistible dipper to sip!

But the thermometer has lost it's ever-lovin mind!

And things are frozen bonkers:

The turnips and collards bow to the ice

and the stalwart crystal-coated alyssum shivers persistently, the only thing left of the summer okra bed.

So glad I grabbed a few tools in a warmer interlude a week ago

getting a hare to stob in some stakes by the peas

and macrame a string trellis, wearing a pair of sheers to clip the twine.

We've had rain in the Piedmont this colder week, several inches several times, and there's still

the fruit of the earth to pull: turnips and carrots and radishes, oh my!

But mostly the frosty garden slumbers, giving opportunity of course, for mad scheming in the warm tummy of the house..plotting to finally add the other two raised beds of my original plan for the east garden, and a second bed on the west grounds next to last summer's five sisters.  I have the lumber, cut to spec, in my shed even now, waiting only for warmer days to build them, my favorite Christmas present along with bags and bags of Black Kow.  I plan to use that new long bed for one larger favorite crop each year: maybe corn that likes leg room to grow it's dear gift, double room for tomatoes I can put up in vermillion quarts, or snaky stretches of pole beans, or cantaloupe and watermelon.  This summer, though,  it will be white acre peas.  I can't wait to see what sixty-four square feet of peas will yield when eight plants were so generous last summer--from them I got several pots.  The bed adjacent to it that now hosts greens, in the spirit of rotation will be tomatoes and basil and bee balm this summer.  On the east side, the future bed #6 will be a perennial spot for asparagus and strawberries. 

The insanity is deep rooted.  I troll online for garden lore like companion plantings, squandering delicious hours of cyber mania, stopping to leap from my computer chair only for a quick jig or fist pumping and cheers, thrilling with anticipation, and scaring my dogs into a fit of barking. 

This time I make sure I've ordered the necessary plants before they're sold out, knowing they'll ship in time to plant for my zone: asparagus, like this long-lived male version that's supposed to yield for years..till I'm 77 (?)..

and yummy Yukon Gold seed potatoes for east bed #4 where the okra once stood and the alyssum now reigns.  I ain't Irish for nothing.

Yes, I'm a Park Seed junkie, scheming for old species to pop in my garden, to add the tangy purple Cherokee to the tomato seeds I've saved (plus the Mater Sandwich and Money Maker varieties I don't show here), Virginia peanuts to buddy with corn in east bed #1 (mmm, salty boiled peanuts here we come), and something different like the sharp black radish in its garden tuxedo, though I already ordered it from a competitor.

I can't resist Burpee's lure, either.  Since I'm going for organic and open-pollinated, I lean toward heirlooms, especially ones with a southern ring like tobasco peppers and Country Gentleman, the shoe peg corn.  The kidney beans I'll dry for chili made from my canned tomatoes: just add rice, cheese and onions for a feast next winter, when I'll be scheming garden gates and a lantern-strung pergola.  Thomas Jefferson is my garden and mental model, so I'm proud I have seeds of his prized painted lady vine to bring bees and other sensual delight to my backyard dirt.  Legume innoculant will be a fun experiment to try.

One day next summer, maybe where these peas are, I'll photograph that Thomas Jefferson vine, the fragrant deep-pink and white blossoms twining up corn or tomatoes, or looping with the beans, squash, and melons.  Can't wait for those summer treasures, ornamental sirens to call the pollinators and veggies for great Southern tables.  Yes, like other gardener hearts, my blood pumps with water, earth, sun and seeds, even in winter.  California never gave me ice goblets nor crazy thermometers, and roses loved that black ground unlike the poor posies here that succumb to black mildew.  In one season climbing roses there were taking over New York, while here they shrivel and look ashamed.  Even so, I'm still thrilled to trade that wonderful western wilderness I spent forty years wandering for my South Carolina paradise now.  There's so much scheming and so little winter left.  Only eight more weeks till we start an early spring crop!  Maybe then I can get some English peas from the pretty, properly-timed planting.  I'm resolving to correct some blunders I made last year, and do things better this next one, in my glorious, Southern backyard dirt.

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The Garden Green, Deep in December
by Ruth Mason McElvain - posted 12/16/12

My garden in December does not burgeon with tomatoes and beans and peas and corn and cukes, morning glories, marigolds, squashes,  bees and bats.  Oh, do I have great memories of that welter of vegetation there in summer when the backyard was a thick green sward, not a crispy brown mat.

Even though the paperwhites out front are popping up unseasonably their surprising spring faces in the deep of December,

there are still wintry concerns, even so,  to manage in the backyard.  The bee bath,  by the east beds and windmill, needs filling, if not for the bees,

then for the birds.  Since I'm not using the table as I would for sitting outside as I did in summer, I've lifted this watering dish above ground and can watch birds bathe on cool mornings as they feed nearby.  I watch from my screen porch, sip coffee, and seethe about the neighbor a block behind me cutting a second driveway on his ample land behind my yard, as is his right.  But dang it, now I get to see his white truck and van in the thinner trees of winter.  I plan to move the crape myrtles sprawling out front under my cherry tree back along this fence to screen his cars from view a little.  I'll do that soon.  And give the table another coat of rustoleum.

I have other tasks to face.  Recently I heard a rusty squawking from the backyard sounding like some horror-movie soundbite.  Nothing  a little WD-40 coudn't fix on the cawing windmill.  It sadly needs rustoleum to cover peeling paint and welding soot, as well.  On my list of winter duties to get to.

I've taken cuttings from the angel trumpet out front and have them in water to root on my screen porch till spring.  The one in the backyard, I just let go bare legged, not cutting it back.  It's near the house and I'm experimenting to see how it survives the winter au natural.  These cuttings are my insurance in case it doesn't fare well.

Not that I don't also have an incredibly green garden still, here in December.  This is what was a tall three-sisters bed in summer, seen here a few weeks back now planted much lower, with collards on this end and turnips on the other.  (The foreground corners are milk thistle and yarrow.  I like to mix up my beds to call the pollinators as variously as I can.)


The pot liquor bounty has grown since that shot.  Turnips (left) and collards (right) make great pots of greens for winter eating

I've harvested the golden globe turnips twice already.  This latest load is about a half bushel.


with delicious roots to stud the hearty greens and pot liquor in a steaming bowlful.  Big Mama says fresh pork seasoning with turnips and smoked pork with collards.

Next harvest of greens will be a mix of turnips, the collards, and maybe some spinach (on the left) and mustard (right).  Oooh.  Just need cornbread, the newest recipe I've tried, my current favorite cornbread,  is Bobby's Moist and Delicious cornbread that he demonstrates online with his blue-eyed mama, Paula Deen.

I really admire how pretty the romaine lettuces are in the beds now.  Time for Caesar salad.  I've only pulled a leaf, so far, to munch when nearby. 

And coming soon are sweet crunchy carrots.  This one pulled recently is just a preview.  My sister enjoyed one yesterday four times this size.  I'm already planning to tuck a row of carrots in nearly every spring bed edge after tasting this little beauty.  I never get over the wonder I feel when plucking food outta my backyard dirt.

And my ever-hopeful legume-loving heart still anticipates fat pea pods to show up before things get too icy here.  Look at the peas closely and I think I may get a handful.  You agree?  Whatever the case, I'm loving my precious South Carolina: to see the wedgewood blue skies over the bare tree tops in my once-a-forest neighborhood, catching the winged ballet of brilliant red cardinals and herds of fat robins feeding in my backyard, to hear the black satin crows raucus outside, to smell the cold December freshness and pluck out a turnip, radish, carrot, still searching for a beet.  It's paradise to my long-home-starved soul now back where I should be.  The garden is my bountiful tutor.  She teaches me daily what mistakes to avoid, what successes to repeat, so next autumn for example I can harvest spaghetti squash and beets to roast.  To make earlier and wiser planting choices.  And she gives me mental room in winter to roam towards spring madness: the plans to draw for new beds and new crops to try, the seed catalogs to lure me, the nursery aisles to wander, online searches for organic boosters, seed potatoes and drip systems to install.   Arrrggghhh.   Ain't it GREAT!  I hella love my state of being.

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A Taste of Cold November
by Ruth Mason McElvain - posted 11/26/12

In the South Carolina Piedmont, cold November paints the maples mellow red and brilliant yellow.

Crape myrtles flame with orange, blazing in the cold before the trees all bare their branches to the winter sky.

The yardmen are piling leaves in my compost area with their grass clippings.


And I have a shed, neglected all the busy summer, that needs straightening: tools are tumbled in a dogpile, debris windblown on the floor, and gardening supplies in shameful clutter.

Time to sweep...


.. and hose down dirty wheelbarrows, tarps, tables, and seed starting supplies..


so the shed can overwinter in better order.

Even near winter, my garden still rewards a farmer's soul I garnered from my peanut-farmer Daddy, and my gardener Mama whose corner yard fifteen houses away is a showcase in our neighborhood.  For me, garden bounty in the fall includes beautiful romaine lettuce that does well in cool temps.  l'm so glad it's hardy; it's my favorite lettuce.  I want to grill and chill these when I do steaks next, maybe this week, harvesting these heads, drizzling down the head from the trimmed root ends with a good Caesar dressing before I toss them on a hot grill, mere seconds per side before turning, long enough for grill marks, smoky flavor and a good wilting to create  great bite and flavor.  Just like Chef Gloria does at Chef Peter's studio, Chef 360, here in Greenville.  Mmmm.  All you need then are baked potatoes, piping hot, salted and creamy, with a juicy t-bone.

I'd love to add peas, but though the Burpeana peas are pretty in my garden, so far nary a blossom, much less sweet plump pods; I hold out hope, however, as I do for carrots and beets, unmet also as yet.

The weather is frosting up now, but a week or two ago my peppers still bristled with these waxy green spires.  My first winter garden, nature gives me OJT (on the job training) for a novice.  I left the peppers from the summer garden because blooms still popped up and turned to fragrant spikes.  I got three crops from them all told, handing out a toothy pepper sauce to friends and family.  In my bones I knew I better bring them in soon, though I had hoped for some to color in the thinning sun.  The air whispered warnings to make one last bottle of pepper sauce before the fruit succumbed to the cold.  So, I picked, washed, bottled, added salt, and boiling vinegar.

And managed to bottle summer one last time in glass, cooling here on my screen porch and destined for a family I know who demands their life robusto.

So glad I listen to my tutors, because sure enough, the next day I woke to find the poinsettia pepper plants in the bed by the windmill all withered from the night's frost.  That was close!  The tiny peppers I left, hoping to see get just a little bigger, maybe turn red, were ruined. 

I'm grateful radishes like the cold better.  I love this gridwork table for rinsing my roots by the back steps.

and the scarlet, snowy-white, and purple radishes, loaded with minerals, vitamin C, and fiber are just plain crunchy-delicious with a dip of homemade ranch: sour cream, buttermilk, garden scallions and garlic topsThese both graced my crudite presentation at Thanksgiving.

Yesterday, I harvested golden globe turnips, rinsed them on the table by the steps

and brought them in to fix them like my Mama taught me.

Peel the roots while browning a few strips of bacon and a fresh pork chop.  In go the roots in thick slices...

Then liquid (I use chicken broth) and the thoroughly washed whole greens, spines and all.  Looks like a huge messa greens, but we all know they cooked down to a more modest amount, but enough for a couple servings each for my mother, nearest sister a mile away, and me.

After an hour simmer, you can pull the greens onto a plate with tongs and cut into better bite sizes with two knives.  The greens begged for moist, buttery cornbread.  My own pepper sauce gave zip to the turnips and pot liquor to soak cornbread in, a hearty, satisfying lunch on a cold November day, to enjoy with posies from my yard: paper whites, marigolds, burning bush, iceberg rose, part of my Thanksgiving centerpiece.  All this was perfect fare for watching Gone with the Wind  three days after Thanksgiving.  I'm thankful the South has moved on since those cinematically-depicted days, that I'm back home here, and for a fall garden yielding soulful sustenance from the backyard dirt.

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