Digging It


In honor and memory of my neighbor Don Jones, who loved to work in his own plot of land

Green is a color, especially in early spring

In a most tricked out 1970’s color scheme – harvest golds, burnt oranges, avocado greens – a cross stitched saying hung in my maternal grandparents’ hallway leading to the bedrooms

My mother had cross stitched the saying, had framed it, and had presented it to my grandparents, who, at the time, were pretty great gardeners.

Who plants the seed beneath the sod and waits to see believes in God. Anon.

Faith in its truest form

Nathan, whose last name I know not, helped them weekly. He was a wizard in the garden

Really, I never knew Nathan’s last name. Still don’t. He worked for my grandparents, my great aunt and uncle, and some of their friends

Nathan knew how to turn a spade

Green thumbs on both hands

On both sides of my family, I come from a long line of amateur tillers of soil who love to get their hands dirty, who love to see the flowers blossom, who love to see the bulbs produce, who love to plant

I think my European antecedents were all peasants, vassals, serfs, no matter what the family histories may say

I love to work in the dirt

For me, it is a matter of faith to plant, till, sow, hoe, harvest

God put Adam and Eve in a Garden

Jesus is the Vine; we are branches

My Great Grandmother Gladys Jones, who lived in Bishopville, South Carolina, had a garden with roses, daffodils, flox, Queen Anne’s lace, azaleas, spirea, tea olives, a beautiful bed of pink oxalis in front of her porch. Old timey plants

She knew her stuff

On a visit to our house in Beaufort, she turned to my father, her grandson, whom she adored and said, “George, I see you have a wisteria. Hmmmm”

The wisteria came out

My great aunt and uncle Kemp and Rachel Kempson had a beautiful garden with foxgloves.  Aunt Rachel kept egg shells in water to provide calcium to certain plants

My great aunt and uncle Bob and Laura Thomas trained smilax to grow in what were essentially hanging baskets on the side of their piazza in Ridgeway, South Carolina

My maternal grandfather grew amazing tomatoes every year

Bumper crops year after year

He had the touch

My maternal grandmother nourished a flowering quince whose original progenitor was from her grandparents’ home in Virginia

My father is still nourishing a portion of that quince today

She also tended well her myriad camellias

If anyone knows where I can find an Irene Coker variegated red and white bloomer, let me know

I like to think I have inherited the green thumb

Nothing makes me happier than working in our garden

You should have seen it last week

It’s small

It’s urban

It’s become a Charleston style garden after some 15 years of work

T. Hunter McEaddy designed it for us

Landscape Architect that he is

I grew up watching my parents plant and tend, mow and rake, water and fertilize

Same with all of their neighbors

I swear Beaufort was filled with gardeners, and with helpers in those gardens

African American men who knew how to do

Jack Haynes

Sam Cole

And, again, men whom we addressed only by their first names: Arthur, Julius, Willie

Not appropriate, but it was the time in which I was reared

Jack Haynes helped my parents from time to time and other families around Beaufort

He was a bird

One Saturday as Jack Haynes was helping my father with some yard project, my father broached the subject of another family Mr. Haynes helped on weekends

“Jack,” he called, “you think Miz So-and-So is a little crazy?”

“Crazy?” he asked, “Crazy as shit!”

We have never forgotten that in my family

Crazy as shit

She was. But she was smart enough to hire Jack Haynes to help out in her yard

I like to think I paid attention to the Jack Haynes of the world

Additionally, I love reading books about plants and gardening

Latin names really help in learning about a plant and how to care for it

Those names are in gardening books, too

Books such as

The Gardens at Hatfield by the Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury

Penelope Hobhouse on Gardening by Penelope Hobhouse


Gardens of Historic Charleston by James R. Cothran

The Charleston Gardener by Louisa Pringle Cameron

No amount of reading substitutes for doing, though

I can gauge the seasons by what I’m doing in the garden

Those of us who are diggers in the dirt are always looking at least two months ahead

Did I put the aluminum sulfate around the hydrangeas soon enough?

Did I add the Hollytone to the Meyer Lemon in time for there to be fruit?

Did I order the paper white bulbs?

Did I order the caladium bulbs?

Did I put the basil in enough sun?

Did I take out too much of the aspidistra?

Did I trim the all the suckers off the limbs of the crepe myrtles?

Did I dig out the lemon balm after it got too leggy?

I don’t want to over plant

A well-known gardener was once quoted as saying she had a fine garden, then she filled it with plants

Accordingly, I only make two annual pilgrimages to Hyam’s Garden Center on James Island

It is my Mecca

Delphiniums don’t last; nothing does


One trip to Hyam’s in mid-October

One trip to Hyam’s in mid-April

For the annuals

The pops of color

I will over plant a pot

Crowd it out

With flowers and greens and seasonal herbs

In October, it’s for pansies, violas, sweet alyssum, stock, foxgloves, delphiniums, snapdragons, parsley, rosemary, potting soil

In April, it’s for periwinkles, pintas, gomphrena, purple shield, million bells, basil, mint, oregano, cilantro, coleus, potting soil

The rotation changes

But not much

I plant 100 caladium bulbs in late April

All the same color of green and white

White Christmas

Every year

I hate change

I live in Charleston

High bright shade


I plant 40 or so daffodil bulbs in October

I am tending a Pink Perfection camellia that came from a cutting from my grandmother’s house in Camden, South Carolina

It’s taken about seven years to be almost two feet tall

I planted another camellia last year

That kind green bud

There are accidental problems in any garden

And in any life

Lambs ears burn up in our heat

Lavender plants, too

Even plants with full sun directions can use a little shade in our subtropical tending to tropical Zone 8

But, there are wonderful surprises in any garden

And in any life

For example, that Wandering Jew taken from a cutting from my in-laws has really taken over in that back corner

Its purple haired beauty spilled from the confines of its clay container and made a run for it, sprouting and colonizing all over

It will take over

We have had two trees taken out of our yard due to two named storms

More sunlight than ever

The grass actually grows

It’s a lot brighter

The yews we planted love it

Yew would, too

I am the grass


I may move my plumbago to give it more sun

The morning glory I run along our back fence every year adores the additional light

So, what’s your story, morning glory? I’m writing this one

Around Mother’s Day, our fence and arch are covered in Confederate jasmine that perfumes the whole yard

The most heady of smells

Around Hallowe’en, the two tea olives by the front porch perfume the whole yard

The most ephemeral of smells


Latch strings on the outside



I love to weed

I love to be covered in dirt

I love to sweat through the dirt

I love to cut back

I love to trim

I love to prune

I love to spread pine straw

It hides a myriad of sins

I love stand with the hose and water, air pods in place, music going

That cold beer at the end of a full day of yard work tastes so damned good

As the seasons change, it will be time to get to work in the yard

This year, I’m letting two planters become incubators for monkey grass with which I will eventually line a bed

I think I will cut back the hyndrangeas as they are getting kind of leggy

Aluminum sulfate works



But what to put in those planters by the gate?

That’s the best part of being a digger of the dirt


Following in the steps of the Old Master

Having a little faith



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