It's beginning to look like a Carolina winter out there

betsjukofsky@aol.comDecember 16, 2012 

Virginia and Gerald Williams stand with their very unusual Bougainvillea in Hilton Head Plantation.


Last week, the holiday shopping, cooking and decorating were not to be.

Despite the cloudy, cool, weather, my appointment book was filled with gardens.

Not my garden. The flats of snaps, the winter herbs and vegetables still in nursery pots, get watered every evening by flashlight.

I would not have it any other way. Not to be missed are the surprises that abound here in the Carolina Lowcountry, whether cutting zinnias, marigolds and paper whites for your holiday flower vases, catching an eye full of a "shower of gold" Cassia in full bloom or a Bougainvillea flowering outside in two colors.

Gardening can be pure joy. We share it: the meetings, the work sessions in public gardens, the learning programs with experts in their fields. Over the years I've sat through dozens of pruning demos and picked up new tips and tricks each time.

I spent an hour with Virginia and Gerald Williams, who live in Hilton Head Plantation and are the proud owners of a 4-year-old Bougainvillea that has begun to produce flowers in two distinct colors of coral and lavender. The plant was purchased in Charlotte; it has been repotted several times. Virginia waters often and feeds it once a year. It is growing in full sun. She has taken cuttings of the plant, planted them and they've caught hold. I've not seen this flowering pattern before, not even in the Carribean, where Bougainvillea abounds.

There were seven master gardeners working at the Hilton Head Island Town Hall Xeriscape garden recently. We were getting it ready for the annual Arbor Day celebration Dec. 7. Put together by the Hilton Head Island Garden Council, this year's tree day featured Trees Around the World, with presentations by third-grade students from Hilton Head Island Elementary School for the Creative Arts. Prizes for the winning posters went to Esteban Quintere, Sadie Callen and Cassie Cobia, Zayda Clarla, Leah Anderson, Avery Wallace and Alexiz Shuba, who were assisted by their principal, Gretchen Keefner, and Sharon Jaunsem.

Program speakers well known for their interest in trees and the environment included Sally Krebs, town Sustainable Practical Environmental coordinator; Steve Tennant, president of the Island Beautification Association; Beth Evans Arbor Day, co-chairwoman; and Marion Gosson, president of the Garden Council. Daniel Payne, of Naturescapes on Coosaw Island, supplied the tree, the native Loblolly Bay, Gordonia lasianthus. Once prevalent throughout our woodlands, this tree of the wetland is disappearing -- along with our wetlands.

The Lowcountry Master Gardeners Association held its annual meeting and Christmas party at The River Club on Callawasie Island on Thursday. Country agriculture agent Laura Lee Rose, who is well known for attempting, with near success, to be in two places at the same time, led the meeting and distributed prizes to those Master Gardeners who had recorded more then 100 hours and up to 600 hours in community service work this past year.

I had the good luck to sit next to Carol Ulmer at lunch. From her I learned about the Master Naturalist 12-week program she took. It was given by the Low Country Institute and included an overnight trip to Congaree Forest and several day trips with field guides.

"The course is not just about plants," Carol said. "But also about birds, animals and insects. And about soil and learning what plants can grow in the soil you have to work with."

Things I learned include the name of a native plant that has popped up in my yard and is spreading rapidly, forming an attractive ground cover. Expert naturalist Danny Payne told me it is Dichondra, with the fun name of Carolina Ponytail, and it will have tiny white flowers.

And what about the tree of the month? Is the "real" evergreen Christmas tree industry going to survive?

According to the National Christmas Tree Association in the past two decades, the use of holiday trees in the U.S. has gone from 40 percent down to 23 percent of all households.

According to The Wall Street Journal, consumers will spend about $1 billion this year on artificial trees made primarily in China. While visiting in Beavercreek, Ore., this past summer, we passed a Christmas tree farm that went on for miles. Did the air seem fresher? It had to, with all those trees sequestering carbon.

Tree farms produce oxygen, while at the same time protecting soil and wildlife habitat. I suspect there will always be "real" Christmas trees so long as there are environmentalists.

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