R.S. Williams

All I want is to get the words right.

Tag: Gardening (page 1 of 10)

Friday Photo: 9/21/18

“Lichens on Tombstone”
Heard County, Georgia – 2014

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Friday Photo: 8/24/18

“Magnolia in Black and White”
Heard County, Georgia – 2017

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Hillside Monday: 8/20/18

“Sweet Gum Leaf, Autumn”
LaGrange, Georgia – 2015

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Friday Photo: 8/17/18

“Ripening Peach, Early Summer”
Heard County, Georgia – 2016

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Friday Photo: 8/10/18

“Kudzu and Concrete”
LaGrange, Georgia – 2017

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Wednesday Photo: 8/1/18

Dale Chihuly, Amber Cattails (2006)
Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver, Colorado – 2014

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Friday Photo: 7/27/18

“Afternoon Light with Pecan Leaves”
Heard County, Georgia – 2017

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Hillside Monday: 7/23/18

“For Wes, Part 2”
LaGrange, Georgia – 2017

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Wednesday Photo: 7/18/18

“Whitley, with Yellow Cherry Tomatoes”
Heard County, Georgia – 2017

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Friday Photo: 7/13/18

“Back Yard, Monday, 11:25am”
LaGrange, Georgia – 2015

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Wednesday Photo: 7/11/18

“Yellow Gladiolus at Sunset”
Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver, Colorado – 2014

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Hillside Monday: 6/18/18

“Pink Blossom Party”
LaGrange, Georgia – 2018

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Friday Photo: 5/18/18

“Water Oak Leaves with Rain and Window”
LaGrange, Georgia – 1 May 2017

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Friday Photo: 5/4/18

“Sycamore with Shadows”
Heard County, Georgia – 27 November 2014

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Dr. Parker’s Gardenias

When I was a baby, my parents rented a tiny house trailer in Randolph County, Alabama. Their elderly landlord was a retired country doctor. Dr. James Parker* and his wife, Opal*, passed their days tending to their legendary vegetable and flower gardens. Born in the late 1890s, they told my mother many stories from their childhoods.

One thick summer evening, sitting on the Parkers’ front porch, Mom complimented Miss Opal on the waxy, heaven-scented white flowers blooming at the very edge of her yard. “Your gardenias are amazing. Would it be all right if I cut a few to put in a vase?”

“Help yourself,” Miss Opal said. “I can’t stand gardenias. James loves them. I told him if he just had to have them, he needed to plant them as far away from the house as he could.”

This was a new one for Mom. “How come you don’t like gardenias?”

“They remind me of my Uncle Bert*.” Miss Opal looked across the lawn at the hundred-foot row of waist-high, glossy-green-leaved shrubs that separated her yard from the overgrown pasture next door. She sighed, and turned back to Mom.

“Uncle Bert was Mama’s youngest brother. He left for Oklahoma when I was a child—thought he’d try farming out there, where it’s flat and you can see for miles and miles. One day, he was fixing a barbwire fence when a bad storm came up. He didn’t worry, though. The storm was still a good way off. He’d figured he’d patch that fence, get on his mule, and beat the rain back to the house.” She paused. “He didn’t count on the lightning.”

“The lightning?”

Miss Opal nodded sadly. “Lightning struck about a mile away. The charge traveled all the way up the fence to where Uncle Bert had his hands on it. Killed both him and the mule.”

“My God!”

“Even worse,” Miss Opal continued, “was that he had told his wife he wanted to be buried back home, in Alabama. And he died in late June.”

She closed her eyes. “The funeral was open-casket, even though we could barely recognize him. There was this big old burned streak down his face, down into his shirt collar and, I reckon, the whole length of his body.” Miss Opal shuddered. “Took the train eight days to get here from Oklahoma City. His wife didn’t have the money to have him embalmed.  With all that time passing and the summer heat, by the day of the funeral—Lord, have mercy. They had that church full of gardenias to cover up the smell. It didn’t work.”

“To this day, every time I catch even a little whiff of the blasted things, all I can smell is sickly sweetness—just overpowering summer and perfume and death. I see Uncle Bert again, all burned and purplish-black there in the casket. And I just about faint.” Miss Opal pointed toward the edge of the yard. “And that’s why I made James plant his gardenias way out there.”

*Note: All names have been changed. 

Photo: “Gardenia Ghost No. 2” (LaGrange, Georgia – 6 June 2016)

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Friday Photo: 4/20/18

“Glass on Fire”
Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver, Colorado – 10 August 2014

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Wednesday Photo: 4/18/18

“Lily Pads with Black Pond”
Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver, Colorado – 10 August 2014

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Hillside Monday: 3/19/18

If you don’t write the book you have to write, everything breaks.
— A.M. Homes

“For Wes, Part 17”
LaGrange, Georgia – 29 May 2017

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Friday Photo: 3/16/18

“Daffodil Ghost No. 1”
Heard County, Georgia – 4 March 2016

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The Other Vine That Ate the South

In the Deep South, spring smells like grape soda. Not name-brand grape soda, but the cheapest-of-all-cheapo-store-brands grape soda. Or perhaps it smells more like wonky year-old bubble gum, the kind that’s so powdery and bland nobody will even shoplift it off the dollar store clearance rack.

Whatever it smells like, that scent means wisteria, or, as I like to call it, the Other Vine That Ate the South. (The original Vine That Ate the South is kudzu. It blooms much later in the growing season, and is a topic for a different post or twelve.) In March and April, wisteria treats us to two or three weeks of glorious purple clouds in the trees. After that, it finishes leafing out to spend the rest of the season devouring everything in its path—fences, trees, houses, cars, pets.

It’s certainly breathtaking in the garden, but you have to tame it by pruning it hard every year.  Don’t slack off and skip a year. You will regret it. And don’t let its beauty fool you: wisteria sinensis is invasive. Unless someone keeps it in check, it takes over—a simple gardening fact.

But for whatever reason, the majority of people don’t control their wisteria. Or maybe it’s more like can’t control it. I’m not sure. When early spring passes, so do those amazing foot-long purple drupes. By the time summer gets here, its dark green leaves are so plentiful and thick that we can’t even see what it’s smothering 80 feet above the ground.

Other than adding stunning Pointillist color to the landscape and providing food for bees, wisteria doesn’t have much going for it. Oh, wait—it will also hide any place that you mean for people to forget. Don’t believe me? Just follow these two simple steps:

  1.   Plant wisteria.
  2.   Move.

Give it a few years, and voilà! Nobody will know the place ever existed.

People can say what they want about wisteria. I still look forward to its luxurious hues draped over roadside trees every spring. This is probably because I’m lucky enough not to have any on my property. As much as I love the Other Vine That Ate the South, it’s probably best that I leave it where I found it—far away from my own yard.

Photo: “Wisteria No. 471” (LaGrange, Georgia – 21 March 2012)

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