A little bit o’ heaven is how I would describe the garden of Bill and Evelyn Watkins. It’s packed with intensive plantings of annuals, such as cosmos, nigella, Brazilian bachelor button, milkweed, Texas sage, zinnia, coleus, and hybrid red salvia (also known as Salvia splendens). The latter reseeds itself.
As Evelyn describes them, the annuals are self-sowing once established. All she does is “edit them” each spring for the desired results. Perennials like passion vine, sedum, larkspur, black magic elephant ear, and a wonderful textural chenille plant that looks like a pink caterpillar are just a few of the collection.
Under cover on the patio sits a shelf filled with various types of begonias, kept for cuttings to give to friends who come to admire the garden. Terra cotta pots loaded with seasonal color strike a pose, drawing one’s eye to various points along the path, up the steps, and throughout the garden.
Every possible inch of dirt is covered with plants of some sort. Vincas, native to North America, reseed prolifically. Cotoneaster is sculpted into the front steps; thyme and sedge cover the paths. Passion vines ramble at the edge of the formal hedge in the back, chewed up by the hungry caterpillars that will change into the Gulf fritillary butterfly. The milkweed was full of monarch caterpillars on the day I visited. Terraced stone beds full of caladium and elephant ears, which Evelyn says she pulls up like weeds, and formal shrubs for sculpture and a water feature for sound all draw you deeper into this garden.
With a passion for caladium bulbs, Evelyn digs the bulbs each fall and replants them every year. My favorite container garden was called a “fairy garden,” loaded with tiny little bells on wires meant to ding if the “fairies” were close. The garden is a true sanctuary, devoted to butterflies and bees, natural sounds, and beauty.
October can be busy in the garden. Leaves fall, and we turn them into mulch. Asparagus can be bedded down now with at least 2 inches of mulch. Herbs should be harvested now, before that first frost. If you are new to the area, we expect frost by early November, but there is no promise on this, so you need to prepare for it now. Follow the weather forecast and be prepared for sudden temperature drops. Protect your tender plants in the vegetable garden as needed.
Bring in your houseplants, and develop fall and winter container gardens now so their roots can settle in before it turns cold. Collect seeds from your annuals if you wish to replant them next spring. Bulbs can be planted by the end of October. You will learn a great deal from bulb catalogs. (I love the John Scheepers’s bulb catalog.) Certain perennials seeds, including coneflower, larkspur, foxglove, poppies, and stock, need cold weather to germinate, so sow them soon.
It’s a good thing that I don’t have to rely on my garden to feed me through the winter. I do rely on the seasons to shift, the daylight to shorten, and the deep dark of the winter to settle in on me.
Quoting from Paul Pitchford, author of “Healing With Whole Foods,” “The mysterious forces of the Earth create moisture in the heaven and fertile soil upon the Earth.”
The garden is mysterious. As the leaves drop and the nights chill, I find I am looking for ways to make life easier. Caring for a garden and observing its mysteries has been an enduring joy. As Evelyn says, “We learn by doing.”
We put our heart and soul into our garden; it’s a way of self-expression.
See you in the garden.
Kathy Slayter is a Greenville Realtor and Clemson Certified Master Gardener who is passionate about growing, cooking, and eating her homegrown food. Contact her at [email protected]