Tag Archives: Written by Susanne Kessaris

Uncommon Courtesy

100_3988I was returning a plant to a local Home Depot store today. It was a crape myrtle with purple leaves.  I thought there was only one variety but apparently there are several. I had already planted one in my yard . It was supposed to have pink flowers. I missed reading the label that said this crape had red flowers. Being the OCD gardener that I am, I had to return it to get another one to match the one already planted.

I ran to get a buggy to haul the crape to the return aisle at the store. I parked it near my car and went around the back to unlock the back door. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed the buggy beginning to roll down a slight incline. It was headed straight for a blue SUV in a space parallel to mine. I watched as it banged the front left fender of the other car. Upon closer inspection, I found an orange mark on the other car from paint off of the buggy.  I felt horrible!   I decided to go into the store to report what had happened. I spoke to the man at the checkout counter.  I explained what happened and was prepared to leave my name on a piece of paper should someone file a complaint.  The man stood with his mouth open in amazement.  He said that it is very rare for anyone to report an incident like that anymore.  He said most people wouldn’t think twice about walking away from damaging another vehicle these days.

How sad it seems to realize that the days of doing the right thing out of  “common” courtesy for our fellow man are becoming quite uncommon.

I still believe in complimenting others for jobs well done. I believe in paying forward acts of kindness, looking for ways to make people feel appreciated. I believe in helping older people, those less fortunate or children. I believe in  giving away without expecting anything in return. I believe in saying “please” and “thank you.” I believe in writing thank you notes, sending get well cards or notes of encouragement and remembrance.  I believe in responding to invitation RSVPs, returning phone calls or emails. I believe in doing hard work and not looking for shortcuts when I am being paid for a job. I believe in giving others good tips for serving me. I believe in paying and not cheating on my income taxes as well as paying the bills I owe. I believe that I should return money that is not owed to me or does not belong to me.  I often pick up trash that is strewn along the street in my neighborhood.  I donate clothing to Goodwill and small items to the AmVets. I give to my church.  I take welcome treats to new neighbors.

These are just a few of the common courtesies that I have been taught.  We should serve others as in the golden rule, not expecting things back  from others but treating others as we would like to be treated. By definition courtesy is displaying excellence in social conduct. It is polite, respectful or considerate behavior and acts of expression.  It is  living life unselfishly and looking for ways to be a blessing to others. It is not looking for ways to take advantage of others.

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A New Garden Plot

100_3971100_3972We finally did it! We were tired of looking at the weeds in the back corner of our yard that had slowly grown wild since we moved into our house almost five years ago. It has been one of those projects we kept saying we would get around to one day. It seemed too overwhelming to take on. I never could do it alone. My husband works long hours and never has energy for big projects anymore so it was one of those things that got put on the bottom of the “honey-do” wish list. We decided to hire some help.

I should have taken a before picture so you could see how overgrown the garden plot had gotten. Trust me, it was a mess! A friend’s husband cleared the garden plot and tilled it for me. He is Peruvian and speaks broken English.  My daughter attended college with his wife. They live in a nearby community and have stayed friends. Last summer, Amanda travelled with them to do mission work at his family’s church in Peru.

My new  yard guy does gardening the way he did it in Peru.  He uses a machete to clear out debris. He does it faster than anyone I know working with power equipment.  Coming from the jungles of Peru, he has seen a lot of jungle creatures of the slithery sort.  Those things do not bother him like they scare me.  He told me he killed 4 snakes as he was clearing my garden.  Two were small and two were of average size.  He showed me the smaller ones. One appeared to be a copperhead. It was greyish with brown markings.  That’s all I need to know. A snake is a snake and I don’t want them around. My Cavalier would probably try to kill and eat a snake as she does the lizards on my back porch so I have avoided letting her go near that section of the yard. I feel much better now knowing those snakes are gone.

I began laying out landscaping fabric to make walkways through the garden. I  added newspaper for an additional weed block. I used man power to carry bags of mulch into the garden since it is at the bottom of our hilly backyard.   We spread out the mulch on top of the landscaping fabric.  I used 100% cedar shavings as it is supposed to be a deterrent to insects. I am trying to go as organic as possible. Next came the stepping stones and rounded edgers for a circular bed in the middle of the garden. I plan on making this area the herb garden. I will have four quadrants in the rest of the garden, two for flowers and two for vegetables.

I will keep you posted on the progress of my garden.

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Thriller, Filler, Spiller


I am working on pot- scaping in my garden. At a recent gardening symposium, I learned to make potted plants interesting by mixing together a variety of plants. You want first to add a focal plant that has the height in the middle of the pot. This is called the thriller. A pencil post holly or boxwood works well here as it stays evergreen throughout the year.  These typically only can stay in a pot a couple of years as they will outgrow the pot and need to be transplanted.  A dwarf ornamental grass would work well here also. There are some pretty red fountain grasses available at plant nurseries.

Secondly, you want to add plants to fill the pot or the fillers. A mixture of colors and textures are good to fill in. You might add some flowering plants as well as plants with interesting leaf textures for continued interest throughout the season.

Lastly, the spiller is plants that cascade down the edges of the pot.  There are a lot of these to choose from in flowering forms. You could choose a “wave” petunia which come in a wide variety of colors. For interesting foliage or contrast   I like creeping jenny or sweet potato vines for a shot of Chartreuse.  There is a red potato vine as well. Ivy or Vinca vine are commonly used also.There are some pretty variegated green and white species that are stunning in pots. Any plant with white coloring adds a pop to a pot.



The thriller, filler, spiller principle applies to artificial arrangements as well. Here I have put in floral picks with height, filled in with some colorful Hydrangea and even added fruit for interest. The draping grapes and ferns are the spiller in this arrangement.


On my front porch I have filled a pot with a variety of plants. An asparagus fern is my focal or thriller. The colorful coleus and begonias fill in with pops of red and yellow. The ivy is the spiller over the edges of the pot.

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A Camellia Show


Here is a picture of the Fashionata Camellia that we won.

Last weekend my mother and I had the opportunity and privilege of attending a glorious display of prize-winning camellias in our community.  The show was sponsored by the Charlotte Camellia Society and  was located at the historic White House in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Every color combination of traditional camellia flowers were on display as well as a few rare varieties.  Colors ranged from pale white,  blush pink to fuchsia pink, and deep tones of red.  There were variegated species with peppermint candy striped flowers in combinations of  red and white or pink and white. Some of the prize blossoms measured over 5 inches in diameter. Smaller blossoms measuring only 2 inches in width also won prizes.  Some hybrids were created by  crossing  ruffled varieties with more commonly shaped camellia blossoms. The results were flowers with interesting ruffled centers. Some were grown in  protected greenhouse environments while others were grown outdoors.


These were some of the unusual hybridized flowers.


We entered a raffle contest as we began the tour.  To our delight and surprise, one of Mom’s tickets was drawn.  The type of camellia that she won is called Fashionata. Isn’t it stunning?Mom later said that she thinks God blessed her with a beautiful camellia to replace those she had given up at her former home that she had nurtured for years.  She gave it to me to plant in my yard since she doesn’t have a lot of room to grow plants at her condo. My husband planted it yesterday in a sheltered spot near our house a close distance from our bedroom window so that I can admire it.




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A Garden Wish List


Here is a two-year old arborvitae and a potted Alberta spruce that I will probably plant this spring.


The dwarf Cryptomeria are beside the mailbox. They have only grown to be this size in two years.


Here are some pencil post holly that I planted to give all the concrete of the patio a little life.


These Loropetalum shrubs will eventually hide ugly deck support posts and garden supplies underneath.

When the temperatures dive and I feel like hibernating inside, I start to dream about spring. I get excited when a warmer day is forecast and I want to inspect my plants to see if they have survived the winter.  I keep a log of plants that I have planted in my garden and also keep a list of plants that I would like to purchase to try to grow.

There are plants that should be included in every southern garden. This list includes roses, azaleas, camellias, hydrangea and crepe myrtles.  Southerners like them for their beautiful flowers as well as for the scent they give off.

There are other different looking plants that should be added to a southern garden for added interest.  I like adding colorful plants which do not necessarily have notable flowers but have interesting leaves. Loropetalum shrubs have beautiful bronze colored leaves which they keep through the winter months. They  have unusual flowers that look like fringe, thus the more common name “fringeflower.”  I also like plants which have yellow or greenish-yellow leaves. I have found different varieties of Abelia to provide this yellow contrast in the landscape and most of these are also ever”yellow”, keeping their leaves through the cold season.

Using evergreen plants in the landscape provides some much-needed life when plants look so pitiful in the winter months. Of these, I have found arborvitae or junipers to be hardy and easy to grow. Not only do they give green color to a dead looking landscape, but they can provide a bit of interest with their conical or spherical shapes. Pencil post holly is another evergreen shrub that provides the green and upright growth that every dismal winter garden landscape needs.

I enjoy looking at hedges that provide privacy and serve as sound barriers. Commonly Leyland cypress and Cryptomeria are grown for this purpose but they grow so large that they are not suitable for every garden.  I have found a dwarf variety of Cryptomeria that I planted as a backdrop to my mailbox. It’s size is just a little over 2 feet in height at two years of age.

I would like to grow a magnolia tree so I could cut some sprigs for the house during the Christmas season.   I have been discouraged from trying to grow one because they typically grow so enormous.  However, I recently discovered there is a dwarf variety called Little Gem that is currently on my list to find.

The fore mentioned plants are the base or bones to every southern garden. There are many beautiful shrubs and vines that should be included as well to give a garden more personality.  The lovely Carolina Jessamine gives a pop of yellow during the early spring and looks great trailing over a fence or arbor.  The invasiveness of the plant should not discourage one from trying this Carolina native plant. Forsythia shrubs are another common plant that provide a pop of yellow in the very earliest days of spring.  Along with jonquils and crocuses, its blossoms are a signal that warm weather is just around the corner.

There are bulbs, perennials and herbs that keep coming back so are worth growing for their color throughout the spring and summer months.  I like lilies and irises because they come back for many years as long as you keep dividing them.  I have a rosemary plant that has been growing in my garden for about three years now.  I tried Spanish lavender by my mailbox last year and is has proven to be very hardy so far through this winter and has tripled in size.

The secret is to keep trying different plants.  Keep a record of successes and failures.  Some do well in one spot but poorly somewhere else.  New and improved, dwarf or hardier varieties are being produced all the time. Growing a garden is always interesting and rewarding because of all the beautiful and amazing plants there are to grow.


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The Season of Dormancy

100_3798There are seasons in life where we may feel weak and vulnerable, like there is nothing in us of any life-giving or creative value.  It is during those times when we need to draw from our heavenly Father to recharge and renew us.  Like a tree that has lost all of its leaves, we appear to have no life. We feel vulnerable to whatever the elements may throw at us. We bend and sway with the heavy winds.  We are weighed down by snow or ice with no foliage to offer us protection or defense.  But at those times when we may appear at our weakest, we have the unique opportunity to develop inner strength if we lean on God to uphold us through the storms of life.


I am reflecting on the season of dormancy as it relates to nature.  I am also going through a season where I feel very little desire to produce and create.  I am sapped of all energy and just want to curl up and withdraw.  I feel exposed and unattractive to the outside world.  I am reminded that there is a reason for this state in nature.  It is when a plant is at its weakest state that in fact it is strongest.  It is building up inner strength.  It is renewing and recharging and getting stronger every day until slowly, unexpectantly, one day it bursts forth with a sign of new life.  One peaking small bud proves there is life inside a mere dead being.  An inner beauty suddenly emerges as a butterfly from a cocoon.  Soon it will be in full display and reveal a breathtakingly beautiful creation that took months and much endurance to produce.


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A Beautiful Winter Garden

My family and I went to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina this month while it was still decorated for Christmas.  We have been several times but have never seen it at Christmastime.  The most stunning decorations to me were in the grand dining room.  There was a 25 foot tree on one end of the room that was simply amazing.  Getting the tree inside alone was an awe-inspiring thought. The tree was heavily adorned  with exquisite Victorian decorations.  Beautifully wrapped packages encircled the tree. In a corner near the tree, elegantly dressed porcelain dolls were having a tea party to delight the young  and old alike. I enjoyed seeing the house but the garden was just as wonderful.

We went for a walk on the grounds to visit the conservatory. The gardener in me was fully delighted.  It was an unseasonably warm day here for January. Some of the plants were budding as if it was early March. I saw blooms on the forsythia and daffodil bulbs emerging from the ground. This never happens here in the south until at least February. The trail wound around for about half of a mile. We walked through the rose and bulb garden. In the winter you can more easily see the formal, symmetrical rose garden design and envision the rose bushes trailing and growing on trellises and wire supports. There were trees along brick walls that had been pruned back to grow into espalier forms. There was an arbor that we walked under that we imagined must be covered in blooms during the spring. The smell of all those roses and bulbs in full bloom must be breath-taking.

The glass conservatory is a wonderful structure to behold from the outside but once you step inside, your senses are overwhelmed.  There is a high level of humidity and oxygen from all the plants.We quickly shed our outer garments as there is a marked increase in temperature inside.  We followed a path to discover beautiful plants in every shape and size.  There were Poinsettias in different shades including red, pink, white and even  salmon or variations of all four.  There were ferns, orchids and a variety of bromeliads that were suspended from the ceiling in oversized planters. There was a room of cacti  that left me amazed.  There were Philodendrons, bottle brush trees and tropical plants that I had never seen before.

We were tired from all the walking at the estate, to the shuttle stop and then to find our car. On the drive out, we saw a gardener’s shop. I regret now that we didn’t stop because I am told now by my gardening friends that it alone is worth the visit.  It is a long but beautiful drive to exit the estate.  We stopped briefly to see the winery and new hotel. The Biltmore is  a 100_3761100_3748100_3762100_3774place that one should not visit only once.



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