hodges_0310“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
- Anais Nin

Although Nin may have been referring to something more elusive, to winter-weary Lowcountry gardeners it means that spring is about to put in its long anticipated appearance. Following a cruel and damaging winter, forsythia, spiraea, azaleas and cherry blossoms are the first garden plants to take the risk of blossoming.

Focal point arrangementGardening is art, science and philosophy all wrapped together in one mysterious and sometimes unattainable enterprise. But that has never stopped anyone from pursuing it. A satisfying garden requires a basic knowledge of the science of horticulture in order to meet the physical demands of growing plants; sufficient knowledge of the primary principles of art to combine them harmoniously; plus your personal philosophy of what represents the ideal garden.

Get help identifying the horticultural and physical requirements of your plants through nurseries, catalogues, books and online. State or county extension agents and the Master Gardeners program are also useful. The book “Bulletproof Flowers for the South,” by Jim Wilson, features high-heat and humidity-resistant flowers. When searching these resources, be sure to seek information for your specific area and do not succumb to glossy catalogues from other regions.

feb10_gardenGardening is art, science and philosophy all wrapped together in one mysterious and sometimes unattainable enterprise. But that has never stopped anyone from pursuing it.

A satisfying garden requires a basic knowledge of the science of horticulture in order to meet the physical demands of growing plants; sufficient knowledge of the primary principles of art to combine them harmoniously; plus your personal philosophy of what represents the ideal garden. And we are all eager to begin once again to combine these elements into the garden of our dreams.

Most gardeners are already aware of horticultural and physical requirements of the plants they wish to grow. If not, help is easily available through nurseries, catalogues, books and online. State or county extension agents and the Master Gardeners program are also useful resources. There is even a book entitled “Bulletproof Flowers for the South,” by Jim Wilson, former host of The Victory Garden, which features high-heat and humidity-resistant flowers. When searching these resources, be sure to seek information for your specific area and do not succumb to glossy catalogues from the Northeast and Midwest, which offer lilacs, peonies and heuchera.

But the most fun begins when you get to play with color, and assembling the appropriate climate-wise plants into a composition of beauty that continues throughout the year. The design principles of art composition are utilized, notably form and mass, unity embracing variety, harmony, focal point, use of color massed or in combination, and enclosure (the frame), formed by fence, wall or evergreen shrubbery. A focal point may consist of an item of your choice, such as a small water feature, a well-selected figure or statue, (no flamingoes please, unless you aim to expose your inner kitsch), or an elegant urn planted simply or with over-the-top exuberance. Here is where your personal philosophy of a garden comes into play.

Remember that use of contrasting color highlights plants more effectively, such as the pairing of opposites on the color wheel, like purple or blue against yellow. While white flowers serve to sharpen and heighten other colors by contrast, pale lavender or blue flowers become almost invisible against a backdrop of green. All pale colors tend to recede, whereas bright ones pop forward. Masses of one color make more of a visual impact than scattered planting of different sizes, shapes and hues.

The Internet is a vast source of information if you discriminate according to your area. All of the national plant societies promote new introductions for the coming garden year, but the most suitable for the Lowcountry is the Athens Select collection (www.athensselect.com), emanating from the horticultural proving grounds of the University of Georgia, Athens, Ga. It has partnered with “Southern Living” magazine to introduce a Southern Living plant collection, and the offerings are enchanting. Others are All America Selections (www.aaswinners.com); National Garden Bureau Inc. (www.ngb.org), and Perennial Plant Association,(www.perennialplant.org).

Finally, make sure your soil is richly composted and tested by the county extension office before investing your time, energy and resources!

When most people think of pollution, they envision smokestacks puffing clouds of filth, oversized vehicles burning fossil fuels and waste leaching into streams. You might be surprised to learn that some of most common and risky forms of pollution can exist within your own home.

Fumes from cleaners, dust from carpets, air-conditioning units and heaters, mold growing under the sink, pesky palmetto bugs, even pesticides tracked in from the outside can create unhealthy pollution concentrations in the place you and your family feel the safest. And most people spend the majority of their time inside the home, which means high levels of exposure and potential health risks, especially for kids, the elderly and people suffering from respiratory or cardiovascular diseases. According to Allen Rathey, president of The Healthy House Institute, "The air we breathe indoors is the No. 1 risk factor for unhealthy homes."

Here's the good news. Unlike those smoke stacks and other outdoor pollutants, you can do something about the air quality in your home. Consider the following tips.

1. Stop Pollutants in Their Tracks
"Pesticides and other harmful substances are commonly tracked in on shoes," said Rathey. To keep unhealthy chemicals from entering your home, use large entrance mats, which can trap the particles and prevent them from spreading across the floors. Or take your shoes off before entering.

2. Suck It Up
Vacuum often, and use a vacuum with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. These filters have been shown to remove as much as 90 percent of particulates in the air. Make sure your vacuum doesn't leak dust, and avoid changing the bag or emptying the canister inside. Mopping hard floors with hot water also helps pick up any particles the vacuum misses, especially if you use a microfiber mop.

3. Chemical-Free Clean
Most people own a different cleaning product for every surface in their home—including glass, countertops and bathtubs. However, most common household cleaners also contain harsh chemicals that contribute to indoor pollution. "Move away from chemistry in cleaning and toward more microfiber and water-based methods, like activated water and steam vapor," said Rathey. And try using harmless household substances to clean, such as vinegar or baking soda, which are just as effective as the chemicals.

4. Bring In Fresh Air
It may feel good to let the air conditioner crank all summer, especially here in the Lowcountry. But opening the windows allows fresh air to circulate in your home and lets any polluted air escape. Another all-natural approach to cleaning the air is houseplants. They look nice, filter the air, and eliminate the need for chemical air fresheners and sprays.

5. Vent Your Problems
Installing a ventilation system in your home is another way to clean the air, and is often a lifesaver if you or a family member suffers from allergies or asthma. "The best approach is to install a heat recovery ventilator or energy recovery ventilator, which ventilates the home using a fan and energy transfer mechanism so you don't lose heat in the winter or cool in the summer," said Rathey.

Home should be a sanctuary, not a health hazard. When you use these tips to keep your home clean, everyone in your family will breathe a little easier.

Magnolia grandiflora • Photo by Neil HodgesAlthough New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken, why not resolve to become more familiar with botanical or horticultural designations of plants that we grow or wish to grow?

Why bother?

For starters, it’s useful for precise identification, for information about growth habit and habitat preference, and for bloom expectations.

Though written in Latin, it is often possible to tease out the meaning due to some similarity to the English equivalent. That’s not always true, but it helps advance your general gardening prowess just to try. At the risk of preaching to the choir, it is well known that the binomial system of naming plants and animals was devised by Swedish physician/botanist Carl Linnaeus and published in 1753 in “Species Plantarum.”

Better SpaceEveryone knows how to achieve the No. 1 New Year’s resolution: losing weight. But how do you lose the excess weight in your home — the oil change receipts from 1995, the skirt in the back of the closet that doesn’t fit any more but you swear you’ll fit back into someday, or the 20 Phillipshead screw drivers dispersed in four tool boxes that are located in various places in the house?

The first step is to make a date to organize your home, and there’s no better time than the new year.

“Set aside time for it,” said professional organizer Leila Nelson, owner of A Better Space. “Nothing gets in the way. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t pick up your kids.”

5 WAYS to improve your home’s valueIn a tough real estate market, the difference between selling a home and watching it stay listed month after month can come down to making a few changes to capture the uniqueness of your home.

While budget busting renovation projects are one way to update your space, they are often far too expensive for people looking to sell their homes. But tearing out your kitchen and adding a new bathroom aren’t the only ways to get your house sold.

If you want to make some changes, but don’t want to empty your wallet, here are five affordable tips to help you improve your home’s marketability.

Stylish, sustainable interior design ideasWhen you think of the colors associated with cool weather, green doesn’t necessarily come to mind. Environmentally speaking, however, it should. There’s no better time than now to lessen your home’s impact on the environment and change the way you decorate and live. It’s not nearly as difficult to become earth-friendly as you might think. These days, you can find stylish, eco-friendly design elements for every room in the house. And, contrary to popular belief, going green doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice style for sustainability. The two can coexist quite effortlessly.

You can start simple by dressing your bed in luxurious sheets, throws and comforters made from fabrics such as rich, renewable bamboo or soft, organic cotton. Cover your floors with formaldehyde-free carpets constructed of recycled fibers or select a natural material, like stone, slate or even concrete. Then, hang energy-efficient window treatments with high insulation and shading properties.

How do you know if it’s right for you?

More and more retirees, hit hard by the downturn in the stock market, are turning to the once-controversial reverse mortgage to tap into their home’s equity and boost their monthly income.

A reverse mortgage is a special type of home loan that lets seniors convert a portion of the equity in their home into cash, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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Are you ready to go green for Christmas? Well, OK then, red and green and even more!

Whatever your color preference, it won’t be hard to find for you fortunate Lowcountry decorators. Scarcely a yard on this island does not provide several of the essential traditional Christmas greens and some provide even the exceptional ones, those jewels of the season which are not concealed but flourish practically at eye level everywhere.