Friday, October 28, 2011

Daphne Simpkins book signing at Coldwater Books

Author Daphne Simpkins will be signing copies of her latest novel "Cloverdale" on Sunday, November 6th from 1-3 p.m. at Coldwater Books in Tuscumbia.

I have known Daphne for years. She is a fantastic speaker and a wonderful writer. She teaches writing at Auburn University at Montgomery and she is a member of the Alabama Humanities Foundation Speaker's Bureau. She has published four books: "Cloverdale", her latest novel featuring her character Miss Budge, "Miss Budge in Love" (a collection of short stories), "Nat King Cole", a biography for children and "The Long Good Night", a memoir about caring for her father while he was ill with Alzheimer's disease. 

Question:  Why did you write a novel about older people?  Did any publisher warn you that older people were not an attractive subject for mainstream readers?
Answer:  Yes.  I was warned that the age of the main characters was not a strong demographic for sales.  But I had an irresistible reason for wanting to tell the story of retired school teacher Mildred Budge and her friends.  I had written about aging too fast when I told the story of my father dying of Alzheimer’s in "The Long Good Night", and when I moved back to Montgomery and started attending Trinity Presbyterian Church I was astounded to see so many vibrant, beautiful people aging so well—with such good humor, wisdom, and clarity of thought.  I wanted to tell stories that caught hold of that energy—that hope.

Question:  Who do you envision will be the readers?
Answer:  One answer is anyone who is growing older and wants to understand a different way of doing that.

Question:  How would you describe Mildred Budge, your main character, to people who have a stereotypic view of a church lady, for she is a church lady as well as a retired public school teacher.
Answer:  Yes, she is a Southern church lady, and there are many stereotypic views out there that usually mock older Southern women  (She’s sixty-one, which isn’t that old, really).  We can be quirky, and like most human beings, there is plenty to mock, if you are inclined to mock others in an ungenerous way. We do often carry large handbags loaded with supplies. Mildred Budge does.  Some of us still roll our hair. Mildred Budge does.  Some of us still depend on the kindness of strangers when strangers are famous for not being very kind.  Mildred Budge does because Mildred Budge tries to be kind to strangers—even the ones who mock her. 

Question:  There is another woman in the book described as a serial widow. Why doesn’t Liz Luckie get along with the other women in the book?
Answer:  Liz is a man magnet, and that sexual tension that Liz Luckie creates disturbs other women who feel like they can’t compete or don’t want to compete—or are nervous that Liz will go after their men.

Question:  Doesn’t she do that?
Answer:  Liz can’t help it. She likes men.  They like her.  There’s a line in the book when Liz tries to explain what happens.  “I walk by and men just follow me.”  Other women see that and are actually jealous and resentful, but I think they don’t know they are jealous.   They repress knowing that about themselves by criticizing the woman who is appealing to men.  That’s why Liz doesn’t get along with other women.  But is she any less a Southern church lady just because men like her?  Lots of men?  I don’t think so.  I think she is a different kind of church lady who should not be mocked.  But you shouldn’t leave her alone with your man.

Question:  So, what’s next?
Answer:  The sequel is finished, and I am waiting to hear from my publisher about that.   In the meantime, I am going to go bake my signature Butter Pecan cake for the church women’s lunch this Sunday.  It’s what we do.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Chrysanthemum "Ryan Gainey"

This plant used to reside next to the walk near the front door but it suffered from too much shade. After the debacle with the cryptomeria, I had more room and moved it here. The additional sun has helped tremendously and it is loaded with blooms and the stems are not stretching for the sun rays.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Angel's Trumpet (Brugmansia)

The Angel's Trumpet is one of our most spectacular plants. It is one that can stop non-gardener's in their tracks to inquire about it. We have a glorious yellow one (most likely "Charles Grimaldi") growing in our vegetable garden area in a raised bed next to the street. It grows tall and stately, extending above the hedge, and the blooms are on display to anyone driving or walking past. I'd often had people stop and ask me about it when I'm out there working.  

They are very easy to grow but oddly, you don't see many in people's gardens. This could be due to their reputation. All parts of the plant are poisonous to both animals and humans if ingested. We've always had pets around and I've never seen one munching on one so I suspect they have enough common sense to stay clear of them. 

Brugmansia (and the closely related Datura) are in the Nightshade family and are well known as plants that can induce wildly hallucinogenic states. The American Indians used the plant to bring about a change in conscience and thought that the intoxicating effects could put them in contact with the Gods and the spirits of their ancestors. Peruvian Indians called it "the plant of the grave" and thought that if a person feel asleep under the shade of one, they would go mad. 

Medicinal purposes of the plant have also been touted and it was once used to make Hyoscine, a drug for motion sickness, although Datura is mainly used as a source for it today.

The Angel's Trumpet is a native of South America. Blooms are usually yellow, pink or white and are the main attraction of the plant. They begin to bloom in Summer and last on and off through the Fall. They always put on a dramatic show in the Fall right before the first frost. They can be grown either in the ground or in a container but either way, they must be brought in during the winter months or protected somehow because they are not hardy below freezing. I have successfully over-wintered plants during mild winters under thick layers of mulch but a harsh winter (like our last one) will surely do them in. 

Container Plants

Angel's Trumpet can easily be grown in a container and the type of container does not matter (although clay pots may have to watered more frequently than plastic ones). The container should be large and wide to accompany the root growth and a layer of rocks in the bottom is advisable to keep plants from tipping over. A general potting mix is fine and it should be mixed with 1/3 garden loam. These are thirsty plants and have to be watered almost daily, especially in hot summer months. Good drainage is essential. Weekly fertilization, with a mineral and nitrogen‐rich fertilizer, is needed for good bloom development. Place containers in a partly sunny location although sun during the hottest part of the day can fade the flower color. Protect from wind! A beautiful pink Angel's Trumpet grows in a container on our patio and gets bright light but very little direct sun and does quite well there.


Pruning is not necessary but can be done if you want more blooms or want a tree form. If you decide to prune, wait until the plant has formed a "Y". You can then force the plant to form more limbs (and thus more flowers). Cut out all but the newest growth and allow it to grow before pruning back to 1/2 to 1 inch from the node. If you prefer a bushier tree, then you must prune a lateral branch. Make the cut at the joint and each joint can produce up to two new branches.


Plants can be over-wintered either in a cool or warm environment.
Cool environment:
Leave the plant outside as long as possible so that they can harden off and acclimate to the cooler temperatures. They can be stored in a basement or garage as long as the temperature stays in the 40-50 degree range. Remove any remaining leaves and prune shoots back to healthy tissue. They usually will not need much watering but do not allow the root ball to dry out. In the Spring, after the danger of frost, the plants should be re-potted in a larger pot and brought back outside.

Warm environment:
Angel's Trumpet can also be over-wintered in a warm area, such as a greenhouse or sun-room. The area should have plenty of light and temperatures should be in the 55-65 degree range. Bring the plants in when outside temperatures fall around 50-55 degrees. Reduce watering and fertilizing by half during the winter months.


Angel's Trumpets are one of the easiest plants to propagate by cuttings. Cuttings can be taken year round and both leafy and woody cuttings can be used. Six inch cuttings will develop roots in just a few weeks (rooting hormone will hasten the process). Insert 1 1/2 inches of the cutting in a peat and sand mixture and maintain high humidity by covering with plastic.

Rooting can also be easily done in water. Take a 6" cutting and place in a glass of water with the water only covering the lower 1 1/2 inch. Roots will sprout quickly and the cutting can then be put in a small container of soil. Mist with water frequently for several days until the roots take hold.

Fall cuttings - Take 10" cuttings and place in a peat and sand mixture or vermiculite. Keep the soil moist but don't over-water. Place in an area with good light in the 55-65 degree range. Roots will develop by next spring in time for planting.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Huntsville Botanical Gardens Plant Sale

We went to Huntsville yesterday for the fall plant sale at the Botanical Gardens. This is the first time I had been to one of their plant sales and boy, was I impressed. It was a tad overwhelming and I could have spent more time there, not to mention more money. Most of the plants were around $5 - $10. There were some larger plants and my most expensive purchase was a large witch hazel "Arnold's Promise" which was $40. We were in Michael's Pathfinder and came home with the back loaded. Most of these plants are going to be planted on the property. I would liked to have bought more dogwoods and native azaleas but I'm a little wary of planting more than I can take care of  and I'm not sure how well they will do out there. I don't ever recall seeing dogwoods growing anywhere in that area.

Here is what we came home with (for future reference):

  • Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia "Brilliantissima")
  • Snowbell, Big Leaf (Styrax grandiflora)
  • Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum)
  • Dogwood (no name)
  • Magnolia, Big Leaf (Magnolia macrophylla)
  • Magnolia, Sweet Bay (Magnolia virginiana)
  • Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus)
  • Silver Bell (Halesia carolina)
  • Golden Raintree (Koelreuteria paniculata)
  • Snowball (Viburnum Opulus 'Sterile')
  • Native azaleas (4): Piedmont, Austrinum, Flame, Admiral Semmes seedling

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fall and winter containers

I've been working on the fall and winter pots for the past few weeks. Pansies are really the only flower you can have through the winter. Snapdragons will bloom through the fall and come back again in the spring. And then there is ornamental kale and cabbage. I remember growing it once before when I was pleased with how it looked. Other years it would bolt and look awful and not display much color. I decided to try again this year. 

The major problem I have with planting the fall pots is that I can't bring myself to tear out the summer plants that are still looking good. I would hate to work a public place where you have to rip out perfectly good plants to put in the next season's display. I can see why it has to be done but it hurts me to do it. Therefore, I'm searching for pots all over the place and trying to decide which plants I should throw out.

I have an inner conversation in my head that goes something like this: "Oh, I forgot all about all the pots down by the waterfall - I can use those! --- "No, the impatiens there are still beautiful. I can't pull those out." --- "They are down here in the lower forty, no one ever sees them anyway." And I go back and forth. In the end, I left the impatiens but I also have quite a few pansies that are not planted. I suppose I should just buy more pots.

There are quite a few containers that are still looking good. 

These white begonias are too pretty to rip out.
Of course when the frost hits, I'll regret it.

The Dragon Wing begonias in the patio pots are huge and they will bloom until frost. If anyone can give me some tips on overwintering them or how to root them, let me know!
Euphorbia "Diamond Frost" lives up to its name. A fantastic plant!
Pots on the steps to the back door. That is Camellia "Bonanza" beginning to bloom on the side.
Since the back door is where everybody comes in and out, I decided to place a lot of pots here.

Oh yeah, I didn't mention mums. Actually, I'm not crazy about them. They are expensive, they don't last long enough and I'm rarely successful when putting them in the ground. They do bring a lot of color though and nothing says fall like mums and pumpkins.

It does pay to shop Home Depot first thing in the morning. I got this huge orange mum for $3.50! It was a tad wilted but after I brought it home, planted it and watered it, it looks as good as new.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy