“This is the gate to my garden… a world of beauty and a world of work,” said the late Elizabeth Lawrence, a preeminent Southern gardener and master of experimentation.
Her garden, located at 348 Ridgewood Ave. in Charlotte, is operated by Wing Haven. Fall and winter are a surprisingly vibrant time in Lawrence’s garden, and Andrea Sprott, the Elizabeth Lawrence Garden Curator at Wing Haven, is happy to share what works well in the garden and what can thrive in yours.
“Lawrence was particularly fond of her Stewartia tree, which is the largest of its kind in North Carolina and a state champion,” Sprott said.
Stewartia is a group of unique, small trees that should be planted in the fall. Deciduous, the Stewartia will lose its leaves in the winter but features beautiful bark during cold months. Single white flowers will bloom in early June and may last only a few days unless the weather is unseasonably cool.
Camellia bushes keep their leaves all year and can bloom beautiful flowers at least six months out of the year. Different kinds grow best in varying levels of light. Sprott suggests gardeners read the tag and do their homework.
“As a rule of thumb, the smaller the leaf, the more sun a camellia can take,” she said.
Edgeworthia chrysantha is a deciduous shrub with handsome leaves. Also called “Chinese paperbush” or “fragrant paperbush,” edgeworthia was harvested by Asian cultures and pulped to make paper. Fragrant blossoms last from January to February; tubular blooms resemble inverted chandeliers and can vary from yellow to white.
One of Lawrence’s favorite plants was winter-blooming Algerian iris, which continues to bloom on the property each March. Fragrant and beautiful, the iris is easy to grow but may take time to establish. As it multiplies, each “fan” can be separated and replanted in early fall.
“Miss Lawrence planted this (iris) under the eave to help give it a good summer baking, which it needs to thrive,” Sprott said while giving a tour of the garden recently.
Slow growing and “bulletproof,” the evergreen Poet’s Laurel sprouts bright red berries in time for the holidays. Lenten rose blossoms in January and February. Evergreen Osmanthus, also known as fragrant tea olive, smells phenomenally when it blooms in the fall and spring.
Every gardener knows well the triumph and agony of gardening: from the “sure thing” that should have made it but didn’t, to the afterthought that surprisingly flourished.
Sprott gives this advice for planting, especially in the winter:
• Plant according to the anticipated mature size of the plant, or be ready move it later.
• Reserve judgment. Give a plant three years in the ground to see what it can do. “The first year – sleep; the second year – creep; the third year – leap,” she said.
• “If a plant is miffy, let it go,” were wise words from Elizabeth Lawrence.
“I have been surprised and disappointed by what does not grow well in this garden,” said Sprott, who also is a master gardener. “But everything lost is an opportunity to try something different.”
Start anew at the Wing Haven plant sale, and do some experimenting of your own. The horticultural playground will be free and open for tours during the sale, which continues through the weekend. Sale hours for Friday, Oct. 11, and Saturday, Oct. 12, are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Find more information on the gardens, the sale and the last workshops at www.winghavengardens.com.