In a Vase on Monday: Azalea Buds

Azalea buds in March in a vintage apothecary bottle

Today’s “In a Vase on Monday” features pink azalea buds clipped from one my drought survivors.

During the 2016-17 drought in the Southeastern U.S., I felt sure the beautifully green city of Birmingham, and perhaps the whole state of Alabama, was on its way to becoming a dust bowl. Everything, even the most established trees, looked parched. When there was the slightest hint of a storm brewing, all we got was clouds, wind, a few drops of rain, and whirls and whirls of dust.

Like many people, we lost quite a bit of landscaping, including all the azaleas across the front of our house. (They were planted there by the previous owner, and it was an ill-advised location. Too much sun.)

However, spring 2017 graced us with lots and lots of rain, helping our trees and shrubs recover. But during that first year, the drought’s toll was still apparent.

Azalea bloom in March
One lone bloom near the ground has opened. I can’t wait till the whole bush is in full bloom for the first time in two years.

Though we lost all the azaleas in our front yard, the three in our backyard, protected by plenty of shade, survived. However, they did not bloom in spring 2017 when the rain returned. Similarly, my holly bushes did not put out berries in fall 2016. Everything was in survival and recovery mode.

Happily, fall 2017 saw the return of holly berries to feed the birds and squirrels, and spring 2018 has brought the return of azalea buds to our backyard. I can’t wait until the bushes explode with flowers.

The vase at the top of this post is a vintage apothecary bottle from my hometown of Augusta, Georgia. The writing on the bottle reads, “744 Broad St., Cabaniss Drug Co., Augusta, GA.” (Speaking of Augusta, if you want to see some stunning azaleas, even if you’re not a golf fan, tune in to the upcoming Master’s Golf Tournament!)

Thanks to Cathy and her blog, Rambling in the Garden, for starting the IAVOM meme. It’s helped me connect to other garden bloggers and makes blogging much more enjoyable. Be sure to visit her blog and see all the comments below her post to get a peek at what gardeners around the world have put in a vase on Monday.

Nature Walk at Jemison Park

Lesser Celandine (“Ficaria verna”)

Jemison Park Nature Trail is one of my favorite local spots. This greenway follows Shades Creek and meanders through Mountain Brook. It’s just a hop, skip and jump away from central Birmingham.

I’ve written about iNaturalist on this blog before, and I’m featuring it again in this post about my recent nature walk through Jemison Park. If you’re in the Birmingham area and want to learn about iNaturalist from an expert, I recommend “Introduction to iNaturalist,” presented by Dr. John Friel of the Alabama Museum of Natural History on May 6, 2018, 1-3:30 p.m., at Ruffner Mountain.

I’ve been using the iNaturalist app since attending one of Dr. Friel’s presentations last year. I find it helps me better observe and appreciate the intricacies of nature, which makes spending time outdoors all the more rewarding. I also like recording and identifying plants in natural areas because my hope is to gradually transform our privet-filled wooded backyard into a woodland garden.

Here is what I observed on my walk through Jemison Park:

Lesser Celandine (“Ficaria verna”)

I believe this ground cover (also pictured at the top of this post) is lesser Celandine (“Ficaria verna”). iNaturalist’s photo identification software suggested this ID. I carefully compared the database’s photos against mine. I think it’s a match, but the ID needs confirmation from the iNaturalist online community of citizen scientists. This plant is definitely going on my woodland garden wish list. [Update: Another iNaturalist participant later confirmed this ID!]


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Next is Italian Arum (“Arum italicum”). Once again, iNaturalist software helped me venture a guess on the ID. A fellow user, who happens to be pursuing a doctorate in marine ecology and phycology, agreed. That moved my ID up to research grade. It will stay that way as long as two-thirds of iNaturalist users concur.

I also learned that some gardeners underplant Italian Acum with hostas. When hostas die back in winter, Italian Acum will maintain an attractive ground cover. I already have hostas, so I am definitely going to try this!

Beaked Trout-Lily (“Erythronium rostratum”)

The identification of the Beaked Trout-Lily (“Erythronium rostratum”) above illustrates the combined power of software and collective human brainpower in making sense of the vast numbers of observations uploaded to iNaturalist.

After looking through the software’s suggestions, my best guess at an ID was a Yellow Trout Lily (“Erythronium americanum”). However, another citizen scientist, self-described as a “hobbyist botanist, reasonably well-read on trillium and solidago,” countered that the plant I observed was in fact a Beaked Trout-Lily. His argument: “prominent auricles at the base of the tepals which encircle filaments; tepals not streaked with purple; flower not nodding; petals not sharply reflexed.”

This is a good time to mention another tip about using iNaturalist. Even if you are an amateur, do your best to research and identify your observations starting with kingdom at a minimum, and narrowing down the taxonomy as much as you can. The iNaturalist software and other references can help you do this, as long as you employ common sense and pay attention to the details. The more you can help narrow it down, the more likely someone who actually knows their stuff will look at what you’ve posted. They can then confirm your ID, further narrow it down or correct it if needed.

I’ll close this post with a few more iNaturalist observations from Jemison Park Nature Trail.

Red Buckeye (“Aesculus pavia”)


Little Sweet Betsy (“Trillium cuneatum”), also known as toadshade


My suggested ID, unconfirmed: Common Blue Violet (“Viola sororia”)

In a Vase on Monday


Dark, dramatic purples inspired this arrangement on a chilly spring morning in Alabama.

Arranged in a Moscow mule mug, today’s IAVOM includes:

  1. Jean Scherer tulip: The purple petals are so dark they are almost black. These theatrical blooms look almost otherworldly against the bright greens of early spring. A few days back, the blooms were completely open, but they closed when cold weather returned. As soon as I brought this bloom inside, it opened right up again.
  2. Heuchera ‘mocha’: The new spring foliage is a lovely purple–a hue so deep it almost looks coffee colored, as the name suggests. As the foliage ages through the year, it becomes more of a dark green.
  3. Red-veined sorrel: These leaves will make their way into my salad tonight.
  4. Foliage from a black parrot tulip (not yet in bloom): This tall, sculptural leaf was calling my name for today’s arrangement.
  5. Foliage from a Camelot lavender foxglove (not yet in bloom): I interspersed the green leaves with the heuchera ‘mocha’ leaves to help them stand out.

To see what gardeners around the world have put “In a Vase on Monday” visit Cathy’s blog, Rambling in the Garden, and be sure to see all the comments below her post.

Note: The “vase” here is a serving vessel for a refreshing drink called a Moscow mule, a combination of vodka (2 oz), ginger beer (5 oz), lime juice (0.5 oz) and fresh mint served over ice. The traditional mugs were copper. Modern Moscow mule mugs like this one are stainless steel with copper plating on the exterior only (otherwise, the copper will react with the acidic ingredients and leach into the drink). Apparently, the Moscow mule was invented in the 1940s, but it’s become popular again in the last decade. After a family vacation where we drank a lot of these, my in-laws gave us a set of the mugs as a Christmas present! Here’s a link to mugs I have.

The Joy of Tiny Things


Left: Tiny bluet (Houstonia pulsilla). Right: Henbit deadnettle (Lamium amplexicaule), dandelion, sedum, creeping jenny and garden thyme.

Appreciate the little things, sometimes even weeds.

My perennials have been coming back to life the past couple of weeks, including herbs, heuchera, creeping jenny, moss and various sedum plants growing in the nooks and crannies of the terrace walls. And, of course, weeds. I can find weeds quite pretty– especially if they are native and/or beneficial to the environment–and they are the inspiration for the tiny arrangements featured in this post.



I am fairly certain that the small lavender-blue flowers pictured above, are tiny bluets (Houstonia pulsilla), native to the Southeast. Moss covers our shady backyard, and the tiny bluets, with blooms no more than a centimeter in diameter, look so pretty against the blanket of vibrant green. I arranged them in a small amber-colored bottle. I will warn you that I had to pull out the tweezers for this one. (As my husband was kind enough to notice, I had a lot of free time that day.)

Henbit deadnettle (Lamium amplexicaule)

The next arrangement features the vibrant purple-pink flowers of henbit deadnettle (Lamium amplexicaule), along with a dandelion, sedum, creeping jenny and garden thyme. Native to the Mediterranean, henbit deadnettles are fairly ubiquitous today. They attract pollinators and are a food source for some animals. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even eat them as an herb. (I haven’t tried them, but the leaves smell like parsley.)

Except for the dandelion, which apparently does not last long once picked, this rustic bouquet has brightened my kitchen for almost a week now.

Note: To see what other garden bloggers have put “In a Vase on Monday” check out Cathy’s blog and comments.

Easy daffodils


I have always loved daffodils. They are a bomb of yellow breaking through the drear of winter gray.

This is my first year growing them myself, and I am happy to report they are super easy. I ordered a pack of 50 bulbs last fall, and–I must admit–I was lazy and let them sit in their packaging for a couple of weeks after they arrived. (The instructions said to remove the bulbs from their packaging upon arrival and to plant them ASAP.) By the time I opened the box, a few bulbs were rotten. I was worried I’d ruined the whole lot, but I planted them anyway. Come late February–daffodils!

When I was growing up, my elderly neighbors had these perennials in their yard, and they were kind enough to permit my sister and me to co-opt their yard for all sorts of kid shenanigans. Each year I looked forward to the emergence of yellow blooms. If my child self had had any idea how easy daffodils are to establish, I would have insisted on mixing in bulbs during the annual fall planting of the pansies in my parents’ yard. Finally, in my late thirties, I have them.

Cutting daffodil stems is kind of like slicing okra. They ooze a slimy sap. Apparently, if you use daffodils in arrangements with different kinds of flowers, you should pre-condition the stems first to prevent the sap from clogging the stems of the other blooms. Here’s a source that provides good information on that. Since I did not use any other flowers in this arrangement, I did not worry about this step. I did follow the advice on changing the water after the initial six hours and keeping the water level shallow.

For this arrangement, I repurposed a Seersucker Southern-style gin bottle. This Texas-made spirit makes tasty gin-and-tonics, and the bottle is cute, too.




Sunday Succulents

My sister-in-law in Nashville has beautiful pots of succulents on her patio. This week when I was visiting, she was kind enough to let me raid them. (I tried to be discreet; her containers still look great.)

I snapped off some individual leaves, which I will try to propagate, but I also snipped and divided some larger sections. I used the larger plants to make this tiny container garden for the guest bedroom.


The shell planter is vintage Fitz & Floyd ($4 at an estate sale; yes, I may be a little obsessed with vintage FF). It has no drainage holes, so I added rocks before topping with cactus potting mix. I’ll have to be careful not to overwater.