Category Archives: Gardens

How My Garden Grows: Seven


A “Bird’s Eye View:”

Designing the Horizontal Spaces of  Your Garden

Dear Readers,

To read or review the previous posts in this series, click here:  How My Garden Grows: One.

Each post, One through Six, will provide a link for the next post.



Margot’s Get-Real Guide:


Identify the horizontal space:  Do you wish to create a border, bed, island, or garden path?

Speak Compass:

Toward which direction does this space face?

Sun exposure requirements will determine your plant choice.


Choose plants that will soften the angular architectural features.

Standing Feature:

Consider one standing “feature” in each large bed, border, or island.

Ex:  a fountain, a stone statue, a bird bath, a bird feeder, a fogger/mister, an obelisk, or a tutor.


Within the design, plan open spaces, for these purposes:

  • Walkways [“allees”] for trimming/pruning.
  • Access to water spigots/hose, fountains, bird baths, bird feeders, utilities. etc.
  • “Growing and breathing space” between plants and buildings or between plants and fences or walls.
  • Foot-paths, stepping-stones, etc.

Study Notes:

Research, using The Southern Living Garden Book:

Which “care-free” and “bullet-proof” plants are best-suited for the space?


For beauty and low-maintenance all year round, perennial evergreens should form the “spine” or “backbone” of your garden spaces.

Ground Covers range in height,  from 6 inches to 4 feet, so you have a great variety of sizes from which to choose.


From your Study Notes, create a Table or Chart, listing each “care-free” and “bullet-proof” plant.

Include these categories:

  • Formal name, informal name
  • Requirements for light exposure:  Su=Sun; Sh=Shade; P=Part; Lt=Light; F=Full
  • Requirements for: soil, moisture, fertilizer
  • Size:  height, width, “OC,” which means “off-center” or “space between plants”

Use this Table/Chart, to revise the Sketch of your garden design.

Keep the Chart:   At the end of the season, add notes:  What worked?  What did not?


Draw a rough sketch of the horizontal space.  Indicate approximate sizes of each section.

Refer to your Study Notes and add your favorite plants to the design.

Stature & Size:

Height, Width, Depth

Do not line up your plants like little soldiers!

Within the space, mix up the height, width, and depth.

Surface Texture:

Provide contrast between/among the plants.

Consider the shape of the plant [macro] or the texture of the leaf [micro].

Shades, Hue, Color:

Break out your color pencils, crayons, or water-colors, as you design your Sketch.

I do not like a strict color scheme:  I have a Georgia red-brick house but I use a “Crayola” color palette.

Consider the color of the bloom, foliage, stem, bark, etc.

An all-white night-blooming garden is fabulous, with a view from a porch or window.

Snow Drift:

Imagine a snowdrift, on a slope, with soft curves of snow, covering the earth.

This is the soft, organic look you want.  Avoid sharp edges.

For perennial evergreen ground cover:   Plant three different plants in three large “drifts,” of roughly the same size, with the central drift slightly larger.


The “Paisley” shape is one of the most pleasing designs to the human eye.

In your composition, employ the “paisley” shape:  Use a different plant for each paisley shape.

Interconnect and overlap the shapes, as above drawing illustrates.


Within each paisley shape [above], stagger the plants, with an odd number of the same plant.


Take your Sketch and your Table/Chart to the Nursery.

Select your favorite “bullet-proof” and “care-free” plants.

Choose an odd number of each type of  favorite plants:  1, 3, 5, etc.


Shear or Prune?

Most perennial evergreen ground covers do not require maintenance.

For those plants that require maintenance:

Consult the Southern Living Garden Book and choose the appropriate method:

Prune from the inside:  encourage a natural, soft shape;  allow air to circulate; eliminate weak stems and branches.

Shear according to the natural design shape; plants should look lush and full.

 Plan Your Future Design:

Gradually eliminate turf and replace with beds, borders, islands, and garden paths.


Coram Deo,



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How My Garden Grows: Six

Ajuga [Bugleweed]

Dear Readers,

This is Part Six of “Margot’s Get-Real Guide to Gardening in North West Florida.”

I have previously described Stories or Levels in the vertical spaces of your garden.

In this entry, I will describe Story or Level One: Perennial Evergreen Ground-covers.  

The term “groundcover” applies to those plants that spread, clump, and creep, to form a dense covering over the ground, thereby crowding out weeds and preventing erosion.

Here are my favorite tall perennial evergreen ground-covers:  These plants are bulletproof, evergreen, blooming, and require no cutting [except for one].

These plants will help to form the “backbone” of your garden:  On a winter day, you will see lots of green in your garden!

More to come, in this series:  “The Big Picture of Garden Design.”


These three evergreen perennial ground-covers look fabulous together but you must plant them in shade.

Note: Be very sure about the sun exposure, before you plant these.  The deeper the shade, the better they will look.

Cyrtomium falcatum [Holly Fern]:

~part shade to full shade

~moisture:  regular

~looks great under a tree, in a mass

~soil:  does not require–yet likes–good soil

~do not plant too deeply


Aspidistra elatior [Cast Iron Plant]:

~part-shade to full shade: no bright, hot sun

~mositure:  moderate

~soil:  not required, but for best results:  amend the soil and fertilize regularly


Liriope muscari: dark green “Evergreen Giant”

~part shade to full shade

~water:  regular

~blooms once a year – not distinctive

~liriope [green] and [variegated] look great next to each other



Note: I have planted all of these in dappled sunlight.  They bloom quite well and the leaves do not appear stressed.

Rudbeckia nitida ‘herbstonne’ [“Autumn Sun”]

~grows to 6 feet tall and 2 feet wide

~profuse gold flowers in summer

~bluish-green leaves are very attractive

~trim this one, to control growth

~full sun to part shade

~blooms: yellow, summer to fall

~moisture: moderate

~attracts: butterflies

~grows 4-6’ tall

~plant 2-3’ off-center

Dietes [African iris]

~not an iris — but looks like one!

~requires moderate moisture

~grows 2-4′ tall and 2′ wide

~plant 1 foot off-center

~full sun or part shade



Iris Virginica ‘Blue Flag’

~likes acid, sandy soil

~requires high moisture:  I planted mine near a “fogger” or “mister” [to attract birds]

~grows 2-4′ tall

~plant 1-3′ off-center

~light: full sun or light shade

Agapanthus [Lily of the Nile]

~moisture: requires little water but can tolerate too much water, also~grows 4′ tall and 1′ wide

~large bloom on one slender stalk

~blooms:  colors from which to choose: white, lilac, indigo blue/purple

~blooms: distinctive blooms, on tall stems, various colors,  once a year

~requires full sun to part shade


~easy to divide

~roots like to be crowded, in order to bloom

~choose the best variety for your area

~grows to 4 feet high; plant 1 feet off-center



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How My Garden Grows: Five

Dear Readers,

[After you read this entry, click: How My Garden Grows: Six.]

This is Part Five of a series on Margot’s Get-Real Guide to Gardening in North West Florida.   


I said previously, “When designing your gardens, think of a lofty and enchanting dwelling space, containing five stories or levels.”

Notice the enchantment of the visually captivating assortment of vertical levels or stories of the gardens, in the photos above and below.

I draw inspiration from enchanting English country gardens, especially the gardens of British authors of classic literature:

Northmoor Road:  Home of J. R. R. Tolkien, Oxford.

The Kilns:  Home and Garden of C. S. Lewis, Oxford

Hilltop Farm:  Home of Beatrix Potter

However, before you get “carried away,” by English Gardens, please remember:  this is Garden Design in North West Florida!

Previously, I described Stories or Levels Five through Three, in descending order.

Today, we begin with Story or Level Two.

However, first, I will offer some Terms & Definitions:

Annuals bloom for only one season.  You must re-plant them every year.

Perennials re-emerge, every spring, after lying dormant all winter.

Tender perennials may not re-emerge, after a hard frost during the winter.

Each perennial has its own life-cycle:  Usually, they  thrive for three to fifteen years, after which you may have to re-plant.

Evergreens: the foliage stays green all year.

Perennial Evergreens:  the foliage stays green all year AND it provides seasonal blooms and interest.

A Note on Evergreens and Evergreen Perennials:

To me, there is nothing more depressing than walking out to my garden, in the winter, to view vast blank spaces where plants hide dormant.

So, I plant plenty of evergreens and evergreen perennials:  They provide the “canvas” upon which I “paint,” when I add the color of annuals and perennials.

 The Second Story:  THE FOIL
In literature, the foil is:
“One that by contrast underscores or enhances the distinctive characteristics of another:  ‘I am resolved my husband shall not be a rival, but a foil to me’ (Charlotte Brontë).
“. . . a character that has traits which are opposite from one of the main characters, in order to highlight various features of that main character’s personality.”  [wiki answers]

Every garden needs a FOIL:
These plants, usually a hedge, form a “backdrop” for the plants in front of the foil.   These foil plants, attractive in their own right, contrast with those plants placed in front of the foil.  The contrast  is very visually pleasing.
In my garden, the foil is a hedge of evergreen perennials:  Viburnum tinus ‘Compactum’ [Spring Bouquet Laurustinus].  
These are my “foundation plants,” placed in front of the foundation of my brick home.  However, I  staggered the young plants, to avoid the look of “little soldiers.”  Also, I planted them with plenty of space away from the foundation.  The open area between the brick and the staggered hedge of viburnum allows for “breathing space” and provides an allee:  a walkway for gardeners and a hiding place for children.

An Allee
[Photo Credit:  “through the hedge,” from the blog: “morning sun rae”]
View the photos and read the description below, to appreciate the four-season  interest of the Spring Bouquet Viburnum:   

  Spring Bouquet Viburnum:  Winter
 Spring Bouquet Viburnum: Early Spring
 Spring Bouquet Viburnum:  Spring
 Spring Bouquet Viburnum: Summer
Spring Bouquet Viburnum is an evergreen shrub with small, leathery, dark, green leaves. The new stems flush wine-red then fade to green. Viburnum tinus ‘Compactum’ has dense fragrant white to light pink flowers in the spring. The fruit is a blue black berry in the fall. This Viburnum has a round compact upright growth habit and can get 5-6′ tall by 5-6′ wide making it perfect for small hedges or screens. [magnoliagardensnursery]

Hardiness: USDA Zones 7-11
Plant Use: Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun
Water Requirements: Medium

In front of the hedge, I have planted contrasting textures of Story or Level One evergreen perennials.  
I will cover Story or Level One in How My Garden Grows:  Part Six.

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How My Garden Grows: Four

Bullet-Proof [BP] and Care-Free [CR] Plants!  

Dear Readers,

[After you read this entry, click: How My Garden Grows: Five.]

Even the first-time gardener can enjoy success!  Your plants do not have to look like this:

Bullet-Free [BF] and Care-Free [CF] plants form the “back-bone” of your garden.

And, as promised, I will give you a list of the best ones for NW Florida!

Take the list to your locally-owned nursery and ask to see these plants in “real life.”


When designing your gardens, think of a lofty and enchanting dwelling space, containing five “stories” or “levels:”

The Fifth [Top] Story:  

Let us assume that you have mature trees flourishing on your property.  Although it is true: “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago,”  the next best time to plant is today!

We have a pair of mature evergreen Southern Magnolia [Magnolia grandiflora] trees, one on either side of the house.  They provide delightful shade in the summer and protection for the songbirds during all seasons.  The larger of the two trees is over 50 years old and the shorter tree is 25 years old.  These trees typically grow to be 40-80 feet tall, with a 15-40 feet spread.

Proviso:  There is no Southern tree more lovely yet no task more odious than raking up the huge leaves.

A Quercus nuttallii [nuttall oak tree], planted by our next-door neighbors, provides welcome shade, as it towers over our common Garden Wall and generously graces both of our Courtyards.  60-80 feet tall with 35-50 feet spread.

Even better, our neighbors string “Fairy Lights” in the branches of this oak tree.

The Fourth Story:  

We have three mature Camellias [evergreen].  Once established, these plants are extremely resilient.  Proviso:  I have never attempted to grow them “from scratch” so you will have to research the requirements of the young Camellia. Our heirloom Camellias are probably fifty years old.

Two Osmanthus fragrans [evergreen: tea olive] flank either side of the front of our house.  Every garden should contain at least one.  The fragrance of the blooms is like that of crushed, ripe apricots.

Our Magnolia x soulangiana [deciduous: saucer Magnolia] blooms every February:

Six Crepe/Crape Myrtles [Lagerstroemia indica: Natchez] provide a bower for the Front Garden Walk.  These deciduous trees grow to 15 or 20 feet tall.  Remember:  Do not commit “Crape Murder!”  How lovely is the shape of the plant, when left alone!

The Third Story: A

Vines for Vertical Spaces [15-20 feet tall]:

We grow the evergreen vine, Ficus pumila [creeping fig] upon all of our masonry:  upon the Garden Walls, which enclose the sides and back gardens, and upon the Georgia red-brick exterior of our 1947 home.

The evergreen vine, Hedera [ivy] entwines the creeping fig.

The Third Story: B

Vines for Vertical Spaces:  [6-8 feet tall]:

Upon three hand-forged cast-iron arched trellises, we grow Trachelospermum asiaticum [star jasmine or Confederate jasmine].  The blooms offer a delightful fragrance.

A note about vines: “The first year, they sleep; the second year, they creep; the third year, they leap!”

Coram Deo,


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How My Garden Grows: Three

Margot’s “Get-Real” Guide for Gardening in the South

Dear Readers,

[After you read this entry, click: How My Garden Grows: Four.]

I confess that I am a “fair-weather” gardener.  The best months in NW Florida to enjoy gardening are:  October, November, early December; March, April, and May.

There are many things you need to know about, if you are a first-time gardener, or if you are a “frustrated” gardener.

I will give you my best gardening tips:

Purchase the Book:

  • The very best book I have found is The Southern Living Garden Book.
  • This one is specific to the Southern climate and heat zone.

 Know Your Climate:

  • Record Your Climate Zone here:   ____________   Mine in NW Florida is “Lower South” [LS].
  • Record Your Plant Heat Zone here:   _____________  Mine is Zone 9.

Find a Nursery:

Find a small, locally-owned nursery that specializes in:

  •  native plants
  • education
  • rain gardens
  • xeriscaping
  • attracting wildlife

In Tallahassee, my favorite nursery is Native Nursery.  If you go, please tell them I sent you:  I won’t receive any compensation but my friends at Native Nursery will be delighted to meet you.  Get to know the owners and staff by name.

Know Your Gardening Terms:

For instance, grass that you cut is “turf.”  Save the term “grass” to describe the “ornamental grasses.”

Turf plus everything else is “the garden,” a term which Anglophiles, such as I, relish using.

Plants” is a woefully inadequate general term but I am going to use the term, anyway.

Look below at the amazing choices of “plants:”

Choose a Category:

In what plant category are you interested?

  • Annuals
  • Bulbs & bulb-like [corms, rhizomes, etc.]
  • Evergreens
  • Ferns
  • Foliage:  solid color; variegated
  • Fruits & berries
  • Grasses:  Ornamental
  • Ground covers
  • Herbs
  • Perennials
  • Shrubs & bushes [I cannot remember the difference.]
  • Trees
  • Vegetables
  • Vines

Speak Compass: 

  • Use a compass to identify the sun exposure on the sides of your home and garden.
  • Draw a rough sketch of your home and garden.
  • Label:  N, S, E W.
  • Take the sketch to the nursery.

Know the Requirements of the Plant:

The label on the plant may not be correct because the labels are not “regional.”

Always check The Southern Living Garden Book first!

Requirements vary:

  • Sun exposure:  Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Full Shade
  • Moisture:  water and drainage
  • Climate: heat and humidity
  • Soil texture: sand, clay, or loam*
  • Soil pH

 Speak Latin:

  • Learn the Latin names of the plants!
  • Regional names are not specific enough.
  • There are many “spider lilies,” for example, but only one Lycoris.

 Choose a Theme:

What theme or purpose do you have in your garden?

For what problem do you require a solution?

  • Beauty spots:  bed, border, or island
  • Bullet-proof:  You cannot easily kill it.
  • Care-free:  Very low maintenance.
  • Containers:  pots, hanging baskets, and window boxes
  • Exposure: sun or shade
  • Food:  fruits & berries, kitchen herbs, or vegetables
  • Flowers:  fragrant blooms and/or flowers for cutting
  • Moisture:  Damp or wet area [Rain Garden is a solution]
  • Moisture: Drought conditions [Xeriscape is a solution]
  • Privacy:  hedge or screen
  • Showy:  Color [blooms, foliage, stems, or bark] or seasonal interest
  • Southern:  Heritage or Native
  • Wildlife:  butterflies, songbirds, and hummers

Choose plants that are Care-Free AND Bullet-Proof:

Must have: 

Pleasant fragrance/odor


Attraction for wildlife:  butterflies, hummingbirds, and songbirds

Must be:



Hardy and tough



Tolerant of extreme ranges of:  salt, sun/shade, temperature, moisture, ph, soil quality, and soil texture.

Must be free of:





Toxicity and poisonous properties

Allergic reaction in people or pets

Does not require:

Spray, soap, oil, powder




Fertilizer [special]

Soil amendment


Color:  blooms or foliage or bark

Year-round interest [or at least more than one season]


Florida Native

~~~Compiled by Margot Blair Payne, May 2012


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How My Garden Grows: Two

My Front Garden Walk: April 2012

Front to back: 

Rudbeckia “Herbstonne,” Dietes [African Iris], Euryops [Bush Daisy]

Garden angel, two bird bath stands flank a mister [fogger] stand [barely visible]

Dear Readers,

[Note: After you read this entry, click How My Garden Grows: Three.]

“White Coral Bells, upon a slender stalk;

Lilies of the Valley grace my Garden Walk. 

Oh, don’t you wish that you could hear them ring? 

That will happen only when the fairies sing.”

~~~A Nursery Rhyme Song, source unknown

Initially, I wanted my Garden Walk to have a theme of Nursery Rhymes and Songs.  I began with the rhyme above but I discovered that Lilies of the Valley are poisonous!

So, instead of the Nursery Rhyme Song theme, I decided to create a “Prayer Garden” with a special emphasis on babies, children, parents, and families.

As I work in the garden, I pray for  couples who desire to have children yet struggle with infertility; for parents who have lost babies through miscarriage or stillbirth; for parents who have suffered the loss of a child;  for families who struggle with health problems; for adoptive families; for children who are lost or missing . . .

In the morning, I turn on the “mister” or “fogger” and the water fills up the bird baths.  As I sit on my Front Porch steps in the morning, I can watch the songbirds splash in the water.

By the way, my philosophy of “good” gardening is similar to my philosophy of “good” parenting:

I carefully nurture both my children and plants, until they are firmly rooted and established.  Thereafter, both children and plants receive my “benign neglect” and, quite naturally, may appear to struggle.  Once they are “pushed out of the nest” toward independence, however, they thrive.

The child/plant metaphor continues, as I go to “Native Nursery” to view the young plants. However, here the metaphor breaks down, as we do not choose our children as we choose our plants.  It is the Triune God who bestows upon us the blessing of children.

Since I am able, however, to choose plants, I research the best “bulletproof” North West Florida native plants.   I ignore any plants that need any special care beyond the basic  “sun, water, and soil” requirements.

I give a new plant a full year and, if it cannot endure the extremes of temperature and moisture during the year, it has to make way for a tougher plant.  

If I plant in the fall, I coax the new plants along but, as winter approaches, I remind them, “Now, no one is going to come running out here to cover you up with a sheet, if a cold snap threatens – so, you will just have to tough it out!”

Stephen built for me a raised bed for the Front Garden Walk, where perennial evergreens flourish.  Our “Natchez” crepe myrtles are thriving and, during the summer, they provide a canopy of shade for the Front Garden Walk.   We do not prune them; we allow them to grow [to almost 20 feet] and we enjoy the shade and lovely cinnamon bark.  We  enjoy the blooms but we object strongly to “crepe murder:”  this describes the practice of gardeners who severely prune the trees, caring only for the profusion of blooms, which appear above the sad, ugly stumps.

For my garden, a plant must offer something beyond transitory blooms:  I derive pleasure from the four-season interest of the overall shape and proportion of the plant and the texture and color of the foliage or bark.  If the plant attracts songbirds, hummingbirds, and butterflies, then that plant is an excellent candidate.  If the plant also requires no staking, pruning, spraying, or fertilizing, then it is, indeed, a winner.

And that is How My Garden Grows . . . I’ll share more specifics in this series, including suggestions for “bullet-proof” plants for NW FL.

Coram Deo,


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In the Garden of Darkness

Dear Readers,

View the video clip below or go to and listen to or view the sermon, The Glory of God, by Fr. Michael Petty.  

The Reverend Doctor Michael Petty

Listening or viewing will require only 18 minutes and 30 seconds of your time and I guarantee it will be worth both viewing and listening.

Dr. Michael Petty, delivered his sermon, The Glory of God, on the Fifth Sunday in Lent, 2012, at St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Tallahassee, FL.  A brief biography  is below.

It has been my privilege, for over 10 years, to be challenged by the teaching of Fr. Petty.  He is both my mentor and friend.  In addition to being a brilliant theologian, he is also one of the most humble and devout Christian disciples that I have ever known.

Notice the focus of the sermon:  Scripture.  [No  jokes, no personal stories, no “fluff.”]

[Correction:  There are two phrases of witticism.]

For the next several days, I will focus on the themes of the Paschal Mystery.

I will resume the themes that I have introduced [Worldviews; Healing Gardens] after Resurrection Sunday.

Biography from

Fr. Michael Petty is a native of West Virginia and grew up in Houston . He was educated at Austin College (B.A.) and Vanderbilt University (M.Div., M.A., Ph.D.)

During his over twenty years of ordained ministry, he has served a large suburban congregation, a campus ministry at a medical school, and a hospital chaplaincy. He has served as Associate Rector for Adult Education since St. Peter’s was founded in 2005.

In addition to pastoral ministry, Fr. Petty has served as an adjunct faculty member at the Perkins School of Theology (Southern Methodist University), Nashotah House Theological Seminary and the Center for Biblical Studies in Tallahassee.

He is the author of A Faith That Loves the Earth: The Ecological Theology of Karl Rahner, published by the University Press of America.

He is married to Sara Clausen and they have a son, Graham.

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How My Garden Grows: One

My Front-Porch Garden:

From front to back and from short to tall:

foliage of “Lamb’s Ear,” yellow blooms of Rudbeckia “Herbstonne,” “Indigo Spires Sage” — all under a bower of Crape Myrtles [Natchez].

Dear Readers,

[Note: After you read this entry, click How My Garden Grows: Part Two.]

I have previously written about Places of Enchantment.  Creating a garden, small or large, is like creating a place of enchantment.

At first, I began gardening for my enjoyment and exercise.  Over the years, however, I turned to the garden — for solace, beauty, and quiet — during various difficult stages of my life:  the empty nest, the topsy-turvy chaos of restoring a 65-year old home, the death of my parents, and my bout with breast cancer.

Immersing myself in the pursuit of gardening is, in itself, a healing process:  I receive, from the bounty of Creation, the warmth of the sun, the cool refreshment of the nourishing water, the touch and smell of the earth, the fragrance and color of the blooms, the various shades of the foliage, and the sound of birdsong.  I choose to think of nothing, except the task at hand, while I suspend worries and anxieties for a few hours of welcome respite.

However, I am a very practical gardener:  I have developed “Margot’s Get-Real Gardening Tips” that I will share with you so that you may spend more time delighting in — and less time toiling in — your garden.

In the near future, I will share these tips.  Here are some photos from my gardens, to inspire you.

Proviso:  My “Garden Tips” are for the Southern gardener:  specifically, North West Florida!  Over the years, I have battled the heat and humidity and have, finally, submitted to it — and I know the best plants to withstand our Southern climate.  

My Front Porch Containers:  mostly annuals.

My two sisters, Susan and Amy, designed these lovely combinations.

Container Pot of either Portulaca or Purslane:  A truly “bullet-proof” bloom for the summer.

My Kitchen Porch:  A shady respite.

Front Porch Container

Another View of My Front Porch Garden:  from left to right:

blooms and buds of “Purple Coneflower,” “Indigo Sage,” “Lily of the Nile” — all under the shade of Crape Myrtle [Natchez]

Amaryllis [from bulb]

Coram Deo,



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