Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Solstice

Spring is on the way! The Winter solstice took place at 7:04 this morning, here in the Eastern United States, and, with the start of Winter, the days will slowly lengthen again and gardeners all around are eagerly looking forward to the beginning of Spring, three months from now.

In preparation, we peruse seed catalogs, make lists of plants to acquire for the upcoming growing season, and sketch out plots for new planting areas. For me, this means finally getting a part of my front yard dug up for a flower border that will link the lone maple tree with the butterfly bush and hollies in front of the house. I'm planning to turn it into a riot of color, with cosmos, poppy, cornflower, amaranth and other annuals, all the while keeping my fingers crossed!

My favorite seed catalog is the recently-arrived 2009 edition of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange garden guide, an authority on heirloom plants. I want to grow all of them! But, taking space limitations into consideration, I'll have to make a few strategic choices for my small garden and hope to inspire others, with more planting space, to try out other selections. Take a look, experiment, and let me know later in the year how it all turned out. I'll do the same!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Georgia Aster & Pineapple Sage

How about this Georgia Aster? Frankly, Asters have not figured prominently in my garden for the past few years (O.K. - ever!), but I bought a Georgia Aster at the Friends of the Garden plant sale last Spring, and it has grown very tall and erupted in a torrent of blooms. Gorgeous!
Pineapple Sage is another wonderful plant; it cheers up Southern gardens every October and I'm delighted to have it in my landscape.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Globe Mallow

Angela O'Callaghan, Ph.D., of the University of Nevada in Reno, just sent me this picture of a Globe Mallow. It will probably be in bloom next March when the International Master Gardener conference is held in Las Vegas. Interesting plant, but not for the Piedmont of the Southeastern United States. Readers of this blog who plan to attend the conference will no doubt want to go and look for it while in Las Vegas.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Got Drought? Get Bulbs!

It makes sense. You plant bulbs in the fall, forget about them all winter and they will surprise you in spring – regardless of the weather they have endured in the intervening months.

I would not, however, have ordered more bulbs this year if I had not been at Jeannette Coplin’s xeriscape gardening class at the State Botanical Garden in Athens on Tuesday. Bulbs are among her favorite aspects of a xeriscape garden and, like I just wrote, it makes sense! So, I came home, retrieved a bulb catalog I had received a few weeks ago, picked out some choices, filled our the order form, wrote a check, and sent it in!

Typically, even though I grew up in “the land of tulips” (guess . . . .!), I am not enamored of bulbs. They are O.K., and I have lots of daffodils in my garden already, but their short blooming time does not recommend them to me. And tulips in the Deep South? That’s never been a good choice, in my opinion. Still, tulips are among the more than 100 bulbs I have just ordered. Alliums and hyacinths also, and even some lilies. I’ll plant them as soon as they arrive and I’ll let you know next spring how it all turned out.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Another 2008 Favorite!

This is a Plectranthus, isn't it?
P. ecklonii 'Tommy', to be precise.
Please, anyone who reads this, correct me, if this is wrong. I bought three of them early in the year, and they were simply marked "sun annual" - oh, well! Apart from the Angelonia (see an earlier post), nothing has bloomed as long in my garden as these no longer small "annuals". I am taking cuttings for next year (doing well), just to be sure I'll have some again in 2009, but now understand it's a plant that will come back in the garden year after year, as long as the winters aren't too severe. Who knows? For now, at least, it's a wonderful focal point in my garden and continues to attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

Rain Gardens

Today's segment in my "Advanced Concepts in WaterSmart Landscape Design" Advanced Master Gardener Training class (by the time this get done, I'll be so 'advanced' that it'll be hard to keep up with me!) focused on rain gardens. Excellent topic, and a lot to digest before I even think about attempting a rain garden on my property. The hands-on training includes the installation of a rain garden at Gwinnett Tech, but the project was not ready to move forward very much today. Still, a start has been made and the outcome, which may take till next Spring, will no doubt be spectacular.

Still adding to my garden . . .

I went to the Hall County Garden Expo on Saturday, just to look around, say "hello" to a few friends, and determined not to buy anything - because, really, my garden is pretty full. So much for my determination at a gardening event! I came home with a very pretty (and tall!) Phlox Carolina and a Salvia 'Cherry Queen', to add to my collection of Salvias.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


The City of Hoschton (population somewhere in the area of 1,500) is trying to get itself into the Guinness Book of World Records, by assembling 4,000 scarecrows. Since I had planned to go to the Farmers Market there this morning anyway, I decided to take a camera along and snap a few pictures. Of the half dozen or so I took, I like this one the best. What it portrays, I don't know (enlighten me!) - a ghost with a small Christmas stocking in one of its hands. Hmmmm - it must mean something!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Thank you, Fay!

I cannot remember the last time we had rain two days in a row - much less four! It drizzled a bit on Sunday, we had some showers on Monday, it poured off-and-on on Tuesday and Fay finished up with a bit more wet stuff yesterday. Today, it's sunshine again and maybe ninety degrees. My garden has been rejuvenated, and now there's lots more work to be done.

Meanwhile, I wonder if Gustav will come calling. He's welcome, as long as he is as mannered as Fay was in my part of the world.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Swallowtails are everywhere

Along with increasing numbers of hummingbirds, the ubiquitous bumblebees and the occasional honeybee, the swallowtail butterflies are now in evidence in my garden on a daily basis and - what else? - they LOVE those Buddleias.
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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Aaaaah, Sunflowers!

On Tuesday afternoons, from 4 to 7 o'clock, LoganBerry Heritage Farm in Cleveland holds a "front porch sale" of vegetables (tomatoes and cucumbers prominent on August 12) and sunflowers (while they last). Cleveland is not exactly around the corner for me (even though this is Georgia's Cleveland, not Ohio's), but I had heard so much good stuff about the farm and its farmers, Sharon Mauney and Tim Descher, that I knew I had to go there sooner or later. Last Tuesday was a perfect day; I won't bore you with pictures of the tomatoes I bought, and the cucumber is already 2/3 consumed, but "how 'bout them sunflowers!" . . .?? Gorgeous, aren't they?
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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Green Tomato, Frying Not Required

This is one tomato that will not make it to my kitchen! The Tomato Hornworm is incorrectly named, because it's a caterpillar, not a worm. But it's a spectacular creature and in my garden at least it's welcome to all the tomatoes it wants to consume.
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Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Agaves, "Bloodspot" (top) and "Happy Crown" (bottom)

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Trade Show

I’ve spent the past two days at the Green Industry Trade Show of the Southern Nursery Association and come away with a number of observations and questions . . .

How effective is it for small nurseries to exhibit at trade shows? Aren’t they overwhelmed by “the big boys”, who have huge corner displays, splashy attention-getters (bright orange plastic bags, an airplane [yes, really!], stacks of huge ceramic planters, etc.), and a 12-man team of sales people?

At this show, the most impressive large exhibit was that of Carolina Nurseries (although I must say that its pillars and fence created an image of exclusivity and segregation that may not have pleased all visitors), while the most effective small one was that of Snowbird Farms. It had a tree in it – one tree - a Christmas tree, a Fraser Fir. That’s what Snowbird Farms grows and sells, and I hope the Henderson family did well at the show. They certainly have the product; if they also know and understand their market well, the show will have benefited them.

The oddest booth by far belonged to the Japan Nursery Association. Three of the four staffers did not speak English and the fourth was only minimally proficient. They had no business cards or brochures and their only hand-out was a plant list that did not have contact information on it. If I wanted to order 500 Styrax japonicum, I would not know how to do it. When I asked if they had a web site, where I might find more information, I was given a URL and then told that it is in Japanese only, “but you can look at the pictures” . . . . .!

Speaking of Japan, however, it struck me that while the Japanese were at this trade show (and the Australians and the Germans!), I did not speak with any U.S. exhibitor who has export interests. What a pity; such overlooked opportunities!

Yesterday’s media luncheon, with an odd panel of experts (I had the impression there was more expertise in the audience than on the panel, or at least as much), did nothing to assure me that the industry participants truly know who their customers are, how to communicate with them, or how to profitably respond to their needs and interests. That’s another pity.

Trends talked about: (1) plant more succulents (we all went home with two tiny samples, an Agave ‘Kissho Kan’, Happy Crown and an Agave x Mangave ‘Bloodspot’, both beautiful plants but neither of which can be expected to survive a North Georgia winter outdoors), (2) pay attention to the environment, (3) use less water more effectively. I left the event unsatisfied and that has nothing to do with the more than adequate lunch provided by Novalis.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Phlox 'Robert Poore'

This gorgeous Phlox has been in my garden for three years now and tolerates the heat and drought as well as anything currently in bloom.
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Purple Bean Vine

This tiny plant I bought just a few weeks ago is now a majestic vine, climbing up the rain pipe and producing clusters of flowers. See "Thomas Jefferson in my Garden", June 14.
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Monday, July 28, 2008

Favorite Plants

A few weeks ago, I wrote to a few fellow garden writers in North American, asking what their favorite plants are. A bit of a silly question, I've come to realize, because what is a favorite plant today maybe replaced by a different one tomorrow.

Nevertheless, I heard back from Catherine Bohnert, Horticulture Specialist at the Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute in Columbia, Maryland, where she is in charge of planning, planting, and maintaining the Jefferson Farm & Gardens vegetable garden and orchard as well as some ornamental areas. Her favorie Daylily at the moment, from among 115 varieties in the garden, is the Jungle Beauty, which is indeed gorgeous. If I add any more Daylilies to my garden next year (it all depends on the weather!), I'll look for this one.

Another respondent has been Steven Biggs, who gardens in Toronto, Canada, and counts Brugmansias (Angel's Trumpet) among his favorite plants. He likes them well enough that he brings them indoors every Winter. I tried one last year, but it did not do well at all (my suspicion is that it likes cooler climates), so did not bother to take cuttings and overwinter them for this year. Neverthless, these are gorgeous ornamentals and gardens that offer the right environment should not be deprived of them.

And finally, I heard from Maya in Virginia, who likes the Hydrangea “Annabelle” very much. She is just starting a blog and I cannot refer you to it yet, but perhaps that opportunity will come.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

"Kiss Me Over The Garden Gate" is a purchase from the local Farmers' Market. I had never heard of it, but "the gourd lady", Miriam Parks Gruwell, who creates garden art out of gourds and other natural materials, told me about it the other week. Needless to say, I had to have one! This was the third of four plants I have now bought from her. The others are an Echinacea, a Purple Bean Vine and a Standing Verbena; all are doing very well, so the moral of this post is . . . ., if you have a Farmers' Market in your area, and plants are for sale there, buy them!
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Monday, July 7, 2008

My 2008 Favorite Annual

A summer garden in Georgia is not complete without a Petunia, but this year I've got to say that the Angelonia is my favorite annual. I first saw Angelonias at Park Seed in South Carolina last year (spectacular beds of them!) and again at the UGA trial gardens last month. I probably should have bought more than one when I saw them at a local nursery a few weeks ago, but I limited myself to one - and here it is, flanked by a Lavender and a Chives, with several Petunias around it. Good color combination and thanks to a rainbarrel (from Karen Alexander's "Rain Drops" in Suwanee) everything is surviving nicely.

Friday, July 4, 2008


Clearly worth the wait, the Chicago Knock-out I bought at the State Botanical Garden's plant sale last April, is the last Daylily to bloom in my 2008 garden. What a color! For next year, I'll have to rearrange some plants, including many Daylilies, and this one will receive a place of prominence. I can't wait for it to multiply and give me the opportunity to share it with other gardeners, including my daughters, who have become as impressed by Daylilies as I am. And imagine, four years ago I knew nothing about them, apart from the fact that the ugly tall blooms I saw in ditches all along North Georgia's roads and byways were called "Daylily". All it takes is a little education, a little research, a little encouragement (from the Butlers at Bloomin' Designs in Auburn) and lots of curiosity!

"Rescue Reward"

Last December, I was asked to help "rescue" plants from a property that was being sold to developers, so that gardeners this year could enjoy its numerous plants, shrubs, and ferns, rather then have them become bulldozer victims. I was assigned to an area of Daylilies and Liriope. An hour or two of digging, separating and potting resulted in many dozens of plants for a May community plant sale; my reward was a clump of intermingled roots that were impossible to separate. At home, I did the best I could - feeling like a surgeon trying to separate Siamese (oops - "conjoined", to be PC!) Twins - and even though I was not entirely successful, the effort was hugely rewarded by a new type of Daylily now in my garden. Here is one of them. I have no idea of its name, but it's very unlike any others I have in my landscape, where it is a welcome addition.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

200 years ago – almost

Next February, the birth date of a celebrated naturalist, geologist, biologist and author will see its 200-year commemoration.

Without him, chances are that many of us who are gardeners in the 21st century would not have taken up this hobby, career or obsession. He was that inspirational.

On the other side of the coin, many others vilify him to this day, especially in conservative regions such as North Georgia.

His work dominated much of the 19th century in his fields of study and expertise. He was the maternal grandson of another genius, a man whose work has resulted in the creation of housewares and decorative items we see in many homes in North America to this day, and he married a cousin from that same branch of the family. Although he was born in 1809, his longest surviving child did not die until 1943.

Do you know who this man was?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Chinese Princess

There is no doubt that Russian Rhapsody got the prize for "first bloomer" of the Daylilies in my 2008 garden, but isn't this Chinese Princess breathtakingly beautiful also?

Friday, June 27, 2008

A Rose is a Rose, is a Rose . . .

Roses, frankly, aren't my thing. I have not yet been able to convince my children of that, who continue to bring me roses, but for the most part I am not thrilled. A notable exception is a pink Kock-Out, which is beginning its second bloom of the season, with this bud a perfectly lovely example this morning.
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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Lake Lanier

This morning, as I was digging Bermuda tendrils out of the pine isles in which three of my Crape Myrtles grow, I was struck by the dry earth underneath the mulch. Hard as rock in some places. Our severe drought continues for the second year. Yes, we did have a little rain last Saturday, and a bit more on Sunday, but overall this is not a promising summer for North Georgia gardeners.

My Crape Myrtles are trying to bloom, but the tops of the branches that bear the flower clusters, which in normal years look lush and abundant, are small and almost shriveled and the thought occurred to me that no matter what, there may simply not be enough water in Lake Lanier to save them. Not just in my garden, but all across the region.

In the meantime, the floods “up north” continue to dominate the evening news on TV. We had a President once in this country, more than forty years ago, who had a big vision – “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” – and I wonder if we can have such a leader again. Someone who can inspire the country to “do something” that would make it possible for Iowa floods to be abated and Georgia droughts to be ameliorated.

Meanwhile, I think I’ll go outside and smell the Gardenias; at least they look better than those poor Crape Myrtles.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

One of those "passalong" plants . . . .

Somewhere in one of my gardening books, the author mentions that a Rose-of-Sharon is "one of those passalong plants that some people believe has passed itself along a little too often". It is certainly true that older houses all over North Georgia have one or two - or many! - in their front yards. In newer developments, however, they are far less ubiquitous (perhaps because they are considered to be "old fashioned" - and who wants to be regarded as such?), but look at this flower - isn't it beautiful?

Of the two in my garden, this is by far the most stunning; I picked it up for $2 at a community garden sale and a srawny little thing without much promise it was. The other one, a glorious shrub when I first saw it and which cost me $18 at an area nursery, has turned out to be a poor specimen by comparison. If it produces any noteworthy blooms this summer, I'll post a photograph. Shows you that you can't judge a plant by its appearance when you first see it.
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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Rusellia hybrid

When I first saw it, from a distance, I thought it was a Gaura, but closer-up its different leaves and flowers are distinct. I don't know if it will be on the market next year, but google it from time to time and you may find a source for it.

UGA trial gardens

I went to Athens this morning, to take a look at the plants growers will focus on in the coming winter and retail nurseries will have for sale next spring. Lots and lots of "good stuff". Here, in the mid-foreground, is a bed of red and white Vinca. There were gorgeous Geraniums, spectacular varieties of Coleus (ask for "Gold Brocade" at your favorite nursery - your garden should not be without it!), beautiful double Impatiens, a "Lanai Peach" Verbena, Angelonias in white, blue, lavender and pink, and a Rusellia hybrid that made quite a splash. Check the Athens Select web site for more information.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Thomas Jefferson in My Garden

There are, for many gardeners, few more rewarding moments than discovering a hitherto unknown plant, being able to buy it for $1 and finding just the right garden spot for it. That's my experience today! I had never even heard of the "Thomas Jefferson Purple Bean Vine", but I now have one in my garden, thanks to a knowledgeable gardener at this morning's Farmers' Market. Here it is! Between the patio and the drainpipe, which it will be encouraged to climb as it grows, and keeping company with a tall Cilantro, this little plant is supposed become a tall climber with beautiful purple flowers in late summer and fall. Excellent!
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Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Russians Are Here!

Eagerly awaited, there simply had to be a Daylily in bloom this morning (rain last night - not much of it, but very, very welcome); the only unknown was . . . . which one? The Chinese Princess is not far behind, but the Russian Rhapsody was the first to show its colors in my 2008 garden - and what colors they are! Combined with the Lavender Provence and the Salvia Mystic Blue Spires, the Russians are presenting a delightful display in one corner of my garden today. In general, the heat and drought have not done the Daylilies any favors; most look stressed, with fading foliage, but there's more rain in the forecast and I am keeping my fingers crossed for more gorgeous blooms soon. Some of the Daylilies in my garden came to me from a "plant rescue" last December, so I don't know yet what sort of flowers they will produce, but the plants look good. The same cannot be said of a Chicago Knockout, which I bought last April at the Botanical Garden in Athens. The most expensive Daylily in my garden, it has to date not even sent up a flower stalk. I am not, however, giving up on it, and give it a few words of encouragement every morning!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Another Gorgeous Salvia

In addition to the Black & Blue, the Argentina Blue is also starting to bloom. After several days of 90+ degrees weather (and no rain), my garden is beginning to show some signs of stress, but the two Salvias I photographed this morning are doing well. The Lavender is doing well also, with most of them in bloom, and the Hydrangeas are looking better this year than last. The Pineapple Sage I had worried might not re-emerge this year is growing bigger by the day. No Daylilies in bloom yet; almost all of them have flower stalks popping up and a few blooms should open in the week ahead. The Shasta Daisies are still looking good, although this is clearly not an optimal environment for them, and the Sedums Autumn Joy are growing like weeds. Balancing the good (nice plants, for the most part doing well) and the bad (hot temperatures and lack of rain), my garden still comes out on the positive side, but I do hope it will rain soon.
The Black and Blue Salvia is now beginning to bloom and I am so glad I found this plant.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Gardening – a hazardous occupation?

One would not expect to find gardening on a list of hazardous occupations, but I can tell you – and prove it! – that it is!

More than 72 hours ago, as I was weeding and clipping and deadheading, I was accosted by an invisible enemy. I still don’t know what it was – prime suspect is a fire ant – but my right ankle became red, swollen and itchy like nothing’s ever been itchy before. What a nuisance! The swelling made the skin so taut that it burst in several places and I rubbed inches of it off before it subsided. Now, 3 days after the incident, the swelling and itching have somewhat abated, but the redness is still very noticeable. This morning, I wore socks inside my crocs in my garden, just in case. Imagine, socks in a Georgia garden on a day when the temperature is going to be in the 90s!

I’m happy to share my space; grasshoppers, spiders and ladybugs live in my garden, the bumblebees are feasting on my Lavender, the dreaded Japanese beetles will begin showing up soon, and I’ve already seen three black widow spiders so far this year, but it’s the miserable fire ants that make me wonder if a hazmat suit for gardeners could be a viable business concept. Just kidding!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Black & Blue Salvia

I did not go looking for another Salvia last Saturday (I needed a few more petunias for one of the borders), but when I saw a gorgeous display of Black & Blue Salvias, I had to have one; this makes the ninth Salvia/Sage variety in my garden. It's in the foreground in this photograph, not yet fully in blooom, and it is a bit overwhelmed by the chocolate Hollyhock right behind it, but it is a very attractive plant, looks strong and healthy, and I'm counting on it to be a focal point in my garden for years to come. Oh, yeah, the petunias -- I got them also; pictures to follow!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Gaura is another plant I like a lot; bought just a year ago, at the Master Gardener plant sale at the UGA Trial Gardens, it survived last Summer's drought beautifully and has grown substantially.
This Mystic Spires Blue Salvia is surrounded by English Ivy, Rosemany, Daylilies and Lavender.
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Favorite Plants

It occurred to me, when I started my current garden nearly four years ago, that I should focus on one specific plant or variety and "get really good at it". When I mentioned this to a local grower, he suggested Daylilies - beautiful, easy to grow, "you can't kill them", and abundant producers of blooms. When I bought my first three plants from him, his gift to me was a tiny Lavender. I now have about a dozen Daylilies in my garden (Chinese Princess, Russian Rhapsody, Chicago Knockout and others, including a few surprises from a plant rescue mission last winter), but it was that little Lavender that really attracted me. It is now about four feet in diameter and about to bloom for the fourth year in a row. I've added other Lavenders over the years, but it's only been the "Provence" that has done well. Nevertheless, when the oldest of them began to sprawl too much last year, with opening centers, I decided to make something else my favorite plant and began looking into Salvia. I already had Blue Salvia and Common Sage in my landscape, but added Russian Sage and Pineapple Sage last year - both doing well - and finished the collection up earlier this year with East Friesland Sage, Argentina Blue Sage, Mystic Spires Blue Salvia and Salvia May Night.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Ready-Made vs. the Easy-does-It Gardener

I have a friend who early every Spring (sometimes too early – a sin we all commit from time to time) visits one of the Big Box stores in the area, hauls way an SUV full of large, blooming plants, puts them in containers around her deck, or gets someone to plant them in her landscape, and she is done for the year. She is a Ready-Made Gardener.

By contrast, I am an Easy-does-It Gardener, by which I mean that I start with the smallest plants I can find, not yet in bloom (this can result in some surprises a few weeks later!), or take tiny cuttings – inadvertent ones sometimes, when I break something off a plant and don’t want to throw the tiny thing away – and watch to see them grow, week after week. Or die. Yes, that happens also. More often than not, though, the little things manage to survive, begin to thrive and provide months or years of joy. A case in point is Sedum Autumn Joy. I found three pathetic, half-dead orphans on a hidden shelf at a nursery a few years ago and now have seven large, gorgeous plants in my garden – and have given away at least half a dozen more.

It does not matter if you are a Ready-Made or an Easy-does-It Gardener; what matters is that you enjoy working in your garden and the results of your work. Here’s a picture of the chocolate Hollyhock that has just started on bloom on the South side of my house. A biennial, this plant is one of six announcing their presence this year, four years after I put the first seeds in the soil. Go figure!

Friday, May 9, 2008


The rain gods parked themselves over my house and garden last night and bestowed their generosity on us. I found a freshly filled rain barrel this morning, a vibrant garden and even if the soil was not exactly drenched, my plants certainly shared the appreciation I felt. More rain to come on Sunday . . . .? We hope so!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Planet in Peril?

That’s not a “typo”. I did mean to write “planet”, not “plant”, but it does all come down to the same thing. How many plant species can we afford to lose, how much “greenhouse gas” can we absorb, how much converted fossil fuel can we afford to spew into the air, before our planet becomes irreversibly damaged?

On Saturday I attended a lecture by noted botanical photographer and master naturalist Debra H. Davis, followed by a walk in the woods, where we looked for and found a number of the wildflowers she had talked about and of which she had shown us some of her beautiful images.

The Strawberry Bush (Euonymus americanus) was beginning to show buds, as is also the case with the one I have in my garden. Violets were everywhere, as were the aptly-named Flame Azaleas (Rhododendron calendulaceum), as well as Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) not yet in bloom, and we saw one Beetleweed (Galax urceolata) with a flower spike and bunches that will no doubt develop blooms in the weeks to come. In a microenvironment, there were more than half a dozen Pink Lady’s Slippers (Cypripedium acaule) in their palest finery. We were told their color deepens over time, and learned that the Laurel Ridge spot in which we saw them (perhaps 20x30 feet) has been followed by Debra and her husband, Larry, for nearly 11 years, mainly to watch how well they are reproducing at the Conservation Center in a designated area.

Part of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Smithgall Woods is a hidden treasure. And that may not be a bad thing for its diverse and in some cases rare flora.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Benefits of a web site – not to mention a blog!

Many growers, plant nursery owners and landscape professionals either do not have a web site at all or have one that is poorly put together and basically just “sits there”, without bringing any benefits to the site’s owner.

Lately, I have begun asking nursery owners about their web sites and what they’re getting out of them. This came to me from Patricia Dunleavy of Pinebush Nursery in Ila, Georgia:

“Our web site is geared towards educating the visitor, both about what our nursery has to offer and about landscape plants in general. Customer comments indicate that its nature and its general “feel” encourage them to come to our nursery to shop.”

That’s a tangible benefit!

Others, though, have told me they have no plans for having a web site, they are not “tech savvy”, they have a site but don’t have time to keep it updated, or they can’t afford a web site. Too bad, especially perhaps in the nursery business, where selling seasons are short, where “a picture is worth a thousand words” is so very true, and for which it should be a no-brainer that in an era of high gas prices customers check out web sites before they hop in their vehicles to go and buy an addition to their landscape.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


As a member of the Garden Writers Association, I am constantly receiving product samples or press releases about new products, and I encounter new – and not necessarily better – products at garden shows.

Two that came to my attention recently are a synthetic pine straw and a pine straw imitation, made of wood. Why in the world, especially with today’s emphasis on all things “green”, anyone would want to put plastic “pine straw” in their garden is a mystery to me. The other product, chopped ribbons of wood that have been colored and made to look like pine straw, does not appeal to me much either. What positive contribution does all this “processing” make to our environment that natural pine straw, abundantly available, does not make? Rather the opposite, it would seem to me.

Now let me tell you about two products I do like! A year ago, one of my children gave me a beautiful planter, with a center Cordyline, several geraniums and some other plants in it, two of which have weathered the Winter very nicely. The container had a coconut liner from AquaSav and I can tell you that it worked. The planter needed substantially less water than my clay pots, and somewhat less than my plastic pots. The other “product” I like is actually a collection of art – shirts, cushions, totes, aprons and other items from Joseph’s Colours. Not only are these gorgeous items, it also impressed me that their prices are not any higher than the ubiquitous mass-produced clothing and decorative pieces one encounters in many tourist gift shops.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day 2008

The first time I visited the Mayan ruins of Copán, in Western Honduras, I was told that it had been a prosperous settlement for 400 years and then, suddenly, almost overnight, the civilization collapsed and the site was abandoned. “And”, the guide said, “nobody knows why.”

Well, I know! And it does not take a degree in sociology or anthropology. They fouled their nest! As the population grew and resources were depleted, and the heaps of garbage piled up, Copán became uninhabitable.

The United States, at the beginning of the 21st century, comprises about 5% of the world population, it uses 25% of the world’s resources and it contributes 32% of the world’s waste. No, our civilization is not about to collapse and certainly our families will still live here for hundreds of years. Thousands? Less certain. And our planet? The picture is not pretty. No wonder NASA and other government and private institutions talk about colonizing the moon and Mars . . . !

So, today is Earth Day 2008. What are you doing today to preserve Earth and life on it? I’ve just come inside from planting a beautiful Juniper I received yesterday, adding to the mini forest I have been creating in my garden for the past four years.

You can plant a tree or shrub today also, or, if you don’t have time, send a dollar to The Nature Conservancy, for its “Plant a Billion Trees” project:

Happy Earth Day!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Looking for Joe Pye

The book that made me a gardener (see “profile”, on the right), contained a number of “must-have” plants that I pursued with a passion when I got ready to establish my current garden, nearly four years ago. Almost none appealed to me more than Joe Pye Weed, a plant I had until then never even heard of, but it still took me more than two years of visiting local nurseries to find one (at Land Arts, Monroe, Georgia). I almost did not buy it. It was too tall, scraggly and ugly, with the leaves on its bottom two feet of stem brown and shriveled up. Despite its appearance, I did buy it and while it didn’t do much to enhance my garden that first year (2006), it came back nicely last year – big, bushy and attracting lots of butterflies. No wonder I eagerly anticipated its appearance this year. Three weeks ago I was at Land Arts again, so see if they had a supply of Joe Pyes again (not yet!) and to ask if it was unusual that I had not seen a trace of my plant yet (no – too early, too cold). Sure enough, I began detecting tiny reddish pimples coming out of the ground shortly thereafter and today they and others have grown, turned green and are hopefully lifting themselves up towards the sun. My 2006 Joe Pye Weed is sending up more than 3 dozen shoots this year, in a 15-inch circle, and I can’t wait for it to grow and attract butterflies again this summer. At a plant clinic a colleague and I conducted a few weeks ago, I mentioned Joe Pye Weed to everyone who asked about butterfly gardens. No one had heard of it, but I hope at least some have gone looking for it and are now adding it to their landscapes. It’s not particularly drought-friendly (in fact, it needs lots of water), but once you’ve got one in your garden, it’s hard to imagine ever doing without it again.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Useful Service

Acquaintances who moved to the Atlanta area from "up north" a few years ago bought a stately old house, with a large garden. It was March and green things started to emerge from the soil all around the house, and they had no idea what they were dealing with. "This looks like an Aster, or maybe it's a Daylily - who knows?"

Master Gardeners typically do know. But not many of them travel all around the area to look at little green things popping up in gardens and telling the homeowners what they've got and how to take care of it. Recently, I found someone who does! Shannon Pable in Buford has a landscape design business and plant IDing is one of the services she provides her clients. Check out her web site and get in touch with her, if you need help.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

I've got my Poppies!

Both yesterday and this morning, I visited the Hall County (Georgia) Garden Expo - wonderful event! - and was reminded of a valuable lesson all gardeners are aware of: if you see what you want for your garden, better buy it then and there, because if you wait, it could well be too late!

What I saw yesterday, at the Between Nursery booth, were some gorgeous Poppy plants. I decided to walk around for a bit, interview a vendor or two for my gardening column for the Georgia Asian Times, come back, buy a few and go home. Well, by the time I returned, they were all gone! But . . . . ., assuming the nursery would have a fresh supply today, I went back early this morning and, sure enough, they were just being readied for off-loading from the truck. As I was carrying the flat from the truck to the booth, other gardeners came and admired the plants also. Well, I got the three I wanted, but less than five minutes later, there was only one remaining in the display! Such popularity!

If you're in the market to add to your landscape, here is my list of the expo's most beautiful plants: Blue Spruce, Montgomery, dwarf (Bannister Creek Nursery, Duluth, Georgia), Rhododendron canescens, Varnadoe's Pink (McMahan's Nursery, Clermont, Georgia) and Heuchera, Amethyst Mist (Greenspot Nursery, Gillsville, Georgia).

North Georgia readers who missed this expo only have to wait a few months for the next one; it will be held on September 13 and the details will no doubt soon show up on the organizers' web site.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Thriving after the drought of 2007

Now that April is approaching its mid point and the danger of a late frost is almost certainly gone, it’s been interesting to take stock of my garden and see what has not only survived last year’s drought, but is actually thriving.

The Daylilies and Bearded Irises have never looked better. The first two blooms in the latter group are about to burst open. Also doing well are my Gaura, Foxglove and an assortment of Daisies. The Yarrow is greening up nicely and there are Lupines popping up all over the place. All three varieties of Mint are providing beautiful green colors to my landscape and the Monarda is making itself known all over the place. My Phlox (Robert Poore, the best I’ve ever grown) looks strong and the Russian Sage and blue Salvia are coming along nicely. The Scabiosa has already sent up half a dozen buds, the Gaillardia is emerging from its winter sleep and the Lithodora has been in bloom since late February (a huge plant now, but only one survivor of the three originally installed in 2006). Still elusive this early in the season are my Joe Pye Weed, the purple and yellow Lantana, a Pineapple Sage that was gorgeous last October, and the Mexican Petunias. Patience, right?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

This morning, Kip Creel, President of the market research firm Stand Point, had both good and bad news for the gardening industry.

Speaking at the Winter Green conference of the Georgia Green Industry Association, he told his audience that garden retailers have observed that “the consumer is a little different” today, as compared with ten years or so ago, but they don’t know what that difference signifies or how to deal with it. Most still market to gardening hobbyists, who comprise only 4.6% of the population and in 2006 spent only an average of $250 on their favorite pastime. Nevertheless, in that year (the most recent for which figures are available), some 80 million U.S. households (out of a total of 120 million) bought something gardening-related, e.g. a plant, a bag of fertilizer or a landscape design. New homeowners, contrasting hobbyists, spend on average close to $9,000 in the first year to define their outdoor living space, starting with a fence, a patio or deck and landscaping.

Today, Creel mentioned, consumers spend more money on services (e.g. landscaping) than on products (e.g. plants), and they do more buying at Big Box stores than at independent nurseries. A decline from 35% to 22% in the frequenting of the latter has been observed over the past ten years. Gen X-ers in particular are of the opinion that “it all comes from the same source anyway”, so why not just pick up a plant when you’re already at WalMart for a pair of pliers, a bottle of mouthwash and a box of tissues?

The good news for garden retailers is that if they are aware of the demographic trends, they can offer their prospective customers what they are looking for: affordable design services, plants that are well-tagged, showrooms (“Gardens To Go”?) and knowledge – exactly what one does not find at the Big Box stores. Even more good news: the population segment that should be a garden retailer’s prime target (between 20 and 44 years of age), is expected to begin increasing substantially again from 2010 on.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I've just turned in my February gardening column to the Georgia Asian Times and realized that GATimes's web site does not include most of the content of its print publication, including my gardening column. I wrote about the Hall County (Georgia) Spring Garden Expo, April 11 and 12, the late winter and early spring workshop and lecture schedule of Hills and Dales Estate, in LaGrange, and an intriguing park, with gardens, walking trails and picnic areas, near the Georgia coast, in Richmond Hill. And I recommended a few books gardeners in the grip of a dreary winter day may enjoy. Since you cannot find the column on-line (I've got to take this up with my editor . . . .!), let me know if you would like to read it and I'll send it to you.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Shortly after buying my current house, “in the country”, I was having lunch with my friend Pat Bowen. We talked about the excitement of decorating a new house – and about downsizing, which naturally comes along with children growing up and establishing households of their own – and I remarked to her that, perhaps more than looking forward to home decorating, I was thrilled with the opportunity of establishing a new garden. She said she loves gardening also and had learned a lot since becoming a Master Gardener. “What”, I asked her, “is a Master Gardener?” She explained it to me, along with the process of becoming one. I went home, did a Web search, found out where to apply, applied, was accepted into the program, completed it, passed the tests, served my internship and got my certification – all within two years’ time.

So, quite by accident, I am now a Certified Georgia Master Gardener!

Having been a writer “for ever”, it seemed to me that gardening and writing were two easily combined skills, so I became a gardening columnist, first for the Barrow-Jackson Journal (now defunct) and since late 2006 for the Georgia Asian Times. Great fun, very enjoyable!

Today, it is snowing in North Georgia, and 2008 gardening is still a distant dream. But, in a few weeks the daffodils should begin popping through the soil, buds will start to swell on some shrubs and gardening tools will be inspected and then sharpened or discarded and replaced.

Come back to this spot every so often, and I’ll let you know what happens in my garden. Do share your garden with me and the other readers of this blog also. We can all learn from each other and thus create better, more beautiful gardens.