10 plants I must have in my Southern Garden

As I am starting to read Uprooted, a book written by a woman who left her garden of 34 years and moved to another state to start a new garden, friends and I recently discussed the benefits of downsizing our homes and starting smaller gardens.

Goodnight Moon Iris by Connie Cottingham

Goodnight Moon Iris

My thoughts wandered to “If I started a garden from scratch, what plants would have to be included? What are my top ten must-have plants to bring into a new garden?” That’s an interesting, fun exercise.

Here are my answers – what would be yours?

Passalong Bulbs
Passalong plants are easy to grow, easy to propagate plants that are true performers. There is a great book with this name by Felder Rushing and Steve Bender, describing the virtues of several passalong plants in the South. Included in those plants are many bulbs. My  ‘Uncle John Iris’ (actually a very common antique burgundy iris that grew in my father’s uncle’s garden) and my mother’s variegated iris would have to move. I also must have my favorite iris – ‘Goodnight Moon’Spider lilies and Johnson lilies, daffodils, crocus…  And rain lilies – I could not have a garden without rain lilies. A few of the Spanish bluebells that bloom each year on Darwin the beagle’s grave must move too.  I have to put all the bulbs together on this list or I will get to ten before I really get started.

Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)
Our native Oakleaf Hydrangea is regal, architectural and bold. She puts on a show in every season. In winter, she has peeling bark on bare branches. New foliage emerges in spring and grows into huge oak-shaped leaves. The large bloom clusters are white, then red, then brown and the fall color is a gorgeous russet.

Native Azaleas
Azaleas are beautiful, but our native azaleas are delicate and tall. The natural, airy form is perfect in a woodland garden. Georgia has about a dozen species of native azaleas, and breeders are creating lovely varieties.

Native Fringe Tree,  Grancy Graybeard (Chionanthus virginicus)
This small native tree has creamy-white blooms that sway in the breeze before the spring foliage emerges, which is enough to rank high on my list. But wait, there’s more:  golden fall color, deer resistance, and incredible drought resistance (once established).

Japanese Sedge

Japanese Sedge (Carex oshimensis Evercolor ‘Everillo’)
This foot-high, chartreuse clump of grass-like foliage in my shade garden is ready to divide into a half-dozen plants. This plant brightens my shade garden and accents a small statue. I can only imagine the impact a half-dozen plants will make.

Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica)
Bright red buds open to vivid yellow/red flowers on this deep green, 12-18″ high shade-loving, native perennial.

Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.)
Spring blooms, fresh fruit, and red fall color on a native plant that is a host to spring azures, brown elfins, striped hairstreaks, and several moths. Best to have three plants for cross-pollination.

Oh – I do love these heat, deer, and drought-resistant fall bloomers!

Crimson Candles Camellia (Camellia x ‘Crimson Candles’)
This camellia stands above the rest in my mind, which is why there are 3-4 in our garden now. The branches are absolutely covered in pink blooms that stand out against the evergreen fall foliage around Feb./March. Ours are about 8’ tall and about 4’ wide. It is recommended as a screening hedge.

Gingko (Gingko biloba)
For many sentimental reasons, I would always want a Gingko tree in my garden.

It surprised and pleased me that over half of my choices are native plants.

What else could I not live without? My outside tables, where I can write, paint or dine and use an eclectic collection of thrift shop tableclothes. Outside living spaces add so much to a home.

Tula Hats by Connie Cottingham

Tula hats hang by my back door.

A hammock (although posts may have to support it while the trees grow), the potting bench my father built me several decades ago, my collection of Tula hats, my Felco pruners, my Zero-R hoses, a rain gauge, my gardening library… and lots and lots of bird feeders.

I’d love to hear about something that you could not imagine leaving out of your garden.

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, TN

Last night we watched The Mountain Minor, a recent Indie movie celebrating Appalachian culture and music that won awards in several film festivals. The mountain scenery and bluegrass music reminded me of a recent day trip to Bristol, Tennessee, about a half-hour from Johnson City or 1-1/2 hours from Asheville.

In 1998, the U.S. Congress designated Bristol as the “Birthplace of Country Music”. This is where the 1927 Bristol Sessions happened, called “the Big Bang of Country Music”. To put 1927 in perspective, the first newscast radio broadcast was in 1920, the Grand Ole Opry started its radio broadcast in 1923. Lindberg made his flight from New York to Paris and The Jazz Singer marked the end of the silent film era in 1927. World War I and the influenza pandemic were recent memories and the stock market crash that started the Great Depression was two years in the future. Radios and record players were increasingly popular.

Birthplace of Country Music Museum

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum celebrates “The Big Bang of Country Music”. Photo by Connie Cottingham.

To find new music, Ernest Peer set off on a two-month rail journey with his wife, two engineers and portable recording equipment. It wasn’t the first excursion to find regional music, but it was the first to use a microphone instead of a horn, which produced clearer recordings and allowed more instruments to be heard (like the softer dulcimer). The first stop of this journey was Bristol. Seventy-six songs were recorded in two weeks, including the first recordings of Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family. Many of the 19 recording groups sang gospel music. Fifty dollars was paid for original songs. The Library of Congress included the Bristol Sessions among the 50 most significant sound recording events of all time.


The warehouse where these recordings were made is long gone, but The Birthplace of Country Music Museum is nearby. This Smithsonian affiliate museum is filled with theaters, artifacts and interactive displays, as well as a working radio station which can be streamed.

Country music often played in my father’s orchid greenhouse and in his truck as I was growing up in the 60s and 70s. Can’t say I am a major fan of Jimmie Rodgers, but I am certainly familiar with his work. I was surprised to see an interactive exhibit at the museum featuring “Single Girl, Married Girl”. That is a song I often heard sung by the Athens, GA, folk group The Solstice Sisters. Turns out, it was one of the songs recorded by The Carter Family during The Bristol Sessions. The exhibit lets you hear the song in three tracks, demonstrating what it would sound like with different mixtures of tracks or only one track.

Another exhibit offers the same song recorded with the old recording method of singing into a horn verses recording with the new Western Electric microphone. The difference in clarity and the exhibit text make it obvious why the recording method was one of the key reasons that the Bristol Sessions were a game changer.

Eighteen year old Maybelle Carter was seven months pregnant with her first child when she traveled from Poor Valley, Virginia. With her were her inexpensive guitar that she taught herself to play, her cousin Sara, and Sara’s husband (who promised to weed a corn patch if Maybelle would join them). Maybelle added mainly harmony and her unique style on guitar. The Carter Family would end up releasing over 300 songs in the 16 years they stayed together. Later Maybelle performed with her three daughters as Mother Maybelle & the Carter Sisters. As the first prominent female instrumentalist in commercial country music  and one who mentored may country music stars (including her son-in-law Johnny Cash), she was inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame in1970 and Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2001.

That year also started a music festival in held every September in downtown Bristol TN/VA (the state line runs right down the middle of State Street. In 2021, the 20th Anniversary Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion lasted three days, with over 100 bands on 13 stages.

Thanks to the festival and museum, plus a unique two-state town with double the state, city, arts districts, etc. working together, downtown Bristol is vibrant, and well worth visiting.

I also heard many recommendations to see the holiday light show at the nearby Bristol Motor Speedway during this trip hosted by East Tennessee TourismVisit Johnson City and Southern Travelers Explore.


Too hot to garden? Stream these movies and virtual tours.

Note: This was sent out as a weekly Love Notes From the Garden email in August 2021. 

I get it – you think it is too hot and too buggy to go into the garden. Well, it IS August. The only pleasant time in the garden is early morning. That is inconvenient if you are not a morning person or have other commitments (like, um, a job.)

I have rescheduled my calendar to spend tomorrow morning in the garden pulling weeds. Yesterday’s generous rain has softened the Georgia clay brick and done most of the watering for me. Over three hours last week was spent hand watering, that much again harvesting figs. So the mornings last week were not even weeding, mulching, pruning or planting, but keeping my garden watered and harvested. Well, it IS August.

Do find time to water, fill bird feeders and birdbaths and apply deer spray. Then go inside if you want. Forget daytime TV, forget Netflix, take a look at some gardening that can stream into your air-conditioned home:

  • Have you heard of Heygo? These are live virtual tours around the world. Feel free to ask questions as you are watching. They are free, just tip through Apple Pay or Paypal or a credit card. That is how your tour guide earns money. During August they are concentrating on garden tours – how fun is that?
  • Public gardens worldwide are still streaming classes and talks. I have added a few events on my online calendar, so keep an eye on that for ideas.
  • Here are a few of my favorite websites to find online classes and virtual tours. If any truly speak to you, sign up for their newsletter and follow on social media.
    • Facebook events may be awkward at first, but it won’t take long for them to figure out which events would interest you.
    • The Garden Conservancy has had so many great talks this past year that I bought a membership to support them and get a discount on talks. Their summers are filled with in-person garden tours, but I expect the amazing virtual talks will return in the fall. There is a four-part Gardens for a Changing World series from 2020 available to view.
    • England’s National Garden Scheme offers virtual garden tours.
    • Eventbrite, where I follow organizations (The National Trust) and use hashtags (#garden_history, #gardening) This is a great rabbit hole to find interesting online programs but beware of: (1) the time zone in which the event happens (I have watched some at 5 a.m. EST), (2) if recordings will be available or must be watched at a certain time, (3) the organizer, not Eventbrite)  sends out information on how to watch and that can end up in my Gmail trash folder, so give yourself time to log on.
    • OK, do Netflix or Amazon Prime or whatever. Some recommendations:
      • Netflix – The Big Flower Fight
      • Amazon Prime – The Great Gardens of England, Churchill’s Secret (set in Chartwell, his wonderful home, garden, art studio – and it is a good movie), The Gardener (2018, Frank Cabot), Dare to Be Wild (about garden designer Mary Reynolds)
      • Amazon Prime (OK, I have not seen these yet, but they are were added to my list as I was researching this) – Beatrix Farrand’s American Landscapes, Hummingbirds with David Attenborough, Intelligent Trees
      • Britbox – I have not subscribed yet, but friends say this is rich in British gardening shows and coverage of last month’s Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.
      • Growing Floret, a new reality show on the Magnolia Network via discovery+. I enjoyed this interview with Erin Benzakein of Floret Flower Farm
      • YouTube is full of interesting films. Crazy about a certain garden, garden nursery, garden magazine, or garden personality? – just enter those names in the search bar to find videos you love, like Christopher Lloyd and Rosemary Very strolling through Great Dixter. The New York Botanical Garden not only has great lectures, but children’s storytimes and backyard botany. Browsing National Trust videos is always wonderful.

Or plan a tea party. England’s National Garden Scheme is launching The Great British Garden Party. During the week of 14th – 20th September, the charity is inviting everyone to host an event in their garden. Invite a few friends over, ask them to make a donation and send the money to NGS. They are raising funds for nursing, including a way for people to put on virtual reality goggles and stroll through gardens from a wheelchair or nursing home bed.

Sorry, I did get lost in this Love Note to you. If you made it this far I am flattered. I hope you stay cool, enjoy your garden, and get something from this list (but not an addiction to YouTube – nobody needs that).

Thank you for subscribing to and reading Love Notes From the Garden.

Love, Connie

Discovering downtown Melbourne, Florida, on the Space Coast

Discovering Melbourne was a surprise benefit of helping my aunt move in Florida. So was a glass of wine and conversation with her on a hotel balcony overlooking Melbourne Beach to celebrate accomplishing our goals. We deserved a toast!

The week-long trip started with outdoor dining on a breezy summer evening and a fresh salad with fried goat cheese and a ginger dressing – lovely start after an eight-hour drive. I happened upon Matt’s Casbah across the street from Hotel Melby after checking in.  I keep having a fantasy of sketching outside in a downtown café while traveling and here I was – doing just that. I sketched Hotel Melby from my table as I sipped a cocktail and waited on my salad – not a great sketch, but literally living a fantasy.

Two of the seven nights were in a hotel on the beach, but saved a lot of money by spending most of my week at the new Hotel Melby in downtown Melbourne. Both Hotel Melby stays included fun views, spacious rooms with high ceilings and (as a Hilton Gold member) continental breakfast on the rooftop – a charming way to start the mornings. For night owls, the rooftop is a popular bar with a breeze and a view. My room’s waterfront view included a view of the Melbourne Harbor and frequent trains going through downtown. The sound of a train whistle brought me to the window every time, delighting my inner five-year-old.

Early morning walks in downtown Melbourne, FL, can take you to vibrant murals, window shopping (so budget friendly before the stores open at 10 a.m.!), a waterfront promenade where manatees may swim by, a yacht harbor and public parks (where you can find benches under oaks or with a water view, a dock, shore birds out for a stroll, even a yoga class). My aunt and I enjoyed a Sunday brunch with a water view and 99 cent mimosas at The Chart House near the Melbourne Harbor.

My three favorite downtown shops were all in a row and conveniently right within a block of Hotel Melby – in the 700 block of E. New Haven Avenue.

My three favorite downtown shops were all in a row and conveniently right within a block of Hotel Melby – in the 700 block of E. New Haven Avenue.

My favorite shop has to be Let’s Plant It! – described as an interactive plant store (and you know I love interacting with plants). It is a clever tropical plant store with several potting benches where you can fill a planter or terrarium with your plant selections. The staff is happy to help and, bless them, patient as Mike and I browsed the entire shop via FaceTime. He was speaking in Latin plant names as I handed off plants to go home with me, including a dwarf zizi, a string of hearts, and a philodendron with huge Swiss-cheese holes in each leaf. I returned after he reviewed a photo that I had texted him and implored that I “must go back” for one more plant.

Beside it was Karen & Friends Bead and Craft Boutique. The owner does metalwork and design and cuts some of the stone beads. The store is large and includes many pieces of affordable, unique jewelry as well as beads and supplies. I bought three pair of earrings plus supplies to make earrings and necklaces at home.

The third is the Molly Mutt II thrift shop, raising funds for a local humane society. I walked out with a stack of 25 cent cooking magazines, but could see that every future visit could hold unique treasures.

I must admit, as much as I love a morning walk on the beach and listening to the ocean from a balcony, I was excited to return downtown for one night more before returning home. Hotel Melby is my new go-to for future visits with my aunt on the Space Coast.

Note: This was a non-hosted trip in June 2021. 

Sun 101 – Understanding sun patterns in your garden

June 20 was the Summer Solstice, the longest (most sunlight hours) day of 2021 for us in the Northern Hemisphere. Understanding where the sun is in your garden is very important. I am amazed at how many people cannot point east in their garden. When I ask where the sun rises each morning, some people cannot answer that.

So let’s have a short Sun 101 course. You may find this useful to share with a new homeowner. Since the sun moves through the sky on annual and daily cycles it takes a year to get to know a garden’s shade patterns and microclimates.

When the sun is the hottest.

My go-to weather app is DarkSky, which includes temps, feels-like temps, the chance of rain, wind speed and direction, and more in their hourly forecast. The hottest part of a summer day in my garden is not High Noon; it is 3-5 p.m. It often doesn’t cool back down to the temperature it was at noon until after dark.

Where the sun rises and sets.

On the Summer Solstice, the sun is highest in the sky and rising and setting at its furthest north. How far north the sun appears and when the sun rises and sets depends on where you are geographically. You see, the Earth rotates around the sun, but it tilts at an angle (23.5°), making the sun appear to be moving from the Northern Hemisphere in our summer to the Southern Hemisphere in our winter. People living on the equator do not notice a difference in day lengths (12 hours of day, 12 hours of night year-round), but the further you live from the equator, the more dramatic the seasonal changes in day length. There are two days a year when almost all of us see the sun rise due east and set due west – around March 20/21 and Sept. 22/23, the first day of spring and fall. Luckily, this is my father’s birthday and my mother’s birthday, so it is very easy for me to remember.

One year I visited England in late June. While I was used to sunrise at 6:30 a.m. and sunset around 8:45 p.m., mush further north in Kent, England it was daylight for morning coffee outside by 4:45 a.m. and still light enough for a conversation on a garden bench after 9:30 p.m. Find sunrise and sunset times for your location at timeanddate.com.

In winter the sun is lower in the sky and sunrises and sunsets at their furthest south. In Kent the sun sets before 4 p.m. – yikes!

Sun angles

In summer the sun is higher in the sky at midday than it is in winter and that varies by location too. This is why neighborhood homes all have similar eaves; they are designed to both shade from the high summer sun and allow in the warming lower winter sunlight. That lower winter sun also means that shade patterns in winter are much different than shade patterns this week. Also, many trees drop their leaves in winter with some leafing back out earlier than others. My pecan tree takes its sweet time leafing out in spring; it is May before it is casting full shade.

Defining shade.

What is part shade? Oh, that is a tricky question. Here in hot Georgia, prime garden real estate is a spot that gets cooler morning sun and is shaded after 1 pm or so. If a spot is the opposite – shaded all morning and wicked hot sun from 2 p.m. on – that needs a full sun plant. My west side is like that, and I have learned that the strongest plants for that area include aster, rosemary, oregano, lantana, dwarf yaupon holly, crape myrtle, and daylily. Even the salvia often wilts there. But daffodils, who show up in cooler spring and fully retreat in summer, thrive in that area too.

Light coming through a tree canopy is dappled shade, which can be a great place to be a plant. Just keep in mind the tree that shades a plant also has dibs on water during a dry spell. Little plants below may struggle for moisture.

Protecting you from the sun.

Tula hats hang by my back door.

You need to be aware of the sun on you too. We all want some Vitamin D, but too much can do a number on your skin and your body. Please use sunscreen and a hat and drink plenty of water. I am loyal to Tula Hats, available at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia gift shop. Some of mine are well over 10 years old.

Know the symptoms of heatstroke and that there actually is such a thing as sun poisoning. A shirt that protects your skin can be cooler than a tank top. If you are sweating the absorbed moisture can help cool you. If not wearing a collar, I wear a bandana around my neck to stay cooler and stop the back of my neck from turning red.

Keep your phone on you when you are outside in case something happens. When I was little, Mom would send me outside to the garden periodically with a glass of lemonade for Dad. It was later that I figured out that was how she was covertly checking up on him. If you are a gardener I hope that someone is peering out the window to check up on you.


It was quite a challenge to find a website that clearly explains the sun paths. You don’t have to understand all of this, just know that the sun moves up and down, and north and south with the seasons and that shade and heat are different at different times of the day. Notice what the sun is doing in your garden today. You may want to do a shadow map of your garden, noting where the shadows are at different times of day. A friend printed out her garden map and highlighted the areas in shade. Make sure the time and date are on the map and create a new map every three months (around the 20th of March, June, September and December). You will see very different shadow patterns.

Thanks for reading this to the end. Class dismissed. Hope this helped.

Coreopsis – and bringing new plants into my garden

Leading Lady Coreopsis, conniecottingham.comThese beauties are both from the Leading Lady™ Series of Coreopsis. ‘Iron Lady’ opens up almost completely burgundy, with more white showing on the petals as the flower ages. ‘Sophia’ is a bright, happy yellow.

The Coreopsis genus includes 100 species and a bazillion varieties, many of which have at least two species in the parentage. I cannot claim these are fantastic plants for your garden, because this is the first time they have bloomed for me. The many plants in Mt. Cuba’s Coreopsis trials range from a 4.7 to a 1.2 out of 5 and do not include any of the Leading Ladies. The Leading Lady™ Series does claim to bloom June through September and be heat and humidity resistant plants that are about two feet high. I have seen them listed online (and the Internet never lies, you know) as Coreopsis grandiflora on one site and Coreopsis auriculata on another site (both native to the Southeastern U.S.), although most sources do not attribute this series to one species.

So what is so great about these two leading ladies: ‘Iron Lady’ and ‘Sophia’?

They are beautiful here and now. For the price of a Starbucks coffee, I added these showoffs in my garden last spring because I haven’t grown Coreopsis in years. Now they are inspiring me to pull out art supplies, filling a little vase (I’m about to find out how they do as a cut flower), and feeding insects. They quietly grew for a year before this show-stopping bloom. Will they do this again next year? Coreopsis are known to be short-lived perennials so maybe for another year or so. A colony of native species of Coreopsis often reseed.

But if I only have now that is fine. Every year I gamble on a few new plants and when they pay off they are a thrilling surprise. When they truly prove themselves, they are invited back into the garden or related species and hybrids are brought in to try too (hence the many Salvias, Hostas, Hydrangeas, Ajugas and Viburnums in my garden).

Other plants that have proven their worth:

Cleome Señorita Rosalita® and Señorita Blanca® – During the worst summer drought, when the hoses only went to the most cherished plants, these two annuals never stopped blooming while all the other plants in that bed died. I now become a salesperson when I see them in a nursery, convincing anyone who will listen they MUST have these plants.

Epimediums – Deer, drought, deep shade… bring it on. The easiest to find in this area is ‘Pink Champagne’, a sturdy perennial with delicate early, early spring blooms.

Fanflower – All the annual hanging baskets look good in May. This one also looks good in August and September, in baskets and at the edge of the sidewalk.

Poppies – Last fall I dumped all my outdated Poppy seed packets into a 4’x8’ raised bed. They looked amazing for months and are still blooming, although a bit ragged. I am keeping them there to harvest the seed and am sure to plant again each fall (without having to buy more seed). Plant them where you can enjoy them from the windows because they do not last in a vase.

Fennel, dill, parsley, and butterfly weed – Because they do increase the butterfly population if you let the caterpillars eat the foliage.

Hydrangea paniculata – Hydrangeas in summer that glow in full sun. These are so treasured that they are the first to get deer spray.

Asters – My newest obsession, offering fall blooms and deer resistance. Many are native. These are among the few plants that thrive in the hot, neglected, compacted-clay, brutal full-sun, west-facing bed. Cut the plants back by half in June for compact plants with more branching and more flowers, instead of having them flop everywhere.

I could go on and on. These favorite plants came into my garden as inheritances, gifts, recommendations, samples, whims and gambles. I have killed a lot of plants. I have cut down a few shrubs and am cursing and fighting some invasive plants. But I am always trying a few new plants and hope you are doing the same in your garden. Maybe these Coreopsis plants will join the list, maybe not. In the meantime, I’m pulling out my art supplies.

Note: This was originally written as a weekly Love Notes From the Garden.  Subscribe to these weekly emails on this website.

Bullington Gardens – Hendersonville, NC

Notes: A photo journal follows the summary. Always check with a garden’s website to find the most current information.

Visited:  April 1-2, 2021 (temperatures dipped at this time, causing some freeze damage to blooming apple trees in the area)

Location:  95 Upper Red Oak Trail, Henderson, NC

Website:  bullingtongardens.org

Admission/parking fee:  Free admission and parking.

Accessibility:  Accessible parking is beside the main building (house). Almost all of the garden is very accessible, but not the sloping woodland nature trail.

Gift shop:  None

Coolest (to me): The impressive older plant specimens, planted decades ago. Discovering little-known plants in the display gardens and Woodland Garden.

Nearby: Take time to go into tree-lined downtown Hendersonville, very pedestrian and full of art galleries, museums, and great places to eat. Do not miss the Hendersonville Visitor Center, where the friendliest people will help find the best area places and activities for you. From downtown, take the winding drive to Jump Off Rock for a panoramic view of several states.

Linda’s Plants & Shrubs (256 Stepp Acres Lane, Hendersonville) is a large garden center with a great view and knowledgeable staff. They grow a large selection of very healthy, full plants. I went home with several perennials, including 3-4 new varieties of ajuga to add to my collection.

Do not miss the Flower Bridge, which I would describe as a North Carolina High Line.

Fairfield Inn & Suites Hendersonville Flat Rock (exit 53 of Interstate 26 West) was a perfect location to head in many directions and the staff could not be better. It is highly rated and, although we didn’t use it, the indoor pool with an accessible chair lift was enticing.

Photo journal:

This garden was started by Bob Bullington, who retired, moved from NYC to Hendersonville, NC, in 1979, and created a nursery and plant collection. Ten years later the land with his house and nursery was given to the county. Bullington Gardens is now an impressive non-profit 501C that works closely with the county’s Cooperative Extension and public schools.

Educational Director John Murphy at the base of a huge Sargent’s Weeping Hemlock tree, probably planted by Bob Bullington in the early 1980s. It doesn’t take long while talking to John to see his love of plants is matched by a dedication to the many area schoolchildren that experience hands-on learning in this garden.

At first the plaza looks like a pleasant place for photos or to sit and chat – and it definitely is…

… then you see the many planting beds, projects, work areas and notebooks of an active school program.

Follow the nature trail through the Native Woodland Garden, maintained by the Western Carolina Botanical Club, to discover Bloodroot, Oconee Bells and more.

Bloodroot blooming in Early April.

I was impressed by the many plants in bloom on the First of April, when I was bundled in a scarf and jacket. I saw many wildflowers, bulbs, flowering almond, Pieris, Helleborus, lungwort…)

The Herb Garden was in its winter state and obviously the Fairy Garden needed to warm up. The popular Fairy Garden opens in June to the delight of many. Warm season plant collections include daylilies and dahlias.

Check the website before visiting. Unlike many public gardens, Bullington Gardens is open Mon-Sat and closed on Sundays.


Porcelain and Decorative Arts Museum at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens

In May 2021 I toured the new Porcelain and Decorative Arts Museum at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens for the third time. Each time is even more fascinating as I notice new things and learn more about the collection. This time I toured with current and potential docents and may     join this group who get to share the stories of items within. Here is a glimpse of what you can see there.

The museum is open for timed ticket access, requiring preregistration here.

These yellow flowers are details from one of several metal sculptures of Southeastern wildflowers by Trailer McQuilkin. This is one of my favorite displays in the museum. If you think the flowers are detailed, wait until you see the base of the sculptures, which includes insects and bits of wood and, well, things you would find beneath each plant. Look even closer – many make a game of finding the artist’s signature.

Did you know that James Audubon, John James Audubon’s second son, was also an artist? Here is an original work by him, located with other bluejays to see how different artists and media interpret the same natural subject. You can see also that contrast of artists and media in groupings of iris, orchids, the Georgia state bird and flower, and more.

Flora Danica is a collection of ten reference books of scientific illustrations of the flora of the Danish empire. It was ordered by the King of Denmark and published by botanist Christian Oeder in the mid to late 1700s. A comprehensive collection of this Flora Danica encyclopedia is on display at this museum.

n 1790, the Danish Crown Prince Frederik had exact copies of the illustrations meticulously hand painted onto a dinner set as a gift for Catherine II of Russia. She died before the set was complete, so the original set stayed in Denmark. Botanical names of each plant were painted on the underside of each piece. Imagine attending a state dinner party, lasting for hours.

The conversation was bound to include a comparison of illustrations on the plates in front of you and the people around you. I definitely would have picked up my plate and read the plant’s scientific name written below. It would have been a disaster if they had served English peas.

Flora Danica porcelain is still in production today as luxury dinnerware. If I know anyone with a set, I suspect they have a premonition that I would spill my peas on the table and not invite me to dinner.

Finally, imagine this at your bedside, your tea staying warm while a bit of glow from the hot coals inside act as a nightlight.

So many treasures, so many stories to hear and learn. So much to look forward to…

State Botanical Garden of Georgia       botgarden.uga.edu
2450 S. Milledge Avenue, Athens, GA 30605      706-542-1244




The Piedmont Garden Tour – learn from the examples and adapt to your garden

Tour informationI love garden tours because they are full of ideas and inspiration. All four gardens in the Piedmont Gardeners Tour this year reflect the owners’ personalities and preferences. How lucky we are that they are sharing their gardens with us on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Details are available on the tour website. Don’t forget to bring a small notebook, sun protection, comfy shoes that can walk on gravel and your water bottle.

Since I will be helping to staff the Brussack garden this Saturday I was able to attend the pre-tour the week before. There are plenty of ideas to glean from these gardens:


Raised garden beds bring veggies to a level that are easier on the gardener, not only to reach but by concentrating the plantings into easy-to-maintain sizes. Constructing raised beds is a wise investment; my raised beds are almost two decades old.

Notice the look and feel of the many materials, edging, shapes and widths of paths. A curving path with garden art draws you forward to discover what is next. Plants should block some of the views to add curiosity and surprise. Groundcover between stepping stones brings you into the garden. Formal lawns and walks are a wonderful contrast to exuberant plantings.

color and whimsey in the garden with a statue and containersAdd your personality with décor, humor, color, and art. Although all four gardens are great examples of this, they do it differently. Gather inspiration, break out into the inevitable smiles, but for your garden you do you.

We all want to (and often do) try one of each plant, but a grouping of several identical plants makes a statement, especially when they are in bloom.

You are experiencing a moment in time. Last week something else was in full bloom. Next week a storm may take a tree or shred leaves. The unexpected surprises and everchanging nature of gardens add to the experience of gardening.

Notes on a few of the MANY plants:deciduous azaleas

Azaleas – Azaleas add so much color in April. Notice the differences between native azaleas and Oriental azaleas. Both are beautiful and colorful, but usually the native azaleas are more graceful and taller, a great plant for woodland gardens. If you can’t tell the difference between the two, ask one of the volunteers – that’s what we are there for.

Clematis – These flowering vines are both dramatic and delicate.

Autumn Fern – This plant is named for the russet color of the new foliage that is displayed now. These gardeners cut back the old foliage in late winter to allow the new foliage to show off as it emerges in spring.

Iris – I saw many colors and at least four species of iris. Some are huge, others delicate, some can take wet soil, others can handle drought. They are not only beautiful, but one plant can soon be divided into a mass, then spread about your garden and traded with gardening friends.

EpimediumEpimedium – OK, I only saw this in the Brussack garden, but the owner is quite the collector. These delicate flowers should be appreciated up close. The plants are among the most tolerant of deer, drought and deep shade.  Epimediums are available in species that are great for the garden, but some of the new cultivars are flat-out stellar. They can be pricey, but worth every penny. One of the best and easiest to find is the fairly new Epimedium ‘Pink Champagne’.

Enjoy your visits to these wonderful gardens!

Sideways Farm & Brewery, North Carolina

Sideways Farm and Brewery by Connie Cottingham

Friendly farm animals are helping to restore the land.

The Carolina Mountains are rich in breweries, cideries and wineries. The quality of the mountain stream water was a deciding factor for Sierra Nevada to locate its Eastern U.S. brewery and taproom in Mills River, NC. That brewery can draw huge crowds; the architecture and beer are reported to be well worth a trip to their brewery. But we heard of a small brewery west of Hendersonville that is also a CSA and U-pick cut flower farm with beehives and a pen of ducks, chickens, goats, and sheep that moves around to transform overfarmed soil. We visited in very early April, so there were no flowers in bloom yet. That’s OK – the animals were fun to visit.

Sideways Farm and Brewery by Connie Cottingham

Plentiful selection of small-batch ales.

“See that couple on the chairs over there? They have been here for hours, just watching the animals.” one of the staff explained. The exterior is not polished, it is calming, which is a nice break after enjoying a few tourist stops. Parents can enjoy a beer at a picnic table while kids are kids.

Sideways brews small batch ales, creating artistic labels. Their ingredients often include plants they grow and honey from their and other local hives. We enjoyed our three samples, plus the jun. Elderberry jun was one of four hard jun kombucha they made that was on the tasting menu. Jun is the champagne of fermented drinks, made with honey and fizzier than kombucha. The elderberry jun was a combination of sweet and sour that was better with each sip. Mike kept drinking that while I enjoyed the stout.

Sideways Farm and Brewery labels by Connie Cottingham

Labels from past batches form a unique wallpaper in the tasting room.

The tasting room and U-pick flower farm are open on weekends, often with a food truck so you can plan lunch or dinner. Beer and hard jun kombucha, plus honey and eggs, are available for purchase. Check SidewaysFarm.com for information. Of course, the flower farm is seasonal.