Large Containers

Hey! – I wrote a guest blog on the Gardeners Confidence website about container gardening.

Mesmerized by Bonsai? Who isn’t?

To me a bonsai has everything wonderful wrapped up together: nature, gardening, history, art, mystery, even spirituality. One speciman reflects years of purpose, of direction that shaped and committment by someone to care for this tree or shrub, to make little adjustments and keep it happy. I truly appreciate the art and love to look at bonsai. If you also like bonsai, then it is well worth it to see the bonsai collection at the Monastery Greenhouse located at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit off Highway 212 in Conyers, Georgia ( But if you want to try to train a bonsai yourself, there are a few classes scheduled that can help you get started:

Bonsai 101 begins at 10:00 am on February 25th at Smith Gilbert Gardens in Kennesaw. The affordable $15 fee includes admission into the gardens. Call 770-919-0248 or visit for more information.

Beginning Bonsai also starts at 10:00 am, but a few weeks later, on March 17th, at Hills & Dales Estate in LaGrange. Each participant will plant and prune a small outdoor bonsai to take home, learn training techniques and get book suggestions. They ask you to bring small pruners if you have them. $35 per person includes garden admission. Pre-registration is required. To register e-mail or call 706-882-3242.

Freshen and Protect your Plantings with Mulch

I’m so lucky to have a long asphalt drive under mature pines, because whenever the pine needles fall I can run out with my rake, scoop up fresh mulch and remulch the front beds. Extra mulch is piled up for later use (and becomes the favorite cat napping spot).

Weeding the ground and mulching your plants for winter has oh-so-many benefits. First, just the action of getting beside each plant long enough to weed (and it doesn’t take that much time) gives you the opportunity to notice what is going on with your plants. Are they ready to divide? In Georgia, now would be a fine time to divide perennials. Would cutting off the spent flowers make it more attractive? Would moving this plant to a different spot be wise?

Second, it looks good – really good. If you want your home looking great for a party or the holidays or, even more important, to make you happy, then a fresh layer of mulch is a quick fix. It unifies the landscape, makes a clear definition between lawn and beds and freshens the whole garden. That and a couple flats of annuals can work wonders.

But mulch can also keep your garden healthy. It’s like putting down the winter blanket for your plants, keeping soil temperatures constant for plant roots (which grow year-round in Georgia). Mulch also stops rain from splashing soil onto the plants, eroding soil, or creating that hard crust that can form on top of soil. It discourages weeds from growing and makes them easier to pull when they do grow.


My Spring Bulb Orders

OK, this was actually written on September 5th for my blog on the Georgia Gardening website, but it is not to late to order those bulbs! Yesterday I drove 1-1/2 hours each way to listen to 1-1/2 hours’ of talks as part of the national Daffodil Society annual meeting – and it was so inspiring and worth it! I have placed 2 of the 3 orders below and was waiting until I attended that meeting to place the third, so I will do that this morning. 

naturalized daffodils

I swear waiting for Hurricane Lee to arrive with much-needed rain for my garden is torture! So to distract myself from looking out the window every 30 seconds to see if it is raining yet I decided to place my orders for fall-planted bulbs. They will arrive to my garden when it is time to plant them, sometime in October. So instead of the typical ‘Fall Planted Bulbs’ discussion, today I’ll just chat about the bulbs I ordered and why and a few that I recommend that are already in my garden.

From Brent & Becky’s Bulbs: Brent Heath spoke at the Perennial Plant Association annual meeting in Atlanta this summer, so my order reflects the notes from his inspiring talk.  Daffodil ‘Monal’ is an early bloomer that takes the heat, and ‘Katie Heath’ performs well in the South, even in Dallas, TX. I definitely could use early bloomers in my garden. Although I have hundreds of daffodils, my garden seems to start blooming a week later than many others, so this year ‘February Gold’ is also on my list. When placing orders for daffodils, which are very long lived and deer-resistant, choose early, mid and late bloomers to create a long season of cheerful flowers each spring. I’ve chosen a few Ipheions, which Brent suggests scattering in the lawn, and Aliums, ornamental onions that come in many shapes and colors. Both are inexpensive, which makes it easy to try them out. I rarely order tulips, but ‘Lilac Wonder‘ is starred in my notes and too pretty to not order.

From Old House Gardens: This mail-order nursery specializes in heirloom bulbs and this year most the bulbs I chose date to the turn of the 17th Century. The exception is English bluebells, which date back to 1200. I also ordered Spanish bluebells and both like dry summers and shade – that I’ve got! The sternbergia looks like a big yellow crocus that blooms in fall and the sowbread cyclamen (which may not do well south of Athens) has leaves as pretty as its blooms.

From Lushlife Nurseries: I found out about this South Carolina nursery at the Garden Writers annual meeting last week. One of the few treasures in the garden surrounding my 50 year old house is a hymenocallis, a relative of amaryllis with large leaves and white blooms. When I received a small crinum bulb (also related to the amaryllis, rain lilies, and hymenocallis) last week from Lushlife Nurseries I had to find out more.  This blog post was a great intro. I couldn’t leave the Lushlife website ( without ordering ‘Bradley’. You can buy a bulb for yourself or send a gift box to a friend for a few dollars more, which is less expensive than most gifts and will bloom for decades! Expect this order to come quickly; there is no need to hold these bulbs for later planting.  I did receive my order quickly, with big, fat bulbs full of promise. Can’t wait to see them grow and bloom!

Favorites that I already have and heartily recommend you order:

From Old House Gardens: A Fall Planted Sampler. Just let them send you bulbs that will do well for your planting zone. It’s a great way to discover something new.

From Brent & Becky’s Bulbs: ‘Fragrant Rose’ daffodil, which is not only beautiful, but really does smell like a rose – a great conversation piece.

From your local garden center: Just about anything that inspires you, especially if the bulbs look fat and healthy and the photo inspires you. Indulge!

Ooh, I hear rumbling. Finally, the rains are coming!!!

The garden did get 1-1/2 inches of rain, much more than the 1/2″ that most of the county received. But the 10 day forecast only shows little chance of rain.

A Half-Dozen Things You Can Do While Watering.

Watering brings out the impatient brat in me. And impatient waterers can underwater their plants. Luckily, watering only takes one hand that is holding the hose. Even though I only water plants in the ground once or  twice a week I must be doing something else at the same time. And I have found lots of things you can do:

  1. Weed. Carry around a lightweight tote to toss weeds into and pull a few as you water. You’ve got to be careful of which weeds you go after though. The really small weeds and fastest growing weeds come out of the ground roots and all, but my garden is clay and you know what dry clay is – yeah, a brick! Some weeds just won’t come up with a one-handed tug. Do what you can.
  2. A backrub – for the beagle. Your pet adores you and deserves more than food thrown into his dish as you are rushing out the door. My beagle so obviously loves outdoor time in the morning with me, so I do use some of that time to give him some attention.
  3. A phone call to a long-winded friend. OK, we all have one: that friend or relative we really should call, but we know that means 45 minutes on the phone and we really don’t have that time today. Aunt Maxine who was always so sweet to you when you were a kid, truly deserves your attention. Perfect multi-tasking!
  4. Wool-gathering. My husband used to enjoy burning brush, because as he tended the fire, he used the quiet time to organize thoughts and solve problems, what he called wool-gathering. Watering definitely does not tax the brain, so why not use it to think through a problem. I often organize an article or a blog post in my mind while watering.
  5. Catch up on podcasts or read a book. Put on a pair of headphones and learn something as you water. Great gardening podcasts I download through ITunes include Brent & Becky’s Bulbs’ Tete-a-Tete and Felder Rushing’s The Gestalt Gardener. I also listen to motivational podcasts (especially as I start my day), NPR shows like The Splendid Table, the Wall Street Journal or TED Talks.  The History of Rome is great and can turn anyone into a history buff. And then there are the books you don’t have time to read. Well, let someone else read a book to you while you are watering the hydrangeas.
  6. Don’t water. Ooh, that got your attention. I share my well water with my plants and when things get really dry I have to start making choices. I have generous friends with abundant crops and many ornamental plants that outrank those tomato plants so this weekend I decided to stop watering the vegetable garden. Que sera, sera.

As I am finishing this up, there are distant thunder rumbles and is showing big orange dots headed this way. Oh please, oh please…

Growing Lavender in the Southeast

Spanish Lavender

During a cooking weekend at Callaway Gardens years ago, one of the most memorable tastes was a lavender sorbet. I never had tasted lavender in cooking before and was pleasantly surprised.

A quick search on the Internet reveals recipes for this herb in many sweet and savory dishes, including cookies, lemonade, jellies, meat marinades and more, plus the opportunity to purchase lavender flowers for cooking and crafts. Imagine placing small sprigs of lavender flowers in old fashioned ice cube trays, then including a few in a glass of lemonade. Or just tossing a few lavender flowers over fresh fruit. The key seems to be not to overdo, which would be easy with this fragrant herb.

There are almost 30 species of lavender and dozens of varieties just of English lavender (Lavendula angustifolia), the most popular lavender for cooking. This also seems to be the one that is about the least suited for growing in the Southeast. To keep lavender plants happy here you need full sun, good drainage and air circulation.

Lavender is grown as a crop in California and appreciates dry air and soil that is sandy, alkaline and well-drained. Georgia is not California, and I am quite OK with that fact. Those Californians don’t have the rhododendrons and camellias we do. Don’t expect to grow a lavender hedge in Georgia, but don’t give up on growing this wonderful herb either.
The trick to growing lavender here is to find a variety that does well here, keep it pretty dry and provide excellent drainage and air circulation. A raised bed or container would work well for lavender; just combine it with plants that also can take it dry, like lantana, verbena, sedum and daylilies. In the ground, add gravel and maybe a little lime to provide the conditions it prefers. It will not fare well with our humid summers planted in a crowded, irrigated flower border. Last year I planted a lavender test garden which now has 6 plants in a raised bed.

Provence and Spanish lavender are two that seem to do well in this area. In the herb garden of The State Botanical Garden of Georgia, Athens, there are Spanish lavender plants that are as woody as the rosemary plants. Both are beautiful plants that provide fragrant blooms and foliage and edible flowers. Lavender also attracts bees and is thoroughly disgusting to deer.

If you are trying lavender for the first time, I suggest you buy plants from an area nursery. More than likely they have grown lavender for years and know which varieties do best here. Seeds are slow to start and you want to start with just one or two plants anyway.

Lavender has a strong heritage. Ancient Egyptians used lavender in the mummification process and Pilgrims brought it with them to the New World. Lavender has been used for centuries for bathing, laundry and medicine. I like the old treatment of a cordial made from wine steeped in lavender, cinnamon, nutmeg and sandalwood after an “indigestible meal.” A friend put dried lavender sprigs in a present she wrapped for me. Open the preset and the fragrance greets you – how charming! I’m going to have to remember that for the hand knit shawls and scarves I am making.

We Could Lose Part of our Garden History.

I first heard about the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin during a talk decades ago. My father and I took off in his pickup and traveled from NW Arkansas to visit my brother in Atlanta – of course we timed it so we would be in Atlanta during the Southeastern Flower Show. I don’t remember who the speaker was, just that I was so mesmerized by the charm of this publication that was talked about that I had to buy a copy of Elizabeth Lawrence’s Market Bulletins: Gardening for Love. Her book, her last of many garden manuscripts before her death in 1985, documents the friendships Lawrence made through correspondence initiated by ads in the Market Bulletin. She found out about them from Eudora Welty, who subscribed to market bulletins from several Southern states.

This little newspaper, started in 1917 and distributed by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, is composed of free ads from people throughout the state – ads for home-made items, farm equipment, livestock, fresh eggs, seeds and plants, and more, plus a few articles. As I read the ads I can almost picture the person who wrote it, the one who crocheted the dishcloth, raised the chicks, used the farm equipment no longer needed, or is looking for a position as a farm hand. There’s a country charm that comes through the words.

A couple years ago my husband could not resist that charm when he found an antique butter churn. “Look at the photos they emailed me. It’s just like the one my grandmother used to make butter”. As if that wasn’t enough, he added “I need to find someone with fresh Jersey milk”. Oh dear, we already had set up a chicken coop in the back yard, but churning our own butter? That Saturday we drove an hour, MapQuest printout in hand, to pick up our blue antique butter churn. We ended up chatting with the couple for a solid hour before we even saw the churn in their garage. They were lovely people. I can see why the Market Bulletin opened doors of friendship to Elizabeth Lawrence. It is filled with real people, much richer and more interesting than those in tabloid magazines.

This publication has been a free service, mailed to anyone who requested a copy and I have enjoyed it for years. Unfortunately, the state budget no longer can allow that and so the Bulletin now will be charging $10 for 26 issues mailed to your home. I’m sending in my check today. The subscription information below was copied directly from an article on the Georgia Master Gardeners blog. To read that article:

Subscriptions are available to Georgia residents at a cost of only $10 per year (26 issues); out-of-state-subscriptions are available for $20 per year. Out-of-state subscriptions must be within the United States or its territories.

To start or renew a subscription, send a check or money order payable to Market Bulletin, along with your name, complete mailing address and daytime phone number (in the event the Market Bulletin office needs to contact you concerning your subscription) to the following address: Market Bulletin, Georgia Department of Agriculture, 19 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive SW, Atlanta, GA 30334-4250. New subscribers may also pay online with a credit card at Please note there is a $1 convenience fee added for online subscriptions.

2 Great Gardening Weekends in Athens

OK plant nuts, listen up! If you are looking for a road trip or are lucky enough to live nearby, clear your calendars for two special gardening weekends in Athens.

The first is Apriil 9th, when the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, UGA Trial Garden and the UGA Horticulture Club decided to have their plant sales from 8:00am to 2:00pm on the same day – a Plantapolooza! So if you want to find unusual plants, ask horticulturists and Master Gardeners their advice (bring a few photos of your garden – that helps communication), or just feel like celebrating spring by plant shopping, then come to Athens. The State Botanical Garden will emphasize native plants, food crops and Georgia Gold medal winners among their wide selection. Allan Armitage will be leading tours and signing books at the UGA Trial Garden. Find out more about these sales at If you are a Friend of the State Botanical Garden, you can start shopping Friday night at the preview sale (a few of the best things sell out that night), plus members receive 10% off purchases at the State Botanical Garden sale and in the new gift shop. The Friends of the Garden “Members Only” Preview Sale will be held Friday, April 8, 5:00pm-7:00pm in the Visitor Center & Conservatory. If you aren’t a Friend of the Garden, you can buy a membership outside of the sale that night. That leaves Saturday open to not only shop the other two sales but… (insert drumroll here):

Several area nurseries are offering discounts to people who have been to these three plant sales. The more you shop, the more you save. For visiting one, two or all three of the Plantapalooza sites, you earn 5%, 10% or 15% (respectively) off your total purchase that day at the following participating local retailers. Participants will receive a card which will be stamped at the Botanical Garden, Trial Gardens and Horticulture Club sales.

Cofer’s Home & Garden Showplace

1145 Mitchell Bridge Road

Athens, GA 30606-6411

(706) 353-1519

Store Hours: 9:00am-6:00pm

Goodness Grows

332 Elberton Road

Lexington, GA 30648

(706) 743-5055

Store Hours: 9:00am-5:00pm

Thyme After Thyme

550 Athens Road

Winterville, GA 30683-1535

(706) 742-7149

Store Hours: 9:00am-5:00pm

Thomas Orchards, Greenhouse and Giftshop

6091 Macon Highway

Bishop, GA 30621-1468

(706) 769-5011

Store Hours: 9:00am-6:00pm

Specialty Ornamentals

3650 Colham Ferry Rd,

Watkinsville, Georgia 30677

(706) 310-0143 ‎

Eastside Ornamentals

120 Walter Sams Road

(Off Highway 78 East)

Winterville, GA 30683

(706) 543-5500

Store Hours: 9:00am-4:00pm

The following weekend will be a great weekend in Athens for gardeners too. Saturday, April 16th from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm will be The Piedmont Gardeners 18th Annual Garden Tour of Athens. See for photos of the 5 lovely gardens on tour this year. This is a very successful and popular annual garden tour. I’ve been to many of these tours and have always had a wonderful time. I’ve toured two of this year’s gardens and – oh my! – they are amazing – so worth the $20 ticket price ($15 in advance)! Bring a camera, plus paper and pen. Then once you have that list of plants you cannot live without, go back to the nurseries listed above, because Thomas Orchards in Watkinsville, Cofer’s in Athens and Thyme After Thyme in Winterville (maybe more) will have open houses in their nurseries, including specials and Master Gardeners to answer questions.

Athens is a great gardening town. If you feel like taking a breather, stroll the State Botanical Garden of Georgia ( to see Forged from Nature: An Exhibition of Garden Gates. You’ll view amazing sculpted gates by Andrew T. Crawford that are 6’-10’ tall among the many plants in bloom.

Take Pride in Last Year Before Planning Next Year

I am big – and I mean big – on writing down goals and New Year’s Resolutions. I even carry my 2 pages of goals in my purse. Did I mention I was a bit detailed too? Those 2 pages of text are only 7 goals.
Wnen I was having lunch with 2 girlfriends in Arkansas last week I said I had neglected my garden for the past 6 months. A friend – whose garden is full of fun, creativity and great plants – said she has literally stepped into her garden to work once in the past six months (it is not laziness – she has been a caregiver and worked on 3 houses during that time). Then she asked “You haven’t done anything?”
“Well, I did reclaim the shed after the chickens moved out, then the contractor needed me to move the deck furniture and stuff under the shed while he worked, so that came to a standstill. And I did hire a great lady to help out a few days. We reclaimed 3 garden plots back to lawn and started a new bed under the pines with lots of plants I had and 4 new camellias. I planted several large planters. I did plant a strawberry bed and added compost to all the raised beds. And I pruned back butterfly bushes, spirea and forsythia so the house could get painted. But there’s so much that didn’t get done.”
“Well, you didn’t do nothing!”
So often we discount what we do and dismiss little things that add up. Last night I sat down and filled out an un-Resolution Worksheet from and it was eye-opening. It started by celebrating what went right in 2010, what your favorite moments were, who is a new friend, and what you were proud of enduring (like the snake living in my chicken coop). Before you plan 2011, look back with some pride at what went right in 2010 and build on that. What tree turned its most vivid fall color, what planting bed looked great, what new bird moved into your habitat, what special moments happened in your garden, what special plant moved in, what you have read and learned, what other gardens did you visit, what person did you hear speak.
Of course a lot didn’t get done. It’s a garden: an ever-changing, ever-growing, living thing. Relish in what went right, then pick up all those mail order catalogs that just arrived and plan to make 2011 even better.

Camellias under the Pines

Today I am going to Cofer’s to pick out 3-4 new camellias! The ex-chicken-run includes an area under the pines that is perfect for camellias! The area is also perfect for my hammock. Kelly helped me plant dozens of shrubs and perennials (including a Yuletide camellia) this weekend there too. So I pulled up an old article I had written to brush up on camellias and thought I’d share it with you. After reviewing the planting instructions I am certain of one thing – among those pine roots I am not inspired to dig a hole for anything bigger than a 1 gallon rootball!:

Camellias are elegant evergreens for the South

Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on March 9, 2007.

The American Camellia Society lists less than 20 recommended nurseries throughout the country; Cofer’s Home & Garden Showplace in Athens is one of them. If you want to see your camellia in bloom before you buy it then this is a good weekend to select from dozens of varieties at Cofer’s. Your only problem will be choosing.

There are 250 species of camellias, all evergreens native to the Orient. Let’s focus on two familiar types of camellias, plus a species camellia well worth adding to the garden. The most common camellias are sasanquas and japonicas.

Sasanqua camellias (Camellia sasanqua) bloom at the end of the year, starting to bloom in late fall. The blooms tend to be smaller and more fragrant than the japonicas. The plant tends to be smaller too, maturing at 6 to 10 feet tall, and less cold hardy than the japonicas. One of the most common sasanquas is ‘Yuletide’.

Japonicas (Camellia japonica) bloom at the beginning of the year, from almost Christmas until almost Easter. These are blooming now and are at their peak in February. That is when Massee Lane Gardens south of Fort Valley, Georgia and headquarters of the American Camellia Society, holds their annual Festival of Camellias. Maturing at 10 to 20 feet tall, japonicas can take more shade and should be kept out of afternoon sun.

“So which would you recommend?” I asked Stuart Cofer. “Both! That way you have blooms in two seasons. The japonicas do best sheltered from the wind. They prefer morning sun with shade from noon on and love pine shade. Winter sun can scorch the leaves of japonicas planted in deciduous shade. This doesn’t hurt the plant, just looks bad and worries the homeowner. Sasanquas are tougher plants and can take more sun.” There is a 13-year-old treeform sasanqua by Cofer’s main entry – the west side. Of course, all the other conditions must be right. Full sun is easier to take in perfect soil conditions than in Georgia clay. Our warm summer nights are another challenge for camellias. Most resources would recommend afternoon shade for any camellias.

I have seen varieties of Camellia hiemalis and Cammellia oleifera (tea oil camellia) in plant sales and nurseries. Both bloom late in the year. Fifty percent of the vegetable cooking oil in Hunan, China is from tea oil camellias, producing an oil similar to olive oil. Tea oil camellia is hardy to zone 6 and a large plant, maturing at 10 to 20 feet like the japonicas. Cold hardy camellias such as this one are a hot item, with gardeners north of us wanting some of the beauty surrounding us.

Tea camellias have been used to make black tea in China since 500 B.C. In fact, the only commercial tea plantation in the United States is in South Carolina and harvests the tea from Camellia sinensis. The Charleston Tea Plantation First Flush Celebration will be held May 12. The ‘first flush’ is when the tiny new leaves push up above the previous years growth, the basis of a once a year special edition tea. Find out more about the festival at or sample a box of Bigalow’s American Classic Tea, available in area grocery stores. Camellia sinensis is cold hardy into zone 6, does well in shade and matures at four to six feet high. The single, white 11/2-inch blooms with yellow stamens appear in fall. C. sinensis ‘Rosea’ has pretty pale pink blooms.

When you plant a camellia in the ground, follow the instructions found on the American Camellia Society Web site: www.camellias-acs. org. They recommend the top of the rootball be slightly higher than the soil line. Do not cover the top of the rootball with soil, but do cover the entire planted area with mulch. Camellia roots need good drainage and air. The ACS also recommends that the planting hole be at least two feet wider than the rootball and the backfill removed from the hole be placed back into the hole when planting. Many people in Georgia love their plants to death by adding lots of goodies into the holes when planting. If you want to amend the soil, amend the entire bed before planting and make sure that bed is elevated so it drains well (and away from any structure), even after it settles with time.