Oakleaf Hydrangeas are Proving Themselves

Once again, the promise of rain (60%) was an empty one. I let the hydrangeas droop, sure that Mother Nature would give them much needed water, but she did not. The look sad, weeping and drooping, except for my oakleaf hydrangeas, native to the Southeast. They have been untouched by drought and deer. As good as they look now, they will look even better when donned with red foliage this fall, then showing off peeling bark this winter.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Years! I hope there will be more time for you in your garden in 2014. Not just on your knees weeding, but cutting flowers for your home, harvesting herbs and veggies, noticing a bright planter greeting you when you drive up, watching birds enjoying the feeders and berries, and inviting friends to enjoy the pool or a meal outside (maybe when it warms up!)
As the year begins, may I suggest a garden journal? It could be a pretty journal, a spiral notebook, or one of those planning calendars on sale now that has a section for notes in back. You can note when you planted and pruned, dreams for the future, plant wish lists, garden tips, seed orders, notes from garden talks, photos of your garden throughout the seasons, and more. If you are using a garden calendar, then note when garden chores should be done and the reminder will be there waiting for you.
A garden journal can be a very useful tool and record for you.

Come to England with me!

The State Botanical Garden of Georgia is launching a new Garden Travels series – and Mike Sikes and I are the first speakers on Tuesday, March 26. We are inviting folks to gather together for a social hour first at 6:00 pm, enjoying dinner or coffee at Donderos’ Kitchen (Dutch treat,) then seeing a presentation on English gardens in the Gardenside Room at 7:00.

Last June Mike and I spent a week at Sissinghurst (which gave us after-hours access to the entire grounds,) then traveled north to Chatsworth, with private tours of the national rambling rose collection and the headquarters of David Austin Roses, plus many other garden visits. We’d love to tell you about it and have gone through 3,000 photos to find the very best to show.

This is going to be fun and we want our friends to be there, so please come and bring anyone you would like – this event is open to the public. The talk is free, but of course we encourage you to feed the donation box at the Garden.

Eze and Le Jardin D’Eze

Visited early November 2011

Far above the Mediterranean, between Nice and Monaco, is the historic hilltop village of Eze, once a fortress.  Towering above that is a botanical garden filled with cacti and succulents and sculptures of goddesses. Beside each statue is a small poem, in both French and English; many informative signs fill the garden. The stone steps are plentiful, uneven and steep, but the 360 degree view of a historic church and the valley and coastline below is amazing and worth the hike. If your idea of a botanical garden is lots and lots of bright annuals, well, this is not it. This is a celebration of plants that grow on an exposed, dry site balanced by a series of fluid, feminine sculptures by sculptor Jean-Philippe Richard with their own quiet beauty, gentle sentinels looking down on the Cote D’Azur and valley below. 

 

 

My best friend and I spent two nights at Chateau Eza. In the mornings Kris sat on one side of the breakfast table filled with cappuccinos, French pastries, fruit and cheese, sketching the coastline and I sat on the other side, sketching the statues looking down on us from Le Jardin D’Eze. It was the first time I had sketched in a decade and about the most inspiring spot to start sketching again.

In between the hotel and garden is the wonderful town of Eze, at its best in the early mornings before the tourist buses unload and the narrow stone streets fill with people. Browsing boutiques, gift shops, and art galleries, people-watching with a glass of wine at an outdoor table or a sketchbook at a bench outside the cathedral, photographing perfect vignettes, and enjoying le Jardin d’Eze easily fill a day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deer Resistant Plants in my Georgia Garden

This is adapted from a syndicated column I wrote in 2006 for  Morris News.

My garden in Georgia is suffering through a drought.  Every weekend I water the dozens of new trees and the vegetable garden in an effort to keep them alive. This brings the deer out of the dry underbrush into my garden at night, where everything seems greener and tastier, a frustrating situation for a gardener.

One line of defense for your landscape is planting deer resistant plants. Deer resistant is a popular term, partially because so many of us have to garden among deer, partially because nobody in their right mind would claim something is deer proof. Daffodils and rosemary are the closest to deer proof I can think of.  Even deer resistant plants may not be safe. Often a deer will taste-test, pulling a plant out of the ground and spitting it out if it is distasteful. A new plant, laying on top of the ground often dies before the gardener discovers and saves it. A friend sprays every new plant with deer repellent, because her deer often uproot new plantings in her garden.

Below is a small palette of deer resistant plants, starting with my three favorites in each category:

Annuals

Snapdragons are cool season annuals in Georgia, a deer-resistant alternative to the cool-season pansies they so love.

Marigolds are a recent rediscovery for me. Once too common, now I value their sunny disposition, various forms, pest resistance, drought tolerance and carefree nature. They are among the easiest flowers to grow from seed.

Fan flower (Scaevola) survives our humid summers with absolute grace, creating a mat of fresh green foliage and abundant purple blooms.

Deer have munched on my zinnias, angelonia and coleus, but left the lantana, verbena and shrimp plants.

Perennials

Salvias are not all as drought resistant as I had hoped, but are deer resistant. This fragrant branch of the mint family has many annual and perennial varieties to offer, with summer blooms in blues, purples, white, reds and oranges.

Lenten Roses are among the earliest and longest lasting blooms on evergreen, shade loving plants.

Dianthus include carnations and mat forming evergreen perennials. My new favorite is the deep red perennial Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus ‘Heart Attack’) I found at Plant Delights Nursery.

Also: yarrow (Achillea), Ajuga, Amsonia, Anenome, columbine (Aquilegia), Astilbe, Baptisia, Bergenia, Coreopsis, bleeding heart (Dicentra), foxglove (Digitalis), coneflower (Echinacea). Epimedium, spurge (Euphorbia), Lamium, Lantana, Liatris, bee balm (Monarda, lungwort (Pulmonaria), hens-n-chicks (Sempervivum), goldenrod (Solidago), lamb’s ears (Stachys), Verbena

Bulbs

Daffodils are among the most troubleproof, carefree and enduring flowers available.

Iris in my garden are completely ignored by the deer and multiply like crazy.

Alliums, ornamental onions, can produce dramatic blooms that are especially effective when massed.

Other bulbs in my yard have not been tested by the deer yet, but they have munched on the amaryllis.

Herbs

Most herbs have strong scents, so even if the deer won’t let you grow vegetables, you can have an herb garden.

Rosemary, including creeping rosemary, a great groundcover for a dry slope.

Oregano, which can spread by underground runners to form a mat. Ornamental oreganos have especially attractive blooms.

Basil, a summer annual that comes in so many varieties and flavors, including dark red or variegated leaves.

Also: just about any fragrant herb

Shrubs

Crape Myrtles, the classic summer blooming trees, are now available in a large variety of dwarf forms.

Abelia, including the classic evergreen/semievergreen that matures at about four to five feet tall and wide and my favorite new abelia, ‘Kaleidoscope’. ‘Kaleidoscope’ matures at two to three feet, with a long bloom season, a bright green/chartreuse variegation and pink new growth.

Viburnums provide blooms, plus often offer berries, fall color or evergreen foliage.  Among my favorites are ‘Shasta’, with generous amounts of white spring blooms in horizontal layers on a large shrub that looks beautiful in a woodland setting.

Also: butterfly bush (Buddlia), quince (Chaenomeles), Cotoneaster, pineapple guava (Feijoa), Juniper, Tea Olive (Osmanthus). Wax myrtle (myrica), Yucca (Yucca spp.)

What Makes a Plant Deer Resistant?


Certain characteristics give you a strong sign that a plant may be deer resistant:Strong smell – if a plant has a strong smell, deer seem to leave it aloneFunky texture – this stiff foliage of y
ucca, fuzzy leaves of lamb’s ears and gummy sap of Lenten rosesPainful traits – thorny barberries, prickly (and fragrant) junipers

Dream Vacation for Garden Geeks – in Carolina.

This weekend I am reading up on the gardens I will soon be visiting in England. The adventure starts with a week in Sissinghurst, staying at the Priest’s House on the grounds. We can actually wake up in the morning, pad over to the window, and look out onto the famous White Garden. This stay includes access to Sissinghust grounds before and after hours. From there we will take day trips to nearby historic gardens and charming villages.

But you can have a similar experience by only crossing one state line, not a whole ocean. In March 2011 I attended a retreat at the Inn at Middleton Place. This inn is LEED certified, with each room offering a view of the river. Stroll down a path through the trees and enjoy a delicious breakfast outdoors or in a dining room with a woodland view. Middleton Place is one of the most famous gardens in the world, featured in landscape history courses and advertised as ‘America’s oldest landscaped gardens.’ It has been under the same family stewardship for over 300 years. One resident was President of the First Continental Congress, another a signer of the Declaration of Independence, The live oaks and camellias are ancient by our standards and the gardens and statuary are wonderful. It is where the first Camellia japonicas were probably introduced by André Michaux in 1786 and probably one of the places John and William Bartram visited (when they weren’t back in Philly chatting with Ben Franklin.) Middleton Place is also stunningly beautiful and peaceful.

Back to my visit. On Sunday morning I jumped out of bed, grabbed a camera, jacket and notebook and wandered the gardens at Middleton Place for a few hours, having the entire garden to myself. The birds were waking up. It was an incredibly peaceful, inspiring morning. Many of these photos are from that early March morning. I would think it would be as memorable an experience to visit the garden at twilight in summer, or during an early summer morning. Oh, and visiting other historic gardens and charming villages? The Inn at Middleton Place is about 15 miles from Charleston and just down the road from Magnolia Plantation and Drayton Hall, both well worth visiting.

Grow Your Own Food – with Style!

What’s trendy in home landscapes right now? It’s not just outdoor living spaces that include kitchens, it’s growing the food to cook in those kitchens. Trendy, topical, healthy, slow food – oh girl, you have got to jump on board. No, no, no – I’m not talking renting a tiller and digging up a rectangle in your front yard for the corn crop (although you could if you want to – and if the neighborhood association will let you). Let me tell you how you can sneak kitchen delicacies into your landscape and raise the most local of local food without converting your backyard into an organic farm.

Herbs are about the easiest to grow plants and look great in the landscape. Two things that keep most herbs happy: plenty of sun and good drainage. Snipping some rosemary, oregano and basil from your container plantings as you are preparing dinner adds more than flavor to your kitchen – it adds class.

Plant a few veggies among your perennials and annuals. You may want to plant one cherry tomato and one slicing tomato. You don’t have to use a classic tomato cage – try a 4×4 post with a finial or strong, ornamental, metal support to support a tomato. Remember you will have to get to your tomato plant to harvest. Sun and air flow are important – it can’t be tucked behind mature shrubs. And don’t forget green peppers, which are attractive, glossy green plants that fit well into a landscape. If you do tuck a few edibles in your landscape, you do need to be careful with chemicals in your garden.

The green industry has been working hard to create vegetables that are colorful, interesting, flavorful – and grow well in containers. There are many, many vegetables now available as both plant and seeds bred to produce in containers and small spaces.  Look to your local nursery or Renee’s Garden (www.reneesgarden.com) for inspiration.

Look beyond the typical summer season to grow fresh vegetables. Cool season crops can keep the ground productive in spring and fall. Early spring can produce radishes and turnips. A few asparagus plants can provide a bit of asparagus, then tall, ferny foliage in the perennial border throughout the summer.

A tomato plant can provide a wonderful, flavorful summer harvest, but if you plant blueberries you can have an annual harvest for years. Blueberries have it all – delicate spring blooms and colorful fall foliage on a native plant that produces tasty fruit full of antioxidants and vitamins. Blueberries can be mid-size shrubs that produce best when there are three shrubs that include different varieties. I highly recommend planting three blueberries if you have the space, but there are many varieties of patio blueberries available now: blueberries that stay under 3’ tall and produce even if you have only one plant. These blueberries, like ‘Blue Suede’, which was bred in the South to produce lots of berries over an extended season, grow well in a container on a patio or deck.

OK, rosemary on your chicken and basil on your tomatoes are impressive, but what about lavender flavoring your sugar cookies, edible flowers decorating your plate, home-grown herbal tea (try a $3 pack of Hibiscus ‘Herbal Tea’ seeds from Renee’s Garden), or redbud blooms tossed into a salad? Who says you can’t have your flowers and eat them too?

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 (www.bonsaimonk.com.) 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 www.smithgilbertgardens.com 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 info@hillsanddales.org 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.