Endearing name, deer resistant flower

My favorite iris is in bloom – and does not require deer repellent.

I believe it is totally fine to choose a plant because its name resonates with you. I planted Blue Jacket hyacinths on the grave of my father-in-law, who was on the first ship hit at Pearl Harbor. I sent an assortment of daylilies with names like “Crimson Pirate” to my nephew, a then budding gardener. (My gifts are usually spot-on, but a box of roots did not thrill the young boy. His mother (my sister) did love them for years until something the guy truly did want – dogs – dug them up. Such is life.)

Numerous, huge, yellow blooms cover this deer resistant plant.

So when I decided to add to my iris collection Goodnight Moon was too sweet of a name to pass up. Now this plant has been divided a couple times, with one rhizome going to friend who raves about it every spring. Last year I moved a few rhizomes into a new bed by our deck and this spring it is reminding me why Goodnight Moon is my favorite iris. As I write this, she stands about three feet tall with at least five blooms. Although each bloom does not last long, they are so huge and numerous that this iris has been a show-stopper for quite some time. And, being an iris, no deer repellent has been needed.

That deer resistant foliage is a great addition to the garden even when the blooms have gone. I think that once you cut back the stem, the linear, upright leaves add an architectural accent to the planting bed. And in a few years you can divide the iris and add that accent throughout your garden.

Winter is a good time to start your garden journal

There are books and books out now about organizing but, seriously, organizing my garden too? Yeah, that sounds like work, but do consider these organizing tips that can help you in your garden.

Right now calendars are on sale. Perfect. You don’t have to hang it on the wall – just put the calendar among the files on your desk. Then document things as they happen on the day they happen: planted a holly, first forsythia blooms, deer spray, divided grasses. As you read gardening magazines, you can write a few tips in the calendar to remember when to do things: order bulbs in early September, photograph garden in late summer before perennials die back, etc. As the years go by, the small calendar stack becomes your record. Clever and quick, huh?

I keep a lined journal for the garden classes and symposia I attend. That way I know where to look for ideas from a class, and I can review past notes as I wait for the next class to start. Looking for classes to attend? Check out the calendar on the home page of my website (conniecottingham.com) for classes and events in the Southeast.

You may want a garden journal too. Although a lined journal makes sense, I have switched to a sketchpad with a hard back, where I can draw plant bed layouts and ideas, and tape photos, plant tags and clippings from catalogs. It may look a bit eclectic, but I like the creative layout and who sees it besides me?

Speaking of photos, it is good to document your garden in pictures. You will notice things in photos that you have become blind to (if you paint that shed sage instead of dazzling white it may hide in the background), and you have a record of what is growing where (very handy when some of those plants are sleeping under mulch or it is time to plant more daffodil bulbs). I often photograph the plant tag with the photo; it is wise to include plant names in the file name. Pictures can be pasted into your journal or your online photo file can have subfolders: projects, areas of your garden, ideas, years – whatever works for you.

I have some organizing tips too. I like keeping my long-handled tools together in a cart that lets me roll all my tools out to where I am working, then put them all back in one easy trip. I cannot find one even similar to mine online, but this one would work. Short-handled tools go under this rolling garden seat. All seeds go into one metal tin. Hats hang at the back door on a rack made from a rake. Potting soil and bird seed goes into metal trash cans with a scoop inside and tight-fitting lids.

Yeah, documenting and organizing your garden sounds like work when you are busy living your life. I am a garden writer, so I need to be organized about my gardening. Hey – I have a file drawer by my desk where current plant catalogs are alphabetized. Try just one idea; it will prove its ROI. And I will admit – although I have all of these systems, my level of organizing ebbs and flows. That’s what New Year’s resolutions are for.

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

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?

Creating Glass Sculptures for the Garden

More Glass Garden Sculptures

Having fun creating eclectic garden ornaments. 

I had so much fun with Shirley learning how to create garden sculptures from flea market glassware (July 2011 issue of Georgia Gardening, pages 56-57), that I went shopping for more glass to create more sculptures and invited a friend over to join me. I had found some old Coke bottles in my father’s garage closet and then bought old-fashioned Coke glasses in the dollar store. Together they made a cute garden ornament that rests on a piece of rebar in the garden. Glasses and matching bowls from the garden store became mushrooms. A little glass swan became the finial on my friend’s tower sculpture. We debated over whether or not one wine glass was just too pretty to use, but cut glass catches the light so well in the garden. This is a fun project to do with friends – just remember not to move your sculpture for 24 hours after you have created it. Your friends will have to return to pick up their creations.

I have had one seal break and just cleaned and reglued it. Remember what Shirley told me: “These are not created as forever pieces. You are not creating these to put in your will, although a couple of friends have asked.”

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.