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

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.

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
2450 S. Milledge Avenue, Athens, GA 30605      706-542-1244




New accessible path to the Middle Oconee River at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, Athens

In late February, 2021, Mike and I visited the new accessible path to an overlook viewing the Middle Oconee River.

Paved pathways through the State Botanical Garden of Georgia’s many display gardens are accessible, even the hillside Shade Garden, built before the ADA Act. A new pedestrian entrance with an elevator provides access from the main parking area, plus an overlook to the Visitor Center, new Center for Art and Nature Porcelain and Decorative Arts Museum, and the lower entry plaza that unites both. A visitor can borrow a scooter or wheelchair while the visitor center is open to discover the buildings and gardens.

But this new path brings accessibility into natural areas and the river that forms one boundary of the 313-acre botanical garden. The path led us from a small parking lot into an open area flanked by tall trees, through grassy lowlands with some standing water (there had been rain earlier that week, but the raised walk was dry), and to an overlook with a view of the Middle Oconee River.

Mike’s scooter comes apart and fits into our trunk – so useful for garden visits and discovering new places. He had spent time in town on the scooter before coming, so it only had enough battery life left to get to the overlook and back from the small parking lot below the Shade Garden, quite a distance.  I heartily suggest discovering this feature from the small parking lot at one end of this new trail. I would then move the car to accessible parking near the main pedestrian entrance to enjoy the display gardens and buildings.

Both Mike and I have worked at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia; I recently retired after 16 years there. So as we walked this path we understood how much work had been done over the years to reclaim some of this area from invasive privet and create this lowland habitat. There is still a lot of privet in the area, as can be seen from the network of over five miles of unpaved nature trails that connect to the overlook and small parking lot, but the botanical garden is doing an admirable job reducing privet and other invasives from natural areas. Invasive plants are a very formidable adversary.

One of the most charming features of the small overlook is the number of people who come off the trails here or pass by during their trail runs. Whether you only catch their eye or chat a bit, there is a moment of warmth and friendliness.


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Gardening in Dry Shade 

Note: This is my Love Note From the Garden sent to subscribers on Feb. 14, 2021.

I am helping a friend expand her garden to create a plaza for outdoor parties. Her garden is almost exclusively shaded by deciduous trees in Zone 7. My first instinct in creating her plant list is to look at gardens: what is doing well in her garden (and saving on her budget by dividing proven perennials), the garden in my mother’s house a few miles down the road, and my own Zone 8 garden

No matter how drought tolerant, new plants need supplemental water through the first year and during extended dry spells. Also, every plant gets a ceremonial “Welcome to my Garden” spritz of deer spray when planted. If not, a deer may pull the plant out to taste test.

There are many wonderful shade plants. Among the toughest and most delightful in my garden are:

Epimedium ‘Pink Champagne’ (Zones 5-8, evergreen, 18” T x 30” W, deer resistant) –This should be by a bench or path, to appreciate the small, elegant blooms close-up.

Ajuga reptans ‘Burgundy Glow’

Ajuga (Bugleweed, Zones 3-10, under 6”) – So many cultivars are available of this low, evergreen groundcover. Since they thrive in my shade garden, I have a collection.

Sarcoccoa hookeriana var. humilis (Himalayan Sweet Box, evergreen, 12” T x 36”W, deer resistant) – I just shared some of this evergreen weedchoking groundcover with friends. Other Sweet Box species available mature into 3’-5’ evergreen shrubs. These Boxwood relatives have tiny fragrant winter blooms and spread by stolons.

Ruscus ‘Elizabeth Lawrence’ (Butcher’s Broom, Zones 7-9, evergreen, 2’ T x W, deer resistant) – This tiny shrub was originally found in Elizabeth Lawrence’s garden. My plant was given to me by Sam Jones at Piccadilly Farms, Bishop, GA, over a decade ago and is covered with red berries and painfully sharp leaves. I have a three-foot tall Ruscus too, which is tough as nails and painful when touched. I love them, but sometimes love hurts.

Danae racemosa (Poet’s Laurel, Zones 7-9, evergreen,3’ T x 4’ W) – OK, if Ruscus is too tough for you, consider the elegant, soft Poet’s Laurel, three feet tall with red berries and bright green foliage. Mine is growing in a never-saw-a-ray-of-sunshine deep shade. Flower arrangers love the arching branches. Probably the least drought-tolerant on this list, but a mature plant is tough.

Carex oshimensis Evercolor ‘Everillo’

Carex oshimensis Evercolor ‘Everillo’ (Japanese Sedge, Zones 5-9, 16”H x 16”T) – There are many golden Carexes, but this one grabs attention in my garden, adding a bright gold, fine textured, grassy foliage.

Daffodils – Great to mix with the plants that sleep through the winter to bring more color into the garden

About time for a native plant, don’t you think? Here are a few:

Spigelia marilandica  (Indian Pink, Zones 6-9, winter dormancy, 14” T x 14” W, U.S. NATIVE) – I add a couple of these each year to my shade garden and will water them  because they are among my very favorites. So I don’t test them as much as the others. This long-lived perennial offers lots of blooms in a vivid Pop Art red/yellow combo that hummingbirds and butterflies love.

Aquilegia canadensis (Columbine, Zones 3b-8 , winter dormancy, up to 3’,U.S. NATIVE) – These may look delicate, but they are tough. They also have a way of reseeding and filling in gaps in the garden. I think it is charming, showing me that nature often does what she darn well pleases.

Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf Hydrangea, Zones 5-9, winter dormancy, large shrub of various sizes, U.S. NATIVE) – The quintessential four-season shrub, offering peeling, sculptura;, bare branches in winter and dramatic bloom clusters and huge green leaves that turn red in fall.

Bearded Iris – Whaaat? Those are full sun plants. Of course, the iris under the dense, very dry shade of my red maple never blooms. But it does add a fun, upright sword-leaf texture contrast.

Avoid English ivy, Arum and Vinca; these are terribly invasive, and you will regret planting them! A plant can be too tough.

Here a couple resources to discover more dry shade plants:

The Missouri Botanical Garden’s website is a wealth of information, including their article on ProblemSolver Plants for Dry Shade.

Fine Gardening Magazine offers this free 1-1/2 hour webinar on Truly Tough Plants for Dry Shade, with three experts discussing why they like each plant and showing numerous photos in garden settings. All three live in the Northeast but list growing zones for each plant. Just make sure you know your growing zone and are ready to take notes before you start watching.


None of these links are affiliate links. I’m just leading you to more information.

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Massee Lane Gardens


The American Camellia Society’s Massee Lane Gardens in Fort Valley, GA, one of only two public gardens maintained by a national plant society.  This property already contained a collection of mature specimens when the 150-acre farm was donated to the society by David C. Strother in 1966. Now it also contains the ACS headquarters, a visitor center, an extensive porcelain collection, various display gardens, woodland areas, a pavilion and seating areas overlooking a tranquil pond. The nine acres of developed gardens have views of woodlands, a pond and a pecan orchard on the rest of the property. Millstones are used to accent the paving, grounding you more in the history and the region.

Operations Manager William Khoury toured me and the two Camellia enthusiasts with me through the Camellias. I learned a lot that day. And, thanks to the extensive Camellia plant selection for sale, ‘Spring Festival’ and ‘Wendzalea’ rode home with us in the back seat. We were enchanted by the many blooms when we visited in mid-January, but Massee Lane Gardens is at its peak in February, when they hold the annual Festival of Camellias. This month-long event includes daily tours and exhibits, painting and craft classes, on-site lunch options, wildlife program, children’s activities and more.

I ventured off on my own for a bit, photographing remnants of the old farm and close-ups of Camellia blooms. Then I discovered the Stevens-Taylor Gallery filled with porcelain on display. I especially enjoyed the detailed birds and flowers. Another extensive porcelain exhibit is in a large gallery inside the visitor center and includes a few massive pieces, including a snowy owl.  Massee Lane Gardens is home to the largest collection of Edward Marshall Boehm porcelain sculptures on public display in the United States and includes Cybis, Connoisseur, Bronn and other porcelains in their collection.

Massee Lane Gardens is a special place, offering a vast collection of well-labeled Camellias with complementary woodland plants such as ferns and heucheras, and a surprisingly large visitor center and porcelain collection. Part of Massee Lane’s charm is the feeling that the world has slowed down, and it is fine to take time to breathe in the scent of a camellia blossom, sit on a bench, play with different angles in a camera, or take in the details and beauty in a piece of porcelain.

Visited:  Friday, January 15, 2021

Location:  100 Massee Lane, Fort Valley, Georgia 31030


Great web page for visiting during the February 2021 peak season:

Accessibility:  Accessible buildings and parking. Original brick paths were no problem for my friend’s 4-wheel scooter, but could be tiring for someone pushing a wheelchair, especially on a crowded day. The brick paths were built when this was a private collection, so are not promenades. There are asphalt paths that provide easy access to many camellias and a pavilion overlooking the pond.

Both porcelain exhibits are very accessible. The Stevens-Taylor Gallery is close to the visitor center, a quick walk via paved paths, a ramp and a rose garden.

Gift shop:  Surprisingly extensive, including books, jewelry, home décor, gifts, tea and more. They have a handy book at the checkout counter that describes and shows each of the many plants that they offer for sale (Oct.-April). The entrance to the gardens and porcelain collection is through the gift shop, where you can pay a low entry fee into the garden (we opted to become members of the Camellia Society for only a couple dollars more).

Standing under blooming camellia trees. I now want a camellia forest on my property with a bright Tiffany Blue bench underneath to contrast with the blooming trees and the carpet of blooms on the ground below (I originally thought of a yoga platform but get real – I am much more likely to use a bench.)

Nearby and lunch ideas: The staff at Massee Lane Gardens recommended The Swanson Restaurant; I like The Perfect Pear for lunch. The two restaurants are a block apart in downtown Perry, GA. Check menus and hours online. Reservations would be a good idea. All around are fun shops. I could spend well over an hour roaming downtown Perry.

Note:  Peak Camellia season occurs among the shortest days of the year. I like to fit day trips into daylight hours, which means getting on the road early to allow time for lunch and a stop or two. It takes about 2-1/2 to 3 hours to drive from Athens, GA, an easy day trip. Yes, it is a short drive from I-75, but beware of the route that your phone gives you. If you take the fastest route you will miss so much. Our route through Madison, Forsyth and Musella included views of pastures, farmland, historic homes and town squares. It adds a few minutes but turns the trip into an experience. From Musella to Massee Lane Gardens was enchanting, with an abundance of pecan and peach orchards (Peach County, GA, is aptly named.)

Trivia: Did you know that black, white and green teas are all created from Camellia sinensis leaves? The different teas are the result of different growing, harvesting and processing. Also, these camellias grow well in Georgia. I have two plants in my shade garden and drink tea daily but doubt I will ever try crafting my own tea.

Botanical Garden of the Ozarks – Fayetteville, Arkansas

Balloon Flowers

I grew up and earned my Landscape Architecture degree in Northwest Arkansas, so spending a cool summer morning looking at familiar, much-loved plants with my sister and her oldest son was a treat.

 The Botanical Garden of the Ozarks looked like a small garden online, but we three plant geeks had to rush off after an hour and a half to meet people for lunch. The garden was cleaning up from a fundraiser the evening before. Even though tents coming down limited taking overall photos, it did not affect strolling the series of twelve themed backyard gardens set around an accessible circular path. In the center was a lawn that focused on a pavilion/stage. This created a sunny center surrounded by mostly shaded display gardens, which was welcome on a summer morning.

 We were able to see many plants and take many photos in the gardens around the building and parking lot before we even entered, so by the time we entered and paid our fee, we were already in the experience. Kudos to the responsible rain garden between bays of parking too.

Once in the garden you could look at the map given to you when you paid the affordable admission and decide where you wanted to spend your time. These gardens seemed small when I saw them on a map, but we spent a full 20 minutes in each garden that most interested us: the Ozark Native Garden, the Sensory Garden, and the Rock and Water Garden. The butterfly house was beautiful, filled with plants that thrived in Zone 7 gardens, and had an abundance of informative signage. Most of the others we were able to move a little faster, and each had its charm. A couple we just weren’t interested in that day. That is perfect – providing something for everyone without trying to be all things to all people. Kids can enjoy the butterfly house, children’s garden and soft great lawn; someone wanting time in nature can find a bench in a display garden to read or sketch. Each display garden was very different, most linked with the Streamside Trail through the trees. I thought there was a great balance of accessible walkways through intensely planted display gardens with natural woodland paths with beautiful large stones serving as footbridges.

 Plant people and photographers would love the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks. There are many well-signed interesting tree and shrub specimens and large drifts of perennials that sing when they are in bloom (and, I can imagine, when they are showing off fall color).

Visited:  Saturday, June 22, 2019

Location:  4703 N. Crossover Road, Fayetteville, AR  2017 YouTube video

Accessibility:  Great hierarchy of paths on a pretty level site lets a wheelchair or stroller around and into the gardens. Short distance from parking to entrance.

Gift shop:  Small, same room as where you buy tickets, includes local crafts and signature items.

Note:  Started in 1990s. Only butterfly house in Arkansas. Approx. 80,000 visitors/year. Free admission with the AHS Reciprocal Admissions Program

Coolest (to me): Umbrella magnolias in the woods near the Shade Garden, massive plantings of lilies in bloom everywhere, dragonflies abundant around water garden.

Nearby: Northwest Arkansas is a beautiful area with great small town downtown shopping/ restaurants and hiking in natural areas. Fayetteville, Bentonville and Rogers downtowns are very much alive. Nearby Eureka Springs and Crystal Bridges Museum are both well worth the drive.


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 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. Here is a tool cart similar to mine online. 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 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.

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:


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.


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


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.


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


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