10 plants I must have in my Southern Garden

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

Goodnight Moon Iris by Connie Cottingham

Goodnight Moon Iris

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

Here are my answers – what would be yours?

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

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

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

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

Japanese Sedge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tula Hats by Connie Cottingham

Tula hats hang by my back door.

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

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

Back to the Books

OMG! I’ve been talking with Jennifer so much lately that I forgot that my interview about native perennials was with Melissa, who is so very knowledgeable about rare native plants and has grown many in her garden. She gave a talk to the State Botanical Garden’s Board of Advisors about native perennials that would do well in home gardens. After the talk in November, we finally got together in December so she could answer some of my questions about these perennials. Hearing our conversation again and going over the notes, I am inspired to add several of these recommendations to my garden (I already have a few). I am also inspired to write all three magazine columns due this month on native perennials. I had postponed writing on this subject because these plants would work best in spring issues, just in time for spring planting and the State Botanical Garden April 10th Spring Plant Sale, which will emphasize native plants.

What I am not inspired to do is the usual Internet research, supplemented with my books. Maybe it is because my native wildflower library is written mainly by people I have met and is so charming and thorough. I went to the shelves and pulled down a half dozen great books, mainly from The University of Georgia Press (www.ugapress.org): Hugh and Carol Nourse’s Favorite Wildflower Walks of Georgia, Allan Armitage’s Native Plants for North American Gardens, the Duncans’ Wildflowers of the Eastern United States, Linda Chafin’s Field Guide to the Rare Plants of Georgia, and the Millers’ Forest Plants of the Southeast and Their Wildlife Uses. Then there is my trusty 1992 well-worn paperback: Wildflowers of Arkansas by Carl Hunter, which was a reliable reference when my garden library was small and my computer very, very slow.

The prospect of stacking books, pens, a pad of paper and a cup of tea beside the sinker cypress rocker to research articles actually is inspiring. What a lovely way to spend a few hours this weekend.

It’s the Weekend – Call in the Muse!

This weekend’s writing is about native perennials. That should be pretty easy, since I interviewed Jennifer Ceska for my info and her enthusiasm for native plants is beyond infectious. Listening to Jennifer is more energizing than 3 cups of coffee. She and Dr. Jim Affolter are speaking at the Johnstone Lecture at The State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens Wednesday, March 3 at 7:00 (free!), which will be a great presentation.

I have her interview recorded. I truly think that this one subject has enough inspiration to base three columns on, since there are so many great native perennials that can add to the home landscape.

I’m also working about 6 hours at the Athens Home and Garden Show – stretched over 3 days. Yuck – have to wear makeup every day this week. But the show is a good one, There are lots of fun things to see (look at the intense blue blooms on the rosemary at Thomas Orchard’s booth!), I’m running into a lot of friends and my job is to chat with folks, which I enjoy. The State Botanical Garden has 3 crafts for kids to do and take home – all involving the Monarch butterfly. And I want to hear Shelly’s talk on Georgia Gold Medal Plants Saturday afternoon.

Hopefully the writing and the Athens Home & Garden Show will inspire the creative muse, because I could really use her inspiration in my garden this weekend. I’m trying to install chicken wire fencing on metal posts. I love serpentine walls, but find the look very depressing in chicken wire! How in the world do you get it stretched tight? I am having a time getting this right and will dedicate Sunday to trying again. Thank goodness I did have the sense to buy the smaller rolls of 5′ wire and not try to save money with the huge roll. The chickens must be contained NOW – the garden is starting to leaf out and if you think deer are rough on a garden, you ought to see what chickens can do. There’s also one 4×4 wood post to install. My post hole digger has gone down 16″, but that isn’t enough. The good news is that 8′ post will be a great place for a vine and finial!