Monday, September 5, 2011

A Perfect Day to Order Bulbs!

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.

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!!!

Monday, August 1, 2011

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.”

Saturday, July 30, 2011

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.

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…

Monday, July 25, 2011

“If you want to see a trial garden in Georgia, come in July and August -  that’s when the plants are really tested.” I’ve heard Allan Armitage say that more than once, so during a lunch break at a writer’s conference I walked the couple blocks to see what the Trial Garden at UGA looked like. It was full, full sun at 1:00 and the thermometer said HOT! but a few plants surprised me. Actually, most of the plants looked good. Keep in mind, these plants are being trialed (some already on the market), but they had to pass a lot of tests to get to this point. Now the best of the best are growing side by side to see which really can take the heat and humidity. The calibrochoas were all impressive in baskets, as they are on my deck. The rudbeckias looked good, especially the annual ‘Prairie Sun’. Angelonia was thriving. The geraniums and gallardias looked healthy and full of buds, but looked like plants that needed constant deadheading to really look sharp. Heucheras were both good and not so good, depending on the variety. The pulmonarias were impressive, except for one that was in full sun at 1:30.
Surprises? Caladiums, which seemed to have fallen out of vogue, but, oh my, can they perform - both in my garden and at the trial garden, which were trialing the bulbs for I never want my shade garden to be without caladiums again after seeing how they have handled this summer; you can bet I am going to check out that website. Another surprise was papyrus, known as a water plant. Two specimens in containers looked great. At the Perennial Plant Symposium in Atlanta this week, Dottie Myers commented that a papyrus in a container was her dad’s favorite plant in his garden.

But what looked great that you can get now? Many of the perennials there are available and one fun workhorse is Rudbeckia ‘Henry Eilers’, which has tubular petals that create a fun, sculptural flower in your garden on a taller, perennial plant. ‘Georgia Peach’ heuchera looked good and who can resist that name and the peachy-caramel color? If you are in the Athens area, check out the garden on campus or any botanical garden or garden center. The true performers will stand out, so take notes on what you want to add to your garden for next summer’s display. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

UGA Trial Gardens Plant Sale - June 25th

The UGA Trial Gardens is hosting a Public Open House on Saturday, June 25, 2011 from 8 a.m.- 3 p.m. The garden will be featuring guided tours with Dr. Allan Armitage, a plant sale, heirloom tomato tasting, and a book sale/signing. A $5 donation is requested upon entry (make checks payable to "The Gardens"). For more information visit: or email

I’ve been to many open houses here and it is well worth a drive. If you are going, here is my list of essentials to pack:

Hat, water, and sunscreen. There are many wonderful things in this garden, but not a lot of shade.

Totes. Who can resist a plant sale? So, since you know you are getting plants, come prepared. Clear out your trunk and bring a wagon or a couple totes to carry the plants. I love the bright plastic, round totes with handles that you can smoosh together to carry in one hand.

Camera. Oh my, if you love taking pictures you will love this garden!

Paper and pencil or a smart phone to take notes.

Stamina. Yes this is a great open house, but Athens is full of wonderful restaurants, specialty nurseries and gardens. Do a little research and plan a whole day.

I have put plants in an ice chest (without the ice) to keep them out of the sun and a little insulated on the drive home. Beware of leaving plants in a sunny, closed car while you walk into an air conditioned restaurant. The temperature can soar in just a few minutes. Leave the windows open a bit and look for a shaded parking spot (or eat really, really fast).

Saturday, April 30, 2011

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.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

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.