Saturday, March 28, 2015

When Nature Calls...

picture by William Warby on flickr
Gardening can be your hobby, livelihood, passion, or all of the above. As gardeners, we should remember that we share this grand planet with other entities. We all have our favorite plants and goals for our unique landscapes. The most pristine landscape should have some plants that benefit wildlife. We don’t have to go all natural but a plant or two tucked into your landscape that benefits our pollinators or other wildlife could make a huge difference. This UT publication gives some great suggestions for plants that benefit wildlife, read. 

I am using wildlife in a broad sense – think of the ladybugs, earthworms, butterflies, bees, birds and other friends of nature. I know we all have “pests” that wreak havoc on our gardens. At my house there is a serious labor of moles that have taken up residence in our yard. 

I have found it amazing that even in Memphis deer eating your landscape can be a problem. I did not realize they had taken up residence in such urban areas. It is a fact I have shared with my Wyoming friends who didn’t realize it either.

Some of Nature's Wyoming Landscaping

Before moving to Memphis, 4 years ago, I worked on a ranch in Wyoming that was returning to natural methods of raising cattle and striving to become a better steward of the environment. Living in a city that has a higher population than the entire state where I used to live has driven home the importance of knowing how my interaction with nature affects the ecosystem. I want my little speck in the universe to be slightly better than it was before I trampled through it. 

picture by Dawn Beattie on flickr

I have been blessed to have the opportunity to hear speakers, such as Doug Tallamy, Carol Reese and others, who remind us we have a responsibility to nature. I feel I have come full circle. I can integrate knowledge learned in Wyoming with my life now in Memphis. Who knew?! 

I would like to challenge everyone to incorporate a plant or two in your landscape that is helpful to our pollinators and other wildlife. Take it one step further and share some of those same plants with your neighbors, friends and family. If we are lucky they will also share and soon Memphis, then Tennessee, then the Mid-South and with any luck the entire US could increase its habitat for the pollinators and other wildlife. Would that be enough positive impact to tip the scales on some of the harm we have caused?

                             So when nature calls, let’s answer with a resounding 
                                                 “I WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE!"

Dawn B

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Gardening Class at PAR Davies this Saturday

Going Against the Grain

In preparing to start my first blog article, I wondered what I could contribute with my limited exposure to southern gardening.  An article on Facebook inspired me to dig a little deeper into my responsibility to nature.

Some inhabitants of McVay Park

This article (read it) by Melissa Mayntz  shared information on what to feed waterfowl.  I never really gave it much thought, but she states that bread has no nutritional value for them and that poor quality breads could actually be harmful to them.  

A park near our home has a pond surrounded by a walking path.  We enjoy viewing the ducks and geese that make their home in the pond as we exercise our dogs.  We often see people feeding the waterfowl.  The ducks & geese are always more than ready to run up to people looking for handouts.  

After reading her article, I will start making more informed decisions and not just do things because "that is what everyone else is doing."

As I continued to dig for more information, I began to wonder if we should feed them at all.  Feeding animals makes us feel good, but what is the big picture, how does it affect nature?  Wildlife should be just that: wild.  They look to us for food because we have conditioned them to it, not because it is natural for them.  In Wyoming we still have Canadian geese that migrate.  Seeing them flying overhead should signal a change in the season.   I don’t see many Memphis geese migrating.  How much has the free food and luxurious living interrupted their migration instinct and patterns?  

A publication on the UT Extension website, click to read, discusses managing nuisance animals like geese around the home.  It seems that we are having to manage "nuisances" that we have created.  Our actions have caused the overcrowding in urban areas and the decimation of the landscape near the ponds in our neighborhoods.

In most towns in Wyoming, citizens feed the big game animals.  Small herds of deer and the occasional moose hang out in parks, yards & fringes of towns looking for the free food.  People feel like they are helping the animals survive the harsh winter conditions.  However, most times they are providing the predators a tastier, more tender meal as the animals lose their edge, their flight instinct.

Wyoming Wildlife

We should remember that our interaction with nature should not harm it.  Just by being here, we are already changing the environment.  So let's go against the grain and do better job at minimizing our harmful impact on nature.

Dawn B

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Spring & St. Patrick's Day & Oxalis

Despite ferocious allergies that grow more vindictive each year, I always look forward to spring. Not only do we all look forward to MAMG Spring Fling (which starts Friday by the way - on the first day of spring!), but we also celebrate St. Patrick's Day – the day most people wear green regardless of their nationality. Most impressive, though, is the way the warmer sun and the rain coax to life such a depth and breadth of greens.

This year marked the end of the annual enforced St. Patrick's Day family dinner.  I will miss only one thing about it:  every year the table centerpiece was a loose runner of small, plump, green oxalis regnellii. Everyone could take one home at the end of the night. 

I can’t name just one favorite thing about these little plants. I love the way they stretch tall and strong toward the sun each day. When thirsty, they droop, but after a refreshing drink, they stand tall again, like new. I love that the corm is so forgiving, making it an easy plant to maintain.  

When I tried to plant some around my apartment a few years back, I spread them lovingly in what I thought would be a perfect place – a north-facing wall with dappled sunlight, underneath and around an azalea bush. Unfortunately that put them in the middle of the local kitty superhighway from my back patio to everywhere else. When I went to water them a week later, I found only a graveyard of scattered corm corpses. (see diagram below)

This was before my Extension Master Gardener days, but I've always been that person who’s still nursing the poor abandoned poinsettias rescued from office garbage cans. I scooped up as many corms as I could find, replanted them, and took them to the office, hopeful for a comeback.

Now that I think about it, maybe I’m attached to these little guys because they exhibit traits I admire; they represent a way I’d like to be.

They reach toward the light, stretching with what I imagine is an unbridled, single-minded enthusiasm. Every now and then they take so much joy from the wash of light and warmth that they burst into a silent, happy plant song of a blossom. I could certainly benefit by adopting their determination to seek and follow the light.

If left unattended for too long, they let me know very directly, with drooping stems and leaves folding in on themselves, what they need.  In other words, they ask, in their way, for help. As gardeners we know that humans must live in reciprocity with plants to maintain maximum health for both. Just like we help plants grow, they in turn enrich our environment, aesthetically as well as physically. In the same symbiotic way, we humans also need each other – a kind word here, a generous gesture there, a random smile, maybe even a gift of oxalis to someone for no reason at all.

The resilience of the Oxalis inspires me. The next time I’m uprooted or tossed around by life, I want to know I can draw on a store of inner energy to start over and try again. Regardless of where we may draw it, I think we can agree that we want that energy to surge through us, rejuvenating and enriching us. I don’t want to dwell on the many times I've been uprooted.  I want to be always stretching up into the light.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  Happy Spring!  See you at Spring Fling!

Laurie Henderson, TMG '12

Friday, March 13, 2015

Confessions of a Hellebore Addict, Part III

Hello again and welcome to the last of my series of posts on hellebores! 

In the previous post, I talked mostly about the more familiar species of hellebore, orientalis.  Often, people who are familiar only with this type of hellebore are surprised by the variety in the newer plants. 

When Jack and I lived in Arlington, Virginia, (we moved to Tennessee in 2011), we had a group of Helleborus x hybridus 'Walhelivor' (commonly known as 'Ivory Prince') in our front garden near the sidewalk.  One spring morning the doorbell rang and I opened the door to a stranger who wanted to know what kind of plants they were.  When I told her they were hellebores, she said skeptically, "I've grown hellebores but I never had any that looked like that."  Look at this and you'll see why she felt that way. (Yes, all those flowers are on a single plant!)

The plant in the picture (taken at the end of February) is not 'Ivory Prince' (I don't have a good picture to share with you) but rather 'Pink Frost', a similar plant.  Both are Helleborus niger hybrids, and if they were not in bloom, I think you would have a lot of difficulty in recognizing that they are different varieties.  Both show pink buds, as the undersides of the buds are pink on both plants. But 'Pink Frost' opens to reveal a pink flower that fades to a deeper pink, while 'Ivory Prince' opens white and fades to green.  Here is a link to a picture of 'Ivory Prince.'  

What I like about these hybrids is that the flowers are more upward facing and held in a group, like a bouquet. I also like that the foliage is more substantial and leathery-looking.  When not in bloom, 'Ivory Prince' and 'Pink Frost' take on the appearance of an attractive dwarf shrub.  Also, as you can see from the picture above, the foliage seems to hold up better to winter weather compared with orientalis varieties. That being said, the foliage does eventually look tired and tattered and require a little tidying up.  If you do a web search on "helleborus niger hybrids," you'll find others with a slightly different look.

As much as I like the niger hybrids, I have to admit that I find them harder to get established compared with the orientalis I've grown. I've had to replace several nigers that did not survive the first year. I think the key to success is the right amount of water and good drainage. I had read that they need to be kept well-watered until they are established, and it may be that I over-watered. But once established, they seem to be tough plants.   

Hellebores are considered to be shade plants in our area but I've found them to fairly sun tolerant as long as they don't get much hot afternoon sun.  On the other hand, they are also happy in those areas of our garden that get almost no direct sun.  

Those you who are plagued by deer will be happy to hear that deer do not eat hellebores.  (In fact, I've heard of people planting them as a barrier around plants that deer like to eat, but I don't know how well this worked!) That is not entirely true of aphids, however.  I have not had a problem with aphids on hellebores in our Tennesee garden but did have some in our Virginia garden.  So I keep a watchful eye for them.

All things considered, if I had to choose only one type of plant for our garden, hellebores might be my choice. If you are considering adding some to your own garden, get to the nursery soon so you can see them in bloom!

Deb Edwards, TMG '12

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Confessions of a Hellebore Addict, Part II

In my last post, I mentioned that the hellebores you find for sale today are "not your mother's hellebores." That was meant in no way to disparage the older varieties of hellebores (usually Helleborus orientalis).  In fact, I want to start today's post by talking about some of these more common varieties that Jack and I have in our garden.

First, by way of background, you should know that none of our hellebores are mature plants.  I mention this because the pictures of plants I will show you do not do justice to the mature plant, which should be larger and more floriferous.  In fact, many of the plants you'll see in this post came from tiny "volunteer" hellebores passed along to me by other gardeners in 2012.  Many of these little guys got moved again in 2013 to their current location, so they probably have a couple more years until they reach their mature size.

 I call these "volunteers" because they came up from seeds dropped to the ground by the parent plant. For many of the orientalis varieties, when blooms are left to mature on the plant, the seeds will drop and produce enough hellebore babies to pass on to all your friends, your friends' friends, and so on.  But don't worry about invasiveness: the seeds don't spread around the garden.  They come up in a tidy little colony around and underneath the foliage of the mother plant. The seedlings are easy to transplant and have a good survival rate. They only ask for regular water until they get a root system established.  And you don't have to wait long for bloom. In my experience, plants will bloom in the second or third winter.

I think part of the fun part of getting some of these seedlings from a friend is that you never know what the offspring plants will look like. For instance, a shovelful of seedlings from a pink parent might produce plants with white, light pink, dark pink, or almost maroon flowers. 

The pink hellebore shown below is from a shovelful of seedlings transplanted from my sister's garden. 

While it is an attractive plant, this particular "pass-along" hellebore does have a few drawbacks compared with its more hybridized cousins.  For one thing, its flowers, although pretty, tend to be downward-facing and hidden under the foliage. You have to look carefully to find them. Secondly, its foliage can get more winter-burned than some of the other varieties that have a more leathery, substantial leaf.  If you look closely, you can see the winter burn on the foliage above the blooms. Most gardeners cut back the old, tattered foliage before the new foliage emerges in the spring. Some gardeners cut back all the old foliage when the plant starts to bloom to make the bloom more visible.  

Below is another transplanted seedling that exhibits a desirable trait bred into some of the newer hybrids.  Its blooms (although they are downward-facing) are held on a stalk above the foliage, which makes it a much showier plant.  Assuming this one reproduces from seed, it will be interesting to see if its offspring retain this desirable characteristic.

Another way that hellebores can differ is in the form of the flower. Most of the older hellebores have a single layer of petals (technically, sepals), like the plant above, while many of the newer varieties have a double row like this one . . .

and this one.

Another variation you'll find is that, unlike the blooms above which are more of a uniform color, sometimes the blooms will be freckled or picotee. The one shown below seems to have a little of both traits.

The instability of hellebores grown from seeds (even those grown by nurserymen under controlled conditions) sometimes leads to disappointment if you buy a hellebore that is not in bloom. I bought a hellebore from a reputable seller at one of the spring garden sales that was purportedly a double bloom but it turned out to not to be.  So, when possible, it is better to buy hellebores in bloom if you have your heart set a certain bloom color or characteristic.  However, since many of the more unusual varieties are often only available through catalogs, sometimes we have to be willing to take our chances. (Note that some hellebore hybrids are propogated by tissue culture, and this method should yield a plant that is true to the parent plant.)

In the next post, I'll show you my favorite hellebore from our garden.  It is a hellebore that many people familiar with only orientalis do not recognize as being a hellebore.

Deb Edwards TMG '12

Monday, March 9, 2015

Confessions of a Hellebore Addict, Part I

This is my first blog entry in Garden Musings.  When I told my husband, Jack, I was writing about hellebores, he said "Imagine that!" He's well aware that hellebores are among my favorite plants.  They have so much going for them:  easy to grow, beautiful evergreen foliage, nice blooms when little else is blooming, and a long bloom time. I mean, how can you not love looking out your window in late December and seeing this little beauty?

Here's a closer look at the flower, which emerges a snowy white and ages to pink.

This particular hellebore (Helleborus x ballardiae 'Cinnamon Snow') started blooming in November, was in full glory in December and early January, and aged gracefully over this cold, icy winter. The picture below was taken on March 2, and, while not the beautiful plant it once was, it still improves the winter garden.

There are a number of species of hellebores, but two of the most common are Helleborus orientalis (called 'Lenten Rose' because they tend to bloom mid- or late-winter about the time of Lent) and Helleborus niger (called the Christmas rose because they usually are in bloom in December).  You'll also find a huge number of hybrids. In fact, Tony Avent of Plants Delights Nursery says that most of the hellebores grown today are actually interspecific garden hybrids. He has an informative article on his website if you are interested in knowing more about the types of hellebores and their characteristics.  Click to go to the article.

I have been surprised by the number of people I talk with who have never heard of hellebores. Maybe that's because big box stores tend to carry plants when they are in bloom, and hellebores bloom in winter when most of us are not in the garden center. Or maybe when you think of hellebores, you think of the pass-along hellebore, which tends to be pale pink or white with single, downward-facing, nondescript flowers. But many of the hellebores sold today are so different that you might not even recognize them as hellebores. 
Some have leathery variegated foliage. Some have large, upward-facing flowers. Some have double flowers or freckled flowers. And the flowers come in a rainbow of colors.  Click here for a sample. These are definitely not your mother's hellebores!  (This discussion of variety reminds me how incomplete my own collection is!)

Over the next several posts, I'll share the (mostly) highs and (occasional) lows of my love affair with hellebores and show you more of my favorite specimens from our garden.  I'll also talk about my experience in growing them.  But a word of caution: if you have an plant-addictive personality (in particular, if you are a hostaholic with a shady garden), you may be in for trouble . . . . I've already told Jack that we must have some yellows!

Deb Edwards TEMG '12

Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Peek at the Nashville Lawn & Garden Show

Bug Box

Road trip!  Several of us departed Memphis just ahead of the snow on Wednesday and made it to Nashville without incident.  We checked into our hotel, then drove to Mt. Juliet to Five Guys Burgers for dinner (don't ask.)  The next morning we awoke to the same winter wonderland that Memphis enjoyed, but we were on a mission.  As soon as we could see traffic moving, albeit slowly, we carefully drove to the Tennessee Fairgrounds for the Nashville Lawn and Garden Show.  Let me tell you, being the only visitors in that sea of gardens and vendors is the way to go!

The first garden display we saw turned out to be the best.  The folks at Hewitt Garden & Design Center went all out for their display and it was fabulous.

Wate's Golden Virginia Pine
Chamaecyparis 'Gracilis Nana' Standard
Helleborus x nigercors Gold Collection® Ice Breaker Prelude
Just a word about the hellebores pictured above:  stay tuned to this blog next week!  We're going to have a long look at hellebores!

Weeping Cotoneaster

Along with display gardens, there were flower arrangements, a wonderful display of a children's garden set up by the Master Gardeners of Davidson County, four buildings of vendors (oh my) and three days of lectures.  There would have been four, but the Thursday lectures were cancelled due to the weather.

This is an annual event and I would strongly encourage you to make the trip next year.

p.s. - the bug box pictured above was designed and made by one of the Hewitt sons.  Isn't it amazing?Where have I been?  Bug boxes are apparently very trendy, but I've missed the boat.  I'll play catch up and post more on this subject soon.

Suzanne TEMG '10

Roly Poly Problem - and the Solution

Hi Everyone,

Are you worn out after playing with the grandkids and/or dogs in the snow? Today I was spending some time trying to find information on why I always have such a problem getting nasturtium to germinate when I came across this video. It validates everything that I have learned with my composting and also what we have learned at PAR Davies.

I will say that the problem I was having at home (but not at Davies) was the overabundance of pill bugs or roly polys. They were in my compost and before I realized how many there were, I’d dumped bunches of the compost into my raised beds. I’m not lying when I tell you that I could scrape them up by the spoonfuls off the top off the soil. They were the bane of the garden, making it almost impossible to direct sow seeds because as soon as the tender little sprouts emerged, they were eaten off.

Like in the video, I was using kitchen scraps in my compost pile. Pill bugs LOVE tender vegetation like the lettuce and cabbage leaves, etc. that I was putting in the compost. This past year I started using only shredded leaves, coffee grounds and egg shells. While the pill bugs have not completely disappeared, they are not at plague proportions. So in addition to the reasons given in the video for not using kitchen scraps, the elimination of pill bugs is a major one for me. BTW, I use a leaf blower/sucker like the one in the video, and it shreds the leaves very nicely.

On the egg shells, I don’t know exactly how many are too much. I do think that it probably takes a while for them to break down, so I am not too worried about getting too much calcium. If anyone has any knowledge in this area, please let us know. One way that I’ve been collecting my eggshells is keeping them in a pan in the oven. I use my oven almost every day, so after I turn it off, I put the pan of eggshells back in to dry out. This way you don’t have a bunch of eggshells sitting around getting smelly, and when they are dried out they can be crushed up more finely.

Hopefully some of you can relate to these issues and there might be something that you didn’t know and it will be helpful, not only for your vegetable gardens but also in your teachings.

Oh, I never did find out anything that I wasn’t already doing as far as the nasturtiums! Anybody else have this problem? Last year I planted nasturtium near my squash and didn’t have any squash bugs, however, did have the squash vine borer. So this year I plan to put more nasturtium around all the veggies to deter squash/stink bugs.

At the beginning of the post is a picture of my covered bed taken on Friday. Before I covered it Wednesday I was able to pick a bunch of lettuce and pulled a few carrots. It will be interesting to see how things fared when I uncover. It had a good layer of snow, so I believe it was well insulated the last two nights.

Dianne, TEMG '11

Friday, March 6, 2015

Winter White Images

I knew there was a reason why I left those holiday decorations hanging outside...

 More ~

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

March is Extension Month in Tennessee

March is Extension Month in Tennessee:  A Salute!

Extension is a national educational program supported by USDA through the nation’s land-grant universities and administered with funding from state and local governments in Tennessee through offices in each of the state’s 95 counties. County Extension offices across the state are planning various celebrations and commemorations for the state’s 105-year-old Extension program. Visit your local county office!

 “Extension means ‘reaching out,’ and University of Tennessee Extension extends the university’s teaching and research missions to deliver research-based information and education to all the state’s citizens through youth and adult programs in every county,” said Tim Cross, dean of UT Extension.

Example programs available through county offices include the state’s award-winning 4-H Youth Development Program including its summer youth camps; family and consumer educational programs; and healthy living courses. In keeping with the traditional view of Extension, information to assist the state’s agricultural producers and foresters is also available, and the increasingly popular courses for Master Gardeners, and gardeners in general, are also conducted through county Extension offices.

“TSU Extension encompasses hundreds of Extension faculty members, scientists, educators, administrative staff and volunteers, all working to provide solutions for Tennesseans,” said Latif Lighari, associate dean for Extension at Tennessee State University.

UT Extension also performs services for the state’s citizens, including managing the statewide Soil, Plant and Pest Center through which clients can have the quality of their soil and forage analyzed and any insect pest or plant diseases identified. Extension also trains clients in the proper use of pesticides and even operates commercially-certified kitchens where small scale vendors can prepare food items for sale while meeting state guidelines for food safety.

Extension’s programs can be seen in Tennessee as an excellent investment of public resources. The statewide educational programs in 4-H youth development, agriculture and natural resources, family and consumer sciences, and community economic development are estimated to impact the state’s economy by more than $493 million from July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2014. This amounts to a return of investment of $8.13 for every $1 in public funds invested in Tennessee Extension.



JJ, TEMG 2013




Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The "Dream Team" Delivers!

Hello, everyone!  For those of you who were not able to attend "The Dream Team Presents” at Memphis Botanic Gardens on Saturday, February 28, 2015, I want to share my brief notes on the presentations provided by Suzy Askew, Gardens Education and Volunteer Coordinator at Dixon Gallery & Gardens; Ginny Fletcher, Vice President of Memphis Area Master Gardeners and Past President of Memphis Horticultural Society; and Greg Touliatos, founder, Greg Touliatos & Associates and Urban Earth.
Suzy spoke first providing historical and current use of “rills” in landscapes—“Aesthetic Water Features with a Purpose.”  She described a rill as simply a channel that moves water.  Three prominent examples given were (1) naturally occurring erosion [see photo below]; 

(2) commercial use, including the Panama Canal [see photo below], 

Garden Rill
and (3) landscape design.
Italian Palazzo Rill


Suzy's presentation was artfully delivered and certainly generated some serious thought on my part on how to incorporate this feature into my landscape.  

Next up, Ginny spoke about vertical gardening, with both slide images and an actual "how-to-build" demonstration.  Some advantages of this technique are aesthetics, increased yield, privacy screening, reduced disease/insect infestation, and easier harvesting.  I heard enough chatter to know that she certainly created interest in this technique!

Floral or Vegetable Gardens

Following a brief break to sample the tasty treats provided by members, Greg Touliatos introduced us to his new garden store in mid-town Memphis.

Urban Earth
He continued with a discussion of his approach to landscape design and favorite plant selections.  One of Greg’s main points was that the etiology of gardening has changed so that the transfer of plant materials is no longer passed locally, person-to-person.  The major suppliers are huge, bi-coastal growers; therefore, it is essential for the gardener to not rely on plant tags or on the internet for information specific to a plant and how it relates to growing in the Mid-South.
Many thanks to Memphis Area Master Gardeners and to Memphis Botanic Garden for this for this highly successful program!

Until next time...

JJ James, TEMG ‘13