Sunday, December 25, 2016

Does anyone grow Lithodora?

I would love to be able to grow lithodora (Lithodora diffusa) in my garden. Three or four years ago, I came across Lithodora for the first time in one of the big box stores, and its bright blue flowers called out to me. It is a low-growing groundcover with a growth habit similar to creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) or candtuft (Iberis sempervirens). I was not familiar with the plant, and neither was anyone in the garden center, but after reading the plant label, I decided to give it a try.

The plant I bought looked healthy and was loaded with buds. I planted in a partly sunny area and was careful to make sure it was well-watered as the heat set in. It quickly deteriorated and was dead by mid-summer. 

The next year, I was again lured in by the bright blooms in the spring, so I decided to try it again. This time I planted in a different area and gave it less water. Same result.

I decided that it was one of those plants that really wasn't suitable for our area and initially resisted when I saw it in the garden center this spring. But then I found a large group of it on the clearance rack and the plants looked completely healthy. So I decided to try again, this time planting in an area with excellent drainage but keeping it well-watered. It lasted long enough to get my hopes up, but by the end of summer, dead again.

So if there is anyone out there who has had success with lithodora, please share your secret. How much sun does it get and is it morning or afternoon sun? What is the soil like and does it tend to be moist or dry? Do you speak to it with encouragement or threats? (Just kidding about that last one, unless threats are working for you.)


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Fall, Leaves, Fall

One morning while having breakfast last week, my eye caught a delightful scene outside the kitchen window: leaves drifting to the ground like a mass of butterflies. It was a still morning, with little indication of a breeze, and yet the leaves had decided it was time to fall.
video

Seeing the leaves fall reminds me of Emily Bronte's short poem about falling leaves and the cycle of life. Even decay has its place in the cycle.

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.

I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night's decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

 I use to be a person who couldn't enjoy the beauty of fall for thinking about the cold and barrenness of winter. Jack use to accuse me of being sad in late June because the arrival of the summer solstice means that days will be getting shorter. And it is true. I do not like the long nights.

But, realizing that every season, both in life and nature, has its purpose, I am having some success in changing my attitude. Rather than sitting around in the winter, moaning about the cold and wishing for spring, I will enjoy the opportunity to rest from the garden and do other things that get crowded out when there are flower beds to be cleaned, and seeds to be planted, and grass to be mowed. Don't get me wrong--you'll still find me moaning about cold and wishing for spring. Hopefully, just not quite so often.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Fall Color . . . Finally

Last week I was complaining about the lack of fall color this year. I was guessing that the drought we experienced throughout the fall was to blame, and I assumed that we would be robbed of the beautiful reds, golds, and yellows that we usually see in November in the Midsouth. 

It has been true that the fall has been less colorful than usual, but there are a few species of trees that never seem to disappoint. One of these is the ginkgo. Jack and I had visitors in town for the St. Jude run this weekend, and they were asking about the beautiful yellow-leaved trees they saw along the run. After some questioning, it became clear that they were referring to the ginkgo. Here's a picture of one at the Germantown library.

The shrubs in the foreground of this picture are burning bush (Euonymus alatus). This is a gorgeous planting in most years because the burning bush turns bright crimson just as the gingko turns bright yellow.  This year the burning bush seems to be suffering from too little water and too much pruning, but, even so, the grouping is beautiful.

Another group of trees that never disappoint are the Japanese maples. The neighbor's pair of maples across the cove delights us every fall.



Our own Japanese maples (which received irrigation) were also colorful this fall. This little red weeping Japanese maple is red in spring and fall.




This yellow cultivar, 'Waterfall', is a pale green in spring and summer. In the fall, it develops a complex mix of orange and gold that looks almost fluorescent.  The tree in the background is a kousa dogwood. It also develops nice fall color.

So, I guess Mother Nature has proven to have the last word, yet again. There was an advertising slogan some years back that said "You can't fool Mother Nature." I guess you can't rush her either.



Thursday, November 17, 2016

Time to Bring Tender Plants Inside

The weatherman is saying that cold weather is on the way, arriving Friday night, so yesterday I started the process of de-bugging the few pots of tender plants that spend the summer on our patio. First, I inspect the plant itself for signs of pests, and if I see any, these are usually easily eliminated by hosing the plant off or by using insecticidal soap. 

The more common problem I have is with insects that claim the soil in the pot for a summer home, and then start crawling out into the house when the pot is moved indoors. So before I move them indoors, I try to encourage all those squatters to find a new home. One way to do this is to prepare a soil drench containing insecticide, but a more environmentally friendly way is simply to submerge the pot in water. This is very easy when you are dealing with small pots but I have two large ones that present a bigger challenge.


A few years ago, I discovered that those large plastics tubs are ideal for this purpose (and very useful for all sorts of other gardening applications). This picture shows a tree fern submerged in a green plastic tub. It barely fits but barely is good enough since the goal is to saturate the soil in the pot. I added enough water to the green tub to make the water level in the bin equal to the soil level in the pot. I left it about 20 minutes, then took the pot out. (Actually, I had to get Jack to lift it out since a big pot saturated with water weighs a lot.) This particular pot is one of those self-watering types that has a water reservoir and no drainage holes in the bottom. I had to tilt it to let water escape from the water reservoir, then let it sit for awhile so that water could drain from the soil into the reservoir. I had to repeat this process a few times before all the water drained out.

This picture shows the tree fern draining and a rabbit's foot fern in the green tub. The rabbit's foot fern is planted in a normal pot, with drainage holes in the bottom. After about a 20 minute bath, the pot came out of the water and drained for awhile on the patio.

Perhaps you've already brought your plants inside (after all, next week is Thanksgiving!), but if not, you might want to give this method a try. It is a simple, cost-free and chemical-free way to avoid bringing earwigs and fungus gnats into your home.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Growing the Next Generation of Gardeners


It is possible to lure youngsters away from their electronic devices! Here are some tips I’ve found helpful with my young gardeners.
  • Involve them in a project that has a fairly short timeline and in which they can be a full participant. Planting annuals is perfect. The holes are small and the results are quick and easy to see.
  • Take them to the nursery and let them help pick out the plants. They picked out some that don’t fit in your plans? Those can be special plants for them to put in a pot.
Having your very own gardening gloves makes it more fun
  • Invest in child-sized tools. Having the right tool for the right job is the secret for success in most cases and especially in gardening. There are child-sized gloves and gardening tools available. Just make sure the tools are study enough to do the job.
  • Follow up might not be their greatest strength and you want them to be able to see success, so be prepared to help with maintenance and watering of their gardens.
  • Another project can be a fairy garden—and it doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. Use pots or containers you already have and use their small toys in them. You’re not aiming for best in the show but teaching to them find enjoyment in nature and to believe in their own creativity.
  • Take walks and talk about different plants, why they grow where they are, what’s special about them. Leave the cell phone at home or in your pocket. Visit botanic gardens and parks and be on the lookout for plants.
On of my sons added butterfly bushes to his garden
and his children love the butterflies that visit
  • Remember that small gardeners can also have small attention spans. Let them set the pace and don’t expect to them to work with you for too many hours.
  • For those who are goal oriented, try developing a specimen plant for entry in a local county fair. Ribbons are exciting at any age.
  • Help your young gardeners to learn that there are good bugs and not to fear them or see all as something to be squashed. Many bugs are favorites for little gardeners. Be on the lookout for lady bugs and butterflies.
With just a bit of luck, you’ll not only be cultivating the next generation of gardeners but also developing enduring relationships with your family members as well as with Mother Earth.

More ideas? Add them to the comments section to share with your fellow gardeners.









Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Gardens of Augustus in Capri, Italy

One of the fortunate changes in the itinerary of my recent trip to Italy occurred when high tides prevented an excursion to the Blue Grotto at the Isle of Capri.  Our tour guide substituted the Gardens of  Augustus (originally called Krupp Gardens), the only gardens we visited during the eight-day trip.

Established in the late nineteenth century by the German industrialist Friedrich Alfred Krupp (1854-1902), the gardens consist of terraces which overlook the Tyrrhenian Sea and display much of the flora of Capri.  Although discussions of the gardens mention the prevalence of geraniums, dahlias, and broom, these specimens were not on display when I visited in mid-October. 
A short walk from Piazza Umberto 1 takes the visitor by olive orchards, grape arbors, and various evergreens in the adjacent gardens of the 14th century Carthusian Monastary, before one reaches the lower terrace of the Gardens of Augustus.  The colorful plaza here features walkways bordered with either bright-colored Begonia or brilliant Coleus intermingled with Chlorophytum comosum, also called spider plants or airplane plants.  I have seen similar color schemes created locally with Liriope muscari 'Variegata" (variegated liriope) in place of the spider plants.  There were no gardeners at work on the Saturday of my visit, but it was clear that someone had spent time trimming off the spiderettes and any brown foliage. Focal points were created by statues of satyrs and nymphs..  




                                                      Lining the back wall of the terrace are Brugmansia, with pendulous yellow or white blooms. I was unfamiliar with Brugmansia and had to seek help in identifying it and various other of the plants I photographed.  The blooms resemble those of the common trumpet vine, and its common name is angel's trumpets because of the shape.  The blooms can be pink, orange, green or even red!  I did not get close enough to verify that these blossoms gave off their reputed strong, pleasing fragrance.  Brugmansia blossoms attract pollinating moths in the evening, but the plants are tropical and not likely to flourish in our zone. 



At the western end of this lower terrace are spectacular views of what is considered Capri's most iconic sight: the Faraglioni, looming rock formations, which extend from the coast out into the Mediterranean. The one in the photo framed by various foliage is the middle of the three (or four) and named di Mezzo; it is 109 meters in height. Although there was mist over the water, one can see the faint outlines of its stone archway.  



Stairs lead to the upper terrace and many more views of the Faraglioni framed by

other plants, for example, the Opuntia cactus, commonly called a prickly pear. This plant is native to the Americas and thrives in arid or beach environments, but it is not uncommon in our parts.  The Pinus mugo (creeping pine or mountain pine) is native to higher elevations in Europe.


On the upper terrace the visitor is surrounded on three sides by the sea, with a spectacular view of the Marina Piccola (we arrived from Sorrento at the Porte Marina Grande) and the via Krupp, a zig-zag path connecting the heights with the beaches.  Everywhere--on the terrace, covering the cliffsides, and off in the distance are a variety of beautiful plants. 



One of my favorites is the Aloe arborescens  pointed out to me by a fellow Master Gardener from my North Carolina years. This particular succulent is described as multi-headed and sprawling.  I  have seen pictures of the cylindrical, vibrant red/orange flowers, but even without blooms, it was wonderfully exotic and apparently well suited to its rocky cliffside home.


Other plants thrive in the Mediterranean environment of the Gardens of Augustus--Arecaceae (palm trees), Rosemarinus officinalis (rosemary), Calluna vulgaris (common heather), EuonymusHibiscusIndigofera (indigo), Bougainvillea, and more.   

Enjoying the fashion streets and beautiful cathedral of Milan, the canals of Venice,  the shops and art of Florence, the Vatican museums and Colosseum and Trevi Fountain of Rome, and the ruins of Pompei, I could not have foreseen what a wonderful conclusion to my Italian trip was awaiting me on the island of Capri.





Thursday, November 10, 2016

2017 Gardening Calendar Now Available



The Memphis Area Master Gardener 2017 Gardening Calendar goes on sale today.  This calendar is our best one yet.  Gorgeous photos, gardening event information, planting guides - everything you've come to expect from us.  This year's calendar includes best herbs for the Mid-South! Only $15 - what a deal!

Click here to order online.  You may also purchase from many local locations, including Dan West Garden Center and Booksellers at Laurelwood.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Gardening through the Generations


My grandfather
My grandparents were farmers. Their lives revolved around growing seasons and the rhythms of nature. They were up at sunrise--no need for daylight savings time--and retired from their day’s work when the skies grew dark in the evening.

Members of their families had tilled the red clay hills of central Mississippi as long as anyone could remember. While my grandfather planted cotton and corn to support his family, my grandmother tended to her enormous garden filled with black-eyed peas, squash, carrots, lettuce and more. We at like kings in the summer and the vegetables she canned were a reminder of summer through the winter months.

My mom tends to her roses
My parents moved to the big city not too many years after they were wed. They traded plowed ground and pine trees for a quarter of an acre in suburbia and set an alarm clock to begin their workdays rather than relying on the rising and setting of the sun.

But there still was dirt under their fingernails. Long before the days of yard services and rows of weed killers on the shelves, they used sheets of plastic to battle weeds and managed to create a yard that looked like a golf course. They inspired their daughter to continue a lifelong kinship with the earth that began on her grandfather’s lap.

While my parents worked hard creating the perfect lawn, their pride and joy was their rose garden with enormous blooms and plants with names that they discussed like good friends over dinner—Peace, Tiffany, Mr. Lincoln. After my mother died and my father moved to an assisted living facility, our family home was occupied by renters. The only thing my father ever wanted to know about the people who occupied his home of more than 40 years was if they were taking care of his miniature Japanese maple tree he planted in the front yard.

As a child, my proudest creation was a postage stamp-size vegetable garden that yielded about enough food for a single meal for our family of three.

With adulthood, I gave up the idea of farming for food and found joy in the azaleas and dogwoods and other native plants of our region. I moved three times before finding the right place for my garden. The floor plan of the house was secondary to the possibilities of the yard.

My older son's garden
And as our family grew, so did our roster of gardeners. My older son gardened alongside me as a child. Along with the names of his favorite football players, he could recite his favorite plants—mahonias, hostas, butterfly bushes and so on. He's now grown and works tirelessly in his own garden, with the help of his children, of course.

A rosebush nestled in the corner of my 
son's house--a tribute to past generations
And when spring gardening begins, my granddaughter will take the place of her father in helping me prepare the soil and plant annuals. And that Japanese maple? It’s being relocated to the newly purchased home of my younger son so it can continue receiving the very best of care.

Through good times and bad, gardening has been a constant in my life. The rhythm of nature is dependable and timeless and nowhere is my soul more calmed than when I’m sitting on the ground digging in dirt and feeling the heartbeat of life.

Next post: Tips for growing that next generations of gardeners

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Hydrangea that Returned Home

On several occasions in this blog, I've mentioned how important plants can be in connecting gardeners across generations or across miles.  I wrote about the plants in our garden that came from Jack's mother's garden in West Virginia. Some were cuttings from his grandmother's garden. Most recently, I wrote about rose campion that my mother and I got from the garden of my mother's lifelong best friend, who died this summer.

When I was a child, my mother grew several blue mophead hydrangeas on the north side of our house. We did not have much shade in our yard, but the house must have provided just the right amount because those hydrangeas bloomed beautifully each spring. I can remember as a child taking bouquets to my teacher, and they usually included these big blue blooms. Those hydrangeas are long gone, collateral damage when we demolished the old house to build a new one.


Last week my mother passed away. My aunt (my father's sister-in-law) made the trip from Alabama for the funeral. She told me that she had tried to order flowers but was not able to because she did not have a credit card and the florist would not take a check. Then she remembered that many years ago, she had taken a cutting from my mother's hydrangea. She had shared the plant with a neighbor and the neighbor's plant had produced transplantable offshoots where the stems had touched the ground and rooted. So she dug up three of these little plants (one each for my brother, my sister, and myself) and gave them to us after the funeral. Needless to say, we were overwhelmed by her thoughtfulness. 

I have my little hydrangea in a pot, nursing it through this drought and hot weather, while I search for just the right spot for it. I want it to be just as happy in our garden as it was for many years in my mother's garden. When its blooms appear, I'll think of two special people: my loving mother and the thoughtful aunt who returned it to Tennessee.