Monday, December 29, 2008

A New Year and Hope Springs Eternal

Happy New Year, everyone! I'm sorry that I've been away for a little while, but I hosted Christmas in Tennessee this year and that, coupled with several projects that needed to be put to bed before the holidays, has kept me away from the computer more than I would like for the past couple of weeks. I hope everyone is having a great holiday season.

I woke up this morning (now that all of the Christmas fuss is past) with a renewed sense of hope and optimism as we leave 2008 behind and look forward to 2009. Certainly, there are things whose outcome is yet to be determined--the economy, for one--but I've decided that I'm not going to let those things dictate how I'm going to approach each day. I'm not going to listen to all of the news reporters bawling like a herd of goats about how "horrible" everything is. Nope. I'm choosing the higher path and I'm deciding that the days are going to be good ones. And even if some are harder than others I'm still moving forward on life's path and not getting stuck in the rut that we're all being guided into every time we turn on the television. I would encourage you to do the same.

If you need a little boost--a little sense of hope--a little sense of renewal--I would encourage you to go to the garden. Even if you live in the cold and snowy north, take a walk around. There is always hope and optimism in the garden; the tiny buds laid tight against the branches of trees and shrubs, awaiting spring's arrival and the opportunity to burst forth with renewed vigor, bringing joy with beautiful foliage and flowers; the tiny green tips of the first leaves of the snowdrops already beginning to push through the soil; the fat buds of the hellebores curled tightly into the crown of the plant still, but pushing forward nonetheless.

The garden never gives up. In every season, there is an opportunity--something to look forward to. Whether it's the first flowers of spring, the ebullient display of summer, the soft whisper of autumn or the grandeur of winter's frosty morns, in the garden hope springs eternal. There is hope and renewal around every corner, in every season. I hope that your garden provides the same sense of hope, renewal and joy that mine brings to me and I wish you the very best for 2009.

And don't forget to keep checking back! There are great changes ahead for the new year, both on the blog and at the main website, Happy New Year!

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Great Prairies

The older I get, the more reflective I become. I think it happens to the best of us, doesn't it? Some of the things I find myself reflecting on most these days are the things which ultimately shaped my chosen profession and which had lasting impact on my psyche from the time I was a child. Some of the most profound influences I had, though I don't think I fully realized it until later in life, were my childhood surroundings. The great prairies.

Like most children, I absorbed the world around me like a sponge--especially the natural world. The pulsing, rhythmic heartbeat of Mother Nature ran through my veins like the elixir of life. Nowhere was this feeling more prevalent than on the open plains of Kansas, where the prairie grasses danced and nodded in the continual breeze and the sunflowers painted the roadsides, hills and valleys--faces upturned--greeting the heavens with a sunny yellow smile.

It was this magnificent, untouched, ever-changing prairie that fed my spirit. The warm breeze caressing brown, summertime faces and the bitter howl of winter's fury that could all but knock you down and take your breath away with a single, frigid gust. It was the gentle rain that fell and made slow-moving rivers through roadside ditches where neighborhood boys floated boats made of lumber scraps and the ominous thunderheads that towered miles into the sky, forboding and black, a warning to those who were wise enough to take heed. It was the timid prairie dog--burrowing, watching, waiting--ever vigilant; their guards on high alert in the knowledge that one misstep on their part and SNAP!, the loss of a loved one to the talons of a red-tailed hawk on silent wing.

Some say you can't go back. I disagree. When the day is long, when work provides more stress than comfort, when the world begins to spin faster and faster out of control--the prairie is still my calming force. It is home. It is where I return in quiet solitude, in meditation--the prairie of my childhood--and all is right again with the world.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What The Heck Is That?!?

Those words were uttered more than once this summer as passersby gawked at the otherworldly flowers hanging from the vine on the fence at my friend Leann's house. (There are pictures of her garden in my Garden Gallery at Apparently, a few folks even took offense at these giant, martianesque blossoms that so proudly displayed themselves, perfuming the air with the fragrance of lemon.

Funny, huh? Offended by a flower. I, on the other hand, find them entrancing--enthralling--utterly (as Martha would say) delightful. So they're a little weird, a little wild, a little "out there". They're plants! Another one of those fabulous, freaky things that makes people stop and take notice. No one was stopping to comment on the petunias, mind you. They paid no attention to THOSE at all!

So what is it? It is, my friends, the giant Dutchman's Pipe (Aristolochia gigantea). It is tropical in its origins, so is grown as annual by most of us. Don't let that fool you, though. It wasn't much more than a rooted cutting in a 1-gallon pot when it went in the ground and it was a little slow to start. Leann complained to me more than once that it wasn't really doing much. "Be patient," I replied, "The rewards will come later." I was right. The vine grew and grew until about September and then I got the call.

"Get over here tomorrow!" she said. "It has two buds on it." I told her I would try, but to be patient still and that there would be much more to come. It wasn't but a few weeks before the plant burst into flower--40, 50, 60 blooms. Maybe more. Everyone of them was over a foot long and nearly a foot wide. Some were borne singly, others in pairs. Either way, they were no less beautiful or enticing. Though certainly not common, the plant is fairly widely available from specialty nurseries on the internet or through mailorder. It's a great addition to any garden and is certain to be one of THE most talked about plants you own.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Pumpkin Artistry

Never underestimate the creative mind! For those of you who thought that pumpkins were only good for carving and, perhaps, the occasional pie, I'd like to introduce you to the work of a good friend mine.

Every autumn at the University of Tennessee's West Tennessee Research Station in Jackson, TN, Jason Reeves and his staff create one of the most fun, exciting and dramatic displays of pumpkins, squash and gourds that you can imagine! Not only do they create this incredible display from scratch every year, they also re-design it from the ground up AND (with the help of a few of the research folks) they grow all of the squash, gourds and pumpkins they use in it.

This is a short entry, but I really wanted everyone to see the photos. C-C-COOOOLLLDDD here tonight! 17 degrees fahrenheit. Uggh!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Not So Elusive

Well, as it turns out, my elusive waterfall turned out to be not-so-elusive. We found it. However, we found it at the end of the hike when, as it turns out, had we turned right instead of left we would have found it at the beginning. The end was good, though. The waterfall was a great way to end an hour's worth of hiking the ridge, as well as the valley behind it. If we'd found the waterfall first, we might have turned around and left before really doing some good exploring!

After seeing the lay of the land and the variation in trees and shrubs that it supports, I can only imagine what kind of elation I'll feel when I walk through and see the wildflowers coming up in the spring. If the vast stands of native forest sedges and Christmas fern are any indication, the spring show should be stunning. In addition to the few herbaceous plants still bravely hanging 'round this late in the season there were also a fair number of unusual woody plants along the way. Some of the more uncommon ones included an excellent stand of Lindera benzoin (Spicebush), numerous Ostrya virginiana (American Hop Hornbeam) all along the streambank and an as-yet-unidentified native azalea. I'll let you know what it is when it flowers in the spring.

The only problematic encounter we had was when we finally reached a point where the stream took a hard turn to the left and, on our side of the streambank, straight into a bluff. Our options were to turn back and re-hike the distance we had just come and the go back up to the top of the ridge or to go up from where we were. We chose the latter. The word "grueling" comes to mind, though not in an "I'd-never-do-it-again" sort of way. I'll say this: I'd ONLY do it in the winter when anything legless and scaly was NOT out sunning itself on the rocks or hiding sneakily under the leaves. This is timber rattler territory if I've ever seen it. No, we won't be scaling the cliffs in the summertime. Uh-uh. Not me. Sorry. I'm staying on flat ground and carrying a big stick.

Cliff-scaling aside, we had a fantastic afternoon. The weather was perfect (perfectly horrible for photography) with the sun coming down through the leafless trees and helping to warm us up just a bit. When we did find the waterfall, two problems posed themselves immediately: One, the weather. "Severe clear" as a photo friend of mine would describe it--washed out light and harsh shadow--not even good snapshot weather. And two, the best vantage point for shooting the waterfall is IN the creek. Seeing as it was 41 chilly degrees fahrenheit, my feet stayed on dry land. I snapped a few shots just to prove I was there, but the pretty shots will have to wait til summer. For the moment, though, I had found what I was looking for and it did not disappoint. Now I can't wait for spring and all of its lush, green exuberance. The photos then will be spectacular! I'm sure of it!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

My Elusive Waterfall

It's chilly this morning in Tennessee! Not as chilly as it is where some of you are located, I'm sure--and not as warm as it is for some of you either. I do have to say we're in a good climate here with just enough winter to still be able to appreciate four distinct seasons, but with short enough winters that by the time I'm really beginning to go stir-crazy it's just about over. If you really plan well here, you can have something blooming in the garden almost 12 months out of the year--even in the winter.

Today's not a gardening day, though. Nope. Today's a hiking day. As I've mentioned in some previous posts, I moved to a new piece of property back in August and since that time I've hardly had the time to get the lawn whipped into shape, let alone go exploring on the 150 acres of grassland and woods that extends for two ridges back behind the house. If I'm being totally honest, there are a couple of other reasons, too, not the least of which are the chiggers!

For those of you who don't live in the South and are asking "What the heck is a 'chigger'?", let me explain. For lack of a better term, they're sort of like a tiny little mite--maybe a spider mite, for you gardeners. They're tiny, horrible little sucking buggers that burrow into your skin and cause raised bumps like overgrown mosquito bites that itch like you simply cannot believe. If I had a nickel for every time I've woken up clawing at my ankles in the middle of the night because of them, I'd be writing this from some quiet beach in the Caribbean instead of from the living room in Primm Springs, Tennessee.

They like tight places. Shoes. Socks. That place where your jeans rub right behind your knees. Anywhere with an elastic waistband..... They're the worst. And unlike a mosquito bite, they don't just go away. No. They linger. They itch for the first week and then usually take two more to heal. So why am I babbling on about this? Well, because they love the woods. So that's the reason I haven't gone exploring yet on the new property. That and the rattlesnakes. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the rattlesnakes.

I know, I know. They won't bother you if you don't bother them. I'd rather not take my chances, thanks. Especially not after I photographed a nearly 6-foot-long timber rattler not 20 minutes from my house earlier this summer. He was an old boy. Thirteen rattles.

But back to the title of this post and my "Elusive Waterfall". My landlady tells me that somewhere on the property is a magnificent waterfall. She says it's about 30 feet wide and 15 feet high and I'm going looking for it. From her directions, I know the general direction in which it lies, but I don't know exactly where it is. The weather is perfect--39 degrees. No chiggers. No rattlesnakes. I'm going to go find a waterfall. If I'm successful, I'll post some pics! If you haven't heard back from me in a couple of days, send out a search party, would you?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

An Amaryllis By Any Other Name...

Hippeastrum cybister. Yes, yes, I know. More weird plants. Why not just talk about good old-fashioned red Christmas amaryllis? (Yawn.) Or everyone's favorite, 'Appleblossom'? (Yawn.) Or that beautiful red-and-white striped one that Granny grew every year? (Yaaawwn.) Alright, alright. I'm being unfair. I'm sounding like I don't like the traditional, large-flowered Christmas amaryllis when really, I do. But y'all know about those. I'd rather tell you about an amaryllis that you might not be quite as familiar with, if at all--and that's Hippeastrum cybister, or the cybister amaryllis.

This is a species that is native to South America--Bolivia, specifically--and has, in the past decade or so, been used extensively in hybridizing. The bottom photograph above is a picture of the species. It's extremely narrow petals are a dominant characteristic and carry through to the offspring. By hybridizing this species with other, more colorful species, the breeders have brought us an astounding array of exotic-looking, almost orchid-like amaryllis (the top picture) that 20 years ago were nearly unheard of.

The cybister group, as they're often referred to, are just as easy to grow as their larger counterparts, but are smaller in every respect. Smaller bulbs, smaller flowers, and generally smaller in stature (which means little to no staking!) and they make the perfect subjects for tabletop or windowsills during the holiday season. The cybister types also tend to be evergreen, so even though you'll purchase them as dormant bulbs (no foliage), once you get them up and growing they should remain beautiful green houseplants year round.

As with all amaryllis, they like to be potbound, so don't overdo it on the size of the pot. They also don't like to be overwatered, especially when in bloom (true for almost all amaryllis), so don't get heavy-handed with the watering can. Generally speaking, I pot them up, soak them good one time to settle them into the pot and leave them the heck alone until the flower stalks are emerging well from the bulb. Even then I just keep them barely moist. They're still rooting in at this point and overwatering could well cause those tender new roots to rot!

Cybisters will multiply with some degree of abandon and, after a few years, you should have a nice pot full of bulbs. Leave them alone! They're pretty this way. Even if the bulbs start "stacking up" on each other, they'll be okay. In the wild, amaryllis tend to grow on rock cliffs and other such places, so they don't need a gigantic pot filled to the brim with over-rich potting soil. All they need is a place to hang on and get a little food and water from occasionally.
I'd recommend summering them outdoors in a semi-shaded spot. In summer, when they are actively growing, you can feed and water them like your other houseplants, but once they come back in for the winter you need to back off again.

One last word on amaryllis: bloom time. This will likely come as a shock to some of you, but Christmas is NOT their natural bloom time. Spring is. The bulbs you buy for forcing at Christmas are exactly that. Forced. This doesn't harm them, but in later years (assuming you keep them from year to year) they will flower at their normal bloom time in March and April and, generally speaking, not at Christmas. A word to the wise--you're better off to just enjoy them at their natural bloom time. Re-forcing them to flower at Christmas every year is somewhat difficult unless you are able to provide just the right conditions. I don't recommend it. Buy a new one each year and add to your collection. Let it be beautiful for the holidays and enjoy the rest of them as they welcome spring. I mean, the flowers aren't any less beautiful in March, right?

Happy Gardening!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Out In A Blaze of Glory

I really thought that we were going to miss out on fall color in Tennessee this year. August and September were horribly dry and the trees all looked so stressed by the beginning of October that I really thought the leaves would just drop without turning. I was wrong. The color has been short-lived, but it did happen. Last week was absolutely stunning--for about 3 days. Before and after those three days were okay, but peak color happened suddenly and the color was fleeting. Oh, there's still some color around, no doubt, but it's not that brilliant, vibrant, oh-my-gosh-would-you-look-at-that kind of color that last Wednesday was all about.

Most of us, when we think of fall color, think of trees and shrubs, but in case you're not familiar with it I want to introduce you to a perennial whose fall color is second-to-none--and it's totally reliable every year! Meet Amsonia hubrichtii. This indestructible native perennial puts on one of the most spectacular fall shows in the garden. Not only that, it's icy blue flowers in early spring and its soft green, feathery foliage in summer make it absolutely indispensible in the garden for about 8 months out of the year. Not bad. Not bad at all.

If you search the internet for more information, you may want to try these alternative spellings, as you'll find it listed under all of them: Amsonia hubrectii, A. hubrictii, A. hubrechtii. I, however, am sticking with Amsonia hubrichtii. It was named for Leslie Hubricht, after all, and his name was spelled h-u-b-r-i-c-h-t. Sorry, it's just a personal pet peeve of mine.

The plant in the photo is nine years old, makes out at about 3 feet high and politely spreads to about 5 feet in diameter by the end of the summer. It doesn't run, it doesn't spread. It does have a serious taproot system and resents being moved once it's established. It will take just about anything you can dish out except for too much shade and very wet feet. Blistering sun? No problem. Squelching heat? It thumbs its nose. Drought? Hardly an issue (though if its exceptionally dry it may go dormant a little early--only to return unharmed next season).

If you don't know Amsonia hubrichtii, you really should take a moment to get acquainted. It will make your fall garden go out in a blaze of glory every year!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Berries, Berries!

It's berry time again! The onset of cooler autumn weather and the changing of the leaves always reminds me how important berries are in the garden. Plants with berries help to extend the season of interest well into winter in most places. Most berry-producing plants are trees or shrubs of some kind and I thought I'd run through a short list of some favorites. (This is not an exhaustive, all-inclusive list--just a little something to whet your appetite.)

One of my all-time favorite berry plants is our southeastern native beautyberry, Callicarpa americana. It's royal purple berries begin to color up in September while the leaves are still hanging tight. Then, in October, the foliage turns brilliant yellow with the purple berries hugging the stems of the plant. The berries continue to hang on until well after the foliage drops and will retain their brilliant purple color until the weather really gets cold and we have a few hard freezes--often late November to early December--so that gives you an extra two months of color. One of my favorite combinations in the garden is American beautyberry with oakleaf hydrangea. I have several gardens where we have used this combination to great effect, particularly the dwarf oakleaf hydrangea called 'Peewee' whose deep maroon fall color is stunning with the purple American beautyberry. The only drawback is that Callicarpa americana is a pretty strong Zone 6b plant. Much colder than that and it may or may not make it through the winter.

Another favorite berry plant for the winter months is, of course, Ilex verticillata. There are a number of these on the market, but my favorite is probably the cultivar 'Red Sprite'. It's compact enough at 4 feet tall to fit into almost any landscape and the berries are at least twice the size of almost any other "winterberry"-type holly out there. I say "winterberry"-type because 'Winterberry' is actually a cultivar, but it has come into play in the industry as a common name, too, so a rather rash generalization is in play here. Being a non-conformist, I'm trying to stay out of that trap. Don't forget, with deciduous hollies (and evergreen ones, too, for that matter), male and female are needed for berry production. If you choose to grow 'Red Sprite', make sure that you plant 'Jim Dandy' nearby in order to ensure copious quantities of berries every fall and winter.

In the realm of small trees, crabapples are obviously unsurpassed for their production of beautiful small fruits in late summer and fall, many of which will hang on well into the winter if the birds (and deer) don't strip them clean. 'Red Jade' is one of the best and is perfect for the smaller landscape because of its "weeping" habit and small size--only 8 to 10 feet at maturity. It's stunning floral show in the spring is only a harbinger of things to come in the fall when it dazzles in the landscape with brilliant red fruits. 'Red Jewel' is another excellent choice when it comes to crabapples. Again, a slightly more compact tree, topping out at only 10-15 feet which makes it a great choice for today's smaller yards. White blossoms in spring and abundant cherry red fruits that persist well into winter make it a favorite "bird" tree when other sources of late autumn food have been used up.

In standard-size crabapples 'Sugar Tyme' is the way to go! It is second-to-none when it comes to fall and winter fruit display and its disease resistance makes for a great-looking plant throughout the growing season with few of the common crabapple problems. At 15 to 18 feet tall, it's still a great size for smaller yards, but is also able to hold its own in the larger landscape. Another excellent disease resistant selection is 'Donald Wyman', providing a great show of white blooms in the spring and branches full of brilliant red fruits in autumn and winter.

Of course, there are scads of other berry-producers that look great in the fall and winter landscape, but these are just a few favorites to whet your appetite. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

First Frost

Well, it finally happened. The first frost. We had skated by a couple of nights when the temperatures looked as though they were going to sink, but then stalled out in the upper thirties. Not last night, though! It was a brisk 26 degrees when I woke up this morning and there was an absolutely gorgeous frost on everything. If I hadn't had an early appointment I would have taken the time to get the camera out and get some photos.

The restored grassland just outside of the confines of the fence was particularly beautiful, the frosty plumes frozen in place and glistening as though encrusted in diamonds as the sun began to peek through the trees. The birds were all atwitter, too, flitting and fluttering in and out of the shadows, looking for the last good seeds that the grasses have to offer up. There must be a bounty of natural food right now, as the traffic at the birdfeeders is almost non-existent--a few doves, a titmouse, the 4 bluebirds (usually at the birdbath) and a very chatty nuthatch.

I love to watch him scale headfirst down the trunk of the white oak in the back yard and he IS a chatty little thing. Cheep. Cheep. Cheep-cheep. Territorial, too. He'll flit over to the seed tray, rustle around a minute, pick out a few tasty morsels and then flit back to his tree trunk. Let someone else fly into the seed tray, though, and look out. Nuthatch on the loose! Maybe that's why I don't have many other birds. One little general is running them all off!

It's getting colder, though. It won't be long before their natural resources are depleted somewhat and then the birds will be back in droves. It will be my first winter in the new house, so I can't wait to see what different kinds of birds will begin to converge on the feeders once winter really sets in. For now, it's just the few frequent visitors and I'm patiently waiting for them to tell their friends about all the treats awaiting them atop the oak-covered knoll they (and now I) call home.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It's no secret that I'm a plant nut. I wouldn't be on here doing all of this blogging if I wasn't! I'm particularly interested in variegated plants and thought I'd share one of my absolute favorites with you. Eucharis, commonly known as Amazon lily, isn't all that rare in its own right, but about a year ago, a good friend and fellow plant geek shared with me an extremely rare variegated form of the plant that I have never seen elsewhere. As a matter of fact, if you try to "Google" it (odd how that word has become a verb, huh?), you'll come up empty-handed! I didn't think there was anything that Google didn't know!

You'll see in the photograph at the right that this form has longitudinal stripes running through the leaves, sometimes narrow and other times taking up large sections of the leaf. Every leaf is different and adds all kinds of character and charm to the plant. At one year old, the mother plant has now been potted into an 8-inch clay pot and actually fills it out quite nicely. In addition, I have three babies, all of which are variegated just like mom and are growing nicely.

Another unusual aspect of this plant is that each new leaf is actually green when it first unfurls and the variegation develops as the leaf ages. The older the leaf, the brighter the variegation becomes. The color of the variegation is also affected by the amount of light the plant gets. In full shade, the color remains a more muted yellow-on-green, but with just a little morning sun, the variegation brightens up to a creamy white. Because the variegation develops in stages, the leaves appear in all three colors on the same plant--the newest ones in the center of the plant being almost solid green, the middle leaves being green and yellow and the oldest leaves showing the creamy white variegation.

Flowering occurs in spring and early summer with the large white flowers typically borne in pairs atop a long stalk that may reach 18" or so tall. I do let the plant rest slightly in winter, putting it in a cooler location (not cold) and letting it dry out just slightly between waterings (I never let it get dry to the point of losing leaves--it's evergreen and doesn't need to go dormant).

There are about 30 or so species of Eucharis, all told, and most of them make good subjects for houseplants. Eucharis amazonica and the hybrid Eucharis x grandiflora will be the two most commonly available. They're tolerant of low light and some degree of neglect and will still reward you with beautiful foliage and flowers. Take a moment to search a few out on the internet and see what this beautiful group of plants has to offer. You'll be glad you did!

New Features

Just a quick note to everyone about a couple of new features on the blog! You can now subscribe to the blog via email! I know there have been some folks who have been unable to subscribe through the other methods, so I'm trying something new that is offered through "FeedBurner". I'd love it if a few of you would sign up and then let me know for sure that things are working properly. You should receive an email notification anytime I publish something new and you don't have to have a "Homepage" or be associated with a major group such as Yahoo!, Google, etc. At least that's the way it's supposed to work! If it doesn't, please let me know.

You can also become a "Garden Notes Follower", which allows you to publish your profile and links to your own blog, as well and helps us to create a big, online gardening community. I've already signed up as a "Follower" on several fantastic gardening blogs. I'll post those in my profile under "Blogs I'm Watching".

The other improvement is that you can now search the blog posts by topic. If you'll just keep scrolling down the page you'll see the topics listed on the righthand side. That way, if you want to see what I've written about a specific subject, it's only a click away. Stay tuned! Lots more to come!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Autumnal Musings

The smell of wood smoke hung heavy in the country air this weekend. In the mornings, especially, the sweet smoky fragrance drifted by on the gentle breeze, reminding everyone that it was time to stock up on firewood if we intend to keep warm this winter. Thirty-eight degrees at 4 a.m. on Sunday morning when I first awoke was actually a welcome respite from the 80's that we experienced earlier in the week. I did have the good sense to go back to bed, mind you.

The chill in the air really makes me want to get out and garden! I know that probably seems backwards to some, but it's time to finish (or start!) all of those tasks that it has just been too damned hot to do for the past several months--like getting into that corner of the garden that "got away" this year and is now 5-feet-high in things that have seeded in, taken over and are threatening to strangle a few very desirable plants. Out, cosmos! Out, zinnias! OUT, cleome! And even the Verbena bonariensis has become a cotton-pickin' pest! Out, out, out!

It will all reseed and be back next year with renewed vigor, anyway.

Next year, though, I'm starting early. No feeling sorry for little seedlings that appear in unwanted locales. They're out, desirable or not. A weed is simply a plant that is growing in the wrong place, right? Famous last words.

For now, though, this cooler weather has my gardening gears turning at full speed. Time to get plants in the ground, trees and shrubs, especially. And heaven knows all of these poor little plants that I have, who have so patiently waited for 4 years for a permanent home, deserve to finally have their roots in real soil! Oh, it won't all happen at once. As with any garden, this one will be a work in progress. But these nice cool, sunny days sure do make it easier to get out there and really go at it full bore and not feel like you're going to pass out 30 minutes into the task.

There are a lot of weeds yet to pull, garden spaces to clear, paths to lay, soil to condition, holes to dig and visions to turn into reality, but isn't that always the way of the garden? It has been for me. I have an impatient friend who asks, "When is the garden going to be finished?" My reply? "Never, if I'm lucky!"

Happy gardening, my friends, until next time.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Pennisetum 'Fireworks' Not Much Spark

I always try to be positive in my approach to writing, to gardening and, I hope, to life in general. At the same time, especially when it comes to new plant introductions, I feel like it's my responsibility to be honest, even if honesty means giving something a mediocre review.

I hate to say it, because Pennisetum 'Fireworks' was a plant that I was really excited about. I couldn't wait to get my hands on it! I had seen the preliminary photos of it last year at the Perennial Plant Association Symposium and a burgundy, pink, green and white variegated pennisetum was RIGHT up my alley! A say-something plant that would rock the garden and the containers that I used it in.

Unfortunately, in every place I used it, it fell flat. It just didn't hold its variegation well at all. In full sun (where fountain grass prefers to grow) it simply turned burgundy. Yes, there was some pink at the base and occasionally a little streak of green or white, but from more than 3 feet away it looked just as burgundy as the standard old Pennisetum 'Rubrum' planted just a bit further down the garden path. In more shade, it colored up better. There was more of the variegation and it extended further out into foliage and made for a little better show. But fountain grass doesn't really like the shade, so the plants were weak, wispy, and by the end of the season, downright floppy with few to no plumes.

My understanding is that there are several new introductions of this plant that may hit the market as early as next spring (hopefully). Selections have been made for even stronger, brighter variegation and that bodes well for the plant. I can't wait to see what the new plants look like and I'm certainly not passing judgment until I can grow them for myself. It sounds to me like we're headed in the right direction--selecting the best of the best from tissue culture and moving forward with those as new and improved versions of what has the potential to be an absolutely stunning addition to the garden. Time will tell and I'll be first in line next spring to give these new plants a shot!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Rudbeckia 'Henry Eilers'

Well, I've done it! I've found ANOTHER new favorite plant. Are you surprised? I didn't think so. This time it's a Rudbeckia.
Rudbeckia is a genus that I have always been incredibly fond of. Rudbeckias get a bad rap sometimes because of the market saturation by 'Goldsturm' (which is an outstanding plant, by the way.) There are, however, a LOT of other rudbeckias out there, many of which are simply fabulous garden plants. 'Henry Eilers' is no exception.

I first saw this plant on a garden tour in Columbus, OH about a year ago and was incredibly impressed by it then. We were able to get a few plants of it this spring at the garden center and I planted a few in the display garden where it performed very satisfactorily and was stunning this fall when paired with the royal purple berries of the American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) that it had woven its way through during the course of the summer.

Where it really performed, though, was in the garden at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Nashville. I'm not sure if it was the exposure, the irrigation, the good soil, the extra fertilizer or a "perfect storm" of all of the above, but 'Henry Eilers' was the buzz of the garden from July onward and is just now (Oct. 3) finishing up its show!

It's a little taller than some rudbeckias, but considerably shorter than others, so it makes a nice middle-of-the-border plant. When it reaches blooming height, about 4 feet, it's just a tiny bit on the lax side, so I'd recommend pairing it with something shorter and sturdier in front of it that will give it a bit of support. Or pair it with a shrub like the beautyberry in a way that the stems of the rudbeckia can grow up just through the edge of the shrub and be supported that way. Otherwise, you may have to stake. (Well worth any effort it might take.)

In the display garden at Moore & Moore ( it was in a leaner, drier part of the bed, so that may have accounted for it being just slightly, slightly less showy. In the other location it was in the richest, blackest, most organic, well-fertilized and irrigated soil we could give it and it absolutely shined! You can see for yourself in the photos above, and I think you'll agree. Put this one on your list for next year! See you in the garden!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Colchicum autumnale

Suddenly and without warning, the colchicum have popped and begun spreading their autumn cheer through the garden. They act sort of like the "surprise lilies" (Lycoris) in that one day there is no sign of them, the next day there are buds poking through the soil and within 3-4 days of announcing their arrival they are in full bloom. It's a sure sign that autumn is on its way--shorter days, cooler temperatures and less humidity. Hallelujah!

There are a number of species and cultivars of colchicum, which go by the common names of autumn crocus (which they aren't) and also field or meadow saffron (which they also are not). Colchicum are colchicum--there are autumn flowering crocus (genus Crocus) and saffron (also genus Crocus) does happen to flower in the fall, too. I'd be careful of confusing colchicum with saffron, as the former is actually quite toxic. It's the bulb that is poisonous, but you certainly don't want to lace your loved ones' dinner with colchicum stamens (the herb saffron is the stamen of the saffron crocus, Crocus sativus) without knowing for certain that it won't inflict serious bodily harm.

Colchicums come in a variety of sizes and colors, mostly in the pink/lavender/white range and nearly all are somewhat larger than crocus in all respects--bigger flowers, bigger foliage, bigger bulbs. Of all of these, the species Colchicum autumnale is perhaps my favorite. It's not the largest of all of them, but it certainly is one of the most vigorous and robust. From a single bulb about 5 years ago, I now have at least a dozen large clumps scattered about the garden now. They multiply rapidly, so much so in fact that I noticed the other day that some of the bulbs have actually been pushed up out of the ground. Time to divide them again!

Early next summer, after the foliage has died completely down to the ground, I'll dig and separate the bulbs and replant them in small groups around the garden. When I divide, I usually plant 3 bulbs back into each generously sized hole and within 2-3 years they need dividing again.

Because of the overcrowding the show is spectacular this year, each clump sporting well over 50 blooms. The other great thing about colchicum is that not all of their buds open at once. The bulbs will continue to push buds up through the ground for about 2-3 weeks, the peak of bloom being the first week to 10 days and then slowly tapering off after that. After flowering is finished, a small rosette of foliage will appear and remain hunkered down close to the ground for the winter. Come spring, this rosette will grow and expand into a good sized clump of strappy green foliage and by mid- to late June they will have gone completely dormant waiting for just the right late summer day to poke their noses through the soil and regale us all with their beautiful blossoms again.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Exquisite Lady

This entry is not about plants. Nope. That's right. It's not about plants. It's about the lovely lady that you see pictured here.

"Lovely lady?" you ask. Yes, the lovely lady in the picture--the eight-legged one.

How do I know she's a lady? Well--no offense to the ladies--but in this particular case it is specifically because of her, uh, full-figured appearance. Now don't start getting all hot under the collar girls. She has the right to be plump. You see, she's carrying next years offspring and is living out the last few weeks of her life in absolutely divine style in the display garden at Moore & Moore West. I've been watching her for several weeks.

My fascination with the black-and-yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia), also called the "writing spider", started as a child. They used to string their amazing webs between my mother's peony bushes in the summertime--sometimes several of them within the 10-foot by 20-foot bed. Rather than being afraid of them, mom showed me how to catch small grasshoppers and flick them into the spiders' webs so that I could watch the spiders race down and bind them tightly in a silk cocoon, only to come back later and feast. So rather than being terrified of spiders as a child, I was fascinated by them--and I am to this day.

As I photographed this beautiful little lady today, she was repairing her web from a morning rainstorm. She carefully--methodically--checked each and every silken line that was still attached to the nearby plants. Any that were weak or broken she carefully detached, balled up and discarded. Then, immediately, she ran a new line from the center of the web back to the same plant and continued doing this until she had all of the "spokes" of her wheel replaced. Once that was finished she carefully worked her way from the center of the web in outward spirals, replacing the old tattered web with one that was sparkling and new.

The entire process took about 20 minutes and I sat watching, completely enthralled by a process I've watched hundreds of times, but so entranced and so excited that I couldn't move. It was a childhood moment all over again and tomorrow morning, as she rebuilds her web, I'll be watching if I can. She's growing larger everyday and she probably has only a few weeks left, at most. You see, once she spins her egg sack in a hidden, out-of-the-way place (probably the nearby juniper) and deposits the eggs that will hatch into next year's brood, she'll die. Her job for this summer will be complete and on a warm, quiet spring day next May the next generation will hatch to take their mother's place in the world.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Beauty Unexpected

As a creative person--a designer--I've come to learn that I see things differently than most people. As a gardener and plantsman and someone who appreciates, or at least tries to appreciate, the smallest details of the world around me I've learned that I see beauty and opportunity in places that most people just walk on by. As a photographer, I've learned that even the minutest of details share a kind of beauty that is lost on so many.

Each day I try to find something that offers me a glimpse into this natural beauty that is all around us. Many writers will tell you that they write SOMEthing on a daily basis. It might not be any good, but they write. It might only be a few lines, a scribbled down thought on a legal pad, an idea that has been floating around but never put into words. In much the same way, I carry the camera with me every day. I try take a photograph of something on my way to or from work. Some days it might just be a few snapshots of a job site. Some days I try to be artistic and creative. Some days it works. Some days it is an absolute and utter failure. On the best days, you come away with a few shots that please you. On the rarest days, you come away with something that may eventually get published. But even on the bad days it keeps you looking through the lens, focusing on your subject.

This shot may or may not be one of the greatest shots I've taken, but it's one of those that offers that intimate glimpse of inner beauty that most people just walk on by. I mean, really, how many people do you know who get down on their hands and knees to look underneath a mushroom? Have a beautiful day!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Of Sun and Sunflowers

Being a Kansas boy by birth, it seems only natural that I would have a strong affinity for sunflowers. Kansas is, after all, the sunflower state. The wild form of Helianthus annuus grows up and down the roadsides and throughout natural areas across the state. This is not the giant garden form of sunflower that we often see, but a shrubby, multi-stemmed, small-flowered version--the wild form--that sometimes covers acres of land in a sea of yellow blossoms in late summer.

Today, some of my favorite garden flowers are the perennial sunflowers that put on such a spectacular garden show in the summer and fall of each year. These are true perennials that come back from the same rootstock year after year to touch the sky with their golden yellow flowers. They're not all towering giants, of course, but some of my favorites are. For example, the plant in the photograph is Helianthus 'Marc's Apollo' and it's a skyscraper! Not for the faint of heart and not for the small garden, this graceful giant may reach upwards of 12 feet by the time it's in full bloom in mid- to late September. I've made room for it, even though it's a little tall, because the show that it puts on is truly stunning--HUNDREDS of butter yellow flowers for nearly 6 weeks from September all the way 'til frost.

Helianthus salicifolius, the willowleaf sunflower, is another favorite. It's also a giant, but if you pinch the tips out of each stem about mid-June, it will flower at 6 feet or so instead of the nearly 10 feet it can reach otherwise. It has, in my opinion, the most beautiful foliage of all of the sunflowers--almost threadlike in its appearance it is so slender. It's a fantastic texture to add to the perennial garden even when it isn't in bloom.

A little-known species, but another that I simply wouldn't be without is Helianthus microcephala, the little-headed sunflower. Very bushy, almost shrubby in habit, it has a broader leaf like those you would see on Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' or Echinacea. It flowers a little earlier in the season, usually beginning in July, but the show goes on for months. It is not uncommon for it to still be flowering at the beginning of October when, as luck would have it, it's foliage turns burgundy red! Yellow flowers and burgundy-red foliage! Wow! It's still not a small plant, but it's worth the space.

If you would like to have a sunflower in your garden, but simply don't have the elbow room for one of the larger fellows, look for Helianthus angustifolius 'Low Down'. It's a true genentic dwarf and when in full bloom will only be about 18" tall with a 2-foot spread. I'm usually not a big fan of dwarf forms of plants that should be tall and willowy, but this one's a winner! I promise!

Plant some of these later flowering sunflowers with other spectacular late summer and fall beauties such as Aster oblongifolius 'October Skies' and Callicarpa americana and you'll have a combination that will have the traffic stopping in the street to admire your garden's beauty.

Please note that there really is no need to deadhead your sunflowers. It will do very little to extend their flowering season and besides, the birds (especially the goldfinches) will go absolutely crazy over the seed as it ripens on the plant and this brings an entirely new dimension of beauty to the garden.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Striking Gold

On my recent trip to Philadelphia I was reminded, while at Longwood Gardens, just how much I miss having waterlilies in bloom. My grandmother had a "lily pond" when I was growing up--nothing more than an old bathtub that had been buried in the ground up to its rim with a few stones laid around the edges, but it worked. Each spring I would go down and spend a day or two with Granny and we'd get the garden cleaned up and go through the ritual of going down into the cellar and hauling the rubber washtub that the waterlily was planted in up the flight of old stone steps. Granny wasn't a very big woman and I was probably only 9 or 10 years old at the time, so we'd struggle and heave and haul until we'd wrangled the thing up the steps, then drag it across the yard and plunk it down over the side of the "pool" that we had just spent the morning mucking out and scrubbing clean.

The waterlily was the old tried-and-true yellow 'Chromatella', as I recall. It was cold enough in Kansas that Granny's small "water garden", as it were, froze solid in the winter, so she overwintered the waterlily, pot and all, in the cellar. We hauled it down in the fall and back up in the spring every year for as long as I can remember. We would check the tubers, make sure they were still alive--maybe remove a few if the plant seemed to crowded--and then she would topdress the pot with some old chunks of cow manure scraped up out of the neighbors pasture and top that off with gravel from the driveway to keep the mussing up of the water to a minimum. We had, after all, just scrubbed the pond clean!

So as we were walking through the magnificent water gardens at Longwood a few weeks ago, it brought back many memories. Not just memories of my summer at Longwood, but memories of summers long past--of Granny, the old bathtub, the musty smell of the cellar after being closed up all winter long and of the first waterlily flower to open each summer. Who says you can't go back?

(The waterlily pictured here is not the old-fashioned hardy 'Chromatella', but instead is a tropical lily called 'St. Louis Gold'. It's one of my favorites of the tropical clan and was in its full glory a few weeks ago when we were visiting Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, near Philadelphia.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Finally Getting Settled In

Well, the past few weeks have truly been a whirlwind. I was in Philadelphia for a few days for the annual symposium of the Perennial Plant Association--something I do almost every summer. It was great to see old friends and make new acquaintances. I shot nearly 400 photos a day for four days, so I have a LOT of editing to do.

One of the highlights of the trip was returning to Longwood Gardens where I was an intern 17 years ago this summer. What a treat! That summer was one of the greatest learning experiences I've ever had and I found myself reliving little bits and pieces of it as though it was yesterday. Longwood is second-to-none when it comes to showmanship in the garden and I highly recommend it if you're up in that area.

The other place that simply blew me away was a garden called Chanticleer. Chanticleer was not open to the public yet when I spent the summer at Longwood, so I had never seen it in person before--only in pictures. WHAT a place! My friend Bill Thomas is in charge of things there, so of course I didn't expect anything less than perfection. Bill was at Longwood when I was there all those years ago and now has taken the reigns of Chanticleer. Funny, neither of us look a day older--especially Bill! And my good buddy Dan Benarcik is at Chanticleer, too, so there was plenty of greeting and catching up to do.

There's more, but I'll tell you about the rest of it later.

The weekend after returning from Philadelphia I FINALLY got to move into my new place. I'm beginning to settle in now and it's a wonderful place to call home. I'll post some photos as soon as I have a chance to take two breaths and actually take some.

Immediately after moving I was involved in a 4-day-long photo shoot for Garden Design magazine. It was absolutely grueling week for all of us involved, but the effort was well worth it. The photos turned out beautifully and will appear in the magazine next spring. I'll give you more details as we get closer to the time. I think it will be the April issue, but will let you know for sure.

If all of the stars align just right I could also be in Fine Gardening in April. So--that would be two of the biggest gardening magazines in the country in the same month! Sweet! Keep your fingers crossed. Even so, I'll be in both magazines, even if it's not in the same month and I'm very excited about it.

Now that I'm in my new house, my new office and my new studio I will FINALLY be able to dedicate the time and attention to the website and the blog that I really have intended to all along. I've kept promising and now the time has finally arrived. I'm going to be going full speed ahead with the blog, with new additions to the website, the garden travel and tours division of my business and host of other things. I hope you'll keep checking back. I'm very pleased with the traffic the site has had so far and I really haven't even been trying that hard. Hold on to your hats, 'cause it's full steam ahead from here! Be sure to check back often!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Can you believe it's already August??? I keep promising to post more regularly and little things like packing hundreds of boxes and taking four truckloads of stuff (one entire truckload of nothing but plants!) to a new house keep getting in the way! The good news: It's FINALLY done! Done!

Well, almost done. I still have to set up my design studio and office, but other than that, it's done. Thanks to some really fantastic friends, I got moved this past weekend, the furniture is in place, the art is hung, the closet is organized and the plants have made the 50 mile trek from the old house to the new. Now if it would just rain and cool off enough to actually get a shovel in the ground and be comfortable doing it. Well, one CAN wish!

Thanks so much for sticking with me and continuing to come back and read the blog. As the new garden starts to develop, I'll be posting pictures and stories as often as possible so that you can see the progress. I'll try to get some "before" pictures up in the very near future so everyone can see what I'm starting with. There are already some very good bones, as the lady who lived in the house before me was quite a good gardener and had created some beds and done quite a bit of planting. So I'll be building on what she had already accomplished and we'll see where it takes us! Stay tuned!

Monday, July 21, 2008

An Oldie, But A Goodie!!!

It's a bittersweet day in the garden today. The last blossom of the season has opened on Hemerocallis 'Hyperion' and today is the last day that I will get to enjoy its joyful beauty until next summer rolls around and we get to dance our dance all over again. 'Hyperion' is my favorite of all of the daylilies. No, there are no eyezones or watermarks or ruffles or diamond-dusting on the petals. No, it doesn't re-bloom later in the season. And no, it's probably not going to win any gold medals at any shows, at least not in today's shows. But don't think for one minute that it's a slacker.

Since its introduction in the late 1920's 'Hyperion' has set the standard for daylilies, especially the yellows. What it lacks in modern breeding it makes up for ten times over in hardiness, vigor and outstanding performance year after year after year. It's also tall, slender, beautifully proportioned and fragrant, to boot! The lemon yellow flowers open in what seems to be an endless display of color for at least 6 weeks and in a really good year, close to two months! One of the things that I love most about 'Hyperion' is that the fresh flowers actually open in the evening, so as the current day's flowers are fading, tomorrow's flowers are opening. The soft yellow color glows in the evening garden when most other daylilies have long since bowed their heads and wait for tomorrow's sunrise to open again.

'Hyperion' is also the perfect height--a beautiful mound of very slender, almost grassy, green foliage about 18" tall that provides the perfect backdrop for the lemon yellow flowers which open atop 36"-40" tall stems. That puts them right up there where you don't have to bend over to breathe in their exquisite, citrusy fragrance!

My original clump of 'Hyperion' came from my Aunt Sally, my great aunt on my father's side. She was a fabulous gardener and played an extremely important role in my life as a young gardener, always encouraging me to learn more and sharing her own knowledge with me whenever she could.

That original clump of 'Hyperion' still grows in my mother's garden twenty-five years later--never divided, no special attention--returning year after year with its spectacular show. Now that's what I call a plant deserving of a place in every garden!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Time Flies

Well, here I am again, having promised to post more regularly and all of a sudden I look at the blog and realize that it has been over TWO WEEKS!!! Some promise. All I can do is apologize. I've been swamped. Between all of the design projects, a feature article for Fine Gardening, a perennials article for Tennessee Gardener Magazine, coordinating a major photo layout for Garden Design and filming 7 segments for Volunteer Gardener since June 1, I feel like I've barely had time to breathe! So, my blogging has been put on the back burner. Oh, and I leave in two weeks for the Perennial Plant Association meeting in Philadelphia and then move to my new place out in the country as soon as I return. I hope you'll bear with me.

Speaking of Philadelphia, I'm really looking forward to the PPA Symposium this year. Unfortunately, I'm not going to be able to attend the entire week of festivities like I normally do, but I am getting to fly up later in the week so that I can do all of the garden tours, do some good networking and visit with friends and comrades in the industry who I usually only get to see once or twice a year.

The trip is made all the more special this year because I haven't been up to the Philadelphia area in 17 years! During the summer of 1991 I was fortunate to be able to participate in the internship program at Longwood Gardens and that was the last time I was there. I'm looking so forward to seeing what has changed, what has stayed the same and what new and amazing things Longwood is doing in the world of public gardening. Also while we're there, we'll get to visit Chanticleer, a magnificent garden in its own right, and numerous other public and private gardens, as well as garden centers, retail and wholesale nurseries and much more.

After returning from the Philly trip, I head straight into moving from my current location (where I've been for 5 years) to a beautiful little farmhouse about 20 miles west of Nashville. I grew up in the country (okay, so it was a town of about 900--that's country!) and I'm really ready to get back to that life where I can really shut down and relax when I'm at home. (Famous last words.) Best of all, I get to garden again! My gardening has been somewhat limited in my current situation, but once I get moved, it's no-holds-barred! I'll be blogging about and posting pictures of the new garden as it grows and develops and you'll probably get tired of hearing about it, but I hope not.

I'm still going to try really hard to post twice a week, so please keep checking back. There's a whole lot more to come!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Garden Tours Coming

Hey all! Just a quick note before I head home from the office! There's a new section on the website (, or click on the title of this blog entry) about a new venture in garden travel and tours that I am hoping to get off the ground in the next few months.

We're working on itineraries both at home and abroad. Two trips are in the works for 2009, one to the Pacific Northwest touring nurseries, public and private gardens and some amazing natural areas. The other will be to the 2009 Philadelphia Flower Show and will include public gardens, estates and nurseries in the Brandywine Valley (Longwood Gardens, Chanticleer, etc. etc.) Details with costs and itineraries will be posted sometime later this fall--I hope sometime in October--so please keep checking back if either of these sound interesting to you!

In the future, there are itineraries in the works for garden tours to England, Scotland, France and Italy. We're working hard to find the very best accomodations, gardens and other points of interest to make these trips fun, relaxing and beautiful!

Hope summer is treating everyone well, so far. Our thoughts are with the folks in the upper midwest who are living with the terrible flooding and those back home who have been the victims of numerous tornadoes and other foul weather in the past few weeks.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Butterfly Weed

Growing up on the Kansas prairie, butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) was a common and favorite sight along the roadsides and across the grassy plains. For those of us who were in tune with these kinds of things, the flowering of the butterfly weed was the official harbinger of summer. It's brilliant orange flowers were impossible to miss, usually in individual splashes here and there in the roadside ditches, but occasionally in brilliant rivers flowing down the hillsides and across the open grassland. These memories from many years ago are still with me today.

I am reminded of it each day as I pull into the driveway and there in full bloom is one of the most spectacular clumps of Asclepias tuberosa I have ever seen. So spectacular, in fact, that I am considering giving it a name and introducing it to the nursery trade. It's a plant that I found a number of years ago that seemed much more robust and a LOT more profuse in its flowering than any other that I had ever seen, so I planted it out to see what would happen. I've kept an eye on it over the years and am convinced that it really does have serious garden potential. It will even re-bloom later in the season if it is deadheaded and given a light dusting of fertilizer after it finishes its initial flowering. I've seen flowers on it as late as September, which is at least two months after most of the others have finished.

When I pulled in this afternoon I noticed a beautiful butterfly fluttering and floating just above the plant. I just happened to have the camera with me and was able to get a couple of good shots before he or she flew off in search of the next great meal. Enjoy!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Back On Track

Okay, I've been a little remiss in posting lately. The 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. shift is beginning to wear on me just a little, so shoot me. This has been one of the craziest springs I can remember in quite some time and I'm STILL playing catch-up. Almost there, though. The work is not coming in at quite the same pace it has been for the past two months and I feel like I'm finally at a point where I can actually get caught up and stay there! To that end, I'm going to do a better job of posting here on a much more regular basis. It's not going to be everyday, I can guarantee you that, but I'll try to do at least a couple of new things each week since we are right in the thick of the growing season right now and topics should (hopefully) abound.

Have you seen the new Pennisetum setaceum 'Fireworks'? Wow! Wow, wow, wow! You know I love just about anything that is variegated and this new form of the old standard Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' (burgundy fountain grass) will definitely knock your socks off! The overall color is still the burgundy that we love, but the 'Fireworks' start when the solid pink, pink and green, white and green, and pink, white and green shoots start showering forth amongst the burgundy. It's a showstopper! Once my plants get a little larger and I can get a good photo, I'll post one here so y'all can see it. In the meantime, when you're out at your local garden center, ask if they have it. It's part of the new "Hort Couture" brand that's out this year and it's a stunner!

What else is new? Hmmmmm. I'm thinking. Oh, the baby 'Thailand Strain' Colocasia (the giant elephant ears) are FINALLY starting to grow. I don't have the advantages of a nice, warm greenhouse to grow them in, so I've had to wait for 80 degree weather to see the kind of growth that my friends have been getting for that past two months. My friend Rita Randolph had plants ready to sell in 4" pots just 6 weeks after I gave her a tray of the seedlings. You should check out her website at She has an amazing selection of things. Lots of eye candy!

Another favorite for the past couple of years has been Caladium humboldtii 'Snow', a diminutive (and I mean small!) white caladium with green veining. It looks just like the big ones, but the leaves are only about the size of a teaspoon and the whole plant only stands about 6"-8" tall when it's mature. It's definitely another one of my new favorites! I've found one (a C. h. 'Snow') that I'm very excited about, as it seems to be even more miniature than most of them I have. So far, it's only about 4" tall and the leaves are only about the size of a baby spoon. It may grow larger as it gets more mature and as the heat of summer sets in, but I don't think so. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I feel like I've developed a reasonably good eye for things over the years and perhaps have just a bit of a "sixth sense" about plants that are different or unusual in some way. This one, so far, seems to be one of those. We'll see how it progresses through the summer. It's so small that it will never make a great garden plant, but it sure is fabulous in a 4" pot and would be a great little accent in a shady windowbox! I'll keep you posted on its progress and get some photos of it, too, once it's looking lush and full.

Guess I'd better get back to work if I intend to get caught up! Hope spring is treating everyone well and that your gardens are bursting at the seams.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Tulip 'Yellow Present'

It's not often that a tulip would turn my head and even rarer that I would be so impressed by its beauty as to pick up the phone before I even pulled into the parking lot to call a friend who works at the botanical garden to find out what it was. But that's exactly what happened. I'm not a tulip snob--really, I'm not. It's just that they don't always grow terribly well down here in the south and so often our spring seasons get so warm, so fast that they just don't last that long and the flowers just aren't as robust and beautiful as they are further north.

A few weeks ago, though, I pulled in the front gate at Cheekwood (our botanical garden here in Nashville, and was completely smitten by the beauty of the tulip display in front of the restaurant at the entrance to the property. Before I even pulled into the parking lot, I was on the phone leaving a message for one of my friends who works there to inquire as to its name. "'Yellow Present' from Brent and Becky's Bulbs," ( the return message said a little later in the day. A present, indeed!

I'm partial to yellow anyway, so there was already a warm spot in my heart for it. But it wasn't just the fact that it was yellow, it was the shade of yellow--a warm, but soft sulfur-yellow upon opening that faded to the softest shade of blonde. The form was outstanding, too, with a large, goblet-shaped bloom held aloft at the end of a generous stem perfect for display in the garden as well as the vase. Rest assured, this will be one tulip that finds its way into my garden next spring and probably for many springs to come!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Lotsa Hosta

As you've likely figured out by now, I haven't met too many plants I don't like. For the few plants that do fall into the "don't like" category, I "don't like" them just as passionately as I "do like" the ones that I do--which is most of them. Are you thoroughly confused by that? Just making sure you're awake. The long and short of it is, there's a pretty clear cut line between the plants that I do like (which is most of them) and the plants I don't (a status reserved for an unfortunate few). I was noticing this morning that the hostas are looking particularly smashing right now, so I thought I'd mention a few that I've grown to love over the years--those which fall into the "do like" category. Here it goes.

Up at the very top of the list is a stunner called 'Golden Sculpture'. I like big hostas. I like small ones, too, but it's the big ones that really get my heart racing. Unfortunately, in the heat of the South, not all of them attain the magnificent size they do in the North. Actually, truth be known, almost none of them do. 'Golden Sculpture' is (almost) an exception to that rule and not only does it attain some size here in the South, it does it in short order--another great attribute. Alot of the big guys are paaaiiiinfully slow down here (and the big hostas are, too). It must be that laidback Southern way of life. Anyway, 'Golden Sculpture' has just outdone itself in every garden I've planted it in, forming a 2 1/2-foot tall, 5-6 foot wide, upright, golden-foliaged, architectural clump in only 3-4 years time from a one gallon pot. Pretty good for one of the big guys.

A few years back, when 'Guacamole' was introduced, I knew we had a hit on our hands! I've been proven right by its outstanding performance, at least here in middle Tennessee and my clumps just keep getting better with time. The great thing is, 'Guacamole' has proven to be a good parent, too! Some great sports have arisen directly from it, as have some great hybrid offspring. Some of the better ones include 'Fried Bananas', an all-gold sport, 'Fried Green Tomatoes', an all green sport and 'Holy Mole', a more robust version of its parent with heavier leaves and more intense variegation. Perhaps the best of all, though, is 'Stained Glass'--a 'Guacamole' mutation that is supremely vigorous, with thick leathery leaves and brilliant gold and green coloration! No shade garden should be without this plant. To top it off (literally), fragrant lavender flowers rise well above the foliage in late summer.

On the smaller side, perhaps the finest miniature hosta ever to come along is 2008's Hosta of the Year, 'Blue Mouse Ears'. You guessed it! When the leaves unfurl they look just exactly like a little clump of blue mouse ears. And wait until you see the new variegated sport called 'Cat and Mouse' with chartreuse centers on a brilliant blue background. Be still my beating heart! Speaking of miniatures, if you're into truly tiny plants you definitely should check out Hosta 'Pandora's Box'. In just over a decade, this little plant has gained star status in the hosta world, having originally sold for $600 at the 1997 hosta convention and now appearing in gardens everywhere! It is truly one of my favorites and has simply outdone itself in a trough garden where it's easier to keep the slugs and snails at bay.

Remember not to judge hostas by what they look like in the pot. Most of them have, for lack of a better term, a "juvenile" form and an "adult" form and these two forms often vary greatly in their appearance. Case in point, Hosta 'June'. For many years I asked "Why would anyone want to grow that? It's not very pretty." Then I planted one in a client's garden. The second year I was as unimpressed as I was the first. The third year was moderately better, so instead of composting it, I gave it one more chance. In her fourth spring, 'June' was a bustin' out all over, as they say, and the rest is history. Now I wouldn't be without her. The same goes for some of our most popular hostas like 'Strip Tease', 'Hanky Panky', 'Paul's Glory', 'Paradise Glory' and the perhaps slightly lesser-known, but beautiful, 'Captain Kirk'. It goes for nearly all hostas, really.

You know the old saying, "The first year they sleep, the second year they creep and the third year they leap." Well, it's true. And sometimes it takes them until the 4th or even the 5th year before they really develop into the fully mature forms that the pretty picture on the tag shows. So my advice is, "Don't give up," and give them a bare minimum of three years in the ground before you start passing judgment on them.

Some new varieties (new to me, but not necessarily new to the industry) that I'm trying are 'Old Glory', 'Prairie Fire', 'Corkscrew', 'Ginsu Knife' and 'Liberty'. By the way, if you happen to run into 'Liberty' at the nursery, buy it immediately! It is a brighter and more boldly variegated form of the magnificent 'Sagae' and is absolutely glowing in my garden right now. It gets big and it gets their in fairly short order. My three-year-old clump is probably going to be somewhere between 3 and 4 feet across this season from an original single-eye division in a one-gallon pot. Not bad. Not bad at all.

I am by no means a hosta collector. I only have about 25-30 plants, but I like to think that I have reasonably discerning taste and I'm also fairly hard-nosed about the fact that the plants must be vigorous and robust. I'm not one to sit around waiting for ten years while some pathetic little plant develops at a snail's pace into a mediocre offering in the shade garden, where space is at a premium. The ones I mentioned above are few of my top performers and I'm sure there will be more to come in the very near future.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Rare Beauty

Once in a while you time it just right. You're in the right place, at the right time and you actually have the camera in hand! Such was the case the day I was at the Atlanta Botanical Garden in October of 2006. It just so happened that I was visiting on one of only a handful of days that their variegated ginkgo was in its full autumn glory. Those of you who are familiar with ginkgo know that the fall color is stunning, but fleeting. They color up seemingly over night, they show off for a few days to maybe a couple of weeks and then, as quickly as they showed their color, they drop every leaf on the ground. One day they're there and then next, gone. Poof! So I lucked out. I was in the right place at the right time and the accompanying image is the result. And people wonder why I find plants so fascinating.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Blazing Hot Euphorbia

I have to tell you about another favorite plant. I'm sure you've figured out by now that there are an abundance of favorites, but the reasons that certain plants become favorites vary from plant to plant. Euphorbia 'Firesticks' (aka Sticks on Fire) is an outstanding variation on the old-fashioned "pencil cactus"--a tough, resilient and beautifully architectural plant that now comes in glowing shades of orange, yellow and red.

The photo I have really doesn't do it complete justice, as my plant was growing in a little too much shade at the time and had not "colored up" to the best of its ability--but you get the idea. The beautiful, nearly leafless, pencil-like stems of this variety look as though they are on fire from the glowing variation of color. It makes an outstanding container plant for a hot, sunny location and will grow into a dense, bushy to nearly tree form specimen (depending on how you prune it) in a relative short period of time. It also looks great in the ground with other sun-loving annuals and perennials, where its unusual form plays well off of other broad-leafed plants.

Pair Euphorbia 'Firesticks' with the blues and purples of salvias such as 'Mystic Spires' or 'Victoria' for great color contrast or really heat things up by putting it with the red texas sages (Salvia greggii varieties) or the vibrant oranges of cuphea (cigar plant). It also works to amazing effect simply mixed with a selection of other succulents in a large container, where their varying colors and architectural character play off of each other in the most interesting ways.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Yikes! It's A Yucca!

I love yuccas! If you've been reading along, you've probably figured out by now that there aren't too many plants I don't love, but I really, REALLY love yuccas! They're the agaves of cold-climate gardens. They give us that (mostly) stiff, upright, sword-like texture that is so important in the garden. I mean, really, what's not to love? They're tough, drought tolerant, evergreen; they come in a wide array of sizes, habits and forms. They offer up foliage in green, grey, blue, chartreuse and any number of variegated combinations! When they flower, they put on an amazing show that usually lasts for several weeks and then they develop seedpods that carry the interest right on through the fall and winter. It seems to me that they are very nearly perfect!

Although I've rarely (maybe never) met a yucca I didn't like, I do have a few standout favorites that I feel the need to tell you about. The first is Yucca rostrata 'Sapphire Skies'. This is a recent introduction from Sean Hogan at Cistus Nursery ( and is set to take that gardening world by storm. Sean selected this form from a batch of seedlings for its powder blue color and it is now being grown from tissue culture and introduced widely in the nursery trade. It is pictured at the top of this entry in a photo from Terra Nova Nurseries ( Yucca rostrata is one of the hardiest of all trunk-forming yuccas and should perform splendidly well into Zone 5. In about 10 years time you can expect a magnificent specimen with a rounded head of powder-blue leaves atop a 4-foot trunk.

Another recent introduction and a truly spectacular plant is Yucca filamentosa 'Color Guard', with the most distinct golden variegation of any cultivar I've grown. It has far surpassed any other yucca in the garden where foliage color is concerned. The leaves are brilliant creamy gold with a deep green edge. In winter, the yellow variegation remains strong and is suffused with shades of deep, rich pink when grown in full sun. Talk about a spectacular combination! It is quickly becoming the industry standard for variegated yuccas and is, or soon will be, widely available at your local garden centers.

Now, with all of that carrying on over 'Color Guard', I do have to pay due respect to several other variegated yuccas that are more than deserving of your attention. Another that I have grown for a number of years and that has proven outstanding is Yucca gloriosa 'Variegata'. The leaves of this beautiful plant are blue-green with a lovely gold margin that changes to a light, creamy yellow during the summer months. In winter, it too takes on shades of pink around its edges when the weather turns cold. Yucca gloriosa is another of the trunk-forming yuccas, though slightly less hardy. I have had it in my Zone 6 garden for 6 years and it has flourished. In warmer climates you can expect it to form a trunk up to 4 feet tall after several years. One warning: The leaves on Yucca gloriosa are very rigid and viciously armed at the tip with a long black spine. Site it accordingly, i.e. probably not right next to the back door where you're carrying groceries in each week.

Yucca recurvifolia 'Gold Ribbons' is another bright spot in the garden--literally! One of the largest yuccas, it may reach upwards of 4 feet in diameter and, with some age, may form a trunk up to 6 feet tall. This takes some time, though, so don't let its size scare you off. The color is to die for! Brilliant gold leaves with deep, emerald green margins are soft, flexible and are not spined so no worries about backing into it while weeding! Another form that is occasionally offered is Yucca recurvifolia 'Variegata' with pendant, blue leaves edged in chartreuse/gold. With time it, too, will form a spectacular specimen. Both of these plants are available from Plant Delights Nursery (, for one, and 'Gold Ribbons' is also available from Yucca Do ( Additional variegated forms you might be interested in include Yucca filamentosa 'Bright Edge', Yucca aloifolia 'Marginata', Yucca filamentosa 'Golden Sword' and Yucca filamentosa 'Garland Gold'. All are worthy garden plants.

I would be entirely remiss in leaving out the beautiful green and blue-green foliaged yuccas that have been garden stalwarts for so many years. Yucca glauca, Yucca filamentosa, Yucca rostrata (the species), Yucca baccata and several others all offer fine architecture to the garden throughout the year. Their candelabras of ivory-white bells in early to late summer are added bonuses when they occur (some more regularly than others)! This is not an exhaustive list, rather it is something to whet your horticultural appetite. I also tried not to list plants that wouldn't be hardy reasonably far north--at least Zone 6 and several into Zone 5. Yucca glauca will easily go into Zone 4. For those of you who live in Zones 7 and warmer, your choices increase 10-fold. Everyone should have a love affair with yuccas!

A New Gardening Friend

Well, spring has finally sprung here in Nashville and even though a few cold nights still linger in the long range forecast it doesn’t seem, at least for now, that we’re looking at anything terribly threatening. Of course, that could all change at the drop of a hat, but for now I’m choosing to believe that spring is here. It SMELLS like spring and that’s always the best of signs!

When I walked out the door this morning, it smelled earthy and damp and fresh and rejuvenated. It did wonders for my spirit. Spring is the season of renewal–the season of rebirth–the season when everything is clean and sparkling and the bedraggled days of summer are but a mere speck on the horizon. It’s the season when I simply cannot be outdoors enough, soaking up the warm rays of sunshine, feeling the cool, damp earth beneath my fingernails (real gardeners don’t wear gloves!) and that SMELL–that glorious, amazing, wonderful smell. The smell of spring.

I’ve made a new gardening friend that I felt I must write and tell you about. Helen Dillon. Perhaps some of you know her or at least have heard of her. She’s a prolific writer, an amazing gardener and an absolutely delightful person. If you subscribe to The English Garden magazine, I’m sure you’ve read her column that appears in each issue. Perhaps her books have a prominent place in your horticultural library.

We were fortunate to have her visit Nashville last weekend as the keynote speaker for the Nashville Lawn and Garden Show. I was on the roster this year, too, and had the good fortune to follow Helen after her Sunday presentation to a crowd of about 100 serious gardeners. I had the even better fortune of being able to join her for dinner on Friday evening and then take her out afterward for a little “honky-tonking”, Nashville style. You haven’t been out in Nashville unless you’ve been to Robert’s Western World on Friday night to hear The Steve Kelley Band and Brazil Billy–so that’s exactly what we did!

We said our “Goodbyes” after I finished my talk at the show on Sunday afternoon, but it doesn’t take gardeners long to bond. The common thread that is tied to and through all of us who love plants is a very strong tie and I already feel as though I have made a great new gardening friend with whom to trade information, ideas and the occasional chat. I hope Helen feels the same and I hope she had as delightful a time here in Nashville as we had hosting her. The pleasure was certainly ours. Please be sure to visit Helen’s website at

Happy Gardening!

Greening Up The Indoors

While winter’s icy grip may have many gardeners house-bound for several more weeks, there is no reason to let the fact that the ground is frozen keep us from gardening. And even if you live in a milder climate where the ground is workable and the days are balmy, winter is still a great season to think about adding a few houseplants to your indoor environment. They brighten the room, freshen the air and they give us something to focus on while we drool over the ever-growing stack of catalogs by the chair in anticipation of spring.

“Houseplants” have a come a long way, baby! Even the most mundane of the old-fashioned types have gotten a facelift in the past decade or so. The Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema) comes in a stunning array of green, silver and gold combinations, the old-fashioned “corn plant” (Dracaena fragrans) comes in a shocking new shade of chartreuse (gardening’s most “in” color at the moment), and even the stalwart old “rubber tree” (Ficus elastica) comes in spectacular green-and-white or green-and-pink variegated forms! These are not your grandmother’s houseplants! The great thing is that even though they come in all of these beautiful new forms, their hardiness hasn’t waned a bit. They’re still the tough old houseplants I remember from my childhood–just in more spectacular dress.

A few of my newer favorites include Dracaena fragrans ‘Limelight’, the “shocking chartreuse” form of the old-fashioned corn plant that I mentioned above (it’s also spectacular outdoors in a shady spot for the summer), and Aglaonema x ‘Golden Bay’, a newer form of the old “Chinese evergreen” with leaves of deep green overlaid with pewter and silver, and a golden yellow mid-rib running down the center of the leaf. The old-fashioned heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron scandens) also comes in some new color variations and it’s certainly still as tough as its old green counterpart. ‘Aurea’ has leaves of solid golden-chartreuse that scream from across the room, and if you want something a little more sophisticated try the variety ‘Brasil’, with deep green leaves boasting a lime green center. Gorgeous!

Pothos (Devil’s Ivy) has also undergone a dramatic change with the variety ‘Neon’, a solid chartreuse-yellow form that will fill a hanging basket in no time.

And do you remember the “Ti Plant”? “The Amazing Ti Plant”–in advertisements in every TV Guide and lady’s magazine of the 1970’s–a plant that grew from just a piece of the trunk! “Plant it and watch it grow! Yours for only $1.99 during this special offer!” Well, hold on to your hats, because the “old-fashioned” Ti plant is now one of the hottest plants around. New color forms are being introduced every year and they just keeping getting bigger, brighter, better and more beautiful–shocking shades of fuchsia, red, pink, green, cream, yellow and white–sometimes with 3 or 4 colors in every leaf! These are another outstanding “houseplant” for outdoor containers in the summer and nearly impossible to fail with indoors!

Hopefully, you’ve already read the entry on begonias–my current obsession. If not, scroll down and you’ll find it below. Talk about a tough and undemanding group of plants! There are certainly scores of others and I would encourage all of you to visit your local garden centers and nurseries to see the latest and greatest things they have available. Do a little internet research, too, as there are always new introductions being made.

Aquatic Giants

During the summer of 1991 I had the good fortune of being selected to participate in the internship program at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA. I had the even better fortune of being selected to serve my term under the guiding hand of Patrick Nutt, a renowned expert on all things horticulture, but even more renowned for his voluminous knowledge of aquatic plants and gardens. It was here, under Pat’s expert guidance, that I first laid eyes on and eventually got to work with one of the most-revered aquatic plants in the world–the giant waterlily, Victoria.

There are two species in the genus Victoria, V. amazonica and V. cruziana.

In 1961, Pat created the first hybrid between the two species and the rest is history. Victoria x ‘Longwood Hybrid’ set the bar for giant waterlilies for nearly 40 years until the cross was re-made in the late ’90’s by enterprising water garden enthusiasts Kit and Ben Knotts of Cocoa Beach, Florida.

So what is this giant waterlily? Where did it come from? Both species, Victoria amazonica and Victoria cruziana, are native to South America, the former found in the lowland rivers and lakes of the Amazon river basin, while the latter is found in higher elevations of Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina. Both are, obviously, of tropical origin, but because V. cruziana grows at higher elevations it is more tolerant of cooler temperatures. This ability to tolerate cooler temperatures is what has made it an indispensible parent to its hybrid progeny, giving gardeners in more temperate climes the ability to grow these magnificent plants.

It was a thrill for me, as a young horticulture student barely 20 years old, to work with both a renowned plant and a renowned plantsman. It was an even greater thrill when Pat invited me to join he and several others at Longwood’s famous water garden one evening to assist in the process of making the cross between the two Victoria species that results in Longwood’s namesake hybrid. The process was fascinating–everyone in hip waders, squeezing in between the gigantic, platter-like leaves some of which approached nearly 6 feet in diameter and viciously armed along their stems and undersides with inch-long spines. Pollen was transferred from flower to flower and those that “took” would sink below the water’s surface to form a seed pod that would eventually be harvested and the seed stored for the following year’s display.

These giant “water platters” are some of the most fascinating plants that I have had the opportunity to work with. As I already mentioned, they are viciously armed with spines that may be an inch long in some cases and wickedly sharp. But when you live in the Amazon, you have to learn to protect yourself from things that might decide you’re a delicacy! Before you get up close and personal enough to notice their spines, though, it’s their sheer size that never fails to impress; individual leaves may reach as much as 6 feet across on a well-grown specimen. The underside of the leaves is an intricate tapestry of veins that look for all the world like an art nouveau stained glass window and the rim of the leaf turns up around the edges, standing as much as 4 inches high in some plants.

Perhaps the most anticipated event of all, though, is the plant’s flowering, which happens at night and adds greatly to the plants’ mystique. The buds, too, are covered in spines and grow to about the size of a goose egg as they break the surface of the water. On the first night’s opening they are pure white and the size of a dinner plate, exuding the fragrance of pineapple as they float on the water’s surface. At dawn the following day, they close, and upon re-opening for their second night’s display have turned rosy pink. This display will continue on for several weeks, through late summer and well into the fall if the water temperature remains warm.
Victoria lilies are available from time to time from several of the mail order water gardening nurseries. Don’t let their ultimate size discourage you, as their growth will match the size of the pond they are growing in (within reason). They still need a little elbow room, but if you have a nice sized pond, it would be fun to give one a try. Even if you only get leaves 3 feet across, who else do you know who has a water lily that size???

For some beautiful photographs and a considerable amount of information about the amazing Victoria lilies and their hybrids, click here: