Saturday, February 28, 2009

As February Wanes

It appears that March is going to live up to its reputation and come in like a lion. I left the house yesterday morning without a jacket, since it was 67 degrees at 8 a.m., and by 4:00 yesterday afternoon it was in the 40's and I was wishing I hadn't made that oversight. Apparently, it's going to snow here tonight. We might even get an entire inch! If you live in Nashville, don't forget to run out to the grocery and stock up on enough milk, bread and toilet paper to last you at least a month--it might actually snow TWO inches, and then what would we do?!?

I'm sorry. Perhaps that's a little too catty, but after living here for 15 years it still makes me laugh--the great public reaction when the four letter "s" word appears in the forecast! The only thing that I ask is that if you are a Nashville resident, please, PLEASE stay off the roads. People like me who grew up where it snows will be out driving around trying to enjoy it. We don't need to be dodging the rest of you.

Okay, I'll leave you alone now. I do have to say that the garden is coming back to life. The daylilies are poking their noses up from beneath the mulch, other perennials are beginning to make appearances and the early spring things are looking glorious. The witchhazels, which I blogged about a few posts back, are at their peak now--fabulous displays of brilliant yellow that brighten my day whether the sun is shining or not. The hellebores are rocking, too! I mentioned earlier that I had lost a number of my good hellebores in the zero degree weather this winter, but I was at a local nursery yesterday and found some new ones. I'll be going back next week to make my selections.

Iris reticulata is also blooming now. This is a tiny purple iris that grows from a small bulb. It's always one of the very first flowers to appear in the spring and although its show lasts but a few days, it's worth having a few in the garden as a reminder that spring IS on the way. They'll even bloom in the snow if they have to and I can't say enough good about a plant that will do that! I was at Cheekwood (the botanical garden) the other day and the snowdrops, winter aconites, cornelian cherry dogwoods (Cornus mas), wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) and several other plants were in full bloom. The quinces were trying hard--big, fat buds that were just ready to burst. I'm sure they'll be fabulous this coming week, if the cold weather associated with the snow doesn't snap them.

Thank you, as always, for taking a look at the blog. As March begins, the new blog schedule will go into full effect. My goal is to be in the garden every Monday, weather permitting, working to get my new little place whipped into shape so that I can really enjoy it this summer. On Monday evenings, I'll blog about and post photos of the day's activities and fill you in on what's happening in the garden. Then, later in the week (probably Thursdays) there will be a second post on a more general gardening topic--a new plant, a new product, a hint or two about what YOU should be doing in the garden.....and who knows what else. We'll see which muses strike! I'll also post anytime there is a new magazine piece coming out and will try to keep you up-to-date on what new things might be coming your way on the television show, Volunteer Gardener.

Until then, enjoy the snow and happy gardening!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pot Bound in Garden Design Magazine

Just a brief note to let everyone know about an article that has just been published in the March 2009 issue of Garden Design magazine. This is a project that features ornamental grasses being used in containers that I worked on last summer with my friend Jenny Andrews, who is the features editor at the magazine. We spent several loooonng, hot days in August working to get it all just right and I'm very proud of the way it turned out. It should be hitting newsstands and mailboxes this week. You can also see a few additional photos online at My only complaint is that in the online version you can't click on the photos and see larger images. I hope they'll fix that. Just FYI, the online photos, for the most part, are different than the ones in the magazine, so be sure to look at both!

More strange weather here! 74 degrees yesterday with tornadoes in one county and it's going to be 19 tonight! Sort of wishing I'd left those leaves in place for one more week, but what's a gardener to do?!? Spring will get here... Spring will get here... Spring will get here...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Gardening Opportunity

Well, I finally got out in the garden for a few hours yesterday afternoon. The oak leaves were still piled in the front beds where they fell late last fall and I had allowed them to stay for the purpose of offering winter protection to a fair number of newly planted perennials. They're cleaned up now and the beds are ready for a good, thick layer of composted horse manure that will act both as soil conditioner and mulch. The worms will have their way with it and incorporate it into the soil over the course of the growing season, but until they've done all their work, it will help to hold water and suppress weeds. It will also add valuable nutrient and organic matter to the soil, which my soil is desperately in need of. The texture is pretty good--the organic matter content is wretched.

As those of you who have followed along for a while already know, most of my plants have been in containers for the past several years until I found a place to land, at least semi-permanently, before putting them in the ground. Some found homes in the new garden last fall, but many had to go through one more winter in their pots. Since I didn't move in until August, I really had no idea where dormant plants (especially early spring things) might be hiding and there is no worse feeling than hearing that sickening crunch when you put the shovel right through the crown of something that was hidden underground. So I waited.

The bad news is that it seems that a fair number of plants didn't appreciate going through our zero degree cold snap in pots. One of my jobs yesterday was to go through the "nursery" to see what had survived. Trees and shrubs fared well, for the most part. Perennials and bulbs--not so much. It appears that I've lost at least half of my hellebores (several that aren't even on the market yet), all of my lilies (except, thankfully, for the Madonna lily that was my grandmother's) and about 1/3 of the perennials that were in containers (including a few things that were quite rare and unusual). I did the best I could with the winterizing--grouping pots close together for added insulation, mulching, and putting them in protected areas out of the wind (as much as one can when living on top of a hill). Alas, zero degrees took its toll.

There were only a couple of losses that really hurt. Most everything is replaceable. And therein lies the gardening opportunity. My enthusiasm will not be squelched! A freak zero-degree weather event is not going to discourage this gardener. By summer, all of my plants will have a home--roots in the ground--and then I'll start collecting again. What I've lost, I'll reacquire. What I can't reacquire, I'll replace with something even newer, rarer and better. The plant collector in me will persevere!

And here's the biggest lesson from my garden: If you're going to live here, you're going to have to survive. If you don't, you're compost--and I don't feel the least bit guilty about it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Helleborus 'Ivory Prince'

Well, you've been asking for more plant posts and I've been promising more plant posts, so here we go. The garden is waking up! A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that Hamamelis 'Arnold Promise' was getting ready to burst. Then it got cold and Arnold decided to keep his head down for a few more days, but he's showing off magnificently now! The silvery-grey stems are all but obscured by brilliant primrose yellow flowers that will last the better part of a month, as long as the weather stays seasonably cool.

Just to the left of the path coming up to the front door, Helleborus 'Silver Moon' has opened its first flower, too (the buds have been there since Christmas!). This is a hybrid of Helleborus niger and either H. lividus or H. x sternii. I'm getting conflicting reports, which I think I mentioned a few posts ago. Either way, it's simply stunning--by far my favorite at this point because of its absolutely exquisite silver-marbled foliage and pure white flowers flushed pink on the outside. That said, it has a cousin, 'Ivory Prince', whose performance has also been second-to-none.

Helleborus x 'Ivory Prince' is a complex hybrid that involves several species and has come available on the mass market in just the past couple of years. Unlike the hellebores of years past, many of the new cultivars are now being propagated by tissue culture, which gets them to the market much more quickly and at a fairly reasonable price--'Ivory Prince' is a perfect example. It has beautiful, dark blue-green foliage--thick and leathery and of great substance--and beautiful ivory-white flowers that age to pink and eventually green. It's greatest attribute though, in my opinion, is its hybrid vigor. Hybrid vigor is not an uncommon occurence in plant breeding--two parents are crossed and the resulting plants (if it was a good cross) combine the best attributes of the two, which often results in offspring that grow larger, stronger and faster than either of the parents. Such is the case with 'Ivory Prince'.

From a one-gallon pot that was planted last fall, 'Ivory Prince' pushed up from under the oak leaves this week with more than a dozen stems of flowers, with at least 8 to 10 buds per stem. That's over 100 blooms on a 1-gallon plant! I'm waiting on it to open up just a bit more before I take a photo of it, but will post one just as soon as the flowers are open far enough to get a good shot of it. In the meantime, if you'll go to Google Images and look up "Helleborus Ivory Prince", you'll come up with all kinds of beautiful photos. As with most hellebores, this is a great one for the drier (not full-on drought) areas of the shady garden! It's certainly one that I'll never be without again.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Short Hiatus

Hey everyone! Sorry it has been a few days since there was a new post. I've been up to my eyeballs in the Antiques & Garden Show of Nashville for the past week. After working on the show in various capacities for nearly 15 years, I had officially "retired" and was looking forward to a nice, quiet year when I could just go and enjoy the show with no responsibility--just walk the floor, look around, maybe shop a little and visit with friends I only get to see once a year. But they had an unexpected opening in the garden area sort of late in the game, so we (Monarch Landscape Company and I) stepped in to fill the gap.

The show's theme this year was "Sustaining Beauty" and was all about being ec0-friendly and green--the theme of many shows these days. Our topic was water and water conservation--you'll notice a cistern for water collection and if you look closely at the sidewalk, it is made from a new type of permeable brick paver that allows water penetration and filtration, cleaning up runoff water from driveways and parking lots before it re-enters the groundwater system.

Because we were brought in so late in the game on this one, I decided to stick with what we know best and create a "gardeny" garden rather than doing something more modern and contemporary that involved a lot of construction, which I may have been inclined to do had we had a little more time to plan. Tradition paid off this time--people really seemed to enjoy the garden--and we won the "Rosemary Verey Award" for Best Interpretation of the Theme!

Rosemary, for those of you who don't know, was one of Britain's greatest gardeners. Her gardens at Barnsley House are famous around the world. Rosemary is no longer with us, but I had the good fortune of getting to know her when she visited the states on several occasions, so I'm very proud to have won the award that bears her name. It will have a special place on the shelf!

I'll be back to posting on a regular basis starting immediately. I hope you'll tell your gardening friends about the blog. The website is getting a nice amount of traffic these days and I hope to keep it growing. On the blog, I'm really going to focus on new and unusual plants as we get into the late days of winter and early days of spring, so I hope you'll keep visiting and bring your gardening buddies along for the ride! I'll be back again soon!