Saturday, December 17, 2011

Results of Community Poll Ending 17 December

Our Community Poll ending 17 December asked the question: "Will you be planting a fall vegetable garden this year?"

Frankly, only 4 people responded to this poll. 50% "yes" and 50% "no".

Our cool season vegetable garden is quite productive. We are having good success, so far. Sugar snap peas, broccoli, bok choy, arugula, swiss chard, cilantro, savoy and collards are looking good. Believe it or not, eggplant, poblanos and bell peppers are still producing.

I hope you'll participate in our current Community Poll. You'll find it in the right-hand side bar of this Community Poll link.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

FAQ: How can I keep paperwhites from falling over?


I get very frustrated with my forced paperwhite narcissus plants. They get too tall and fall over. Do you have any suggestions?

I have two suggestions. The first is very simple. Loosely tie a decorative ribbon around the bowl when you set the bulbs in it. As the foliage and flower stems lengthen, slip the ribbon upward.

The other suggestion is to set the new bulbs in the bottom of a clear glass vase about 12 inches tall. You will be able to enjoy watching the foliage and flowers extend upward, while the vase prevents them from flopping over.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Fragrant Garden, Forsyth Park, Savannah, GA


Not sure of visiting hours, I arrived at The Fragrant Garden in Forsyth Park, Savannah, Georgia in the nick of time. Peggy, the docent, was locking the gate. But since we're friends, she left the entrance ajar with assurance I'd secure it on my way out.

When in the Fragrant Garden, Peggy invites passers-by to come in for awhile. Then she tells of its history and points out interesting things in her sweet Savannah voice.

The Fragrant Garden is located within what was originally a "dummy fort", one of a pair which were completed in 1915 for training the Savannah Volunteer Guard. Known as East and West Dummy Forts, The Fragrant Garden is in the West Fort. The East Fort was recently developed as Forsyth Fort Visitor Center Complex, including a café and outdoor stage venue.

The idea for a fragrant garden for the blind was conceived by Jessie Dixon Saylor (1896-1987), collector of customs for the Port of Savannah from 1954 to 1961. (Mrs. Saylor was the wife of Maj. Gen. Henry B. Saylor (1893-1970). Both were close friends of President and Mrs. Eisenhower.*) The Fragrant Garden was inspired, I believe, by the Tennant Lake Fragrance Garden near Ferndale, WA, which she had visited. Mrs. Saylor circulated the idea in Savannah, and it was embraced in 1959 by the Garden Club Council of Chatham County. The garden was designed by Landscape Architect Georges Bignault, and dedicated in the spring of 1963. I remember well those days of childhood when I played in the park. Our house on Whitaker Street was within sight.

The fragrant garden consists of a small parterre and fountain, roses, raised beds planted with fragrant species, and identifying plaques in braille. An ornate stone bench affords a shady place to rest and reflect. The old walls contain the scented air; small birds and splashing water enliven it.

The entrance gates, set in an ornamental iron fence, once belonged to the Old Union Station. Sadly, the Station was demolished in 1963 to make way for Interstate 16 entering Savannah. The gates were given in memory of Frances S. Littlefield by The Gordonston Garden Club and Friends. Littlefield, a longtime member of The Gordonston Garden Club, was the first nationally accredited Flower Show judge in Chatham County, Georgia.

The Fragrant Garden was neglected and run-down for a number of years, overtaken by weeds, ne'er-do-wells and worse. Recent renovation by the Trustees' Garden Club according to a plan by landscape designer John McEllen, and policing have restored it to its former beauty.

The following is a partial list of fragrant genera and species on display:

Citrus x 'Meyeri', Crinum asiaticum, Daphne odora, Daphnephyllum, Fothergilla major 'Mt. Airy', Gardenia jasminoides 'Radicans', Hedychium, Illicium floridanum, Iris cristata, Lilium, Magnolia, Matthiola, Narcissus, Osmanthus fragrans, Rhododendron canescens, Rhododendron indica, Rosa, Rosmarinus officinalis, Viola.

Speaking of the braille plaques in an interview with the Savannah Morning News, Walt Simmons, executive director of the Savannah Association for the Blind, said, "An even more useful tool would be a voice recording to explain what the species are, since the vast majority of visually impaired people are not fluent in Braille." But no recording can replace Peggy's dulcet voice.

* Albert Merriman Smith, Backstairs At The White House, UPI, April 21, 1959.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Monday, December 5, 2011

FAQ: What garden tasks should I do in December?

Among the most frequently asked questions, "When is the best time to...", is near the top of the list. Here are a few gardening tasks for December organized by region.

Northeast States: Pot up narcissus and amaryllis (Hippeastrum) for forcing. Pot up spring bulbs for forcing. Maintain house plants and check to make sure foliage doesn't come into contact with cold window glass and drafts. Refill bird feeders often.

Mid-Atlantic States: Pot up paperwhite narcissus and amaryllis (Hippeastrum) for forcing. Pot up spring bulbs for forcing. Maintain house plants and check to make sure foliage doesn't come into contact with cold window glass and drafts. Refill bird feeders often.

Mid-South States: Finish planting and transplanting trees and shrubs. Pot up paperwhite narcissus and amaryllis (Hippeastrum) for forcing. Pot up spring bulbs for forcing. Feed house plants, and inspect them for insects and disease and check to make sure foliage doesn't come into contact with cold window glass and drafts. Refill bird feeders often.

Lower South and Gulf States: Continue planting and transplanting broadleaf and evergreen trees and shrubs, perennials and ground covers. Finish plant winter-blooming annuals. Continue planting cool-season vegetables. Pot up paperwhite narcissus and amaryllis (Hippeastrum) for forcing. Plant spring-flowering bulbs. Continue to irrigate shrubs and trees as long as weather is above freezing. Fertilize trees and shrubs when dormant. Maintain house plants and check to make sure foliage doesn't come into contact with cold window glass and drafts. Refill bird feeders often.

Plains and Rocky Mountain States: Follow the same regimen as for Northeast States.

Pacific Southwest and Desert States: Follow regimen for Lower South and Gulf States.

Pacific Northwest States: Finish planting and transplanting broadleaf and evergreen trees and shrubs, perennials and ground covers. Divide perennials and transplant. Plant spring-flowering bulbs. Pot up spring-flowering bulbs for forcing. Plant cool-season vegetables. Fertilize trees and shrubs when dormant. Maintain house plants. Refill bird bath. Refill bird feeders often.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

FAQ: Will daylilies bloom in partial shade?


We are considering purchasing daylilies for mass planting in our yard.  However, we have areas that only get 2 to 3 hours of direct sun each day. Would the 2 to 3 hours of full sun give the plant enough light to fully bloom?

If the shade is not deep, you should get sufficient bloom. However, the plants may not be as dense, compact, floriferous as in full sun. The more sun the better, but daylilies will perform under less than ideal conditions.

Return to Daylilies at goGardenNow.com

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Where The Autumn Fern Grows

Dryopteris erythrosora

Oh, what a glory doth the world put on
These peerless, perfect autumn days
There is a beautiful spirit of gladness everywhere.
The wooded waysides are luminous with brightly painted leaves;
The forest-trees with royal grace have donned
Their gorgeous autumn tapestries;
And even the rocks and fences are broidered
With ferns, sumachs and brilliantly tinted ivies.
But so exquisitely blended are the lights and shades
The golds, scarlets and purples, that no sense is wearied;
For God Himself hath painted the landscape
.
-Helen Keller, Autumn

Autumn Fern is one of the most colorful. Other common names include Japanese Shield Fern and Japanese Red Shield Fern. Its botanical name is Dryopteris erythrosora (pronounced dry-OPP-ter-iss ehr-ith-roh-SOR-ra), meaning "oak fern - red sori." The names refer to its habitat among broadleaf evergreen trees and the color of the spore-producing structures under the fronds. Obviously, the fern is native to Japan, but also to China and Korea.

Autumn fern's colors begin in spring when the garnet-red croziers (fiddleheads) begin to emerge. As the fresh young fronds unfurl, their colors change to bronze and finally mature to dark green. Oddly, Autumn ferns are more attractive in spring than autumn, yet the spring colors are reminiscent of fall.

Autumn fern normally grows in loose clumps 18 to 24 inches tall with an equal spread. It prefers partial to full shade in moist, well-drained soil high in organic matter with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.5. It is hardy from USDA climate zones 5 into 9.

Little soil preparation is needed before planting. Moist, well-drained soil high in organic matter shouldn't need tilling, especially if in a woodland setting. If the soil requires amendment to increase the level of organic matter, some tilling might be required. Remove all traces of weeds. Collect a soil sample and take it to the nearest Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis. Follow the instructions provided.

When planting, water the plants in their pots, then allow the pots to drain. Remove the plants from their pots and place in the planting holes at the same depth they grew previously. Water again. Finally, apply a layer of organic mulch to conserve moisture and discourage weeds.

Gardeners troubled by deer and rabbits will be glad to know that this fern is critter resistant. Similarly, autumn fern is insect and disease resistant.

Autumn fern is ideal as a ground cover for shade gardens and woodland walks, fern collections, and Asian plant collections. Suitable companion plants include Astilbe, Chrysogonum, Galium, Hosta, Heuchera, Hyacinthoides, Sanguinaria, Scilla, Selaginella, and ferns with similar requirements.

Return to Ferns at goGardenNow.com.

John J Marshall
goGardenNow.com

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Stately Royal Fern

Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis)
 
Who does not know
That those famed caves, on Arran's western shore,
Were King's Coves called, because they shelter gave
To Scotland's bravest King in hour of need
And when we see how richly they are fringed
With royal fern, might not we almost think
This stately fern delighted still to grow
'Midst scenes once honoured by so great a prince
 -David Landsborough, Arran: A Poem

Royal ferns (Osmunda regalis - pronounced os-MUN-duh re-GAY-liss) are so named because individuals can grow to be rather large. Some specimens have been recorded up to 5 feet tall and 5 feet across. You can't miss them in the garden. Sterile fronds sprout as slender croziers in spring, yellowish green in color and lightly tinged with terra-cotta. Mature fronds are bright green. The leaves are deciduous, turning pleasing yellow in fall before becoming brown. When back-lit by the sun, the yellow fronds are distinct and beautiful.

Many gardeners struggle with wet soils. Filling in the low spots is often considered to be remedy, but the water is simply redirected somewhere else sometimes causing another problem. I recommend leaving the wet areas alone and populating them with suitable plants. The royal fern is such a plant. Because they thrive in wet soil, royal ferns are ideal in rain gardens and bog gardens, beside streams and ponds. They'll even live in standing water. Tramping outdoors, they are often found in light shade, but royal ferns can certainly tolerate full sun.

Orchid growers are familiar with royal ferns, though they may not realize it, for the dried rhizomes of royal ferns have been used as potting medium for their epiphytes. Other materials are now more often used.

Widely distributed, royal ferns can be found growing in many parts of the world. It's no surprise, then, that they are hardy in a wide range of climate zones. In North America, these perennials are hardy from USDA hardiness zone 3 to 10.

Though they can become large, mature royal ferns can be as small as 24 inches tall and as wide. Much depends upon the moisture level.

Not much soil preparation is needed. Tilling wet soil would be a futile exercise, anyway. A soil sample should be taken to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis. Follow the instructions. Recommended soil pH is 6.0 to 7.8.

Plant bare-root ferns in mid- to late spring or fall. Container-grown ferns may be planted any time of year. Space them 24 to 48 inches apart.

Very little to no maintenance is needed. Fertilizer should not be necessary. Brown fronds may be removed in winter. Soil moisture should be maintained.

Suitable companion plants may include red maple, pond cypress, dawn redwood, myrtle-leaf holly, inkberry holly, baccharis, coastal leucothoe, elephant ear, cinnamon fern, netted chain fern, yellow water iris, jewel weed, horsetail and acorus.

Return to Ferns at goGardenNow.com.

Monday, November 21, 2011

My New Blog: Backyard Fruit Guide

Hello friends and followers of goGardenNow! I've received so many e-mails asking for advice about backyard fruit growing, that I have decided to begin a blog on the subject. It's called Backyard Fruit Guide, and it's designed to help backyard and community gardeners. I hope you'll benefit. If you have questions about backyard fruit growing, feel free to contact me at the e-mail address provided in my profile.

FAQ: Is it okay to mulch with...?

I want to mulch around my flowerbed with the leaves from my yard but I was told by someone that oak and pecan leaves are bad for your garden. Some chemical in them. Is that true? Can I not use them? If I can, what is the best way to use them to add organic matter to my flower beds?

Yes, you may rake the leaves directly into the flowerbed around your garden. Oak and pecan leaves contain tannin, an acidic compound very common in plants. Tannin is what makes strong tea astringent. It's also the active ingredient in oak bark traditionally used for tanning leather. Tannin is found in some form in practically every plant family.  While oak and pecan leaves may acidify the soil, the pH can be easily adjusted. If you take a soil sample to the nearest Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis, you'll receive instructions on how to adjust it.

For best results, I suggest you compost your leaves before applying them to your flowerbed.

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Results of Community Poll Ending 19 November

Our Community Poll ending 19 November asked the question: "Should the edible plants you purchase be raised organically?" A whopping 83% answered YES.

Participate in our next Community Poll. You'll find it in the right hand side bar.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

All-America Selections Announces 2012 Winners

All-America Selections has announced the winners for 2012. Seeds should be available at your favorite seed retailer in Spring.

Ornamental Pepper ‘Black Olive’ (Capsicum annuum) is the AAS Flower Award Winner that has shown superior heat tolerance. Striking purple foliage shows nicely with the fiery red edible peppers.

Salvia ‘Summer Jewel Pink’ (Salvia coccinea) is the AAS Bedding Plant Award Winner. Lovely pink flowers appear earlier than other pink salvias, and last longer. It attracts hummingbirds, too.

Pepper ‘Cayennetta’ F1 (Capsicum annuum) is a AAS Vegetable Award Winner. The plant is compact, bears heavily, and is easy to grow. Peppers are 3 inches to 4 inches long and exceptionally flavorful.

Watermelon ‘Faerie’ F1 (Citrullus lanatus) is another AAS Vegetable Award Winner. The skin is yellow, yet the meat is a traditional red. Home gardeners will love the novel coloring and the compact habit. Fruits are about 7 inches x 8 inches and weighs 4 to 6 pounds.

Learn more at the All-America Selections website.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cinnamon Fern: A Beautiful Solution

Rambling through moist woodlands of Eastern North America, you're likely to come upon Cinnamon ferns. Why they are so named is not known precisely. The botanical name, Osmunda cinnamomea (pronounced os-MUN-duh sin-uh-MOH-mee-uh), means "fragrant, resembles cinnamon."

The Fern Bulletin, July 1907 reported, "Mrs. A. P. Taylor of Thomasville, Ga., writes that Osmunda cinnamonea glandulosa is decidedly aromatic. If bruised early in the day it is of a spicy fragrance. Mrs. Taylor suggests that this may be the origin of the name cinnamon fern, but the evidence appears to be against this." Mrs. Taylor guessed, but not well enough, apparently. The Missouri Botanical Garden website states that "the common name of this plant is in reference to the cinnamon colored fibers found near the frond bases." Though I highly respect MOBOT, that seems a bit obscure. My conjecture is that the name was derived from the tall, slender, cinnamon-colored spore-bearing fronds that appear in spring. They look like cinnamon sticks to me, and are very obvious. On the other hand, taxonomists have never been shy about referencing obscure or potentially embarrassing characteristics of plants when naming them. I suppose, though, that the only way to know for sure is to find a written record left by the naming taxonomist, or minutes of an ad hoc committee on naming this thing.

Cinnamon fern has also been known by other botanical names including Osmunda bipinnata, Osmunda cinnamomea var. cinnamomea, Osmunda imbricata, Osmundastrum cinnamomeum and Anemia bipinnata. I only mention them in passing; you needn't remember.

Cinnamon fern grows from 30 inches to 60 inches high, and as wide as it is tall. Light green fronds emerge as "fiddleheads" in spring, unfurling into a splendid display. Foliage is deciduous, turning light yellow in fall before browning. The cinnamon-colored spikes are very attractive.

The native range of Cinnamon fern is widespread. You can find it growing from the Gulf Coast counties of Texas to Southern Florida, and northward into Canada. That's from USDA Zones 2 to 10.

As I wrote earlier, you'll find it in moist woodlands. Wet to moist woodland soils may be sandy, loamy or clayey, and usually acidic because of the tannin in decomposing leaves. This fern, however, will tolerate slightly alkaline soil. Cinnamon fern thrives in light shade or partial shade, but will tolerate dense shade, too. Gardeners with sites like that often consider them to be problem areas. If you have such a site, you're actually in luck because Cinnamon fern is your solution plant, and what a beautiful solution it is.

Cinnamon fern requires little or no maintenance, and has no significant insect or disease problems. Deer and rabbits shouldn't eat it, though there's no telling what a really hungry deer will munch.

About the fiddleheads: these are probably not your edible types. That would be Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). Very many ferns are more or less toxic. I suppose that's what makes them unpalatable to deer and rabbits, which seem to have good sense about such things.

Before you purchase plants, get your planting site ready. Take a soil sample to your nearby Cooperative Extension Office for testing. Make soil adjustments as prescribed. Wet woodland soils shouldn't need to be cultivated. You'd get bogged down if you tried. Moisture will incorporate soil amendments into the planting area very effectively.

Plant spacing will depend on how large they may grow, and whether you want them to grow together. Planting 24 inches to 30 inches apart should be good enough.

Water the plants in the pots, then drain.  Dig planting holes into the soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Place the ferns into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls.  If planting bare root plants, the crowns should be just above the soil surface. Don't bury them. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1 inch deep. Fertilizer probably won't be needed, but ferns tend to benefit from occasional feeding with diluted fish emulsion. (Fish emulsion is not the product of the famous Bass O Matic, but nearly so.)

Shade gardeners and those who like to landscape with native plants should find Cinnamon fern to be very useful. Cinnamon fern is perfect for rain gardens, bog gardens, stream banks, shady ditches and, of course, moist woodlands.

Return to Ferns at goGardenNow.com.

FAQ: What's going on with my persimmon tree?

I have a Japanese persimmon tree with two different kinds of leaves. One part of the tree has longer, narrower leaves. Another part has fatter leaves. The part with the narrow leaves doesn't bear fruit. What's going on with my persimmon tree?

I'm often asked questions such as this, mostly about common fruit trees like apples, peaches and pears. Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki) scions are often grafted onto American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) seedling rootstocks. It sounds to me like the rootstock of your tree sprouted and grew, perhaps even overtaking your Japanese persimmon. The American persimmon is the one with the narrower leaves. You should remove the rootstock sprout, but it will surely sprout again - maybe even producing more sprouts next time. The larger the rootstock sprout has become the more new sprouts it will produce. If the rootstock sprout is as thick as your arm, you've got trouble. You'll have to stay on top of the situation and remove the new sprouts as soon as they appear.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Galloping Gardener at Nek Chand's Rock Garden, Chandigarh

Readers of goGardenNow who enjoy my articles about gardens should also follow Charlotte Weychan's Galloping Gardener blog. This post about Nek Chand's Rock Garden, Chandigarh is fascinating.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

FAQ: What garden tasks should I do in November?

Among the most frequently asked questions, "When is the best time to...", is near the top of the list. Here are a few gardening tasks for November organized by region.

Northeast States: Frost is possible. (How about that recent snow storm!) Plant and transplant broadleaf and evergreen trees and shrubs, perennials and ground covers, spring-flowering bulbs until the ground is frozen. Pot up spring bulbs for forcing; keep them in an unheated room or cold-frame for the required time according to species. Finish pruning tasks. The recent heavy snow demonstrated that earlier pruning of weak or susceptible tree limbs could help one avoid later trouble. Fertilize trees and shrubs after they become dormant. Fertilize the lawn with a low-nitrogen fertilizer after frost to encourage root development. Continue to irrigate shrubs and trees until ground freezes. Continue garden cleanup. Compost debris. Apply protective mulch in the garden and around plants to prevent cold damage. Feed house plants. Check house plants regularly for disease and insects; treat as necessary. Clean, lubricate and store hand tools for winter. Prepare gas-powered implements for winter storage. Clean bird baths and install electric heating elements, if appropriate. Clean bird feeders and refill.

Mid-Atlantic States: Same regimen as for Northeast States.

Mid-South States: Same regimen as for Northeast States. Continue lawn maintenance. Plant winter-blooming annuals, if you haven't already.

Lower South and Gulf States: Early frost is possible. Plant winter-blooming annuals, if you haven't already. Continue planting cool-season vegetables. Pinch back any annuals that appear leggy. Continue planting or transplanting trees, shrubs, ground covers, roses, spring and summer blooming perennials, spring blooming bulbs. Lightly prune trees and shrubs, but do not prune spring-blooming trees and shrubs. Remove or prune trees and branches that may be susceptible to storm damage. Continue lawn maintenance. Plant spring-flowering bulbs. Continue to irrigate shrubs and trees as long as weather is above freezing. Wrap your exposed sprinklers in protective foam to prevent damage to pipes and valves. Feed house plants, and inspect them for insects and disease. Clean, lubricate and store hand tools for winter. Prepare gas-powered tools for winter storage. Clean bird baths, bird feeders, and refill.

Plains and Rocky Mountain States: Follow the same regimen as for Northeast States.

Pacific Southwest and Desert States: Frost is possible. Follow regimen for Lower South and Gulf States.

Pacific Northwest States: Frost is possible. Plant and transplant broadleaf and evergreen trees and shrubs, perennials and ground covers. Divide perennials and transplant.  Plant spring-flowering bulbs. Pot up spring-flowering bulbs for forcing. Plant cool-season vegetables. Continue fall cleanup. Compost debris. Fertilize trees and shrubs when dormant. Feed house plants; inspect them for scale and disease.  Clean bird baths, bird feeders, and refill.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

FAQ: My red maple leaves are yellow. Was I sold the wrong tree?

From goGardenNow
I bought a red maple at a local garden center last spring. The leaves are turning yellow in autumn. Was I sold the wrong kind of tree? What kind of maple do you think I purchased?

Though it's possible for plants to be mislabeled, you probably purchased a red maple (Acer rubrum). The leaf color in trees grown from seed can vary from yellow to red, including splotches. Despite what you might have read, red maples aren't called so because of the leaf color in fall, but because the flowers and seed structures are red. If you want to be sure of having red foliage in fall, purchase a cultivar like 'October Glory' that will produce it, or buy a seed-grown tree in fall while the red leaves are on it.

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Birmingham Botanical Gardens

November chill and damp weather seem like enough to keep one indoors, but such a day suits me. There's little I like better than to shuffle through fallen leaves in autumn. Sounds seem muffled. Colors are bolder in contrast. Woodlands reveal their secrets when not draped by summer's verdure. Last Thanksgiving season I found a perfect day for exploring the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

The Birmingham Botanical Gardens is a living museum of plants - Alabama's largest. Over 10,000 specimens are displayed in 25 theme gardens throughout its 67.5 acres. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens is also home to the largest public horticulture library in the U.S. Gardens are maintained and open to the public every day of the year, and admission is free. It's no small feat, but a healthy partnership between the City of Birmingham and Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens makes it possible.

Late November is not a time for visiting rose gardens, azalea collections and floral displays. But it was ideal for enjoying features often hidden or overlooked.

One can't visit the Birmingham Botanical Gardens without encountering art, from graceful fountains to whimsical sculptures. Landscape design is no less an art form, and it is thoughtfully exhibited everywhere from formal vistas to tranquil scenes and pathways.

Birmingham, Alabama is a southern city of Appalachia. It's fitting that the Southern Living Garden is located in the Gardens. The Southern Living Garden is often featured in the publications of the Southern Progress Corporation. You'll also find garden features such as a rustic, covered well to remind you that you're in the foothills. A tool shed, familiar to every gardener, becomes a garden feature in the company of magnificent crape myrtles, cool-season annuals, espaliered fruits and iron furnishings.

Vegetable gardening is near and dear to agrarian hearts. The cool-season vegetable garden effectively displays the kinds and colors of crops that extend the edible harvest.

The Japanese Garden is a favorite destination of visitors to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Within it are so many delights that the Torii is literally a gateway to gardener's heaven.

Water seems like an essential part of any Japanese garden, but it isn't necessarily. The stone garden, also known as karesansui, is an example of the art form that gives the appearance of water and terrain to carefully raked pebbles. The flaming red foliage of a Japanese maple contrasts well with subdued shades. Crimson leaves fallen into brooklets shimmer like koi in sparkling water. Black bamboo intrigues. A red bridge reflected in water beckons twice from afar. Scattered fans of yellow ginkgo blanket the grass.

A walk back through the woods brought me face-to-face with a sinister-looking but harmless apparition.

The Conservatory at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens is a welcome place to come in from the cold. Tropical displays, exotic flowers like Plumeria, and the succulent cacti collection will whisk your imagination to warmer climates and tempt you to shed your coat.

For those in the southeast who like to keep up with the newest tried and true plants, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens is not to be missed for it is an official All-America Selections Display Garden. Here you'll have an opportunity to view AAS winners up-close. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens is the only All-America Selections Display Garden in Alabama.

Like any great garden, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens come alive with new pleasures as the seasons turn. If you're fortunate enough to live nearby, you should visit often.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

FAQ: Is there a vine to climb my wall without damaging the stucco?

Can you please recommend me a small-leafed ivy that will grow in full shade in zone 10, and not be considered to have an invasive root system?  I would like something to climb the north facing wall of my South Florida house without doing penetrating damage to the stucco. I need it to climb by itself without a trellis.

That's a tough question. Vines climb by two means: clinging and twining. Twining vines wrap around something. You don't want a trellis, so there won't be anything to wrap around. Clinging vines produce growths that allow the plants to attach to the walls somehow. Parthenocissus (Boston Ivy and Virginia Creeper) have little discs at the ends of modified roots that look like suction cups. They are very difficult to remove from a wall once attached (if you ever decide to remove the vine). Hedera (English ivy and such) produces little roots that find cracks and crannies in the wall and worm their ways into them. This can cause damage, too. Ficus pumila (Creeping fig) grows the same way, but I have seen it grow heavy and fall off of a wall during a storm without doing damage to stucco, so that might be a possibility for you. My wife insisted on planting a Campsis (Trumpet creeper) against a wall. It also attaches by little roots, but I've been able to pull juvenile vines off the wall without damage to the wall, but they are still juvenile. There may be some tropical vines about which I'm unfamiliar that would work. Trachelospermum asiaticum (Asiatic jasmine) is usually grown as a ground cover, but I've had some escape and try to climb the brick north-face wall of my house. I've been able to pull the juvenile vines off with ease, but they don't really grow thickly enough to achieve the look you desire.

In short, try Ficus pumila. It's not perfect, but may be your best bet. You might have to get it started by erecting a short, temporary trellis.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Peacock Flower - Lovely By Any Name

Call it Peacock Flower, Abyssinian Gladiolus, Fragrant Gladiolus, Sword Lily, Acidanthera bicolor, Acidanthera murielae or Gladiolus callianthus. Why it's called Peacock Flower is easy to guess, as is the appellation, "fragrant." "Abyssinian" because it is considered to be native to Ethiopia (some say to Madagascar). It's called Sword Lily because the leaves are sword-like, long and tapering to a point. The name Gladiolus means "little sword." It's called bicolor because the flower is either red, pink or purple on white. Callianthus means "beautiful flower." It was given the name murielae in honor of Muriel Wilson, daughter of famous plantsman and explorer Ernest H. "Chinese" Wilson (1876-1930). Acidanthera refers to the sharp anthers in the center of the flower. Whether one prefers the name Gladiolus or Acidanthera depends on whether one views it as a species of Gladiolus or a genus of its own.

By any name, it is a lovely flower that is easy to grow. It possesses a distinctive tropical elegance. Peacock Flower looks like other gladioli in most respects. The plant grows to 3 feet tall. Long flower spikes produce butterfly-like blossoms along the length. The height, bold foliage and showy flowers add interest to bulb gardens and perennial borders.

Peacock Flower is hardy from USDA climate zones 7 through 11. Blooms, suitable for cutting and flower arrangements, may appear from mid-summer to fall.

Choose a site in full sun with average, consistently moist but well-drained garden soil. Preferred pH may range from 6.1 to 7.5. Take a soil sample to your nearby Cooperative Extension Service for analysis. Follow the recommendations.

Cultivate the soil to a depth of twelve inches and amend it according to soil test recommendations. Remove weeds and debris during cultivation. It is usually a good idea to incorporate superphosphate into the soil before planting at the rate of two pounds per 50 feet of row. If superphosphate is not available, an application of 5-10-5 fertilizer at the same rate is recommended. Plant Peacock Flowers four to six inches deep and six inches apart in spring when the weather and soil has warmed. Do not allow synthetic fertilizer to contact the corms. Cover with soil and water well. An application of mulch can suppress weeds and help to retain moisture. All gladioli benefit from generous feeding. A second application of 5-10-5 fertilizer may be applied as a side dressing at the rate of two pounds per 50 feet of row when the emerging bloom spike can be felt at the base of the foliage. Again, the fertilizer should not come into contact with the plants. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers. Too much fertilization can encourage bulb diseases.

When cutting for flower arrangements, choose stems with no more than three flowers in bloom. For best results, cut the stems in the early morning or late evening when temperatures are cooler. Leave a few leaves on each plant so the corms will remain strong. Most growers allow four leaves to remain on the corm. Use a sharp knife or clippers making a clean cut. Plunge the lower ends of the stems immediately in a bucket of cool water.

Peacock Flowers are not hardy in colder climates than USDA zone 7. The corms can be dug in fall and saved for planting the next spring. For more information about that, read my article, FAQ: When should I cut my gladioli? .

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FAQ: When should I cut my gladioli?

Flowering stalks of gladioli (gladioluses, gladiolas or glads) may be cut when they are blooming. The flowers at the bottom of the stalk bloom first, and continue upward. It's best to cut gladioli when two or three of the lower flowers have fully opened. The best time of day to cut gladiolus stems is in the morning. You'll need sharp, clean clippers and a vessel of cool water. Place the stems in the water immediately after cutting to prevent the flowers from wilting. If you leave some flowering gladiolus stalks in your garden, cut them back as soon as the last flower fades.

Gladiolus leaves should remain on the plant until late summer as fall approaches. This will allow the plant to store food reserves in the corm, and to produce new corms. Eventually, the leaves will begin to look yellow and worn. Then you can prune the gladiolus leaves to ground-level. Remove the cut leaves to your compost bin.

If you live in a warm climate zone, you may leave the corms in the ground during winter. If you live in a cool climate zone, carefully dig the gladiolus corms before frost. If you have particular varieties, sort and label them. While sorting the corms, check them for firmness. Discard gladiolus corms that are soft. You'll notice that the corms are covered with a papery tissue. Do not remove it. Brush off any remaining soil. Store the gladiolus corms over winter in a cool, dark place where the temperature is about 40 degrees F.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Indian Holly Fern - Beauty In Simplicity

Poking around one of my favorite streams in a wood, I saw a rather common fern for what seemed like the first time. Sure, I had noticed it before, but this time was different for I stopped long enough for a closer look and to be delighted by what I saw. Early plant explorers surely knew such pleasures. I imagine them hardly disembarked before stopping to study new finds and collect samples.

Karl Ludwig von Blume (1796-1862) was one of them. A German-Dutch botanist, he spent much of his life in southern Asia, especially in what is modern Indonesia. At the time, most of the archipelago was a Dutch colony. What a botanical treasure-trove he found.

Blume named a genus of ferns, Arachniodes (pronounced a-rak-nee-OH-dees), meaning "spider-like." The name was suggested, of course, by the growth habit of the plant. There are over 100 Asian species within the genus, and about 140 New World species.

A. simplicior (pronounced sim-PLIK-ee-or) is arguably the most beautiful. Common names include East Indian Holly Fern, Indian Holly Fern, Simplicior Fern and Shield Fern. Simplicior means "simpler", and it is in comparison with many of the other species which appear quite intricate. Its beauty is in its simplicity. Glossy evergreen fronds and pinnules are long and arching with light green variegation extending their lengths. It grows 12 inches to 24 inches high and may spread to 30 inches.

Indian Holly fern performs well in USDA climate zones 7 to 10 in partial shade. It prefers consistently moist soil, but not wet. Space large container-grown Indian Holly ferns 24 inches to 30 inches apart. Smaller ones can be planted closer together. Recommended pH is 6.5 to 7.5.

Such planting sites as those I mentioned shouldn't require cultivation. However, it's always wise to take a soil sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis. You'll pay a nominal fee, and receive results within a couple of weeks. Follow instructions. I have found that ferns usually benefit from a top-dressing of compost and occasional feeding with diluted fish emulsion.

Shade gardens, fern collections, woodlands, moist stream banks and Asian gardens are perfect for the Indian Holly fern. Because it is relatively small, compact and evergreen, it also makes a fine house plant. It is deer-resistant. Indian Holly fern would make any plant explorer or garden visitor stop in his tracks for a closer look.

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FAQ: Should I prune my Knockout roses this time of year? They have grown too big.

I understand that you are concerned about the appearance of your Knockout roses, but I advise you to wait. Pruning stimulates new growth. New growth is easily damaged by freezing temperatures. Now it's late October, so cold weather will be arriving soon, if it has not already, in most parts of the country. If you live in a mild climate such as south Florida, you may prune Knockout roses now without much risk of damage. However, if you live in a colder climate, you should wait until spring when danger of freezing is past.



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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Results of Community Poll Ending 17 October

Our Community Poll ending 17 October, 2011 asked the question: "Should the ornamental plants you purchase be raised organically?"

27% of respondents said, "Yes."
73% of respondents said, "It doesn't matter to me."

This despite a small but growing trend among ornamental growers to produce their plants by organic methods. It will be interesting to see whether organically grown ornamental plants become popular with gardeners. Of course, our Community Poll is only a small sampling of interested gardeners. But that so few should care whether ornamental plants should be grown organically surprises me.

Our current open Community Poll asks the question: "Should the edible plants you purchase be raised organically?" I invite you to take part in our polling. I would like to know what you think.

Vote in our Community Poll.

Inspiring Fiddlehead Ferns

Gentle fiddleheads
sprout like no characters
in earthly paradise

-Bosha Kawabata

The Fiddlehead fern is known botanically as Matteuccia struthiopteris (pronounced mat-TEW-kee-ah struth-ee-OH-ter-us), so named to honor Carlo Matteucci, a 19th century Italian physicist. Struthiopteris refers to the fronds which reminded some taxonomist of ostrich (genus Struthio) feathers. Other common names include Ostrich fern, for obvious reasons, and Shuttlecock fern. "Shuttlecock" because the array of spore-bearing fertile fronds that are produced in early spring resemble that thing you whack in a game of badminton.

Other botanical names applied occasionally to this fern have included Matteuccia pennsylvanica, Pteris nodulosa, Struthiopteris filicastrum, Struthiopteris pensylvanica, and Osmunda struthiopteris. Just so you know; it's not that important.

The name, Fiddlehead, could just as well be given to most any fern for their young fronds resemble the scroll or crosier of a violin as they emerge in spring. But I think the name is probably applied to Matteuccia because of its popularity as a spring delicacy, and the fiddlehead is what foragers look for.

Novice foragers should beware. Eating the wrong fiddlehead can make one ill. Matteuccia has a brown, papery covering at the base of the shoots. Other ferns may have fuzzy shoots or shiny green ones. Matteuccia can also be identified by a distinct groove on the front of mature fronds, the absence of spores on the back, a crown-like structure at the base of the fronds, and underground rhizomes growing outward from the crown. If that sounds like too much trouble, look for harvested fiddleheads in the northeastern U.S. at some farmers markets in the spring.

Matteuccia is a graceful garden fern from the moment the fiddleheads begin to emerge, inspiring poets and artists with its elegance. It grows to 6 feet tall, but more often to 4 feet. It spreads to 5 feet to 8 feet. The foliage is deciduous.

Native Matteuccia can be found growing in sandy soils near riverbanks and streams from southern Alaska to northern Virginia, but can be found in gardens from USDA climate zones 2 through 10. That's a very wide range, indeed.

Choose a site for yours in partial to full shade. Soil should be consistently moist, but well-drained and acidic (pH 5.6 to 6.0). Sandy loam is recommended. To determine if your soil needs amendment, take a sample to your nearby Cooperative Extension Service for analysis. Follow the instructions you receive.

If the soil needs no added sand, cultivation should not be necessary. Remove all traces of weeds before planting. Space container grown plants 24 inches to 36 inches apart. Bare root plants may be planted closer. Dig planting holes into the soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container.  Water the plants in the pots, then drain.  Place the ferns into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1 inch deep.

Matteuccia is perfect for moist, shady woodland gardens, native plant collections and wet areas near streams or ponds. Suitable companions include astilbes and hostas. Early spring wildflowers like Phacelia, Trillium, Claytonia, Sanguinaria, and Erythronium can be planted beneath them. You'll be inspired.

Fiddlehead fern!
Malachite blossom-
unfurl your sweet
head and wave
delicate jade fingers;
you darling jewel of
veridian tang.
My tongue sweats
at the very first
hint of your rising
joy.

--Andromeda Jazmon, from Esperanto: Ode to Green

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Monday, October 17, 2011

FAQ: About bare root plants.

I've never done bare-root before.  Is survival rate lower than with potted material? How soon after shipping do they need to be planted? Care before planting if they need to wait awhile (weeks) before planting?

Survival rate can be lower than potted material, but that depends upon the care they receive. Survival rate also depends upon the plant. Some tolerate lots of abuse while others do not. Liriope and ophiopogon, daylilies, irises tolerate lots of abuse.

None should be allowed to dry out entirely, be exposed to wind, sun or freezing temperatures before planting.

Ideally, bare root plants should be planted within a day of receipt. The plants are bundled, wrapped in moist packing material. We ship early in the week so that plants will arrive by the weekend.

If they can't be planted immediately, open the shipping container, set the bundles upright in the container, moisten bundles if necessary, keep in the shade. If plants can not be planted for several days, set the bundles in a nursery pot of potting soil and soak them in. Keep in shade. Check moisture daily.

Ivy (Hedera species) should be allowed to dry between watering.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

The Lasdon Park and Arboretum

"...as Envy always dogs merit at the heels, there may be those who will whisper..."
-Sir Walter Scott, Old Mortality

As I visit private gardens, and those that once were, envy often rears it's head. Gardens of the wealthy are most desirable. Never mind that I don't have the means to establish and maintain such Edens, I want very much to own them, anyway. So I'm reminded that el pecado mortal is not exclusively a transgression of the wealthy, and that contentment is a rare jewel. My recent visit to Lasdon Park and Arboretum was another opportunity to learn the lesson. Follow me to see what grows behind that garden wall.

The property was formerly known as Cobbling Rock Farm, owned by Dr. Antonie Phineas Voislawsky (1872-1939). Dr. Voislawsky, a graduate of Dartmouth Medical College, was a well-respected rhinologist and otolaryngologist from New York City. He had practiced and consulted at various hospitals in and around New York City.

Situated off Route 35 in Somers, New York, Lasdon is bounded on the south and east by New York City watershed property and the Amawalk River. When the house burned in the early 1930s, Dr. Voislawsky rebuilt it as a three-story Colonial Revival style mansion, resembling George Washington’s Mount Vernon. After Dr. Voislawsky died in 1939, William S. and Mildred Lasdon purchased the estate for a country retreat.

William Stanley Lasdon's (b.1896 in Brooklyn, d.1984 in Manhattan) distinguished career included co-establishing and serving as treasurer of the Pyridium Corporation, officer and director of Nepera Chemical Company founded by Dr. Leo Hendrik Baekeland, a partner of Harriman Chemical Company, vice chairman and chairman of the executive committee of the Warner-Lambert Company, board member of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, a member of the Cornell University Medical College Board of Overseers, and a member of the Business Advisory Committee for Nixon-Agnew. In addition, he was president of the Lasdon Foundation, which he and members of his family set up in 1946 to support medical research and cultural institutions. Lasdon, along with Margaret Van Rensselaer Voislawsky (the widow of Dr. Voislawsky) and others, was also a charter member of the Somers Historical Society (1956).

The Lasdon estate provided jobs for a full-time staff to maintain the house and grounds. Mr. Lasdon had a strong interest in horticulture, so he imported many plant specimens to his estate as he traveled the world.

After Mr. Lasdon died, there was some interest in developing the property for commercial purposes. However, Westchester County purchased the land in 1986 for $4.2 million to preserve open space. It now adjoins the county's Muscoot Farm Park and the Mildred D. Lasdon Bird and Nature Sanctuary.

The Lasdon Park and Arboretum consists of over 200 acres with thematic sections joined by walking trails.

The William and Mildred Lasdon Memorial Garden, is located next to a parking area, so might be the one you'd visit first. The one-acre garden was made possible by a donation by their daughter, Mrs. Nanette Laitman. Within it are an entrance court and fragrance garden, the Formal Garden with fountain and busts of the Lasdons, and the Synoptic Garden. The Synoptic Garden features a collection of shrubs from A to Z, literally, beginning with Abelia x grandiflora 'Compacta' and ending with Zenobia pulverulenta.

The small Rain Garden appears to be a new addition. Rain gardens are becoming very popular as the importance of water conservation gains more attention. The rain garden at Lasdon serves a functional as well as educational purpose.

I visited in late July, so missed the Lilac Walk and Azalea Garden in bloom. For the same reason, I was unable to enjoy the magnificence of the Magnolia Collection and the Flowering Tree Grove. (I did see the Fragrant Epaulette, Pterostyrax hispida, in display.) This is true of any single garden visit; the seasons and their beauties are ever changing. You must visit often. I do intend to visit Lasdon during the appropriate seasons if I have opportunities.

The Magnolia Collection is home to a variety of species, including rare yellow-flowered ones. Some of the specimens were developed at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden in the 1950s.

The Conifer Collection includes species large and small. A special area is devoted to dwarf conifers. Among them I believe I spotted several varieties of Pinus parviflora, and P. thunbergiana 'Thunderhead'. It was difficult to be sure exactly for many of them were unlabeled.

The Street Tree Grove lines a drive, appropriately enough. Lindens, maples and oaks dominated the collection. Though the species were on trial for the New York State climate, any city planner and arborist would do well to visit the grove.

The Famous and Historic Tree Trail is a bit off the beaten path, though it's an easy walk to reach it. It features species that commemorate historic events and notable people from American history. The trees were propagated from seeds of parent trees that were witnesses to these characters and times. Small signs along a path tell their stories. The seeds were provided by the American Forestry Association.

The Chinese Friendship Pavilion and Cultural Garden symbolize the friendship between citizens of Westchester County and its Sister City, Jingzhou, in the People's Republic of China. The pavilion, the focal point of the garden, was given by that city, where it was constructed, disassembled, and shipped to the United States. It was reconstructed in the Cultural Garden by Chinese craftsmen with the assistance of park staff. The pavilion is surrounded by native Chinese species and overlooks a picturesque pond where we found deer meditating despite a gaggle of geese.

The Lasdon House was only recently opened to the public. Guided tours are available. The house provides offices for various horticulturally oriented civic groups, a library, and offers meeting spaces for workshops and classes. The pool house has been converted into a gift shop.

When I visited, concert-goers were arriving for an evening of music during the Midsummer Night Music Series. I wanted to stay for it, but couldn't. Other pleasant events are scheduled throughout the year.

I was unable to explore the Mildred D. Lasdon Bird and Nature Sanctuary. It's a 22-acre preserve which was donated to the county in 1976 by William Lasdon and named for his wife. Trails provide bird-watchers opportunities to view many species in various habitats.

The Westchester Veterans Memorial and Museum is also on site, but was closed the day I visited. It's only open on weekends.

Horticultural research is ongoing at Lasdon Park and Arboretum. A number of surviving native American chestnuts were discovered growing there, so a cooperative effort has been in progress since 1992 to develop blight-resistant chestnuts. Similarly, Lasdon is home to a large number of dogwood trees from around the world where they are studied to develop resistance to various diseases of Cornus species.

The park is open from 8 am to 4 pm daily. Fees are not charged for general visits.

For more views of Lasdon Park and Arboretum, please visit my Lasdon photo gallery where you'll see images of plants, gardens and vistas that I wanted for my own. Images, memories and ideas are all I carried away.

Researching the lives of William S. and Mildred D. Lasdon was about as interesting as exploring their country estate. Perhaps it has to do with a common fascination of wealth, the people who attain it, and by what means. Lasdon had a lot of it. Wanting a piece of it is prevalent. Suspecting the motives and means of those who have it is pervasive. Though he had some argument with the IRS, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation had issues with his Estate, it seems he was a man of merit and earned his estate fairly. He certainly dispensed with a lot of it philanthropically.

As I strolled through the Lasdon Park and Arboretum, I caught myself thinking, "Why can't I have something like this? Why them and not me?" Though too natural, it's odd how envy stirs in the hearts of men and women, even when walking through a garden.

Read the obituary of William S. Lasdon and the notice of Mildred D. Lasdon's death. Learn more about Lasdon's appeal to the IRS which led to a 1948 campaign fund "mix-up" (i.e. scandal) involving the Truman White House and the Democrat National Committee, pyridium, newspaper report of groundbreaking for the Lasdon Biomedical Research Center at Cornell University Medical College, the architectural concept of the Lasdon building at Cornell, an EPA report about Nepera Chemical Company, an article about Nepera Chemical Company and the EPA.


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Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Upcoming 77th Annual Savannah Tour of Homes and Gardens

Fountain in Forsyth Park, Savannah, GA
Would you like to see what grows behind those garden walls in Savannah? It's not too early to mark your calendar for the 77th Annual Savannah Tour of Homes and Gardens scheduled for March 22-25, 2012. The Tour is presented by The Women of Christ Church and Historic Savannah Foundation. Self-guided Home and Garden Walking Tours in select areas of the city are scheduled for each day. Those who care more about gardens than homes can narrow their focus and enjoy Gardener's Walking Tours. Seminars on historic preservation, antiques, furniture creation and preservation, architecture, Savannah history and art are led by experts in their respective fields. If culinary arts interest you, enjoy dining and tea at some of Savannah's most popular establishments. Take a trolley tour of historic Savannah. Enjoy a guided stroll through famous Bonaventure Cemetery. Tickets go on sale to all events December 1, 2011.

To learn more, visit the web site of The Savannah Tour of Homes and Gardens.

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FAQ: What garden tasks should I do in October?

Among the most frequently asked questions, "When is the best time to...", is near the top of the list. Here are a few gardening tasks for October organized by region.

Northeast States: Frost is possible. Plant and transplant broadleaf and evergreen trees and shrubs, perennials and ground covers. Divide perennials and transplant. Dig tender bulbs to protect over winter. Plant spring-flowering bulbs. Pot up spring bulbs for forcing. Prune shrubs that bloomed in late summer. Take hardwood cuttings to root over winter. Fertilize trees and shrubs after they become dormant. Continue to irrigate shrubs and trees until ground freezes. Continue garden cleanup. Compost debris. Feed house plants.

Mid-Atlantic States: Frost is possible. Plant and transplant evergreen and broadleaf shrubs and trees, perennials and ground covers. Divide perennials and transplant. Plant spring-flowering bulbs. Sow winter annuals, vegetables. Plant winter vegetable sets. Pot up spring bulbs for forcing. Prune shrubs that bloomed in late summer. Feed house plants. Take hardwood cuttings to root over winter. Fertilize trees and shrubs when they become dormant. Continue fall cleanup. Compost debris. Continue to irrigate shrubs and trees until ground freezes.

Mid-South States: Early frost is possible. Plant and transplant shrubs and trees, perennials and ground covers. Divide perennials and transplant. Plant container grown mums. Plant spring-flowering bulbs. Set out cool season vegetables. Prune shrubs that bloomed in late summer.Take hardwood cuttings for propagation. Continue fall cleanup.  Compost debris. Continue to irrigate shrubs and trees.  Feed house plants. Continue rose care. Continue lawn care. Watch for signs of brown patch in lawn and apply fungicide if necessary.

Lower South and Gulf States: Plant winter-blooming annuals. Plant or transplant trees, shrubs, ground covers, roses, spring and summer blooming perennials, spring blooming bulbs. Lightly prune trees and shrubs, but do not prune spring-blooming trees and shrubs. Remove or prune trees and branches damaged by storms. Take hardwood cuttings for propagation. Continue lawn maintenance. Root prune trees and shrubs that you might wish to move next spring. Order bulbs for fall planting, if you haven't already. Continue to irrigate shrubs and trees. Continue rose care. Continue lawn care or begin lawn renovation. Watch for signs of brown patch in lawn and apply fungicide if necessary. Feed house plants.

Plains and Rocky Mountain States: Early frost is possible. Plant and transplant trees and shrubs, perennials, ground covers. Sow cool-season vegetable seeds for fall crop. Divide perennials. Prune trees and shrubs that bloomed in summer. Continue garden cleanup. Add debris to compost pile. Continue lawn maintenance. Plant spring-flowering bulbs. Dig and store tender bulbs. Take hardwood cuttings for propagation. Remove dead wood in trees and shrubs. Feed house plants.

Pacific Southwest and Desert States: Early frost is possible. Plant and transplant trees and shrubs, perennials and ground covers. Continue fall planting, sow cool-season annuals and vegetables. Divide perennials and deadhead perennials. Prune trees and shrubs that bloomed in summer. Clean up garden and add debris to compost pile. Continue lawn maintenance. Plant spring-flowering bulbs. Dig and store tender bulbs. Fertilize trees and shrubs when dormant. Apply pre-emergent herbicide to lawns. Renovate lawn, if necessary. Feed house plants.

Pacific Northwest States: Frost is possible. Plant and transplant broadleaf and evergreen trees and shrubs, perennials and ground covers. Divide perennials and transplant.  Plant spring-flowering bulbs. Pot up spring-flowering bulbs for forcing. Sow cold-hardy greens. Prune shrubs and trees that bloomed in late summer. Take hardwood cuttings for propagation. Remove dead wood in trees and shrubs. Continue fall cleanup. Compost debris. Fertilize trees and shrubs when dormant. Feed house plants.

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FAQ: Is it too late to plant vegetables in my garden?

Is it too late to plant vegetables in my garden?

If you live in a cold climate, it is probably too late unless you plant your vegetables in a cold frame. A cold frame is like a miniature greenhouse which provides winter protection. If you live in a warm climate (USDA climate zones 8 and warmer), there are many vegetables that can survive the mild winter temperatures. They include arugula, loose-leaf lettuce, beets, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots, carrots, cauliflower, cilantro, kale, lettuce, mustard greens, onions, parsley, radishes, spinach, sugar snap peas, swiss chard, turnips. That's not a complete list.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"They'll fit on elves' feet" - Imagining beside Christmas ferns

My Aunt Ann has always been imaginative. Before I was old enough to go to school, my family would travel a dozen miles or so to visit my maternal grandparents every Monday afternoon. Though I loved the elders very much, it was Ann I wanted to see. She would return from junior high school classes tired and frustrated, but always took time for me. She would make fearsome masks with crayons on brown paper bags. She would point out fairy-rings in the back yard and tell me stories about mysterious convocations. We would kneel down to see tiny pools and rivulets where sprites bathed and played in secret.

As I began writing about one of my favorite ferns, the Christmas fern, I discovered a poem by Maxwell C. Wheat, Jr. that reminded me of Ann's imaginings. A few lines go like this:

“Come see the Christmas stockings,”
Says Grandmother, taking our hands
Leading us to the stream in our back woods

There on the bank
She shows us fronds of ferns lined with leaflets
Each shape like a fat “L”
“They’ll fit on elves’ feet, Nanny.”

Those were the tutorials I loved then and do still. But life is not so easy now. Grown-up life is a frantic chase. To learn, you have to get down on your knees.

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"Who can fear the winter stern while still there grows the Christmas fern."

Christmas Fern - Polystichum acrostichoides
The Christmas Fern - Polystichum acrostichoides

"When frost has clad the dripping cliffs
With fluted columns, crystal clear,
And million-flaked the feathery snow
Has shrouded close the dying year;
Beside the rock, where'er we turn,
Behold, there waves the Christmas fern.

No shivering frond that shuns the blast
Sways on its slender chaffy stem;
Full-veined and lusty green it stands,
Of all the wintry woods the gem.
Our spirits rise when we discern
The pennons of the Christmas fern.

With holly and the running pine
Then let its fronds in wreaths appear,
'Tis summer's fairest tribute given.
To grace our merry Yuletide cheer.
Ah, who can fear the winter stern
While still there grows the Christmas fern."
                                                  -W. N. Clute

People of science are often people of art. How can one delve into the wonders of creation without being astonished by the order and beauty? Willard Nelson Clute (1869-1850) was one of them. He was born in the village of Painted Post, Steuben County, New York. The name of the village comes from a painted totem that early explorers found at a river junction. The rivers, creeks and mountains nearby must have inspired his love of nature. He pursued his passion. Clute founded the American Fern Society in 1893. In 1928, he became professor of botany at Butler University, Indianapolis, and curator of the botanical garden. He authored over a dozen botanical books, some of which his wife, Ida, illustrated.

In Our ferns in their haunts: a guide to all the native species, Clute waxed poetic about the Christmas fern. Who could resist? As he noted, "To the hunter, the trapper and the rambler in the winter woods, the Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) is a familiar species. In summer it is not especially noticeable, but in the snowbound season, the cheerful, fresh-looking fronds are sure to attract the eye."

They did attract the eye, and were extensively harvested for Christmas greenery arrangements. Apparently all the collecting did little to diminish the numbers of the Christmas fern. It is widely distributed throughout its native range, from Quebec to north Florida and to eastern Texas. Because it is so robust, gardeners find it to be easy to grow.

Its botanical name, Polystichum acrostichoides (pronounced pol-IS-tick-um ak-ruh-stik-OY-deez), refers to the many rows of spores, and the fact that it reminded someone of another genus of ferns, Acrostichum. The seldom-used name, Nephrodium acrostichoides, is synonymous.

Christmas fern is hardy from USDA climate zone 3 to 9. It prefers well-drained, humusy soil like you'd find above creek banks and on woodland floors. Shady locations under hardwood trees are best, so it's an excellent choice for shade gardening. Soil pH may range from 5.6 to 7.5. Once established, it is somewhat drought tolerant and should be considered for xeriscaping. Being a fern, it is deer resistant.

I can't imagine why tilling such a site would be necessary. It's always good to take a soil sample to your nearby Cooperative Extension Service for analysis. Follow the recommendations.

Christmas ferns grow up to 24 inches high and 12 inches to 18 inches across. Dig planting holes about 12 inches apart. The holes should be no deeper than that of the rootballs. Water the plants in their pots, then plant them, watering more as you go. When planted, the tops of the rootballs should be visible; do not bury them under soil.

If you haven't already come to appreciate the beauty of Christmas ferns, I'm sure you will. Good cheer!

Read more about Christmas ferns.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

FAQ: Is it too late to plant perennials in zone 6?

I live in USDA climate zone 6. Is it too late to plant perennials?

It is not too late (end of September) to plant cold-hardy perennials in zone 6, particularly if they are container grown. Plants that have been produced in a greenhouse may not become hardened-off before first frost, so you could see some tissue damage. But it would probably be only cosmetic. An insulating layer of organic mulch around the plant should be helpful.

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World's first blue-pigmented rose!

You rose lovers will get a kick out of this!

NEW YORK, Sept. 14, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Beginning in early November, Suntory will for the first time, introduce their internationally renowned blue rose APPLAUSE in North America. With nearly 100% blue-pigmented petals, blue rose APPLAUSE is the world's first blue rose, a technically sophisticated and wondrously stunning flower with a delicate blue color. Read more.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Simplify your garden. Simplify your life.

Gardening and simplicity aren't usually associated, except in the minds of those who don't actually garden. We gardeners have a whole lot of work to do, but there's so much else outside the garden to do in life. Is there a way to simplify the garden to make life easier? The answer is "yes." But it takes planning. Gardening requires work; no doubt about it. We can spend hours deciding what to plant, where to plant, more hours keeping insects, diseases and weeds at bay, and even more time moving and transplanting, trying to find the right locations and combinations that work.

But, when it really comes down to it, gardening can be a simple thing. You do not need costly tools or much time to dig a hole. Plant a seed and wait for it to grow. Seems cheap and simple. But nature isn't what it's supposed to be, and we have our own ideas. So things become very difficult.

Nature drops seeds in the most inconvenient places. Acorns sprouting near houses grow into trees that ruin foundations. Jumanji vines grow where they are not wanted. Edible weeds aren't appreciated at the dining table. (Dad, these look like dandelions.) If we don't do something about the rampant growth, we might be visited by the municipality or home-owners association. It's all too much!

What to do? Simplify!

I heard someone remark, "After years of digging, planting, pruning, watering, composting, fertilizing, weeding, mowing, digging, planting, pruning, watering, composting, fertilizing, weeding, mowing, I'd prefer to move to a smaller place in the city about three floors up from the ground (with a few pots of herbs in my window) where I could walk out below and crush the weeds growing in cracks beneath my foot."

Small gardens are about that easy. Larger gardens take more effort, but it is possible to simplify them. If gardening is costing you dearly in money, time and effort, it may be that you aren't doing it in the most efficient way. Taking the right steps at the right time with the right tools can make your life significantly easier.

For example, you might want to consider cutting down on pesticide use. Not only will you save time and money, but you will help improve the environment while crossing another chore off your list. On the other hand, quick walk along the fence line with a herbicide sprayer is easier than whacking with a tool.

Instead of buying cheap tools, spend more for durable ones. Use the right tool for the job.

Simplifying will involve changing what you plant in your garden. Hybrid tea roses require much more time, effort and money than low maintenance landscape roses that are easy to grow. Plant resistant species rather than insect/disease magnets. (Plant insect magnets away from your garden to distract and keep them busy elsewhere.)

Reduce the size of your lawn. Ground cover plants usually require less effort than grass. Whether for sun or shade, dry or moist soils, there are many suitable ones.

Though apple and peach trees require a great deal of care, other fruit trees like pears, figs and cherry trees do not need so much. There many ways to reduce the time and money you put in the garden. Blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and others may or may not do well in your area. Consult with an expert at your nearest Cooperative Extension Service for good advice.

Some vegetables and herbs are easy to grow while others are not. Grow the easy ones. Sweet potatoes, red potatoes, peppers, broccoli, collards, okra and swiss chard are a snap. Cherry tomatoes are easier to grow than the whoppers. Mint, oregano, basil and italian parsley are simple. Learn from your own experience and that of others. If you have to work too hard for success, it might be easier and cheaper in the long run to buy the difficult ones at your nearby farmers market.

Plant more perennials, but fewer species. You can simplify by cutting down on the number of species of plants that you grow, but grow enough of each to fill the designated space. Instead of three daylilies, three irises, three phlox, three salvia and three dianthus, grow fifteen daylilies. To keep it interesting, plant five of three different varieties of daylily. Focus on a few plants that you enjoy growing, are good at growing, that require less work, and then grow lots of them.

Develop a landscape plan. Your plan can be simple or complex, but the point is to make sense of your landscape and focus your efforts. A plan will help you prioritize your work. Even if you have to put some things off for awhile, they will get done eventually. This step by itself reduces the stress of deciding what to do next. Divide your landscape into spaces for specific purposes: vegetable garden, fruit garden, shade garden, entertaining, etc. Decide where you want the spaces to be, how large, and how convenient to your home. Of course, some things will be pre-determined. If you live on a wooded lot, your shade garden may be larger than if your yard was devoid of trees. Slope and soil conditions will be determining factors.

Always consider future maintenance, whether you are planning the planting areas, patio or deck. If anything requires too much work, you'll probably put it off until a big and costly solution is required to fix it. A little care now and then will save you lots of time and money in the future.

Consider the water. Unless you own a private well, irrigation can be expensive. Not only that, watering can be restricted by your state or municipality during times of drought. Xeriscaping should be at the top of your list of possibilities. Xeriscaping describes a manner of gardening that reduces or eliminates the need for supplemental watering.  It involves selecting plants that require less water, devising methods to capture water for later use, and installing very efficient irrigation systems. If more water is needed, consider systems that can be controlled accurately. Dragging a hose around from place to place is not something you want to do often.

Use lots of organic mulch. Mulch made of hay, wood chips, straw and compost suppresses weeds, conserves water and recycles organic material back into the soil. In the last century, Ruth Stout, the "no dig-dutchess", was considered the mother of mulching. She authored several "no work" gardening books. Obtain copies and study them carefully.

Wood chips, pine straw mulch and landscaping rocks can also be substituted for grass, requiring less effort and cost while keeping things looking natural.

Install edging. Edging defines the contours of your planting beds, helps to keep mulch in them and grass out. Permanent edging also adds visual interest. I highly recommend steel edging. In lieu of permanent edging, a bedding plow can do a good job of defining the contours, but with a little more effort.

Select low-maintenance furnishings. Cast aluminum chairs, settees and tables can be quite beautiful and will provide years of service. Recycled poly lumber is a new material used for outdoor furniture. It should last a very long time. Teak and cedar woods don't last as long, but will surprise you with their longevity. In addition, they weather well to a natural patina. Occasional weatherproofing may be necessary, depending upon the material chosen. Cushions and fabric umbrellas may need to be moved indoors for protection during winter months.

Choose low-maintenance garden art. As lovely as they are, fountains and water features will require a lot more upkeep than sculptures and container gardens. Birdbaths are very attractive and easier to maintain than fountains.

Simplify with shrubs and small trees. If you want color, texture and diversity in your garden, plant shrubs and small, ornamental trees. There are many excellent ones that are handsome and easy to care for. They flower with different colors in different seasons, so you can have bloom almost year around. They provide an array of heights, foliage shapes and textures. Consider their mature sizes. Avoid those that require lots of pruning, and those that drop viable, enthusiastic seeds everywhere. Include them in mixed borders with perennials, ground covers and a few seasonal annuals for POP.

Do small, simple things while they are still small and simple. It's far easier and less expensive to pull a small, seedling tree up by hand than to remove a 30' tree from next to the house. Finally, there may be some tasks you can't get around to doing. Let them go for awhile. There is no reason to fret yourself into a lather with your garden. That's not what a garden is for. Life can be simpler.

If you would like to share your thoughts, please contact me or comment below.

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