Cultivating a Culture of Gardening™

Saturday, October 31, 2009

All in a day's work

Yelena, my co-hort in botanical artisanship, and I get to spend days at a time creating containers for the folks in the neighborhoods where we work. Enjoy a few of our creative ventures from the past week.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Legacy Plants

Providing a Legacy That Grows

What is the message in a gift?
Is the statement really true in gift giving that, “It’s the thought that counts”? One of the memorable mistakes I made as a teenager was recommending to my good friend that he give his girlfriend a plant for Christmas. “She’ll love that you gave her something that symbolizes your growing love and blooming relationship,” I encouraged. We went and picked out a beautiful plant in a lovely container and he eagerly presented it to her.

She cried. Not with joy.

This experience began my growing realization that not everyone has a passion for plants. Even more enlightening was the knowledge that the giver’s message of love or of caring or of friendship in a horticultural gift is better understood as the seasons pass. A gift basket of a hundred daffodil bulbs may have seemed an odd gift for my mourning friend who had just lost her sister to cancer. The hundreds of blossoms, however, that woke up the spring was a message of hope and a reminder that she is not forgotten. She has told me that as the years have gone by and the busyness of life takes back over, the growing clumps of spring blossoms help to refresh the memories of her sweet sister.

Legacy plants

Do you have memories of walking into your grandmother’s house and breathing in the scent of peonies floating in bowls? Did irises line the fence of your great uncle’s farm? Did your best friend’s mom have daylilies that greeted you a hundreds of times? Legacy plants can come in the form of these old favorites that easily divide and pass on the memories of favorite places or people. The peonies that are divided this year will be around for your grandchildren. Here are few of my favorite pass-along legacy plants and dividing instructions:

Peonies: Best varieties for Tennessee – “Festiva Maxima” and “Kansas”. Transplant in the fall and don’t plant too deeply. Peonies take about 2 years to recover from transplanting. Keep them protected from summer afternoon sun.
Iris: Divide rhizomes in July or August and plant them shallow leaving half exposed to the sun. This is Tennessee’s official state flower!
Daylily: Replant these tough, drought tolerant perennial anytime from spring until fall. The work horse of repeat bloomer are the “Stella de Oro” and “Happy Returns” but some of my other favorites are “Little Business”, “Mini Pearl”, “Little Grapette”, or “Strawberry Candy”.

You can find iris, peonies, and daylilies at Iris City Gardens in Primm Springs, Tennesse - and most of your local nurseries.

Daffodils: Plant these now until the end of December. My favorite place to buy daffodils is Some bulbs that work well in this area are “Carlton”, “Mt. Hood”, “King Alfred”, “Thalia”, “Tete-a-tete”, and “Campernelle”. Most of your local nurseries will carry some or all of these varieties.

Another type of legacy plant is a tree that becomes a part of your landscape for generations to come. I once heard a Greek proverb that said, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” With the arrival of my new grandson, I’ve thought often of the type of tree I want to plant to honor his arrival – one that he can know every time he comes to visit that this is his tree growing in our yard and can maybe even climb someday. Right now the top five choices on my list of legacy trees are:

Red Oaks – “ Quercus shumardii” or choose a Quercus robur “Fastigiata” if narrow space is an issue.
Magnolia – “Bracken’s Brown Beauty”, “Little Gem”, or “Southern Charm” (sometimes known as Teddy Bear Magnolia)
Allee Elm – you can see these as they line the entrance to the Westhaven community in Franklin, Tennessee.
Dogwood – “Indian Princess” or “Constellation” are good choices, and always check with dogwood guru Don Shadow’s website to see what he is recommending:
Ginkgo biloba – ‘Autumn Gold’ and only buy a male species of any ginkgo; the females produce a really stinky fruit.

Think about giving a legacy this holiday season that will grow. You will not just be sharing a plant, but passing on a love for the creation around us that shapes and structures our memories. “Gardening is not some sort of game by which one proves his superiority over others, nor is it a marketplace for the display of elegant things that others cannot afford. It is, on the contrary, a growing work of creation, endless in its changing elements. It is not a monument or an achievement, but a sort of traveling, a kind of pilgrimage you might say, often a bit grubby and sweaty though true pilgrims do not mind that. A garden is not a picture, but a language, which is of course the major art of life.” Henry Mitchell in The Essential Earthman
May your “language” this season be a legacy to those you love

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Tennessee Frost Alert - Oct. 16, 2009

Bring in any plants you want to overwinter - first frost expected Friday night! Bye-bye summer annuals.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Garden Compositions – To Bulb or Not to Bulb

That was the question. Actually, the question centered more around the issue of planting something in the ground that wouldn’t be seen for at least four months, then rising to bloom for only a few weeks. Basically, this gardener wanted to know, “Are bulbs worth the bother?” I don’t think she realized she was asking this question to someone who plants around 500 bulbs every year in my own yard, sometimes donning a headlamp to plant late into night hours. My simplistic response is, “Do you like surprises? Do you love little hints of good things to come?” The beauty of crocus, daffodils, tulips, and hyacinth is not just in their startling burst of color on a winter weary landscape. Their beauty is entwined with the message that compels their arrival. But the never-ending philosophies of life that can be drawn from gardening can wait – let’s talk bulb basics.

Bulb Basics

The major portion of bulb activity that occurs in fall involves the purchase and planting of daffodils (jonquils), tulips, crocus, and hyacinth. You will also find a rich assortment of other interesting bulbs available such as scilla, fritillaria, anemone blanda, anemone coronaria, muscari, allium, and arum italicum. These big, audaciously named plants bring texture and variety to your garden but do not have the flamboyant flowering of the four bulbs types first mentioned. Count on your daffodils and crocus to be your steady naturalizers – they will multiply and come back every year so put them in a perennial bed or an area that you won’t be digging in on a regular basis. Hyacinth and tulips are bulbs that I encourage folks to plant as annuals. Not only do they not handle our southern summers well, but their foliage is harder to mask after the blooms are gone. These two are fantastic for annual beds or in front of hedges and fences for a strong early spring color array.
A few details you will want to pay attention to when buying your bulbs are:
1. plant height – how tall is the flower when it blooms
2. blooming time – is this an early, mid, or late bloomer
3. multiple or single blooming – how many flowers will come from each bulb
4. sun requirements – will this bloom in part shade
5. pre-chilled – in our zone you will want for all your bulbs to be pre-chilled to ensure they are ready to bloom again.
Some of my favorite places to order bulbs are ,,, or buying them from local nurseries. If you are somewhat bulb-savy, check out Costco or Sam’s. Plan on planting your tulips in clusters of 10 -12 and plant them closer than the packaging calls for. Large masses of bulbs have an incredible impact if you want to plant 5 or 6 rows in one area. Remember to plant your shorter bulbs toward the front and your early tallest plants in the back of the bed to be blocked by later bloomers.

Best of Bulbs

While I can readily say that I have never met a bulb I didn’t like, there are a few that stand out as favorites for our area. Here is my top twelve list of favorite bulbs:
1. Daffodil ‘Tete-a-tete’ –5-6 in.; early bloomer; yellow
2. Daffodil ‘Mount Hood’ – 15-17 in.; mid-bloomer; white/cream
3. Daffodil ‘Tahiti’ – 16-18 in.; mid-bloomer; yellow/orange
4. Daffodil ‘Ice Follies’ - 16-18 in.; early/mid-bloomer; light yellow
5. Daffodil ‘Cheerfullness’ or ‘Yellow Cheerfulness’ – 14-16 in.; late; white or yellow
6. Daffodil ‘Rip van Winkle’ – 5-6 in.; early; yellow
7. Tulip ‘Angelique’ – 14-16 in.; late; pink double
8. Tulip ‘Apeldoorn’ or ‘Golden Apeldoorn’ – 18-20 in.; mid-bloomer; red or yellow
9. Tulip ‘ Voyager’ – 16-18 in.; mid-bloomer; red flower with variegated foliage
10. Fringed or Parrot Tulips for a fun textured look
11. Crocus ‘Flower Record’
12. Hyacinth ‘Peter Stuyvesant’

Don’t be afraid to plant bulbs up to New Year’s Day. The rumor that I fill my son’s Christmas stockings with bulbs and a note saying that they won’t get their presents until all the bulbs are planted is NOT TRUE!! (Feel free to use this idea but don’t tell your kids you got it from me!) The point to be taken is that you can spend your holidays putting in the last of your bulbs.

Barbara’s Bulb Banterings

Life is full of great lessons that we can glean anywhere from kindergarten, Mayberry, golf, or gardening. But the message from planting bulbs is one few of us can do without. We plant with usually only a picture of what’s to come, then we often lose sight of what is promised; we forget the work endured as we hunker by the winter fireplace perusing the spring plant catalogs. Then one cool late winter morning we walk outside to see our beds are filled with little nodding heads of yellow, white, purple or pink. We have not been forgotten, life perseveres through cold and harshness, and beauty erupts from even the darkest or dullest of places. Bulbs bring us the message of hope. That message is what keeps me planting at 10:30 at night with headlamp, down jacket, and warm gloves. Yes, Virginia, bulbs are worth the bother.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

October - Breast Cancer Awareness Month

When my older sister was first diagnosed with Breast Cancer, I went around in a stupor for days. This couldn't be happening - not to Susan the strong, the marathon runner, the family camp director, the one we all rely on to plan our large family get-togethers. I was working at a nursery at the time and I remember unloading a truck of perennials when I saw a familiar pink color among the myriad of Hosta tags. There before me was a lovely Hosta named "Remember Me", and I started to cry. Someone out there in plant world grabbed hold of the truth that plants bring us hope, and the yearly return of a bright happy Hosta in a dark shady spot is a what I needed to plant. For every "Remember Me" sold, a portion of the proceeds goes to Breast Cancer Research "The Cure".
Recently I learned that Proven Winners is providing the first true pink Annabelle Hydrangea and named it Invincibelle Spirit. Having watched my sister and other dear friends battle both successfully and unsuccessfully with breast cancer, I am always amazed at the strength of spirit I see in their lives - they are truly invincible spirits. This new Hydrangea not only has the tough nature of the Annabelle hydrangea, but the rosy pink blooms are as unique and special as the ones we plant them for.
So plant with a purpose this month - to encourage, to remember, to bring beauty, and to bring hope.
Find Hosta Remember Me at


Friday, October 2, 2009

Creating Containers for Your Winter Garden

My co-worker was adamant in his opinion. “Nothing looks good in a container during the winter”, he argued. His concern, I realized, was quite limited by not being a student of Dr. Seuss’s book, “O The Thinks You Can Think.” Having never considered to “think a trip of a ship to the vipper of vipp” or what he would do if he “met a jiboo”, my friend OBVIOUSLY hadn’t thought there are more planting options than pansies to do. (Dr. Seuss does inspire me!) Let’s look at some of the “thinks” you need for fall and winter containers.

Winter-safe Containers

While the “vipper of vipp” probably lives in a tropical zone, our zone 6 winters require us to only plant for this season in containers that won’t crack in the freeze. Stay away from using clay, terra cotta, or concrete pots that are not reinforced with steel wiring. You can seal the inside of these containers with products like roofing sealants, but the porous attributes of these pots make them easy prey to our infrequent but destructive deep freezes. In short, for winter containers, if you don’t want to loose it, don’t use it Campania International carries a huge variety of cast stone, polyethylene, and cast iron containers that can be used as long as you raise them off the ground so that the soil can drain without freezing to the ground. While some of these containers may cost more initially, the long lasting quality of these pots are well worth the investment. I’ve spotted Campania containers at Hewitt Garden Center, Mark Bates Garden Center, Gabriel’s Garden Shop, and Long Hollow Garden and Nursery. Fiberglass and pressed foam products can also be used in more protected areas.

Plant According to your Gardening Personality

Without recapping last month’s article, let me just remind the reader to plant with the awareness of what you KNOW you will keep up with. For those “jet-pilot” gardeners who want a bright spot in a sunny area, find a colorful container – blue, bright green, red – and simply plant a great mophead Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Golden Mop’, ‘Sungold’, or ‘Golden Charm’. For a simple, more elegant look, use one of the Berri-Magic hollies (Ilex meserveae) or variegated boxwood underplanted with ivy or vinca. I love Vinca ‘Illumination’ to give any winter planting a bright pop as a trailing vine. For a shady container, try one of the Camellias in the ‘Ice Angel’ series – the only camellia truly hardy in our zone - underplanted with Carex ‘Evergold’, Acorus ‘Ogon’, or Heuchera ‘Purple Palace’. All of these plants can be found wherever Monrovia plants are sold.
I recommend winter windowboxes to gardeners not in jet-pilot category just because it is so easy to forget to water them. But “o the thinks…”! My favorite window box from last year was simple and elegant - lined in the back with several one gallon ‘Green Velvet’ boxwoods, filled with yellow and red pansies, and spilling out with large English ivy. In either a windowbox or container try small red-twig dogwoods (Cornus alba) surrounded by Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’ (blue rug juniper) for an interesting texture and color combo. Shady containers will thrive with autumn fern, certain Heucheras like ‘Green Gem’ or ‘Obsidian’, Helleborus, Bergenia. Some extra “thinks” for sunny pots include Nadina ‘sienna sunrise’, Erica ‘Mediteranean pink’, Euonymus ‘emerald gold’, Iberis (evergreen candytuft), winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum; is decidous but blooms very early), variegated holly, and Yucca ‘golden sword’.
And, not to totally malign my co-worker, a beautifully planted and maintained bowl of pansies or violas is hard to be beat, especially if you hide a surprise of spring bulbs in the soil before you add the flowers. Use daffodils, tulips, and hyacinth for this fall through early spring look.

Don’t Forget the Essentials
Have fun experimenting with different evergreens in your containers, including all the interesting topiary forms. Who knows, you may end up with a look even Dr. Seuss didn’t think of!
Winter plantings are usually created when you trade out your summer plants in early fall. (Some folks like to place mums in their pots for a month to provide an autumn feel. Just remember to get your winter container going before the first big freeze.) Water every day the first week as your plants get established, then cut back on watering as the temperature cools down. You can usually only water once or twice a week. If you add a few pansies to your mixed containers, don’t forget to give them a liquid feed high in nitrate once a month. Other than the pansies, your winter plantings are all perennials and shrubs that can be replanted in the spring in your yard. You could even check with your local master gardener program to see what charitable project they are working on and donate your plants next spring.

Say So-long to Summertime

It was early August when I felt the subtle hint of autumn’s promise. With just that short caress of cool breeze I was instantly transported to a late September Saturday. Armed with trowel, pruners and reluctant slave labor (the four Wise guys - my sons), I eyed my garden to locate the needy perennials long overdue for the touch of steel. The goldfinch had feasted enough on my Echinacea, and the black-eyed susans looked like blackened susans. “Off with their heads!”, I cry to my humorless sons.
“And look how unhappy those daylilies, iris, daisies are all crowded together like that. Surely you can relate to their need for room to grow and mature,” I implore. Eyes were rolling at my attempt to humanize their past comments to a bunch of plants. Between dividing perennials, pulling out weeds, removing spent summer annuals, and adding a nice warm blanket of mulch, we put in a good start to putting our garden to bed for the winter.
“Hey, Mom, remember to let me put down a pre –emergent for those winter weeds,” shouted one the boys. (OK, they would never say something like this but you get the point.) As we wash up our tools I remind my young horticulturists that next week we’ll go pansy and viola shopping to fill in all that empty space we’d just made , and we’ll look for some perennials, trailing pansies, and evergreens to replace our summer container flowers. We might even find some good deals on perennial, shrubs, and trees to add to our little oasis. “Oh, we can sit around tonight and mull over all the bulb catalogs. I need to order those soon so we can get them in the ground in the next two months, ” I speak to an emptied garage.
In my escapist September daydream I had spread the last fertilizer until spring on the lawn. I knew I would be sipping lemonade as I watch my eldest son de-thatch, aerate, and overseed our lawn. We’d spread our Milky Spores to attack the Japanese beetle grubs, circumventing my sons’ plan to dig them up for their own version of “Fear Factor”. Hopefully when we do our light pruning of shrubs the guys will remember the spring bloomers that I gently reminded them not to touch or they wouldn’t eat for a month.
Ever so quickly the breeze shifts and the warm air pushes me back to the sweat and sunburn of summer. Pansies, chrysanthemums, bluest skies, and pumpkins are in reality weeks away for me today. There’s pots that need watering, a Fall Market to plan, next year’s deckbox plugs to order, and the need for a lady with a big hat to check her plants in a friendly place called Westhaven.(


Camellias for your winter containers

Some childhood images can never be shaken. Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners could only be served surrounded by bowls of camellias, or what my grandma called winter roses, accenting our family feast. When moving to Tennessee after growing up in Georgia I was afraid that this tradition would only remain a memory. But thanks to Dr. William Ackerman, a research horticulturist with the National Arboretum, a cold-hardy camellia collection is now readily available to deepen the link to a true southern garden.

Camellias are happiest when planted on the east or north side and given dappled sunlight. Their deep glossy evergreen leaves allow them to serve as a winter flowering hedge or a background for displaying summer collects of hosta, Japanese painted fern, and impatiens, or the fall color of chelone or anemone. The show-off look of these camellias in a winter container surrounded by Lonicera “Edmee Gold” or Heuchera “Caramel” will keep your holiday guest talking ‘til spring. And don’t forget to bring some blooms inside!

Quick Facts

Common name: Camellia

Botanical Name: Camellia hybrids

Zone 7-9, only a few in Zone 6

Varieties to look for in Zone 6: “Ice Angel ™” series, “Winter’s Fire”, “Winter’s Interlude”, “Winter’s Joy”, “Winter’s Rose”, “Winter’s Charm”, Pink Icicle; “April Remembered” is fast growing and long blooming.

Blooming period: Fall through spring, depending on the variety

Type: Evergreen Shrub

Size: varieties range from 4 feet to 8 feet

Exposure: Light shade and protection from winter wind; Cold hardy to zone 6.

Keys to success

When to plant: Spring is best or Fall with extra winter protection

Soil: Moist, well-drained acid soil; keep mulched year-round

Watering: Camellias are not drought tolerant so keep watered during the summer until established

When to prune: Immediately after blooming

When to fertilize: Spring or Fall

Suggestions for Your Landscape: container planting; hedge row; foundation planting


Oct. 2, 2009 - My mind is full of annual bed designs, container planting ideas and football, but container ideas are the top of the hour. This container is a simple shade container with Camellia "Winter's Joy" and Lonicera "Edmee Gold".


Welcome to bwisegardening!

Gardening friends and black thumb die-hards, welcome to a blog devoted to helping you "be wise gardening" - finding the fun in gardening fundamentals to help you be successful in your gardening endeavors. I'll be gearing this more for the Tennessee/southern gardens but read on anyway because I'm a hopeless plant addict and love to talk about new plants and new gardening products.
Great info soon to follow!