Thursday, January 31, 2008

Puppies and Babies

As some of you may know we recently fostered some adorable little golden retriever mix puppies here at the Ramsey home. I have found puppies and gardens do not go together. Specifically, my little garden. It may never be the same.

Generally I love wild things in my garden, the birds, cats and the dogs. Puppies ARE dogs, are they not? Turns out, no. Puppies are babies; which are VERY different from dogs in my opinion.

Jimmy and I brought them home on Monday night. Even though my backyard is fully fenced, I was still nervous the little ones would find a crack and wiggle out or get lost in the backyard. Since my vegetable garden is almost completely fenced with rabbit fencing, I decided to block off the three gates and safely place the pups in the vegetable garden. Turns out that was not such a great idea for the garlic (the entire yard smelled of garlic and let's just say no vampires will bite these pups). The garlic will be fine. I am not worried about it or the perennials (though I would still rather they not eat them all). It was when they got to the woody ornamentals that I really, really became worried. Talking to the babies, uh hum, puppies, wasn't working.

I had two very nice vines in my vegetable garden growing up a large arbor. One was a sweet autumn clematis, and the other a double Carolina gessamine. I say had, but honestly I think they are still there-somewhere. When spring comes we will see. I decided the vegetable garden was not a good place for these little pups, out they came.

Maybe the whole garden would be better? More distractions and less of a chance for any one woody ornamental to take the full brunt of the puppies teething assault. Nope. Not a good idea either. Whenever one puppy attacks a shrub (something I have a lot of), ALL six pups join in. Uh oh. What to do now? Well, I tried to do what anyone would do with babies when they want to change the baby's point of focus-distract them! This worked for awhile. I would try to persuade the little ones to attack my tons of plastic plant pots, which are not important and might even feel good on the puppies teeth. That worked, for about five minutes. Oh yeah, babies don't have long attention spans either, do they? On to the plants then and all those gardens. Oh dear, what next?

After about an hour of playing in the garden I finally decided the what next was a playpen, in the form of a huge doggie crate in the middle of my small living room. Getting all six in without losing one or two into the house was not an easy feat. Especially since early on Jimmy and I had to carry all six up the deck stairs. It never fails to amaze me how when a baby, or in this case, a puppy is able to do what he or she wants to do, but not when we want him or her to do it. These puppies can climb stairs when they want to come in the house and to their playpen, but when we call them and we want them to come, they of course can't climb. Isn't that how it always works?

The above picture is of only four, but there are a total of six. They are from left to right, Dade (my very favorite), Lamar, Bruiser and CJ. Jimmy named three and I named three. The other two are Baby and Mia.

Oh yeah, no sleeping through the night tonight.

in the garden....

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Bird Board Meeting!

I am posting this funny post just for my mother in Maine. I hope she enjoys it.

The following minutes are provided by Jo Lawrence, the District III Bird Chairman:

For today, my name is Robin Wren and I am representing BOST, that is Birds of Southern Tennessee. Recently BOST had a board meeting in my back yard and I was asked to be hostess and to bring the snacks.

The time was set for late evening and I had the snacks prepared and set out. The first to arrive was Sally House Sparrow, who lives in my carport. She was happy to be there, but I was at first thrown by her singing cheep, cheep, cheep.

I thought she meant the snacks, until I realized that was always her song! You could tell I was a bit nervous about this meeting! Sally Sparrow buzzed close by with her wings as a way of greeting and landed on the snack table.

Then others began to come out of the woods behind my yard, the Robins,
Blue Birds, Wrens, Doves, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Hummingbirds, Purple Martins, Goldfinches, Juncos and the Sapsuckers

The Crows, Grackles and Ravens descended from the phone lines and came as a group and joined with the Blackbirds, it was very hard to tell them apart, except the blackbirds had a purplish sheen to their heads.

The Woodpecker cousins were there, Hairy, Downy and Red. Kind of made me think of another famous trio, you know, Larry, Moe and Curly, but these three behaved themselves.

Several Wood Thrushes came in and sat by themselves on a small rise and began to practice their song.

Lastly Barn-ey Owl arrived and everyone became silent. He met all with a dark eyed glance, then nodded to Martha Mock-ing Bird who swished and swayed her feathers as she flew into place. She began to sing and all of a sudden, several others joined in with her, I found out later they were the Dixie Chick a dees and were a bit late, but they sounded good together. The Wood Thrushes accompanied them with their flute like sounds.

Afterwards, they got down to business; that is when I got my name, Robin Wren
Although, there was quite a discussion as the Goldfinch thought Goldie was a fine name and the Rubythroated hummingbird thought Ruby was quite lovely. Then they got serious and wanted me to bring you all the following message:

In spite of the differences between them, they have four (4) absolute needs in common:


FOOD: Find out what we like to eat and serve it often and do not forget when the weather turns cold. Some of us don't leave this area.

WATER: As essential as food. Quality of the water is also very important. It MUST be clean, unpolluted and uncontaminated or it will harm rather than help.

SHELTER: Need safe perches and cover in severe weather. That means trees and houses. Tree branches to scan the area before coming to eat and houses for shelter from the hot sun, cold wind, rain and sleet.

NESTING AREAS: I thought this and shelter were the same: Nope, we need a lot to make a nest, not only a place (shelter) but materials to make that nest. No matter where we choose to go, we need materials to form the nest. Twigs, grasses, leaves or mud, soft string, bits of yarn, lint from the dryer, dust balls from the vacuum and other fibers. The blackbirds love to line their nests with dog hair and the bluebirds like feathers and Martha Mockingbird wants more strips of paper for her nest. She thinks that since she had a Famous Movie named for her and she's the TN state bird, she deserves special attention. She also mentioned that I could put her out more red apples as she thought they were better than the green apples!

One last comment, The Northern Cardinal, our regional bird came over and sang to me after the meeting. Made me feel so good when he sang "purty, purty, purty".

I promised I would bring this info to you all and I hope I've made the birds a little more familiar to you and that you'll all go home and make a point of remembering that BOST-Birds Of Southern TN-needs your support all year round.

Then maybe the Northern Cardinal will sing for you too-purty, purty, purty!!!

in the garden....

Silent Spring

Those of you who are above a certain age will certainly know what 'Silent Spring' means; for you, this post is more a refresher, but for the for the younger set it may be educational. Silent Spring should actually be written Silent Spring, because it is a book by author Rachel Carson. I am not old enough to remember the book, but I am old enough to benefit from the consequences of the book. Let me explain.

One of the classes I am taking this term is Pesticides. Pesticides, as defined by the New Illustrated Webster Dictionary*Thesaurus, J.G. Ferguson Publishing, 1992, are: "A chemical or other substance effective in the destruction of such plant and animal pests as fungi, bacteria, insects and the like." That is a very broad definition. I always thought pesticides were products used to kill insects. But pesticides cover: rodenticides, herbicides, fungicides, mitacides AND insecticides. Wow.

I had never heard of Silent Spring before taking this class. Jim, the instructor is very knowledgeable and enhances his student's learning with companion videos. Jim showed the class a video on Rachel Carson and her book. All through history, books have been instrumental in changing societal concerns and consciousness. Just think Upton Sinclair's book The Jungle (still on my read list but a difficult book to find), or Harriet Beecher Stowe's book Uncle Tom's Cabin. The Jungle served to change conditions in stockyards and Uncle Tom's Cabin helped to spur the north to change its attitude toward slavery. Silent Spring changed the country's opinion concerning the use of pesticides. The specific pesticide the book addresses is DDT.

Silent Spring was published in 1962. Jim says you can look at the history of pesticides in two periods, prior to Silent Spring, and after Silent Spring. Indiscriminate use of pesticides prior to 1962 caused major fatalities in the natural world of living things. Not only were insects killed, but the birds and fish which feed upon the insects were also killed. After 1962, the government got involved with regulating the chemical companies; which were making millions of dollars from selling pesticides, including DDT. Ultimately, Silent Spring led to the banning of DDT.

DDT was marketed to target certain insects considered pests. The problem with DDT was it didn't stop at only killing pests. It killed just about every living thing in its path, and had long range consequences by upsetting nature's perfect balance. You see, when you kill everything, both the bad and the good insects are killed. Good insects are the ones which prey on the bad insects. Nature has established a predator and prey system of pest control. The environmentally friendly way of controlling pests (prey) is to encourage the good insects (predator).

When insects were poisoned then eaten by birds and fish, the birds and fish then also became poisoned and perished. Can you imagine a silent spring? One devoid of the singing of the birds or the trilling of the frogs or the chirping of the insects? I can't, and thankfully I don't have to thanks in part to Rachel Carson's book. Her book led to stricter environmental laws regarding the use of pesticides in the environment.

Thanks in part to Rachel Carson's book our country established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA is a governmental agency charged with enacting and enforcing environmental laws. Additionally, states have laws that govern the use of pesticides within their jurisdiction. Today the indiscriminate use of pesticides is highly regulated and controlled. No longer would we as a society or an individual tolerate mass spraying of our homes, parks, gardens, fields and cities with potent chemicals all in the name of killing a bug or a weed. Thank goodness. Countless generations have Rachel Carson, a very brave woman, and her book Silent Spring to thank for the regulation and concern for the natural order of our world.

Rachel Carson was a very courageous woman who was willing to take on the giant chemical companies for one sole purpose, to educate the public about the dangers of pesticides; all while battling breast cancer. Rachel Carson can truly be called a hero. Her life was short, just 56 years but she made a lasting impact on today's society with her book. For more information on Rachel Carson and her books visit

The picture is of Ricinus communis, aka castor beans. I didn't realize how ideal this picture was when I added it to this entry, but the fact castor beans are poisonous ties in with this post. The nerve gas Ricin is derived from castor beans. These castor beans are growing in my very good friend Gerianne's garden. Be careful if you plant these and make sure no living thing (like pets or children) eats the beans or any part of the plant.

in the garden....not using pesticides.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Garden Paths

Garden paths are a necessity in the garden. We all have to get from one spot to another when traveling. The most logical way to move around in a garden, is going to be on a path of some kind.

Can you see the two paths in this picture? I bet everyone can clearly see the round cement circle path through the garden, but what about the grass path between the swimming pool and boxwoods in the left corner of the background? Can you see that one? It is there just as surely as the concrete circle path is there. Actually, the concrete circle path empties out into the grass path around the pool.

Looking at these two paths one has to wonder where they will eventually come out. I like paths that provide a little bit of mystery and help to guide the waunderer on his or her way. I want visitors to my garden to not be able to see the entire garden all at once. The destination should be just as fun as the trip. Just be sure the paths take a logical route and don't have unnecessary or artificial curves in them just for the sake of making curves or aesthetics. Try to look at the big picture and integrate the path into the landscape so the walker can comfortably navigate around the garden. But leave the destination a mystery.

Paths can be made from many different materials and are fun to play with. Grass and cement stepping stones are but two types of materials you can use to make paths. Other materials can be: bricks, cobblestones, mulch, wood circles or planks, flagstones, broken concrete (a personal favorite), wood chips, turf blocks, stone, crushed gravel, or even hard packed dirt. Formal paths and paths used to transport equipment should be at least four feet wide. Informal paths used in mainly for moving around the garden, like the circular one above, need not be wide, but should be well marked and easy to traverse. My gardens are rather large so instead of stepping through the garden, I use paths in strategic areas to help me be able to maintain the garden without trampling it. Paths this time of year in the garden are especially welcomed since the soil can get so wet the gardener can sink up to her ankles in dirt!

So, while paths are a necessity in the garden, make them fun and a little mysterious to add a fourth dimension to your garden.

in the garden.... walking some paths.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Leaf Litter

Composting is nature's way of recycling. Leaf litter is Mother Nature's end result of her attempt at composting. Humans don't even need to do anything for nature to compost. Just look at the ground the next time you walk through the woods. What do you see? What does the ground you walk on feel like? Does a forest smell different than a farm field or your backyard?

While walking through a forest with both deciduous and evergreen trees, you should see the ground covered with leaves, pine needles, maybe some fallen and rotting logs, and lots and lots of leaf litter. Leaf litter is a collection of the detritus which falls from trees and other plant material onto the ground. Detritus includes: leaves, bark, twigs, sticks, pine needles-you name it. Leaf litter is a great addition to garden beds and nature's ultimate success at recycling.
Leaf litter and compost are nearly the same thing; the difference being what is included in the finished product. Leaf litter will contain only the organic matter from the trees and plants in the forest, whereas compost will contain organic matter from not only the trees and plants in the forest (if you have it available), but also organic matter from our homes and gardens.

Why is leaf litter a great addition to your gardens you ask? Because in addition to the organic matter it adds to the soil, it also adds millions and billions of organisms which process the leaf litter and develop communities between the soil and leaf litter. These communities then help maintain soil fertility and structure. Our goal as gardeners should be to have great soil, not just great plants.( According to this same website, leaf litter "rivals coral reefs as one of the most biodiverse places on earth."

The ground will feel like it has some give to it. It will not be hard packed clay like we have in our backyards. The softness underfoot is due to the leaf litter on the ground. As all of the leaf litter decays it becomes spongy and soft providing cushioning for a very comfortable walk through the forest.

A forest will usually smell earthy. The earthy smell of course comes from the earth. Essentially the communities within the leaf litter are working with the soil to improve the ground. Since leaf litter is usually not disturbed the earth smell can be more pronounced in a forest than in other places, such as farm fields.

We too can compost just like Mother Nature. For me composting is a way of life in the garden. I, like Mother Nature, kind of take a hands off approach to composting. I have three bins each measuring 4'x4'. I toss in lots of detritus like: leaves, pine needles, plant debris, leftover food scraps, vegetable peelings, rabbit litter, coffee grounds (a super amendment), tea bags and just about anything organic and let it sit, just like leaf litter in a forest. I am a passive composter I guess you could say. If I turned the compost the debris would decompose a little faster, but I usually have some compost available for use at all times due to the large amounts of detritus I compost. Communities of all sorts of organisms almost immediately begin breaking down the detritus into fine black organic material, something I call 'Black Gold'. Gardeners can't get enough of it.

The above three pictures are of Skeeter's new compost bin. The first picture is of the woodpile with which she used logs from to build her compost bin. The second picture is of the finished compost bin. The third picture shows an up close picture of the compost bin full of detritus just waiting to compost into black gold, or maybe some leaf litter judging by the amount of forest detritus she has put in the compost bin. She and the Saint will soon have lots of compost and leaf litter to add to their beautiful gardens.

If you have a picture of a compost bin you would like to see on here, just send it to me at I will compile them and do a posting on the variety of compost bins and how compost helps the particular owner of the compost bin. Even if you don't have a compost bin and maybe just have a pile of detritus-that could work too!

in the garden....composting the Mother Nature way.

Blue Jays

Bluejays are so welcomed in my garden that every time I see one I have to stop and talk to it. Sounds funny but I think they listen to me, though they never talk back. If they aren't listening they sure are studying me, because they will sit close by and observe me for a good few minutes.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology found at: , blue jay numbers have been decreasing in the east. That is too bad because bluejays are really great birds. They are actually songbirds and sing quite beautifully. They are also known to squawk and raise a fuss when danger is present.

Raise a fuss is just what some grown blue jays did this past summer in my backyard. A baby bluejay somehow left its nest too early. Jimmy and I had a heck of time 'rescuing' it. The parents kept dive bombing us, and a bluejay is not a bird you want to run into as they are quite large. We did the prudent thing and retreated to the house to let the parents care for and watch over the baby. I am not even sure if the dogs would have stood up to these parents.

Bluejays eat a variety of insects which is a big help to gardeners. I have also seen them eating dogfood. I used to keep a bowl of dogfood on the deck and I can tell you more birds eat dogfood than you would believe. In addition to the bluejays, titmouses seemed to find the dogfood quite tasty. Maybe it has to do with the protein in the dogfood. Now, along with sunflower seeds I throw out a handful of dogfood when the weather is very cold and I want to feed the birds-especially the bluejays.

in the garden....

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Hypertufa Troughs

Wintertime is a great time to do crafts for the garden. Another project I always wind up doing besides building flower carts, is to make hypertufa troughs. I have made several before but I find I can never have enough of these unique little plant pots.

Hypertufa is a manufactured version of tufa. Tufa is a porous rock formed as a deposit from springs and streams (Merriam- Webster's Online Dictionary). Like tufa, hypertufa is porous. I like the fact hypertufa is porous, but you would not want to plant moisture loving plants in them. I use mine for hen and chicks and sedums and other succulents.

Previously when I have made the pots, I used a one part peat moss, one part portland cement, and one part perlite recipe. This time I used a 2 part peat moss, 1 part perlite, and 3 part concrete mix. I thought using less perlite would give my pots a finer texture, whereas using more of the concrete mix would compensate for not having straight portland cement, or so I thought. The first pot, pictured above still in its mold, fell apart when I finally tried to remove it from the mold. Darn! Lesson learned, use real Portland Cement.

My next attempt at making hypertufa went much better. I was successful in creating several new pots using Portland Cement. The recipe I used in making these pots was: 1 part cement, 1 part peat moss, and 1/2 part perlite. The pots are all in varying degrees of drying and the colors reflect the degrees. Normal hypertufa will dry a light gray. The two large rectangular pots in the upper left of the picture were colored with brown concrete stain. I am very interested to see how they finally dry. The other six pots were colored with buff concrete stain, though you really can't tell either from the picture or from the pots themselves. I think the darker colored stains work best on this type of pot and will not use the light colored stains anymore.

I have used flower pots, cardboard boxes stuffed with styrofoam, and plastic containers for molds. Personally I prefer using strong plastic molds. The cardboard tends to get soggy and will bend if not seriously reinforced, but it is handy and comes away from the pot easily. Plastic flower pots work out well, as do the plastic containers. While trying to separate one pot from its popcorn bowl mold, I had to resort to breaking the mold in order to get my pot out. Oh well, kitchen bowls can be overrated anyhow and we always have too many-don't we? Next time I will try building a wooden mold. I think the size will be more uniform and if I build the mold right, I should be able to dismantle it from the hypertufa pot.

After you mix whatever recipe you use together (there are tons of recipes out there), mold it to your mold but be sure to spray the mold with some cooking spray or coat the mold with plastic wrap. Poke a few drainage holes in the bottom of your pot. Add small stones and decorations as desired then cover the whole thing with plastic and let it sit for at least two days.

Gently unmold the new pot and place in the garden when fully cured. My new pots are currently safely enscounced in my garage to continue to cure. Curing can continue for several weeks, though curing can be accomplished in the garden. I only have mine in the garage because it has been so cold outside. These troughs should last for a long time and the designs are limited only by your imagination.

in the garden....making pots.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Tip Day

I have been receiving lots of emails from gardeners with some great tips. I think starting next week I will try to dedicate Tuesdays to tip day from gardeners. Don't hold me to it on this specific day, but I will try. There is one good thing about not earning money from writing this blog-I can be my own boss and set my very own schedule! Do love that part of it and getting to know everyone!

Any gardeners who like to share with me through email and allow me to do a post on your tips, such as Lola did, just let me know! Even if you don't want a post on your tips, you are more than welcomed to share. It will be in the same similar format as I did Lola's post for great tips. I find gardeners not only want to share tips but stories (sound familiar) to go with the tips, so I will dedicate one post to one gardener. Sound okay?

in the garden....freezing but looking forward to some warm days coming up soon.

Crepe Murder

Crepe myrtles are my favorite small tree. I have talked about them before in previous posts and will talk about them in future posts as well. They are such diverse and beautiful trees that bring so much color and interest to southern landscapes that they will inevitably take up a big part of this blog.

The fact crepe myrtles are so diverse can be their downfall. There are so many varieties in the nursery world that it is hard for the average gardener to know what they are purchasing. Even when the gardener knows what he or she wants and is purchasing, there is no guarantee the tree purchased is labeled correctly. I have already told you the story about going to a certain big box store and finding crepe myrtles on sale. Of course I was going to buy one of each variety since I am not one to pass up a sale on my favorite small tree. I think the varieties were Centennial Spirit, Tonto, Pink Crepe Myrtle (no such cultivar), and Natchez. All the labels said the trees grow to 5-8 feet high with an equal spread. Okay. Fair enough. Maybe all of these varieties DO grow this way, but only in a perfect world where all nursery labels are 100% accurate each and every time we purchase a plant. Since this is not a perfect world, these trees will not all grow to the height and width stated on the labels.

This is where a little research up front will save much heartache later. There is nothing worse than planting a tree next to the house that you expect will only grow to about 8 feet tall by 8 feet wide, and finding out the tree will actually grow to 20 feet tall by 15 feet wide-when it has outgrown its spot! It is too late then. The only alternative you have is to either take out the tree or prune it down to size-regularly and forever.
And believe it or not, there are people who do prune their crepes down-to practically nothing! One of my friends (who shall remain nameless) says, "Well Tina, you know they get SO big-like 20 feet tall-What am I supposed to do?" She is one who cuts her crepes back and 'murders' them, but for very good reasons, at least in her opinion. I am not going to change anyone's opinion about pruning trees, but I hope I can give you some alternatives to pruning which can, with a little foresight, prevent this practice from continuing on such a widespread basis.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to prune trees to the right size for the rest of my life and its life. I want to plant the right tree in the right spot the first time around. This is not always as simple as it sounds and I have made my fair share of mistakes.

The tip is to plant the right tree in the right spot the first time. Of course, to be fair many, many people inherit overgrown trees. As in the case of my friend. She truly loves her crepes but they are too big for the space they are planted in. She doesn't want to take them out so she feels cutting them back is the best option. Maybe so, but to have to cut them back for the rest of her life, or let them go to grow out of control is just an option I don't see as viable for the long term. Eventually they will have to be taken out. That is the only solution for her since the landscaper or a previous homeowner planted the right crepe in the wrong place or planted the wrong crepe in the right place.

It is too bad. Just because that person is not around to deal with the problem does not mean it is OK. I feel like when we plant plants, especially trees, we need to be responsible and think long term. Trees will be with us a very long time and it is unconscionable to plant trees in the wrong place but it happens ALL the time. That being said, I do have a disclaimer and a secret, I plant plants in the wrong place all the time! Yes, it is sad but true. Fortunately, I am able to move my plants around, but trees, there comes a point you cannot move them so think carefully before you plant!
To help you all understand crepe myrtle varieties before planting, please do not rely on the plant tag to guide you when purchasing. This advice applies to other plants as well, but I am specifically addressing crepes because there are so many cultivars and varieties that one has to know what they are purchasing prior to buying and planting. If you buy without understanding what you are getting, then research the cultivar when you get home to understand the plant's growth habit and ultimate size. A favorite website I use in order to understand the different types of crepes can be found at:

Using this website and researching your crepes will save many a tree from crepe murder, and you, the homeowner or gardener or landscaper from needless pruning. There is no valid reason to ever prune crepes down to mere nubs. Crepe myrtles bloom on new wood and it may seem like the tree is neater and has more blooms, but the pruning is hurting the tree and making the off season really be an off season for crepes.

I want to thank my accomplice, uh um, helper Skeeter, with getting me some pictures of murdered crepe myrtles in another state. I thought it might be a little uncomfortable asking if I could take some pictures of badly pruned crepes around town here in Clarksville. We have our share, believe me. That is why my hat's off to Skeeter for bravely snapping these super pictures of our beloved 'murdered' crepes. Not only are homeowners guilty of crepe murders, but many, many business owners as well. All of the murdered crepe pictures above were taken at businesses out of state. Skeeter especially thought the fifth picture above was ironic. Notice the neat pile of red mulch stacked behind the murdered crepe? I find all of the pictures to be shocking but the first murdered crepe picture of the very mature crepe cut down to about two feet is the worst one for me.
The natural form of these crepe myrtles would look something like the first and last pictures on this post (which are of the very same tree). This tree is growing in a friend's (Lola) garden here in Clarksville. She and her husband planted two many, many years ago. Lola told me she and her husband only lightly prune out suckers at the base and keep the inside tidy. Basically pruning, dead, diseased or damaged and crossing branches only. I am not sure which variety this particular crepe is as I have not seen it in bloom. But it is obvious this crepe will grow upright in a broad vase shape. Some crepes naturally grow in a low shrub form, or upright spreading, or rounded, etc. The website will tell you the type of shape a particular crepe will have. Can you just imagine all of the blooms on this crepe in the summer? So many more than on murdered crepes.

As a bonus with this crepe, you can clearly see the power lines above the tree. Crepes are generally small trees, and according to my research you will be lucky to find one taller than 30-35 feet. I have never seen one taller. Not even in Virginia and North Carolina, where you will not find finer specimen crepe myrtles, have I seen taller crepes. If this crepe were of the large variety (and I believe it is), it will not reach those power lines. This crepe will not grow much taller and there is still enough clearance under those wires. Crepes are one type of tree I recommend planting under power lines. But that is another post and this one has been quite long already.

in the garden....thinking about summer crepe myrtle blooms.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Two Rivers Tree Alliance (TRTA)

I am betting most of Clarksville does not even know what Two Rivers Tree Alliance (TRTA) is or does, or has even heard of it. Maybe you all can help get the word out. The TRTA is a fairly new and loosely formed group of dedicated individuals who love trees. They try to educate the public on the value of trees, sponsor tree activities, work with the Clarksville Tree Board, the Extension Agent (Karla Kean) and the Clarksville City Forester, and are an information network of informed individuals willing to help the public with specific problems concerning trees.

The majority of the active members in this organization are Tennessee Citizen Foresters. To become a citizen forester you must attend 40 hours of training and complete a 25 hour volunteer requirement within one year of completing the training.

Citizen foresters are normal citizens, we just have a little more training to go with our passion for living things and trees in particular. There are some really dedicated people in this organization but they need more interest and involvment to truly make a big difference in Clarksville. A big difference that most people don't even recognize, but I guarantee you that if all the trees in Clarksville were cut down, citizens would take notice. Conversely, planting more trees (the right one in the right place) and beautifying the city and county are going to make a big difference too. The difference may be subtle but newcomers and long time residents will subconsciously appreciate landscaping and shade and beauty and be more likely to resettle here and stay here for the longterm. Trees are important but without some guidance their importance may turn into a negative item, such as with topping or blocking or destroying roads and homes and power lines. Citizen foresters help to ensure trees do not become problems while espousing their uses in our community. For more information about the Tennessee Urban Forestry Program click on the following link: to read their newsletter.

There is a meeting of TRTA scheduled Tuesday, 29 January 2008 at 6:30 pm at the extension office on Cumberland Road. Karla Kean is a point of contact for information and can be reached at 648-5725. Additionally, this year's training to become a good tree citizen is scheduled to begin February 12-March 11 from 6:30-8:30 pm at the extension office. Classes are held on Tuesday weekly, but in case of imclement weather which forces the Montgomery County School System to close, classes will also be cancelled. Karla is currently accepting registrations. Cost of the classes is $50 which includes all study materials AND an excellent Tree Field Guide. The field guide alone costs approximately $30 so you are getting a deal to get the lectures too! Go sign up and spread the word around. Citizens from surrounding counties (and I am sure states) are welcomed.

in the garden....

Saving Poinsettias and More Great Tips

There will be two posts today, as I want to get out some information later on regarding an important organization and meeting next week. Look for it this afternoon.

Lola, a faithful reader in Florida, writes she has saved this poinsettia by repotting it in the spring and placing in outside in dappled shade. It sure looks beautiful and it is not too late to still save those poinsettias for those readers up here too! Repot and leave in the house until May or so, then put into the garden and I bet you too might get some really nice blooms like Lola.

I introduced Lola a few days ago, but it bears mentioning again. She is originally from Paris, Tennessee and used to pass through Clarksville on her trips between Florida and Paris. Sadly, her days of traveling are few and far between due to a hip injury-but gladly she still gardens and promises to share some great tips-just like some of you other regulars out there! She tells me she has pots all along a chain link fence which she fills with flowers, mostly petunias. She also uses large black tubs nursery's sell trees in to do some vegetable gardening. Some vegetables she grows are: squash, Egyptian onions, carrots and tomatoes to name just a few. Like Skeeter, Lola has spider plants coming out her ears amongst impatiens, geraniums and others. Another great tip Lola has is to use wreath holders to hang flower pots up. The hook works great.

Lola is a proud greatgrandmother to two little boys, Nicholas and Anthony. I love those names Lola. When I was pregnant with my twins I was told I would have a boy and a girl. The boys name was to be Nicholas Anthony! What a coincidence. When I had two girls I split the girls name I had picked out, Christine Elizabeth, hence my twins are Christine and Elizabeth. Had I had two boys, it would have been Nicholas and Anthony, I am sure.

I especially enjoyed Lola's email because she talked about her grandchildren and teaching them about gardening. Her grandson was just five years old when he planted, tended, harvested and ate corn all by himself (with a little help from grandma in the form of guidance). Her youngest grandson was in awe when he first learned carrots come out of the ground. Brings a smile to my face because it is such a special picture. We can all probably see it in our minds or perhaps these stories bring some memories of our own to the forefront of our minds.

Thank you so much for sharing Lola. I look forward to many more stories and pictures. I plan to do a post on children and gardening. All you readers out there (you too Lola, anonymous, dawn with peaches and anyone else interested), if you have a special picture of your children and/or grandchildren you would like to see on here-send them to me at

in the garden....thinking about people and gardens and life and memories.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Plants Get the News

One of my favorite things to use in my garden beds, is newspapers. Who says old copies of the Leaf Chronicle can't be useful? Do you think the Leaf's circulation numbers go up when people can find other uses for the newspapers? Other than going into the recycling bin at Bi-County? These plants are definitely up on the news in Clarksville!

I was preparing this garden bed for mulch and began early on a very cold morning to lay down all of these newspapers. The gentlemen delivering and spreading the mulch did not know what to think of all of the newspapers.

They questioned me, "Are newspapers better than landscape fabric and plastic?"

I explained, "Yes, no doubt about it."


"Because I said so! No, really because the newspapers allow the soil to breathe. When the soil breathes microbial activity and all sorts of organic decomposers (earthworms, millipedes, and good bacteria) are able to work more efficiently. As an added benefit, the newspapers break down slowly and add organic matter to the soil."

The gentlemen were fairly impressed, but I could tell they were still skeptical. It is that way sometimes when a person gets used to doing things a certain way. Their way is six inches of mulch over plastic, plants, trees and anything else in the way. Then get the leaf blower out and blow off the mulch to make it look neat. Yes, the garden really does look neat, but six inches of mulch over plastic is not good for the garden.

"Won't the paper rot under the mulch?" they asked.

"Yes, I hope so."

"Then what is the point?"

"In my experience the newspapers can last one year or more when you lay down 5-6 layers and the newspapers are so much better to garden with than plastic. You usually need to reapply mulch after a year anyhow, just add some more newspapers instead of piling it on the plastic."

I never use the shiny papers, only the normal newsprint. Ink color does not matter in my garden as long as it not shiny. The point of using newspapers is when I want to plant more plants I can easily cut through the newspaper and I don't have to fight with plastic. In the meantime, the newspapers provide that extra barrier against weeds that mulch alone cannot handle.

"Won't the weeds come through the plastic?" the men asked.

"Yes, don't you still get weeds with plastic?"

"Yes. Oh. What do you do then?"

"Weed! You will still need to weed your garden no matter what type of mulch you use, unless of course you pour a slab of cement, then you will have to weed the cracks in the cement!"

Been there-done that! I prefer pulling weeds from mulch covered newspapers. Then when the tenacious dandelions grow through that one little crack in the mulch, I can easily stick my fishtail hook deep into the soil and get that little bugger. If there is plastic under the mulch, guess what happens? I stick my fishtail hook in and hit plastic-which when you want it to give way it does not, and when you want it to stay intact, it also does not. Go figure.

"Are you sure it is okay to spread the mulch on the newspapers?"

"Yes, please. And while you are at it, spread it where the newspapers are not as well."

Newspapers are such a helpful barrier they can delay plants from coming up under them. Therefore, I do not use newspapers over perennials or bulb beds. If I do, I leave spaces or tear the paper over the plant. Even if I mistakenly place newspapers over plants, when they begin their spring growth I can easily see the plants pushing the newspaper up. I then tear the newspaper to allow the plant to come through. Simple. No scissors needed and no great amount of force. The areas to the front of the garden are full of established perennials, bulbs and irises, I did not want them covered with newspapers.

I truly could not garden without mulch or the newspapers under the mulch. If you do not have a collection of newspapers you can use brown paper bags (even better than newspapers because it is hardier, just be careful you don't make it too thick and use only two layers of the brown paper-not two bags). I even know some gardeners who use brown cardboard. I haven't actually used cardboard so I can't vouch for it's worthiness, but I think it would work fine and still beat plastic and landscape fabric any day.

I guess that if all things were equal between plastic landscape fabric and newspapers, that is they both allowed the soil to breathe the same and microbial activity was not reduced, then I would still use newspapers. Here is the biggest reason, newspapers rot, landscape fabric and plastic do not. When we pile mulch on our gardens, the mulch slowly decays. We pile more on and the process continues until we have about 4-6 inches of great decayed matter sitting on top of plastic. Now the weeds are growing in great organic matter on top of the plastic and some poor unlucky gardener is going to have to fish out all of that plastic. If you use newspapers they will decay and you will never have to fish out an artificial barrier between good organic matter and your soil. I mean, afterall, it is about the soil and we want it to be healthy.

So the next time you are getting ready to toss that old Leaf Chronicle, think of your plants and let them get the news too....and maybe increase the Leaf's circulation numbers while you are at it!

in the garden....reading the paper.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Garden of the Month

It had been hard for me to pick a January Garden of Month. I thought I had exhausted the ones I had in mind. Then, I happened to pay a visit to Lowes and passed a garden I have looked at a million times (or so it seems) over the past six years, and the light came on. Of course! I had forgotten about this privet garden and I wanted to talk about and spotlight it.

The garden I am highlighting this month is more like a hedge, but you remember when I started this blog that I said a garden can be as small as a houseplant or as large as an estate and everything in between-just as long as you are growing something. In this case, the something is a large and well maintained hedge of Variagated Privet and Leyland Cypresses along an entrance road into Lowes from a side road. One can't help but see the privet along the privacy fence, but in case you haven't noticed it, look the next time you go to Lowes.

I stopped in and asked the homeowner if she could tell me about the hedge and what kind of an impact it has made on her and her family's life. Tracey Dunn and her lovely daughter, Vianne, were happy to talk with me (Tracey was at least-maybe not Vianne though she did give me a picture she drew in school before I departed. Vianne was taught well not to talk to strangers such as this particular gardener!). Tracey told me Lowes planted the privet hedge and put in the privacy fence. Good move Lowes! I know the houses were there before Lowes was built and in order to keep the homeowners happy, it was only prudent Lowes try to block off their commercial business from the surrounding homes.

It was amazing to me what a big impact this hedge made on the house and environment at Tracey Dunn's home. The traffic noise was seriously reduced and unless you knew there was a busy road on the other side of the hedge, you could almost forget that fact. Tracey likes the hedge very much. She said she hasn't had to do anything to maintain it except a little pruning on the inside of the hedge. One leyland had to be taken out because it was blocking road views for drivers, but basically the hedge and privacy fence have been a BIG asset for the neighborhood.

Tracey gardens a little too. While she appreciates the hedge, she really loves irises, many of which were passed down to her from family (if she can just keep hubby from mowing them down). Tracey also started some Japanese maples from seed and has sown narcissus and wildflowers in the garden. Her hedge and garden are my choice for January's Garden of the Month due to the fact the garden has added so much to the property and community.

in the garden.... hoping for privacy from a nice hedge.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Get Together

Good morning! Again. Please, everyone who would like to get together for lunch soon, please email me at: I am thinking a Monday afternoon might be great but I am pretty flexible. Just not on Tuesday or Wednesday. Let me know!

Where Does All that Sod Go?

I have two basic ways to create a new garden. One involves hard back breaking labor and the other I call the lazy gardener's method. I have only voluntarily used the lazy gardener method once. The other times I have used this method are because I was gardening under trees with close to the surface roots.

I first lay out the new area with a hose as an outline for the new garden bed, then I begin hand digging all of the sod out of the area with my trusty shovel. Some people have better luck using a flat shovel, but I find the curved shovel works best to dig into and remove the sod.

Once the sod is all removed I place it in a wheelbarrow or my lawn cart for transplanting elsewhere in the garden. I estimate I have transplanted about 10,000 square feet of sod in this way. Sometimes I wind up moving sod more than once! The reason why I end up moving so much sod is I continue to make the mistake of planning new gardens too small. I am finally beginning to realize it is best to go ahead and go large to begin with, and save myself work further down the road.

The hardest part making a new garden for me is removing and transplanting the sod. I get so impatient I sometimes start planting before all of the sod is removed. It is a bad habit I have had to work on. I am doing better and enjoy it so much when the garden is done all at once and is completely ready for planting and planning.

Then the fun part begins with designing and planting. I almost never plan a garden on paper. I used to diligently plan the vegetable garden on paper each year, but now have a procedure of rotation which does not require and in depth plan. Thank goodness because I really just want to dig. Flower garden plans ALWAYS change once planting begins anyhow, so what is the point?

The garden in the pictures was created in 2006. I found it was too small to adequately circle around the oak, so I decided to enlarge it this past fall. It really would have been so much easier to have made it big to begin with! I would like to say I learned a lesson and will plan big from now on, but realistically I know that I won't. I think that the beauty of gardening is change. Reworking a garden is change so I am trying to go with the flow. Really, what I am trying to say is even if I plan big, it is likely I will change the garden somehow at some point. That is just the way I garden. I once heard you are not truly a gardener unless you move plants around, but I don't fully believe that because I know people who actually do plan well and never move plants. They are few and far between though as I KNOW most gardeners move plants around. Trees, shrubs, decks, bulbs, vines-you name it and we have moved it!

Once the sod is safely removed and replanted, I then use my shovel to hand turn the soil. I give the soil a really good working over and when I am done, my soil is raised about four inches above the surrounding sod. Making sure the soil is good and moist helps in this endeavor. I then add some compost (if available, if not then just a layer of good mulch), greensand, and plants. Greensand is an organic amendment which helps change the composition of clay soil. Something we have a lot of in Tennessee.

Once all is done, I mulch with either shredded wood mulch from Bi-County or with leaves and/or pine needles. If the garden is next to the house the mulch will never be shredded wood mulch. It takes a few years for the garden to grow in but I find the time is passing rather quickly, and I try to be very patient.

The far garden in the top picture was created in February 05. The mulch still showing on it is the initial mulch I used when creating this garden. I purchased it from Bi-County for just $10 a pickup truck full. I think it took about three truck loads. What a chore on my poor back! I will not mulch it again in this way, preferring instead to use leaves and pine needles once the garden is set in.

The second method I have used in creating a garden is the lazy gardener's method. It requires no digging initially. This time of year is the best time to make a new garden using this method. All I do is layer a bunch of newspapers (5-6 layers) over the sod in the new garden area, then cover the newspapers with a thick layer of shredded leaves. The garden sits all winter, then come spring I turn over the whole area and re-mulch. I don't like this method as well as the first because you wind up with many more weeds as lawn grasses are tough to kill, even under a deep layer of mulch. It takes about two years to get this type of garden established to the point the first type is in just one year. By being established I mean with very little weeds left to grow through the mulch and with the soil being friable and workable.

The number one mistake I see people make when creating new gardens is to rototill or turn under the soil without first removing the lawn and/or weeds. It is pointless to begin a garden in this way because you will spend more time pulling weeds than you do enjoying it. If you are digging under a tree and there are roots close to the surface, you should not remove the sod. I usually lay sod down over the area upside down, cover with newspapers and lots of mulch and use the lazy gardener method to garden in this type of location. Plants I use close to trees and roots are going to be different than what I would use in another garden further away from the tree. I do try to balance the trees needs with my need to cultivate and grow beautiful things but this can be tricky. I will talk about gardening under trees in another post sometime.

No garden will be truly weed proof, but ensuring you properly prepare the garden prior to planting will prevent much heartache later on. The double benefit of removing the lawn is you have new instant sod to replace thin areas of your yard. If there are only weeds in the new garden area, then put them directly in the compost bin and don't bother transplanting them. Sometimes I like it when I have only weeds to remove because it saves on the labor of transplanting the sod. Even with all of my hard work on the sod I do still have thin and weedy areas so I always try to create gardens here first. So where does all the sod go? it goes....

in the garden....expanding my gardens and moving sod.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Impatiens Galore!

Okay, maybe I am s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g things a bit to be talking about impatiens in the wintertime. But I thought a breath of summer might be just the thing to cheer ME up. It is VERY cold here in Tennessee with the blast of Arctic air that has come our way from the north. I am not sure about anyone else, but I am just not used to this cold. I don't plan to work in the garden but I will still walk through with lots of coats on.

I love impatiens and can't have enough of them, though this past summer they were not good plants for me. You will notice this picture was taken in 2005. I have not had such a grand display since, nor will I ever again. I just refuse to water them enough each year to keep them looking good. There is also another reason-volunteers.

Impatiens CAN self seed. I did not know this my first year planting them here in Tennessee. Imagine my surprise when little seedlings began appearing in very odd places. I just love the effect of volunteers but I must say, volunteers have a tendency to mess up nicely laid out color plans such as is displayed in this picture. I did a red and white color scheme this particular year. A pink or purple or even a red and white striped volunteer impatien popping up amongst this planting would ruin the effect. Don't you think?

Now, my gardening has fortunately taken a kind of hands off approach. I want to let things grow where they will in whatever color they choose. I guess you would call it the cottage style of gardening, everything mixed together getting along with one another. Kind of like I wish humankind could live. Now, I sometimes have impatiens pop up in this garden and they are sometimes red or white, more often pink or purple or red and white striped.

If you want to be sure of having impatiens come back in your garden, plants some plants in a moist area such as around your air conditioning unit or heat pump where the condensation will overflow into the garden. This is where I always have volunteers show up each spring, and I never have to water them! Color schemes optional here.

in the garden....freezing.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Things Are Starting to Look Up!

I told you all I might just start posting more than once per day. It is starting to become a habit. Skeeter sent me this lovely picture of a creek running through her yard. She says, "Maybe the drought is going to go away in Georgia!" Let's hope so.
I hope the recent rains bode well for the upcoming year's gardening season. Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain!
in the garden....thinking about one inch of rain per week every week this year and hoping the drought goes away!

Garden Blogs

Being new to blogging when I started this blog back in September, I did some research on blogs in general, and also on gardening blogs. I had no idea what a garden blog was, but I knew I like to garden and I like to talk about it, so the two just seemed to go together; like peanut butter and jelly. Now here I am talking about gardening while still gardening! I am sure my classmates in school, friends, acquaintances and complete strangers are happy Tina can talk to her computer about gardening instead of boring them with my garden talk.

Hopefully I don't look and sound too silly when talking about gardening all the time. The only time I felt silly when partaking in my favorite past time was at Austin Peay my first semester. The first night of class saw me parking in the 'back 40' and having to walk around the huge building (Kimbrough). BTW there are some lovely gardens on Austin Peay and Lindsay and her crew are doing a good job. Anyhow, while walking around the building I noticed some hollyhocks growing happily. I resolved to come back and see if there were any seeds later on in the season. There were. I gathered a few and stuffed them in a baggie. Once back in the classroom I was busy separating the seeds from the chaff when my classmates started returning from lunch. You should have seen the looks. Finally, someone asked, "What the heck are you doing and what are those 'things'?". Needless to say, that started me on talking about gardening. Poor classmates, they probably got more information than they needed. Now the blog helps to lessen those situations and I can talk to my heart's content. I must talk quite a bit because the Leaf's editor said she had to cut down this past week's post to make it fit in the newspaper. Sigh. That is okay!

I have already done two posts on blogging in general so I won't rehash those posts. I wanted to share some gardening blogs with you in this post. That is not to say I am encouraging you leave my blog-no, no, no-but I think people might like different points of view on gardening from some other gardeners. There is a whole gardening blogger community and those guys are really smart and technologically savvy.

The directory of gardening blogs I like can be found at the following website: This website is a really cool website and has what seems like hundreds of gardening blogs listed. There are actually a total of 19 web pages of all sorts of garden blogs, in alphabetical order. Under each blog listing is a short description of the blog.

The Digindirt website led me to two other Tennessean bloggers. Dave over at "The Home Garden" is a favorite. He even did some posts on blogging! Go figure! Dave's website can be found at and he is a very talented and knowledgeable gardener!

Another Tennessee blogger is Frances at the Faire Garden. Her blog website can be found at There are a lot of great pictures on this website and she is very creative.

I found a Maine blogger for my special Maine readers. It is found at and is a blog I enjoy reading, though I think she should post more often!:) And an additional blog for variety found at: Obviously the name caught my eye, but she is funny too.

Here is a blog from the Georgia area for my great commenter, Skeeter. This blog is from an author in the Atlanta area and can be found at: I was surprised there weren't more listed from Georgia, even Maine had more listed! But truthfully, I did not go through every single blog on this website. Enjoy.

in the garden....hoping my computer is fixed soon.

Friday, January 18, 2008

What is in a Name?

What is in a name? A name is the one thing you have your whole life that is yours. It can never be taken away from you. It is up to you what you do with it, and what you make of your name. You can have a good name or a bad name. I have always told my children their name is something that always starts out good, and they need to make sure it stays good. They have done a great job at living honorable and good lives, and I am proud of all four of my children. (Even the teenager though he doesn't always think so:~)

The year I deployed to Iraq was my first year visiting the Nashville Lawn and Garden Show. I have since attended four more times and I have enjoyed each and every trip, but the year 2003 was a very good year for visiting this show. While there a vendor had a bunch of iron letters. I searched for what seemed like an hour or two and had HIM search for all of the letters of my name. I was very fortunate he had them all in stock as these letters are made of iron and came from a foundry which has since gone out of business. I am sure you could probably buy them online, but I haven't checked to see if that is so. I have my entire last name and I love the name Ramsey. These letters are prominently displayed on my Wisteria arbor/Privacy wall (I will do a post on it later) and remind me every day of the good name I possess. This year's Lawn and Garden Show at the Nashville Fairgrounds is going to be 28 Feb-2 Mar.

Jimmy, the teenager in the house, has a hard time understanding good names. Two summers ago he went to western North Carolina to spend quality time with his paternal grandparents. While there they took him to the mountains where the Ramsey family originally came from. Jimmy was in awe when he saw a whole cemetery filled with Ramsey family members. He couldn't believe his name and family were so important until he saw the full breadth of how families and generations just seem to go on in perpetuity with the same name. Treasure your name always as it is as uniquely your own, as is your garden.

in the garden....

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Potting Benches

This is one hard working area of my garden which serves multiple functions. I was able to build it because Mr. Fix-it and I salvaged all of the wood from an old deck.

Not one to waste things, the wood sat around for a year or so until I was able to build this bench. Potting benches need not be fancy-just functional. I made sure to build this one low so I could reach the counter easily (I am short), and I wanted lots of storage for pots and soil out of sight-hence the curtain. Someday I will hook up a faucet to the the two dollar porcelain sink on the left side of the counter, then I will really be in business.

For now I mainly use my potting bench for privacy, storage and display. The painted words say, "Pot me up Scotty!" and "Gardeners know the best dirt". Personal touches are the best kind in a garden don't you think?

in the garden....rebuilding a fence.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bewitching Witch Hazels-January's Plant of the Month

While walking around my garden a hunch told me I should look closely at one of my witch hazels, Hamamelis vernalis. The other witch hazel I have is Hamamelis virginiana, Common Witch Hazel. The vernal witch hazel is in bloom! Some say the forsythia is a harbinger of spring and the first shrub to bloom in the new year. Not true! Witch hazels are very early bloomers and much earlier than forsythia. Witch hazels are not as showy as forsythias and had I not been looking, I surely would have missed the bloom. Though witch hazels are not as showy as forsythias, they more than make up for this fault by being very fragrant.

Two summers ago I researched witch hazels quite thoroughly. I wanted to be sure I purchased the exact type I desired. I found two nurseries which carried witch hazels. One nearby nursery was located in Louisville, Kentucky, and the other one was in Marion, North Carolina. Obviously, the nursery in Louisville was much closer and would have been a better option to purchase my witch hazels, but as luck would have it, my in-laws live just 20 miles from Marion. We had a visit scheduled to see the in-laws within a month of researching my witch hazels. So I chose not to travel to Louisville, and instead waited to purchase a witch hazel or two during our visit to North Carolina. When I can shop at a plant nursery while visiting in-laws, I get so much happier about the visit.

The name of the nursery is called We Du Natives, and the website can be found at: You really should call ahead if you plan to visit this nursery. The owner is very knowledgeable and told me a funny story about the mother plant of my witch hazel. He has motion detectors set up in his nursery with an alarm to alert him to visitors. (He lives on the property). When he comes out to investigate late night alarms, he said he sometimes smells cheap mens' cologne. He diligently looks around for someone to be there, but when he finds no one, he surmises it is the witch hazel smelling up the garden and perhaps wildlife set off the motion detector. I don't think my witch hazel smells like cheap mens' cologne, but more like honeysuckle. It is not quite large enough to fragrance my whole garden, but will with time.

Witch hazel flowers are not all that showy, but the shrubs do usually bloom before the foliage comes out. Depending on the variety you purchase, some witch hazels can be showy. The tonic witch hazel is made from the bark and leaves of the Hamamelis virginiana. That is usually the first question people ask when I mention witch hazel shrubs for the garden. And no, I am not going to attempt to make the tonic as my pleasure is only in growing the witch hazel.

Most witch hazels are native plants and do best in a woodland setting with rich organic soil. Full sun is probably not the best situation but they can tolerate part sun. The purple-green plant in the the top left corner of the picture is 'Huskers Red' Penstemon, a wonderful little plant I love in the garden.

The witch hazels can get quite large with a large lateral spread. The two I purchased fared well this past summer, even with the drought. They have not grown much but are well established and I look forward to an even bigger bloom next winter. I find them easy to care for in the garden. The fact witch hazels are fragrant and bloom in the middle of winter, make them my choice for January's Plant of the Month.

in the garden....enjoying the first bloom of the new year.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Mums the Word

I know I said I would try to keep on the pruning track this week, but I am running short of time so it is a good thing I have so many posts already prepared. This is one of them. I will still get some pruning posts prepared (of course, what would you expect from a Citizen Forester and tree lover?) and post them later. So much to talk about and to do-in the garden....

It is so hard to beat Chrysanthemums in the garden for fall color and interest. I have a lot of favorite plants, but mums have to be one of my all time favorite ones. And of course, there is a story behind it.

I lived in Germany many years and tried to garden wherever I was living. While living in Patrick Henry Village in Heidelberg Germany, I purchased and planted a few mums. They were beautiful and I enjoyed them that fall. Little did I know at the time they would return the following spring. I had no idea they would survive the harsh German winters but those mums came back every year I lived in that apartment building. For all I know, they may still be blooming.

Some people here in Tennessee and surrounding states do not realize most mums are hardy and will come back year after year. I have lost a few over the years but mostly because they were not well suited for the location, or were under stress. I think to be sure your mums return you must plant them in a well drained soil. They cannot be allowed to sit in water and freeze repeatedly over the winter.

Another really great thing about mums is they are so easy to propagate. You must cut them back and keep the plant size to around six inches until mid July or so if you want them to be bushy and full of flowers in the fall. If you don't cut the mums they can get leggy and will bloom less heavily. When you clip them back, plop the cuttings in some soil on your deck or porch away from direct sun, water well, and by the time September rolls around you will have more mums to plant out in your garden. These same cuttings taken in June will bloom the very first year!

Mums are heavy feeders and in order to have a great show give them a balanced fertilized in July or August. So the next time you buy mums for your porch, don't give up on them after their bloom has passed by and throw them on the compost heap, plant them out and grow them for many more years.

The mum pictured above was a gift from one of the master gardeners (Mrs. Moody) during the 2006 Master Gardener tour. She had a beautiful garden and was very gracious by putting out freebies for the touring gardeners to take home with them. This is by far my favorite mum and even though the picture does not do it justice, this mum is different from most of the mums I grow. First of all, it doesn't even start blooming until all my other mums have gone by, then it blooms for over two months, all the while looking like it has just started blooming. This mum still had color in January, so I will have to say mums can be great for winter color AS WELL as fall color. The center of the bloom looks like a dandelion (Geri's view), but has distinctly different outer petals surrounding the cushion part of the flower. I thank Mrs. Moody for sharing her garden with me by giving me such a great plant. And, Mrs. Moody, if you read this blog, can you tell me the name of the mum if you know it? Thanks!

in the garden....

Monday, January 14, 2008

Perennial Plant Society

This month's speaker at the Perennial Plant Society's monthly meeting will be Tom Harper. The title of Mr. Harper's program is "Orchid Culture for the Home". According to The Perennial Post, the Perennial Plant Society's monthly newsletter, Mr. Harper is an accredited American Orchid Society judge and has traveled from coast to coast speaking about orchids. The meeting begins tomorrow evening with refreshments at 6:30 pm, and the program will start at 7:00 pm at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens in Nashville.

Membership dues for the Perennial Plant Society are $20 per year, and a better deal I have not been able to find-so take advantage of these great programs. Meetings are the third Tuesday of each month at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens. The new year for the society has just begun-which reminds me-gotta go pay my dues!

in the garden....

Is there a "Butcher" in the Garden?

Who doesn't love trees? Well okay, I know there are SOME people who truly do not like trees (Mr. Fix-it would be one who would be happy to do without trees), but even amongst those people who do not like trees, I think they can all agree trees serve a vital purpose in our world.

Trees shade our homes and play areas, reduce our cooling bills, use a byproduct of our respiration (carbon dioxide) to make oxygen (absolutely vital to our life), add value to homes by increasing curb appeal, and generally make life so much better just by being around.

Trees don't ask for much in return for all they give us. Some small and newly planted trees may require extra attention in the form of water and some light pruning for shaping, but once mature a tree requires only minimal care from the gardener. Basically, don't compact the tree roots, don't run into the tree with lawnmowers and weedwhackers (probably the number one cause of a tree's demise), and prune the tree properly when required. Proper pruning DOES NOT include topping.

Most people who have trees topped have only good intentions, but unknowingly their good intentions are causing more harm and damage to the tree than the worst lawnmower or weedwhacker injury ever could.

Sometimes, trees are topped to remove the threat of heavy limbs growing into electrical wires. Topping a tree to remove the threat of a branch falling into wires is probably the number one reason trees are topped in this area. Another reason homeowners have their trees topped is they think it will take away the threat of the tree falling on their home or other structures. There are better ways of dealing with problem trees and tree limbs growing into wires.

I equate topping a tree to cutting out half of a person's digestive system. When a tree is topped, main support branches are arbitrarily cut to reduce the canopy of the tree and to make the tree appear to be of a uniform size, nice and neat. Some also think the reduced weight of the chopped up branches reduces risks of the tree toppling and harming property. This is not true.

When a tree's canopy is cut severely as it is when the tree is topped, it is like cutting out half of our digestive system. The tree has lost half of it's food making machine when it is topped. Therefore, food production is slowed down and not processed effectively, the same result which would happen to humans if half of our digestive system were to be cut out. We surely would not be able to digest our food effectively, though we could still eat because we have a mouth, part of a stomach, small and large intestines and all of the other required organs for food digestion, we just don't have a complete system. Neither does a tree when its canopy is cut off. No doctor in his or her right mind would cut half of a person's digestive system out without a very good medical reason; no tree pruner in his or her right mind would top trees. If a tree pruner does top trees in the name of pruning, he or she is actually butchering the tree, hence, butcher in the garden. I don't know about you, but I think butchers belong in a meat shop.

The tree tries to compensate for the loss of its leaves by growing even more leaves and branches. Just look at the pictures of trees trying to compensate for the loss of their canopy. The new branches, while large, are not supported well at the wound site caused by a prior topping. The trees are doomed. In the short term the tree looks good because now it has even more leaves. The problem is the leaves are now attached to weak branches, which have sprouted from the wounded areas caused by topping. The tree now has its food making capacity back, but its circulatory system; which effectively processes the energy taken in by the leaves; is compromised due to the severe wounding the tree received when its main branches were cut off. The long term prognosis for the tree is not good. A tree will never be able to grow back its branches enough to effectively regain the perfect system it had prior to being topped. The tree will become weaker and weaker, those weak suckers holding all those new leaves will be shaken loose in strong winds, the tree will fight off infection at the wound site and eventually the tree is going to be overwhelmed by its injuries; it will die. When the tree dies, we people lose a valuable asset that once shaded our homes, brought beauty to our lives, reduced our energy bills, and used our tremendous amount of carbon dioxide to make life giving oxygen.

What a tradgedy. I know I may sound dramatic, but when you think about trees and how long it takes them to grow to mature specimans and how much beauty and joy they bring to everyday life, losing even one tree is a tradgedy. Don't top. There are alternative ways of dealing with what may be considered a problem tree. Hiring a certified arborist is the best way for the homeowner, society, and the tree. An arborist can selectively prune offending branches in a logical way that will NOT harm the tree. Lateral pruning is the logical way.

Lateral pruning is when tree branches are pruned back to a main branch without taking off the branch collar. When a tree's branches are selectively pruned laterally, the tree will not go into shock due to the loss of its canopy and huge wounds. What a tree will do in response to lateral pruning is to compartmentalize the wound by growing bark over the open area. The tree will not grow poorly attached suckers and will still be able to produce food adequately for continued health. Topping will ALWAYS harm a tree and there are alternatives to topping so please don't top your trees or allow others to top your trees.

The first three pictures are of trees around town which have been topped. They don't provide a pretty picture but provide a realistic picture of what trees look like after topping. The first picture shows a tree in its death throes due to topping. Topping has severely injured it and rot has set in as the tree was not able to compartmentalize the pruning wounds since the wounds were not made in accordance with acceptable practices. This tree will have to be removed before it falls on one of the nearby houses. These pictures are in sharp contrast to a nicely formed and healthy tree. The next two pictures show the ugliness caused by recent butchering-um-excuse me-topping.

The fourth picture shows a close up of a rotted branch. This branch was a main branch and cutting it severely injured the tree. If you look closely at the foreground of the picture, you can see where the "butcher" chopped some smaller branches as well.

The next two pictures show a close up of the suckers the topped tree has already grown in. These suckers cause way more leaves and branches to grow than what was there prior to the topping. They are not as securely attached and as they grow larger, they will get so heavy that any wind or storm will cause them to break away from the tree. I wanted to be sure the homeowner reading this could clearly see the damage I am talking about when I talk about weakly attached suckers growing at the wounded points on the trees.

The picture of a pruning wound on a large tree is a picture of an oak tree growing in my yard. During the winter I spend alot of time (probably too much) pruning my mature trees. I love my trees but a few are too close to the house. Rather than topping my trees or taking them out completely, I am laterally pruning the few offending limbs. I do NOT recommend homeowners prune their own trees, but I have experience with pruning and have been doing it for many years. The cut you see here healing was made to the old oak about three years ago in order to limb up the tree. The tree is satisfactorily closing off the wound, and has not sent out suckers to compensate for the loss of one limb. I never prune all of the limbs in one year, instead I prefer to prune just a few as necessary each year so that I don't take off too much of the canopy. Even though I don't "top" my trees, trees can go into shock if they are pruned too severely all at once. This applies to shrubs as well and may be more understandable when you picture a shrub pruned down to nothing (as in Crepe Murder-a post will come about that). A general rule of thumb is don't prune more than one third of the canopy in one year.

The last picture is of an oak growing in my yard. You can see how the form is nicely rounded and COMPLETE. Isn't it a world of difference from the first pictures of topped trees? Enough on pruning and topping and digestive systems for now. I know this is a long post but I think it is important for everyone to understand the consequences of tree topping. Oftentimes when a tree dies the homeowner has no clue as to why it died. This is because a tree takes a long time to die and the cause and effect are hard to trace once the long period of time has passed. But die they will if you top your trees or allow them to be topped.

in the garden....not topping but pruning.