Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Big Losses Bring Opportunities

This drought has been extremely hard on everyone. I have lost several shrubs, namely azaleas and hydrangeas, and at least one mature oak tree. This garden in the picture borders my driveway and parking area. In this particular area of the garden lived three big beautiful white azaleas. They perished this summer, most likely from the freeze and drought combined. I pulled the dead azaleas, built the little rock wall (donations from freecycle), and planted three oakleaf hydrangeas in this area. The oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) were volunteers from a mature oakleaf hydrangea in my yard. This oakleaf was VERY generous as it has gifted me with at least a dozen baby oakleafs.

I think hydrangeas are my favorite shrub group, and without a doubt, oakleaf hydrangeas are one of the best to grow in this area. Oakleafs are able to do well in sun or shade, need not be pruned, bloom reliably every year, grow quickly, have four seasons (green leaves and lovely large blossoms which change color grace the shrub in spring and summer, red leaf color in the fall, and peeling bark in the winter) of interest and are not fussy plants. The oakleafs are somewhat drought tolerant. This year I did have problems with Japanese beetles attacking the blossoms but it is probably because the shrub was stressed or the beetles were just too hungry!

So, the loss of the azaleas (picky plants) actually brought me a good opportunity to plant something more carefree and beautiful. Now if they would only grow to four feet tall in one year! Ah, yes, that patience thing again. They will grow, it will just take time.

in the garden....

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Update on the Vegetable Garden

The vegetable garden is coming along just fine. I managed to move it about 10-15 feet to the right so Mr. Fix-it can access his garage. I removed all of the sod from the new area, transplanted it to the old area, moved all of the dirt into the beds, built the beds beginning with the banana surround, then began laying the bricks.

It has been hard for me to plan this garden because of its odd shape. It is shaped like a shield. In order to build the beds I had to lay them out in place. I am usually one who plans gardens on graph paper so I was not at all happy doing the garden this way. I suppose it is better because sometimes things on paper look so much better than in person. So far I have gone through about 700 bricks and estimate I need about 200 more. 400 of these bricks were acquired through a fellow freecycler (some of you also have ways of acquiring free bricks-the best kind), but I have had to buy the rest. My goal was to finish this garden right away but my source for the bricks, Orgain Building and Supply, is closed on weekends! I had purchased the initial load of bricks during the week and somehow overlooked this fact. A nice gentleman named Lee helped me load all 280 bricks and I guess I will be back visiting him and Orgain sometime during this week so I can finish the garden.

The opportunity to not have to lay bricks on the weekend gave me a great chance to do some real gardening and dig in the dirt. Now is the ideal time to divide and transplant perennials, shrubs and trees since we have received so much rain and the weather and soil are still fairly warm. Dividing perennials is one of my least favorite garden chores but I managed to get most of it done this weekend. I guess the fact Orgain is closed on the weekend was a blessing in disguise or a cloud with a silver lining, otherwise those perennials would still be waiting for division and making me feel guilty each time I looked at them! One chore down, many more to go before winter fully sets the garden....

Monday, October 29, 2007

Annual Family Rite-Carving Pumpkins

In addition to fall being my favorite holiday, we in the Ramsey family also have a favorite family tradition of carving pumpkins. Mr. Fix-it is the "fun" parent and designated pumpkin carver with the children. Mom is the "working" parent and designated pumpkin grower of the family. It actually works out really well for us all. The Cat o' lantern above is our 2007 contribution to Halloween. Mr. Fix-it says he "Keeps getting better every year with the practice" and we all agree. There is a real art to pumpkin carving and growing that to be successful one has to really learn the fine nuances of said hobbies.

I don't mess with carving pumpkins, so I will stick to growing them. I can tell you I am not a successful grower of pumpkins. I have grown them every year here in Woodlawn for the past four years and have been rewarded with a whopping-are you ready for this-two pumpkins. One in 2004 and the one you see above. I think I do not have enough sun to truly make them grow well. I feed them lots of compost, give them plenty of room and still only one pumpkin! And let me tell you, I am GRATEFUL for that one pumpkin. I mean it is better than none right? The vines make more than one pumpkin but the baby pumpkins just shrivel up and fade away after a few weeks. I do not know what the problem is but can only surmise I don't have enough sun. If anyone else can help me out-please do! Because if the problem could be something other than not enough sun, I can work on it. Until then, I have decided this is the last year I am growing pumpkins. Next year the pumpkin the Ramsey family will be carving will be grown in someone else's garden.

For now, enjoy this season's bounty and carve a pumpkin with your family. Watch out for the trick a treaters Wednesday night. Happy Halloween!

in the garden....

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Starfish Plant

I try to be a well rounded gardener, but houseplants just get to me because of all the watering required and what seems like constant maintenance to me. I tend to stay away from houseplants and don't know much about them, honestly. So, to assure all of you I am open to new ideas and even have some houseplants in my house, I want to share with you this little story.

I was reluctant to take a piece of this houseplant. But at our annual plant swap at garden club this year, Esther (the proud owner of the mother starfish plant) insisted I should take a piece of her starfish plant. Doesn't it look like a starfish? Being from the coast of Maine, a starfish plant is a must have! She excitedly told me how it blooms after many years of maturing and how it has an awful smell-just like a starfish.

I did research this plant for this posting. The scientific name is Stapelia gigantea. The awful smell is to attract flies. Flies pollinate this plant, and we all know flies like rotten stuff so beware! She passed along a piece of a her plant which has easily rooted in a pot on my porch. I find this plant to be easy to grow-so far. So, with the help of my friends I will become a well rounded gardener-even with some new houseplants.

Has anyone else ever seen this plant before? Which type of plants do you all prefer-open ended question I know! Some people are going to think the only type of plant they prefer is a rubber one! Me too sometimes truth be told! Many people love houseplants and not the outside plants. I met one woman who has 48 houseplants she tends to and loves year round! When I told her I wasn't fond of houseplants, she was a bit aghast, but kindly forgave me for my love of outside-don't have to move around plants!
in the garden....

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Simple Idea for a Garden Pond-A Free Bathtub

Ok, if you have been reading this blog all along, you know I love the different, the very inexpensive, the free, and I love whimsy! This next idea will not fit into everyone's garden but you never know. If you are wanting a water feature why not try a tub pond? Someone advertised a "Free Cast Iron Bathtub" in the Leaf Chronicle. Mr. Fix-it was nice enough to go and pick it up for me in his lightweight truck. I thought it would be a clawfoot bathtub, but it is not. Oh well. I am glad Mr. Fix-it chose to bring it home anyhow.

It took quite a while to figure out how to close off the drain and overflow holes, but with help from Kenny Pipes on Wilma Rudolph, we finally were able to close these holes. The decoy ducks floating in the pond were a great find at a flea market on Dover Road. I think it was Queen City Flea Market. I have about 20 of them and have used them in my garden. Plastic is good for lawn decorations because it doesn't rot and is maintenance free. The ducks also grace my potting bench and add a lot of charm to my garden.

I encircled the outside of the tub with broken concrete (free) and added some ferns. This batch of goldfish you see in the tub is my third set. They have lived in this tub for almost 18 months. I really had a hard time getting the balance right in the small tub, but once I did, the tub pond maintenance is almost non-existent. You can see how clear the water is now, but it took about a year to get it right. Mr. Fix-it said, "Get a pond test kit then you will know what is wrong." Makes sense. So I did. Turns out all the pond needed to get adjusted was a few fish and some aquarium salt. Aquarium salt is like a wonder potion for ponds and that is all I have used in my pond whenever it looks like it is getting out of whack. The only maintenance I only have to do is rinse the filter off once a week or so.

My family and I feed these seven fish once daily. We all love to do it as the fish are really interactive. They immediately come up to the surface to feed and we are able to pet them. It is especially fun to watch the fish eat mosquitos that venture too close to their domain.

So, if you are into the different, the free and the whimsical, why not try a small pond? Let your imagination and close at hand resources guide your vision.

in the garden....

Friday, October 26, 2007

Hatching Wrens

Here are some pictures of birds in the garden Skeeter shared and I thought you all might like to peek in at the newly hatched wrens all the way through the fledgling stage. It is a common tale that if you handle newborn baby birds then the mother will abandon her nest and babies. This is simply not true. I have researched my birding book and found only certain types of waterfowl will possibly abandon their nests if they are disturbed. The types of birds we will find in our backyards (titmouse, sparrows, cardinals, finches, wrens, bluebirds, blue jays, mockingbirds, chickadees and robins to name a few) will NOT abandon their nests and babies. I have found some parents to be very tolerant of observers and handlers of their baby birds. Other parents-notably robins, mockingbirds and blue jays will let you know in a not so nice way they are not happy with the interruption but they will not abandon their young. Seeing and holding a baby bird is a gift from Mother Nature that children will never forget and is a great way to share in gardening.

What kinds of birds have you all found nesting in your garden and which is your favorite bird? Let me know which is your favorite bird and why and we will conduct an informal straw poll. My vote is for chickadees because they have such big personalities, always on the move and are always scolding you! My next would be hummingbirds because they are also always chattering to themselves when they feed-does anyone know why?

in the garden....

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bluebirds and Their Families

My garden is considered a wildlife habitat because I provide the four essential components to attract wildlife; food, water, shelter and a place to raise young. Birds are my favorite and the most visible in the garden. BJ, my big golden retriever is very good at finding bird nests. He can hear the babies inside. He has led me to titmouse nests inside of fence poles and bluebird nests inside of birdhouses within reach of him. This was not a good thing for the bluebirds as BJ is a birddog.

I have several ornamental birdhouses which I never thought would become habitats for the birds, but nonetheless the birds have adopted them. Every year we have bluebirds nest in the yard in a birdhouse or two. The preferred bluebird houses have hinged lids for easy viewing and family and friends love watching the babies.

One family this year was quite fun to watch and track. Initially the nest had 5 eggs, then a week later there were only four babies, then in about another week all the babies but one were gone. Birds do not stay in the nest long. I was concerned about that one baby bluebird because the parents were no where around and with the other babies gone I worried he should also be gone. The next day the bird was still there with no sign of his parents. I decided we should help him. I took him out of the nest and Jimmy helped me to give him some water from a medicine dropper. He gladly drank as this time of summer (late July) was very hot and dry. I then put him back in the nest and hoped the parents would show up. No luck. Making sure the dogs were safely inside, I took the baby bluebird out of his house and dropped him to the ground to see if he could fly. He could, but just barely. I did this several times and with each time he was getting better at flying, then an amazing thing happened. The father bluebird showed up! He must have heard the baby bluebird chirping and appeared back on the scene. At that point, I left the baby in the father's able hands and have not seen him since. Before anyone protests my efforts let me just say this, a few years ago one baby bluebird did NOT make it out of the nest and I did not discover it until it was too late. I did not want the same fate to befall another baby bluebird. At first I thought the daddy bluebird (pictured above) abandoned his last baby in the nest. Now I realize that was not the case, I guess parents can only do so much to make their fledglings leave the nest at the right time! Sounds like some human parents I know too. Anyhow, this summer's crop of baby bluebirds had no mishaps and are safely doing their thing somewhere in the wild-hopefully in my garden.

in the garden....

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Allium senescens 'Glaucum'

In my horticulture class we are watching a series of videos on perennial plants. Jim, our instructor says most people take horticultural classes because they like flowers, so it makes sense to discuss flowers. A few years ago an acquaintance (Petra) gave me three types of plants. I was not familiar with any of them. I planted all three in my vegetable garden because I did not know what type of plants these were, and if they would be invasive. Since I have had to move my vegetable garden, I had to move the only surviving plant. I moved it out of a vegetable bed and to an edging ornamental garden still in the vegetable garden. I noticed the roots had onions growing on them, but still I was not sure of the type of plant. Finally, in that video Jim showed this plant was identified! It is Allium senescens 'Glaucum', aka swirling allium. I probably have an email somewhere identifying the plants Petra gave me, but it just didn't click. Sometimes that happens-hopefully not just to me! Like I said in my introduction, I learn something new every day. Imagine growing a plant for several years and not knowing what it is called!

Swirling allium looks good year round with grayish foliage that is low growing. It blooms August through October or even November. The drought had no effect on this plant and this allium combines well with other perennials in the garden. It should be used as an edging plant. The flowers are useful in flower arrangements. I highly recommend it. It can grow in light shade-which is a must for my garden. I was able to make several new plants out of this one clump. It will slowly spread and does not get as big as its more famous cousins-drumstick alliums and allium gigantum (both of which I have discussed before).

Those pass-a-long plants are sometimes the best plants and surprises!

in the garden....

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Vegetable Gardening

I have talked extensively about my vegetable garden, but it is not my only garden and not my favorite garden. I grow vegetables because I feel it is important to teach my family about exactly where food comes from and I enjoy eating and sharing the harvest with friends. I am mainly an ornamental gardener but the vegetable garden is a must for gardeners. I notice many gardeners are very gung-ho about the vegetable garden in the spring, then kind of let the garden go come mid-summer. Weeding and watering can be hard and do take commitment, but it is not difficult.

I will share some secrets of my vegetable garden. I promise you, in the summer the only thing I do in the vegetable garden is harvest veggies and water once per week. To grow vegetables with ease like this you have to change your way of thinking of vegetable gardens. Most people relate the traditional vegetable garden to rows of vegetables with walkways in between the crops. I feel this is such a waste of time, square feet and energy! It is, in my opinion, a very inefficient way to grow vegetables. Back in the eighties I got hooked on Organic Gardening magazines. One idea the magazine espoused was the French intensive method of gardening. The French intensive method is where you double dig beds. Double digging means removing one shovelful of soil, setting it aside, then turning the next shovelful of soil. When you have turned the lower shovelful of soil, you then replace the removed top soil. When done correctly, your bed will be be raised about 6-10 inches above the surrounding soil. The beds are to be no wider than 3-4 feet and as long as you like. The key is to be able to reach the center of each bed to weed or harvest WITHOUT stepping on the beds. Once the beds are complete you plant the crops closely together in a random pattern leaving just enough room between plants so that they can grow undisturbed by their neighbors but so that the leaves of the individual plants grow closely together, thereby providing a living mulch for the soil. I love this method and have used it exclusively in my garden.

I also like to companion plant. For instance, in the spring when I have garlic and lettuce growing, I am able to slip in cucumbers or tomato plants. By the time the garlic and lettuce are harvested, the tomatoes and cucumbers have taken over. I do spread some straw or dried leaves on the beds in the fall and under vining crops. The living mulch is sometimes not enough for me and the benefits natural mulches provide are immeasurable. Rotation of crops is very easy and simple. Just plant crops in beds they didn't grow in the season before!

Watering is also simple. These past few years I have used soaker hoses. Next year I am going to switch to drip irrigation. The soaker hoses don't last long and sometimes the flow is not as even as I'd like, so it is time for a change.

Weeding is almost non-existent because of mulch in the beds and mulch in the pathways. I have traditionally used straw mulch over 4-5 layers of newspapers. This mulch lasts all season and provides a nice footing for the gardener. I plan to install brick paths with landscape fabric under the bricks this year with my moving the veggie garden. Any weeds that do grow are easy to either hoe off or hand pull because the soil is so soft and fertile.

Now all I have to do is convince Mr. Fix-it and the kids to go pick, can and freeze the harvest! Try my ideas and see if they don't make your life in the vegetable garden easier!

in the garden....

Monday, October 22, 2007

Gardening in Iraq

I have been blessed to live in many different countries around the world courtesy of my Army career. Among them are: Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, and of course, the United States. I have visited many more and have always looked for gardens to visit while traveling. While in Iraq in 2003, all I thought about was going home to my family, and gardening. I was not looking for gardens to visit I can assure you. Most of Iraq looked like this picture above, but can you believe there are gardens in Iraq? I have not posted a picture because I want you to imagine fields of huge sunflowers growing in the sun in July. Arbors of grapes and rose bushes six feet high loaded with the most beautiful hybrid tea roses I have ever seen. All that sun and heat was very good for growing plants. I bet most people don't know this side of Iraq but there are (or were) gardens in Iraq.

According to some minor research on Iraq courtesy of, I found only 12 % of Iraq is arable. Arable means land that can be used for crops. I guess the northern part of Iraq, where I saw the sunflowers, roses and grapes was arable. I know the roses and grapes were not used for crops, but I am thinking the sunflowers were. For those of you from the west a field full of sunflowers is probably not all that special, but for this East Coast girl living in Iraq-a field full of sunflowers was heaven. Gardening transcends all boundaries.

in the garden....

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hedging Your Bets

A classmate of mine who works at a Nashville nursery said approximately 80% of the patrons of the nursery ask for hedging plants. People usually want to define borders, gain privacy or create a living fence. I love hedges myself and have a hedge on three of the four sides of my property. Home is a sanctuary, a place of peace and privacy; which for me is best defined by borders and hedges. So I thought I would post some information on hedging plants that work well here.

The first thing someone should consider prior to planting a hedge is if they want a formal or informal hedge. Formal hedges usually require pruning and would be all of one type of shrub. Formal hedges would be something like Buxus sempervirens, Common Boxwood. Common boxwood slowly grows to about 15 feet tall. Informal hedges would be mixed shrubs or shrubs that can be left to grow naturally with minimal fuss. An informal hedge would be a hedge of Hibiscus moscheutos, aka Perennial Rose of Sharon. I have seen many of these hedges in Clarksville and Woodlawn and they are quite attractive.

The second thing a homeowner should consider is if they want an evergreen hedge, deciduous or a a combination of both. Evergreen hedges would be something like Thuja occidentalis, aka Arborvitae. Arborvitae grow about 2-3 feet per year to a height of 10-15 feet. They do very well in my garden and make a good wildlife habitat. Deciduous hedges would be hedges that lose their leaves in the winter. Lonicera fragrantissima, aka Winter Honeysuckle would make a good deciduous hedge. Winter honeysuckle grow quickly to 8 feet or more. They bloom with fragrant flowers in the spring and then produce red berries the birds love, especially robins. A combination of evergreen and deciduous shrubs would make up the last type of hedge. This type of hedge is probably the easiest for home gardeners and leaves a lot of room to grow a multitude of shrubs.

A hedge can serve a few purposes, it can be a barrier, a screen or both. A barrier hedge would be a hedge of something like Berberis thunbergii, aka Japanese Barberry. Japanese barberry has sharp thorns and grows very densely to about 6 feet tall. It will prevent people or animals from passing through it if it is planted so that the plants touch one another. A screen can consist of something like Forsythia intermedia, aka Border Forsythia. A screen will not keep people and animals out but will hide a view. Border forsythia grow to about 10 feet tall and can make an attractive screen. A hedge that can be both a barrier and screen is something like Ilex cornuta, aka Chinese Holly. Chinese hollies grow to about 10 feet tall and can grow dense or open as desired. These hollies have leaves with spines that will prevent people and animals from crossing through.

As much as I love my arborvitae hedge, my favorite hedging plant is the Elaeagnus pungens,Elaeagnus umbella and Elaeagnus augustifolia, the silverberry is not invasive. It grows quickly in difficult conditions and tolerates wind very well. The silverberry is not for small properties or for small areas because it can grow to 15 feet high and will spread 10 feet or more. This shrub grows in sun or shade, is evergreen and has a very pretty leaf. The leaves are bluish green-gray, shiny on top and somewhat dull underneath. This time of year this shrub blooms with small insignificant flowers that have a huge fragrance. My entire one acre garden smells heavily of this shrub when it is in bloom as it is now. This shrub does grow in a rather willy nilly fashion putting out all kinds of shoots in wild directions, but the shoots can be handcut back and are a valued addition to flower arranging, as they last a long time when cut. I initially purchased my silverberry at Wal-Mart a few years ago. I tried many shrubs and found some were a hit or miss but this was definitely a HIT. When I decided to change my front border hedge from informal flowering shrubs to a solid evergreen shrub to block out street noise and provide privacy, I decided upon the silverberry. I called many nurseries but only found one locally which had enough on hand. That was The Garden Place on what is now known as Woodlawn Road here in Woodlawn. I bought the shrubs in two gallon pots about two feet high and planted them 10 feet on center. In only 18 months the shrubs have grown to about 4 feet high and and three feet wide. They will only grow faster as they get more established. Inside of these evergreens I planted all flowering shrubs off center. I am very pleased with the effect and the hedge has given me a large area with which to indulge my passion-plant collecting and gardening. aka Silverberry. Unlike the

in the garden....

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Shredded Bananas!

I promised myself I would not blog more than once per day, but this entry is going to be so short as to count as only .5 of a blog. OK? Here is a picture of my banana tree after the wild storm Thursday night. Banana leaves are notorious for shredding and should be planted in a sheltered position. I think it is kind of neat though-if you like the tropical look. It does not harm the banana tree and so there are no worries on the gardener's part! Another cool thing about bananas that I never knew until last year, is that after the first hard freeze this 10 foot tall tree disappears! It really is amazing how something so big can be taken down so fast. It does come back in the spring.

in the garden....

Garden Clubs

I have had a busy morning! The Clarksville Garden Club sponsored educational gardening seminars today, along with a plant sale. The picture at left shows some of my buys with the exception of the white mum, bagged plant to the right of the mum and the huge lantana. These three plants were gifts. The small bagged plant is Mexican heather, and the huge potted plant is lantana, both of which Skeeter gave me from her garden. Thanks Skeeter! The white mum was a door prize given away at the seminars this morning.

The Clarksville Garden Club is one of three garden clubs in Clarksville (to the best of my knowledge). The other two are Les Candides and the Beachhaven Garden Club. I am a member of the Beachhaven Garden Club. We are the only garden club that meets in the evening. I have been a member for three years now and have gained immeasureable knowledge about gardens and gardening friends who also attend monthly meetings. I have thoroughly enjoyed each and every meeting. Today's seminars sponsored by the Clarksville Garden Club included some local notables as follows: Jeremy Meyers on Landscaping with Native Trees and Shrubs, Karla Kean on Low Maintenance Landscaping, Jason Groppel on Where have the Honeybees Gone, and Byron Dumas on Orchids. All great subjects and presented very well. Garden clubs are different from the Master Gardener Association in that the master gardening program offers a lot of information in a relatively short period of time, then you have to volunteer hours back to the community. Garden clubs require no volunteer hours and provide more informational programs than instructional programs.

Garden clubs are always in search of new members and welcome everyone. As an enticement for people to attend, door prizes are sometimes raffled off. I am not one to win much of anything so when I finally found my ticket which had the winning number, I was overjoyed. Of course, even without door prizes I would attend meetings and programs but the door prizes help make it fun. It is sometimes very hard to make time to attend meetings (there is that TIME thing again), but well worth it. So why not get out in your community and join a garden club? Meet new friends and learn about all the varied aspects of gardening to boot!

in the garden....

Friday, October 19, 2007

What Do You Compost?

Composting is a great way to feed your soil and recycle at the same time. Every place I have lived I have had a compost bin, except in Germany. But in Germany you have to recycle biological waste anyhow. Mr. Fix-it actually built me a compost bin once. He mitered the corners and has never lived that one down. You see, compost bins are for containing rotting biodegradable waste. I compost most everything in my garden. Bread, leftovers, fruit rinds, leaves, dead birds, spent flowers, small sticks, fish, cheese, shellfish shells, coffee ground, tea bags, you name it. I don't actually put chicken bones or leftover meat in the compost pile, but if i have leftover tuna casserole, in the compost it goes. Now everything you hear about composting says not to compost meat and dead animals because you will attract rodents. Ok folks, what gardener doesn't already have rodents? The last time I checked mice like fresh fruit just as well as they like meat and cheese and fish and tuna! The rodents are already in your garden! I know some very plump chipmunks who live close to my compost bin. The cat is just not doing her job well in the backyard because the dogs live there. The only thing reason I can think of not putting meat in your compost bin is because meat may attract skunks and raccoons, neither of which I have a problem with. So if you think you might have problems with bigger pests then by all means, don't add the fish and leftovers. My point is everything that was once living and is organic is going to rot and decay. Put it in your compost bin and once it has cured in about one year, add the "Black Gold" to your soil to feed the soil and recycle at the same time.
The shrub above is Hydrangea paniculata 'Tardiva', aka as Tardiva Hydrangea. It is a beautiful carefree hydrangea which blooms late in the summer. Make sure you give it a lot of room as it will grow fairly quickly to about 8 feet tall and wide. It can take sun and is more drought tolerant than the big head hydrangeas but will still need to be watered occasionally.
in the garden....

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Soil Tests: Are They Beneficial?

Almost every gardening information lecture or class a person can take will recommend the first thing you should do is get a soil test. I have always been one of those gardeners who could not be bothered with pulling the soil, packaging and sending it off. I mean it even costs money too! I just wanted to dig in the soil and figured if plants were not doing well then they just needed more tender loving care. This was my mistake for many years. Don't let it be yours. I finally got around to pulling soil samples and packaging them up and sending them off to the University of Tennessee Soil, Plant and Pest Center in Nashville last summer after more than 30 years of gardening!

What an eye opener. I had five areas of my garden tested (garden consists of one acre of land). The areas were: vegetable garden, front lawn, back lawn, center front garden, and driveway garden. The results were a bit baffling and surprising. Baffling because soil test reports are hard to read and understand for the average lay person. Surprising because there was such a wide range of results from each area.

The results were good for the vegetable garden. The pH was perfect for vegetables at 7.2 and while phosphorous was a little high, it was acceptable, and potassium was perfect. I was not surprised because the vegetable garden gets the most amount of attention and the most 'food'. I feed this garden with compost from my huge utilitarian compost bins each year in the fall. That is my compost bin above. It is one of my great pleasures to clean out the vegetable garden by pulling the summers crop, turning the soil, adding a layer of compost and mulch and preparing for the next spring. Come spring I am all set to put in the tomatoes and seeds with very little effort on my part.

The other gardens are not so lucky to get compost each year because it is hard to make enough for my entire garden. The driveway garden started life as a driveway-full of gravel and who knows what else. Mr. Fix-it scraped out the gravel with a bobcat and moved it to the backyard. We then added trucked in soil. This garden is a challenging garden because it is under an oak tree on the eastside of the oak, so it does not get much sun at all. The soil test for this garden said the pH was 6.6 (perfect), phosphorous was low and potassium was fine. Not bad news.

The next garden I will talk about is the center garden. This garden was just 'made' last summer-the same time I took the soil sample. This garden is under oak trees and a pine tree. I had some oaks cut down in May and requested the tree cutter leave the chips right there in the middle of the yard. Over the summer they decayed ever so slightly. I then spread them all out, lined the edges of the new garden with broken concrete and had a truck full of soil brought in. I spread the soil over the oak chips, effectively creating a French drain and raising the soil level. I could not dig in this area because of the mature trees and I could not add too much soil for the same reason. The oak trees provide for air circulation and add much needed organic matter to this area. I was very interested in the soil test results from this garden. The pH was 6.0, phosphorous was low at 12, but potassium was off the scale at 320+. I called the nice people at the testing lab to ask why this was so. Remember, I had had this soil trucked in from a local trucking company. They claimed it came from a farmland. The soil testing personnel told me the soil was probably bottomland or from a farm that used a lot of fertilizer. They also said the excess potassium will not harm the plants (and I have found this to be true as the plants planted there have had more than one year to grow and are fine). What a relief.

The last two gardens were actually lawns. My entire garden is blessed with mature oak trees so the grass is challenged, to say the least. I have used synthetic fertilizers about once every other year for the past four years, I have also limed and I usually reseed every year with a good variety of tall fescue. I believe nicely maintained lawns set off the gardens and are important to the whole effect of gardens, so I spend mucho time on my lawn. The lawn was NON-EXISTENT when we moved in six years ago. The front lawn had the worst measures. The pH was a mere 4.9, phosphorous and potassium were both very low. Soluble salts measured 42. The back lawn had a pH of 5.2, and both phosphorous and potassium were OK. The soluble salts were 70. The soil test lab recommended I add 100 pounds of lime per 1000 square feet. That is a lot of lime and although I have added about 750 pounds, it is not enough. I plan to get the lawns retested before I add more. I added the lime last fall so it should have had time to take effect by now. Soluble salts were interesting to me because it is said that if you use synthetic fertilizers then soluble salts can build up in a lawn and harm them. Additionally, synthetic fertilizers can decrease the pH of your soil. I theorize this is the reason the lawns are so acidic. Lawn grasses need a pH of between 6-7 to do well.
You can be your own judge of whether or not a soil test is worth having. If your gardens are growing fine with minimal help then you probably don't need a soil test. But if you, like me and most gardeners, have problems with a specific type of weed or your grass and plants are not growing as well as you think they should be and you have met all cultural requirements, then you too should have your soil tested. I have found the trouble and expense well worth it. The local extension office will have small bags for the soil and instructions for mailing the soil. They will also send it in for you but it is far cheaper to send the samples in yourself. Everyone should have at least one soil test done on their property just to see where they are starting from and what they have to work with.

in the garden....

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Old Friends and Weepers

Got you intriqued yet? No, I am not going to talk about weeping friends! I was at the commissary today when I ran into an old and dear friend who is a fellow resident of Woodlawn. Tina (yes, her name is also Tina) and I go back a few years and we had a good time catching up.

Boy, I tell you the commissary is THE place to run into people you know and want to see! Anyhow, she reminded of the weeping redbud. This summer when Rural King had its big sale (which my friend Judy called to tell (warn) me about) they had this awesome redbud. This is known as Cercis canadensis 'Lavender Twist'. It is a neat little redbud that will only get about six feet tall and wide. She and I both bought this plant. She was smarter though and bought four (two of which she kindly gave to her neighbor). I am really looking forward to the springtime to see how it looks in bloom. Note the zig zagging tree trunk.

Friends and plants just seem to go together. Tina is a good gardener and I have been trying for years to get her to come to my garden club. Garden clubs are all about friends and plants, but Tina is one of those people who doesn't have a lot of time. I do understand. For now I guess we can just catch up as it happens along the way!

in the garden....


Hi Brandi. Thanks for your email. I am answering you in the blog because others might be interested in your question. Thanks for reading the blog. Brandi asks what kind of ivy I would recommend she plant on her house. I can tell you I would NEVER recommend planting ivy. Ivy is extremely invasive and hard to eradicate once it is established. Think twice before planting it.

Here is a link explaining the problems with ivy. I have never grown ivy because I learned a long time ago I did not want to deal with its invasiveness. I am sorry to all of you ivy growers but this is my story-and I am sticking to it!

Ivy just is not a good plant and I wouldn't even plant it in the furthest corner of my yard. I will offer you an alternative though. If you want something to grow up the side of your house, and chicken wire is good to guide vines, why not grow a Clematis. A friend of mine has some beautiful purple ones growing up her house on a wire. Clematis does not grab like ivy, blooms and is easy to remove if you change your mind later. You do have to guide Clematis, but it is only a once or twice yearly thing. The only drawback is that it is not evergreen like ivy. BUT, the stems remain and clematis has great seedheads which look attractive. Here are a few pictures of clematis in my garden. The first picture is of the vines (four of different varieties) growing on an arbor entering my backyard, and one of the attractive seedheads on the same arbor. The seedheads hang around for a long time, they are persistent.

Hope this helps and does not disappoint you too much. If you do decide to plant ivy expect to be pruning very regularly to keep it in check. I have a few friends who grow ivy in their yard and one who has it on her house. While it is beautiful it is just too invasive and has a habit of getting out of control. The local stores have many types and the variegated variety is attractive but again, I do not recommending planting it ever.

in the garden....

What's Up with Time Anyhow?

I often hear people say they want to garden but don't have enough time. I will NOT say you don't need time to garden because you certainly do. You notice though, people don't say they don't have time, they just say they don't have ENOUGH time. So here is the key to gardening and time-manage your time wisely and garden within the limits of your time.

Duh! Right? Sounds so easy but I do know it is NOT easy managing time. Even if I didn't passionately garden and spend most of my free time in the garden, I would still have difficulty managing time. We are only given such a limited amount that each and every day has to count but you can garden in some way if you wish to-despite time limits. My gardens actually require less time than one would think. I walk through them in the morning and evening. On my passes I pull weeds, prune and whatever else that needs to be done. I have a lot of gardens so these walks take me about 15-30 minutes. Less than an hour a day. The gardens are much LESS time and maintenance than the lawn. As much as I love grass, my goal is to minimize it because of all the time, money and maintenance-just think mowing! Yuck!

Oftentimes the off putting factor preventing people from committing to gardening is the upkeep of the garden. It does require a long-term commitment and sometimes we don't want to commit. That is OK. If you still want to garden or like to garden indulge your desires with reading gardening magazines, or houseplants. I can assure you, neither will require much weeding!

Even houseplants require a commitment-you do occasionally have to water them. I have a secret, I HATE watering houseplants. I grew up in a home where my mother had tons of houseplants in every window of the house and on every flat surface. She grew the most beautiful houseplants and so I do grow houseplants because of these memories. The good thing about my houseplants is I can move them outside in the summer. I don't have to go and buy those standard ferns everyone seems to want to hang on their porches each spring. Why not try houseplants and be different from your neighbors? You save time because you don't have to go and buy the ferns-but you still do have to water. I can't help you there. That being said I do love ferns. Here is a secret I have learned. If you grow the Boston ferns and their cousins, instead of bringing them into the house where they drop leaves all over the place, put them in your crawlspace if you have one. Come spring (not before big freezes please), remove them and it is usually like they were just put under. Mine are still green and intact. I have wintered my ferns over in this way for six years. See, saved you some time and money!

Anyhow, gardening is a hobby which takes time but with creative use of your time and honest evaluation of your capabilities and desires anyone can find the time to garden.

The picture above is of another type of my favorite plant, the eupatoriums. I already discussed the chocolate eupatoriums. This is Eupatorium purpureum, aka Joe Pye Weed. It grows to about 6 feet in my garden and blooms in the fall. It is a butterfly magnet and I love this picture. I have sometimes seen the 'Gateway' variety of Joe Pye in stores down here but they are more common up north. Don't let that fool you, Joe Pye grows great here in Tennessee and grows wild in the mountains. It is a wonderful plant which I think is much underused. I got mine from mail order catalogs and I also handcarried plants down from Maine. I thought at first it did not take until one day the weeds got a head of me and the "Joe Pye Weed" bloomed! Apparently I had been pulling the Joe Pyes, so beware when weeding.

in the garden....

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Found a Home for the Millstone Like Stones

Re-working the vegetable garden enabled me to find a home for the round stones similar to millstones. In the middle of my garden is a huge banana. Yes, I said banana. Unknown to many people there is a hardy banana we here in middle-Tennessee can easily grow. It is Musa bajoo. I bought mine at the University of Tennessee Summer Celebration in Jackson last summer. But just this summer I saw some Musa bajoos for sale at Rural King during their big summer sale, so you can find it locally as well. Despite the late frost of this April, this banana has grown and thrived. I now have five little banana trees growing around the initial planting. The tree is over 10 feet tall and still putting out new leaves! Needless to say it is a focal point in my vegetable garden. I had to plant it in the vegetable garden because the vegetable garden gets the most sun and I knew it would grow best with sun. Since I moved the vegetable garden over and since this plant is so large I wanted to make it the focal point and center of the garden. I placed the millstones around the bananas creating a seven foot raised bed circle to hopefully control the bananas. I was amazed that six feet away from the bananas I was digging into banana roots. These bananas are quite hardy and vigorous! There will be a garden bed both to the left and right of the banana circle, and three more raised beds to the south of the bananas. The bananas will shade the vegetables somewhat during the summer which is OK with me. During the very hot and bright days of summer I think vegetables can stand some shade-I know the gardener wants shade when she is picking vegetables.

The beds will eventually be enclosed with pressure treated lumber and the pathways between the six beds will be bricked in with old bricks. The garden will be very formal and user friendly. I have made the pathways much larger in this new and improved garden than in the old vegetable garden. We found the vegetables tend to take over the pathways and surrounding areas if left alone. While the effect was lush and full, I did not like having to step over pumpkin vines and dodging errant flower blooms. I will keep you posted on the progress.

in the garden....

Perennial Plant Society and Cheekwood Botanical Gardens

Being a passionate gardener and one who wants to continually learn, I have discovered a good learning resource and great networking society right here in middle Tennessee. It is the Perennial Plant Society (PPS). I was at a local nursery one day when the owner (Karen) suggested I join the PPS and she gave me an application (above). I have been a member for over three years now and have gained invaluable knowledge and a great variety of plants for my garden.

The society meets every third Tuesday at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens in Nashville (Except for December and June). Social hour begins at 6:30 pm and the actual meeting starts at 7:00 pm. Programs vary from subjects as diverse as camelias in the garden to hardscaping. Nationally known speakers come from all over the country to speak at these meetings. To mention just a few: Carol Reese from Jackson, Tennessee and Felder Rushing (featured in Southern Living Magazine). The speakers are always very informative and usually witty. Members of the society number over 200 and the meetings have excellent attendance each month. As an added bonus, members bring plants to swap each meeting. Some gems I have gained for my garden include: Red Hot Pokers, Colombines, Fairy Rose and Sweet Autumn Clematis. I think as of now only two members of the PPS are from Clarksville, that is my friend Gerrianne and myself. The reason may be because it is a long way to drive and perhaps not enough people in Clarksville know about this society. I am including a copy of the membership application if anyone is interested in joining. Membership dues are $15 per year and this is a real bargain for the monthly speaking programs, plant swaps, garden tours and annual plant sale.

This month's speaker is Karen Angelucci, author of Secrets of Tennessee Gardening (A 12 month road map to gardening success). The meeting is Tuesday, October 16th at Cheekwood so come and visit.

While talking about PPS I would be negligent in not mentioning Cheekwood. Cheekwood is a local treasure we here in Clarksville have easy access to. Cheekwood also offers a 50% discount to military families so the entry fee is very minimal. One can easily spend several hours touring the grounds and gardens, not to mention the mansion which is open to the public. Here is a picture of Jimmy on one of the porticos sitting next to a Wisteria vine. Note the girth on this wisteria! It was beautiful and I sure would like to see it in bloom next spring. We shall see. Cheekwood is host to a number of societies and information can be found on their website. Additionally, each year Cheekwood features a "kid exhibit". One year it was mazes and another birdhouses. I think it is fairytale settings this year. Check it out!

in the garden....

What You Don't Want to See in Your Birdhouses!

I have heard of snakes taking up residence in birdhouses but have never seen it. Skeeter has and has the picture to prove it! I think no birds would stand a chance of surviving should they decide this is where they want to make their home! Do you suppose the rat snake had dinner in mind when it took up residence here?

in the garden....

Fall Decorating Season

It is that time of the year-time to decorate for the upcoming holiday seasons. Halloween is my favorite holiday and I usually go all out on decorating but I am not sure if I will this year. A few years ago I had one young trick or treater who came by the house. He must have been about 10-11 and he remarked, "Gosh it must have taken you forever to do all this!" I thought what a thoughtful boy he was to think in this way and explained it really didn't take me all that long because I usually put a little out at a time over a period of time. Works best for me. So far this year I only have one pumpkin from my garden on display. I was lucky to get that pumpkin too! I will add more slowly-lots of color. I am from the northeast where the winter season is a colorless season, so we yankees try to get all the color we can from lights and decorations to add color during the winter holidays.

Anyhow, Skeeter sent me a picture of her lovely decorations for fall and says all of her neighbors enjoy the display. I like it too as it is friendly-with the exception of the crows who look a bit sinister. Taking the time to decorate one's home for the holidays says a lot about who we are as people and how we feel about our community. I love all the decorations I see around town and appreciate everyone's creativity in crafting such unique and different displays. I think the Clarksville Real Estate Association should have a "Best Decorations for Halloween" Contest like they do for Christmas. By the way, a house nearly across the street from my home won the Best Christmas Decorations Contest last Christmas for the county. It was a beautiful display.
So get out there and decorate your home and garden and put to good use the bounty you have harvested from your garden (or other gardens) and take pride in your creativity for all to enjoy!

in the garden....

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Blue Tailed Skinks and Other Wildlife

I am making super progress on remaking my vegetable garden. By the end of today I should be back to I was when I began the project-complete vegetable garden with finished beds. Moving the vegetable garden has required moving railroad ties. These ties have seen better days as they have been in the garden for a very long time, but they still serve the purpose of identifying the boundaries of the garden. While moving the ties I came across some interesting wildlife. Under one tucked into some nooks were three of the largest slugs I have ever seen. I will leave their fate up to your imagination. I also came across a brown snake about two feet long. He slithered off none the worse for the disturbance.

By far, the wildlife I ran into the most was the blue tailed skink. I never knew much about these little lizards so I thought I would research them. They are very common and feed on crickets, spiders and even moths. They are a gardener's friend and I left them alone for the most part. But finally, after seeing my sixth skink I came across a small one I thought would be easy to catch to show to Jimmy. Catch him I did and was quite proud of myself. I am not very brave when it comes to catching strange critters I know nothing about. He felt really smooth and not slimy at all. I was carrying him toward the house to proudly show my son when he bit me! Needless to say he landed on the ground-unscathed as he scampered off. The bite did not hurt as I don't even think he had teeth. The bite just suprised me. It really was kind of funny. I will not mess with skinks anymore and Jimmy will have to find them on his own.

Another run in with a lizard occurred a few years ago. I was shoveling compost out of my compost bin when I spotted a black lizard with light orange-yellow spots. At first I thought it was a snake and was startled. I gently placed the lizard in a deep wheelbarrow to save him until Jimmy got home from school. The first thing Jimmy did was pick it up and hold it! It was a good thing this critter did not bite! I think we have identified it as a Spotted Salamander. Spotted salamanders eat earthworms, insects and mollusks. They live most of their lives on land and return to ponds for breeding. I guess this little amphibian found a good home in my compost pile which is full of its preferred diet. We let him go back in the compost and hope he is living a happy life somewhere in the garden. I have not seen another spotted salamander since this one visited.

While outside yesterday I kept hearing a knocking sound and knew a woodpecker was close by. I walked out front and found a downy woodpecker pecking on a bird house. It seemed like she was trying to enlarge the hole and my presence didn't bother her much at all. She would just move around to the other side of the birdhouse as I got closer. I encourage all birds in my garden. They are gardeners friends because they eat the insects. I once had a pileated woodpecker pecking on the side of my vinyl house. I am not sure what his problem was as I know there are no insects in vinyl siding!

in the garden....

Thursday, October 11, 2007

What Kind of Bulbs to Plant?

From now until about the end of November is prime time to plant bulbs for spring color. I love planting bulbs and have probably planted about 5000 bulbs here at my home. The picture is just a small sampling of some. I thought now might be an opportune time to share some ideas and tips for bulb planting that I have learned in my garden as just yesterday I planted 100 more! I finally did get those Red Hot Pokers moved and my center garden extended. Extending this garden provided me a perfect spot for 100 Allium sphaerocephalon, aka Drumstick Alliums. These bulbs are ideal. I have grown them for a few years now and they have never failed to satisfy me. The bulbs need full sun in well drained soil and will grow straight up to about 24-30 inches. At the end of the stem is a purple-pink group of small flowers that are tightly bunched. So tightly bunched together that the flower looks like a drumstick, hence the name.
My favorite bulbs by far are known collectively as Grape Hyacinths. These bulbs are small and inexpensive. They are quite commonly found and easy to plant. This time of the year the bulbs put up green leaves in preparation for their spring bloom. My daughter called me in a panic one year, "My grape hyacinths are growing and it is only October!" I told her not to worry that this was normal. She has had an awesome display of hyacinths at her home in Kentucky and is an excellent gardener who has taught me a few things. Voles and mice are not attracted to these bulbs. Springtime brings a multitude of usually blue blooms that look like clusters of grapes, hence the name. After the bloom fades the dried flower leaves an interesting silhouette and persists for some time. Grape Hyacinths look super with the yellows and whites of Daffodils. I found a cool type last year that is called Muscari armeniacum 'Blue Spike'. It is a larger type and the blue 'grapes' are shredded. It makes quite a statement in my garden. I always like to try the new and unusual and if you do too, then look for this variety.

Daffodils, botanically known as Narcissus are a delightful flowering bulb for growing here. Most people around here call them Buttercups. Voles and mice do not bother these bulbs and they are very easy to grow. Daffodils come in a multitude of colors and types. Some of the common types are: large cupped like 'Ice Follies', doubles such as 'Cheerfulness', and minatures such as 'Tete a Tete' to name just a few. I love these bulbs and have many as you can see in the background of the above picture. Tete a Tete and Ice Follies are my favorites. I like Tete a Tete because it is small, spreads easily and makes a bright sunny appearance en masse. Ice Follies are just a little different from the standard yellow daffodils as they have white outer petals.
Probably the most famous spring bulb of all are tulips. I have a love/hate relationship with tulips. Two years ago I went to the library and specifically researched tulips. I wanted to know which type would perennialize best, as tulips are notorious for not lasting long in gardens. I have been to the famous gardens Keukenhof in Amsterdam Holland and knew I just HAD to have tulips, but did not want to have to buy and plant them each year. My research said Darwin Hybrid tulips and the Apledoorn type tulips would perennialize best. I dutifully ordered and planted several hundred of these tulips, including the ones you see in the picture. The first year (last year) they all came up and bloomed beautifully, but this year all but about 40 were a no show. I was disappointed and was beginning to think my friend Nancy, who orders and plants beautiful tulip bulbs each year was right when she said, "It just isn't worth trying to keep the bulbs as they don't come back reliably." Not to be defeated though, I perused all of the bulb catalogs and did some more research. I theorized the 'species' type tulips would be better at returning each year than the hybrids. So, this is what I ordered and will plant this year. I will let you know the results in two years and that will come before you know it!
As a caveat to tulips, some of the bulbs I planted back in 2002 which had never bloomed, bloomed in 2006! They bloomed in a big way but did not come back this year. While digging in the garden I recently ran into some of my tulip bulbs. The bulbs were all intact but small. I replanted them and hope they will suprise me in a future year. I also plant my tulip bulbs in a chicken wire cage because the chipmunks, voles and moles love to eat tulips.

When planting bulbs plan for staggered bloom times. Most bulb packages will say early, mid or late spring for bloom times. Try to grab some of each. Also, bulbs work best when massed and planted in groups. Try not to line them up like little soldiers marching past. You will like the result better. I like groups of 10 or more situated close together. The alliums I planted yesterday are intermingled among mums, sedums and the red hots. All 100 are in one bed in a random pattern.
Another Allium I planted this fall is Allium 'Globemaster'. This allium forms a huge purple sphere almost three feet above the ground. The stems are bare so it is best to plant this allium and most alliums amongst perennials which can give the stems some interest at their bases. I have planted 27 of these in two groups in the front. 18 are in my foundation planting and another nine in a kidney bean shaped garden just on the other side of the sidewalk close to the foundation bed. These alliums last really long in the garden and I just couldn't take my eyes off from mine in the backyard this spring. Not sure if they will come back reliably because this is the only the first year I have grown them but I am confident they will. I had tried the Allium 'Gladiator' and found that particular variety to be disappointing so I am sticking with 'Globemaster'. Not all of the 'Gladiator' bulbs I planted bloomed and they did not come back after the first year. It might because they didn't get enough sun. Not sure of the problem.
Behind the tulips in the above picture are Nandina domestica 'FirePower', and behind the nandina are Euonymous microphyla. These two shrubs along with the 'Emerald Green' arborvitae form the backbone of this side of my foundation planting. I usually plant seasonal plants where the tulips are but have just this month changed this garden over to perennials with a small space for annuals and the lantana I will be growing here next year. Initially when I moved in six years ago the foundation plantings consisted of the usual overgrown boxwood. Those boxwoods came out and found a new home in the back where they can grow without the pain of my having to prune them regularly. I do NOT like to shear shrubs and try to reduce my maintanance by purchasing and planting shrubs that will not have to be sheared regularly. These two shrubs will not grow larger than 3 feet and only require the occasional hand pruning which I LOVE to do. The euonymus look like tiny boxwood and the nandina has year round interest because the color changes regularly. In fall, winter and spring the foliage is red, then when new growth comes in it is a chartreuse slowly darkening as the summer wears on. The voles ate a good portion of the roots of these nandinas last spring but I managed to save them and hope I don't have this problem again this spring.
in the garden....

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Night Fragrant Plants

I want to talk about fragrant plants. My good friend Gerrianne loves fragrant plants. She always plants them near her swimming pool so she can enjoy them while she is swimming (usually at night). I think many people pick plants based on fragrance so I will share a few. The night fragrant plants are that way so they can attract night flying pollinators. The butterflies and bees are not flying at night, but moths and beetles are so each flower has a scent distinctive enough to attract these pollinators.

The first one (I have spoken about before), is Brugmansia versicolor, aka Angels Trumpets. It is the picture with a multitude of orange trumpet shaped flowers hanging down on it. It requires full sun, good drainage and if possible, should be sheltered from strong winds. It is not reliably hardy here but I am going to give it a try with mine. I think it will resprout from the roots. The scent is strong and comes out strongest at night.

The second plant is also in the Brugmansia family. It is Datura stramonium, aka Night Blooming Jimsonweed. It is the picture of the big white flower. Some people call it Moonvine but it is not a vine and the commonly called Moon Flower is actually Ipomoea alba. This vine has a flower that looks just like the Night Blooming Jimsonweed but it grows in a vine form and is also fragrant at night. Moonflowers are also a Southern Heritage plant. I do not have a picture of the moonflower because I did not grow it this year. I did grow it one year and it was easy to grow, though it wasn't until August when it finally took off. The picture of the white flower is the Jimsonweed. This flower gets a spiny fruit on it which when ripe, splits open and releases a multitude of seeds. If you plant this plant you can expect it to reseed as it is not hardy here. I took seeds to class two weeks ago and one classmate, Lindsey, said her parents and all of their neighbors were going to plant the Jimsonweed along a rock wall lining the back of their properties. What a good idea to share them around! The Jimsonweed and Moonflower take the same conditions as the Angel Trumpets.

Another night fragrant plant is one many local farmers will recognize. It is Nicotiana sylvestis, aka Flowering Tobacco. The picture of the white tubular flower is Flowering Tobacco. This is a great plant and I grow it every year. It is not considered hardy here but mine usually come back from the roots with no problem. Flowering Tobacco is a Southern Heritage plant. Flowering Tobacco likes part shade and regular moisture. The seeds form in small shells on the flower stalks and there are literally millions of them because they are so tiny. They are very easy to germinate in the house. Just sprinkle them on a tray and I promise you, every single one will germinate. Then you can easily prick them apart and spread them around. They do not suffer from this.

The last flower which is night fragrant is Mirablilis jalapa, aka Four O'Clocks. I received my yellow ones at a Perennial Plant Society meeting three years ago and I can say I love them! It is hard to see them in the picture but if you look real close you will see a few yellow flowers open on the plants. They are also a Southern Heritage plant. Four O'Clocks spread very effectively though I would not say aggressively. Mine are in a front border and have spread to about a 6 x 6 area. I can easily pull the seedlings out in the spring if they go too far. Warning, if the plants get established they can be difficult to eradicate because of a tuber the plant forms. So plant them where they can spread a little and you will be rewarded with a solid mass of flowers and foliage that says looking good all season-even this season. Four O'Clocks are not picky about growing conditions and will take part shade and good soil. They come in other colors and I have seen some dark pink stands around town. My goal next year is to get some dark pink ones. Anyone want to share some seeds in exchange for yellow seeds? Just kidding, I found some already.

One last plant I need to mention is actually a shrub. It is Cestrum nocturnum, aka Night Blooming Jasmine. My friend Phil gave me a cutting of his in the middle of August last summer. I did not have much hope it would take but it amazingly did. This spring I planted it out in the garden and it is now about 3 x 3 and is in its second bloom. This plant's flower is not showy but the fragrance at night is said to be heavenly. The upright picture is a picture of this shrub. It needs full sun and is not picky about moisture. Phil has his planted under a bedroom window in a foundation garden. Mine has not gifted me with the fragrance as of yet, but after researching the plant I have found it may take more than one year for the fragrance to come out so be patient.

I did not get my Red Hots moved yesterday-maybe today. So I have to get in the garden....

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Big Work-Little Time or Patience

For those who have been reading along, you will find I really like to write. I can probably write four posts a day for the next year about gardening and never touch upon the same subject twice. Gardening is a multi-faceted project that involves many intricate little machines spinning around to make the whole machine work well. Kind of like dominoes, when one falls it starts a chain reaction. This is what happened to me this weekend. Mr. Fix-it is a collector of cars while I am a collector of plants. We try very hard to share real estate keeping the needs of each other foremost in our minds. Well, I have this big vegetable garden which is probably the crown jewel in my garden. I take it very seriously.

The vegetable garden just happens to be close to his garage which had not been a huge problem until this weekend. This weekend Mr. Fix-it purchased a 30 foot long trailer in which he can haul cars and store excess parts. Getting it in the backyard was an ordeal. I had already decided to move the vegetable garden when this trailer entered the picture. Now the need was here right away.

The part of the vegetable garden which was causing the most pain was the southwest corner and was, in my defense, already in place when we moved here six years ago. Mr. Fix-it's idea was to move the entire garden over to the north about 5 or 10 feet. Here come the dominoes. In order to move it, the cemented 4x4 fence posts have to be relocated, the railroad ties, the plants (still in full season as you can see from the picture) and the beds. This is just the moving. Prior to moving I remove all of the sod from the new area and deposit it in the old area, then I double dig the beds. This would not be difficult if it weren't for a catch 22, the sod has no place to go because the intended area is built up with perfect soil to the tune of at least a pick up truck full and of course the soil has no where to go because it's intended location is full of sod!

All of this frustrates me because when I get it in my mind something is going to happen in the garden, it needs to happen now! It is very hard for me to be patient and to work a little at a time but that is what I must do. I know in the long run it will all work out and I will not have to do it again. I have worked on this challenge all weekend and have cleared the side Mr. Fix-it needs for his cars, repositioned the railroad ties and cold frame (the structure standing on its edge in the first picture) and moved some sod. It is a good start. Today I have to dig an extension to the perennial border directly to the right of the vegetable garden, move the Kniphofia uvarias, aka Red Hot Pokers (received from Susan-a fellow freecycler) from the vegetable bed to this garden, outline an area for the new banana garden (it will be in the center of the vegetable garden and bordered by the round millstones), then lay out the rest of the beds. I am realistic and understand I will not achieve all of this today and that is ok. (I guess it has to be) I will keep plugging along and try to right all of those dominoes that keep putting into motion new ideas and needs. I will keep you all posted. My introduction was very on it when it said I am working on expanding my gardens-this all takes a lot of time. By the way, all of this work is done by hand. I do have a tiller but refuse to use it. I will explain more on that later. Big work-little time or patience on my part.

in the garden....

Dogs Who Love to Garden-With a Ball

I have briefly mentioned my pets before, but when BJ and CeCe were under my feet this weekend while I was busy working in the garden, the opportunity presented itself to get this great photo. BJ is the big dog with the tennis ball in his mouth. He is my gardening buddy. Whereever I am and whatever hole I am digging he is there to pester me to toss his ball. It can be sooooo irritating at times I have to hide his ball while I am working. He is a smart dog though, as he always drops the ball right in the hole I am digging so I HAVE to pick it out-so I might as well throw it for him. I think that is positive reinforcement and is not good if you are trying to break a habit. Oh well, the rewards he gives me are more than enough payment for me throwing the stupid ball.

CeCe is always just there. She usually likes eating the plants and has destroyed more than a few expensive plants. Plants like camellias which are said to be poisonous to dogs. They don't actually eat them but just kind of swing them around and destroy them, maybe that is why they have never gotten sick. I am more careful with my new plants now. Both dogs came from Animal Control and have been wonderful pets. I have actually met BJ's old owner. He had to repair an appliance in my home and realized BJ was his old dog who had coincidentally jumped out of his truck the same month I adopted BJ. Small world. Of course, he didn't get BJ back.

in the garden....

Saturday, October 6, 2007


Trees. The word for me just conjures up pleasant visions. I remember lying back on the cool green grass under an azure blue sky with just the right amount of fluffy white clouds floating by as a child. (I sometimes still do this!) I am blessed with many trees in my yard and I have also planted many more. In fact, I love trees so much that I signed up for and completed Clarksville's Citizen Forester class last year. The class consisted of forty hours of instruction in basic care, identification, use and importance of trees. After completing the class all participants were then required to donate 25 hours of volunteer work in order to receive their certification from the state. Karla, the City Forester at the time, conducted the class and did a super job.

Well, today I got to use some of my knowledge while volunteering for a short period at Clarksville's Department of Electricity Expo. Dottie, the Clarksville Tree Board Chairman had a nicely set up display booth talking about the importance of trees, planting the right tree in the right spot, and why topping is very bad for trees. I was heartened to see how many people really care about trees! One woman said she had at one time had a tree topped on her property and she didn't understand at the time that was a bad thing for the tree. She said she wouldn't do it again and asked how to maintain trees. This is a hard question to answer. All trees need maintenance to some extent but people do not realize this fact. Selective pruning in accordance with standards set by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) is a good place to start. If a limb or a tree seems like it is going to fall on a 'target' (house, shed, roadway, fence, people), then it should be evaluated for a best remedy by a qualified arborist. Clarksville residents have a great resource in their City Forester, Jeremy. He would be the best place to start with any questions you have about trees and has a super column in the Leaf Chronicle on Thursdays. Many cities have foresters, and those of us in the county can gain help from the extension agents or even Citizen Foresters.

Another important fact about trees is that some studies have shown they can increase a home's value by as much as 10%! This does not even factor into account the energy cost savings trees can provide in the form of shade and evaporative cooling in the atmosphere.

Developers and utility companies as well as the general public are just now beginning to understand the importance of trees and are implementing ISA standards for care. I will talk more on good trees for planting in this area and some of the effects the drought has had on trees (as if you couldn't notice already) in a later entry. For now, I just want to say the next time you are hot and seeking shade under a tree; look up and appreciate that tree for the great thing it is and the many benefits it provides to society. Right tree-Right place!

in the garden....

Plant Combinations

It might be hard to see, but this plant combination contains Eupatorium rugosa 'Chocolate' (the white flowered plant on the left), and Chrysanthemum morifolium, aka mums. The white with the dark red makes a stunning combination and I might think of adding Perovskia atriplicifolia, aka Russian Sage, to the duo next year in order to make a red, white and blue combination.

Eupatoriums are extremely easy to grow and one of my favorite groups of plants. They belong to the family Asteraceae, aka Asters, which are usually in bloom this time of year. This family is responsible for most of the fall coloring on the side of roads this year. Colors range from purple to lavender to white and so on. When this Chocolate eupatorium begins growing in the spring the foliage is purple. Visitors to my garden often mistake it as the wild basil, Perilla frutescens. Wild basil is one plant I will NEVER plant in my garden as wild basil is wildly invasive and very hard to get rid of once established. I have only met gardeners who have regretted planting it. I once was the recipient of this wild basil back in the 80s when my aunt kindly gave it to me. What a mistake! Beware of kind gardeners who give you plants and always know what you are planting BEFORE planting it.

The second picture is also of Chocolate Eupatorium and a wonderful rose, 'The Fairy'. The Fairy is a low grower which blooms all season with a multitude of small pink flowers. This rose requires no spraying or special care in my garden. It will grow to about 3-4 feet by 3-4 feet, which is about the size the Chocolate eupatorium will grow to as well. All of these plants grow in part sun. The Chocolate eupatorium will self seed, but in my garden the seedlings are no problem and easy to pull if I do not want them (never happened as I always want them). I take cuttings of garden mums each summer and grow my own mums. Mums usually come back each year in Tennessee but be sure to plant your mums out by mid-October to allow for them to establish their root systems prior to the really cold weather. It also helps if mums are planted in good well drained soil. I have lost a few over the years.

Garden season is not over so continue to think about what plants you might like around you. It is easy to garden year round here in Tennessee and the stores make it simple by providing in season flowers-just pick and plant-but research first or at least have a general understanding of the plant.

Tonight is the next to the last "Jazz on the Lawn" at Beachaven Winery. Be sure to partake of the wonderful weather and come out tonight and enjoy life.
in the garden....