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  • Garden events in Middle Tennessee

    Now – April 27: Cheekwood in Bloom festival, six weeks of family-friendly activities – garden tours, live music, interactive programs and more – and showcasing 100,000 brilliantly colored tulips set to bloom across the grounds in early April. Complete schedule of activities at cheekwood.org.

    Every Saturday now – May 31: Volunteer to help weed, plant, harvest and care for the Unity in DiversityPeaceGarden, a learning garden on the campus of Scarritt-Bennett designed to cultivate conversations about diversity and sustainability issues, and to foster individual and collective action. 1 – 3 p.m.; bring water, gardening tools and gloves. 1008 19th Ave. So. in Nashville. To learn more about the program, visit www.scarrittbennett.org.

    April 26: The sixth annual Herb & Craft Fair sponsored by First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville. Shop for herb seedlings, heirloom tomatoes and other plants, and a wide selection of handcrafted items: pressed-flower cards, calendars, gift and jewelry items; natural handmade soaps with essential oils and fragrant herbs; Sewn and hand-knit items, sweet breads, herb breads, spice mixes and rubs, herbal vinegars, jams, jellies, chutney and more.

    April 26:MontgomeryCounty Master Gardener Plant Sale, Clarksville Library, 350 Pageant Lane in Clarksville. Hours are 8 – 11:30 a.m. or until sold out.

    May 3: Middle Tennessee Iris Society show at EllingtonAgriculturalCenter’s Ed Jones Auditorium (440 Hogan Rd. in Nashville). Entries admitted 7 a.m. – 10 a.m., judging begins at 10:30 a.m., and the show opens to the public 1:30 – 4:30 p.m. To learn more about MTIS, visit www.middletnirisociety.org.

    May 3: Robertson County Master Gardeners plant sale, 408 North Main Street in Springfield, Tenn., 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. or until all plants are sold. Informational classes will be held throughout the day Details at www.rcmga.org.

    May 10: Middle Tennessee Hosta Society plant sale with more than 300 varieties of hosta, 8:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the Maryland Farms YMCA, 5101 Maryland Way in Brentwood. Details and a plant list available at www.mths-hosta.com.

    May 10: Master Gardeners of DavidsonCounty host a cemetery tour at the historic NashvilleCityCemetery, and 10 – 11:30 a.m. Visitors will see the cemetery with plants that would be found there around 1862, and learn about the lives of some of Nashville’s famous citizens. Free and open to the public. To learn more contact the Metro Historical Commission, 862-7970.

    May 10 – Sunflower Café Spring Market,local farmers, nurseries and artisans offering garden plants and items and handcrafted items. Shop, eat and drink 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. 2834 Azalea Place, Berry Hill, Nashville.

    May 17: Master Gardeners of Davidson County Urban Gardening Festival, featuring exhibitors, artisans, vendors and workshops on a wide range of gardening topics. 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. at the DemonstrationGarden at Ellington Agricultural Center, 5201 Marchant Drive. Admission and parking are free. Details at www.mgofdc.org.

    May 17: Backyard Beekeeping at WarnerParkNatureCenter, an introduction to residential beekeeping led by D’ganit Eldar, Melissa Donahue and NatureCenter volunteers, 9 – 11 a.m. Registration (adults only) opens May 2; call (615) 352-6299 to register.

    May 20: Perennial Plant Society of Middle Tennessee meets at Cheekwood’s Botanic Hall. Jason Reeves from UT Jackson Extension will speak on reliable garden plants – perennials and annuals, trees and vines -- that will last for years in your garden. Refreshments at 6:30, program begins at 7. Open to the public.

     

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Azaleas thrive when conditions are right

Question: Our azaleas on the eastern side of the house have never been very showy. The flowers are always puny and short-lived. This year one plant’s leaves are quite yellow. Is this is sign of disease or need for fertilizer? Any advice on helping the plants do better?

AzaleaFirst, consider what azaleas need to grow well, and you may find that one or more of these conditions (outlined by the Azalea Society of America) is not being met:

-Slightly acid soil (pH 5.5 – 6; a soil test can provide that information about the soil in your azalea bed).

-Enough sunlight. Less than 3 hours of sun reduces the number of buds.

-Adequate moisture. Like many other shrubs and perennials in the garden, azaleas need about an inch of water (rainfall or watering) per week. Mulch around the shrubs can help the soil retain moisture.

There are several factors that affect the number of blooms — including the fact that some are just “shy bloomers,” according to the Azalea Society. Lack of moisture during late spring and summer also affect bud formation, or there may be a phosphorous deficiency (again, the soil test can determine if that’s the case).

As for those yellow leaves: If the yellowing is between dark green veins, the condition is called chlorosis, which is usually caused by an iron deficiency, alkalinity of the soil, potassium, calcium or magnesium deficiency, or too much phosphorous. Iron sulfate or sulfur can acidify the soil.

Leaves that are uniformly a yellow – green color may just need more nitrogen. That soil test should be your first step to determine what the problem may be.

Shrubs for a good foundation

Question: I plan to replant the bed at the front foundation of the house with new shrubs. I will need about 5 shrubs, evergreen and low maintenance. The front of our house gets morning sun and afternoon shade. What type of shrubs can you suggest?

boxwood shrubs

Boxwoods are a favorite choice of shrubs for foundation plantings.

I talked with Mark Kerske at Gardens of Babylon garden center in Nashville, and he has several good recommendations:

Boxwood is a tried-and-true choice. “It’s one of my favorite plants,” Kerske says. Boxwoods can grow quite large over time, but there are smaller varieties available that grow to more suitable size for foundation plantings. They take full sun but also do well with some shade.

Cryptomeria is a fast-growing conifer with dark green needles that can grow very tall and wide, but there are dwarf varieties (‘Lobii Nana’ and ‘Pygmaea’ are two that are mentioned in the Southern Living Garden Book) that grow only to about 3 – 4 feet tall.

The cherry laurel ‘Otto Luyken’ is also a favorite. It’s a compact shrub with deep green, glossy leaves that grows to about 4 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide.

Whichever shrubs you choose, good soil preparation will ensure that they get off to a good start. Work good compost into the soil to improve the drainage, and use mulch in the planting bed after you plant the shrubs to keep the soil moisture consistent. “You don’t want to keep the soil wet, but just moist,” Kerske says. “That’s the key, maintaining constant moisture.”

Rosemary: Time to start over

After this winter, my rosemary looks as dead as dead can be. Is there a way to tell now whether I should go ahead and pull it up and replant, or should I wait?

RosemaryRosemary is considered a marginally hardy shrub in this part of Middle Tennessee (Zone 7a). The last few winters here have been kind to us, and most gardeners’ rosemary has survived, especially the more cold-hardy varieties such as ‘Arp’ and ‘Hill’s Hardy.’

But this winter delivered a knockout punch to everyone’s rosemary. To test for life, scratch the bark on a stem and if you see green underneath, there is still life in there. But I’m guessing it’s as dead as it looks. Might as well pull it up and start over.

For better luck keeping rosemary alive during winter, choose one of the more cold-hardy selections. The U.S National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. makes several recommendations at its web site for Rosmarinus officinalis varieties that have made it through winter in the National Herb Garden with little or no dieback — ‘Albus,’ ‘Logee’s Light Blue’ and ‘Salem’ among them (no word at the web site on whether they made it through this winter, though). As a rule, they say, cultivars with thinner leaves and lighter flowers are hardier. Prostrate types of rosemary are least hardy.

To give new rosemary a head start on surviving next and future winters, here’s what the National Arboretum experts suggest: Plant new rosemary in a location that gets full sun throughout the year, in a site sheltered from winter wind, if possible. Plant in the spring so the roots have a good, long time to become established. If your soil is a heavier clay type, mulch with gravel to reflect light and heat back into the plant and help prevent soil-borne diseases from splashing onto the leaves.

New book: Troy Marden says ‘Plant This Instead!’

Plant This InsteadMiddle Tennessee garden guru Troy Marden believes there are better choices than some of the same old plants we reach for at the nursery time after time. His new book, Plant This Instead! is out now (published by Cool Springs Press), and Troy is giving a free lecture and book signing next Saturday (April 12) at Moore & Moore Garden Center, 1826 Highway 100 in Nashville. He’ll be there 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

More on the book later. Meanwhile, I’m flipping through the copy I have here and looking for alternatives to replace some of those shrubs and perennials that bit the dust this winter.

Cheekwood’s a winner!

A few weeks ago I noted that Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art was one of the finalists for BestPublicGarden in USA Today Travel’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards list.

The votes are in, and among the 10 winners (determined by a public vote), Cheekwood placed 6th on the list.

“We are absolutely thrilled to be included in the list of 10Best Readers’ Choice Travel Award winners,” said Cheekwood president Jane O. MacLeod in a press release announcing the results. “Being chosen by the public to win this award is a big honor— and it proves that Cheekwood ranks among some of the most celebrated and well-known gardens in the world.”

The results were determined by supporters who voted at the 10Best Readers’ Choice Award web site. “We are so grateful to everyone who voted for Cheekwood, both for their support and for helping us earn even more wonderful exposure,” McCleod said. Congratulations, Cheekwood!

 

Daffodils may be too crowded to bloom

Our bed of daffodils has been growing for many years and has a lot of thick foliage, but just a few blooms. They should probably be divided. Can I dig them up and replant them now? 

Daff crowded Daffodil bulbs divide themselves every year or two, and the clumps begin to compete for food and space. This will affect their blooming – they’ll begin to produce fewer and fewer flowers.
So, indeed, after bulbs have been growing in the same place for many years, they may need to be dug up and divided. When the foliage turns yellow later this spring (but before it disappears completely), dig the bulbs, separate them, and replant them about 6 inches apart, 6 inches deep.
This is prime-time for daffodils in Middle Tennessee, and a little extra care and attention this time of year can improve your daffodil planting over time.

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April in the garden: This could be the start of an especially satisfying – or challenging – spring. Check out the April Garden Calendar in The Tennessean and at Tennessean.com.

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A wise gardener once said…
In fact, there have been many wise gardeners, and they’ve said plenty of wise things.
“To sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure, is the most perfect refreshment.” (Jane Austen, in her novel Mansfield Park)
gardenwisdomAuthor Barbara Burn has collected many such bits of truth in The Little Green Book of Gardening Wisdom, just out this spring from Skyhorse Publishing. If you keep a garden, it’s a book that’s likely to have you nodding in agreement as you flip through the chapters.
“I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden. – Ruth Stout, “How to Have a Green Thumb Without An Aching Back” (1955).
Burns says in the introduction that she was surprised to discover that so many people have said so many things about gardening that deserve to be collected. “I concluded that the subject of growing things was of far more universal interest that I had anticipated, and a great deal more uplifting than all the volumes devoted to war and political history,” she writes.
“To create a garden is to search for a better world. In our effort to improve on nature, we are guided by a vision of paradise. Whether the result is a horticultural masterpiece or only a modest vegetable patch, it is based on the expectation of a glorious future. This hope for the future is at the heart of all gardening.” – Marina Schinz, in Visions of Paradise (1985).
There is also practical advice, in quotes from well-known gardeners past and present.
“I feel that one of the secrets of good gardening in always to remove, ruthlessly, any plant one doesn’t like… Scrap what does not satisfy and replace it by something that will.” – Vita Sackville-West’s Garden Book (1968).
“To get the best results you must talk to your vegetables.” – Prince Charles, in a television interview in 1986.
This book of wise words is not intended to use as a how-to-garden manual. “But it will, I hope, give every reader a sense of comfort to know that we are not alone when we are down on our hands and knees fighting with weeds or planting a row of seeds that will one day bring us great pleasure.”
The Little Green Book of Gardening Wisdom is available at Skyhorse Publishing in hardcover ($16.95) and as an ebook.

Plant peonies in spring or fall

Question: I have a flower bed in a spot that gets morning sun, and I want peonies in my garden. Can I plant them now?
peonies gbYes, early spring is a good time to plant peony rhizomes. They can also be planted in the fall. Once they’re established, peonies are finicky about being moved, so it’s a good idea to make sure the new flower bed is in good shape before you put them in the ground.
Peonies prefer a spot in full sun or with light afternoon shade, with good drainage, and away from the roots of trees and shrubs that would compete for water and nutrients. They can be susceptible to powdery mildew, so make sure they are not crowded and there is good air circulation in the bed.
Work plenty of organic matter and a high-phosphate fertilizer into the soil, and set the roots 1 inch deep.
Peonies may not bloom the first year they are planted, but they should bloom every year after that.

In the garden this week

It’s spring in Middle Tennessee (Zone 7a on the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone map, where The Garden Bench calls home). Here are a few late-March tasks on our gardening to-do list:

  • Replenish mulch around roses, azaleas and other shrubs.
  • Dig and divide, hardy mums, daylilies that have gotten too crowded.
  • Set out transplants of herbs that can stand up to a few more chilly days: parsley, cilantro, sage, chives, oregano are among the garden and kitchen favorites.
  • Trim buddleia or cut it back before new leaves emerge.
  • Last chance to mow over winter-browned liriope; new shoots are beginning to come up from the roots.

Spring lawn repair: mow and sow

Question: There are several bare spots in our lawn. Is it too early to sow fescue grass seed?

Lawn repair wheat straw

Sprinkle wheat straw over areas of newly patched lawn.

If the bare spots are just that – bare, ragged patches in an established lawn of cool-season grass such as fescue, and not an entire lawn — then March is a good time to fill in and overseed by sowing new grass seed. Here are the steps to take, provided by Judy Lowe, author of Month by Month Gardening in Tennessee & Kentucky:To overseed, mow the grass at the lowest mower setting and rake the clippings, then mow and rake again to expose as much of the soil as possible. Use a hard metal rake to rough up the soil. Even with much of the soil exposed, the seed won’t all come into contact with the soil, so sow one-and-a- half or two times the amount of seed recommended for a new lawn. Rake lightly over the area, and if possible, sprinkle a ¼-inch layer of topsoil or compost on top. Water the overseeded lawn every day to keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate.

To patch a bare or ragged patch of lawn, first remove grass and weeds from the area and square off the edges. Dig the soil six inches deep and remove any rocks, roots and debris. Mix organic matter into the soil, rake the area, and then water. Sow grass seed at the rate recommended on the bag, then smooth the soil with the back of a rake to make sure the seed comes into contact with the soil. Cover the area with a light layer of wheat straw and water it often to keep the soil moist while the seeds germinate.

These steps can get your lawn through the summer in fairly good shape if it receives adequate moisture throughout the season. For complete renovation of a fescue lawn, which is easier to establish in cool weather, wait until fall.

If your lawn is a warm-season grass such as zoysia or Bermuda, wait until the soil warms up to do any planting.

Keep your daffodils happy

After a long winter, the daffodils are finally beginning to bloom! Do they need any special care to make them bloom better?

Daffodils from AnnaDaffodils are generally easy-care spring bulbs, but a little extra care each year can increase and improve blooms over time. The American Daffodil Society offers these tips:

As daffodils bloom, topdress the soil with 0-10-10 or 0-0-50 fertilizer. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizer, which may produce more foliage than flowers.

Daffodils need water while they’re growing, so if there is a dry spell, provide regular water until after blooming has stopped.

After daffodils bloom, leave the foliage until it turns yellow. This is the time the bulbs are gathering strength to bloom again next year.

The weather in late winter and early spring can be capricious, and it’s always possible that a hard frost or freeze can cause the stems to collapse, leaving the flowers drooping to the ground. If that happens, go ahead and cut some of the flowers and enjoy them in a vase indoors.

Vote for Cheekwood!

Nashville’s Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art is one of the finalists for BestPublicGarden in USA Today Travel’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards list. Those who love and enjoy the beautiful gardens are encouraged to vote daily for Cheekwood in an online poll to help win the award.

Our beloved Middle-Tennessee favorite is in good company. The list, compiled by expert, author and lecturer Cindy Brockway, also includes ButchartGardens of Victoria, British Columbia; ChicagoBotanic Garden in Chicago, Illinois; HuntingtonBotanical   Garden in Los Angeles, California; LongwoodGardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania and United   StatesBotanical Garden in Washington, D.C., among others.

“Thanks to recent high-profile exhibitions, expanded programming, and recognition like the 10Best list, Cheekwood is seen more and more as a national treasure, right in our back yard,” says Cheekwood President and CEO Jane O. MacLeod. “We invite our community to help build our national reputation by voting for Cheekwood in the 10Best online poll.”

To vote for Cheekwood, visit 10best.com/awards/travel/best-public-garden between now and March 31. Vote early and often – yes, you can vote every day. As of this writing, Cheekwood ranked a very close third among the 20 finalists for total votes.

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