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  • Garden events in Middle Tennessee

    Now - Sept. 7: Andy Warhol’s Flowers exhibit at Cheekwood. Nearly a dozen screen prints from the artist’s original Flowers series, paintings, studio photographs and more. Information: www.cheekwood.org.

    Aug. 14 & Aug. 16: Cindy Shapton, the Cracked Pot Gardener workshop on Edible Organic Container Gardening, a hands-on workshop to learn to grow a container kitchen garden. Aug. 14, 6 – 8 p.m.; Aug. 16, 10 a.m. – noon. $45 per person. Register and learn more about other upcoming workshops at The Cracked Pot Homestead.

    Aug. 19: Carol Reese, of UT Gardens in Jackson, Tenn., is the guest speaker at this month’s Perennial Plant Society meeting. Topic is “Just Do It!” focusing on garden ideas and how to refresh older gardens. Refreshments at 6:30, meeting begins at 7 and the public is invited. Details at www.ppsmt.org.

    Aug. 19 & Aug. 23: Cindy Shapton, the Cracked Pot Gardener workshop on Tomatoes – Canning, Drying and Freezing, a hands-on workshop to learn about preserving tomatoes. Each workshop is 10 a.m. – noon. $45 per person.Tap here to register and to learn more about other upcoming workshops at The Cracked Pot Homestead.

    Aug. 21: Lunch & Lecture: Easy Gardens for the South, featuring author Harvey Cotton who describes the plants that are key in creating a successful, sustainable garden. Noon – 1 p.m., Cheekwood’s Potter Room. Tickets $15 for Cheekwood members, $25 for non-members. Details at www.cheekwood.org.

    Aug 21 & Aug. 26: Cindy Shapton, the Cracked Pot Gardener workshop All about Teas, a hands-on workshop. Aug. 21, 6 – 8 p.m.; Aug. 26, 10 a.m. – noon. $45 per person. Tap here to register and to learn more about other upcoming workshops at The Cracked Pot Homestead.

    Aug. 23: Organic Gardening 101. Visit the garden with naturalist Deb Beazley and learn the basics of how to start and grow your own garden at home. 9 – 11 a.m. Call 615-352-6299 to register for this adult level program.

    Aug. 28: Middle Tennessee Hosta Society meeting features hosta hybridizer Bob Solberg, whose topic, “Back to Basics, A Hosta Fact Sheet” is useful for beginners and experts. 6:30 p.m., Cheekwood’s Potter Room. Open to the public. Information on the Middle Tennessee Hosta Society is at www.mths-hosta.com.

    Aug. 28 & Sept. 2: Cindy Shapton, the Cracked Pot Gardener Pesto Party workshop, a hands-on workshop to learn to make original pesto and variations. Aug. 28, 6 – 8 p.m.; Sept. 2, 10 a.m. – noon. $45 per person. Tap here to register and to learn more about other upcoming workshops at The Cracked Pot Homestead.

     

     

     

     

     

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Garden with greens

I don’t care for turnips, but I love turnip greens and I’d like to grow them myself this fall. When is it time to plant them?
GreensThe time to begin planting turnip greens – and many other kitchen crops that thrive in cool weather – is now! Prepare a bed in full sun with well-drained, fertile soil. You can sow the seeds in rows about 1½ feet apart and cover with about ½ inch of fine soil, or you can broadcast the seeds over a prepared bed. August heat in some areas can be brutal on fall plantings, so for all summer-sown fall vegetables, keep the soil moist while seeds germinate. Thin the plants when they grow to about 2 inches tall.

Among the fast-growing, greens-only varieties are All Top, Alamo, Seven Top, Shogoin and Topper.

Don’t stop with turnip greens! Mustard greens, spinach, collards and kale are among the other types of hearty greens you can try. For a longer harvest, sow in successive plantings two weeks apart.

And don’t give up on turnips just yet. My favorite way to enjoy them is drizzled with olive oil and roasted with a variety of other root and winter vegetables. One secret is to harvest turnips while they’re still small, when they seem to have a milder flavor.

Here’s a recipe adapted from a Bon Appétit magazine recipe at Epicurious.com:
Roasted Root Vegetables
Butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into ½-inch pieces
Yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled, cut into ½-inch pieces
Beets, trimmed but not peeled, scrubbed, cut into ½-inch pieces
Medium red onion, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 turnip, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
Garlic cloves, peeled
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Oil a large rimmed baking sheet. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss to coat the olive oil. Spread vegetables evenly on a prepared baking dish and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast vegetables until tender and golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour, 15 minutes.

August in the garden: Find more about this month’s garden tasks in my August Garden Calendar and Garden Events and Tips at Tennessean.com.

A bountiful harvest: sunflower seeds

We grew sunflowers this year, and I’d like to save the seeds. What is the best way to harvest them?
sunflower 2As summer begins to wind down and the sunflowers begin to droop, you know it’s time to harvest. Sunflower seeds are ready to harvest when the back of the flower heads turn yellow. The seeds themselves will turn dark.

Seed-loving birds may begin to find them before you do, so if you’re planning a seed harvest, you may want to find a way to protect them until they’re fully mature. Extension services and other experts suggest covering the flower heads with brown paper bags. (Don’t use plastic bags, which may cause moisture to form around the flower head and cause the seeds to rot.) When you’re ready to harvest, use scissors or a knife to cut off the flower head with several inches of the stem.
You can harvest sunflower seeds to save for the birds to enjoy later, or for a nutritious snack for yourself and your family. Hold the flower head over a large bowl and rub or pluck out the seeds. Store them in a dry spot in sealed containers until you are ready to set them out for the birds.

Writers at the Mother Earth News website have an easy method for preparing sunflower seeds for snacking. Soak the unshelled seeds overnight in salt water – about 1/8 to ¼ cup salt for each quart of water. Drain off the water and spread the seeds on paper towels or clean towels and allow them to dry for several hours. When they are completely dry, spread the seeds evenly on a cookie sheet and bake them at 300 degrees F for 30 – 40 minutes. After baking, place the seeds in a bowl and toss with one teaspoon of butter for each cup of seeds. Season with salt, if desired.

Sunflower seeds are high in potassium, calcium, and phosphorus.

Enjoying a mid-summer surprise

I love the “surprise” of surprise lilies (also called “naked ladies”) when they bloom every summer. When should you plant them? What do you have to do to keep them growing?

Surprise lily, naked ladies

Lycoris squamigera (surprise lily, naked lady) growing up through a bed of creeping Charlie.

These late-summer bloomers really can cause a double-take when you see them in gardens. The lovely flowers are perched atop 2-foot stems, with no foliage in sight.

In fact, the strap-like foliage appeared earlier in the season – in spring — and by summer, those big clumps have turned yellow and finally disappeared. Then about mid-July (in this part of the region, at least) – Surprise! The stems shoot up and fat buds open into large, delicate flowers.

Surprise lilies grow from bulbs, and there are several varieties, but the hardiest is the one you probably see most, Lycoris squamigera. You may also know it by other names – magic lily, resurrection lily, in addition to the ever-popular moniker, naked ladies.

These lilies are also among favorite pass-along plants. Dig and separate the bulbs after they finish flowering, and plant them about 4 inches deep. Because the stems are tall and bare when the plants bloom, some gardeners like to plant them among other summer foliage (I’ve seen them growing up through English ivy and other sturdy groundcovers). You can also plant them in containers.

Surprise lilies grow best in full sun but seem to tolerate light shade.

Book giveaway winner!

A signed copy of Plant This Instead! by Troy B. Marden is on its way to Sue, whose comment was picked by the random number generator as the winner of last week’s book giveaway. Thanks for playing, everyone! Watch for another giveaway coming soon.

August Garden Calendar

What to do in the garden this month? Think about fall! See the August Garden Calendar at Tennessean.com, where you’ll find information about planting cool-season edibles and a list of tips and tasks and garden events in Middle Tennessee.

Troy Marden’s garden wisdom — and a book giveaway!

Annabelle

‘Annabelle’ hydrangea is among the plants that garden expert Troy Marden recommends.

A friend invited me to a gathering whose guest was the popular Middle Tennessee-based author and garden designer Troy Marden not long ago. He was there to share his considerable knowledge and to talk about his new book, Plant This Instead!, which came out earlier this year. The subtitle is “Better Plant Choices: Prettier, Hardier, Blooms Longer, New Color, Less Work, Drought-Tolerant, Native.”
That’s a lot to cover, but let Troy explain: “It’s a book about making better, more informed choices.”
A book about native plants? “It’s a book about good plants. It’s not all about natives,” he said. “There are tips about how to be successful with new varieties. We don’t like plants that misbehave. This considers what their replacements in our landscape might be.”

What are some of those misbehavin’ garden choices?

“Take beebalm, for example,” Troy says. “You have to manage it.” Specifically, Monarda didyma – that hardy and resilient beebalm that you find everywhere — can be fabulous in bloom. “However, the same characteristics that make it tough and resilient also make it aggressive when it comes to planting it in the garden,” he writes in Plant This Instead!. “Beebalm, like its cousins peppermint and spearmint, has the ability to take over an enormous area of valuable garden real estate in a very short period of time.” It’s one of the plants he calls a “garden thug.”

©Troy B. Marden

©Troy B. Marden

Instead, consider the better-mannered wild bergamot, Monarda fistulosa, or take a look at Eastern beebalm, Monarda bradburiana, which has greater tolerance for drought and resistance to powdery mildew, and which grows in noninvasive clumps.

From garden thugs, the conversation shifted to what is meant – really – by the term “low maintenance” when you’re talking about a garden. In Troy’s world, gardening is not a low-maintenance endeavor.

“What you have to decide is, what does ‘low-maintenance’ mean to you?” he told us. “You have to think about how much you want to have and how much time you want to spend tending to it.”

Plant This book jacketAnd if your idea of a perfect landscape seems overwhelming, here is probably the best bit of wisdom Troy could pass along about growing and enjoying a garden: “Rather than having a huge garden that demands all your time and energy, do what you can in the way that you can do it to the best of your ability.”

Learn more about Troy at his website; catch Troy in person or on TV (he’s a popular and respected plantsman and speaker and one of the hosts on the Nashville Public Television show Volunteer Gardener), or read Plant This Instead!

And here’s a chance to win a free copy of the book!
Leave a comment at the end of this post about your favorite flowers. Respond by Friday Aug. 1 at 6 p.m., and your name will go into a drawing to win a signed copy of Plant This Instead! by Troy B. Marden.
August Garden Calendar
In August, do we really need to think about fall? Yes! It’s time to consider the cool-weather plants in your kitchen garden. See the August Garden Calendar and Garden Events, Tips & Tasks in The Tennessean.

Summer is hard on the lawn

QUESTION: Our lawn has looked great all summer – until now! The grass is turning brown in patches, even though I water it regularly. What’s wrong?

Grass brown patchFor lawn-lovers, the middle of summer often brings disappointment to those who carefully cultivate that carpet of green. I’ve written about the problem here before, but here at mid-summer, it bears repeating.

In Middle Tennessee (Zone 7A, where The Garden Bench calls home), fescue seems to be the preferred type of lawn. It’s a cool-season grass, and it has a tendency to go dormant and turn brown when the weather is hot and dry. It often perks up again when the weather gets cooler.

But lawns can also suffer from brown patch, a fungal disease that can affect fescue lawns. It starts with small brown patches, or a ring of brown grass that gets larger over time. The plant may be green at soil level, but individual blades of grass will be brown.

Before you resort to a fungicide, it’s a good idea to know exactly what the problem might be. I’m not a lawn expert, so when I wrote about this before, I pointed to the popular garden guru and author Walter Reeves’s web site, which provides quite a bit of information about lawn fungus, blights and molds. Here it is again.

In general, lawns do well with about an inch of water a week. They don’t need to be watered every day, but water deeply about once a week if it doesn’t rain. It’s also a good idea to cut the grass higher; when grass is cut too short, it leaves the lawn vulnerable to more weeds and diseases.

Japanese beetles fly in to dine on your garden

I’m having a problem with Japanese beetles. I have beetle traps hanging around my garden and they catch a lot of them, but beetles are still chewing on my wisteria and rose bushes. I don’t want to spray, so every day I hand-pick them off. What else can I do?

Japanese beetle feeds on canna flowers.

Japanese beetle feeds on canna flowers.

Those Japanese beetle traps work by using a chemical that mimics a pheromone produced by the female Japanese beetle to lure the male beetles. You now see how well this works, as you are drawing more and more Japanese beetles into your yard where, on the way to the trap, they stop to dine on your plants.

Extension agents say that if you use these traps, it’s best to place them a good distance from any plants you want to save, so they will be lured away from the plants.

Generally, most experts advise against using them at all.
Good for you for choosing not to spray chemical killers – the honeybees and other pollinators are safe in your landscape. Handpicking the beetles or knocking them off into soapy water is an effective short-term method for reducing the population in your garden. The best time of day may be early morning, when they apparently are more sluggish.

Biological control of Japanese beetles begins with understanding their life cycle. Young grubs hatch in the soil in late summer and feed on roots, then spend winter in the soil. They become active in spring and continue to feed. Adult beetles begin to emerge in June.

You can treat the lawn with milky spore, a bacterium that kills the grubs in the soil. Milky spore builds up in the soil over several years and suppresses the grub population over time — no grubs, no Japanese beetles to hatch and harass your plants.

The University of Tennessee Extension has a publication about controlling Japanese beetles. You can read it here.

Prune crape myrtle without committing ‘crape murder’

I have developed my crape myrtles into tree forms. Every year I have to cut back the suckers that grow from the base of the trees at ground level. Is there anything I can do to eliminate the suckers?

Crape myrtleThe suckers that grow from the ground around crape myrtles can be the result of improper pruning. If you top the plants every year (and garden experts sometimes refer to this as “crape murder”) they respond by sending up shoots from the base.

There are many sources for information on pruning crape myrtles, but one good one comes from the Virginia Cooperative Extension of Virginia Tech and Virginia State University. Their suggestion:

Prune crape myrtles as you would any other tree or shrub – by cutting back to a bud, a side branch or a main stem, giving consideration to the ultimate shape of the plant. If you need to cut off only part of a branch, cut above an outward facing bud or side branch. If you need to remove an entire branch, cut just outside the branch collar on the stem, where the branch is attached.

Don’t make random cuts in the middle of a branch or stem. Topping a crape myrtle – or any tree, for that matter – can lead to stem decay and more dead branches. It also encourages the growth of weak shoots at the top of cut stems, which can become top-heavy with flowers and break in a strong wind.

The Virginia Cooperative Extension notes that re-suckering can sometimes by suppressed by applying naphthalene acetic acid after the suckers are pruned. Crape myrtles that are given too much fertilizer may also produce suckers, and have fewer flowers. They advise not to fertilize unless a soil test indicates the need to do so.

The best time to prune crape myrtles has passed for this year. Do the job in late winter or early spring, before new growth begins.

 

This weekend: Beautiful bonsai

bonsai2Bonsai expert Owen Reich invites garden enthusiasts to the Nashville Bonsai Society’s Regional Bonsai Expo July 11 – 13 at Cheekwood Botanical Garden. Reich, Jim Doyle and Young Choe are guest artists, and there will be more than 50 bonsai displays, along with workshops, exhibits and vendors.

The photo above is of a Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris) that Reich collected in Tennessee and trained as a bonsai. “There will be a number of bonsai on display this year created from trees and shrubs native to the United States, as well as high-end bonsai imported from Japan,” he says. The stand in the display was made in Chattanooga by Tom Scott, and the container is a 250 – 300 year-old Chinese container called a Kowatari Shirogochi Pot.

The picture is just a sample of the unique and unusual bonsai on display this weekend. Complete details here.

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