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    Sept. 30: The Nashville Herb Society presents Through the Garden Gate: A Glimpse of Edwardian England, 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. at Cheekwood Botanic Hall. Celebrate the gardens, foods and flowers that delighted Downton Abby family and friends at the turn of the 20th century. The event begins with a hearty Edwardian breakfast, followed by three speakers: Marta McDowell on Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life; Geraldine A. Laufer on Tussie Mussie – Victorian art of expressing yourself in the language of flowers; and Terry White, The English Garden event florist . Registration includes breakfast, box lunch in the garden with music, English tea and cookies. To learn more or to register, visit www.herbsocietynashvlle.org.

    Tips & tasks – September

    Cut the dead tops of coneflowers, but leave enough for goldfinches to enjoy the seeds.

    Plant cool-weather vegetables for a fall crop: spinach, mustard and turnip greens, radishes, leaf lettuce.

    Start a new lawn of cool-season grass, such as fescue, or refurbish or repair establish lawns.

    Don’t let the soil of newly planted grass dry out. New grass needs about an inch of water per week.

    It’s still warm, so continue to water and weed garden beds as needed.

    Remove dead foliage, spent flowers and other garden debris; replenish mulch as needed.

    Continue to harvest produce, which may be getting a boost now from slightly cooler weather. Keep watering sage, rosemary and other perennial herbs so they’ll be in good shape to get through winter.

    Prepare to bring houseplants back indoors: remove dead leaves, scrub soil from the sides of the pots, treat for insects. Bring tropical plants in before nighttime temperatures dip to 55 degrees.

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Azaleas: What happened to the flowers?

Healthy azaleas, but few flowers.

Question: Last year I planted two azaleas that I found on sale. Both were covered in blooms when I bought them, and both seemed to do well over the summer. But this year, only one of them is blooming, and it has just a few flowers. The other one, nothing. Here’s a picture. What’s going on?

One more thing to ask: Did the new azaleas get enough water during the summer last year? Information I found at the Web site of the Azalea Society of America suggests that one reason an azalea doesn’t bloom is because it didn’t get enough moisture to grow flowers (what they say, specifically, is “lack of moisture during the late spring and summer reduces bud formation.”).

Remember that azaleas bloom on last year’s growth, so the effects of what happened last summer would show up this spring. Also remember that after the floodwater dried up last year, we had a pretty dry summer here in Middle Tennessee.

In general, here’s what azaleas need to grow well: Light shade (but some varieties do well in full sun), slightly acid soil (pH 5.5 to 6 is best), good drainage, adequate water – especially the first few years they’re in the ground. An infrequent deep soaking is more effective than superficial sprinkling, say the experts at Azaleas.org.

Established azaleas don’t need fertilizer. And of course, if you find you have to prune them, do the job shortly after they bloom, because they start forming next year’s flower buds this summer; later pruning will likely cut those flowers off.

A thought for today

I’ve been flipping through a new little book called Garden Rules, by Jayme Jenkins (of Eugene,Ore.) and Nashville’s own Billie Brownell. Its subtitle is “The Snappy Synopsis for the Modern Gardener” and it’s meant to appeal primarily to people who are new to gardening.

But here’s something we all – new and old gardeners – could do well to keep in mind: A Watched Garden Never Grows. We live in an always-on world, and we expect instant gratification in everything. But if you look for big, booming, instant results in a garden, you’ll be a frustrated gardener.

“The key to enjoying your time in the garden is to keep your expectations realistic,” the authors say. “Seedlings take days to sprout. Flower buds take time to develop. Perennials like hostas, peonies, bleeding hearts, and Siberian iris take a couple seasons to reach maturity. Trees will take years to provide shade.”

I gave a copy of the book to my daughter, a new gardener who is growing things in pots on the two second-floor decks of her apartment. I’ve mentioned that she should remember this:

“Nature does not operate at twenty-first-century speed, and Nature always wins.”

Garden Rules is published by Cool Springs Press in Brentwood, Tenn.

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