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  • May garden tips & tasks

    GARDEN EVENTS IN MIDDLE TENNESSEE

    May 20: Master Gardeners of Davidson County Urban Gardening Festival, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., Ellington Agricultural Center Demonstration Garden. Free admission. www.mgofdc.org; on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mgofdc.

    June 10: Middle Tennessee Daylily Society show and sale, Ellington Agricultural Center’s Ed Jones Auditorium, 440 Hogan Rd. in Nashville. Sale open at 10 a.m.; show opens to the public at 1 p.m. To learn more about the Middle Tennessee Daylily Society, visit www.middletndaylilysociety.org.

    It’s time to plant those tender herbs and vegetable transplants, such as basil, dill, tomatoes, green peppers, hot peppers, eggplant.

    If tomato transplants are already too tall and leggy, you can plant them on their sides and cover the long stems with soil. The stem tips will turn upward, and the buried stems will sprout roots.

    Sow seeds of bush beans and pole beans, cucumbers, sweet corn, melons, okra, field peas, pumpkin, squash and zucchini. Follow the directions on the seed package for planting depth and spacing. Vegetables grow best in full sun.

    Cut the faded blossoms of peonies. Fertilize the plants lightly in late spring or early summer.

    Remember the basics of watering: morning is best, so plants’ leaves have time to dry before evening. Lawns, perennial borders and annuals like to have 1 – 1½ inches of water per week.

    Many indoor plants enjoy a summer vacation outdoors. Give them a cool, shady spot in the yard, and don’t forget to water them.

    Prune thyme frequently so it will stay full and green in the center.

    Weeding is easiest after a rain. If the ground is too dry and you need to weed, soak the bed first with a hose or sprinkler.

    Whether they’re growing in the ground or in pots on the porch, pinch the tips of geraniums from time to time to encourage them to branch out and to produce more flowers. Geraniums in pots benefit from regular feeding with a water-soluble fertilizer.

    Remember that mulch can be a gardener’s best friend. Pine straw or composted leaves are good alternatives to hardwood mulch.

    Harvest herbs as they reach their peak. Dry small leaves on a screen, hang small bunches of long-stemmed herbs in a warm, dry room out of the sunlight.

    Plants growing outdoors in containers dry out quickly when it’s hot. Check them daily, and water as needed.

    Don’t go near hydrangeas with the pruning shears unless all you’re cutting is dead branches. If the bigleaf hydrangeas look like they’re not going to bloom, it could be that the buds were nipped in a late cold snap, or the plant was pruned too late last year.

    As the flowers of Shasta daisies begin to open and then to fade, keep them clipped off. This prolongs the blooming season of daisies (and most other annuals and perennials), and keeps the plants looking better, as well.

    Watch for aphids on shrubs and perennials. A strong blast of water from a hose will remove many of them, or spray with insecticidal soap.

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Yarrow: too much of a good thing?

QUESTION: I’ve heard that yarrow is a great drought-resistant perennial, but don’t know anything about growing it. Is this a good time of year to plant it? Is it planted from seeds, or is it better to buy transplants?

It’s true. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a tough and persistent perennial plant that tolerates drought. In fact, it needs well-drained soil to grow well, and if it stays too wet (if it’s planted in heavy clay, for instance) it can rot. Yarrow has fragrant, fern-like leaves and large clusters of tiny flowers. In full sun it grows 2 to 3 feet tall; it will bloom if it’s planted in light shade, but it won’t be as showy. Pests usually leave it alone, and it’s not affected by diseases.

Back to it being a tough and persistent plant: More than one source I checked calls yarrow “invasive.” “Most yarrows spread aggressively into every nook and cranny possible, to the point where one begins to wonder if a mistake has been made in choosing the plant to begin with,” says Felder Rushing in his book, Tough Plants for Southern Gardens.

For that reason, those in the know don’t recommend it for direct-sowing into the garden. Plant transplants, and let the seed-sowing take care of itself later. Better still, cut back the flowers before they go to seed. It will still spread, because yarrow produces lots of creeping rootstock while it’s growing. When you have a big patch of yarrow and decide it’s time to share, divide it by digging up a clump and passing it along or replanting it in another location.

Other names, by the way, include millefoil, woundwort, carpenter’s weed, devil’s nettle and nosebleed, after the old wives’ tale that if a young girl tickles her nose with yarrow and it starts to bleed, it proves her lover has been faithful.

Picture perfect

Photographer and author Matthew Benson is passionate about gardens, and equally passionate about photographing them. His new book, The PhotoGraphic Garden (Mastering the Art of Digital Garden Photography) focuses on the two fundamentals, photo (light) and graph (form). It’s a how-to book, with suggested “assignments” to put lessons into practice, but also a book full of beautiful garden photography that makes you want to sharpen your own photographic skills.

I talked with Matthew by phone a couple of weeks ago. Here’s what he had to say:

From the Garden Bench: What’s the most important thing to think about when you’re photographing a garden?

Matthew Benson: It all begins with light. My advice to anyone thinking about photographing is to really be disciplined about shooting in the right light. Early in the morning is best. Later in the day the light is also nice, but the plants are not as nice. The interesting thing about that early time of day is to witness a quality of light that most people don’t usually see, and certainly not in the garden. Colors are most radiant. That beautiful morning light streaking through a garden and waking things up is just beautiful.

GB: What are the best ways to “use” that light in the garden?

MB: Backlight everything – shoot into the sun, not with the sun on your shoulder behind you. And think about using it in different ways. Follow the light through the garden. Allow the light to direct you through the garden as you photograph. Use a scrim to filter light. Bounce light into things using reflectors, to get a certain quality.

Try to resist shooting in bad light. There is no Photoshop tool to mimic the quality of light.

GB: What about the “graphic” part of taking photographs?

MB: The graphic part is the marvel of some of the plant forms, not only their colors but their shape. Learn how to really “see” botanical form. A big part of it is learning how to see like a camera. Don’t come into the garden and stand there and point your camera and shoot away. Seeing like a camera means understanding that the camera sees the world more interesting. It allows you to edit out things, adjust exposure, to drop focus. You are using the tool to create something original and intriguing for the mind. And it makes us look at the garden differently. When we see something we don’t see all the time, we look at it more.

GB: What recommendations do you have when it comes to choosing a camera?

MB: That’s the technical side of the book. Learn your camera, understand how to use it. Having a good macro lens is important. The camera sensor is more important than megapixels. The bigger the senor, the better the quality of the image. Newer cameras are really focusing on image quality. Also consider the speed of the lens. A camera with 1.4 lens speed, when you’re shooting in the garden, means you can shoot in very low light without a tripod. A fast lens is important. 2.8 is as high as I would go. Lenses that are 2 and under are great. But really, the best camera to have is the one you have with you.

Matthew is a contributing editor to Organic Gardening magazine. The PhotoGraphic Garden is published by Rodale, $24.99.

 

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