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  • Upcoming Garden Events in Middle Tennessee

    March 1 – 4: Nashville Lawn & Garden Show, Fairgrounds Nashville: The annual all-indoors garden event that features live garden displays, lectures, vendors, floral designs and special programming Wine Festival featuring Tennessee wines is Saturday (March 3), noon – 5 p.m. For more information on the events and the complete lecture schedule, visit www.nashvillelawnandgardenshow.com.

    April 7: Perennial Plant Sale hosted by the Perennial Plant Society of Middle Tennessee annual Perennial Plant Sale at The Fairgrounds Nashville. Find newly released and hard-to-find perennials along with a wide range of tried and tested varieties, all from top local nurseries. The sale opens at 9 a.m. and usually sells out by early afternoon. For more information, visit www.ppsmtn.org.

    April 14: Herb & Plant Sale hosted by The Herb Society of 9 a.m. – 2 p.m., at The Fairgrounds Nashville Sports Arena building. The sale offers common and rare varieties of herbs and heirloom vegetables and handmade pottery and herb markers by artist Roy Overcast for sale. For more information and a list of available plants, visit www.herbsocietynashville.org.

    April 21: Herb & Craft Fair hosted by First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville, 1808 Woodmont Blvd., 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Top quality perennial and annual herbs, heirloom tomato plants, native and companion plants, along with food and craft items reflecting an interest in the homemade and homegrown: fresh homemade sweet and yeast breads, spice mixes, barbecue sauces, jams and jellies; knitted and sewn items, homes for birds and bees, and art, jewelry and more made from pressed flowers. Visit www.thefuun.org.

    May 12: Hosta sale hosted by the Middle Tennessee Hosta. Proceeds from the sale support the club’s activities. More information about the MTHS is at www.mths-hosta.com.

    May 19: Urban Gardening Festival, hosted by Master Gardeners of Davidson County, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. (rain or shine) at the Master Gardeners’ Demonstration Garden at Ellington Agricultural Center (5201 Marchant Drive in Nashville). The free event includes information about a variety of gardening methods and techniques, local artisans, exhibiters, growers and more. For information, visit www.mgofdc.org/ugf.

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Grow food with your flowers

From The Foodscape Revolution by Brie Arthur: ‘Limelight’ hydrangeas makes a good backdrop for a basil edge.

A few weeks ago I talked by phone with Brie Arthur, the author of The Foodscape Revolution, to include her voice in a story for The Tennessean in advance of the

Photo courtesy Brie Arthur

Nashville Lawn and Garden Show, which was the first weekend in March. Her book, and her gardening passion, is about making space in your landscape for food, growing it alongside the trees, shrubs and ornamental plantings that can make up a tidy landscape, even if you live in a neighborhood under the rules of a persnickety homeowners’ association.

The story in the paper turned out to be more about the show than about how to beautifully flout the HOA’s rules, but Brie and I had talked for much longer, as gardeners are inclined to do, about the benefits and the joy of growing food and flowers. Since many of her ideas weren’t included in the story about last weekend’s garden show, I’m happy I can share them here. Continue reading

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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.

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.


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.


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.

New Month-By-Month Gardening

Month by Month open 2One of the resources I’ve relied on for several years to help answer garden questions is a book titled Month-By-Month Gardening in Tennessee & Kentucky, by award-winning garden writer Judy Lowe. The book was first published more than a decade ago by Cool Springs Press, and it holds a wealth of easy-to-understand information that is useful for gardeners in the southeast U.S., both novices and those with more experience.

There’s a new version of the book out now, also published by Cool Springs Press. I’m looking at the two books side by side, and loving the fact that I can find much of the same useful information in a glossy new format. (Read on for details of a chance to win a copy of the book!)

Judy Lowe crop“The information has stayed pretty much the same, the activities are the same. But for those people who want to know everything in a month in a few pages, they will like this,” Judy told me when we talked by phone earlier this week.

What’s different? In the old format, the book is divided into categories – Annuals, Bulbs, Herbs & Vegetables, Houseplants, and so on – and each category is divided into months, generally with two pages for each month. Each month has information about planning, planting, care, watering, fertilizing and problems, with a timely tip or two.

The new, more compact, full-color glossy Month-By-Month Gardening is divided into months, using subheads, making it easier to see at a glance what needs to be done in each category that month. Each month has several “Here’s How” sidebars, and there are color pictures of plants, planting techniques, a few common garden pests and more. The pictures are especially useful.

“It does help, if you are new to gardening or don’t know a lot about it, to see those pictures — the close-ups, the illustrations,” Judy said. Some garden books are written in “garden language” that a new gardener has not yet learned. “Novice gardeners feel more comforted by seeing pictures and illustrations.”

Here in the middle of winter, there is very little real gardening to be done, but Judy passed along several ideas of how to begin to get ready for spring. Here’s what she suggests:

  • “Start a garden notebook, if you don’t have one.” The notebook can be a simple looseleaf binder, one with pockets to hold labels, seed packets or other small items. “It makes such a difference in knowing what happened in the past and what you have thought of doing before, or want to do. It helps you keep a record of what didn’t work, and can help you not make mistakes in the future.”
  • If you’re going to start plants from seed – and it’s really kind of fun, gives you a sense of satisfaction – start thinking about that in February.” Most common plants take only about eight weeks from sowing to setting out in the garden. “You want to be ready and get all your equipment together.” (And here are a couple of tips for growing your own transplants from seeds: You don’t need special grow lights, Judy said. For growing seeds, a couple of fluorescent lights will be fine. If you don’t have a grow light or a shop light, and you’re not getting enough light on your plants, use aluminum foil to reflect the light onto the plants. “It really helps, and it’s nice and cheap,” Judy said.)
  • She also recommends February as the time to have the soil tested if you haven’t had that done in the past five years. You can do that through your county’s extension service now and avoid the rush of the busier time in early spring. It will make a huge difference in how successfully things will grow in your garden, she said. “In the lawn, it can tell you everything, and mean the difference between success and failure.”
  • It’s also a good time to have your lawnmower serviced. “Particularly, have the blade sharpened. If it doesn’t cut correctly it can lave spots where disease can enter,” Judy said. “Lawnmower maintenance services get plenty busy in April, so get it done before the season starts.”

 

The cure for overgrown pothos

QUESTION: My pothos in a hanging basket spent the summer outdoors in the shade this summer. When I brought it in, I discovered the stems had grown very long but most of the leaves are near the ends, and the stems are bare in the middle. Will it hurt to cut the stems back?

pothos 2Pothos is a popular, easy-to-grow houseplant. It won’t hurt to cut the stems back; in fact, houseplant experts recommend giving them a trim every now and then to keep the plants bushy and full.

Pothos may be the perfect houseplant for anyone who says they can’t keep a houseplant alive. It does best in moderate to bright light and a moderate amount of water, but is tolerant if you forget to water it. In fact, it prefers soil that is on the dry side over soggy soil. If it stays too wet, the leaves may turn yellow and drop off. Houseplant expert and author Barbara Pleasant notes that if pothos grows in very low light, the stems grow longer with more space between the leaves.

To help the plants fill out again, cut the bare stems to within 2 inches of the soil, or cut stems above a leaf node (where the leaf emerges from the stem). These cut-off stem tips can be rooted in water, and the rooted cuttings can be potted in regular potting soil.

Great gift for gardeners

Here’s something any gardener would enjoy as the new gardening season cranks up in 2013: Rodale, the publisher of Organic org gardening calendarGardening magazine, offers the Organic Gardening Desk Calendar, a year-full of tips for good gardening, and providing ample space each day, diary-style, to jot notes, sketches, tasks and to-do lists. It’s illustrated with beautiful photographs by garden photographer Matthew Benson (who I talked to earlier this year after the publication of his book, The Photographic Garden), and it includes a special feature, “Fun with Backyard Chickens,” that’s perfect for anyone who may be thinking of adding hens to the backyard garden experience.

You can order the calendar/diary from Rodale for $21.95.

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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.