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  • Upcoming Garden Events

    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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Queen Anne’s Lace in an early-summer garden

I like to see Queen Anne’s Lace growing along the roadsides in summer. How can I get it to grow in my garden?

It’s not hard to get Queen Anne’s Lace started in a garden bed. In fact, the reason you see so much of it in open meadows along the side of the road is that it’s a prolific self-seeder.

After they bloom in late spring and early summer, the lacy clusters of white flowers fold up into a cup-shaped clump of seeds. Continue reading

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Cut flowers to bring summer indoors

With summer in full bloom, those daisies and black-eyed Susans, zinnias and sunflowers, coneflowers, dahlias and others make beautiful bouquets to enjoy indoors. To make those bouquets last longer, it’s best to start early.

“I definitely always cut before the heat of the day sets in,” says Tallahassee May, owner of Turnbull Creek Organic Farm in Bon Aqua, Tenn. “This is better than in the evening, when the flowers still seem to hold heat from the day, even after the sun has set.”

The secret to long-lasting bouquets from the garden, May says, is to keep things clean. Continue reading

Keep zinnias free of powdery mildew

QUESTION: I love zinnias and plant them every year. Sometimes they do well and look great all summer, but many years the leaves are covered in powdery mildew. How do you get rid of this problem?

Powdery mildew is a fungus that appears as gray or white splotches on leaves, stems and flowers of zinnias and other ornamentals and some vegetable plants. It travels by airborne spores, and thrives when nights are moderately cool and foliage stays damp. A mild covering of powdery mildew is merely unattractive, but a severe case can cause distorted shoots and leaves, misshapen flowers, or can prevent flowering altogether. Continue reading

Zinnias for summer – and a Book Giveaway!

I love seeing zinnias in a summer garden, and want to plant them in my yard this year. Is it too late to grow them from seeds?

ZinniasYou’d get that great summer zinnia look a little sooner by planting bedding plants, if you can find them, but early May is not too late to plant zinnia seeds. In fact, they get off to a better start if you sow seeds after the soil has warmed, as they sprout and grow quickly.

Sow the seeds in a prepared garden bed (good garden soil in full sun) about ¼-inch deep. Keep the bed moist, and once they’re up, thin the plants to at least six inches apart. This is important to provide good air circulation around the plants; a bed planted too thickly may be more susceptible to powdery mildew when summer’s humidity sets in.

Then, just wait a few weeks for them to start blooming. Butterflies will love them, and you’ll be able to cut flowers for summer bouquets from the time they start blooming until frost knocks them down. The more you cut, the better and bushier the plants will be.

There are dozens of zinnia varieties, tall and short, and a range of colors. Most of the familiar forms are common zinnia, Zinnia elegans, but gardeners who wish to avoid the powdery mildew problem may want to try Z. angustifolia, or narrow-leaf zinnia, which grows in a mounded form. The flowers resemble miniature daisies, and the plant blooms from early summer to frost.

A fun fact that I found at the Rodale’s Organic Life website: when zinnias, which are native to Mexico, were introduced in Europe, the flowers were referred to as “everybody’s flower” because they were so common and easy to grow.

Book Giveaway! Southern Gardener’s Handbook by Troy Marden

©Troy B. Marden

©Troy B. Marden

If you ask Troy Marden about the best plants for a garden, he’ll most likely talk about soil.

“That may not be the answer you expected and it’s usually not the answer most people want to hear,” he says. “People want to plant pretty flowers, trees and shrubs.

“But if you don’t start with your soil – amend it, feed it, nurture it – the results will be lackluster.” That’s especially true here in the south, where we often try to coax a garden out of heavy, wet clay.

Troy is one of the Mid-state’s favorite go-to garden experts, so we listen to what he says. He’s passing along more of his garden knowledge in a new book, Southern Gardener’s Handbook, published this spring. Besides his thorough lesson on soil and how to make it better, he offers his ideas for best practices on watering, fertilizing, understanding microclimates, sun and shade, compost and “greener ways to garden.” This is followed by three hundred full-color plant profiles, organized under ten plant categories from annuals to vines.

“I wrote this guide as comprehensive, but approachable,” Troy says. “Interesting enough for the more seasoned gardener, but easy enough to understand for those who might be getting their hands dirty for the first time.”

southern gardeners handbookThe Giveaway: Here at The Garden Bench, we are giving away two copies of Southern Gardener’s Handbook from the publisher, Cool Springs Press.

Leave a comment at the end of this post about your favorite May blooms – or just say “Count me in!” Respond by 6 p.m. Friday, May 15, 2015, and your name will go into a drawing to win one of two copies of Troy Marden’s Southern Gardener’s Handbook.

Small space, big returns: It’s possible to grow edibles and ornamentals even if you don’t have a plot of soil that you can call a garden. In Saturday’s Tennessean, master gardener Mary Boyd discusses several ways to garden in small spaces. Master Gardeners of Davidson County is getting ready for its annual Urban Garden Festival on May 16.

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.

Thin those overgrown glads

QUESTION: I have a bed of gladiolus in my condo courtyard. The plants have grown so thick that they look crowded and messy, falling over each other. I know I need to thin them out, but when? And how?

glads redGladiolus grows from a tender corm, and in cold climates, garden experts suggest digging up the corms in the fall and storing them over the winter. In Middle Tennessee, I doubt that many gardeners go to the trouble. Winters here are just not that cold, and the glads pop up with no problem in the spring.

But you can still dig them up in the fall for the purpose of thinning them out. Whether you’re lifting them out for winter protection or for thinning, the University of Tennessee   Extension suggests digging them up on a bright, sunny day in the fall, after the foliage dies back but before a heavy frost. Cut the foliage flush with the corms and dry them outdoors during the day, but move them to a warmer, well-ventilated area to continue drying.

After a week or two, the old corms should separate from newly produced corms; gently pry them apart and discard the old one, along with any that are diseased or scarred. Dry them in a warm place for a few more days, and when they are cured, store them in a cool, well-ventilated area through the winter.

Next spring, put the corms back in the ground. You only get one flowering stem per corm, but you can stagger the planting over several weeks to have a succession of blooms – the Extension office suggests planting at two-week intervals, beginning in late April or May and ending no later than 60 days before the first frost to provide flowers from about mid-summer and into the fall. Plant corms 4 to 6 inches deep. Taller varieties may need to be staked as they grow to prevent the top-heavy flowers from toppling.

In the garden this month

In August, your kitchen garden can provide an abundance of fresh veggies. Find ideas for all that zucchini, that basket full of okra, all those tomates, plus summer garden tips and tasks in the August Garden Calendar at Tennessean.com.

Garden events in Middle Tennessee

August 10: The undisputed star of the summer garden has its own celebration. The annual Tomato Art Fest, hosted by Art and Invention Gallery, is a day-long party (10 a.m. – 10 p.m.) full of art, entertainment, and family-friendly events in the Five-Points area in East Nashville. http://tomatoartfest.com.

August 15: Lunch and Lecture at Cheekwood: “Beyond Green: Colorful Foliage in the Garden.” Sue Hamilton, director of the UT Gardens, shows how to use plants with colorful foliage to provide year-round impact in your garden. Noon – 1 p.m.; $25 for non-members. www.cheekwood.org/Education  to register.

August 16:  Make a batch of fresh salsa to enjoy at Summer Salsa Creations at WarnerParkNatureCenter, 5:30 – 7 p.m. Naturalist Melissa Donahue leads this all-ages workshop, starting with fresh tomatoes from the NatureCenter garden – or bring your own. Call 352-6299 to register. Registration opens Aug. 2.

August 20: Julie Berbiglia of NPT’s Volunteer Gardener is the speaker at this month’s Perennial Plant Society of Middle Tennessee meeting at Cheekwood’s Botanic Hall. Her topic: “Water Conservation.” Refreshments at 6:30, meeting at 7 p.m. The public is invited. www.ppsmt.org.

August 22: Hosta hybridizer Bob Solburg of Green Hill Farm in Franklinton, N.C. is the speaker at this month’s meeting of the Middle Tennessee Hosta Society at Cheekwood. The meet-and-greet begins at 6:30, meeting at 7 p.m., and Solburg will have plants for sale. www.mths-hosta.com.