An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

May 30, 2009

Currituck Garden Tour - Part II

There were 2 businesses on the tour. The first one I went to was the Harbinger Lavender Farm. The proprietor has defied the common belief that you can't grow healthy lavender in the humid southeast. At the farm you can pick-your-own bundles of organic lavender, purchase products made from it or buy the plants for your own garden. The next stop was Blooms To Your Door Flower Field. The owner is the daughter of Brent and Becky Heath of bulb fame, and she must have pollen in her DNA. Here she grows fresh cut organic flowers to sell on the Outer Banks.

The last garden on the tour was Island Gardens, and it was another weed free wonder. This garden had some beautiful Clematis, several of which were growing on chains from the corners of the barn eaves anchored to the ground (an idea I may steal). The vegetable garden was immaculate, they had a nice water garden and were also selling plants - but I left all my money with the people at Currituck BBQ.

Currituck Garden Tour - Part I

Today was my first Saturday off since March, and what does any nursery worker do with a free day at hand - he heads out of town for a garden tour. This one was in Currituck Co., North Carolina which is just south of here. The tour was sponsored by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension and the Currituck Master Gardeners and was their first time holding this event.

The first garden I went to was Dixie Gardens, named for the owner's very svelte and very affectionate English bulldog. The husband and wife gardeners spend a portion of the winter in Key West, are real plant collectors and this showed in the varied palette of plants they had. Their passion has gotten to the point where they now have two green houses for production as well as a plant room in the house where they keep some of their tropicals. They had plants for sale and I was able to pick up a Papyrus (which they mulch heavily and keep outside) plus an unusually thick-stemmed Ice Plant on steroids for only $8 and she threw in some extra non-steroidal Ice Plant as well.

Another garden on the tour used less exotic plants, but the Dowdy garden was my favorite. I am not good at estimating acreage, but I think this was easily 2 acres of weed free, healthy gardens. The garden was an open field 15 years ago, and now it is a series of garden spaces and rooms surrounded by a very tall holly hedge - from the street you would not know what was behind the hedge. There was a shady wooded walk under Birch trees that led you to a cutting garden, a rose garden, perennial borders and a vegetable garden that was three times the size of my whole yard. The amazing thing is that the homeowners do all the work themselves.

May 26, 2009

My Top Ten For The Shade

So many of the new housing developments around here (that were until just recently popping up like spring mushrooms) were built on old farm land with little or no existing trees. I always regret seeing open or green space being eaten up to build rows of uninspiring houses, but I sometimes am envious of those people who have been given a blank slate in which to garden. Then I think about how oppressive that shadeless yard will be in a Southern July and August (or June and September for that matter). Although I do wish for a wee more sun in my own garden, I am thankful for my mature trees and the shade they provide.

Nan at Gardening Gone Wild is hosting a Garden Bloggers Design Workshop - Made for the Shade. I have enjoyed reading the other workshops since I have been blogging, but this is the first one I felt comfortable participating in. At least 3/4 of my garden space is shaded and fortunately some of my favorite plants (regardless of light requirements) are shade plants. I have decided to list my top 10 favorite shade plants, all of which I grow now in my zone 8a garden, though not all of the pictures were taken there. I could not imagine a garden of mine without either one of these plants.

Acer palmatum Japanese Maple
Who doesn't love these trees? I only have two of them, but if I had more room, I'd have more Japanese Maples. In this climate they need light shade to do well. Camellia japonica and Camellia sasanqua I could never live much further north than I do now. Not only would it be too cold for me, but I could not grow these. Ferns
I have several ferns but my two favorites are Ursula's Red Japanese Painted Fern (Athrium niponicum 'Ursula's Red') and the evergreen Autumn Fern (Dryopteris erythrosora). The Painted Fern looks best when you put other things near it, but the Autumn Fern can stand alone. Both of them have been very longed lived for me.
Edgeworthia chrysantha - Paper Bush, Rice Paper Plant
I need this plant because its fragrant cheery flowers bloom in February when I need something fragrant and cheery the most.
Helleborus orientalis - Lenten Rose
Evergreen, winter blooming, flowers for a long time, drought tolerant, shade loving, beautiful, and seeds around nicely - what's not to love?
Hydrangea macrophylla
When I see the first bloom of the hydrangeas, I know summer is here. I took this one yesterday morning. I have more varieties of this plant than any other, or maybe its the Camellias - I'll have to count.
Liriope muscari 'Pee Dee Gold Ingot'
Liriope is common as dirt, but this variety has chartreuse foliage that creates pools of light where none exists. It is also the newest member of my top ten. This one is shown next to another plant that almost made the list, Hardy Begonia (Begonia grandis).
Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum' - Variegated Solomon's Seal
Tough as nails, spreads easily and it is beautiful.
Trachelospermum asiaticum 'Ang Yo' - Ang Yo Asiatic Jasmine
I planted only one of these evergreen variegated groundcovers about 10 years ago from a 1 gal. pot. It is now covers about a 12' wide area mingling at the base of the shrubs, never climbing them, but growing like a carpet thick enough to keep weeds out. I was initially concerned about its hardiness, but that was worry for nothing. There is great variation in how it is variegated, the new growth is bronze to pink, and it has been completely stable for me not reverting to green.
While we are on the subject of Asiatic Jasmine, I wanted to mention this one, Trachelospermum asiaticum 'Ogon Nishiki'. I think it translates as Golden Brocade. The new growth is Halloween orange and the older leaves are a golden chartreuse and green. It is not as nice as the 'Ang Yo' in that it is stringy and does not make a thick ground cover. Although it is fun having those colors run around underneath of other things.
Trachelospermum jasminoides - Confederate or Star Jasmine
This is a very sweet smelling close cousin of the above Jasmines and one of my favorite vines. It is featured in this month's Bloom Day post. Our computer desk is just on the other side of the one pictured here, and its smell is nearly overwhelming as I type this.

There were so many others I wanted to talk about and feel guilty not mentioning, but a Top Ten list is not a Top Sixteen or Twenty-Three. What's on your list?

May 22, 2009

I Got 15 More Minutes

This week the owner of the company I work for renewed our contract with the local TV station. We get several hundred spots to air our commercial throughout the spring and early summer and then again in the fall. In addition to the commercials, yours truly gets to continue his appearances on the evening news as a local "garden expert". I have been doing this for a year now and it started off being very awkward and somewhat difficult (at least to me it was). Although I would not go so far as to say it is easy, it is less awkward now, and we have developed a good working routine. I usually pick the topic, write the script and sort of have an idea of what I want to show, but let the cameraman and producer decide how best to pull it all together, and they do all of the editing. The most difficult part of the whole thing is trying to convey a message in just one minute when there is more than a minute's worth of information that needs to be said. Regular gardeners probably do not learn anything new, but I hope others do. The least I can hope for is that someone out there in TV land may think twice before indiscriminately spraying pesticides, spreading fertilizers or continuing other bad horticultural habits.

If your favorite shows are in reruns, or you have nothing better to do - you can find some of the archived clips here.

May 15, 2009

Bloom Day - Before the Creek Rises

I actually got to see my garden in the daylight this week. I had a couple of unexpected days off due to a spring fever - literally. So far it does not appear to be the much hyped porcine influenza. Between time on the couch watching really bad daytime TV or in bed napping, I was able to get a few pictures, but no gardening took place. That's a shame, because the weather has been perfect with sufficient rains. I guess any weather is good compared to what I heard on NPR this morning. Apparently one of the ice sheets could be sloughing off of Antarctica in the near future, and according to the news piece, it could raise sea level up to 20' with most of the rise concentrated on the Atlantic and Pacific seaboards of North America. My garden is only about 10' above sea level. Maybe FEMA will build some raised beds for me? I'll have to worry about that some other day, let's see what is now blooming in the garden.

I am not going to repeat any of the Iris I posted earlier this month, but I do want to show the Iris x 'Impersonator' , which is special because it is a hybrid between Iris germanica and Iris ensata. When it opens it looks like a large purple Bearded Iris, but as it ages the petals fall flat like a Japanese Iris and the color softens.

Another shot of purple comes from Purple Smoke Baptisia (Baptisia x 'Purple Smoke'). Because I have such a small yard, I do not usually plant perennials with a short bloom period. However, this one looks like a blue green shrub when it finishes blooming and it is very tough.

The only Clematis I have ever successfully grown is one that came with our house, I think it is Clematis x jackmanii. I found out that it likes to be cut to the ground in late winter when I inadvertently cut it with my weed whacker trying to cut back the Liriope.
Can you tell I like purple? This Angelonia is an annual I planted last week and hopefully the Sun Coleus behind it will catch up with it soon- acid yellow and dark purple togther.
This is the very drought tolerant and long lived Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis fruticosa).
A few more of my roses have come into bloom. This is Betty Boop.
Hot Cocoa blooms in one of my other favorite colors, smoky orange, and I am pleased how well it looks next to a Rose Glow Barberry (Berberis thunbergii 'Rose Glow'). The pairing was unintentional.

After all that heat let's look at some whites. This is either Ligustrum japonicum or Ligustrum lucidum. It also came with the house, and I normally would not have planted it. However, it serves a good purpose in screening the back of the house from the street. I only wish that every single one of its seeds did not germinate.
Strawberry Geranium (Saxifraga stolonifera) fills shady nooks and crannies, and while it's blooming now, I grow it for the foliage.
The next few shots are of the intoxicating Confederate Jasemine, aka Star Jasemine (Trachelospermum jasminoides). I like this plant so much I have three of them. One is taking over the house, one is climbing an oak, while the other is trying to escape to the neighbor's yard. If you want to read more about it, Helen at Garden With Confidence has a recent post on the plant. If you enlarge the pictures you can see how the unopened buds look like fancy candelabra bulbs.

Technically the red seed of the Golden Full Moon Maple (Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum') was once a flower, so it can be shown for bloom day. I have had this for over 10 years and I don't think it has grown 2 inches, but I can't get enough of that foliage color in the shade. Now a preview of things to come. My Hydrangeas are just a few weeks away from blooming, not that I am trying to rush things.

Please join gardeners everywhere in celebrating Garden Bloggers Bloom Day hosted by Carol at May Dream Gardens. Afterall, it is May.