Whenever I come to the Destin area of Florida, I love to make a pilgrimage to the Seaside/Watercolor Place area off Highway 30A. At Watercolor Place, I can always count on perennial and annual beds welcoming my walk throughout the development - each grouping tagged with genus and species. Seaside has a plethora of container planting, and last year I was surprised by their delightful community garden next to the small elementary school. Enjoy a quick visit through these pictures.
Some call him the seducer, the way he woos us with his warmth. He skews our perspective and flirts with what he knows are our ultimate intentions. Last year, I hate to admit, even I found myself succumbing to his overt advancements. I’m not talking George Clooney here. It’s the month of March that can lure even the most faithful gardener to transgress our prudish adherence to not plant annuals until after Tax Day. The seduction of early spring, the lure of brilliantly colored flowers topping tables at all the big box stores, the longing to feel the dirt in our hands – all these combine to bring down the florally starved gardeners who think, “Surely this year we won’t get caught with a late freeze!”
You would think that we would all learn our lesson. With February and March of 2007 bringing temperature that aligned more with April and May, many folk were convinced that global warming had eliminated our winter. By the end of March I was seeing annual beds being planted, baskets of spring flowers being hung, and Boston ferns placed in urns. Granted, in some years the meticulous gardener can escape the damage of late frost by covering their flowers or bringing containers into their garage. But 2007’s three day deep freeze in early April defied preparation and protection. It’s time to encourage the Victorian Age rule of planting for Middle Tennessee: “Don’t plant your annuals and tropicals until after April 15!” I’ll even add another word of caution here. Many of the gardening old-timers that I love to glean information from swear by the fact that they will not plant annuals until after Mother’s Day (a good two weeks after April 15). Late April 2005 brought temperatures in the upper 20s at night – enough to decimate plants like impatiens, coleus, or mandevilla vines.
DEFYING THE DECEIVER
With warm afternoons beckoning us to action but responsibility controlling our purse-strings, here’s a list of early spring activities that help you prepare the way for a gorgeous and healthy spring display of annual color. Just so we’re all on the same wave-length, I’ll give a quick explanation of what I’m talking about when I discuss annual color: Encarta Dictionary describes “annuals” as a “plant that dies after one season”. In our area this is a long list that you can best explore by checking out these two web sites: http://utgardens.tennessee.edu http://ugatrial.hort.uga.edu
1. Visit the websites above to read about which annuals and tropicals best handled our past two scorching summers. You’ll find plants listed by botanical name, but you’ll also find the name that grandma used to call it! Make note of the specific variety – for example, not all geraniums perform the same. Look for these varieties in local nurseries. 2. Amend your annual beds with products such as Erth Food, soil from the Compost Farm (794-1483), Nature’s Helper Soil Amendments, or other good soil enrichments. 3. Visit the Bloom N Garden Expo (April 9-11) at the Williamson County Expo. Not only do they have great displays, but this is one of the best places to buy plants and garden accessories, plus learn lots from their line-up of speakers. 4. Visit the Westhaven Spring Market and Courtyard Tour on May 14-16 – another opportunity to purchase annuals, containers, garden décor, and look at great open houses while you’re there. 5. Start planting in your perennial beds. Two great new books out to help you decide what to plant where: “Southern Shade: A Plant Selection Guide” or “Southern Sun: A Plant Selection Guide” both by Jo Kellum. 6. Come visit us in our storefront on Fridays – starting March 12!!
Coach Jeff Fisher, Football, and Your Winter Garden
I love football – the energy and excitement generated by battling mind, body, and skill for a few minutes of potential victory and glory.Hours and hours are spent training for those four 12-15 quarters - sweat spent, pain endured, plays and instruction memorized.And the coach leads the way with vision, motivation, strategy, and direction.Learning to listen to the coach, even in the midst of play, can determine the team’s destiny.A good coach will learn the art of capturing his players’ (and fans’!) imaginations of great things to come. My sons have had incredible coaches whose words have helped mold them as much into men as they have into athletes.And every time I hear Coach Jeff Fisher’s fatherly voice, “Here’s the thing about life.You get back what you put into it…,” on a St. Thomas Hospital TV commercial, I pay attention.Even ignoring the fact that I am an insanely passionate Titans fan, his coaching advice hits a chord of truth to my gardener’s heart.So my goal today is to emulate Coach Fisher, inspire a team of gardeners in your winter slump, and coach you to horticultural victory.
Here’s the thing about gardening.You get back what you put into it.
Literally. Winter is a great time to add a layer of Royal Soil® compost, shredded leaves, pine fines, Erth™ Food, mushroom compost, or any number of soil conditioners to your garden beds.The more organic material that you can enrich your soil with, the less you’ll spend on fertilizers and products for disease issues.If you’re planning on re-designing a bed or starting a new one, you can begin your process with lasagna gardening – a no-till organic garden prep that you can start this winter.“Lasagna Gardening” by Patricia Lanza is an easy to follow guide book to coach you through this task.
A garden rewards those who work harder…
Winter gardening is pre-season training.This is the time to get your tools in shape: clean off dried on dirt and sap with Krud Kutter and fine steel wool (find both at Home Depot, Lowes, or your local hardware store), sharpen blades, and sanitize pruners.This is the time to work on your game plan:meet with a landscape architect or designer to come up with an overall design, and develop a strategy to implement this plan.This is the time to shape up and tone up excess weight:cut back perennials and dead limbs, remove old plant material from under shrubs and containers. (While I am referring to excess weight on the plants, doing this process after the holidays does seem to help with that excess weight of too many Christmas cookies!)
Who care more…
Winter gardening is learning time – how to take care of what you have, how to deal with your garden opponents.My football playing sons will spend hours looking at game films to learn both how they can improve their own playing, and also how they can deal with their opponents.These first few months of the year find grocery shelves lined with garden magazines.Mailboxes of anyone remotely mentioning an interest in gardening in some marketing survey will be filled with plant catalogs. Great gardening books are sitting on shelves waiting to be read. Take time this winter to learn more about caring for your garden with these great resources:“Square Foot Gardening” by Mel Bartholomew; “Armitage’s Manual of Annuals,Biennials, and Half-Hardy Perennials”by Allan M. Armitage, “The Pruning Book” by Lee Reich, Fine Gardening Magazine, Tennessee Gardener Magazine, Garden Gate Magazine, Horticulture Magazine, or taking Master Gardener Classes from your county extension service - www.ahs.org/master_gardeners.There also some online gardening resources like www.gardenweb.com, www.mywebgarden.com, www.onlinegardener.com, www.gardening-resources.suite101.com, http://plantwebsite.com, and my favorite http://edenmakersblog.com. Also check out the many garden bloggers listed on the right.
Who give it their best…
What team would ever plan on going into the game without their best players, their best equipment, or their best effort?Do you know the best plants for your region or the best area for certain plants?What are the best tools to have in your garden shed and the best products to treat your plants with?Winter is a slower time in most local garden centers so take some time to get to know the folks who work there, ask lots of questions about plants you may be wanting to put in your yard, look at the different products that they offer and learn the benefits of each one.Some my favorite resources for knowing what is best in my yard is Lois Trigg Chaplin’s “The Southern Gardener's Book of Lists: The Best Plants for All Your Needs, Wants, and Whims”, CheekwoodBotanical Garden, and the UT Trial gardens in Knoxville and Jackson, Tennessee.
Then give a little more.
A garden gives us so much – beautiful flowers, a bounty of fresh produce, a shady spot for quiet moments.What I am seeing more and more is the way that local gardeners pass on that giving to others.My friend, Jean Myrick, uses the floriferous beauty from her garden to decorate her church’s pulpit each week.The Garden Writer’s Association has a program called Plant a Row for the Hungry - “The purpose of PAR is to create and sustain a grassroots program whereby garden writers … encourage their readers/listeners to donate their surplus garden produce to local food banks, soup kitchens, and service organizations to help feed America's hungry.”I met a lady in Raleigh, NC who retired from her university professor job and now plants a quarter acre garden every summer to use at a local homeless shelter.When you are planning your garden this winter, plan how you can share what you grow.One of the joys of gardening is that you always have something to give!
A note from the sidelines:I enjoy seeing how our profession teams give back to our community. Maybe there is place for well-honed muscle to assist in developing community gardens. Maybe some of them secretly enjoy planting tomatoes in the ground as much as they enjoy planting quarterbacks. Let me know, Coach Fisher, if any of your players need a gardening game plan!
"Gardening is not some sort of game by which one proves his superiority over others, nor is it a marketplace for the display of elegant things that others cannot afford. It is, on the contrary, a growing work of creation, endless in its changing elements. It is not a monument or an achievement, but a sort of traveling, a kind of pilgrimage you might say, often a bit grubby and sweaty though true pilgrims do not mind that. A garden is not a picture, but a language, which is of course the major art of life." Henry Mitchell "The Essential Earthman"
I work as the Floriculture Director for Landscape Services, Inc. My job includes designing and planting semi-annually hundreds of annual beds containers and garden beds for commercial development, neighborhoods, and residents requesting our horticulture services. I love my job and the opportunity to bring beauty to our local communities. Most of all, I love introducing new plant material to the average gardener, and to helping them find success in their own gardens.