September 28, 2012

Plant Spotlight: Kaleidoscope Abelia

Its fall again. The air is crisp and the garden is coming back to life for one last show before its time to settle down for winter. One of the first plants to come to back to life this fall is Abelia 'Kaleidoscope', one of my all-time favorite foliage plants.

Since its introduction a decade ago, the Kaleidoscope Abelia has secured a spot in many southern gardens. Its evergreen foliage is a lime green with touches of cream and coral that become more evident in fall and winter. Although the foliage is the star, its delicate white flowers, a bumblebee favorite, bloom from spring to fall. In my full sun garden I usually get the best peaks in the cooler seasons, and with the recent cool nights they have burst into bloom.

The great thing about Kaleidoscope Abelia, and what makes it so versatile in the garden,  is its compact size. At only 3ft tall and 4-5ft wide, it makes a great accent shrub and is a favorite for foundation plantings or front yard beds for year round color. Paired with the dark purple foliage of a barberry it really steals the show!

April 30, 2012

Moonlight and Roses

The only thing that could have made our near-5ft tall clump of 'Carolina Moonlight' Baptisia look better this spring was the beautiful color contrast provided by the red 'Double Knockout' Rosa in the background.

False Indigo, Baptisia sp., is perhaps my all-time favorite perennial plant, and the 'Carolina Moonlight' always steals the show in the spring with its vigorous height, although I do have 3 varieties of the shorter purple-toned Baptisia australis hybrids that are gorgeous as well. I love watching every stage of the plant's growth, from the asparagus like buds shooting out of the ground in early spring, to the delicate blue-green foliage, and of course those characteristic pea-family flowers!

The 'Knockout' rose in the back of the border provides a background to make the light yellow Baptisia flowers really stand out. 'Knockouts' have become a common staple in landscapes, offering a re-blooming, disease resistant option for even the most novice rose gardener. Used in the right places, the dark foliage and dazzling flowers give a show all season long... and with this warm spring they are starting extra early. In our sunny perennial border filling with spring flowers, these two beauties really steal the show when they come into bloom at the same time!

April 18, 2012

A Vegetable Expansion

With my ever growing heirloom tomato obsession we were long overdue for an expansion of our kitchen garden. After growing all our herbs and vegetables for years in a relatively small raised bed along the South side of our house, a new patch of rich soil is poses exciting prospect!  Armed with my spring veggies, both from seed and from the garden center, Ive been spending the weekends planting tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, squash, peppers, dill, basil... and all my other favorites!

Last year, although our vegetable bed looked luscious and full in the spring, a nasty virus spread through the tomatoes, a chance I took by planting them in the same spot year after year. But with tomatoes taking up more than half of the bed, and a big hop vine in the way,  I really had no option. Luckily, we had a spot in the full sun that was free this year. After taking out a dead dogwood tree, we had converted this sloping spot into our little hop yard last winter.

Erecting the hop trellis system last winter.. look at that clay soil!

 With a little bit of convincing, Brian let go of a little hop space and knowing that he had to dig up all the hops, was willing to build us a new bed... a level one, with good soil fitting a production area. With a few 2 by 4s from a local lumber yard, a yard of garden soil plus a half a yard of home-grown compost, and a lot of hand-tilling with our two shovels, the spot transformed in an afternoon.

We decided to only build up one side to keep with the natural look of the beds in the back yard. Stacked rocks from the stream behind our property were added to the sides to prevent any erosion. The terracotta pot was my little addition... I cant wait for the Dahlia to pop up later this spring! And Brian's hops should enjoy the new soil and a little more attention this summer.

April 13, 2012

Plant Spotlight: White Lady Banks Rose

The Lady Banks Rose is a staple of the southern garden. Popular for its cascades of tiny rose blossoms, the yellow variety is by far the most popular. However, I'm here to advocate for its lesser used twin, the double-white Lady Banks Rose, Rosa banksiae 'Alba Plena'. For me there is nothing better than a pure white rose to ring in the spring, and the large blooms of this climbing variety do it with style.

The Lady Banks Rose has been popular in China for centuries, where the native species (a small-blooming white variety) grows wild. On a plant hunting expedition at the request of botanist Sir Joseph Banks, the gardener William Kerr found the rose in Chinese gardens and brought it to the west in 1807, naming it after Sir Banks wife.

The Lady Banks Rose provides a thorn-free, carefree, disease resistant option for incorporating roses into your garden. It blooms early in the season, from early March to late April in our garden. Although the yellow provides a more popular color, the white lady banks has a light, enchanting fragrance reminiscent of violets. With enough sunlight and room to grow, this climbing rose can turn any fence into a fragrant spring bouquet!

April 9, 2012

Early Spring in the Perennial Border

Spring is here. The leaves are out, the flowers are blooming, and the birds and bees are stirring in the garden. The Perennial border is finally filling in with color after the long months of bare mulch and branches.

 This time of year the plants are leaping towards the sun, putting on inches of foliage by the day, or bursting into bud overnight. Two of my favorite standouts for early spring border blooms are the 'Wine and Roses' Wigelia (left), and the 'Carolina Moonlight' Baptisia (right).

These beauties are also favorite spots for the bumblebees that have recently returned to the garden. Its great to see all the familiar faces of spring back once again!

April 3, 2012

Hail Storm

A couple nights ago, the garden got bombed by mother nature.

Luckily, the only real casualty was 1 newly bought tomato plant that lost its top... everything else will grow back quickly with the spring warmth. The storm came unexpectedly on an otherwise calm weekend night, just after midnight. We were just falling asleep when we heard the rain start and had enough sense to pull the seedlings undercover, but everything else was stuck outside with the near-marble sized hail. Hopefully this will be the last of these events this spring!

March 22, 2012

Perennial Containers

Last summer I bought a BIG 30-inch pot for a tree sapling we were growing on the mostly-shady back porch. The tree died when we went away for a week in July (Oops... it was only to be expected after that kind of neglect)... and looking for a quick bit of color I turned to evergreen perennials to fill the container and ended up with a lovely combination with year-round interest.

Perennials make a cost-efficient choice for containers that will keep season after season. Just make sure when picking your perennial container combos that you pick plants that are hardy to at least 1 zone colder than the zone you are in since roots in a pot gets colder than roots in the ground (i.e. Raleigh is zone 7 so I made sure these were hardy to at least zone 6). While I love my annuals in the sun, shade containers are a place where perennials really steal the show for interest.

This container features the Tassel Fern, Polystichum polyblepharum
 with its unique fuzzy stems, and a personal favorite for the shade, Coral Bells, Heuchera 'Palace Purple' which shoot up delicate bell-shaped blooms in the mid spring, with a punch of Periwinkle Vine, Vinca minor, for a trailing effect.

March 17, 2012

Plant Spotlight: Thalia Daffodil

The Daffodils are in bloom in North Carolina! Daffodils, or Narcissus, provide some of the most reliable late-winter / early-spring blooms in the south. There are TONS of varieties out there, and I have at least 10 different type scattered around the garden, but my favorite by far is Narcissus 'Thalia'.

This beautiful bulb has 2-3 almost pure white flowers per stalk that have a wonderful delicate fragrance. They naturalize well in our southern soils and do better than most at flowering even as the bulbs get crowded.  A great Narcissus to try if you are tired of the old yellow varieties!

March 14, 2012

Landscaping Makes "Cents"

On the fence about your landscaping? Check out this article from a local garden center on how landscaping can increase your resale value and tips to keep it up:

Our Front Landscape

March 8, 2012

Getting the Border Ready for Spring

The first week of March usually marks the start of the spring scramble in this house. All the dreams of garden projects we wanted to get done by spring are now facing a reality of being put off for next year, as we ready the garden for spring. Id already cleaned up the perennials and the roses, and all that was left to tackle was the butterfly bush. Its been a warm winter here as in much of the country, and the shrub still had as much foliage as it did in late fall....until I channeled my inner Edward Scissorhands and gave it a good pruning... from around 8 feet to just under 1 foot.

Butterfly bushes are some of the most commonly used landscape shrubs in our area, and rightly so because of their beautiful blooms that keep coming all summer. But with any widely-used plant, some people buy them without learning how to correctly care for them. The key to keeping your butterfly bush full and healthy year to year is to cut it back with some sharp bypass loppers to about 1 foot in the spring when new growth emerges. 

Now, you do not have to cut a butterfly bush back in the South, as the stems stay alive year round here, but be warned: they will grow to almost 20 feet in this area if not pruned! That and the pruning increases flowering dramatically, and gives the bush a cleaner shape. The most common mistake with this shrub is to cut it back too early (in the fall or early winter) leaving its hollow stems vulnerable to frost damage. Even in the early spring I make sure to make my cuts at least 1/2 inch above a growing point (i.e. a new leaf) in case temperatures drop.

And now all there is to do is throw down some all-purpose fertilizer (I prefer organic products and love the "good stuff" in Espoma's Plantone to give the border a boost in the spring) and just wait for summer blooms!

March 1, 2012

Crocus for Early Spring Color

Crocus are a reliable early spring blooming blub for our area that is usually the first to bloom in our garden. We have the tiny bulbs scattered throughout the garden in bunches: some in the far back amongst the roots of a big tulip poplar, among the perennials in the border, and even a few under a tree in our front yard.

We have several varieties in the garden, but only one that is bold colored and vigorous enough to form a patch big enough to be seen from our back windows. This is the star of the show, Crocus tommasinianus 'Ruby Giant'. This variety is super care free, cheap to buy, and will grow almost anywhere! Id recommend this Crocus variety for anyone looking for an early spring show.