Southern Gardening from 2014
By Gary R. Bachman
Coastal Research & Extension Center
Let’s face it; it doesn’t take much effort for our gardening minds to wander down imaginary garden paths. Alfred Austin summed up the enjoyment we receive from gardening -- “The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.”
Bouquets, corsages and floral arrangements are linked firmly with church weddings, but landscape plants can promote a romantic atmosphere at outdoor nuptials, too.
There are several landscape and garden plants with romantic symbolism that last through the year. Consider gomphrena, a great choice for cut flower arrangements because when dried, it keeps its flower color. Not only is it a visual representation of an unfading love, it’s also pretty in the landscape for months.
I don’t know about you, but as I’ve gotten older, the thought of digging up an area of the yard to install a new planting bed has lost its appeal.
Between a bad back and bad knees -- not to mention bad elbows, shoulders and hands -- using a tiller to break up soil and adding lots of organic matter is just too much work. Along with the aches and pains, I hope age has made me a little wiser about work and relaxation in the garden and landscape.
My solution to new landscape beds is really an old idea: raised beds.
Garden catalogs are arriving in my mailbox at a pace I haven’t seen in quite a few years. Every day, a new catalog tries to tempt me to plant the latest and greatest this spring. The parade of polar vortexes with extreme low temperatures is only making matters worse.
During a cold winter, people ask what garden and landscape plants are not going to make it. I always tell folks we’ll just have to wait until spring to see which plants “wake up” and start growing.
A major gift-giving holiday is fast approaching. If your first thought was Christmas, you’re about 10 months early and in serious trouble.
Of course I’m referring to Valentine’s Day, and the most frequently given gift by far is flowers. What is the most popular flower given on Valentine’s Day? If you said roses -- then, ding, ding, ding -- you’re a winner. But have you ever wondered how we can walk into almost any florist and find these beautiful flowers available in the dead of winter?
While American athletes are headed for the winner’s podium at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, a flowering perennial, a vegetable and a fruit made the podium as 2014 Mississippi Medallion winners.
These are going to be some outstanding plants for our Mississippi gardens.
There’s a mystique about heirloom tomatoes that causes me to get several phone calls each spring from gardeners interested in growing these fascinating plants.
Let’s set one thing straight right now. There isn’t just one heirloom tomato; there are literally hundreds. These are not the perfect mass-produced hybrid tomatoes found in the seed racks and transplants at the garden center or in the bins of the grocery store.
They’re colorful, with a range from bright red, orange and yellow to mahogany brown. They even have stripes. Many are lumpy and bumpy.
With St. Patrick’s Day almost here, I’m reminded of the good old days trying to find lucky four-leaf clovers in my lawn as a kid. Of course, some years it was hard because clover is a weed and my dad would spray to get rid of them.
Clover normally has three leaves, but sometimes a mutation produces a fourth leaf. When I found one, I was sure good luck would come my way. Little did I know that this belief has a long history. Four-leaf clovers were considered an omen of good fortune by ancient Celtic peoples.
The dreary conditions of winter have made me ready for the warm days of spring and summer. I’ve been giving a lot thought to the types of plants that provide maximum color with minimum effort.
As much as we all want to believe it’s possible, there’s no such thing as a maintenance-free landscape and garden. However, a couple of plants that I definitely will have in my landscape this spring are calibrachoa and verbena. I think you should have them, too.
The signs are all around us.
Red maples and redbuds are flowering, and yellow jessamine is scrambling and blooming along fences and way up in trees. This winter’s low temperatures have the ornamental pears really putting on a show.
Daylight Savings Time has kicked in, and we’re almost to the Spring Equinox. This can only mean one thing: Warmer weather has to show up sometime in the near future.
Shopping in a garden center in the spring confronts visitors with an almost dizzying array of new plants with flower colors that seem to go beyond our imagination.
But today, I’m not writing about any of those plants. I want you to consider an old-time garden staple that many gardeners forget about -- the nasturtium. I’ve been growing nasturtiums in my garden and landscape for the past couple of years and couldn’t be happier with the results.
Spring is one of my favorite times in the garden because it is the transition from what seemed like a long, cold winter to colorful landscapes and gardens full of flowers in the summer.
I have always loved the spring-flowering bulbs, especially daffodils. These brightly colored flowers are a welcome sight when spring temperatures are still cool.
This winter we have seen some mighty cold weather in our gardens and landscapes. As a result, we’ll see damage to some landscape plants and we’ll lose others. And with some plants, there will be surprises.
For example, I left an unprotected amaryllis in my garden that experienced a low temperature of 15 degrees -- not once, but twice. This weekend I found the amaryllis pushing new leaves. I was able to separate and pot five bulblets that were also growing.
I’m ready for warm weather. I’ve had it with the cold winter that seemed much longer than it actually was. Bring on the summer garden.
In my opinion, there are a couple of plants that seem to just scream “SUMMER.” Zinnia is one of them.
One zinnia that is forgotten in some gardens is the family of Zinnia elegans, the cutting zinnia. Benary’s Giant zinnia is a must-have for any home gardener who wants long-lasting cut flowers all summer.
With the chance of any more spring freezes getting lower by the day, the typical home gardener is out looking for plants for when the summer temperatures start to rise. Annual flowering vinca is one that really brightens up our Mississippi summer landscapes.
Annual flowering vinca has attractive foliage and gorgeous flowers. The foliage is a glossy, dark green and has a prominent rib in the middle of the leaf. This coloration makes for a fantastic background to show off its purple, red, pink and white flowers.
Flowers are always high on the gift list for Mother’s Day, and rose plants for the garden are a great way to remember the day year after year.
There are lots of roses from which to choose. Shrub roses are really popular and pretty easy to grow and maintain in the landscape. Knockouts may be the most well-known of this group.
There’s nothing like preparing a meal using vegetables that were picked only five minutes earlier. That goal drives the efforts of many home gardeners.
But many people, especially those new to gardening, are under the misconception that a vegetable garden is a lot of work. Who wants to go out and take care of the weeding after you’ve worked all day and it’s 90 degrees outside? Besides, who has the room needed for a garden?
Truth be told, you only need a small garden or even a patio to enjoy fresh-grown vegetables in the summer and year-round.
Did you know bells work well in the landscape?
For years, one of my favorite landscape plants has been Heuchera, commonly called coral bells. I don’t think you can beat the landscape punch of texture and color these plants bring. Coral bells bloom, but I grow them strictly for the foliage.
I’m gaining appreciation for another “bell” in my garden called Heucherella, or foamy bells. These plants are hybrids, the result of crossing Heuchera and the closely related Tiarella (foam flower).
A dizzying array of new plants for the home landscape and garden are promoted every year, and several got their starts along our roadsides and ditches.
Horticulturists often say that many of our landscape plants are only a step or two out of the ditch. One of my favorite ditch-loving varieties that bloom each spring is Queen Anne’s Lace. Some people consider them weeds, but I believe they have many worthy qualities.
You can hardly miss the yellow flowers of Coreopsis lanceolata along highways in the summer, so it’s easy to see why this is the state wildflower of Mississippi.
Several species of the plant fall under the common name of tickseed. Coreopsis lanceolata grows up to 2 feet tall along roadsides and in prairie-type sites. Its flowers are daisy-like with bright yellow petals and centers.