Friday, November 14, 2014

Small-scale Composting for a Raised Bed Patio Garden

I want to make compost for my raised bed patio garden. I live alone, so I don't produce many kitchen scraps. I live in a townhouse with almost no yard. How can I get enough stuff to compost?

It seems to me you only need to compost on a small scale. A compost heap or bin will probably be impractical, taking too long to fill, taking up too much space, and possibly offending neighbors. I suggest you chop your fruit and vegetable scraps, pulverize egg shells, then store them in a lidded plastic container - the 45 oz. size like buttery spreads come in - until it's filled. Then bury the contents directly in one end of your patio garden. Cover immediately with a few inches of soil. The next time you have a full container, bury the contents beside the first batch. Eventually you will have a row of compost in the making. As you collect more material, begin your second row, and so forth. Within a few months, you should be able to plant vegetables or annuals directly in your first row of finished compost, then later into the second row, etc. As time goes on, you should have a very fertile patio garden.

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Must-Have Plants: Japanese Ardisia, aka Marlberry

Ardisia japonica aka Japanese Ardisia, Marlberry

Must-have plants are among the best plants for appropriate garden situations. When you need great garden plants for ground cover, naturalizing, wildflower gardens, perennial borders, butterfly gardens, hummingbird gardens, herb gardens, heritage gardens, cutting gardens, woodland gardens, shade gardens, bulb gardens, container gardens, bog gardens, water gardens, rain gardens or xeriscaping, look for the best among our must-have plants.

Name(s): Ardisia japonica, Marlberry, Japanese Ardisia.

Flower Color: White.

Bloom Time: Late spring to early summer.

Foliage: Evergreen, leathery.

Height/Spread: 6 inches to 12 inches x 12 inches to 18 inches.

Climate Zones: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade.

Soil Condition: Well-drained, loamy, pH 5.1 to 6.5.

Features: White to pale pink flowers followed by long-lasting red berries, drought tolerant, deer resistant.

Uses: Massed planting, Asian plant collections, medicinal plant collections, naturalizing, ground cover, shade gardens.

Comments: Ardisia japonica, also known as Japanese Aridisia and Marlberry, produces leathery, evergreen foliage. Variegated forms are available. White flowers appear late spring to early summer, followed by long-lasting red berries. Maximum height ranges from 6 inches to 12 inches, and it spreads rapidly via underground rhizomes.

Ardisia thrives in full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 6 to 10. Loamy, well-drained soil with pH ranging from 5.1 to 6.5 is recommended.

Ardisia is an excellent ground cover for full sun or partial shade, massed plantings, Asian plant collections, medicinal plant collections and naturalizing.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

All-America Selections Announces the First Vegetatively Propagated AAS Winners
SunPatiens® Spreading Shell Pink - Image courtesy of AAS

After more than eighty years of trialing only seed-propagated varieties, All-America Selections (AAS) began trialing vegetatively propagated varieties early this year. With the 2014 trial season now completed, AAS is pleased and honored to grant the AAS Winner status to two impatiens that performed exceptionally well in the AAS container trials for vegetatively propagated annuals.

 The two Vegetative Winners are:
The truly unique genetic background of SunPatiens® Spreading Shell Pink delivers unsurpassed garden performance with season long, soft pink flowers that never slow down. Strong roots take hold quickly after transplanting and these impatiens thrive under high heat, rain and humidity. The AAS Judges loved these vigorous spreading plants that keep their shape all summer, plus, they do just as well in full sun as in shade. These low-maintenance plants are perfect for gardeners looking for impatiens that are resistant to downy mildew.

Bounce impatiens provides gardeners with shade garden confidence. Bounce looks like an Impatiens walleriana in habit, flower form and count, but is completely downy mildew resistant, which means this impatiens will last from spring all the way through fall. Bounce Pink Flame boasts of a massive amount of stunning, bright pink bicolor blooms with tons of color to brighten your garden, be it in shade or sun. And caring for impatiens has never been easier: just add water and they’ll “bounce” right back!

Both are available in plant form only.

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

I'm in zone 8a. Should I wait till spring to plant Asiatic Jasmine?

Good question. Here in zone 8b, I prefer to plant in fall because roots continue to develop in winter even when above-ground parts are often dormant.

Asiatic jasmine is plenty cold-hardy in your climate zone. You needn't wait until spring to plant. The temps don't drop enough long enough to be a problem. Furthermore, once planted and irrigated deeply, newly planted plants don't require as much irrigation during our cool seasons.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

All-America Selections Announces Winners of the 2014 Display Garden Landscape Design Contest

Three years ago, All-America Selections (AAS) launched a new contest for almost 200 Display Gardens to encourage new and exciting landscaping ideas with AAS Winners. The success of the program has been beyond expectations and continues to grow and impress every year.

2014’s contest asked participants to expand on a theme of using containers in the landscape. This contest is a landscape design contest incorporating AAS Winners, past and present. Each garden is responsible for creating and executing the design, generating publicity surrounding the contest then submitting the photos, proof of publicity and an overall description of their design. All-America Selections is extremely pleased with not only the number of gardens that participated but also the broad range of garden types: large and small public gardens, seed companies, community gardens, master gardener programs and university gardens. All-America Selections salutes all the gardens and their impressive efforts to produce an attractive display of AAS Winners.

There were three categories, based on number of visitors to the garden in one year:
Category I: fewer than 10,000 visitors per year
Category II: 10,001 – 100,000 visitors per year
Category III: Over 100,000 visitors per year

All-America Selections recognizes and thanks the contest judges who are industry experts in the field of horticulture and landscaping:

Jeff Gibson, Landscape Business Manger, Ball Horticultural Company
Bruce Hellerick, Senior Horticulture Specialist, The Brickman Group
Susan Schmitz, Trials and Education Manager, Ball Horticultural Company
Barbara Wise, author and Director of Floriculture, Landscape Services, Inc.

(A complete collection of photos from all contest entrants can be found on the All-America Selections Flickr and Facebook accounts.)

Category I: fewer than 10,000 visitors per year

First Place Winner: University of Wisconsin Spooner Ag Research Station, Teaching and Display Garden, Spooner, Wisconsin. “Down on the Farm” was the theme for this Display Garden, celebrating family farmers who survived through hard work and ingenuity. Using salvaged typical household items, they organized and planted garden rooms then filled and interspersed those items with AAS Winners to provide a riot of color. Judges gave this garden high rankings because of the number of AAS Winners used along with the unique props that helped tell an educational story. Then to top it off, Spooner did a fantastic job of spreading the word among their local community via Social Media, radio, newspapers, their own website, e-newsletters and with the University of Wisconsin’s Extension programs.

Second Place Winner: Noelridge Park Gardens, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Beautiful, elegant and artistic is how the judges described the AAS display at Noelridge Park Gardens. Highlighting this garden were the many structures and containers handcrafted from native willow branches—all done by their volunteers!  Multiple groups collaborated together on this project that not only resulted in a beautiful community garden but also numerous articles by local media, informational sessions by Master Gardeners and ongoing Social Media updates about the garden and events being held at the garden.
Third Place Winner: Purdue Extension Tippecanoe County Display & Idea Gardens, Lafayette, Indiana. This Display Garden used an impressive 60 different AAS Winners, including Gold Medal Winners from past years, in their 24 Idea Gardens. To garner community participation, garden planners invited the public to participate in a Container Design contest where they granted awards in each of these categories: Best Use of AAS Winners, Most Colorful, Most Unusual and Overall Best Plant Display. An Open House held in August showed off the AAS flowers and vegetables at their peak.

Honorable Mention, “Best Inspiration” Garden: Kenosha County Center Demonstration Garden, Bristol, Wisconsin. Judges just couldn’t let this year go by without giving an extra special shout out to this first-year Display Garden in Kenosha for their many inspiring garden ideas. In one small plot, they used a rattan chair frame, a wicker wastebasket, a wire trellis, a palette as a vertical garden and other household items to support their theme of “Inside Out.”

Honorable Mention, “Most Creative” Garden: Jennings Park, WSU Master Gardener Demo Garden, Marysville, Washington. The first word used to describe this garden is “Creative” and thus, a special award to Jennings Park for their outstanding creativity. Garden planners used a number of ideas and items to make this garden come alive with color as well as signage that helped show the beauty and usefulness of AAS Winners.

Category II: 10,001 – 100,000 visitors per year

First Place Winner: The Arboretum - State Botanical Garden of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky. Located next to the University of Kentucky’s All-America Selections trial bed, this display made great use of the 2014 container theme. With multiple large, square containers lining the main walkway, and numerous other containers positioned in strategic spots, thirty four AAS Winners gracefully filled the containers and borders with glorious color. Adding edibles to the garden showed how containers, edibles and flowers can seamlessly work in harmony in a well-designed garden.

Second Place Winner: Jardin Daniel A Séguin, Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec. With a theme of urban ag, this AAS Display Garden took advantage of the opportunity to promote urban agriculture to their visitors as well as to the general public with their public relations work. By using nineteen AAS Winners and strategically placed container gardens, the garden transformed rigid linear flower beds into beautiful spaces showing how flowers and edibles can peacefully co-exist in an urban garden.

Category III: Over 100,000 visitors per year

First Place Winner: Rotary Botanical Gardens, Janesville, Wisconsin. Rotary knocked another one out of the ballpark with this year’s “Pollinator’s Paradise” theme using almost 90 AAS Winner varieties and repurposed containers for an overall earth-friendly theme. The contest was promoted in the garden’s blog an amazing 17 times, in addition to radio show talks, press releases, local garden magazine stories and more. Judges raved about the creatively designed short, medium and tall containers and the excellent use of color in three separate ways: drifts in the landscape, in the many containers and as solitary specimen varieties.

Second Place Winner: Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver, Colorado. Set among the many beautiful areas of the Denver Botanic Garden is the aptly named “AAS Garden” where landscape designers chose AAS Winners in colors to reflect the time of day. The first Sunrise Bed features hot colors that light up as the sun appears. The second Sunrise Bed features vegetables and annuals with a large container as the centerpiece. In the garden area where weddings are held, guests are able to reflect on the Twilight Bed with cool-colored annuals. Lastly is the Sunset Bed where a symphony of colors plays their last hurrah as the sun sets.

Third Place *TIE* Winner: Royal Botanical Gardens, Burlington, Ontario. RBG took a formerly flat grassy area and transformed it into an AAS paradise with three large arching beds accented by four creatively designed and placed container gardens. The middle of the AAS Display Garden featured the newest AAS Winners, flanked by two equal sized beds that featured AAS Winners from past years. Artfully positioned in and around these three beds were various containers featuring additional AAS Winners spilling over to make a beautiful floral statement.

Third Place *TIE* Winner: State Botanical Garden of Georgia, Athens, Georgia. The State Botanical Garden took a sensual approach to the garden emphasizing flowing lines and the visual impact it makes when standing on a nearby overlook. AAS Winners were planted in both waves and circles to create a soothing appearance as well as a mix of textures. Judges liked that approach as well as the handouts the garden created for visitors that explain the AAS Mission and trialing process.

Honorable Mention, “Most Artistic” Garden: Norseco at the Botanical Garden of Montreal, Montreal, Quebec. This is the first year that horticulture company Norseco has had their Display Garden in such a high-traffic location such as the Botanical Garden of Montreal. This means a new opportunity to educate a large number of visitors about AAS Winners. They accomplished this with multiple beds artistically designed then named by the dominant colors in that area. Garden designers used some older, taller AAS Winners to provide that visual interest with height.

Each of these contest winners are profiled on the AAS website, under “Display Gardens

For more information about the contest winners or how to participate in 2015, contact Diane Blazek, All-America Selections at

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Can I compost egg shells?

Compost Still-Life with Egg Shells

Can I compost egg shells? I'm including a picture.

Yes, you can compost egg shells, but you should be breaking them up first. Egg shells are mostly calcium carbonate, like the powdered lime you buy at your local garden center for adding to your garden soil. Since calcium carbonate is a mineral, it doesn't decompose like vegetable matter. Egg shells need to be broken down into itty-bitty pieces for full incorporation into your compost. From here on out, let the shells dry after you've cracked the eggs, then pulverize them before dumping into the compost bin.

Don't worry that the shells already in the compost bin haven't been pulverized. They'll be broken down eventually as you turn your compost pile or begin working the finished compost into your soil.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Mercer Arboretum and Botanic Garden, Houston, TX

Gate, Mercer Arboretum and Botanic Gardens
After having visited Mercer Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Houston - or is it in Humble or Spring, Texas - once in mid-July, I've tried to imagine the hardships Thelma and Charles Mercer endured turning 14.5 acres of trees and brush into their garden paradise. Houston is miserably hot and humid that time of year. Who were these people who braved drought, floods, insects and Houston's climate to create such a place?

Like many of us, Thelma Mercer hardly knew one plant from another when they began, but her love of beautiful places and personal vision motivated her to learn. She became an accomplished, amateur horticulturist. Her husband, Charles, a retired communications engineer with the military, shared her vision and, of course, loved to please her.

After retiring, they decided to move to the Rio Grande Valley. Not wanting their former home and gardens to be bulldozed by real estate developers, they sold the property below market value to Harris County provided that the government establish it as a botanical garden and education facility.

Mercer Arboretum and Botanic Garden is divided by Aldine Westfield Road. The East Side includes botanic gardens and the visitor center while the West Side features walking trails through the arboretum. Cypress Creek forms the northern boundary.

Hopefully the following photographic images will entice you to visit Mercer Arboretum and Botanic Garden.


Blue Butterfly Clerodendrum (Rotheca myricoides)
Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)
Koi pond
Nile Lily (Agapanthus africanus)
Rock Garden
Prehistoric Garden
Botanical imprints in pavement

Renaissance Garden

Color Garden
Aloe cooperi

Mercer Arboretum and Botanic Garden is a few minutes from the George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

FAQ: What is this? It's a dahlia.

A new homeowner in Maine asks questions about plants he finds growing in his landscape. "What is this?"
That's a dahlia. Dahlias are tuberous-rooted plants that are grown from seed, cuttings or tubers.  Most gardeners start with tubers because they are easily obtained and predictable. I don't know which one judging from the picture, but it could be 'Babylon Red'.

Dahlias require exposure to full sun for at least 6 hours per day, and well-drained sandy loam with pH between 6.0 and 7.5.  Their cold-hardiness varies. In USDA climate zones 6 or 7 they can be left in the ground over winter, but you live in zone 5.

After the first hard frost, cut off the plant stalks close to the ground.  After a couple of weeks, the tuberous clumps can be dug and stored over winter.  Store them in a very cool and dark place.  Care must be taken to prevent them from freezing and drying.  Baskets make excellent storage containers because they allow ventilation along the sides.  Without adequate ventilation the tubers will rot.  Sprinkle with water every week or so to replace lost moisture.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Try inter-planting your bulbs with summer blooming perennials.

I would like to plant a large area with bulbs for spring bloom. The problem is the bulb foliage looks terrible after they finish blooming. I know I'm not supposed to mow the leaves until they dry up on their own, or else I won't have any blooms the following spring. Do you have any suggestions?

Try inter-planting your bulbs with summer blooming perennials. Dormant perennials will produce foliage to hide the spent bulb leaves. The perennial flowers will hide them even more. Not only will your mixed bulb and perennial garden provide a longer bloom season, the bulb leaves won't need mowing. They'll just dry up and become mulch. You didn't mention whether you want to plant in sun or shade. Suitable perennials might include Astilbe, Hostas, Bearded Iris, Daylilies (Hemerocallis), Yarrow (Achillea spp.), Coneflower (Echinacea), Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) and tall ferns.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens, Baltimore, MD

Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens, Baltimore, MD

The Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens, located at the western edge of Baltimore's historic Druid Hill Park, is the second oldest surviving glass conservatory in America. Originally known as the Baltimore or Druid Hill Conservatory, it opened to the public in 1888. America's oldest glass conservatory is San Francisco's Conservatory of Flowers, opened in 1879.

Before exploring the conservatory, it would be helpful to know a little about its historical context. Let's begin with the land and the Susquehannocks. The Historical Society of Baltimore has published an excellent article - The Susquehannocks' Prosperity and Early European Contact by Adam Youssi - that you should read.

According to Youssi, a very large area that included Druid Hill Park was once claimed by the Susquehannocks and surely contested by others. The Susquehannocks had reputedly mastered the art of trade. A Susquehannock party claiming to have authority ceded the land (maybe belonging to other people), to one William Claiborne. Many arguments ensued. Typical of dominant governments, England settled the matter in 1638 by putting its foot down and forfeiting the land to its own George Calvert (1605-1675), Second Lord Baltimore.

"Lord Baltimore assigned the land to George Buchanan, one of several original commissioners responsible for the establishment of Baltimore City. The Buchanan-Rogers family then cultivated the area as a country estate and plantation." [see footnote].

Eventually, England lost the property in what was to be known as the American War for Independence, confirmed by the War of 1812 and celebrated on Maryland DMV license plates remembering when Maryland aspired to be a freer state.

The land for Druid Hill Park was purchased around 1860 when the nation's city dwellers were passionate about developing large, landscaped urban parks for their enjoyment. Before that, garden cemeteries such as Mount Hope Cemetery, Bangor, ME were popular urban resorts.

America's interest in picturesque gardens was informed by European Romantic ideals as expressed in Edmund Burke's Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, William Gilpin's Observations on the River Wye..., Paris' Bois de Vincennes and Bois de Boulogne, and London's Hyde Park. New York's Central Park is a notable American example of those influences.

Rowhouses on Auchentoroly Terrace
In 1888, the newly completed Baltimore Conservatory was within sight of some of the city's finest homes in what is now the Parkview/Woodbrook neighborhood. Mansions built by John Morris Orem, a Baltimore dry goods magnate, were constructed (c.1860-1876) facing Auchentoroly Terrace. Magnificent rowhouses with diverse, intricate architectural features faced the park. Most of them still survive, but age and abuse have taken their toll. Along with Baltimore City, the Baltimore Conservatory suffered financial setbacks during years of decline.

Around the turn of the 21st century, the conservatory was scheduled for renovation. Money became available. The Baltimore Conservatory was renamed in honor of Delegate Howard Peters Rawlings (1937-2003). Rawlings was the first African-American to chair the powerful Appropriations Committee of the Maryland House of Delegates. Read more about "Pete" Rawlings at Wikipedia.

The Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory consists of five "houses": the original Palm House, the Orchid Room, Tropical House, Mediterranean House and Desert House.

The original Palm House is the most imposing structure. Though relatively small in comparison to some conservatories, it has contained a fine collection including the Bismarck palm (Bismarkia nobilis), European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis), cat palm (Chamaedorea cataractarum), Christmas palm (Adonidia merrillii), dwarf coconut palm (Cocos nucifera var. ), metallic palm (Chamaedorea metallica), lady palm (Rhapis excelsa), Fiji fan palm (Pritchardia pacifica), Chinese fan palm (Livistona chinensis), bottle palm (Hyophorbe lagenicaulis), and foxtail palm (Wodyetia bifurcata).

The modest Orchid Room exhibits a changing exhibit of flowering epiphytes. Orchid enthusiasts will find plenty in bloom.

Visitors to the Tropical House will be acquainted with a diverse collection of species both familiar and unfamiliar. (Follow links for pictures.) The ginger family (Zingiberaceae) is very well represented with Red Tower ginger (Costus comosus),Costus curvibracteatus 'Green Mountain', Variegated Spiral ginger (Costus amazonicus variegata), Torch ginger (Etlingera elatior 'Thompsonae') and Butterfly ginger (Hedychium coronarium). Two species, Creeping fig (Ficus pumila) and Spikemoss (Selaginella kraussiana) are at their best as ground covers. Other favorite tropicals include:
Blushing Bromeliad (Neoregelia carolinae 'Tricolor')
Firecracker shrub (Hamelia patens)
Philodendron 'Prince of Orange'
Red Passionflower (Passiflora coccinea)

Bird-of-Paradise (Strelitzia reginae)
Chenille Plant (Acalypha hispida)
Bananas! (Musa spp.)
While the Tropical House is literally dripping with humidity, the sound of fountains in the Mediterranean House provides sensible refreshment in its semi-arid environment. The good collection of suitable trees, shrubs and herbs include:

Shoestring Acacia (Acacia stenophylla)
Olive (Olea europaea)
Variegated Oleander (Nerium oleander 'Variegata')
Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys)
Deserts are among the harshest places on earth, yet they are habitable sometimes by creatures with the most bizarre appearances. You'll discover lots of them in the Desert House, such as:

Tortoise plant (Dioscoria macrostachya)
Hedgehog Agave (Agave stricta)
African Ocotillo (Alluaudia procera)
Euphorbia baioensis
Brain Cactus (Mammilaria elongata 'Cristata')
Feather Cactus (Mamillaria plumosa)
Panda plant (Kalanchoe tomentosa)
Galapagos Prickly Pear (Opuntia galapageia)
Bunny Ears Cactus (Opuntia macrodasys)
Old Man Cactus (Oreocereus spp.)
Madagascar Palm (Pachypodium lameri)
The botanical garden adjoining the Baltimore Conservatory is quite small, but good displays of some new plants will interest any gardener.

Surrounding the conservatory, Druid Hill Park offers other cultural and recreational opportunities including the developing East Coast Greenway. which passes by the conservatory's front door. Avid bicyclists and serious pedestrians take note!

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What should I use to treat mites on my citrus?

I've discovered spider mites on my satsuma orange tree. What do you recommend I treat it with? The tree is growing in a pot on my porch so I can take it indoors in winter. I don't want to use a pesticide that will ruin the fruit.

Spider mites like dry conditions. Since the satsuma is growing in a pot on your porch, it's probably not exposed to rainfall. When you water, you add water to the pot. Right? So, the leaves are seldom exposed to water. As a preventative measure in the future, spray the leaves above and beneath when you water your orange to discourage the mites.

Spraying the leaves with water, especially the undersides, may be enough to get rid of them. If not, there are two pesticides on the market that might do the trick. One is Monterey Bug Buster. The active ingredient is esfenvalerate - a synthetic pyrethroid insecticide. The other pesticide is Trounce by Safer, the makers of insecticidal soap. Trounce contains insecticidal soap and pyrethroids.

As with all pesticides, follow label instructions.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Must-Have Plants: Dianthus 'Fire Witch'

Dianthus gratianopolitanus 'Fire Witch'

Must-have plants are among the best plants for appropriate garden situations. When you need great garden plants for ground cover, naturalizing, wildflower gardens, perennial borders, butterfly gardens, hummingbird gardens, herb gardens, heritage gardens, cutting gardens, woodland gardens, shade gardens, bulb gardens, container gardens, bog gardens, water gardens, rain gardens or xeriscaping, look for the best among our must-have plants.

Name(s): Dianthus gratianopolitanus 'Fire Witch', 'Feuerhexe', Firewitch', Cheddar Pink, Border Pink

Flower Color: Magenta.

Bloom Time: Spring through summer

Foliage: Evergreen, blue-green, linear.

Height/Spread: 7 inches x 14 inches.

Climate Zones: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Sun Exposure: Full sun.

Soil Condition: Average, well-drained to dry, pH 6.6 to 8.5

Features: Drought tolerant, salt tolerant, heat tolerant, cold tolerant, deer resistant, low maintenance, fragrant.

Uses: Xeriscaping, massed planting, ground cover, coastal gardens, butterfly gardens, fragrance gardens, perennial borders.

Comments: Dianthus gratianopolitanus 'Fire Witch', a lovely clump forming plant, produces lots of showy magenta, carnation-like blooms spring through summer. Evergreen, blue-green linear foliage is attractive when the plant is not in bloom. Mature height is 7 inches, and grows 14 inches across.

Dianthus prefers well-drained soil. Do not over-water. Dianthus is heat resistant and cold tolerant, deer resistant, drought tolerant, salt tolerant, and attracts butterflies.

Dianthus is recommended for for USDA climate zones 3 to 9. Space 14 inches to 16 inches apart.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Houston Arboretum and Nature Center

Houston Arboretum and Nature Center

We were visiting the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center. Behind a man at the front of the line of two - who wouldn't stop yammering to the desk attendant about Gov. Perry's policies, disparaging the South, how she could live a happier life if only she would move to the suburbs of Washington, DC and get a federal government job, thanking her for their (his) conversation - I cleared my throat, stepped up to the desk, paid $3 dollars for a trail map and asked the lady with the few words I could fit in edge-wise. "Ma’am, if we only have an hour or so to explore, what would you recommend?" She seemed relieved that I’d asked.

She also gave me a free handout, “A Brief History of the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center." It's well worth getting a copy. Contact the arboretum.

The attendant said "This is a true nature center." Were truer words ever spoken? She instructed that from the Nature Center, we should follow the Inner Loop clockwise to the North Meadow Trail, follow it to the Outer Loop, go north past the Willow Oak Pond, and turn west on the Willow Oak Trail to return to the Nature Center. Her recommendation was spot-on.

The climate of Houston, TX is very much like south Georgia, my home – sweltering and oppressive in summer. The heat and humidity motivated us to cut our visit short and get out of there as soon as possible. But walking fast generated more sweat. So we moseyed, more or less, as we generally do down South.

Houston Arboretum’s flora is also familiar. Most are native species. Except for some brush clearing, they grow in wild abandon. Perhaps this is what the attendant implied by “a true nature center.” I could say the same about a walk through the woods behind my house.

The Houston Arboretum boasts a few improvements which my woods can’t: a nature center with classrooms and displays, well-marked trails, broad paths, comfortable benches, easy access, and boardwalks over seasonally wet areas. It’s also encompasses more acreage.

Along the way from the Outer Loop to the Willow Oak Pond, I spied what appeared from a distance to be a flowering Crinum americanum, also known American crinum lily, Seven sisters, Swamp lily, Southern swamp lily, String lily. I wanted to get a closer look, but didn’t. It appeared one or two persons had ventured out to do so. I could see their trail, but I wasn’t going. The weeds were high and I was wearing shorts.

Other noted species along the way included Partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata), American basket-flower (Centaurea americana), Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans), Whitemouth dayflower (Commelina erecta), Turk's cap (Malvaviscus arboreus), Pink Texas sage and Red Texas sage (Salvia greggii), Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccafolium), and Blue passionflower (Passiflora caerulea).

Meadow, Houston Arboretum
We did not explore all the trails in the Houston Arboretum, but were pleased with the beautiful meadow and Meadow Pond along the trail. They were certainly the highlights of our morning walk.

Meadow Pond with Centaurea americana and Eryngium yuccafolium

The Houston Arboretum and Nature Center presents many seasonal events for adults and children. Children's classes were being held in the visitor center the day we visited. They seemed well-attended. Houston residents should check them out. It's also a great place for walks, nature photography and bird watching.

There is no admission charge, but donations are encouraged. The Houston Arboretum is located at 4501 Woodway Drive.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Diggin' In: Landscapes Need Renovating Just Like Homes, By Kathy Van Mullekom

"Your landscape is very much like your home’s interior décor.

"It grows old, sometimes tattered and torn, and needs updating from time to time. Sometimes, plantings need to be completely torn out and totally replaced. Sometimes, old porches, patios and decks just don’t work any longer.

"Landscape design classes typically teach that a landscape lasts for 10-15 years before it needs at least a partial redo. Sometimes, it’s best to just start over from scratch and get the look you’ve always wanted and never achieved because there was never enough advance planning and an overall plan." Read more from RISMEDIA

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Is "pot liquor" good for plants?

I read at an organic gardening web site that vegetable water is really good for plants. Is that true?

This strikes me funny because vegetable water is often known as "pot liquor" or "pot likker." But I'll comment on that later.

Well, it appears the advisor is talking about water left over from boiling or steaming vegetables. If the water has cooled, it should be good. Don't pour hot water on your desirable plants. But why don't you use the vegetable water for yourself?

  • You can drink it when it has cooled enough;
  • You can mix it in your Bloody Veggie;
  • You can add it to smoothies;
  • You can use it as vegetable broth.

Where I come from, people who actually drink the vegetable water are considered desperate, and derisively called "pot lickers" or "pot likkers." But most everyone does it nowadays. Not just here.

If you have anything left after the smoothies and broths, give the rest to your plants. They should respond well.

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A large oak tree has to go.

"There is a large oak tree growing in our yard. ...We want to add a room to our house. IMO the tree has to go. But my wife loves the tree."

This reminds me of a few discussions I had with a customer a long time ago. For the sake of anonymity, I'll call him Pete. Pete, a lawyer, spent his professional career in a large city. He hired me to maintain his retirement property.

Pete had several undesirable trees around his estate, mostly misshapen black cherries (Prunus serotina) and water oaks (Quercus nigra) in various stages of decline. Those not decrepit were growing in the wrong places. But Pete insisted they were "magnificent." "Magnificent weeds," I replied. But he wouldn't allow me to remove them.

Perhaps Pete suffered from what I call the Kilmer Complex (after Joyce Kilmer). These folks think they "shall never see a poem lovely as a tree." Trees are bigger than themselves, and perhaps older, so are impressive even if diseased or growing in inconvenient places. They have no problem, however, destroying smaller undesirables. It's a matter of perspective, and an odd one at that.

What is a weed but an undesirable plant, or a plant growing in an undesirable place? It doesn't matter, really, how great or small. If it can't be transplanted elsewhere, get rid of it.

I wrote all that to say I understand your predicament. Try reasoning gently with her using my argument. If she remains rooted in her opinion, there's not much you can do about it. I guess it depends on whether she wants the additional room more than the tree, or whether you desire her more than the additional room.

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

What is eating my koi?

We recently installed a small garden pond in the back yard and stocked it with a few small koi. Now a couple of the koi are missing. A friend suggested that raccoons have been eating them. How can I tell if he is correct, and if so how can I keep the raccoons out of the pond?

Since the koi are missing, you might not have a raccoon problem, but a heron problem. Raccoons won't eat the whole fish. They'll leave some scraps behind. Herons, however, will gulp down the entire koi.

To prevent herons from doing more damage, buy a heron decoy to set in or near the pond. You might find one at a garden center that carries pond supplies, or online. Real herons will avoid your pond if they think another one is already feeding there. In the mean time, temporarily cover your pond with bird netting like you would drape over berry plants. It's not very attractive, but will prevent herons from eating all the koi until you obtain the decoy. Cover your pond soon because it doesn't take long for a hungry heron to eat all the koi.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

English Daisy (Bellis perennis): The Flower of Innocence and Healing

English Daisy (Bellis perennis)
Bellis is a genus of annuals and perennials native to Great Britain, Europe, North Africa and the Mediterranean region. Gardeners prefer Bellis perennis, also known as English Daisy, Lawn Daisy and Bruisewort.  The name Bellis perennis (pronounced BEL-liss per-EN-is) means "pretty perennial." It's aptly named.

As one name suggests, Lawn Daisy can pop up anywhere. Indeed it can, even in North America where it was introduced many years ago. Though that might seem like a bad thing to aficionados of the perfect lawn, Lawn Daisy (Bellis perennis) inspires poets to wax eloquent.

BRIGHT Flower! whose home is everywhere,
Bold in maternal Nature's care,
And all the long year through the heir
Of joy or sorrow;
Methinks that there abides in thee
Some concord with humanity,
Given to no other flower I see
The forest thorough!

-From one of William Wordsworth's poems To The Daisy

For many centuries, plants have come to symbolize various human emotions and characteristics. The study is called floriography or "the language of flowers." Snapdragon means deception. Ivy means fidelity. Violet means modesty. Rue means regret, and, incidentally, was known to be an abortifacient. Daisy means innocence. Bouquets could express feelings and messages without spoken words. Many have been worked into our expressions such as, "I rue the day...", "shrinking violet", "innocent as a daisy", "clinging vine."

You might remember Act IV from Shakespeare's Hamlet with Ophelia, King Claudius, Queen Gertrude and Laertes:

There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray,
love, remember: and there is pansies. that's for thoughts.

A document in madness, thoughts and remembrance fitted.

There's fennel for you, and columbines: there's rue
for you; and here's some for me: we may call it
herb-grace o' Sundays: O you must wear your rue with
a difference. There's a daisy: I would give you
some violets, but they withered all when my father
died: they say he made a good end,--

Using the language of flowers, Ophelia clearly expressed her thoughts.

Ophelia by Alexandre Cabanal
I won't summarize the plot. You can read Shakespeare's Hamlet yourself.

English Daisy (Bellis perennis) is also known for its medicinal properties, as the name Bruisewort indicates. It has been used effectively to alleviate pain, hasten healing of cuts, bruises and surgical wounds, and to prevent bacterial infection.

Bloom season ranges from late spring to mid fall.  Flower colors include shades of crimson to pink, and white.  Plant height varies from 6 inches to 12 inches.
English Daisy (Bellis perennis) is at home pretty much everywhere in USDA climate zones 4 through 8.  Slightly moist to well-drained loamy soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.5 is recommended. Plant in full sun to partial shade. Take care not to over-water.
Before planting, take a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  For a small fee, they can run a lab test and tell you what your soil may need.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 12 inches deep, removing all traces of weeds. Composted manure and peat moss may be incorporated into the soil.  If you choose to use synthetic fertilizer, incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 3 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 8 inches of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space English Daisy (Bellis perennis) 6 inches to 9 inches apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container.  Water the plants in their pots.  Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the roots. Do not cover the top of the root mass with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed.  Water gently to avoid disturbance.

Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 2 inches deep.  The mulch helps retain soil moisture, so you can water less frequently.  It also helps suppress weeds.

English Daisy (Bellis perennis) is a charming perennial ideal for borders, container gardens, herb and medicinal plant collections, English gardens, poet and Shakespeare gardens. If you're a hopeless romantic, plant some in your lawn.

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Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

Greetings from Jacksonville, Florida, home of WAPE - "THE BIG APE" - radio station and the Jacksonville Zoo. When I was a kid, WAPE - "The Mighty 690", was, arguably, the most popular Top 40 AM station in Savannah, Georgia. Jacksonville was also the closest big city to my hometown, and we had relatives there. Our cousins were never shy to remind us that Jacksonville, Jacksonville Beach and local scenery in Florida were superior in all respects to Savannah and Tybee. So our parents occasionally took my brother and me to see the cousins and other animals.

I remember my anticipation of excitement, adventure and dread more than any specific exhibit or events in Jacksonville, excepting Monkey Island. Monkey Island was just that - a hillock surrounded by a moat surrounded by a wall over which amusing visitors applauded simian antics. Feeding the monkeys was not forbidden back then. Some folks would bring grapes to pitch. I recall one ape in particular which, while the others were clamoring nearest clusters of visitors, would scamper alone off to the top of the hillock and wave his arms for attention. He got lots of laughs and collected most grapes.

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has grown up a lot since then, so I returned recently for the first time in about 50 years to see what was new. Almost everything was.

The Jacksonville Zoo endured hard times back in the '60s. Not wanting to close it, community leaders formed a committee to figure out a way to keep it open. The Jacksonville Zoological Society was formed and progress was made.

Today's Jacksonville Zoo is more like a botanical garden with animals. Situated on the Trout River, the park is divided into continental themes with appropriate beasts. There are The Plains of East Africa, Wild Florida, River Valley Aviary, Savanna Blooms Garden and Giraffe Overlook, Great Apes, South America and Range of The Jaguar, Gardens at Trout River Plaza, Save The Frogs and Australian Adventure, Asian Gardens and Komodo Exhibit.

Gardens at Trout River Plaza
Upon entering, you feel like you're going on safari, except you're strolling broad walks among beautifully landscaped gardens. Nevertheless, you can't wait to mosey around the next corner. Plant and animal species are well identified with signage, so visitors can appreciate what they're viewing. Jacksonville Zoo's web site has a list of major plant species with clickable links to provide more information.

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens isn't just for walking. For those who want to see the zoo the easy way or just enjoy the ride, the Zoo Train stops at the Main Camp Entrance and, strategically, the Kids' Shop. Since it's located on the Trout River, Jacksonville Zoo makes kayaks available for those who like to paddle about.

The carousel is one of my favorite rides at any park because you can master the most ferocious beasts, ride them fast and melt into ghee!
Zoos are better designed now than when I was growing up, partly for the animals' sakes, partly for the visitors'. Attractive landscaping is becoming a notable feature. I think, though, that The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is unique in its thoughtful combination of a botanical garden with the zoological park.

Following are a few more photographs of my visit:

The Rivers Of Color Garden.

Edible landscaping and raised bed displays.

A portion of the cacti and succulents collection.

Asian Garden scene

Variegated Japanese Yew (Podocarpus macrophyllus var. maki 'Argenteus')

Preening flamingos
Red frangipani (Plumeria spp.).

Elegant patterns of the West African green mamba (Dendroaspis viridis)

Lioness (Panthera leo krugeri) in the shade.

A handsome kudu

Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) resting confidently in its

North American Wood stork (Mycteria americana).

So, from here on Monkey Island, I implore you. Subscribe to my blog at, follow the goGardenNow Facebook page, and buy something from