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Early Bloomers

No matter how long Winter seems to last,  Spring always eventually arrives. Some of the earliest signs of Spring are already here in Tennessee and beginning to show their color.  Yesterday I walked past the Mahonias in my front yard landscape and I realized they were in bloom. Mahonia belei, commonly known as Leatherleaf Mahonia, has a fragrant yellow cluster of blossoms.  Later the fruits resemble tiny grapes.  Another one of my favorite harbingers of Spring is Helleborus orientalis, Lenten Rose.  This evergreen perennial is lovely when it blooms the pretty creamy flowers during, you guessed it, Lent.

Early bloomers are a real treat in a landscape that has been relatively brown or evergreen all winter.  I value Cornelian Cherry Dogwood because it blooms so early and so prolifically.  It’s  loaded with tiny yellow flowers that can stop traffic.  Many people are surprised to find out it is a dogwood because the flowers lack the showy white or pink bracts that are the well-known and easily recognizable dogwood flowers.

The early Spring flowering bulbs really let us know that Spring is here.  I have looked in the garden and found a few crocus in bloom. The daffodils are getting tall and the flowers are noticeable inside their protective green casings.  It won’t be long until they fill the garden with color and fragrance.

Pansy Garden Maintenance



When the summer annuals are finished and the time has come to take them out and the colorful sweet pansies take their place in the winter garden, I am not at all sad that summer is gone.  I love the freshness and rich tones of the many colors of pansies.   They come in almost every color and they bloom all winter long. I want to share some tips in this post that will help keep those winter pansies looking great all season long.

Pansies benefit from frequent deadheading. Deadheading is garden speak for pinching the old flowers off. Pansies will set new flower buds all winter as long as the daytime temperatures are as warm as 38F. Pinching the spent flowers off speeds the process for new flower bud formation and keeps the display fresh looking in a cold snap.

Pansies also suffer from frost heaving. Frost heaving describes the process of the soil pushing the plant out of the ground when the temperatures drop and freeze causing contraction and heaving.   At planting, make sure that the plants are set firmly in the ground. It is also important that pansy beds are well mulched to stabilize surface soil temperatures. I recommend any pine mulch product as best whether you choose straw, shredded bark or pine fines. Pine fines are also sold under the moniker of soil conditioner.  And finally, it is important to fertilize pansies with an organic or low number chemical fertilizer to make sure that your plants have the ability to produce flowers all winter and well into spring.

These simple tips will ensure your winter gardens have some pizazz with splashes of brilliant color throughout the cold drab Winter season.  Enjoy.


Container Gardens for the Winter Patio and Deck

One of the prettiest things about summer are the gigantic containers of geraniums and ferns that homeowners use to decorate their front porches, decks and patios. It’s a lot of work to empty and drag those terra cotta or stone containers under the house or in the garage once the night temperatures threaten frosts.  Consider leaving those containers outdoors and create cold hardy beautiful showy container gardens all winter long.

When I design container gardens for winter, I always start with one to three evergreens as the centerpiece, depending on the size of the container. Boxwoods, Nandina, soft Hollies are all good choices. These can either be transplanted into the landscape when spring arrives or remain in the containers as a year round centerpiece surrounded with Summer color and Winter color.  I have come to really love the constant evergreen look that I have in many of my containers so I only change the seasonal color at the base of those particular year round pots.  Small Japanese maples make beautiful container plants and it’s a great way to get a less expensive tree and use it as a decoration on the patio before moving it into the landscape as a more permanent fixture.

Once I have made my mind up about the centerpiece, I go about adding lots of pansies for winter color.  I choose light colors so that they show up during the winter when the days are so short. I also use plenty of evergreen ground covers to simulate a miniature micro garden.   English ivy, Pachysandra, and Holly fern are all good choices. Perennials that are evergreen or semi evergreen work really well in winter containers to provide contrast in texture and color variations.

Some folks might be thinking these look like another version of a Christmas tree. Well, it’s easy to put lights on these evergreens and they do look really pretty for the holidays. The added light is nice during the winter when the days are so short. Here in Middle Tennessee, as the winter solstice approaches, it is dark by 4:30pm. That is a very busy time of year, and a little light by the front door might not be a bad idea. There is no harm in letting your neighbors know that you are celebrating the holiday season.

Container gardens bring color and texture to your patios all year long.  This is great when you can spend time in your outdoor leisure spaces throughout the coldest season of the year, especially those frequent sunny warm days we have in Tennessee in the Winter.  Enjoy!


Leaf-Chronicle Article: Water Garden Finally Fulfills Yard’s Potential

July 15, 2009

The Leaf-Chronicle

Eric Berg fell in love with his home at first glance — of the back yard. He hadn’t even set foot inside
when he realized “This is the house.”

The backyard that won him over has, at long last, become a restful oasis for him and his wife, Elaine
Berg, with the addition of two ponds connected by waterfalls. Read all about them and see
photographs of the ponds, which will be featured on the Montgomery County Water Garden Society’s
Water Garden Tour in August, in Thursday’s edition of The Leaf-Chronicle.… 7/20/2009

Mother’s Day Garden Peonies

I feel as though I crossed a rite of passage.  A few days ago, I cut and placed in a bud vase my first peony blossom of the spring.  It will be the first of many flowers from my cutting garden this year, but I am so thrilled with this peony I feel like sharing.

It took me many years to realize the value of the old fashioned peonies as the perennial garden work horse.  Once I recognized this value, it took a few more years for them to produce flowers from my “Irish Cuttings”.  “Irish Cuttings” are the bits and pieces that I collect from my work.   I thought they were easy, ordinary, and old fashioned.  I could not understand why gardeners took up so much time and energy and space with these fleeting blossoms that are always covered with ants.

Then something really special happened to me.  I became a mother.  I celebrated Mother’s Day in a different fashion.  Peonies, tall bearded iris, roses, lilies of the valley, and lilacs make the most lovely bouquets on the dinner table that second Sunday in May.  Suddenly it made sense to me why my grandmother always complimented my mother’s peonies.  Grandma always took a bouquet home to enjoy.  I am a member of that Mother’s club now.  I look forward to that season in May when My children say,”I love you, Mom.” and honor me with the flowers from my garden.

The peony on the kitchen window sill is still a lovely white and looks more like feathers than petals even after almost a week in the vase.  They smell so sweet.  I am overwhelmed with memories awakened in me today.

The pleasures of gardening are many.  Most of them in the fleeting scents, sights, and sounds of a moment.  Moments so vivid they keep memories alive to recreate for another generation.