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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.

Mulching in Late Winter

Mr. Teacup SnowmanTake advantage of this slow period in the landscaping industry and hire Teacup Gardener to mulch your landscape and garden beds. Late winter mulch is very well timed because it protects perennials from winter burn and frost heaving.  It   prohibits weeds from getting started in cultivated areas.  It conserves water and saves valuable weeding and watering time once the growing season is upon us.  Teacup Gardener is offering a special 15% off mulch -furnished and installed during the month of February.

We furnish and install three types of mulch.  Shredded pine, pine straw, and hardwood mulch.  We highly recommend shredded pine and pine straw over hardwood mulch.  Here are a some reasons why we suggest a pine product for mulching:

1. Shredded pine and pine straw increase the acidity of the soil as they degrade.  This is highly desirable for evergreen and flowering plants such as azaleas, laurels, and rhododendrons.

2. Pine straw is a completely renewable form of mulch as it is harvested from the forest floors.

3. Shredded pine and pine straw, because of their acidic nature do not promote fungal growth as they degrade.

4. Shredded pine and hardwood mulch are both byproducts of the construction industry.

5. Hardwood mulch is an aggregate material that is very dense and prohibits weed growth.

6. Hardwood mulch may also inhibit water and nutrient flow to the plant roots.

Late Winter Boxwood Pruning

Classic Minimalism in the Landscape by Teacup Gardener

Color and Structure Outdoors by Teacup Gardener

Winter is here in the South and there is no changing it. We may be able to steal a few warm days every once in a while, but for the most part we will be cold for the next four to six weeks or so. Besides waiting for the daffodils to poke their heads through the ground, what is there to do in the garden on those nice days when a person just has to get outside.

Late winter is a great time to deadwood and cloud prune boxwoods. Deadwooding is a term used to describe trimming or snapping out all the dead internal branches of a boxwood so that new growth can form and keep an old boxwood full and lush. Cloud pruning is a term used to describe a pruning technique that lends a soft airy texture to boxwoods that also allows new growth to form on the inside of big old boxwoods.  Cloud pruning is a method of pruning each cluster of branches as a whole with the intent to round off the branch clusters.  This creates an overall appearance of a cloud with a nice natural lumpy puffy look when the pruning is completed as opposed to the mechanical human-made perfectly rounded look.

Pruning in late winter, before bud break encourages the boxwood to put on plenty of new growth in the Spring, both on the tips of the branches, but also on the older, established interior stems of a mature boxwood. Fresh green growth coupled with dark lush green growth is a beautiful sight to see on a well manicured landscape. It’s a real sign that spring has sprung.

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: Couple Finds Tranquility in Backyard

August 18, 2009

The Leaf-Chronicle

The family’s backyard in Rudolphtown had its appeal, dropping down to the Red River, then farmland beyond.  But it was steep and craggy enough that it was unusable by Troy and Tawyna Sinitiere, their then-teenage daughter Brooke, and even their dogs.

“You couldn’t walk back here, really, because of the slope of the land, without breaking your ankle,” Tawnya Sinitiere says.

“You couldn’t use the space for anything,” Troy Sinitiere agrees.

Today, all that has changed for the better. The Sinitieres’ new landscape will be featured on the
Montgomery County Water Garden Society’s 10th annual Water Garden Tour, which is 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Aug. 22. In honor of its 10th anniversary, the tour features 10 local people’s ponds for the first time this year.

The Sinitieres are relatively new to town. They chose Clarksville and moved here from Atlanta a few years ago, bringing with them their business, B.E.S. Security Systems.

“I like to fish. I like the outdoors. I liked the Cumberland River coming through, and close proximity to the lake,” Troy Sinitiere said. “Clarksville has restaurants, shopping, everything we were looking for.”

The climate was part of Clarksville’s appeal, so they wanted ways to better enjoy the outdoors at their home. They tried with little success to find a local landscaper to redesign their yard. After a year of looking, they found Robert Edwards, a Nashville-based landscaper known as the Teacup Gardener

They first hired Edwards to landscape their front yard, but that went so well they gave him a crack at redesigning their much more challenging backyard.

“I like different,” Tawnya Sinitiere says. “I wanted something like a Southern Living garden, something for all seasons.”

Troy Sinitiere and his father-in-law already had a major deck rebuild and expansion in mind, To add to that, Edwards proposed a plan that made the backyard’s rough terrain into a peaceful walking path alongside a lovely stream.

“I was always interested in having a stream in my backyard,” Troy Sinitiere says. “I never wanted a pond with koi.”

Now, Troy Sinitiere has two ponds swimming with 29 koi.

“We were originally only going to have one pond, but he (Edwards) said with the slope of the land we could have another pond,” Tawnya Sinitiere says.

The backyard now features a ground-level deck overlooking a waterfall-fed pond. The surface is at deck level near the house, but is at the top of an impressive rock wall as the ground falls away on the back side. Tens of thousands of pounds of natural stone were trucked in to build the pond walls, as well as a walking path and stone steps that circle two ponds connected by a stream.

Many people go on the annual water garden tour to get ideas for their own backyard water gardens.  The Sinitieres joined Montgomery County Water Garden Society to meet other pond people, who share ideas about filtering, pumps, liners, koi, health and other issues that people don’t encounter elsewhere.

“We joined to help learn how to take care of our pond,” Tawnya Sinitiere says.

“It has taken us a while to figure out what it takes to get it balanced and how to keep it balanced,”
Troy Sinitiere says.

Tawnya Sinitiere has enjoyed using the new space as a showcase for her gardening experiments.  She said she loves going on the Montgomery County Water Garden Society tour to get new gardening ideas. People can participate in the tour Aug. 22 by purchasing a ticket ($10 per person ages 13 and older; free ages 12 and younger) that includes addresses and directions to each of 10 stops. Tour attendees then drive at their leisure to each location, where the water garden’s owners will be on hand to chat or answer questions.

Tawnya Sinitiere loves bright colors and enjoys trying new combinations of color, texture and scale in her plant choices. And she’s happy to pass on all she has learned. Black coral elephant ears, petunias, limelight hydrangeas, azaleas, cattails, knockout roses, Japanese maples, blue pickerel and lizard’s tail are among the profusion of plants that make their garden a four-season wonderland.  Crape myrtles, trained to grow tall like trees, add whimsy and privacy at the side property line.

The Sinitieres now enjoy their resort-like backyard so much it is hard for them to imagine how unwelcoming it once was.

“It’s peaceful out here in the evening,” Tawnya Sinitiere says. “We like to eat dinner out here.”

Dramatic lighting creates warm pools of light at night, enhancing the magic of the space.

“When it’s lit up at night,” Troy Sinitiere says, “it takes on a whole different appearance.”

Leaf-Chronicle Article: Envisioning the Garden

July 16, 2009

The Leaf-Chronicle

Eric Berg is a forensic pathologist, by nature slow and meticulous in his work, performing autopsies
for the Army.

But working for himself, choosing a home, his scientific method went out the window.

“Before I even looked inside, I said, ‘This is the house,’ because of the backyard,” Eric said about the
home he and his wife, Elaine, bought in Clarksville’s Rudolphtown neighborhood 10 years ago.

It was improvements to the house that eventually led the Bergs — 9 years later — to revise their
backyard landscape. In 2005, they hired local builder Don Sharpe to expand their master bathroom,
adding a seating area and picture window overlooking the backyard in the process.

The Bergs’ backyard slopes down to boggy bottomland with the Red River beyond. Eric said he fell in
love with the yard’s “potential,” but that potential didn’t begin to be realized until last year, after the
couple grew tired of the ho-hum view out their new picture window.

“It took a while to dream this up,” Eric said, looking out at the elegantly curving stone walls around a
pond with two waterfalls that is now the centerpiece of his backyard. “I think it started with the bird

Eric and Elaine were already avid bird watchers, with Eric hanging feeders topped with two curved
baffles from zip lines spanning the yard, his most successful effort in making them inaccessible to

“I have an acrimonious relationship with squirrels,” he said, laughing.

But other than that, the backyard was still a blank slate.

“We were looking out at grass and mud and decided we wanted something better to look at,” Eric

Impressed with the water garden of their neighbors, Troy and Tawnya Sinitiere, the Bergs hired the
Sinitiere’s landscaper, Nashville-based Teacup Gardener, to re-envision their yard. Workers started
with the front yard, then moved on to the much more challenging task of remaking the sloping
backyard. Rather than straight, squared fences Eric had in mind, designer Robert Edwards proposed
curving black fences.

In addition to being beautiful, the fences are practical. The Bergs had walked their two Scotties on
leashes for more than an hour a day for nine and a half years before the fences were installed. Now,
the dogs have the run of the yard, and Eric and Elaine can sit back and watch them romp.

The newest addition to the landscape is a waterfall that leads to a pond that leads to a waterfall that
leads to another pond. If that sounds repetitive, it is, by design. The curving rock outlines of the ponds mimic each other, continuing the sinewy S-curves of the rock walls and fence lines.

“The bridge where the waterfall is — the birds can come there and drink and bathe,” Elaine said.

“You don’t need a birdbath when you have a pond like this,” Eric added. “Birds are attracted to still
water, but when you have moving water, it really attracts them.”

In the ponds are the Bergs’ newest pets — 19 comets, shebunkins and butterfly koi. The couple
strategically placed benches and a swing near the pond, so they can relax and take in the natural
beauty as it unfolds in their own backyard.

“This has made it so much more livable,” Elaine said. “I don’t want to go on vacation, it’s so restful

In the dark, the scene takes on a little more drama.

“I like the sound of the water. After dark, it’s illuminated,” Eric said. “Robert (Edwards) did a great job
of placing the illumination. He was very judicious about where he aimed the lights. You get pools of
light here and there. It gives an ethereal look to the backyard.”

Because it is held 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Aug. 22, attendees of the Montgomery County Water Garden
Society’s 10th Anniversary Water Garden Tour won’t see the Bergs’ romantic pools of light. They will,
however, get a firsthand look at the newest pond on the tour, completed just this spring, the
realization of 10 long years of potential.… 7/20/2009

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

Leaf-Chronicle Article: Gardens Galore

July 16, 2009

The Leaf-Chronicle

Earl Parrish said this year’s tour will be the best ever, and he may be right.

In honor of its 10th anniversary, the Montgomery County Water Garden Society’s Water Garden Tour
will feature 10 local ponds — three more than last year.

People can participate in the Aug. 22 tour by purchasing a ticket ($10 per person ages 13 and older;
free ages 12 and younger) that includes addresses and directions to each of 10 stops. Tour
attendees then drive at their leisure to each location, where the water garden’s owners will be on
hand to chat or answer questions.

Eric Berg joined the group in 2001, hoping to learn more about water gardens eight years before he
had one of his own.

“I decided to go on the pond tour,” Berg said. “I’ve been on all the pond tours but one since.”

This year, Berg finally put all his plans into action, building two large, curving ponds with two
waterfalls in the backyard of his Rudolphtown home. He said going on the Water Garden Tour is an
excellent way to get ideas and advice for designing or caring for your own water garden.

In addition to Eric and Elaine Berg’s water garden, this year’s tour features three others that have
never before been open to the public, the ponds of:

Chris and Suzanne Goff.
Les and Rhonda Shanks.
Troy and Tawnya Sinitiere.
“It’s fun to get out and see neighborhoods you wouldn’t normally see,” Berg said, but warned: “They
might want a pond of their own.”
A sneak peek at all 10 water gardens on the tour will be offered in The Leaf-Chronicle in August.… 7/20/2009

ONLINE: Montgomery County Water Garden Society —