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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.

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 —

Green Walls for Privacy are not always Twins

I am Beth O’Leary and I am a professional gardener, landscape contractor, and co-founder of Teacup Gardener. I have plenty of experiences that I would like to share in a Teacup Gardener blog.  I want to write about a challenge I am having in my home garden.  We as humans really want plants to do what we want them to do and we become frustrated when they do not comply.

The site I am working on now is the left perimeter of my back yard.  I have slowly been creating a green wall so that we have maximum privacy for our outdoor leisure space.  We lost some big Florida Dogwoods, Nelly R. Steven’s Hollies, Captata Yews, and Skip Laurels along our green wall perimeter bed from the double whammy of the late Easter 2007 hard freeze coupled with the terrible drought of that summer.  These were mostly the big stuff, the height and girth of our green privacy wall.  We are feeling mighty exposed and wish to patch these privacy gaps as soon as possible.  We lost big transplants of Oak leaf Hydrangea in 2008 and evergreen cast offs from client gardens which we hoped to nurture and revive.  It seems easy enough, especially for a person like me, who is in “the business” to plant and enjoy some nice big evergreens and be done.  Guess again.

On the right side of the yard a lovely green wall thrives.  A combination of big old shade trees grow beautifully with azaleas, crape myrtle, hollies, junipers, boxwood, mahonia, yew, abelia and perennials cover the ground.  Penelope Hobhouse would be proud of me.  It is a successful mixed shrub border.  I love it and I want one exactly like it (only different!) on the left side of the yard.

The most recent attempt with some nice hollies has failed.  Why won’t the left side of the yard behave and do what the right side is doing?  The soil quality may be a problem. This side is at the bottom of our driveway and during every big rainfall all the residue from the street and the drive drains down and along this side of the backyard.  We may need to add some soil amendments such as mushroom compost to heal the soil from environmental pollutants.  The large shade trees out compete anything new and small for water and nutrients. We have not yet made the jump to irrigation.

I will focus on what does well, not on what I want to do well.  The happiest plant on that side is a serviceberry that I would have to describe as indestructible.  Not much cover, but the birds love it.  Yews and box do nicely, but it’s a long time before those friends reach a size that I could call a wall. Well I’ll take my time, let my garden grow, feed the birds and maybe get to know my neighbor better. By then I might want a path with a gate instead of a wall.