Connie Cottingham is a regular contributor to Georgia Gardening and Southern Distinction magazines. She is also a master gardener, garden club member, landscape architect, and is in charge of public relations and special events for The State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens.

After living in Little Rock, Northwest Arkansas and New Orleans, Connie now gardens in Zone 7b Athens, Georgia. Sign up to receive her weekly Love Notes from the Garden at conniecottingham.com.

 

 

Deer Resistant Plants in my Garden
by Connie Cottingham - posted 07/31/12

 

Our neighborhood seems to support one large group of deer. Presently it is a mama with two fawns and another deer with a slightly older fawn. The five have been hanging out in my backyard a lot lately, drawn to three mature fig trees laden with sweet fruit. I spray repellent on my hydrangeas and hostas, but am willing to share the figs, since the deer can only reach up about 4' and all the fruit above is left for me and the birds. Although deer are undeniably beautiful, having them in the neighborhood is a frustrating situation for a gardener.

One line of defense for your landscape is planting deer resistant plants. Deer resistant is a popular term, partially because so many of us have to garden among deer, partially because nobody in their right mind would claim something is deer proof. Daffodils and rosemary are the closest to deer proof I can think of.  Even deer resistant plants may not be safe. Often a deer will taste-test, pulling a plant out of the ground and spitting it out if it is distasteful. A new plant, laying on top of the ground often dies before the gardener discovers and saves it. A friend sprays every new plant with deer repellent, because her deer often uproot new plantings in her garden.

Below is a small palette of deer resistant plants, starting with my three favorites in each category:

Annuals

Snapdragons are cool season annuals in Georgia, a deer-resistant alternative to the cool-season pansies they so love.

Marigolds are a recent rediscovery for me. Once too common, now I value their sunny disposition, various forms, pest resistance, drought tolerance and carefree nature. They are among the easiest flowers to grow from seed.

Fan flower (Scaevola) survives our humid summers with absolute grace, creating a mat of fresh green foliage and abundant purple blooms.

Deer have munched on my zinnias, angelonia and coleus, but left the lantana, verbena and shrimp plants.

Perennials

Salvias are not all as drought resistant as I had hoped, but are deer resistant. This fragrant branch of the mint family has many annual and perennial varieties to offer, with summer blooms in blues, purples, white, reds and oranges.

Lenten Roses are among the earliest and longest lasting blooms on evergreen, shade loving plants.

Dianthus include carnations and mat forming evergreen perennials. My new favorite is the deep red perennial Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus ‘Heart Attack’) I found at Plant Delights Nursery.

Also: yarrow (Achillea), Ajuga, Amsonia, Anenome, columbine (Aquilegia), Astilbe, Baptisia, Bergenia, Coreopsis, bleeding heart (Dicentra), foxglove (Digitalis), coneflower (Echinacea). Epimedium, spurge (Euphorbia), Lamium, Lantana, Liatris, bee balm (Monarda, lungwort (Pulmonaria), hens-n-chicks(Sempervivum), goldenrod (Solidago), lamb’s ears (Stachys), Verbena

Bulbs

Daffodils are among the most troubleproof, carefree and enduring flowers available.

Iris in my garden are completely ignored by the deer and multiply like crazy.

Alliums, ornamental onions, can produce dramatic blooms that are especially effective when massed.

Other bulbs in my yard have not been tested by the deer yet, but they have munched on the amaryllis.

Herbs

Most herbs have strong scents, so even if the deer won’t let you grow vegetables, you can have an herb garden.

Rosemary, including creeping rosemary, a great groundcover for a dry slope.

Oregano, which can spread by underground runners to form a mat. Ornamental oreganos have especially attractive blooms.

Basil, a summer annual that comes in so many varieties and flavors, including dark red or variegated leaves.

Also: just about any fragrant herb

Shrubs

Crape Myrtles, the classic summer blooming trees, are now available in a large variety of dwarf forms.

Abelia, including the classic evergreen/semievergreen that matures at about four to five feet tall and wide and my favorite new abelia, ‘Kaleidoscope’. ‘Kaleidoscope’ matures at two to three feet, with a long bloom season, a bright green/chartreuse variegation and pink new growth.

Viburnums provide blooms, plus often offer berries, fall color or evergreen foliage.  Among my favorites are ‘Shasta’, with generous amounts of white spring blooms in horizontal layers on a large shrub that looks beautiful in a woodland setting.



Also: butterfly bush (Buddlia), quince (Chaenomeles), Cotoneaster, pineapple guava (Feijoa), Juniper, Tea Olive (Osmanthus). Wax myrtle (myrica), Yucca (Yucca spp.)

What Makes a Plant Deer Resistant?

Certain characteristics give you a strong sign that a plant may be deer resistant:

Strong smell – if a plant has a strong smell, deer seem to leave it alone

Funky texture – this stiff foliage of yucca, fuzzy leaves of lamb’s ears and gummy sap of Lenten roses

Painful traits – thorny barberries, prickly (and fragrant) junipers

Comments (0) | Leave a Comment | RSS | Print | Share on Facebook | Share on Twitter |

Freshen and Protect your Plantings with Mulch
by Connie Cottingham - posted 11/23/11

 

I'm so lucky to have a long asphalt drive under mature pines, because whenever the pine needles fall I can run out with my rake, scoop up fresh mulch and remulch the front beds. Extra mulch is piled up for later use (and becomes the favorite cat napping spot).

Weeding the ground and mulching your plants for winter has oh-so-many benefits. First, just the action of getting beside each plant long enough to weed (and it doesn't take that much time) gives you the opportunity to notice what is going on with your plants. Are they ready to divide? In Georgia, now would be a fine time to divide perennials. Would cutting off the spent flowers make it more attractive? Would moving this plant to a different spot be wise?

Second, it looks good - really good. If you want your home looking great for a party or the holidays or, even more important, to make you happy, then a fresh layer of mulch is a quick fix. It unifies the landscape, makes a clear definition between lawn and beds and freshens the whole garden. That and a couple flats of annuals can work wonders.

But mulch can also keep your garden healthy. It's like putting down the winter blanket for your plants, keeping soil temperatures constant for plant roots (which grow year-round in Georgia). Mulch also stops rain from splashing soil onto the plants, eroding soil, or creating that hard crust that can form on top of soil. It discourages weeds from growing and makes them easier to pull when they do grow.

 

 

Comments (0) | Leave a Comment | RSS | Print | Share on Facebook | Share on Twitter |

Growing Lavender in the Southeast
by Connie Cottingham - posted 04/30/11

spanish lavenderDuring a cooking weekend at Callaway Gardens years ago, one of the most memorable tastes was a lavender sorbet. I never had tasted lavender in cooking before and was pleasantly surprised.

A quick search on the Internet reveals recipes for this herb in many sweet and savory dishes, including cookies, lemonade, jellies, meat marinades and more, plus the opportunity to purchase lavender flowers for cooking and crafts. Imagine placing small sprigs of lavender flowers in old fashioned ice cube trays, then including a few in a glass of lemonade. Or just tossing a few lavender flowers over fresh fruit. The key seems to be not to overdo, which would be easy with this fragrant herb.

There are almost 30 species of lavender and dozens of varieties just of English lavender (Lavendula angustifolia), the most popular lavender for cooking. This also seems to be the one that is about the least suited for growing in the Southeast.  To keep lavender plants happy here you need full sun, good drainage and air circulation.

Lavender is grown as a crop in California and appreciates dry air and soil that is sandy, alkaline and well-drained. Georgia is not California, and I am quite OK with that fact. Those Californians don't have the rhododendrons and camellias we do. Don't expect to grow a lavender hedge in Georgia, but don't give up on growing this wonderful herb either.

The trick to growing lavender here is to find a variety that does well here, keep it pretty dry and provide excellent drainage and air circulation. A raised bed or container would work well for lavender; just combine it with plants that also can take it dry, like lantana, verbena, sedum and daylilies. In the ground, add gravel and maybe a little lime to provide the conditions it prefers. It will not fare well with our humid summers planted in a crowded, irrigated flower border. Last year I planted a lavender test garden which now has 6 plants in a raised bed.

Provence and Spanish lavender (closeup photo and in bloom in my test garden) are two that seem to do well in this area. In the herb garden of The State Botanical Garden of Georgia, Athens, there are Spanish lavender plants that are as woody as the rosemary plants. Both are beautiful plants that provide fragrant blooms and foliage and edible flowers. Lavender also attracts bees and is thoroughly disgusting to deer.

If you are trying lavender for the first time, I suggest you buy plants from an area nursery. More than likely they have grown lavender for years and know which varieties do best here. Seeds are slow to start and you want to start with just one or two plants anyway.

Lavender has a strong heritage. Ancient Egyptians used lavender in the mummification process and Pilgrims brought it with them to the New World. Lavender has been used for centuries for bathing, laundry and medicine. I like the old treatment of a cordial made from wine steeped in lavender, cinnamon, nutmeg and sandalwood after an "indigestible meal." A friend put dried lavender sprigs in a present she wrapped for me. Open the preset and the fragrance greets you - how charming! I’m going to have to remember that for the hand knit shawls and scarves I am making.

Comments (0) | Leave a Comment | RSS | Print | Share on Facebook | Share on Twitter |