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Azaleas are more than a harbinger of spring. All across the Southeast, masses of red, white, pink and purple azaleas boldly proclaim that the season has arrived. Many people think azaleas come in just four colors, and some may even criticize their use as commonplace. Discriminating gardeners know better. This article cannot possibly discuss everything about azaleas, but it may foster an appreciation for their amazing diversity while providing some practical advice.
All azaleas are really rhododendrons, and fall into two general categories: evergreen or deciduous. Evergreen azaleas are very common in American gardens but they are not native plants. They all originated in western Asia, primarily Japan and China. North America is home to 17 native azalea species and they are all deciduous shrubs. Surprisingly, most are native to the Southeast! Admired in Europe since the 1800s, they have been woefully underrepresented in our gardens.
Little Gem Magnolia, a cultivar of Magnolia grandiflora, is a great option for those more restricted spaces or smaller landscapes, where the traditional Southern Magnolia would be far too large. This cultivar normally reaches a height of only 15 to 20 feet with a spread of 10 to 15 feet. As such, this can fit quite nicely somewhat closer to the home or as part of a border planting along a fence or property line.>> read “Little Gem Magnolia”
Lasagna gardening is also known as “sheet composting,” “sheet mulching,” or “no-dig garden beds.” This uncomplicated and easy gardening method is appropriate for everyone (including people who may be physically limited or unable to dig traditional garden beds). It’s also a good way to convert grassy areas to gardens without using herbicides or tillers. The sod is left in place, where it gets converted into soil organic matter. The process can be done at any time and at any scale, even piecemeal as materials are available.>> read “What is Lasagna Gardening?”
Kerry Heafner profiles the loquat (Eriobotrya japonica). Watch as he tells us all about this underused fruit tree that makes an excellent (and delicious) addition to the landscape.>> read “Loquat”
“Wow, that centerpiece looks good enough to be in a magazine. I wish I could put together something half that beautiful. I usually just plop some hydrangeas in a vase – pretty, but totally unimaginative.” That's what I said to my friend and talented designer, Trace, last spring. It was late February, when buds are swollen on bare branches and hyacinth flowers are only a promise, and I loved how the centerpiece celebrated that feeling of anticipation. Trace replied, “Thanks. It’s not that hard; I could teach you.” Thus began my yearlong training, learning how to create impressive centerpieces and tablescapes for every season.>> read “Tablescaping: Celebrate the Season with a Centerpiece”
Let Kerry Heafner show you the basics of pruning crape myrtles.>> read “How To: Prune Crape Myrtles”
No matter what size your garden, you can have a bouquet in the making if you plant a few key plants. From long-lasting coral bell leaves to daffodils or hellebores, it’s likely you’re already growing some of the best flowers for a stunning indoor arrangement.
Sizeable bouquets benefit from a focal point of large flowers — think Hydrangea spp., Dahlia spp., Paeonia spp. and Lilium spp. As extravagant as these show-offs tend to be, they’re often improved by some smaller flowers and greenery. In addition to the big, show-off flowers, tuck a few of these into your garden for great backdrops in a vase.
Have you ever wanted a beautiful garden with arbors, water features, furniture and unusual plants? Maybe that garden you dreamed of is not in your budget or you just don’t have the space or time. Why not make that dream come true in a miniature garden? A miniature garden can be planted in a container or in a garden bed. If you are planting in a container, you will need soil and an unusual container for your garden. For both container gardens and in-ground gardens, you will need small-leaved plants, rocks, miniature garden accessories and lots of imagination. Creating a miniature garden in a container can take less than an hour to create. Larger in-ground gardens can take a bit longer, or be an ongoing project, depending on the size. Here is how to create a miniature garden in three easy steps.>> read “Teeny Tiny: Creating a Garden in Miniature”
There’s a special thrill that comes from saying “I grew it from seed.” Try it and see for yourself.
When I was a child, I spent many lovely, sunny hours in the garden of our neighbor Genevieve. It was a smallish yard, enclosed with a low picket fence, and made to feel private with great pools of annual flowers that bloomed all summer. There were clouds of tall yellow blossoms I recall, and red vining things that spilled over the fence. I remember being drawn to the low patches of pink and blue petunias that spread out over the sidewalk and perfumed the air on still afternoons.
Few plants give so much for so little attention. Native to South Africa, Leonotis leonurus is a tender perennial that produces a fall display of riotous orange, fuzzy tubular blooms on long velvety stems. The flowers are in compact clusters arranged in whorls around the stem, and are a beacon of nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies. White and apricot flower forms exist, but may be difficult to locate in retail markets. Fertilizing is beneficial, but many plants do well without it.
On its more mysterious side, it's said to have a multitude of spiritual and medicinal properties, but deer purportedly avoid it. It's also fairly drought tolerant to boot, making it suitable for xeriscaping. As it can grow at a good rate by root suckers, it's a perfect plant to share with your friends. But who would want to?
In early spring the weather is notoriously fickle. There are always a few halcyon days to beguile us, but March, seemingly on a whim, will invariably turn tempestuous. Gardeners, ever impatient for spring, often despair. In March, frustrated but experienced gardeners have learned to bide their time.
To alleviate the gardener's frustration and before the garden becomes labor intensive, may I suggest a walk in the woods? Early spring is the season for spring ephemerals, which are the loveliest most delicate wildflowers found in nature. These wildflowers, as the word ephemeral implies, are usually short-lived, but their beauty will abate your despair.