Bonnie Helander began her love of gardening while living and working in San Diego. After retirement, she moved back home to Georgia with husband, Dan, and now resides and gardens in Peachtree City (Zone 8a) where she is a member of the Peachtree City Garden Club. Bonnie is the gardening writer and blogger for Fayette Woman magazine and also blogs and writes for Georgia Gardening Magazine. Besides gardening, Bonnie loves nature and hiking and is a proud graduate of the University of Georgia and avid supporter of the Bulldog nation.


Tips to Get Started Gardening Organically
by Bonnie Helander - posted 08/29/12

Organic gardeners are defined as those who do not use any synthetic pesticides or fertilizers in their gardens. I’ll be the first to admit that I still use some chemical products, but I have been doing lots of research, taking classes and trying to move toward a total organic approach.

I’ve also been greatly influenced by Tricia Stearns, the founder and executive director of the Peachtree City Farmers Market and Community Garden and Larry Dove of Two Doves Farm who serves as the organic gardening consultant at the community garden. Recently I attended a workshop at the Coweta Extension Office on Organic Gardening taught by Newnan organic farmer, Mike Cunningham. Mike gives comprehensive and easy-to-understand information on gardening organically.  

Peachtree City Community Garden plot - grown organically!

So I am putting into practice some of the tips I’ve learned from these wonderful folks who are dedicated to healthier techniques for growing food and ornamental plants.

Tip 1:  Amend your soil. It really is all about the soil.  If we spend more time creating a friable, well-drained soil mixture, filled with organic matter, we will have healthier plants. A good soil starts with a soil analysis at the extension office to see what nutrients your soil is lacking. I am planting in more raised beds because I can add a good soil mixture of native soil, compost and other nutrients as needed.

Take a soil sample to your extension office for analysis


Plant in raised beds.

Tip 2:  Compost, compost, compost!  I have a wonderful two-bin system that my husband built but I could use more bins.  Composting is pretty easy and you get free organic matter to add to your soil every few months.

My two-bin compost system keeps me in compost year-round.

Tip 3: Use plants adapted to our area. You might say “duh” but I am guilty of wanting to stretch the limits of my zone 8(a) and try things that really don’t thrive here.  Not only do I end up wasting my money but these plants become susceptible to pests, inviting more into my garden.

Tip 4: Mulch to cut down on weeds. I’ve started adding a layer of newspaper first and then a good 3-4 inches of wood chips to all my garden beds to deter weeds. Most weeds that do sprout up can be pulled up easily after a rain. Even ten minutes of “weed-hunting” each day helps me to stay on top of the weeds.

Mulch all your planting beds to cut down on weeds and retain moisture.

Tip 5: Learn to identify the “bad” bugs from the “good” bugs. I’ve learned that the vast majority of insects are beneficial and that when we use insecticides, we are killing off many of our “good” bugs. A good spray with water can dislodge many insects and there are many organic products on the market to address pests.

Become a bug detective and learn the good from the bad.

Tip 6:  Live with some imperfections. My plants may not look perfect but I’m not showing prize roses at the flower show, so a few damaged leaves aren’t the end of the world. The garden, like life, is sometimes messy and I’ve decided that that is okay.

Enjoy the wildlife in your garden! (photo by Cubie Steele)

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Spectacular New Plants Featured at UGA Trial Gardens
by Bonnie Helander - posted 07/27/12

In mid July the UGA Trial Gardens held an Open House to showcase some of the amazing new plants that are being tested for their adaptability to our challenging Georgia climate. Every two weeks, the new annuals, vines, tropicals and perennials are reviewed and graded on how they are developing, based on tolerance to heat and humidity, resistance to disease and insects, ease of propagation, production time and cutting efficiency. The select few that are the “best of the best” are then sent to growers or are introduced under the Athens Select brand. If you get a plant that has survived the research at the UGA Trial Gardens, you are getting a superior plant that will thrive in your garden.

The Trial Gardens were started in Athens in 1982 by horticulture super stars, Dr. Allan Armitage and Dr. Michael Dirr. These two experts also helped Former UGA Football Coach, Vince Dooley, turn his Athens garden into a national showcase.

You can wander through the garden anytime you are in Athens but it is extra nice to visit when Dr. Armitage and his staff are hosting an open house or plant sale. Check out their website for dates of their next event. Below are photos of some of my favorite selections at the open house in July. Guests were asked to place an orange flag on the plants we loved the most. Many of these received a flag from me!

Welcome to the UGA Trial Gardens!


Before things got too busy, I was able to get a photo of me with Dr. A!!!


Hibiscus 'Haight Ashbury'


Rudbeckia 'Denver Daisy'


Capsicum 'Loco' - a multi-colored pepper!


Petunia 'Pretty Much Picasso'


Scaevola 'Topaz Pink'


Asiatic jasmine 'Snow in Summer' - a colorful ground cover


Coleus 'Eruption'


Take a trip to the UGA Trial Gardens and see what you've been missing! You'll want one of everything! If you don't see these selections in your local nursery, tell the staff they need to get them now!!! 

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Garden Sheds, Potting Benches and Greenhouses
by Bonnie Helander - posted 07/04/12

For me, the lure of a garden is not just about the plants. I love to see what gardeners use to grow and nurture their greenery – their tools, pots, work benches and sheds. A garden is really a work in progress, and gardeners seem to find creative ways to incorporate their work spaces into a pleasing garden view. Nothing is more charming than a simple, rustic potting bench or a colorful old shed filled with tools. And if you own a greenhouse – gardeners will come from miles around to see this exciting focal point. Here are just a few of my favorite benches, sheds and greenhouses from around the South…

My husband made this potting bench and storage bin in a corner of our garden.


Beautiful potting bench outside Le Petit Jardin nursery in Madison


Rustic bench


Another rustic bench staged with lovely potted plants


Amazing greenhouse in private garden in Atlanta


My friend Tom's beautiful garden and shed in Tyrone


Another friend, George, built this shed as a replica of his grandfather's country store. Tools from the store hang on the walls.


A lovely potting shed in Madison, surrounded by birdhouses and feeders


A vintage potting shed in a private garden in Atlanta


The inside of the shed with an array of terracotta pots!

Don't hide your work spaces but incorporate them into your garden! You add so much character and interest to your landscape.


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