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Pretty Zebra Mallow bloom

For every pretty picture in my garden this week,  there’s a really ugly one, too.

Pretty ugly plant

The hybrid tomatoes have white flies.

The heirlooms have curling yellow leaves. 

A disease called rust has infected the hollyhocks.

And the old roses have black spot–of course.  After all  it’s been really, really hot. 

Mostly, I just live with these problems.  I cut the plants back or just avoid looking at them until less stressful weather arrives.   

But I have a large garden and that kind of personality.  Some people just can’t live with ugly.

Last week a family member told me about her sickly looking tomato plants which she hoped would improve after a dose of the Bayer 3 in 1 that keeps her roses looking good.

“OMG–you’re going to kill yourself!!!!,  I said using every last one of the exclamation points. 

Bayer agreed this was a bad move  when she followed up on their  1-800 number. 

Not only does this gardener have to pull out all her edible plants, but she can’t grow food within 3 feet of that spot for over a year. 

That 3 in 1 is  powerful stuff and not approved for food crops.

But looking back it was an easy mistake to make.  Bayer doesn’t put skulls and crossbones on their products.  And who reads all the detailed product info we get on packaging these days.

But with garden chemicals, you have to read.  That’s so important I’m going to say it twice.  Read the label.  Better yet– no sudden moves, impulse buys or applications until you get some good advice.

I suggest a visit to a local seed and feed store like Stone Brothers and Byrd in Durham. They can tell you if there’s an organic solution to your problem and explain how to properly use any garden chemicals you buy. 

And do try to live with some ugly in your garden.  It happens, especially this time of year. 

My tomato plants are super-ugly, but the maters still taste good.


We were lucky.  We started with trees. And no matter what I plant in our backyard garden. the mature hardwoods that came with the place will always be the stars.

Not so for my friend.  She’s  living in a new house on what looks like an old corn field.  There’s nothing going on her backyard but grass. 

Boring.  But she wants to change that.  So here are 4 steps for creating  a garden. 

1) Lay out your bed(s.)  Then increase the size.   I suggested she use surveyor stakes or a garden hose to make the shapes–then live with them for a while.  Most of us make our beds too small and way too  narrow.  Think of your house from Google Earth and you’ll get a better sense of scale. 

2) Improve your soil.  If you’re living in a new house, chances are the ground is compacted and the builder took all your topsoil away.   My solution is to go up.  Here’s a mixed border in my yard built on cardboard last fall.  If you don’t have a truck to bring in topsoil and compost, buy bags and mix it on site.  1 bag topsoil and 1 bag organic humus, to 1 bag composted cow manure will work just fine. 

3) Start with shrubs and small trees.  Flowers come and go.  Garden beds need year-round structure.  Always think fall and winter interest before you consider spring and summer flowers. 

4) Finally, Find an independent nursery in your area, go there, ask questions and make friends.  Big box stores may be fine for nails and light fixtures, but I’ve seen lots of plants in their garden centers that just don’t like the weather here.   A good  local nursery will be stocked with locally grown plants.  They’ll do well for you.

Now it’s your turn–any advice from the seasoned gardeners out there for someone just starting out??  We were all beginners once, remember.  What have you learned along the way?

PS.  Campbell Road Nursery on Tryon in Cary is my go to nursery.  Stone Brothers and Bryd in Durham is great for growing supplies and good advice.   And it wouldn’t be spring (or fall) with out a trip to Camellia Forest in Chapel Hill.  The coolest trees and shrubs  in my yard came from Cam Forest.

As you clean up your summer gardens, a word of advice:  Cart canna leaves, stems and mulch to the curb, not the compost pile.   

If you compost this heat loving, classic southern plant, you’re inviting canna leaf rollers.  And once you get an infestation of these pesky caterpillars, you’re in for one heck of a  fight.

Virginia gardener Pamela Harper describes the battle in her book “Time-Tested Plants: Thirty Years in a 4 Season Garden”.  (A great book for Southern gardeners, by the way)

To get rid of leaf rollers, Pamela dug out and trashed all her cannas in plastic bags except for one tuber.  The tuber was cleaned well, then grown in sterile soil.  She basically had to start all over again. 

I got my leaf roller problem under control a few years with a some advice and two doses of a garden chemical recommended by  George at  Durham’s Stone Brothers and Byrd. 

But I hate to use any  chemicals in the garden–In fact, I  DON”T use any chemicals in the garden now that I have  four-legged helper Tralee Ramsey (with dirty nose below). 

So I control canna leaf roller with a good fall clean up–cutting and carting off spent leaves: raking old mulch off and away–

But it’s worth the trouble.  Cannas are wonderful plants  for Southern Gardens.  Their huge, colorful leaves are  very cool in more ways than one.

Here’s Bengal Tiger in my garden (October this year).  It’s a plant everyone should grow. 

More advice about pests?  Please weigh in–especially if you have a favorite non-toxic control.

Blog partner Melissa says she has baby plant envy.  My seedlings (in a photo taken this am) are much  bigger than her’s.

After a Q&A over wine we determined that she’s using the same soil mix, Fafard Professional Growers Mix.

Lots of light–my adjustable grow lights were a long-ago investment from Park Seed. I have them on a timer.

A fan–it keeps the air moving and makes the plants sturdy.

But no fertilizer.  I use a very weak solution of this plant starter fertilizer.  Miracle Grow also works–just make sure to only a use a tiny bit.  The water should barely have color (blue) .  And I water with this ultra light food almost every time.

Melissa took some fertilizer home.  We’ll see if her plant envy subsides.

By the way, this fertilizer is a plant starter formula because it’s high in phosphate,  the element that promotes roots and flowers or fruit.   Check out the middle number (10) –that’s the phosphate indicator. When my Daddy lived in Lowland South Carolina two decades ago, the commerical tomato growers put Triple Super Phosphate on their crops as in 0-48-0.  Strong stuff and another reason to grow your own tomatoes.

Now a baby plant horror story.  Can you see the gnats on the sticky trap above?   My sister’s seedling crop had a serious infestation that came out of her Miracle Grow Potting Mix.  She called the company and got “we don’t gurantee our soil to be sterlized”.  She’s using sticky traps from Garden’s Alive to control the problem.  Still–this is another a reason to use a starter mix you really, really trust.   I always buy my mix from a nursery or seed and feed, like  Stone Brothers and Byrd, and Campbell Road.

Any other readers with a crop of baby plants?  Let us know how they’re doing and what you’re growing.  Maybe we can swap. As you can see, I have a lot of tomatoes. 

It was a great week for me last week–Lots of sunshine and more spring blooms like the purple lenten rose above–plus I delivered a load of vintage fabric garden journals and tool belts to two of my favorite stores in Durham. 

Garden pals and blog readers Jon and Bea saw the New Years post about writing stuff down and asked for some of my hand-crafted garden journals for their great flower and plant shop–Floral Dimensions

They also took some of my Rewind Design work belts, along with George Davis at another of my favorite stores–Stone Brothers and Byrd.  

I’m so flattered to be in such good company.  Both Floral Dimensions and Stone Brothers sell top quality, unique products–roses that open, orchids that live (from Floral Dimensions) , grass seed that’s geared to our area, seed starting mix, seeds, bulbs and bedding plants (from Stone Brothers and Byrd).  

So as we all gear up to start the spring flower spending frenzy, a reminder to shop local independent stores like these.     

Not only do they sell unique items you won’t find in the big box stores,  they have lots of experience, passion and  give out lots of free advice–

They are part of the local garden community–and that’s very, very important to me.  

Plus our choices would be so limited without them–

Here are more local suppliers I couldn’t live without.  What about you?  Would love to know your favs.

Campbell Road Nursery in Cary.  Great perennial and annual plants, knock your socks off sales and they contribute to world of plants:  Lane is co-hybridizer of the wonderful dwarf butterfly bush–Buddleia Blue Chip

Camellia Forest Nursery in Chapel Hill–World famous camellia breeders.  Most of the best shrubs and small trees in my garden began life here (including my Edgeworthia Snow Cream that blog partner Melissa and her dad covet) 

Big Bloomers in Sanford–More perennials than you can count, great annual selection.  My little sis always travels from Ashland, Va TWICE every spring to fill up her mini van…but don’t tell her husband.

Final notes:  Did any of you ever shop at Buchanan’s Nursery on Western Blvd in Raleigh?  Great plants and service–staffed with lots of people from NC State.  You could call them up with a question and they’d spend 20 minutes on the phone with you.  Gone now–killed by big box competition.  How sad. 

And if you ever buy cut flowers, read the article in this months Smithsonian Magazine.  Like our food, we need to know where our flowers come from.  Another reason to shop with someone you trust. 

Finally, one more milestone for me last week, one of my Kiki’s Rewind Designs made the new issue of Green Craft Magazine.  Look for it on page 133 in the spring issue.

A long-time gardener and a passionate beginner share the dirt on their NC gardens-

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