Beyond Frost and Deer: Agastache, Salvia and Buddleia

My deer friends are a common sight lately. We often have to walk out into the front meadow to encourage a herd of deer to move on. One fawn seems to think about trying to play with our greyhound--not an activity that we wish to see.

There is some foraging going on. The swamp sunflower (helianthus angustifolius) has been completely picked clean of blooms. I'm struggling with whether or not to leave those in the outer garden for next year. The deer have even eaten lantana blooms and that is not something that I've ever seen before. This foraging started in late August and appears to be the work of the 2008 fawns who are now venturing into the garden on a regular basis.

The salvia greggii, agastache, verbena, buddleia, azaleas and roses continue to bloom in spite of several frosts and a freeze in the last week. Of those, the salvia, verbena and buddleia are outside the cottage garden fence and untouched by deer. Azaleas and roses are grown inside the fence away from the deer.

I continue to be impressed by the salvia and agastache in terms of long-bloom season, deer-resistance and low maintenance. I found that deadheading the buddleia frequently during the summer has provided me with long-lasting blooms on those bushes. If there was ever a deer-resistant combination to recommend, this is it.

Other companions around the salvia and agastache are:

  1. pink muhly for fall color

  2. echinacea 'Ruby Star' for summer color

  3. spirea 'Neon Flash' for spring color

  4. buddleia 'Adonis Blue' for blooms off/on

  5. crape myrtle 'White Chocolate'

This combination of perennials, ornamental grass and shrubs is my favorite in the garden. I think similar results can be created using a different color scheme. If I were to change anything about this, it would be to have enough space to mass larger numbers of these same plants together. All of these photos show the fall colors and blooms. If you'd like to see this same group in summer, please look at my previous article Designing a Colorful, Deer-Resistant Garden.

Mysterious and Spooky?

A friend of mine found this thing (on the ground) while walking in the woods of Chatham County, North Carolina. He couldn't identify the object. He asked me. I didn't know. I went in search of the answer. Can you guess what it is? The first hint: It's about the size and weight of a cantaloupe. (You can click the photo to enlarge)

While you're thinking about it, I'll share a little story with you. The following story comes from North Carolina Legends by Richard Walser.

The Devil's Tramping Ground

In a wooded area in western Chatham County is a well-worn path that forms a ring forty feet in diameter. The path itself is a foot wide. The center of the circle and the ground outside the path are lush with grass and other plant life, but nothing grows in the foot-wide track. At sunset, when rocks or similar heavy objects are placed in the pathway, they are found the next morning to have been brushed aside. In fall and winter, when rabbit hunters roam the surrounding countryside, their dogs perform joyously until the chase nears the barren circle. Then the dogs tuck their tail between their legs and slink away. They will not go near the spot.

Soon after the first settlers came to Chatham County, they discovered the strange site, which soon became known as the Devil's Tramping Ground. This was before 1800.

Though no one ever saw him stalking there, it was believed to be the haunt of the Foul Fiend, who came at night to tramp around and around and around in a circle, his head lowered, his expression intense. It was during these hours that Satan planned his evil schemes to undo mankind. At the first light of morning he was gone, winging his way like a bat across the world to carry out his nefarious purposes. Yet so scorching had been his footprints on the ground of his circular pathway that the soil became infertile, and the nocturnal retreat of the hellish Prince of Darkness was shunned and avoided.

Leave your guess about the "thing" in the Comments section below. I'll provide more hints within the Comments section throughout the day...or until there is a correct answer!

How Do Gardeners Overwinter?

Frost, freeze warnings and snow. Winter has arrived early in many of our gardening zones. The gardener in you prepares your plants for winter. When the weather turns cold, how do you, the gardener, overwinter?

  1. Are you an evergreen who adjusts to the changing temperatures -- actively gardening all year long?

  2. Are you a deciduous type who sheds your gardening gear -- but still needs a daily garden walk?

  3. Are you a houseplant who spends the summer outside -- but finds a comfy winter spot inside by a window?

  4. Are you a perennial who shuts down for the winter-- happy for a break from gardening?

  5. Are you a tropical plant in a tropical zone --merrily oblivious to winter?

I’m a deciduous type because my garden boots, apron and trug will sit idle. I may do a few little things, but I'll be a passive, rather than active, gardener. I will still need my daily stroll through the garden to see what's going on with all of my little plants. It’s a compelling force, no matter the temperatures. I need my connection with the earth.

I’ll get cranky without a bit of sun or light. On sunny mornings, I'll have my coffee on our front porch to absorb the low, southern sun. I will take afternoon naps in our garden room because it is full of windows on the southeast side of the house. It also has a fireplace, so even the dreary days can glow with a little light. I need sunshine and light.

I’ll read books, magazines and catalogs in hopes of emerging with bright, new ideas in spring. I’ll make wish lists of plants. I’ll look through my photos of the garden and start planning what I’ll tweak. I’ll satisfy my creative side by blogging and sketching out designs. I need to feed my appetite for gardening.

Plant or gardener, I suppose Mother Nature gives us winter because we need to restore and replenish our energy for the next growing season.

Purple Rocks!

Have you ever seen a garden feature so creative that you had to find out the story behind the inspiration? On my recent visit to the NC State Fair, there was a particular garden design that made me smile. Why? Because the design was so different and unique, yet I could see myself enjoying this in a little secret garden.

I can’t begin to adequately describe the “centerpiece” of this garden inspiration, so I asked the creator, Tammy Kennedy, to tell us about her design. Tammy has a background in art, graphic design and photography. Her husband and children helped her with the garden entry for the Romantic Theme category in the Flower and Garden Show at the Fair.

Opposites Attract by Tammy Kennedy

The “Opposites Attract” design for our NC State Fair display originated from a stream of consciousness. My husband and I wanted to do a tête-à-tête bench, which we've both always loved. We realized that the spine of a tête-à-tête bench forms a backward ’s’ shape. We also realized that the shape forms the central portion of a yin yang, which represents male/female harmony and opposite traits. We felt that the yin yang went with the romance theme. Rather than trying for a black and white yin yang, which I felt would be too stark for a garden; we decided on dark purple and light peach.

We tried to play the lighter and darker tones of the two colors off each other everywhere possible in the design. We added a lot of little white touches for sparkle and night appeal, both in variegated foliage and small white flowers.

The design was sketched out on the ground with a stick after first figuring out the orientation on graph paper. We took measurements of the plot, sketched until I got the design I wanted, and then just transferred the design by eye. I knew the center circle needed to be about 4.25' because we already had the chairs and we wanted the back curves to echo the yin yang in a tight fit. We used the “stick and string” trick to mark a circle; I marked out the paths and then worked around the circle and paths when planting.

The rocks are painted using Setacolor Soleil Sun paint. Soleil is fabric paint, used for sun dying. The paint is translucent—great stuff to work with and you get fabulous results.

To mix the paint, I diluted about 5 parts water to one part paint and put it in a spray bottle. We spread our rounded stones out on bird netting to make it easier to pick up later. We gave the rocks 2-3 coats of sprayed paint, then turned the rocks over and repeated. I really like that the paint gives the stones color, but you still see the subtleties of the stone, too.

The design was edged with metal duct strap that was screwed every foot or so to an OSB base. We made the two halves of the yin yang separate so the gravel would stay separate. The rocks were poured into each half (one bag per half) and sprayed and rustled around then sprayed again. I gave the purple several coats, whereas the peach only needed a little bit of color to match the larger stone on the path. The eyes in the design are stones glued onto a plastic lid with silicone caulk and nestled down into the gravel.

Also playing the extremes game are a fountain and candle, representing the classic opposites of fire and water. We hilled up one corner with large lush plantings, while one corner is deeply sunken and has low and soft plants. Lovely sounds arise from bamboo wind chimes and the trickling fountain. Magical twinkles of light sparkle when the sun catches the twisting flappers of the chimes. Rounded gravel crunches underfoot to allow easy access to the seating area and gardens. There are many fragrant plants in the garden that bloom throughout the seasons.

For your own special garden retreat, create a space that really rocks…with your own favorite colors and plantings!

Stylish Sheds

By guest garden writer: Helen Yoest

Prior to going to Portland, Oregon and meeting writer and stylist Debra Prinzing and photographer William Wright, I read their book, Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways.

It was a gift from my friend James Baggett, Editor of Country Gardens magazine. He knew I liked garden books in general, but James also knew I like places to go in the garden – destinations such as seating areas, potting benches, gazebos, porches, sheds, hideaways.

With the tempting title waiting, I poured a fresh cup of coffee, with just the right amount of cream and began to read. Inspiration sprung, fantasy flourished. It was a great way to spend a morning.

For a very long time now, I’ve wanted to add a greenhouse, but not just any greenhouse. I always fancied it would have a certain look; a place where I could put not only plants, but a single chair and small table so I could go there to take my afternoon tea.

The location of the greenhouse, I thought, would have to be relegated to the “service” area of my garden – next to the shed. My shed is strictly utilitarian. We don’t have a garage to store bikes, garden tools, the mower, and other objects necessary to function as an all American family. I always assumed the greenhouse would go right next to the shed. Currently, there’s a table there and I refer to this area as the holding area. Calling it a nursery, would be too important of a word for the purpose. This place holds plants until I have a place to put them.

I’ve wanted a greenhouse to hold over tender plants - but I really wanted it as place for an escape. The idea of having a place of my own in the garden, protected from elements was the dream. Using it to hold over tender plants was the justification.

I just couldn’t get excited about the space though. It wasn’t enough to have a place to go. I needed it to be in a place I wanted to go. I was looking for a destination, one that wasn't closed off. I also couldn't see the garden from the service area. And that is exactly what that space would have done.

After reading Debra’s book, I had an epiphany. If the building is beautiful and well sited, then I could move it out of the service area and make it a part of the garden. Once I realized this, I began to take the steps to make this dream a reality.

I found my perfect greenhouse. It is offered by Smith & Hawken. I give monthly seminars there, so I’m familiar with their products. I love the look and after having looked around for a long time, I knew I would know it when I saw it. The Smith & Hawken greenhouse meets not only my need for aesthetics, but for function as well.

Debra and William's book touches nicely on the spaces featured including the bits of information about the owners and how they made their space personal. Each featured space has a chart to show the process the owners went through to create their space including the mission, must-haves, inspiration, design challenges, creative solutions.

For kicks and grins, I thought I would write my design statement. Put it on paper, so I could visualize it, make it real, make it my own.

The styling and photography are phenomenal. As a stylist, I can see all the attention to detail that happened to make these photographs what they are. And William caught the light just right. Well done!

All photo credits William Wright Photography.

About today's author: Helen Yoest is a gardener, garden writer and a garden coach. Helen writes for Metro Magazine, Fine Gardening Magazine, Carolina Gardener, Nature's Garden, and is also a field editor for Better Homes and Gardens and their special publications. As a volunteer, Helen is a passionate promoter of area gardeners and gardens and has the honor of sitting on the Board of Advisors of the JC Raulston Arboretum. She is also the area representative for the Garden Conservancy Open Days tour. Contact Helen through her website GardensGardens.

All company or product or patented names mentioned are registered trademarks/copyrights/patents owned by those respective companies or persons.

Want to See 40,000 Plants? Visit the Zoo

That's right! There are more than 40,000 plants to see as you wind your way through the exhibits and five miles of pathways at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro. Of course, there are also animals -- more than 1,100 individual animals of 200 species living on 500 acres of exhibits that are built to resemble natural habitats.

The NC™ Zoo is made up of two continents, North America and Africa. All along the shaded paths, there are native plant species planted among the naturally occurring NC natives.

The North America animal exhibits include otters, seals, bears, bobcats, wolves, foxes and many other animals. There is a butterfly garden and special hands-on areas for children. A honey bee garden is currently being developed for the future.

At the Sonora Desert exhibit, there are cacti, salvia, yucca and other plants suitable for a dry environment. In the enclosed exhibit, there are hummingbirds, roadrunners, lizards, snakes and other animals that live in the Sonora desert.

The African Pavilion is loaded with plants to create a Tropical Plant Walk exhibit while taking in the meerkats, baboons and other African animals. Outside, the African Plains stretch across acres to accommodate the large animals such as rhinos and elephants. There are also zebras, giraffes, lions and other African animals.

My favorite plant exhibit is in the aviary. The R. J. Reynolds Forest Aviary includes over 3,000 tropical plants that provide a habitat for dozens of exotic birds and tropical frogs.

Autumn is a perfect time to visit the zoo. The fall colors are beautiful, the animals are great, and the temperatures are pleasant. Take a tour!

Photos and story by Freda Cameron. All NC™ Zoo and exhibit names are registered trademarks of the North Carolina Zoo

The Skinny on Verbena Bonariensis

It's tall and skinny and oh so purple!

Verbena bonariensis is a perennial in zones 7a through 10b. Colder areas can save the seeds and treat this verbena as an annual. It grows to around 3-4 feet in height and has such a small footprint, it can be tucked in just about anywhere in full sun with well-draining soil. The verbena in my garden has been blooming consistently since May. It's still going strong with perfect purple blooms.

Verbena bonariensis is deer resistant, rabbit resistant and drought tolerant. You can use this as a cut flower, either fresh or dried for your arrangements. This verbena is a big hit with the honey bees and butterflies as well. The birds love to eat the seeds on the verbena, so I don't cut it back in the fall. By not cutting it back, verbena bonariensis self-sows in the garden.

To grow this verbena, you can direct sow seeds in the fall as I've been doing this week. I didn't buy more seeds, I just gathered seeds that had already dried on some of the plants. You can also sow seeds next spring after the last frost. The seedlings are easy to transplant. I find the seedlings all during the summer and move them wherever I want more verbena. You can also buy these verbena in pots from plant nurseries.

For a shorter, fuller plant form, you can cut back the verbena when they first emerge in spring. You can deadhead during the summer, but I've not found it to be necessary for continuous blooms.

As for companions, what doesn't go with this violet purple? I have planted verbena with just about every other color in my garden. It works with yellow, orange, red, magenta and white...probably even more colors.

You just need a few inches of garden space to plant one verbena bonariensis to add a vertical element to your design. If there was ever an easy-growing plant for the garden, this is it!

Around Chapel Hill: A Stroll through Coker Arboretum

By Freda Cameron  
During our autumn day outing to Chapel Hill this week, my husband and I took a stroll through Coker Arboretum on the campus of the University of North Carolina. Coker Arboretum is located on five acres behind the Morehead Planetarium with borders along Cameron Avenue and Raleigh Road.

The Arboretum was founded in 1903 by the University's first professor of botany, Dr. William Chambers Coker. Trees, shrubs and vines that are native to North Carolina make up much of the display, but Coker also added East Asian species from the 1920s through 1940s.

The lengthy arbor that parallels Cameron Avenue is covered with Wisteria frutescens 'Amethyst Falls' that is an American variety and more restrained than the sinensis variety. This American wisteria grows in zones 5-9 and flowers here in late spring. Please note that this one doesn't have the same sweet fragrance as the sinensis variety.

One of my favorite trees in the Arboretum is the Chinese Flame-tree. This deciduous tree is hardy in USDA zones 7-9 and grows to a height between 20-30 feet and a width of 15-20 feet. The 12-24" long seed pods form in the fall after the yellow blooms in August and September. The tree flowers at an early age and the seed pods can be dried for decoration. The tree appreciates sun, but does well in a variety of soils.

A number of different hydrangea varieties billow along the shady gravel paths. There is a hydrangea macrophylla 'Blue Wave' alongside a 'Variegata' lacecap. These hydrangeas like moist soil, shade and grow well in zones 6-9. I love hydrangeas, but am unable to grow them at my current home because of the deer and full sun.

Camellias are very popular in our area. There are so many colors available that bloom in different seasons. This pale pink variety was in bloom in Coker Arboretum. If you are interested in the many varieties available, a wonderful local source, that also sells online, is Camellia Forest Nursery. For a fall blooming camellia, look for Camellia sasanqua. I've grown this variety at a previous home and it peaked in November, but sometimes the blooms lasted until December. If you are interested in producing your own tea, look for varieties of camellia sinensis.

All along the paths you'll find flowers, ferns, hellebores, irises and so many trees and shrubs to enjoy in spring, summer or fall. Bloom times will depend upon the season that you visit. There are little nooks with benches as well as open spaces of grass for picnics or the inspired artist. The Coker Arboretum has always been a quiet place during our visits; a verdant oasis in the middle of a bustling university.

Photos by Freda Cameron

Around Chapel Hill: Stars, Science and Roses

On a beautiful autumn day, walking around Chapel Hill, North Carolina is so pleasant. My husband and I caught the bus from our neighborhood to the UNC Campus. From the bus stop on campus, we walked to downtown Chapel Hill and enjoyed a nice, leisurely lunch. We then headed back across campus for a scenic stroll.

Our first stop was an historical landmark located on Franklin Street. The Morehead Planetarium at UNC was completed in 1949 as a gift from John Motley Morehead. According to the history, astronauts used the Planetarium to learn celestial navigation between 1959 and 1975. Astronauts participating in the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz programs trained at Morehead.

The annual "Star of Bethlehem" show is now in its 57th year, having premiered in 1949. There are many Planetarium showings from which to choose. These star shows are fun and educational for all age groups.

The Planetarium is also used for scientific exhibits. Through January 1, 2009, there is a special interactive science exhibit called "The Ancient Carolinians." The exhibit is based upon archaeological evidence that people lived here in North Carolina around 12,000 years ago. The archaeologists uncovered evidence near Badin at a site located at Hardaway. You won't find Hardaway on a map as the location is kept a secret to prevent theft of archaeological artifacts. I hope to return to this exhibit when my archaeologist son is home at Thanksgiving.

The Planetarium has a rose garden around the large sundial out front. Even in autumn, there are still quite a few blooms. With a hard freeze in the forecast for next week and daytime temperatures to dip into the 50s, these may be the last blooms of the year. Of further interest to gardeners, especially those interested in native plants, the Coker Arboretum is located behind the Planetarium.

While I can't bring you the Planetarium shows or exhibits, I can give you a glimpse of a few roses in the beautiful garden.


Cover Your Ears, It Is Cold Outside

I've not found a hat large enough to cover my big ears. After the freeze kills back the foliage on my colocasia, I whack the plants back to a few inches above the ground. When I say "whack" that's exactly what I mean. These are thick, tough stems, so arm yourself appropriately when you go out in the garden to bring down these plants. I dump a mountain of mulch on top for thick insulation against the winter cold.

The colocasia esculenta 'Fontanesii' is rated for zones 7b-10 and grows between 6-8 feet high on black stems. The September blooms are a nice yellow with a papaya-like fragrance.

I have two of these big plants in the fragrance garden to help provide privacy around our dining patio in summer. They grow rapidly, especially with moist soil. That said, mine survived last year's drought with minimal drip irrigation. These huge plants are both deer and rabbit resistant because all parts are poisonous.

Since I live on the cold edge of the hardiness zone, I have to protect my elephant ears during the winter months. Some gardeners around here (and colder zones) dig up the roots to overwinter inside in a garage or basement. My colocasia wintered over just fine last year with the mulch overcoat. The plants increased in size, but not enough to have to divide them. These were planted in spring 2007, so I may be ready to divide them next year.

Since the black stems have a deep red undertone, this colocasia looks good with companions that sport purple, lavender or deep pink blooms. I use buddleia 'Pink Delight' and monarda 'Blue Stockings' planted on the sunnyside of the colocasia. Underneath, I planted heuchera in purple. During May, before the colocasia are fully out of the ground and unfurled, there are mass plantings of Hyacinthoides hispanica (Spanish bluebells) that brighten up the garden.

If you are planning to include big leaves in your garden next year, think about providing enough space for these colocasia. Colocasia esculenta 'Fontanesii' should be planted in the spring after the last frost. Moist soil will give you better results. I've found the big ears will burn in the bright sun, so a bit of protection from the harsh afternoon sun and strong winds is highly recommended. In the next few days, I'll once again have to protect those big ears from the cold!

Fall Planting for Spring Flower Display

My order of spring blooming bulbs arrived from John Scheepers. The order included 50 Dutch iris 'Rosario' and 50 'Telstar' along with 50 'Purple Sensation' allium. All bulbs arrived nicely packaged and healthy. A pamphlet of good instructions was included in the order. The larkspur seeds have been on hand for awhile.

I spent most of yesterday planting the bulbs and sowing the seeds. I raked back the mulch to the garden soil (full of earth worms). For the bulbs, I dug out trenches to space the iris bulbs 6" apart and 6" deep. I spaced the allium bulbs 4" apart and 4" deep. I lightly cultivated the soil and raked it smooth before sowing the larkspur seeds. I moistened the soil and lightly patted the seeds without covering them. I'll mist the soil everyday for awhile to help with the seed germination. Our night time temperatures this week are forecast from the upper 30s to low 50s. We've already had our first light frost.

Carissa holly, nepeta 'Walkers Low' and creeping thyme were previously planted between the stepping stone path and the fence in the outer garden. I've left those in place as the thyme and nepeta foliage will help conceal the foliage of the bulbs after blooming. The plan is to have larkspur blooming tall along the outside of the cottage garden fence. Between the larkspur and the nepeta, I planted a mix of Dutch iris 'Rosario' and 'Telstar' with allium 'Purple Sensation' for a color combination of magenta, purple and lilac.

Inside the cottage garden fence, I had to remove Spanish lavender that had been in place since fall 2005, but was severely damaged by the many rains this summer. Replacing the lavender are the geranium 'Rozanne' that I recently moved from the outer garden. These are planted beside the roses inside the fence. I had a few extra allium and iris 'Rosario' that I mixed in with the perennial geraniums.

Of course, I have a vision of what these combinations will look like, but I'm venturing into a few unknowns in terms of synchronized bloom time. The Dutch irises and allium are listed as blooming in May/June, but the irises in my garden have bloomed as early as April. I've asked around a bit about when larkspur blooms here and I get differing reports of April through June. Since this section of the garden faces south, it will probably be in bloom earlier, rather than later. If I'm really fortunate, the lavender, roses, geraniums and cottage pinks will also bloom at the same time. Wishful thinking? Only time will tell!

Signs of Autumn: Frost and Deer

Last week's temperatures were in the upper 80s and it seemed like autumn was a long way off. Suddenly, the weather changed. Monday morning we had our first frost. The flower garden did fine and I gauge that by the fact that the coleus, colocasia and brugmansia are still okay.

The Knock Out® Roses and the potted miniature roses are still blooming. The Encore® Azaleas have been blooming for over a month and the smaller ones under my cherry tree are really nice right now. The white butterfly ginger is still blooming. The salvia greggii are still putting on a great display. That said, all these blooms are spread out over the gardens so there's no big peak display in any one location. Some of these plants are inside the fence, some are in the fragrance garden and some are in the outer garden.

As much as I'd like to have more fall blooms, the deer have already taken an interest in the outer garden (outside the protection of a fence) after having mostly ignored it over summer. The deer, especially the fawns, are hanging out in the garden during the day. So much in fact that my neighbors must think they're our pets! I had to move my "deer resistant" geranium 'Rozanne' inside the cottage garden. I planted nine of those beside the Knock Out® Roses where I had to remove three Spanish lavender that were ruined by the summer rains.

The helianthus angustifolius 'First Light' finally got picked on again by the deer to the point that there are very few blooms left on that "deer resistant" perennial. For quite awhile, the damage wasn't too severe and I was thinking of using more of the swamp sunflower. Now, I'm not so sure that I want to dedicate space to it since the deer are more likely to browse the garden from September through April.

I gave up on the heptacodium. The deer damage was too severe to keep it in the front garden. It looked pitiful.

In addition to eating plants, the deer also rub their antlers on the Southern Magnolia this time of year. In the last two years, they had started breaking the lower branches. We thought that we'd pruned up the lower limbs to prevent further damage. However, the deer have been rubbing on the trunk. Once again, we brought out our flexible 32" high edging fence to circle around the tree trunk. That seems to be the only tree that gets damaged and the little fence is enough to keep them off of the tree.

As bad as all this sounds, I was actually very pleased with the results of the deer resistant outer garden. While I can't plant anything too exotic (or expensive) for the risk of losing the deer battle, I felt like I finally had a nice colorful, summer harmony with the deer.

Overflowing with Flowers and Herbs

One of the garden display themes at the NC State Fair competition was “Fresh Herbs and Flowers for a Cutting Garden.” One display, by Shane Pierce, really caught my attention with the jam packed garden design. The combinations played off of a mix of blooming flowers and colorful foliage from the herbs. The garden included plenty of edibles as well as ornamentals for a cutting garden. The plant list included:

Salvia madrensis (yellow giant sage)
salvia x microphylla ‘Hot Lips’ bicolor
salvia guaranitica ‘black & blue’
salvia elegans (pineapple sage)
perovskia ‘Little Spires’

Helianthus annus (sunflowers)‘Chocolate Cherry’
Helianthus annus ‘Florenza bicolor’
Helianthus annus‘Double Sun Gold’
Helianthus annus‘Starburst Aura’

Thyme: Wooly, Silver, Mother of Thyme
Rosemary ‘Tuscan Blue’ and ‘officinalis prostrate’
Lavender ‘Hidcote Blue’
Lemon verbena

Sweet Italian Basil
Lemon Basil
Red Ruben Basil
Genovese Basil

Garlic chives
Nasturtiums ‘Jewel Mix’ and ‘Empress of India’
Silver Dollar Eucalyptus
Gingko biloba
Achillea millefolium ‘Summer Pastels’
Monarda ‘Purple Delight’, 'Jacob Cline’ and ‘Raspberry Wine’
Stachys byzantina
Agastache foeniculum

Rudbeckia Hirta
Gaura 'Perky Pink'
Celosia 'Pampas Plume'
Coreopsis 'Threadleaf Yellow'
Cosmos 'Sensation Picotee'
Eupatorium 'Chocolate'
Marigolds (mixed)
Zinnia (mixed)
Cardinal Climber
Morning Glory 'Gigante' and 'Celestial Mix'
Pole tomato

Fine Feathers

By Freda Cameron

I never expected to walk into the poultry barn at the NC State Fair and fall in love with a chicken! I’ve been going to the State Fair for a very long time, but I suppose I’d somehow missed Silkie Bantams.

These chickens are so beautiful that I hesitate to post pictures of silkies for fear that the Hollywood celebrities will think these are the newest designer pets! I can see Paris Hilton carrying a silkie around instead of her little dog. In fact, silkies, being so gentle, can be trained to walk on a leash. An H-style small cat harness fits just fine, so parading silkies could be the next style of the stars. The silkies come in a nice range of designer colors such as white, black, blue (lavender), buff, gray, partridge and splash.

Seriously, I had to know more about these beautiful bantams. Chickens are very popular with cottage gardeners as well as folks who want to raise their own fresh eggs. In researching silkies, I found a breeder with a very informative website and great photos. Deb Steinberg of Fawkes’ Feather Silkies in Gainesville, Texas graciously provided the photos and much of the information for this article.

According to Deb, the silkies that are shown on Fawkes’ Feather Silkies website are primarily exhibition birds, and therefore the crest, foot feathers and overall fluffiness is exaggerated for success in exhibition, much like a champion show dog doesn't usually look like the one in your backyard. Although silkies are fabulous little chickens and can be found in backyard flocks all over this country, they usually have a smaller crest, less foot feather and are not quite as stocky in appearance. A show bird would have a tough time fending for itself and steering clear of predators if it were free-ranging! Those large crests really inhibit their vision.

Silkies that need to live in backyard flocks and spend some time free-ranging as nature intended can be purchased by mail order as day old chicks from any hatchery. They won't look like a show bird, but they'll still be sweet, beautiful, and won't cost as much either! Silkies are one of the best chickens for families, as they are sweet-natured, they enjoy attention and even cuddling, and they are usually great with kids. As for the history of silkies, these are old birds! Marco Polo wrote about these beautiful chickens from his travels in the 13th century. The feathers look more like hair than the standard feathers of a chicken or bird. Over the centuries and even in the last 30-40 years, silkies have been bred to specific standards to improve the crest, leg feathers and colors.

The American Silkie Bantam Club was established in 1923. According to the Club’s website silkies have a frequent inclination towards broodiness (the hens like to sit on their eggs until hatched). Because of this broodiness, "they are not prolific layers as such breeds as Leghorns or Rhode Island Reds, as chickens do not lay while in the "broody cycle." However when they are in their lay cycle, which seems to vary with each individual hen, they are very dependable layers. Since the American Silkie is a bantam (small breed) the eggs are not huge - about medium in size ranging in colors from white to light brown."

The idea of keeping laying hens in the backyards of homes in cities and towns has been in the news quite a bit lately in my area of North Carolina. Raleigh and Chapel Hill allow hens, but not roosters. The number of hens that may be kept varies as does the type of hen house you may use. Some ordinances require that the hens be kept 50 feet or 100 feet from neighbors. Others require a minimum lot size of one acre. Some towns prohibit any poultry. It’s best to check the laws in your city or town before buying any chickens. Not only that, but you also have to check the rules and covenants of your home owners’ association. For example, even though our neighborhood was created from a 200 year-old dairy farm and the lots average over 4 acres, poultry is prohibited. We're out in the county, not in town.

For more information about the proper housing for chickens, a good online resource is Backyard Chickens. The website has photos of cute coops, information on keeping a backyard flock and a number of other worthwhile topics on keeping chickens. The website also includes information on other chicken breeds.

If you’re contemplating adding chickens to your backyard or garden, I think these Silkie Bantams are worth a close look! After all, they are just gorgeous birds!

Young Gardeners and Farmers

One of the great things about visiting the North Carolina State Fair is to see the exhibits from the youth of our state. Many students from 4-H or Future Farmers of America (FFA) participate in activities such as livestock, poultry, farming or gardening competitions and displays. Youth often participate independently as seen in the showing of horses and other animals at the fair.

For those without live animals, there is also another fun competition for high school students. Several of the state high schools participated in a Barnyard Scramble Animal Frenzy competition. The barnyard animals are large-scale critters painted with zany and fun decorations. These delightful animals are on display around the fairgrounds. The "blank" animals were given to participating high schools. The students then went to work painting the livestock to go with the State Fair theme of "Take Time for a Great Time."

At the flower and garden show, all of the themed garden exhibitors were required to supply a garden plan, a plant list and a written description of their gardens.

The Wakefield High School FFA of Benson, NC created a "Charleston Garden" display for the gardening competion.

A "Patchwork Quilt" garden was the work of students at Wakefield High School in Raleigh. If you look carefully, you can see the "headboard and footboard" of the "garden bed" in this display.

Although my interest in attending the Fair was based upon the Flower and Garden Show, I also enjoy seeing the younger ones showing their farm-raised cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. Even in the poultry and rabbits, there are junior competitions. There are also craft and food-related competitions for the junior set. Many times, the awards are in the form of scholarships. Corporate sponsors bid on the winning market animals in an auction, with the funds going back to the children who raised the animals.

In this modern world of ours, it's great to see that there are still so many young people learning, and caring about, the basics of farming and gardening.

The NC State Fair - October 16-26

If it's fall, it's Fair time! The North Carolina State Fair is just fun! The Fair is open October 16-26.

First, let's talk "Fair Food" that includes all things you ordinarily avoid. You start off with elephant ears. These aren't your garden's colocasia! These elephant ears are basically big, flat pads of fried dough with a topping. If you want to eat something lighter, then you want a funnel cake that is basically fried dough drizzled into the oil so that it has a pretty, lacy look. Dump plenty of powder sugar on there and you're good to go. Don't wear black. My dark jeans were covered by the sugar. Share this with a friend or spouse so that you can enjoy some of the other concoctions at the Fair.

After sharing our funnel cake, my husband and I took a break from the food to check out the flowers. Our Fair has a gardening section that includes competitions for individual flowers and themed gardens. While I was taking photos, my husband wandered off to hear bluegrass music and came back with hand churned ice cream from the folks outside the Village of Yesteryear. I tried a few bites of the ice cream and it was so good!

Back to the flowers...we were unable to see the individual flowers as the building was closed for judging. However, we met lots of nice gardeners who had participated in the themed gardens. We had so much fun hearing about the creation of the gardens and a bit of history from one particular gardener.

Yes, there are lots of photos and articles coming in the next week! Stay tuned.

We wandered through the Village of Yesteryear where weavers, potters, carvers, broom makers and all other kinds of craftsmen and women were demonstrating and selling their wares. This is where you see the best handicrafts around.

When it was time for dinner (vegans stop reading now) we headed for the NC Pork Association's restaurant tent to get real NC chopped BBQ sandwiches. We sat down at the long tables and enjoyed our sandwiches, got our drink refills and headed for Al's French Fries. Al's little trailer is always at the NC State Fair. The large fries come right out of the oil for enjoyment. Satisfied that we'd filled our fried food requirement for this Fair trip, we walked past the deep fried Twinkies®, Oreos® Snickers® and such. Yes, they fry every food imaginable at the Fair. They can make artery-cloggers out of healthy green beans!

By this time, we headed for the livestock barns to see the cattle, goats, pigs, chickens...but, we couldn't find the rabbits. In the livestock area, we encountered a famous celebrity, Smithfield, The Painting Pig! Unfortunately, we had just missed Smithfield's final performance of the day. This painting pig has been on TV shows and you can buy his art.

After seeing a exhibits with honeybees and honey, prize winning 612 pound pumpkins, gorgeous gourds, plenty of potatoes and loads of apples, we decided to catch a bit more bluegrass music before heading home.

We don't ride the ferris wheel, roller coasters or anything else. We go for the old-fashioned stuff...and the food!

Garden Inspiration: A Vignette Nestled among Grasses

Once again from zone 8 in southeastern Virginia, Vikki is sharing her gardens with us. Vikki anchors the grass bed with ornamental grasses, such as miscanthus and muhlenbergia. These robust, fountain-shaped grasses provide a pleasing backdrop to showcase the mix of smaller, colorful perennials and annuals.

If you look down the length of the grass bed from east to west, you can see the anchoring by the ornamental grasses. These grasses serve a purpose to give the viewer an idea of the length of the garden. When you place objects of the same size at the beginning and end of the path, it gives you a perspective about the distance. This connection draws your eye down the length of this border. All along the border, the foliage textures work well together and the color scheme is consistently connected. If you look west to east, the garden shed at the end provides a destination. When you walk down the border, you’re given the impression of a logical end to the garden.

If you look closely at the east-west and west-east long views, you’ll not see a special surprise along the way. As Vikki demonstrates in her grass garden vignette, you can juxtaposition smaller plantings and garden art among the larger grasses to add an element of surprise. This little vignette makes you stop and look at this scene. When you look at a vignette such as this miniature among the larger bed, what do you see?

In my mind I see a tranquil, tropical scene. The low-growing squiggles of lime green Sedum ‘Angelina’ flow around the stone Japanese lantern providing the imagery of a pond surrounding a pagoda. The emerald green, rounded ruffled foliage of the Gerbera daisy resemble a tropical plant at the edge of the pond. The orange of the coleus and impatiens echo the idea of a tropical flower garden. Surrounded by flowing arches of grass, the blades of irises and the society garlic, the vignette appears as those it is backed by a tropical forest. All of the elements in this vignette work together as there are no definitive borders to this scene; it flows and connects with the rest of the grass garden. There’s nothing to jar the eye. Nothing feels out of place.

Garden Inspiration: Salvia Leucantha

From zone 8 in southeastern Virginia, Vikki (aka “Vikki1747” on GardenWeb Forums) sent me photos of her fabulous garden. One of the great things about participating in the gardening forums is the opportunity to get to know other gardeners. I had the pleasure of meeting Vikki in September when she came down to Raleigh to the Garden Conservancy Days. Vikki and three other gardeners from the forums met me for lunch at a local restaurant. After lunch, we came back to my home for a nice afternoon of gardening talk!

I don’t grow salvia leucantha in my garden. I tried it a few years ago at another house and it didn’t overwinter here in zone 7. Of course, I’m tempted to try it again since I have a full sun garden at my current home.

There are a few varieties of salvia leucantha, such as ‘Santa Barbara’ PP#12949 rated for zones 7b-10, according to a local nursery. The ‘Santa Barbara’ is a short form that is supposed to be 2 feet high x 4 feet wide.

Otherwise, most salvia leucantha or Mexican sage, is rated for hardiness in USDA zones 8-10. It is a native of Mexico and Central America. The foliage grows all summer and then it puts on a fabulous display in autumn, just when you want more blooms in the garden. This sage likes full sun, but part shade in the afternoon is fine. Mexican Bush Sage can tolerate drought. In the frost-free zones, this can be an evergreen bush. Elsewhere, it behaves like a perennial by dying back in winter and reappearing in summer. In areas with frost, the plant should not be cut back until spring. It can grow 2-4 feet in width and height.

Vikki uses her salvia in a mixed border with shrubs, perennials and annuals. The different foliage shapes and textures combine well for interest across the seasons. She has balanced the size of the plants to flow through this "island bed" providing us with a wonderful garden inspiration. I have a few more garden inspiration photos from Vikki for tomorrow.

A Long Growing Season in the Flower Garden

It occurred to me yesterday that my flower garden has been in some stage of bloom since April. It's now mid-October and there is still quite a bit of color. This is the first time that I've had a garden with seven months of flowers. Granted, everything doesn't bloom all at once, but there are a few peaks.

My garden is still very young. The oldest parts were planted in autumn of 2005 when the construction of our house was completed. The major portions of the outer gardens (the butterfly garden and the front garden) were planted in 2007. So, I'm happily surprised by a long growing season.

The big performance right now comes from the salvia varieties. I'm turning my thoughts to a few fall blooming companions to tuck next to those mass plantings. The 'Dark Dancer' has a crape myrtle and pink muhly grass to help out with a vignette.

The red greggii are massive enough to stand alone with a few tall verbena that are still in full bloom, nepeta foliage, pineapple sage in bloom, red snapdragons, foliage from crocosmia and blooms of a 'Purple Majesty' salvia. I have moved some gaillardia to that area for blooms next year.

Other bloomers right now include the Knock Out® Roses, Encore® Azaleas, garden phlox, agastache 'Purple Haze', 'Black Adder' and 'Salmon and Pink'. The creeping perennial heliotrope is still in bloom in the hottest areas while it has stopped blooming in areas with less sun. The original mass of gaillardia are in bloom, but have more seed heads than blooms right now. The new 'Grape Sensation' gaillardia is still in bloom as are the newer salvias 'Texas Wedding' and 'Diane'.

With more temperatures in the 80s forecast for this week, I'm expecting this bloom season to last through the end of October. Not bad for a young garden!


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