Garden of Optimism

A gardener can look at a newly planted flower bed and visualize the future.

Right now, my redesigned garden area is drab and bleak.

Still in the early stages, and struggling through the winter, there are no blooms.

Signs of hope are springing up as green sprouts peek through the ground. Seeds sown in the fall are emerging with a new freshness. What doesn't look like much now, will hopefully flourish and my dream will be fulfilled.

Last fall, I decided to redesign this area of the garden that had become a real problem. There were overgrown shrubs that had become greedy and sapped the nutrients from the surrounding plants.

There were runners of crabgrass undermining the root systems of all the existing perennials. I had to dig up the runners and pull them out by hand. It was time-consuming and it was discouraging, but I persevered.

It was very painful to lose so many plants from this overhaul. Yet, it was necessary in order to grow a beautiful garden. When I was finished, I had a clean slate in this garden bed. I brought in new soil amendments to restore the nutrients. I added new plants. Some were expensive, but worth the outlay since this front garden area is so important to us. I also moved some of my good performing plants into this new garden.

Being a gardener, I have patience to wait for the bounty. I know it takes time to weed out the bad performers and grow better plants. In a few years, this garden will be abundant and overflowing with beautiful flowers, foliage and herbs. My efforts, patience and determination will be greatly rewarded. It will be a better garden.

I view the current economic crisis much like a garden. The bad performers must be weeded out to make room for the good. New ideas are being planted. These ideas need a lot of tending and enough time to mature in order to reap the rewards for a better economy.

May all individuals, throughout the world, become gardeners to help redesign and grow a stronger, more rewarding economy for the future.

Story and photo by Freda Cameron

Have a Berry Happy Bird Day with Holly

The best entertainment this week has been the bird party! The Robins and Cedar Waxwings have been having a berry good time in the Oak Leaf Hollies.

The Oak Leaf Holly is a hybrid and stands up well year-round through drought in summers, soggy winters and hard freezes. It is rated for zones 6-9b. If you have clay soil, this is a good holly to grow in your garden.

Forming a natural, pyramidal shape, the Oak Leaf Holly is an evergreen that grows around 15 feet high but only 8 feet wide. You can plant this holly in full sun or part shade. You may find it listed as Ilex x ‘Oak Leaf’ or with a common name of Red Oak Leaf Holly.

As a natural bird feeder, the Oak Leaf Holly is one of the best. These hollies are loaded with red berries that obviously provide food for the birds.

In the springtime, the honey bees literally swarm the new flowers. You don't need a male and female for flowers and berries, so one of these hollies can stand alone.

If deer are a problem in your garden, try the Oak Leaf Holly. My shrubs have suffered no deer damage - a necessity for my outer gardens.

We use a trio for screening one side of our garden on the east, keeping company with several osmanthus fragrans, a Kwansan cherry and several perennials. We use another as an accent between our guest parking and our private parking space on the southwest side of the house where the sun is harsh.

I love the versatility and performance of the Oak Leaf Holly. The birds think it's tops, too!

Story and photos by Freda Cameron

Tiny Teardrops on the Weeping Willow

It is twenty degrees this morning and there's new spring growth on the weeping willow.

The willow tree is one of the first trees to emerge in the springtime. The green teardrops show no sign of damage from the cold temperatures. It seems too early for such lush foliage, but the willow tree always seems to come through just fine. The only time that I've seen the leaves damaged was from a late April hard freeze.

I was just reminded of one of the joys of growing a large weeping willow in the garden. In her recent blog story, gardening and writing friend, Helen Yoest, mentions how enjoyable it is to move aside the curtain of a willow that grows beside a path. I totally agree.

The large willow is at the corner, outside the cottage garden. The willow provides a graceful division between the cool colors of the outer front garden and the hot colors of the butterfly garden. Think of it as a room divider.

The front garden is planted primarily with blue, purple, pink and magenta. The butterfly garden, on the east side of the house, is planted with red, yellow, purple and orange.

A favorite bench is beneath the willow tree in the butterfly garden. The little bench is a nice, cool spot to take a break when I'm working in the garden. This curved bench is just the perfect size to tuck into the mass planting of red salvia greggii. The willow branches brush the bench in the breeze. This is where I sit to take photos of hummingbirds.

All of the birds seem to love the willow tree, too. From the high perch, they can watch over the garden and bird feeders. When the hummingbirds are here, they spend time in the willow to preen between sipping from feeders and favorite flowers planted in both gardens.

I have come to love my tree beside the garden path. The fast-growing tree creates a sense of maturity in my young garden. Planted in a low area at the bottom of the slope, it received irrigation during the fall of 2005 when it was getting established. Since then, it has been watered by rainfall. The roots are far from any underground pipes, so we are comfortable with growing this glorious ornamental tree.

There's something romantic about a weeping willow tree. Perhaps it's the movement of the branches. Perhaps it is the mystery of walking through the veil of green branches. Perhaps it is the willow's subtle announcement of spring.

Story and photos by Freda Cameron

I'll Have a Cement Bunny, Please

Looking through the airplane window, I couldn't believe my sleepy eyes. Through the early morning mist, I saw grassy fields dotted with adorable, lop-eared bunnies.

That was many years ago on my first flight into Charles de Gaulle Airport outside Paris, France. The airport grounds were literally overrun with rabbits. Back then, the rabbit count at the airport numbered over 50,000! I haven't followed the story since then, but I've been to France enough times to know that lapin is listed on many menus and served numerous ways.

With the image of thousands of rabbits in my head, I know that I must put a stop to the midnight snack raids underway in my cottage garden. These rascally rabbits are squeezing under the fence and trying to burrow beneath the bushes. During these nocturnal raids, they are clipping hardy geranium, asters, allium foliage and heuchera to the ground.

Option one is to add a smaller gauge fence guard around the perimeter of the cottage garden fence. However, the cottage garden is our front yard, so the extra fence wouldn't look very good.

Option two is to replace all plants with rabbit resistant varieties. I'm not ready to give up my dream of zinnias and cosmos.

Option three is to trap, serve or relocate. I don't think I can handle this option in any form.

Option four is to try a rabbit repellant. As long as it doesn't repel me, I'm willing to give it a try.

A few days ago, I purchased I Must Garden® Rabbit Repellant at a local garden center. I decided to try the ready-mixed gallon size for $24.99. This product was created by a local Chapel Hill, North Carolina gardener. I've never used it before, but I like to support local businesses whenever possible. I also like natural products that won't harm the environment.

The spray has a minty fragrance - not bad at all. Since applying the repellant, I have not seen any signs of new damage by the rabbits. I have high hopes for a product with a name of I Must Garden®! As with any repellant, I know that success will also depend upon a regular schedule of spraying.

Gardeners have an optimistic outlook. We look forward to the rewards of our efforts. With a little patience and vigilance, I hope to have a cottage garden full of flowers. As for my taste in rabbits, I prefer cement bunnies for garden decoration!

Story and photos by Freda Cameron

Fearrington Folk Art Show

A beautiful bottle tree sprouts wispy branches tipped with colorful bottles shining like gems in the sunshine. A "Pot Head" planter with bicycle pedal feet awaits a hairstyle of ferns, grasses or flowers. Riley Foster has been welding garden arbors, windmills, totem poles and other designs for over twenty-two years. His garden art is made of recycled metal parts and it appears as nothing goes to waste.

Smile, you're looking at folk art! The cheerful creations on display at the 2009 Fearrington Folk Art Show are as delightful as the artists. Chat with an artist and you'll hear interesting stories of how they recycle junk into art or are inspired by the people, places and things in daily life.

Garden art, pottery, paintings, furniture and other folk art items are on display and available for sale during this show.

Garden-grown gourds are painted and crafted into schools of cute fish, tall flamingos and charming chickens. There are garden benches that are literally "tool" benches welded from hammers, shovels and wrenches.

The artist team of Tim and Lisa Kluttz of St. Peters Farm Folk Art Studio are back again this year with a booth of colorful paintings. You've got to love the dog paintings that are cleverly mounted on a window shutter!

Sam "The Dot Man" McMillan has an array of painted rocking chairs, stools, pots and even garden hats! Of course, his famous paintings are also on display. Sam is another folk artist who takes "found objects" and turns them into colorful, decorative works of art.

The Fearrington Barn is overflowing with good things and good people! The Folk Art Show is underway on Saturday and Sunday, February 21-22 at Fearrington Village, located between Pittsboro and Chapel Hill. The admission fee of $5.00 benefits the Chatham Outreach Alliance Food Pantry. The event is both indoors and outdoors at the barn, so there is no need to worry about the weather!

Story and photos by Freda Cameron

Dreams Seeded with Reality

I have discovered a weakness for cute packets of flower seeds. There's just something irresistible about those tiny, flat packages. My mind conjures up images of an overflowing cottage garden with flowers in a rainbow of colors.

Perhaps I've been looking at too many photos of Monet's Giverny? I do have deer and rabbits, after all. I'm living well with the deer -- we are getting along with the outer gardens. However, those mischievous bunnies aren't going to keep me from having lots of flowers within the fence of the cottage garden. I shall use a natural bunny repellant!

The larkspur and poppies that I sowed in the fall are doing great. The seedlings are plentiful, so I have high hopes for those annuals.

Since my original fall purchases from Diane's Seeds and Swallowtail Garden Seeds, I've also received free seeds from a generous and kind garden blogging friend.

As if I didn't have enough seeds, I recently gave into the temptation of a $10 off sticker on the front of the catalog from Thompson and Morgan Seeds! Please don't tell me about additional sources of flower seeds! I have many more bookmarked already.

My imagination has led to me to purchase all of these seeds. My logical mind has led me to the realization that I may have gone a little overboard with seed shopping!

Okay -- a lot overboard! I don't have a greenhouse. I have a small area for starting seeds indoors. I can try winter sowing... and direct sowing after frost. What was I thinking? I wasn't thinking, I was dreaming!

Story and photo by Freda Cameron

White Chocolate Pairs Well with Raspberry Wine

My husband and I once took a wine tasting course where we learned which red wines work well with chocolate. We couldn't resist the tempting offer of the class. The only problem was that it didn't last long enough!

Delicious-sounding plant names get my attention, too!

Crape myrtle 'white chocolate' and monarda 'raspberry wine' pair well in my deer resistant garden. These plants are tough and last a long time, too.

The crape myrtle foliage is a deep green and merlot, making it a great backdrop for plants with magenta or blue blooms. I must admit that I grow this small shrub for the foliage more than the bloom.

I love the white blooms, but I have to defend the shrub from Japanese beetle attacks. This crape myrtle, for zones 7-9, grows to 8'h x 4'w in full sun.

My myrtle has been kept shorter since I have to prune it to remove the beetle damage. A mix of Neem Oil and bio dish detergent worked well last summer to repel the beetles. I will spray that mixture on the leaves again in late May.

Other companions, though not as tasty, include echinops 'ritro' and echinacea 'ruby star'. I added the monarda 'raspberry wine' to the vignette after seeing the perennial combined with coneflowers by other gardeners. Salvia greggii 'dark dancer' and pink muhly grass also live in that garden neighborhood.

Monarda 'raspberry wine' is suitable for zones 4-9 and grows to a medium height of 30 inches. Bee balm is a perennial that spreads fairly easily in my southern garden, so I hope to enjoy a mass planting this summer. Hummingbirds, bees and butterflies love the nectar on this monarda.

As a gardener who is already addicted to perennials, a sweet-sounding plant name is just too tempting to resist!

Story and photo by Freda Cameron

Life and Science - Not Just for Kids!

Farmyard animals, creepy crawly insects and aerospace exhibits. It sounds like a great place for kids.

Indeed, the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, North Carolina is a fantastic place to take the kids for a day of amusement and education.

There's much more to the museum that makes it an attractive outing for everyone!

The museum has over 65,000 square feet of indoor exhibits along with 13 acres of outside exhibits, making this a destination for indoor and outdoor fun throughout the year.

The conservation-minded museum also houses rescued Carolina Wildlife that cannot be rehabilitated to return to the wild. There is a two-acre wetland habitat that is home to waterfowl and turtles. A rain garden is in use as well as a cistern to capture rain water for the tropical plants inside the butterfly house.

Within the butterfly house, there is a tropical conservatory that is over thirty feet high. Hundreds of butterflies and three species of birds are easily viewed. The vibrant, Oriental White-eye birds appear to pose for photos as they feed from nectar feeders!

Sit on a bench, or stroll around this beautiful environment to absorb the colors of the wildlife and the 250 species of plants.

A chrysalis house is viewable so that everyone can see the butterflies emerge! With the exhibit safely behind glass, you can get get a close-up view of the miraculous metamorphosis.

An insect exhibit with praying mantis, beetles and spiders is adjacent to the butterfly conservatory. Colorful poison dart frogs, in vibrant blue, green and black, are also in the large exhibit.

Outside, there is an "Explore the Wild" exhibit where the black bears, red wolves and lemurs have large, natural areas to explore.

Lemurs are just adorable! There are two species in the exhibit: ring-tailed and red ruffed. During cold weather, they are housed indoors, but on a sunny day - the lemurs play! Lemurs are primitive primates from Madagascar and the Comoros Islands. Lemurs are on the endangered species list due to loss of natural habitat.

With all the exhibits, plus an onsite cafe, spending a day at the Museum of Life and Science is a delightful experience!

Story and photos by Freda Cameron. Photos taken at the Museum of Life and Science, February 2009.

Time for a Trim

Sunshine, blue skies and warm temperatures are a welcome respite from winter. What a perfect time to get out in the garden and do a few chores!

I spent this morning cutting back buddleia. With only eleven shrubs trimmed today, I have another nine to trim tomorrow.

I had to use bypass pruners to cut through the thick wood trunks of the buddleia. The vitex (chaste tree) was also trimmed today. I took the opportunity to shape the vitex into a standard so that the plants underneath will get enough sunshine to flourish.

Since I trimmed my lavender back in October, I don't have to trim it again. However, this is the perfect time for zone 7 gardeners to trim lavender if you missed the fall trim. I use Black & Decker™ cordless "Hedgehog" trimmers and shape the lavender into a mounded, rounded meatball. This allows blooms on all sides and the top of the plant. Cut off about 1/3 of the lavender to keep it from growing a thick trunk that will keep the lavender from blooming well.

If bunnies are running rampant in your garden, you can spread your lavender clippings around. The repellant will last until the clippings no longer have that distinct lavender fragrance.

Also on my "to be trimmed" list - ornamental grasses. Again, I rely upon my trusted cordless trimmers for this chore. I use twine to tie the top of the grasses together into a bundle, then whack off the grass. The bundles make it easy to clean up after the trim. If there is any green already emerging, I cut down to the green base. If there is no green, I usually leave at least 8" on the base of tall grasses such as miscanthus.

I hope this nice weather holds for the entire week! It's good to be spending the day outdoors again.

Story and photo by Freda Cameron

Winter Thyme for Crocus

Much to my surprise (and delight) a yellow crocus is in bloom today!

The crocus is planted in a ground cover of creeping thyme inside the cottage garden. We were sitting on the front porch, sipping coffee and basking in the winter sunshine when I noticed the tiny yellow flower.

Thyme is a forgiving ground cover for bulbs. It doesn't choke them out, so bulbs can easily emerge from underneath the thyme.

I tend to forget about these tiny flowers until they appear in February. Like the daffodils, the early crocus cheer me up as a reminder that spring isn't too far away.

This little crocus girl isn't alone. A few more of her family members will emerge within a few days. That said, I realize that I don't have nearly enough for a great display!

Growing in zones 4-7, this early variety needs to be planted in fall so that the bulbs chill out before bloom season. With all of my bulb planting this past October, I forgot all about planting more of the tiny crocus bulbs. In my quest to take note of winter color, crocus bulbs will be on my fall shopping list!

Story and photo by Freda Cameron

How to Post Blog Photos Side-By-Side

When I have several photos to use in my blog, I place them side-by-side and sometimes in multiple rows. Not long ago, I posted these snow scene photos on my blog.

These photos are in one table of three rows with two photos per row. If you think of a spreadsheet, the photos are like the data in each cell of the spreadsheet.

Here is the same code, only instead of photos, I typed text "photo n" for each cell. I put a border around these cells to emphasize the table. The border is an option with the table tag. In other words, this is how you create a text table in html!

photo 1 photo 2
photo 3 photo 4
photo 5 photo 6

These photos were first uploaded to Picasa instead of directly into Blogger. I wanted to use the "medium 400px" size that is available in Picasa.

There are three html tags that I used, as shown in the tag definition box. I defined ONE table, THREE rows (tr), and TWO photos (td) per row.

The coding is nested. The table is the largest element, so it is the outer wrapper. The rows wrap the data. Wherever you see a "/" in the tag, that is the end tag.

In the next box, you'll see that the code runs together. Because Blogger adds a hard "return" at the end of a sentence, the code has to wrap. This makes it difficult to read. It takes getting used to, but after you've done this a few times, the coding will not be that difficult.

This is the actual code for the snow scene photos.

If you write your code and the photos are not aligned, then you may have to delete blank spaces between every tag.

As you get comfortable with using tables to align photos, you can try different size photos as I did when posting three photos in a group for a recent Garden Inspiration story.

Here is a link to my favorite html table resource. I hope this is helpful.

Photos and instructions by Freda Cameron

How to Add Captions to Blog Photos

Do you want to include captions with your garden blog photos? There are two ways this can be done. One way is to use purchased software and the other way is to write free html codes.

Most of the time, I use a software program (ImageWell by Xtralean Software) to add a caption before uploading the photo.

By adding the caption to the photo before uploading, the two are attached. So, if someone copies the photo, the caption is part of the image. Using software, it is very easy to change the font size, font color and position of the text.

However, it's difficult to use a hyperlink within the caption. Also, note that in the photo below, the caption is small. When I uploaded this photo, I selected the "small" format and Blogger adjusted the entire image.

Photo by Defining Your Home Garden

In the second photo, I added the caption using html codes. I also included an optional hyperlink to my blog.

To use html codes for captions, first upload your photo.

In the code below, the red text shows you the html "table" tag that I used to anchor the caption with the photo in the blog. I also set the font style, size and position of the caption. I kept this caption short enough to fit under the photo because I don't want to complicate the coding.

By using the "table" tags, I am treating the photo as one row of data and the caption as another row of data.

The "tr" tag represents a table row.
The "td" tag is used for table data.

The green text indicates the caption wording. The blue text indicates the hyperlink coding. I set the link to open in another window by using the "target" option.

The text in black was generated by Blogger when I uploaded the photo. I just wrapped the Blogger code with my table tags.

You can copy these pieces of code to play around with your own photo captions. The downside of using html codes is that it is a bit tedious. However, if you store these wrapper pieces in a text editor and then cut and paste the code around your photo code, it is a bit easier.

With the winter days keeping most of us indoors, this is a great time to share non-gardening tips. Next time, I'll show you how to use html to position two photos side-by-side.

Photos and instructions by Freda Cameron

Winter Color Search: Blue Sky and Red Berries

Keeping with the theme of finding winter color - these berries are set against a backdrop of southern magnolia and a blue winter sky. Quite a beautiful combination!

Several bloggers have recently written about adding this winter interest to the garden:

Dirt Therapy

Spring Preview: A Simple Daffodil

An early daffodil looks perfect, fresh and new. Some of your gardens have been buried under snow all winter. This little flower is a preview of a spring to come.

The first poem that I ever memorized was "Daffodils" by William Wordsworth. From my childhood memories, I associate daffodils with cheerfulness. Perhaps it was Wordsworth's line "Fluttering and dancing in the breeze" that gave me the early impression that these are happy flowers.

Daffodils are available in many shades of white, yellow, orange and even tints of pink. There are split cup, small cup and trumpet. There are double blooms.

However, this yellow daffodil is so simple. Simple, cheerful and perfect... a symbol of spring. This is the daffodil from my childhood memories.

Story and photo by Freda Cameron. Photo taken 2 February 2009 in Coastal North Carolina.

Eucalyptus: I Am Not A Detective or a Koala

Do you ever feel like a detective? Do you search for clues, examine photos and web surf for hours in search of the exact name of a plant? I have just fired myself from my own detective work!

In the absence of a real expert, a koala, I must turn to other experts for the answer to my eucalyptus mystery.

My gardening friends -- what type of eucalyptus is growing in my garden?

Here's what I know about my eucalyptus. It was planted in the fall of 2005. The main trunk has withered and died in the spring and new growth has emerged.

As you can see from today's photos, the eucalyptus looks fine through the Zone 7, North Carolina winter. We've had 8°F lows, frosts and snow. It is actually quite attractive this time of year, so I want to know more about this tree.

The leaves are fragrant when crushed. During the cold months, the stems are more reddish than on the new growth. Right now, the tree is around 15' x 6' (guessing).

Growing on the west side of the house, the eucalyptus provides a wonderful accent in the winter. It is planted beside our parking area.

I still haven't tried to create gardens on that side of the house, but I do want to give this area some attention this year. Before I dare try to grow anything around the eucalyptus, I must know the identity.

Is this eucalyptus a friend or foe?

So far, it has not sent out any runners and remains in a tight clump in the original spot. There have been no seed pods, so no strays have shown up anywhere.

As we do get sufficient rainfall, except in times of extreme drought, I don't think this tree is a flammable hazard.

Your help in identifying this eucalyptus is greatly appreciated!

Story and photos by Freda Cameron
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