Author Archives: greenishthoughts

A Gamble Worth Taking

This month the Lower Shore Master Gardener group was treated to a talk on growing native plants from seed. Now is the time – January when there is not much to do in the garden. Now is the time to order seeds, pot them up and carefully set them outside to burst forth in a few months.

It’s a gamble. They’re not like the seeds you get from commercial nurseries that have a 90 percent germination rate. Rather, it’s nature where thousands of seeds are produced each year and some of them actually become plants. But you do it because you’ve gathered the seeds for free or someone shared them with you. Or, you’re growing hard-to-find varieties. Maybe you have scientific curiosity, or you like the idea of promoting genetic diversity. At any rate, it’s a fun project in January. Maybe you want to share the experience with children to peak their interest in botany. Just remember, like nature itself, the results are unpredictable and patience is required.

The Maryland Native Plant Society is a big help in deciding what to plant on the Eastern Shore and where to get seeds. I found that most native seed sellers serve the wholesale market and this covid winter has cancelled many of their native plant sales. But the Society’s list of native plant vendors included Brandywine Conservancy and Museum of Art in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. They sell little packets for $2.00, just right for a small garden. I bought cardinal flower, blue lobelia, white phlox, monarda and New York asters. All are happy in wet gardens.

The seeds like to have a cold start as they do in nature and they like to forgo the competition of weeds. I bought seed starter mix, which is much finer and fluffier than standard potting mix, and sand. That’s all that’s needed to get the little guys on their way to sprouting. Now they’re in pots, moistened and protected by plastic from heavy rain which would drive them way too far into the soil. They sit on the driveway, waiting for the warm spring weather. And I wait too, hopeful in anticipation. I can cut a few limbs from overgrown dormant shrubs and take a look at winter flowering plants. Daffodil tips are pushing up and I see the hellebores are budding as is my glorious camellia “pink Perfection.”

What I Learned in the 2020 Garden

A pandemic is conducive to gardening. You can spend hours outside and never run into a crowd.  You can stretch and bend and lift heavy loads without going into a gym. You can limit your runs to the grocery store by picking produce in the back yard.  Gardeners as a group were probably most able to endure the imposed solitude this year has demanded.

I’ve picked up gardening wisdom in three ways this year. First, the make-a-mistake method. It’s hard to forget your colossal mistakes like mulching over landscape fabric. When I planted a hedge of inkberry on the edges of my property, I dug the plants into a grassy area. Not wanting to go to the trouble of digging out the grass, I spread landscape fabric around the shrubs and pinned it down with staples. Then I spread mulch. The bed looked neatly planted at the time and the grass perished. A year went by and weeds popped up. They quickly made a tangled web in the fabric, impossible to pull out. Cardboard would have been a better choice. In my soggy landscape the grass would have been smothered and eventually composted and no knotty fabric mess. Putting landscape fabric between vegetable rows might work. That is the only good use I can think of. Maybe someone can tell me of other good uses.

Another learn by experience episode this year was the beware-of-a-neighbor- buying-cute-ducklings-for- Easter to entertain the children. While the children soon lose interest, the birds grow quickly to opinionated swaggerers who have no respect for property lines. Don’t put out little annuals on their side of the house. If they don’t nibble them to the ground they will sit on them. Wait for your neighbor to find a suitable home for the ganders; then put out the annuals.

Pruning was another learn-by-experience habit brought home this year. Fall flowering perennials thrive with aggressive pruning up until the Fourth of July. Asters, mums and Autumn Joy sedum don’t grow leggy and fall over if they’re nipped early in the season. Their flowers may be smaller, but they sure will be bushy, prolific bloomers.

The second way I picked up garden knowhow was from two of the many garden YouTube stars. P. Allen Smith shared his gorgeous Little Rock garden. He planted fragrant white Thalia narcissus intermixed with Leucojum (which, by the way I’d never heard of) and overplanted with reblooming daylily ‘Happy Returns’ for summer blooms. I copied him and am waiting impatiently for April. Another YouTube gardener is Linda Vater. She has a beautiful Oklahoma City garden that she generously shares. Her penchant for topiary is contagious and she taught me how to muck up pots. I found that cheap plastic pots can be covered with quick drying cement to look definitely pricy. It’s a messy project but with interesting results.

My third and most serious way of learning in 2020 was to take the Maryland Master Gardener Program. What an incredible system we have. Every state works to educate the population on environmental best practices through the Extension program at the land grant universities.  Over the years they have let loose thousands of volunteers to spread the word. Their 600 page manual is too bulky for bedtime reading, but it has taught me how much I don’t know. I didn’t know the most abundant element in soil is oxygen. No wonder soggy soil is problematic. Who knew only ten percent of insects are pests. Probably more than ten percent of people are pests. Anyway, it is humbling to know that all the birds and bats, flowers and fungus, insects and earthworms could happily go on without us, but we could not survive without them. So much for “Masters of the Universe.” The good news is we know this and our world is full of knowledgeable people who are committed to helping all of us understand the” interrelationships between soil, air, water, plants, and animals.”

Happy Gardening in 2021!

The Plump Purple Clumps of the Autumn Garden

Could there be anything more lovely in the fall garden than Beautyberry? It’s unique. People frequently stop to stare. I’ve often heard, “What is that?” and “Where do I get one??

The name beautyberry is delightful, but its Latin name, Callicarpa, is lilting on the tongue. It literally means in Greek callos – beautiful and carpos – fruit.

Another plus is Callicarpa americana is native to the southern United States and well adapted to native fauna and climate conditions. Birds and butterflies feast on them. The brilliant amethyst of the plump clumps of berries can be spotted by song birds from great heights. Added to that, the berries persist long into winter after the leaves have turned yellow and fallen.

 I bought ten bareroot plants two winters ago from a grower in Tennessee. Ten little whips were shipped through the mail. They were stashed in pots until the weather warmed and went gangbusters when set out in the early spring. Berries appeared their first fall. To keep them on the small side I cut them back to six inches in late winter.

 Volunteers appeared this summer which were promptly transplanted to the native garden at our public library where they will get more amazed looks and surely thrive.

.   Plantsmen have been busy working on cultivars with pink berries and white ones. There are Callicarpas native to Asia (Callicarpa bodinieri – China, Callicarpa japonica – Japan and Callicarpa dichotoma – China, Japan, Korea). But our Master Gardener class has opened my eyes to the importance of choosing natives.  Beautyberry shows in spades that natives excel in low maintenance. If they’re comfortable where you put them nothing much more than a shovelful of compost in spring is needed. They will reward you and your yard by supporting pollinators and wildlife; they will contribute to the ecosystem; they will preserve biodiversity. If you can, stick to the native Callicarpa americana.

Taking a Stand against Crepe Murder

crepe myrtle7It’s the middle of August and the crepe myrtles are at the peak of their 100 days of bloom. This ‘lilac of the south’ is in its glory, showering little crepes over the landscape.

In my front yard it has sprinkled the Alberta spruce with a candy-pink garnish; it has carpeted the ground around it with fluffy pink blooms.

At about 25 feet, its multiple, mature trunks have begun their annual peeling. The old cinnamon-brown bark falls off to reveal the mottled lighter next-year bark underneath. It has a silky feel and a beautiful look.crepe myrtle9

Crepe myrtles are native to China, Korea, Japan and India. Carl Linnaeus named them Lagerstroemia to honor his Swedish fellow-countryman, Magnus von Lagerström, a plant hunter who brought them back from his voyages. In 1790 French botanist, Andre Michaux planted them in his garden in Charleston, South Carolina. They thrived and our cultivars come from his original stock.

Zone 7 is favorable to crepe myrtles so we see them everywhere in their late-summer glory. But November will soon come and the flowers will be long gone. These deciduous trees will let go of their colorful autumn leaves. In the case of the one in my yard, the lovely limbs of the vase-shaped tree will stand elegant in the winter landscape.

crepe myrtle murder2But in many yards ‘crepe murder’ will begin. There is some notion, long debunked by gardeners, that crepe myrtles must be cut off at the knees to produce flowers for next year. This is practiced so universally here that people think it’s got some plantsman wisdom behind it. It doesn’t. Yes, in spring the branches will grow back with flowers on the ends, but they will be spindly branches that will dip toward the ground with the large flower weight in wind or storm. Not to mention there will be ruination of the crepe myrtle’s graceful natural shape. Those ugly knobby knees will peer up at the sky all winter long. It should be a capital offence to attempt ‘crepe murder’.

crepe myrtle5Tall varieties of crepe myrtle are great street trees if there are no overhead wires to require pruning.  The breeders have been busy. Many new hybrids are available. Some bred to thrive in colder zones. It’s great to have a vigorous large shrub or small tree, whichever you want to call it, that’s disease resistant and flowering in the heat of August.

The Tree Center has an extensive discussion of crepe myrtles: their history, varieties, care, landscape uses, proper pruning and possible problems. Just hold off on the murder impulse.

My Sensitive Sansevieria

snakeplant trifasciataI used to think diehard and tough were the best things you could say about Sansevieria, aka snake plant or mother-in-law tongue. Years ago snake plant (along with philodendron) was the plant most people had in their homes and offices. They were there because they’re almost impossible to kill, especially if no attention is paid. That’s generally what happened. They got dusty, shoved in corners, rarely watered. But they thrived on neglect. They were the quintessential ugly plant. I never thought I would buy a Sansevieria because I like pretty plants. But I now have two: the Sansevieria trifasciata (with a yellow border) and Sansevieria zeylanica (without a yellow border.)  Now they’ve grown on me. They’re attractive in an architectural way and contrast the leafy, spill-over plants with a tall, noble grace. Maybe one reason they’ve gained favor is they came out among the top air-purifying plants in a famous NASA study. And, they do it at night; collect carbon dioxide and release oxygen. They deserve a special place in the bedroom.

My daughter said she would like some houseplants and I thought I’ll share some with her for free. After we divided an aloe vera and potted that up, I thought why not take part of a snake plant. We unpotted the Sansevieria zaylanica and sliced off a section with my trusty bread knife. She went home with her new plant and called a few weeks later with the news. “There’s a flower stalk on that snake plant.”

“What,” I said and took a closer look at mine. Darned if I didn’t also have a flower stalk. I went to the internet. Turns out, snake plants rarely flower, but mild stress may cause it to happen. A bread knife slice must qualify as mild stress. I can go with that.

But Sansevieria flowers and fragrance, really? Yes, my Sansevieria zeylanica has sported lily-like flowers and lovely nighttime fragrance.  The plants are native to Madagascar and Africa, so there must be a moth somewhere in Madagascar or Africa who goes about at night searching for the sweet fragrance, because the scent isn’t there in the daytime and the flowers are closed up. How complex are these plants, knowing just what to do and when to do it.

Sansevieria honors Italian scientist and inventor Raimondo di Sangro [1710–71], Prince of San Severo.

Apparently the plant was found in his garden and so named for him. It has since been moved to the Dracaena genus. I prefer Sansevieria since the prince was a colorful man: inventor, alchemist and scientist with lots of rumors about nefarious activities.

snakeplant13So because of my bread knife and the desire to share a free plant with my daughter we both got to see and smell the rare Sansevieria lily. We may never get that opportunity again.


A Garden Visit

glenda28What gardener doesn’t like to take off their sweaty, muddy garden clothes and get cleaned up to visit someone else’s garden? It’s a real life “busman’s holiday.” I was invited to visit Glenda Clarke’s garden in Snow Hill this summer and it didn’t take a minute to say yes.

glenda27The trip to her Snow Hill property led through an iconic Eastern Shore country lane shaded on both sides by tall trees meeting overhead. The cooling, overhanging branches set the restful tone for a visit to a country garden.

glenda1 Glenda’s welcome left us with a strong first impression. Here’s a person who truly loves her plants and her garden and takes heartfelt pleasure in sharing it with others.

Besides the pleasure of walking through a beautifully tended garden landscape, it’s a plus to come away with new ideas that can be used in your own garden. Glenda’s garden is full of those. She uses ground hugging succulents to edges some of her gardens, creating a neat, lush border.


She has made innovative use of concrete to add interest to her garden. There are concrete spheres, hypertufa planters and impressions of leaves in concrete. All of these have been constructed by Glenda herself.glenda8

One can imagine how the gardens looked in spring with daffodils and other spring flowering bulbs. We were there to greet the early summer perennials and the shrubs and trees in full leaf. The shade gardens displayed glenda19the leafy hostas and ferns and mosses. Raised beds held annuals and vegetables in symmetry.

Lushly planted pots and urns populated the patio as artistic statements standing out against the serene landscape. Glenda’s garden is a pleasure to visit, an inspiration to gardeners, advanced or just beginning.



Making Microgreens

longridge13I must confess I would never have thought to buy tiny sprouts to add to my salad if it wasn’t for my super nutritionally minded daughter. She got me hooked on microgreens. We were shopping at the Ocean Pines Farmers and Artisans Market on Saturday. That’s where we met Terry Jordan. She’s there every week with her tasty, fresh microgreens and beautiful, bouquet-ready cut flowers from her farm in Parsonsburg, Longridge Gardens.

longridge gardens 2

Terry’s booth at Farmer’s Market

I was interested. Is it difficult to grow microgreens? How is it done? What plants work best?

Terry is full of microgreen know-how. Sunflowers are the easiest to sprout. Arugula and cilantro are more difficult. Even though we think of them for summer recipes, they are not fond of heat. In fact, she says, they grow very well all winter in the passive-solar tunnels in her garden. Terry has two tunnels which raise that growing space from zone 7B to 8B: a 16 X 20 foot tunnel for microgreens and a 20 X 49 foot tunnel for flowers. The flower tunnel she calls “Margaritaville.” Like her tunnels, the other parts of her property have names. There’s the “Far Out” garden and the “Far Far Away” garden. These names make a lot of sense if you are a fan of Shrek.

Terry has been growing beautiful things for nineteen years on her five acre farm. She previously had a long career caring for the horses on the U.S. Equestrian Team. A crushed ankle put a halt to that career. Having to suddenly re-think what she would do, she turned to gardening. She knew from childhood she’d always had a green thumb. Before the Covid 19 pandemic, she was busy 24/7 growing microgreens for local restaurants. Needless to say that’s on hold this year.

The easiest way to get microgreens is to buy them from Terry at the market. But, if you’re a DIYer, they can be grown at home with a little know-how and the right amount of light. Terry sells packets of seeds. She also mentioned Johnny’s Selected Seeds is a reliable source for larger quantities.

The web is replete with step-by-step guides and YouTube videos on the subject. One good source is the Micro Gardener’s Easy guide to growing microgreens.

longridge12The other reason I visited Terry in Parsonsburg was to buy one of her beautiful bouquets and to take a stroll through her flower beds. The names of the flowers she uses twist on the tongue and enchant with their beauty and fragrance: ligularia, baptisia, crocosmia, peony, calla lily, allium, ranunculus and not to forget Gerber daisies. They bloom the longest into the early winter. Her skill in creating stunning arrangements shows why brides choose her for their special occasion.

It was a 95 degree day, but Terry was out weeding when I arrived. I said, what is the hardest part of your business? The heat, she answered.


A Tale of Three Pots

pots1I was never crazy about these three pots (industrial grey) but they came with the house. Thriftiness is bred in my bones and what is better than no-cost pots. So they’ve been in use for two years. 20191107_132341Last fall they were potted up with pumpkins, white mums and a little culinary herb, (Sage berggarten). The sage over wintered beautifully and is now threatening to take over. The mums and pumpkins are now replaced with Salvia ‘cathedral deep blue’ and Lantana ‘Chapel Hill Gold,’ two of my favorite summer annuals.

Then I met Linda Vater – on her Youtube channel. She’s an Oklahoma City gardener with a huge following. Her garden is splendid. In one episode she mucked up plastic pots to “age” them in a shabby chic sort of way using leftover paint.  I thought, that’s a great idea. I can make my grey pots pretty. I have leftover yellow paint from the sunroom and leftover pink paint from the bedroom – little bits sitting in gallon cans in case a touch up job is called for. Leave that paint long enough and it will be a solid brick at the bottom of the can.

pots4Voila! Pink and yellow morph into pale terracotta. Yes they do. I stopped at the color change point, being happy with that. I could have added more age with moss green smudges or moldy black patches. I’ll leave that to nature. In this damp beach climate it’s a possibility.pots7


What’s in a Name?

serviceberry plantThe Arbor Day Foundation sent me five serviceberry trees this week. They’re little guys but I’m a sucker for free plants.

Some background about  Arbor Day . The Arbor Day Foundation is a truly American holiday. It was the idea of J. Sterling Morton, a Nebraska newspaper editor. In 1872 he declared April 10th Nebraska Arbor Day and had one million trees planted in his state. The day became official in 1907 when President Theodore Roosevelt issued an Arbor Day proclamation to the school children of the United States about the importance of trees in our world. There are no Hallmark cards for Arbor Day but the Foundation is still going strong planting trees all over the world. Our garden club celebrates by planting a tree in the park to commemorate those in our community who have died in the past year. This year the ceremony has been postponed.

Back to my five Serviceberry trees (Amelanchier Canadensis). I’ve potted up one, waiting until I find a place for it in my garden. The other four I’ve planted in the woods across the street so, if they grow, I’ll see them from my porch.

Why are they called serviceberry? You have to look back to the beginning of our country when roads were unpaved. People didn’t get out much in the winter. (A bit like this past winter.) In rural areas acknowledgement of births, deaths and marriages generally had to wait until spring. That’s when the preacher made his rounds to officiate at funerals, baptisms and weddings. When this tree bloomed the ground could be dug for burials and all the ‘services’ could be performed.

Amelanchier is also called Shadbush. Guess what, it blooms when the shad runs in the rivers.

Serviceberry It’s a small tree, (15 to 25 feet) native to North America that has multi-season interest. Fragrant white blossoms in May are followed by edible dark purple berries and pretty fall foliage. Some say the berries are tastier than blueberries and the birds love them. I’m not looking for a serviceberry pie this summer but maybe in another summer or two if the birds are not too gluttonous.

The Art of Borrowed Scenery

Reading The Garden of Evening Mists has awakened my interest in the art of Japanese traditional gardens. Does it have any relevance to my garden? A stark landscape of carefully raked sand and carefully placed boulders wouldn’t do it for me. But maybe there is some wisdom in this centuries-old tradition that will make my garden more beautiful, more tranquil. I’ll take a look.

The novel emphasizes one element of Japanese garden design described as the “borrowed view.” Elements outside the garden are considered part of the garden and should be incorporated.  It’s good to remember that most Japanese private gardens are enclosed.  Borrowed elements could be the sky, trees, hills or water. They are appropriated from outside to enhance the inside of the garden. Openings are created to view them. Examples would be an open gate, an arbor or an opening in a hedge. Okay, I want to highlight my view of water; I don’t want to dwell on the view of my neighbor’s air conditioning unit.

 The Japanese garden imitates nature; seasons are important. In spring the soft colors of new bulbs appear even as the branches are still bare. Summer in Japanese gardens is not so much for the brightness of flowers but for the coolness of greenery as a respite from the hot weather. I can see that but I wouldn’t want to do away with lilies and black eyed Susan’s and coreopsis. Fall needs a color change to represent the bounty of the growing season’s end. Yes, bring on the mums and orange pumpkins and golden squash.  Winter plays up the structure of plants. Snow may even give definition to the grace of bare branches. Each season does have its own beauty. It’s worth remembering to consider all seasons when planning what to plant.

Proportion is important in Japanese garden thinking. A large shade tree is out of proportion in the average home landscape. It belongs in a park or public garden where its size is in scale with larger spaces. I never thought of it before but the elements in a private garden should be in proportion to the human body. Maybe that’s why I like my dwarf Alberta spruce. The spaced apart two in my front yard feel comfortable. The two in my side yard that, of necessity, I turned into topiaries and under-planted with astilbe make me smile.

I’m planning a deck and patio and am glad to bump into this wisdom on the importance of scale before it’s too late. Too big or too small will forever be jarring with no chance of a do-over. Pruning the shrubs is doable; it’s even therapeutic. No pruning the patio.

The view is what a Japanese gardener is looking for. That’s the view from inside. Large windows are a big help. And, foundation planting is purposeless as it can’t be seen when small and obstructs the view when big. So the shrubs go from mid garden to back garden and will help create a sense of depth in the garden

Setting out a pagoda in an eastern shore garden may not look authentic. But considering native plants for each season may be. Installing a koi pond in blue heron fly-over country may not be smart, but creating a water feature may subtly inspire peacefulness.