10/21/09

The Farmer's Guide to Gardening

By James Theodore Farmer III

“To everything there is a season…a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what has been planted… ”

If that Ecclesiastical quote doesn’t sum up gardening! So many questions I’m asked about gardening can be answered by timing, soil conditions, and correct pruning. Probably my favorite part of gardening is the proper planning and timing of the garden so I can enjoy the season inside and out.

I am what I like to call a “social gardener,” for I like to garden not only for myself but for the fun I can have with sharing my garden with others. I love to entertain in and from my garden especially using it as my cache for all my indoor arrangements and tablescapes. I also like to pillage from other friends' gardens, roadsides, and the woods for that added bit of “oomph” for my arrangements. With careful planning, I believe most everyone can plant a garden for consumption and decorative benefits alike. A collection of the right evergreens, flowering shrubs, perennials, herbs, and annual color will set your garden up to be a much loved addition to the home and extension of the home as well. So when it’s your turn to host supper club or open your home to friends and family, here are some guidelines for gardening a well cultivated home.

Good Dirt and The May Rule

I am constantly asked garden related questions with the answers overwhelming referring back to the soil…second only to improper pruning.Whether you have acres or square feet to garden in, start it right-start with good dirt and watch with amazement the miracles that occur! When it comes to pruning, put those gas hedgers away and prune properly – with sharp snips and loppers and at the right time. Take note of the May Rule.

The May Rule…if you learn nothing else about pruning, remember the May Rule. If the shrub blooms BEFORE May, then prune the plant immediately after (or while it’s blooming to bring the blossoms inside for an arrangement) the shrub has bloomed. This bids well for azaleas, Spring blooming spireas, forsythia, camellias and sassanquas, quince, dogwood, red bud, Japanese magnolia, tea olive, winter daphne, English dogwood, and other “blooms before May” shrubs.

If the shrub blooms AFTER May, prune the plant during dormancy or winter time. This goes for hydrangeas (except Oak Leaf – prune immediately after blooming or during for arrangements), crape myrtles, vitex, roses, althea, grapes (coldest day of the year), Confederate rose, pyrancantha, liriope and small fruit trees.

For Evergreens (hollies, boxwood, conifers, ligustrum...etc), think Christmas decoration…cut them in December and use them for your Holiday décor! January and February are just fine as well. You want to shape the “bones” of your garden during winter so that the new flush of growth stems from your Winter pruning technique thus keeping your shape…top off any stray branches or “wild hairs” that may occur in spring and early summer.

If you prune your garden correctly, it will reward you with bountiful blooms at appropriate times!


Green

Green…its nature’s neutral. The color is everywhere in nature in thousands of hues. Let green be your basis for your garden…anchor plants, foundation plantings, screens, and hedging, so that your garden has good bones whether it’s January 31st or July 31st. I prefer to use boxwoods (American, Korean, and Japanese here in the Deep South…English and American for the Middle and Upper South and New England states), hollies, and evergreen conifers like Cryptomeria and Cedars. Flowering evergreens like Magnolia, Camellias and Sassanquas, Azaleas and Tea Olives can add that floral touch to evergreens. Though a good structure of evergreens can provide wonderful touches for seasonal decorations, especially the Holidays, and a “skeleton” for the garden, the flowers, blooms, buds, and textures are what fill the garden with pizzazz!


Hydrangeas


Hydrangeas, hydrangeas, hydrangeas…a garden must have hydrangeas. Alone in an arrangement or mixed with other trappings from the garden, hydrangeas are a staple for the garden and the home.


Many folks think of the “blue mop heads” in summer, but with the right selection, you can have hydrangeas from May through October. Let me introduce you my friend LEONA…that’s the acronym for the five types of hydrangeas that will give you blooms to arrange and enjoy for half the year or more! Limelight, Endless Summer, Oak Leaf, Nikko Blue, and Annabelle planted in the garden will provide buckets of blooms for your home and table for months. Drying hydrangeas may also be done so with ease (let them dry naturally on the bush and clip them once they no longer feel “fleshy” but rather “papery” or rustle when you touch them.) Arrangements of dried hydrangeas are wonderful accents on mantelpieces and in corners and on top of shelves and cabinets. Books on these flowers are super helpful and informative and I highly encouraged you to pour over their text and websites chocked full of info. Some great advice a college professor gave me on hydrangeas was, “remember their name…hydrangea…the roots of the word coming from the Greek words for “water vessel” (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/hydrangea). Hydrangeas need lots of water and fertile soil. Limelight, Oak Leaf, and Annabelle can take sun with plenty of water but these plants do appreciate some high shade, morning or late afternoon light. Many varieties are even susceptible to changing colors (the Hydrangea macrophylla cultivars like Nikko Blue for example) and this can be seen around Easter and Mother’s day with ranges from pink to lilac to amethyst to aubergine. Hydrangeas should be cut early in the morning or at night and benefit from conditioning or being set into deep buckets of water before arranged. When arranging hydrangeas, I like to work around a center flower and fill in the gaps…this gives the arrangement a mounded effect with ease. Fern fronds from Kimberly Queen, sprigs of mint or rosemary, and asparagus fern add nice touches of greenery and scent, but these blossoms can stand on their own as well. One of my favorite arrangements to make is a tone on tone or hue on hue arrangement, using masses of the flowers in similar color tones to create ad dramatic and elegant bouquet. Whether I’m using bunches of green and white buds from Annabelle, Oak Leaf, or Limelight to heaps of Nikko Blues in shades of lavender, blue, and lilac to even late season sprays of chartreuse, lime and aqua from Limelight and Nikko Blue, hydrangeas are the back bone of the floral garden’s inventory of supplies.



Perennials

The workhorses of the garden are perennials. A garden’s perennial selection is quite important to the garden’s character and reminiscent of the gardener’s as well. I love the line in James Taylor’s song “Sweet Baby James” that says “deep greens and blues are the colors I choose…” and said palette often steers my color choices. Each season can boast its own trove of specimens. I keep a stockpile of Rosemary and Artemisia planted as my garden’s back ground, tried and true perennial framework, interweaving other perennials as reoccurring players the garden’s cast of characters. Salvias, from Black and Blue, to May Night, to Mexican and Forsythia Sage lend themselves as warm season delights well into Autumn. Old fashioned asters and chrysanthemums like Ryan’s Daisies and Rachel Jackson and hosts of other late summer and fall blooming perennials send the growing season off with a bang with one last crescendo of color before winter. Daisies, Rudbeckias, Agastache, Coneflowers, Hostas, Ferns, Sages, and Grasses fill in the gaps in the flower border from Spring well into fall. Perennial bulbs such as daffodils, tulips, and lilies bring on some of springtime’s best qualities and all make for exceptional cut flowers as well. Even wintertime’s brisk and chilly climate can provide glimpses of floral beauty with Hellebores heralding the coming Spring and giving us gardener’s glimpses of what is to come. For some ideas of seasonal planting combos, see the below lists for ideas. And don’t forget to fill in some of the interludes of the perennial border with some annual color…these powerhouses take us from season to season and with good dirt and water, make you look like a better gardener without much effort!



Annuals

Annuals are the accessories of the garden…they can make a “little black dress” of a garden ready for a night on the town or an elegant party in a flash! You can transform your garden and entire landscape for that matter with color. The whole premise of annuals is to use them for their season…use them, work them, and enjoy them. I like to have “welcome home beds or pots” at the entry points of my home and garden and annuals fit the bill. Two great containers at your front door can change with the seasons and give your entry a recurring theme or expression of your personality. Whether you’re an experienced gardener or a horticultural novice, annuals can be your secret to a sharp looking garden.

Rich soil, adequate water, and hearty diet are key components to success with annuals. But aside from their ease of care, what else is so amazing about this section of the horticultural world are the range of colors, remarkable combos, and instant gratification these plants and flowers can provide. Take my garden for example: this year I planted a predominantly green and white color palette for my annual beds with pops of blue…white pentas and angelonia, bordered with lime green Joseph’s Coat gave my beds a very crisp and cool feel for the dog days of summer. ‘Blue Daze’ Evolvulus and ‘Victoria Blue’ salvia then burst out of the clean palette and continue to give off a visual coolness for the landscape. White, lime green, and accents of blue for Summer can also be repeated for the Winter beds with ‘Coconut Sorbet’ or ‘Atlas’ white violas and pansies, ‘Key Lime’ huchera, Curly leaf parsley, and white ‘Rocket’ snapdragons can fill my winter annual beds with the same fresh green and white palette.

Now as I’m “preaching” on annuals, I must confess my love for color in the landscape. I do typically like to keep a green and white palette, but cannot resist bright combos of vivid hues for the Summer. The rich jewel tones for Fall are such a treasure trove of fun for the garden as well as the cool yet confident pastel range for Spring. The whole “look” of a garden can change with your color combinations and texture choices with these seasonal selections.

Springtime Blooms

For a profusion of Springtime blooms, plant these combos of annuals and perennials in the Fall: Viloas and pansies, Heuchera, parsley (always throw in some herbs), Snapdragons, Digitalis (foxgloves), Delphinium and larkspur, Poppies, dianthus, sweet William and alyssum, tulips, daffodils, and other spring blooming bulbs. Pick a grouping of your favorites and start there…expand upon your success each season and remember to keep a record of your success. Snip some of your choice blossoms and enjoy the fruits of your labor inside as well.


Fabulous Fall

For a Fabulous Fall, plant these in Spring or early Summer: Mexican Salvia, Russian Sage, Ryan’s daisies, asters, Mexican marigold, Salvias or sages (pineapple, Black and Blue, May Night, Forsythia Sage and an infinitum list), Lamb’s ear, Veronica, Agastache, Black eyed Susan, Ornamental grasses and sedges, Eupatorium or Joe Pye Weed, Autumn Joy Sedum, Caryopteris or Blue Mist Shrub, Perennial Sunflower, sweet Autumn Clematis, Japanese Anemone, and toad lilies are good list to choose from. Allow your coleuses, tender tropical plants like ginger and Angel trumpet, caladiums and elephant ears, sweet potato vine and other summer troopers to mix in with your fall perennials and you’ll have a cornucopia of your own garden flowers. You can even go tonal for your color scheme…a lavender and dark leafed palette could be achieved by planting Rachel Jackson Asters, Mexican Salvia, Blue Fortune Agastache, Black Pearl Ornamental Pepper, Rex Begonias, Angelonia, Setcetia, Blackie Sweet Potato vine and Ornamental Cabbage, Plecanthrus (Mona Lavender or Drege) for annual color splashes, and Russian sage for a lavender hued infusion into the garden and your containers.

56 comments:

Shealy said...

James Farmer!! Love this post! Miss you tremendously!

traveledroad said...

oh my, this is great! so much information I will need to refer back to. I now know I completely screwed over my hydrangias this year. Did everything wrong, James would die. Beautiful photos by the way.

Lynn Beck said...

Amazing!! I love hydrangeas and will follow James' advice faithfully.

maggie said...

I am obsessed with your blog and especially this post! Go bruhhbs! Y'all better watch it...you are going to get discovered for some fabulous tv show! Your pictures are amazing...you have an eye for capturing everyday things and making them beautiful. Stephen Small is the cutest thing I have ever seen, but I would expect no less!

MaryMartha said...

I think we need to have James for a seminar lunch...it can be at my house so he can tell me what to do with my back yard! Hee HEe.. So fun!

ellie & abbie said...

this post is worth it's weight in GOLD! thanks so much! I've bookmarked it.

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