Friday, January 27, 2012

Color and Blooms in My January Garden

Don't hate me because I live in South Carolina.  The temperature was 70 degrees yesterday, and I opened the windows to let in the warm January air.  This winter has been unusually mild, but even in colder winters, something blooms or provides interesting foliage every day of the year in my garden.  Take advantage of late winter days to put some plants in your garden for blooms next winter. 
Hellebore blooms in the January garden

Golden Threadleaf Falsecypress

I have admired Golden Threadleaf Falsecypress shrubs for awhile, because they provide a hard-to-find chartreuse color in the garden. They are expensive, but I found one on sale this fall, and I love the constant color and texture.
Winter Jasmine
Winter Jasmine, or Jasminum nudiflorum, has been blooming since before Christmas. Temperatures in the twenties or teens may damage the blooms, but more will soon appear to replace them. It spreads by inserting the tips of its branches into the soil and forming roots, and it's something to keep an eye on in the garden so it doesn't take over. I have kept it under control by cutting it back in the late fall and pulling up any babies that rooted. Find a friend with one and they will give you baby plants.  Winter jasmine reminds me of forsythia, but it blooms earlier than forsythia, which usually saves its blooms for late February.
Scabiosa 'Butterfly Blue'

I have been pleasantly surprised by the Scabiosa 'Butterfly Blue.' Not only does it bloom most of the summer, perhaps taking a small break during the hottest months, but it also continues blooming throughout the winter. It might stop for a little while during weather in the teens, but our weather this winter in the twenties have not bothered it. It only asks to be deadheaded every few weeks so it doesn't become confused and think its work is finished for the year. Like all the previously discussed plants, it likes full sun.
Every year I plant daffodils for spring color.  These are the earliest ones.
Pansies live through our winters, and although they may become tattered from cold weather,  after I trim them and fertilize them, they bloom until hot weather kills them.

Thirty years ago my great aunt Minnie brought the great-grandparents of this Mahonia, or Oregon Grape, to my grandmother from her home in Oregon. It was happy in the woods of northwestern South Carolina, and had so many babies, propagated by seed, that everyone in the family and many neighbors have them.  They are not invasive, though; they reproduce slowly and surprise the gardener with an occasional new shrub.  My grandmother helped me dig this shrub from her woods before she died several years ago, and every time I see it I think of her. It is native to Oregon, and it likes moist soil and shade; don't plant it in the full sun in South Carolina. The thorny leaves keep the deer from munching on it, usually. It's not quite in bloom yet, but the buds are ready to burst, and I know spring is arriving in my garden when I hear a bee buzzing and find honeybees enjoying the Mahonia's nectar on a warm winter day.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

It's Time to Read Seed Catalogs by the Fire

It has been so warm this winter, with the exception of a few days last week, that I have not been able to engage in one of my favorite winter activities: reading seed catalogs while I sit by the fire.  I have still read them, of course, but without a fire, something seems to be missing.  While I enjoy the fire, I organize the seed I have left from last year, and I decide which varieties I will order for the garden this year.     Packages of seeds cost a few dollars, and it is easy to experiment with many different varieties of plants to figure out which ones are happiest in your garden.    
Two years ago, I ordered some fruit trees and bushes from Stark Brothers' Nursery ( or 1.800.325.4180) and I am pleased with their products and service.  As soon as I get my soil ready, I will order some more fruit trees so I can expand my orchard. 

I do not think I have room to cram in any more perennials now, but perennials from Bluestone Perennials, ( or 1.800.852.5243) fill my garden. They no longer sell perennials in three-packs; instead, they sell one larger plant for a lower price than the three packs.  The catalog gives cultural information on nearly any perennial commonly grown in the US.

I have not ever actually ordered anything from White Flower Farm, or 1.800.503.9624, but their catalog has unusual and beautiful plants.  I found out about them from a Martha Stewart book years ago, and they appear to be a good, although expensive, nursery.

Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply ( or 1.888.784.1722), is a California company with nearly every gardening/farming item imaginable.  Peaceful Valley’s catalog is good for information, obscure organic pest control products, and season-extension products. 

For seeds, I order from Seed Savers Exchange, ( or (562) 382.5990), a nonprofit organization from Iowa which sells exclusively heirloom seeds and John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds ( or (860) 567.6086), a catalog that is a work of art and provides detailed planting and culinary information. 

The only truly local seed supplier is Heavenly Seed LLC ( or 864.209.8283) out of Anderson.  It provides the least glamorous catalog but the most generous amounts of seed for the money; I buy most of my seeds from Heavenly Seed.    

Johnny’s Seeds, gives good cultural information for gardeners, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, (417.924.8917 or, has one of the largest collections of heirloom seeds around.  Pinetree Garden Seeds (207.926.3400 or sells small, inexpensive packets of seeds that are useful for small gardens or for trying out many varieties of seeds. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Plans for the New Year in the Garden

I have all the usual New Year’s Resolutions many people have, which I will not share here in case I do not achieve them, but I will share my plans for the garden.  Gardening resolutions have to take the form of plans, not resolutions, because there are so many factors beyond the gardener’s control that may prevent their accomplishment, factors besides, “Well, that cake looked so tasty I just had to eat it.”   Planning the garden in the winter is a wonderful occupation, because the hot days and hard work are a long way off.  My plans are usually too ambitious, but I enjoy planning most when it includes some dreams.

This year, I have a large area that pine trees covered until we had them cut in September.  I sowed it to rye grass and clover, and I will move the chickens onto the grass, let them eat the cover crop and fertilize the area.  The trees grew in clay, and the soil will need some work before it is ready for my orchard.  I plan to till in the cover crops the chickens leave behind to give the soil organic matter.  I do not know when I will get the apple, pear, cherry, and peach trees planted, but I will work towards the eventual orchard this year.  An orchard is an investment in time and money, and I want to make sure the soil is ready, and I want to make sure I choose the best varieties of trees for my area.

I have read about grafting non-disease resistant heirloom tomatoes onto disease-resistant rootstock.  For example, I could graft San Marzano tomatoes, which I want to grow to make sauce out of, but which die quickly in the garden, onto the lower stem and roots of the Celebrity tomato, which resists disease, and get the disease resistance of the Celebrity and the fruit of the San Marzano.  I saw grafted plants for sale in a gardening magazine for $7 each, and they will become expensive if I buy many.  I will spend the winter reading about grafting tomatoes, and will experiment with them.  I did achieve one of my perennial gardening goals last summer: I grew enough tomatoes to can to last me through the winter.  Every year is different, though, so I am always looking for ways to outsmart pests and disease. 

I want to grow enough Irish potatoes, onions, garlic, and sweet potatoes so I do not have to buy any.  The onions and garlic are in the ground now, and I will have to plant the Irish potatoes later this winter, and the sweet potatoes in the spring.  I have grown more than enough garlic for us for several years, and I will keep trying to accomplish the other goals.

What are your gardening plans?  If you have never gardened, it is a great time to begin one.  Do all the heavy digging and soil preparation now, when it is cold, and when warm weather comes you can leisurely plant your garden.  And, working in the garden will complement your resolutions to lose weight and exercise more, while you’re having more fun than you would on a treadmill at the gym.  Next time I’ll write about my favorite seed catalogs and plant resources, and you can order some catalogs or look at some websites and plan your garden this winter. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Hellebore Days at Piccadilly Farm

From a press release  by Piccadilly Farm:
The public is invited to stroll the grounds of Piccadilly Farm to view thousands of Hellebores (Lenten Roses) in full bloom on Friday and Saturday, March 2 and 3, from 10-4.  Forget the gloom of winter and welcome the arrival of spring while viewing an amazing mass display of colorful flowers in beautiful shades of white, pink, rose, burgundy, and purple.  Hellebore Days at Piccadilly Farm has been featured in numerous publications including the New York Times.
Hellebores in bloom in Mary Ann's garden

Hellebores are an excellent hardy evergreen ground cover for dry shady gardens and flower in late winter when few other plants are in bloom.  Virtually maintenance free, Hellebores are easy to grow and once established, they sneer at drought, do not need irrigation, and are ignored by deer and other pests.  For those unable to attend the event, the Hellebores will continue to be lovely through March.  This weekend begins the spring retail season for the nursery which will be open each Friday and Saturday through the end of May.  Hellebores will be available for purchase in addition to conifers, other shade perennials, shrubs, and small trees.

Piccadilly Farm is located at 1971 Whippoorwill Road, Bishop, GA, 30621, south of Athens near Watkinsville.  This event is free and open to the public.  Walking is required.  For more information, contact Sam Jones at 706.769.6516 or look at the website at

Sunday, January 8, 2012

It's Time to Prune Fruit Trees

Here's a picture of my Red Delicious Semi-Dwarf apple tree I bought from Stark Bro's,, along with three other apple trees, about two years ago.  It's healthy-looking, and gave me a some wonderful apples last summer.  I pruned it as much as I dared, although I didn't do enough pruning, and I sprayed it with lime sulfur and dormant oil to protect it from pests.  I even managed to keep it alive during last year's hot summer, and when I had 100 pine and hardwood trees cut from around it, the tree cutters carefully avoided damaging it.  I am happy with the plants I bought from Stark Bro's, and I want to buy some more trees from them to fill some of the space vacated by the 100 cut trees when I figure out what I want. 
Unfortunately, though, as experienced apple growers will note, the central leader is missing.  Apple trees produce best when they are trained to a central leader, where the main trunk continues straight up, and the other branches grow off the trunk like alternating rungs on a ladder. 
Unpruned apple tree
Last summer, my chickens panicked when I moved their house and they couldn't figure out where to sleep, and three of them tried to roost in the tree. Chickens want to go to the highest place they can reach when it's time for bed, and unfortunately for my tree, the central leader was the place all three tried to roost. I described it in detail in this post   The central leader snapped, the chickens fell squawking to the ground, and I eventually got them to their beds.
Saturday, I selected the most upright branch, tied it to the stake, cut off the other one, and trimmed the rest of the tree, thinning branches and cutting back the limbs.  I am no expert in tree care, but if you are, please give me your opinion of my trimming and rejuvenation of my tree.  I try to err on the side of cutting too little, but, based on my observation of overgrown orchards, too little pruning is nearly as bad as too much pruning.  The chickens you see in the photos now know where they are supposed to sleep, and I let them into the orchard to provide a little pest control and fertilization.

Pruned apple tree
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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Clemson Extension Offers Sustainable Small Farms/Yards Course

Unfortunately for me, I can't travel to Clemson to take this interesting course, but I wanted to let you know about it.  According to The Market Bulletin, a publication of the SC Department of Agriculture, the course will teach the "basics of how to have a small farm in their backyard can now sign up for a six-week course on sustainable small farms and backyards."  Classes will include "beekeeping basics, soil fertility, composting, livestock/forages, fruit and vegetable gardening, and how to market excess produce."  The course will be held at the SC Crop Improvement Building, located at 1162 Cherry Road, Clemson, SC 29634.  It begins March 1 and meets weekly through April 5 on Thursdays from 2-4:30 PM.  Registration is $150 and covers six classes, materials, and an optional field trip.  The registration deadline is February 16.  For more information, contact Matt Burns,, Millie Davenport,, or Vicki Landreth at 864-656-9999

I would love to take this course, but it's too far away for me.  Maybe they can offer the class closer to Columbia sometime.