Thursday, March 28, 2013

Want to Grow a Possum?

Borrowed from  Jody Raines' Facebook wall: "The other day I generously shared a gardening tip for growing a container cat. Today's tip is for growing a possum in a bag of potting soil. Simply sow possum seeds in the bag (no need to poke drainage holes or even water--in fact, do not poke anything!). Wait several weeks and CAUTIOUSLY check on the bag. You should find a fully grown, albeit grumpy possum who resents being disturbed and does not wish to vacate said bag. Then, just buy another bag of potting soil and let him have this one. And that concludes today's Helpful Gardening Tip."

It's good to know how to grow a possum!

Visit Jody's Facebook page for her farm.

Monday, March 25, 2013

It's Farm and Garden Tour Season

If you need some gardening inspiration this spring, go on one of the many garden tours various organizations have scheduled in the next few months.  Local garden groups schedule tours when Midlands gardens are at their best: before the burning sun tires the plants during the summer.

I went on the Lexington County Master Gardener Volunteers tour a couple of times, and on this year’s tour, on May 30 and June 1, you will enjoy visiting six beautiful gardens.  Tickets are $25 each.  Visit or call 796-0884 for more information.

The Elmwood Park neighborhood, in downtown Columbia, hosts its annual home and garden tour on Saturday April 13, 2013.  Visit for more information.

When we lived in Charleston, my husband Scott and I volunteered as docents during the Festival of Houses and Gardens.  I loved standing in the gardens of historic homes and talking to people about the plants.  Since I moved to Blythewood, I have attended the event, and I would like to go again.  The tours are on various dates from March 21-April 20, so visit the Historic Charleston’s website at, click on the “Events” tab, and select “Festival of Houses and Gardens” or call 843.722.3405 for more information.

Closer to home, Sumter-area gardening organizations are hosting a Spring Garden Tour on Saturday, May 11 from 10:30 AM-5PM (rain date May 12 from 1-6PM).  Visit or call Eileen Gardner at 803.481.2281 for more information.  Tickets are $10 and are available at the Alice Boyle Garden Center at 842 West Liberty Street in Sumter on the day of the tour.  Don’t forget the Sumter Iris Festival, one of SC’s oldest festivals, featuring Swan Lake Iris Gardens in Sumter, May 24-27.  Visit for more information.  I hope to go to this festival for the first time this year.

If you are more interested in farming than gardening, the Carolina Farm Stewards will host the first Midlands Farm tour on April 6 and 7 from 1-5 PM each day.  Tickets are $25 a car, so ask your friends to join you on this tour.  Visit for more information or call Dan Tye at (919) 542-2402.  Included on this tour are two Blythewood farms, Crooked Cedar Farm and Doko Farm.  There are other farm tours in the Upstate of SC and in North Carolina, too, with information available on the Carolina Farm Stewards website.  I went on the Upstate Farm Tour a couple of years ago and enjoyed seeing the farms as well as purchasing produce fresh from the farm.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Start an Herb Garden This Spring

When I was in the produce section of the grocery store last week to purchase some salad greens, I stopped in front of the packets of fresh herbs.  Many years ago, I purchased some fresh herbs from the grocery store in my desperation to try a special recipe during a time I was without access to a garden, but most of the time I rely on dried or fresh herbs from my garden. 

At $2.49 for about ½ an ounce of herbs, or in other words, a couple of stems of basil 4 inches long, using fresh herbs in the quantity I like to use them is expensive.  Exceptions are fresh cilantro and parsley; stores sell rather large bunches of these herbs for a dollar or two, and because our heat usually makes the cilantro bolt to seed before tomatoes are ready to make salsa, I buy it at the store.

If you find yourself avoiding certain recipes because they call for fresh herbs, or if you do buy the expensive packets of herbs that cannot actually be fresh by the time they reach the grocery store, try growing your own herbs.  Many of the dried herbs are products of China.  No matter how small your garden, it is easy to grow your own for fresh consumption and to dry some for use the rest of the year.

If you have a sunny spot big enough for a pot, grow some herbs, even if you don’t have room for anything else.  I used to have an herb garden, but now I mix the perennial herbs in with my flowers and shrubs and I plant the annual herbs in rows in the vegetable garden.  They are easy to grow, and with the exception of mint, behave themselves.  Mint needs the confines of a pot to contain the runners; if you ignore this advice, you will battle the runners for the rest of your gardening career.  My mint is not in a pot, and we fight.  
Rosemary is somewhat tricky to establish in the garden but once it decides it belongs in your garden, it does not require maintenance.  In the winter or early spring, tiny beautiful purple blooms attract honeybees.  Rosemary likes hot dry sites; my mother has tried for years to find some shrub that will grow across the front of her brick home that the afternoon sun bakes all day; rosemary thrives where many other shrubs have died over the years. 

I water rosemary often until it is established.  I make sure the soil dries some between waterings, but I don’t let it dry out so much that it begins to wilt.  Many plants tolerate this treatment, but rosemary does not.  Rosemary will also die in soggy soil.  I have killed many more rosemary plants than have lived in my yard, but because I persevered, I have several healthy, trouble-free plants.  If you kill rosemary in one place, move it somewhere else until you find a good spot.  If a friend has an established rosemary bush, ask him or her to reach under the bush and remove some baby rosemary plants that have rooted from the mother plant for you.
In the upper right corner, you can see the exuberant basil mixed with the crowder peas at the end of the summer.

Sage, in my experience, is also difficult to establish and likes conditions similar to rosemary’s preferences.  My mother has a patch of sage growing in the same baking sun the rosemary likes that is older than I am, but she gave me several starts of her sage before I got one to grow in my garden.  Using my own sage in recipes instead of that jarred “rubbed sage” is worth the trouble.  Thyme and oregano like more consistently moist, but not soggy, sites.      

Sunday, March 10, 2013

It's NOT Time to Buy Tomato Plants

I do love plants from Bonnie Plants.  They almost always grow well, and they look so healthy and happy in this picture.  The only problem with the photograph is that I took it yesterday, in early March.

Temperatures below 40 degrees F damage tomato plants, and by my calculations, we have another six weeks or so of nights when the temperatures might dip below 40, and about that same amount of time when frost might occur and kill the plants.  The average date of the last spring frost around Columbia is April 16, and in recent years we had frosts in late April.  I have learned this lesson the hard way, as I described in this post.

Don't buy tomato plants now unless you plan to keep them indoors under grow lights, which I do not recommend.   If you were able to keep plants as large as the ones on the top row inside, they would be enormous by the time you could plant them outside, and because of stress, they would not produce as well as those planted outside at the proper time.

If you have a greenhouse and can be sure to keep the plants warm enough to avoid damage, then buy the tomatoes and enjoy eating fresh tomatoes before your neighbors.  Greenhouse owners, I imagine, probably start their tomatoes from seed anyway, though. 

I did not buy tomatoes yesterday, but I did buy some of these lovely broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels Sprouts transplants pictured below.  Bonnie Plants also has lovely herbs, lettuces, and many other vegetables that it is time to plant outside.  They even have baby asparagus and strawberry plants.  So succumb to the beautiful plants in the garden center and buy some, just don't buy the tomatoes until late April.  It is, however, the perfect time to start tomatoes from seed inside the house.  Mine are busy germinating (I hope) under my grow lights upstairs.   

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Monday, March 4, 2013

Get to Work Planting the Spring Garden

It is time to start planting the spring garden in the South.  If you want to start an asparagus patch, a strawberry patch, plant grapes or blueberries, or plant potatoes, the roots or plants are available now at garden centers.  Enjoy the beautiful spring-like weather we have been having and begin your garden.

I ordered grapevines from Ison’s Nursery, and I bought two more grapevines at the garden enter, and I’ve been working at digging holes 2 ½ feet deep into red clay to hold the posts that will support the vines. It is slow work, and the rains during the month of February have slowed my work.  The rain filled the holes, which are at the bottom of a slope, with a foot or more of water, and although I thought the water already in the holes would make the process of mixing concrete easier (just sprinkle in some concrete mix around the posts and stir), my husband said that was not a good method of mixing concrete. 

He said I could slosh the muddy water out of the holes and could pour the mixed concrete in, but I decided that sounded too messy even for me, and  I decided to wait for a drier day to put in the posts.   I am not convinced that posts for grapevines even need to be sunk in concrete, especially when they are 2 ½ feet in the ground, but Scott, who overbuilds everything, especially the unused guinea house that will outlast us both, says it’s imperative.  He has a contractor’s license and sometimes has difficulty separating the structural integrity needed for house building from the structural integrity necessary for garden construction.  I do appreciate his help, though, and I know that whatever he helps build will not collapse.

Saturday I decided I was tired of waiting for the water to drain out of the holes, so we used a hand pump that we had to pump water out of our kayak to empty the holes.  We still couldn’t remove the water at the bottom of the holes, but we got most of it out and used minimal water to mix the concrete to make up the difference. Now I have to wait for the grapevines, which look like dead sticks, to put out new growth, and I will have to string wire to support the vines.

The posts are finally in the ground, and I planted the grapevines.  Digging the holes into clay was quite a workout!

I am thankful for all the rain after the past few years of drought.  My girls enjoyed wearing their rain boots and coats and walking in the woods by the creek, which was full of rushing water for the first time they can really remember.  I am glad my youngest daughter is old enough to walk in the woods now.  They loved playing Poohsticks with the culvert under our driveway.

Although I didn’t think I had room, I added six more dahlias to my perennial border.  I have some beautiful red ones from my grandmother’s garden, and they bloom continuously for a couple of months or more, dying back when the frost comes, nearly unmolested by critters, and I knew I wanted to add more dahlias this spring.  The garden center I visited had the tuberous roots of dahlias, peonies, clematis, hydrangea, liatris, bleeding hearts, and many other beautiful perennials.  Later in the spring, they’ll sell plants in bloom that will cost many times more, so buy them now.
Here's a poorly lighted picture of white dahlias growing in Abigail Adams' garden in Quincy, MA in late October.  They were much prettier in person than this picture shows, and they inspired me to plant more of the beautiful, long-lasting flowers at my house.

Even though I have ordered, and will order, seeds, I couldn’t resist buying a few packets of seeds, and rushed home to plant English peas in the garden before more rain comes.  My girls, and I, eat fresh English peas from the garden with nearly as much enthusiasm as we do candy; fresh peas are sweet and crisp, completely unlike the starchy, mushy peas from the grocery store’s freezer or cans. 

If you’re ready to begin your garden, it’s time to get perennials and root crops, and to put them in the ground.   Unlike many plants, which garden centers sell for months, these will be available only for the next month or so in good condition.  The plants need time to adjust to their new home in the ground in cool weather, and it is so much more pleasant to work in the garden when the temperature is in the 60s instead of the 80s.