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Archive for December, 2010

Last Minute Gift Ideas for Gardeners

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

There are only a few days left until Christmas and I thought I’d share some of my top choices for gifts for gardeners.  If budget is not a concern I would give a subscription to BBC Gardens Illustrated.   Published in the UK this magazine inspires me with its photography of gardens and the stories written by gardeners and plantsmen. (women too) For subscription enquiries and back issues you can email them at but they do have a North American office in Palm Coast, FL too.  If you’re lucky you can get a discount rate of $75.00 for one year.  If you want to check out the the current issue, it has a picture of a beautiful winter-flowering clematis on the cover and the heading ”A bright Christmas.” You can probably pick up a copy at your local big bookstore.  I am enjoying an early Christmas present – a gift from my husband, a garden helper for the day.  I am especially appreciative since this means I will get all my spring bulbs in the ground before Christmas.  (This is not a practice I recommend but sometimes you run out of time and I love daffodils; so maybe I ordered a few too many.)  But the gift of help in your garden is one that promises to please whether your loved one takes advantage of this gift now or in the spring.  Other gifts to make the gardener in your life smile include a pair of Felco pruners, (I have several) and a gift certificate to either a favorite local garden center or a mail order source like Plant Delights Nursery in Raliegh, NC.  Even if you don’t order any of his wild and wonderful plants you will want to read what owner Tony Avent has to say about plants.   There other nurseries to consider too like Joy Creek Nursery in Oregon (great selection of clematis).  And, one more idea- purchase a ticket to a gardening symposium coming to your region this winter.  The ticket is for the gardener, then you can stay home and watch the dog or the kids or both. 

Whatever you decide have a joyous holiday and a happy, healthy New Year.

Natchez Crapemyrtles in December

Conkers and Other Facts about Aesculus

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Trees Atlanta  is “a nationally recognized citizens group that protects and improves Atlanta’s (Georgia, USA) urban forest by planting, conserving and educating.” They are critical to helping keep Atlanta green.   In a recent email update Blake Watkins of Trees Atlanta  wrote about conkers, the fruit of the horse chestnut, Aesculus hippocastanum, native to the Balkans but long popular in both England and the US as an ornamental tree. In the US conkers are known as buckeye’s but both terms refer to the fruit ( a nut) which develops inside a prickly case.  When I first moved to Georgia over 15 years ago I heard about people carrying shiny, smooth buckeyes in their pockets for good luck.  In the south, Aesculus parviflora, bottlebrush buckeye and the red buckeye, Aesculus pavia are choice ornamentals.  But until I read Blakes’ piece about conkers I was unaware that the United Kingdom is home to the world conker championship.  In this unusual game two opponents, each with a conker on a string take turns “whacking the opponent’s  conker with their own conker” until one breaks and a winner is determined. Sounds like it would be fun.    For the official rules and more about conkers visit

conkers photo credit solipsist/GFDL

Although it is often planted throughout the US, Aesculus hippocastanum can suffer from leaf scorch and blotch and may be invasive in some areas.  If you want to try this tree and have a large area, look for the selection ‘Ft. McNair’ which has large pink flowers marked with a yellow throat and disease resistant foliage.  And in case you are wondering the Ohio buckeye is Aesculus glabra

Aesculus parviflora foliage in October

Aesculus pavia blooms in spring

The Winter Garden

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

It’s early December and I still have a few more plants and bulbs to get into the ground.  At this time of year I’m glad I don’t live in Michigan, Colorado or Homer, Alaska where there is already snow on the ground. (It’s worth noting that my friend Brenda Adams tells me she was able to plant until October 23, which as she says is pretty good for Alaska). With any luck the weather here in Atlanta (Zone 7) will be milder later this week and I can get my planting done.  And, let’s not forget what we have to look forward to, trees like Prunus mume, Japanese flowering apricot, with fragrant flowers in late winter or early spring.   I am hopeful that the white flowered selection I planted a few years ago will finally bloom this year.

Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata Alba'

Winter in the southern United States has lots to offer.    Last week I visited a beautiful private garden of over 200 acres located about an hour northeast of Atlanta, GA.  Even in winter it inspired me with its spare beauty, rolling terrain, water gardens and showy bark, including an alee of river birch.  In my experience if a garden looks good in the winter, it usually looks even better during the growing season.  On the same day I talked with plantsman Ozzie Johnson about some of his favorite plants for winter and, I also asked Tiffany Jones (a very knowledgeable plantswoman) to recommend plants she is excited about at McMahan’s Nursery.    One of the first plants Ozzie  recommended is Stachyurus , a shrub that is also on Tiffany’s list.   McMahan’s has limited quantities of two different selections, Stachyurus praecox, ‘Issai’ (early blooming) and ‘Ishi Select’ with yellow and pink flowers.  Even though it doesn’t bloom until early spring, the distinct dangling racemes add color and interest to the winter landscape.  For showy bark Ozzie likes Stewartia pseudocamellia, Pseudocydonia sinensis (one of the nicest ones I’ve ever seen is at Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown, Washington, DC) and Cornus kousa.  For fragrant blooms Daphne odora, winter daphne is hard to beat.  For those who like to seek out the unusual Ozzie says there weeping selection of Prunus mume with golden stems. 

Stewartia pseudocamellia bark

Other winter favorites of Tiffany’s include Hellebores; this year McMahan’s offers three new doubles, ‘Onyx Odyssey’ with slate colored flowers, ‘Jade Tiger’ with green flowers and ‘Cotton Candy’ with pink blooms.  One that has been a good doer for me is Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince,’ with single white flowers.  For shrubs Tiffany suggests the dwarf Aucuba ‘Nana,’ with solid green foliage and red berries in winter.  Deciduous hollies offer colorful berries for months and old favorites like Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Gold’ promise to please.  Make sure to plant a male pollinator like ‘Southern Gentleman’ on the property somewhere, for good fruit set.  Ilex ‘Whoa Nellie’ has new growth that starts out bright yellow for the first year and then turns green.  This evergreen holly also produces bright red fruits.  Some plants continue to be popular and with good reason including variegated evergreens like Osmanthus and camellias which come in a wide range of flavors- big flowers, little flowers, etc.   Other gems for winter include perennials such as the many different Heuchera’s with colorful foliage like ‘Southern Comfort,’ ‘Obsidian,’ ‘Electric Lime,’ and ‘Midnight Rose Select.’ 

Stachyurus praecox 'Issai'

If you’re not sure what to get someone for the holidays consider a gift certificate for a local nursery or even a mail order specialty nursery.  Below is a list of nurseries in Atlanta offering many of the plants mentioned in this article. 

Ashe-Simpson Garden Center 4961 Peachtree Industrial Blvd. , GA 30341, 770-458-3224

Habersham Gardens, 2067 Manchester St. NE
Atlanta, GA 30324, 404-873-2484,

McMahan’s Nursery, 5727 Cleveland Hwy., Clermont, GA 30527, 770-983-3666

Scottsdale Farms,15639 Birmingham Hwy,(Hwy 372),Alpharetta, GA 30004,770-777-5875