February 2014
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

  This heart topiary found in a Califiornia yard was created by a loving husband and has been maintained by his widow

A Valentine’s Shrub

One day when my husband and I were riding through a neighborhood in Pacific Beach, Calif., this large, heart-shaped shrub caught our attention enough to stop and take a picture. The lady of the house came out and told us her husband created the topiary many years ago. He has since passed away and she maintains it in his memory. Since this is the month for valentines, I thought this would be nice to share with all you sentimental gardeners. We all have plants linking us to loved ones.

Sweet Pea Flowers

One of the best gentle fragrances of spring has to be sweet peas. However, I am usually only smelling them in someone else’s garden because I often miss the narrow window of time for planting! So with this writing, I am reminding myself, and hopefully you, too: if you like sweet pea blossoms, now is the time to plant them. These are not flowers you can usually get at the florists or even a farmers market, making them all that more special to have in the garden. They are hard to transport without damage. Sweet peas are so easy to grow that it’s a shame to let the opportunity pass. The cut stems hold up for a few days in a vase, too. They will grow in the ground or in a container. A packet of seeds will plant 10 feet or more along a chain link fence or trellis.

Left to right, With a little paint and some time you can create a magic spot to enjoy your garden. This patio observed on a North Carolina garden tour might be the inspiration. Sansevieria is one of the toughest houseplants you can buy. It is nice for either indoor or outdoor decoration.  

Prepping for Spring

A few days of nice weather in winter give us a chance to get ready for spring by painting furniture, building patios, fences and other projects not about growing. Act now, while there is time, to begin creating that magic spot in your garden where you can sit and enjoy later. For inspiration, here is a bright patio I saw on a garden tour in North Carolina. Painted chairs, a painting created with outdoor latex and lots of color elsewhere make this a charming little spot.

A Tough Houseplant

Sansevieria, otherwise known as snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue, is one of the toughest houseplants you can buy. Its thick succulent leaves are well adapted to low light and they hold lots of water so you don’t have to water very often. I move ours outdoors to the shade in the summer and then bring it indoors for the winter, placing it just about anywhere regardless of light. It would probably survive in a closet for a few weeks. If you’re looking for a nice houseplant to decorate indoors, this would be a good one to try. The one pictured here is in a hotel lobby in Austin, Texas, where it is also planted with a paddle plant at the base for contrasting shape and texture.

We Can Grow Citrus in Alabama

If you have a garage or basement that doesn’t freeze, chances are you can grow some of your own citrus! I take this example from a friend in Homewood who has been growing citrus in containers at the foot of his driveway for years. When frost threatens, he moves them into the garage for the winter. There they stay until April of the next year. It is amazing how many delicious fruit are borne on these containerized trees, especially high-value fruit such as Meyer lemon. Meyer has a tender skin, exceptional fragrance, and is thought to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin-type citrus. It is sweeter than lemon and much more fragrant. Meyer is known to make great lemonade. Years ago, the LA Times wrote an article titled "100 Things to Do With a Meyer Lemon" that can still be brought up online by entering the title name in the LA Times website search bar. You will begin to see citrus for sale in garden centers now and through spring. If you’ve ever thought about growing some, now is a good time to act on it. Unless you live on the coast, your citrus needs winter protection. Three of the most cold-hardy types are satsuma, calamondin and kumquat. Lemons and limes are the least cold hardy.

  Left to right, If you have a garage or basement that doesn’t freeze, chances are you can grow some of your own citrus! Large plastic barrels have been used to grow potatoes vertically. This is a clever idea for gardeners with patios or small growing spaces.

Clever Potato Barrel

Here is a clever idea from gardeners Tom and Cathy Ellis for growing potatoes vertically. These large plastic barrels are perfect for the deep soil potatoes need to put on lots of tubers and are adaptable to patios or places where there is not a lot of growing space. Planting pockets are cut from the sides to create planting holes for seed potatoes and, of course, there are potatoes planted in the open top. With drainage holes in the bottom, potatoes will grow happily until it’s time to eat them!

Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of The Southern Gardener’s Book of Lists and former Garden Editor of Southern Living Magazine.