January 2009
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Painted Trees?

Painting and stabilizing dead trees can add a festive and colorful touch to your mid-winter garden.


Well, they’re dead ones that have given new life as purple, chartreuse and blue sculptures in a garden bed. I saw this last summer at the West Tennessee Research and Education Center in Jackson where they dress the place up for Summer Celebration field day every summer. Research Associate Jason Reeves is known for transforming throw-aways into artful displays. These trees were victims of drought that were cut and hammered onto an X-shaped base for stability. The idea is a fun one that gardeners can use to add a festive touch to an area for a special occasion. I’m thinking the idea is also a good one to give yourself something really bright to look at in mid-winter. Of course, don’t try this on live trees because the paint could injure or kill them. If you enjoy horticultural events, check the calendar of events at the University of Tennessee horticulture center for next year at http://westtennessee.tennessee.edu. Their two big public events are the Summer Celebration in July and a Pumpkin Festival in October. You can see pictures from this year’s events online.

Instant Raised Bed


Hay bales can be utilized to create a raised bed for an instant garden.

If you don’t want to dig a garden, but need a place to grow some healthy vegetables, here is an idea from Dennis Thomas, General Manager of Bonnie Plants: hay bale raised garden. It creates an instant garden from hay bales laid out in rows right on top of the ground. A 12 to 18 inches space between each row of bales is filled with a good compost or potting soil. You can plant right in this soil and Presto! an instant garden. As time passes and the straw weathers, roots will grow into the bales, too. The beauty of this system is that not only is it quick and easy, but at the end of the season, you can take all of this material and till it into the ground to create a more permanent raised bed. You can easily tailor the size of the hay bale garden to whatever you want. The one pictured here took 100 bales. You can see this hay bale garden on TV in an interview with Dennis by AFC’s own Grace Smith on Time Well Spent.

Use a row of potted boxwoods or euonymus to add some structure and a bit of green to your patio.


                 Potted Hedge

I was on a garden tour this fall where folks opened their gardens for a bunch of plant and garden aficionados to poke around. This meant a continual stream of people moving through. Altogether there were about 600 "lookers." The clever owners of one garden created a barrier between a patio and a precious bed with a row of potted boxwoods. You could also use boxleaf euonymus in such a pot because it is so forgiving about water. Either way, this is a pretty way to add some structure and a bit of green to your patio.

                 Potted Bulbs


Purchase blooming bulbs like daffodil or hyacinth to enjoy now; then in early spring, plant the bulbs in your garden to enjoy again next year.

This is the one time of year when garden centers fill greenhouses with pots of spring blooming bulbs. If you find yourself eyeing these to brighten your home or give as a gift this winter, consider buying some that can go into the garden after they bloom. Daffodils, crocus, hyacinths and grape hyacinths are the most dependable to come back in the garden next year even though they began life in a nursery pot. In South Alabama, amaryllis often make it, too. So don’t hesitate to even buy these for yourself knowing you will enjoy them in the garden in the spring of 2010 and perhaps many more years. Plant in a sunny spot where the soil drains well. Wait until early spring to plant them though because the plants bought now have been grown in a greenhouse; taking them into freezing weather could damage them.

                                                      Get the Dirt on Dirt

A lot is being discovered about soil biology and the relationship between organisms that live in the soil and the plant roots growing in it. Many times these organisms increase the ability of plants to take up nutrients and even resist disease. If this subject catches your interest, I recommend a book called Teaming With Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis, both who garden in Alaska. Theirs are some hardy microbes! After reading his book you’ll see what is meant by the term "feed the soil" instead of feeding plants and an understanding of what is meant by the soil food web. Be forewarned, they are proponents of organic gardening and are down on synthetic fertilizers for gardeners. Whether or not you agree, their discussion of soil science, fungi, protozoa, earthworms and other creatures that dwell underground is fun for gardeners to read. In addition, if you really enjoy soils, consider a trip to the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History this year to see "DIG IT! The Secrets of Soil," an extensive exhibit about soil running through 2009. You can access videos, download educational materials and learn more about the exhibit at http://forces.si.edu/soils/index.html. After the exhibit closes in Washington, the museum plans to take in on the road.

                                                       Eat The View

Can you imagine a vegetable garden in the White House lawn? That is what a campaign to replant a large organic victory garden on the First Lawn like ones done during WWII, and before, with produce going to the White House kitchen and to local food pantries. If you missed the coverage, the originators of this idea have been touring the U.S. in a retrofitted school bus with a garden on top. You can read more about the campaign on www.eattheview.org. Also view the videos "This Lawn is Your Lawn" and "The Garden of Eatin’: A Short History of America’s Garden," both by Roger Doiron on www.vimeo.com.

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