June 2015
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

A late-blooming dogwood is a welcomed garden surprise.  

A Different Kind of Dogwood

How about a dogwood tree that is evergreen and blooms in June? Your neighbors will be asking, "What’s that?" in a good way. Empress of China (Cornus angustata "Elsbry") is related to our American dogwood, but is a different species. It has glossy, evergreen leaves that persist through the winter and drop in spring (like many hollies and magnolia). The blooms appearing in late May or early June open lime green and age to a creamy white. They are followed by translucent strawberry-red fruit that attracts songbirds in late summer and fall. Like our native dogwood, Empress of China prefers some afternoon shade. It needs morning sun, though, or the blooms will be sparse. It is not a tree for full shade. Young trees grow in an irregular shape at first, but eventually fill out to a full form (ginkgo does the same thing). Trees are typically about 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide.

Treat Yourself to a Large, Glazed, Weatherproof Container

A beautiful pot by the front door, on the porch, on the deck – anywhere that it is highly visible will bring you great pleasure. You can try different things in it each year and, even when you don’t have time for much else in the garden, you can always enjoy the beauty of those pots. One or two containers are usually manageable. Get one large enough to make an impact – at least 18 inches in diameter. Over the years we have accumulated several concrete, fired-clay and glazed pots that we enjoy year round. One has been turned into a fountain. The oldest was given to us as a housewarming gift in 1985 and it is still as nice as it was the first day!

Buy Good Quality Tools

One of the things I tell young people starting out with their first house is to take the time to invest in good tools. However, it applies to folks of all ages who want to enjoy their time tending the garden. Ask for them for Christmas, birthdays, etc. A good tool will do a lot of the work for you. A poor tool will wear you out. Some of the basics I recommend are pruners, a heavy-duty, solid-shank spade with a good perch for the foot, a no-kink hose, a big trowel and a small trowel with a metal blade and comfortable handle, and a water breaker for the end of the hose. If you are going to be digging up shrubs, get a sharpshooter shovel to make the job easier. I also like a little hand-held rake for easy cleaning up in beds when I’m down on my hands and knees. My favorite full-sized rake is an adjustable one so I can adjust the spread of the tines from about 5-18 inches, depending on the space I’m raking out. Finally, for heavy work, get a decent wheelbarrow and a hand truck. If you like to use gloves, get the vinyl-coated stretch gloves because they are multipurpose and have a good grip. I run mine through the washing machine (but not the dryer).

A Word about Hummingbird Feeders

  Choose begonias according to whether they will thrive in sun or shade.

Hummingbirds appreciate nectar sources in your yard, especially well-tended feeders that provide them with an easy supply of sugar water. The great thing about feeders is that you can put them within easy view of a window. Hummers will especially appreciate feeders with perches, which give the birds a chance to rest while drinking. The disk-shaped basin-style feeders are easier to clean than the bottle types, but birds will come to any feeder holding fresh syrup. To make your own nectar, dissolve one part sugar in four parts boiling water and let cool before putting into the feeder. Leaving out moldy feeders can kill hummingbirds, so fill the feeders for only a day or two of use and keep the extra in the fridge for up to a week.

Begonia – Sun or Shade?

Begonias are great plants for containers because they adapt so well to the space and conditions in pots. You can grow them alone or mixed with other plants. The secret to begonias is knowing whether the type you have prefers sun or shade. The bronze-colored wax begonias can take a lot of sun, whereas the green-leaved varieties prefer a little shade. Another sun-tolerant one is Dragon Wing (it will also do fine in partial shade). In general, the tall cane begonias usually like shade; their leaves will scorch in the summer sun. Adequate water will help begonias in full sun stay looking their best.

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