Black Petunias: Black Magic For Your Garden

 

I know, I know. This petunia doesn’t look black at all in the photo. But I promise–when you see it in person, it looks like black velvet.

 

You know what they say about a little black dress. Every woman needs one in her closet.  But black flowers in your garden? Aren’t black blooms usually dead blooms?

Well, no. I recently found a basket of gorgeous, near-black petunias at our local Home Depot, and they were so velvety and unusual, I just had to bring them home. But they aren’t completely black. It’s hard to find truly black plants, and many are just very deep, dark shades of purple, purple-red, or blue.

I’m telling you, so when you look at the pictures of my petunias, you won’t wonder what I’m talking about. That’s because my “black” petunias, when photographed in the sunlight, look purple. But when the light is right, they’re dusky and mysterious and beautifully, velvet-black. Each bloom has a pale yellow star in its throat.

I  don’t know the variety name, or I’d share it.  It’s possible that mine are ‘Pinstripe’ petunias; click here to see for yourself.  I don’t think I have ‘Phantom,’ which is sold by other seed sellers and garden centers, because the yellow markings look too wide.  But I bet if you look around, you can find something similar.

If a dip into the world of inky plants makes you yearn for more, check out a book called Black Plants: 75 Striking Choices for the Garden, by Paul Bonine (Timber Press). The author covers black pansies, lilies, agapanthus, hollyhocks (like the ‘Black Watchman’ heirloom hollyhocks in my gardening book), and more, all of which might persuade you that black is the new green.

I’m not ready to convert my garden, with its springlike palette of pale blues, yellows, pinks, and rose-red, to all-black, but it’s fun to try something really different–and you know how we gardeners are. We always want someone to visit and ask, “Where did you get that?”

Update: Thanks to Gary, at PlantCareToday.com, who wrote to tell me that King George III sent Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother, Joseph, to explore Argentina. While he was there, he collected samples that were used later to confirm that petunias and tobacco are related. Learn more about petunia care here.

 

Gardening Talk at the Smyrna Library

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Morning glories

Did you know that nasturtium blossoms once sparkled with lights?

Want to grow a tomato that’s so delicious and prolific, it helped a farmer pay off his mortgage?

Join me at the Smyrna Library on Monday, April 25, and I’ll spin some stories about old-fashioned, heirloom flowers and veggies. I’ll tell you why today’s gardeners still grow these “antique” varieties, and where to find them (hint: the big garden centers don’t usually sell them).

My talk starts at 6:30 p.m., and admission is FREE. Check out this link for more info. See you there!

~Lynn

Burpee Festival 2015

I just got back from Burpee Fest 2015–and it was awesome. I was invited as part of a group of garden writers, photographers, and chefs who toured Burpee’s historic Fordhook Farm, in Doyleston, PA.

One of the highlights of the visit was getting to sample Burpee’s fresh fruits and veggies. George Ball, Burpee’s owner and CEO, told us about a new eggplant, ‘Meatball,’ that’s coming out in 2016. (You heard it here first–it’s not even on their website yet.) He says it’s going to revolutionize the way we eat, because it’s a delicious, nutritious substitute for meats.

After the tour, we sat down to a lunch prepared with foods harvested from the farm. Take a look at my plate, below, and you’ll see ‘Meatball’ made into a meatloaf/meatball dish topped with marinara sauce. I will definitely make this at home, once I get my hands on the seeds.

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The other delish foods on my plate were fresh from Burpee’s organic gardens, too. You’ll see stuffed yellow peppers, sliced orange tomatoes, and a tasty relish made with purple onions. Later, we snacked on slices of cold watermelon, cantaloupe, and the biggest, sweetest blackberries I’ve ever eaten.

That afternoon, we had time to roam around Burpee’s flower gardens. Check out these rudbeckias:

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Butterflies and bees floated around Burpee’s “Happiness Garden” (the bees didn’t bother us at all. They were too busy enjoying the flowers.) Bees and other pollinators are disappearing at an alarming rate, putting our food supply in jeopardy and upsetting the delicate environmental balance. To help reverse this scary trend, Burpee partnered with the White House to give away over a million packets of butterfly and bee-friendly seeds. You can help spread the buzz, too, by planting flowers like the ones below:

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Zinnias

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Coneflowers

And of course, a butterfly garden needs butterfly bushes.

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Butterfly Bush

Moving along to the kitchen garden at Fordhook, here’s a sneak-peek of a new tomato that Burpee hasn’t named yet. Watch for it in 2016, too.

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Don’t forget to order your seeds for next spring early, as soon as seed catalogs start arriving in the mail. Popular varieties sell out fast!

Lynn

G2B 2015

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Don’t you love a reunion? It’s a chance to see old friends, catch up on what everyone’s been doing,  and share great food and and stories. I’m excited that I’ve been invited to P. Allen Smith’s upcoming Garden 2 Blog event, a reunion of garden bloggers from around the country.

Each year, Allen hosts this get-together at his beautiful home in Little Rock, Arkansas. Sponsors like Bonnie Plants and Jobe’s Organics will be there, leading workshops on new plants and garden products.

When we get home, we’ll share what we’ve learned, because that’s what garden bloggers do: we lean over the back fence—although it’s a “virtual fence” these days–and tell our friends how to banish Japanese beetles, harvest bigger, tastier tomatoes and train wayward roses on trellises.

In the meantime, please check out my gardening articles on HGTVGardens.com, where I’m a regular contributor.

hydrangeas in Suzanne Hudson's garden

Love hydrangeas? Find the perfect plants to grow here.

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Need easy-to-grow flowers for a summer garden? Zinnias like these attract butterflies. Click here for more info.

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You can grow blueberries even if you don’t have much space; plant dwarf varieties.

Writing for HGTVGardens

mum from New York Botanical Garden Japanese Chrysanthemum Festival

Spider mum at the New York Botanical Garden Japanese Chrysanthemum Festival. Courtesy of Ivo M. Vermeulen/NYBG

I’m really excited to tell you that I’m now writing for HGTVGardens.com every month!

I’m covering lots of different topics, like growing a corn maze (okay, you’d have to have a HUGE backyard to grow an entire maze, but I learned how The Rock Ranch, an agritourism destination founded by the late Chick-Fil-A founder, S. Truett Cathy, grows their maze. And I’ve got tips to share on growing a cornfield in whatever space you have).

I’m also putting on my girl-reporter hat to cover events like the stunning Japanese Chrysanthemum Festival at the New York Botanical Garden.

And my bookshelves are starting to groan, as I’m stacking up new gardening titles to read and review. Look for posts on a great new book about growing tomatoes and two books on fairy gardening (one is good for beginners, while the other is packed with beautiful photos of fairy gardens that range from the fabulous to the otherworldly). The reviews will go live over the next few weeks.

Check out my posts when you get a chance, and while you’re there, explore all the other cool stuff on HGTVGardens.com!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Seed Catalogs

 

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I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, because I might be encouraging competition–but I can’t stand it. I’ve got to share one of my new, favorite things to do: looking for antique seed catalogs on eBay. Long before digital photography (and before film photography was widespread) , artists were sketching and painting beautiful pictures of fruits, flowers, and vegetables for seed sellers across the U.S.

A lot of these old seed catalogs survive, but many are in pretty bad shape. Who would’ve guessed they’d be valuable one day for their artwork?

This is the cover of one catalog I found for less than $20, but be prepared to pay more if the one you’re coveting is bigger, older, and/or in better condition. I bought this one, which was created prior to modern day copyright laws, so my publisher could reproduce some of the images for my book, Gardening with Heirloom Seeds.

Want to use old images for your projects, too? Just make sure you don’t violate any copyright restrictions. You can learn more about copyright laws here.

Then start looking around. You may find a stash at a grandparent’s house, in your attic, or somebody’s garden shed. Then it’s easy to scan the images in and use them on your website or print them out (again, be sure you’re allowed to do that under current copyright restrictions).

I’d love to see what you find! Share your image here, if you have one!

Fresh Strawberries

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Too bad you can’t scratch-and-sniff this picture! I wish you could smell the sweet fragrance of these ripe strawberries. I hit the jackpot at my local farmer’s market when they put these beauties on sale, and I have more strawberries blooming in my garden that should be ready soon.

It’s sooooo easy to turn these into jams and pies, but I also like to freeze a bunch.  Then I can pop them out anytime to use as a topping on ice cream, cake, or cheesecake. They’re also great for whipping into smoothies and stirring into yogurt.

All you have to do is rinse the berries quickly in cool water, then let them drain and dry thoroughly. Don’t leave them in the water, because if they absorb too much, it will dilute the flavor.

I remove the stems and slice my berries, but you can leave them whole. Then arrange them on a cookie sheet in a single layer. I used a Silpat non-stick mat underneath, but you could use wax paper or freezer paper. (Paper towels tend to stick.)

Put the cookie sheet into the freezer until the berries are firm, then remove them and store them in freezer bags or containers. Use them in a few months, and enjoy!

An Apron for Your Garden – The Roo

Roo apronI’m one of those people who wander around a lot. I can’t seem to help myself. Put me in a garden, rain or shine, and I’ll find something to look at or to do.

Sometimes I go out to water a plant and wind up harvesting an armful of tomatoes or banana peppers. Or I’ll start out to prune some branches, and end up stuffing my pockets with interesting acorns, hickory nuts, and pine cones. (Of course, poking around and seeing what’s out there is part of the charm of a garden.)

Recently I was offered the chance to try a Roo, a nifty garden apron that comes with its own built-in, handy pouch (think, kangaroo). I love this apron. Aprons are making a comeback, you know; they’re not just for Donna Reed and all those 50s’ TV moms.

The pouch is the best part of the Roo. If you’re out weeding, you don’t have to leave a pile to rake away later. Just drop the weeds in, and head over to the compost pile. Open the pouch, and it acts like a funnel, dropping the weeds where you want them.Roo apron

Now when I’m wandering around the garden, I can pick tomatoes or cucumbers and carry them in the pouch. It’s sturdy cotton canvas, so it’s strong enough to hold them. No more stretching out the bottom of my tee-shirt to put my veggies in! No more splattered tomato juice and seeds down the front of my shirt! (If you’re a gardener, you’ve done it, too. Admit it.)

Roos come in purple (my fav), green, blue, and red. They’re “one-size-fits-all” and washable.

Joe Gardener, of TV’s Growing a Greener World, picked the Roo as one of a gardener’s “must-have” products. I’m giving it a big, green thumb’s up, too.

Fair notice: Thanks to Tamara Cullen for sending me a sample Roo apron. Images are courtesy of Roo Gardening Apron.

 

 

 

 

 

Bloomerang – A New Lilac for the South

Did you catch the pun in the title of this post? If you didn’t, go back and take another look. (It’s okay. I’ll wait right here.)

See it now?

There’s a new, re-blooming lilac on the market, but it’s not called ‘Boomerang’ – it’s ‘BLOOM-erang.’ Cute, yes?

I’m really excited about this plant, because lilacs typically don’t perform well in the South. It’s not that our weather is too hot; the problem is that we don’t get a long-enough period of winter chill for lilacs.

Jim, one of the plant-gurus at a home and garden store I frequent, showed me the plants last weekend, and he’s excited, too. These babies are supposed to bloom in spring and fall, giving us lilac-starved Southern gardeners a double dose of beautiful blossoms.

(Actually, Jim told me that ‘Bloomerang’ has been out for about 3 years now, but there are finally enough plants on the market to get to our area. So if you’re a Southerner gardener and you want one fo these, don’t hesitate–they’re probably going to sell out fast, once word gets around.)

Meanwhile, Jim tells me that the blueberry bushes are flying out of his store, too, at the rate of about 20 plants a week. Blueberries, he said, are great to grow, because you don’t just get the fruit. You also get pretty flowers in the springtime, and reddish foliage on the bushes in fall. Also, birds are attracted to the berries, in case you’re more interested in wildlife than picking.

I scooped up some bargains on pansies last weekend, so if you’re in the market for inexpensive color, be sure to check around at area garden centers. Pansies start to get leggy and floppy once warm weather arrives, and the way things are going, that won’t be long. But for the next couple of months, discounted pansies are a good buy and add beauty to porches and decks. Right now, I’m enjoying a basket of yellow pansies hanging in my back yard. They’re like a splash of sunshine against the bare, brown landscape.

Can’t wait till spring…it’s coming!

How to Grow Camellias (Even If You Mistake Them for Roses)

 

The first time I ever saw a camellia in someone’s garden, I thought I’d stumbled across a rose with unusual leaves. But once I started reading about these beautiful flowers, I realized I wasn’t the only one who’d made that mistake.

A German botanist named Engelbert Kaempfer is credited for writing one of the earliest descriptions of camellias. When he discovered them growing in Nagasaki in the 1690s, he called them  Japanese roses’. A half-century later, in 1745, English author and naturalist George Edwards published a book of birds he’d drawn in various natural settings. One of them, Edwards wrote, was perched on the branch of what he called a “Chinese rose,” a plant we now know as a Camellia japonica.

Although it’s only February, the camellias in my Douglasville garden are blooming, and if you’re in the South, maybe you’re already seeing yours open, too.  Depending on the variety, camellias bloom from now until May in Georgia, and some will flower more than once.

Although some camellia blooms look as lush and heavily petaled as roses, they’re not related. They’re members of the Theaceae, or tea, family, and they’re native to Japan and China. These evergreen plants have become very popular in the Southeast., where most of us value them as ornamentals for our garden, but the leaves of some species are still widely used in Asia for tea.

If you’d like to add camellias to your garden, you can transplant potted plants in the spring. A partly shaded spot, with moist, well-drained soil, is ideal. If your soil stays too wet, try growing them in raised beds, about 10 to 12 inches higher than ground level. Camellias love acidic soil, too, so try planting them under tall pine trees. Dogwoods and azaleas make great companion plants.

Give your camellias a good start by cultivating the soil 8 to 10 inches deep. Dig holes that are two to three times the width of the root ball, but no deeper than the root ball. Remove any sticks or rocks as you back-fill the hole, and press the dirt firmly around the plant’s roots. Water thoroughly to eliminate air pockets.

Some experts say that you don’t need to add organic matter to the back-fill, but you can add 2 or 3 bags of compost if you’re gardening in a low area. Just mix the compost with your soil to create a mound, to help keep the camellia’s shallow roots from standing in water. Finish by adding about 3 inches of mulch, such as pine straw or pine bark, to help prevent weeds.

Camellias aren’t heavy feeders, and while specialty fertilizers are available, an 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 formula is usually fine Apply a tablespoon of fertilizer per foot of plant height in spring, summer, and fall until the camellia is well-established. Then you can feed the same amount, but twice a year, in spring and summer. Water weekly the first year after transplanting.

As the years go by, remember that because camellias have shallow roots, they can succumb to drought quickly, so water as often as the soil around your plant feels dry.

After the flowers are finished, camellias can be pruned to remove dead wood and allow light and air into the plant’s interior. For all their beauty, these plants are susceptible to various diseases and pests, including mites, scale, die-back, and sooty mold. But don’t let that scare you away. Proper cultivation—that is, keeping the garden clean, and removing old leaf litter– goes a long way towards success.

Need more info? Click here for an article from the University of Georgia College of Agriculture: http://www.ugaextension.com/thomas/anr/documents/Camellias_B813.pdf

To learn more about camellias, check out the American Camellia Society’s list of publications at: http://www.camellias-acs.com/