What makes Dr. Graham and Helen Ray’s garden at their home on Rustic Road so special? Planning, patience, compost, and hard work over many years. This shady treasure located just a mile from the garden center has been visited and photographed repeatedly by this top fan and legions of serious gardeners from around the region – and around the world. Graham’s friendships with many top horticulturists has offered him the opportunity to acquire unique specimens and to indulge his love of conifers, hosta, and Japanese maples.
This ‘Wolf Eyes’ dogwood appears to glow on this cloudy afternoon, at the crossroads of a gravel path and a grassy path. In fact, Graham mostly uses grass as paths between garden beds rather than a wide lawn. This is not a place where all the plants are pushed to the edges of the lot. ‘Wolf Eyes’ grows more slowly than green-leaved dogwoods due to the lack of chlorophyll in the variegation.
Speaking of a lack of chlorophyll, how about this white hosta? Almost no green to make photosynthesis. The speckled wild ginger in the foreground contrasts nicely with the hostas. Graham’s compositions always feature a variety of colors and textures that complement each other, so that even when there seems to be one of everything – the design still works.
Even his vegetable garden is off-the-hook gorgeous. Surrounded by poultry wire on 8-foot supports, deer can only dream of marauding this buffet.
The evidence of Graham’s planning and precision can be seen here, too, in the rows of beans and peas guided by strings nailed across the raised bed.
Back to the shade – ‘Little Honey’ oakleaf hydrangea shines in shady spots, and these clumps of heartleaf Brunnera must have been there a long time.
A lot to unpack here, but mostly the deciduous azalea calling attention to itself – Graham says he doesn’t like oranges and reds, so we’ll call this one a yellow bloomer.
Beckoning paths, one of grass and one of mossy brick, beg you to explore.
Japanese forest grass dots the pathways with the graceful appearance of movement even when no wind is present.
Aren’t garden kitties the best? Meandering with us on this pleasant afternoon, never far from view.
Now, no more words – this garden can speak for itself:
Actually, a few parting words – I also admire Graham’s contributions to Greensboro’s public gardens. As a longtime fellow member of Greensboro Beautiful’s Public Gardens Committee, I have benefitted from his calm wisdom in our monthly meetings, as well as in Guilford Horticultural Society endeavors. Graham currently curates the Dwarf Conifer and Hosta collections at the Greensboro Arboretum, so you can always visit his handiwork there.
To read more about Graham’s techniques – this Greensboro News & Record article he wrote a few years ago will further delight you – Click Here
Congratulations to our first monthly winner… the Barrett home at 109 Nut Bush Rd West in Hamilton Lakes! Barbara’s love of plants and the feelings they create is evident in the combination of trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs visible year-round, even in February when we visited. The whole neighborhood seems to enjoy daffodils as a signature flower this time of year, with several homes on both sides of Nut Bush displaying various combinations of different daffodils.
Hyacinths in shades of blue and pink have popped up in Barbara’s front yard as well, greeting families that walk by in this highly walkable neighborhood. The mature trees, not yet leafed out, graciously allow for these early bulbs to bloom. In the span of the next few weeks, shade will rule the garden and bring forth the perennials that instead thrive in that light.
A nice variety of flowering shrubs is also present here, with the lovely Pieris japonica sporting racemes of white blooms – so cheery in the winter garden!
But here is the vignette that really captured our attention – the driveway bordered with evergreen ferns, and off in the distance an espaliered camellia against the house. This is an ancient pruning technique that can allow a plant to sit flat against a wall or other (even imaginary) surface. In this case, the narrow bed between the driveway and house, just to the left of the window. Now, cutting a woody shrub into a thin sliver like this is not an easy task. Barb has help from James Richardson of Flowering Foundations. James is what we call in the trade a “Fine Gardener”, someone who brings that extra touch to your landscape to take it from average to “wow”. Beyond regular weekly maintenance, fine gardeners’ skill bring detailed attention to boost curb appeal.
So drive or walk by Barbara’s and watch how things unfold as the seasons ebb and flow. It’ll be something surprising every month!
Big thanks to all who entered this month – we encourage you to continue to enter monthly, as each garden evolves in its own special time of the year!
Actually not a cactus at all – this stunning seasonal bloomer is a succulent.
Native to the tropics – epiphytic (grows on the surface of trees in Brazil)
Flat leaves, easy to propagate – just snap off and plant!
Identify by the edges of each section and the flowers –
Thanksgiving – Schlumbergera truncata – The flowers are pink, red, white or yellow and they typically bloom in November. The Thanksgiving Cactus anthers are yellow. Thanksgiving Cactus flowers are more asymmetrical, protrude from the ovary and extend horizontally from the tips of the stem segments.
Christmas – Schlumbergera bridgesii – Flowers are usually white or red but occasionally may be yellow. The blooming time is typically in December. The Christmas Cactus has purplish-brown anthers. Flowers are symmetrical being evenly distributed around each flower tube. The flowers are more pendulous and droop straight down from the ovary.
Easter – Hatiora gaertneri – The flowers are royal purple, red or pink and brighter than Christmas Cactus or Thanksgiving Cactus. The flowers are more star-shaped than the other two ‘Holiday Cactus.’ It typically blooms in the spring months of April and May. Leaves are rounded.
These plants need a bit more shade, hydration & humidity than other succulents –
Some direct sun is good, but not too much. 12-14 hours of darkness per night for 4 weeks leading up to bloom time. Best spot – an unused bedroom or office. Not near the TV in the living room.
A saucer of water & pebbles under the plant helps improve humidity. Water when the top layer of soil has completely dried out.
Fertilize in spring, move outside to a shady spot in summer, keep it indoors as a houseplant from first to last frost.
“Prune in June” to keep it flowering.
Heart-shaped leaves with abundant red, pink, purple or white flowers held high on long stems. Attractive foliage often has silver marbling.
Can bloom for months and requires very little care.
Cyclamen persicum or Florist’s Cyclamen is not the hardy version that can be planted outdoors here.
Tropical plant that prefers slightly cooler temps than might be assumed.
Bright, indirect light and a cool room is ideal (68 degrees or lower).
Well-drained potting medium, kept moist but not soaking wet. Water below the leaves and avoid getting water on the crown of the plant, which can cause rot. Tuber should be planted high.
Repot every 2 years in the summer while dormant. Fertilize once a month when flowering.
Not a fern at all – in the “spikemoss” family, but not a true moss either – Selaginella kraussiana has highly textural foliage
Festive foliage accent among holiday decorations, centerpieces or alongside flowering holiday plants like poinsettia and Christmas cactus.
Needs high humidity to thrive – around 70%, much higher than our homes’ winter environment – keep it on a tray of pebbles & water, or in a terrarium. Another way to create humidity is to cluster several plants together.
Bright, indirect light is ideal.
Dwarf Alberta Spruce
Evergreen conifer Picea glauca ‘Conica’ is an ideal evergreen for landscaping – diminutive evergreen with a classic pyramidal Christmas tree shape.
Slow-growing small tree, can be grown indoors or out.
Indoors – keep the humidity high and provide adequate natural light.
Outdoors – protect from strong winds and excess heat. Full sun to part shade – east or northeast exposure.
Great host/hostess gift!
Norfolk Island Pine
Not a true pine – Araucaria heterophylla is a tropical plant that cannot tolerate temps below 35. Native to Norfolk Island in the Pacific Ocean, located between New Zealand and New Caledonia.
Wants several hours of direct, bright light such as is found in a south-facing window.
High humidity – weekly misting, humidifier in the room, or pebbles/water tray.
Fertilize in spring & summer.
Hippeastrum is an easy-to-grow bulb with red or pink flowers, some variegated.
The base and roots of the bulb should be placed in lukewarm water for a few hours. Remember, if you cannot plant the bulbs immediately after receiving them, store them at a cool temperature between 40-50 degrees F.
Plant bulbs in a nutritious potting compost, many are available pre-mixed. Plant the bulb up to its neck in the potting compost, being careful not to damage the roots. Press the soil down firmly to set the bulb securely in place after planting.
Plant the bulb or place the potted bulb in a warm place with direct light since heat is necessary for the development of the stems. The ideal temperature is 68 to 70 degrees F. Water sparingly until the stem appears, then, as the bud and leaves appear, gradually water more. At this point, the stem will grow rapidly and flowers will develop after it has reached full growth.
Bulbs will flower in 7-10 weeks as a general rule. In winter the flowering time will be longer than in spring. Set up your planting schedule between October and April with this in mind. To achieve continuous bloom, plant at intervals of 2 weeks for stunning color in your home or garden.
Amaryllis bulbs are easy enough to grow in the garden in our region. They make great specimens. They perform well in beds, borders or containers outside. You can also scatter them throughout the landscape in naturalized areas. These plants look exceptionally attractive when planted in groups. Best of all, amaryllis bulbs are deemed resistant to both deer and many rodents. Divide every few years.
Easy to force indoors, these fragrant bulbs in the same family as Daffodils are a holiday staple.
No soil needed, just force in water with pebbles for anchoring as the long stems grow.
Alternately, use 3-5 inches of soil. Never cover the top of the bulbs, though, except with decorative moss.
Staking may be required to prevent flopping or use a tall vase to provide natural stability.
Planting outdoors after forcing indoors is rarely successful – this plant is too tropical for our zone.
Witchhazel’s fall leaf color soon gives way to gold or orange blooms in winter.
Realistically, southern gardeners CAN plant anytime, but certain conditions will make it easier to get your new plants established. The milder temperatures and wetter conditions of fall make October/November/December the best time to plant shrubs and trees. Relative to summer’s hot/dry conditions, all the other seasons are friendlier to your new plants. You’re making an investment in your landscape – give it the best chance of success. You won’t be dragging the hose around, worrying that your new Azaleas, Boxwoods, or Camellias will make it.
But what if you just can’t resist that beautiful Arborvitae in April, a marvelous Maple in May, or just a Juniper in June? Not to worry – you can still plant them, and just monitor any rainfall to ensure that we either get about 1” per week, or you’ll need to provide supplemental water.
When watering any new plant, grass included – it’s always best to water deeply less often, so that the moisture gets down to the root zone. Either hand-water or check with a measuring device like a cat food can to see how long your sprinkler takes to achieve 1 inch. Think about the size of the container the plant was in when you brought it home – you need to fill that size bucket with water to ensure that the entire root zone gets saturated. And there’s no substitute for the good-old finger test – simply stick your finger down in the soil to see if it feels wet. Over-watering can be just as problematic as under-watering for some plants.
You’ll also want to ensure that your soil drains well – our straight clay frequently encountered in the Piedmont does not. Clay holds water well, which works great for water-loving plants such as Winterberry, Red Buckeye, Fothergilla, and Yaupon Holly.
But here’s an important consideration for most conifers and ornamental shrubs and trees – roots actually grow in the air pockets between soil particles, and clay’s tiny particles mean less air down there – so you may want to add pine bark soil conditioner, or even mini-nuggets to open up larger drainage spaces for plants like Roses, Aucuba, and Gardenia that absolutely cannot tolerate “wet feet”.
Now, what about planting in summer’s heat? Are we dooming our new woody friends to a painful struggle? No, but maybe we’re dooming the gardener that way. Just know that it’s going to be a commitment to pampering that plant if we don’t get enough rain. Even with this year’s extraordinary rainfall surplus we still had a period of no rain for 3 weeks in July’s searing heat. Add to that the extreme cold we had for 3 weeks at the start of the year, and many plants that sustained cold damage held on only to throw in the towel at the other extreme.
So, what’s the bottom line on the best time to plant? It’s always going to be fall/early winter, but if you’re willing to be careful, you can shepherd your new investment through most any weather conditions, any time of year – have no fear! Visit your local garden center year-round, as different plants are featured every month. Spring-bloomers are impossible to resist, but there is something blooming or just showing off beautiful foliage all around the calendar. If you only shop in spring you’ll miss out on the beauty of the other seasons, and plants that perform well at different times and in different conditions.
Here’s a partial list of what to look for now – fall and winter provide a vast palette of choices to add to the landscape:
• Evergreens/Conifers –
o Hinoki False Cypress
• Evergreens/Broadleaf –
o Camellia sasanqua & hybrids (fall/winter bloomers)
o Yellow Anise (Illicium parviflorum ‘Florida Sunshine’)
o Southern Magnolia ‘Teddy Bear’
o Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’
o Aucuba japonica ‘Gold Dust’
o Mahonia x media ‘Hope’
o Distylium ‘Blue Cascade’ and ‘Cinnamon Girl’
o Holly – dozens of varieties, including Dwarf Yaupon
o Indian Hawthorne
o Mountain Laurel
o Viburnum – great variety
o Carolina Jasmine
o Nandina ‘Lemon Lime’
• Winter Interest
o Pyracantha ‘Mojave’, Firethorn
o Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’
o ‘Christmas Jewel’ Holly
o Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’
o Red Twig Dogwood
Come in soon and visit these plants in the greenhouse…aka my “happy place”.
Clay soil is great at water retention. The problem is when there’s too much water. The flip side is that clay soil is terrible at drainage. And most plant tags say “well-drained soil”. Well-drained soil can be pretty elusive in the Piedmont of NC, so we need to take measures to improve our soil’s drainage.
How do we improve soil drainage? The short answer is to add organic matter, such as Soil Conditioner or mulched leaves. The amount needed varies, though, and changes as the soil is cultivated over multiple growing seasons. For example, if you’ve mulched a garden bed for 5 years – think about where that mulch goes, why do you have to keep adding it each year? It decomposes at various rates depending on the source material and its age. Pine bark, pine needles, shredded hardwood – all have different properties and decompose differently, adding their unique contributions to the soil. There are other potential mulches, as well, but these are some of the most common choices. Many folks like the look of inorganic mulches such as pebbles or lava rock, but these do nothing to feed the soil (and eventually your plants).
Consider adding soil conditioner (pine bark fines) to the planting hole when planting new trees and shrubs in previously unamended soil, and preparing entire flower beds by adding soil conditioner and compost at root depth (at least – deeper is better). A 50/50 mix with the native soil is sufficient, and your native soil goes back in.
Another important consideration is the pH of the soil, and targeting an appropriate pH for the plants you’re growing. A soil test will reveal what you’re dealing with, and we can help you choose the right amendments to move the pH to the targeted zone.
For more detailed information, click on the “How to Improve Clay Soil” document below, or ask our experts at Guilford Garden Center.
“Leave the Leaves” – instead of raking or blowing them to the curb, use your mower to mulch your leaves. Using the bagger attachment, mow over a pile of leaves a couple of times to reduce them to finer particles that you can then distribute around your plants – they’ll act as a bit of a blanket against extreme cold temperatures, as well as add nitrogen and texture to your soil. Free, organic mulch – what could be better than that?
• Perennials – most can be cut to the ground after the first frost or freeze reduces them to mush. But some, such as ornamental grasses, butterfly bush, black-eyed susan, and coneflower, should be left standing to protect the crown of the plant or provide food for birds. Give us a call or Google your particular plants to get specific care instructions if you’re unsure.
• Pruning – just step away from the pruners, loppers, and hedge trimmers. Fall is not the time for this important gardening task, unless you spot a dead or crossing branch. Wait until late winter/early spring, as pruning causes the plant to put out new growth at the cut site, and that new growth will then get killed during cold winter nights. Instead, bring your pruning tools into the garden center and let us clean and sharpen them for you – free in the month of November, $5 per tool the rest of the year.
• Use frost cloth or other protection in the vegetable garden. Your broccoli, cabbage, and collards can take a little frost, but hard freezes are a different matter. Make an overnight tent with frost cloth, but remember to remove it before the sun hits it. Apply the cloth before dusk to trap the day’s heat, and be sure it goes all the way to the soil surface. In lieu of frost cloth made specifically for this purpose, sheets or blankets can work, or inverted plastic nursery pots can also provide a measure of protection.
• Potted houseplants should already be indoors by now, but in protected locations may be able to withstand brief dips below freezing. The same is true for tropical and marginally-hardy plants in the ground. To increase their protection from freezing, mulch heavily around them – the mulch acts as a blanket.
• Fall is also a great time to pick up new plants at bargain prices. Come in and check out our sales, and stock up! The saying “Fall is for Planting” seems cliché, but let’s examine why it’s true – in the Piedmont, we typically have mild winters, and planting in fall gives us 3 seasons of mild temps and wet conditions compared to summer’s hot, dry weather. So, plants get well-established, putting down deep roots for several months before the summer extreme arrives.
At first glance, it seems like a huge leap from a career in the restaurant business to a garden center owner. True, I did retire in December 2016 from nearly 40 years in the restaurant industry, a career I loved. But then one day barely a month later, I received notice that Guilford Garden Center was on the market. So much for retirement! I knew that blending my love of gardening with my business knowledge and leadership experience would make for the perfect fit. A few calls and visits with Chuck Voight, his family and representatives to negotiate the details, and here I was, holding the keys, right at the end of the busy spring season!
My parents were business owners in a field they loved, too, for a time. I had hoped to join them after college (we figured that my Marketing degree would come in handy), but it didn’t work out. That gene that has lied dormant all these years has now leapt into action.
Gardening is not just a love of mine, more a passion. Ok, an obsession. Let’s just put that out there. In the past 5 years or so I’ve attended dozens of classes, workshops, and events through multiple outlets that I’ve outlined below with links to their websites for your convenience. The learning and experience turned me from hobbyist with more failures than successes into a serious plant geek:
••• Ellen Ashley, garden writer and consultant, was for a time teaching classes at her Summerfield home. In the garden. What could be better than that?! My first encounter was through a Groupon she put out for a discounted class. I took “Shade Gardening” that year, and immediately went home and installed one with lots of Hosta, Ferns, Azaleas, Hellebores, and more lovely plants that thrive in the cool understory of the hardwoods that line the perimeter of my back yard. The next year I took Ellen’s whole series of classes. Just fabulous! She ignited a passion for even more learning in me, which led to my involvement with NC Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener program, and the Guilford Horticultural Society. Here are links to Ellen’s Learn to Garden Blog, and her recent profile in 1808. (photo: Derrick Brady)
••• The next year, I applied for the Master Gardener Volunteer program, and jumped in with both feet. The series of classes are described as like taking a college course every week for 3 months – an accelerated challenge, for sure, and with the latest research-based information out of NC State University and NC A&T University, it’s updated regularly, so most of us continue to take the classes every year as refreshers. But the learning isn’t solely in the classroom, it goes out into the garden at the Guilford County Agricultural Center, 3309 Burlington Road in Greensboro. The demonstration garden is one place where we get to apply the knowledge we’ve gained, and witness the results with hands-on projects in all the themed garden spaces there. If you’ve never visited, please make time to do so in every season! This article in 1808 profiles my mentor in the program, Janet Sommers, and describes why she does it. I’m indebted to her for showing me the ropes and especially for sharing her wisdom about the importance of gardening for pollinators. Greensboro’s bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds are thankful, too. Our motto: First we Learn, then we Teach!
••• I also joined the Guilford Horticultural Society for even more education (just can’t get enough of this stuff!). The group of gardening enthusiasts meets the third Monday of each month, September – May, at the Greensboro Science Center to hear a one-hour speaker on a wide variety of topics. We also look forward to garden tours of both public and private gardens around the Triad, Piedmont, and beyond. The big event each year is the Hort Symposium in late Winter – not to be missed, with nationally-recognized speakers. We also have two plant swaps per year, and an end-of-season picnic. Annual membership is only $25.
Out of all of these connections arose my volunteering with Greensboro Beautiful and Cone Health Cancer Center’s Healing Garden. By this point I had to develop my volunteer gardening roadtrip kit, a little toolbox of hand tools and gloves! More on these organizations in a later post.
So you’re beginning to see the picture – I eat, sleep, garden, and repeat. Bringing Guilford Garden Center back into focus, then, starts to make perfect sense. My plan for relaunching Greensboro’s oldest garden center currently in operation will evolve over time, but includes some things that we’ve already put in place:
In their place, we have introduced a Native Plants section.
Why natives/what’s all the fuss? These are plants that insects and wildlife have evolved with over time and made use of throughout their life cycles, helping to preserve and support our environment. We’ll conduct classes on landscaping with natives in the future.
We’ve also introduced a Rare & Unusual Plants section. It is our goal to surprise you with something new and different each time you visit us.
With the help of Landscape Architect Nancy Seay, we’ll be planting a mixed border along Milner Dr & Hunt Club Rd that will feature natives as well as other ornamentals. Pollinator-friendly, it’ll be our own little demonstration garden!
Our new logo features a butterfly, and the caption “Where Gardening is Fun”! Emphasis on FUN! Our Events, Classes, and Workshops will be announced soon, to help you have fun while learning new gardening topics. In fact, we’ve already held our first event – the 1st Annual Triad Tomato Festival was held Saturday, July 29 and really brought the fun to everyone’s favorite summer garden staple. The crowd-favorite this year was the Cherokee Purple for “Best Flavor” among the heirloom and hybrid varieties we offered for tasting!
I am so fortunate to have an experienced staff with great horticultural knowledge that can suggest solutions for every garden dilemma. Nan, Shelley, Drew, and Oscar are just the best partners to have in this adventure. And then there are the cats…a story for another day!