Spring Beauty by Celine

I recently had the opportunity to visit the garden of Celine & Stan Sprague on Timberview Circle and was reminded how gentle and encouraging filtered sun can be – on both plants and the gardener. Mature neighborhoods in Greensboro are blessed with both shade trees and understory trees, but if you don’t have them – go plant some and enjoy the lasting effects.

Upon arrival, I noted once again that the mailbox garden often makes the statement: “A gardener lives here”. We want to proclaim our love of plants and our eye for design by sharing both with our neighbors and their visitors. Imagine your mail carrier’s vantage point, with the variety of displays they encounter on their daily rounds.

I noted the beautiful bark and graceful living sculpture of this Crape Myrtle. Lagerstroemia is not my favorite, but this one is done justice by letting it grow/not topping it. This is how they should look. Prune wayward side branches when the tree is young, just to shape it, and watch it reward you with an extended view of the cinnamon bark.

At left, one of my favorite Plum Yews is contrasted with a purple Ajuga’s early spring bloom. The first of several Laurels is revealed behind them. I wondered to myself whether the Daylilies have enough sun to bloom here along the driveway.

The lovely brick sidewalk to the front door is flanked by more Laurels, looking out on River Birches with their signature triple trunks. Note that Celine uses groundcovers such as Pachysandra well, avoiding the need for more mulch.

More Pachysandra and Laurels contrast nicely with a weeping Japanese Maple. Deciduous plants can be used effectively in foundation planting when backed by evergreens. Our eyes just ignore the bare branches in winter, and make the return of the new leaves that much more exciting.

Time to ring the doorbell and have Celine show me her magnificent back yard!

Breathtaking and restful at the same time, you see the center island garden with its stone patio, and the first impression is all soft pastels bordered by varying shades of green. The modern-style chairs invite us to sit a spell and sip our tea, but there are fabulous plants to see.

Now a long view across the Otto Luyken Laurels to the ever-popular George L. Taber Azaleas. It made me wonder – who was Taber and why is his name on this plant? I looked it up in Allan Armitage’s “Legends of the Garden” book, available to check out in our gardening book library @ GGC – it turns out he was the son of a nurseryman in N. Florida and back in 1928 discovered a variegated flower sport on another Southern indica Azalea in their nursery. He cut and cloned it, grew it out and determined that the variegation was stable. ‘Taber’ grows to 6-8′ tall x 4-5′ wide and remains a staple of spring throughout the south today.

I’ll let you Google who Otto Luyken was.

Just around the corner from where I shot that last shady photo, full sun provides the perfect site for the vegetable garden. The structure is a great frame for holding frost cloth or insect netting.
Looking across the border to a neighbor’s yard. This illustrates how borders don’t always need to provide privacy. We also see here a dwarf pine “candling” its new growth. And look at the placement of sun and shade plants – the pine and columbine aren’t usually neighbors for most of us, but dappled sun that changes through the seasons – and throughout the day – owes to Celine’s success with it.
Great composition here, with the finer chartreuse groundcover leaves contrasting with the longer/wider strappy leaves of Scilla and its nodding blue lanterns.
Celine uses various shades of blue and purple repeating throughout her borders, as with this ‘Daughter of Stars’ Bearded Iris.
Another Iris, name unknown, is a cherished gift from a mutual friend. I have it too! Undoubtedly we will both pay it forward.
Doesn’t this make you feel cooler, gazing on this sturdy fern? That’s because it IS cooler in the shade. I noted that it felt like the temperature dropped 10 degrees. The Selaginella “Spikemoss” bright green clump on the left is given its own space to achieve its form next to the blue pansies still hanging on. If she’s lucky the pansies will go to seed and their offspring will return in the fall.
The short bird bath allows bathing privacy – doesn’t everyone want that?
Celine’s willingness to use just ONE Dianthus impressed me. The boulder and its ornamental turtle lend permanence to this composition.
I absolutely love garden art, including this weathered concrete frog. Whatever it started out looking like, time and the elements have made it perfectly one-of-a-kind. Let’s see some of Celine’s other ornaments –
Sweet weathered perfection.
Another bird bath, visible from inside and nestled among the yews.
Fountain quit working? No worries – it endures as a sculpture.
Back to plants – this is the tallest Chindo Viburnum I think I’ve ever seen. Chindos can grow in sun or shade, albeit faster in the sun. They’re tough, glossy evergreens that can be pruned for tighter hedging, or left to develop their own shape. This one has offspring becoming established in nearby environs.
This Autumn Fern was still unfurling her fiddleheads. Aren’t plants cool?
Here come the Rhodies! Just as the early Azaleas begin to peak, we get a glimpse of the Rhododendrons intending to carry on the succession of blooms. Celine’s color echoes are magnificent, pinks and blues in various hues.
Gazing out into the “timberview” that helps create the shadows in this slice of Timberview…a couple of Oakleaf Hydrangeas at left/center. One of my favorites for sun or shade, their leaves get much bigger in the shade.
This image and the next demonstrate how Celine and Stan smartly protect their young trees – and their investment – from deer, rabbits, and voles. Voles are vegetarian rodents that will burrow under mulch to get at roots and bark.

The full trunk wrap treatment against young buck antlers.

Bleeding Hearts bloom for love’s sweet sake.

I was also treated to the hidden spot where the compost bins and rain barrels reside, but you’ll have to wrangle an invite from Celine and Stan to enjoy the behind-the-scenes stuff. We all have those tucked-away operations, so vital to permaculture, and all custom-configured.

I enjoyed the tour immensely, and looking back I’m remembering the feeling of serenity this garden imparted. For an hour or so I enjoyed peacefulness and the untroubling nature of nature. Thanks Celine, and congratulations on our 27410 Yard of the Month award!


Guilford Yard of the Month

My visit to a home on King George Drive in Guilford College recently illuminated a design concept for me – that of giving “specimen” plants proper space. The homeowner’s layout includes several unusual conifers, each with their own dramatic scene.

Were you to drive down King George past the home, you’d first take notice of the large Southern Magnolia that she has limbed up in order to reclaim the space beneath it and reveal the multi-trunk loveliness that supports this tree. This pruning technique has also allowed for a surprisingly strong stand of lawn surrounding the magnolia. Large trees can usurp the moisture needed for grass, but these two coexist peacefully.

This Cedrus atlantica Glauca Pendula, or Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar, has been staked to highlight its gracefully weeping charm.

As I was escorted into the back yard, the first of her container compositions came into view. Her designs decorate and soften hardscapes and provide focal points around the patio and walkways. 

Her use of solar lights also illustrates how to creatively light the garden – not just on the ground.

The positioning of this Weeping Norway Spruce allows for its eventual mature size and habit. You can also see here how judicious she is with her placement of other shrubs and perennials – decidedly uncrowded.

Just past the Norway Spruce is a weeping Japanese Maple – perhaps a Crimson Queen or Tamukeyama. Here the garden shed comes into view.

Speaking of focal points, the path to the shed in the distance meanders to include it as the destination, with garden delights to be appreciated along the way. The pine in the left foreground offers a strong anchor to the other plants that line the path, and on this sunny afternoon the upright Japanese Maple shows off its fall foliage against the blue sky.

Crape Myrtle proper formBacking up to take in the path view from the patio, you can also appreciate this mature Crape Myrtle, showing off its cinnamon bark and demonstrating how lovely these small trees are when not butchered by topping.

Weeping LarchIt took me a moment to ID this “Cousin It” lookalike, but the important clue was that it’s a deciduous conifer – there aren’t a lot of those – Larix decidua ‘Pendula’. She has placed 4 different weeping specimens in a row – admittedly a long row, but to allow them all to shine and satisfy they each have just enough negative space between them. 

How and why to stake weeping trees – One quick note about weeping trees – they need to be staked up to the point at which you want them to weep. If you plant a 4′ tall specimen and don’t stake it further, it will weep from 4′, which can be a problem if the branches are 6′ long, for example. When to stake is now – in the fall, before this year’s growth becomes hardened. Take the most supple and most central leader, and stake it up to the next level. Repeat as needed until you’re satisfied that you’ll end up with the form you expect. Multiple stakes can be used at multiple points around the plant as well. 

Looking across the back yard to another structure – a shed/greenhouse combo – a Colorado Blue Spruce announces itself, with a drift of Pink Muhly Grass in full fall display. But what’s inside that greenhouse, I wondered?

The next 6 photos reveal its contents – fantastic ferns, succulents, and cacti, all moved indoors just the day before my visit as cold overnight temps threatened:

Having satisfied that curiosity, we headed back up to the house and the uniquely-designed patio. Her hardscapes have evolved over time, adding structures and accents to her outdoor space. 

Fall colors in the distance offer a satisfying contrast to the stone and charcoal-colored foreground elements.

A collection of sun faces adorns the fence.

More of her container designs, demonstrating how to use grasses, herbs and shrubs in multi-colored planters:

One more intriguing specimen – a Dimorphotheca ecklonis, also known as Cape Marguerite Daisy or Osteospermum – native to South Africa, enjoying the microclimate of this protected backyard, and denying its usual classification as an annual for us here in Zone 7.

This year’s forays into some of 27410’s best gardens has reinforced how gardeners love to show off their gardens to others who appreciate the specifics of plants and how they’re arranged to create the special feeling each gardener is after.

Now accepting applications for the winter batch of candidates – will it be your yard, or maybe a friend or neighbor? The application is here on the Classes & Events section of our website. I can’t wait to visit!

7 Invasive Plants to Avoid: Plant These Natives Instead

I consult with homeowners every day on what to plant to provide privacy, curb appeal, and for biodiversity and ecology. I look, listen, take photos, and ask questions. Most have issues with standing rainwater and erosion caused by water flowing down a slope. Many are looking to attract and feed wild birds (or if they haven’t thought of it, I’ll suggest it – especially when I observe bird feeders, birdhouses, and birdbaths). And a surprising percentage have inherited non-native invasive plants from previous owners – or present neighbors. So they’re tasked with the removal in order to reclaim their real estate for planting beneficial trees, shrubs, perennials, and groundcovers.

The most frequently spotted invasives I see in home landscapes are English Ivy, Bamboo, Mimosa Tree, Nandina, Privet, Bradford Pear, and Mahonia. Let’s take them one at a time:

English Ivy (Hedera Helix) – this one has been widely deployed in the Piedmont as a groundcover, especially on difficult slopes. It is highly effective there, but breeds mosquitoes and will climb and smother trees, your house, and slow-moving children. Difficult to remove, it must be pulled – and then when it resprouts, because it will – sprayed with herbicide. No responsible garden center should be selling it, except maybe as a houseplant where it can be more easily tamed. Instead of this stubborn thug – plant the native Pachysandra procumbens, an evergreen, shady lawn alternative.

Pachysandra procumbens
Pachysandra procumbens at Biltmore – photo by Jim Robbins

Running Bamboo (Bambusa sp., Phyllostachys sp., and others) – Unfortunately planted as a fast-growing screen, this one respects no property lines. Bamboo can be seen in several locations around Greensboro where it has escaped a well-meaning homeowner’s yard into public spaces, rights of way, under the neighbors’ fences, and just anywhere it darn well pleases. The new canes spread rapidly by way of underground rhizomes – and stopping or removing them is difficult but not impossible. It is a BIG job that seems almost futile. There is a company in Chapel Hill that consults specifically on bamboo removal. Consider planting Hemlock as an alternative. Carolina Hemlock and Eastern Hemlock can both take moist soil and won’t get away from you.

Carolina Hemlock (Tsuga caroliniana)
Hemlock’s fine texture combines nicely with broadleaf shrubs like Calycanthus.

Mimosa Tree (Albizia julibrissin) – “Oh, but it’s so pretty!” Ah, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder – this one moves fast, spreading in multiple ways – root sprouts, birds, wind, fill dirt, and moving water. Seeds deposited by birds are responsible for many of these spreaders – as birds perch on fence lines or tree limbs, they deposit the seed below and voila! – a new plant is born. These plants spread so rapidly that they displace good native plants as they outcompete them for resources. Please do your part to remove them as soon as they are recognizable. Shockingly, some nurseries still sell these in our area. A much better choice is our native Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus).

Fringe Tree photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden

Nandina (Nandina domestica) – This might be confusing, since Guilford Garden Center does sell some nandinas – but the varieties we sell are bred to not produce berries, which is how the species spreads. When I see even one nandina in a home landscape, I’ll quickly scan for more – and there they are, right on the fence line. Yep, birds sit there and pop them out. I do have a family heirloom nandina in my yard, but I remove the berry clusters when they ripen around Thanksgiving – they’re great for holiday decorations! And I stay vigilant for any that pop up thanks to the birds.

Mahonia 'Soft Caress'. Grows to 3 ft. tall and 3-4 ft ...
Though not native here, Soft Caress Mahonia is a texture champ for the shade garden.

Privet (Ligustrum sinense) – Privet was commonly planted as a privacy hedge 30 years ago, before we knew better. Now we can observe it running rampant in undisturbed wooded areas and open fields throughout Guilford and surrounding areas. Take a hike on any of the Greensboro watershed trails and you’ll spot it trying to take over. And that fact really highlights why we must remove all of these thug plants from our landscapes – some might reason that they’ll keep their ivy or nandina under control, but it isn’t just about that one plant in the yard – it’s where and how it travels and displaces good natives that insects and other invertebrates need to eat and to complete their life cycles – these are the building blocks of our food web. A better choice is Rhododendron – evergreen and flowering!

What to look for – invasive privet is everywhere! Photo courtesy texasinvasives.org

Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’) – Another popular tree that was recommended decades ago is the Bradford Pear. Today most homeowners will tell you they removed it because it split in a storm, having weak branch angles. And yes, that is a good reason to avoid it, but WAY more urgent is the need to avoid how this China native cross-pollinates with Callery pear and spreads everywhere it can – just take a drive out around Piedmont Triad International Airport when these guys are blooming and you’ll note that it has become the dominant species in open fields along Fleming and Lewiston roads in particular. Thankfully, it has finally fallen out of the nursery trade locally. Pear is beautiful in bloom, but why not get a fruiting pear that’s well-behaved?

broke tree limb
Poor branching leads to storm damage with Bradfords, and their crossbred cousins are thorny and difficult to remove. Remove and replace with fruit trees for your family or wildlife.

Mahonia (Mahonia bealei) – This tall shrub with spiny leaves and spikes of yellow flowers blooms in winter and was a favored shade plant for the back of the border until it was recognized as moving through both suckers and berries. So look around – yours probably has offspring in nearby woodlands. Instead, choose Soft Caress Mahonia, Indigo Flair, or one of the Mahonia x media cultivars.

Mahonia bealei in bloom and in berry

There is a group of volunteers removing non-native invasives from the Bog Garden at Benjamin Park in Greensboro – a wonderfully wild place at 1101 Hobbs Road, (adjacent to Friendly Shopping Center) that features a natural wetland and invites exploration with an elevated boardwalk, waterfall, and nesting Barred Owls each spring – absolutely a naturalist and photographer’s delight. Over time, invasives from nearby neighborhoods have threatened the wetland ecosystem and crowded out native flora that feeds birds, butterflies, and other wildlife. Kudos to the collaboration between the groups getting it done! Let’s all help get it done in our own backyards.

Those who labor to provide you great plants

Happy Labor Day everyone! I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight our “BuyNC” Plants partners. One of the ways that we validate our localism is to use as many vendors that are also local as possible, boosting the local NC economy with revenue, jobs, related commerce, and tax revenue. Some other benefits are:

Plants grown in NC are not trucked across the country, reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and conserving natural resources.

Locally grown plants are potentially healthier because they spend less time in the stressful shipping environment. Healthier plants mean longer-lasting landscapes!

With North Carolina-grown plants, fewer foreign pests are being introduced to your landscape, which means less threat to the health of your plants!

So – when you buy local, it reduces greenhouse gas emissions, decreases foreign threats to the health of our homegrown plants, and keep revenue and jobs in our local economy.

Introducing some of the players –

Summer Snow Gardenia – developed at Buds & Blooms Nursery in Brown Summit

Several excellent growers are located right here in Guilford County – Buds & Blooms Nursery in Brown Summit grows quality container-grown cold-hardy ornamentals with an exceptional selection of Azaleas, Buddleia, Hydrangeas, Kalmia, Lagerstroemia, Leucothoe, Pieris, Nandina, Spirea, Weigela, Rhododendron, and Roses, along with their popular patented “Summer Snow” Gardenia. Check out their instagram for updates about what’s blooming now.

Next we slide just a few miles to the west to Cam Too Camellia Nursery in N. Greensboro.

Cam Too grows TONS of varieties of Camellia sasanqua, japonica, and hybrids.

Yes, Cam Too Camellia Nursery specializes in LOTS and LOTS of different camellias. Check out their website here to see all the variety. Want a fall bloomer? Think C. sasanqua. Spring means C. japonica, but there are also hybrids and early/mid/late season bloomers to span the seasons. Our own ‘Greensboro Red’ Camellia is one of the most popular. But Cam Too grows plenty of other plants such as Encore Azaleas and perennials.

Next we slide down to McLeansville and Katydid Greenhouses. This Guilford County business is owned and operated by the same folks who own and operate Piedmont Feed & Garden Center in Orange County. So they are both their own supplier of some plant material, as well as supplying us and other garden centers. Their upcoming crops include Pansies and Poinsettias. We’ve also enjoyed their selections of Rudbeckia, Coneflowers, and “Geraniums” (Pelargonium). They grow beautiful Florist’s Cyclamen and forced spring bulbs, too!

It’s almost Pansy & Viola time!

Another Guilford County grower is Maple Grove Flower Farm, another outstanding grower of Pansies and other beautiful annuals. One of the great things about having so many quality growers nearby is that if we have an unexpected run on something or get a special request, we can send one of our trucks out to pick stuff really quickly.

Pansies growing at Maple Grove Flower Farm in Whitsett.

In neighboring Forsyth County we find Piedmont Carolina Nursery, another outstanding grower of woody plants and perennials. Among our favorite plants they grow are boxwoods, hollies, dogwoods and redbuds. They specialize in branded plants like the Proven Winners line. They excel at creating treeformed shrubs and at trellising plants, as well as offering unique and hard-to-find plants. You know how I love the weird stuff!

Limelight Hydrangea in Treeform – this takes time to produce!

Another Guilford neighbor is Randolph County, home to Gilmore Plant & Bulb in Liberty. Gilmore is one of the oldest nurseries in NC – in operation since 1912! They grow both in containers and in-ground. Field grown material can grow really large before being dug, balled & burlapped for transport. Their plants have been featured at the White House, Disney World, Tryon Palace, NC State Capitol and Legislative Buildings, and the Greensboro Airport.

Acer rubrum ‘October Glory’ growing in-ground. These trees have about a 2″ caliper, which is the cicumference of the trunk at hand height. Local municipalities like the City of Greensboro specify species and caliper for commercial development projects.

Another favorite grower is Hawksridge Nursery in Hickory. Their selection of conifers is vast – lots of really cool blue spruces, Cryptomeria, Cotoneaster, and Chamaecyparis. But they also carry quite a lot of natives such as Callicarpa, Cornus, and Clethra. And that’s just the “C’s”!

I could go on for days about each of our NC growers and what makes them each unique. But just to name a few more – Johnson Nursery in Willard grows Proven Winners shrubs, perennials, and annuals and are one of the growers that tags & prices for us, saving us time and allowing us to get the plants from the truck to the sales lot quickly. Greenleaf Nursery in Tarboro does this too, as well as Plantworks in Rougemont handles loads of perennials for us this way, and J&B Herb & Plant Farms in Roxboro provides organic herbs likewise. We love them all, and many more way too numerous to mention.

So buy local, buy NC. See you at the Garden Center! And Happy Labor Day.

A Textured Back Yard

This month’s featured garden is that of Kit & Terry Schooley on Gramercy Road. Their love of nature is announced right away by their mailbox cover, a foreshadowing of all that is about to unfold on my tour.

My tour guide on this visit was Dr. Kit Schooley, a Presbyterian Minister. He and Terry, a former Delaware State Representative are always so kind and welcoming – this was not my first visit to their home, as we’ve known each other for a few years in the Extension Master Gardener Program, as well as through their involvement in the NC Unit of the Herb Society of America. I let them know they’d been nominated for Yard of the Month by a reader of this blog, and they expressed their modesty over it. But what gardener doesn’t love to show off their garden?

Calla Lilies fit perfectly in a narrow strip along the driveway.
Nice use of an annual to fill in spaces that perennials will eventually fill.

As the back yard came into view, Kit explained how they’d redesigned what they found when they bought the house. Mostly just azaleas. So they carefully planned what they wanted and where everything should go. It had been fairly shady, but a loss of a large shade tree has changed the light recently. Regardless, the plants that haven’t been moved to more ideal lighting seem to be adapting well.

In the photo below you can see some of the garden structures that most of us have – a small storage shed, bbq grill, shepherd’s hooks, and the fence. That big, blue, beautiful obelisk back left makes a bold garden art statement and will support a couple of crossvines in time.

I like the color play of the little mallow against the Hydrangea macrophylla. It left me wondering what color the iris was.

As we wandered, Kit explained why each plant was where it was. It was clear that the thought process was well-approached. Much more disciplined than my own plant-collector process. The Schooleys have already decided what they want to add this fall.

This little composition of textures and colors works whether any flowers are blooming or not. Wide, strappy leaves contrast with finer textures. Chartreuse pops out against dark green.
I know you were wondering…and so was I! Do you save your labels?
This vignette of a pretty pink garden phlox and ferns illustrates what can be done in that adventure known as “part shade/part sun”.
An empty rain gauge doesn’t mean no rain when you have attentive gardeners checking and emptying it after each rain. A good rule of thumb when establishing new plants is that you’re looking for about 1″ of rain per week, preferably not all of it falling in a 30-minute thunderstorm. If not at least that much rain falls, start watering. But watch the plants for signs of wilt and act fast to restore the water loss. This process accelerates quickly in heat.
Black-and-Blue Salvia – a hummingbird favorite, accented by Art and Artemisia – get it?
Here a bit of lawn with paths inviting exploration beyond.
Lungwort, hosta, and astilbe make a lovely combo.
Young plants are protected from the ravages of rabbits, and the big blue obelisk comes into closer view.
Kit loves this variegated Fatsia japonica. I have one the same color but with much larger leaves…maybe a function of the amount of sun vs shade? Or they could be different species.
At the feet of this beautiful redbud is Begonia grandis, aka ‘Hardy’ Begonia…which isn’t really hardy so much as a reseeding annual, but it comes back so I love it. Truth be told I love all begonias except annual wax begonias. More on that later. I should have asked Kit how he keeps these guys corraled in their brick edging. Mine seem to scramble all over the place.
More combinations of color and texture…bravo!

As we crossed into the more utilitarian area of the garden, I observed the Schooleys’ solution to marauding wildlife in the vegetable garden – an 8′ tall fence of poultry wire seemed to be doing the trick. We talked tomatoes of course, and how this year’s insect pests are worse than we remember in a long time, and maybe ever. A compost bin system and rain barrel completed the ensemble.

Have you ever lost your tomato labels in the ground once all that foliage hides them? Here’s a solution – hang them from the top of the cages!
The blue pot is especially eye-catching. Blue and black seem to show off plants exceptionally well compared to other colors. In the background, note the thick habit of the Edgeworthia chrysantha, or Paperbush.
Here’s at least part of how that thickness is being achieved…pruning. I’d always thought that if you prune this plant it would ruin the shape, not pushing out new growth at the site of the cut like other plants will. Maybe I got that idea from investigating whether it will propogate from cuttings (it won’t, just remove the suckers at the base with a bit of root attached) and I correlated that to “don’t cut” – anyway, it’s working well as you can see from this photo.
This begonia comes outside during the growing season before transitioning back to houseplant status for the winter. What an interesting leaf pattern!

So congratulations and thank you to the Schooleys for letting me poke around, and thanks also to their friend that nominated them – it was indeed as delightful as promised!

Party in Front, Shady Calm in Back

June is when daylilies bloom, right? Well, if you’re the President of the Triad Daylily Fans, you have access to all the latest cultivars from hybridizers eager to excite fanciers of Hemerocallis sp.

Lynne Broderius’ driveway border on Bledsoe Road shows off many of the results.

In addition to dozens of unique daylilies, this border also includes a Hearts of Gold Redbud, one of our Guilford Heritage Collection plants – this one discovered and patented by our mutual friend Jon Roethling, Director of Reynolda Gardens. Lynne also enjoys eclectic garden art, here foreshadowing her other hobby as a beekeeper.

I photographed a few of my favorites before ringing the doorbell, noting the labels listing the name of the daylily, the hybridizer, and the year –

‘Pardon Me’ is one of the reddest daylilies, and is among my preferred palette of red/orange/yellow for these flowers. A vigorous cultivar and rebloomer, it has made its way into the trade, unlike most of Lynne’s prized collection.

Here are a few more of my favorites – stay tuned for Lynne’s favorites at the end:

Moving past the colorful flower border, I next spotted a distant but beautiful blue hydrangea and a lovely rose-pink tulip magnolia. I noted that every plant was given the space it needs to be its best. A pair of turquoise pots greeted me on the front porch. This area showcases an Asian theme.

Now with Lynne as my tour guide, we set off counter-clockwise around the house to see what treasures would unfold. The first stop was this ‘Sun King’ Aralia – a shade-lover that takes a little time to get going. But when it does, it really lights up shady areas with its chartreuse foliage.

This cotoneaster was a showstopper, too – such thick branching! She shared that the way to achieve this is through pruning. Left alone, Cotoneaster has arching branches but may appear a bit thin until older. Lynne said this happened by accident at first, but it looks like a happy accident to me. And making mistakes is a part of every gardener’s learning curve (even when our spouses are the ones who err).

We paused briefly near a trellis sporting a coral honeysuckle, and as the back yard unfolded ahead of us Lynne mentioned that she has really worked on getting the “bones” of her shady paradise established first, very methodically resisting the temptation to get lots of plants into the ground too fast before the trees & shrubs could establish their boundaries. The result is a spacious feel even when surrounded by dozens of azaleas, hydrangeas, and specimen trees.

Speaking of specimens, look at this crazy thing – a ‘Monkey Puzzle’ perhaps? That’s Lynne’s recollection. My first instinct was a Cunninghamia or Chinese Fir of some sort, but whatever it is – it’s very cool. New growth was coming out blue at the bottom, then aging to green as it grew.

A more ordinary but nonetheless lovely Balloon Flower is one perennial that has found its spot among the shrub & tree “bones”.


Whimsical, and perfect. 

Hydrangeas this blue don’t generally get that way on their own – a little help from soil acidifier will ensure they stay this shade.

More garden art – my favorites are the first 2 photos – the metal flowers and the array of faces on the fence. But Nessie is pretty cute, too.

Here’s a little pruning tip for Oakleaf Hydrangea – where this one was pruned just past a leaf node, it became very upright as it sought more sun. 

Here I’m attempting to show the elevation of the back yard, which was steeply sloped and called out for terracing. The terraces were put in by another mutual friend, Steve Windham of Root & Branch Gardens. Contact Steve for landscape design and hardscape – especially if you’re into native plants – that’s his passion and specialty.

I spotted another perennial already allowed to enter the boneyard – this sweet little garden phlox, surprisingly blooming in midday shade. Then something Lynne is going to try to make into a unique topiary form – a weeping Deodar Cedar that she plans to affix to a large ring and have it be like a hula hoop form in midair. We’ll have to check back to see how that works out. Finding the material for the form is the first step.

Ah, the tomatoes! We paused here to share this season’s triumphs and tragedies when it comes to the veg garden. Summer is upon us and here come the pests and diseases – so unfair despite our hard work, and requiring much diligence to ward them off at the first sign of trouble.

Now I spotted another daylily garden as we rounded the house back toward the front yard. This one is in the neighbor’s yard, but Lynne tends it – how lucky is she to have such a generous neighbor to lend her a little more space? Metal butterflies danced above the flowers like their live counterparts.

I had to ask – which Daylily is Lynne’s favorite? She insisted on diplomacy since she’s a flower show judge, instead showing me several unique varieties that show the hybridizers’ talents – this one has the white border around the edge of each petal and sepal. 

Doubles, triples, a nearly-green throat, she can obviously appreciate the details while I just merely nod and say “Ooh, ahh, pretty!” 

To learn more about another of Lynne’s projects, check out this Youtube video of the recent “Parisian Promenade Home Edition” – normally held in June at Tanger Bicentennial Garden, this year’s event was instead held online in 4 30-minute videos due to Covid-19 concerns. Lynne curates the Lillian Livingston Daylily Garden within the Bicentennial Garden, and in this video, she explains the collection so that we can all appreciate it more fully on our next walk through the garden. Greensboro’s 4 magnificent public gardens are funded by a joint venture between the City of Greensboro’s Parks & Recreation department and Greensboro Beautiful, Inc. (GBI, website here). GBI cultivates volunteer curators that each specialize in one of the collections. To donate your time or money, click on the website to learn more.

Thanks, Lynne for all that you do for GBI, and congratulations on your showcased Yard of the Month!

An Inspiring Layered Garden in Hamilton Forest

Curving paths beckoned us to explore further

Marilyn Schwabenton’s home on Pebble Drive has earned our Yard of the Month designation this time – her combinations and color play created a treasure hunt for our judges. Taking photos on a hot, sunny day is less than ideal, but you’ll note that the shadows and silhouettes are welcome as part of Marilyn’s shady layers.

As we ventured down this side-yard path into the shade, we noted that the temperature dropped about 10 degrees, so welcome and offering an opportunity to more closely examine the individual plants that flourish there.

This closeup of Barrenwort leaves offers evidence of leafcutter bees doing what they do – carving their semicircle material to wrap their larvae for incubation.
This Stewartia tree is nearly at peak bloom, and offers a neat vignette in the understory.
Glazed ceramic planters pop up throughout the landscape, providing a colorful contrast to the plants nearby. This Oakleaf Hydrangea’s leaves are huge as it tries to collect more sun for photosynthesis. To the right of the planter a patch of Epimedium shows how useful it can be as a rambling groundcover in shady areas.

Marilyn’s designs illustrate a great concept – don’t have shade? Make your own by planting trees. There are so many choices for shade trees as well as smaller ornamentals. Marilyn’s varied choices include Amelanchier arborea (Serviceberry), Redbud and Stewartia, and various Japanese Maples and a lovely potted Ginkgo. Once your trees (“walls” of the garden room) are in place, the real estate underneath can be planted with smaller shrubs and perennials.

We liked the changing fence materials here.

Another phenomenon we can study in this garden is how a small space can be made to feel bigger once the plants and other elements are added. Think about how you transition from your front yard to the back along the side of the house – how could it be more interesting?

Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Fastigiata’, the columnar Japanese Plum Yew strutting its stuff, the tightly textured foliage provides contrast to the lighter green ferns and Solomon’s Seal nearby.

Texture is really in evidence here, everywhere we looked. As we traveled along the paths deeper into Marilyn’s designs, we encountered many different combinations that worked well together – ferns, wild ginger, heuchera, astilbe, and one of her most-repeated species – Epimedium. So versatile as it scrambles where it thrives – in dappled shade beneath and among other plants.

She uses a number of interesting conifers, too – Hinoki Falsecypress, Juniper, Hemlock and Spruce each found their niches with Marilyn’s guiding hand.

How does this scene make you feel? Serene? So many delicate details combine to provide casual sophistication.
A potted Ginkgo on the deck. Simple, yet elegant and interesting.
Staying with the pots for a monent – here a Boxwood, usually a formal plant – softens a cast stone planter that provides permanence.
‘Fire Chief’ Arborvitae lends its perfectly round habit to another investment pot.
Be still my heart! Chartreuse St. John’s Wort groundcover in a bright blue pot – great combo.
Repetition is good. Citronelle Heuchera in yet another blue pot!

In the sunny spots, Marilyn’s talent for combining color and texture is on full display – 

She’s still planting – here some Blue Fescue.

This blue lacecap hydrangea repeats the blue/green element in this standout garden.
Sculptures lend a classic feel.
Layers, layers everywhere.
As we saw in Graham Ray’s garden, Marilyn also uses lawn to frame her garden beds…but we estimated that mowing here takes about 10 minutes.
Here the wild ginger wanders across a fieldstone path.
In a secluded corner we discovered the staging area for new plants that have not yet found their in-ground homes.
We can’t wait to see where this pair of Coral Bark Japanese Maples get inserted. Maybe in this garden, or maybe at one of her clients’ projects. Marilyn has a gardening business of her own.
A pair of primitive pilgrim carvings with lovely personality.
Coreopsis and Daylilies greeted us cheerfully.

Stunning shade of Iris!
One of several Clematis climbers.
Ice plant, Ajuga, and a dwarf pine occupy one corner.
A topiary seems perfectly paired with the porch columns. 2 great architectural elements.
Another swath of grass, just wide enough for one pass of the mower!
How to design the mailbox garden – more than just a clematis!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into a garden designer’s own “secret garden”. It is a thing of beauty that continues to evolve. Thanks to Marilyn and all who entered our contest this month. We appreciate you taking the time and inviting us to tell your stories.


Graham Ray’s Shady Labor of Love

20200423_173800What 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.

20200423_172446This ‘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.

20200423_172403Speaking 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.

20200423_171645Drooling yet?

20200423_172827Even 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.

20200423_172731Back 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.

20200423_172014Japanese forest grass dots the pathways with the graceful appearance of movement even when no wind is present.

20200423_175334Aren’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

Our First Yard of the Month Winner!

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!

Holiday Plants we love


Looking for a hostess gift, decorating your home or office, or just longing for the nostalgia of traditional holiday plants? Read on –

“Holiday” Cactus (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter Cactus)

  • 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 –

Holiday Cactus

  • 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.

Frosty Fern

Frosty Fern

  • 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

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

Dwarf Alberta Spruce

  • 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.

Paperwhites (Narcissus)


  • 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.