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.

When is the best time to plant trees and shrubs?

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.

Winterberry thrills soon after leaf drop and thrives in wet soil.

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 Boxwood
o Cedar
o Cryptomeria
o Cypress
o Hinoki False Cypress
o Pine
o Spruce
• 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 Rhododendron
o Mountain Laurel
o Viburnum – great variety
o Yew
o Podocarpus
o Sweetbox
o Carolina Jasmine
o Nandina ‘Lemon Lime’
o Inkberry
o Heuchera
o Hellebores
• Winter Interest
o Pyracantha ‘Mojave’, Firethorn
o Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’
o Winterberry
o ‘Christmas Jewel’ Holly
o Witchhazel
o Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’
o Red Twig Dogwood

Come in soon and visit these plants in the greenhouse…aka my “happy place”.

– Christina

Guilford Garden Center

How to improve clay soil

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.

How to Improve Clay Soil


Fall Gardening Tips

Get all Zen about those leaves.

  • “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.

Why Buy a Garden Center?

Christina Larson

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:

Garden Writer Ellen Ashley

•••  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:

Our First Annual Tomato Festival!

  • 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!

— Christina