Gardening Isn’t for Sissies

This one was written for WNC Magazine’s on-line content. It’s for all you hard-core exercising weekend warriors, you’ve got nothing on us gardeners. Read, and hang your heads in shame and defeat.

Gardening Isn’t for Sissies
Usher in spring with gardening tips from a grower
who’s learned from her mistakes

written by Cinthia Milner

Garden season is here, and though it may be the number one hobby in America, it isn’t for sissies. How would I know? This season marks my 20th anniversary of taking up this sometimes brutal, but highly rewarding, backyard pastime. So, while I’m not a pro, who better to give you tips on surviving your garden than a woman obsessed with her own, and with the bruises, bumps, scrapes, and yes, an empty pocketbook, to prove it?

Tip #1: Wear long sleeves, pants, a hat, and gloves. And, even though that grass feels great between your toes, closed-toe shoes are a must.

Here’s why: My first garden inspiration began with a pile of rocks and a newly cleared bank (the former spot of said rocks). With a sigh of contentment and the determination of a novice, I envisioned a cottage garden—a sea of delphiniums, foxgloves, daisies, and peonies—on that slope, bordered by my rocks. I began with no forethought or knowledge, wearing shorts, flip-flops, and a tank top. I didn’t own gardening gloves, and I don’t look good in hats.

Halfway through the project weariness set in, and I dropped one of the very large rocks on my pedicured toes. Hobbling indoors to find the Neosporin, I noticed I’d acquired a severe case of sunburn. I was scorched with a busted, swollen foot and no toenails, which brings me to tip two.

Tip #2: Curb your enthusiasm. Take breaks in the shade, drink lots of water, and periodically slather on the sunscreen.

Next came my trip to the nursery—not easy with a busted foot and still-stinging sunburn. Before leaving the house I perused a gardening book, which instructed me to have a plan prior to setting off (I did not). It said I needed an outline for the garden (That seemed tedious). It said to know my soil type (I did, it was red clay). Lastly, learn my cold hardiness zone (Wouldn’t the nursery know that?). I mean, come on, let’s go shopping.

Returning home, my car was overflowing and my wallet empty. And once I got it all planted, what I anticipated as my lush cottage garden was, well, a sparse sight. There were numerous casualties. But don’t despair; abundance comes, just not overnight. Here’s tip three for encouragement.

Tip #3: Apply the “Cinthia 1/3 Rule.” Purchase three plants, all perfect for your spot, because one will die, one will barely survive, and one will thrive. Plan on it.

So it turns out my bank was 150 feet by 50 feet. Yeah, surprised me, too. But I realized the size when I started pulling up weeds. My Japanese knife, a handy tool capable of cutting down small trees and digging precise holes for bulbs, was very helpful, except when I lost it under a pile of weeds. A neighbor witnessing this sad scenario gave me a basket and roll of tape. This leads me to lesson four.

Tip #4: Put the weeds in the basket as you weed and tie red flagging tape on tools to make them easy to spot.

Sick of weeding, I wised up and bought mulch. The dark decaying organic matter highlighted my garden of blues and swaying pinks beautifully. Getting to gaze upon its perfection was only marred by the sudden itching sensation. Mulch is a harbinger of many good things, and a few unwanted; I’m talking about poison ivy. So while this next tip may seem obvious, I find it the most valuable.

Tip #5: Place a soap dish and towel holder beside the outside water spigot so you can wash your hands, arms, and neck several times a day. And before you crack open that end-of-the-gardening-day beverage, shower like you mean it. Good, old-fashioned soap does wonders for washing away the dirt, poison ivy, and who knows what else.

Now, when your ultra-marathon running or cross-country bicycling friends rib you about your homegrown activities, remember this: They have no idea the dangers we face, and, yes, the intense physical workouts we gardeners endure right in our own backyards.

Gardens are Beautiful, No Matter the Size

Spring has been all wonky and weird. 80 degrees one day, and 45 the next. Last year, I planted 1500 spring bulbs and progagated lots of columbine, and all those wonderful flowers couldn’t tell what the heck to do. Still, a garden is rarely an ugly thing; it somehow turns out amazing, no matter the losses. I personally believe it’s because it doesn’t take much to dazzle or memorize us in a garden. Whether it’s a small front yard with a few hanging ferns and a begonia or the Biltmore House–it’s all the same to our eye, and our psyches. So, while most of those bulbs didn’t survive the freakishly cold winter, the December to March snow, or the nerve-wracking spring, the garden is still showing signs of wonder. Check it out.


Cold Hardy Camellias

April Tryst

Cold-hardy Caellias
April 4, 2011

Related topics: camellias

If you’ve ever pined for camellias well, pine no more. New cultivars have arrived in Western North Carolina and they are tough, cold resistant and dazzling.

Local nursery BB Barns held a seminar one recent Saturday, and I went to check it out. I associate camellias with warmer climes in the Deep South, where it blooms in late winter. But the flowering tree is an Asian native that’s related to the tea plant (C. sinensis), and there are cold-hardy varieties, I learned at the seminar. With names like April Tryst, Pink Icicle, Snow Flurry and Carolina Moonmist, my desire to plant this winter-blooming was well whetted. All total, 60 varieties of camellias have been identified that tolerate the zone 6 mountain climate here in the Asheville area.

To ensure the greatest success, follow these cultural instructions.

When to plant: Camellias should be planted by mid-June to establish good roots while soil is still warm.

Location: Protect from wind and place in filtered bright light. Afternoon sun is preferred over morning sun, avoiding direct, hot sun. Note: deep shade will not produce blooms.

Planting Instructions: Camellias need excellent drainage, add small gravel to the soil if needed for better aeration (do not add peat moss). Similar to rhododendrons, they need to be planted a little higher, pot height or more and plant 6” on both sides of pot.

Fertilization: Camellias like acid, so try Holly tone to improve acid levels and stop fertilizing in late June to allow plants to harden off prior to winter.

Winter care: Wilt proof is recommended for first year plants to avoid dessciation, and in winters when severe weather is expected.
Finally, these camellias are good for Asheville proper, which is zone 6, and 2,400 ft in elevation. Planting them above 2,600 ft in elevation is not recommended.

To find out more visit BB Barns or go to