Plants Gonna Die, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Plants Gonna Die

On this morning of a frost-filled night, there is but one thing to say, “Plants gonna die.”

Most of my clients will credit themselves with killing half the plants in Western North Carolina. And, if you consider the number of plants they have purchased and planted, they may not be too far off in their accounting. But, there is this odd notion held by almost all garden center-goers: They do not think plants die (unless at their hands). They have this tricky thought that if not for them and their lack of ability in the garden, plants would live forever. They most especially believe this regarding trees. To most novices, trees just don’t die.

Case in point. My favorite, hand’s-down-question-so-far-this-year:

What can I do for my dead tree?

A very kind gentleman, about 40-ish with a small child, grabbed me in the parking lot, wondering if we had anything to help his dead tree. A chainsaw? We don’t sell those.

He was serious.

They also think they are at fault for plants refusing to bloom (here they are generally right), or they go in the opposite direction and do not understand why plants don’t live in their standing water? Can’t I just put gravel in the hole? Or why don’t we have vines that grow in full shade, bloom all summer and are evergreen? See (they show me a picture on their phone)? I have a trellis right there.

Geez. If I had the plant that was evergreen and bloomed all summer and grew beautifully in dense shade, I’d be counting money instead of days between paychecks.

Listen up: Plants are living things and like some of the people we know, they will disappoint us. They will refuse to meet our expectations. As I will discover shortly when I venture outdoors, some of the more tender things I already planted (I know, I know, last frost date is Mother’s Day weekend), will have met their maker. In other words, some plants gonna die, or I should say, all plants gonna die sooner or later. It is a part of the circle of life. (Lion King, anyone?)

I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite quotes from garden-center goers.

I have 4 crape myrtles and none of them bloom. I’m here to buy another one. 

So you want 5 non-blooming crape myrtles? Okay. Let’s go pick out a pretty one.

I need a plant that stays 4’10” tall, is yellow and evergreen.

Amazingly, we generally find these “specific-plant-or-no-plant-folks” something that will work.

Do you make perennials that don’t lose their leaves and will bloom in winter?

I’ve yet to make a plant, which is why I’m counting days instead of money, but I can show you the silk department.

What do I do with the dead leaves from my perennial plants? Do I need to leave them there so the new leaves will come up?

Might as well. I haven’t cleaned up my garden in years. Sort of the case of the cobbler with no shoes, but hey, aside from the diseases and pests, everything is doing great.

If I buy 1 rose, will it split into 2?

That explains the roses that are popping up all over my yard. The darn things are splitting themselves in half when I’m not looking, and propagating everywhere.

Lastly, What is wrong with these plants. They keep dying. 

What can I say? Plants gonna die.

Plants Gonna Die, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

The mangled roots (poorly planted, roots should not look like that coming out of the ground, but that’s another blog), of a Japanese Magnolia, removed by Erica, our amazing grounds-keeper/designer. All I’ll say is, someone who knows better planted that. So sometimes, even the experts kill trees (or shrubs).




The Pocketbook, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

The Pocketbook

My mom, Frankie Ann, was the worst gift-giver.

I’d tell her exactly what to get–say a new book. I’d give her the title, the author, the date of publication, and I’d go by the store–the one that wasn’t “weird with no parking”–and tell the salesclerk to hold it for Mom. Her one task? To pick it up and pay for it.  Then gift day rolled around, and she’d proudly hand me some useless kitchen gadget. I don’t cook. And no, it wasn’t a hint to start cooking. She didn’t cook, either. She just tanked at giving gifts, and seriously there was no following her thinking on this, though she had a thought behind it. It was always a puzzlement to me. But, I did inherit this trait. My gifts are always last minute and so lackluster. (To all my dear friends, I apologize.)

But, Frankie Ann was stylish. One day we were having lunch at a favorite spot, having what she called, “our expensive salads,”  and she randomly pulled out a new pocketbook and said, “I can’t stand that purse you’re carrying, here I got you this one.” It rocked. A hot, little neon-blue number that I got a billion compliments on.

Thus, began the years of the purse-gift. From that day on, the only gift mom was allowed to give me was a pocketbook.

Solved her problem of tanking at gifts, and my problem of picking out ridiculous and cheap pocketbooks. (I hate dropping cash on a purse. I’ll spend whatever on shoes or a shirt, but a pocketbook? I’m always like, don’t you have one for $10? No. Of course, they don’t.)

The purse-gift became famous with my friends. When they saw the edgy-cute camo bag from Charming Charlie’s hanging over my shoulder, they said, “Frankie Ann?”  Yep.

We kept the purse-gift up for about a decade. Then she died on July 28 last year, very unexpectedly, and when fall came, I didn’t know what to do. I stood in Kohl’s just staring at the pocketbooks.

I dug out an old one and carried it–seams torn, and straps unraveling. (I’m pretty hard on a purse.)

Skip ahead to April 4, my birthday, and yet another pocketbook dilemma. My birthdays aren’t much fun anymore. One, I’m getting way too old way too fast. Two, my kids aren’t around to help celebrate. Three, mom isn’t here and, you know, when the other person who was there with you on the actual day of is gone, it’s just wrong.

But friends help, and plenty of mine showed up to wow the day. My friend Debbie and I share what I call the birthday week, meaning we can technically celebrate all week, if we want. I’m the 4th, she’s the 10th. I made the dinner reservations. She drove. The minute I got in the car, and saw the gift bag, I knew I’d been up-gifted.

She said she tried to channel Mom to give me just the right gift. You’d think I would have figured that out immediately, but I didn’t and was curious if I was going to get another useless kitchen gadget. (Channeling can go so wrong.) But Frankie Ann showed up in the channeling, and I got my birthday purse. The best, most thoughtful gift ever. Mom would’ve approved.

The Pocketbook, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Love the color. It’s smiling because it found it’s happy home.


I often say, because my mom’s death was so sudden, that I feel as though someone opened a door and pushed her through it. My granddaughter, who loved her Maurme (Frankie Ann), asked, “When is Maurme coming back?” Oh my. I keep asking the same thing. Will someone please open that door and push my mother back through?

But for that moment, in the gift of the pocketbook, Mom did come back. Debbie did channel mom, though maybe not as she thought, by picking out the coolest purse ever. She channeled her because she did something only moms do. She remembered.

What's a Japonica? Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Do You Sell Japonica?

How many times in one day can you answer the same question? As many times as you’re asked it.

I work in a garden retail store, and tis the season to buy plants (hallelujah). There’s a sudden panic that hits when warm weather comes. Customers know that stores get in fresh material weekly, and if they want the best, and not the picked-over stuff, they better get in there and start buying. Fair enough, although, we keep fresh material coming all year–just FYI.

With this sudden panic comes loads of questions. Here are a few of the staff’s favorites.

1. Do you carry Japonica?

Yes, we do! Lots of them. Katsura japonica is my favorite tree. There’s Kerria japonica and it’s great because it blooms nicely in shade. Chaenomeles japonica is blooming now. The red blooms of the ‘Texas Scarlett’ are stunning.  Oh? You want an evergreen? Cryptomeria japonica is great. There’s ‘Black Dragon,’ ‘Yoshino,’ and ‘Elegans Nana’ is cute, and about a billion more in the cryptos. Are any of these the Japonica you’re looking for?

Of course the list goes on because how many botanical names have Japonica in them? Almost every plant that has its origins in Japan.

My boss and Kenny, my co-worker (both of whom have worked there forever), translated this question: Do you sell Pieris japonica? Ah, yes we do. A broad leaf evergreen of the Ericaceae family. You know, like rhododendrons, and azaleas. Pretty panicles of bloom and more upright than wide. Moving on.

2. When are your roses coming in?

Mid-April. (This is actually the top question, but it wasn’t my favorite so it gets second billing.)

3. What can I plant on my bank?

Okay, so, I hate this question. People flock to Western North Carolina because they envision themselves living on a mountaintop with a view. Ever tried to build a house on a mountaintop? Not many flat places up there. But builders will be builders, and they’re going to make their money, so they slice hillsides (in some cases literal mountains) in 1/2 and then use that dirt to form a flat place. It’s called cut and fill, or changing the topography, something that in my book you should not do on that level. Then the builders leave, and guess what the homeowners have besides a view? Erosion. Thus, banks of ivy (invasive), or cotoneaster (looks hideous), or a small forest of juniper. Or my favorite, if it’s so steep you can’t walk up it, African Love Grass. These poor homeowners come in daily asking what can I do?

A few more favorites from staff:

  • Why won’t my (fill in the blank) bloom? (Top two: hydrangeas and crape myrtles)
  • What should I spray on this? (Holding in their palm a black, shriveled up leaf that resembles nothing green and growing.)
  • When are your tomatoes coming in? (Again, tomatoes won’t grow if its 50° or below.)
  • Can I plant (fill in the blank) this now? (Ten day forecast is 26° low at nights.)
  • What was that pretty plant I got from you last year? (So tempted to answer that is was an 800 dollar Japanese maple, and would they like another one?)
  • Why are your plants so expensive? (Ever heard the phrase you get what you pay for?)
  • Do you have that plant that is green, and has flowers that are (name the color) on it? (We can answer this one. It’s whatever is blooming at the time.)
  • Do you have anything evergreen that blooms all summer? (I am in the process of discussing this one with God. I will get back to you on it.)

Hey, keep those questions coming. It feeds our egos, and makes us feel smart for a day because we can answer them. And, none of us fall into the super-smart category. Well, Kenny does. And my boss was almost a Morehead scholar, so I guess he does. Ellen knows more about plants than I’ll ever know, so yeah, she’s got the smarts. Sarah came out of the womb smart. Alex inherited his smarts. Chris is street smart, common sense smart, and amazingly plant smart. So, that leaves me. The ditsy blonde with the blank look. Okay, so ask me. I need to feel smart sometimes, too.

Do You Sell Japonica? Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner, quince blooms

Chaenomeles japonica or Flowering Quince




white house, say no to the task, yes to the person, transplanted and still blooming, cinthia milner

Say No to the Task. Say Yes to the Person.

Is no your favorite word? It has been mine. Not so much anymore, although I’m a bit late joining the yes wagon.

Why do we gravitate to no?

When my kids were little, before they even finished their sentence, I was already on NO. They tricked me a few times. “Mom, you want us to clean the bathrooms?” No. Oh, wait a minute. What did you say? Of course, I wasn’t listening, but it’s more than that, isn’t it? Something in our DNA makes us want to say no.

Or is it because we’re told no, over and over? So that, after a while, we quit asking or speaking. Got a boss that only has a no vocabulary, and so you’ve given up with the ideas? You just quit bringing new thoughts or new suggestions to the table because you already know they’ll be tabled? Or a spouse that is going to say no again to date night? Or a long-needed project? Or a walk and a conversation?

I knew this guy once whose father was a small-town, Illinois judge. His mother was a stay-at-home-mom. They lived on a quaint street where children rode their bikes to school. A white, clapboard house with lots of character, but small rooms describes their house. The story goes that the mom asked for years for a wall to be knocked down between rooms, opening up the interior space. The father repeatedly said, “No, that’s a load-bearing wall.” As it turns out, every wall in that house was evidently a load-bearing wall. He said no, and she finally quit asking. He regretted that later, before he died. Why hadn’t he done this one thing for his wife? If it meant so much to her that she asked over-and-over for years, why did he say no? And, when had finally she quit asking?

There. That’s the question to ponder. When did they (fill in the blank–your employees, the people you supervise at work, your spouse, your kids, your friends) quit asking? When did they finally become silent? Or do we silence them?

We all need to say no to more tasks. Our plates are full. I know. The trade I’m in is a feast or famine industry, and right now, everyone I work with is being pulled every which way but Sunday. So, no has its place. But my point is not that we should take on more.

My point is to say no to the task, and yes to the person.

conifer garden, transplanted and still blooming, cinthia milner, jon merrill

Cool Conifer Garden Pictures (You have to see these!)

Here are some great conifer pictures taken and shared by Jon Merrill, General Manager at the store. Feast your eyes on color, texture and year-round enjoyment in the garden.

conifer gardens, transplanted and still blooming, cinthia milner, jon merrill

Notice the Japanese maple? They are great companion plants for a conifer garden.


conifer gardens, transplanted and still blooming, cinthia milner, jon merrill

Look at that blue, and the weeping maple. The layered look (a garden), and the containers. If you don’t have room for large trees or shrubs, containers are always fun.


conifer gardens, transplanted and still blooming, cinthia milner, jon merrill

It’s called a poodle tree and any conifer will do. I’ve seen poodle pines, poodle chamcaecyparis. Poodle it and even big, burly men will buy it. Although, one guy said he would never call his tree “poodle anything,” he was going to call it his staggered tree. Whatever, it’s a poodle tree,

conifer garden, transplanted and still blooming, cinthia milner, jon merrill

See? You don’t need a big space. Just a front yard. Cute, small house. Amazing conifer garden. Love it.

conifer garden, transplanted and still blooming, cinthia milner, jon merrill

Color, color, color. And, some of these evergreens turn beautiful, burnished colors in fall/winter. So, no more boring deciduous winters. I do feel my winters are a bit deciduous. I think I’ll write a book about it: The Winter of My Deciduous Discontent. No?

conifer gardens, transplanted and still blooming, cinthia milner, jon merrill

How many times am I asked a day, “What can I use to screen my neighbors?” (Seems we all have neighbor issues.) These conifers will screen out the whole dang development. Add in The Wave (look at the cutie at the front) and well, you’re waving good-bye to all those nosy neighbors.

conifer garden, transplanted and still blooming, cinthia milner, jon merrill

Garden path, anyone? Who says you can’t have conifers and perennials at the same time?

conifer garden, transplanted and still blooming, cinthia milner, jon merrill

Here’s Jon. He’s 6’4″. Can you guess how tall that tree is?

For the how-to of planning and growing a conifer garden, click here.




jappalachian gardens, transplanted and still blooming, conifer gardens, cinthia milner, jon merrill

Jappalachian Gardens

(What’s a Conifer Garden with Jon Merrill)

The picture at the top of this page makes your heart hurt, right? Who knew conifers could be so beautiful and varied, and, for pete’s sake, combine to make a such a statement of a garden? My boss, that’s who. He’s the general manager for the store where I am employed, the buyer for our conifers, a past Duke University football captain, a husband, a father, a worship leader, and yes, a serious conifer lover. So, I’ll let him tell you about conifers and why you want a conifer garden, because you do, you really, really do, want a conifer garden. (One and done, anyone?)

Let’s start with the basics. What is a conifer? 

Simple definition is a plant that bears cones.  Like every definition, there are some exceptions to the rule, such as junipers and yews the produce berries or fruit.

So, what’s a conifer garden? 

Conifer gardens are put together to show of the various colors, textures and growth patterns that these wonderful plants exhibit.  Unlike other gardens, that use masses or multiples of plants, conifer gardens typically use one of each plant.  Each plant is almost its own specimen when viewing, but the best way show off each plant’s individual characteristics is by having plants around it that have a different look, either in growth habit, color, or texture – sometimes all three. 

Do you need tons of space for a conifer garden? And tons of money? 

Conifer gardens don’t have to be very expensive. Many of the true dwarf and miniature conifers can have a relatively big price tag, but the garden does not have to be filled with them.  Conifers don’t require lots of attention like a perennial garden.  So, even if the initial cost of installation is a little more expensive, the yearly maintenance and time is much less.  Conifer gardening can be in any size or space you choose.  

Will I tend to my conifer garden differently?

Tending your conifer garden, once established, is pretty easy. Keep the weeds out (like any garden), some fertilization is always helpful, then grab a glass of wine and admire.  Conifers don’t need annual pruning or cutting back.  No dividing necessary.  Once they get their roots out, as a general rule they are very drought tolerant.

What are the cultural requirements of a conifer garden?

Conifers need well drained, acidic soil, (5.2-5.8 ph), and the majority want lots of sun. 5-6 hours of direct sunlight. To me, they usually look best when planned and implemented on slopes or contoured garden beds.

What is your staple for a conifer garden? 

This may sound funny, but every conifer garden needs a Japanese Maple or other dwarf deciduous tree. The ever changing colors on many of the dwarf forms of maples adds some needed structure and foliage contrast.

What if I live in a really hot or cold climate?

Conifers can be used in all climates. The palette of plants and placement of the garden may need to change though.  For example, in very hot climates you would not use Blue Spruce or Firs but you can use Auracaria, Cypress, and even podocarpus.   In some very hot areas, you may also need to have a little less afternoon sun, especially on some of the variegated, true dwarf and miniature plants.  They could potentially burn in very hot locations.

Got a favorite conifer?

If I have to pick one Genus of conifer, it is Chamaecyparis. Within the different species, you can get every color, size, shape, growth habit and texture available.  From giant 50-60’ trees to miniatures that might get 1 foot in 15 years.  Blues, yellows, and greens, columnar and weeping, round or spreading, Chamaecyparis have it all.  

We aren’t just talking foundation plants are we? I live on the corner of a four-way stop, doesn’t seem like a conifer garden space to me.

Your foundation plants don’t have to be little boxwood meatballs lining the brick. With the different heights, textures, and colors, it could be a conifer garden.  A corner bed in the yard at the four way stop can be your conifer garden (it will make the neighbors jealous!).  Around the back patio or deck, do you need some evergreen bones?  A conifer garden!  Need some new containers on front porch, yep, you guessed it, conifers! Conifers aren’t pretentious, or needy.  They work in simple designs and elegant botanical gardens.  From containers to large screens everyone needs to be gardening with conifers.

What about color in my conifer garden? 

Chamaecyparis ‘Gimborn Beauty’ ,Thuja ‘Fire Chief’, Chamaecyparis ‘Crippsii’, Juniper ‘Grey Owl’ and ‘Blue Star’, Picea ‘Niemetz’, Picea ‘Montgomery’ , Cryptomeria ‘Golden Promise’, Picea ‘Rubra Spicata’ and ‘Acrocona’ – just look up some pictures of these plants and you will see amazing color, and not a flower in sight.

What’s their growth rate?

Check out the American Conifer Society website that gives the classifications of conifers. ACS has established four size categories- Miniature, Dwarf, Intermediate and Large – to aid in landscape design. Once established, these plants’ growth may vary some due to cultural, climatic and geographical conditions but registered cultivars have, through trials and succeeding generations, maintained their described size. The individual plant records in the ACS Conifer Database contain this information.

Landscape designers have only recently discovered dwarf conifers as housing prices climbed and lot sizes shrank. Virtually every major conifer species has a number of cultivars that defy their species by growing only a few inches a year – or less – thereby giving a small garden a palette of evergreen colors, textures and shapes that will hold together for many years, decades even.

 Can any grow in shade?

As far as shade goes, many of the Taxus and Cephalotaxus, as well as, microbiota need some shade.   Some true miniature and dwarf Chamaecyparis and Pines with variegation or yellow foliage need some afternoon shade or the foliage can burn.  Depending on the look that you need in a certain shady location, you can use some of the Chamaecyparis or Arborvitae as long as you consider that the plant, over time, will loosen up in growth habit and not be as dense as it would in more sun.

What about the bloom?

You can grow anything you want in your conifer garden. Ornamental grasses are an excellent contrast to conifers.  Flowering groundcovers are amazing to mix in.  The series of plants called Toe Ticklers, a wonderful mixture of evergreen and deciduous groundcovers are a perfect combination.  Many of the oriental themed gardens that you see always have mixtures of conifers and flowering shrubs.

Best Time to Plant?

In our area, conifers can be planted year round, as long as the ground in not frozen. I usually suggest spring planting with any very specialty plants, just so they have a chance to get somewhat established before winter.  Fertilization – in general, conifers need less nutrient levels than broadleaf plants but I recommend using a good well balanced, organic fertilizer that contains all the micronutrient that plants need as well.  It’s not just N-P-K.  I have fertilizers that I would recommend but I will avoid any brand names.

Any issues we need to know about?

It varies depending on the type of plants. There are some needle and twig blights that can cause dieback on some spruce, juniper and Leyland cypress.  The main insects to scout for are spider mites and bagworms.

Do you design conifer gardens?

I am not a master at conifer garden design, but I do work with customers daily when they are looking for the “Jappalachian” garden. I love the term because we can mix in many of our native with conifers for  a wonderful garden.

Thank you Jon! (For a great how-to on container gardening from our store’s guru of containers, click here. )

jon merrill transplanted and still blooming cinthia milner jappalachain gardens