My Picket Fence Garden

Some of my clients just want an audience. I know how they feel. When I lived at South Turkey Creek, my garden was beautiful, but it was for the benefit of one–me. We lived off an old logging road, off a secondary road that was so far out a friend of mine brought milk and bread when she visited. Our home wasn’t visible from the road, and my garden was only seen by those who drove down our driveway, and they had to get through a locked farm gate.

So, I get it when someone calls for an appointment and I drive up and think, they do not need my help, but I am getting the camera out because oh my gosh. Sometimes, it’s a legit question, or they need another eye on the garden because it feels “off”. But when my sole contribution to the hour is to suggest white wood’s aster for fall shade areas, I know they mostly wanted garden company and someone to appreciate their creation. Don’t we all? If we create it, don’t we want someone to see that creation?

That’s how I feel about my picket fence garden on the west side of my current house, where I moved to from South Turkey Creek. I finally have an audience.

My picket fence runs parallel to the sidewalk and the street and has a small planting space on either side of the fence, a pathway, and a row of azaleas against the house. My house sits at a four-way stop and while I live in a small town, it is a short-cut for many, so there are lots of drivebys for the garden, plus all the walkers, runners, moms with baby joggers, couples in the late evenings, dog walkers, bicyclists, pretty much the whole dang town. I love it. I break every garden coaching rule in the book and do as my friend Carol says: “We can be subtle all winter, in summer lets break out some color.”

In the horticultural world, there’s a bit of snobbery around plants. Some plants are considered “tacky” others are considered “acceptable” in the garden because, well, only horticulturists know them. The more obscure, the better. Example: My gladiolus, which just finished blooming, would be scorned by many of my more plant-knowledgable friends. But my mountain mint (Pycanthemum muticum) which is planted next to my Astilboides tabularis is adored.  Lest you think I am exempt from this snobbery, I promise I am not.

But now that I have an audience, I don’t care about horticulturally correct plants. I’m going for the fame, and I am shameless about it. I garden when my neighbors are walking or driving home from work. Why? Because that’s when they all stop to say how beautiful it all is.  Aggie knows the drill. She stands next to me, looking adorable while I weed, and people stop and say, “I love your flowers. Thank you so much for doing this.” One guy yelled from his car that my garden made his day especially since his kids were such brats (yes, his kids were in the car). It’s enough to make up for all those years when I gardened in oblivion. What I know about most people is that they don’t work in beautiful gardens like I do. They work in cubicles. They work in hospitals, convenience stores, office buildings, classrooms, patrol cars, firetrucks, insurance offices, stores, and restaurants. They don’t drive up to beautiful homes with magazine-worthy gardens and stroll around the landscape.

Echinacea? They love it. Orange daylilies? They’re so pretty.

I throw so much color at that fence I expect to explode and the more color I plant, the more people stop. I’m not trying to teach them anything about ornamental gardening. I am creating a 35′ length of sidewalk for them to enjoy during snippets of their day. Nothing brings me more pleasure because this world is hard. And gardens bring joy.

I am asked all the time if I ever envy the gardens of my clients. No, I don’t. I mean they’re lovely, unbelievable works of art that I wish everyone could see and enjoy, but everyone gets to see my picket fence garden. They only have to drive by or walk the dog. They can smell the roses, stoop over to examine the salvia, exclaim over 4′ tall allium, wonder what a passion flower is or just stand there enjoying. I change it up every year. I add and subtract and see what works, but there are no rules of design or even maintenance. I don’t worry about the weeds overly much because they don’t notice them. They just see the dinner-plate dahlias and swoon. It’s nice to toss out everything I know and just plant what I think will make people happy. Some years I plant vegetables, some years elephant ears, but every year I plant sunflowers because they all love those.

The best part of sharing this garden with all my neighbors? They tell me stories of the gardens they remember. Maybe an aunt’s, or a grandmother, or their father, but they love to tell me and I love to listen. They don’t know the names of the most basic flowers, but they remember those flowers from loved one’s gardens. And for reasons only the gardeners know, those stories almost always bring tears. I like to think they’re healing tears.

 

 

 

My Back Porch

 

B.B. Barns, my place of employment, has a container specialist. Her job is designing and installing containers for clients. Of course, everyone wants that job because it sounds so cool (it is). I’m the garden coach. I help people with their landscapes, everything from what is in it (plant identification) to how to take care of it (a lot of pruning lessons) to plant diagnostics (Japanese beetles or voles almost always) to small designs (limited to the front foundation or perennial borders mostly). I don’t help with containers. Instead, I ask our container designer for tips. She really is the best.

But once in a blue moon, a client will ask me, “What about my porch?” They mean, of course, what should I do to make my porch more inviting?

I’m not our container specialist, but I do know the number one reason a porch doesn’t typically “work.” She told me.

Bigger, I say.

Huh?

Bigger. The scale is off. You’ve got a million dollar porch with a bunch of tiny plants from Lowe’s on even tinier plant stands. Pretend you’re in Florida.

I don’t know why, but the minute I say pretend you’re in Florida, folks know what I mean. Big plants, big pillows, big pots, even if your furniture is small. Forget tiny plant stands filled with 6″ pots of bromeliads. Get giant elephant ears potted in giant pots and placed behind your furniture. Just do everything bigger. When none of the plants or furniture come above the 3.5′ porch railing, and the ceilings are 10′ high, the scale is off.

Stand back and look at your porch. The first thing you’ll notice is all the blank air above the railing and how dwarfed the furniture looks. Now imagine big tall plants behind the furniture. Or imagine those hanging Boston ferns hanging much lower (instead of almost touching the ceiling) and filling up the airspace. See? That’s what’s missing.

My neighbors have a plantain style porch with at least 18′ ceilings, wicker furniture and dinkiest black, rod iron plant stands covered in tiny pots of geraniums. Small pots of ivy line the porch railing. I am tempted, every time I walk Aggie by their house and they are sitting on their porch, to holler, “Go bigger!” I’m betting she knows something is off because even when you don’t “know,” you “know.”

My own back porch is the reason I haven’t moved from this house, though my children keep having children so the probability is high that I’ll move if I ever want all my grandchildren in my house at the same time. Although, yesterday I contemplated turning the screen porch into a sleeping porch, as much for me as for them. I think they would love sleeping out there at night surrounded by a canopy of cherry trees and that would solve the space issue.

I use my porch year round. As noted, it is screened and quiet even though my house sits on a corner lot at a four-way stop. I am purposeful about how I decorate it because it’s my favorite place to be. Aggie likes it too, and we’ve spent hours at night sitting in the dark letting the air and the quiet calm us down before bed-time or my favorite, drinking early morning coffee before the world starts moving.

I don’t know if it means the same thing in other parts of the country, but in the South the word porch and sit are synonyms. I’m old enough to remember the phrase “sit a spell,” and I don’t mind if I do. But, the best thing about any porch is how they ease anxiety in an anxiety-ridden world. What is it about a space where permission is given to do nothing but sit, and rocking chairs and gliders calm jangled nerves of adults and fussy babies? It’s magic, of course. Porches are magic spaces, at least mine is.

My fish pillow, of which I am very proud, is almost the same size as the glider. It’s the prominent feature of the porch. Right beside the glider is a metal and wood plant stand (I don’t love but it is budget friendly at the moment) with 10″ Kimberly Queen ferns that provide privacy from the road. On the other side of the porch, but large enough to reach both sides is my elephant ears plant. It provides privacy, vertical height, and interest.

Aggie listens to my back porch musings while dreaming of a ceiling fan above her. Her favorite season is winter.

I use Kimberly Queen ferns over Boston ferns because I love their upright habit (instead of drooping) and they’re drought tolerant. I go weeks forgetting to water them and they don’t mind. I use them on the porch where I want privacy and green, and in containerrs in the garden where I can’t plant because of tree roots.

For the vertical space, I love my elephant ears but I also like hanging baskets. This is a new cachepot with a philodendron.

View from my back steps. I love that the last owner put the canvas porch awning on the outside to shield the sun. It’s functional but helps create an intimate space.

My garden is right out the back door, so I keep garden tools in a little basket by the kitchen door. Also, handy is a hammer (saving trips to the garage where tools are kept) and a bottle of mosquito repellent by I MUST GARDEN. I live in a rain forest, so bug spray (all natural) is crucial.

Nothing on my porch is expensive. Here’s the place where I say expensive doesn’t matter, and honestly, it doesn’t in the big picture of life, but it is nice. I know because I sit on it at work and expensive is very comfortable (my fish pillow is my splurge). Still, bottom line: You can make plastic Adirondack chairs cozy and comfortable with the right cushions from Amazon.

Sunday porch time.

Extra touches: An old Smith and Hawken metal flower vase that I still use, a canister full of bird seed, and another splurge, a Guy Wolff terra cotta pot.

 

I leave the porch door open and it makes my house feel bigger and open. View from the living room.

Final thought: Be sure to add lanterns with candles in them. You’ll be so glad you did.

The Gardener is Thankful for the Gardeners

I rent a little brick rancher. It’s a lovely home and I am happy here, sans a garden. I dream of a space for a Cinthia-designed (i.e. a quirky mix of formal and not-so-formal) garden but until, or if that happens, I am blessed to live near a park.

Aggie and I walk to Silvermont Park almost every day. It’s a couple of blocks from our home. It took us awhile to discover it because I thought it was just a big, old house. But, one day we went exploring and found a vegetable garden, woodland garden, butterfly garden, shade garden, native garden, and walking paths. Even free doggie bags (I make good use of those).

There is always something in bloom, little surprises tucked around corners and quiet spaces for reflecting. I am grateful to the crew of Master Gardeners I often see there. They volunteer their time and efforts to plant, prune, transplant, divide, cut back, cut down, weed, design, water, the list and the work goes on. I’ve watched them teach elementary school kids about bees, stage open house days, pumpkin patch sales, and a Halloween “garden path of horrors” called The Twilight Trail.

The building is now for senior citizen activities. There’s a small playground for kids, a basketball court for the teens, and a tennis court where people get private lessons, and I am completely convinced that one day I will sign up for those lessons.

But mostly, Aggie and I revel in the plants we miss in our rental yard, the quiet of woodland paths and the benches tucked away for Sunday afternoons. I found Silvermont one January morning in 2017. We’ve explored the whole of it and never tire of it.

It is my solace in a world that often seems too big for a gardener. It is my secret haven, just two blocks up and one block over. It is what I look forward to on Sunday afternoons, balancing book, coffee, camera and Aggie’s leash. Hours are spent there literally thinking of nothing, or clicking away with my camera.

Check it out.  This is a year in pictures. A big thank you to all those people who help create this space for my dog and I. A gardener without a garden appreciates it indeed.

 

Five Years of Blur and Two Timelines

Fortunately, my daughter-in-law remembers everything because the last five years, for me, were a blur. I’ve worked two jobs most of the time and three jobs a lot of the time. When I finally got a full-time, benefits, paid vacation days job, I slowed down a bit. Enough to notice that I really couldn’t say what had happened in my 1/2 decade.

I knew the big stuff. My husband left for a woman he said God gave to him. God confirmed the gift of this woman through a Scripture verse and a dream, according to my ex. (The good thing about somebody saying something like that to you is this: 1. You entertain the notion that perhaps God did exactly that. After all, God can do whatever God pleases. And, if he did give your husband a new wife, well then you’re left speechless regarding the matter. 2. You look at your husband and think, dear God, you’re insane. Which again, leaves you speechless. Likely the only time I was speechless during our divorce. So, there’s that.)

What I couldn’t do was fill in the day-to-day stuff, or the traditions. What had my family done, say, last Christmas?

My daughter-in-law to the rescue. She helped me fill in the gaps from holidays to my own daily life. She remembers every stinking detail, but she also cares, and that’s huge for a daughter-in-law and for a young mom with gaps of her own to fill in.

She helped me make a timeline. I am floored when I review it. Some of the highlights: New job, new home, new friends, new town, new church (that’s a lie, still no new church), new hair, new clothes, new dog, new furniture, new car, new, new, new.

The lowlights: My dear Donna getting brain cancer and dying. This July, it will be a year. I still don’t know how to think about that. My mom dropping over dead in her home, alone, three years ago in July. I still don’t know how to think about that, either. My brother-in-law dying unexpectedly, another dear friend and teacher of my children, an uncle, my father-in-law, all have died. I suppose you never really grow up until both parents have died. I can say I’m a grown-up now.

Big highlight: Two more grandchildren were born, and now I have three completely adorable granddaughters who will one day rule the world for good.

timeline

I went on a trip to California for 10 days, and it completely cleared my head (for ten days). I should do that again. I went to the Keys for 9 days with my grandchildren which did not clear my head but was a blast. Moment-memory making stuff.

Oddly, I spent time with all my old boyfriends. Not because I called them up, mostly because I ran into them. I feel certain they all breathed a sigh of relief after seeing me at almost 60. Likely, I am no longer the one that got away. And, maybe they aren’t for me either, now.

I spent a ridiculous amount of money establishing this new life, but it was necessary.

I have been doing life these past five years with a determination and defiance that astonishes this introvert. Where did all that drive come from? It is amazing how quickly life can wake you up, out of your doldrums, and get you moving when money is needed to put a roof over your head and food on the table. What the ex did stings, but there’s no time to think about him and his new woman. (She’s gone now, too. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.) There’s no time to think, period. And, that is a good thing. I used to think too much.

Sometimes, reflection is good. Sometimes, reflection is paralyzing. Going through my divorce I was terrified to make a decision for fear of making a wrong one. I processed what went wrong, what I did wrong, what I could have done differently. I don’t have time for that now. Now, I am quick to make decisions because there is no time to luxuriate in the what-ifs. And, when I make a bad decision, I don’t have time to fret over it or beat myself up. I only have time to get back up and go to work. Work is a huge blessing.

I remember once, while still married and mom to little ones, I did the same thing, came to a full-on stop and wondered, what have I been doing for the last decade? I made a timeline then, too. The result, as I reviewed that timeline? I realized how much I loved my life. I wasn’t missing it because I was busy with two little boys, a husband, a home and all that entails. I was living it. It was perfect and I loved it.

The result as I read over this current timeline? I am in love with my life. There are so many people I miss, dear Donna, my parents, but they are here in a way I didn’t really expect them to be because well, I don’t watch Hallmark movies. (Okay, another lie, I do watch them, I just don’t believe they’re true.) I didn’t expect to “feel” their presence with me every day as I do. Donna’s voice is never far from my ears, coaxing me on in my faith. Mom’s sheer force of will pushes me when I’m not sure of myself. My faith tells me that I will be with them again, and, I cling to that. I am looking forward to everyone not just being in the same time zone, but literally in the same world.

I admit I didn’t expect the result to be that I loved my life when I reviewed this latest timeline. I mean, come on, I am never going to be able to retire. That alone should make me stomp my feet. But I do love this life. For several reasons. 1. It is life. I am waking up each day. 2. I have so very much to be grateful for and content about. 3. Turns out I haven’t a clue if God gave my ex his new woman or if he gave him the newer woman after her. I haven’t given it much thought, really. But here’s what God gave to me, myself. Aside from the gifts of himself, my children, my grandchildren, and my daughter-in-law, I’m one of his best gifts he’s ever given me.

Turns out it isn’t that so much has happened in my life these last five years that it was a blur. Again, it’s that I have been living my life. The life that didn’t go as I had planned, perhaps, but that is still my life. The timeline presents no theme, no plot line or thread that one can follow and say, oh this is where she came from and this is where she is headed. But it does show you that she is alive. And that is a good thing.

 

 

 

Top 5 Plants for Indoor Toxins

In 1989, NASA teamed up with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) to study the affects of houseplants on indoor toxins, with a goal of improving the quality of indoor air. Their goal was cleaner space station air, but their findings proved useful for our well-insulated, energy efficient homes, as well. On this rainy, winter day, it’s good to know our houseplants (3 per room is recommended, but 1 makes a difference) are helping to keep our homes free of toxins while we sip hot chocolate with our feet to the fire.

Below is NASA’s chart of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), or household toxins, common to most homes. We all know being outside in nature is great for stress reduction, and filling our lungs with fresh oxygen, so bringing plants indoors just makes sense. Now, with NASA’s study, it makes even more sense.

Houseplants can absorb unwanted indoor toxins through their leaves and roots, thus purifying indoor air. The benefits keep piling up: Stress reduction, fresh oxygen, and purified air.

NASA Volatile Organic Compounds

Here are 5 easy-to-grow houseplants with super “cleaning powers.”

1. Peace Lily. These are great starter plants for beginners. The deep, green leaves give every room a pick-me-up. They manage well in low, natural light, such as light from a north or north eastern window. They tell you when it’s time to water. (They start to droop, and then immediately after watering, perk up–though that is stressful for the plant, and not recommended). They’re also one of the few plants that remove all five indoor toxins, making them pretty much a have-to-have plant. And, bonus: They have nice white blooms.

2. Mother-in-Law Tongue. There’s a reason this plant is found in restaurants and bars. Like the Peace Lily their light requirements is also low, natural light. They aren’t super thirsty plants, and the variegated cultivar works best for cleaning up the toxins. It absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen during the night (most plants do so during the day), so the bedroom is a perfect place for these plants for a clean-air boost while sleeping. These plants remove four of the indoor toxins, leaving only ammonia for the Peace lily to clean up.

3. English ivy is a beautiful plant indoors. Outside, it’s invasive and destructive. Indoors it thrives well in medium, natural light, as in a south east window. It can be an interesting topiary, used in hanging baskets or added to other containers for trailers. It is most efficient for removing formaldehyde found in many household paper products.

4.Red-Edged Dracaena. This evergreen can get large in the right conditions (8-15′ tall and 3-6′ wide), but is relatively easy to care for. It tolerates sun or shade but prefers relief from a hot afternoon sun. It does well with moderate water, (is fairly drought tolerant) and handles almost any soil conditions. It removes indoor toxins that seep indoors from lacquers, varnishes and gasoline.

5. Aloe Vera. A sunny, kitchen window is all this succulent plant needs (bright, natural light, such as light from a southern or western exposure). Little water, it propagates easily to give to friends, the gel inside its leaves is great for burns, and it removes chemicals from cleaners and paints. Can’t really say no to that.

Other studies, done by the American Horticulture Society, are proving still more useful benefits when you add plants as part of your indoor decor. Click here for a complete list of NASA’s suggested plants (Remember some of these plants are toxic to pets. Here’s a list for those plants.)

Random Weed Day (And Other Days)

I did learn a few things from my ex. It wasn’t all smoke and mirrors.

Like, don’t drink Mike’s Hard Lemonade before doing yoga. It throws your balance off. And, if you wait long enough, and are still enough, a copperhead will come back out of the woodshed (that you saw it go into 2 days before) and then you can kill it. (Got that?)

In the garden, I learned a few lessons, too. One crucial one was really, oh-so-simple. There’s always poison ivy. My 2016 garden exemplifies this truism. The poison ivy is spectacular while everything else is withering from heat and drought. Which brings me to random weed day.  Without benefit of the ex’s wisdom, I stumbled upon random weed day by myself. Well, that and Impulse Hill, but that’s another post.

It goes like this.

If you’re a gardener and you’ve lived long enough, you’ve planted way more than possible to tend too, and now it’s July with August bearing down on us, and lo and behold the weeds are aplenty. Where to begin? Ugh. It’s too hot to make a plan. It’s too hot to weed. Enter random weed day. You get to go into the garden, miss the poison ivy, but pull a few weeds here and there and bonus, call it a productive gardening day. Yes, that’s the icing on the cake for random weed day: You get to call the day productive. (I have a similar day called random exercise day, which again, is a post for another day.)

When random weed day is over, the garden will still look a mess, but you’ll feel better. A few of the real troublemakers are gone (that oriental bittersweet threatening to take over the hibiscus), so don’t diminish that. The hibiscus now survives the mess another day and soon September will come and you will return to the garden with a vengeance. And, you’ll step outside without wishing to die.

Why must every day end with a clean slate? Why must everyday’s to-do list be marked off right down to the bottom?

Admittedly some days are going to be Super-Saturday, where you wake up with a burst of energy that goes straight on until 6 p.m. when you do open that first Mike’s Hard Lemonade (having already done your yoga). But if I watch Little Kitty and Evil Kitty (my cats, of course), they have such wisdom regarding this heat. Nap on the screen porch, under the ceiling fan, where the dog can’t get to them, and sleep the day away.

It’s like Joe said about doing garden installs in this heat. “My feet feel like they have cinder blocks on them.”

Truer words. I want to follow Evil Kitty’s example, skip being evil for a bit and nap away. I did today, actually. Fell asleep on the glider and dreamed of rain. It was a heat-induced nap that reminded me of childhood and hot classrooms and teachers who bored you silly.

But it isn’t always the heat. Random weed day applies to all sorts of situations. Random friend day. (Like all their stuff on Facebook, but ignore the texts–phone died.) Random healthy eating day. (Throw a salad in with that Panera flatbread sandwich and chips and call it healthy.) Random return phone calls and emails day (close your eyes and pick).

I refuse to believe that every moment of my every day must be productive. Surely, some days should just give way to randomness. Surely, the mind should be allowed to wander every now and again, and the hands find nothing to do except whatever random thing is in front of them. Not every day, but a few random days here and there.

If that isn’t the sort of thing you can abide, then join my ex. I believe he is still sitting, waiting on that snake,

 

 

 

 

 

 

BB Barns Garden Center, Garden Tour, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Edible Gardening from BB Barns Garden Center

“Who doesn’t love homegrown tomatoes?” asks Letha Hinman, BB Barns Garden Center’s annual, veggie and herb buyer. One could also ask, after a visit to Letha’s garden, who doesn’t like rhubarb, shiitake mushrooms, hops, squash, fruits, raspberries, and more?

This blog kicks off BB Barns Garden Center’s Garden Tours for the month of August. Four brave employees volunteered to give you a peek into their gardens, so look for a new blog each week (A Native’s Garden, What Can You Plant on a Bank, Edibles and Ornamentals: From Barney Bryant) . Letha’s garden is first because, as she said, “Who doesn’t love homegrown anything?” And veggies are always a good place to start, especially if you are a beginner, because what’s more rewarding than eating what you grow?

A little background on Letha (for those who always wondered about our engaging annual buyer). Letha grew up in Minnesota on a rural dairy and poultry farm. When she wasn’t helping with farm chores, she was baking. Not much has changed. She’s still gardening and cooking. But, after marrying Naval officer, Mike Hinman, her food palette expanded to include foods from around the world as she and Mike lived the military life. Now, fish and lamb (discovered in Iceland) are a family favorite, and papaya and mango (from their time in Hawaii) are added to her table’s fare. BB Barns’ customers benefit from her vast gardening knowledge, but we co-workers have the privilege of benefiting from her culinary skills. Now, you can too. Read on for a great recipe provided by Letha. This one originates from her roots, Rhubarb Meringue Pie.  If you’re game, when you see Letha, ask her about her shiitake mushroom recipe. She might share that too.

Every good garden starts with a place to store tools and some bees. Welcome to Letha and Mike’s garden. Click on the pictures for additional information.

Letha’s garden contains the standard fare, spicy jalapeños, squash, and tomatoes of several varieties. (Click on each picture to find out what’s growing.) Her good fortune is a large space to spread out and grow everything from corn to onions, but Letha assures us small spaces produce large amounts too, even container gardens can feed a small family.

And while every garden has it’s standard fare (What’s a summer without cucs and squash?), Letha’s garden goes a step further. Husband Mike didn’t agree to share his brewing recipe with us, but his hops make for a very pretty picture. Climbing up a cage where the family tosses the rocks from the garden, the hops shine in the sunshine, hiding the rocks and showing that food can sometimes be functional and tasty.

BB Barns Garden Center, Garden Tours,  Hops, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Hops for Mike’s brewing hobby.

Letha’s love of new ideas keeps the annual department hopping (no pun intended), and last year she tried something very new. shiitake mushrooms inoculated on old logs. Normally, she gets a spring and fall crop, but this year, bonus, when we were taking pictures we discovered a summer crop!

Letha has traveled to places many of us only dream of, but her roots are Minnesota. The perennial rhubarb has a spot in her garden, and below the picture is a recipe shared from her years of baking. Give it a try, and, make a note now, so you won’t forget: It’s time to plant fall crops. Brussel sprouts, spinach, kale, lettuces, brocoli, all go in the ground now. Check out the new plants Letha just brought in, and yes, even beginners can start now.

Letha's rhubarb. Many assume because we're zone 7a, we can't grow it here, but we can. Rhubarb is definitely a cold weather lover, and so Letha's home place of MN even has rhubarb festivals, but we're right on the border of growing it. One hour down the road in Greenville and this perennial vegetable with its beautiful red stalks wouldn't make it.

Letha’s rhubarb. Many assume because we’re zone 7a, we can’t grow it here, but we can. Rhubarb is definitely a cold weather lover, and so Letha’s home place of MN even has rhubarb festivals, but we’re right on the border of growing it. One hour down the road in Greenville and this perennial vegetable with its beautiful red stalks wouldn’t make it.

From Garden to Table, Letha’s Rhubarb Meringue Pie:

Prepare one pie crust

  • Mix together 4 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar (some brown sugar can be used)
  • 1/4 cup minute tapioca
  • 6 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Dash of ground cloves
  • 1/4 cup of milk or cream
  • Let mixture set for 10 minutes. Then fill crust with mixture. Bake for 45 minutes at 400° degrees until set.

For meringue beat 4 to 6 eggs whites with 3/4 tsp cream of tarter on high until foamy. Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Stir in 1/2 tsp vanilla. Spread atop baked pie while still hot, starting with edges of crust making sure no gaps appear between crust and meringue. Then fill in center. Return to 350° for 15 minutes or until peaks of meringue are golden brown.

Thanks Letha and Mike for sharing your garden!

Container Gardening with edibles, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Edibles and Ornamentals: From Barney Bryant at BB Barns Garden Center

(The third “garden tour” of BB Barns employees. Hope it gives you inspiration. Check out Ellen’s garden, and Chris’ garden too. Enjoy!)

Twenty-six years of trucks have rolled into BB Barns Garden Center, carrying everything from tropical plants to trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials. We’re talking literally thousands of plants a year. You’d think, for co-owner, Barney Bryant, the excitement of these daily arrivals would’ve waned. Not so. Barn, as he is fondly called by friends and family, says very definitely, “I am passionate about people, plants and gardening,”  The nursery, located in Asheville, North Carolina, is a destination garden center, and it encompasses all three in that order. People. Plants. Gardening.

Barn, a certified plant geek, is still thrilled by the new cultivars and the old favorites. In his newest garden, one he calls a celebration of sun, Barn has returned to his mountain roots, growing dahlias and edibles side by side. A native of Franklin, North Carolina, he remembers his grandmother overwintering dahlias in her root cellar where it was cool and damp. He overwinters them in his garage, tucked away in vermiculite in dark boxes, where watering is limited to once a month. As the weather warms, the dahlias are pulled out of their dark winter homes, and by April 20th, they’re ready for planting. “Dahlias,” Barn says, “are great because they’re insect proof, and deer proof.”

BB Barns Garden Center, Red dahlias and coleus, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

‘Taxco’ and ‘Chiapas’ dahlias with ‘Mardi Gras’ and ‘Under the Sea’ Coleus. Before the dahlias emerge in early summer mixed greens are queen of this spot. While the dahlias are still blooming, lettuce, arugula, and other greens are seeded in for a fall crop here.

BB Barns Garden Center, Dahlia Border, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

The dahlia border; ‘Veracruz’ dahlias with ‘Little Lamb’ hydrangea paniculata and Dwarf Globe Blue Spruce

BB Barns Garden Center, Yellow Gardening tub, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

It’s possible to match your gardening tubs with your garden. Yellow gardening tub, yellow dahlias.

BB Barns Garden Center, corner of house used for herbs and veggies, transplanted and still blooming, Cinthia Milner

The corner kitchen: Right outside of Barn’s kitchen and next to the patio where he enjoys entertaining, are climbing cucumbers, and climbing spinach, Malabar spinach is a warm season spinach. It loves heat, and since it climbs, it is the perfect edible for a small garden. Used in salads and cooking. Moon vine, an annual vine that blooms in early to late fall, is climbing up behind the edibles. The dill is supported by the ‘Casa Blanca ‘Asiatic lilies that are just opening.

Casa Blance Asiatic lily

‘Casa Blanca’ Asiatic lily, highlighted by ‘Taxco’ dahlia, their sturdy stems could hold almost anything up, even heavy dill.

Barn loves to cook and garden, so it only makes sense that he combines the two. His taste in gardening leans toward an English cottage garden. His taste in cooking is more likely to lean toward his native mountain fare where vegetables were homegrown and home cooked. The garden reflects both.

His English garden approach is seen in his use of vines. “The English,” Barn says, “love their vines,” and Barn believes every garden should mix annual vines in with the perennial ones.

BB Barns Garden Center, Clematis 'Henryi', Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Clematis ‘Henryi’ and Thunbergia or Black Eyed Susan vine growing together on the edge of the house opposite the corner kitchen.

BB Barns Garden Center, Bergenia under soffitt, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

In keeping with the English Cottage Garden, no spot is left un-planted in Barn’s garden. No, this is not an edible, though it leaves look tasty. It is an ornamental bergenia, or pigsqueak. The common name belies it great use as a groundcover in dry shade (this is growing under the soffit), its beautiful magenta blooms in apring, and lovely burnished colors in fall.

BB Barns Garden Center, Kewensis with aralia, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

If Barn were asked for a favorite plant, he’d be hard pressed to give you one, but this Kewensis (Euonymus Kewensis Wintercreeper) would come close. A great dwarf groundcover that grows slowly, forms a thick mat, and attaches itself to walls. In front of it, Aralia ‘Sun King’ for a splash of lime green, and sweet box that is yellowing a bit. No garden is perfect, not even the owner’s garden!

BB Barns Garden Center, Malabar spinach, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Close-up of leaves of Malabar spinach. Barn says to use the young leaves and steam in lemon basil butter for 10 minutes. Simple and good.

BB Barns Garden Center, Malabar spinach and honeysuckle vines growing up the new arbor together, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

A new garden celebrating the sun, edibles and ornamentals. Growing up the arbor is Climbing Hydrangea, (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris for winter interest), Rosemoor’ Clematis (blooms May-September), and until those fill in the Malabar spinach is front and center. A perfect combination for those who love to cook and garden.

Header picture: container gardening and rhubarb growing over the steps

Lady in Red Hydrangea, What Can I Plant on a Bank, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

What Can You Plant on a Bank?

If you’ve shopped for perennials at BB Barns Garden Center, then you know we major on hostas. There’s a reason for that. Our perennial buyer, Chris Stone, loves her hostas. It wasn’t always true love, though. Like many who move to Western North Carolina, when she and husband Pat bought their “forever home” (their affectionate term for their charming mountain home), Chris was discouraged. Her previous job was crew leader at Epcot’s Morocco Pavilion. In Chris’ words, “All hot colors, reds, oranges, Tiffany roses, purples.” From the sunny land of Morocco, aka Orlando, she had to adjust to her new elevation (2800′), shade, and the fact that she now lived on the side of a cliff.

Sound familiar? In our top ten questions asked to the Outside Sales Staff at BB Barns, right up there in the top five is, What do you plant on a bank?

If you know our red-headed Chris, then you won’t be surprised that for her, step one was to change the topography. Six years, 25 dump trucks of dirt, and 100 tons of rock later, she had the nickname ‘The Dirt Girl’ (dubbed by the men hauling the dirt), and no longer a cliff, but a fairly steep bank to create her garden on.

Now, brick pathways traverse the embankment, and hostas and Japanese maples are the showstoppers of the garden. Chris did what BB Barns encourages their customers to do. No, not the dirt hauling and rock carrying. But, instead of yet another “Wall of Juniper” for slopes, treat that sloped space as part of the landscape. Plant trees and shrubs, and Chris would say, hostas.

Stained Glass hosta, What Can I Plant on a Bank, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Minler

When asked what she considers the triumph of the garden, Chris replies, “Serenity.” In this picture, ‘Stained Glass’ hosta, ”Dragon Wing’ begonia, ‘Viridis’ Japanese maple, a creek made by she and Pat, and for a touch of personal serenity, a hammock.

Feeling Blue Deodar Cedar, What Can I Plant on a Bank, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Blue Star creeper, ‘Feeling Blue’ Deodar Cedar (the lowest of the dwarf cedars, reaches 2-4′ tall and 6′ wide), Ajuga and ‘Halcyon’ hosta line the brick pathway.

Hostas seem to be that plant that is either loved or hated in the garden. Chris believes it’s lack of popularity with some is because we’re unfamiliar with all the cultivars and uses. Hostas are great on slopes (if you can duck-walk up it, you can plant it), can fit into almost any niche in the garden, in sun or shade (depending on type), are a perfect way to cover up the dying foliage of spring bulbs, have late summer into fall blooms, and can be be massed for show or planted separately as specimens. Chris has grown the hosta section at the store to include her now favorite mini hostas. But, the best thing about hostas? Their zone. Most are zoned 4-9, many are 2-9. That’s like, Denali to Charleston. Talk about versatility.

mini hosta garden

Chris’ colorful mini hosta garden. Most minis stay an adorable 8″ tall and 12″ wide, and are amazing spreaders which makes propagating easy.  They’re planted to see each specimen separately.

Mouse Ears hosta, What Can I Plant on a Bank, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

‘Mouse Ear’s Hosta. Remember Epcot? Chris’ favorite mini is the Mouse Ears collection.

 

Stiletto hosta, What Can I Plant on a Bank, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

This cutie is ‘Stiletto.’ It gets 6-8″ tall, 12-18″ wide, blooms mauve/lavender in August. Zoned 2-9

Hush puppies hosta, what can I plant on a bank, transplanted and still blooming, cinthia milner

‘Hush Puppie’ hosta gets 6″ tall and 16″ wide. A vigorous spreader.

Halcyon hosta, What Can I Plant on a Bank, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Halcyon hosta, not a mini, fills a corner perfectly. at 18″ tall and 36″ wide. The blue leaves makes for a pretty spectacular showing.

When Chris first arrived at BB Barns, she thought she’d work there until she was finished landscaping her “forever home.” But, as all good gardeners know, no garden is ever done. Her hostas may shine in the garden, but Chris fell in love with conifers, grasses, and Japanese maples (16 of those to be exact), too.

Little Bluestem Grasses, What Can I Plant on a Bank, Transplanted and Still Standing, Cinthia Milner

‘Standing Ovation’ Little Bluestem grass, ‘Duke Gardens’ Japanese plum yew, ‘Black Dragon’ Cryptomeria, Weeping redbud, and a fun orange container for color.

Seiryu Japanese Maple, What Can I Plant on a Bank, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

A picture really is worth a thousand words. Seiryu Japanese maple. And, check out the chairs in the far right of the picture overlooking the creek. That gives you an idea of the slope of the Stone garden.

Garden chairs near a mini hosta garden, What Can I Plant on a Bank, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

A welcome spot near the mini hosta bed. Chairs around a fire pit.

Japanese forest grass combination with Japanese maples, What Can I Plant on a Bank, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

It took 10 years and a lot of going up and down a bank (We do live in the mountains!), and although the garden is not finished (she and Pat want to build new terraces), the Stones can relish the serenity of a job well done with vignettes like this one to enjoy. Japanese forest grass makes a great color combination with a burgundy Japanese maple, and mimics the movement of the water.

Morocco is a long way away from Western North Carolina. Hot tropical colors have been replaced with cool mountain hues, but if there is anyone who now knows what can be planted on a shady bank, that is well above Epcot’s sea level, Chris Stone is it. Who wouldn’t want to mimic her garden?

Header picture: ‘Lady in Red’ lacecap hydrangeas; a great choice for a slight, shady slope.

 

 

 

Bamboo screen, A Native Garden, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

A Native’s Garden

BB Barns Garden Center is known for their ornamental gardening plants and products. The English Cottage appeal isn’t lost on customers who practically swoon when visiting the store, exclaiming how gorgeous it all is. But, BB Barns has their natives, too. Ellen Blair, who works as an Outside Sales Associate as part of the perennial team, is a native of Western North Carolina. Asheville is her home, and her career as a horticulturist has been spent in the region’s finest gardens.

BB Barns is now happy to have her on their team, and she was brave enough to go first on the virtual tour of BB Barns’ employee’s gardens. Thanks, Ellen!

As we at BB Barns already know, Ellen is particularly good at 2 things: using what’s handy in the garden and getting creative with it. What Ellen has at her house is a backyard full of bamboo, courtesy of past neighbors. 10 years ago, when her dog, Molly, who was old with dementia, got trapped in the grove of bamboo, Ellen got creative.

Bamboo Screen, A Native Garden, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

The backyard, once the dog-run was over-run by invasive bamboo. Ellen cut 20′ long pieces of the “grass” that captured her dog, Molly, and let it dry for six months while contemplating what to do with it. The screen was the result, and the mountains she’s always called home were her inspiration. Each panel is 10′ tall and the whole thing is 30′ wide. It is a surprising and impressive thing to see in Ellen’s shade garden. See the bird stoop? It’s old bittersweet wood used in front of a birdbath. The irony of the bamboo and bittersweet used together!

Here’s a picture of the bamboo this screen helps hold back.

Bamboo Screen, A Native Garden, Transplanted and Still Blooming

A close-up of the tight growth of invasive bamboo growing behind the screen.

With the screen in place, the old dog-run became the new shade garden. Japanese forest grass, hostas, hellebores, oak leaf hydrangeas, cimicifuga, ferns, and more were added in front of the screen, creating a great morning coffee spot. Often, our customers bemoan that living in Western North Carolina means living in the shade. What can they grow? Check out the following pictures, and then be sure to ask Ellen for help designing your own shade garden.

Japanese Forest Grass, A Native Garden, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Nothing compares with Japanese forest grass for color in a shade garden. Foliage beats bloom with this chartreuse color pop, while adding movement in the garden.

Japanese Painted Fern, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Japanese Painted Fern is another great shade perennial. The cool colors of this fern help create a cool feel in the shade.

Oak leaf hydrangeas, fun face on a tree, A Native Garden, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Oak leaf hydrangeas, a native plant for a native garden, that performs best in more shade than sun. The face is Ellen’s idea of fun in the garden.

Gargoyles in the garden, A Native Garden, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

But even a pro like Ellen caves to the full-sun perennials, hoping they’ll bloom in “enough sun”, in the shade.The Rozanne geranium is blooming, but as Ellen pointed out, it’s a bit leggy. That’s what we love about gardening, all trial and error. Still, it’s a perfect spot for the gargoyles, gifts to Ellen who worked in the Historic Walled Gardens at Biltmore as a Gardener II crew leader. Perhaps reminiscent of the gargoyles that adorn the Vanderbilt home?

Ellen’s creativity isn’t limited to making screens. She enjoys creating themed gardens. While working at Biltmore, she helped create a white garden, a Victorian border, a hummingbird garden, a fragrant garden, a winter garden and a butterfly garden.

Butterfly garden at Biltmore, A Native Garden, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Photo courtesy of Ellen, who helped create this butterfly garden at Biltmore Estates.

Now, Ellen uses her own yard to create themed gardens. This is the memory garden for her sister who passed away last summer. A sunny spot full of color and whimsy.

A Memory Garden, A Native Garden, Transplanted and Still Blooming

Colorful ‘Tango’ agastache (hyssop), Rozanne geranium (in a more happy place), and Angelina sedum help create a colorful memory garden. The gargoyle reading the book reminds Ellen of her sister, who loved to read.

Stately conifers front Ellen’s garden, making passerby’s wonder about the garden behind them.

Stately conifers, A Native Garden, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Towering conifers give evergreen privacy to Ellen’s whimsical garden.

When asked what kind of garden she created, Ellen replies, “A happy one. I used to do everything by the book, so to speak, like in 3’s and 5’s, and while I don’t disagree with those design concepts, these days, I just want a happy garden. I don’t worry so much about everything being perfect.”

Popcorn begonia, A Native Garden, Transplanted and Still Blooming

A happy, whimsical gardener, Ellen made these begonias “pop” with these cute containers–a gift for her sisters.

BB Barns Garden Center is grateful to have the knowledge and experience of Ellen Blair, who has made horticulture her career for over 20+ years. Our customers benefit from her wealth of plant and design knowledge, her easy-going approach, and her happy garden. See? BB Barns is a big believer in natives, too.