Garden Spot: Exploring delights of gardening

CorrespondentAugust 23, 2013 

“You’ve come a long way,” a friend said to me when I told her I would be writing about gardening. She remembered my first attempts at growing things at my husband’s and my first home in Kansas. I knew nothing – not even enough to ask questions. I was proud of my first attempts – geraniums and dracaena in a half whiskey barrel – and rows of little dianthus on the side of the patio. By the front porch, which was shaded by a huge oak tree, I planted pretty impatiens.

All these years later, I’m still no expert – far from it. But I love having flowers, and I’ve learned from the gardeners I’ve talked to over the years, including the experts I’ve written about in this column. Some garden organically, using no pesticides at all, while others say using pesticides in moderation can be OK. Some use only native plants, while others nurture both natives and exotics. Some grow flowers for their beauty and others for medicinal purposes; others grow food, and still others a combination of these.

I talked to a couple whose interest in roses has grown over the years and who now sell them at farmers markets and to brides. A former horticulturist with the city of Raleigh has a new career growing daylilies. A lesson learned from all of them: Plant what you enjoy.

Follow the rules

I have learned that following some rules can lead to gardening success. Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery extols the benefits of good soil. Others say choose plants that thrive in the conditions in your area.

Last fall, I talked to Eugene Warren of Green Gene’s Horticulture about things I could do to get a head start on my spring garden. I specifically asked about lantana, which I had never been able to coax back. He advised letting it die back naturally over the winter, if I could put up with how it would look over the cold months. It did look horrible, but I left the dry, dead-looking thing alone. I’m so glad I did. “Miss Huff” looks even lovelier today than she did last summer. Bees bumble lazily around her each day. Hummingbird moths, an occasional hummingbird and large yellow butterflies are also regular visitors.

Surprise!

I’m pretty sure I didn’t plant a zinnia by the mailbox. But, surprise! Tall, yellow flowers are growing there. I must have gotten help from the cardinals and other birds I’ve seen around my yard this year.

I took a chance by not pulling up the unidentified “weeds” growing in another bed, and got another nice surprise when primroses bloomed between my butterfly bush and the lantana.

There’s so much to learn about gardening, and so many ways to learn. Classes are available all over the Triangle at nurseries, botanical gardens and libraries. Another important thing I’ve learned over the past year is that gardeners are always willing to talk about what they do. All you have to do is ask.

I have enjoyed sharing my discoveries through Garden Spot over the past year. This is my last column.

I plan to spend some extra time planting and photographing in the garden. I hope I find more surprises there, and that you do, as well.

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