Muffin: Apprentice to Crisco

I've never really used the word melancholy in a sentence before, but I think that describes my feelings right now. Sort of sad, but with a little soft feeling deep inside. Crisco has been gone to 'Kitty Heaven' for only about a month now. And we miss him terribly. But God had already provided us with another love. Not a replacement, for sure, but we do have much love to give. And at our house, there's always room for one more little animal. 

Please bear with me as I tell the story of Muffin...

A few months ago in the middle of the night I was awakened by the sound of crying--very loudly--right outside my bedroom window. 

Believing one of the kittens recently thrown out in front of our house had been accidentally left outside, I tore off outside to get the little baby. Once out there, I realized it was not one of 'our' kittens, but another! Terrified, the little thing ran and hid in the woodpile where it was camouflaged! Yes, the tiny little kitten was about the same color as the firewood. I'd never seen a kitty this color. Brown, beige, and tan, just kind of mottled together, causing the kitten to blend in with leaves, dirt, and sticks. And the baby sure was tiny. 

I couldn't catch it.  I tried and tried, but just couldn't. Since I couldn't do much in the darkness, I went back to bed.

The next day, the little thing ventured into the garage, hiding behind lumber and other supplies being used to remodel our home. No matter how hard I tried, I could not catch this baby! All I could do is put out a little food, water, and milk for the tiny kitten. I'd always find the bowls empty later on.

For two solid weeks this went on just the same. This little kitten had a huge appetite, but would not come to me. 

One day after picking up my children from school as normal--about 20 miles away!!--we stopped at the grocery store, again, as usual, and I'm embarrassed to tell you why, but we drove around behind the store because my 7 year old little fellow had to Pee. As we sat there in the car, we heard crying that sounded just like the kitten crying at home. 

I thought to myself, 'Man...someone has thrown out a little kitten back here!' And my thoughts went to all those ^$$#*!@$ who all too frequently drop off animals on the side of the road.

My little man soon finished the necessary activity, so we started the car and drove on around toward the front of the shopping center. The further we drove, the louder the crying became! Finally, I realized that sound was coming from somewhere inside the car!! 

I stopped, of course, and ran around to the hood. As soon as I raised the hood, there nestled right there in an empty spot in the motor (for lack of knowing all the car part names--forgive me!) was the little brown kitten!

I could not believe my eyes. She had ridden about 20 miles from our house to the school, waited while I sat in that ever long pick up line, drove about 7 miles to the grocery store, went inside and bought groceries, and then drove around back for my little boy to water the bushes. I guess then, she woke up! Wow! 

Anyway, I knew if I didn't act fast, she'd run as she'd done so many times before. But that was at home, and she couldn't get hurt. Now we were in a grocery store parking lot. I still can't believe I was able to think that fast, but I grabbed her quickly, put her underneath my shirt, and hopped in the car. My little boy emptied out his lunchbox and we put her in there for the ride home. 

Upon our arrival home, we were able to deposit her safely in the woodshop, where she could learn to trust us gradually and on her own. Of course, she had left a small undesirable gift in the lunchbox, so we were forced to discard it.

We probably should have named her Lucky, but our children wanted to name her Muffin, because she actually is the color of a tasty homemade muffin.

To make a long story short, as if it isn't already too late for that, Muffin is the best mouse catcher we have. It makes sense to us that she will try to fill the shoes that Crisco's passing has left empty. 

Not only is Muffin a very busy kitty, but she is full of love. Even as she rests, she tries to groom us, always working to gain our affection. She doesn't realize it, but she earned our love long ago.

If you have suffered the loss of a beloved pet as we have, I know you understand, and I hope that you will remember us in your prayers as we try to recover and continue on with our animal-loving lives.

Bluebirds: Landscaping to Attract them to Your Garden

Bluebirds eat mostly insects, but in the winter when insects are scarce, berries and fruits supplement their diet. Plants such as holly and dogwood have juicy berries the birds love that are also attractive in the garden at Christmas time.

When choosing plants for your garden, it is important to select non-invasives. Most often, native plants are the best choice for a wildlife garden. Birds will eat berries from invasive exotic plants too, which helps further the spread of invasive plants.

Some easy to find plants for bluebirds include:
  • Holly
  • Dogwood
  • Cedar
  • Elderberry
  • American Cranberry Bush (Viburnum Trilobum)
  • Pokeweed (yes, in Georgia we consider it a weed, but the birds love it and it is pretty...)
Remember, in Georgia, the absolute best time to plant shrubs is fall and winter. Rain is in the forecast (again), so now would be a great time for planting. We might as well take advantage of this abundant rain for as long as it lasts. I look forward to a beautiful garden next summer full of plants that can withstand the drought that is sure to return.

    Christmas Story

     1And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

     2(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

     3And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

     4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

     5To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

     6And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

     7And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

     8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

     9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

     10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

     11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

     12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

     13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

     14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

     15And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

     16And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

     17And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

     18And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

     19But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

     20And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

     21And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

     22And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord;

     23(As it is written in the law of the LORD, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;)

     24And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.

     25And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.

     26And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ.

     27And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law,

     28Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,

     29Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:

     30For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, (Luke 2, King James Version)

    Christmas Tree for Birds

    Our Christmas Tree usually goes up the weekend right after Thanksgiving. This year we're still involved in a major home remodel, so we won't be putting up the tree for another week or so.

    Decorating for Christmas is a wonderful way to spend time together as a family. Plus, we try to involve the children in providing for our wildlife friends outdoors.

    Decorating an outdoor tree for the birds is a great way to spend an afternoon. When you put your imagination to work, you can come up with all kinds of decorations made from things birds can eat. Materials can be berries, nuts, seeds, and breads along with natural items found outside like pinecones and sweet gum balls.

    Fresh cranberries can be strung on cotton twine to be hung throughout the tree.

    Using regular loaf bread, we used cookie cutters to to cut out shapes and a straw to poke a whole to string twine through for hanging. We then toasted the bread slightly to make it stiff before spreading with chunky peanut butter. A sprinkling of seeds makes the 'cookie' appealing to the birds. We looped cotton twine through the hole in the top and hung these from the tree.

    Additional decorations were made using pinecones. We applied peanut butter to the pinecones before rolling them in birdseed.

    A walk through the garden gave us more ideas. Nandina berry clusters made beautiful ornaments. Creampuff our newest little hen likes those.

    Popcorn looks beautiful on the tree, but I'm surprised to find the birds are not eating that. The peanut butter toast was gone the next day, so we had to make more!

    Crisco: Saying Goodbye to our Beloved Cat

    Crisco, our beloved family cat, passed away at approximately 6:30 pm, December 2, 2009. Crisco was a member of our family and we will greatly miss him.

    One afternoon more than four years ago, the children and I were taking a walk through our shade garden when we thought we heard a baby crying. We followed the sound as it became louder and louder until we found ourselves at the road. We still weren't sure what the sound was, as it was very hoarse but loud. The cry was coming from the kudzu patch on the other side of the highway on which we live. I crossed over and began looking in the vines for the baby, and finally found him--a very tiny orange kitten. The beautiful long-haired tabby kitten had cried so much his voice was hoarse.

    I could not catch him. He wanted to come to me, but was too afraid. He would work his way toward me through the briars and vines until he was almost within my reach. But when I reached out to him, he would run away, frightened. Crying the whole time, begging for help, the little kitten acted like he'd never seen a person before.

    This went on until dark, when we finally had to give up. The next morning I tried again, with the same sad results. Periodically throughout the day, I would go back to the road, trying to show the little kitten that I could be trusted, but he just wouldn't come to me. Later that afternoon after the children returned from school, we heard the little fellow crying again. This time when we went to try to get him, we found him hiding under the azaleas on our side of the highway--He had crossed the road! So then I took the long way around to put myself between him and the highway. This way I could try to catch him, and if he ran he'd be forced to go down the hill toward the house and away from the road. He still wouldn't let me get any closer than arms length, but by dark this time, he was near the house. He would follow the children crying, but when they tried to backtrack to get him, he'd run.

    That night he actually snuck up to the porch to try to be closer to us, I think. My husband was quicker than the kitten's little legs could carry him, and he was able to snatch up little Crisco and put him in the laundry room. Although he bit the fire out of my husband's finger with his tiny little razor sharp teeth, the very next day he let the children hold him while his tiny little body vibrated with very loud purring!

    'He's the color of Butter Flavored Crisco!' my little girl kept saying, so we named him Crisco. He had a few nicknames too, but I think I called him Crybaby more than anything else. He cried all the time. He was the most vocal cat I've ever seen. We always figured that was because he lost his mother before he was ready.

    Crisco had sort of semi-retired recently, leaving most of the mouse catching to the younger kittens. He slept most of the time. I thought that was pretty normal for him, since he'd never really been a very active cat.

    Two days ago we noticed Crisco was breathing very rapidly. An X-ray revealed a heart abnormality we were not aware of. Crisco had a much enlarged heart, and his lungs were filled with fluid. Although the veterinarian immediately began treatment with Lasix to reduce the fluid and a heart medication to slow the heart rate, Crisco passed away that evening. I can't help but wonder what we could have done differently. I've racked my brain to understand how I could have prevented this. But we just did not know Crisco was sick until the hard rapid breathing began.

    Thank you for allowing me to share this with you, in hopes that you will pray for my family and me. The loss of a beloved pet is difficult for us all but especially the children. Crisco was a very important part of our family, and it will take us a long time to learn to live without him.

    Snapdragons: Plant in Fall for Fragrance in Spring

    In spring we receive many compliments for the beautiful snapdragons growing in our garden. But to have tall fragrant snapdragons in the spring garden, you must plant them in the fall.

    Snapdragons enjoy sunlight, but partial shade is best in the deep south. I have found my snapdragons to bloom best with morning sun and afternoon shade or a little filtered sun all day.

    Snapdragons prefer a fluffy, nutrient-rich soil. When planting, mix in enough compost or humus to make a fluffy mixture that will not compact. This ensures good root growth which will in turn provide lots of top-growth and blooms.

    Snapdragons are not very drought tolerant, so water weekly in the absence of rainfall.

    Saxifrage: Saxifraga, Strawberry Geranium, Strawberry Begonia

    Saxifrage possibly has more common names than any other plant I know. Perhaps that's because this plant is also one of the most versatile plants one can grow. 

    Whether you know Saxifrage as saxifraga stolonifera, strawberry begonia, strawberry geranium, mother of thousands, or one of the many other names, you must agree that this is a wonderful little plant. 

    Often grown as a houseplant by our grandmothers, Saxifrage is hardy in the garden all over the southeastern United States. When grown outdoors, saxifrage could not be any easier! Provide shade and soft moist soil, and she will reward you with many little plants. Saxifrage multiplies by sending out little plantlets on runners just as strawberry plants do. 

    Saxifrage forms an evergreen mat of ground-hugging foliage about 4 inches tall. Foliage is very attractive--scalloped deep green leaves are mottled with a silver veining and can have purplish undersides.

    Flowers look like little soft pink butterflies fluttering well above the foliage. 

    Saxifrage prefers moist, rich soil in full shade. Grow it with ferns and other moisture loving shade plants in the woodland garden. 

    Lovely as an easy care houseplant. Especially nice in hanging baskets. Hardy outdoors in USDA Zones 6-9. For more information on this and other easy to grow shade plants, visit us at Shady Gardens Nursery.

    Xeriscape Gardening with Companion Plants

    Georgia gardeners are becoming increasingly concerned about water conservation due to recent extreme droughts. But since lately we've received a little bit too much rain here in Georgia, I considered a practice we've tried to stick to here in our garden for a few years now: Companion Planting. Now I'm not talking about  what you might be thinking--companion planting as laid out in organic gardening books to promote heavy yields in the vegetable garden. What I'm talking about is simply planting moisture loving plants all together, to make watering easier with less waste. 

    Shown in the photo above is Helianthus angustifolius Gold Lace, our native American Swamp Sunflower, with Colocasia Black Magic. What a striking contrast, and they both enjoy the soaking rains we've received lately.

    Choose moisture lovers wisely and sparingly. Then place them in groups, preferably where the occasionally received rain water collects, but certainly where you can reach them easily with a hose.

    For a list of plants that enjoy wet soil, visit Shady Gardens Nursery.

    Green Gardening

    Going green in the garden is becoming more and more important to us as we learn additional dangers of pesticide use. To grow a good garden, we must preserve the life in the soil. Healthy soil is full of microorganisms which help to grow more vigorous plants. Too much fertilizer can kill microorganisms. To grow healthy plants, whether your passion is food crops or beautiful ornamentals, you must build up the soil.
    • Add compost--composted manure contains much more beneficial microorganisms than just regular compost.
    • Mulch with organic or plant based mulches (shredded bark or leaves).
    • Believe it or not, applications of horticultural molasses will feed the microorganisms.
    • Cornmeal added to the soil feeds a certain fungus that helps fight plant diseases. Isn't that fascinating? Now I know what to do with that cornmeal I forgot about in the back of the cabinet.
    • While we are feeding our soil microorganisms, we must also remember to protect them.
    • Synthetic fertilizers harm the soil organisms and should be avoided.
    • Over tilling the soil breaks down the soil ecosystem, so add mulch instead. I know I mentioned mulch already, but application of good organic mulch is important enough to mention twice. Mulch attracts the soil critters like earthworms who will till the soil for you.

    Rhododendron My Mary: Fragrant Yellow Azalea

    Rhododendron 'My Mary' is a new plant for me. Aside from the large and very fragrant yellow blooms appearing in April, the romantic story behind the name compelled me to plant this one.

    'My Mary' is a deciduous hybrid azalea--a cross between Rhododendron Nacoochee and Rhododendron Austrinum (the native Florida Flame Azalea.) As written above, the blooms are large and very fragrant--a beautiful yellow funnel-shaped flower with an orange tube. The flowers are borne in clusters, or bouquets, as I like to call them. As you might imagine, pollinators of every sort just love them!

    Rhododendron 'My Mary' was developed by the well-respected Mr. George Beasley of Lavonia, Georgia, who named this plant after his wife, Mary. She must indeed be lovely, to have such a plant named in her honor. I'm proud to have this shrub in my humble garden.

    Hardy in USDA Zones 5-8, this deciduous rhododendron can be grown almost anywhere in the United States.
    Culture is the same as for just about any other rhododendron or azalea: well-drained soil with a nice addition of humus, regular water (weekly is great), partial shade, and a thick layer of mulch to protect the roots.
    For more information on this plant, you may contact us at
    Shady Gardens Nursery or consult the Missouri Botanical Garden Plantfinder, who so graciously permitted us to use their lovely photos.

    Four Oclock: Fragrant Blooms for the Evening Garden

    If you like fragrant plants, the old-fashioned Four Oclock will be one of your favorites. Small pink blooms scent the garden with their sweet perfume every evening during summer. Mirabilis jalapa is a shrub-like multibranched perennial plant that emerges each spring from a large carrot-shaped tuber. The common name Four Oclock comes from its fascinating habit of opening its blooms around 4 oclock in the afternoon. That alone is enough to intrigue me, since I have a natural interest in plants with unusual traits. Although it's called Four Oclock, in our garden Mirabilis actually opens her blooms around 5:30 pm, perfuming the air right about the time it begins to cool off enough to sit in the shade on the patio.
    Four Oclock is very easy to grow. Easy to please, four oclock can be grown in sun or shade. Our plants get morning sun and afternoon shade, but four oclock grows equally well in full shade with a reasonable amount of water. She's not a water hog, but good soil with regular water will keep the plant looking healthy and green with plenty of those fragrant blooms. Just so you'll know, plants in our shade garden get very little water, yet still bloom and multiply with profusion. Plants in the sun that receive occasional water perform just about as well as those in dry shade. The few Four Oclocks we have in dry sun are just surviving.
    I can't really describe the fragrance--it's just a sweet, pleasant scent that invites me to relax outdoors. You might not notice the scent until your plant gets large with many blooms. And if you're never outdoors in the evening,'ll just miss out entirely.
    Another important feature of the fragrant Four Oclock is that hummingbirds just adore it! The hot pink blooms are tubular and full of nectar for both butterflies and hummingbirds. You'll further enjoy sitting on the patio observing the tiny creatures flitting about around the plants.
    Four Oclock dies to the ground with the onset of winter in colder zones, but re-emerges again in late spring. Hardy in USDA Zones 7-11, mirabilis can be grown anywhere in the southern half of the United States.
    I must tell you also that Four Oclock is definitely a reseeder. Toward the end of summer you'll notice small black cannonballs on the plants and the ground beneath. Those are very viable seeds. If you've had no luck growing Four Oclock from seed, that's because these very hard seeds need a cold treatment to break them. It's best to plant them in fall, but most gardeners don't think about it then and seeds often are not available in the big box stores at that time of year. You'll have nearly instant gratification if you go ahead and purchase a tuber instead. Heavy black carrot-shaped tubers will send up a stem very quickly after planting in warm summer soil. Four Oclock tubers are available for summer shipping from Shady Gardens Nursery.

    Gardening Is More Than Just Growing Plants!

    It's true--gardening involves more than just growing plants!
    Gardens need animals, for various reasons. In our garden, we have a dog for chasing off critters that eat the plants, chickens for eating insects that eat our plants, and cats for keeping away mice (which also will eat plants.) Every garden needs a cat, but not too many.
    We do have too many cats. Much too often, someone else decides we don't have enough cats and another kitten is dropped off at our front gate. Most recently my husband found a cute little critter asleep right beside the road at our mailbox. Instead of doing the responsible thing and have their cats spayed or neutered, some irresponsible @$$#*!~ just allow their little cats to keep having litter after litter and they deposit the little babies on the side of the road when they no longer want them. This activity is one of the worst things a person can do, and it angers my family much more than I can say.
    We are animal lovers here, and it's difficult for us to get attached to a cute little baby and then give it away. That's what we have to do every few months, because we can not possibly provide a home for every little baby animal we find up at the road. Leaving a baby kitten at someone's mailbox should be a crime. It is, in my opinion. Each time this happens, we do the best we can to find a good home for the little thing. If unable to find the kitten a good home, we keep it.
    We now have 5 cats--3 toms and 2 females. We love them all. Yesterday we gave away the most recent little baby to a wonderful girl who responded to our advertisement on the local Christian radio station. (We list the babies on that station only, praying that only good people would be listening.)
    It ripped out my little girl's heart to give away the kitten in the photo above. Children grow attached to cute little baby animals so fast. If I could catch the person who keeps doing this to us, I'd sock them in the nose. It might make no sense to you that I write an animal lover post on a garden blog, but as I said, cats do belong in a garden. And since gardeners are usually concerned about the environment to a great degree, I figured you all would not mind if I vent a little. We all should do what we can to prevent the cruel neglect and abuse of allowing cats to have litter after litter of kittens to just deposit on highways all over town. We plan to install a video camera at our gate so we can get a tag number!

    Althea: Hibiscus syriacus or Rose of Sharon

    Althea Blushing Bride Shady Gardens Nursery
    Once again I found myself a discouraged gardener because all that wonderful rainful we'd been receiving has come to a screeching halt! I'm not sure when it rained last here, but I know it's time to begin praying again when I take a walk through my garden. Yesterday as I looked with sadness at all the wilted plants, I was impressed with the fluffy blooms and dark green leaves of Althea 'Blushing Bride.' Althea is a beautiful name to me, but this shrub is also known as Hybiscus syriacus. I like to refer to this plant by its common name of Rose of Sharon, since that is my name, but whatever you call it, Althea is a wonderful garden shrub for the south. Even when not in bloom, the foliage is attractive, remaining green and bushy even during the severe drought to which our Georgia summers are prone. Blooms can be anywhere from a crisp snow white to a dark pinkish red. Single blooms with a red eye are common but single-color blooms are available, and double blooms are spectacular. As shown in the photo, 'Blushing Bride' is particularly beautiful with its soft pink fluffy double blooms that resemble carnations. What amazes me most about Althea is its obvious tolerance for dry conditions. The name Hibiscus usually indicates a love for water and full sun. In my garden, Hibiscus syriacus or Rose of Sharon seems to prefer afternoon shade. We have been unable to offer supplemental water to the plants in our woodland garden, yet we have several Altheas that have not only survived, but they have thrived during this drought. Leaves remain deep green and blooms arrive at just about the same time that outdoor temperatures are unbearably hot. Lucky for me, I've planted some of these shrubs close enough to the house to be viewed from a window! Rose of Sharon can be grown almost anywhere in the United States, since it is hardy in USDA Zones 5-9. Tolerant of not only drought, but also heat, air pollution, and salty air, Althea is so easy to grow that every garden should have it! Since Althea is available in just about every color, you can find one suitable for your garden. These heirloom plants are hard to find in the nursery however. They do root easily from cuttings, if you know someone who'll let you 'take a piece.' Send me a message if you want me to help you find one.

    Spring Rain is Great for the Garden!

    Here in Georgia we have enjoyed lots of spring rain! It has been nice to be able to plant so many additions to our garden this year. You see, for the last few years, we have been under severe drought. Summer before last, we lost every single bigleaf hydrangea we had, and they were well-established shrubs we'd had for about 10 years! Needless to say, we've been planting only drought tolerant plants since then. But even drought tolerant plants need water at first to get off to a good start. And water from rain is the best! So each time rain is in the forecast, I'm out there planting again. Our new plantings consist of the following drought tolerant plants:
    • Oakleaf Hydrangea
    • Evergreen Azaleas
    • Native Azaleas
    • Hellebores
    • Rohdea
    • Aspidistra
    • Spirea
    • Juniper
    We've also planted a number of Camellias, since we're getting all this rain. They'll be drought tolerant too, once established. The photo shown was taken at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia. A lake is one thing we lack here at Shady Gardens. Perhaps one day we can install one of those manmade lakes...

    Plant Sale Benefit for the East Alabama Foodbank

    If you're anywhere close to the Auburn, Alabama, area, you won't want to miss this plant sale! It's for a good cause--all proceeds go directly to feeding those in need. Red Bee Balm (monarda didyma) shown in the above photo is one of many plants for a hummingbird garden that are for sale at the Gardener’s Plant Sale.

    More than 250 plant varieties will be offered. Most of the plants were grown from seed and cannot be found anywhere else!

    The plant sale will be held Sunday afternoon, April 19, 2009. For complete information as well as a map to help you find the sale, please visit

    Hellebores: Deer Proof Groundcover for Shade

    Hellebore, Helleborus, commonly referred to as Lenten Rose, is what I call a perfect garden plant! Rich green palmate leaves look lush even on the coldest days of winter. Blooms begin opening right after Christmas and can be enjoyed right up until the beginning of spring. And if the fact that Hellebores are evergreen and winter blooming isn't enough for you, would you believe that deer won't eat it?
    Hellebores are very easy to grow. They do enjoy a rich soil, but are very drought tolerant plants. Our modest patch of hellebores is located in an area of the shade garden that we cannot reach with the hose. Blooms which appear in winter and very early spring are varied in color. They can be white, green, pink, maroon, or even speckled! When the blooms begin to fade, seeds develop. Within a few years your hellebore patch can double in size. Once the blooms are gone, new bright green new growth emerges. The palmate deep green leaves make a very attractive groundcover up to 18 inches tall. Hellebores can be grown almost anywhere in the United States, since it's hardy in USDA Zones 4-8. Well-drained soil is best, so amend with compost to make your plants happy. Try some hellebores in your garden, and they'll make you happy as well!

    The Loss of a Pet

    Many of you have visited us here at Shady Gardens and enjoyed meeting our chickens. Hearing the names of them usually brings a smile--Barney, Thelma Lou, and the Fun Girls, Daphne and Skippy. Several weeks ago we were saddened with the loss of Skippy after a lengthy illness. Skippy was a good chicken. Although she was never much of an egg layer, she certainly did her part as a member of our Insect Control Team. Skippy was the only hen that would not put up with Barney's foolishness (you know how roosters are!) We will certainly miss her.

    Master Gardener Day in Georgia

    Master Gardener Day in Georgia is March 21, 2009. All over the state of Georgia, Master Gardeners will be celebrating the day by doing what we do best--gardening for our communities.
    Many do not realize what a Master Gardener actually is. Master Gardeners are volunteers who perform a wide variety of garden-related tasks in their communities. Some help in the office, taking calls and answering questions about local garden topics. Others work closely with children in the Junior Master Gardener program. While others actually get down and get their hands dirty planting gardens in and for the community. Whether it be an ornamental garden on the town square or a vegetable garden for the needy, Master Gardeners are always around to help.
    Trained by professionals provided from the University of Georgia and the local County Extension Office, Master Gardeners are a knowledgeable group of people.
    If you'd like to get involved in the Master Gardener program, please contact your local County Extension Office to find out when the next course will be offered.

    Cocoa Bean Mulch: Poison for Pets!

    For years, I have longed for the sweet-smelling cocoa bean mulch for my garden, after hearing it mentioned numerous times on TV gardening shows. But now it seems that it can be harmful to pets if ingested. You can imagine how a dog with a sweet tooth might taste cocoa bean mulch, since it smells just like chocolate, which also is harmful to dogs. If you'd like to read more, go to Pet Poison Alert - Cocoa Bean Mulch.

    Gardening With Children: Don't Miss Out On This Joy!

    According to recent studies, time spent outdoors has decreased by 50% in the past 20 years. Thanks to the popularity of electronics, children now spend an average of 6 hours daily watching TV, playing video games, or using a computer. 

    When I was a child, if we didn't want to play outdoors, my mother made sure we did anyway. Nowadays, perhaps we as parents are so busy that we don't think about it. Or maybe the children are simply following our example. At any rate, children are fatter and less healthy as a result of living sedentary lifestyles. In addition to health problems, staying indoors more has decreased awareness of the environment and the value of nature. I myself am guilty of enjoying my gardening tasks without involving the children. However, something just occurred to me--if gardening is a source of joy for me, relieving stress while providing exercise, it can do that for my children too! 

    Yesterday we pruned together, and this afternoon, we'll be planning a garden! Children love to plant things. Even though we're in the middle of winter, now is the time to plant many cool season vegetables. Consider letting your child help you plant some Sugar Snap Peas, Beets, Radishes, and Lettuces. These seeds germinate quickly, which will excite your child about his garden. Flowers to plant now from seed are Larkspur and Poppies.

    If you don't have a garden in which to do your planting, just get some large pots. Then your child can have a garden even if you have only a patio or porch. What and where you plant your garden will not be nearly as important as the time you spend with your child. Remember to take photos of your little ones planting their seeds. The pictures will mean alot to you when the children are older. And the children will remember this time spent with you.

    Deer-Proof Gardening in the South

    As a nursery owner, I'm often asked how I keep deer from eating the plants. Well, actually I use a number of methods, none of them expensive. Deer fencing is not an option for us, since a fence must surround the whole garden and be 10 feet tall to keep out deer. And it would be impossible for us to spray our whole garden with deer repellent after every rain or watering. Our large black lab Shadow used to keep the deer away from everything, but now that she's getting older, she seems to have befriended some of them, lying down with them as they eat. The best thing to do, since as gardeners, you'll be planting anyway, is to choose plants deer won't eat. A good plant type to use are those with prickly leaves or thorny branches, but deer do have the ability to pick berries and roses in spite of the thorns. I've even found where they've tasted of my holly shrubs and pyracantha, if you can believe it! And although it's true that deer seem to know what is poisonous to them, some plants that are poisonous to us are not so to deer, such as rhododendron and azaleas, for instance. I hope to share with you some of our experience with this short list of plants that have proved to be not quite so tasty to the deer in our garden:
    • Acuba
    • Aspidistra
    • Barberry
    • Boxwood
    • Daffodil
    • Daphne odora
    • Dusty Miller
    • Fatsia Japanica
    • Hellebore, Helleborus
    • Loropetalum
    • Oleander
    • Osmanthus
    • Rohdea
    • Viburnum
    • Yaupon Holly
    Also, all aromatic herbs, with the exception of basil, are detested by deer. And the fragrance of rosemary, which is very pleasing to us, seems to have a repellant effect on deer, causing them to go elsewhere in their search of food. For a list of native plants that aren't usually food for deer, please visit our other site, Plant Native.

    Shadygardener: Ebay Seller Opens Shady Gardens Nursery

    One of the favorite sellers of plants on ebay is now selling on her own site outside of ebay!

    "AWESOME ITEM - VERY PLEASED WITH TOTAL TRANS. & HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS EBAYER!!!!" "The important thing is that the selections are unique & quality excellent!" "Shipment was fast and plant was better than expected, thanks!" "One of my favorite sellers. Beautiful healthy plants." "Will buy from this seller again and again ..."

    Those are just a few of the feedback comments left for shadygardener on ebay. You can read more about shadygardener's feedback on ebay.

    If you've been searching for native plants or other hard to find plants for your garden, there is a good selection of unusual plants on ebay. But if you'd rather not purchase on ebay, you can go directly to shadygardener's online nursery site: Shady Gardens Nursery.

    Plants will be promptly shipped directly to you at a great price, and if you're looking for something not listed in the current inventory, they'll try to find it for you!

    June Blooms in my Georgia Garden: Oakleaf Hydrangea

    This time of year our garden is always bursting with blooms, but this year has been a little different. Due to a very mild winter, everythin...