Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, from our Family at Shady Gardens

Christmas Trees: Is a Real Tree a Good Thing?

Fresh cut Christmas Trees are enjoyed each year by 30 million people. I have often been saddened by this practice, since taking a cut tree into the house for decorating means that a tree must die.

However, purchasing a cut Christmas Tree for your home can be a good thing for several reasons.

Many people are still out of work, and any time you purchase something grown here in the United States, you are helping provide jobs for American workers.

Most fresh cut Christmas Trees are from Christmas Tree Farms near you--farms that are owned by small business owners. Purchasing your tree from a Christmas Tree Farm near you helps to keep your neighbors in business! Local farm produce stands and locally owned garden centers often sell fresh cut trees or even potted ones you can plant to enjoy for years to come.

Christmas Trees are often grown on land that is unsuitable for other types of farming. The kinds of trees grown for Christmas trees can be grown on poor soil. By using these fields, tree farmers help to control erosion and provide year-round homes for wildlife.

One acre of Christmas trees produces enough oxygen for the daily needs of 18 people. (Trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen.)

Trees help filter dust and smog from the air.

Christmas Trees are 100% biodegradable. There are several ways your tree can be used after the Christmas season is over. The tree can be ground into mulch for the garden, it can be moved to the edge of your property as a nesting area for small wildlife, or the branches can be cut small for use as firestarters.

On Christmas Tree farms, for every Christmas Tree harvested, usually up to three seedlings are planted in its place.

Choosing your tree at the local Christmas Tree Farm can be a very fun family outing!

So if you're in the market for a Christmas Tree this year, consider helping a local business owner by choosing a real cut Christmas Tree!

For more information about real tree farming, please visit Real Trees 4 Kids.

And for even more fun and interesting information, go to the
National Christmas Tree Association website where you'll find a link to help you find a Christmas Tree farm near you.

Christmas Tree for the Birds

Decorating for Christmas is a wonderful way to spend time together as a family. Once we get the inside of our house decorated each year, 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. We use a cedar tree that happened to plant itself close to our dining room window, but any tree can be used, as long as you and your children can reach its branches. 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 hole so we could use twine for hanging them on the tree. 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.

Sliced apples and oranges and pineapple can be hung using twine. 

A walk through the garden gave us more ideas. Nandina berry clusters made beautiful ornaments. Creampuff, one of our red hens, 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!

This is a Christmas tree that will be enjoyed by all types of wildlife, and watching to see who visits your tree is a great way for your children to learn more about nature.

Dry Fall in Georgia - Can I Plant Anything Now?

Well, folks, it certainly looks like we are in for a dry Fall here in Georgia. This really puts a damper on my Fall planting plans. Each year, I look forward to Fall, because this is the time of year that I can plant shrubs in the outer stretches of our garden. I cannot reach these parts of my garden with a hose, so I usually wait for rain to be in the forecast, and then I hurry out there with my shovel and shrubs. Earlier this week, according to our local meteorologist, we had a 20% chance of rain for today. I thought the day I had been waiting for was finally coming. Yesterday, that chance of rain was removed from our forecast. So far this Fall, I have been waiting, and waiting, and waiting for that rain that just has not come. 

A rain shower every two or three weeks does not constitute regular rainfall that should be coming this time of year. I remember cold rainy days in October during my younger years. Back then, I did not enjoy that weather, because I had not yet discovered the joys of gardening. It seems like once I fell in love with plants and the gardening bug really bit me hard, the droughts came. And every single year I become more and more discouraged when I walk out into the garden. 

Our soil looks more like bricks I could use to build a potting shed than something in which to plant a shrub. This is the result of record-breaking intense heat along with a drought that has been going on for years. While we did receive nice rain showers in Spring this year that stirred up my excitement, received rain never caught up with our need. We began summer with a rainfall deficit.

What will I do? The only thing I can do is wait for rain...

Drought Damage in my Georgia Garden

I took a walk in the garden today to assess the damage the drought has caused thus far. Many of the plants believed to be drought-tolerant have actually suffered quite a bit. I did find a few surprises when I noticed plants that still look great in spite of absolutely no water, so I thought I’d share them with you. 

Lady Banks Rose has not wilted, although she's been in the ground only one year. I can’t reach her with the hose, so I was a little worried. 

Other shrubs and trees with no wilt are: American Beautyberry, Holly, Paw Paw, Spirea, Arizona Cypress, and Rosemary. 

Established camellias and viburnums look fine, while newly planted ones wilt again every few days and recover only after a deep soaking. 

Mahonia from Shady Gardens Nursery
Although it will plant itself in your garden wherever it likes, Leatherleaf Mahonia never wilts. It provides a rough texture in the garden with its tough evergreen spiny leaves and bright yellow winter bloom sprays followed by dark purple berries that are loved by songbirds. It requires shade. Although it does reseed freely, I do not consider it to be an invasive plant. 

Perennials that still look great are Hosta, Rohdea, sedums, and succulents. Hardy Ice Plant is great for dry sun—rewarding you with flowers that open in full sun even with no rainfall. 

If you decide to add any of these recommended plants to your garden during this drought, remember that no plant is completely drought tolerant the first year, so water weekly in the absence of rain. In other words, water weekly, because obviously, there is no rain!

Georgia Drought Monitor

I don't yet know what I can do with this information, but my despair prompted me to get online to find out if the drought is as serious as I think it is. I found this site which confirms my suspicions:

Troup County is where we attempt to garden. And sure enough there we are, right there in a section labeled extreme/exceptional. And the "exceptional" section fills up most of Troup County, so I can be sure that includes us. Upon closer examination, I found that yes, of course, we are in that spot. I didn't really need to see this, because I know when I look at the ground outside that we are suffering.

Fall is my favorite time of the year.  I just love the cool, crisp air which makes walking in the garden so much more enjoyable. I enjoy Fall gardening for the same reason—it’s cooler. 

I am a sucker for a fall-blooming plant.  I’m always on the lookout for something new, so I thought I’d share with you some of my findings. 

Pink Muhly Grass, Muhlenbergia Capillaris

Pink Muhly Grass is hard to find, but when you see it, you’ll love the pink fluffy plumes that arise from the foliage in September. This plant is beautiful when planted in mass, but also makes a great specimen. Muhlenbergia capillaris is it’s botanical name, and this plant looks great with fall blooming asters. 

Mistflower, Hardy Ageratum
Eupatorium coelestinum

Perennial Ageratum is another eye-catcher with its bright lavender blooms that return each year in September. Also known as Mistflower, this perennial is a member of the Eupatorium family. You might find it labeled Eupatorium Coelestinum. The blooms look just like the annual ageratum, but this plant returns reliably each year, as long as you can water it during dry periods. All plants in the Eupatorium family require moisture to thrive. Which might make you wonder why I included this plant in my list, but I couldn't help showing you these wonderful flowers behind the greenhouse. This spot does receive regular water from our sprinklers.

Berries tickle me as well, because I know they’ll bring birds into the garden. One of my favorites is American Beautyberry with its deep magenta berries that are in clusters wrapped around the stem. The berries hang onto the stems even after the leaves have dropped, providing interest on into the winter. If purple isn’t your thing, a rare white form and a pink form can be found in specialty nurseries. 
American Beautyberry, Shady Gardens Nursery
Tiny Flowers on Tea Olive perfume the Garden
Tea Olive is a large evergreen shrub that blooms later in the fall with tiny but very fragrant blooms that smell like fresh apricots. A single plant can fragrance a whole garden! It's hard to believe these tiny flowers pack such a punch.  

Well, I know it does not feel like fall outside here in Georgia today, but this is as much of a fall as we're likely to get. So while the weather is nice, get out there and plant something. That's where I'm headed right now!

Plants In the Office: Why You Need Them

Anyone can see that nice green plants in the office make the space more attractive. But can indoor plants actually improve your health? Can plants help to boost your productivity? 

Recent research proves this to be true. Interior plants contribute to a pleasant and healthy work environment. Plants help to relieve stress. We feel more calm and at ease with our surroundings when we are surrounded by green plants.

When the office contains healthy green plants, workers make fewer mistakes, take less sick days, and get more work done.

Certain plants help to clean the air by filtering out pollutants. Living plants regulate  humidity, reduce airborne dust, and cool the indoor air temperatures.

Additionally, interior plants help to reduce background noise, making it easier for employees to get their work done with less distraction.

Make your office more appealing to your employees by surrounding them with large green plants. 

Weeping Ficus with Braided Trunk  
Planters such as this are inexpensive, yet provide a worthwhile benefit to your office environment. Let us help you with your interior landscaping.

Callicarpa Americana: American Beautyberry

If you like berries, American Beautyberry belongs in your garden. Callicarpa Americana, the American Beautyberry, is a deciduous shrub native to the Southeastern United States.

In early summer, tiny lilac flowers appear in clusters close to the stem. By autumn the flowers turn into bright magenta-violet purple berries. The beautyberries are ¼ inch drupes and packed tightly together in clusters that encircle the stem. Leaves usually turn a pale yellow shade in September and begin falling off the shrub soon after. Once the leaves are gone, the shrub is left with vividly purple berries encircling the bare naked stems until birds eat the berries sometime during the winter.

Callicarpa American Beautyberry
Shady Gardens Nursery

Callicarpa Americana is sometimes referred to as French Mulberry, although I cannot figure out why. I think the name American Beautyberry says it all. 

The Beautyberry is very easy to grow, thriving in any well-drained soil and even adapting to very poor soil. Plant in dappled shade beneath large oaks and pines. The edge of the woodland is ideal. 

Beautyberry is very drought tolerant once established, but water once or twice weekly the first year or two. After that, supplemental water is unnecessary, except perhaps in extreme drought. If the plant gets full sun, it will need more water.

Beautyberry can be grown in most areas of the United States, since it is hardy in USDA Zones 6-10.

Beautyberry is eye-catching either when massed or when planted as a single specimen in a woodland garden or shade garden. Callicarpa is great for a low maintenance natural garden where it contributes year round beauty and food for wildlife. Spring flowers and beautiful fall fruit make this an attractive landscape plant. Use it in semi-shade under tall pines or in full sun where foliage will take on a not unattractive yellow-green color that combines interestingly with the brilliant violet fruits.

Prune back severely in late winter for best berry production. I just cut back branches so all are about the same size and let my bushes grow large. However, Beautyberry can be kept small with an annual pruning in late winter or early spring. This shrub can be cut back as short as 4-6 inches tall every winter with no harm to the plant and without sacrifice of the berries.

To be sure your shrubs are loaded with berries, plant more than one of these beautiful plants.

And if purple is not your color, you might want to try one of the more rare forms.

Callicarpa Lactea has white berries instead of purple. I have encountered many a gardener requesting this shrub for their night garden. Plants with white berries or white blossoms really stand out at night while most other colors are barely visible. Additionally, white reflects the light from the moon. Can you imagine how lovely White Beautyberry would be in the floral arrangements for a Fall wedding? 

If you are partial to pink, you are in luck, because a rare pink-berried form has been discovered. Known as Callicarpa Sautee, it is named for the area in Florida where it was found. The Pink Beautyberry is perhaps the most rare form of all beautyberries. 

Once you see Callicarpa Americana loaded with berries, you will want one for your own garden.

American Euonymus: Strawberry Bush, Hearts a Bustin

Eunonymus Americanus Strawberry Bush
Shady Gardens Nursery
It would be hard to find a more unusual and interesting shrub than the American Strawberry Bush. A native plant of the Eastern US, Euonymus Americanus is a thin little shrub with narrow, opposite leaves, green stems and tiny, inconspicuous flowers that give way to peculiar crimson red fruits that look like strawberries. As the fruits mature, they burst to reveal bright orange seeds, which is the reason for the common name Hearts a Bustin.

The Strawberry Bush usually reaches about 6 feet tall, and has a loose, sprawling habit with thin, wiry, spreading branches and an open, airy form. There are usually several main upright stems arising in a stoloniferous clump. The twigs are distinctive green stems that stay green in the winter too.   The springtime flowers are very inconspicuous, with five greenish yellow petals.

The fruit is a warty red capsule about 1 inch across that resembles a strawberry. When ripe, the capsule splits open to reveal four or five bright orange seeds that really stand out against the deep red capsule. Strawberry Bush is an important food source for white-tailed deer, turkeys, many songbirds, and other wildlife.

Strawberry bush prefers a rich, well-drained soil that is slightly acidic. This shrub does well in shady situations, even tolerating deep shade. Drought tolerant once established.

Euonymus Americanus can be grown in most of the United States, since it is hardy in USDA Zones 5-9.

American strawberry bush is best used in naturalistic settings, in the shade of larger shrubs and trees. But be sure it's close to the path where the interesting (and beautiful) fruits can be appreciated! 

A specimen covered with hundreds of bursting red hearts is a remarkable sight. In autumn, the leaves turn shades of orange and red before falling. In the winter, the leafless green twigs and stems are structurally interesting. Strawberry bush will naturalize under ideal conditions, forming loose, open clumps of sprawling green stems, but it would never be considered invasive or even moderately aggressive.

You might want to plant more than one, since deer will graze not only on the fruits and leaves but also the green stems.

Fall: The Perfect Time for Planting Shrubs

Fothergilla Mt Airy
In Fall at Shady Gardens Nursery
I cannot say this enough: Fall is the best time to plant shrubs and trees. Our weather usually begins cooling off in September, making gardening easier on both the plant and the gardener! Although daytime temperatures are still hot, our nights are cooler. 

October is a great time to plant Azaleas, Blueberries, and Hydrangeas. This time of year just brings better weather for shrubs to establish themselves without having to fight for their lives! So if you dream of beautiful blooms covering your yard on shrubs like azaleas, hydrangeas, snowball bushes, etc, do yourself and your plants a favor and plant them now, instead of waiting until spring. If your dream includes eating tasty blueberries from your own garden, plant those now too! 

Since we are now receiving regular rainfall here in Georgia, you can take advantage of that and be ready to plant when another shower is headed your way.

Shrubs planted in fall will have a head start over spring planted ones, and will have a greater chance of survival during our heat wave next summer. Even though the top growth of the plant will be dormant and might not even have any leaves, the roots will continue to grow through the winter. So get out there and enjoy the beautiful weather we’re having!

(Reprinted with permission from Plant Native)

Invasive Plant Alternatives #3: Shrubs with Colorful Fall Foliage

As written in my previous posts, many popular landscape plants seem harmless, yet they are actually invasive plants that move quickly into the surrounding areas to crowd out native plant species. Once established, these plants are capable of strangling trees and covering up native plant species on which many of our beneficial insects and wild animals depend for their survival. This change to our environment could drastically alter our eco-system.

In this third installment of my 3 part series on Invasive Plant Alternatives, I intend to share with you my suggestions for a fall color garden using some lesser known native plants instead of invasive shrubs and trees.

Most of the invasive species sold and planted have a native counterpart that is much more desirable in both appearance and behavior!

Chinese Tallow Tree, or sometimes called the Popcorn Tree, (see photo above) is prized for its fall color, but is one of the worst invaders into our forests because of the rapidly dispersed seed. Although Chinese Tallow is a lovely tree, consider these alternatives which are much better for the Southern garden:

Fothergilla – a native American tree/small shrub that is beautiful in all seasons. Showy and sweetly scented, white bottlebrush flowers in spring, and excellent fall foliage in shades of orange, red, and burgundy.

Sassafras – a native small tree with beautiful fall color and large unusually-shaped leaves. It is easy to grow and tolerant of a variety of growing conditions.

Serviceberry – another native tree noted for its spring flowers and fall color with the addition of beautiful berries which are food for the birds.

Viburnum – there are many varieties, both native and non-native, that are lovely. All Viburnums have beautiful, showy blooms and many also develop berries in shades of white, blue, pink, and red that provide wildlife food. Some viburnums are evergreen, and deciduous varieties develop beautiful fall foliage. Viburnum is never invasive!

And finally, Sourwood cannot be beat in my opinion. It’s my favorite native tree, because after showing off in early summer with fragrant blooms that look and smell like Lily of the Vally, Sourwood develops beautiful maroon foliage that brightens up the Fall garden.

I hope you will consider some of these suggestions, and instead of invasive exotic shrubs and trees, incorporate some of these beautiful natives into your landscape. Thus you will be helping to preserve our environment as it is, for our wildlife neighbors and for our children.

Invasive Plant Alternatives #2: Climbers

As written in my previous post, many popular landscape plants seem harmless, yet they are actually invasive plants that move quickly into the surrounding areas to crowd out native plant species. Once established, these plants are capable of strangling trees and covering up native plant species on which many of our beneficial insects and wild animals depend for their survival. This change to our environment could drastically alter our eco-system.

These popular invasive vines have a native alternative that is far superior in both beauty and behavior.

In this second installment of my 3 part series on Invasive Plant Alternatives, I intend to share some information about popular climbing vines and some alternatives to use instead of the invasive varieties.

Japanese Honeysuckle appeals to many gardeners due to its fast-growing habit and its sweetly scented blooms, but that aggressive nature and rapid growth are what has caused it to take over the South. Japanese Honeysuckle is one of the most common nuisance plants, yet it is still sold in garden centers everywhere!

I can think of quite a few good alternatives for this garden thug, but these are my favorites:
Lonicera Sempervirens
Shady Gardens Nursery
  • American Native Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, shown in the photo above, is one of the best hummingbird magnets I know of, with its large red tubular flowers that come almost year round in my garden. (There were a few blooms on mine even in January here in West Central Georgia!) If red is not your color, Lonicera sempervirens is available in a yellow blooming selection called John Clayton.
  • Carolina Jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens) is an evergreen vine native to the Southeastern United States with bright yellow blooms in early Spring and sporadically throughout Spring into Fall.
  • Clematis is available in many varieties, both native and non-native species and a wide selection of colors. All are lovely--none are invasive.
  • Passionvine is another native perennial vine with very showy, large purple flowers and attractive, edible fruits. This vine will self-sow, but never crowds out its neighbors. Stems are delicate enough that this plant can be allowed to climb through shrubs and trees abundantly without worry of damage to the support plant.
  • American wisteria (Yes, I did say wisteria!!) is a native vine that is just as beautiful as the Chinese and Japanese wisteria, but is not invasive at all. The blooms are very fragrant. You might see it sold as Amethyst Falls wisteria, but don’t be afraid to plant it. Avoid Chinese and Japanese wisteria, because I can show you how it’s taking over much forestland in Alabama and Georgia, strangling and pulling down trees, much like kudzu.
If you have an arbor or trellis that could use some ornamentation, choose one of these climbing vines for your garden. You won't regret it.

Invasive Plant Alternatives #1: Evergreen Shrubs

Many popular landscape plants seem harmless, but they are actually invasive plants which move quickly into the surrounding areas to crowd out native plant species. Once established, these plants are capable of strangling trees and covering up native plant species on which many of our beneficial insects and wild animals depend for their survival. This change to our environment could drastically alter our eco-system.

Most of these popular invasive species have a native counterpart that is much more desirable in both appearance and behavior.

Privet, or Ligustrum, is a highly invasive species found growing all over the South. Once it moves into an area, privet is very difficult to eradicate. It seems this problem will never go away, since to my surprise it is still sold in big box garden centers and planted in enormous proportions by landscapers and home owners everywhere. It can be found in almost every landscape. Once one person plants it, it will eventually be all over the neighborhood, since birds eat the small dark berries (see photo shown below) and drop seeds anywhere they deposit their droppings.
Privet Berries are eaten by birds, therefore privet seeds
are deposited in bird droppings all over the neighborhood.
In my opinion, privet is not even pretty, and I don’t know why people plant it, unless it’s because it’s evergreen. Our property is surrounded by thickets full of privet which, since it is not our land, we can do nothing to eliminate. And believe me, when it blooms, it really wreaks havoc on my sinuses and I keep a migraine until the blooms fade, because I cannot escape the strong fragrance permeating our entire garden.

There are certainly many superior alternatives to this pest. I could go on and on with a list, but any fine, textured evergreen would be better than privet. Here are just a few suggestions, all evergreen, some of which also have beautiful flowers or bright berries for the birds to eat:

  • Boxwood is much slower-growing, making it far superior to privet, since privet must be pruned every few weeks to keep it tidy. Boxwood is also available in dwarf sizes and variegated forms, making it absolutely unnecessary to ever plant any variety of privet.
  • Hollies are excellent in any garden. Dark green glossy leaves in a variety of textures with beautiful berries in shades of yellow, orange, or red provide plenty of interest. Dwarf yaupon holly is a native holly with small leaves giving a fine-textured appearance similar to privet, but without the maintenance.  When choosing holly for the garden, the possibilities are endless. 
  • Yew is a lovely evergreen plant that is available in a variety of forms: upright, conical, or spreading. (Also, deer will not eat it--Yay!)
  • Viburnum is available in small-leaved evergreen varieties such as Davidii, Compactum, or Sandankwa as well as some deciduous species with bright fall foliage color. Many varieties have hydrangea-type bloom clusters and some put on a bright display of beautiful berries in the Fall. 
  • Itea, Virginia Sweetspire, is a lovely shrub available in large or dwarf-growing sizes. Sweetspire has fragrant bottlebrush blooms in spring and one of the showest fall color displays of any shrub, native or not!
Non invasive Native Shrub with Fragrant Spring Blooms and Vibrant Fall Color
Itea virginica Henry's Garnet
Shady Gardens Nursery
I hope you will consider some of these suggestions, and plant shrubs that are not invasive instead of invasive exotics. Thus you will be helping to preserve our environment as it is, for our wildlife neighbors and for our children.

Wisteria: Romance for the Southern Garden

Wisteria Amethyst Falls
Shady Gardens Nursery
What could be more romantic than sitting with your true love beneath an arbor draped with sweetly scented lilac blooms swaying in the light Spring breeze?

Romantic and old-fashioned, wisteria vine is often seen in southern gardens climbing arbors, porch railings, and even trees.

Usually what we find is an imported and very aggressive plant from China or Japan. Beautiful and romantic, yes. Well-behaved and mild-mannered, no. 

Let me introduce you to a true Southern Beauty, the Southern Belle of climbing vines, Wisteria frutescens. This American Native Wisteria is a rare plant native to the Southeast, but she is seldom found growing in the wild. It is not the plant covering up trees along roadsides in Georgia and Alabama—that’s the Asian one. 

‘Amethyst Falls’ Wisteria is a cultivar of that rare American Native Wisteria. It is much less aggressive than the Asian counterpart, therefore making it a much wiser selection for your garden.

Blooms are 5 inch long clusters of lilac flowers appearing in late spring and sporadically throughout the summer. 

American Wisteria can eventually climb to 40 feet, but it is easy to control with pruning. This well-mannered Southern plant is lovely on a strong arbor or pergola, but it is easy to train as a tree-form standard.  An arbor of cedar posts or iron would make a lovely accent in the garden when covered with Amethyst Falls Wisteria.

Our native Wisteria can be grown anywhere in the Southern States, for it is hardy in USDA Zones 7 - 9. It should be sited in full sun or light shade. Morning sun with afternoon shade is ideal for gardens in the Deep South. Any well-drained soil will do. Regular water is needed only in the beginning when the plant is establishing to its new home. American Wisteria is very drought tolerant once established.

Every garden should have a lovely place to sit on a cool morning while planning out the days activities. Or perhaps you would prefer a spot to unwind in the evening after a long day's work. No matter what your gardening style, make your special place an arbor covered with the beautiful, romantic, yet mild-mannered native American Wisteria Amethyst Falls.


As you celebrate Independence Day this 4th of July, remember this: 

Freedom is not free.

If you see a soldier or veteran today, remember to say Thank You.

Texas Star Swamp Mallow: Native Hibiscus

Hibiscus coccineus, Texas Star, Swamp Mallow
Shady Gardens Nursery
One of the showiest summer bloomers in our garden this time of year is the Texas Star Hibiscus. A native plant of the Southeastern United States, Hibiscus coccineus is also known as Swamp Hibiscus, probably due to its love for moist soil.

Hibiscus coccineus is very easy to grow. It grows well near a pond or stream, and really enjoys a soggy spot. We have no pond, stream, or soggy spot in our garden--our Hibiscus is located in ordinary garden soil (that means dry hard clay in Georgia language). Admittedly, I do water it on occasion, but it grows bushier each year--we've had it several years now.

You can grow Hibiscus coccineus if you live anywhere in the south and as far north as USDA Zone 6!

Even before blooms begin in summer, Texas Star is a spectacular presence in the garden. Palmate leaves resemble Japanese Maple foliage and even have a reddish tinge.

Blooms are showy red star-shaped flowers appearing throughout summer and into Fall. The flowers can be up to 6 inches across!

Hibiscus coccineus dies down to the ground in winter but re-emerges in spring. By mid-summer this hibiscus will be 6-8 feet tall and look more like a shrub than an herbaceous perennial.

Texas Star Hibiscus does need full sun to bloom well, and you'll need to water it weekly when rainfall is absent. Also a regular application of compost or composted manure will keep it growing well for you.

Source for Texas Star Hibiscus: Shady Gardens Nursery.

Oakleaf Hydrangea: Easy to Grow Native Plant

Hydrangea quercifolia Alice already taking on her rosey glow
Oakleaf Hydrangea is my favorite hydrangea, because it’s beautiful in every season! 

In winter, the branches exhibit lovely cinnamon colored exfoliating bark, and the large flower buds already forming are attractive. 

In spring, the new leaves are a reddish purple. 

In summer, there are the very large panicles of white blooms that turn purplish by summer’s end, hanging on into fall. 

In fall, the leaves turn a rich mahogany red, contrasting beautifully with the then dried rosy brown flower stalks used by many in floral arrangements. 

Oakleaf hydrangea is one of our most beautiful American native shrubs, and should be in every garden, especially native plant gardens! 

Hydrangea quercifolia is much easier to grow than other hydrangeas. The fact that it is native to the southeastern United States is probably the reason for that. It’s accustomed to our summer droughts, making it more drought-tolerant than other hydrangeas. It isn’t picky about soil. And oakleaf hydrangea can take more sun than most other hydrangeas. 

And I believe it really is true that you learn something every day, because, although you might already know this, I didn't realize until this year as I passed our largest shrub that the Oakleaf Hydrangea is fragrant!

Memorial Day: A Day to Honor those Who Fought and Died for Freedom

On this Memorial Day, let us pause for a moment of prayer in thanks for soldiers who fought and lost their life for our freedom. 

We should all remind ourselves that Freedom is not Free--it comes with a price. Thank God for those who are willing to pay that price. Also we thank God for those who are willing to take a chance, in order that freedom can be had not only in our own country but overseas as well. 

The next time you see a soldier in uniform, thank him or her for that willingness to serve our country in a world where that sacrifice is not always appreciated. 

Let the soldiers know you care.

Calycanthus floridus: Sweet Smelling Shrub with Many Names

Calycanthus floridus, Sweet Shrub
Shady Gardens Nursery

Calycanthus floridus has many common names: Sweetshrub, Carolina Allspice, Strawberry Shrub, Pineapple Shrub, Sweet Betsy, but my favorite is “Bubby Bush,” since we call our little boy Bubby.

This beautiful deciduous shrub grows slowly and will eventually form mounds up to 8 feet tall. As the sweetshrub suckers vigorously, the mounds increase in width and will eventually form a thicket.

The many common names of Calycanthus floridus refer its aromatic properties. Most of you are probably familiar with the wonderful fruity scent produced by the unusual flowers. Rusty reddish brown or brownish red blossoms are 1-2 inches across. The blooms adorn the plant in Spring and sporadically  throughout the Summer months. Not only are the flowers sweet-smelling, but also the leaves, bark, twigs, and even the roots have a spicy fragrance.

The 4 inch long leaves are rich deep green. Soft and fuzzy to the touch, they turn bright golden yellow in autumn.

Calycanthus floridus is native to the moist woodlands of the Southeastern United States. Its range extends from Virginia, south to Florida, and West to Mississippi.  Sweetshrub is appreciated as a landscape plant in Europe and deserves more attention from gardeners here in the United States.

Sweetshrub is easy to grow in average soil, is easy to care for, and is essentially pest-free! Deer do not usually eat Sweetshrub.

Light: Thrives in medium shade or filtered sun.

Moisture: Likes moist soil. Water when dry. This shrub can survive periods of drought if necessary, but will perform much better with regular water.

Calycanthus floridus can be grown throughout most of the country, as it is hardy in USDA Zones 5 - 9. 

Try drying the flowers, leaves, twigs and bark for use in potpourri.

For an even sweeter fragrance, try Calycanthus floridus ‘Athens’ – a yellowish white blooming selection favored for its extremely sweet fragrance.

Chapman's Rhododendron: Rare Evergreen Native Shrub

Rhododendron Chapmanii, Chapman's Rhododendron
Evergreen Rhododendron Native to Florida
The rarest rhododendron of all might also be the most beautiful! I have grown native azaleas in my garden for years, but I did not even know an evergreen native rhododendron existed until recently.

The beautiful green foliage has a reddish tint in early Spring.

Rhododendron Chapmanii is the only evergreen rhododendron native to Florida, and actually there are only a few evergreen species of rhododendron native to the United States. 

Chapman's Rhododendron is very rare, and is probably the most rare of all wild rhododendrons in North America. This rhododendron is an endangered species, so if you are lucky enough to find some growing wild, it is illegal to dig them up or disturb them in any way.

The beautiful rose pink flowers appearing in Spring are exquisite. The blooms are borne in clusters and look like bouquets on the tips of the branches.

Chapman's Rhododendron occurs naturally only in Florida, but it can be grown anywhere in USDA Zones 5b - 8.

Rhododendron Chapmanii prefers dappled shade beneath pines or hardwoods. 

All rhododendrons need well-drained soil, but Chapman's Rhododendron will need regular water.

I would not give it much direct sun. Afternoon sun would burn the lovely green foliage. 

To obtain this rare native plant for your garden, please visit Shady Gardens Nursery.

Oconee Azalea: Rhododendron Flammeum

We are very excited about the newest plant to our garden this year. Oconee Azalea is a deciduous native azalea with brightly colored blooms in several different hues. I have spent several years searching for this shrub.

Since it is unethical and often illegal to dig plants from the wild, we have been looking for a wholesale source for this plant in order to also offer it to other native azalea lovers.

Rhododendron Flammeum, formerly known as Speciosum, is commonly referred to as the Oconee Azalea and the Flame Azalea. Flammeum is a deciduous azalea native to the Piedmont region of Georgia and South Carolina.

Also often called the Flame Azalea, Rhododendron Flammeum displays bright flame-colored blooms in brilliant shades of apricot, coral, pink, orange, red, or yellow. Sometimes different shades even appear on different branches of the same shrub!

This species is all about variety. Not only can bloom color vary greatly, but growth habit can differ from one plant to another.  The Oconee Azalea ranges from a low mounding shrub to a tall tree-like form of 6  feet or more.

Blooms are not fragrant and appear usually sometime in April, after the Piedmont (Canescens) but before the Swamp and Alabama Azalea.

Flammeum can tolerate summer heat in gardens of the Deep South.

Hardiness: USDA Zones 6 – 9.

Site:  Part shade or filtered sunlight. High shade beneath tall hardwoods & pines is ideal.

Moisture: Regular water is best for optimum blooms and growth for year round beauty. Most azaleas are drought tolerant once they've been in the garden a few years.

Soil: Well-drained soil on the acidic side is important for all azaleas and rhododendrons. Amend the planting soil with compost or soil conditioner at planting time, especially if you have clay soil.

*Mulch well to retain moisture and keep the roots cool.  Azaleas have shallow roots close to the surface of the soil, so do not cultivate the soil after planting. 

A low groundcover beneath azaleas serves two purposes. Not only does a colorful groundcover accent the azalea, but also it will help to discourage weed growth. 

For more information on the Oconee Azalea as well as many other species Rhododendrons, please visit Shady Gardens Nursery.

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...