ShadyGardens Blog

November 26, 2008

The Winter Garden

Filed under: Daphne, drought tolerant, evergreen, Fatsia, garden, Georgia, rohdea, shrub, winter — shadygardens @ 2:17 pm


Since a Georgia winter has frequent warm days, we enjoy spending a lot of time outdoors even in January and February. Although native plants are most important to us, finding native plants that are showy in winter can be challenging. We do have many non-native evergreens in our garden. In addition to the popular choices of Azaleas, Camellias, and Hollies which we all must have, here is a list of some less common plants I’ve found to be truly easy to grow:

  • Daphne odora – Fragrant Winter Daphne – a compact evergreen shrub available with variegated foliage and winter blooms of either pink or white. Extremely fragrant! Drought-tolerant and shade-loving. (Requires very well-drained soil.)
  • Fatsia Japonica, Japanese Aralia, is an evergreen shrub with large hand-shaped leaves. Fatsia sends up a weird looking white bloom spike in winter. Very drought-tolerant. Likes deep shade.
  • Rohdea Japonica, Japanese Sacred Lily or Nippon Lily, is an evergreen groundcover that loves dry shade. Once established, Rohdea is the perfect plant for a Christmas garden, since the insignificant summer flowers turn into large, juicy-looking (but poisonous) red berries just in time for Christmas.
  • Mahonia, sometimes called Grape Holly or Leatherleaf, is one of my favorite evergreens for shade. Mahonia has an irregular growth pattern that I find difficult to describe, so I’ve included a photo above so you can see it for yourself. The prickly holly-like leaves are evergreen, and the plant is most attractive when grown Notice the purple berries on our plants. Very showy yellow blooms appear right around Christmas and last about a month. Since bees come out here in winter, the flowers are well-pollinated so the ‘grape-like’ berries develop by spring. The birds don’t eat them until they shrivel like raisins.
  • Aspidistra elatior, Cast Iron Plant, truly lives up to its common name. Spikey leaves resembling a peace lily or Mother-in-law’s Tongue are evergreen. Aspidistra enjoys deep shade and tolerates drought as if she enjoys it!
  • Hellebore, Lenten Rose, is an perennial/groundcover plant with palmate evergreen leaves. Hellebores display a variety of different colored blooms in winter, often when it’s just too cold to go outside, so plant them in shade where you can view them from inside!

For more information and photos of these plants, visit Shady Gardens Nursery.

November 20, 2008

Sourwood Tree

Sourwood cannot be beat in my opinion. It’s my favorite native tree, because in addition to beautiful maroon foliage in early fall, Sourwood has fragrant blooms in early summer that look and smell like Lily of the Valley!

Sourwood is a very ornamental small to medium-sized tree native to the United States. Leaves of Oxydendron arboreum possess a sour taste, giving the plant the common name of Sourwood.

Lovely clusters of sweet smelling blossoms hang delicately from the tree in early summer. Later the blooms develop into attractive seed clusters that are usually still hanging on the tree in fall when foliage turns its fire-red fall color.
Leaves begin to change from green to red as early as August. Autumn color can be a combination of red, burgundy, and purple!

The photo shows a small tree in my garden in November, but some large specimens can be seen at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia.

Sourwood prefers a semi-sheltered position in partial shade–the edge of a woodland is perfect. This lovely tree also grows well in full sun and is a great choice for a roadside garden.

Although drought-tolerant once established, water regularly the first year after planting, to make sure your tree gets off to a healthy start.

An important source of nectar for honeybees, sourwood is a smart choice for our environment in light of the decrease in honeybee populations across the country.

November 11, 2008

Chickens in the Garden

Filed under: chickens, control, garden, grape vines, insect control, Japanese Beetle, organic — shadygardens @ 4:49 pm

If you’ve been out to our garden, you’ve probably seen the chickens. Barney the Rooster was an Easter chick a few years ago, a gift from my little girl’s classmate. When we decided Barney might be lonely, we obtained a mate for him and named her Thelma Lou. She has been a wonderful addition to our family, providing delicious eggs regularly, in addition to ‘organic insect control.’

Each day we let them out of the greenhouse which serves as a night time shelter from predators. The chickens scratch around all day long, eating bugs and fluffing the mulch.

One day we decided that our garden was just too much work for two chickens, so we added the Fun Girls, Daphne and Skippy. Together they wander around the garden all day long, keeping insects under control.

Last summer we noticed a definite reduction in the number of Japanese Beetles. I’m certain that is a result of the chickens’ enjoyment of them the previous summer. The chickens would rush to my side each time I walked near the arbor where grape vines grow. At that time the vines were covered with Japanese Beetles, and if I tapped the vine, what seemed like hundreds of the pests would drop to the ground. I wish you could have heard the clucking of the chickens as they enjoyed each one!

In addition to providing eggs and helping with insect control, chickens are a great hobby, offering amusement and fun in the garden for children and adults. In other words, the chickens make me laugh. I just get tickled when I see them running to catch up with the others when one finds something tasty!

Virginia Creeper: Bright Red Fall Color for the Native Garden

I grow Virginia Creeper for its spectacular fall foliage which rivals any bloom I’ve seen. Brilliant red leaves adorn the entire plant from onset of cold weather for a month or more. Once really cold weather arrives, leaves fall to the ground and the vines sleeps for the winter. In spring new growth begins with tiny bronzy leaves unfurling for another season of interest.

Often mistaken for Poison Ivy (Why? I don’t know!!), it has no irritating properties that I know of. Virginia creeper, or Parthenocissus quinquefolia, is closely related to the more well-known Boston Ivy, and is native to the Eastern United States.

Easy to grow and not nearly as invasive as English Ivy, Virginia Creeper is a great plant to grow on a wall of brick or other masonry. This beautiful vine clings to almost anything by attaching tendrils to a porous surface. For that reason, it’s best to keep it away from any wooden areas.

Virginia Creeper is attractive at least 3 seasons of the year, but in fall the foliage attracts attention when it comes alive in a brilliant shade of red.

As is true with many of our lesser known native plants, Virginia Creeper is drought tolerant, thrives in just about any soil, and grows well in either sun or shade. It does not require a structure to grow on, and it is a great groundcover for a bank needing some erosion prevention. Parthenocissus quinquefolia is hardy in USDA Zones 3 – 9 and roots easily from cuttings. Virginia Creeper is a good alternative to the more invasive English Ivy and Japanese Pachysandra. Although it isn’t evergreen in most climates, the vibrant red fall color more than makes up for it!

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