“Common” Flowers

The other day the Owner of the West Meade garden had something to show me.

“I bought these because they were so pretty, “she said, “but  I know you don’t like common plants.”

“I do like common plants”, I protested, and I liked the blue petunias she’d bought for her terrace planters.

Any one who gardens in Nashville would not get far without common plants.  In this city common means “viable’. If one wonders why Alchemilla and delphiniums and monkshood and lupines are not common here, they need only imagine how many dessicated bodies of the aforementioned plants ended up on the compost heap. All of them, I would bet.

I think the Owner was remembering  some comments I’d made about irises and peonies and how no garden should have so many of them that they steal space from better, longer blooming plants. But I do not dislike irises. I think highly of the old purple flags and the Cemetery Whites. They are long lived and persistent. They do not fall over easily when battered by wind and rain.

Peonies are just as fine. In moderation.

But would gardeners do without the old yellow and green Sedum Aureovariegata, that passes from garden to garden? Try and find it at a garden center. And what could be more common than self-seeded Bachelor’s Buttons, larkspur, and balsams? Who would be silly enough to weed them all away?

Crape Myrtles, Oak leaf Hydrangeas, boxwoods, Annabelle hydrangeas.” May Night” salvia. Black-eyed Susans. Honesty and Purple Phlox from the Harpeth River bottoms. Bee Balm. Old double orange daylilies.

“Common ” to some. Vulgar to others.

But not to anyone with good sense.

I admit that I buy woodland salvias from Japan. I bought a rare species of Ironweed that grows on shale here in the Southeast. I love the new, and to me the Plant Delights catalog is more alluring than the Green Hills Mall.

Yet there is one plant that has eluded me,even though it is commonest of all in many old gardens in this city. How I wish some one would give me a cutting or a root or some seeds!

Here is the Trailing Heliotrope , heliotropium ampexicaule, which Elizabeth Lawrence used as “a filler in difficult places” in her North Carolina garden. I had it at my old garden down by the river. I even had it in the lawn.


I thank Wikipedia for this picture,and I wish this plant was as easy to find. I do not see it at the garden centers. I cannot find it on-line.

There are probably a hundred plants within half a mile of the Green Hills garden , but who has them I cannot say. This flower was once known around the city as “Edna’s Heliotrope”. Edna Metcalf, a newspaper garden columnist in the seventies and eighties had passed it to other gardeners in Nashville.






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The Curious Incident of the Angelonias in the Shopping Cart

Yesterday, at two different garden centers, I watched several people buying not one flat, not three, but five or more flats of blue annual Angelonias. At $4.99 a pot with twelve or fourteen pots per flat.

At the first store, a couple was loading up their van, and I guessed that they might be gardeners picking up bedding plants for a client willing to pay several hundred dollars for plants that will not outlive November. But here, in what a friend of mine once called “the money side of town”, $200 does not mean to some what it might mean to you or to me.

I suspected some sort of suburban bedding scheme in the making, and thought no more about it until I was getting into my truck after poking around at another larger, and more posh garden center. Here was an older lady, and by older I mean older than I, and I am sixty four.

Angelonias again. All blue, in multiple flats- going into the trunk of her car.

What was happening here? Was it a coincidence? Or had some gardening expert on “Talk of the Town”  praised these plants so highly that he had set off the horticultural equivalent of a gold rush? Were these people cornering the market? Did they plan to re-sell the new “it” plant the way scalpers sell UT-Florida tickets?

Applying Occam’s Razor, I discarded the conspiracy theories. Most likely a new issue of “Southern Living” was calling Angelonias the plant to have this year.

Never underestimate the power and reach of “Southern Living”.

Or was it something else? Had someone with not much better to do and loads of motivation found that Angelonias had medicinal properties? Did they help people burn fat fast? Was Doctor Oz behind this?

Or did they have mind altering qualities when dried and baked in brownies?

You would not think my questions strange if you worked in a prison clinic as I do. Inmates experiment with smoking all kinds of things-


I would think two flats of Angelonias would be sufficient in any private garden, but there is no accounting for taste, and perhaps these people, or their clients like their borders and planters spike-y.

Here is a photo of the plant in question.


And as you can see, I bought only one.




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The Frugal Nashville Gardener- Portulaca Oleracea from Cuttings

Portulaca oleracea is a trailing summer annual groundcover, useful in dry borders or over creeping off the edge of walls.

I bought three pots for $3.99 each two weeks ago. I wanted at least fifteen, but $60.00 for annuals is ridiculous for those of us who do not live in Brentwood or Forest Hills.

The three plants I bought were the mother plants for 24 cuttings. I took the snippers, cut my pieces,and stuck them three or four to a pot in regular potting soil. Since they are succulents, like sedums, they did not need to be covered to preserve moisture and prevent wilting. I put them out in my shady foyer for a day or two, then moved them into the sun.

That was two weeks ago. And here are three of them now, looking enthusiastic and budding out-


Yet at the same time these were rooting, I was conducting an experiment. I had some Silver Plectranthus I was rooting in water, and in with them went a portulaca cutting. Yesterday I pulled him out of the water and found a mass of roots. Into a pot he went. And here he is today-


I will never bother to root this plant in soil again. Meanwhile, in the interest of even greater economy, I am experimenting with rooting  “Blue-Hills Giant” Nepeta (Catnip or Catnip) in water.  I am even going to try this with sedums.

How comforting it is to look into the glass or jar and see the new roots. There is no guesswork, no having to upend the pot and spill potting soil all over while searching for roots.

I have read nay-sayers who claim that water rooted plants do poorly.

I ignore them. I consider what they say disinformation, possibly planted by garden centers or nursery people. Or perhaps they are just saying what some journey man “how-to” writer wrote once,and which has been passed on and on as truth. Be cynical, readers. Much garden writing  is infested with this laziness-

If all my cuttings make it, and I think they will, $12 worth of mother plants will give me $96 worth of new plants

That is smart, and frugal.

That is economy.

*This plant re-seeds, but it reverts then to the culinary portulaca the Greeks use in salads. Its flowers are yellow and insignificant. Many consider it a weed, but I find it tasty.

And free.


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Garden Report- Green Hills. May 4, 2014


I went over to Green Hills today to plant Wild Blue phlox that the garden’s owner had dug out of her driveway at her farm over on the plateau. This was work enough, but I also had plants from Burpee, Plant Delights,and Old House Gardens that had arrived at week’s end.

Burpee sent me two “Illumination Flame” Digiplexis.I saw the plant recommended on the Southern Living website.It is a hybrid of the Isoplexis, found on Tenerife and adjacent Canary Islands, and the Common Foxglove. How interesting it will be to see what it inherits from its parents, since Isoplexis  grows in a mild maritime climate and foxgloves grow in Canada. It has foxglove flowers that are carmine and orange, and its boosters say it blooms all season. Here it is in its Burpee pots, sans flowers-


Another arrival, the one from Old House Gardens in Michigan, is Canna “Ehemanii”, a cultivar from 1863. Both tubers are certified “Virus free”, for a canna foliage virus has spread in the canna growing world much as Rose Rosette has spread through the rose beds and nurseries. (Add the Downy Mildew killing off bedding Impatiens, and we now have a trifecta of plant plagues).

From Plant Delights came  two “Phyllis Fancy” salvias. Here is a photo from last fall, taken in Green Hills-


It is a wondrous salvia, but no more hardy than a wax begonia. Cuttings strike easily, and I will overwinter some in my south window, along with the equally tender “Wendy’s Wish”.

Since the Digiplexis is an unknown, I used my Southern Strategy in siting it. I put it in rich soil where it will get early sun , and afternoon shade. I think this is the best way to handle new plants, for if it fails to thrive I can be certain that July and August did not burn it to death, though there is the possibility they may steam it to death.

And here is Cestrum “Orange Peel”, coming back from the roots.



It should be four to six feet tall by autumn. Here is a photo of it last year-



And here is a fine plant I raised from seed last summer. It is said to reseed, and that would be good fortune- It is the Purple Mullein, Verbascum phoeniceum.









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Wildflowers and Antique Iris- The Green Hills Garden









The next to last photo is of the Twinleaf, or Jeffersonia. The photo above is of the old Cemetery White Iris. The rose behind it is a Caldwell Pink, originally from the Antique Rose Emporium. This rose roots where it touches ground,and it also forms clumps.

I have looked at all the Green Hills roses, and have found no Rose Rosette disease.



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Shopping for Plants Locally

I had planned to work in the West Meade garden yesterday ,but rain overnight meant that that garden on a slope would become a mudslide, unsafe to work in.

Instead I went out looking for seeds and plants.

I buy plants at three local garden centers- Hewitt on the Hillsboro Road, Creekside, at the intersection of Harding Road and Harding Place, and Moore and Moore, here in Bellevue on Highway 100. All three of these businesses are good. All have good service, and all three are expensive.

But it is true that you get what you pay for, and if I wanted cheap I could drive over to Big Box and see what they have that is still alive, since their plant care is abysmal.

I have shopped at Moore and Moore since 1981, when it was in the spot where Creekside is now. Moore and Moore has the best herb selection of these three garden centers, It has good perennials, a nice selection of Salvias, and great sales in late summer. It is also the most mainstream and conservative of nurseries. Reliable, but with not much unexpected, though I once found Persicaria “Firetail” and both pink and purple Porterweeds at the old Moore and Moore. I never saw any of those for sale anywhere else-

Creekside takes more chances. I found the two Cestrum “Orange Peels” I put in the gardens last summer there. And since I am going over to the Green Hills garden today, I may stop there to see what they have. I have been searching for Rue, Ruta graveolans, and perhaps I might find it –Image

Both aforementioned garden centers have staff, but Hewitt employs an army. It is huge, and one of these days I am going to wander their shrub and tree lot to see if I can find any dwarf crape myrtles. It has greenhouse after greenhouse full of annuals, including Gomphrena “Fireworks” and reasonably priced 4 inch potted lantanas. I bought 3 pots of Portulaca oleracea, which yielded 24 cuttings for a mass planting in the Green Hills garden. And this gem, “Summer Jewels” salvia, pictured above.

I also found two Society Garlic plants. This plant , though from South Africa, has been in Southern gardens for so long that it is considered an heirloom. It is going to the herb garden in Green Hills.




And here are some of the Portulaca cuttings.



This is my mini nursery of cuttings, seedlings, and plants- to- be- placed lined up in my sunny foyer.




When I went out yesterday, I was looking for seeds of the old fashioned Portulaca, the Moss Rose. I finally found them at the Big Box, and at half price. I will be seeding them directly into the drier parts of the front border in Green Hills.


* A note to any Nashville gardeners reading this- Hewitt had two beautiful and good sized Cestrum “Orange Peel” plants for sale yesterday. They are down with the perennials, and cost 24 dollars apiece. They are worth the price.

* I forgot to mention that Hewitt is where I found the Erythina, the Coral Bean Plant.


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The West Meade Garden- A Spring Report


Winter was as cruel in West Meade as it was in Green Hills. I have spent the last two mornings cleaning up and separating the Quick from the Dead.

Two large cherry colored Gregg’s Salvias went to the ground, and are showing no signs of life. The Indigo Spires and Mystic Blue Salvias died. I am not certain that any of the Hedychiums (Gingers) lived either, but they stay dormant late, and may surprise me.

The Carolina Climbing Aster, Aster carolinianus, is already a foot out of the ground, and Cestrum “Orange Peel” is alive and sprouting from the roots. Here is a picture of it blooming last summer in the Green Hills Garden.



Here are some of the other plants in this along the driveway border-


I  have never cared for azaleas, which I consider Color Blobs, but I make an exception for this one. I do not know what cultivar it is, since it came to this garden before I did.

And here is a “re-blooming” lilac that does not re-bloom.




An Encore azalea, loved by the garden’s owner- The rose beside it is a small apricot Floribunda that is still healthy, as are all the “Knockout” roses in the rock garden border. And here is the self-seeded Purple toadflax, wonderful looking, even when not in bloom.


This plant is a descendant of a Linaria “Canon Went” I grew in my Bellevue garden two decades ago. It self seeds everywhere there is even a teaspoon of dirt, and it particularly loves rocks. Once it comes to a garden it never leaves.




In this photo- Sedum aureovariegata, a Nashville pass-along plant, wild columbine, bearded irises,a “Honeysong” pink aster, and in the pot, Sedum “Thundercloud”, a perennial well worth $10 or $12.

I will be back in West Meade this morning, and will get photos of the rock garden border, though nothing is blooming there as yet-

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The End Of The “Knockout” Era

The era of the “Knockout Rose”, ubiquitous and over used in both home and commercial landscaping, is over. Undone by the almost invisible.airborne mite that spreads Rose Rosette Disease, plantings are being ripped out all over this city. Every parking lot had these roses, used as what the writer and critic of Suburbia, James Howard Kunstler, called “Nature Band Aids”.

Now the commercial landscapers are looking for substitutes.

A month ago the conglomerate that owns the apartments I live in hired a contractor to tear out the overgrown junipers around these buildings. In came the chain saws and the bobcats and away went the greenery. I do not doubt that if this had been done three years ago these apartments would be surrounded by rose bushes.

But not now.

The contractor planted some boxwoods, hollies, and in a moment of intelligent inspiration, Oakleaf Hydrangeas. I had a trio of Dwarf spireas lined up in front of my front window.

But how did this happen?





A line of dessicated, sun-dried azaleas planted  on the south west side of the apartments. Surrounded by impenetrable pine mark mulch that only a two inch rain could seep through.

It is clear that we are still in the Post Knockout Hangover Phase.



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Spring Report-The Green Hills Garden

After this past,vicious winter, I did not expect to see many survivors other than the wildflowers planted by the owner, the iris, and the peonies.

In some cases, I was proved right.

In others, I was proved surprised.

No surprise that a venerable rosemary,planted against a sunny south facing stone foundation, was killed outright when the temperature went from 70 to almost 0 in 24 hours. I do not think there was a rosemary in the city alive after that, and indeed the rosemary patch out on River Road at the Green Door Gourmet was a graveyard.

Also lost in the Green Hills garden were half the Gregg’s Salvias, although the larger plants with more wood on them are coming back from the roots.

I did not expect Salvia leucantha, or Wendy’s Wish Salvia to live. Nor did I expect to see three Indigo Spires Salvias coming back from the roots, which they are , with vigor. I have only seen this salvia survive one winter in all my years of gardening, so this is astonishing

And “Phyllis Fancy” listed as Zone 7 in the Plant Delights catalog, is ,alas, a winter non-doer. Dave’s Garden website says it is Zone 10, and I believe it, but it is such an excellent plant that who could resist replacing it-

Also alive is Salvia Darcyi, shown here-



And here are the crinums, now more than 20 years old, returning.




A tree peony in the herb garden-



Columbines, self-seeded, under a dogwood. Followed by Golden Ragwort along the front walk.





Two spring annuals that have been returning for over thirty years. Larkspur and the old timey Bachelor’s buttons. Both will bloom in May.ImageImageImage


Other plants of note that survived:

Cestrum “Orange Peel”. Coming back strong from the roots. It may reach 6 ft this season.

Verbena bonariensis

Erythina Bidwidii- green at the base and alive.


This year I plan to fill in these borders with Gomphrena (“Fire Works”, “Las Vegas Purple”, and “Strawberry Fields”), with Wheat Celosias, Salvia cocinea,Mexican zinnias, and Tithonia the Mexican Sunflower.











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A Quick Word about Roses

I have noticed a number of people looking in on my old post about alternatives to Knockout roses. This post was written before Rose Rosette became a plague in this city. I am sorry to say that I will not be planting roses anywhere anymore, and I will be trying to figure out what gardeners can use to replace them. My early choice as substitution will be the small and dwarf crape myrtles. That is not a choice for gardeners much to the north of Tennessee.

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