The New Year in Here

New Year’s Day, I traditionally take down all the Christmas decorations, and file them into the basement.  That is generally followed by a darn good vacuum to take all the dropped pine needles away. Not this year though.  Nope those little articficial trees that have no scent, have no needles to drop either – they just go into a box and get filed with everything else. The wreaths and door swags, of course, were real and were takn apart – the pine clippings to the compost, the bow to the garbage and the metal base ring into storage until next year.

Much as I  like the decorations, it is great to have surfaces cleaned and table and nicknacks back to where they should be.

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A New Rainbarrel!!

After the Garden Writer’s Conference last fall, Fiskars kindly sent me their great new style rain barrel.  It is plastic, but terra cotta in color and looks much more at home than a traditional barrel. Well this poor thing has been on my back porch since October.  Today was the day to install it!After the first barrel (also a Fiskars one), I was aware that I would have problems with some steps, but went ahead anyway.  The barrel does not come with an outlet for a hose, so I went to Home Depot to get the pieces.  This just meant putting another 1″hole into the base near the faucet outlet (which they have a ready made hole for).  The piece went in easily, but a deep barrel and short arms always make for difficulties in tightening these things. Only time will tell if it is not tight enough.

Leveling the ground was not as easy this time as the previous one. I had to contend with roots and a Mahonia pinching at me. I ended up with something close to level according to the level gauge, and think that it is close enough.  The drain pipe was not particularly tough to saw through but always takes a little time, and this time I finished the last bit with wire cutters rather than the saw.  As per normal in this house, the downspout was filled with debris, which needed clearing.  Getting the hose assembly back together was a frustrating and aggravating job, to say the least! I kicked, cursed, shoved and manhandled the two pipes until they both were in the black connector.  Next came the connecting hose. Last time this was royal pain to get on, so I lubricated the fittings before pushing the hose onto them, and things went much smoother.  So now I have a second rainbarrel, which should serve the side gardens, and can have a hose attached so that I can connect the soaker hoses as well. I just hope that it stays upright until Saturday when we are scheduled to have some rain

.The New Rain Collection System complete with Hose Attachment.

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Atlanta Botanical Garden

Today, on the radio show (, I was slated to have Amanda Campbell from the Atlanta Botanical Garden. She is the director of the flower gardens where they are putting in some new features including an aerial walkway to increase the viewpoints that visitors have of the gardens.  Unfortunatley there was an accident at the garden yesterday – the walkway collapsed and one worker lost his life, plus many others were hospitalized with serious injuries. 

So often when we visit gardens with these wonderful features, we forget that engineering and construction crews are responsible for the construction, and in this case something went very wrong. 

Keep these workers and their families in your thoughts,


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The Christmas tree – banished!

Somehow he heard about Christmas trees and allergies, and connect his winter cold with the seasonal event. Not that it stopped him buying the Christmas tree a few days earlier than I liked.  The tree was a Frazier fir with a really neat shape.  We chopped the bottom off, trimmed the lower branches and placed it in the entrance.  Monday and Tuesday he had a sore throat.

Now I had read that most allergies to Christmas trees are the mold spores that they harbor in the field.  A good rinse would alliviate that problem.  So the tree was sent outside for a good rinse in 2 days of heavy rain.  Dried and put back inside.  By now the sore throat progressed to a cold, without the aid of the tree. So the tree came in again, and was decorated.

Alas, the cold was now full blown, and the tree was deemed the miserable culprit.  What to do???

The tree was banished from the hallway, banished from the house, and finally came to rest on the little circle where a sundial usually sits.

It looks a little forlorn, but is still seasonally dressed in lights.  The hallway, and other rooms required new, artificial trees from a box.  I am tempted to spray pine-sol around, or get a pine scented candle, but no doubt someone would start sneezing at that too!

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Conservation Subdivisions

I had the dubious honor of attending Roswell’s Zoning board yesterday evening to learn more about a Conservation Subdivision that was being built locally. 

If anyone has attended government meetings, they know that it is more exciting to watch concrete dry, and the item I wanted was, of course, slated to be discussed last.  The 5 member board pondered carefully about a new storage building, the height of a fence, and a new house that exeeded the lot-to-concrete size by about 3% (and this was a modest house). 

So finally the item that I was waiting for arrived – with very little fanfare and very few people in the audience by now.  They heard the request by the dutiful young man from the city, then the applicant had his say.  The applicant was a pleasant gentleman, and the current land owner with a home on the property, not one of those obnoxious developers that have plagued the town of late. 

The idea is good – more green space, less concrete, impervious surfaces abounded.  They even put an area aside for an organic garden – how nice I thought until I saw that the lot size was so tiny that anyone wanting to put  a few tomatoes in a pot would be challenged.

However, this was all irrelevant because the reason to be at the zoning was to get approval for a set back of house.  Hmm, I thought. The regulations for calling oneself a Conservation Subdivision are very clear: you need natural common areas and lots of open-to-nature atmosphere – very touchy-feely-tree-hugging feel. The problem was that putting 10 houses there also crammed them so close that they needed a variance on the set back to accommodate the greenspace. So as I was listening, it occurred to me that picking and choosing which regulations you can accommodate and which you need to adjust was perhaps not playing the game quite right.  With less than 10 houses, and they were modest, could the lot size be increased such that no variance was needed???

So I tentatively approached the good gentlemen on the board and asked them – was it right to fudge the rules, so that you can get your fancy ‘conservation’ title? What worried me was that these rules are made with the intention of creating spaces that are in tune with nature. So designing within the rules is part of the game, rather than designing the subdivision and then seeing what rules need to be changed to get what you want.  The board were polite, of course, but totally missed the point that when taking a title such as a Conservation Subdivision you are on board with the idea, and making adjustments to the regulations confuses the issue.  Anyone can make a nice subdivision, but if you want to hang your hat on a Conservation angle then surely you should do that with the right spirit and without the need for variances .

Of course, along with everyone else, they got approval for their varience and the team all went home happy that they had done their duty for the city, but it left me with a very unsettled feeling.

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Books, Books and more Books!

The radio show on Saturday was great fun – Deb and I had four authors on the show. Each had a new book that showed gardens and gardening for people to enjoy. 

The first book, Organic Gardening Down South is by author Nellie Neal and is perfect gift for those southern gardeners who struggle with heavy clay. Not only does Nellie show how to garden in such adverse conditions, but she also shows how to garden organically.  This includes some items that she prefers not to grow and some, like strawberries that she finds are are waste of effort if you want a really good tasting berry.  You can find more about Nellie Neal at

The second book is by C L Fornari, who writes about gardening in the north east, and this particular book is A Garden Lover’s Matha’s VIneyard.  The gardens in that area have a wonderful mix of wealth and farming. The book includes so many pictures of the gardens that you really get a feel for the area just from reading! See the book and learn about C L at

Then we had a slight change of pace as we chatted with Pat Stone who is the publisher of Green Prints – A Weeder’s Digest.  This quarterly magazine takes the same form as the Reader’s Digest, and is a real treat for those five minutes with a cup of coffee or tea.  The vignette stories are all factual but written in a charming casual way and they are only a page or two long.  The magazine also contains some great cartoon-like images to illustrate the stories.  A group of regular artists contribute to this part of the book.  The whole publication is produced by the Stone family, and comes out of the hills of North Carolina. It can be ordered from

Finally we had garden writer Gwen Moore Kelaidis and photgrapher Saxon Holt.  They combined their talents in the book Hardy Succulents – Tough Plants for Every Climate. Saxon told us that the first problem was that the author insisted that he travel out of California to find the succulents, so he found himself photographing a green roof from a cherry picker, and snow covered succulents as well as those in warmer climates. The book can be found at:

All the books can be ordered from the lovely and helpful and make great gifts for you or the gardener in your life.

Hear the tape of the original show where we chat to these authors at and click on Dec 6th.

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Yesterday I had the pleasure of talking to a poinsettia guy. He works as the production manager at Smith greenhouses, in Oregon and we talked about all the wonderful new ‘flavors’ that are now out in the poinsettia world.  Mints and fruits seem to be the current naming trend!

One thing that really fascinated me though was the funky colors that they come out with. I had thought that the botanical gardens that I visited took weeks to produce these wonderful burgundies and blues, by injecting them with colored water.  Nope- that is done with a spray paint!  Yes an earth friendly dye is sprayed onto the leaf to create the colors.

Another topic that took my interest was that of tree forms of the plant.  I knew it was a perennial but they grow fast and from small plants in July, the lollipop version is just grown that way. Pruned to have just one stem it grows upward and then it is allowed to create the ball of leaves and turn color when the flower forms, just like the little guys do.

I am now on a mission to find one of these standard forms for the house. 

For more poinsettia information listen to the interview on on Saturday, Nov 29th, 10 am.  The program will be podcast after the show and available until the New Year.

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Door Swags

Today, the house I work at, had decorated for the season, and they needed door swags.  As the grounds person, I got to pick the greens, the decorative berries and make the swags.  This is one of the times when I really enjoy the job.  I have no artistic talent but even I can make a few things from greenery that is fresh picked from the garden.

For the job today I used some cypress clippings and for the red berries I used some holly and nandina berries (above). 

The result: one basic door swag.

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Fall is here

Swing Seat in Fall

Swing Seat in Fall

Well, it has finally become too cool to just sit outside and contemplate nature- or at least for now.  We are heading for a cold and damp Saturday so the leaves will not be dried out by Sunday.  So as I wandered down the garden yesterday, I saw the swing looking rather forlorn and deserted, the seat harboring some fallen leaves. Another sign that fall is here.

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A Holly Tree

Sometimes I think I must wear blinders when I am in the garden.  It seems like the only explanation for walking, almost every day, past a thirty foot holly and not noticing it!  The large tree has been limbed up to about six foot, and it is the first in a line of eight mature trees that border the fenced-in swimming pool area.  The other side of the trees is a path that I walk down to hang laundry, take compost clippings and tend the vegetable garden.  The other trees are glossy southern laurels and one magnificent cherry laurel ends the line.  The holly that I missed is at the starting end of the line.

It really grabbed my attention big time yesterday when I noticed that it is literally covered with masses of red berries.  This is our third winter here, so it is reasonable to assume it had berries in previous years, but for some odd reason I didn’t notice.  Gardens really are a source of constant amazement.


The Berries on my Holly Tree

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