A Book of All Seasons

Mark Weathington, JC Raulston Arboretum Director

THE ABSENTEE GARDENERS

By Kit Flynn and Lise Jenkins

Book Review: Gardening in the South by Mark Weathington

Recently, I had occasion to meet Mark Weathington, director of the JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University — and immediately bought his book. I always feel that if authors take time to meet me, I should reciprocate and buy their book. And then I had to ask myself whether we really needed another book on “Gardening in the South.”

I am happy to answer that question with a resounding, “Yes!” We do need this book.

Weathington is clearly a man after my own heart. Throw out the gardening rules “if they interfere with your unique sense of style.” Passionately interested in plants, he doesn’t advocate planting in massive waves of colors, as so many garden designers do.

He believes that our gardens should reflect our personalities; after all, we should be gardening to please ourselves. Get excited about a new plant, test it, determine whether it fits into your garden. And, please, feel free to take out a plant simply because it has disappointed you.

The South, just like our state, is defined by three major climatic regions: the coastal plain, the piedmont and the mountains.

Our climatic zones, extending from 5 to 8, have a high amount of rain. Winters in our zone 5 are relatively mild, especially when compared to portions of New England and New York. Consequently, fall is a good time to plant in North Carolina where temperatures rarely hover below freezing for very long.

Where this book truly shines is in Weatherington’s depictions of the various plants that grow well in the South — after all, they are the “building blocks of the garden.” Think of your garden as a palette, one that needs to be filled. The “how” is up to you.

His plants are listed alphabetically by botanical name but don’t let that deter you. While I typically refer to plants by their botanical name, it’s simply impossible to remember all of them so the index also has a listing of the common names. He clearly denotes the zone requirement for each species or notes that a particular plant is an annual.

Weatherington also gives us practical information: place marigolds in borders around the vegetable garden as their scent will deter rabbits. Plagued by Japanese beetles? Place four o’clocks, Mirabilis jalapa, close to the roses as the beetles love them, despite the fact that its foliage is poisonous to them.

Blood meal does a good job repelling rabbits — unless you own a dog. Dogs, when confronted with blood meal, will start digging their way to China. Are you plagued by mosquitos when you go outside? If you live in zone 6 or higher, consider planting our native beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, as rubbing its crushed leaves on your skin will repel this pest.

Even for those of us who have gardened for a long time, this book will provide useful nuggets. I’m crazy about our native Spigelia marilandica, and had no idea that there was another spigelia, S. gentianoides that has pink flowers and requires sun.

Want to attract more swallowtail butterflies? Plant Stokesia, Stokes’ aster. Need to replace that invasive English ivy with another groundcover? Consider using the vigorous Chrysogonum virginianum, Green and Gold — if you want mats of thirty inches or so. Need a vibrant color for winter? Try winterberry Ilex.

This book is a great addition to the gardening library of all North Carolina gardeners. The plant selection, accompanied by introductory paragraphs detailing the essentials, is extensive. The map detailing the three major climatic regions of the South is worth the price alone of this book. I had no idea the piedmont covers such a large area. Now all I have to do is to find that elusive Spigelia gentianoides.

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email: info@absentee-gardener.com

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