The Absentee Gardeners

The Wonders and Perils of Daphne

Sometimes I think that daphnes take all the fun out of gardening. There can hardly be a gardener alive who hasn’t lusted in his or her heart for a Daphne odora in the middle of winter. The luscious blooms coupled with a delicious scent manage to enchant us during the month of January.

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The Case of the Dangerous Seeds

A package unexpectedly arrived from my father. It seems he may have had plans to kill off his only daughter. My dad sent me a handful of beige seed pods, dried leaves and a note…


The Story of a Fence

When I moved to North Carolina from New York in 1992, I knew very little about gardening. Gardening to me meant hiring someone to mow the lawn while I place geraniums in a planter.


Garden Mania

I, alas, am subjected to garden manias. Over the years I have suffered through many of these obsessions: ornamental grasses, tropical plants, daylilies and even salvias.




Finally, Planting Trees

These past two weeks Kit and I have fretted and fussed about trees. We’ve confessed poor choices and lamented mistakes in the hope of helping you avoid costly problems.


How to Kill a Tree

These are good days to plant trees. You can do it right or you can lay a trap for future generations. Last week Kit shared some of her misadventures with trees;


Misadventures with Trees

“Let’s write about trees,” Lise e-mailed me. I groaned. You see, as a gardener, I have a love-hate relationship with trees. My reply to Lise was this: “Okay, I’ll write about the trees I have lost and you can write about…


Why Do You Garden?

Every garden has to have an aim attached to it, otherwise it simply doesn’t make sense. A garden is more than just a conglomeration of plants.


A Tale of a Japanese Maple

When I first saw the Japanese maple, Acer palmatum Mikawa yatsubusa, it literally stopped me in my tracks as I’d never seen anything like it. Now Japanese maples are commonly found everywhere, primarily for two reasons: (1) They are lovely…


When is a Bulb Not a Bulb?

Recently a garden group asked me to give a presentation on bulbs. When I replied that I really was a perennial gardener, rather than a bulb gardener, the chairman replied, “But you like to do research.”


Change in the Weather

Soon, the weather will transition from one season to the next. It’s too hot outside to be enjoying your fall garden, but it is time to start counting the days — counting backward that is. The successful fall gardener starts with the date of the first predicted freeze, calculating backwards from there.


The Trades We Make

Last week I introduced you to my neighborhood’s Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica) conundrum: choose between synthetic or organic treatments for controlling them and be ready to accept the consequences. I staked out my position — I’m willing to accept some damage…


Garden Trade-offs

It started with a question posted to our neighborhood forum: “Looking for a company to treat our landscape for pests.” That question turned into a lengthy discussion of ways to eradicate the garden pest having its moment, the Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica).


 Good Grooming for Plants

It is a truism that plants, like people, benefit from good grooming. And, as with people, good grooming practices differ from plant to plant. When I’m busy anthropomorphizing my plants, I envision that they appreciate what I’m doing to enhance their looks. Of course, this lies in my imagination because the reason plants produce flowers and the reason I think they produce flowers are two entirely different explanations.


Killer Petunias

This season I’m trying out some forthcoming Wave petunias that are faring well. Although pleased with them, I’m now saddled with a chore I don’t enjoy. If you’ve grown petunias you know what I’m about to say — they are sticky.


More Lazy Gardening

In our last column, Mark Weathington mentioned that turf was terribly labor-intensive, soil improvement was imperative and we should buy good plants while disposing of those plants that failed to perform. Here are the additional points that he makes:


Gardening while Lazy

This summer, what with dealing with a changing world due to COVID-19, I find that I’m not as enthusiastic about spending time in the garden. Whether it’s due to a creaking, aging body or a loss of concentration, my enthusiasm has waned a bit.


Planning for Saffron

I have a ridiculously small garden that is both a source of frustration and relief. While there are dozens of plants I yearn to add to our landscape I’m relieved that I don’t have to dig the holes. So, while my expansive-garden friends are toiling in their fields, I can relax, happily researching potential candidates for our tiny patch of heaven. 


Homegrown National Park

Global pandemic, crazy weather, invading pests: things feel beyond my control — but only when I forget about my gardening super powers. I imagine you’re finding solace in your garden these days, too. Digging in the dirt has never been so satisfying, it helps anchor my sanity. Having just finished Doug Tallamy’s new book, “Nature’s Best Hope,” I’m now feeling more powerful than ever.


Of Twine and Tendrils

If a global pandemic disrupts food supplies, I’ll be ready — at least that’s what I told myself when I planted eight cucumber plants. Yes, there’s a story lurking here of mismanagement, poor planning and my inability to pick just one variety of cucumber. But I’ll save that for another day.


Learn from Your Mistakes

A long time ago in a graduate history course, the professor marked in red the monotonous rhythm of the sentences in one of my paragraphs. Every sentence began with subject/verb, subject/verb. From that one paper I learned the invaluable lesson that it’s important to vary the rhythm in writing.


There’s a New Basil in Town

My adventures in basildom all began when Lise gave me a cutting from a new basil she was testing for PanAmerican Seed. The stalks had densely layered leaves with a fantastic aroma, accompanied by great tasting leaves. Alas, because it was still in the testing stage, it wasn’t available to the public.


A Very Bad Bug

A pretty insect lays its eggs on a stone. That stone is part of a global supply chain that starts in Asia, arrives in Pennsylvania — and now threatens North Carolina’s tourism, wine and Christmas tree industries. A thin line of North Carolinians stands between us and this invading menace. North Carolina’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has fielded teams of experts…


How Foxglove Got Its Name

When I’m thinking about a plant I like to start at the beginning, with its name. Today, I’m thinking about foxglove. A few weeks back, Kit told you a foxglove plant mysteriously appeared in my garden. After much debate, she and I concluded that my garden gnome was responsible for planting foxglove seeds.


The Charms of Coleus

Recently I have been pondering which annuals I want to put in the spring garden. While I emphasize perennials in the garden, I always need annuals to fill in the holes that inevitably appear. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, I abhor unexplained garden spaces.


Consider the Foliage

Recently, friends who have come over to see the garden have commented on my Japanese roof irises, Iris tectorum, that are in full bloom. While I’m not an iris aficionado, I am quite fond of these irises, having planted them throughout the garden. Now, there are a lot of irises out there.


A Foe We Can See

I’ve grown weary of living in fear of things I can’t see. Happily, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture is raising a call for help — they need our collective eyes watching for the arrival of Lycorma delicatula, commonly known as the spotted lanternfly. At least this is a foe I can spot.


The Gnome Did It

It began innocently enough: a small seedling turned into a foxglove, Digitalis purpurea. Lise sent me a photo of her new-found treasure, wondering how it got there as she knew the history of her neighborhood – and it didn’t include gardens.


A Lack of Concentration

As I write this column, I’m on day 27 of confinement. Because I’m a member of the Silent Generation, I’m taking this lockdown very seriously. My excursions outside my house are few and far between.