The Perfect Garden Path

The Perfect Garden Path

Is it me, or does the garden path set the stage for the entire garden? I’ve seen a garden path that probably cost more than our home, and yet another garden path that was beautifully simple and wouldn’t cost anything. I loved both. While looking over photos from the Garden Writers Association conference in Atlanta I noticed a pattern in my photographs. At almost every home I took photos of the garden path which led through the landscape. This contemporary path features huge cement pavers with (my favorite!) Mexican blue river rock between them. Pros: these large stones and river rocks will not move and will feel good on your feet. Cons: Expensive. Natural stones with dwarf mondo grass creates a garden path that will look very natural. Pros: you can do a little at a time and it will look fine, this also would work great in shade. Con: Dwarf mondo can be slow to establish. Large natural stones planted with ajuga is very similar in feel to the previous path with the mondo grass. This combination would work well in slightly sunnier areas and the ajuga will fill in more quickly.   There are several cultivars of ajuga available. Seek out one with lighter leaves for shadier areas where the plants will show more. I appreciate the craftsmanship that went in to building this path. The stones are cut, or selected, for very small spaces between each stone so that you won’t need any plants to fill. Pros: this will be so easy to walk on and also to maintain. Cons: Cost!   A slightly more “doable” version. The edging on the outside will keep the outer stones from lifting and makes it easier to use small stones in these areas too. You can see that these are not as perfectly fit together so it seems much easier to build. It will still be costly, however, to bring in all of these stones and install the edging.  I love the sound of crunching pea gravel as you walk on a garden path. This path is kept very neat by using mondo grass on each side to contain the pebbles. Pros: Easy to install, sounds and looks great. Cons: Pebbles may move over time and will need to be raked to keep clean. Another take on the pea gravel path with a more substantial edge. These stone pavers fit the area and could be modified to any native stone to help establish a better sense of place for the landscape. Ahh!  Beautiful stones with thyme create a stunning garden path. I have a feeling this is going to be an expensive endeavor, but the low nature of the thyme will make it really great to walk on and feet friendly. One of the most “permanent” feeling paths, this brick and lumber combo feels quite substantial and will be a perfect path for the steps on this hillside. Pro: These babies are not going anywhere! Cons: Time and cost to build these steps. I would consider this a long term investment. And a unique combination of brick and pea gravel seems to work in this tropical garden. The pea gravel may be some work to maintain, but at this point it looks great.   Our backyard has had several paths in its evolution, from stained glass stepping stones to the natural stone we have today (you can see our stepping stone path project here.)  Our small space probably doesn’t need much to move people throughout. But larger spaces, and gardens that have separate spaces, often need a great garden path to guide the visitor along. How will you incorporate the perfect garden path into your...
Visiting Duke Gardens in Fall

Visiting Duke Gardens in Fall

  Each year we make our annual pilgrimage north for the holidays. While I love to visit public gardens anywhere we visit, late fall doesn’t always tend to be the best time. Unless you are visiting Duke Gardens in fall. Sarah P. Duke Gardens is situated in the heart of the Duke campus. The stunning topography, stone work, plant combinations and quality of horticulture make this a must visit any time of year. But fall?  Oh yes, visiting Duke Gardens in fall is a very special treat.   Our visit in late November was one of the last opportunities to take your dog through the gardens. As of January 1 the policy allowing dogs has been changed, but none the less it was great for us to get out and stretch our legs after a long car ride. We can grow a lot of amazing plants in Florida, but of course like a girl with straight hair who wished for curls, I love to see the fall colors of the plants for northern zones. This stand of red twigged dogwood was gorgeous!  I didn’t see a variety on the planting, but it was a perfect complement to the blue sky and orange hues of the surrounding landscape.   The Japanese Garden was a focal point for admiring all of the Japanese maples in their fall glory. Even without color overflowing from these pots, the entrance to Sarah P. Duke sets the stage for the rest of the visit.   Absolutely stunning. And for garden visitors that just must see flowers, I am happy to say that those visiting Duke Gardens in fall will be rewarded with camellia flowers too!  These Camellia japonicas were just starting to open and were found throughout the landscape.   Word are hard to find to describe this beautiful scene. The red leaves of the Japanese maples and the chartreuse green of the carex in front make those chairs look like the most peaceful place I’ve ever seen.   The center core of the gardens feature the large, dramatic historic terraces. During summer these overflow with flowers, but even during the fall and winter maintain their interest through some very well chosen structural plantings.   Color?  Who needs flowers for color? The arched bridge leading to the Japanese Garden is especially catching during the fall and winter when it catches the colors of the surrounding trees and shrubs.    Have I convinced you that it is time to visit Duke Gardens?  Any time of the year will be grand, but visiting during the fall will set these beautiful scenes in your memory...
Florida Vegetable Garden update

Florida Vegetable Garden update

I can’t believe how long its been since I’ve given a Florida vegetable garden update!  Things are growing! You might remember that I started all of my plants from seed, all ordered from Johnny’s Seeds. This was my garden in September:   And this is today! As you can see, it is quite full. Everything seems to be doing pretty well; the first planting of beans are finished but the second planting is full of gorgeous yellow beans. Although this week has been really warm, our cooler weeks previous helped the ‘Autumn Star’ (F1) Kalettes® to really take off. The purple color is deepening and just yesterday I noticed what look like tiny buds along the stem. Hopefully some cooler weather will help these to mature. The lettuce mix that I had in my desk is taking off too!  I’ve been using scissors to trim off leaves from alternating sides of the row and, as you see here, they are continuing to grow vigorously.   And the tomatoes. Oh the tomatoes. Maybe the highlight of my vegetable garden?  I’ve used bamboo stakes and continue to tie the stems to them as they grow for some light support. In fact, I need to do this again!  But the tomatoes are setting!  These purple beauties are ‘Indigo Rose’ Tomatoes. I haven’t had one yet, but the color is so pretty and the size in larger than my other cherry tomatoes. I admire the purple stems on these too! ‘White Cherry’  tomatoes are ready to pick. When I was picking out varieties I had in mind a bowl of mixed colors, sizes and shapes of small, delicious tomatoes. And in my haste I realized I didn’t plant any red cherry tomatoes. Ooops.   My yellow pear tomatoes are dripping with lots of immature fruit. With memories of my grandma’s garden, I am really looking forward to enjoying these!     And who wouldn’t want a few zinnias in their small plot?   The ‘Easter Egg’ radishes have since been harvested and another row planted. I love the colors of these. And although they tend to get a little lost among the tomatoes, the ‘Corinto’ Organic (F1) Cucumber and ‘Gold Play’ Beans are delicious!  It took me some time to recognize which bean were ready to harvest, but the add gorgeous color and crunch to salads and other...
Best Winter Flowers for Florida Gardens

Best Winter Flowers for Florida Gardens

What beautiful weather!  Now is the time to enjoy the outdoors and get some flowers planted for the winter months. Not sure what to plant? Here are my top five best winter flowers for Florida gardens:   Geraniums: Large balls of flowers held high make this one of the most catching of our best winter flowers. These are easy to see from a distance, so areas like the mailbox or front yard are great places to plant. Plant geraniums now and they will last well into May. Sweet Alyssum: These flowers will fill the air with their soft, sweet fragrance. Reaching just 6” tall, alyssum work great in containers or in the front of a flower bed. Although flowers are small, about the size of a pencil eraser, there are so many it will look like a patch of white. Ornamental Cabbages and Kales: Not just for the veggie garden, these colorful plants get brighter as the temperatures drop. Ornamental cabbages are easy and inexpensive to buy small, I like to shop for the 9- or 12-packs, and take very little extra care.  By January, the purples, pinks and whites will be very vibrant and fill the garden with color. Violas: The smaller version of a pansy, these small plants come in every color of the rainbow. They make this list of best winter flowers because they do not need to be covered in cold weather and will flower until May. I like to plant violas in large groups of 9 or more plants where they can grow into one big group of flowers. They also do great in containers and mix well with herbs. Bacopa: Bacopa is one of those plants that is more expensive, but worth every penny. The trailing habit makes this plant a perfect addition to containers and hanging baskets. Each flower is about the size of a dime and they come in both white and purple (there is a pink too, but its really hard to find). The first week is the most important time for these new plants. Keep them well watered after planting to help the roots grow into the new soil. As temperatures cool, less water will be needed to keep these flowers in bloom. While there are many choices, this list of best winter flowers will be a great start. If you are looking for other ideas, this Pinterest board has lots of photos of the best winter flowers for Southern gardens. The hardest part during this time of year is planting the right plants. It is common to find the “wrong” out of season plants still being offered for sale, but selecting plants that thrive in cooler temperatures will make your life easier—and your garden more...
Visiting Classic Caladiums

Visiting Classic Caladiums

Have you seen photos of Dutch bulb fields and been amazed at their beauty?  Florida’s very own version of that spectacular scene can be found in the caladium fields at Classic Caladiums. Most of the world’s caladiums are produced in Florida among a handful of growers. Unique to Classic Caladiums is the breeding program that produces new and exciting varieties of caladiums.  The photo below shows a test field at Classic Caladiums, featuring thousands of crosses with varying colors, habits, and vigor. Among the thousands of beautiful plants seen here, only a handful will pass the rigorous testing to make it to the market. Probably the most exciting part of the this visit is seeing these test plots and knowing the future of caladiums is going to feature such beautiful plants. Purples, oranges, chartreuse and the brightest of pinks are all being developed. To walk through these plots and pick out a few favorites is a task that leaves you second guessing yourself! Endless fields of brightly colored leaves fill the landscape. Some, as see here, are planted in raised beds similar to strawberry production, while others are planted in the level soil of the field. From the Classic Caladiums website, “Modern farming methods combined with extensive testing, developing new varieties and reinvigorating older varieties keeps things hopping down on the farm. Unlike our competitors, we do not grow our caladiums in the mucky lake bottom soil near Lake Placid. The sandy soil near Zolfo Springs works very well and since we have extensive acreage, it allows us to rotate crops naturally and avoid using fertilizers and other pesticides and restoratives necessary to keep using the same ground over and over.”   As my caladiums are slowly putting themselves to sleep for the season, it seems the beds at Classic Caladiums were still in full show. It won’t be long however, until these start to shut down to and the harvesting process begins. The team at Classic Caladiums writes, “Once the temperatures drop and the caladiums ready themselves for dormancy, we cut off the leaves, then come back and harvest the bulbs using specialized farming equipment. Even though there are no leaves, every row is marked and plotted by GPS so we know exactly what bulbs we are harvesting. The bulb carrier is then emptied and sent to our nearby Avon Park production warehouse for cleaning, curing and sorting, getting the bulbs ready for commercial and retail orders.” In addition to the caladium fields at Classic Caladiums, display beds showcase the current selections of varieties available for purchase. Like a kid in a candy shop, I didn’t know where to turn to next when it came to admiring and photographing these plants.                             It’s hard to say for sure, but I don’t think agriculture gets much prettier than caladium farming in Florida....
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