Fire Pink Hits the Bigtime!

A close-up of the star.

A close-up of the star.

Fire Pinks have always been one of my favorite native wildflowers. I’m lucky enough to have a small patch spontaneously maintain itself on a sunny hill in my back yard.  I don’t have to do anything but appreciate them every year when they bloom, which in my yard, is usually in late May. I wrote about my Fire Pinks in a post here a few years back.

I’m mentioning this lovely wildflower today — and yes, I know it’s red, not pink (see my earlier post for an explanation) — because it has just been named the 2015 North Carolina Wildflower of the Year. Here’s an excerpt from the news release I just received:

Chapel Hill – Fire-pink (Silene virginica), one of the most stunning native perennials of the eastern United States, has been named the 2015 North Carolina Wildflower of the Year by the North Carolina Botanical Garden (NCBG) and the Garden Club of North Carolina, Inc.


For a Wildflower of the Year brochure and packet of fire-pink seeds, send a stamped, self-addressed, business envelope with attention to NCWFOY 2015 to North Carolina Botanical Garden, UNC–Chapel Hill, CB 3375, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3375.

The NCBG and the Garden Club of North Carolina work together to promote the use of native plants in home gardens. Each year since 1982, a showy, native perennial has been chosen and seeds of that wildflower are distributed to interested gardeners. To view a list of the past 33 North Carolina Wildflowers of the Year, visit the Garden’s website:

We’re talking free seeds, people. All you need to supply is a stamped, self-addressed business envelope. Once you’ve established this wildflower in your garden, I predict it will stay with you through the years without any additional work on your part. And, no, I’ve never noticed the deer eating it. There’s so much to eat during its bloom period, I doubt deer would ever bother with something so relatively small.

I think this is a wonderful way to expose more gardeners to some of our most lovely native wildflowers. Thanks to the NC Botanical Garden and the Garden Club of North Carolina for keeping this successful program going for so many years!

Easy and gorgeous -- what's not to love?

Easy and gorgeous — what’s not to love?


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What Deer Harm in my Garden

Daylilies are a favorite food group.

Daylilies are a favorite food group of deer.

Recall from my previous post that I’ve noticed deer will eat almost anything if they are hungry enough, or if the whim overtakes them. That being established, I’ve definitely noticed preferences among the deer that have regularly visited my five acres over the last quarter century.

Trees and Shrubs

Almost any tree or shrub that remains green in winter will be at least tasted by deer. Camellias will be devoured, along with gardenias. They’ve nibbled on my Leyland cypresses and my prickly hollies, although not seriously. Even the non-prickly hollies, such as inkberry, are usually mostly ignored. They have eaten the leaves off all the branches they can reach on my evergreen dogwood.

Evergreen Chinese Dogwood in bloom. Leaves of its lower branches are routinely eaten during winter.

Evergreen Chinese Dogwood in bloom. Leaves of its lower branches are routinely eaten during winter.

Non-native evergreen azaleas are eaten, especially if they are fertilized. The ones on my property were here when we moved in. I never feed them. The smaller-leaved ones are rarely nibbled. The larger-leaved ones must taste better. If you grow these in deer country, you must spray often. On the other hand, evergreen Southern Magnolias are never touched.

The only native evergreen in my yard that is never nibbled.

The only native evergreen in my yard that is never nibbled.

My biggest problem with young trees and shrubs is antler rubbing. Every fall, male deer rub the fuzz off their new-grown antlers by scraping them against young tree trunks and branches. In my yard, they favor trunks and branches with a diameter of 2-3 inches. Before I realized this was a problem, males girdled the trunks of several recently planted saplings. When you remove bark around the entire circumference of a tree (called girdling), the tree dies, because bark contains the conduits that ferry nutrients between roots and leaves. I’ve found two successful preventive methods:

  • Wire cage barriers high enough to prevent deer from reaching the trunks.

Cages are ugly, serve as supports to unwelcome invaders such as Japanese Honeysuckle and Japanese Stiltgrass, and if you stop paying attention, the cages will eventually constrict branching, thereby contorting growth.

After trunk diameters exceed 4 inches and the trees/shrubs are growing well, I remove the cages. Often, the deer will at least nibble on the newly freed plants, but usually they survive without protection after this.

  • Plastic tree wrap products that spiral around the trunk. These are usually sold to prevent rodent nibbling on fruit tree bark, but they work equally well for deterring antler abrasions.

The kind of wrap I use expands as the trunk grows. It is white, which helps protect young trunks from freeze/thaw cycles, which can split bark. However, it’s a good idea to remove the wrapping periodically to insure that bugs haven’t moved into the cozy space between trunk and wrapping. Again, as soon as the diameter of the trunk is beyond the favored size for antler rubbing, I remove the wrapping.

Note: Although spraying deer deterrent sprays does prevent nibbling of leaves, it does not deter male deer in a hormone-driven frenzy to de-fuzz their antlers on tree branches and trunks.

Itea virginica 'Henry's Garnet' is routinely eaten in my yard.

Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet’ is routinely eaten in my yard.

Shrubs the deer routinely eat if I don’t spray include Virginia Sweetspire. This lovely native must taste very good. My floodplain specimens are now large and wide enough that the deer can’t reach all the way across. Their shapes are strange, but I do get their lovely flowers and fall color every year now. Roses are a favorite food – prickly stems, leaves, and all. I only have a couple that other folks gave me. If I don’t spray, they are gone for the growing season. I’ve written about my Oakleaf Hydrangeas before. Well-timed spraying deters most of the damage most years.


Hostas are deer candy. Only plant them if you like feeding deer. If you are deeply in love with these non-native old-fashioned (in my opinion) southern landscape clichés, your only option is to barricade them or spray them year-round after every rain.

Fat flower buds are eaten by people, so it's no wonder that deer love daylily flower buds too.

Fat flower buds are eaten by people, so it’s no wonder that deer love daylily flower buds too.

Daylilies are another popular perennial flower. Wonder Spouse became enamored with them and planted quite a few in our yard. It took the deer a few years to find them, but once they did, they began eating every flower bud off the tall flower scapes. And now that they know where the plants are, they and the bunnies graze on new leaf shoots in early spring before much is growing. The flowers are beautiful and widely diverse in color and form. I spray mine. If I forget after a rain, the flower buds are always eaten. The deer must cruise by and check them often.

Dahlias must not taste as good, but mine are nibbled if I don’t spray them early in the growing season.

Dahlias may have been ignored because I interplanted them with salvias.

Dahlias may have been ignored because I interplanted them with salvias.

Hellebores are poisonous, but in late winter new leaf growth is sometimes sampled by starving deer. I’ve never observed flower nibbling on these plants.

The poison in Hellebores must be fairly potent, because deer mostly ignore them.

The poison in Hellebores must be fairly potent, because deer mostly ignore them.

Native Perennials

Native Purple Coneflower flowers are eaten if I don’t spray, but native Rudbeckia flowers are generally ignored. Native Eastern Columbines are a food of last resort in my yard. Occasionally, all the flowers are devoured. If I spray early in the season, the deer usually go elsewhere.

Flower buds of Purple Coneflowers are often eaten by deer in my yard.

Flower buds of Purple Coneflowers are often eaten by deer in my yard.

As I mentioned in the previous post, my native Mayapple stand is partially eaten every year. I’ve never observed any nibbling of my extensive stand of Bloodroots. Both of these wildflowers are poisonous. Native milkweed flowers are routinely eaten if I don’t spray, even though these plants are poisonous too. Lobelia flower stalks are occasionally eaten, but usually ignored. Tradescantia is snubbed.

My Tradescantia cultivar, 'Sweet Kate,' is ignored.

My Tradescantia cultivar, ‘Sweet Kate,’ is ignored.


Fern fiddleheads – the emerging new leaf buds in spring – are eaten. Deer have eaten those on my Christmas ferns, as well as my Royal and Cinnamon ferns. I spray them when they first start popping up, and that usually protects them. My native asters are never nibbled; I’m guessing that their spicy-scented leaves don’t taste good.

Fiddleheads are sautéed in butter and devoured by humans, so it's no wonder that deer like them too.

Fiddleheads are sautéed in butter and devoured by humans, so it’s no wonder that deer like them too.

Deer don’t like herbs, probably because most are strongly resinous. Rosemary, lavender, sage, thyme, mints, oregano – all are ignored. All perennial and annual salvias are ignored, probably for the same reason. All have fragrant leaves and gorgeous flowers in an array of colors and forms. I grow a lot of salvias.

Salvias are never eaten.

Salvias are never eaten.


Anise hyssop  is also ignored for the same reason – potently fragrant leaves.

Irresistible to pollinators, but snubbed by deer.

Irresistible to pollinators, but snubbed by deer.

Daffodils must be very poisonous, because they are always ignored. Crocuses are routinely eaten. Snowdrops are ignored. Lilies are eaten occasionally. Flowers and leaves on my dwarf crested irises are eaten if I don’t spray. New growth that emerges in late winter on my Louisiana irises is eaten to the ground. By the time they bloom, the flowers are usually ignored. However, the deer delight in eating the flower buds of my bearded irises if I forget to spray them.

Never touched by deer or bunnies

Never touched by deer or bunnies

I know this sounds like a lot of spraying, but most of you have much smaller gardens, which helps immensely. Also, I only must spray certain plants at certain times of the year when they are most likely to tempt deer. For me, it’s worth the unpleasant task of spraying a smelly deterrent to ensure I can enjoy my flowers. But I don’t plant new daylilies or iris in my yard anymore. I’ll protect what’s already here, but anything I plant now is either inside a deer fence or has a high likelihood of being mostly ignored by deer.

Dwarf crested iris must be sprayed.

Dwarf crested iris must be sprayed.

Unless the coyote pack I’m hearing nightly eliminates my deer predation problem, I’ll continue to practice these strategies. And, frankly, if I’ve got a choice between their eerie yipping and howling and predation of pets and wildlife or outwitting hungry deer, I think I’d rather battle the deer.

Bearded iris buds are favorite deer delicacies and must be sprayed. Once the flowers are fully open, they are ignored.

Bearded iris buds are favorite deer delicacies and must be sprayed. Once the flowers are fully open, they are ignored.

Either choice serves to remind me that gardening is an unpredictable hobby. Gardening involves a dynamic, ever-changing interplay between plants, animals, weather, and climate. Every day brings something new. To be sure, I am never bored. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Bambi versus My Garden

Leila's buck

I know, they are cute, especially the speckled fawns as they frolic on my floodplain while their mothers graze nearby. But we all know how much of a challenge gardening in the southeastern piedmont region has become as our deer population has grown exponentially. When I find a treasured young tree with its bark shredded and branches broken beyond repair because a buck used it to rub the fuzz off his antlers, I admit that I am moved to contemplate Bambi-cide. Instead, I’ve spent the last quarter century devising gardening work-arounds for my five acres of green chaos. This is what I have learned.

There is no such thing as a deer-proof plant, except for almost all non-native invasive exotic species. I’ve never seen evidence of deer grazing on privet, autumn olive, porcelain berry vine, Japanese honeysuckle, or Japanese Stiltgrass. The only exception to this rule in my yard is English ivy. During very harsh winters, deer nibble off every green leaf on the vines crawling across the ground in my backyard. Eradicating this ivy is on my infinite gardening to-do list, but standard strategies won’t work, because an expanding stand of native Bloodroot occupies the same areas. Thus, I am delighted to have the deer slowing down the progress of the invasive English ivy, which was already here when we moved in.

If I don’t protect a tree/shrub/perennial/vegetable I care about, sooner or later one or more deer will devour it. The only logic I’ve discerned is that when native food supplies are low, my local deer much more aggressively explore my plantings for dinner options. Deer will take a few bites out of any plant, just to see if it tastes good, or if they are very hungry. Every early spring before native trees and shrubs have leafed out much, one or more deer eat about a fourth of an expanding area of Mayapples. This native wildflower is so poisonous that Native Cherokees called it the Suicide Plant. I’ve never found any unexplainably dead deer lying nearby, so I assume they eat until they get stomach aches, then move on elsewhere.

Fresh tracks usually mean trouble.

Fresh tracks usually mean trouble.

Fertilized plants are preferentially eaten by deer. I suspect they can smell the extra nutrients. Or maybe when they’re randomly sampling plants, they find the fertilized ones taste better. A few years back, a California-based development company erased 1000 acres of beautiful forest very near my house. They replaced it with suburbs full of over-fertilized grass lawns and ornamental trees and shrubs. When the forest was destroyed, many of the deer that lived there moved to my land. For about two years, I routinely saw a dozen deer a day, and they ate everything. But now that the houses are up and the fertilized landscapes are in place, those deer have returned to that area to dine upon the unprotected fertilized goodies growing there. The only plants I fertilize in my yard are the ones growing in my vegetable garden, and the annual flowers I grow in the bed along my front walk. How do I protect these? Read on.

Note the raccoon tracks interspersed with the deer prints.

Almost certainly evidence of more than one deer.

Deer-repellant sprays will deter deer predation, but you must re-apply the spray after hard rains, and you must thoroughly cover all parts of the plant. On my Oakleaf Hydrangeas in early summer when the leaves are fresh and tasty, if I miss a leaf when I spray the plants, the deer will find and eat that one. I find that I don’t have to spray all the time except during really heavy deer population years. Usually, if I spray during early to mid spring, the deer go elsewhere and find other things to eat through the summer. They usually return and start nibbling in middle to late fall, which is when I spray my hydrangeas again to ensure we get to enjoy their spectacular autumn leaf color.

The noxious, but nontoxic sprays used for deer repellent also deter other plant nibblers. Cottontail rabbits won’t touch sprayed plants; neither will groundhogs. One year during a severe summer drought, deer were devouring my beautiful weeping cherry tree. The leaves of this tree turn a spectacular orange-gold in early fall, but the deer were about to make sure the tree displayed no fall leaf color at all. I thoroughly sprayed this small tree anywhere I thought the deer could reach, which was most of the tree at that time. Immediately, I noticed that another problem pest of that tree – Japanese beetles – disappeared. Evidently, they didn’t like the taste of the sprayed leaves either. I now routinely spray this tree in late spring to remind the deer to leave it alone. During big Japanese beetle plague years, I spray the tree again to deter these invasive exotic pests. Japanese beetles love grape vines too. If you’re trying to grow your own grapes and you have trouble with these pests, try spraying the foliage with one of these repellant sprays.

The repellant sprays only smell bad until they dry. But you want to be very careful about how you spray. From personal experience, I encourage you to avoid windy days, especially when the wind is erratic. I also always wear gloves that I don’t mind getting rid of afterwards. Somehow, the bottles always manage to leak a bit onto my hands. If you are more adept, perhaps you can ignore this advice. You’ll find recipes for making such sprays from scratch. This is messy, stinky work, and because I only spray a few plants a few times a year, I don’t mind investing in the commercial products.

For larger landscapes and especially valued plants (think vegetable garden), barriers are the only effective defense I’ve found. For many years, this meant surrounding all new woody plants with wire cages. This was not only ugly, but invariably the plants grew beyond the confines of the cages before I could provide a larger cage. Deer nibbled the protruding branches, growth of the overall plant was inhibited, and noxious invasive species, such as Japanese honeysuckle and Japanese stiltgrass used the cages for their own evil purposes. Finally, we invested in deer fencing. I wish we had done it sooner.

A deer fence gate on my north slope garden.

A deer fence gate on my north slope garden.

Deer fencing comes in several forms. We paid a professional landscaping company to install 7-foot-tall plastic deer fencing around about an acre on the north side of our yard where I had planted most of my most treasured woodies – deciduous azaleas, deciduous magnolias, choice viburnums, Stewartias, etc. Freed from their wire cage prisons, all of the plants doubled in size in two years. I think their root systems had been growing, but their top growth had been inhibited by the cages. Once freed, they exploded. I felt like a fool for not figuring this out sooner. The company that installed our fencing built us several sturdy gates for easy access to my beauties, and for the first year, they repaired any holes that developed for free. Every winter, they offer discounts on repairs. Most of the damage to our fence – and there hasn’t been all that much – has resulted from falling branches from the large canopy trees within the enclosure. Only once did a deer try to jump the fence, which resulted in some tearing. The installation of the fence changed the regular paths the deer used to cross that part of the yard. Now that we’ve forced them to detour around the large enclosed acre, they only visit certain parts of my yard when they are very hungry and thus willing to go out of their way to seek food.

Base of north-slope deer fence gate. Note how the bottom is less than an inch above the ground.

Base of north-slope deer fence gate. Note how the bottom is less than an inch above the ground.

We had the same company enclose the vegetable garden in plastic-coated chicken wire fencing of the same height used in the other area. On our fence-enclosed north slope, squirrels immediately chewed holes in the plastic fencing along the bottom. We repair the holes, but the squirrels make more. We didn’t want this issue in the vegetable garden, knowing that the rabbits would happily use the squirrel-created entries for their own purposes. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that on early summer days when my spring lettuces and carrots are productive and juicy, I often spot a rabbit sitting at the garden gate, wiggling its nose wistfully at what it cannot reach. The plastic-coated chicken wire was definitely worth the higher cost for this area.

Deer fence gate to vegetable garden.

Deer fence gate to vegetable garden.

Certain ornamental plants are just not worth growing in my yard, because I know that deer/rabbits/groundhogs will eat them faster than I can protect them. I’ll give you a list of those plants as well as a list of plants my deer don’t seem to favor in another post soon. This one is already too long.

Close-up of base of vegetable garden gate. Note how the wire extends past the metal poles to touch the ground and also across the gap between poles, thereby deterring hungry rabbits.

Close-up of base of vegetable garden gate. Note how the wire extends past the metal poles to touch the ground and also across the gap between poles, thereby deterring hungry rabbits.

Have you devised other strategies that work for your garden? If so, please share these in the comment section of this post. They outnumber us, so we gardeners must stick together to thwart them!

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Annual Reflections


New Year’s Eve sunshine turned my quiet creek into a mirror this morning.


This is my 350th post since I began this blog in 2011. It seemed appropriate to publish this on the final day of 2014. The good folks at WordPress always provide me with a year-end summary of blog statistics, so I thought I’d share a few of them with my readers.

This deciduous holly is a volunteer sowed by birds. Today's sunlight made it glow.

This deciduous holly is a volunteer sowed by birds. Today’s sunlight made it glow.

I added 53 posts this year, averaging out to one per week, proving that I can write/talk about the green world pretty much indefinitely. Most days, I average about 100 visitors, but on April 13th of this year, my visitor total soared to 200. April is always an active month on my blog, as folks begin searching about for gardening information.

My little pond where the salamanders breed is full from recent rains and awaiting amorous amphibians.

My little pond where the salamanders breed is full from recent rains and awaiting amorous amphibians.

In 2014, my five most frequently visited entries were from previous years – 3 from 2011, and 2 from 2012 – all on very specific gardening topics. From this, I conclude that most of my readers want specific information about plants and techniques they can use in their own gardens and yards. Message received. I’ll try to write more of these sorts of posts in the coming year.

The birds have eaten all the berries on my other deciduous hollies. Perhaps this is an emergency back-up supply?

The birds have eaten all the berries on my other deciduous hollies. Perhaps this is an emergency back-up supply?

Facebook users provided the most referrals to my site. I’m hoping that my relatively new Piedmont Gardener Facebook page will help additional Facebook users find this blog more easily.

The only other holly still holding berries is this very prickly evergreen one, a hybrid I received as a tiny rooted cutting years ago. It's now 8 feet tall and equally wide, despite the deer nibbling its new growth every spring.

The only other holly still holding berries is this very prickly evergreen one, a hybrid I received as a tiny rooted cutting years ago. It’s now 8 feet tall and equally wide, despite the deer nibbling its new growth every spring.

Most astonishing to me is where my visitors live. By far, most of my visitors live in the United States, which makes sense, of course, because that’s where I live, and where the gardens I write about are located. Close behind US visitors are those from Canada and the United Kingdom, again, not too terribly surprising.

I know Stewartia monadelpha is grown by discerning European gardeners; perhaps they stop by this blog for a peek at its landscape potential?

I know Stewartia monadelpha is grown by discerning European gardeners; perhaps they stop by this blog for a peek at its landscape potential?

The amazing part, to me, is that visitors from 126 other countries also stopped by at least once in the past year. Just in the last two days, for example, my blog has been visited by folks living in Uzbekistan, Singapore, Brazil, Poland, France, Belgium, India, Germany, Italy, Tunisia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Israel, and Australia!

Persian Ironwood glows in the late autumn landscape. It's another favorite of European gardeners, which may explain their visits to this blog.

Persian Ironwood glows in the late autumn landscape. It’s another favorite of European gardeners, which may explain their visits to this blog.

Often, I can tell by the pages being viewed that visitors are looking for information on specific plants. The Australians frequently seek information on how to garden in 100+-degree temperatures. I suspect their prolonged unusually hot and dry recent weather years have them looking for help wherever they can find it. Here’s hoping that 2015 brings Australian gardeners a cooler, wetter climate.

I had intended to include a few gardening- and writing-related New Year’s resolutions, but I’ll save those for another time. Today, I’ll close by asking my readers to use the Comments feature of this blog to submit any gardening topics you’d especially like me to cover in the imminent new year. I’ll do my best to fulfill as many of your requests as possible.

Vegetable gardening topics are always popular. I promise more of these next year.

Vegetable gardening topics are always popular. I promise more of these next year.

And, of course, I want to thank all of you who stop by here in your quest for information about gardening in the piedmont region of the southeastern United States. I am humbled by your friendship and support, and I promise to continue writing this blog as long as you continue to read it.

Happy New Year to all!

Happy New Year to all! 



Dear Santa

magnolia cones

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written, and I know that you’re already busy flying around the world spreading your Christmas cheer, but I’m hoping because you’re omniscient and omnipresent that you might still consider my requests.

I’m not asking for any traditional gifts. I’m blessed with all that I really need. And, as I grow older, I’m finding more and more that the acquisition of additional things is just not what I care about.


As you know, since you know everything, I love the natural world. I’m sure that you and Mother Earth converse, but perhaps she hasn’t shared with you how challenging humans are making her job. While most every human knows about you and what you stand for, a depressing number – to me, anyway – of humans have forgotten all about Mother Earth.

This looks "normal" to the Plant Blind.

This looks “normal” to the Plant Blind.

In the US, where I live, a disturbing number of humans have developed Plant Blindness. They are no longer able to see plants as individual entities and species; it’s all just an interchangeable green blur to them, irrelevant – they think – to their lives. I’m hoping – if you’ve got any extra Christmas mojo at all – that you will consider zapping the Plant Blind with so much Christmas light that they’ll start appreciating the natural world surrounding them. And please do it today, before the native landscape becomes irretrievable. I know that’s a mighty big request, but I’m very worried, Santa. I’d be grateful for anything you can do.

CORA garden and Carol

While I’ve got your ear, I’ve a couple more favors to ask. I’m also worried about the hungry, Santa. Here in the US, we’re not doing a good job of feeding them. They especially need fresh fruits and vegetables, and community gardens are springing up around the country with the goal of providing these critical foods to hungry folks. But those gardens could use your help. Could you perhaps drop off some supplies – seeds, fertilizers, mulch, tools – anything like that lingering down in the bottom of that big sack you carry? And elves. Those gardens can use all the elves you can spare. It might be nice to send them to warmer climes for a bit, where they can help cultivate and nurture these critical food gardens.

Florida Flame Azalea at the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill

Florida Flame Azalea at the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill

All the wonderful nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping Mother Earth are also hurting these days, Santa. Humans aren’t donating to these essential groups the way they once did. Please consider using your Christmas mojo to direct critical grant funds to their budgets, and maybe if you can help the Plant Blind see, they’ll open their wallets to help out too.

Thanks, Santa.

Thanks, Santa.

I know, Santa, that as you fly around the world today and tonight, you are seeing great need everywhere. The pleas for help, I’m sure, are deafening. But somehow through the noise, I know you hear every request, so I’m hoping you’ll hear this one.

Thanks for listening, Santa.

Merry Christmas. And to all — Happy Gardening!


Winter Solstice Welcome

Happy Winter Solstice, friends. Tonight the darkness is most prolonged, but then the Earth turns us slowly round to Spring light and another growing season. Personally, I love this time of year. To acknowledge this astronomical event, I’ve attempted a little poem. Apologies in advance to any real poets out there.


I Know Where the Sun Is

A pink streak outlines the eastern ridge;
bare tree trunks become black outlines.
Pink morphs to deeper mauve.
Mauve morphs to crimson and climbs the sky,
revealing the outline of every intertwining branch in the canopy.


Eastern crimson sends out pink tentacles to the southern horizon,
a thin line demarcating earth and air.
Creek water reflects red sky;
ripples of fire trail paddling wood ducks.
They know where the sun is.


As sky pales to orange, then gold,
White-throated sparrows sing a melancholy greeting.
They know where the sun is.


Advancing western clouds warm from pink to orange
before they engulf the glowing orb just rising above the ridge.
Winter gray wins the morning,
but that’s okay,
because I know where the sun is.


Every fat flower bud shelters its light.
Every green winter leaf finds its power,
even on dim days when humans growl at the clouds.

Royal Star Magnolia bud in snow

Winter darkness,
winter starkness
does not worry me.
I don’t need to build a solstice bonfire
to ensure the sun’s return.


Bird and bud,
Earth and air,
Spinning blue-green world
dancing in a sea of stars.
They don’t need human intervention.

IMG_5685-1 Peggy Clark Jr in snow close up

I am just a speck in an infinite universe,
but I know where the sun is.

Winter Sunrise over Piedmont Forest

Happy Winter Solstice to all!


2014 Renee’s Garden Seeds Review

Cosmos 'Sonata Knee High'

Cosmos ‘Sonata Knee High’

My apologies to my dozen or so loyal readers for my prolonged silence. A gardening-related injury sidelined me unexpectedly. I start physical therapy tomorrow, and hope to be ready for another growing season by the time it arrives.

Zinnia Berry Basket

Zinnia ‘Berry Basket’

I am overdue to summarize my experience with the free seeds Renee’s Garden provided me with as a member of the Garden Writers Association. First, I was unable to try three of the varieties I requested. The two sunflower types and a Four o’clock mix all required direct sowing. Unfortunately, my garden experienced no measurable rain for the first two months of the growing season, starting right about the time I needed to sow the seeds. By the time the rains returned, it was mid-July — not a good time to start any flower seed in the piedmont of North Carolina.

Asclepias Butterfly Bright Wings with Spicebush Swallowtail

Asclepias ‘Butterfly Bright Wings’ with Spicebush Swallowtail

However, the seeds I was able to sow in my greenhouse in early March all germinated magnificently, and I was able to transplant out a number of seedlings that performed quite well for me all summer long.

Zinnia Berry Basket mix

Zinnia ‘Berry Basket’ mix

I didn’t try any veggie varieties from Renee’s Garden this year. Here are the flower varieties I grew.

Asclepias ‘Butterfly Bright Wings’

The yellow version of Butterfly Bright Wings

The yellow version of ‘Butterfly Bright Wings’

This is a non-native, tropical species of milkweed that was described as floriferous and tender, meaning winter should kill it. When I planted this, I had not read that these tropical milkweeds are actually confusing Monarch butterflies, especially in the western US, where groups migrating south are becoming confused by these flowers. Instead of resting and then flying further south, they are laying their eggs on these tropical milkweeds, thereby disrupting the life cycle pattern of the Monarchs. I don’t think this is an issue in the southeastern US, because the first freeze kills this variety to the ground.

The red version of Butterfly Bright Wings

The red version of ‘Butterfly Bright Wings’

As you can see from the photos, the seeds I planted produced some plants with pure yellow-orange flowers, and some with red-orange flowers. The red ones were especially stunning. My plants bloomed all summer until hard frost, and grew to a height of about four feet. The plants were sturdy, requiring no support to remain upright even during thunderstorms.


Butterfly Bright Wings produced abundant seeds.

‘Butterfly Bright Wings’ produced abundant seeds.

They produced many seed pods, and the resulting seeds yielded a number of volunteer seedlings in the bed where I transplanted this variety. I’m assuming all were killed by the first freeze. I’ll let you know next spring if any reappear.

Marigold ‘Summer Splash’

I didn’t take a single picture of this variety that I liked enough to put in my blog. This variety produced larger plants than my favorite Queen Sophia marigold, and the branches broke and split early on. The flowers themselves were kind of a ho-hum yellow. Give me Queen Sophia any day.

Cosmos ‘Sonata Knee High’

Cosmos Sonata Knee High, white version

Cosmos ‘Sonata Knee High’, white version

I tried this Cosmos variety, because it is supposed to be shorter than some of the others. It may have been slightly shorter, but mine all grew eventually to a height of about 4.5 feet — not where my knees appear. As is true for most Cosmos varieties, a spell of heat and humidity combined with hard rain turned the plants into fungal mush. But during the early drought period I mentioned previously, they were very happy.

Cosmos Sonata Knee High mix

Cosmos ‘Sonata Knee High’ mix

All three colors in the mix were lovely. As is often the case, the white flowers tended to look the worse for wear most often.

Sonata Knee High magenta version

‘Sonata Knee High,’ magenta version

The pink and magenta versions stayed lovely for several days. After the fungus killed the plants, I pulled them up and left that bed empty. In September, a number of new seedlings appeared, clearly the offspring of the many spent flower heads I had snipped off to keep the flowers blooming.

Echinacea ‘Paradise Mix’

Echinacea Paradise Mix

Echinacea ‘Paradise Mix’

This is the only perennial from Renee’s Garden that I tried this year. It often takes perennials a full year’s cycle to grow large enough to produce flowers. But one of the plants I grew managed to produce the lovely bloom above. This mix was advertised as producing flowers in the red-yellow-orange range, so I confess I was disappointed when the one flower I got looked very much like my native coneflowers, only slightly larger. Very late in the fall, another seedling produced a flower bud that looked to me as if it were going to be red, but a freeze killed it before it could open. However, all the seedlings I planted out grew well throughout the season, and I’m hoping for lots of variably colored flowers next year.

Dahlia ‘Dwarf Watercolors’

A double-flowered Dahlia Dwarf Watercolor

A double-flowered Dahlia ‘Dwarf Watercolor’

Dahlias are usually considered to be perennial flowers in my area, but the seed package from Renee’s Garden called this variety an annual. I love dahlias, but most are large and take a lot of room, plus deer love them. The description of this variety was irresistible. My sowing yielded 5 plants, 2 of which were eaten by voles early in the season. Of the three that survived, one was a lovely white with pink undertones, one was a double yellow, and the other was a single yellow.

The single-flowered yellow dahlia

The single-flowered yellow dahlia

All bloomed nonstop all summer, no doubt aided by my attentive snipping of spent flower heads. I also sprayed them all summer with deer repellant. I interplanted them with two other varieties from Renee’s Garden, and because these dahlias really were dwarf varieties, they were a bit overpowered by what turned out to be larger flower varieties. But that did not prevent the pollinators from finding them.

The pinkish white dahlia

The pinkish white dahlia

After frost zapped these plants, I decided to see what their roots looked like. To my delight, all three had formed a significant number of tubers. They seemed to be in excellent condition, so I bagged them up with some dry potting soil and put them in my cool garage for the winter. I’m hoping the tubers will re-sprout for me next spring, despite their description as annuals.

Salvia ‘Coral Nymph’

A close-up of Salvia Coral Nymph

A close-up of Salvia ‘Coral Nymph’

I tried this annual last year and failed. It would not germinate for me in the greenhouse. What a difference a year makes. I got abundant, vigorous seedlings this year, all of which successfully transplanted, eventually growing to large (3.5 feet), multi-branched, perpetually floriferous bee magnets. For reasons known only to my camera, I didn’t get any great pictures of that bed, but trust me, they are well worth growing.

Salvia Coral Nymph looked great all summer beside my front walk.

Salvia ‘Coral Nymph’ looked great all summer beside my front walk.

Snapdragon ‘Butterfly Chantilly’

In bright sun, these snapdragons faded into the background.

In bright sun, these snapdragons faded into the background.

This snapdragon mixed-color mix germinated well, and the flowers bloomed all summer long. However, the mix did not produce colors I liked. They were mostly muted and muddy. One pure lemon yellow one was the exception. I won’t try these again.

My favorite color of the snapdragon mix, with a young Salvia Coral Nymph

My favorite color of the snapdragon mix, with a young Salvia ‘Coral Nymph’

Zinnia ‘Berry Basket’

Zinnia Berry Basket mix

Zinnia ‘Berry Basket’ mix

This zinnia mix did not grow as large as the variety I tried last year. Instead of attaining heights of nearly eight feet, this variety stopped around the five-foot mark, which was fine with me. Even so, the stems eventually began to fall over and split from the weight of side branches laden with flower buds.

A Silver-spotted Skipper enjoying a Berry Basket Zinnia

A Silver-spotted Skipper enjoying a Berry Basket Zinnia

Despite their tendency to fall over and their eventual disfiguration by humidity-enhanced fungal diseases, these flowers kept producing until hard frost. Every bloom attracted abundant pollinators, from bumblebees to butterflies.

Berry Basket Zinnia

Berry Basket Zinnia

I loved the mix of rich colors and forms in this variety. They made for fabulous instant, long-lasting bouquets of cut flowers. I would happily grow this mix again, but next time I’ll space them farther apart, and I’ll introduce a support system early on, before they start collapsing under their own weight.


Nasturtium Cup of Sun

Nasturtium ‘Cup of Sun’

I grew three varieties this year. This is my third year growing ‘Cup of Sun’. I just love it. It’s a clumper, not a climber, and in my garden, it remains politely in its place until late summer. For some reason, at that point in the growing season, it tends to go a little nuts, overgrowing anything in its path. Fortunately, by that time, most of the beds are done for the season.

Cup of Sun with Empress of India

‘Cup of Sun’ with ‘Empress of India’

I interplanted ‘Cup of Sun’ with a new variety for me — another clumper called ‘Empress of India’. It was not nearly as vigorous as ‘Cup of Sun’, but it was quite lovely, producing leaves that were more blue-green than ‘Cup of Sun’.

Cup of Sun and Empress of India

‘Cup of Sun’ and ‘Empress of India’

The climbing variety I interplanted with my pole beans this year was called ‘Moonlight’. It produced a pale yellow flower that was not nearly as vigorous or visually effective as the ‘Spitfire’ variety I had grown before. If I grow a climber again, I’ll probably go back to ‘Spitfire’.

Nasturtium Moonlight was OK but not memorable.

Nasturtium ‘Moonlight’ was OK but not memorable.

I direct-sowed all the nasturtiums when I planted my veggies, which is why they managed to become established before the early drought set in.

By the time the first hard freeze killed the nasturtiums, I was secretly relieved. They were mounding over paths and beds in all directions — gorgeous — but reminding me just a little too much of that evil southern invader, kudzu.

In summary, my test varieties this year were mostly very successful. I’d grow most of them again.

And I’m looking forward to what Renee’s Garden will be offering for next year’s growing season. Thanks, again, Renee’s Garden, for giving me the opportunity to test your seeds in my garden.

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