2014 Fall Sale & a Friendly Plant Swap

Have you ever been to or hosted a plant swap? A few of my friends have started getting together in the spring and in the fall to trade plants and I attended for the first time a couple of weeks ago. It’s a really nice way to get rid of the plants you need to thin out.


photo credit: Modern Sauce, the lovely hostess of the 2014 fall plant swap

I took oregano, lemon balm, sedum, bee balm, lilies, and cannas. Others brought hostas, hellebores, and iris. Everything found new homes, and then we piled in a car and went to the wonderful Green Thumbs Galore Fall Driveway Sale. Everyone bought a few plants and we joked that next year we’ll be bringing cuttings from our purchases to the swap!

There are lots of reasons plant swaps are fun. You get to hang out with people who have at least one common interest. It’s a fun way to get ideas on how to deal with problem areas in your yard or garden. We talked about things we’d like to do, someday. One person wants to learn more about propagation; I want to learn more about fruit trees. Plus, you might end up with some new plants!

One attendee said the best thing about a plant swap is that if the plant dies, you can blame the person who brought it. That seems reasonable enough to me!

From the plant swap, I brought home some hellebores, for the only shady area in my yard, and some rosemary cuttings. The hostess had a big rosemary plant. It’s the only one I’ve seen that survived last year’s extra hard winter. I’ve got 10 cuttings in water. If they root successfully I’ll take most of them to the next swap in pretty little pots.


Photo credit: Emily Fazio, plant swapper extraordinaire!

At the sale, I got Russian sage, a crocus, and some gaillardia. I’ve wanted Russian sage for years. It is a beautiful color and has a really wonderful texture. A friend used to grow it and include it in gorgeous bouquets of cut flowers. Gaillardia is simply cheerful. I love the bright color and long blooming period. The crocus was completely an impulse buy — I’m not even really sure what the bloom of a crocus looks like!

The combination of the plant swap and going to the sale was great. I hope that it becomes a set in stone tradition.


Late Summer in the Garden: Sadness with a Tinge of Relief

With a mixture of regret and anticipation, we sat on the porch watching the leaves of the poplar trees blowing across the field, and noticing the poison ivy vines were bright red. Late summer has arrived in Tennessee, and for those of us who have spent the summer in

The black walnut trees lose their leaves early. These are already yellowing.

The black walnut trees lose their leaves early. These are already yellowing.

the garden fall brings about the prospect of less work, but also fewer dinners featuring amazing fresh vegetables. Of course, the heat will continue through September and there will be plenty of fall chores to do before we are plunged into the dreary months of winter.

The green bean vines that have been so productive all summer are beginning to yellow, as is the second planting of crookneck squash; the spaghetti squash has done all it can and the onions have been pulled. We have jars of green beans, tomatoes, and kohlrabi chow chow put away and we are waiting for the corn to ripen so it can be stored as well. This is the time of year when we begin to make end-of-summer relishes, soup mixes, chow chow, salsa, and try to use up the last

The coneflowers have gone to seed -- which makes the birds happy!

The coneflowers have gone to seed — which makes the birds happy!

bits of produce however we can.

At this time of the year, the garden begins to look tired, but there’s beauty in the drooping vines and yellowing leaves.  Right now in our garden the corn is tall and flowering and the bees are almost symphonic. The contrast between the plants that are almost finished and those that are coming into their fullness is nice.

There are just a few times of year when you can feel the seasons changing. Late summer is filled with a strange mixture of emotions. There’s pride, and often enough regret for the garden projects that didn’t go well. There’s some relief, mixed with sadness, in knowing that the heat and light of summer will soon be passed.

Do you find yourself longing for cooler temperatures by the end of summer, or do you wish it could go on forever?

Mystery Plants

Do you have plants in your garden that are a mystery to you? Being a very relaxed gardener, I usually have a few mysteries in the garden: plants that I just don’t know much about. At the moment I have two. One is a seven foot tall beauty that looks like some variety of rudbeckia.

mystery yellow flower

mystery yellow flower

The other is, I think, in the mint family. I didn’t expect these beautiful flowers.

mystery purple flower

mystery purple flower

In the spring time, I wrote about a different kind of mystery — when you plant something, like an iris or a tulip and you don’t know what the bloom will look like. You do, however, know what an iris or a tulip generally looks like. In the case of these two plants, I had no idea. A friend sent them to me in early spring when they were both basically just roots in a clump of dirt. She didn’t know the name of the yellow one, and I’ve forgotten what she told me about the purple one.

Watching the foliage grow, then seeing the flower buds develop, and finally enjoying the beautiful blooms made for an entertaining summer. They are adding so much color to my late summer garden, too — which is nice because it seems like the majority of my flowers are spring bloomers.

Have you had any surprises this summer? Or, have you ever planted something having no clue what you would end up with?


It’s Your Garden, Grow It (or Not) If You Want To

If you hang around with gardening-types, it’s bound to happen. You’ll eventually come across someone who criticizes your garden choices. They may think you should be growing more native plants, or more edibles, or more heirloom varieties. You may encounter someone who feels that your method of weed eradication is inferior to their own. The criticism may come in the form of helpful “advice”, or it may be outright. Either way, it could well make you feel uncomfortable.

Don’t let it.

If you have put seeds in the ground, gently cared for seedlings, watched birds flutter among your blooms, or watered your plants on a hot day, you deserve kudos for cultivating life.

Gardening is a creative endeavor. It allows us to enjoy color, texture, and scent in a way that other creative pursuits cannot. People choose to garden for a million different reasons, and nearly every one is good. Maybe you grow your own food in a conventional vegetable garden; or perhaps a vase of fresh-cut flowers on your dining room table makes you happy so you have a cutting garden; some people garden in order to attract birds and butterflies; others grow herbs for cooking and medicinal purposes. The point is: it’s your garden, grow what you want to.

At Green Thumbs Galore, we love to encourage people to try new things. We are happy to share our favorite plants with you, and offer our tips and tricks. But, if you choose to do things differently, you still get a pat on the back from us!

cat walking in plants

Newman in Ice Plants

Celebrate your Garden

Last night, a lovely Friday night with a gorgeous, bright full moon shining down, my family began what is sure to be a long process: preserving the harvest. We’d picked beans several times through the week and picked even more before sitting down to string and snap them. Next came washing and canning. We managed to get 14 quarts canned by midnight; there are that many more to process today.

We expect there will be that many each week until the end of the season. In the meantime, the okra is quickly ripening. We aren’t sure yet just how productive it will be, but it could well be just as generous as the beans. Since pickled okra is a family favorite, we will be happy to have plenty of jars on our shelves. I’m not so sure how we will feel packing that 130th jar.


Canned fruit. Picture courtesy of J. Sc.

Then, there are tomatoes. We have fewer tomato plants, but there will certainly be enough that some of them will need to be preserved. So far, the squash has produced in smaller quantities, but within a month or so, it’s likely there will be quite a lot of it as well.  And the corn…barring any groundhog or crow attacks, we are expecting somewhere between 800 and 1200 ears of corn.

All of this leaves out the grapes, blackberries, blueberries, and apples. There will be much smaller quantities of those to deal with, but we do want to try some jellies. The question is: how much can people who have other jobs and other responsibilities get done? The truth is, some of our harvest is likely to feed the birds, or will add nutrients to the soil as compost.

We’ll do what we can, of course, but we probably won’t get every bit of value from this year’s harvest. And that’s okay. There won’t be any guilt for not getting that last jar of beans canned, or making that last batch of chow chow. Instead, we will celebrate the achievements of the season. We’ll count our jars and feel a bubble of pride, and look at the stacks of bags in the freezer and know we did just fine this year.

It’s easy to let the responsibility of the garden become a burden. Avoiding vacations, spending every free moment either picking or processing the harvest, and worrying about what you aren’t getting done when you are doing anything other than garden related chores can suck the pleasure right out of your garden.

Do what you can and don’t sweat the rest. Very few of us are subsisting from our gardens, so it’s unlikely you will go hungry if you miss a few beans or a tomato hits the ground. Enjoy what you do harvest, and celebrate your garden!

Raspberry Jam

Raspberry jam. Picture courtesy of S. B.

Gardening at the Home Place

Belle and I both write mostly about growing flowers and fruits, so this post is a bit of a departure because it is about a more traditional kind of vegetable garden. My family owns a small farm collectively, and this year we are growing a garden together. My grandparents always grew a huge garden and we all share fond memories of working in it — but especially of eating up the proceeds from it — zealously and with great enjoyment.

Last year, one of my uncles planted a dozen blueberry plants and some grapes. Over the winter, I added four apple trees to keep the one already there company. In the spring, we built a small raised bed for perennial herbs, and got going on the big vegetable garden. Here’s what it looks like now:

FarmgardenJune1We have several varieties of tomatoes, two lettuce beds, onions, spaghetti squash, yellow squash, LOTS of radishes, beans, beans, and more beans, parsley, rosemary, sage, watermelons, bell peppers, okra and a few cucumbers. We still plan to put in some carrots and some corn, and maybe one or two more things if we find the time. In late July or August we’ll add several types of greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, garlic, and maybe potatoes for a fall/winter crop.

It’s difficult to describe the joy that working in this garden brings. It’s in a beautiful place, with a stunning view. Combine the natural beauty with a couple of lifetimes’ worth of happy memories, and you can see why it’s such a pleasant place to work.

The last weekend in May, several people showed up to work, and we had dinner together, including fresh-from-the-garden lettuce, onion, and radishes. Each week, there will be a little more on our plates straight from the garden and we’ll be sustained in body, spirit, and mind. A garden can be so much more than rows of plants!