Archive for Garden Coaching

New Year’s Day – Here are my “I’m Gonnas” – Sharing With You My 10 Garden Resolutions


Here at Helen’s Haven, we take every chance to have new beginnings. In the world of gardening, everyday offers  a new beginning; most, sadly, are not necessarily planned.

On New Year’s day, we have an opportunity to plan some resolutions and then hope for the best.  As someone profound once said, “if you don’t have any goals, how do you know when you got there”, or some such talk.  So I have goals for the garden…drumroll, please.  Here are my I’m gonna’s:

10.  I’m gonna stop waking up in the morning and going straight to the window to see if the boxwood hedge in the back connected during the night. The Best and Hardest Thing to Give Your Garden is Time

9.  I’m gonna deadhead like I should.

8.  I’m gonna grow more plants from seed.

7.  I’m gonna sow poppy and larkspur seeds again, even though I know I will fail.

6.  I’m gonna reduce even more lawn. Lawn Reform Coalition

5.  I’m gonna add more native plantings to the garden. North Carolina Native Plant Society

4.  I’m gonna take a series of monthly images at predetermined stops in the garden so I can slide show the beds annual pattern with monthly performance.

3.  I’m gonna stop worrying about where my garden gnomes go. Six Places Your Garden Gnomes May Go

2.  I’m gonna read plant labels and then I’m gonna factor 25% to whatever number they print. What do You Want to Know About a Plant?

1.  I’m gonna kick zonal denial in the butt.  Only plants with a zone wrapped around my zone 7b garden will be allowed in Helen’s Haven…unless it’s for the south side and I can’t help myself.

Helen Yoest is a garden writer and coach through her business Gardening with Confidence™

Follow Helen on Twitter @HelenYoest and her facebook friend’s page, Helen Yoest or Gardening With Confidence™ Face Book Fan Page.

Helen also serves on the board of advisors for the JC Raulston Arboretum

Comments (38)

What do You Want to Know About a Plant?

All I wanted to know was if it was favored by bunnies…

As a garden communicator, when I write about a plant, I like to present as much information as possible,  at the same time making it readable.  Also, most times, I’ve had a good experience with a particular plant, bringing me joy and I want to share this experience and hopefully encourage the reader to plant one in hopes they experience  similar joy.  I don’t like to write about a plant I don’t have a personal experience with.

What I want to know about a plant may be different than what you want to know.  The variables per reader are vast.  Most gardeners will want to know about the plant’s USDA hardiness, sun requirements, soil type and the like. There are those plagued with deer who want to know if it’s deer resistance, with nearly every communicator qualifying the answer with, “But as you know,  deer will eat anything if hungry enough.”

I need to know the plants water needs.  I have a waterwise garden design, so I need to know if the plant of my desire will go into my oasis, transitional, or xeric zone.  From there, I can decide if I have room, or if I really want it, I’ll make room by trading up. I find it frustrating when I see a plant I want and have to go to several sources to get all the info about a plant I need.

When I’m gathering gardening info, I’ll gather even more information than I need personally, in the event I really like the plant and want to put it in a clients garden or if I want to write about it.  For example, I am plagued with bunnies.  I need to know if a plant is resistant to bunnies.  I don’t have deer.  However, I will want to know this information to file away for a client’s need or for a writing assignment.

The magazines (me included) are currently writing about the 2009 Perennial Plant of the Year, Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ ornamental grass.   A timely endeavor.  I like it.  It looks good in the photos and I want it.  But with having made too many plant purchase mistakes to mention, and finding that zonal denial only benefits the nursery or garden center, I’m getting to where I need to be gaining more knowledge and killing less. If a plant is listed as a bunny favorite, I’ll stay clear of it.   No use building a buffet line for those marauding, munching, members of the cute critter club.

Here is what I want to know about a plant.  The list started out organized and ended up random as I continued to think of things I wanted to know:

Hardiness range. My garden, Helen’s Haven, is in Zone 7b.  I have to really, really like it if  is at the end of it’s zone.  Preferable, I like to have another zone  wrapped around it.  I no longer buy zone 8 plants; those days will be here soon enough if you listen to the global warming conversations, but for now, I’m sticking to my zone.

Water requirement. I will accept most conditions, dry, moist or wet.  I don’t have all the waterwise  zones covered, but I do have most of them  including, sunny oasis, sunny transition, sunny xeric,  shady transitional,  shady xeric and a tiny bit of shady oasis.   I need a plant’s watering need so I know where to plant it.

Sun/shade requirements. Absolutely need to know.  Boy oh boy, this simple concept can be so confusing.  A footnote could accompany just about any plant going something like this – give afternoon shade in hot climates, or give extra water if planted in sun…you get the point.

Height. We all gotta know.

Width. Ditto.

Good for containers. Very useful for those with limited space and those of us who like to use containers throughout the home and garden.

Drainage requirements. For the most part,  Helen’s Haven is well drained.  This is by design.  As I created my gardens, I amended the heavy clay with lots of organic matter.  However, there are parts of my oasis zone that receive a lot of extra water either by my neighbors lawn sprinklers or from fountain splash.  As such, these areas stay wet.

Soil structure. This usually goes hand-in-hand with drainage, but not entirely. There’s more to it when growing a living thing.  Every gardener needs to know their soil structure.  We are solid clay.  The kind I imagine potters use to throw pots – I sure would like to throw it about.  But, reality sets in and it does make good soil, if amended properly.

pH. Every plant has a  pH preference.  It is no coincidence here in the south that pines and azaleas are the most common combination.  Not only do the azaleas benefit from the dappled shade provided by the pines, they also benefit from the acid soil the pines provide.  The pH in Helen’s Haven tends to be acid; a common occurrence in the south, which is why our hydrangeas tend to be blue and if we want to change to the color to pink, we need to go through some hoops and amendments, too many for me, besides I like blue.

Does it reseed? This could be a good thing or a bad thing.   I also need to know more than if it is listed as a reseeding annual.  Poppies, Larkspar, Cleome, Monarda are all considered reseeding annuals.  But the the success of each will depend of many factors, including mulching.  I can mulch like crazy and my Cleome and Monarda are snug as a bug and perform beautifully.  If I treat my Poppies and Larkspar with mulch, they will not survive.

Hoes it spreads and  how fast?  Is it Invasive?   You have to look for code words to know.

  • Reseeds freely
  • Spreads by stolons
  • Plenty to share with your gardening friends
  • Oh, it’s easy to pull up if it gets out of hand
  • It’s worth it

Evergreen, semi-evergreen or deciduous. This is most important in design.  If I’m building a buffer hedge, I may well benefit from an evergreen hedge for year round privacy.  Or I may like the lightness a deciduous hedge offers in the season I’m not in need of as much privacy.

Seasonal interest. It’s good to know when a plant is the showiest.

Deer resistance. More and more people need to know this.  The deer population is growing at about the same rate  land is being claimed for new developments.  I don’t even want to consider how this gets balanced.  But my clients want to know what they can grow that the deer won’t eat.  I make suggestions and then of course I say, “But as you know,  deer will eat anything if hungry enough.”

Bunny resistance. This is my biggy.  I need to know.  I don’t recall reading this as clarification on a plant tag.  As such, I’m always doing extra research, usually with no success.  My success comes if I find it is still standing the next day.

    Origin. Some want to know if it’s native.  Others not.  I think in general it is good to know.  Sort of like all of us.  Our origins are conversation worthy.

    Maintenance. High, low, moderate or maintenance free.  All good to know.

    propagation. Handy to know in the event you only want to pay for this plant once.

    Pests. We need to know.  We re more likely going to choose a variety of plant that isn’t prone to pests, than one that is.

    As I lust over the 2009 Perennial Plant of the Year Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ ornamental grass, I decide to consult the current literature and see how many source reviews I needed to do to get all the information needed necessary to decide if this beauty will go into my garden.

    Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’

    Golden Japanese forest grass

    Hak-on-eh-KLO-ah MAK-rah

    Need to Know A B C D E F
    USDA Hardiness zones 5 – 9 5 – 9 6 – 9 5 – 6 need winter protection 5 – 9
    Water requirement Medium Moist Moist
    Sun/shade requirements Full sun to Partial shade Partial shade Sun or shade, woodland Full sun Partial to full shade is best.Full sun tends to scorch the leaves Partial shade in hot climes. More sun in cooler climes
    Height 1’ – 3’ 1 – 1.5’ 18” 12 – 18”
    Width 1’ – 3’ 24” 18 – 24”
    Good for containers Yes Yes
    Drainage requirements Well-drained soil Well-drained soil
    Soil Structure Humus-rich Average soil. Also says humus-rich Average Rich and loamy Humus rich
    Does it reseed?
    How it spreads and how fast.  Is it invasive? Spread by stolons, it is a slow grower By stolons, but slowly
    Evergreen, semi-evergreen or deciduous.
    Season Interest Summer, fall. Reddish tint in fall Shades of pink and red in the fall. All summer with shads of pink and red in the fall
    Deer resistance Yes
    Bunny resistance
    Origin Honshu Island, Japan
    Maintenance Can divide after many years. Little. Cut back in late winter or early spring.Slow grower so division after many years.
    Propagation Divide in spring By division or plugs
    Pest Few insect or disease problems

    The table above, represents 6 reputable reference I consulted to answer my questions about this plants performance. I have hidden their identify with letters.  But, just to give you an idea, one was a nursery, one an e-magazine, one a botanic garden, two were gardening magazines, one a professional organization.

    My, my this exercise thought me a lot.  Did it you?  I had other referenced I could have considered, but I had enough trouble importing this table as it was.  But it didn’t matter, the sources I referred to all varied as you can see above.

    Notice all the blank blocks?  Me too.  Who knew?

    Sadly, I still do not know if this plant is favored by bunnies.

    Helen Yoest is a garden writer and coach through her business Gardening with Confidence™

    Follow Helen on Twitter @HelenYoest and her facebook friend’s page, Helen Yoest or Gardening With Confidence™ Face Book Fan Page.

    Helen also serves on the board of advisors for the JC Raulston Arboretum

    Comments (29)

    Raleigh’s Flea Market for Great Garden Stuff

    FleaMarketRaleighYoest (5)

    Traveling around the world and checking out  flea markets is a favorite pastime of mine.   I have been to flea markets in Paris,  London, Australia, Moscow, Israel, Belgium, Budapest – yes, even Budapest;  in fact, one of my favorite pastel came from their flea market.  I don’t travel anywhere without asking about the local flea market.  Love them.

    Every flea market I’ve seen had it’s on special style and stuff offered.  If you want copper pots, go to Paris; paintings, go to Belgium.  If you want silver, go to London.  If you want great garden stuff, go to Raleigh.  The south specializes in garden stuff.  Think about, we (the south) invented porch life.  Sitting on the porch during hot sultry nights, admiring the moon flowers, sipping tea, wine or mint julep, is  a way of life and a long life at that.  Many parts of the south have us sitting on the porch 9 months of the year.  What’s on our porches?  Containers, chairs, swings, gliders, accents, tables, and such.

    The Raleigh flea market held on the grounds of the State’s fair is one of the best I know.

    The kids fill up on hot dogs, popcorn, cotton candy, smoothies, lemonade, ice cream, pizza, etc.  Mom (me) takes a tax from each purchase by way of a bite, handful, pinch, or lick.  The kids have come to accept this; I have come to regret it.

    The Raleigh flea market has an enormous selection of cool stuff, but I’m usually there for gardening stuff.  There are chairs, pots, birdhouses, plants, stars, chickens (metal), stained concrete garden accents, old tools, new all-weather wicker, etc.  Pretty much, if I’m looking for something, I’ll find it there.

    Helen's Haven new bottle tree - with fish bottles

    Helen's Haven new bottle tree - with fish bottles

    A good case in point, is the new bottle tree I’m making.  I picked up the “tree” in Mann’s Harbor, NC and decided to make it a fish bottle tree.  Sure enough, the flea market had 3 on Sunday in my price range (under $5.00 each.)  Who knew?  I knew?  Now you do too.

    FleaMarketRaleighYoest (42)

    FleaMarketRaleighYoest (22)
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    Open year round weekends 9 – 5, except during the 3 weeks around the State fair.  For 2009, the last weekend BEFORE the flea market closes to prepare for the fair is September 26/27.
    Although it is open most of the year, the highest number of dealers is in the spring – April and May and in the fall – September. Also right after the flea market re-opens after the fair is also a great weekend – around the first week in November.

    The only drawback, there is no on-sight shipping.

    See y’all at the Raleigh flea market!

    Helen Yoest
    Gardening With Confidence

    Comments (16)

    Are you ready to weed?

    Are you ready to weed?  Ask me and I’ll tell you exactly how I feel about weeding.  Am I ready to weed?  In a word, No.  Weeding ranks low with most gardeners.  Speaking for everyone, we tend to like to prune, plant, even water; but weed?  Nah.  Weeding ranks low, as low as the weeds go.

    Nutsedge weed

    Nutsedge weed

    Some weeds are thought of with more disdain than others.  My personal weed to loath is nutsedge.  The devil himself holds it back from being pulled successfully.  And it likes to procreate.  First there is one, then another and another and another.  Nothing kills it, organic or otherwise.  It matches the color of grass, kind of, so it would be OK in the grass except, it grows at twice the rate.

    As I read Roy Dick’s book Rhapsody in Green The garden wit and wisdom of Beverley Nichols, I learn the source of the original quote “A weed is a flower in the wrong place.”  It was written by the then director of Kew Gardens, Sir Edward Salisbury.  In the case of nutsedge, I’ve considered, but can’t conceive, any place it would be acceptable in Helen’s Haven.  Yet, there she grows.

    In the spirit of the quote, I’m assuming Sir Salisbury must have been referring to flowers scattered about by wind and wildlife.  True for cowslip, but not nutsedge.

    The best defense for weeds is prevention.  The obvious is mulching to keep the light from germinating the weed seed.  Weed seed can lie dormant until light strikes.  As such, turning a new garden bed raises weed seeds to the surface resulting in germination.  It is helpful to be patient and prepared when building of a new bed.  After the ground is turned, wait for the seeds to germinate.  Then hoe them down, plant, and top dress with mulch.

    As a child, I don’t remember there being so many different weeds around.  We had Bermuda growing in our Centipede.  If we had a Bermuda lawn, the Centipede would have been the weed.  We also had to contend with wild onions.  Now I deal with spurges, henbit, chickweed, and anything else that isn’t suppose to be there including bee balm in Helen Haven’s Woodland Gardens.  The Bee Balm is supposed to stay in the Mixed Border with an occasional visit to the Crinum Bed.

    Weed we must.  A little weeding with each visit to the garden keeps this garden task manageable.

    Helen Yoest
    Gardening With Confidence

    Comments (3)

    Helen’s Haven gets a nip and tuck – nipping nippons, tucking tansys.

    There are many plants in Helen’s Haven that are fine on their own, but many are even better with a little help from me.  With a little nip here and tuck there, I’m able to delay blooms, prevent leggy-ness, and share the wealth.

    Nipping to Delay Bloom Time

    In one area of the Mixed Border, there is a batch of bee balm, Monarda ‘Jacob’s Cline.’

    In the winter, there is nothing showing in this area ‘cept seed.  Winter is

    Front of bee balm batch nipped to delay bloom
    Front of bee balm batch nipped to delay bloom

    followed by the birth of tiny Monarda giving spring greens.  In early summer, haunting red blooms flower their hearts out.  These flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies.    After the flowers are spent, the Cannas arrive taking the border through frost.

    Bee balm reseeds herself readily in Helen’s Haven despite mulching with a heavy hand.  Some find bee balm too aggressive a re-seeder to want in their garden. Indeed it is.  However, I also find it easy to thin out.

    At home in a wildlife garden such as Helen’s Haven, or cottage and country gardens, bee balm responds well to nipping back.  To extend the display, I nip back half of the plants.  This nipping delays blooming, effectively extending the flowering time, giving more time for the wildlife to enjoy and allows more time for the Cannas to fill out.

    Nipped Nippon Daisy

    Nipped Nippon Daisy

    Nipping to Prevent Leggy-ness

    Many plants benefit from nipping to prevent leggy-ness.  A great example is the Nippon daisy.  This plant is a great fall bloomer.  Always starting out in a nice mound; but if not nipped, it will get leggy.  Nippon daisy can be nipped several times up to about July 4th.  Then let it go.  A little nip helps her stay in shape.

    Tucking to Share the Wealth

    I tuck tansy cuz I can.  I also nip her.  In the spring, the lacy leaf is a great addition to the garden.  In Helen’s Haven, the leaf is valued more than the flower.  When it goes to flower, it tends to get leggy – not that this is a

    Tansy in the back ground

    Tansy in the background

    problem, but when it goes to flower, the leaves start to look ratty.  To me, the leaf is so desirable, it is tucked in other places of the garden; tucked in areas that could benefit from a little green.  Tucking Tansy in the back border is done often.

    Tansy is also shared often here, passing along plants to friends to tuck in their gardens as well.

    Other plants that are nipped and tucked in Helen’s Haven:








    Give your garden a little nip and tuck.  Help your garden stay in shape and get around.

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    Right plant, right place: five essentials to Gardening With Confidence


    Gardening with confidence can be achieved with one simple mantra:  Right plant for the right place.  Seems simple enough.  Yet, not following this mantra is often times why gardening goals are not met.   Here’s my take on right plant, right place.  Understanding these five essential elements will help you garden with confidence.


    There is a lot of talk about zonal denial, micro-climates, and changes in our zones due to global warming.  If you are a risk taker and know your garden well, then by all means push the limits with your gardening zone.  In my garden, Helen’s Haven, Zone 7b in Raleigh, North Carolina, I no longer take these risks.   I’m perfectly happy in the zone I own.  I know plenty of  folks that plant zone 8 and even zone 9 plants in our zone 7b gardens and are thrilled with their philbrookraleighyoest-13success, even if it may be short lived.   I use to, but don’t anymore.   I find it is even risky planting plants on the zone’s edge.  Ideally, I like to wrap a zone around a plant, putting me into choosing plants for zone 7a, but not always.  This year, I will be replacing a Clematis armandii, zoned for our 7b gardens. But, alas,  we had a particularly hard winter.


    We need to accept the soil we’re dealt or be prepared to amend.  I have yet to garden in perfect soil, and still, I find gardening success.  I’m a heavy amend-er and believe in the power of mulch.  In our area of the Piedmont region of North Carolina, there is clay and sand.  In the heart of Raleigh, where I am, it is all clay.  As you move outside of Raleigh, you’ll find sandy soil.  So when I read a plant label that recommends planting in well drained soils, I know they are not talking to me.  But planting these plants in my garden is a risk I’m willing to take.  Why?  Because here I have some control;  december-25-2008-090I can amend my soil.  I have amended all my garden beds, one planting hole at a time.  Adding composted leaf mulch or other organic matter to the hole and blending it with the clay with some added insurance of a permanent clay buster such as PermiTil, I can make my sticky clay soil friable.  In any garden soil type, you cannot go wrong adding more organic matter.  Then top dress the garden beds with a lush, thick layer of mulch each year to moderate the soil temperature, suppress weeds, retain water and generally tiding up the garden.  By doing so, you’ll have a happy garden.


    Full sun, part sun, part shade, dappled shade, full shade, afternoon sun, morning sun, winter sun, more sun.  Know your sun.  If the plant tag says full sun (6 hours or more a day) then that means it needs full sun.  Anything less, and the plant will not perform at its best.  However, having said that, you can use the sun requirements to “tame” plants as well.  As an example, I like Akebia quinata commonly know as five-leaf Chocolate vine.  This is an invasive vine.  However, I grow this sun lover in the shade where it is well behaved.  Remember this:  The north side will have the least sun, the south side the most.  The eastern side will have cool light, the western side hot.  Of course all this depends on what’s above and if it is deciduous.   There is nothing mysterious about this.  Take the time to identify areas in your garden and track each hour.    To see the effects of the suns angle, track around March 21, June 21, September 21 and December 21. The results may surprise you.  Also good to repeat every few years as your plants (and your neighbor’s plants) mature.


    The last thing I want to do is deny myself is a plant based on watering needs.  But I’m also prudent.  I garden water wisely.  By that I mean, I have my gardens grouped into three watering zones:  Oasis, Transitional, and Xeric.   I’m also fortunate in that I have most sun types covered in each of my helenyoestgarden-1watering zones.   When I garden shop, the plants watering needs are a high priority for me.   But because my garden is designed in zones, it narrows down where I will plant it in the garden.  This also makes my garden purchases easy.  I wont waste money on a thirsty plant requiring shade if the only area in my Oasis zone is sun.  Also, it allows me to have a mental map of my garden with me at all times.  I do not want to spend any more time than I have to on watering.  The thought of dragging a hose around, past 10 drought tolerant plants to reach one thirsty plant is not part of my makeup.  I’m way smarter than that.


    We all have our critter challenges.  For some it’s deer, others moles, voles, and armadillos.  For me its rabbits.  Bunnies are my nemesis!  I have voles and moles too and once when a new development was going in two miles away, I saw evidence of displaced deer.  Then I actually saw the critter.  A sight common to many, but not to me.  That deer was so out of character in my garden, it might as well have been a kangaroo.  I’ve given up worrying about critters.  If I don’t have a chance at winning, I’m not going to play.   I do what and where I can, but I will not be a slave to sprays.  I don’t have the time or the where-with-all that requires an exact spray schedule.  I get no pleasure from it either.  These critter repellent sprays work fine, but need to be kept up.  When I look back at what I had to give up, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I first thought.  I can only have a few Hosta, because the voles love them.  I have voles.  But I also love Hellebores, so I grow Hellebores – the voles don’t bother them.   The bunnies will have to go elsewhere to Echinacea because I will no longer provide these favorites of mine as a favorite for them.  As for the Rudbeckia, I’m trying them in a tall pot this year.   I may try to put some Echinacea in a pot as well.

    So you see, understanding these five essential elements will give you what you need to Garden with Confidence.  Follow the mantra of the right plant for the right place, do what you can and except what you can’t and you’re good to go!

    Comments (2)

    I Want a New Plant – A quest for my 200th blog posting


    It may not be a big deal for other bloggers who blog daily, but for me, today is a big day. This is my 200th blog posting.

    I thought I would post a quest and perhaps get some input. I have a very dear and long term client with the prettiest garden I know, and not just because I care for it. It’s because it is meticulous. Always colorful and well groomed. I like that.

    When people say that the gardens in magazines aren’t real, that people don’t really garden like that, they should come see this one.

    However, each year I have a problem looking for the perfect performing flower that needs no care – especially deadheading. You see, this client is so meticulous, she even deadheads her impatiens.

    We strive each year to find a better performing plant for a certain spot in her front garden each year.  So I want a new plant, one that won’t make me sick, one that won’t make me scratch my car, or cover a path three feet thick. Hmm, this is sounding familiar. Here is what I’m looking for, I want a new plant – to the beat of Huey Lewis And The News song “I Want a New Drug.”

    I want a new plant
    One that won’t make me sick
    One that won’t scratch my car
    Or cover a path three feet thick

    I want a new plant
    One that won’t hurt my beds
    One that won’t make my plants too dry
    Or make my eyes too red

    One that won’t make me nervous
    Wondering what to do
    One that makes me feel like I feel when I view you
    When I’m viewing you

    I want a new plant
    One that won’t go to seed
    One that don’t cost too much
    Or one that makes me bleed

    I want a new plant
    One that won’t go away
    One that keeps me up at night
    Or one that won’t made me sleep all day


    One that won’t make me nervous
    Wondering what to do
    One that makes me feel like I feel when I view you
    When I’m viewing you

    When I’m viewing you baby

    I want a new plant
    One that does what it should
    One that won’t make me feel too bad
    Or one that makes me feel way good

    I want a new plant
    One with no doubt
    One that won’t make me cut too much
    Or make my face break out


    One that won’t make me nervous
    Wondering what to do
    One that makes me feel like I feel when I view you
    When I’m viewing you

    When I’m viewing you baby

    OK, WOW.  Who knew?  Only a handful of words were changed in this song to take it from being about drugs to being about plants. What does that tell you?

    As for my client, I really do need a new plant.  A porch planter, western sun, flowers needed, no deadheading, water available.  It also has to be upright and perky.  In the winter, I put pansies and tulips.  Oh, and yes, she deadheads the pansies!


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    Six Plants I Can’t Live Without

    Six Plants I Can’t Live Without

    When I was asked by my friend Steve Bender, a.k.a. Grumpy Gardener, at Southern Living magazine to participate in listing the six plants I can’t live without, the usual suspects ran through my mind; notably flowers. Somehow, the list fell short in expressing how I felt. This surprised me. I thought for sure my list would be all flowers; flowers bring me and the wildlife I attract great joy.

    After given many choices a good consideration, my list of 6 was not about the flowers. It was form that excited me; a plant that I would stare at in wonder. Another was a smell that offered an escape. Others, deep in southern traditions; plants that reined well before my family became southerners. Another for the shear joy of seeing it and never tiring.

    Although there were no rules, I chose an herb, a shrub, a perennial, a specimen tree, a large tree, and a bulb.

    My choices are bronze fennel, dwarf butterfly bush, hardy begonia, Japanese umbrella pine, Southern Magnolia, white rain lily. For purposes of this post, we stopped at six. I’m comforted in knowing the list goes on…

    Bronze Fennel

    Name: Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’

    Zones: 4 to 9

    Size: 3 – 4 feet tall and 18 inches wide

    Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist, well-drained soil.


    Bronze fennel is grown in my herb garden for several reasons, but the biggy is because it is a host plant for the Black swallowtail butterfly. The plant itself is very lusty looking with a robust size, seductive color and a soft touch. Bronze color adds interest in an herb garden that can be heavy on green. The feathery foliage looks good all summer, as long as it is not allowed to go to seed. To avoid this, feel free to cut it back during the summer, or just let the larvae do it for you. In some areas, bronze fennel can be invasive. Keeping it going to seed will lessen the worry.

    Dwarf butterfly bush

    Name: Buddleia davidii ‘Blue Chip’

    Zones: 5 to 9

    Size: 24 to 36 inches tall and 30 inches wide

    Conditions: Full sun, well-drained soil


    Parts of North Carolina deal with the exuberance of some Buddleia species; but there a new Bud on the block.  Buddleia daviddi ‘Blue Chip’ is now widely available. ‘Blue Chip’ was hybridized by Dr. Dennis (Denny) Werner, former director of the JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University and a plant breeder in the NCSU College of Agriculture and Life Science. An unusual dwarf butterfly bush, ‘Blue Chip’ is a very, very low seed setter. As such, it is unlikely it will produce unwanted seedlings – also producing blooms all summer until frost with no deadheading.

    Hardy begonia

    Name: Begonia grandis

    Zones: 6 to 10

    Size: 18 inches tall and wide

    Conditions: Part shade; moist, well-drained soil.


    Hardy begonia is very easy to grow and offers a cooling effect located in the shade of the trees. Most of what I have came from plants passed along from my friend Brooks’ garden. The triangular-shaped leaves and blush-pink flowers keep thriving from summer through frost. Hardy begonia is often passed along from gardener to gardener or purchased from a quality nursery. The cultivar ‘Heron’s Pirouette’ offers especially huge, abundant rosy pink flowers.

    Japanese umbrella pine

    Name: Sciadopitys verticillata

    Zones: 5 to 9

    Size: 25 to 40 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide

    Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; acidic, fertile, moist, well-drained soil.


    A good plant will offer 2 seasons of interest or purpose; a plant with three seasons is even better. Add in a forth season, and it’s a winner through and through. Japanese umbrella pine always looks interesting. Lush, exotic, deep green needles in whorls give rise to its common name. With neither disease nor pest problems to deal with, this tree also meets my low-maintenance requirements. It is a very slow-growing however, so invest in a sizable plant to keep your patience from getting the best of you.

    Southern Magnolia

    Name: Magnolia grandiflora

    Zones: 7 – 9

    Size: 60 – 90 feet tall and 20+ feet wide

    Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; rich, well-drained, acid soil. Once established, extremely drought tolerant.


    Quintessential southern landscapes include southern magnolias. Unfortunately, not all of us have the land to hold one. Thankfully, I do. My neighbors have 5 on their half acre lot! We have one on the south side of the house; it shades our home from the hot summer sun. Waxy, glossy leaves, with a brown under belly, drop each spring landing within her skirt. Their May and June blooms look and smell heavenly. I’ll pluck one and float in a bowl near where I read in the morning. It last but a day, but what a day it is.

    White rain lily

    Name: Zephyranthes candida

    Zones: 7 to 10

    Size: 6 to 12 inches tall and wide

    Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; rich moist soil.


    The white rain lily was one of Elizabeth Lawrence’s favorite little bulbs. These fall bloomers like moist loam and don’t want to compete for water. Lovely white crocus-like flowers will open after it rains; the rest of the year, they offer a pleasing, grass-like leaf. Mine are located in an area made moist from receiving overflow water from my rain catch basin. Rain lilies have a magical quality in that they just seem to know from where the water comes: Rain lilies will bloom to the occasion of rain.

    As a side note my friend Scott Kunst at Old House Gardens where I bought mine, donated a bundle for Elizabeth Lawrence’s gravesite. This white rain lily was her favorite. Thanks Scott!

    Thanks, Grumpy, for organizing nine of us from the garden blog community.  For the list of six the others listed as plants they can’t live without, please visit the following:

    Grumpy Gardener – Southern Living Magazine Steve Bender

    Defining Your Home Garden Cameron
    Diggin’ It Judy Lowe
    Digging Pam Penick
    Fresh Dirt – Sunset Magazine Jim McCausland
    Fairegarden Frances
    Hoe and Shovel “Meems”
    Jim Long’s Garden Jim Long
    Sweet Home and Garden Chicago Carolyn Choi

    Helen Yoest


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    In Print – Triangle Gardener Industry Pros Profile of Gardening With Confidence


    Industry Pros


    Gardening With Confidence



    Raleigh, North Carolina



    Helen Yoest



    September, 2001


    Services offered: Garden Coaching. Gardening With Confidence will work with clients at any level. From an initial consultation offering design suggestions to a full design with installation and everything in between. Working with the homeowner, we can help you become a better gardener.


    What Clients Want: Many clients come to us with dog-eared pages in magazines wanting a garden “just like that,” says Helen who is also a field editor for Better Homes and Gardens magazine. Our role, as a gardening coach, is to assist clients in having the garden they desire.


    Why Use a Garden Coach? Some of the more common reasons for hiring a gardening coach are to seek a second opinion – to have someone to bounce ideas off of, to make suggestions on how to reduce lawn size and where, to understanding the garden that came with their new home. We are also called upon to tidy up a garden to put a home on the market or to edit an exiting landscape, to add seasonal interest such as planting spring bulbs in the fall, winter blooming flowers, dazzling fallscapes, and summer longevity. We also style porches and patios.


    Insider Tip: Helen has a popular gardening blog where she writes about gardening how-tos and maintenance tips. Her blog can be accessed through her website.


    Contact information: 919.781.0199

    Available free at a garden location near you.  Contact for a complete list

    Comments (3)

    Garden feng shui and a new garden path

    february-14-2009-41While I’m not necessarily a practitioner of feng shui, I do recognize good qi and bad qi (a.k.a chi or energy) when I see/feel it. I don’t need a Bagua* to know when good qi has gone bad.

    After 11 years of recognizing the need for substantial steps in my mixed border, I finally had them installed. Money needed to meet need before it could happen as well. When we first bought the home, my gardening budget went to building borders, paths and plants.

    Up to now, the path was made up of puny stepping stones that served no purpose other than to direct traffic from the house to the upper gardens. Now the steps also serve as a work of art, a rock garden AND to direct traffic from the house to the upper gardens.

    For what I wanted, there was no other person to do the project than Phil Hathcock of Natural Stone Sculptures, in Cary, NC. He knows how to work with the land to make it look natural – as if the stones were a naturally occurring outcropping in my hill.  As an added bonus, all the stone was unearthed from Phil’s property.  new-mixed-borders-steps-2

    According to the principles of feng shui, the best place to sight your home is believed to be near the dragon’s lair. No doubt I have had some critter issues in the past, but I can say without hesitation, I have never had a problem with dragons. And yet, I could have also said that before a deer showed up for dinner last summer. So, never say never.

    The best location is to be near, but not too near, the dragon’s lair. Where can one find a dragon’s lair? Well, it is generally halfway between the top of the hill and the valley. Specifically, with the back of the house cradled by the hill. As luck would have it, that is exactly how my house is placed in the garden.

    My house is smack dab in the middle of our lot, with the back gardens rising and the front gardens sloping down towards valley – in this case the road. Phil’s interpretation for why this was the best location, confirmed feng shui principles, again, without the need for a Bauga.

    february-24-2009-0261His input was this, “The best gardens are when you can see the land out the back going up. This way, gardens can be made to view from the inside or outside the door. If the gardens in the back sloped down, you would not necessarily see the garden. The garden sloping downward in the front is also best because the best view is meant to be seen from the street and a hill maximizes this view.” Phil went on to say that, like all good feng shui, there are ways to get around bad land or energy.

    We used plants that I had on hand; mainly from the porchscape of conifers in containers.  Some of these will work in the short term to make it appealing, at the same time, stabilizing the dirt.

    Ta da!


    I keep taking photos of it.  Very much like when my kids were babies.  I guess this is my new baby.  Let’s hope we don’t peak the interest of the dragon.

    *Bagua is an eight-sided picture or object that contains a trigram in each of its eight sides with an image of the yin/yang symbol in the center. Each trigram corresponds to a particular compass direction and aspiration area.

    Comments (15)

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