Got Questions? Get Answers!

I suspect I have a wide mix of readers and subscribers; some of you are horticulturists and nursery people, while others are gardeners, both experienced and beginners. I think that's great. It keeps it fun.

I try to speak in a language that everyone can understand. I use scientific names and common names. I try to write articles that are interesting and educational for all my subscribers. But most of all I want to share my excitement for good plants.

But at the same time I get a lot of gardening questions. That is why am excited to introduce you to our Facebook Fan Page. I am so excited about what is going on there. I think you will be too. It is a community of gardeners looking for, and sharing gardening advice, stories, photographs and tips. It is a great place to get your gardening questions answered or to help a fellow gardener. It is a place to mentor new gardeners.
I know - many of you think I'm crazy for suggesting Facebook. I was skeptical at first. I had no interest in joining Facebook - I have a life and don't want to know what my high school friends had for lunch. But a friend insisted  that I join up and I'm so glad I did.

Check out the Proven Winners ColorChoice Facebook Fan Page and let me know what you think.

Sky Miles for Sky Pencil: The Journey from Mt. Daisen to Maryland

You migth suspect I do a bit of traveling – but plants have a funny way of traveling around the world too.

Sky Pencil, Japanese holly, (Ilex crenata) is a plant that has earned some serious sky miles. This narrow, column-like, evergreen holly was discovered in the wild on Mount Daisen, Honshu, Japan by my friend Akira Shibamichi. He then passed it on to his good friend, and my acquaintance, Dr. Yokoi, the noted variegated plant collector. Dr. Yokoi passed it on to Rick Darke (the ornamental grass guru) while he was in charge of research at Longwood Gardens in Kennet Square, Pennsylvania. (I met Rick while I was a summer student at Longwood in 1982). Rick got the plant in 1992 while on a plant collecting trip to Japan with Sylvester March of the United State National Arboretum. The USNA then propagated it and introduced it and now it’s grown by nurseries and gardeners across the U.S. and around the world.

Just to keep the story going, Mike Farrow of Holly Hill Farms nursery in Earlville, Maryland took ‘Sky Pencil’ and crossed it with a male selection of Japanese holly. His goal was to develop a very narrow, conical holly with dark green leaves. You see - vertical Plants, especially those with the quintessential Christmas tree shape are very popular, Thuja occidentalis (aka arborvitae, aka Eastern cedar), Skyrocket Juniper and Dwarf Alberta Spruce (Picea glauca ‘Conica’) are all narrow, pyramidal varieties and nurseries grow them by the acre. Mike Farrow understood this. Successful plant breeding starts with a good eye for plants and a good idea and Mike has both. (His impressive plant portfolio includes Arctic Fire Redstem Dogwood, 'Sienna Sunrise® Nandina, Bollywood Variegated Azalea and Pink Panther Echinacea).

After growing out hundreds seedlings, Mike selected out the six best plants to propagate and to evaluate further. Part of this evaluation took place in Michigan after Mike sent his six holly selections to Spring Meadow. For our part of the evaluation, we propagated and grew on about 1,000 plants of each selection. We evaluated each variety in propagation, as a one gallon crop and then as three gallons to gain a thorough understanding of it production and timing. To better understand how the plant performed in the garden we planted the hollies out on two different test gardens. Eventually we choose the best looking, best performing plant of the bunch. At this point we sent plants to about thirty growers across the country to find out how the plant performed under various climates and soils. Ultimately, after all these evaluations we took the leap and introduced Mike’s new plant as Sky Pointer Holly (Ilex crenata ‘Farrowone’ pp# 20,049).

Sky Pointer Holly has shiny, flat, dark evergreen leaves. The flat leaves make for hard living for spider mites, as they cannot hide and protect themselves under the cupped-shaped shaped leaves which are common on Japanese holly. This gem has tight, upright, conical branching which makes it a great container plant. I see many such plants used in sidewalk cafes and near store fronts for decoration. It’s hardy to zone 6 and just like ‘Sky Pencil’ it appreciates a bit of shade, especially in the winter. Growers appreciate its narrow growth habit. Narrow plants require little or no spacing in the nursery, which ultimately saves them time, labor and money.

And thus the journey continues. Last year, Spring Meadow Nursery shipped Sky Pointer liners (starter plants) to wholesale growers across North America. These growers pot them up, and grow them on for one or two years and then send them on a truck to a garden center near you. If all goes as planned, someone will buy a Sky Pointer holly. Perhaps it will be you. And after you plant it in your yard and watch it grow, I suspect you’ll think about its long journey from Honshu, Japan to your front yard.

Felder Rushing - A Simple Dirt Gardener

I've known Felder Rushing for about eight or ten years. I see him at garden writer conferences. He's easy to notice and hard to forget with his beat up hat, scraggily goatee and his standout Southern accent. I knew he was a successful writer and that he wrote books and that his articles were published in fancy magazines that actually paid him money. I also knew he has a garden growing in the back of his F-150 pickup truck. But until Felder was booked to speak in my home town of Grand Haven, Michigan and I read an article in my hometown paper – I didn’t know how little I knew about Felder.

I did not know that Felder is a self-proclaimed dirt gardener. What's a dirt gardener you ask? Well this is how Felder describes himself:

"I garden for the love of it — not for the challenge of it. I have one basic gardening rule Green side up. Dirt gardeners don't do soil prep — we plant stuff in the dirt. We know a ceramic gnome is just as valuable as a life-size marble naked goddess statue, and that birds are just as interesting as anything out there and they don't ask much of us." He says, “... a plant shared with a friend is as valuable as one ordered from a glossy catalogue. We know where our plants came from — even the ones we stole."

Because Felder gardens in the heat of Mississippi, and I garden in the great white North, I assumed we had little in common. But I was wrong. It turns out we share the idea that gardening and growing plants is fun and simple. So simple that anyone can do it.

The big problem, in my opinion, is that there are way too many expert horticulturists out there telling you how complicated it is to garden. They would have you believe you need to match your flower colors using a color wheel. They say you have to sequence the bloom time of your flowers and to use grey as a foil between red and orange. They'll tell you to double dig your flower beds, do a soil test and to adjust your pH. (I’ve never done any of these things). And of course they'll tell you to “buy my book” to know how to garden.

This is all phooey.

You do not need the help of garden experts to garden. You just have to dig a hole and put a plant in it and water it a bit. Get over the idea that every plant you plant has to live 100 years. Plants are living by definition so of course they die. Just plant it - and don’t take it so personally if it dies. I’ve got a master's degree in horticulture and I've killed hundreds of plants. I'm ok with that. That’s how you learn!

It’s not about you!

When a plant grows well in our garden we say “Look what I did!” And when a plant dies we say “I have such a brown thumb.” Either way we give ourselves way too much credit. The fact is the plants is doing the growing – not us. So dig a hole, put a plant in it and enjoy it. If it struggles or gets too big for it's spot – dig it up and move to another location. If it dies - dig it out and plant something else. If it thrives - enjoy the miracle that plants are living creatures that hang out in our yard.

Growing plants is fun. It’s wondrous. It’s addicting. It’s good for the soul. It’s dirty, yet at the same time it brings us closer to God. It’s suppose to relaxing, so drop the guilt and stress that comes with doing it right or wrong – and just do it.

Felder Rushing is the author or co-author of 15 gardening books; and countless newspaper columns and articles for publications such as Horticulture, Landscape Architecture, Better Homes & Gardens, Fine Gardening, and National Geographic. Felder has been featured three times in full-length articles in the New York Times. He has hosted a television program that was shown across the South, and appeared many times on other TV garden programs. Felder currently co-host’s a call-in garden program on NPR affiliate stations called The Gestalt Gardener.