Spring planning is well under way in the Lowcountry. Our local garden centers have really got it. Their February plant selections were those plants that like cool but not coldweather, followed by what we're seeing now, the warm weather-flowering and foliage plants that can provide our gardens with color until November -- impatiens for shade, zinnias for sun and begonias for those in-between areas.
Always there are new varieties of old favorites, one that is bound to be popular is the new dwarf nandina "Flirt" that dazzles with dark red new growth.
Look for these All-America Selection prize winners:
First prize: "Denver Daisy," a rudbeckia whose 4- to 6-inch gold flowers have radiating maroon and chocolate centers.
Second prize: "Prairie Slendor" echinacea, which has amethyst flowers.
Third prize: Purple-leaved and black-fruited "Purple Flash," an ornamental pepper.
A pause for applause; all three varieties are enormously popular with our readers, for their performance in the hottest and driest of days. In my own gardens I'll be filling in the empty spaces with coleus and alternanthera "Pretty in Pink."
I've received some questions from readers recently. Here are a few along with my responses:
Question. I found another, smaller bulb inside the pot with my 2-year- old amaryllis. Should I leave it alone?
Answer. I checked with local gardener Annemarie Kinsky, an expert propagator, who informs that "pups" growing next to the original bulb should be moved as they take their nutrients from the original bulb, causing it to diminish in size.
Q. Your lasagna gardening article was inspiring to us old gardeners now trying to make do with sand and salty soil and, of course, deer. I am interested in trying mache, a lettuce. Any experience with that?
Mary B. Kelly
A. Mache is a perfect choice for beginning lasagna gardeners. I grow mache in my garden all year, except July and August. Reader response to this type of gardening was large and led to interest in the author Patricia Lanza. In 1990, Lanza paid $2 for a box of books at a library sale. One book, "My Garden Doctor," by Frances Duncan in 1923. Lanza was fascinated by the story and recently reprinted the book, a tale of a woman who was ill, moved to the country, started a garden and discovered happiness.
Q. A pet peeve of mine is the way folks prune azaleas in this area. How about a column called "Don't prune your azaleas!"? And you could explain why pruning isn't needed.
A. Stanford is far from being the only reader to ponder the "weed whacker" way of pruning azaleas, crape myrtles and more. Nature did not intend for shrubs to grow in square or stunted shapes. One reader suggested that landscapers give their employees a course in pruning, or the lack of it.
Q. I know you're always looking for edible ways to use the wild plants that grow in your yard. Have you tried this recipe for Pine Needle Tea?
A. I have now. Thanks, Peg.
Pine Needle Tea
This tea is rich in vitamin C, which can boost the immune system.
1 tablespoon fresh pine needles, chopped
1 cup hot water
1 teaspoon maple syrup (or to taste)
Pour hot water over pine needles. Cover and let steep for 30 minutes. Sweeten with maple syrup. You can add optional lemon slices to taste.