Our cooler fall weather seems to have energized gardeners. They can be found at our garden centers checking out the stock. With the interesting weather pattern in the Lowcountry, the list of winter's hardy plants grows larger each year.
To learn more about what's new to buy and what to do with it after it's bought, I visited the Hilton Head Island Avid Gardeners' monthly meeting to hear the scheduled speaker, William Thompson of Buds and Blooms Nurseries in Beaufort and Lady's Island.
Thompson displayed a fun sense of Southern humor, as well as a table of goodies that included many flats of colorful winter hardy flowers and Christmas decorations. Lending a hand with all this irresistible stuff were Thomson's helpers -- his mother, Barbara Thompson, and Cindy Kearns of the County Garden Council.
Thompson has been tied to garden materials for 31 years. His newest endeavor is a nursery to open in spring that will feature a deer trail featuring plants resistant to deer. What deer eat and do not eat was the postscript to the plants that Thompson featured in his talk.
Deer do not eat the narcissus family, and our daffodils can be planted right through February in pots or in the ground.
Container gardening has never been more fashionable than now. It could have something to do with time. The lady of the house (and garden) might have a career that leaves little time for weeding and pruning. Growing plants in containers is a time-saver once one gets the hang of it. Thompson passed on a pot drainage tip that comes from a "little old lady" who lives on Lady's Island. Miss Eloise has never been across the bridge, but knows how to keep a potted plant from root rot. She covers the bottom of the container with oyster shells, then adds soil and the plant.
For winter good looks in the garden, Thompson likes the new, small Deodora cedar, a new dwarf nandina "Flirt," a "Gulfstream" nandina with more pronounced, dense foliage; a new mahonia "Soft Caress"; and an ardesia with white berries that deer won't eat. Flowering winter plants of larkspur and delphinium are poisonous to deer and cattle and have been outlawed in some Western states. Near the top of the gardeners' list is fragrant stock.
Thompson advises keeping plants on the dry side so as not to promote fungus growth. Stock and snapdragons are not eaten by deer. New for strawberry jars are strawberries. A new variety blooms pink all year and is everbearing.
To continue with our garden fashion notes, we went by The Greenery on U.S. 278 on Hilton Head Island. The HHI Garden Club had its November meeting there with container growing expert Carol Guedalia. Guedalia had her audience taking notes on soil to use: "Don't use soil with a water retention ingredient you don't need this in winter. To keep roots from getting caught in a drainage hole, place an empty small water bottles in the bottom of the pot. If you overwater, the plant will appear wilted. Bloodmeal is a really good organic fertilizer for outdoor pots and a deer repellent. Liquid seaweed is full of trace minerals."
"Pinching: violas-not so much; pansies is a must. You may keep diascia going all summer if you keep it cool. Snapdragons should be deadheaded immediately or all energy will go into having babies. Always water at night."
"Plant sweet peas, foxglove and larkspur in winter. Wonderful in containers are fescue and other grasses and creeping Charley, ligularia, cardamon, and a new variety of sedum 'Chocolate Ball.' Poppies are so underused here, they're just wonderful; ligularia is light and airy in a container, and deer don't eat it."
I left The Greenery with what we use to call greens; my armloads were the vegetables that are now in colors of wine, copper and yellow. I can hardly wait to "do" containers with these edibles interspersed with violas -- the viola family is edible too. They'll be planted in the sun on the back deck, where deer can't get to them, but I can when I'm ready to cut and cook.