At last, it's spring. The cold weather has left us, and it's time to garden and head for the nurseries, where the staff has eagerly been waiting for us, among tables and benches and racks of colorful plants.
Yes, from Abelia to Zingiber, they've got it.
Are you going to see the same spring and summer flowering plants at each of the garden centers you visit? No. I go to them all, so as not to miss a new variety of an old favorite plant or one of the often-held sales. Who knew that the little spreader plant oxalis came in an attractive bronzy color?
The Hilton Head Island Greenery has oxalis in all colors and a great selection of succulents that had me calling my friend Sandy Stern, who has one of the best-looking cactus and succulent gardens I've seen.
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I'd gone to the Greenery looking for Angel Wing begonia plants to replace the tired 3-year-old specimen that keeps living through all these mild winters we've had. It was plenty straggly, and I was lucky to find Angel Wings in small pots, perfect for a large hanging basket.
My timing was perfect for a visit to Bruno Nursery, also on Hilton Head. It had just received a large order of tropical plants: bougainvilla, hibiscus, mandevilla, and dipladenia, a mandevilla species that was hadn't been used here because it is a tropical plant not suitable for our previous winters. Plant it unprotected in full sun; members of this family are not deer food.
When I'm looking for a particular garden accessory or product, I call the Bluffton Garden Gate Nursery. It has the materials needed to make a front door wreath. You'll find a "kneel upon," trowel, hand pruner or watering can for yourself, or a gift for a garden friend, plus the pretty pots for the flowering plants you've just bought.
The excitement at Sunshine Nursery in Bluffton was all about the large order of citrus fruits that had just come in. This included Meyer lemon, grapefruit and orange trees, and self-pollinating blueberry bushes -- you need not buy two. They have heirloom tomatoes, as well as other summer growing vegetables and herbs.
At the Bluffton Green Thumb, I found a large selection of annual and perennial herbs, beautiful hanging baskets of heat-tolerant petunias, and my favorite early spring flowering plant, the diascia. No, diascia does not tolerate our summer heat, but years of experimentation has shown that moving it around in the garden will keep it growing. After much practice, I've got summer placements down pat. Geraniums and New Guinea impatiens also need location adjustment come July.
It is always worthwhile to make stops at Home Depot and Lowe's Garden Centers. There are often "good buys" on popular items, and the staffs are helpful about soil amendments. Right now, I'm trying to track down a most interesting and exciting flowering bulb. It's paintbrush lily, and check out this description: "This stunning bulb produces large globe-shaped torches of vibrant orange flowers held high on sturdy stalks in early spring before the leaves emerge. It can be hard to find."
Oh yeah, A to Z. That's Abelia the shrub to Zingiber the ginger plant -- which is a snap to grow here, as it loves our heat and humidity. Abelia is a large family. Most popular is grandiflora, the glossy Abelia that stays green all year.
In between hours of plant shopping and planting, you are pruning, right? The late flowering azaleas have faded, early azalea species are growing like crazy. In my mail last week were letters on the subject. This one is from Glen Stanford: "Betsy. The treatment of azaleas here always drives me crazy at this time of year. Please try again to get (people) to put away the clippers."
And this from Marty and Robert Hocutt: "We lived in Atlanta for 39 years, home of so many beautiful azaleas, and when we moved to Hilton Head we were surprised and appalled at the way so many homeowners and landscapers trim them, like a hedge, often with a 'buzz cut.' To our eyes this looks terrible. In Atlanta the azaleas are left to grow naturally and look so much more beautiful."
Sixty-year master gardener and environmentalist Betsy Jukofsky has spent three decades on Hilton Head Island learning the peculiarities of coastal Lowcountry gardening.