Green Thumbs

I’ve been intrigued by the title of “master gardener” ever since my aunt Anne achieved the prestigious title.  But my interest has never been piqued to a degree that I would pursue the certification, let alone learn enough to keep beautiful green gifts I’ve received alive.  However, I do know enough to know that there is more than a garden variety of things to do with green thumbs in Chapel Hill
No matter the focus, I think one of the best ways to become a master is to WATCH a master.  And we’re lucky to have many masters in gardening to observe the actual fruits of their labor.
The master of them all: The North Carolina Botanical Garden: Known for the carnivorous collection, you can see the amazing diversity of flora of the Old North State all right off Mason Farm Road. 
The twin masters: Two sisters that live on Gimghoul Road in Chapel Hill have opened their home garden to passers-by.  No way could my sister and I produce such beautiful plant life. 


The sign at the entrance of Bernice Wade and
Barbara Stiles’ garden on Gimghoul Road

The master of Montrose: This is still on my list of places to visit, but the historic garden Montrose was featured in the New York Times this year. 
Rival rose gardens: If the rose is your favorite flower, you have several places to view all the varieties: Strowd Roses rose garden at the Chapel Hill Community Center and the Morehead Planetarium are the more well-known, but the places I get to view pretty petals in my personal life include my church and my aunt’s continuing care center
Save the date to see these masters: For once-a-year opportunities to see several gardens (or show off if you’re one of those green thumbs!), save the date for the Chapel Hill Garden Tour or the Historic North Carolina Garden Tour (at the above mentioned Montrose). 
Durham detour: I make rare exceptions to include neighboring counties in this blog (and I hate conceding anything to the school nine miles down the road), but it is worth a detour to Durham to see Duke Gardens.  It’s a special place to me mostly because a portion of their Asiatic gardens are named for my friend’s late sister, Julia Harrison. 

My sister and me with a special family friend,
the late Bea Farrington Walden, at Duke Gardens.

But what if you really do want to LEARN how to be a master?  Thanks to the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service network, Orange County has your opportunity to become a master gardener.  Unfortunately the deadline just passed to apply for the master gardener certification this year, but there are still many opportunities to learn from a master.  Check out classes at the NC Botanical Garden or consider joining the Chapel Hill Garden Club, who is in its 80th year!


Flower and bee at the NC Botanical Garden

Or maybe you want to strive to SHOP like a master?  Though neither of my thumbs is green, I can definitely vouch for the wide selection of garden stores:
§  Dickinson’s Landscaping: They feel like part of our family because of how much time they’ve spent at my parents’ house, caring for koi.
§  Southern States: Great sale going on now on pottery, and I get almost all my potted plants here. 
§  Fifth Season: I’ve bought plants (in a pinch) for centerpieces here for a party next door at glasshalfull.  Plus they have all the supplies for my favorite kind of gardening: home brewing!
§  Niche Gardens: My mom’s recommendation for a nursery, plus they have tours of their display gardens. 
§  [Shameless plug here] Biannual Binkley-Barbee Yard Sale: This Saturday, my church is host to the biggest and best yard sale and they will have a TON of plants and garden accessories.  All proceeds will go to the Central Children’s Home, Inter-Faith Council for Social Service, and the PTA Thrift Shop.
§  And one more Durham detour: Family Gardens (because my friend Dustin’s dad is the owner and has helped my mom so much with her garden needs!)
But the true test is whether someone can GIVE like a master.  Alongside growing your own garden, there are a few community gardens to which you can give your time.  Both the Carolina Campus Community Garden and HOPE Gardens are beautiful opportunities to get your hands dirty and help low-income university employees and local food pantries.  Speaking of giving, master givers Love Chapel Hill have two gardens, in one of which the produce is free for anyone to take and taste.                    
So check out our local gardens and shops, to watch a master, learn from a master, shop like a master, and give like a master. Whether your aunt is a master gardener herself, or you’re visiting the green spaces of Chapel Hill, or you’re trying to see if you yourself have a green thumb, Orange County has so much to offer the burgeoning master.


Tip from my friend Carl Leatherman:
To get your hydrangeas [Carolina] blue,
place lemon slices at the base of the plant.
To change from blue to red, use apple slices.

December Gardening

You may think there is nothing to do in the garden in December as the weather is bleak and the plants are dormant. But this time of year is wonderful for buying bushes, planting bulbs and keeping poinsettias in your home.  First I will tell you about some bushes that would be a great gift for the gardener in your life. This time of year is the best time to plant bushes. We tend to get a lot of rain in December and January so once you plant your bush you won’t have to be as vigilant about watering. And your bush will have the long, cool winter to establish its root system before spring comes. Here are some favorites for December.

The holly plant, with shiny dark green leaves with prickly edges, has always been associated with Christmas, most likely because it really puts on a show in December. Botanically known as Ilex, holly plants are a genus comprising of about 400 species. On the left is a holly bush I found in my mother’s yard. As luck would have it she doesn’t know which one it is. Anyone? Anyone? But some of the more typical favorites are Nellie R. Stevens, burford and savannah. On the right is a favorite in my yard- nandina. I hardly notice this bush during the warm months but it is a jewel in the winter. Nandina domestica, in botanical terms, can get up to 8 feet tall. The pictured bush is over ten years old and has survived many a dry, hot summer without any assistance. If I were a more crafty woman I would make holiday decorations with nandina clippings. In another lifetime…

A camellia bush is another great choice. Originally from China and Japan, these bushes are known for an incredible show of blooms when nothing else is in bloom. The two most common types of camellias are sasanqua and japonica. Japonicas bloom winter through spring and need adequate water to look their best, but are surprisingly drought tolerant once established. They can be planted in a wider variety of exposures than sasanquas. Sasanquas typically bloom in the fall, love morning sun and afternoon shade, have smaller leaves and tend to be slower growers.The bush pictured is a camellia sasanqua called Yuletide. If you were to buy one as a gift for the favorite gardener in your life, they could just put it in a pot like my mom, Sandra Prelipp, has done here.

It is not too late to buy a poinsettia. They really do brighten up the house in winter.  When you bring your poinsettia home, remember that it has spent all of its days in a greenhouse. To prolong its beauty try to place the plant in a place where it will get six or more hours of indirect sunlight each day. Excessive heat, lack of light and over or under watering are the greatest enemies to your poinsettia. Keep the plant in a room with a temperature around 60 degrees, not near any cold drafts, hot air registers or the fireplace. Water the plant when the soil surface is dry or the pot’s weight is light. Water it in the sink until water runs out the bottom, then just leave it in the sink until it has completely drained and feels heavy. Move your plant carefully because the branches are brittle. And not that you are going to feed it to your pets or children, but do beware that it is poisonous.

And finally I wanted to talk about bulbs. Each year I neglect to plant bulbs because I think I have missed the good time to do it. Well the time is now! I recently visited Bernice Wade and Barbara Stiles at their home in the Gimghoul neighborhood. These twin sisters have amazed their neighbors for many years with their incredible garden. They said it is actually best to wait until after Thanksgiving to plant bulbs because if we get a warm snap in October the bulbs get confused and want to bloom. So now is a safe time. Spring and early summer flowering bulbs must be planted in      the fall/ early winter in order to develop a root system and satisfy the cold requirement of the bulbs. Plant the bulb pointy end up. That’s about all you need to know. It’s easy to spot the pointy end of a tulip; tougher with a crocus. But in most cases, even if you don’t get it right, the bulb flower will still find its way topside. Plant big bulbs about 8 inches deep and small bulbs about 5 inches deep.
Do you have a favorite plant or a tip for gardening? Please share! I do not claim to be an expert on any of this but just love gardening all the same. And with that I am off to plant some bulbs in the rain.