A truly Southern plant caught my eye in Mobile, and not just because I’m from Louisiana: Cajun hibiscus. There is no better container plant for big pots on the deck, patio and any sunny spot. Standing upright in a brightly colored pot next to a metal bench or Adirondack chair, Cajun hibiscus will steal the show every day, all summer. Check ‘em out and make room in your garden by visiting this site. Sales are only wholesale here, but the photos will make your mouth water – don’t worry, they’ll be in the garden centers in March: http://www.dupontnursery.com/browse-our-selection.
Native shrubs are not as showy as some of their exotic counterparts. For example, plant a French hydrangea and from the first year, the flowers are lovely and the shrub has a nice round shape. Native oakleaf hydrangea, though, can look like a gangly teenager for a couple of seasons before her inner beauty is revealed in dramatic leaves and bold flowers piled up like inverted ice cream cones. Happily, there are exceptions like one of this year’s MS Medallion Winners, the native plant of the year, Itea virginica, or Virginia sweetspire. Neat in the landscape, naturally fountain shaped and covered from the start with chains of creamy flowers, Itea belongs in every garden across the Southeast. I’m always glad to see more native plants at trade shows because it means gardeners will be able to grow more of these durable, beautiful, well-adapted shrubs.
Rumor has it that the 2011 MS Medallion Winner ‘Aristotle’ bell pepper blows all the other bell peppers right out of the garden. Few pests and lots of peppers! Look for the plants everywhere this spring. Heirloom tomato varieties will be more available than ever this year, too, so plan room for at least a ‘Brandywine’ or ‘Black Krim’ among your ‘Better Boys’. (Am I the only person who doesn’t grow ‘Better Boy’? Still the most popular tomato in America!)
Growing Edibles: Time for fruit tree planting and pruning! Prepare a site with well drained soil in full sun for fig, pear, plum, apple, peach and nectarine trees that can feed your family for years to come. I’ve listed these favorites in order of difficulty to grow: figs are easiest, peach and nectarine considerably harder to cultivate. Get wise to their needs for growing and especially pruning with a visit to msucares.com/pubs, or the website of the state extension service where you live. Search the site for ‘Fruit and Nut Review’ and you’ll find a publication for every fruit you want to grow.
Memo to Mama: Gotta get to the garden center this week for seeds to sow indoors for planting outdoors next month and on into spring. My list starts with lettuce and mesclun, Chinese cabbage (aka Napa cabbage) and onions. Yes, onions from seed. I seldom get big bulbs from onions sown from seed, but the green onions are way better than any you’ll buy. It’s a good idea to think ahead, too. Grab packs of beet and chard, 2 more veges I never liked until I grew them.