Growing Pains (Get it?)


Do you all remember ABC's "Wide World of Sports"?  Their motto was "The thrill of victory...and the agony of defeat."  I actually think a lot about that quote when I'm working in the garden. You are constantly competing against Mother Nature and, inevitably, you will lose to her. That said, I can't think of a reason that motivates me more.  There are so many opportunities to fail, so when I finally get that flower or fruit, I feel like performing the Ickey Shuffle (Shout out to myself for knowing about the Ickey shuffle!!!! My husband would be so proud.) 

Anyways, that's enough self-congratulating.  I thought I would take a look back at my (relatively) successful growing season this year.

After way too much rain in April and May, I thought my tomatoes were doomed. Too much rain and Atlanta's humidity was the perfect breeding ground for disease. However, the rain started easing up and I stayed on top of the disease by spraying with GreenCure  and this mild bleach spray I learned about. I try to grow as organically as possible, so there's only so much I can do against disease.  That said, most all of tomatoes gave me a good crop.  My cherry tomatoes, Sungold and Amethyst Cream seemed to be the most prolific producers despite the disease pressure. 

I also grew some seeds from an F1 cross that showed was a fun experiment. It was a cross between Green Zebra and Pinky and my favorite tomato was a yellow potato leaf variety that I saved seeds from. I look forward to growing this next year and seeing what kind of fruit I can stabilize from this. 

As for the flowers, this was my first year really growing cut flowers properly. I loved growing spring flowers! My anemones, bachelor buttons, agrostemma, dara ammi, dill, carnations and rudbeckia did amazing! However, after 3 years of growing ranunculus, I'm still struggling to figure it out. They seem to rot in the ground before we even get started. However, I think I have a system this fall that, I hope, will ensure success.

My summer flowers were kind of "Meh."  I don't know if it was the heat, lack of motivation or just lack of love for summer flowers (I really do love them less than spring flowers), but I was slow to get them going. My sunflowers were eaten by bugs, my zinnias did OK (loved the Benary's Giant though!) and the dahlias were a real learning experience. My ball dahlia, Cornel Bronze, was really healthy and didn't get any earwigs. The Cafe au Lait dahlias, although gorgeous, don't seem like something I want to invest in. Too many bugs and they died too quickly after cutting. I would be surprised if I grow them again next year.

Anyways, I'm glad this season has come to an end. I'm happily preparing for the next one and I'll be looking forward to the brief break that winter provides.  


My 5 Favorite Flowers

Since I'm planning the fall garden (meaning, flowers I plant in the fall for spring blooms), I've had to consider what did well for me last year and what didn't.  There's fantasy and then there's reality, and much of the garden isn't always Instagram perfect. Sort of like boyfriends. There's the profile, and then there's the guy who actually shows up on your date. They're not always the image they present. 

So, if these flowers were on (does that reference date me? I don't think people use websites anymore, am I right?) I would say these flowers are as cute as their profile.

1) Anemones:  I've planted these lovely little corms 3 years in a row and they have never let me down. I've planted Coronaria de Caen, St. Brigid, and some variety I got from Floret Flower that had HUGE stems. I just plop them in the ground, cover them with soil, and watch the magic happen. No babying required. They also start producing in February (for me) and keep the blooms coming for months. 

2) Daffodils: Like Anemones, these flowers are so low-maintenance, it's ridiculous. One of my favorite varieties is Erlicheer, an incredibly early-bloom daff that smells amazing. It has a very short stem, so it's not necessarily idea for cutting, but it's well worth growing. 

3) Cornflowers:  Who doesn't love Cornflower blue? It's perhaps the quintessential color of spring. Just direct sow these seeds in the fall, and you can have them as early as the beginning of March. They're also incredibly cold hardy, and they're like the Energizer Bunny of blooming.  

4) Larkspur:  Despite the fact that my chickens scratched most of my larkspur up this past year, I loved what I got! I didn't think I would like such a tall flower, but they germinate so easily, and the Sublime Azure variety was the perfect purple for spring. This year, I'm looking forward to trying Smoky Eyes and Earl Grey.

5) Poppies:  Poppies have to be my all-time favorite flower. While not exactly the best for cutting, they are so easy to grow and I love have absolutely how over-the-top tacky some of them are. They also seem to thrive in poor soil. Just scatter the tiny seeds in the middle of winter and by May, you'll have 4 foot plants of absolutely gorgeous flowers in your yard without any effort at all.  


It's finally August, which means I should have started planning the fall garden at least a month ago. Yikes! I did, however, manage to get my bulb orders in, so at least that's out of the way. 

Despite the fact that my husband and I have yet to go to the beach this summer, it's time to prepare for spring blooms.  If the success of last year is any indication, taking time to plan and plant the fall garden carefully is the best way to ensure early-blooming beautiful flowers for spring.  

Here's what you need to consider:

1. Color Palette:  I'm making this a priority this year. Last year, I chose colors based on what I wanted as I approached fall. Not a good idea. That's like grocery shopping when you're hungry. After you finally have dinner,  those Fanta-flavored Oreos you bought on impulse now seem as disgusting as they actually are. (I don't actually know if Fanta-flavored Oreos actually exist, but it seems like something Oreo would do, doesn't it?  I don't know who's responsible for some of those new Oreo flavors, but they should be stopped.) In the same way, when I planted black Bachelor Buttons last fall, it seemed like a good idea. They're fun and novel, right? However, after four months of winter, I didn't want to see black Bachelor Buttons in March. I wanted blue, blue, blue!!!!  So, unless you really love dark colors, I say skip them and those Fanta-flavored Oreos.

2. Timing:  I garden in Zone 7b/8a.  So, my first frost date is approximately November 15th.  That said, I have to get most of my flowers planted well before then. I need them to have some good root growth to get through winter.   Experts, like Lisa Mason Ziegler, in her book Cool Flowers (yes, the flowers are cool, but she's talking about flowers that you can plant in cool weather) suggest planting your flowers 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost date.  In my case, that's a 2 week window between September 15 and October 1st. Both my direct-sown seeds and transplants need to go in the ground then.  If any of your seeds should be started indoors and planted outside, you probably need to start them about a month before your plant out window. For me, that would be around August 15th. However, you should check the seed packet to see what they recommend.    

Here are the dates you need to know for Zone 7b/8a

A. First Frost: November 15

B.  Planting Window: September 15-October 1

C. Indoor Seed Starting: Approximately August 15th

3. Be Strategic:  Like many gardeners (and, apparently, Oreo executives), I'm a glutton.  I love to buy seeds. If it's pretty, I want to put it in my pocket and take it home. However, I never have room for all my seeds and starts.  I'm trying to actually be an adult this year and just buy what I need. For me, this comes down to one thing: simplicity.  Is it easy to start? Is it low maintenance? If I've grown it before, has it treated me well?

For instance, last year I direct-sowed a lot of my flowers and they turned out great. I have very limited space to start things inside, so I'm going to stick with a lot of varieties that did well for me sown directly.  Also, I realize that as much as I love certain flowers, they don't love me. I've been trying to grow ranunculus for 3 years and they almost always rot in the ground. I'm trying another small batch this year (I've got a new trick up my sleeve!), but if they don't work after this, then they're out. 

So, that's what's going on this year. I've got a lot of catching up to do to make my August 15th deadline. 

Thoughts? What are you starting this year?  Also, which flavor of Oreos do you hate the most? I think Peeps sounds the most disgusting.