With a Little Help from our Friends

Amanda’s Meadow starts the season with Narcissus poeticus – cheerful and fragrant.

Never has there been a time when I appreciated my friends more than right now.  I’m regularly talking with my gardening buds about what’s happening in our gardens and I have more pictures to share from here, there, and yon. (click on the small pictures for a closer look)

It is prime time for Epimediums in the Southern Appalachians.  These plants have various common names, but two of my favorites are Fairy Wings and Bishop’s Hat.  Elizabeth reminded me that we both bought E. ‘Domino’ at the Bullington plant sale last year.  I had to look around for it; found it in the Moss Garden.

Elizabeth’s garden is really lovely right now.  More from her garden.

Sunny’s Cherry at peak bloom.  Check out that Carolina blue sky!A recent homeowner in Charlotte is digging in and enjoying a few plants already in the landscape.

A few pictures from a discriminating South Carolina gardener.  The first plant is Stachyurus praecox, an early bloomer with showy dangling flower racemes.  Never heard of it before, but now I have one in a pot on my driveway awaiting a place in the garden.Also from South Carolina, an unusual Edgeworthia and a buttery Camellia.

And now for something completely different.  From Gary and Irwin’s garden in Florida, a shot of the tropical!And a few of their glorious orchids.

I found this little darling growing in a roadside ditch.  I didn’t know what it was until I called my plant-know-it-all friend Sieglinde who told me that it is Isopyrum thalictroides.  I thought that leaf looked like Thalictrum.  She has a patch growing in poor soil in her woods.Since I have time on my hands, I am studying the stages of leafout of my Japanese Maples.  I took pictures of all 30 or so on one morning.  Some were fully leafed out and some still in tight bud.  Budburst on these trees is beautiful.  Beeches are also stunning at budburst, but that’s still a ways off.

My earliest maple is Acer plamatum ‘Murasaki Kiohime’.  It is a shrubby little plant, 3′ high by 6′ wide.  It is often wounded by our notorious late frosts and is one of the few plants I take the trouble to cover when this happens.  The leaves are like a thousand little stars.We started this post with Amanda’s Narcissus poeticus, and I’ll finish with a few of my favorite Daffodils.

Thank you to all for sharing your gardens and for your friendship!


Grateful for Gardeners

Julie’s Tree Frog

Looking out my window this morning I watched a squirrel go about his business, completely unaware that much of our world has been turned upside down.  These days the natural world is suffering its own slings and arrows, but this sudden full-stop for people across the globe is shocking, saddening, and alarming.  In response to this, many gardeners and lovers of the natural world are looking outside and taking a measure of comfort from the emerging spring.  I certainly am.

I am grateful to know many wonderful gardening friends.  I am grateful for their delight and joy at the smallest bloom showing its face.  I am grateful for their constancy, patience, and curiosity.  I am grateful for their willingness to share.  I’ve had several friends emailing pictures of their gardens and plants so I thought I’d share some of those pictures here.  If you have a picture or two of a plant or garden (or frog) that you’re enjoying right now, email it to me at nancy@muddybootsinc.com.  I will post these pictures every few days for us all to enjoy.  I hope they make you smile.  (Click on the smaller pictures for a closer look.)

Wendy’s Weeping Cherry

Phil & Katie’s Fungus from their Stumpery

Julie’s Loropetalum

Amanda’s Muscari ‘Blue Magic’ and Narcissus bulbocodium ‘White Petticoat’

Amanda’s Tulipa cluisiana var. Stellata

Jan’s Labyrinth

Mignon’s Acer j. ‘O-isami’

To Every Thing There is a Season

Tsuga canadensis, Acorn Hill February 2004

In the 20 years and we have lived at Acorn Hill I have planted a lot of trees.  But the tree that was here when we arrived, the most special tree on our property, is our 100’ Hemlock.  According to a knowledgeable arborist, this tree is at least 100 years old.  There are about a dozen unmarked headstones under this tree estimated to date to the turn of the last century.  It stands sentry at the very top of our property.  It is the tallest tree around here.  It is treasured.  And it is dying.Tsuga canadensis, Acorn Hill March 2010

No, it’s not woolly adelgid.  We have treated this tree every four to five years for this pest and the canopy looks very healthy.  My friend Amanda was the first to recognize the significance of my finding a Reishi mushroom at the base of the trunk.  This mushroom, Ganoderma tsugae, grows on dead and dying Hemlock trees.  The fruiting body is the outward sign of the presence of the fungus.  The fungus is not killing the tree; it is present because of internal decay.

Tsuga canadensis, Acorn Hill April 2015

As Amanda and I hugged and patted the tree, we could hear a hollow sound in places.  And there went the alarm bells.  If it came down, the tree would not fall onto a structure, with the exception of our gate, but our concern is for any human, four-legger, or automobile passing by.  Granted we are very secluded and really don’t have passers-by.  But we pass by!

Hemlock and Triple Oak at Moonrise, Acorn Hill December 2017

I got four expert opinions and the consensus was … the tree is dying.  No one could say how long it had left, although a couple of arborists were interested in completing some very expensive core-drilling tests.  By the sophisticated method of sounding the tree (hitting it with a rubber mallet), we discovered that there is a column of decay that starts at one of the big buttress roots and ascends the tree.  In this area the tree has gradually shed branches up the trunk.  I have surmised and the arborists agree with me, that the tree was probably damaged when the driveway was installed back in 1994.  It clearly took umbrage with this assault and has been slowly giving up the ghost.

Tsuga canadensis, Acorn Hill April 2019

Our options were to wait and see or take it down.  We had to weigh the risk of it falling with the likelihood of it being viable for a while longer.  As I mentioned, the canopy is really healthy where the wood is alive in a horseshoe around the trunk.  It just seemed too drastic to take it down.

Tsuga canadensis, Acorn Hill February 2020

So, we followed the recommendation of one of the arborists and TOPPED THE TREE!  I am SO against this practice and the arborist would not even agree to call it that because the thought is so abhorrent.  We agreed to call it “risk mitigation pruning” … ugh.  The idea is that by reducing the height of the tree by about 20%, we reduce the lever effect pulling the tree down in high wind.  And it gets really windy up here.  Now the tree is about as tall as the oaks and poplars in the forest around it, which will give it buffer from the wind.

Tsuga canadensis after “risk mitigation pruning”

The tree is still on its way out, but we may get another few years with it.  We will watch it closely for signs of advancing decay like bark shedding and foliage die back.  And we will treasure for as long as it stands.  I am going to start collecting seedlings from this tree so I’m ready with saplings when it goes.

Turn, turn, turn

Tsuga canadensis Cones, Acorn Hill February 2020



Demure and Elegant Viburnums

Last week I gave a talk at Bullington Gardens about Viburnums.  My goal was to introduce some less well-known species and to get the group excited about this genus.  In the process of researching my topic, I got pretty stoked about Viburnums myself!

As source material, I used Viburnums by Michael Dirr,  his web page www.dirrplants.com/viburnum-for-american-gardens, and an online Viburnum nursery, Classicviburnums.com, offered by Gary and Sue Ladman.  Gary spoke to me at length, particularly about pollination.  What an informative and generous nurseryman.

Did you know that there are over 150 Viburnum species or intersectional hybrids?  I was surprised.  My talk was organized around a sample of Viburnums for Fragrance, Floral Show, Fruit, and Foliage, and finished with Using Viburnums in the Landscape.  By the end of my talk, everyone was ready to add at least one new Viburnum to their gardens.

Viburnums for Fragrance include V. x burkwoodii, one of the earliest fragrant bloomers.  Also in this category are V. bodnantense ‘Charles Lamont’, V. carlesii, and V. carlcephalum.

Viburnums for Floral Show include V. x macrocephalum, V. plicatum f. plicatum ‘Popcorn’ and ‘Mary Milton’ (a pink), and of course V. plicatum f. tomentosum ‘Shasta’, ‘Pink Beauty’, and ‘Summer Snowflake’ which reblooms throughout the summer.

Viburnums for Fruit include V. trilobum (native), V. dentatum ‘Blue Muffin’, ‘Autumn Jazz’, and ‘Chicago Lustre’, and V. dilitatum ‘Cardinal Candy’ and ‘Michael Dodge’ (yellow fruit).  My big ‘ah ha’ regarding this genus is this:  Viburnums may set sporadic fruit without a pollinator, but to get a really good fruiting you need two ‘compatible’ Viburnums but they can’t be genetically identical.  This can be tricky and I highly recommend researching the best pollinators for the species you’re interested in.  Unlike Ilex verticillata which is also often selected for fruit and needs one male plant to every five or so female plants, Viburnums are monoecious, having both male and female parts.  The upshot of this is, if you get two compatible Viburnums, they will BOTH set fruit and you will have twice the show.

Among other things, to be compatible the plants must flower at the same time.  According to Gary Ladman who has done a study of flowering times of viburnums, not all V. dentatum cultivars will pollinate each other because their flowering periods are a few days off.  V. dentatum ‘Blue Muffin’ is an extremely popular plant because of it’s gorgeous blue fruit.  However, V. dentatnum ‘Chicago Lustre’ will not pollinate it as the flowering periods do not overlap.  V. dentatum ‘Autumn Jazz’ will pollinate ‘Blue Muffin’, but he recommends V. dentatum ‘Little Joe’ because it flowers at the same time and it is a smaller plant that is more easily incorporated into the landscape.

V. dilitatum

One more note about this group:  Viburnum dilitatum is beautiful in fruit but it is listed as invasive in parts of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern US. so choose this plant with care based on your geography.

Viburnums for Foliage include our native V. rifidulum which has glossy green leaves, V. awabuki which is evergreen where hardy (Z 7 – 9), and V. x Pragense which is also evergreen.

Viburnum rifidulum, Southern Blackhaw Viburnum, has beautiful foliage, nice fall color and interesting bark.  A great native plant.

Other noteworthy Viburnums include V. davidii which Dirr says is only for the northwestern US and
V. cinnamomifolium which has a wider range and similar, but not quite as incredible, leaf.

Two very attractive dwarf plants: V. obovatum ‘Rifler’s Dwarf’ and ‘Mrs. Schiller’s Delight.  They get 2′ – 3′ high x 3′ – 4’ wide and fit nicely into small gardens.

And there are many more lovely and useful Viburnums to choose from to use as specimens, near a walk or bench for fragrance, in mixed borders and as screens and hedges.

Some general notes about the genus:

  • Typically medium – large shrubs or small trees
  • Most handle full sun – part shade
  • Many will bloom in full shade
  • Most are adaptable to a wide range of soils
  • Bloom on old wood (except for V. plicatum f. tomentosum ‘Summer Snowflake’)
  • Bloom is primarily mid-late spring
  • Prune for shape and size just after flowering
  • Rejuvenate old plants by removing 1/3 of oldest stems at base

I hope that you too take another look at Viburnums.  I walked through a local nursery last Sunday and found a V. plicatum f. plicatum ‘Popcorn’ that I just couldn’t pass up.  I am starting to think about a Viburnum Walk down to the studio.  It will take some clearing, but it’s good to have a big new project!

Viburnum plicatum f. plicatum ‘Popcorn’

February Flowers

It is still winter in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.  February always brings a day here and there of spring-like weather and we let down our collective guard, only to be splashed with icy rain and buffeted with howling wind the next day.  It is amazing to me that while still in the throws of this filthy weather, we have so many plants in bloom in the garden.  For all those who believe that Forsythia is the first sign of spring, read on!

Snowdrops, Galanthus elwesii and G. nivalis, are earliest.  For the Galanthus enthusiast, the flower variation is endlessly fascinating, but even as a snowdrop neophyte, I have to say that it is a pleasure to notice the varied green splotches when the garden is in a moment of winter calm.

Leucojum vernum, Snowflake rather than Snowdrop, is another early bulb in the Amaryllidaceae family that is perhaps less well known, but just as lovely.

The spring-blooming Witch Hazels are having a spectacular season and I think perhaps it was the over abundance of rainfall last year.  For a bright note in winter, position Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold’s Promise’ outside a kitchen window.  It’s especially effective against an evergreen backdrop.

Hamamelis vernalis ‘Quasimodo’ is great for a small garden, only 4′ x 4′ and wonderfully fragrant.  This is a selection of our native Vernal Witch Hazel.

The Chinese Witch Hazel is the most fragrant of all the species.  Hamamelis mollis ‘Wisley Supreme’ adds color and fabulous fragrance to the early garden.

Blooming in Mignon’s garden, another Chinese / Japanese cross, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ is a wide-spreading shrub with coppery flowers and a light scent.

Lonicera fragrantissima, Winter Honeysuckle, is now in bloom and has an intense lemony scent.  Amanda snapped a great picture of the flowers against the Carolina blue sky that we had last Saturday (before the wicked weather returned).

Paperbush, Edgeworthia, offers a delightful honey fragrance.  It is hardy to zone 7, which is what Asheville is labeled, but it must be placed in a protected site to be successful.  Mine has been moved twice because the buds did not open.  Now positioned by the pond, it seems happy and has bloomed consistently for several years.

And we must not leave out Cornus mas, the Cornelian Cherry Dogwood.  Delightful, delicate, but not diminutive.  This is another large shrub to 20′ high and wide.

Hellebore fans can be as enthusiastic as Snowdrop lovers.  Christmas Rose, Helleborus niger, blooms earliest, but they all seem to be blooming right now (H. argutifolious, H. foetidus, H. orientalis, and hybrids).   I came across a Helleborus niger, variety unknown, in Sieglinde’s garden who got a piece of this from a friend and it is now seeding true in her garden.  I almost swooned!  I must say that this is the most lovely hellebore I’ve ever seen and I am promised a piece.


H. orientalis, or Lenten Rose, generously seeds around my garden, but I do have one or two gems such as H. ‘Herronswood Red’ and H. nigercors ‘Honeyhill Joy’.

The strait Species of H. niger is lovely with it’s upward facing ruffled bloom.

Whoever named H. foetidus the Stinking Hellebore should be out of the naming business.  It doesn’t smell bad and is really beautiful.  This is a seedling in Elizabeth’s garden and I love the contrast of the dark foliage and bright green flowers.

Crocus of course are blooming when the sun is shining.  I have a few C. tommasinianus that the voles have missed.  They are always a welcome sight.  Sieglinde has a nice little clump of C. ‘Cream Beauty’ and Amanda has a pretty C. vernus ‘Jeanne D’Arc’

Subtle but welcome are the many diminutive flowers now in bloom.  The rare and expensive Adonis amurensis ‘Hanazono’ in Sieglinde’s garden (which the rabbits have nibbled – ouch).

A native, Hepatica nobilis, and Winter Aconite in Sieglinde’s garden.

And if you’re really low to the ground you can find the Asarums in bloom.  Asarum splendens in Amanda’s garden and Asarum arifolium in my garden.  I forgot I even planted this little oddling.

OK, let’s get up off the ground.  So many evergreens are in bloom and the showiest are the Camelias.  A favorite of Elizabeth, she has three in bloom now.

For more February fragrance we have Pieris, which my sister says smells like good French soap – I love that,

and Dwarf Sweetbox, Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis, which Elizabeth has by her front door,

and of course Daphne odora, Winter Daphne (the only Daphne that’s not turned up its toes in my garden).

When you think about February flowers, you may conjure the usual suspects … Snowdrops and Crocus.  But you can literally be awash with fragrance and flowers in this not-so-gloomy-after-all month.  As always, a warm winter thank you to my gardening friends – Amanda, Elizabeth, Mignon, and Sieglinde – who share their knowledge, experience and their gardens with me.  You make my gardening life so rich.

Pussy Willow, Salix (maybe chanomeloides)
great for pollen and nectar!






Happy New Gardening Year … with Evergreens!

Island Time

Though just barely, it is still January as I write this so Happy New Year to everyone!  I was lucky to spend part of my holiday on a Georgia coastal island and I’m still enjoying “island time”, but I’m ready to get back into the swing of things.  Asheville NC, where I live and garden, had the wettest year on record last year since 1860.  Depending on what microclimate you look at, Asheville received 80″ of rainfall in 2018 compared to our average of about 44″.  The year finished with a final insult on December 28 of almost 5″ of rain in one storm and we have not dried out since.

My garden has clay soil, but good drainage in most areas.  It will be interesting to see if I lose any plants from too much water, although right now most plants look fine.  I will not be surprised to see herbaceous plants like lavender, artemesias, and perhaps even heucheras rot over the winter due to saturated soil.  Time will tell.

More obvious is damage to plants from an extremely wet and heavy snowfall in early December.  Totals around Asheville were 5″ – 8″ and much more a little north and east of us.  I polled my nearby gardening friends for evergreens that did well and those that did poorly under the weight of this very wet snow load.

One of the worst conifers for heavy snow, and one that I love to use the for its sculptural qualities, is Thunderhead Pine, Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’.  At right is Mignon’s heartbreak from this past December.  I had the same experience the year before when I lost the top out of a big Thunderhead Pine.  The trick is to gently remove the snow from the branches without breaking them in the process; that is if you have the time and inclination to go out in a snow storm to tend to your conifers.  Because this pine naturally grows in an asymmetrical form, the tree can still be salvaged after an event like this.  In a few years, the loss will not be noticed … much.

Several tall narrow evergreens with ascending branches made the “worst” list, including Buxus sempervirens ‘Graham Blandy’, Juniperus chinensis ‘Spartan’, and Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’.  The other evergreen plant that really took a beating in the heavy snow was Globe Arborvitae.  There are several cultivars, of which I have many, and they all split and splayed from the center of the plant as in the picture below.  I will say that after the somewhat timely snow removal, all of my globe arborvitae bounced back.

Everyone agreed that the Spruces and the Hinoki Falsecypress were absolute champs.  Evergreen pyramidal hollies such as Ilex ‘Patricia Varner’ and ‘Nellie Stevens’ were unfazed.  Sieglinde made the observation that broadleaf evergreens and conifers that have been pruned hard hold up better to heavy snow because they don’t have the previous year’s soft growth and the hardened wood is more stout (see the Buxus suffruticosa hedge at right). In the picture below on the left is Fernspray Hinoki, Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Fillicoides’, and on the right is ‘Bruns’ Serbian Spruce, Picea omorika ‘Bruns’.  Both are always unscathed after a big snow. On the far left of this picture is a deep pile of snow covering Heller Holly, Ilex crenata ‘Hellerii’.  This plant is so stiff that you can practically walk across the top of it, so snow is no problem.

Another plant that did exceptionally well was the Skip Laurel, Prunus laurocerasus ‘Skipkaensis’.  The Skip Laurel is a wonderful plant for gardens in much of the US and elsewhere.  At first glance it may seem somewhat humdrum, but what a performer.  It has lovely lance-shaped bright green leaves and a fragrant (some may say odoriferous) white flower.  What makes it so useful is that it will do in sun or shade, make reasonably fast growth, and has no serious pests.  It makes a terrific hedge and a great backdrop for showier plants.  And it is a remarkable long-lived plant.  The picture at left from the National Trust shows the Glendurgan Maze in Cornwall, UK.  The maze was planted with Prunus laurocerasus in 1833 as a playground for the twelve children of the household.  Today it lives on, tolerating regular pruning and lots of foot traffic.

A few years ago I replanted my terrace garden from mostly perennials to mostly small evergreen shrubs and dwarf conifers.  Although the perennial plantings were gorgeous in the summer, the area looked pretty bleak for at least six months of the year.  Now, even in the dead of winter there is color and texture and form.  In the summer, the flowering shrubs and few perennials that remain add to the show.  It is now a year-round point of interest.

The key to using evergreens, and any plant for that matter, is to know their ultimate size and be ready to manage them when they get large.  That may be planting where there is plenty of space, pruning to manage the size over the long-term and even transplanting when they’ve outgrown an original planting place.  I’m sure we’ve all been surprised by how quickly some plants get “bigger than I thought”.  Nursery plant labels can be deceiving as they often represent ‘mature size’ as really a ‘ten-year size’.  So the key is to research and cross-reference many reliable sources of information about a plant you’re considering, so you know where to put it or how to handle it down the road.

Having a good amount (35% – 45%) of evergreen plants, both broadleaf and coniferous, in your garden will make it really interesting for the whole year to come.

Happy New Year and Happy Gardening!

Acorn Hill, February 2018


Dale and Dahlias

Dahlia ‘Clearview Louise’ (maybe)

Biltmore Estate, a seven thousand acre private estate in Asheville NC, had several nice displays of Dale Chihuly’s art this summer.  I have an annual pass to Biltmore as it is just fifteen minutes from home and a great place to walk.  So I saw these installations many times and took plenty of pictures.  I’ve also recently taken many pictures of dahlias, and sorting through all of these I noticed the similarities between Dale Chihuly glass and some of my favorite Dahlias.  Do you see the similarities?

So here’s a tour of Biltmore’s Chihuly display peppered with my photos of these gorgeous blooms.

I did not get to see the big white ball lit up at night, but was told it was spectacular.  I think the display in the Wintergarden below was perfect in the choice of glass color, quite elegant.

My favorite area was the Italian Garden.  The central piece picks up the theme of the white stone sculptures throughout this garden and the reflective quality of both glass and water are lovely.

The green horns with the purple spikes were my favorite combination.

The boats looked very festive and were reminiscent of Venice … appropriate for the Italian Garden.



I liked the structure and placement of the tall pieces in the Walled Garden,
but I didn’t care for the color choice of plant material surrounding them.  It really clashed.

I didn’t really understand the red spikes in this planting.  It seemed sort of an afterthought.

The Arbor Walk below was a fun display.



Bacchus looks puzzled by the aliens surrounding him …

The hanging pieces in the Conservatory were nice, but easy to miss.  We don’t naturally look up unless something like a noise draws our attention.

My friend and colleague Amanda gave me several Dahlia tubers to try and they are the most marvelous flowers I have ever grown.  I understand how people can get addicted to this plant.

Dahlia ‘Belle of Barmera’

Gardening in a Changing Climate

Western View, Acorn Hill 2012

By now we are all aware of climate change and probably just beginning to grasp what lies ahead.  But the title of this post refers to something much more local:  My climate right here at Acorn Hill.  I refer very literally to the weather right outside my door which is often different from what my good friend Mignon experiences less than two miles away as the crow flies.  I also refer to my ongoing struggle to accept that the full sun garden at which I arrived in 2002 is now very shady.  And I refer to my personal climate of back aches and lower energy levels which are reflected in my sliding standards of garden tidiness.

As I write this post, bands of rain from Hurricane Florence are drenching us in Western North Carolina.  Winds are gusty, but we’re getting buckets of rain for sure.  We’ve had an incredibly wet summer which has bought dramatic and dangerous mudslides.  As of 4:00 pm this afternoon, Florence has brought 3.125″ of rain to Acorn Hill.  Mignon and I have been comparing rainfall totals all summer and have close totals of 8.25″ and 8.0″ (me) for July and 9.875″ and 9.675″ (me) for August.  These totals are more than double the average rainfall for our area.

Mignon, who is an avid user of our system, and I got to talking about gardening and weather and came up with the idea to include weather records in Muddy Boots Plant Tags.  (Thank you Mignon, great idea!)  You may now record your own weather readings including rainfall, snowfall, high and low temperature, and the moon phase.  You may add a note to your weather record such as the one I entered this morning: Rain fall from Hurricane Florence.  You may sort your weather records by all of these data points and we have a few summary charts by week and month.    If you’re a user, give it a try if that sort of thing appeals to you!  Click here to learn more about Weather Records.


If you’ve gardened in one place for several years, you know that changes in your sun and shade can sneak up on you.  When we moved to Acorn Hill, it was full sun, everywhere, all the time.  Note the picture at right of the Western View in 2003 with Dennis trying to make something out of the barren waste land that was our lawn.

So I planted trees and shrubs and the surrounding woods grew and grew and before long I was scratching my head trying to figure out where to put the full sun plants that I’d just brought home.  In the early years, I struggled to find spots for a few precious shade plants.  Now, I have the opposite problem.

Back then I was adding plants at such an intense pace that the “full sun” category just got lodged in my brain.  Now, I am looking for ways to add light to the garden without taking down large trees.  We are working on lifting the tree canopy by taking off lower branches and we’re doing a little judicious thinning so more light comes through.

I have also shifted my expectations, especially with regard to my vegetable garden which is planted on the far side of the Formal Garden.  You can see from the pictures below (2011 left, 2018 right) that the Hollies, Boxwood and Falsecypress in the Formal Garden to the left – which is south – have really grown.

So, I am growing crops that I really love to have fresh and that will do well in part sun, including lettuce, spinach, and kale, beans, peas and strawberries, and for the one or two boxes that still get 6 hours of sun I’m putting in one or two tomato plants and a few zinnias.

Lot’s of herbs do well in part sun.  Below is a harvest of African Blue Basil.

I am also experimenting with pushing the edges of sun requirements to see how plants will do in less than ideal light.  For example, I had a hedgerow of old roses that succumbed to Rose Rosette Disease.  In their place I decided to make a mini meadow with switch grass, cone flower, black-eyed susan, tall verbena, butterfly weed.  When the roses went in, this area was six to eight hours of direct sun.  Now it gets perhaps five.  Well, I am less than impressed with the result.  I got blooms, but they were all leaning toward the sunlight and looking floppy.  I think I will move most of these plant to the west side of the house where my patch of precious full sun still shines, and figure out something else for this area.  I wouldn’t try this in a client’s garden, but in my own garden why not!

Mini Meadow in too much shade

And finally, my own physical climate has changed how much I’m able to do and consequently how the garden looks.  Getting older and feeling it is inevitable.  As a result, I am now far less concerned with perfection and spend more time enjoying the garden than examining its flaws and worrying about tasks to be done.  What a relief that is.  I knew there was some cream filling to this aging thing!  Establishing a well-structured garden early on is the key to a garden that ages gracefully.

Western View, Acorn Hill 2018
(photo courtesy of Julie Hooks)


New! Weather Records at Muddy Boots Plant Tags

We’ve added a new category of records you can keep in Muddy Boots Plant Tags – Weather Records.  Just like Garden Records, you may add, edit and delete Weather Records.  The data fields available to you are:

  • DATE of your entry
  • RAINFALL in inches or centimeters
  • SNOWFALL in inches or centimeters
  • TEMPERATURE HIGH and LOW in Fahrenheit or Celsius
  • PHASE OF THE MOON eight to select from
  • NOTE of any special event or comment you’d like to record


You must be a Muddy Boots Plant Tags user with either a Paid or Free Plan.  Once you have an account, you’ll find Weather Records under the main pull down Menu in the upper right hand corner.  Start by choosing Fahrenheit or Celsius and Inches or Centimeters under EDIT SETTINGS.  Once you’ve editing your settings, you don’t need to do so again. Then add a Weather Record by clicking ADD A RECORD.  Once you have some data accumulated, you may look at your data in several ways.

  1. You may sort your Weather Records simply by clicking on the header of each column including Date, Rain, Snow, High / Low for either temperature reading.
  2. You may SELECT A CHART that will summarize your Weather Data:

  • RAINFALL BY MONTH summarizes your rainfall by month for a selected year and compares it to the prior year.
  • RAINFALL BY WEEK summarizes your rainfall by week for a selected year, compares it to the prior year and displays the change in either inches or centimeters.
  • SNOWDAY HISTORY displays all of your recorded dates with snowfall recorded in inches or centimeters.

If you’re already a Muddy Boots Plant Tags user, simply select Weather Records from the Menu and get started recording your own weather.  If you’re not a user, but would like to check us out, go to Muddy Boots Plant Tags and sign up for the Free Plan.



Spring 2018: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Moody Morning Sky on the Summer Solstice
Acorn Hill, June 21

It was quite a busy spring for Ms. Muddy Boots with lots of great garden design work, Muddy Boots Plant Tags (we’re about to announce a fun new feature), garden hosting and touring, and of course getting my hands dirty in my own garden, Acorn Hill.  Most news this spring has been good.  We’ve had copious amounts of rain in Western North Carolina which has made our gardens wildly lush.  So lush, in fact, that pruning done by a walk in March, had to be re-done by late May to allow passage.

Florally speaking, I had two standout peony blooms.  My tree peony, Paeonia suffuticosa ‘Feng Dan Bai’, had three flowers this April; last year only one.  My hope is that flowering will increase exponentially from here on out.  The bloom is as delicate as tissue paper, so intricate, so complex, so lovely.  The other noteworthy peony (they are actually all worth noting) was my big splurge last year, Paeonia Bartzella.  That is one expensive plant.  Only one flower this year but it was a stunner.

Itoh Peony Bartzella


Muddy Boots Plant Tags were installed at Crowfields Condominiums in Asheville, which has beautifully landscaped grounds with many lovely specimen trees for residents to enjoy.  Scan this tag with your QR Code reader or click to see the Ginkgo at Crowfields.

Over the last few years I have encouraged all my clients and gardening friends to plant Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa, to support our Eastern Monarch population and I have several good stands growing at Acorn Hill.  In mid-May, I was delighted to count more that a dozen caterpillars munching down on one of my plants and by early June the butterflies had emerged.  I looked for the chrysalis, but could not find them.

Monarch Caterpillars and Butterfly







We hosted a really nice group of gals who were from all over the country.  My good friend, Mignon Durham, helped organize their Asheville visit which featured art and food and gardens.  We were flattered to be included in their itinerary and we had a perfect weather day for their garden walk.  Never had so many people climbing around on our pond and luckily no one fell in!

One bit of slightly bad news … we had to take down a really tall oak tree at the head of the pond.  It was the healthy half of a double-trunk red oak; the dead half we took down last year when it developed a split in the trunk revealing a hollow core.  Without the weight of the left trunk, the still-healthy right trunk began pulling away and became a risk.  Had it gone down it would have smashed a long swath of garden and could even have hit the house.  The silver lining was that we got to watch the amazingly meticulous work of our favorite arborists:  Tarzan the Treeman (for real that’s their name).  Not one single plant or the surrounding carpet of moss was damaged in the take down.

Double Red Oak strapped and guyed before removal
(the left half is carved with acorns)

Patrick Purdy, Tarzan the Treeman, at the top of the oak

After the take down.  I will have the right half carved with oak leaves by chainsaw artist Eddy Hoots.

Miss Margo likes the view from the big stump.

And now for the ugly news.  Into each life some rain must fall, but too much fell in Western North Carolina this May.  There were many mudslides in our mountains this spring, at least one fatal.  One in particular touched me and several of my clients.  The only road up in a lovely mountain community failed and a completely wooded mountain side slid over a mile away (per engineers).  Thankfully, no one was injured.  Standing at the edge of this slide was terrifyingly awesome.  I was on this road only hours before it gave way as were many other folks.

I’ll end on a more pleasant note with a summer shot of a happy accident.  This part of my garden has been planted over many years and I never intended to have a red, white and blue garden.  This is what is looked like just in time for the Fourth of July.

Road Trip to Charlotte

A couple of weeks ago, a group of gardeners and I made a two and a half hour dash to Charlotte to take in Elizabeth Lawrence’s Garden, Wing Haven, and Stowe Botanic Garden.  Certainly an ambitious itinerary, and with a detour to Campbell’s Nursery, inevitably incomplete.

It’s amazing to walk down a shady Charlotte street and into two amazing gardens.  We started at Wing Haven, a three acre garden designed by Edwin and Elizabeth Clarkson in the mid-twentieth century.  Elizabeth Clarkson was an avid birder and the garden was designed not only for pleasure, but for bird food sources and habitats.  The garden offers long axial views, quiet pools in the shade of mature trees and plenty of interesting plants.  We were lucky to see the Azaleas at their peak.

Not only does the pool reflect, the brick wall at the back has mirrors set into it.

The Wing Haven rose garden was peppered with this Aquilegia.  No label, but I sure would like to have this for my part-shade meadow.  It is clearly a good re-seeder.  Possibly Aquilegia yabeana?

A block or so down the street, we walked “through the garden gate” at Elizabeth Lawrence’s house, and a little shiver ran down my spine.  I have read many of her books and as I walked through her garden her words echoed in my mind.  She wrote many of her Charlotte Observer columns about her own garden; taking an early morning tour, coming in from weeding, looking out her window at the thin coating of ice on the garden pool.  Her writing is accessible, informative, and sometimes entertaining.  I highly recommend Through the Garden Gate, edited by Bill Neal for a great sampling of her work.

Though she was a trained Landscape Architect, Elizabeth Lawrence’s personal garden was designed for the plant addict.  She crammed so many interesting plants into this small backyard and wonderfully, it is almost all labeled.  About 60% of the plant material is original to her and, according to the literature about her garden, there is something in bloom every day of the year.  I was given a small piece of Kenilworth Ivy, Cymbalaria muralis, by a gardening friend who knew Elizabeth Lawrence and told me that his original plant came from her garden.  Sadly it has slipped away as has he, but the memory of both gardener and plant is nice.

Helleborous x ericsmithii ‘Winter Moonbeam’ foliage was really beautiful.

Amanda and I were struck by a fragrant rose called Picayune, found in New Orleans.  It has very small flowers of palest pink and nice clean foliage.  I found it offered online and we are both going to have it in our gardens.


One plant that was not labeled was a mystery to us.  Amanda, Elizabeth and I thought it was a phlox, but Sieglinde solved the mystery:  It is Linaria rediviva.   Sieglinde has just dug one from her garden for my part-shade meadow and I’m hoping it will seed.

The plan was to visit Stowe Botanic Garden after lunch, but we made a side trip to a wonderful old Charlotte nursery called Campbell’s.  The nursery manager was really into his plants and eager to talk with each of us about something special.  Amanda got a nice little pot of a miniature Hosta ‘Tears of Joy’ which she promised to share with us.  Elizabeth vacillated about a mammoth Paeonia Itoh ‘Yumi’ that was quite expensive.  We told her to get her kids to kick in on the plant for Mother’s Day, and that did the trick.  Sieglinde picked up several nice plants including Hosta ‘Empress Wu’, which is brave considering her vole problem.   Unbelievably, I came home empty-handed.

By the time we packed the car and got to Stowe, we had less than an hour before closing.  We decided to make a return trip and include the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens.  There is another great nursery up by UNCC, Dearness Gardens, which we won’t want to miss … but we’ll have to save that for last!

Always fun to travel with Amanda, seen here inside an amazing Tulip Poplar at Wing Haven.

In Need of a Mini Reno


Along the northwest side of our house is an area I refer to as The Formal Garden.  This was one of my earliest garden areas to develop.  It is essentially a corridor between the front and back of the house.  As I’ve been clearing up this spring I’ve noticed that many of the original perennials and some of the newer ones too, have either died or just worn themselves out.  The woody plants, however, are going gangbusters.

When we moved in sixteen years ago, the Rhododendron were small, there was a Spruce and lots of grass.

Now the essence of this garden space is as follows:

  • The framework consists of evergreens: Rhododendron and Yew on one side and Boxwood on the other, with Hollies at the corners.
  • A hedge of Panicle Hydrangea ‘Tardiva’ fronts the Boxwood for late summer interest and is interrupted by ‘Degroot’s Spire’ Arborvitae.
  • Ferns, Coral Bells, Hostas, and Sedges add interest on the shady side under the Rhododendron.
  • Lady’s Mantle, Cat Mint, Artemesia, Salvia and Sedum fill in front of the Hydrangeas where there is more sun.


Here is the Formal Garden through the seasons:

Mid March the Hydrangea paniculata ‘Tardiva’ just before pruning.  This plant will grow to the size of a small tree and the flowers will be at the top of the plant.  We (Amanda and me) take this down to about 24″ – 30″ in early spring.  This Hydrangea blooms on new wood, so you never have to worry about taking off the flower buds.  Note Amanda’s little rascal Daphne as a pup last year.

April after pruning and perennial clean up.  The Hydrangeas are pretty rough-looking, but they won’t be for long.  The perennials are just starting to green up.  The evergreens give the space structure during this spare time.  I really need to add some spring bulbs to this garden.

In May the Hyrangeas have cloaked themselves in leaves and the perennials are looking great.  Also in May the Rhododendron catawbiense bloom (see top picture).  Notice in the gravel one of my new favorite plants:  Lysmachia atropurpurea ‘Beaujolais’.  This is a short-lived biennial that, in my experience, comes true from seed.  It is not invasive like Lysmachia clethroides, Gooseneck Loosestrife, but it will seed around.  I originally bought three plants and it seeded back.  I collected seed last year and spread it around, but have seen only a few seedlings so far.  Wear gloves to collect seed as they are really sharp.

Mid summer is mainly lush and green.  I use the silver of Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’, Stachys byzantina ‘Helen von Stein’, and the variegation of Caryopteris divaricata ‘Snow Fairy to brighten this up.  On the Rhododendron side are chartreuse Carex ‘Everillo’ and various hostas for texture and color.  I don’t usually like chartreuse and silver in the same area, but for some reason this does not offend.

By August, the Hydrangea paniculata ‘Tardiva’ are strutting their stuff.

And by November the evergreens are starting to show up again.

One of the best perennial combinations in this garden has been Alchemilla mollis, Nepeta ‘Walkers Low’, and Stachys byzantina ‘Helen von Stein’.  As “they” say, this was a happy accident.  I was looking for bargain plants to fill this border and found these at a great price.  The Alchemilla and Nepeta green up early and bloom at the same time.  The Stachys gives a nice textural contrast and sets the other two off.  Now I use this combo regularly in my designs.  These perennials are long-lived and solid performers.  However, after many years this particular planting has worn out.  The Nepeta has shifted around in the bed and the Alchemilla has died out in the centers.  I will probably replace these this year with more of the same because it works so well and I really enjoy it.

Opposing this is the Hosta, Fern, Heuchera, and Carex.  The problem on this side is that the voles just about decimated my Hosta collection.  Every morning last summer I would walk out and find another Hosta laying on top of the soil with no roots.  Voles were a really big problem in our area last year.  I’m hoping that was a population peak and we won’t see as much damage this year.  I’m doing two things to combat the Voles:  1)  I’m going to dig up every Hosta (argh!), lay hardware cloth in the hole, and backfill with soil amended with Permatill and Molemax, and 2) We have two young cats who I’m hoping turn out to be good hunters!

Lily & Margo

Kindred Garden Friends

Kindred Garden Friends

I have a few special garden friends who, along with myself, I consider plant nuts.  One such nut, Amanda, and I made an early trip yesterday to one of our favorite nurseries.  I was on a mission to get vegetable starts and Amanda just wanted to scope out this year’s selection.

This particular nursery, Painters Greenhouse, is a bit unusual.  Painters is open from March 1 to June 30 each year and they offer a lot of annual bedding plants and baskets, vegetables and some perennials and trees and shrubs.  The nursery is a family-run business and in the past several years they have really amped up their plant offerings.  They now carry their traditional selection of summer annuals, but lots of great native perennials and a widening selection of trees and shrubs.

The fun thing about Painters Greenhouse is that the closer you get to the June 30 closing date, the cheaper the plants are.  They are reasonably-priced to start with, but you can get some great deals at the end of their season.  My strategy is to take an early pass, like Amanda and I did yesterday, and make a list of must-have plants that I’ll buy early before they sell out.  As I have time throughout their season, I’ll occasionally pop down and pick up things as the prices go down.  Then at the end of the season, I’ll comb through what’s left and hopefully find some really great deals.  The nursery is about thirty minutes out of town, but it’s a beautiful drive out through the country.

Back to yesterday.  Amanda and I agreed that we would leave early and try to get there just as they opened at nine.  We arrived at 8:55 and they were not yet open.  We were the first ones through the gate and actually shopped for about ten minutes before any other plant nuts made the scene.  The staff was still drinking coffee and getting ready for the inevitable Saturday crowd.

As we walked down the first row of plants, Amanda found a must-have plant:  Franklinia alatamaha.  Franklinia is a small flowering tree with nice fall color.  The tree was discovered by John and William Bartram in the late 1700’s and is now extinct in the wild.  All the trees in existence today come from seed gathered by the Bartrams.  I find this pretty amazing.  This is Amanda’s second attempt with Franklina.  Her first Franklinia went extinct in her garden from neglect (for shame).  Let’s hope she has better success with this one!

I found what I was looking for – my vegetable starts, including spinach, kale and several lettuce varieties.  I also picked up half a dozen Lavender ‘Munstead’ to add to the vegetable garden for color and fragrance.  Amanda came across a Methley Plum she had been interested in and after hearing her description I got one too.  I have a “driveway orchard” with fruit trees in pots, and the Methley Plum will be my fifth fruit tree.  We both picked up a few other odds and ends.  Amanda got very excited when she saw the Elephant Ears, Colocasia, and added ‘Thailand Giant’ to our cart.  We shared a (large) cart and promised each other we’d quit when the cart was full. (photo from groworganic.com)

We wrapped up our first Painters trip in under and hour and a half.  Just as we were loading the truck another of my plant nut friends, Elizabeth, called to see what treasures we had found.  She couldn’t come with us but was excited to hear about what we had seen.  I gave her our report and we jammed all the plants, including the three trees, into the cab of my truck (I had forgotten the plant tarp) and headed back up the mountain.

I was home by 11:00 am with plenty of time to get some gardening done.  One of the most satisfying clean up jobs in my garden is the veg garden.  It is a discrete space, and pretty easy to move through raking up leaves and pulling out old crops.  I got the cleanup done and the greens and lavender planted in due course.

About the time I was finishing I got a text from Amanda reporting that she’d gotten everything in the ground, except of course the Colocasia ‘Thailand Giant’ which is tropical.

Daphne &
Colocasia gigantea ‘Thailand Giant’

All in all, it was a very fun and satisfying gardening day and a great
first-of-the-season trip to Painters.
Life is better with kindred garden friends!

Green Thoughts

Mr. Boots Green Sneaks
(he has dual citizenship US & Ireland)

In light of St. Paddy’s Day, I am thinking about my favorite color Green.  Green makes me feel relaxed and happy.  I think most nature lovers feel this way.   A quick walk through the garden illustrates just how many variations of green there are.  I am always looking for new green colored pencils for my design work.

Here are some pictures of greens for all you green thumbs.  The color variation combined with textural contrast is limitless.  (Click any picture to see a large image)

Viburnum plicatum ‘Shasta’, Pinus densiflora ‘Vibrant’,
Picea orientalis ‘Atrovirens’, Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Kaori Hime’


Aurinia saxatilis, Helleborus nigercors ‘Honeyhill Joy’
Helleborous foetidous, Euphorbia myrsinites


Sedum cauticolum ‘Lidakense’, Saxifraga stolonifera
Ilex crenata ‘Shiro Fukurin’, Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Splitrock’


Margo & Erica darleyensis ‘White Perfection’
Lily & Cedrus deodara ‘Feelin’ Blue’
(the cats blend perfectly with the stone)


Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Fastigiata’, Ilex crenata ‘Helleri’
Ilex meserveae ‘Blue Prince’, Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Compacta’


Eleutherococcus sieboldianus ‘Variegatus’, Chamaecyparis obutsa ‘Spirited’
Ginger & Fern, Moss


Sedum telephium ‘Matrona’, Rhododendron catawbiense
Picea omorica ‘Bruns’, Alchemilla erythropoda


Geranium x cantabrigiensa ‘St. Ola’, Mukdenia rosii


Lichens, Geranium renardii
Stachys byzantina ‘Helen von Stein’, Rhododendron pachysanthum


Gidget & Taxus x media ‘Densiformis’, Buxus sempervirens
Microbiota decussata, Ilex ‘Patricia Varner’


Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Kosterii’
(going to have to change this … plant too yellow for this jade green pot)

Luck of the Irish to ya!

The Garden in Winter
(plus tips for a quickie garden clean-up)

Formal Garden, Acorn Hill
February 11, 2018

I have a prospective design client, Karen, who is interested in a garden with year-round interest.  Although winter is not the most exciting time to look at a garden, a walk through the garden in winter can be telling.  In spring, summer and autumn the garden’s attractions are many, but the spareness of the winter landscape has its own loveliness.  The broad-leaf evergreens and conifers which form the backdrop of the garden in summer, take center stage without the colorful competition.  And in winter the functional aspects of the garden, pathways, steps, walls, fences, and so on, either really shine or stick out like a sore thumb.

So back to Karen.  I suggested we visit a few gardens that I’ve designed as well as my garden.  I hate to impose on my clients at this time of year, because who’s garden really looks great in early February?  A quick pass around my own garden made me question the soundness of my plan.  But if well-designed, a garden in winter can hold its own.

We stopped in to see Mignon’s garden which I can always count on to show as it is beautifully kept.  Karen wanted to see some ‘before’ pictures of the gardens we were going to see; below is the way it looked the first time I met Mignon at her home under construction.

And here is the courtyard last week (looking down from the other end).  The long corridor is punctuated with Ilex crenata ‘Hoogandorn’, Thuja occidentalis ‘Degroot’s Spire’, and Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracillis’.  The stones on gravel lead the eye down the space and the sculptures add interest and contrast to the organic materials.  Hellebores at the entrance are a welcome note this time of year.

Compare this to the exuberance of summer where Hydrangeas, Hostas, and Ferns steal the show.


We also walked through Ann Marie and Sam’s garden to see wide pathways, dry stack stone and many native plants.  This path is lined with evergreen Ilex glabra for winter interest, and deciduous Fothergilla ‘Blue Shadow’ for spring, summer and fall.  Both are native to the Southeastern US.  Metal edging keeps this gravel pathway tidy, and the low-voltage lighting makes for easy walking after dark.

The path turns the corner at Ann Marie’s custom-made gong which she and her sister next door ring to announce their comings and goings.

And here is Ann Marie and Sam’s summer garden where grasses and perennials draw the eye.


When I design a planting plan, I start with the proportion of 1/3 evergreen, 1/3 deciduous, and 1/3 herbaceous.  From there, I modify my plan based on client’s preferences and the site conditions.  As you sweep your eye across your garden in winter, it should be rhythmically punctuated with something evergreen.  Here we have Buxus ‘Wintergreen’ on the left, Chamacyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracillis’ on the right with Prunus laurocerasus ‘Otto Luyken’ behind that, Juniperus chinensis ‘Kaizuka’ further down on the left and the bright note of Pinus densiflora ‘Golden Ghost’ and the center end point.  Adding to winter interest here are the twisting branches of Corylus avellana ‘Red Dragon’, two kinds of Hydrangea flowerheads and a smattering of persistant perennials.

In summer, most of this evergreen material disappears behind the floral show.

Of course, winter interest can come in the form of the bare architecture of a tree, an early flowering shrub, colorful bark, or a piece of art, but nothing beats a note of green in the winter garden.

Artfully pruned Ginkgo biloba ‘Jade Butterflies’.

Edgeworthia chrysantha about to bloom.

Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’

Quickie Clean-up:

I didn’t have much time to tidy up before Karen’s visit, but Amanda, who helps me keep things ticking along in the garden, and I spent three hours the morning of her visit to do a quickie clean-up.  That morning before Amanda arrived, I walked through the garden squinting.  In each main area, I would squint and the worst offending elements jumped out at me … a pile of leaves here, and water sprout on the holly there.  We allotted about 30 minutes in each area so we wouldn’t get into detailing, just addressing the messiest aspects.

Our broad-strokes work paid off, and Karen was able see and understand the garden without being distracted by messiness.  Here are the tasks that Amanda and I accomplished quickly and which made a huge difference in the look of the garden:

  • Raked leaves and debris off the pathways and steps.  We did not clean up leaves from the beds.
  • Raked gravel smooth.
  • Picked up and stacked fallen limbs.
  • Pruned water-sprouts from hollies.
  • Cut back LARGE perennials that had been left for winter interest, such as Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’, Eutrochium purpureum – Joe Pye Weed, Caryopteris divaricata ‘Snow Fairy’, Aralia ‘Sun King’.  Small perennials remained as is.
  • Bundled and cut LARGE ornamental grasses.
  • Cleared leaves and bird droppings off fountain and outdoor benches and chairs.
  • Final touch was to blow the walks and steps.

Hemlock Garden, Acorn Hill after quickie clean-up

I would have liked to cut the old foliage from the Hellebores, but ran out of time.  Desirable, yes, but it did not interfere with the general impression of this garden.  I’ll get that done this week so I can really enjoy these early flowers.

Glorious Chaos

Snowdrops & Hellebores, Feb. 4, 2018
Sieglinde’s Garden

I’d most certainly rather be in the garden than at my computer.  I am never more content than when my hands are in the dirt and my boots are muddy.  I do, however, take time to keep reasonably good records about my garden and I find it easiest to do this at my computer.  I have plenty of sweet garden journals that I’ve jotted and sketched in, but these are rarely useful when I need to look back for something specific.  Unromantic it may be, but the computer is an immensely useful tool in this regard.

So, why keep garden records? Have you ever been in the garden with a friend who asks, ‘Oh my, what is that?”  Delighted at their keen perception of a rare beauty you respond, “That’s …oh, give me a second, it’s on the tip of my tongue.”  Ugh!   When my garden was newer, I could remember every plant name, where I got it, when I planted it.  Fifteen years on and hundreds of plants later I still recall a lot, but certainly not everything.  And the newer the addition to the garden, the harder it is to burn that botanical name into my brain.  I find that if I make a record of a new plant, it helps me learn it.  A plant tag is also useful, but so many distract from the overall display.  In my opinion, a plant tag should only “speak when spoken to.”  In other words, tags should be legible, sturdy and a bit shy.

I keep track of some maintenance tasks, but certainly not all.  Primarily I like to note when I’ve pruned things.  I know generally that I prune the Hydrangea paniculata ‘Tardiva’ in late winter as it blooms on new wood.  But it’s interesting to look back at over time to see how wide the actual pruning dates vary.  Most fall into the last two weeks of February, but in 2011 we had snow on the ground until mid-March and the hydrangeas weren’t tackled until March 23.  Not breaking news, but interesting to me nonetheless to remember that particularly snowy winter.  We had almost a foot of snow on Christmas Day 2010; snowed in and stuck, we feasted on peanut butter sandwiches in place of my sister’s roast turkey.

More critical to track is when I’ve pruned the Viburnum burkwoodii.  This shrub blooms in spring, usually mid-April, on old wood, so should be pruned after flowering to allow bud set for the following year.  I rarely get this job done until late summer which is far too late for most spring bloomers to set their buds for the next season.  A look back at my records, and I know that I’ve pruned as late as October and still had a great floral show.  Keeping track of this date both reminds me when I need to do this, and also gives me some breathing room to know  that even done late, I’ll still get to enjoy that wonderful fragrance the following April.

So much of gardening is a science experiment and keeping good garden records helps evaluate those trials.  A couple years ago I got really interested in hardy geraniums and ordered a dozen or so different species to try.  I kept track of where I planted each one in the garden, what the conditions were, and which were most successful in terms of hardiness and floral display.  The following year I ordered more of the one or two that were most impressive and have used them throughout the garden.  It was easy to look back at my records of their performance and I knew which nursery carried the ones that I wanted more of.  The favorite by a mile was Geranium ‘Katherine Denuve’, a big blousy plant that bloomed all summer.

By their very nature, gardens do not stand still.  Plants grow, and sometimes die.  Tree canopies create shade where not too many years ago there was full sun.  In a garden that is even just a few years old, the change can be dramatic.  Photographs are a great way of keeping a visual history of the garden and how it changes over time.  A look back at early pictures can be breath-taking!  It is both fun and satisfying to see how far I’ve come.  Nothing tells the story of a garden like pictures and having them organized and accessible makes it easy to take that stroll down the years and to share that history with others.

Gardening is personal pursuit that feeds mind, body and spirit.  Take a bit of time out of the dirt to make some notes and take some pictures.  Good garden records helps us learn from seasons past, remind us how far we’ve come, and give a bit of order to the chaos and glory of the garden.

Hemlock Garden, Acorn Hill
November 5, 2017


NEW! Custom Plant Tags

About this time last year, we launched Muddy Boots Plant Tags, a new “smart” plant tag integrated with a web-based garden record-keeping system.  Our original tags had a QR Code marked on them, but were not customized with individual plant names.  We heard from many of you that you liked the concept and the system, but the tags really needed to carry plant names as well as the QR Code that links to the online system.

So, we would like to introduce our new Custom Tag offering.  Our Custom Tags come in three sizes:  Small, Medium, and Large.  We still offer our Standard Tags which are generic, and may be assigned to your plants and re-assigned if, for instance, the plant dies.  The Standard Tags are useful for labeling annual plantings, containers and even vegetables.

We hope that you’ll take a look at our Custom Tags.  See all the details at: https://www.muddybootsplantags.com/standard-custom-plant-tags/

Easy Care Conifers

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Fillicoides’ & Picea omorika ‘Bruns’

I use a lot of conifers in my garden designs and have many in my personal garden.  They are wonderful, easy going plants that add year-round color and texture to the landscape.  When planted in the right place and properly established they are truly low-maintenance plants, that is until you get a foot of heavy wet snow.

My typical operating procedure for a big snow fall is to 1) walk around the garden admiring the magical scene; 2) take our dog Gidget for a long snowy walk; and 3) knock the snow off the conifers with a broom.  Last Friday we got close to a foot of snow.  I got around to numbers one and two and then got lazy.  I came inside to warm up and just couldn’t gin up the energy to go back outside with the broom.  Dennis decided to make chocolate chip cookies and that didn’t help my inertia.

When I went out Saturday with the broom I was appalled at how heavy the snow was.  I knew it was deep, but so wet!  One of the first conifers I uncovered was the big Thunderhead Pine, Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’ and boy was I sorry for my sloth.  About a third of the tree had snapped off from the snow load.  After an hour and a half I had made it around the garden.  The Thunderhead was the worst of the damage for sure, but the Globe Arborvitae were pretty spayed open.  Fingers crossed that they stand back up.

Other evergreens needed help including the Sky Pencil Hollies, Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’, and the Upright Plum Yews, Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Fastigiata’.  But after a couple of days, they all seem to be looking as they should.  The real champs are the Spruces and the Hinoki Falsecypresses.  They came away totally unscathed.

Terrace Garden under 10″ of Snow

These occasional big snows almost always come with power outages.  The Eastern White Pines that are ubiquitous in the North Carolina mountains do not tolerate the heavy snow and snap off taking power lines with them.  Dennis has renamed them Pinus downus rather than Pinus strobus.

It is lovely though to see the garden transformed.  It has been a couple of years since we’ve had this much snow, so I took lots of pictures.

Our 100′ Hemlock dwarfing a Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Crippsii’

Dennis & Gidget
(Our big Hemlock poking up above the ridge, center slope)


Viburnum burkwoodii still in color

Tracery of snow-covered branches


The Big Reveal

Japanese Maple & Ginkgo
Biltmore Estate November 6, 2017

Fall color in the eastern deciduous forest seems like alchemy to me; the plain green of summer becoming brilliant gold and scarlet in fall.  I was amazed to learn many years ago that those colors of fall are always present, merely being masked by the chlorophyll produced in the leaves.  This is mostly true, but after reading the The Science of Color in Autumn Leaves published on the website of the United States National Arboretum, I understand the process a bit better.

Did you know that yellow and orange pigments (xanthophylls and carotenoids) are present in leaves during the growing season, masked by chlorophyll, but red and purple pigments (anthocyanins) are manufactured by sugars trapped in leaves as the fall abscission process gets underway?  All of these  pigments break down with exposure to light or when frozen.  The one color that holds is brown which is produced by tannins.

When you live in a place where fall tourism is a big component of the economy, people talk, speculate, and generally chew on what the coming fall show will be like.  The intensity of the fall colors is dependent on temperature, sunlight and soil moisture.  Based on the article referenced above, the ideal conditions for a good autumn display are:

  • A growing season with ample moisture
  • A dry, cool, and sunny autumn
  • Warm days and cool, but frostless nights
  • No wind or heavy rain which can shorten the display


Acer palmatum ‘Baldsmith’

Last year we had an early frost which put a hard stop to this process.   Most leaves turned brown and hung on the plants for months … pretty.  This year we’ve had a good, albeit tardy, color season.  In particular, the Japanese Maples have been phenomenal, as have the Fothergilla and Oakleaf Hydrangea.  We have had more yellow and orange than red this year, most noticeable on the red oaks which are orangey brown.

Acer palmatum ‘Mikawa Yatsubusa’

I’m sure that elevation has some impact as well.  I’ve been driving to a job site in Black Mountain (higher than Asheville) the last few weeks and there is a distinct point as I get closer to Black Mountain where the mountain sides turn from lovely to simply breath-taking.

The show is fading for this year, though I still have color in a few maples, a big crepe myrtle and the oaks.  A few plants color even later, such as Spirea thunbergii and Viburnum burkwoodii.  I consider them an encore!

Having grown up in the Midwest I have good memories of crunching through leaves.  Even though autumn is the start of a long gray landscape, I enjoy the relief from the heat and pace of summer.  I don’t mind leaf cleanup – I rake not blow, and I take it pretty slow.   I find something settling about the sound of rustling leaves.  It’s a good time in the garden.

Gidget in the Leaf Pile

I take pictures with my phone because it’s convenient and easy.  The shots are decent (click any picture to see a better display), but it is my intention that this winter I will learn to use my expensive digital camera.  There, I’ve said it out loud!  A few more phone shots follow:

Moss Garden, Acorn Hill

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Semmes Beauty’

Hosta ‘Blue Angel’

Merrills Cove

Western View, November 6, 2017 5:35 pm

Embracing Change

Lavendula x intermedia ‘Grosso’

The one constant in a garden is change.  Plants grow and sometimes die; a sunny spot becomes shady; a tree comes down and makes a sun garden where you just planted ferns; and then there’s the hand of the gardener.

About this time of year I start thinking about what changes I might make.  It’s a nice time because the distraction of the abundance of summer is past, but deciduous plants still have their leaves and perennials, although fading, are still in evidence.  I find it an easy time to assess structure and think about additions and deletions (I can be quite ruthless).

This morning I was assessing my Terrace Garden.  My, oh my, how this space has changed.  I prefer to document my garden in pictures, so let me show you how it has evolved.

To set the stage, most of our garden started as turf grass.  On one side of the house a gentle grade sloped up to the high point of our property.  This slope, 40 feet long by 20 feet deep, has a grade change of about six feet or 30 percent.

Grass slope – October 2002

I could see this slope from the upstairs windows and thought it would be interesting to create a pattern of some kind.  Inspired by medieval knot gardens, I planted three interlocking diamonds of Lavendula x intermedia ‘Grosso’ – 150 plants.  Go big or go home, right?

Newly planted lavender with wattle for protection from running dogs – March 2006

First year’s growth – September 2006 (lots of turf removed)

For those who haven’t grown 150 lavender plants in a particular pattern … to keep this looking good in spring I had to clean out the leaves that caught in it, prune it after the new growth broke, cut down the spent flowers in summer, and shape it up a bit late in the year to keep the pattern evident, all while working on a slope.

Lavender knot looking quite lumpy bumpy – October 2009

After six years of this ridiculous endeavor I decided to terrace the space.  Slow on the uptake, but I got there.  I actually had some nice guys build the two new stone walls as I had decided my stone laying days were over (until we built the pond, but that’s another project).  My planting idea was to trial perennials in the terraces.  As a designer, I like to try plants out before putting them in someone else’s garden.  This was to be my perennial laboratory, testing new introductions and trying out interesting combinations.

Turned out that this was quite fun and lovely to look at in the growing season.  However, I was unimpressed with the look during the off season, which for us is four or five months depending on the weather.  It just didn’t look good long enough and while not requiring the extravagant maintenance of the Lavender Knot, it did take a good bit of work to keep it ship shape in summer.

Terraces planted with perennials – June 2013

Enter the dwarf conifer and dwarf shrub phase in 2015.  I removed most of the perennial material and started collecting small woody plants.  The dwarf conifers give year-round interest, the small woody shrubs add flowers, colorful foliage, and nice bark in some cases.  And I still have some perennials such as hardy geraniums, for some summer punch.  (You can see my current plant list at the bottom of this post.)

It will take some time for all of this to grow in, but I have great expectations for a stunning look that is much lower maintenance.  I’m sure I’ll have to shuffle a few plants around down the road.  This morning I decided to add more Calluna next spring.  It is colorful and evergreen and does well given the good drainage.

Calluna vulgaris ‘Winter Chocolate’

I‘m glad to have had all that lavender.  I look back and remember how excited I was to try that.  One thing that does not change is Dido –  did you notice him on the wall in the top picture?  He has been steadfast through all the changes and waits patiently for what comes next.


Acorn Hill Terrace Garden 2017
Current Inventory
(Easy lookup in my MBPT Garden Records under Terrace Garden)

Dwarf Conifers:

Cedrus deodara ‘Feelin’ Blue’

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Gold Fern’, ‘Kaemeni Hiba’, ‘Maroke’, ‘Nana Aurea’

Juniperus conferta ‘Golden Pacific’

Picea abies ‘Little Gem’, ‘Pusch’

Picea rubens ‘Hexenbesen’

Pinus parviflora ‘Aoi’, ‘Ibocan’, ‘Miyajima’

Pinus sylvestris ‘Hillside Creeper’

Tsuga canadensis ‘Von Helms’, ‘Winter Gold’

Thuja occidentalis ‘Congabe’

Dwarf Shrubs:

Azalea ‘Lemon Tea’

Daphne x transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’

Deutzia gracilis ‘Nikko’, ‘Spilled Wine’

Eleutherococcus sieboldiananus ‘Variegatus’

Fothergilla gardenii (Eastern Form)

Hamamelis vernalis ‘Quasimodo’

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Little Honey’, ‘Pee Wee’

Ilex ‘Rock Garden’

Ilex x meserveae ‘MonNieves’

Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’ ‘Kaori Hime’

Spirea ‘Dolchica’

Spirea japonica ‘Alpina’

Perennials & SubShrubs:

Calluna vulgaris ‘Winter Chocolate’

Erica darlyensis ‘Mediterranean White’

Geranium ‘St Ola’, ‘Patricia’, ‘Rozanne’

Knautia ‘Mars Midget’

Lavendula x intermedia ‘Grosso’ (yes, couple still there)

Salvia sclarea var. turkestanica ‘Alba’ (biennial)

Sedum – many types

Note:  there are a few trees planted in the mix such as Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck Purple’ and Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’