Flora from the Tampa Area

I just returned from spending several weeks in Tampa, Florida. The weather was hot, of course. July and August are hot everywhere.

It was also extremely humid and stormy. Of the 48 days I was there, it stormed on 44 of them, sometimes several times in one day. With all that heat and humidity, of course you get some rather splendid tropical vegetation. Here are some of the photos I took.

© Wade Kingston

Seven Temporary Garden Hedges You Can Plan for Now

There are at least seven temporary garden hedges that are fairly easy to grow. Even though it’s cold and snowy now, in just a few weeks it will be time to begin gardening in earnest. A little planning now will make things go much more smoothly come warm weather.

Temporary garden hedges perform a variety of functions:

  • Define a property line
  • Separate different portions of a garden
  • Accentuate a driveway or walkway
  • Provide shade where there is none
  • Provide height in a sea of low grass
  • Provide a display of vivid color where there was none
  • Hide an unsightly heating/cooling unit or gas tank
  • Attract a flock of butterflies or hummingbirds


There are seven annuals that I have used effectively to create these types of borders. With a little bit of pre-planning this year you can easily get results just like these photos. Sit down anytime (now is good) and create a rough sketch of your property. Where might one of these seven temporary garden hedges fit in perfectly?


seven temporary garden hedges - hollyhocks make a superb border
seven temporary garden hedges – hollyhocks make a superb border

1–Hollyhocks have a number of reasons to commend them as borders. They are tall, so they create an effective screen along a driveway or against an old weathered wall. They grow thickly and crowd out other weeds. But one of their best attributes is that they self-sow. Hollyhocks are biennials, meaning they usually grow in one year and bloom in the next. But it is oh-so-easy to get them started, let them self-sow, and enjoy them each year for as long as you want. The colorful blooms on tall stalks can bloom for several months during spring and summer.

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My Own Little Garden of Eden

My own little Garden of Eden would not look like the painting of the same name by Breughel and Rubens. My garden would be a relatively small affair, easily weeded and maintained. I want a compact garden where every inch is utilized and nothing is overgrown.

When I was a very small child, and could not yet read, I would sit with my Grandma Hammons. Together we leafed through her huge old family Bible. I was particularly fascinated with Grandma’s Bible because, in addition to all the wonderful stories, it was filled with full-color illustrations. Some of the illustrations depicting famous Bible events were painted by old masters. One in particular, “The Garden of Eden” by Jan Brueghel and Peter Paul Rubens, both fascinated and perplexed me.Continue reading

LBL in Spring – Land Between the Lakes is Green

LBL in Spring – Land Between the Lakes is Green. Trust me when I say that no one is sicker of the polar vortex than me. There’s just something about gray skies, bare limbs, and frozen ground that repels me. I like to think of Land Between the Lakes–LBL–as Nature’s own green garden.

I know there are people who love winter. At least, they tell me they do. I’d like them to look me in the face–preferably after they open their utility bills–and tell when what a blast they are having. Because I am not. Yes, there’s a time for every season under the sun. And I’m glad that the abnormal cold weather is ridding us of some bugs. But let’s face it, it’s probably killing some of the beneficial insects as well.

As for doing anything outside, forget it. I feel for the guys (and gals) who must work outdoors. I struggle just to get in a decent walk, and I’m swaddled head to toe like a mummy. Dogs freak out when they see me striding past their homes. I must look like some kind of quilt creature.

I long for green and all I have are photos. But I think you’ll agree these pics of our own Land Between the Lakes are good and green. I took them on breaks from my hiking and biking in LBL.

Here are 20 photos – 20 reasons more to long for spring.  Let’s get out there when it arrives!

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Andrew Marvell Knew a Thing or Two about Gardens

A lovely poem by Andrew Marvell, submitted by my good friend, Helen Roulston.

The poem extols the beauty and grace of a garden. How the cares and stresses of the modern world–and evil society–can be left behind within a garden’s walls. The writer felt as if his soul was free in nature–and how comforting the growing spaces are. That’s exactly what all of us gardeners already know!Continue reading

Feed the Birds in Winter

Feed the Birds in Winter. Remember the song from “Mary Poppins?” Feed the birds, tuppence a bag…

I always liked that song. And I’ve always enjoyed watching birds gather on a cold day and get their craws fulls of nutritious seeds. Please feed the birds in winter.

No self-respecting gardener worth his manure would neglect the birds in winter. After all, they chase down and rid you of all those leaf-eating bugs all summer long. Time to reward them, huh?

You don’t have to be a birdwatcher to enjoy feeding the birds. Heck, just provide the food and go about your way. Replenish it often. Let’s keep our flying friends happy and healthy.

feed the birds in winter - make your own
feed the birds in winter – make your own

Birds are remarkable creatures. In winter, when bugs aren’t available, those that need them switch to nuts and berries. But with energy-rich nuts, birds can get the nutrition they need to stave off these arctic vortex things.Continue reading

Favorite Garden Poems

Favorite Garden Poems, those verses we sometimes were required to memorize and recite at school. Or we stumbled upon them at one time or another, and they made an impression. On cold winter days I sometimes find these lines running through my mind. I guess it’s just wishful thinking on my part. Do you recognize any of them?

First up is my all-time favorite. Like all good poems, it conjures up powerful images, and captures Wordsworth’s mood as his mind wanders to sunny days.

Favorite Garden Poems - Daffodils
Favorite Garden Poems – Daffodils


I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.Continue reading

What a Load of Crap, er Manure

What non-gardeners might call a load of crap, we growers refer to as manure, and it’s the life-blood of a healthy garden.

Nutrients in different types of manures can vary wildly, depending of course on the animal itself and its diet, whether it is a caged animal or roams freely, and even the age of the animal and its overall health.  The manure itself, if left for too long, will lose a large portion of its nutrients to insects or rainwater. On the other hand, aged manure stinks less and is less likely to “burn” your plants. So, six of one and a half-dozen of the other. To be perfectly safe and avoid the smell, I usually just mix it in with my compost and call it a day.

Here is what you need to know about the various types of manures:

Cattle: Cow manure actually has the lowest concentrations of nutrients, primarily because the cow’s diet consists mostly of grass. But low concentrations actually make it one of the safest manures to use in abundance. Another thing to consider is availability (a lot of it around here) and the ease with which you can simply gather up hardened piles of it. (Am I grossing you out?) But seriously, a quick trip around the pasture with a pickup and a hay-fork and you can gather quite a pile of cow manure.

Horse: Horse manure is a bit more powerful than cow manure, but boy does it contain the weed seeds. Prepare to weed yourself silly if you use it. I have a friend who gives me all the horse manure I want, but it’s a mixed blessing. He piles it up and all I have to do is shovel it into my truck, but months later, when I’m pulling weeds out of everything, I sometimes wish I had gone another route. Be warned.

Poultry: Very high in nitrogen, with a significant amount of potash and some phosphorus. Consider the source on this one, as caged birds are often given antibiotics. Free-range birds are the optimum, but keep in mind that very fresh chicken manure will burn your plants. Let this manure age a few weeks, or mix it in well with your compost before applying.

Sheep: I have not used sheep manure, but I know it is very similar to chicken manure. Same rules apply pertaining to caged or free-range.

Rabbit: Rabbit manure is actually a very prized manure and hard to come by. We just don’t have a lot of rabbit farmers in our area, and they tend to keep their manure. So there.

Bat guano: I would love to get my hands on some of this, but you have to buy it and it’s pricey. I’ve read such terrific things about it. Some say it’s like supercharged chicken manure. (OK, it sounds weird to get excited over manure. Guilty as charged.)

Got any tips you want to share about manure? I’m serious. Do you?

© Wade Kingston

Freezing Flavorful Herbs

Not as good as fresh, but better than dried, freezing those flavorful herbs will give you several months of nearly full flavor before you resort to using the dried forms.

If you have an abundance of herbs and are trying to keep them as fresh as possible, consider freezing them. The flavor will be better than the dried form, and you can keep them for four or five months in your freezer. But freezing them won’t help you if you go to all that trouble only to forget they are in the back of the freezer. Mark them well, putting the type and date on a piece of masking tape and affixing to the bags–or better yet use a permanent marker and write on the bags themselves. It also helps to keep a written record on a piece of paper and affix it to the outside of the refrigerator/freezer. That way you won’t forget to use the herbs.

Freezing flavorful herbs
Frozen flavorful herbs

First method–Use whole leaves of verbena, mint, marjoram, parsley, sage, oregano, and tarragon. For dill, fennel, and thyme use sprigs. Whichever herbs you choose, make sure the leaves are dry, spread them out on a cookie sheet, and freeze for two hours.  Once they freeze, double bag them in freezer bags–and don’t forget to mark the bags.

Freezing herbs in cubes
Freezing herbs in cubes

Second method–Process the herbs (one at a time) in a blender with water until finely chopped. Add two tablespoons of each herb (be consistent so you’ll know how much a cube holds) to each cell in an ice cube tray and add water to cover. Freeze until solid. Remove and follow the directions above for bagging, and don’t forget to mark the bags.

You can just plop a cube or two in your soup or stew and away we go!

Have you had success with either of these methods?


© Wade Kingston


Tips for Fragrant Paperwhite Narcissus

Paperwhite narcissus bulbs can be found just about everywhere during the holiday season, and this fragrant beauty couldn’t be easier to grow.

Paperwhite narcissus (Narcissus papyraceus) can be purchased in many forms. You can buy the bare bulbs (the most economical), or in a box with a cheap plastic pot and some potting medium (a bit more expensive), or already potted and growing (the most expensive). It doesn’t take a green thumb to grow them, so opt for the bare bulbs.Continue reading

About Live Christmas Trees

Some things you need to know about which live tree to buy, how to light your live Christmas tree, how to recycle your live tree, or how to keep a live Christmas tree for planting.

What is the best live Christmas tree?

My honest opinion is that the best live Christmas tree is one that is planted firmly in your yard already. If it’s a tree that’s already established and well-watered, it stands a much better chance at survival than one brought indoors and subjected to heat and dry air. I say this because I have killed more than one live tree over the years, and I also killed a nice holly bush outdoors with too many hot lights. Now, having said that, if you persist in your desire to purchase a live Christmas tree and keep it for replanting, here are some things you should consider:

Keep your live Christmas tree alive until planting.

Put the live Christmas tree in a shaded spot out of the wind. You might consider buying an anti-dessicant (available at home supply or garden stores) to protect the needles and branches from drying out. Water the root ball well, and cover it with something heavy, like an old blanket or burlap, to further protect the tree from drying out. Drying is the biggest danger your live tree faces. When you bring it indoors, decorate it with cool lights (LED work well) and plan to only use the tree for a few days–preferably less than a week. Keep it in a large waterproof tub and keep the root ball wet. DO NOT place your tree near a heat vent or other source of warmth.

When you move your live Christmas tree back outdoors–and if the ground is frozen so that you cannot plant it right away–reverse the procedure and keep the tree in a protected area for a few days. As soon as the ground is workable, plant the tree so that the soil is even with the top of the root ball and water well. It may also be necessary to water the tree periodically throughout the winter if there isn’t enough precipitation. If the tree is planted in a windy spot, consider providing stakes as an anchor for the live Christmas tree until it takes root.

Live Christmas Tree with LED Lighting
Live Christmas Tree with LED Lighting



Lights on a live Christmas tree.

First, stay away from those large old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs–you know, the ones that get really hot. Heat is the enemy of your tree. The tiny mini-lights are probably OK, especially for a few hours a day.  But the new LED lights are not only very economical, they practically give off no heat at all.  For that reason, I give them a hearty green thumb up. (Now, for Heaven’s sake, keep your electrical cords away from the wet root ball and away from children and pets!)



recycle your live Christmas tree
recycle your live Christmas tree

Recycle your live Christmas tree.

Whether you bought a live Christmas tree with a root ball, or just a live tree that was chopped off, it’s still useful. We’ve talked about replanting the live Christmas tree that came with its roots tucked in the root ball. Now let’s look at ways of recycling that chopped off live Christmas tree:

  • Cut the branches and lay them in window boxes or planters outdoors. The branches will provide color and interest for weeks.
  • Use branches to protect your dormant plants, or to cover those spots where you planted spring bulbs. It’s important to protect the soil from that constant freeze/thaw cycle if possible.
  • Tie some branches around a bird feeder. Birds love natural foliage, which all too often is missing entirely in the winter.
  • Do you have a trellis that’s looking really bare this winter? Weave some of the branches in and out of the trellis for a splash of natural green that lasts for weeks. Don’t be surprised if you see redbirds playing among the needles.

© Wade Kingston

Mad about Mulch – Ten Ways to Mulch

It’s never too early to start thinking mulch. In fact, fall and winter are good times to begin saving those newspapers, shredding those leaves and grass clippings, continuing your composting, or setting aside a bale or two of straw. One less thing to do next spring, and your garden will thank you for it. The type of mulch you choose will depend on the plants, location, and your preference for how a particular mulch looks and behaves.

Here are ten types of mulch and their advantages and disadvantages:

Black plastic mulch
Black plastic mulch


Advantages: Very good for controlling weeds, plus it heats up the soil quickly in spring. It is good about retaining moisture and it’s relatively cheap.

Disadvantages: It doesn’t have a long life. You’ll be lucky to get more than one growing season out of it. It tends to repel water, which plants need. It can kill beneficial worms and insects. It’s ugly, and it does nothing to replenish the soil. On top of that, it’s environmentally unfriendly (made from petroleum).


Compost mulch
Compost mulch


Advantages: Helps with weeds and holds some moisture. Provides a home for healthy organisms, which in turn help prevent diseases. A good source of plant food for the entire growing season.

Disadvantages: It feeds the weeds also! It not only won’t kill weeds, but they thrive in it. Compost is also expensive if you don’t “grow your own.”

Grass clippings mulch
Grass clippings mulch


Advantages: Some weed control. Like plastic, it will also warm the soil and help retain moisture. Also, if you till it into your soil it will actually help feed your plantings.

Disadvantages: It can get very hot! Grass, as it decomposes, naturally creates heat and may be more than you need. Don’t put it up against the plant stems. It may also be full of weed seeds, so there’s that. Also, remember than any herbicides you spread on your lawn will be in your grass clippings, so if you’ve poisoned your lawn, don’t poison your garden with clippings.

Hay used as mulch
Hay used as mulch


Advantages: Cheap and good about keeping down weeds. It also helps retain moisture.

Disadvantages: May contain weed seeds and will not add nutrients to the soil. Also, do not add thick layers of hay around peppers or tomatoes until after the soil has warmed up. Hay can actually keep the soil too cool if piled thickly around plants in early spring.

Newspaper as mulch
Newspaper as mulch


Advantages: Whether whole or shredded, newspaper is excellent at controlling weeds. It’s generally free and available, and it helps moderate soil temperatures (treat it like hay and don’t apply too early). If you use more than one layer it will last all season, and you can dress it up with a top layer of bark or chips. (or if you don’t care about the appearance, just wet it down good so it doesn’t blow away).

Disadvantages: It won’t feed your plants. In fact, it may even leach nitrogen from the soil if you uses shredded newspaper and till it into the soil.


Porous landscape fabric
Porous landscape fabric


Advantages:  It’s cheap and is very good at weed control. It will hold in water but let the air circulate as it warms the soil. You can dress it up with top mulch or just weigh it down with stones or bricks.

Disadvantages: Like black plastic, it is not earth-friendly. It’s made from petroleum and it may end up in the landfill. Provides absolutely no nutrients to the soil.

Shredded bark mulch
Shredded bark mulch


Advantages: It looks great, plus it lasts a long time. Holds moisture, moderates soil temperature (don’t apply too early).

Disadvantages: It can be expensive, and sometimes it has chemicals in it (you can smell them). It also won’t do much to fertilize your soil.



Shredded leaf mulch
Shredded leaf mulch


Advantages: Cheap, or even free, plus you are helping the earth by recycling. (burning your leaves just adds more carbon to the atmosphere). Moderates the soil temperature and does a good job at holding moisture. It improves the soil and earthworms love it. (earthworms are good)

Disadvantages: It doesn’t do the best job of controlling weeds.



Advantages: Good at controlling weeds and moderating the soil temperature (don’t apply too early). Holds moisture and will improve the soil if you till it in. It looks good and feels good (especially to bare feet).

Disadvantages: Just like hay, it may contain weed seeds. It also won’t fertilize your plants.

Wood chip mulch
Wood chip mulch


Advantages: It won’t go anywhere when the thunderstorms begin to blow. It keeps the soil moist and keeps weeds at bay.

Disadvantages: Nutrient poor and slow to decompose. Also, if it has a strong smell it likely contains a lot of acid. Don’t use it if it does, or use sparingly.

There you have it. Most gardens and flower beds benefit from a good mulch.  I’ve used all of these, sometimes all at once. Any mulch is better than no mulch.

What successes have you had with mulch, or which ones do you prefer? Let me know.

© Wade Kingston


Autumn Allergies

Kentucky’s Official State Flower is not your problem!

It’s a crying (pun intended) shame that Goldenrod–Kentucky’s Official State Flower–gets blamed for so many autumn allergies. Part of the issue is that Goldenrod flowers burst forth in their full yellow glory right about the time as the real culprits do. And Goldenrod’s beautiful flowers outshine those of the pale green ragweed blooms.

Kentucky State Flower - Goldenrod
Goldenrod–Kentucky’s State Flower

But make no mistake, ragweed is the real villain. Whereas Goldenrod pollen is relatively large and heavy–spread by bees and other insects–ragweed pollen is small and light, and easily spread on the wind. Ragweed–all 15 species–grows throughout the continental United States. It will live on dusty back roads or city side streets. There is no escape.  And though its botanical name is Ambrosia, don’t be fooled. It ain’t so sweet.

Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia)

Ragweed does have its upside, though. Farm animals, such as cows and pigs, thrive on it. And it’s very good about providing new ground cover after a flood or fire.

Does ragweed give you fits in the fall?

© Wade Kingston

Christmas Cactus 101

It’s that time again–when thoughts of Thanksgiving and Christmas and the many preparations necessary to make the season beautiful begin. Not the least of holiday preparations are those for Poinsettias, Narcissus, Amaryllis, and Christmas Cactus. Unlike Poinsettias or bulb flowers, many people tend to keep their Christmas cacti from year …