Garden Trains, the layout Landscaped with Flowers and Buildings

Is a Train Running Around in your Garden?

There are voles, moles, rabbits, chipmunks, dogs, huge numbers of birds, and thousands of bugs running around in my garden. Others may have or plan to have trains with wheels running around. Trains are the epitome of fun for families, friends of all ages, and neighbors who get extreme pleasure having fun.

Many train enthusiasts go to great lengths to lay track, run wiring, and build structures as might have existed many years ago. All details are made to appear as though they are real. Most garden railroads have miniature shrubbery planted throughout the train layout. Many have waterfalls and flowers blooming included in the landscaping with rocks, roads, small cars and trucks included.

Who knows how many garden railroads exist in any country. Usually, in fall, a huge public garden train display is built on the campus of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. This happens in a tent setup near the parking area at the UT Trial Gardens. Best to call first to be sure when and if the display will open this year.

The George L. Carter Railroad Museum is located on the campus of East Tennessee State University in Johnson City. The Museum is located between the power plant and the Minidome. The entrance is marked by the traditional white cross-arms denoting a railroad crossing. The Carter Museum has a work in progress display of the Tweetsie Railroad. Children young or old are welcome to enjoy the Museum and jump with glee at the sight of the trains.

The main display area contains memorabilia from several railroads, train layouts depicting three different sizes of model railroads, complete with landscaping, flowers, buildings, and minute details in the same scale as the trains.

When visiting the George L. Carter Museum, expect to see trains running and Club members on hand to explain the history, details, and methods of construction used in creating the displays. For more information and hours of operation, call 423.439.3382.

Plant Self-Seeding Annuals Now

Now it is fall and why not plant annual seeds that will come up in the spring, bloom, and drop their seeds to remain dormant until spring, 2016. Enjoy the fun of getting this daring little planting done now, and rejoicing in the blooms come next spring.

Many flowers produce hardy seed that sprout reliably the following year. While not each annual will come up, many will. Some of the most dependable are wild sweet peas, California poppies, cornflowers, money plant, calendula, and larkspurs. Along with these are nigella, (love-in-a-mist), cleome, tassel flower, baby’s breath, and gloriosa daisy. My friend, Dawn, has lupines that self-sow and sprout each spring with true dependability.

Some flowers may bring forth many more plants than desired. Some may be free spirits and decide on a new place to sprout. It is possible to thin some new spring plants by transplanting them in early spring. After blooming, it is a simple task to remove seed before they mature, leaving just a few plants to reseed for the following spring. I do this with seed heads of brown-eyed Susan and garlic chives.

Garlic Chives are a prolific herb, producing a multitude of seed for the wind to scatter. Thus, it becomes important to cut off bloom stalks to prevent seed from maturing and coming up again. A few plants are wonderful, while dozens of plants may be more than we have in mind.

If you decide to plant a few annuals now in late October or very early November, use packets of left over seed from Spring, 2014.

Prepare the soil by digging a scant one-inch deep, sow the seed, and tamp it down with a very thin covering of soil, as if it had fallen from the plant. The exception is California poppies, preferring to be scattered on unprepared ground.

Most poppies I see are planted in a round clump, to grow and bloom right there. Also, note that lupines have a taproot, and are difficult to transplant successfully. Therefore, use package directions to plant and allow them to grow where they sprout.

Wild sweet peas growing along roadsides or fencerows, note the location. Drive by from time to time, keeping track of where they bloom. When seed appear ripe, gather a few, and then plant next fall along with other self-sown seed. I cannot promise this will work with hybridized sweet peas. Always leave some seed on the plants to perpetuate the source of wild seed.

Now for a little more fun, select some daffodils and plant them in clumps of eight or ten. At the same time you plant fall seeds, not much more work, daffodils will mark the spots annuals are planted, and will bloom before the annuals come up. Some daffodils are safe from moles and voles, but no guarantee. As long as this little planting is finished by early November, you will be set to enjoy the holidays with digging done for 2014.

Get Creative with Your Trees

Let’s Get Creative with Trees

One of my favorite days is one with soft rain, no wind, thunder or lightening. A cup of hot herbal tea, files of photographs, the dog curled up at my feet and let my mind wander. A glorious day.

Perusing photos on my computer, my eye stopped at these beautiful young trees. I believe they are beech, but do not know for sure, although I was there to take the picture, could not get close enough to identify the leaves.

In Colonial times, trees were made into hedges, topiaries, and garden features. Many prosperous estate owners with hired hands did the work of training and trimming trees as they grew leaf by leaf into the vision of the owner.

We can still use their techniques on a short row of trees. These grow into a major architectural feature of a garden in a few short years. Of course, we must have time, sharp pruners, and balance on a ladder to achieve the proper appearance of the feature.

In the photo, taken this past August, it is obvious help must be available because not only the top, but also the sides and bottom edges of the trees are in just trimmed condition. The scallops on the bottom are an added feature that would require much pruning to shape and maintain.

The closest I have come to this achievement was to have five Bradford pear trees cut down, leaving about eight feet of trunk remaining. The regrown tops have been kept trimmed with tall green balls as tops, thus becoming topiaries.

Cutting the Bradford pears was a solution to the bad habit of these trees to split in half, blow over and drop branches as they break off. I still have the trees; they just are no longer a danger to anyone or anything. I have seen other Bradford pear trees cut in similar fashion to return the following year with new green tops that have been kept trimmed in a special shape. Sort of a touch of pizazz if you will.

Almost any tree can be adapted to special shapes. Thomas Jefferson demonstrated apple trees trained into a Christmas tree outline against a plain flat wall. The main trunk grows up the center. About every ten inches, a side branch comes out each side of the trunk growing nicely. As the tree grows taller, more branches come out on each side. Each pair of side branches is spaced about the same.

When full tree height is achieved, the long side branches are trimmed, as the bottom ones are longest, and then each pair of side branches becomes slightly shorter as they grow to the top of the tree. The result is shaped as a flat teepee against the wall. This stylized sort of tree actually bears fruit and is astonishingly lovely all grown up and sporting fruit to eat. Now, fall is a great time to start a special creation in your garden.

Get Ready, Leaves are coming

Fall brings cooler temperatures and planting vegetables that enjoy cool weather. Soon leaves will begin to change from summer green into their radiant autumn colors of gold, red, russet, and burgundy. Visitors arrive from everywhere to photograph the trees. Children will play in leaves and we will rake, blow, and collect this bounty many Master Gardeners call brown gold.

This fall treat quietly drifts from the skies right into our yards. We have the opportunity to take full advantage of this special gift from the trees. In some circles, I am known as a tree hugger. An honor bestowed on all who recognize and celebrate the worth of mighty trees and their leaves.

Trees provide cool shade in summer, beautiful fall colors, bare branches of winter, and finally in early spring maple trees signal that spring is a few weeks away. We continue to rejoice in the trees someone planted a long time ago for another generation to appreciate. Many celebrate trees by planting one tree each fall and another each spring. The important thing in planting is to use the right tree in the right place.

When leaves fall, children make forts with walls outlined in long stacks of colored leaves. Then one day, parents arrive with large plastic bags and have family fun bagging and saving the leaves for mulch, lest their decay kill the grass underneath.

Burning leaves does not appear to benefit man or beast. It is much more appropriate to compost leaves to repurpose them back into the garden as mulch. Consider the money we save by using leaves as compost.

The last year I received leaves from my special friend who had a bagger on his mower was 2012. He would bag the leaves, throw the bags into his truck, drive them to my garden and together we would stack them against the back fence. With tops turned down so rain and snow could enter, they remained there all winter.

Leaves, each bag a personal compost machine, remained bagged and rotting until spring. Then rotted leaves were distributed in garden beds always hungry for mulch. Thus, a symbiotic relationship continued from year to year until he was unable to perform this task again.

This fall 2014, prepare to receive leaves with open arms and obtain a supply of inexpensive, tall plastic bags. Be certain your leaf rake is in good working order. If a new leaf rake is purchased, be sure it is not too large, and is lightweight to manage easily.

Set aside a few hours once or twice during leafing time to rake leaves and store them in an out of the way place in the garden to rot, and the job is done for another year. Your brown gold will be ready in spring. If you do not get it out, the mulch will continue to improve until a proper distribution time arrives. After all, gardens can always use more composted leaves. Late spring or summer are also good times for mulching.

Plant a Little Humor in your Garden

Plant a Little Humor into Your Garden

Traveling about one sees the humor of gardeners everywhere. What a great reflection of time in the garden when we create something pretty, cute, thought provoking, humorous, or eye catching to convey a statement of the attitude of the gardener.

We all have a desire to be different. Making our gardens individual, unusual, or different in some small deviation from ordinary shapes as meatballs, straight lines, and same old perennials and annuals. After seeing a few evergreens trimmed into points rather than meatballs, it was natural to copy the idea of that creative gardener far away from the TriCities.

Just a hint of difference discloses a personality that is not a same-as person in the neighborhood. After observing full-size animal topiaries highlighting the landscape driving into Walt Disney World Orlando, I wanted to create a full size topiary cow in the front garden. Alas, the thought remains, but the cow has never appeared.

We want our homes to reflect our personalities, attitudes, and make a statement to passerby revealing a little of those characteristics. Our mailboxes and yard art tell a story about how we live our lives. When our mailbox needs paint, or the post or door to the box is broken, bent, or rotting, we repair it quickly. A few flowers planted at the base create a bright spot to enjoy.

Save enough smiling energy to create a topiary mother turkey with three little turkey’s right there in your garden. Nothing could be finer.

A topiary is simple and easy to make. After the plants are set, the topiary only requires frequent snipping to fill the shape we visualize. Many topiaries are made of hardy boxwood to remain slowly growing outdoors.

To start your topiary, select the perfect spot in full sun or part shade. Then choose a sturdy, cold hardy plant for the base. If creating a turkey, select a plant with two stems starting at the ground. This will be two legs for the bird. If the animal has four legs, then two plants with two stems will form four legs. If no legs, the bird or animal can reach the ground without legs. To plant, enrich the soil with compost, and plant the boxwood. Be sure there is excellent drainage.

As the boxwoods begin to grow, begin snipping one or two leaves to shape the body. Allow several long branches to grow out the top of one side for the tail, and a few growing out the top of the other side for the neck. Be sure the body is the size you wish before starting the neck and tail. For more ideas check out topiary forms on the internet.

Keep in mind this is a continuing process and may take a growing year for the full shape to become evident to all who see your creation. Fun, fun, fun!

Artistic Beauty in the Gardens of Phyllis and Bill Gray

Late one afternoon we walked and photographed the exiting, neat as a pin garden of Bill and Phyllis Gray. Moving to Elizabethton from Florida about six years ago, they brought seeds, roots, and pots of many favorite tropical plants to form a portion of the landscaping of their new home. These tropical plants are thriving outdoors during warm weather and living indoors during winter cold.

The driveway entrance is marked by flowerbeds surrounding pillars with beautiful red, white and yellow amaranth, (Joseph’s Coat), in full bloom with their colors glowing in the late afternoon sunshine. These annual flowers bloom all summer until the first killing frost in mid-October.

Amaranth plants are easily grown from seed planted after the last hard frost in early spring, about mid-April to mid-May. Phyllis explains the variety she grows is called Joseph’s Coat because of the many colors in each plant, bloom, and leaf. I call it spectacular,standing about four feet tall; its colors are bright and beautiful.

While researching amaranth, it became obvious there is more to this plant than beautiful foliage, blooms and seed heads. Several species are raised for amaranth “grain” in Asia and the Americas. Three species, Amaranthus caudatus, Amaranthus cruentus, and Amaranthus hypochondriacus.In 1977, an article in Science described amaranth as “the crop of the future.”

The gardens surrounding the home are neat, not a weed in sight. Many circular beds, with trees forming the center focus of each bed. Along the garden edges are beautiful blue spruce trees, their blue green-needles contrasting with the blooms and other shades of green throughout the garden.

The circular beds are about ten feet in diameter, with attractive scalloped top concrete edging. Lined up as soldiers ready for drill, each bed emphasizes a distinctive tree and various annuals and perennials. The circles tie the diverse blooms together into a pleasant organization of flowers. Bill mentioned some of the trees were not Bradford, but Cleveland pears, less likely to split and fall.

It was interesting to note the vegetable garden; growing in rows as we used to have before raised beds and square-foot gardening became popular. Phyllis is a seed saver, using her own seed from season to season through the year. She is the green thumb while Bill is in charge of mowing and edging. This makes for a great division of work.

Phyllis grows many herbs in the garden; she made some delicious hyssop tea. As we walked, she picked leaves to taste, Stevia with the almost too sweet taste. A great natural sweetener for foods. Other herbs had lemony and licorice flavors. Phyllis says we cannot grow enough basil, and she shared some delicious hyssop tea with me.

For more information about Amaranth, the versatile ornamental flower, or that grown for seed to be used for flour or cereal, check the internet for amaranth. Check special catalogs for seed and grain selections.

Mailbox Beautiful

Make your mailbox bright with a little dash of pizzazz. Everyone will notice your house because of your bright spot; even the mailperson may leave you a compliment. Some boxes and posts simply need a coat of paint and new numbers. Other boxes are bent, and rusty with broken doors. Rotted wood or bent and rusty metal posts simply need to be replaced. Mailbox doors should always close and some even have locks to protect mail.

Replacing or painting a mailbox is a perfect opportunity to improve the appearance of the home entrance and the impression our homes give others. This makes a nice, small weekend project, and the cost is not outlandish.

The basic idea is to have fun with a small family task. It should be completely finished in one weekend or less. From start to finish, that should do it. Posts can be bought in plastic or wood, and painted on the job. Mailboxes come in many designs, colors, and sizes. Just pick the right size to hold the stack of mail you usually receive. Ours is slightly larger than the standard letter size, allowing small packages fit inside. The new mailbox maybe plastic or metal, in a color you prefer. Buy black or silver, or paint it a dynamic color, maybe stripes, or even polka dots.

While shopping, purchase house numbers for both sides of the mailbox, about two bags of topsoil with a good handful of fertilizer mixed in for the tiny garden, and three to five perennials that return and bloom each year. If you have spare rocks here and there, use these to outline the garden. One small bag of quick setting cement will hold the post in the hole. If you will be painting, select that too.

The next day, use about four hours and put the whole thing together. The new mailbox and garden are quick, easy, and lovely to look at. Everyone will smile when driving past your home and may join in the mailbox fun at their home.

Now suppose neighborhoods blossomed with lovely mailboxes, tiny bright spots for all to enjoy. The garden would be tiny, easy to take care of, inexpensive to put in, and most of all would show our pride in the entrance to our homes.

If a neighborhood shared the fun of mailboxes, everyone could get together and plan tiny bright spots. Sharing and helping each other with the work and installation of new mailboxes, and planting favorite flowers at the base of each.

I am going to renew my mailbox garden using four-season plants. The plants I will use: two ditch daylilies, six daffodil bulbs, and three irises. In November, irises and daffodil bulbs will join the existing daylilies. Maybe I will add a couple of snapdragons. One thing about planting “snapping-dragons,” they remind us to be nice. Caution: do not stand in the street to build your garden or install your new mailbox.

The Colorful Garden of Carter and Marcella

It is always fun visiting lovely gardens, walking and talking with owners about flowers, blooms, how they grow, and the care needed for them. I asked Marcella who was the gardener in the family and she claimed that distinction. Marcella does a great job and her gardens brighten the neighborhood. Carter keeps beds edged and helps with planting and mowing. A great division of labor.

Along the front curb is a picket fence with bright pink mandevilla vine twining throughout the fence. Beautiful with matching large zinnias growing at ground level. Careful planning and design made this outstanding bright spot to welcome folks to the neighborhood.

Mandevilla vines are sometimes referred to as hardy, but generally in the TriCities TN; they are considered a fast growing, tropical, annual vine, unable to withstand cold. A caution – this plant may be poisonous. As to whether it is the milky sap, blooms or leaves, it must be noted and investigated.

Marcella states her gardens were begun in 2000, so there has been plenty of time to design, and select special plants she enjoys to brighten the spaces. Hardscape adds to the design, partly consisting of pots, birdbath, globe, and big boot with a special red geranium.

An outstanding tall rock dominates the front as a great eye-catcher. Many in NE Tennessee love and appreciate the beauty of rocks. The rock was a favorite of Marcella so she had it delivered and set up to become the focal point of the front garden. The rock, surrounded by a circular garden with a flagpole, marigolds, daylilies, and a large pink perennial variety of loose strife, is dazzling.

The front porch welcomes with rockers for conversations while enjoying the front gardens. Down the edges of the driveway are cannas with dark, colorfully striped leaves. Marcella explained that while many refer to cannas as canna lilies, this is a misnomer because cannas are not a lily at all, belonging to an entirely different genus of plants than lilies. Calla lilies, a true lily, and other colorful flowers lead the eye to the door.

Bright petunias fill urns to meet the sidewalk. Interesting plants including daylilies line the walk to the door where a birdbath, pink rosebush, and daylilies greet us.

Marcella has a vegetable garden across the back of the house, six/eight feet wide, perhaps 40 feet long. She grows tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and squash. She makes pickles, relishes, and cans and preserves others. Marcella’s vegetable garden proves that lovely gardens can easily grow vegetables.

Yucca filamentosa ‘gloriosa’ blooms in the Mitchell Garden

Yucca blooms-Photo by Jeanne Cope

Yucca blooms-Photo by Jeanne Cope

 With planting care, yucca can grow into a small clump in a year or two. Easy care is limited to cutting off old bloom stalks and removing dead leaves. Yucca prefers full sun with good drainage and is hardy from zone 4 south to zone 10.

Wet yucca roots will rot, killing the plant. It grows easily in poor soil in the southern regions of the USA, and deserts of the southwest. Two popular varieties are the standard green leaf and the green leaf outlined in white, ‘Bright Edge yucca’.

 There are 9 species and 24 subspecies of yucca. The plant has large, stiff, sword like leaves. Common names aptly describe this plant while pointing out dangers to humans and small animals. Names such as Spanish dagger, Spanish bayonet, and Adam’s needle warn folks not to touch or play football near this plant, which can puncture an arm or basketball with equal finesse. To prune use heavy gloves because leaves are capable of removing a finger.

 White/Ivory blooms top two-foot tall bloom stalks on each plant. Sun, shining through the blooms makes a translucent statement of beauty that may be seen from a distance. Yuccas in the Mitchell garden were planted by Marjorie, Sam’s Mother, when she lived on the farm. Her plants have been carefully tended by Irene since she and Sam moved onto the property.

 Yucca begin blooming in late spring, continue through summer, and into early fall. Established plants are difficult to remove because of deep, spreading roots and dangerous leaves. Yucca trees grow in the Mohave Desert.

 I knew a professor who devoted many years working with parts of the yucca plant, trying to develop a cure for some types of cancer. He advertised each summer for blooms and leaves of yucca to use with his experiments. He died before his research was complete and no one continued his work.

 If you would like to plant a yucca, locate it in full sun, well-drained soil, and in a location to the back of the border where it does not threaten family or lawn mowers. I have seen many yucca plants with the tips cut off their leaves in an attempt to protect family from danger. Removing tips is not sufficient because the entire leaf is sharp as a razor.

 In rural Appalachian areas, leaves of yucca filamentosa, are called “meat hangers”, as its sharp spiny tips and tough fibrous leaves are used in puncturing meat as well as knotted in order to form a loop wherein meat can be hung in smoke houses or for salt curing.

Yucca Blooms - Photo by Jeanne Cope

Yucca Blooms – Photo by Jeanne Cope


Listed as deer proof in some research, hungry deer will eat anything, including yucca blooms.

A symbiotic relationship exists between the yucca and yucca moths from the family Prodoxidae. Different species of yucca serve as host plants for the caterpillar of the Ursine Giant-Skipper and several other butterflies. This is truly a plant for the right place and heavy gloves.

Pitcher Plants are Carnivorous

Water Lilies are beautiful. and so are pitcher plants which are carniverous

Pitcher plants are carnivores – Photo by Jeanne Cope

In the entire plant world, some of the most unlikely and astonishing are the carnivores. These curious plants living in bogs, sometimes wet and sometimes dry, keep themselves healthy by consuming bugs.

Several days ago, the group called SAPS, Southern Appalachian Plant Society, took a trip to Asheville, NC to visit several gardens. One of the most spectacular was a rock garden with hundreds of remarkable plants, many of which were carnivores. Added to the list of gardens to visit at the last minute, the suggestion came from Garden Friend, Nancy Kavanaugh. The rock garden rated world-class, was a shining example to see and study.

When living in Tallahassee, Florida, Jack and I took many drives to the Gulf coast. The roadway revealed miles of wetlands with trees stripped off the land. No reclamation ever began. As a year or more passed, we saw the decimated landscape along the highway.

Then one spring the wetland was in bloom. Upon close examination, there were pitcher plants everywhere in the wetland. We pulled over and dug a few of these beautiful carnivores. Purchasing a large kitty-litter box, we added soil, rocks, and a little water. We placed the box in the dappled shade of tall pine trees where the plants thrived. Kept slightly damp, rain sometimes filled the box, and then the water evaporated with the humidity of summer. Continue reading