Friday, August 31, 2012


By now, I am sure most of you have perused your September issue of Southern Living which features the article "Breaking Ground" chronicling the restoration efforts of the famed vegetable garden of Monticello!

Side view of the back of Monticello as seen from the North Pavillion/Terrace

Coincidentally, in the month of July, my husband and I accompanied our eldest child to the great state of Virginia to tour the University of Virginia as one of his college choices.  While the boys took in the afternoon session of the School of Engineering, I snuck off to Monticello, famed home of our third President, Thomas Jefferson, also founder of the University of Virginia, to marvel at his gardening genius.

Jefferson statue guards the steps to the Rotunda.

What I learned, was that despite penning the Declaration of Independence and serving for thirty-three years in public life including Governor of Virginia, Secretary of State, Minister to France, Vice President and President, Thomas Jefferson viewed himself first and foremost as a "farmer" listing that as his occupation on a census as opposed to his many other notable titles.

Squash vines grow among the rustic tuteurs

"No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden" claimed Jefferson in 1811.

View from Vegetable Garden to Vineyard below.
Orchard trees can be seen to the right.

While most gardens of the day were formal and regimental, Jefferson designed his lawn and flower borders in curving, serpentine waves reflecting his interest in the "informal style" of landscape design - a field he considered one of the seven fine arts. He mixed formal, "old world" plants alongside wildflowers and native plants.  What plants did I notice in his flower borders?

Tricolor Joseph's Coat

Bloodflower - a cousin to Butterfly Weed seen commonly in Alabama

Blackberry Lily
Crested Cockscomb
Purple Coneflower


While the flower borders were stunning, Jefferson's "true garden" was the vegetable garden cut into the south side of his mountain and supported by a massive stone retaining wall.  

The grand vegetable garden boasted some 330 varieties of some 99 species of herbs and vegetables and was organized into "squares" of either "roots", "leaves", or "fruits". 

Tomato plants supported by rustic framework
anchored the "fruits" square.

A strategically placed garden pavilion stands at midpoint allowing Jefferson unobstructed view of his orchards, vineyards and vegetable garden while affording him a quiet respite to record journal entries.  Jefferson forged the path to gardening success by making careful record of his failed attempts and thus discovered what WOULD work by eliminating what DID NOT work in his garden.

Can't you just see Jefferson sitting here
making his garden journal entries?

Jefferson may very well have been the pioneer of the "Locavore" movement of eating fresh, local foods being a firm believer in sustainable gardening.  Through rich organic matter mixed into his soil and using only the strongest "heirloom" seeds, Jefferson over time cultivated a bountiful garden of vegetables and herbs. 

Foreign dignitaries would compete to "wow" Jefferson with the most unique varieties of plants.  What were my favorites?

French Artichokes

Look at this unusual, stunning French Artichoke bloom!


The herb Lavender

I could tell Jefferson admired tomatoes
as he had several different cultivars!

The 'Cow's Horn' Okra mentioned in the
Southern Living article caught my eye, too!

I was a bit surprised to still see Asparagus in late July.

Another reason to like Jefferson and recognize his genius? His earliest designs for Monticello included spaces for brewing and storing beer.  His spacious beer cellar would make grown men weep with joy at the sight.

Jugs held the beer as corks were hammered in to seal the brew!

Always ready for a keg party it appears!

Of course, one of MY favorites of Monticello was the "dumbwaiter" which allowed wine to be brought from the cellar below up to the Dining Room upon the ring of a bell! 

Deliver the Wine!  Good Stuff!

"Wine is indispensable for my health" claimed Jefferson who would happily indulge in one to three glasses depending on his mood. A man after my own heart!

Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, 50 years after penning the Declaration of Independence.  His grave is located on the grounds of Monticello in a family site surrounded by a wrought iron fence and framed by Trifolate orange trees.

Thick iron spires majestically enclose the gravesite

Jefferson obviously wanted to be remembered for three things:
Independence, Freedom and Knowledge. 

Trifolate Orange Trees - see the thorns?

Like Jefferson, I am a firm believer in sustainable gardening and many edible plants not only thrive in our climate, they have ornamental value to the landscape.  There is something rewarding about using your time to plant a seed, nurture it, and watch it grow.

I hope you enjoyed my Monticello Reflections.  It was a trip I will never forget!

photos courtesy of:

mother nature garden designs

Monday, June 4, 2012


GLORIOUS GARDENS returned to Birmingham this past weekend, showcasing five residential gardens and one public garden.  A highly anticipated biannual event, it allowed access to private gardens across the horticultural spectrum and also benefitted the mission of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens: promoting public knowledge and appreciation of plants, gardens, and the environment.

Of course, I did not want to pass up the opportunity to participate and enjoyed the day touring the private gardens with my friend, Stacy Pulliam, and my daughter, Maddie! Here were some of my favorite aspects of the tour and thoughts about how they were similar - and how they were different!

FIRST STOP was the Clark Garden on Canterbury Road: a stately, tudor style home nestled in a residential neighborhood with a formal front yard with parterre hedges and boxwood.The back, however, allowed me to glimpse what fun and carefree spirits these homeowners must be!  What creative bed edging recycling upturned wine bottles!

The terraced rear gardens included:

Fig trees and other fruiters 
such as apple and blueberries!
See the figs beginning to form?  

A patient vegetable which takes 2-3 years 
to establish before harvest.

Kalanchoe 'Flapjack'
Dorotheanthus 'Red' also known as Trailing Mezoo.

Shade loving hanging baskets with some favorites!
Lysimachia nummularia
 (Golden Creeping Jenny - spilling from front)
(Sedge - variegated clumping grass on left)
(Coral Bells or Alum Root - deep purple filler in middle)

Hydrangeas of many shapes and forms!
I really liked the loose lace-caps in pinks and lavenders

And last, but not least...
This whimsical fountain frog spouting water 
into a stone koi pond

NEXT STOP was the charming bungalow of Jane Ross, a local landscape architect, and husband, Neil. Most charming was the backyard "guest house" which was a converted garage opening onto the quaint courtyard.  A covered flagstone patio area complete with "bottle tree" beams and metal roof completed this relaxing retreat.  I really liked that she had a display showing the house/garden plans and its transformation through the years.  I also really liked:

Humpty Dumpty 
who greeted visitors from his perch on the wall!

A miniature Vulcan
 who presided over the burbling patio fountain.

And annuals in pots
 (the summer snapdragon)
seen here in white, also comes in purple, lavender and pink

(million bells - which looks like a miniature petunia)
seen here in purple, comes in many colors

THIRD STOP was on Greenwood Street in Homewood.  After descending stone steps which encircled a front yard pond, this casual, relaxed home of Barbara Saurer and Brad White boasted several native and shade loving plants. A covered back porch opened onto the expansive backyard which had a stone drainage ditch bisecting the lot.  On the back "40" several chickens took residence on the property in the fenced coop area.  

These chickens (hens?) look content 
and seem to have no plans to 'Run'.

Appears to be some type of coneflower and
my daughter thought the petals looked like pink lemonade!

Among Hosta this unusual plant was found.
Stems terminated in berried clusters and the
deeply veined leaf was spade-shaped!

LAST TWO STOPS were on Vestavia Drive in Vestavia Hills.These two houses were stately, elegant and were situated on large estate lots owned by the Corys and Clarks (different family).  Both had pools - which my daughter wanted to try - and both had a more formal style of landscape.  However, in the back, several perennials and native plants caught my eye, plus two well-laid vegetable/herb gardens that made me very envious! 

Native perennial Rudbeckia (black eyed susan)
  was popping with color!

I liked the formality of Lavandula (Lavender)
 contrasted against
this simple rustic border edging 
in the herb/vegetable garden.

Think this must be Mexican Hat or Ratibida
 Native perennial with delicate foliage 
and colorful "sombrero" shaped blooms

Herb - Dill - was in full bloom in the vegetable/herb garden.

The vine, Dolichos lablab or Lablab purpureus 

 more commonly known as Hyacinth Bean
is a fast growing twiner
and will clamber up this trellis in no time! 

Giant Coneflower
Rudbeckia maxima
was already 5-6 feet tall!


every garden had an "edibles" area - whether is was herbs, vegetables, fruits or a combination of the three.  Most commonly seen vegetables were tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and squash complimenting herbs basil, rosemary, fennel and thyme.  This reinforces my belief that this "trend" of edible gardening will be a permanent "must have" for gardens.  It is an element I truly try to encourage homeowners to adopt.  Most edibles have the added ornamental value to its culinary uses.

I also noticed all the gardens were alike in use of some native plants.  Each and every garden had one or more native plants.  Another "trend" that I feel like is here to stay in that native plants are more easily adaptable to our environment! 

All used succulents - mostly in containers - another area I feel like will escalate in popularity and use.  Drought and heat tolerant - mostly perennial - and exotic and unusual.  Why not use them?

All gardens had a water feature, whether it was a fountain, pond, or pool.  This design feature is appealing especially in the heat of summer when the trickling, tranquil sound of water cools and refreshes! I always try to work one in if possible.


each garden was unique to itself and no two were completely alike.  While they had similarities mentioned above, the BBG did a great job of finding a diverse group of homes in style, function and design.   The personality of the homeowner could be glimpsed with these peeks into their gardens and I appreciate these families opening their gardens to the public.

Lastly, not all gardens had the element of fragrance.  To me, this is also a very important garden feature that I always try to include in my designs.  So, the first stop, really stood out to me because the visitor exited the garden by way of a fragrant arbor where HUGE gardenias perfumed the air.  Check out this bloom!  

So, in 2014 - mark your calendar for this event - I hope this inspired you to attend next time!  You will not be disappointed!




Sunday, May 6, 2012


Wow - has it been busy this spring with its early onset.  One of the questions I am frequently asked is... what's hot in pots this spring?  So, I decided it would be a great time to blog about it to share my thoughts and ask for your opinions, too.

NUMBER ONE HOTTIE THIS SPRING...would have to be succulent plants.

Look at this amazing container of succulents... I think the hypertufa "toad house" and "blue fingers" succulent corner "tree" planting just give this container a "wow" factor. Posted this photo on Charlie Thigpen's Garden Gallery page and within the day a gentleman came in and purchased the entire container for his wife's birthday present!

So, what are some succulents you should try?

Here is Mezoo Trailing Red in front and like its name implies is more of a trailing succulent which will spill out of the pot and Campfire succulent is in back and is more upright with flaming red tips!

And why should you try a succulent?

Because in addition to being drought tolerant, they thrive with neglect and are perfect for containers, which dry out more quickly in our scorching heat.  Most have the added bonus of blooms during summer.  Perennial, they are constant year after year for you in your container.

On the front left is 'John Creech' Stonecrop which has pink flowers blooming in July/August, 'Hen and Chicks' Sempervivam hybrid on the right and Echeveria nodulosa in back which has striking gray/maroon foliage and  is more upright to 8 inches.

I made my own container of succulents in an unused copper fire pit with drainage, and bought a toad house for our frog!

NUMBER TWO CONTAINER HOTTIE...would have to be herbs.

Look at this ornamental oregano, Kent Beauty.  

Pink and lime green flower bracts bloom in spring and summer.  The leaves are heart shaped and like the succulents, water sparingly as too much water will cause root rot.  Again, photo posted on the Facebook page and within the day container and all SOLD!

Another great herb to try is 'Sweet Thai' Basil.  Not only does it taste great, it is highly ornamental.

'Lemon' Basil and 'Golden Lemon' Thyme are two others you should try!

NUMBER THREE HOTS FOR POTS... would have to be blooming, tough plants.  

My front containers get at least a half day of sunlight and by July or August, it is HOT and DRY.  Tired of watering constantly, this year I have used these combination of plants:

'Hot Lips' Salvia - I mean, what can be hotter than this?   The "thriller" for my pot.

'Butterfly Red' Pentas which are loved by butterflies and hummingbirds.

'AngelMist' Spreading White Angelonia

Portulaca 'Sundial White'

Mezoo Trailing Red succulent - Dorotheanthus Red

Here it is all together planted just yesterday:

When it fills in and matures, I will be sure to update you with a photo.


Plants can range anywhere from $2.95 for a 6 cell pack, to $2.95-4.95 for a 4 inch pot.  Expect to pay somewhere in the $4.95-9.95 range for 6 inch to 1 gallon pots.  Perennials generally cost more that annuals.

I spent $8.95 for the1 gallon Pentas, $4.95 for the 6 inch 'Hot Lips' Salvia, $4.95 for the 6 inch AngelMist Angelonia, $2.95 for the 6 cell pack of Portulaca (used 3 per container) and $4.95 for the Mezoo Trailing Red succulent.  So, roughly $25.50 per container that will last throughout summer and most of fall!

PLEASE let me KNOW some of your spring/summer HOT plants to try.  I would love to hear from you!


Hilary Ross