More than 3,000 people visited us in Greenwood, South Carolina on June 23, attending our annual Flower Day as part of the South Carolina Festival of Flowers. Gardeners, photographers, nature lovers, and strolling families all "walked the rows" in our 9-acre trial gardens, shopped the bargains at our Garden Center, took our horticulturists' tours, and ate lots of great food.
One thing we can never predict on Flower Day is which plants will most capture the public fancy. This year Basil Crimson King wowed 'em, while the giant blooms of Rudbeckia Denver Daisy drew gasps of amazement. And Tomato Sweet 'n Neat stole the show in the container vegetable display!
In addition to these newcomers, old favorites continue to delight: Lily Silk Road stops visitors in their tracks every year. Hydrangea Forever Pink was at its seasonal peak on Flower Day, and in the vegetable garden, our Tomatillos drew oohs and ahhs, both from folks who weren't sure what they were and from gardeners who had never seen them grown so big before.
One of the best things about coming to Flower Day is getting a sneak peek at new plants being trialed in the gardens! One new variety that you may see in next spring's seed catalog got rave reviews from our guests: an experimental mix of Balsam from seed. This old-fashioned annual, which is native to India, was grown by Thomas Jefferson and was very popular in Victorian gardens. Now it's making a (long overdue!) comeback. We don't have a name for the new mix yet, but we'll keep you informed as it reaches the market.
We are often asked what happens to all the delicious produce in the vegetable garden. We harvest fruit and vegetables for months on end at Park Seed, and we are delighted to report that so far in 2012, we have donated more than 2,000 pounds to the local food bank. It gives us great pleasure to know that the veggies we grow are nourishing our neighbors here in Greenwood!
If you weren't able to visit on Flower Day this year, consider making the trip in 2013. We'd love to meet you, and we know you'd enjoy your day in our garden!
You may think of spring as being planting season, but did you know that many plants grow much better when planted in fall? Trees, shrubs, and perennials -- most of the long-lived plants -- really appreciate the cooler temperatures and more frequent rainfall of short autumn days.
Even after the above-ground growth stops in late fall, newly planted trees, shrubs, and perennials are still "becoming established" (settling down!) in your garden. Because they no longer have to expend energy making leaves, blooms, or fruit, they concentrate all their resources into developing strong, healthy roots. Then they rest during the coldest part of the winter, and in spring they are ready to take off!
Of course, you know that many bulbs are planted in fall too, because they need that long cold period in order to flower in the spring. Some seeds, particularly perennials, need a cold period ("vernalization") in order to germinate. Gardeners have figured out many ways to speed up the process (refrigeration, stratification, etc.), but if you feel the urge to plant out seeds the old-fashioned way in your autumn garden this year, here are some varieties that love a nice cold winter before they sprout:
So as you begin to think about your fall garden, look beyond cool-season vegetable crops and annual flowers. Take the opportunity to plant a new tree, a line of shrubs, or even a perennial border!
During Flower Day, our seed horticulturist, Stephanie Turner, delivered a presentation on creative ways to grow more edibles in smaller gardens. The response was very positive, so we thought we'd give you a quick look at what she said:
If space is a challenge in your garden but you still want a big, highly productive vegetable and herb crop, it's time to get creative! Instead of thinking like a farmer -- straight rows, well-spaced plants -- start thinking like a garden designer! You'll have fun and will probably come up with plenty of innovative ideas we didn't even think of!
Here's one you already know: use containers to maximize your space. And think in terms of stacked or tiered containers, with sun-loving plants placed above shady ones. Also, if sunlight is limited in your garden, wheeled containers can help you follow those rays for bigger, better production! Finally, consider collapsible containers (such as growing bags) so you can store them in less space over winter!
To extend your harvest season and make the most of limited space, select cut-and-come-again varieties. Because the plants don't reach full size, they need less space. And you'll prevent those giant all-at-once harvests that lead to waste! Veggies such as loose-leaf lettuce, spinach, chard, and mustard greens work well, as do arugula, broccoli raab, pak choi, and leaf celery. Many herbs are compact cut-and-come-again performers, including basil, mint, thyme, oregano, and parsley.
Many of us plant generously in spring but neglect to sow successively every few weeks. This extends your harvest and keeps your garden in rotation, with smaller new plants replacing larger old ones as the season progresses. Quick crops such as radish and lettuce can be sown every 7 to 14 days, while warm-season veggies such as cucumber and squash can go in once a month. And if your weather becomes too hot for seed-starting, sow the seeds indoors and transplant!
Many veggies don't mind being crowded, and nearly all are improved by planting among flowers that "disguise" them from pests. (Any members of the Aster family are good friends to veggies, for example.) The guidelines for spacing vegetable plants are based on the farming model, with aisles between each row and space between each plant. Get a little daring, and if things become crowded, thin the seedlings and use them in soups and salads! The following crops don't mind growing shoulder-to-shoulder in the garden or container: loose-leaf lettuce, carrots, spinach, radishes, and celery.
If sunlight is an issue in your garden, position some veggies beneath the cucumber trellis or beside taller staked plants such as tomatoes. These won't mind a bit of shade in the blazing summer heat: lettuce, greens, beets, carrots, radishes, turnips, peas, bush beans, and most herbs.
Finally, choose compact and dwarf varieties whenever possible. Remember, smaller fruit doesn't necessarily mean smaller plants -- a cherry tomato plant can occupy as much space as a giant beefsteak! -- but some plants have been selected especially for their compact growth, big yields, or both. Here are some of our favorites: