Home & Design

Green Acre # 147: Impatient Am I!

One of Tarheel Nursery’s greenhouses. On the front, Tarheel’s fern room. / Photos by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

SOME YEARS I’m impatient with my garden. This is one of them.

I am not in a nurturing, cooing-over-the-seedlings mood. I want it all now.

We bought a truckload of stuff in Raleigh, North Carolina, on our Easter/Passover trip to visit Baby and her Personal Prince Pete (girl does a wicked Seder).

There are several excellent nurseries about half an hour out of town where you can pick up gorgeous trees and flowers—cheap. Tarheel Nursery in Angier, where we stopped this year, had flats of 28 flowers for $14. These were not the hardware-store squiggles and bits you can get in the city for $1.25 for an itty-bitty container but full-grown babies,  pinched into proper bushiness and sporting plenty of blooms.

The greenhouses goggle the mind with $12 hanging baskets of flowers and greens so full and effervescent you’d need a hanging rack in the car to get them home without damage. There were hollyhocks densely packed with trumpets of color, snapdragons in psychedelic hues and fabulous elephant ears. There’s a greenhouse devoted to ferns.  

One could go mad here, but exercised Great Restraint.

Baby and I picked bits of this and that from the floors, stuffing them in my shoulder bag. Most will root without much fuss, in water or with a little dip in rooting powder. I have high hopes for the bits of purloined tradescantia (wandering jew), a rare variety with tiers of fat, dark green leaves. These can be poked directly into pots or the soil and will, as always, go mad with happiness.      

Among the greenhouse finds were hot pink zinnias (no seed attempts for me this year), those snapdragons and a purple clematis jackmanii already trailing long vines studded with flowers. I debated spending $5 each for the five sweet-potato vines that drip down the front of my window boxes each year in a fabulous ruffle and flourish. But these quart-size monsters were irresistible, having a quantity of foliage I don’t usually see until the tail end of June.

Speaking of the window boxes. I was so pleased with last year’s thought of rosemary for the upstairs display. Three sizable plants to anchor the center of each of the three boxes. A nice soaring sight visible from the sidewalk. Rosemary makes me sneeze, but what price beauty?

Those bushes did well the first winter, and frizzled the second. They had replaced various bouts of boxwood, azaleas (was that ever short-lived) and asparagus fern, which was a lovely thought though not as high as I’d hoped. In alternate years I’ve tried spikes, a variety of draceana that sends up, well, spikes of greenery perfect for a backdrop and supposed to be fairly cold-hardy. They would perform valiantly until, say,  March. When unbelievably they bit the dust. Why would they hang on through blizzard and wind and at the first mild turn of events give up on me?

There were also a few years of fake things, like balls of Chinese plastic boxwood that looked fine from a distance. I reinstalled the fauxballs this spring, anchoring them on chopsticks so that they loft above the rest of the shrubbish, but they don’t have the splash I’m wanting.

The lower boxes are doing fine with their centers manned by some fake boxwood I found curbside last year. Particularly cunning these “plants” are, as they have some brownish leaves that make them look that much more real. Leave it to me to kill a fake plant.

Returning to the top tier. Yesterday the Prince and I trotted out to the Lowe’s home-improvement place and picked up two large pots of lavender, each holding two hefty plants and plenty of florets. They smell lovely. Certainly better than rosemary, and as they’re in the bedroom windows they might have the added benefit of putting us more restfully to sleep.

Maybe I’ll separate the plants and put them in smaller pots that will just sit in the rear of the window boxes. That will give them more soil, and a bit more lift. I do like me some drama in the boxes.

I do not expect the lavender plants to make it, but they should survive for a month or so. As they were My Prince’s whim, I can blame their demise on him. This is always satisfying.

We also bought a few spikes as back-up. I assume they’ll be necessary.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” does her best thinking and buying when she’s trying to outwit her garden.

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