Tuesday, March 10, 2009

HOME GARDENING: back to basics

by Jennifer Justus
mac 9 2009

Garden expert and designer Pamela Crawford might keep her home in Georgia, but she found inspiration for her recent gardening books in Nashville, Tenn.

"I was seeing a lot of people I hadn't seen in a long time," the Vanderbilt graduate says of a reunion she attended in 2007.

And many of them seemed to be killing plants.

While Crawford earned her undergraduate degree in anthropology, she later studied plants extensively, even writing her master's thesis on low-water, low-maintenance landscaping. At the reunion, her friends told her stories about their problems with plants and asked her advice. She had already written six books but saw a new need for guides that helped home gardeners get back to -- or learn -- the basics.

In 2008, she turned out "Easy Container Gardens" (Color Garden Publishing, $19.95). Early this year, she co-authored with Harvey Cotten and Barbara Pleasant "Easy Gardens for the South" (Color Garden Publishing, $29.95).

Crawford shared a few of her easy gardening tips that happen to be sustainable, too.

"For many years, gardening has been something that we used a lot of water and chemicals for," she says. "What I'm trying to do is think of gardening as giving back to the environment and orienting it to our lifestyle as well."

-- Choose the right plants based on the sun and shade in your space.

"It's the single most important issue in gardening," Crawford says.

Part of that choice involves understanding the environment in which plants will live. Crape myrtles, for example, need six hours of sun per day. Knowing that before purchasing -- and taking the time to observe the hours of sun and shade in the area where the crape myrtle will be planted -- can make a difference in the success of the garden.

-- Choose the right plants to conserve water.

Choice of plant also plays a factor in water usage. The right plant needs less water. Crawford worked with more than 300 county extension agents to find drought-resistant plants.

Crawford also recommends learning to save and use water from the roof of your home. Although collecting rainwater can seem intimidating, Crawford says it doesn't have to be -- nor does it have to be expensive. While larger tanks might strain some budgets, water can also be collected in barrels or containers as simple as a trash can

-- Rather than pesticides, choose plants that don't attract harmful bugs.

When Crawford started her trial gardens, she aimed to wean gardeners off of toxic chemicals in their yards.

After working with 2,500 landscape plants, only 200 remained alive, but that's a good thing.

"I thought, this is what I was looking for," she says. "Put them in the landscape and not do a whole lot to them."

Crawford lists many of these plants in her book on easy Southern gardening as "blue ribbon" options. And pesticides designed to kill bugs? "I simply don't use them," she says.

Besides, as Crawford notes, healthy plants living in a healthy environment are more apt to resist pests.

-- Keep up with new plants for improved choices.

"These plant breeders have been busy," Crawford says.

Working to find plants that last well in particular climates, Crawford says breeders have created new options for gardeners such as re-blooming daylilies and hydrangeas. In order to make the best choices, gardeners should stay abreast of new offerings.

"I really would love to drive through Southern cities and see these things blooming," she says. "We have a wonderful opportunity now to literally color the South."

Expert points home gardeners back to basics

Alexandria Town Talk