New gardening guide just in time for spring planting

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 17, 2005

Just in time for the flurry of spring planting about to take place in the Natchez area, a fine new book to guide gardeners is available. Authors Felder Rushing and Jennifer Greer have collaborated on &uot;Alabama and Mississippi Gardener’s Guide&uot; to create a complete, easy-to-navigate paperback with colorful illustrations.

For each plant described, the authors have called on their own experiences in gardening to provide details about the plant’s characteristics &045; what kind of soil it prefers, how high it grows, what fertilizing it needs, how to prune and care for it and what pests might like it.

Symbols provide an easy reference for the plant’s sun preference &045; full sun, part sun, part shade or shade; and for any additional benefits the plant might bring to the landscape, such as attracting butterflies or hummingbirds, producing fruit or scent, providing food for birds and wildlife, supporting bees, having a long bloom period and other important information.

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Rushing, a well-known Mississippi horticulturist whose own garden has been featured in Southern Living and the New York Times, lives in Jackson. Recently, he was named a national director for the prestigious American Horticultural Society.

Greer, an Alabama writer and author, lives in Harpersville, Ala. She has written about gardens and gardening for more than 20 years.

Rushing believes Mississippi and Alabama, as Deep South states, have many advantages for gardeners despite the often unpredictable weather. He urges gardeners to give plants the soil they deserve. &uot;Only when a plant performs at its best can one appreciate it fully,&uot; he said.

The new guide features 186 individual plant selections, organized in categories including annuals, bulbs, groundcovers, ornamental grasses, perennials, roses, shrubs, trees, vines and water and bog plants.

Annuals, the authors say, can be used in many different ways to bring seasonal color, fragrance and texture to a garden. Here are some suggestions:

4Colorful fillers in beds for high impact

4Mass plantings in beds, also for impact

4Splashes of color in container gardens

4Flowers for cutting to use in arrangements

4Attractions for butterflies, hummingbirds and children to the garden

In each section of the book, the authors provide tips for how to be successful with the particular category of plants. Annuals, for example, require the gardener to choose the right one for the right spot, depending on the plant’s desire for sun or shade, and the proper soil preparation. &uot;Annuals do best in loamy, well-drained soil with at least one-third organic material,&uot; they advise.

For gardeners who enjoy having children work alongside them, annuals are an excellent choice for those experiences. &uot;Who among us doesn’t remember planting zinnias as a child during summer vacation,&uot; they say. &uot;Zinnias are outstanding starter flowers for kids and new gardeners.&uot;

Bulbs are a tried and true Southern tradition. &uot;A good bulb is like money in the bank,&uot; the authors say. &uot;Year after year, it can grow and even multiply with a minimum of care. That’s why our grandmothers, who were too busy to fuss over finicky plants, planted daffodils, summer snowflakes and spider lilies that mark the progress of the season across the landscape of the South.&uot;

Mid spring is a good time to plant the popular bulb gladiolus, one of the easiest flowers to grow for cutting and an inexpensive one, at that. The gladiolus should be planted in full sun, if possible, in well-drained soil of medium fertility. &uot;To have a continuous supply of flowers, plant a few every two or three weeks until midsummer,&uot; the authors advise.

The section on groundcovers includes suggestions for coping with areas beneath large trees where grass no longer grows, what to do about steep slopes and how to use groundcovers to add texture to the garden.

Creeping juniper is a good choice for sloping banks, the authors say. &uot;This native plant grows naturally on sea cliffs, gravelly slopes and in swamps with sandy soils,&uot; they say. &uot;The medium-fast grower has blue-green foliage that develops a plum-colored cast in cool weather.&uot;

A section devoted to herbs suggests that the plants have become favorites among gardeners not only for their beauty but also for their usefulness in flavoring food or as home-remedy medications. &uot;And herbs don’t have to be grown in ‘herb gardens’ &045; you can also use them in the vegetable garden or with ‘regular’ landscape plants,&uot; the authors say.

The guide also includes tips for designing a garden, including advice about whether to choose formal gardens, which are more expensive to create and maintain; low-maintenance suburban gardens, which have lots of lawn; informal gardens following nature’s patterns; or cottage gardens, usually featuring very little lawn and many &uot;free-flowing beds of small trees, flowering shrubs, heirloom roses, vines, bulbs, herbs, perennials and reseeding annuals.&uot;

Rushing and Greer advise readers how to build good soil, create useful and inexpensive compost, water properly, fertilize appropriately, mulch and prune. As long-time gardeners, they have learned to control pests in an environmentally safe way and pass along those tips, as well.

&uot;Gardening is a chance to get close to nature, not do battle with it,&uot; they say. &uot;Choosing good plants, siting them in their preferred growing conditions and doing a thorough job of soil preparation will help your garden be as easy to care for as it is beautiful and productive.&uot;