Tea Talk: 2017 inspiration will play a major role in 2018 garden

Welcome back to Tea Talk — a fun virtual letter exchange between Angie from The Freckled Rose and me. In this series we often document our gardening adventures and the latest happenings in our gardens. You are welcome to join in by leaving a comment below! Pull up a chair, grab a hot drink and lets' catch up!

Dear Angie,

Happy spring! It was so great to see you at the Boston Flower Show after last seeing you in California for the NGB Plant Nerds Veggie Trial trip! There were so many beautiful display gardens in Boston that were a source of great inspiration not only for spring but also the upcoming growing season. As an added bonus, we were both able to finally meet Emily Murphy in person! I loved hearing Emily talk about her new book "Grow What You Love" and share photos from her gardens. You would think that we all hang out together all the time because spending the whole day together at the show felt so natural!

Angie from The Freckled Rose, author Emily Murphy ("Grow What You Love") and me at the Boston Flower Show. Photo credit: Emily Murphy.
I can't tell you how happy I am that winter is ending. Having four nor'easters in March was a real drag, but I am so happy that the last one fizzled out before it could wallop us again. Each day the sun sets a little later and it makes me so happy. I feel like I can get so much more accomplished with that extra bit of sunlight after work.

I have tried to keep busy with gardening in the winter (our “off season”) with houseplants and growing specialty plants such as orchids and amaryllises, but being outside in the garden is my ideal place to be. Not that indoor gardening is boring – I upped my amaryllis collection this fall and I had a beautiful double variety bloom first.  I know you have been growing amaryllises too, and I thought your bloom map for extending them into the spring was so helpful! I always thought of amaryllises as a Christmas and later winter bulb — I never thought to stagger their plantings so I could have blooms as late as Mother’s Day!

Unfortunately, for me it wasn’t all beautiful blooms. One of the bulbs I purchased actually harbored the narcissus bulb fly — have you ever heard of that? It mimics a bee but sounds like a horsefly when it flies. Apparently one of the bulbs that did not bloom had them inside, and I didn’t piece it together until I asked twitter for help in bug identification. I had to get rid of the problem plant and since then that was the end of the fly invasion (I had three total flying around the kitchen)!

Your last letter highlighted the best of our garden travels in 2017. I learned so much about garden design by seeing so many great examples during the Garden Bloggers Fling and then later that summer I learned so much about growing vegetables during our trip to California! I feel like our gardening trips were very educational, and I’ve been looking at my garden from a different perspective since.

I’m trying to find ways to incorporate what I learned at the Fling in the D.C. area into this year’s garden. I’m totally stealing Jeff Minnich’s idea of using spider plants in window boxes (at right). I have one spider plant that is at least 10 years old that always has babies and last month I cut a bunch off and started to root them in water. Now they are potted up in newspaper pots and waiting for the weather to be warm enough to be used outside. I think I will be using them in shady containers, but he also paired them with Spanish moss and Tradescantia pallida 'Purple Queen' in window boxes.

No matter where we visited, there were so many great examples of container plantings.

I am really getting into agaves, but I never thought to cage them up! :)

Do you remember the giant tree and arborvitaes growing in the huge container outside the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C.? (Above left.) Talk about dreaming big! And there were so many dreamy flower combinations at the gardens of Hillwood.

I realized what an art form container pairings is and I tried out a combo of annuals and perennials in large planters when I got home. I can’t wait to expand my repertoire this spring and summer with the combos we saw during the Fling as my inspiration. I also plan to expand my container growing to my edibles, too. As you know I have the Eco Garden System, a raised garden bed that contains a water reservoir underneath (and keeps plants’ roots very happy on those hot days!), and I want to see if I can adapt more driveway space into edible production this year.

Figuring out how to grow more edibles is a direct result of learning so much from our whirlwind trip to California as NGB Plant Nerds! Choosing seeds to grow in my garden this spring is actually harder because we learned about so many great varieties during our trip. (And yes, I totally bought 100 seeds of the new AAS winner Zinnia Queeny Lime Orange, which I fell in love with when we viewed it in the trial gardens!) I know I don’t have space for everything I wish I could grow, but you know how in winter everything seems possible? That’s how I still feel! I still have many seeds left over from last year (I actually ran out of room before I could even grow all those watermelon seeds I wrote to you about last year).

I have limited space in full sunlight and this year I think the raspberries are going to be the ones to lose their prime real estate along the driveway in the sun. I have been watching various gardening shows on HortusTV and one gardener planted raspberries in a circle! While we were out in California, one garden featured blackberries in a Texas weave. So it’s fair to say that the raspberries will be moved and planted in one of these ways!

I'm also trying my hand at more varieties of tomatoes and peppers after trying so many different versions out in California!

We certainly had a blast, didn't we?

In other garden news, last fall I ended up saving and storing so many dahlia tubers but then I went a little crazy and ordered even more! Last year I planted too many dahlias in part sun and learned the hard way that they really do need full sun in order to boom well! I love the dahlias you recently featured on your website. How many different dahlias will you be growing this year?

In addition to those gorgeous blooms, I really want to make my garden a pollinator paradise this year. I’m focusing on lots of flowers: zinnias (of course!), cosmos, milkweed, etc. I love to grow veggies, but I have such a soft spot for flowers!

I am really looking forward to seeing you again in Texas for this year’s Garden Bloggers Fling! I’m excited to see how southern gardens differ from what we are familiar with in the northeast.

This is going to be a great gardening year – I can feel it! See you soon!



  1. Jen - can't wait to see your garden growing with all those Zinnias, Dahlias and veggies! Glad you learned a lot on the NGB PlantNerds trip!


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