It’s the end of another summer growing season, and it’s time for fall planting. Today, I added a “Gold Standard” hosta to my new garden bed, and I’m prepping the spot a few feet down for three oak leaf hydrangeas. Many big box garden departments (Lowes’, Home Depot, Walmart) stop getting shipments of plants in early September, even though fall is one of the best times to plant (especially in hot climates). Sure, the plants don’t look as nice as they do in spring, but getting them to take root over the winter allows for healthy, established plants in only a few months.
I’ve only been gardening for a few years in Atlanta, Georgia. My husband, Micah, and I bought a cottage three years ago that had a backyard comprised of a dog kennel, two water oaks with ingrown dog chains, a dilapidated toolshed, and a “slabio” (a makeshift patio created from concrete slab that was once the foundation for a long-gone kitchen). We demolished what we could and tried to hide what we couldn’t. The first plant I introduced to our yard was an heirloom rose bush, quickly followed by two camillias. Micah asked why they were planted haphazardly in the middle of a clump of grass, and I soon realized that to sucessfully garden, it’s a good idea to have a clue about what you want. After that, we built a garden bed, then another, and another…
We’ve got ten beds now in the backyard, including a veggie garden, rose bed, raspberry bed, and five shade beds for native ferns, azaleas and speciman hostas. Between beds, I’ve been laying down paths using as much egg rock as a Toyota Corolla can carry. (The gardens’ 80+ bags of mulch were shoveled and carried in landscaping bags from a mulch pile that a tree service dumped down the street– ironically, next to a “No Dumping” sign.)
This is my “Sum and Substance” hosta. I got it from a hosta grower in Iowa right after the 2008 floods. (She had a yearly stock of hostas and no locals buyers because of the widespread flooding.) Behind that is a Japanese maple, cast iron plants, Micah, and a number of lenten roses, hostas, autumn ferns, and very small camellias. Every week, we go to our local Lowe’s and Home Depot to browse plants, and every week the big box employees– Tall Bob, Old Bob and Other Bob– direct us to the same hydrangeas, acubas and leatherleafs we saw before. We visit our local Pike’s Nursery and Grower’s Outlet, but find plant selections to be overpriced and underwhelming. With all these stops, we’re running low on gas and out of options beyond the twenty tried-and-true perennials and shrubs available everywhere. After just a couple years of playing in the dirt, I can drive by any garden bed in Atlanta and identify the plantings– azalea, juniper, hawthorne, nandina, mondo grass. In Atlanta winters, pansies are planted for color. By summer, they’re traded out for begonias. A golden grass coupled with some cacti sometimes can break up the endless hedge of green shrubs, but options here seem slim even when living in verdant Atlanta: the City in the Forest.
As I build my garden, I’ve realized I can’t do it alone. I want a place where I can buy plants not sold at Home Depot, and grown by people interested more in creative gardening than bottom-line revenue streams. I’ve found some fellow gardeners on Dave’s Garden and Backyard Gardener, but there’s still no easy site to show and sell homegrown plants. Why not?