ANITA STONE: The Ageless Habit of Gardening
Almost 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "But tho' an old man, I am but a young gardener."
The reason for using this quote is that we are, as a gardening society, growing older, but we continue to be young gardeners in our subjective and ageless minds.
During a recent road trip, I discovered that I don't always have to be on my hands and knees to enjoy the luscious botanical servings around me. I am speaking of my visit to the Low Country where I noticed floral settings along highways, rice plantations, restaurants, and even gas stations.
The most commonly planted flowers along the tour, which even included a cemetery, were coleus, begonias, elephant ears, hibiscus, and rudbeckia. It is amazing how many varieties of coleus are planted along entries to some of the most luscious plantations, either in shade or sun.
There are few plants with more extravagantly patterned and brilliantly colored foliage than coleus. These tender plants reach about 18 to 24 inches in height, but most of us pinch out the tips regularly to keep the plants low and bushy.
Coleus produce inconspicuous lavender-blue flowers, but they are primarily grown for their detailed leaves, available in color combos of green, chartreuse, yellow, cream, salmon, magenta, red, purple and brown.
Patterns appear as streaks, splashes, spots or splatters.
New plants are easily started in spring, when all danger of frost has passed, in a loose, well-drained soil consistently moist, but not wet.
This is one plant that has invaded my heart. Asheville Arboretum boasts of a "quilt" of coleus, which is one of the most awesome sights a gardener could see.
Another luscious plant is the hibiscus, prized for its tropical-looking flowers. Planted in spring or fall in a full-sun location, hibiscus is a great entry-way plant, reaching a height of 30 feet with glossy dark leaves and wide, trumpet-shaped flowers -- single, semi-double or double -- in pink, crimson, yellow, orange and white.
Outside of its range, hibiscus can be grown as a container plant and be kept, albeit with some effort, in a sunny window through the winter. It prefers loose, well-drained soil, amended with plenty of peat moss and consistently moist soil, but not wet.
Rudbeckia, the gloriosa daisy, looks exquisite when producing masses of cheerful flowers that practically shout "summer."
Flowers are long-lasting and bloom from summer into fall in a loose, well-drained soil with regular to moderate water needs. I love this plant because it requires no fertilizer.
Other plants that balanced the landscapes I visited were elephant ears of all colors and begonias.
In our gardeners' eyes, we can visualize the scope of beauty when these plants are located throughout the landscape for color, size, and shape.
Awareness of plants and landscapes can assist us in entering a gardener's paradise, even while on vacation or during weekend jaunts.
When I am overwhelmed with traffic, 80-mph drivers and gasoline prices, I concentrate on another subject -- horticulture. My mind conjures up a variety of plantings and takes me to a better place.
So the next time you travel, take a moment and look around at the horticultural possibilities that exist along highways, lodgings, waterfronts, businesses, even gas stations.
The possibilities of armchair gardening are infinite. You may even get some new ideas.
Anita Stone is a Raleigh freelance writer and Master Gardener. She may be reached at email@example.com.
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