Holiday Q & A On "Garden Talk"

If you missed “Garden Talk” on WNOX-FM 100.3 this morning, what follows is a partial recap of our discussion. I have the pleasure of co-hosting this radio broadcast with Dr. Sue Hamilton, Director of UT Gardens, every Saturday morning at 8:00 from now until January 12, 2013. It’s a call-in show.Call us at 865-243-TALK (8255) between 8:00 and 9:00 next Saturday.This morning, one caller asked us to indentify what turned out to be hen-and-chicks (Sempervivens), a great little plant for containers and edging in hot, dry, sunny locations. It’s an old-fashioned plant that now comes in a wide assortment of cultivated varieties. Either in pots or in the border, it pairs well with sedums, which like the same conditions.

Another caller is designing a fragrance garden, and wanted to know about fragrant spring bulbs. He already has a large planting of hyacinths, arguably the most fragrant bulb of early spring.  Fortunately for Dr. Sue and me, there are lots of other fragrant bulbs we could suggest. She mentioned grape hyacinths, which smell like grape jelly, and noted that selected varieties of dwarf iris and some cultivars of tulips are fragrant. I mentioned several of my favorites among the large narcissus family. A late blooming Narcissus, ‘Actaea’ is also called “pheasant’s eye” narcissus. It is a richly fragrant white flower with a yellow center. Another narcissus cultivar, ‘Thalia’ blooms pure white in mid-season, and a few blooms can perfume a room when brought in as cut flowers.Our special guest, Nancy Schneider of Stanley’s Greenhouses, mentioned that paperwhite narcissus, widely available as a forced bloom for Christmas, can also be planted outside and will overwinter in a protected spot. Like gladiolus, it may winter kill during severe weather, but you are likely to get several seasons of repeat bloom.

This week’s “Plant of the Week” was, what else, the poinsettia. Dr. Sue reminded us that the familiar Christmas plant is native to Mexico and was introduced to cultivation in the United States by Poinsett, who is commemorated in the name. She dispelled the myth that these plants are harmful or toxic, telling the story of a professor at Ohio State University who used to demonstrate their harmlessness by actually eating a few leaves in front of the class. Nancy pointed out that a potted poinsettia is the ideal starting place for a beautiful Christmas arrangement with greenery cut from your yard and bits of traditional Christmas ornamentation, like tinsel. To illustrate, she brought along some beautiful examples of her work at Stanley’s Greenhouses. If you have never seen 50,000+ poinsettias in bloom in the same spot, visit Stanley’s and take your camera.If you decorate your home with poinsettias this season, here's a tip for keeping them looking great: drop two ice cubes into the pot each day, and keep the plant in bright light. The ice cubes provide just enough water without keeping the soil to soggy. You can place a poinsettia anywhere you like for a temporary decoration. For long term maintenance, however, the plants should receive sunshine, ideally from a south-facing window. For those interested in re-blooming their poinsettia next year, Dr. Sue suggested using Google to find detailed instructions. We’ll be back after Christmas with another edition of “Garden Talk” on December 29. Please join us!