Get your garden ready; it’s almost showtime.

MULTI-HUED ZINNIASThe reader/gardener has been promised new beginnings, so let’s begin. But not randomly nor recklessly in the feverish enthusiasm engendered by consecutive days of balmy weather. Since it is generally accepted that March 15 is the last day of frost expectation in the Lowcountry, one should delay planting tender annuals before that date.

Caladium bulbs should not be planted until the soil warms up considerably or they will not prosper – approximately April 15-30. A little planning and forethought at this point will pay off handsomely.

What makes it good?

COMPACTED AND NUTRIENT-STARVED SOILDirt, not love, makes the world go round. There is more to dirt than meets the eye, but the most important thing to know is how to distinguish good from bad dirt and then maximize the good. And although it is not brain surgery, there may be a bit of bio-chemistry involved. Before you let that scare you away, what follows is simplified (maybe over simplified), but should be easy to read and heed. Almost certainly, native soils encountered by the Lowcountry gardener will be sandy and acidic. Your decision to move to the coastal plain and plant a garden does not automatically guarantee perfect conditions for your aspirations. It doesn’t take long to learn this.

Our alphabetical journey comes to a close.

ZEPHYRANTHES, RAIN LILIESJanus, the mythological Roman god whose profile faces left and right simultaneously, signifies endings and beginnings, including the year just past and the year to come.

We honor that graphic illustration with the ending of the alphabetical list of plants for the Lowcountry and the beginning of garden plans and prospects for 2008. Those who have gone the course during the just completed year will no doubt be pleased to come to its conclusion with letters W, X, Y and Z.

“W,” which introduces wisteria, dictates an emphatic no-no. It is urgently advised not to plant it anywhere on your property that you ever wish to reclaim as your own. It is violently aggressive and just as violently persistent when you try to root it out.

TITHONIAIn the garden and elsewhere, so goes the season.

Winding down to the end of another gardening year, we simultaneously near the end of our alphabetical trip, passing signposts S, T, U and V.

‘S’ is rich with possibilities, starting with salvia, scaevola, stokesia and spiraea, not necessarily newcomers to the garden although perhaps assuming a less familiar form. Two new cultivars of Salvia nemerosa, or Meadow Sage, sound promising and worth trying. ‘Caradonna’ has a very upright form, 1-2 feet, with dark purple stems which contrast effectively with bright violet-blue flowers. S. nemorosa ‘Sensation Rose’ is dwarf and compact, an unusual form for salvia, with bright rose-pink flowers rising from mounded foliage on 10-12 inch upright stems. Plant in sunshine and try to cut back at mid-summer for re-bloom.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

HYDRANGEA WITH CALIBRACHOA WINDOW BOXESTransplanted gardeners from colder climes are consistently frustrated in their attempts to translate their beloved northern gardens to the relatively inhospitable environment of the Lowcountry. But in spite of all evidence and advice to the contrary, they usually persevere in their efforts until experience convinces them that it is not to be. And it is understandable because northern plants are lovely and lush indeed, thriving in the temperate, (at least in spring, summer and early fall), climate of southwestern New York state, particularly Chautauqua, whence these garden thoughts float in late July.

Chautauqua Institution is well known for its up to date lectures on what’s happening now and why, delivered by highly qualified experts from around the globe, on weekly themed subjects. These, combined with symphony concerts, opera, ballet and live theatre, book and discussion groups and much, much more, combine to make it a glorified summer camp for adults. There is also sailing, swimming and even the obligatory golf course.

Following the ABC trail Into deep summer.

PENTASPQ R – Hello! Although P and R are well represented in horticultural circles, Q has fallen off the page. Research reveals that there is only one Q represented on a half page in Alan Armitage’s comprehensive 516-page Manual of Annuals, Biennials and Half Hardy Perennials. Quisqualis, (Latin for who? what?), indica also bears the common names of Rangoon Creeper and Drunken Sailor. It is a tropical vine that can reach 70 feet, fair warning that we should not invite it onto our premises.

Plectranthus is the new “in” plant. Slow to catch on at first, it was planted mainly for its foliage of plushy, silvery gray-green leaves. More recent introductions include the variety on display in almost every garden on the May All Saints garden tour. This is a large, attractive shrub with dark green foliage, purple underneath, and many long spikes of small, tubular lavender to purple blooms. It appears to be very easy to grow and propagate, thriving in sun to shade.

A few beautiful blossoms for a Southern spring

CRINUM LILYWith the advent of spring and the last possible day of frost safely past, we launch confidently into our ongoing alphabetical romp to explore what is out there to enhance our gardens.

“J” is for Jessamine, Carolina Yellow, sometimes confused with Jasmine, but not the same thing. The southeast coastal native Jessamine, (genus Gelsemium), appears in the tops of trees as a sudden sweet surprise in late February-March, ushering in spring with its burst of bright yellow, mildly fragrant blossoms. Jasmine, (genus Trachelospermum), usually Confederate, though there are other types, is a white, four petaled flowering vine of a more formal nature, very fragrant blooms in June and is capable of leaping to the treetops. It is best controlled by strict pruning after the bloom is finished, but is definitely worth having in the garden.