Monday, January 8, 2024 4 comments

Let's get this party started, 2024

I was not sad to see 2023 end. It wasn’t a horrible year for us, but there were definitely a few scary bumps in the road. 

First, my husband Chris was out preparing his veggie patch last March, lost his balance and took a tumble 25 feet down the mountain. Thank goodness he wasn’t seriously injured. He did have a gash on his leg that needed to be treated for about 5 weeks. But compared to what might have happened, he was very lucky. 
Chris' summer veggie garden. He was working around the back when he fell.

 Then I had a blood vessel burst behind my right eye which led to lots of hand wringing and two weeks of double vision. The follow-up MRI showed no serious problems. We aren’t sure what actually caused the vessel to burst, but like Chris, I was very lucky. 
After those episodes, I am more than ready to put it all behind me and start making garden plans for 2024! I have ordered seven new roses to be picked up or delivered around the second week of April. Where they will go is still a mystery, but never mind. They will all eventually find a home. 
I am very excited about the addition of the polyantha ‘Baby Faurax’. It was introduced in the 1920s and promises to be covered with clusters of deep violet-mauve flowers throughout the season. It is perfect for pots or the front of the garden. 
'Baby Faurax' (courtesy David Austin Roses)
‘Baby Faurax’ will make a great companion for the ‘OSO Happy Smoothie’ I purchased from High Country Roses. The polyantha was bred by one of my favorite hybridizers, David Zlesak, who has given us many splendid roses including the gorgeous climber ‘Above and Beyond’. We also have David to thank for highly rated beauties such as 'Petit Pink' and ‘Pretty Polly Pink’. 
(Dear Readers: I adore Polyanthas as you can see in this 2021 posting.)  
'Cream Veranda’, Distant Drums’ and ‘Gypsy Soul’ are other roses I’ve ordered from Roses Unlimited in Laurens, South Carolina. In the past I’ve waited too long to order ‘Cream Veranda’ but not this year! She’s all mine! 
'Cream Veranda' (Courtesy High Country Roses)
If you are a Dirt Diaries regular reader, you know roses are my thing. But for 2024 I have bought a tree for the first time: A Japanese maple. I always love seeing the magnificent maples in the fall and decided I must add one to my garden this year. ‘Amber Ghost’ I purchased from Mr. Maple in East Flat Rock, NC doesn’t grow too tall (8 feet) and the leaves change from coral pink in the spring to orange-red in the fall. Can’t wait. 
'Amber Ghost' (Courtesy Mr. Maple)
 I also have four plants of Centranthus ruber ‘Albus’ on the way. I grew Centranthus ruber (aka Jupiter’s Beard or red Valerian) in Maryland and I couldn’t kill it if I tried. Here in the mountains, I have completely struck out. I was mentioning my dilemma to one of the "Shady Ladies" at Raymond’s Gardens in Hendersonville and she diagnosed the problem as  vole destruction. Not one of 8 plants I bought there survived. Having written about my vole woes earlier, now maybe I know why. So I am planting these perennials in wire baskets from now on. Will keep you posted. 
White Jupiter's Beard is a perfect companion for roses
Finally, I am ordering more tubers of Hollyhill Spider Woman dahlias. What a show this cactus dahlia puts on! The blooms are so unusual and eye-catching, you can’t stop looking at them. 
So, 2024 is looking to be a pretty fabulous gardening year for me. 
As long as our balance and brains cooperate.
Tuesday, October 10, 2023 4 comments

Summer 2023, we hardly knew ye


'True Sincerity' lived through the zero temps and is happy in its mesh bag

I went back to look at my posting from the beginning of April when I'd noticed several of my beloved roses were turning brown. At the time, I chalked it up to the wicked week of below zero temperatures we’d experienced around Christmas.


'South Africa', one of my new roses
Then I brushed against one of the roses and it toppled over. The roots were completely gone. The same thing happened with two rose trees and six other bushes in my cottage garden. 

 I soon discovered it wasn’t the weather at all, but wretched voles. 

So, I did a little research that suggested placing chicken wire across the bottom of the hole along with a layer of pea gravel should keep varmints out. Then I ordered eight new roses and hired a gentleman to help me plant them.

'Brociliande' returned from the dead

As I wrote on April 8 in Bouncing back from winter woes and unfair foes: “Everything looks terrific as of this writing.  I feel very confident I have done everything humanly possible to keep my new roses safe and healthy.”


My new ‘Flamenco Rosita’ did not last 3 days. It keeled over and the roots were gone.

I reordered 'Flamenco' and she is thriving

Time for a new plan. I dug up all the roses I had just paid to have planted and ordered 5-gallon stainless steel wire baskets. I replanted the roses in the baskets leaving an inch or two of mesh above the soil line. I also put down mole and vole repellent granules several times.


Another newbie 'Snowbelt' and catmint

That was the beginning of April and the calendar tells me it is now October. So, what happened to the rest of spring and summer? I really haven’t a clue except this has been happening since I turned a “certain age”. Once again summer has evaporated, and Halloween is lurking just around the corner.

Butterflies loved the Pugsters


The days may have zipped by, but I can report the roses are doing well in their baskets. I still have lots of buds and blooms. The black and blue salvias have been spectacular along with the Pugster Blue buddleias. The granules appeared to keep the woodchuck from devouring Chris little veggie patch. And the hydrangeas are finally blooming after dying back almost to the ground.

'Indian Summer proved to be a perfect companion for 'South Africa'

Even though summer went by with head-spinning speed, I'm grateful I took some photos to mark the progress of the garden.  I hope you’ll enjoy looking back with me.

Spider Woman Dahlia and 'Sir John Betjeman

Because despite what the calendar says, I am not ready for mums, pumpkins and black cats.


Goodbye Summer :(

P.S. I'm also planting my alliums in small mesh bags in hopes of having at least one survive next spring.



Wednesday, July 19, 2023 2 comments

Dusting off my winter crystal ball again


Friends, it is only July but I have already been seeing colorful maple leaves on the road when I take my walk. Also lots of very small acorns. I wonder what that means as far as the upcoming winter is concerned. I decided to bring back this posting from 3 years ago to  take another look. Enjoy.

For the past few weeks I’ve been noticing lots of acorns on the road while taking my morning walk. It seemed to me there were more than I remember seeing last year. So, I was wondering if this meant we are in for a bad winter, or if there are just a ton of acorns around.

We’ve only lived full-time in the mountains since 2011, but I have been visiting this breathtaking area of the country since I was in high school. I’ve spent many a happy day sitting by a waterfall listening to tales of catamounts, panthers, owls and wildflowers that possess magical powers.


You can’t help but be fascinated by the stories, superstitions and mountain lore handed down from generation to generation. For example, legend holds that if you see a butterfly first in spring, you will be smart. But if you spy a fence lizard first, you will be lazy.


Extra large spiderwebs signal bad weather

 Of course, much of this lore deals with atmospheric conditions and the behavior of animals. So, after seeing all those acorns around, I decided to revisit some of the signs old timers rely on for predicting the weather.

Here are a few of my favorites:


* If robins are seen near a house during the fall, the winter will be cold.


* If October 9 is a sunny day, the following winter will be cold and snowy.


* If squirrels eat the bark off a tree, look for a cold winter coming up. (Also, if a squirrel has an exceptionally bushy tail, watch out.)


*   When hogs carry sticks in their mouths, bad weather is ahead.


*    If smoke blows to the ground, it will soon snow.


* If you see raccoons and possums feeding during the day, there will be bad weather within 12 hours.


* When the new moon rises with its points turned up, there will be no rain.

Owls hooting late in fall is a bad weather omen

*There will be a winter snow for every morning fog in August.


*If you harvest onions with thin skins, the winter will be mild.


*The brighter the fall foliage, the colder the winter.

We had a snowy winter the year I took this photo


*If the woolly worm has a narrow brown or orange band, winter will be harsh.


The woolly worm stories have been around since Colonial times.

   Thin brown bands supposedly mean bad weather is ahead. Wide brown bands indicate a mild winter is in store. A totally black woolly worm weather tells us weather will be severe. And you’ll need to break out the snow shovels if you see a worm with light brown or white bands.


The legend was bolstered in the late 40s when a Dr. Charles Curran of  the American Museum of Natural History studied woolly worms for eight years and said they predicted the weather with 80% accuracy. Since that time, other researchers have not been able to replicate his results.


    Today, the National Weather Service says the worm’s coloring and band size are based on its age and the length of time it has been feeding. The caterpillars shed their skins a number of times before they become adults and their colors can change. 


  According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, woolly worms or banded wooly bears are not really worms at all. They are caterpillars, the larva of the Isabella tiger moth (Pyrrharctia Isabella) and can survive temps as low as -90 degrees. Isabella moths are common from northern Mexico to the southern third of Canada.


    Okay, so woolly worms can’t predict if I need to buy a heavier winter coat. What about the acorns?


A recent article from News5Cleveland explains: "Most trees and shrubs form their fruit and flower blossoms that bloom in spring during the previous summer. If the weather was warm and the rains abundant, then the tree was not stressed and formed enough fruit buds to produce this big acorn crop this year.”


I take that to mean the fruit buds that resulted in this year’s bumper crop of acorns may have been formed by the tree in 2019. That makes sense since some varieties of oaks require two growing seasons for acorns to mature and drop.

I also understand that every few years, for no apparent reason, oaks produce an overabundance of acorns  Evidently this has more to do with self-preservation than weather. Scientists have yet to explain exactly why this happens.

So, it looks like there will be no glam winter coat for me!

This final bit of weather lore was a new one on me. Apparently if you cut open a persimmon you’ll either see what looks like a fork, spoon or knife. The explanation of what weather may follow (depending which utensil you spy) is too complex for my teeny brain.


Here is my suggestion for determining whether we’ll have a bummer winter or balmy winter: slice a few persimmons, check out the tails of every squirrel that wanders by, look at all your trees to see if bark is heavier on the north side, and make a note of any halos around the moon.


Then, flip a coin. 


Copyright 2020 



Monday, May 8, 2023 8 comments

Bouncing back from winter woes and unfair foes

First bloom of 'South Africa'

In 1785 Robbie Burns wrote “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

I can attest to the fact that the best laid plans of gardeners can go sideways as well. Very sideways. I thought my roses were safe and sound from winter winds and critters, but alas, I was wrong.


It all started during Christmas week when we had several days of below zero temperatures. I’d covered the roses in pots in my “Driveway Garden”. The roses in my cottage garden all had a nice blanket of leaf mulch around the canes. Everything seemed to make it through the cold pretty well.

By early April I noticed several of the driveway roses had turned brown. The Christmas cold and several late freezes had taken them out. Then I brushed against one of the roses in the main garden and it toppled over. The roots were completely gone.

The same thing happened with two rose trees and six other bushes in the cottage garden.

Bloody Voles.

Vole photo courtesy Britannica
 It was sad and infuriating. I have tried to put two of the roses (‘Emily Bronte’ and ‘Double Red Knockout’) into intensive care in pots. We’ll see if they make it. But in the meantime, I had a lot of roses to replace.

'Emily Bronte' is on life support
 So, I placed orders with Roses Unlimited and Plant Addicts. Three weeks ago, ‘Music Box’, ‘True Gratitude’, ‘Bonica’, ‘Outta the Blue’, South Africa’, ‘Flamenco Rosita’, Caramella Fairy Tale’  and ‘Snowbelt’ arrived.  I already had ‘True Sincerity’, ‘Iceberg’ and ‘Peach Drift’, and ‘Baby Ballerina’ standing by from the driveway pots (all looking very healthy, I might add.)

Hope my 'Flamenco Rosita' is as pretty as the one at the Biltmore
 Before I gave the voles more goodies to chomp, I did a little research. I read that putting a layer of chicken wire at the bottom of the hole should keep the varmints out. Another suggestion was a layer of pea gravel. I decided to do both and yesterday had a gentleman come out and help me plant nine roses with the wire and gravel protection. Everything looks terrific as of this writing.

'Music Box' at the Biltmore
 I feel very confident I have done everything I humanly can to keep my new roses safe and healthy.

 Fingers crossed, my efforts will make vole plans go awry this time.

The polyantha 'Snowbelt' and 'Cat's Pajamas' nepeta





Sunday, February 19, 2023 3 comments

Climate change prunes many roses from catalogues

Waving goodbye to my gorgeous, fragrant Munstead Wood

When you opened your David Austin Handbook of Roses for 2023, you may have noticed some old favorites are missing.

Recently David Austin Roses based in Albrighton, England announced that “the ongoing challenges of global warming and an increase in pests means that the business has been forced to retire popular flower varieties, including Munstead Wood and A Shropshire Lad.”

Paul Constantine of David Austin Roses said "As the leading experts in rose breeding and care for over 60 years, we are well-placed to witness the environmental changes that impact the health of the nation's favourite flower. We cannot stand still and observe as we see diseases and pests evolve as conditions and climates change, threatening the health and success of some of our most popular varieties.”

 Mr. Constantine went on to say that they will be re-trialing many of their roses and in some circumstances, retiring popular varieties. "Whilst these plants may continue to do well in some circumstances, in the long term the changing conditions mean that we recommend alternative varieties that are better suited to the changing environment.”

A Shropshire Lad courtesy David Austin
 The firm has been in business for six decades since David Austin, Sr. started a breeding program to create “new” old fashioned roses with the charm of yesteryear and the ability to rebloom. They realize this decision may well lead financial losses, but felt they had no choice.

Jude is about to become more obscure
 Many plants in England are already blooming earlier than in the past including common lilac, English oak, horse chestnut and narcissi, or daffodil. If global temperatures continue to increase at their current rate, spring in the UK could eventually start in February, according to experts from Cambridge University.

That means many rose varieties may face hot summers they cannot tolerate which will make them more susceptible to pests and disease. The story is Munstead Wood is ravaged by pests and is no longer a suitable choice. The nursery recommends other varieties such as Dame Judy Dench and Scarborough Fair for UK gardeners. 

Taking a bow, Dame Judy Dench
 So, what does that mean for English Rose lovers here in the US?

For starters, Graham Thomas, Munstead Wood, Lady Emma Hamilton, Abraham Darby, Jude the Obscure are being discontinued. Others will likely follow next year. So, if you want any of these roses in your garden, do try to get your hands on one this spring.

I’ve grown Munstead Wood in my garden for many years and have never had a pest problem. I’ve also been enchanted by Jude the Obscure. And who hasn’t loved the delightful, blousy buttery yellow blooms of Graham Thomas?

An old fave for many, Graham Thomas
 I grow Dame Judy Dench as well. It occasionally produces a beautiful flower but is a blackspot magnet. Then again, I live in the North Carolina mountains so my “climate” may be better for some roses rather than others.

But it is now certain that climate change is going to affect many aspects of our lives, apparently including the flowers we love in our gardens. Sadly, we cannot turn back the clock.

Buh bye, Lady Emma
All I can say for now is Munstead, Graham, Jude and Lady Emma, thanks for the beautiful memories.


Dirt Diaries friends, if you haven't already, please get your $7.99 copy of my new eBook on Amazon. Lots of rose info and lots of other cool stuff inside. So far all 5-star reviews! Also available  on and  Here is the link:






Monday, January 23, 2023 0 comments

 Dear Dirt Diaries friends,

 My new eBook with tales from The Dirt Diaries is ready to go! It is available for pre-order  today and will be released Wednesday. If you have enjoyed my blog, I think you'll love the book!

Here is the link:

Thank you so much for your support!


Saturday, December 17, 2022 1 comments

Just in time for Christmas



When we think about “decking the halls” for the holiday season, most of us envision boughs of holly, evergreen wreaths, and fragrant firs or pine.
But in addition to traditional greenery, one plant has become a Christmas icon -- the poinsettia. With more than 65 million sold each year, this colorful plant has moved from the desert into three-quarters of American homes to become a holiday superstar.

 'Christmas Joy Marble'

The poinsettia is a Euphorbia, a succulent from the arid regions of Central America. It was named after Joel R. Poinsett, a Charleston, S.C. native who was appointed ambassador to Mexico in 1825. Poinsett was a keen gardener who was captivated by the plant’s vivid color. The bright scarlet objects many thought to be
“flowers” were not flowers at all, but petal-like leaves called bracts. The actual flowers are those little yellow dots at the center of the bracts.

 Because the yellow flowers and attractive bracts emerge during the holiday season, the poinsettia has been a part of Christian celebrations for hundreds of years. In the 17th century, Franciscan priests in Mexico carried poinsettias in nativity processions. The Aztecs were said to have prized the plant for its color and medicinal properties. 

Although poinsettias were well known in Mexico and Central America, it was a family of German immigrants who spied the plants in the desert and created the Christmas favorite we know today.

In the early 1900s, Albert Ecke and his family left Germany to establish a farm in California.  One day his son Paul noticed an unusual plant growing in the wild and decided to develop it as a cut flower. Before long, the family’s fields of poinsettias in Hollywood became a huge tourist attraction. 

In the 1920’s an amateur hybridizer in New Jersey bred a poinsettia called Oak Leaf, which was the first to resemble modern varieties. The Ecke family further developed the plant, then devised a system to distribute cuttings to nurseries throughout the country. Today, the Paul Ecke Ranch holds the patents on most popular varieties and is the largest supplier of poinsettias in the world.

Of course, the traditional red poinsettia remains the top holiday choice, but interest in white, cream, pink, and mottled varieties is on the increase. In fact, the popularity of the red poinsettia has been steadily falling over the past decade thanks to the introduction of new and more colorful varieties each year. One such variety, 'Ice Punch' is cranberry red with frosty white center markings. 

'Ice Punch'

In addition to new colors (PLEASE no glitter-laden or phony blue varieties!) we can thank breeders for giving us plants that last longer and are more vigorous. Today’s poinsettias aren’t too fussy and are relatively easy to care for. Above all, don’t overwater -- plants should be kept on the dry side but don’t allow them to get bone dry. Keep them away from drafts and sources of heat like a fireplace.

This is just wrong!
Poinsettias like bright light and will drop leaves and get leggy in a location that’s too dark. A window will provide the light and cool nighttime temperatures plants need to thrive.

It’s possible to keep a poinsettia alive and blooming from year to year, but like most people, I toss mine out about mid-February. It seems sad and cruel to throw away something that was so lovely during the holidays. But by next Christmas, another showy poinsettia will catch my eye, and this year’s beautiful blooms will be just a happy memory.

Here’s hoping your holiday season will be filled with happy memories, too. 

White poinsettias now account for 20% of sales

 P.S. We’ve all heard the rumors that poinsettias are poisonous. Apparently this urban legend started in 1919 when it was reported that a 2-year-old had died after eating a leaf. According to the American Society of Florists, poinsettias have been tested more than any other plant, and the verdict is they are safe for people and pets. But you still wouldn’t want to eat one.