Thursday, March 21, 2013 14 comments

Impatiens on the critical list


An incurable disease is wiping out the common impatiens

A few years ago when I was in England for a press day at David Austin English Roses, I met a delightful woman who owned her own film company.

We became friends and before long she asked me to work with her and write a couple of videos for the Thompson & Morgan seed company.

The point of the videos was to introduce the firm’s new offerings for the upcoming season. One of the biggest stars of the T&M show was the Busy Lizzie, or as we call the plant, impatiens.

There were Busy Lizzies for borders, flower pouches, patio pots and hanging baskets.

Today Thompson & Morgan no longer sell the plants.

They don’t even sell the seeds.

That's because a deadly strain of downy mildew known as Plasmopara obducens is destroying plants around the world. 

A pathogen first discovered in the 1800's

The disastrous disease hit Europe about five years ago. Since then, impatiens have virtually disappeared from gardens there. Asia, Australia, Africa and Central America have suffered the same fate.

 In just two growing seasons here in America, the fungal mildew has spread to 34 states. Under the right conditions, airborne spores have been known to travel over 600 miles in 48 hours.

When infected leaves and stems fall on the ground, the spores take up residence in the soil. No one knows for sure how long the spores will live there – possibly as long as eight years.

SunPatiens Compact Blush Pink
I can attest to quick spread of disease. 

I had some “volunteers” come up in the front garden from impatiens I planted in 2011. I also put in two flats of white impatiens down by the new patio and waterfall.

By August the leaves started falling and within two weeks they all turned to mush.

As a result of the widespread nature of this incurable disease, many experts are advising gardeners not to purchase and plant impatiens this year. Fortunately, only the common variety (Impatiens walleriana) is affected by the pathogen.

SunPatiens and New Guinea Impatiens are in the clear. Apparently the disease does not sicken other garden plants either, so shade lovers like coleus, caladiums, hostas and begonias can help add color in areas where impatiens previously were the summer show-offs.

SunPatiens Vigorous Lavender
I am intrigued by photos I’ve seen of SunPatiens. They can be planted in full sun as well as shade and they grow much larger than the old favorite.

In fact Sakata Seed America, breeder of SunPatiens, reports four plants will provide the same coverage as twelve Impatiens walleriana.

 In addition, they are self cleaning, don’t mind rain, high heat or humidity. And they bloom right through from spring till hard frost.

If you simply can’t live without your beloved old fashioned Busy Lizzies and are willing to risk Plasmopara obducens, you need to be diligent about garden sanitation.

Keep your tools super clean, making sure you wash away any soil. To be extra careful, disinfect tools with a solution of 10% Clorox and water.

Also schedule work in the impatiens bed as your last gardening chore of the day.

SunPatiens Spreading White
If the disease comes to call anyway, place infected plants in sealed bags and dispose of them as soon as possible.

As for me, I’ll give impatiens a miss this year. Except I’m going to try a few of the new SunPatiens.

Last year’s experience was too heartbreaking to go through again.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 16 comments

Take a walk on the wild side


Each year my gardening friend Les Parks sponsors a Winter Walk-Off.

The object is to head out from home on my own two feet to find photo ops that might be of interest to folks across the country or around the globe.

I didn’t participate last year because I didn’t know Les then, and I had just started my blog.

So to commemorate the first anniversary of The Dirt Diaries, I am going to throw my trowel in the ring!

Of course the prizes are tempting -- $100,000  and a trip to Hawaii. (If only.) But the best part is having a chance show off my little corner of the world.

Right now everything is looking very green in the mountains of western North Carolina.

Nothing is blooming yet, so the evergreens and mosses have their moment in the sun before wildflowers, rhododendrons and mountain laurels steal the spotlight.


My first stop is a neighbor's yard where beautiful ferns appear to be growing out of a rock. 

These ferns are unlike the Christmas and hay-scented varieties I have on my property. I intend to ask if I can transplant a few if I ever see Raul.

I found this moss covered log around the bend. The colors seem to change depending on the time of day, but I always find it beautiful.

  About a half-mile away I discovered this small waterfall. I could hear the sound of water rushing from the road and decided to find the source. (No worries about bears or snakes off the beaten path in March.)

 There are dozens of these little falls within three miles of my house, but most of them are not photographer-friendly. Too many fallen branches and tangled vines to get a clear shot. Someone suggested I take some ropes with me and tie back the offending branches. I am still laughing.

I call this place The Gingerbread House. I've wandered by it most every day for the past two years. I have yet to see a living soul there. 

One day I must go up and give the house a hug. I know it is lonely.


The first time I walked past this black bear, he gave me quite a start. He lives in a driveway about 200 feet from the road. 

I saw a moving van there once but no other signs of life since. 

Still, Yogi stands ready to frighten unsuspecting passersby whenever he can.

 Another neighbor loves birdhouses just like me.

A family of turkeys has moved in across the main road.

Almost home again. Before rounding the bend I see one of my favorite landmarks – whale rock. I always think I see his eye and smile. 

So, welcome to my world. I hope you've enjoyed your visit.

I'll be back soon with postings on my new roses, sickly impatiens, terrariums and much more.

In the meantime, be sure to let us know if there is anything we can do to make your mountain holiday more enjoyable.

Moonshine, shower caps and bear repellent are available at the front desk.