Free Gardening Make and Take

recycled planter
recycled planterPeachtree City Library’s summer reading program for adults, Groundbreaking READS, is presenting a free “make and take” gardening project at the Peachtree City Community Garden on Wednesday, July 17, at 10 a.m.

Volunteers from the library and Peachtree City Garden Club will show you how to turn an empty plastic water bottle into a self-watering planter. Attendees are asked to bring an empty plastic bottle (20 oz. or larger), although organizers will have extras on hand.  Every participant will get soil and a small plant to put in their planter.

Registration is recommended.

fresh salsaIf you love tomatoes, you’ll want to enter the Groundbreaking READS salsa competition at the Peachtree City Farmers Market to be held on Saturday, July 20, at 10 a.m. Be sure to read the rules and regulations – prizes will be awarded. Better hurry – the deadline to enter is July 14!

Senior Workshop: Get Fresh! With Farm-Fresh Eating


Piedmont Fayette Hospital’s Sixty Plus Services and Fayette Senior Services present

Get Fresh! Farm-fresh eating…it’s easy, fun and better for you!

Thursday, July 18

11 a.m. to 1 p.m. (includes lunch)

Fayette Senior Services Life Enrichment Center

4 Center Drive, Fayetteville

The event is FREE. PRE-REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED. Seating is limited. Please call 770.461.0813 to register.

Whether it’s picking a tomato from your own garden or purchasing a basket of Georgia peaches from a local produce stand, there is a direct health benefit of eating fresh food. The “farm to table” local food movement is one current trend that is actually good for you! Our home-grown experts will introduce practical tips to make farm-fresh eating a part of a healthier lifestyle and ways to make the most out of seasonal produce. Learn all about the benefits of buying locally-grown food and why community gardens are such a great resource. From getting great nutritional advice to understanding what “super foods” are and why they are so good; the program includes a cooking demonstration and a fresh and delicious lunch!  Featured speakers: Tricia Stearns, executive director of Fresh South, Inc., Keith DeMars, director of nutrition and dining services, Piedmont Fayette Hospital and Lisa Stillman, RDLD.

Garden Profile: Bonnie Helander’s Garden

Dan and I added an arbor and planted vines of vinca and jasmine to frame the view to the upper garden.


Have a focal point - something of interest - outside your windows to enjoy throughout the seasons.

Spring is here and Fayette County gardens are bursting into bloom. Since we have so many talented gardeners and stunning gardens in our community, Fayette Woman is initiating a new segment, Garden Profiles. Periodically throughout the year, I am going to highlight a lovely garden in our area so you can enjoy the beauty and get tips from local gardeners on how to enhance your own outside space.

To kick off the series, I want to take you on a tour of my own Peachtree City garden. When my husband, Dan, and I purchased our home in 2004, the garden already had “good bones.” In fact, I fell in love with the home when I first opened the front door and could see through the patio doors to the beautiful backyard garden.

The focal point of the back garden is the lovely ornamental Koi pond and waterfall with an Asian flair. Two colorful 

The main feature in my garden is the Koi pond, filled with water lilies and iris and surrounded by Japanese maples, azaleas, juniper and variegated ivy.

Japanese maples and vivid pink azaleas frame the pond. Dan and I worked to enhance the space by replanting the shade beds with ferns, Japanese Aralia (Fatsia japonica) and Lenten rose (Helleborus). We added new pathways and a vine-covered arbor that beckon people to the upper garden, filled with azaleas and hydrangeas. Here you will find an eclectic collection of painted chairs and other pieces of “garden junk” from the family farm. An open lawn area invites a game of badminton or croquet. Dan loves to build things and constructed a handy two-bin compost structure and a potting bench for me to pot up all my containers.

In the front sunny area, you will find a mass planting of ‘Knock Out ®’ roses, dwarf crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia ‘GAMAD I’ Cherry Dazzle®) and butterfly bushes. I have a real challenge in the front yard because three large river birch trees (Betula nigra) have shaded out my grass area, leaving exposed tree roots on the surface and ugly bare ground. We are mulching this area and adding some dwarf loropetalum shrubs. Although I love the look of the river birch trees in the winter with their peeling cinnamon bark, I dislike these high-maintenance trees the rest of the year. They are messy – dropping small limbs in a slight breeze and shedding leaves all summer in the heat. I would recommend selecting another tree if you are thinking about the river birch or choosing the ‘Dura-Heat’ or ‘Heritage’ varieties that do better in our hot summers.

Dan and I added an arbor and planted vines of vinca and jasmine to frame the view to the upper garden.

When I look outside from each of my home’s windows, I want to have something of interest to view in the garden. Focal points are visual elements that allow the eye to rest and savor the scene. A focal point can be a specimen plant with interesting shape, color or texture; a garden bench, a birdhouse, an interesting sculpture or anything you like. Look outside your own windows and imagine what you can add to make your garden more enjoyable.

If you know of an amazing garden in our area or would like to feature your own garden, please email me with contact information:


Hot Plants for the Spring Garden

Now you can grow berries on your patio in containers! The new BrazelBerries™ Collection features a raspberry and two blueberries for your eating enjoyment.

Each spring, gardeners flock to local nurseries to learn what new plants are available to add color, texture, fragrance and the “wow” factor to their landscapes. To get advice on some of the must-have plants to look for this year, I talked to some local experts who are just as excited as the gardeners about the new selections.

Robbie Martin, owner of Andy’s Nursery in Fayetteville and Newnan, loves the wild new colors you’ll see in perennials this year. She will have these plants at Andy’s, although she suggests you come early for the best selection. Her recommendations include:

Encore Azalea® is releasing four new reblooming selections this spring including Autumn Sunburst™.

Coral Bells (Heuchera) Prized for its colorful foliage, Heuchera is a partial-shade perennial that will brighten dark spots in the garden and has the added benefit of being heat-resistant and drought-tolerant. The Little Cutie™ Series features mini-plants that are perfect for containers or for “fairy gardens,” a popular new trend in gardening. ‘Blondie’ has mocha leaves with yellow spiky flowers and ‘Sweet Tart’ has vivid lime green foliage with hot pink flowers that attract hummingbirds. The City™ series includes coral bells that are mid-size at 8-12 inches. Look for ‘Vienna,’ with orange leaves and pink flowers and ‘Paprika,’ with cherry coral foliage and white flowers.

Coneflower (Echinacea) Favored by gardeners (and songbirds) everywhere, this cheerful full-sun perennial with raised center is easy to grow, drought-tolerant and wonderful in cut flower arrangements. The Supreme™ series showcases ‘Supreme Cantaloupe,’  a deer-resistant flower the color of a ripe cantaloupe with a brown center and flowers that last all summer. Also check out ‘Supreme Flamingo’ in mixed shades of pink and ‘Southern Belle’ in pink.

Tiffany Jones manages McMahan’s Nursery in Clermont, Georgia, which supplies unusual and hard-to-find plants for Garden*

This stunning, sun-loving coneflower is the color of a ripe cantaloupe! (Photo Credit: Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.)

Hood, an urban garden center in Atlanta. Tiffany has a big list of favorites, but has chosen a tree and shade perennial available at Garden*Hood this spring.

Rising Sun Redbud (Cercis ‘The Rising Sun’) This lovely tree grows to 20’ tall and blooms in early spring with lavender flowers on bare branches. Then the real show begins! New leaves emerge pink, changing to apricot, then gold, and finally chartreuse.  This redbud holds up well in full sun and produces a number of flushes of colorful foliage throughout the summer and fall.

Red-stemmed Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum odoratum pluriflorum ‘Jinjugi Form’) Bright red stems emerge in spring and are quickly covered in large clusters of pendulous white bells.  This clumping perennial grows best in partial shade to shade and is tolerant of dry soils.

Linda Butler is the Greenhouse Department Head at Pike Nursery in Peachtree City. She can’t stop talking about the wonderful new selections customers will enjoy this year. Her favorites include:

Blueberries and Raspberries An exciting introduction in edible gardening is the new BrazelBerriesCollection of small fruits, perfect for growing in pretty pots on the patio! The foliage is ever-changing in a rainbow of colors throughout the growing season. BrazelBerries are easy to grow and only need fertilizing in the spring and a winter pruning to ensure maximum fruit production. Peach Sorbet is a compact blueberry that produces fruit in mid-summer with a sweet, tropical flavor.  Raspberry Shortcake is a dwarf, thornless raspberry with variegated leaves that requires no staking and produces full-size raspberries in mid-summer.

Now you can grow berries on your patio in containers! The new BrazelBerries™ Collection features a raspberry and two blueberries for your eating enjoyment.

Azaleas Encore® azaleas have been a hit since bursting onto the scene over 15 years ago. These reblooming azaleas are known to be low maintenance, sun tolerant, cold hardy and pest resistant. Four new Encores® are available this year. Autumn Sunburst™ is a compact rebloomer with flowers of coral pink with white ruffled edges that appear off and on from spring through fall. Autumn Jewel™ is a cold hardy azalea that sports pink blooms and purple leaves in winter. Autumn Lily™ is an upright shrub with deep green foliage and white flowers. Autumn Ivory™ is another profuse white bloomer and its compact size makes it perfect for containers.



Backyard Chickens in PTC?


Campaign Underway to Bring Backyard Chickens to Peachtree City

It was really just a fluke that got Peachtree City resident Julee Smilley keeping chickens: a friend was moving and could not find a place for her four pullets (young hens). Julee offered to find them a new home, but she soon became charmed by the colorful hens with appealing personalities, so she gave them names and decided to keep them. She and her husband, Richard, assembled an inexpensive chicken coop they had purchased online and set them up to live in her garden. For 18 months, the Smilleys enjoyed the benefits of their chicken companions and the fresh eggs they provided, but then they were “busted” by Peachtree City for breaking the zoning ordinance that prohibits keeping chickens.

Although chicken-keeping has been around for centuries, it is being rediscovered in urban gardens as people seek to “get back to their roots” and become more self-sufficient. While keeping chickens is now a popular trend, the practice had been out of fashion in previous decades as the emphasis moved to factory-raised chickens, warehoused in incredibly crowded and unsanitary conditions (not to mention cruel). It took trend-setter Martha Stewart to recapture the public’s interest in chicken-keeping when she featured her flock of rare-breed chickens and their colorful eggs in her books and magazine publications. She presented her chickens as family companions with endearing personalities that actually produce something worthwhile and beneficial.

Chickens in Peachtree City…Oh My!

Although she had to find another home for her hens, Julee has not given up on the idea of keeping chickens in Peachtree City and has spent the last few months doing research on the subject. Believe it or not, residents of the city of Atlanta can keep chickens, and other communities, including Dunwoody, Alpharetta, Roswell, Decatur and Duluth, have been successful in passing chicken-keeping ordinances.

On many Saturdays, you will find Julee at the Peachtree City Farmers Market talking to interested residents about keeping chickens. She is amazed at the positive response and already has collected over 300 signatures on a petition that she hopes to present to the City Council to show the support for chicken-keeping in the community.

Rather than working to change the zoning ordinance right away, Julee is requesting the City Council approve a two-year pilot program to test the feasibility of chicken-keeping in Peachtree City. Other cities, including Bonita Springs, Florida, have implemented successful pilot programs. Under the program, a limited number of Peachtree City families will be able to apply for a permit to set up coops and keep a small number of chickens. Selected families will agree to guidelines regulating the program, including the exclusion of roosters, creating setbacks from neighbors’ property, setting maximize size for coop area and allowing Peachtree City Zoning Department to check on the hen houses. Chicken-keepers will be encouraged to invite their neighbors to “make friends” with their chicks and to help educate the public about the benefits of keeping hens by participating in a “coop tour” – much like a home or garden tour.

Myths about keeping chickens

“There’s too much fear and not enough facts known about keeping chickens,” Julee contends. Contrary to popular belief, chickens are not dirty, smelly creatures when owners limit their number and consistently clean the coop and compost the manure. Noise is another perceived problem, but while roosters can make a bit of racket, they are not allowed in chicken-keeping programs and are not necessary for laying eggs. Dogs are much louder than hens, which make softer clucking sounds and are roosting in their coop when the sun goes down. Hens will not attract predators when the rules are followed to provide a predator-proof, enclosed coop area. And rather than being an eyesore, chicken coops have become charming focal points in the garden.

Benefits of keeping chickens

Chickens make great pets. They come in stunning colors and have appealing and quirky personalities. And you get the bonus of fresh and flavorful eggs! During the short time Julee kept her hens, she became more connected to her neighbors as she shared her bounty of eggs.

“Neighborhood kids were particularly fascinated by my hens and loved to help with their feeding,” recalls Julee. “There is a marked difference in the taste and nutritional value of fresh eggs and growing your own fruits and vegetables, and keeping chickens is a way to have some control over what you eat.”

Chicken manure and egg shells are loaded with nutrients, and when added to the compost bin, will become a wonderful soil amendment that your plants will love. Chickens also help control insect problems and weeds in the landscape by eating many garden weeds and pests, including beetles, grubs and ants.

For more information about keeping chickens or to sign Julee’s petition to start a chicken-keeping pilot program in Peachtree City, contact Julee Smilley at




Tricia Stearns – Fresher, Simpler Living from the Ground Up


Photos by Marie Thomas

It’s a sun-drenched spring morning in Fayette County, so gorgeous that it nearly takes your breath away, leaves you feeling happy just to be alive. Perhaps there’s no better place to enjoy that feeling than in the parking lot of the Aberdeen Shopping Center in Peachtree City, where the Peachtree City Farmers Market is bustling with activity.

In the dappled sunlight, the crowd ebbs and flows in and around the market’s white tents. A young mom pushes a stroller, two little ones in tow, stopping to examine some eggplants at a vegetable stand. Further down, a small band of high school girls cluster around a display of bracelets, comparing their favorites, while nearby a silver-haired couple laughs with some friends as they sample French pastries. A younger couple, keeping their black Lab close on a leash, walk past booths of grass-fed beef, fruits and vegetables, handmade soaps, local honey, freshly baked bread, and more fruits and vegetables. In short, people of every age and stage of life are here, a colorful, boisterous, sunshine-soaked cross-section of Fayette County. What they all have in common: a love of fresh food, a desire to support local businesses, and a shared feeling of pleasure in being part of a like-minded community.

A 8.6-acre lot on Kelly Drive, bustles with gardeners intent on their plots.

Across town on this same lovely sunny morning, a different scene is underway, although it, too, centers on fresh food and community. The Peachtree City Community Garden, a 8.6-acre lot on Kelly Drive, bustles with gardeners intent on their plots. Again, the spirit of community is visible, with all types of people—individuals, families, even groups of neighbors and friends—sowing, seeding, planting, fertilizing, watering, weeding. Amongst gardeners intent on the work, folks chat with each other, sharing planting tips and garden tools, taking turns with the watering hoses.

Imagine, for a moment, what these two locations were only a few years ago: the empty, weed-filled lot of land where the vibrant garden is now; the ordinary suburban shopping center parking lot where the market is now. Both would be exactly the same today had it not been for the vision, passion and hard work of one woman: Tricia Stearns.

Tricia and her daughter Mallory spend a Saturday at the PTC Farmers Market.

You’d probably assume that a woman who is able to create two highly-successful venues that bring our community together and promote fresh food and local business, and who does so in a short span of a few years, is an exceptional person. And you’d be right.

Tricia was born and raised in Houston, Texas. Her father, a professor of education and science at the University of Houston, took part in engineering the first space missions with NASA; her mother was an artist. Although the family first lived in the city, when Tricia was in sixth grade, they moved to the rural town of Victoria, Texas. There, Tricia really began to love nature. “I was in 4-H, rode horses, played basketball, and ran track. I was a big tomboy,” she says. “And I always liked gardening.”

After high school, Tricia enrolled in William Woods College, graduating four years later with a degree in English. “I was going to go on and study journalism, but I fell in love. So instead, I got married and got on the baby train,” she explains.

She and her new husband settled down in Tyler, Texas. In the midst of raising her growing family (Meredith, born in 1987; Mallory, born in 1989; and Julia, born in 1993), Tricia stayed busy. “I was very active in Junior League, and even back then I was really interested in taking care of the environment. I started the first Earth Day in our town and organized a town clean-up and a recycling program. Back then, we didn’t have bins that were picked up at the curb—we had to collect the recycling and bring it to a center,” she says. Tricia also shared her knowledge, giving talks and presentations on the programs she’d established and consequently inspiring other communities to begin their own programs.

In 1995, Tricia’s husband got a new job in the Atlanta area, so it was time for the family to move. It so happened that Tricia’s best friend from college, Pam Fisher, was living in Peachtree City, and Tricia had visited her after the birth of her second child. “I had gone riding on golf carts with Pam, all of our babies in tow. I knew the area pretty well and knew it was definitely where I wanted to live,” she says.

Tricia and her girls celebrate Mallory’s graduation from UGA. From left: Meredith Mayo, Julia Tarter, Mallory Tarter and Tricia.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after moving here that her marriage began to fall apart, and as the divorce proceedings began, Tricia knew she needed a way to support herself and her three daughters. Although she had become a working mom when they had lived in Texas, taking a position as the Director of Marketing at Tyler Bank & Trust, nothing was immediately available in that field; she would have to reinvent her career. So she earned her real estate license and began selling real estate, a career she continues to this day.

Ever resourceful, intelligent, and outgoing, Tricia quickly built a successful business. As the Atlanta housing market continued to expand in the late 1990s and early 2000s, so did Tricia’s real estate work. But despite her rapidly growing career and her financial success, Tricia still yearned for the simple life, the lack of materialism that she grew up with as a kid who rode horses and climbed trees back in Victoria. That feeling intensified after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “It was like something shifted in me,” she explains. “It was a shift in mindset, away from consumerism—the house, the pool, working so hard to have stuff—it all became so silly. I wanted to live more with less.”

However, it wasn’t until the real estate market began to falter around 2007 and the recession took hold that her life really began to change. Watching her revenue stream decline was scary, she explains, and more than a little overwhelming. “I was having a pity party for myself one morning,” she says, “when I just decided that I would make the changes I could. I would eat healthier with less money and be less stressed.”

Tricia checking out sweet potatoes and the fall crops at Rick Minter’s farm in Inman.

Tricia began downsizing and turning her “make do with less” ethos into a reality. With her daughters grown and mostly independent, and with more time on her hands now that business had slowed, she decided in 2008 to enroll in the Master of Professional Writing program at Kennesaw State University.

“I decided to write my master’s thesis on what I was experiencing,” she recalls. “I wrote about food, and how to live when you’re broke. That led me to writing about how to obtain fresh, healthy food on a smaller budget.”

True to Tricia’s style, one thing led to another; reading and writing about low cost, fresh food brought her to researching farmers markets and their importance in a community. “I was traveling with my new husband, interviewing farmers at various markets, and then attended a seminar in Chattanooga on farming and markets. A lot of the talks were aimed at farmers, but they also had a panel on how to start one,” she says.

Inspired, Tricia began making plans to start a farmers market in Peachtree City. By early 2010, as she was completing the work for her master’s degree, she was laying the groundwork for her new project.

“I knew there was a need,” she says. “I had been traveling to Decatur and Buckhead for farmers markets, and I knew others around here traveled distances on a regular basis to go to them as well. So I started meeting with city officials, and they were encouraging. The next step was sitting down with Tony Bernard, a former city employee, who helped me write an ordinance. I got permission and support from the Peachtree Crossing Shopping Center, and the City Council, and then I went looking for farmers who would participate.”

Tricia takes a moment to talk with sisters Jenny and Trish Stuart who are members of the Community Garden.

That aspect turned out to be the most challenging of all. Tricia went, one by one, down a list of local farmers, going in-person to the farms and asking the farmers directly whether they’d participate. Many were reluctant, doubting they’d get the amount of business that they were currently experiencing at the larger markets north of the city. “There are not enough small farmers in the local area,” she says. “True farmers are hard to find.”

But eventually she was able to persuade six farmers to start out with her, and in the summer of 2010, they set up the market in the parking lot of the closed “baby Kroger” on Highway 54 in Peachtree City. With the high volume of traffic passing the parking lot, the market was soon averaging 800 to 900 shoppers per day—quite successful. Tricia was encouraged, and established Fresh South, Inc., a non-profit 501(c)3, to support her endeavors and continue to build the market’s success.

Later that year, Fresh Market leased the Kroger space, and Tricia needed to move the farmers market so as not to compete too closely with the store. “It worked out really well,” she says. “Marilyn and Jim Royal, local business owners and long time Peachtree City folks, were so supportive and welcomed us to their Aberdeen Shopping Center. We now had a space that was shaded with lots of trees. It made such a difference because now you could be out of the sun and enjoying it more in the summertime.”

Ok Granola from Sweet Georgia Grains is one of the many fresh items you can find at the Peachtree City Farmers Market.

The farmers market quickly grew in size and scope. The number of actual farmers’ booths swelled in size from six to twelve, while an assortment of other booths came on board as well—baked goods, pasta, gourmet food artists whose creations included artichoke dips and salsa, Greek food, Flavor of Georgia finalists, Georgia Jams and Capra Gia goat cheese, local honey, grass-fed beef, fresh eggs, and nitrate-free pork. “What few people understand is that this is a true farmers market. Food is the center, and very few booths have anything but food,” explains Tricia. “True local eating is possible.” The crowds increased in size, too, and the market began to take on a life of its own with 1200 visitors on an average summer weekend.

Carolyn Bradley, one of the original vendors of Peachtree City Farmers Market, speaks highly of Tricia’s management. “I have not in my market experience of seven years found a more capable, fair and enthusiastic market manager as Tricia Stearns,” she states. “She is all about bringing the best of the local food movement to our community.”

For her part, Tricia values the relationships she’s developed with the vendors. “I just love the family of vendors we have,” she remarks. “There are so many stories of reinvention, people who have discovered a different way of living—growing their own food, raising their own chickens, making money while doing it. They’re such incredibly neat people.” She acknowledges, however, that one of the challenges of running the farmers market is making sure that “everybody plays nice.”

Since the market has begun to thrive, Tricia’s role has changed. She drives out to visit her market’s farmers to make sure that they’re actually growing the fruits and vegetables that they’re selling. She keeps abreast of regulations from the Department of Agriculture and the Health Department to make sure that the foods sold adhere to their standards.

The Peachtree City Garden Club hold a meeting and a seed saving demonstration at the Community Garden.

With the market well established by the end of 2010, Tricia began to think about another project that had been in the back of her mind when she did her thesis on eating well on a small budget: starting an organic community garden. She had recognized a need in the community for a space where, for a nominal fee, community residents could grow their own vegetables and herbs in full sun, with access to a water source and a fence to keep the deer away.

Again, she threw herself into planning and executing. “I went to Larry Dove of Two Doves Farm, our one true organic farmer who lives here in Fayette County, and I went to the Peachtree City Planning and Zoning Department and asked, ‘Do you support this, and where do we have land?’” After a successful presentation to City Council, she and her cohorts scouted around until she found the location, an unused, weed-filled lot on Kelly Drive. The group she’d pulled together—Larry, her new husband, Bern, her Farmers Market Assistant Chris Reynolds, and Fresh South Board Member Tommy Dean—planned the layout of the plots, then began clearing the lot and building the garden plot boxes.

“Later on, we had more volunteers who helped us, but at first it was just us,” she says. “We’re just now really growing to the point where we have a maintenance committee.”

Tricia and Lori Bean of Georgia Jams at the 2012 Children’s Chair-ity event.

As much as the Farmers Market and the Community Garden have transformed Fayette County, they have transformed Tricia’s life as well. On the day-to-day level, Tricia continues to keep the wheels in motion. “It’s truly a nonprofit, truly a labor of love,” she explains, citing the small budget and the long Saturdays she spends at the market. But on the other hand, she says, “It’s just such good energy. I have so much fun. I love seeing people I haven’t seen in a long time.”

Tricia’s also tremendously proud of how both the Farmers Market and Community Garden have contributed to the community, both socially and financially. “We are now one of the few year-round farmers markets in the country. Everything is local, and a lot of greens are grown in greenhouses in the winter,” she says proudly. Furthermore, she adds, “Because of the Farmers Market, three to four million dollars are added to the local economy, just by keeping that money here in our community.”

What’s remarkable about Tricia is her ability to take an idea and run with it, executing it from top to bottom, and making her vision a reality. It’s a trait that has inspired her daughters, too. “My mom has demonstrated to us how to be unstoppable in all that we endeavor,” says Meredith, Tricia’s eldest.

And, when you consider the results of Tricia’s ability to follow inspiration with determination, passion and action, her youngest daughter Julia’s remarks ring true. “My mom has taught me to think outside the box and to think unconventionally,” she says. “If you put your mind to something, it can become a reality.”

Best Fruit Plants for the Southern Garden

Blueberries look great massed planted in the garden and will reward you with luscious berries that are loaded with nutrients.

Mid-winter is the perfect time to plant fruit trees and shrubs in anticipation of enjoying your own delicious harvest in the years ahead. Many people are reluctant to grow fruit because they believe the process is too challenging. While growing some fruit, like peaches and apples, can be a daunting task, you’ll be surprised how many plants are easy to grow and maintain in your garden.

Blueberries look great massed planted in the garden and will reward you with luscious berries that are loaded with nutrients.

To get some recommendations on the easiest fruit plants to grow, I talked to one of our local growers, Greg Ison. Greg and his sisters, Darlene Ison-Evans and Janet Ison-McClure are the third generation of Isons to run their family-owned business, Ison’s Nursery & Vineyard, in Brooks. Their first muscadine vines were planted on three acres by their grandfather in 1934. Today the vineyard and nursery operations encompass 112 acres and feature over 200 varieties of fruit, nut and berry plants, including 22 patented varieties of muscadine.

Greg was happy to share a few of his favorite fruit plants for the home gardener. All his selections can be grown locally, are disease-resistant, have minimal pruning needs and will be non-invasive in your landscape. What’s not to like?

Blueberries: Not only are blueberries delicious and nutritious, they are easy to grow and have little or no pest problems. Blueberries, like all fruit plants, need full sun and well-drained soil. They also thrive in a more acidic soil with a pH of 4.5, so add peat moss to your planting hole and mulch with pine straw to help maintain the soil’s acidity. Blueberries are partially self-fertile but will produce more fruit if a couple of different varieties are planted. They look great as a hedge, mass planted in a garden bed or interspersed among other sun-loving plants.

Muscadines: This native grapevine plant needs a trellis or arbor to grow on and requires some pruning the first year to properly direct the vine growth up and down the support wire.  Once established, you will be rewarded with a sweet aroma in the late summer as the fruit ripens, and your arbor will become a fabulous focal point in the garden. Muscadines prefer to be planted in soil with a pH in the mid 6 range.

Olives: One of the oldest cultivated fruits in history, this mid-size tree has little or no pest problems and can be kept pruned to a height of 8-10’. Olive trees are drought-tolerant and love hot summers and mild winters. The fruit ripens in fall and early winter.

Pomegranates: Another fruit grown since antiquity, pomegranates are prized for their vivid color,

Did you know pomegranate juice has more than twice the amount of antioxidants found in green tea or red wine? Not only is this fruit super nutritious but it provides a vivid splash of color in the garden.

super nutrients and luscious flavor. Pomegranates prefer a more alkaline soil, so you will need to amend the soil. Some pruning will be needed in the first two years to promote a strong framework, but little pruning is required after that. Pomegranates are self-fertile and do not need another variety nearby.

Blackberries: Urban gardeners will enjoy planting blackberries because they take up little space. You can select blackberries that are erect or trailing, have thorns or are thornless. These plants will tolerate most soil types and have few disease and insect problems. Blackberries produce fruit on last year’s growth. Removal of canes is required after you have harvested the fruit. Each plant will yield about 1-2 gallons of blackberries per season.

Planting and Maintenance Tips:

The optimal time to plant fruit trees and shrubs is between mid-November and mid-March. Select a location where your plants will get full sun. Prior to planting, get a complete soil analysis (including pH) by taking a soil sample to your local extension office. You will receive instructions on amending the soil to benefit the specific fruit you are planting.

Dig a generous hole for each plant. According to Greg, “the biggest investment you can make is to dig a really nice, big hole where the roots have room to spread out and then to backfill with your loose dirt mixed with soil amendments. Your plants will be so much happier!”

Fertilize your plants in mid-April and mid-June. Check fertilizing needs of the specific fruit you are growing. And, as a general rule, don’t allow your plant to fruit the first year to allow all the energy directed toward establishing good growth.

Start today! According to Greg, “the best time to plant fruit was 20 years ago or today! It takes time for your plants to get established, but you will be well-rewarded.”

Ison’s Nursery & Vineyards is located on Hwy 16 near Griffin. Right now they have a full inventory of plants.  Check out their selections online at and read Greg’s blogs on their Facebook page to learn more about planting fruit.

Join Backyard Bird Count Feb. 15-18!

Bluebird House

Each year in February for a four-day period, people across the country and around the world take some time to count the birds they see in backyards, parks, woods, wetlands or anywhere you find our feathered friends.
It only takes as little as 15 minutes on one day or you can count as long as you like over the entire 4-day event.

Counting birds is important to provide scientists and researchers with an up-to-date picture of our winter bird population. The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) reflects bird’ migratory movements around the world and generates a real-time look at how birds are doing. Each checklist submitted allows the National Audubon Society, Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada to gather more data about birds and their health.

You don’t have to be an expert at bird identification to become involved. Beginners are welcome and can download a Guide to Common Birds ID poster from the GBBC website.

How to get started…

Create a free GBBC account when the count begins on February 15 by going to the Great Backyard Bird Count website. You can also download a GBBC Data Form to use as your checklist when counting birds. Then just count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days between Feb. 15 –18. Submit a separate checklist for each day you count and for each separate location where you count birds. Enter your results at the GBBC Website beginning on the first day of the count. You will see a button marked “Enter Your Checklists.”

Have fun and take the time to learn more about the birds that frequent our gardens here in Fayette County.

Photo Credit:  Cubie Steele

Gardening Resolutions for the New Year

Plant a garden that will welcome wildlife and watch your garden come alive!

It’s that time of year again when we make those half-hearted resolutions that will be forgotten before January has ended. If you are like me, you probably put “lose ten pounds and exercise more” on your list every year! We’re great at focusing on personal health and fitness goals, but we often neglect to consider the fitness of our home and outside space. Why not make a few resolutions this year to enhance the health of your garden? Here are a few resolutions to consider that will get your garden in great shape:

Plant a garden that will welcome wildlife and watch your garden come alive!

Spend as much time tending your soil as you do tending your plants. It really is all about the soil. If you create a healthy, rich environment for your plants, they will be much happier, healthier and have fewer insect and disease issues. Get a soil analysis done to determine what nutrients your soil is lacking. Add compost and soil conditioner to the native earth and mix well to create a loose, crumbly soil that drains well.

Keep your garden equipment clean and maintained. I am always misplacing my tools or not taking the time to clean them properly after use. I have a very expensive pair of pruners that are almost useless now because of my neglect. When I prune my plants, the rough edges often tear the stems instead of making a clean cut. This really can affect plant health and introduce disease. Take care of your tools and they will help take care of your plants and give you good service for years to come.

Start a garden journal and have a plan for how to improve your outside space. Write down the names of the plants in your beds, where they are and care instructions. Make notes of what plants are thriving and what needs to be moved or replaced. Keep a list of projects you want to do in the future. Good documentation can help you create and maintain a healthy garden.

Plant your garden to encourage wildlife. A garden filled with diverse plants will attract birds, bees, butterflies and other interesting critters. (Yes, I know that the deer may come as well!) Select plants with berries, nuts and nectar and watch your outside space come alive! Add a few bird feeders and a water source and you will ensure your new friends hang around your garden for the whole family to enjoy.

Keep a simple journal listing the names of your plants and care instructions. Include ideas for future projects.

Plant at least one garden bed with something to eat. There is nothing tastier than a fruit or vegetable grown in your own garden and picked to eat right from the vine or tree! If you are intimidated by growing a vegetable garden, plant an herb container on your back deck and have fresh seasoning for cooking. Get your kids involved with the planting and harvesting. Studies show that children who tend their own gardens eat the food they grow. Your whole family will be healthier and your garden will become more than just a place for showy flowers.

Make your garden more welcoming for you, your family and friends. Is your garden relaxing and accessible with comfortable seating and shade on those hot days? If not, consider planning simple entertainment area. It doesn’t have to be expensive – just a few comfortable chairs under a shade tree make a big difference. Add a swing and cushions in a secluded space and you have your own private garden retreat to relax and unwind.

Learn to live with a little imperfection for your own peace of mind and the health of your garden! Don’t pick up the bug spray at the first sign of insect damage. Is a little leaf damage really going to kill your plant? Monitor your garden and look for signs of trouble before it becomes a problem, starting with less invasive ways to control the issue before you reach for synthetic chemicals. A hard spray from the hose will dislodge many insects. Pruning out infected leaves can often manage a fungal disease problem. Add 3-4 inches of mulch to suppress weeds. A garden is ever changing and always a little messy…like life.

Take some time this month to make some garden resolutions. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish this spring!



Atlanta Botanical Garden Lights Up the Skyline for the Holidays

Atlanta skyline at dusk viewed from Atlanta Botanical Garden

It’s time to start a new holiday tradition and bring your whole family to Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Garden Lights – Holiday Nights, where you can wander through a 30-acre fantasy land of over a million lights. The light show runs through January 5th and will get more crowded as we get closer to Christmas.

My daughter, Lisen, and I enjoyed the spectacle on an off-peak Monday evening. We arrived right at 5:00 p.m. when the gates opened so we could view the garden at dusk and watch as the light display grow in brilliance as dark settled on the city. Bring your camera for some amazing shots of the Atlanta skyline framing the light display.

Atlanta skyline at dusk viewed from Atlanta Botanical Garden

Along the winding pathways, you’ll enjoy small groups of holiday carolers, fire pits where you can roast marshmallows and model trains that will delight the kids. The Great Lawn is a focal point featuring “Orchestral Orbs” – a light show choreographed to music. Don’t miss the stunning poinsettia tree in the conservatory. When it’s time for a hot chocolate or a light meal, stop at the café for a nice selection of soup and sandwiches. For more information, go to Atlanta Botanical Garden .

Enjoy the "Orchestral Orbs" choreographed light and music production on the Great Lawn.


Take a lovely stroll through this arbor of lights.


Roast some marshmallows at the fire pit.


Don't miss the fabulous poinsettia tree and orchid display in the conservatory. My daughter, Lisen, and I loved the flowers.

Reap the Health Benefits of Gardening


Do you view gardening as “yard work” and see it as a chore? If so, you need to change your perspective. Numerous scientific studies emphasize the amazing health benefits associated with gardening. Gardening positively affects the body, mind, soul and spirit. Instead of looking for a wonder drug, why not try this wonder activity?

Gardeners are Healthier

In a nation of rising obesity rates, most people are looking for ways to get moving, lose weight and maintain their health. The National Institutes of Health lists gardening for 30-45 minutes as a recommended moderate-level activity, similar to biking or walking for 30 minutes. Gardening just 30 minutes a day can help you shed pounds, strengthen muscles and joints, increase flexibility, decrease blood pressure and cholesterol, slow the onset of osteoporosis, lower your risk for diabetes, increase your intake of vitamin D through sunshine and help you sleep better.

While working in the garden, you exercise all the major muscle groups and improve flexibility through stretching. Tasks like pushing a lawn mower, turning a compost pile, carrying a bucket of water, digging a hole or raking leaves provide strength training and build strong muscles. You burn an average of 300 calories per hour doing general gardening tasks.

Gardeners who grow their own food tend to eat healthier. They appreciate the exquisite taste and nutritional benefits of fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs, and the whole family can reap the health benefits. Children who are picky eaters and hate all vegetables have been known to enjoy those they grow themselves in the garden.

Nature has a powerful affect on our ability to heal. Research published in Science magazine by Roger S. Ulrich found that hospital patients recovering from surgery had much shorter hospital stays, took less pain medication and had fewer complaints when they had a view outside of trees. Other studies indicate that people heal more quickly when they spend time in a garden.

Horticulture therapy is a growing field of medicine that emphasizes the healing power of nature. Working in a garden in a hospital setting helps patients retrain muscles and regain coordination. Patients with psychiatric disorders are able to deal more successfully with their conditions. Gardening helps calm the acute anxiety and agitation associated with dementia and encourages better sleep.

Gardeners are Happier

Most gardeners view their gardens as places of sanctuary where they can relax, recharge and recover. When you are in the garden, your senses come alive; you focus on nature’s beauty and the simple tasks at hand and live in the moment. Soon the worries of the day are forgotten, at least for a little while. Many cancer patients enjoy gardening for the mental and emotional respite it provides. It becomes a place of peace. Some gardeners feel they are most in touch with God in the garden.

Gardeners score much higher than the average person in their “zest for life” and overall optimism. Gardeners are usually hopeful about the future and can get almost giddy with excitement in anticipation of spring. Gardening teaches planning, patience (plants don’t grow overnight) and being at peace with imperfection (a garden is never perfect). Gardeners have a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in seeing their landscapes thrive and their personalities reflected in their outside space.

Gardening is a way to connect with lots of different people and encourage lasting friendships. Once you know someone likes to garden, a common bond is established and the conversation will never lag; from talks about the weather to the latest bloom on the market, gardeners can happily discuss horticulture topics for hours on end.

Get Started Gardening and Reap the Health Benefits

You don’t have to be a master gardener to enjoy the health benefits of gardening. Start small. Pot up a few containers with herbs to season your recipes. Get some fresh air and exercise by raking up your fall leaves the old-fashioned way instead of using the leaf blower. Join a garden club and make some new friends. Plant a tree. Teach a child to love the outdoors. Take some time to linger and enjoy the day. Your body, mind, soul and spirit will be refreshed and healthier.





Showy Shrubs for the Southern Garden

Tea Olive (2)

Shrubs are the “glue” in the garden, providing a connection between towering trees and small perennials and annuals. They form the middle layer of plants in the landscape to give a cohesive look. Once established, most shrubs require less maintenance and will flourish for years to come.

Fall is the perfect time to plant new shrubs, since it allows the roots to get established before spring growth. Before planting shrubs, ask yourself what you want them to accomplish and then select shrubs to fit your purpose. Shrubs are versatile and can be used to solve many gardening challenges. They can provide a privacy screen, deflect noise, soften the foundation of your home, attract wildlife, serve as a backdrop to highlight specimen plants and add color, blooms, texture, scent and drama. (What’s not to like?!) As you decide what type of shrubs to plant, note the sun/shade requirements of the area and make sure the shrubs you have chosen will thrive in that environment. If you are planting an entire bed of shrubs, till and amend the soil first with compost.

There are many wonderful shrubs to choose from that will thrive in our Southern gardens. Here are a five of my favorite showy shrubs that are sure to please and become mainstays in your own outside space.

Cherry Dazzle ® Crapemyrtle (Lagerstroemia ‘GAMAD I’ PP#16,917): This slow-growing, sun-loving, compact shrub has three-season color and only grows 3-5’ tall. New growth starts bronze then turns to green. In mid-summer when many flowers have faded, this shrub erupts with masses of vivid red bloom clusters that last for weeks. The purple-red fall foliage is also attractive. The Cherry Dazzle is disease-resistant and needs very little watering once established. It is deciduous, however, and looks like dead sticks throughout the winter and early spring, so would not be the best foundation shrub around the house. But for a mid- and late-summer show with little maintenance, this shrub excels!

Fragrant Tea Olive (Osmanthus fragrans): As its name implies, this large (10-30’ tall) evergreen shrub releases an intensely fragrant scent, often compared to orange blossoms or jasmine, from its tiny white flowers for weeks during the fall. It has been designated a “Georgia Gold Medal Winner” for its easy maintenance and few pest problems. Plant the tea olive in sun to medium shade where you can enjoy the sweet scent. It is works well as a backdrop in a border or as a screen or hedge, and it can be trained into a small tree near a patio or to soften the corners of the house.


Bottlebrush Buckeye (Aesculus parviflora): Another Georgia Gold Medal Winner, this large (8-12’ tall and wide) native, deciduous shrub shows off each summer with an amazing display of upright spiky white flowers. It has a pleasing mounded shape and does best when planted in partial or full shade areas. It performs well planted under trees. Plant it in mass for impact. The bottlebrush buckeye’s foliage turns yellow in the fall with showy fruit for added interest. It’s also attractive to butterflies but does not seem to appeal to deer and other pests, making it practically trouble-free and a welcome addition to the low-maintenance garden.

Camellia: Every Southern garden needs a camellia or two. Camellia sasanqua has smaller leaves and blooms in late fall through the end of the year. Camellia japonica has larger leaves and flowers in late winter and early spring. Both types are considered medium-to-large evergreen shrubs that thrive in partial shade and can be massed to make great foundation plants, hedges or screens. There are an abundance of species to choose from with blooms in colors of white, pink and red.

Abelia (Abelia x grandiflora ‘Rose Creek,’ ‘Canyon Creek,’ ‘Mardi Gras’):  These compact abelias have evergreen leaves and a mounding growth habit. They only get about 2-4’ high with a spread of 3-4’ (although ‘Canyon Creek’ gets a little taller). The ever-changing color and variegation of the leaves are the showiest features, giving a different look throughout the seasons. You’ll enjoy pinkish tints, moving to green, yellow and purple, with flowers in white or pink. Abelias do best in partial shade, are drought tolerant, deer and pest resistant but attractive to butterflies and bees. Plant where you need a spot of color or to provide a backdrop for perennial beds.

Add some of these showy shrubs to your garden this fall and enjoy their color, scent and blooms next spring! For more information on other Georgia Gold Medal Winner shrubs, go to