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“HOW On Earth” – Published in Pink Magazine – August 2011

I love the lushness, the textures, and the vibrancy of color with tropical plants in this paradise. These gardens seem at home in a pool setting, or a contemporary home. The theme can also be used as an accent to a more formal setting or simply used in pots.

“HOW On Earth” – Published in Pink Magazine – July 2011

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Atlanta Botanical Garden. This was an intention on my gardener’s bucket list this year. I went to Atlanta for the Food and Wine Festival and the Atlanta Botanical Gardens.

“HOW On Earth” – Published in Pink Magazine – June 2011

Cottage Garden on the Beach

The Cottage Garden

My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant’s point of view.  ~H. Fred Dale (Thanks, Anne)

I am often asked what brought me to Hilton Head Island. I am originally from the Philadelphia area. A client of mine bought an oceanfront bungalow at North Forest Beach and asked me to design and install a cottage garden. I was thrilled at the prospect and went to work researching what flowers could withstand this windswept, salt spray, full sun and humid environment. I shipped the plants, filling all twenty boxes with packing peanuts. Opening up the cartons on a dune turned out to be my first lesson in gardening oceanfront. The wind took the peanuts everywhere. I don’t think I have ever used that particular packing material again.

The garden itself turned out lovely. Cottage style gardening is simply charming. Contrary to its appearance, careful planning is required to achieve the wild effect. The same design principles can be applied to borders or more formal color beds. This month let’s look at the methods behind creating various flower arrangements.

The goal in a well designed flower border is to achieve balance year round. This is a little tricky and where knowledge of plant heights, color, season of bloom, texture and form all come into play.

The first place I start is to determine the site requirements. This is the key to any successful garden and the most common mistake. I like to ask people to stand where their garden is and look up. Full sun is when all you see is blue sky.  Part sun is some blue sky with a few trees that block the sun at various times of the day. Part shade is a very high tree canopy with glimpses of the sky. Full shade is when you look up and all you see is trees. Generally, full sun is required for those dramatic flower displays. Drainage and soil type are next on the importance list. I recommend taking a soil test which will give you a break down of exactly what is needed to be amended based on what you will be growing. I am a strong advocate of adding organic material to our soil. A rich, well drained soil makes all the difference in supporting optimal healthy plants.  Other factors to consider are salt spray, proximity to the marsh and wildlife.

Figuring out what types of conditions are in your garden is half the battle. Next is analyzing what your plant wants. Unfortunately trusting the supplied label is often misleading. Many times the information is written for other parts of the country and what works in the Northeast, West Coast or even England, does not work here in the South East. I suggest talking with local gardeners and reading material written specifically for your area. Touring gardens and making notes of plants you like is a great and fun way to learn what plants are successful here.

Now comes the fun part. To me, designing is like putting a puzzle together. I begin with making lists. I write down every plant that would fit within my site requirements. This is my wish list. I then create a sketch of my space. This helps to visualize the overall concept and determines the quantity of plants needed. I begin with a few of my favorites. These are the plants that are dependable, easy to grow, and have a long bloom season.

Cottage Garden Example Layout Sketch

Balance: Symmetry is a key component to a pleasing design, and there are many ways to achieve harmony in a garden. Repetition and simplicity are the main tools that fulfill this goal. Repeating a color, a form, a texture, or simply the same plant throughout your design, are methods of unifying the theme. Resist the temptation to put one of every favorite plant in your yard. Massing groups of the same plant is more aesthetic and pleasing to the eye.

Season of bloom: The large majority of perennials will be blooming in the summer. They will also be going dormant for several months of the year leaving holes in your border. This is where annuals and evergreen plant material comes into play. I like to color code my areas based on season of bloom so I can see what the garden will look like year round.

Texture: The foliage of a plant is very important and often overlooked. There are many perennials that will only be in bloom for a month or so, yet their foliage is persistent. Mixing textures together such as a broad leaf with a ferny one, or a tropical look with a grass, lends drama to your garden.

Form: In nature, shapes of flowers differ. There are daisy shapes, spikes, clusters, tubular or trumpet, and round forms. Combining various forms together creates interest.

Habit: Understanding ultimate height and spread and then adhering to these guidelines I personally find challenging. I like instant gratification and tend to plant my gardens heavy. That said, properly spaced material is preferred for the most favorable growth and health of our plants.

Color: In small spaces, I like to pick one color and then build on that, using differing shades of the same hue. I will then mix varying shades of green to complement.

“HOW On Earth” – Published in Pink Magazine – May 2011

Designing with perennials is a bit like putting a puzzle together. Heights, color, texture, form, and bloom time are orchestrated into an ever changing plant palette. I like to start with a group of dependable, easy, and colorful perennials that are known to thrive in our area. I have created a Top Twenty List of perennials that I use often, with great success.

“HOW On Earth” – Published in Pink Magazine – April 2011

Spring Fever It’s spring fever.  That is what the name of it is.  And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!  ~Mark […]

“What Do I Do In My Garden In March” – Published in Hilton Head Monthly – March 2010

What Do I Do In My Garden In March?

March is the harbinger of spring when the air is filled with the sweet scents of Wisteria and our landscape begins to send out its lush new growth. The nurseries are brimming with fresh, colorful plants waiting to adorn our gardens. It is a busy month filled with planting and maintenance tasks. Knowing what to do and where to start in this seemingly overwhelming “to do list” can be a great help.

Clean up is the first thing to tackle. Pick up any fallen branches and rake up leaves, pinecones, and accumulated pinestraw. Pests and diseases like to overwinter in the top layer of organic matter surrounding plants. Removal of this will reduce future infestations and will start the season with a clean slate. Plants can also be subject to rot, and poor growth may occur if their crown is covered up by debris. Be careful not to damage the new, emerging sprouts when working around plants. Also, give your greenery a chance to flush back. We had quite a cold winter and many plants went dormant that may not have, in previous years. Philodendron, Ginger, and Ferns are examples of plants that are root hardy in our area. Many perennials such as: Cannas, Salvias, and Ruellia will also emerge as the soil temperatures begin to warm. Sometimes gardening can be a practice in patience. Before rushing out to replace perceived lost treasures, wait until the Crape Myrtles have leafed out as these are one of the last trees to do so.

Pruning is the next job I like to accomplish. Now is the time to do any heavy trimming required to rejuvenate, shape, and control the size of plants. Viburnum and Ligustrum are examples of shrubs that are fast growing and can handle being pruned back hard, to within a couple of feet from the ground if needed. Podocarpus and Boxwood benefit more from a light pruning, or no more than one third of their size, as they are slow growing. Understanding a plants growth pattern will help determine how much to prune. Selective pruning can also increase the health of woody landscape material. This process begins with the removal of any diseased, dead, or injured branches. Next is a gradual thinning of the older stems. And lastly, an overall haircut to eliminate spent flowers and encourage uniform growth. Crape Myrtles fall into this category contrary to the popular practice of severely cutting them back. Wait to prune spring blooming plants such as Azaleas and Gardenias until after them bloom. Perennials and ornamental grasses can be cut back to six inches. If Liriope and ferns are showing signs of winter damage, then shear them back before the new growth gets too tall.

Now that the yard is cleaned up and pruned, it’s time to fertilize. A great place to start is by taking a soil sample. Our county horticultural extension service provides this service and it is invaluable in determining exactly what supplements our plants really require. Once your needs are established, I’m an advocate of slow release organic fertilizers. They will not burn our plants, are not as high in salt content, and are much safer for our relished waterways. Adding compost to improve soil structure and natural mulches to conserve water are next on the list.

Finishing touches include edging bed lines, checking irrigation and lighting systems. Freshly cleaned, groomed, and functioning, our yard is now ready to receive all those new and exciting plants that have been tempting us to acquire.

Hilton Head Monthly March to-do list by Karen Geiger

“The Edible Container Garden” – Published in Hilton Head Monthly – March 2010

The Edible Container Garden March is the beginning of springtime here in the lowcountry. I love to watch the marsh begin its seasonal and gradual shift to green. The trees take on that fresh chartreuse color and our lawns begin their rebirth. The color green […]

“HOW On Earth” – Published in Pink Magazine – March 2011

Container gardening is truly my favorite style of creating art with nature. I find the possibilities endless and the instant gratification most rewarding. This is creativity in its purest form, an opportunity to think outside of the box. Potted plants can provide a splash of color, warm a barren deck, light up a dark space, and welcome a front entry.

Picture in the Island Packet

Picture in Island Packet from HBA Home and Garden Show
Picture in Island Packet from HBA Home and Garden Show

The Home and Garden Show 26th annual Home and Garden Show sponsored by the Hilton Head Area Home Builders Association, the Mall at Shelter Cove was this past weekend.  I did a presentation on container gardening both Friday and Saturday.  We talked about the size of pot to use, what plant material works together well, and how to get the best soil for your plant material.

Arbor Day with the Boys and Girls Club

Celebrating Arbor Day with the Boys and Girls Club in Bluffton, SC One of my passions is giving back to the community.  Another passion of mine is children’s gardens.  On Friday December 3, I combine those passions and helped plant a tree with the Boys and Girls […]