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Secret of the Garden #3

Foxglove ~~ Digitalis purpurea


I have to admit, Foxglove is one of my favorite flowers, and I often use it in the garden. It can grow wild or added to your gardens for color and interest. Bright colors and it’s upright stem full of bell-shaped flowers will attract bees and butterflies.

BUT the flowers, berries, leaves and stems are extremely poisonous.

This is the poison plant that would make Agatha Christie smile. It is common in most old-fashioned gardens, especially shade gardens. And it’s leaves can be mistaken for borage, an herb that is used in salads, teas or for medicinal purposes. Do you see where this could be a problem?

Used in the proper way, Foxglove can provide live saving medicines: digitalis is a heart medicine. But in unknowing or evil hands, Foxglove can kill.

The raw digitalis in Foxglove will have the opposite effect of working with an ailing heart. It will slow down the rate of the heartbeat, causing a person to become nauseated, weak, and dizzy. With too much, or over an extended time, Foxglove consumption will slow down the heart to the point of stopping it, causing death.

flowers of Foxglove

You can enjoy the beautiful flowers of Foxglove, if you remember the dangers of this plant. Do not ingest any part of the plant. Be cautious with animals and small children, be sure to keep them away from the plants. Teach them to enjoy the garden’s beauty without touching the tempting flowers.

If you ever think you have ingested any part of Foxglove, get immediate medical attention.

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Near Miss

Wow! There is nothing like the threat of an approaching hurricane to make you take stock of your garden.

This past weekend Hurricane Isaias quickly formed in the Atlantic ocean and headed for the Florida coast. There was no 4-5 day preparation with this storm. Luckily it broke apart before it could do much of anything, and passed us by, just offshore.

Even though we decided to not put up our hurricane shutters, there was still work to be done. And every time we have to do this, we moan about all the garden “stuff” my husband and I have added to our yard.

one of my many orchids

So, we start with the orchids. I had just repotted them together in large wood orchid baskets, so that cut the number down considerably, but there were still a couple dozen that had to be taken out of the trees and placed in a protected area. Then there was the shade sail (shade cloth) my husband put up over my fountain to protect more orchids and foliage plants from the summer sun.

Then we move to the decorative pieces. Wind chimes hang in the larger trees and had to be taken down and laid low into the bushes. The wind spinners were taken apart and placed in a corner, and we gathered the decorative statues and animals into the garage. The large umbrella that covers the table and chair was tied up and laid on the ground.

the backyard is the last to clean up; we want to keep the animals happen as long as we can.

The lawn furniture and cushions had to be stacked in a protected corner of the front porch, and finally the bird baths were emptied and turned upside down. I held out until the last possible moment before taking down the bird feeders. Which were also the first things to go back up. The bluejays sat outside my window, all but tapping on the glass for food when the winds died down.

The largest potted plants were laid on their side to keep the wind from snapping them in half, and they were also watered for extra weight.

And then we “hunker down” and wait for the storm to pass. Of course, with a storm that was stronger, there would be more work to do; put up the shutters, get gas for the generator, mow the lawn, and the list goes on.

Then, after the go ahead is given, we return everything to its rightful place until the next storm is approaching. And each time we promise ourself, we will get rid of the lawn art and make our life simpler.

But we don’t. Because the storms are for brief intervals, over quickly and with the promise of better days ahead. Creating the garden we love to be in takes time, effort and patience. And the knowledge that the storms will pass and better weather is just around the corner to enjoy.

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Gardening and Writing

Did you know that I’m not only a gardener but also a writer? I write cozy mysteries; all set in South Florida and all with characters who love to garden!

Cover for a new series I’m starting!

I find I do most of my writing either in the garden or from my office looking out into my garden.

Looking out into my garden from my desk

The garden is the perfect place to plot. Often you are working on your own, doing tasks that allow your imagination to wander. That’s how it all started for me. I was tending a secluded garden and started wondering what if a crime were to take place in or around a beautiful garden?

My thought raced. There were so many weapons at hand: shovels, shears, poisonous plants, pesticides and small garden statuary. But my thoughts weren’t all dark. The garden is the perfect place for secret meetings, clues to be planted and maybe even a romance to bloom.

My current titles

If you would like to find out more about my mysteries or sign up for my newsletter, visit my website. Starting in August, the newsletter will feature an extra item called Garden Secrets. You will get a password from the newsletter to have access to these blog posts here in the Gossip from the Southern Gardener blog. Here is the link:

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Back to the Basics

A beautiful garden takes work…

With the start of a new year, I thought it might be prudent to get back to some basics of gardening. It can feel overwhelming if you don’t know where to start in your gardening adventure. So, let’s start at the beginning!

The ABC’s of Gardening.

Teaching a novice to have a successful experience in gardening can be as easy as teaching a child their ABC’s. Regardless of whether the gardening experience will be for a few houseplants, a container garden, a large courtyard garden or even your entire landscape; these three principles apply to all. And if you follow them, you have a successful gardening experience. Let me explain more…

Photo by Bess Hamiti on

 A is Anticipation.

When you walk into your garden, look around you before you do anything. Anticipate what your garden needs are.

Do you have some wilting plants? Watering is an issue here.

Are the leaves yellow and pale? Maybe you need to consider a fertilizer application.

Do you see webbing or curling leaves? It could be a have an insect problem that needs your attention.

Looking around your garden before you start can give you an idea of what jobs lie ahead of you. This can also help you be prepared and have all of the essential tools that you’ll need to get your job done thoroughly and correctly.

Photo by Pixabay on

B it’s for Balance.

There has to be a balance between what you want the plant to do and what the plant is physically capable of doing. You need to know what your plant’s needs are; does it need a highlight, low water, or good air circulation. Placing plants in a location that doesn’t provide what they need, is the surest avenue for poor growing results.

Photo by Katarzyna Modrzejewska on

C is for Consistency.

It is essential to be consistent with your maintenance methods when you’re dealing with plants. A good example is this; if you water to your houseplants every Saturday afternoon, then you should do it each and every Saturday afternoon. It might even be a good idea to keep a log of your gardening activities, to be clear on what you have done and still need to do.

The plants will adapt to the way they are treated, but if there’s too much time between maintenance the plants get confused and they don’t know whether they should be stressed out or whether they are in a regular pattern. Consistency should also be for your fertilizing methods, your cleaning process, and your pruning techniques. Waiting until a plant is in need of something may not be the best way to be consistent in your gardening habits.

Be proactive; anticipate, balance, and be consistent for a successful gardening experience!

Of course, there are a lot more steps to a successful garden, but if you can start with these three basic steps, then you will enjoy your time with the plants and gardening all that much more.

For more gardening information, check out our book. Or visit our website

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A tiny little secret…

20151117_115818One of my all-time favorite books is The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I read it as a child, and have re-read it many times as an adult. I have always been fascinated by the work and comradely that went into bringing that old garden back to life. The many other facets of the book thrilled me as I read, but it was the garden I remember the most. And then when the book became a movie-well, I fell in love all over again.
As a southern gardener, I may not be able to re-create the old English garden from the book, but I can create a garden that will bring joy, wonder, solace and contentment. I simply need to be a bit more creative.
The flowers of the tropics may not be the same, but I can use color, texture and scents to achieve my goals.

Finding little corners tucked away from view, planting taller bushes and trees to create a special spot or boldly creating a niche out in the open to take in a special view, will all work towards creating your own secret garden. Don’t forget to include a few unusual plants and/or containers to finish off the plantings.
Adding a beautiful bench, a bistro set, or a couple of comfortable chairs will help claim the niche as your special spot. And the garden can be used year round down here, allowing you to enjoy it even longer. Don’t forget the evenings in the garden. Torches lit to guide your steps to the garden, a small fire-pit to relax around or fairy lights sprinkled into the branches overhead will all work towards a wonderful spot to enjoy the evening sounds.

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As you work in your garden, don’t forget to take the time to notice the results of all your efforts. Seeing a garden come together, plant by plant, can be as rewarding as opening a secret door, with a long-lost key, to find a beautiful garden.

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Bragging Time!

Spring Break

Spring Break…those two words put together can have different meanings to different groups of people.

To the young families struggling through a long winter stuck indoors, it can mean a week’s vacation to a warmer, family friendly destination. For young adults is often brings to mind endless beach parties and fun, fun times. To the many Grandparents out there, it could mean the visit from returning college students. To those living in these destination spots it could mean all the woes and traffic headaches that the tourist can bring.

But to the Southern Gardener, well Spring Break means it’s time to show off! Winter annuals are at their peak about now, the days are warm, the nights a little cooler, winds have calmed down from those strong North-easterners and the rain has yet to become the summer’s downpours. And this means the flowers and gardens are looking their best.
There is a certain point when flowers are full and glorious, just before they become overgrown and weary. It can last for a week or several weeks. The experienced Gardner knows the best timing and methods of pruning and fertilizing to prolong this period and bask in the glow of all those compliments from the novice standing in awe over your skills.

It doesn’t matter if you want to brag about your skills, or just stand back and let others enjoy the results of your hard work, this is the time when it all comes to celebrate the garden. If your containers are at your front entry or in a public area, expect your visitors to exclaim how beautiful your flowers are. Share your tips for a successful show, for they will be sure to ask not only how you did that, but what you used.

(If you have a gardener, be sure that they have provided you with a list of the plants in your gardens!)

On the other hand if you would prefer to keep your garden a secret all to yourself, then by all means, do so. Be sure that you have created a garden that you can spend hours in, escaping the struggles (and tourist) of the day, and relax. I love to not only have color in this type of garden, but also plants that will please my sense of smell as well. A few well-placed herbs such as Rosemary or Lavender can do the job.

And remember, it’s Spring Break.
So pour yourself a tall glass of sweet tea (or mimosa) and get out in your garden to enjoy it, not work it!


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Garden Critters

Some Things Just Go Hand-In-Hand.
I’ve been providing horticultural services for over 30 years, and I can say with confidence that there are certain types of people who have a true love of plants. From the simple exotic Orchid to the complex landscape design, there are people out there who have made plants an important part of their life. Obviously, I am one of them.
New plantings in beds or containers are planned with meticulous attention to detail, parties and special events use plants and flowers as an intricate part of the decorating, often using plants from our gardens. New plants or flowers added to the interior bring a feeling of joy. There is a special feeling of contentment felt when we can spend a day working in the garden.

Yet, there is something else I’ve noticed about plant lovers; most are also ANIMAL lovers!

There are days that I go from account to account, and I am tripping over dogs. Puppies looking for attention, adolescent dogs looking to play and mature dogs content to just say hello and then continue their nap. It’s hard to concentrate on the job instead of spending time with all these loving dogs! The only downfall to this part of my job is that when I got home, my dog was jealous of all those doggy smells on me. So it’s a quick shower before I could give him the love he deserves from me.


And then there are those wonderful cats. They act indifferent to your presence, but they are right there to inspect your water bucket and tools. There are a few who will follow me from plant to plant, just to make sure I’m doing my job right. And there are a few that will try to steal the tie tape out of my tools, or play hide-&-seek in the plants. There is even one that jumps up to play in the water as I fill my bucket or water the plants. Funny, my cats do that too.


Of course, other animals are also pets for us plant lovers. Birds, Guinea Pigs, Reptiles of many kinds, and even Pot-Bellied Pigs. I’ve seen all of these on my accounts, and each homeowner has a place in their heart for their special pet. And many include their pets in their gardening enjoyment.


But I have to say that dogs and cats will always be my favorite!

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Testing the Winds

The wind and your landscape go hand in hand.

Without the wind, landscaping will not grow to its highest potential. The flowers need the wind for pollination. Cooling from the heat from sun’s rays beating down on the foliage of the plants happens as the wind passes over your plants. Blowing away the dust and pollutants that settle on the plants all the pores on the plants surface to be unobstructed. These are benefits of a strong wind you may not notice.
But the wind can also be a double-edged sword. As cooling as it can be in the summer, in the winter that same wind can be brutal. Personally, I think the wind can do more damage than anything else to the landscape.


That’s why it’s so important the plants you pick are right for their location. For instance, the wind coming off the sea contains amounts of salt crystals in it. Even though you may not think your plants are in direct line of being hit by the salt from the waves, the wind can carry that salt just a few feet farther, dropping the salt on the plants. It goes without saying; the plants living in these conditions will need to be tough.
The wind can do more damage during cold weather than the drop in temperature. The air temperatures might not get down to freezing, but the constant wind and chill factor can quickly burn the leaves and damage plant cells. You might not see all the damage right away. The first sign of damage might be turning the foliage a reddish brown or distorted. Other damage may not show up until the air temperatures warm back up. Then you will see the leaves yellow and drop. One of the most tender plants in our area are the many varieties of Hibiscus.

The wind can do heavy damage by drying the foliage out of the plant as well. Even though the soil may feel slightly damp, the constant blowing of a strong or warm wind blowing against the leaves will pull moisture out of the plant faster than the roots can pull it out of the ground. This why it is important to know what part of your landscape faces the strongest, potentially damaging winds. These are the areas where you’re going to want to plant sturdy plants. You might even want to plant hardy plants to buffer more delicate flowers or lacy ferns.
We can’t control the way the winds blow, nor the temperature of the wind. But we can plant smartly, using native plants where possible, and provide protection to the more delicate plants.

The point is to enjoy our gardens.

Knowing the environmental factors of your space and using the proper plants will help you achieve this.

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Plant or Pot?

What comes first? This question is as old as the chicken and egg.

It should be a serious question when you’re doing container gardening. What do you believe is more important; the plant or the container?

The answer is different for everybody but for me it’s an easy answer.

The Container! 20170727_095558

Let me explain…

The container you’re planting the plants into can often be the most expensive part of your gardening budget. You put a lot of time and thought into picking out the right container. From selecting the right location, to finding the exact color or style you want to use. You may also need to consider finding a container in your price bracket. Finally, you need to place the container in its permanent position, and if it’s a large container, that may take extra manpower.


It could easily be a container you’ve had around the house. Perhaps one you’ve enjoyed for years and now want to highlight. Perhaps it was a gift and you want to give it a place of honor. Or maybe when you were at the local garden center you saw it in your heart cried out “I’ve got to have it”. In all those instances you selected the container before you had the plant. Once the container has been placed in the location that you want, you can begin your selection of plants.

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It’s hard to select the plants until you know where they will go and how much room you have for planting again. This supports my reasoning of the container being the more important piece of the equation. If your plant choice requires a lot of drainage, you need to know your container has substantial drainage holes.

And another reason the container is so important is because the container is the one piece it can be reused year after year. Once this becomes a stable foundation for your planting, you can enjoy your plants; changing the selection in the container every year or even every season. Changing the container every year could get to be a very expensive habit.

So, the next time you go to the garden center, head over to the container section first. Once you find the right container, then go have fun in the flower and plant area. Take your time picking out the plants that will be perfect for that container so you can enjoy them for as long as possible.

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It’s a cold start!

The start of 2018’s weather hasn’t been easy! Frigid temps, icy roads and record setting snowfall have made the celebrating the holiday season challenging for our northern friends and family.


Even down here in the south, we are bracing for frosty weather. Heavy rains are beating against the windows as I write, to be followed by a cold front that threatens not only our comfort, but could also cause damage to our plants.

Many have gone to great lengths to get their gardens in tip-top condition for the holidays. We want our guest to enjoy the beautiful flowers of the south, and maybe even smirk a little because we can enjoy the tropics year-round.


We can’t control the weather, but we can take steps to protect our gardens against the elements.

First off, don’t begrudge the rain. It’s helpful to keep the plants well-watered and strong against the beating winds. Be sure the pots are not sitting in water-you don’t want to create a situation where rotting can start.

Next, be thankful for a little wind. That will help keep the frost from settling on the leaves, flowers and fruit. But too strong of a frigid wind can burn the leaves, leaving behind brown tips and falling leaves. If you can move smaller pots out of the wind, do so. If not, try to cover them with a lightweight blanket or sheet. Try not to use plastic, it can often cause more damage than it protects by burning the plants as the sunlight magnifies through it.

Keeping the plants strong and in good health all year long will also help them recover quickly if they suffer from the cold. Remember, you may not see the damage until several days or even a week later.

After the cold has passed, don’t be in a big hurry to get out there and cut back the plants. Remember it’s only January, and there could be colder weather on the way. Instead, keep the falling debris cleared to make sure that bugs and disease do not have a place to hide, keep the plants watered and be patient. Often, you’ll notice new growth starting on within a week after a freeze. What you may think is dead can rejuvenate and become a beautiful plant again.

So, relax and view your garden from the windows until the cold passes. And be thankful we don’t have to deal with all that snow!!