Hydrangeas for Every Garden

Hydrangeas in June at Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Ga.

Hydrangeas in June at Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Ga.

Weather conditions this year have been ideal in Georgia, and hydrangeas are blooming with enthusiasm. At Gibbs Gardens, there are more than 1,000 blooms to see, including native and cultivated selections. Reinforcing what we know to be true that “the plants don’t read the books,” hydrangeas are blooming about two weeks ahead of what is considered their normal bloom time.

Bigleaf hydrangeas

Bigleaf hydrangeas, Hydrangea macrophylla cultivars, thrive in high shade, with lots of light but protection from hot afternoon sun. Japanese maples and dogwoods provide the ideal canopy for theses hydrangeas. Shrubs like Anise, Illicium species, make good companions along with ferns and shade-loving perennials.

Lacecap hydrangeas at Gibbs Gardens

Lacecap hydrangeas at Gibbs Gardens

There are both mophead and lacecap varieties of bigleaf hydrangeas, and the flowers can range from blue to pink to lavender. In acid soils (low pH), flowers tend to be blue. Pink flowers occur when the pH is higher, often when the plants are grown near limestone. White flowers don’t change colors.

Mophead hydrangeas at Gibbs Gardens

Mophead hydrangeas at Gibbs Gardens

I have always been charmed by the old fashioned blue mophead hydrangeas and the many different variations. I especially like them in combination with old fashioned orange daylilies, sometimes called ditch lilies (maybe because they grow along roadsides and don’t require any special care).

Oakleaf hydrangeas

'Snowflake' at Gibbs Gardens

‘Snowflake’ at Gibbs Gardens

A handsome Georgia native that is always popular (and with good reason) is the oakleaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia with oak leaf-shaped leaves. Beginning in June or earlier (depending on the year), large cones of white flowers persist for weeks and then often turn tinges of rose as they age. A real bonus is the cinnamon peeling bark in winter and the colorful autumn foliage in shades of red and burgundy. While oakleaf hydrangea is a predominant species that occurs throughout North Georgia, the cultivar ‘Snowflake,’ a selection with double flowers, was planted in Gibbs Gardens.

Flowers on the oakleaf hydrangea occur on second year growth. You shouldn’t have to worry about pruning, though, unless plants get too large for the area where you have them planted. If space is limited, try one of the dwarf cultivars like ‘Pee Wee’ or ‘Sikes Dwarf.’ Both of them grow more in the range of 2- to 4-feet tall and wide compared to the species that can easily reach 8- to 10-feet tall.

Smooth hydrangeas

'Annabelle' hydrangeas at Gibbs Gardens

‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas at Gibbs Gardens

Another native hydrangea with white flowers that occur on current season’s growth is the smooth hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens, known to many for one of its selections, ‘Annabelle.’ The flowers, anywhere from 4 to 6 inches across and up to 12 inches in diameter, remind me of lace.

Later bloomers

Those are just a few of the hydrangeas blooming now. As summer continues, selections of Hydrangea paniculata, like ‘Limelight’ and ‘Tardiva,’ will take center stage. Both of those thrive in full sun and bloom on current season’s growth, so you don’t have to worry about pruning off potential flower buds.

Tips for Growing Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas and Japanese maples at Gibbs Gardens

Hydrangeas and Japanese maples at Gibbs Gardens

  1. Grow a variety of types so that you have a long season of bloom.
  2. Fertilize once or twice in the summer but not after August. Follow directions on the package for amounts, and don’t over fertilize.
  3. Don’t fertilize sick or unhealthy plants.
  4. Keep plants watered during dry spells.
  5. Prune mophead types as soon as they finish blooming, but don’t overdo it.
  6. Hydrangea paniculata types can be pruned back to about 12 inches tall early in the season (March) before new growth begins. If you prune later, the flowers will be delayed.
  7. Combine hydrangeas with evergreens and perennials for the best effect.
  8. Hydrangeas make great container plants. Adjust the watering and fertilizer as needed.

Visit Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Ga., June 15 through December 11, Wednesdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. During June and September, the Gardens stay open for Twilight “Live” Music on Saturday nights. Check the website for more information.

ericaErica Glasener is the marketing manager for Gibbs Gardens. A horticulturist, author and lecturer, Erica was the award-winning host of HGTV’s “A Gardener’s Diary” for 14 years. Erica is the author of “Proven Plants: Southern Gardens.” She is also the co-author with Walter Reeves of “Getting Started with Gardening in Georgia,” and “Month-by-Month Gardening in Georgia,” revised edition.

Discover May Flowers in North Georgia’s Fairyland

Rock City's Rhododendron Trail

Rock City’s Rhododendron Trail

Atop Lookout Mountain, high in North Georgia where the mountains touch Tennessee, a drive around town reveals street names like Cinderella Road, Red Riding Hood Trail, Pied Piper Street and Tinkerbell Lane. When you’re here, you’re in Fairyland.

Now known as Rock City Gardens, the town that is also an attraction celebrates its heritage and its flowers each year during the Southern Blooms Festival (May 14-15, 2016), an event celebrating Rock City’s founding gardener, Frieda Utermoehlen Carter. It was her vision that helped make Rock City into the attraction it is today.

In addition to seeing the flowers, the festival offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy live harp music, take a historical walking tour though the gardens, savor delicious Southern cuisine, make your own Fairy Garden, get a makeover from a Southern belle and see seven states.

Fireworks Gomphrena

Before you go, be sure to check out this 360-degree tour.

Can’t make it on May 14-15? On May 21, Rock City celebrates its 84th Founder’s Day complete with 84-cent German chocolate fudge.

Fun fact: Lookout Mountain Fairyland Club is the birthplace of miniature golf in the United States. The first course was called Tom Thumb Golf.

eileen-1437426635-thumb-230-230-10-58-1000-783-90Eileen Falkenberg-Hull is Georgia’s official Festival Explorer and the editor of Occupy My Family, the Atlanta area’s most comprehensive resource for family fun. Click here for more Festival content from Eileen.

Fabulous Flowers – Azaleas and Rhododendrons for Southern Gardens

In May, evergreen rhododendrons and late blooming azaleas put on a show at Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Ga.

In May, rhododendrons and azaleas put on a show at Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Ga.

Spring is a lovely season to visit gardens in Georgia. Blooms are abundant, and temperatures are usually mild. Favorite shrubs and trees include daffodils, dogwoods, azaleas, viburnums, mountain laurel and rhododendrons.

At Gibbs Gardens, there are hundreds of azaleas and rhododendrons blooming from early spring through summer. Some are deciduous (they lose their leaves at the end of the growing season and new foliage appears in spring), while others are evergreen. Certain varieties are ever-blooming like the Encore series, which flowers over a period of months.

White azalea in bloom in the Japanese Garden at Gibbs Gardens.

White azalea in bloom in the Japanese Garden at Gibbs Gardens.

For the purpose of clarification, it helps to know that all azaleas belong to the genus Rhododendron, but not all rhododendrons are azaleas. For example, the popular piedmont azalea, Rhododendron canescens, is a type of native azalea. In spring, it offers delightfully spicy sweet flowers that appear on bare branches before the new foliage emerges. Mature specimens may reach 10 feet to 15 feet tall over time.

Tried and true hybrid evergreen azaleas for Southern gardens include Indica, Kurume, Kaempferi and the Encore series. Southern Indica azaleas typically have large flowers and leaves. Popular selections include ‘Mrs. G.G. Gerbing’ with white flowers, ‘George L. Tabor’ with orchid-pink flowers and ‘Formosa’ with magenta flowers.

In late April, the native flame azalea, Rhododendron calendulaceum arrives on the scene with striking flowers that range from yellow to orange to scarlet.

Flame Azalea at Gibbs Gardens

Flame Azalea at Gibbs Gardens

Later in May or early June, the air is filled with the perfume of the swamp azalea, Rhododendron viscousum. This native tolerates wet soils but will grow happily in average garden soils, provided it gets regular water.

A perennial favorite of both humans and butterflies is Rhododendron prunifolium, the plumleaf azalea with stunning red to bright orange blooms that appear in late July to August. Plants can easily grow to heights of 15 feet or taller.

Large leaf evergreen rhododendrons are not the first plant that comes to mind for Southern gardens, but with the right location and adequate moisture, there are a number of selections, both native and exotic, that thrive. A few stalwart selections are listed below.  When possible, look for “Iron Clad selections.” These are well suited to tolerate the extreme heat and humidity we experience in the South.

Anna Rose Whitney rhododendron at Gibbs Gardens

Anna Rose Whitney rhododendron at Gibbs Gardens

Rhododendron “Anna Rose Whitney” – deep pink flowers

Rhododendron ‘Janet Blair’ – pink, cream and gold flowers

Rhododendron ‘Nova Zembla’ – deep red flowers, almost bluish red

Rhododendron ‘Roseum Elegans’ – lavender pink flowers

Rhododendron ‘Scintillation’ – pink flowers

For the best effect in your own garden, combine native and ornamental rhododendrons with other plants, including hydrangeas and Japanese maples.

Consider color, texture, form and fragrance, too. With some thought and planning, your garden can offer fabulous flowers for months.

Visit Gibbs Gardens this month to see these brilliant blooms and enjoy a number of special events, including Mother’s Day Brunch in a Box and strolling musicians on May 8, an arts and crafts show May 14-15, and the Twilight “Live” Music Series May 21 and 28. Find the full calendar online.

ericaErica Glasener is the marketing manager for Gibbs Gardens. A horticulturist, author and lecturer, Erica was the award-winning host of HGTV’s “A Gardener’s Diary” for 14 years. Erica is the author of “Proven Plants: Southern Gardens.” She is also the co-author with Walter Reeves of “Getting Started with Gardening in Georgia,” and “Month-by-Month Gardening in Georgia,” revised edition.

Three Gardens for Mother’s Day with the Kids

Looking for beautiful blooms and a world of color for Mother’s Day? We’re sharing three of our favorite Georgia gardens that are brimming with color. Take a break and visit on your own, or bring the entire family for a day of exploring these magnificent marvels.

Dunaway Gardens in Newnan, Ga.

Dunaway Gardens in Newnan, Ga.

Dunaway Gardens

This haven in Newnan was once a large theatrical training ground for producers, directors and performers. It’s the South’s largest natural rock and floral garden, with 12 scenic spots, three waterfalls and several ponds. Check the website before you go; it is not open to the public everyday. I must say, it is one of my favorites in the state — pure heaven. Bring your camera! Meat ‘N Greet on the nearby square is a great stop for lunch. See this post of my visit to Dunaway Garden with the kids.

Smith-Gilbert Gardens in Kennesaw, Ga.

Smith-Gilbert Gardens in Kennesaw, Ga.

Smith-Gilbert Gardens

Tucked away in Kennesaw is a hidden gem with flowers, trails, sculptures and more. My family loves the waterfall, children’s garden and koi pond. We recommend bringing a picnic to enjoy under the shade trees. If you can’t make it for Mother’s Day, then consider visiting during one of their programs for children: young chefs, garden stories or the young explorer’s lineup. See this post of my visit to Smith-Gilbert Gardens with the kids.

Photo courtesy Gibbs Gardens, Facebook.

Photo courtesy Gibbs Gardens, Facebook.

Gibbs Gardens

220 acres in Ball Ground include 24 ponds, 32 bridges and 19 waterfalls. You’ll spy blooming annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees all year round, plus enjoy educational events, musicians, festivals and more throughout the year. We have a season pass here and enjoy every season with anticipation for the next. Mother’s Day features strolling musicians and Brunch in a Box for an affordable $15.

For many more trip ideas to beautiful Georgia gardens, visit ExploreGeorgia.org.

LesliLesli Peterson is Georgia’s official Family Explorer and the owner of 365AtlantaFamily, which offers a daily dose of inspiration for metro-area families. Click here for more Family content from Lesli.

Daffodils at Gibbs Gardens Herald Spring’s Arrival

golden daffodils at Gibbs Gardens

Millions of golden daffodils cover 50 acres of hills and fields at Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Ga.

Spring is in the air at Gibbs Gardens with millions of golden daffodils covering  50 acres of rolling hills and fields. This March to mid-April, you only have to travel to Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground (just an hour north of Atlanta) to see 20 million of these enchanting blooms in colors of yellow, orange, pink and white, and all shades between.

Daffodils at Gibbs Gardens. Photo by Britt Else.

Daffodils at Gibbs Gardens. Photo by Britt Else.

Stroll along paths, traverse hills and wander through the woods to experience this amazing site. More than 100 varieties are represented and include early, mid and late blooming selections. A spectacular display, the daffodils put on a show for about six weeks, beginning March 1. Peak bloom occurs about the second and third week in March.

daffodil-pair-web

Spend a few hours or the whole day to view one of the largest displays of daffodils in the nation. Gibbs Gardens is an official American Daffodil Society Display Garden, one of only 25 gardens from 15 states in the U.S. Enjoy lunch at the Arbor Café, where you may choose from sandwiches on fresh bread or salads. Save room for homemade dessert, too.

Gardening tips for daffodils

Daffodils are rewarding and easy to grow. Here are some facts and tips about these reliable spring bulbs.

Daffodils. Photo by Rick Cannon.

Photo by Rick Cannon.

  • Daffodils are poisonous, and pesky deer or squirrels won’t eat them.
  • Daffodils are perennials and will bloom for years and years in the same spot.
  • For fabulous spring flowers, plant daffodil bulbs in the fall, once the soil temperatures cool, usually in October, November and December.
  • Plant bulbs at a depth that is 2-3 times the width of the bulb.
  • Plant daffodils in full sun or part-shade.
  • Plant in drifts for a natural effect.
  • Plant fragrant types like “Cheerfulness,” “Sir Winston Churchill,” and “Actaea.”
  • Remember as you’re planting that daffodils always turn their faces to the sun.
  • After they bloom, don’t cut down foliage until 1/3 of it has turned yellow. This will ensure good blooms the following year.

Visiting Gibbs Gardens

Daffodils on Holly Hill

Daffodils on Holly Hill

Gibbs Gardens open for the season on March 1, 2016. Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Last admission is 4 p.m.) Admission is $20 for adults, Seniors (65 and older) $18, Children $10

Special Events in March

March 12 and 13: The first 100 visitors will receive a free daffodil.

March 25 at 2 p.m.: Book signing and Q & A with daffodil expert Sara Van Beck. Purchase a copy of her book Daffodils in American Gardens, 1773-1940.

March 26 & 27: Plein air artists paint in the gardens.

ericaErica Glasener is the marketing manager for Gibbs Gardens. A horticulturist, author and lecturer, Erica was the award-winning host of HGTV’s “A Gardener’s Diary” for 14 years. Erica is the author of “Proven Plants: Southern Gardens.” She is also the co-author with Walter Reeves of “Getting Started with Gardening in Georgia,” and “Month-by-Month Gardening in Georgia,” revised edition.