By Walt Harrison

I live about 30 miles outside of Atlanta. It’s not a suburban area – it’s the country.

My neighbors live several stone throws away and the state owns most of the land around me as part of Panola Mountain State Conservation Park. There is a small cemetery on the park property and it’s very old or you could say it’s been there a very long time. Some of the tombstones are no more than slabs of rough stone planted in the ground with no names or dates.

Many, many years ago a large number of English boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’) were planted in the cemetery. I first saw these boxwood almost 30 years ago and I know for a fact that these plants have never been watered, fertilized or pruned since that time, at least. Yet they are perfectly healthy and as beautiful as any English box I have ever seen.

This brings me to my point: I believe people spend too much time, effort and too many resources (water, fertilizer, insecticide, i.e., money) on their plants when often the best thing to do is leave the plants alone. After all, plants evolved over millions of years without our help.

To be successful in the garden, one must learn something about a plant’s basic needs – mostly sun or mostly shade; rich soil or poor soil; lots of water or just occasional water – and then treat accordingly. All new plantings need more water at first but keep a close eye out to determine if you are overwatering. If the soil around the plant is moist, it probably doesn’t need watering. It’s the opinion of many people in my profession that far more plants are killed by overwatering than under watering.

As for fertilizers, I’m big on organic simply because they provide a steady source of nutrients over time. This makes for good roots, strong stems and healthy foliage. There is no need to constantly fertilize most plants.

Spraying and applying insecticides and fungicides can be tricky. I generally don’t like to spray unless the plant or plants are truly threatened or if the disease or insect in question causes the appearance of the plant to be truly objectionable. For instance, Leafminer on American boxwoods (Buxus sempervirens) will cause serious leaf drop and eventually ruin the plant. A late winter spraying and ground soak with a systemic insecticide called Merit will take care of this problem. Remember, well-planted healthy plants are a lot less susceptible to disease and insect damage.

I have to admit, although I love a well-planned, beautiful garden and landscape where combinations of texture, color and bloom sequence produce a great visual experience and I admire the gardeners who take the time and make the commitment to create these gardens, my garden is more about survival of the fittest. I bring home a plant I like or that I’m interested in, try to find an appropriate place for it and then see what happens. Believe me, these plants don’t get a lot of special care and attention.

Here are some of my favorite plants that have survived and done quite well in my garden.

My toad lily (Tricyrtis) is planted next to a large turquoise pot and the arching branches with light green new foliage and dark green older foliage work nicely with this color. Toad lily flowers but the plant is really about shades of green and texture. It’s planted in moist rich soil in filtered light and has thrived here for years. As wide as it is tall (4’x4’), the only care it gets is occasional watering and it gets cut back to the ground after a good frost.

The Bee Balm (Monarda didyma ‘Jacob Cline’ ) is in full sun and rich soil (I’ve seen Monarda didyma growing in full sun in poor soil along power cuts and doing very fine). This variety has big bright red flowers in late June and July. I always think that if seeing Monarda in full bloom doesn’t make you smile, you must have some real problem.

Our banana trees (Musa basjoo) are one of our old favorites. Habersham had a Vietnamese pig at the Garden Center (does anyone remember the late Hamlet of Habersham?) and banana leaves were his favorite food. Although Hamlet is gone, we still have the trees. They get knocked back to the ground every winter when the temperature falls into the 20’s but with a good layer of mulch for the winter, they come back every year. At my house, they grow 12 or more feet tall and are absolutely gorgeous.

Mexican petunia (Ruellia) is a new addition to the garden. Bright purple flowers start when it gets hot (July) and last through fall. Ruellia will grow over 4 feet tall and form big clumps so give it some room.

Other plants that I’ve successfully neglected are boxwood Buxus ‘Green Mountain’ and Buxus ‘Green Velvet’. These varieties are year-round evergreens that I trim about once a year. They are extremely drought tolerant even in pots and have proven to be very disease resistant as well. Really great, carefree plants.

The Brown Turkey Fig not only has great foliage but I eat fresh figs every year so I prune this plant once in a while so I can more easily reach the fruit before the birds do.

I consider myself a casual gardener. I like plants that thrive and don’t take a lot of work. There are a lot more plants like this out there and I’ll be glad to help you find them.

Fall is coming and with it cool weather, football and absolutely the best time to plant so visit your local independent garden center this fall and see what great stuff is out there. You’ll find people willing and able to answer questions about gardening and landscaping and to help you find the things you need to be successful in the garden. We look forward to seeing you.

Walt Harrison is the owner of Habersham Gardens, 2067 Manchester St., in Morningside. For more, visit habershamgardens.com.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.

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