Garden Information

Tick Repellent Home Recipe

– Shared by Robert Cope, CCMGA Member

20 drops Lemongrass Essential Oil
20 drops Eucalyptus Essential Oil
4 ounces water
Combine all ingredients in a small spray bottle. Shake well and apply to shoes, socks and pant cuffs. Safe for humans and dogs.

CCMGA Member Gardening Articles

The First Time …

Growing Camellias From Seed

Gardening Memories

Hot House Horrors


These gardening articles were written by CCMGA members for publication in the monthly Prime Magazine
A Gardener’s Holiday (renamed Birds of Winter by Prime) – Submitted by Lynette Morse
How cold was the freeze we just had?  It was so cold there were five cardinals in my backyard.  Normally,  my regular married cardinal couple that own my property would not tolerate any other adult birds near the feeders.  But this was so cold the birds were eating shoulder to shoulder with each other.  Of course, I spent every minute I could watching from my hide (two glass doors with some reflective film between them so us humans are invisible to the wildlife outside).

In the intense cold I just spread a whole lot of bought seed on the ground, and then hurried inside to watch what happened.  A flock of redwinged blackbirds arrived and dispatched quite a bit of the food, but finches, yellow tails, Juncos, wrens and chickadees helped.  The blackbirds often tyrannized everyone else, yet each type of bird had their own way of sneaking seeds away.  The other birds acknowledged that since the blackbirds were a flock, they would be given priority.  (The mob comes to mind.)  Yet the birds don’t actually hurt each other.  They just threaten, sometimes by flapping their wings.  It’s striking how the smaller birds won’t just grab food and fly away like thieves.  Instead they sentinel for quite some time before they hastily peck for seeds.  The Juncos don’t cause any problems as they are ground feeders, taking whatever falls down (hence their name).  The chickadees dart away immediately they have a seed.  The wrens will wait for that time when no one else is there.  But the finches can be foiled by flocks of other birds, and they look as if they are a little aggrieved by it.

Perhaps the best spectacle was seeing the blackbirds disagreeing with each other.  No blackbird should trespass on another’s feeder, but if they do the two birds fly in circles facing each other and making a great flap so that their beautiful red underwings look quite flamboyant.  Wouldn’t it be good if we humans settled our disputes by just flapping and making a great show?  Or do we?

When the afternoons brought a little respite I went out to replenish the feeders, as these were desperate times.  I looked around for the blackbirds and there they all were, in the huge hackberry trees, all fluffed out and silent and well fed, a flock of little dark sentinels, keeping watch. Fortunately for the pine siskins I am not a neatnik.  I had intended to pull up some of the annual native plants that had run their course, but somehow I didn’t get “a round tuit”.  These tiny finches emerged and cleaned the dried seeds right off the plants, pulling the stems down to their level so they could guzzle them up.  In general, it’s better to leave the seeds on plants for as long as one can, in winter, so that birds can have the food.  I was glad to help out in this way.  And take a vacation.

 The robins looked for water but every bit of water out there was frozen solid.    They managed, I’m sure, until we thawed.  They’ll be laying their eggs any time now. What a contrast to summer scenes, with lizards and geckos and frogs.  It’s important to have loose soil as well as brush piles so these animals can escape the cold.  And further underground the creatures that make our soil fertile are comparatively unaffected by the freezing temperatures, so there will be a miraculous blossoming when spring arrives.  Soil that is chemical-free will help the ecosystem right along with the critters, and the soil will be improved with compost.

 When spring does roll around there may be quite a few sunflowers coming up in the backyard.  They will be a welcome addition to the plant variety there.   But there will not be many, because wild creatures don’t waste much, not in that cold.  Money well spent, on every single sunflower seed.And here in Alabama, spring may be right around the corner.  Step back, gardeners!  The pace of growth will be fast and furious.

Blooming and Fragrant in Winter?
Winter Daphne – Submitted by Christine Shoup

Daphne odora or winter Daphne is a winter-flowering shrub that can withstand our fickle weather that may be balmy one day and downright cold the next. With its irresistible fragrance and sweet nosegay-type flower clusters, this plant brightens the winter landscape.

Winter Daphne is an attractive, sparsely branched evergreen shrub, reaching about 3 feet in height and spread. It is grown for its wonderful fragrant tubular flowers and for its glossy foliage. The most common cultivar, ‘Aureomarginata’, has leaves with a narrow, irregular yellow margin. The plant produces terminal clusters of small flowers in February to early March that are crystalline white inside and deep purplish-pink outside. The flower of winter Daphne is highly regarded for its strong scent, possibly the most delightful scent of any flower. The flower clusters keep well in water, allowing one to appreciate the scent indoors. In the landscape, winter Daphne is best located near a well-traveled path or an outdoor courtyard where its fragrance can be best appreciated.

Winter Daphne can be challenging to grow. It does not tolerate soils with poor drainage. Root rot diseases associated with poorly drained soils are likely the major cause of failure in the landscape. Ideally, a deep, well-drained woodland soil with plenty of humus is best for this shrub. Plant in slightly raised beds or amended soil to ensure adequate drainage. Winter Daphne can tolerate full sun, but does best in a protected area providing moderate shade. The plant needs to be irrigated during periods of drought, but is considerably tolerant of drought episodes. It does not heal well from cuts into mature wood so it is best to avoid pruning. However, “pinching” or taking cuttings from the tips of long shoots on the current year’s growth makes the plant fuller and more floriferous.
– Courtesy of the North Carolina Extension Service.

Variegated PlantsBy Dr. Barbara Witt
Variegated plants are those wonderful plants with interesting leaves with cream, gold, yellow, light green or white patterns on them that bring light and a glow to the darker corners of your garden. This characteristic is helpful in keeping your garden attractive when the perennials and shrubs have stopped blooming and are just green masses.

Most variegation results from an accident of nature called a “sport”, a genetic variation that blocks the production of chlorophyll that is needed to transfer the sun’s energy to the plant. The gold, cream, yellow and light green variegation results from a lesser production of chlorophyll while the white variegation means there is no chlorophyll being produced. Some variegation is a result of a virus that has infected the plant. Perhaps the most famous plant virus that resulted in variegation was the one that was responsible for “tulipomania” in Holland in the 17th century where the demand for tulips with streaked petals hugely inflated the cost of the bulbs creating a bubble that burst and brought down the tulip market.

In general most variegated plants are less vigorous than their green counterparts. The reduction in vigor is accounted for by the lack of chlorophyll. The parts of the plant that are variegated are also more susceptible to disease and insects. Look at the variegation found in most gardens and then think about how infrequently you find variegated plants in nature. Unless there is a distinct advantage to the variegation in nature such as attracting pollinators, variegation is a liability as those plants are not able to compete with plants that are all green. So variegated plants owe their survival to gardeners who find them beautiful and then nurture and propagate them.

Because of this lack of vigor and susceptibility to disease, these plants do require some careful placement in the garden. Generally they are shade loving plants but need sufficient light to allow the green part of the leaves to photosynthesize enough energy to keep the plant alive and growing. Too much sun results in scorching the leaves.

Hostas are my favorite variegated perennial with their gorgeous patterns of white color on the outside or center of the leaves or green and yellow in different patterns. Use them as border plants or create a hosta garden with many different colors, patterns and sizes of hostas. This is a plant that is easily divided to increase the number of plants or to share with friends. Other great plants are huechera (coral bell), Japanese painted fern, cannas, liriope, and the groundcovers vinca, lamium, and stone crop sedums. There are more variegated grasses than you can count, most with the variegation in stripes going along the length of the leave. But there is a miscanthus called “Strictus” that has horizontal variegation of green and white and is just gorgeous.
Among the variegated shrubs the red twigged dogwoods are a favorite with interest all year long from beautiful white and green leaves in spring and summer to red branches in the winter. Acuba has gold variegation and grows well in shade while the newer abelias have wonderful gold, cream, and red coloration and can take the Alabama sun. The lacecap hydrangeas are startlingly beautiful while in bloom with blue flowers contrasting with the white and green leaves.

Think of planting variegated plants or shrubs when you have a shady spot in your garden that needs a bit of pizzazz. With a bit of care they will reward you with their beauty and interest.

The Garden Habitat –  By Lynette Morse
Perhaps it’s because I like excitement in my backyard, or because I like help with chores, or maybe I was searching for a cost-free hobby, but in the final analysis, I just like critters.  So after watching the National Wildlife Federation TV shows a few years back, I developed a wildlife habitat in my backyard.  And it has proved to be a source of unending joy and fascination.

Excitement?  How about the first sound of toads in spring?  They made it through the winter, they like my garden because it is chemical-free, and they will clean up my space throughout the summer, keeping it free of mosquitos and gnats and suchlike.   A broken pot is a thing of beauty in my garden as it is a toadhouse.

Help with chores?  Not having to fret about aphids is a luxury to gardeners:  my lizards form a brigade of small insect control, and patrol the premises from dawn to dusk.  They like loose rocks and bricks so they can warm up of a morning, and dart underneath to avoid predators.  How neat is it to watch a young skink move slowly across your patio, a brilliant blue with brown markings, see him a few days later with his adult red head, but still with blue body, and then later in the summer, a fully grown adult several inches long?  I can see them up close from my “hide” (some reflecting film between two glass doors in the back room lets me see them but they can’t see me.)

Is it cost-free?  Well, almost.  I had to replace conventional plants with natives, but the natives don’t complain about my lousy soil, nor do they have that much of a problem with all the heat, drought, cold and floods that are thrown at them. So they have been a great investment. Once they’re established, they excel, and the excitement factor reappears when, for instance, the Joe Pyeweed is being eaten by – something, which is using it as a host plant.  (Information on local native plants is at

Considering how important bees are, it’s gratifying to watch them energize over clover and redbud. If you’re into butterflies, you’ll have a butterfly bush or milkweed for them as well as all the other flowers.  And, you’ll get rid of that bird feeder in the summer – or the birds will eat your butterflies. If you keep their birdbath clean and filled you’ll have birds all summer long – just not in the large numbers a winter feeder attracts.  These days I have a thrasher coming to take a daily bath.  She is pretty wary, though, so she uses the water dish on the ground.  We have a hawk around here, and there is an utter flutter in the backyard when Hawk comes by to terrorize the neighborhood.  

Guidelines are at,  for another dimension in your garden.

My Grandfather’s Garden – By Jerry Belcher
My grandfather passed away 47 years ago, but my loving memories of him are something that I will take to my grave. Recently I was in my garden, my mind wandering as it is prone to do there. I thought about my Grandfather and a memory long dormant in my subconscious opened up like a fog lifting from the surface of a pond on a cool, autumn morning. I remembered that I used to help him tend his garden. 

As a five-year-old in Ohio, I helped him plant seeds that would grow into beautiful pansies, violets and morning glories behind his home on Walnut Street. I would get down on my knees beside him as he tended his irises, and watched in astonishment as he cut down three rose bushes — only to watch them bloom, in all their glory, later that Spring and Summer. He also had a number of peony and lilac bushes that bloomed into magnificent colored flowers. I used to watch ants crawl up the peonies and asked why they were always on the bulbs. Grandpa said that they liked the ‘juice’ that the flowers gave and that was a good enough explanation for me. As far as I was concerned, my Grandpa knew everything there was to know about gardening.

Grandpa had not always been the gardener in the family. That job had been my grandmother’s and those were really her flowers. He took over the gardening when she died. By keeping her flowers growing, it was his way to keep some part of her still living and with him. He nurtured that garden for many years without me, his one-time assistant. I was preoccupied with teenage adventures, too busy to help him. When age finally caught up with him, he reluctantly accepted the fact that the flowers would henceforth only grow in his memories, and somehow, I think he was content with that. His flowers, my grandmother, and soon he, himself, were all soon together again. Maybe that was how it was meant to be all along.

In my opinion, there is no better or loving gift we can give to our children or grandchildren than to introduce them to gardening. They will be thankful that you included them in your gardening — some day, long after we are only a loving memory in their hearts.


Montgomery Botanical Garden – By Betsy Coley
If tourists from out of state stopped you on the street and asked directions to Montgomery Botanical Garden, what would you tell them? “Blount Cultural Park, off the Eastern Bypass at exit 6 on I-85, has some beautiful flowers. The Shakespeare Garden at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival is especially lovely.” Or perhaps your response would be, “We have some nice parks all around town and some of them have majestic old trees.” And if you are downtown near the river, you might suggest, “The Downtown Urban Farm is over beside the river. There are vegetable beds there.” Actually, the correct answer would be, “Montgomery doesn’t have a botanical garden. The closest one is in Birmingham, 90 miles north.”

While each of these Montgomery locations has some aspect of gardening, none of them would be classified as a botanical garden. According to the Botanic Garden Conservation International (, Botanic gardens are institutions holding documented collections of living plants for the purposes of scientific research, conservation, display and education.”
Dream with me, if you will, of visiting the future Montgomery Botanical Garden. You are walking down a sunlit path admiring a variety of flowering shrubs, then you turn off into a woodland setting with shade trees, wildflowers, and a bench where you can sit and relax. You might want to join me as I stroll with my young granddaughter while I point out the brightly colored flowers. Our next stop might be at the interactive children’s garden that she has heard about from her cousins who have been to the Botanical Garden on school field trips and learned about healthy eating in the vegetable garden. Perhaps they watch a local chef cooking fresh vegetables during a demonstration at the outdoor kitchen.
If you are a serious gardener, you no doubt will notice labels on the plants and photograph plants you might want to add to your home garden. Perhaps you’ll meet a friend at the Garden Café for lunch, browse through the gift shop and then attend a workshop on planting bulbs. Then there are the Research Labs that might be out of sight, but they are a vital part of any botanical garden, since conservation is part of the mission. Serious horticultural science is going on there.
A Botanical Garden adds to the quality of life in a city. It obviously provides citizens with a wonderful place to enjoy and learn about the world of plants. In addition, it’s an important aspect for attracting new economic development and expanding tourism. Currently there are four Botanical Gardens in Alabama. Here is a quick rundown with a few of their highlights. For more information, visit their websites:

Birmingham Botanical Gardens (, 67.5 acres, 25 unique gardens, 12,000 different types of plants, largest public horticulture library in the US;
Mobile Botanical Gardens (, 100 acres, cultivated areas and natural habitats, classes and guided tours;
Huntsville Botanical Garden (, 112 acres, nature trail, vegetable garden, aquatic garden;
Dothan Area Botanical Gardens (, 50 acres, outdoor classroom, wedding garden, Southern Heirloom Garden.

Gardening with Succulents – By Dr. Barbara Witt
My childhood summers were spent on Cape Ann in Massachusetts where the weather is influenced by the closeness of the Atlantic Ocean. There was not much rain but it was frequently damp, the soil was rocky, and the sun could be intense.  One of the plants that thrived in this environment was the succulent called “hens and chickens”, a small rosette shaped plant with a central “hen” surrounded by off-shoots of little “chicks”. I loved the growth habit and their seeming ability to grow almost anywhere including cracks and crevices where there was only tiny amounts of soil. When I started gardening as an adult, this plant properly called Sempervivum meaning always alive was one of the first to go into my garden. Now it is 60 years later and I still have some of the Sempervivum from Cape Ann growing in my garden. The architectural shapes, the colors, and their hardiness continue to fascinate me.
What are the characteristics that make a plant a member of the succulent family?  All succulents are able to store water in their tissues using their specialized structures  and to live in hostile environments. The tall columnar cactus is a succulent most people recognize; it stores water internally expanding or contracting its shape according to conditions. The spines of the cactus are part of its strategy for collecting moisture for future use as the spines expand the surface area of the plant and allow it to collect moisture from the air. All cacti are succulents but not all succulents are cacti. This article will focus on leaf succulents such as the Sempervivum mentioned above.
There are many families in the leaf succulent category including the jade plant, kalanchoe, aloe, and agave. One that is frequently grown in our gardens is the sedum, Autumn Joy. People frequently make the error of treating these plants like most other plants and water and fertilize them too generously resulting in rotted plants or spindly floppy plants. Remember these succulents evolved to survive in hostile environments so to enjoy them and keep them shapely, treat them with tough love. Water infrequently, not more often than every two weeks and less frequently for larger plants. In the winter they are dormant so water even less. If the leaves, where they store water, start to wither, you know they are thirsty. Pot them in a soil that drains rapidly and place them in a bright window in the winter and outside in the summer.  Fertilize lightly in the spring.
Growing succulents in Alabama is a bit of a challenge as the humidity is too much for most of them. The leaf succulents mentioned do very well as house plants and there are many creative ways of using containers to grow the hens and chicks and other small succulents that do not do well in the garden. For example, any discarded watering can, wheel barrow or birdbath is lovely filled with succulents. Just be sure to provide excellent drainage and move it into the garage on cold winter days. Most are hardy to 40 degrees or a bit lower. The way I currently enjoy my succulents is in dish gardens or growing in a living wreath where the various textures and colors complement each other.
Try growing succulents in your house or garden but remember to treat them rough.

A Dream Come True
The Montgomery Botanical Gardens – By Eileen Webb
It was just meant to be. If you search the grounds of Oak Park, you will find an historic marker that includes the following sentence. “In February of 1965, the City Commission voted to reopen its recreational parks with Oak Park as a botanical garden.”  Many years have passed since that date without the botanical garden coming to fruition.  It took a passionate group of citizens, educators and gardeners in the area, all coming together, to promote the idea of making it happen by planning, organizing and approaching city leaders.

On Thursday, November 7th, it became official. The ground breaking ceremony took place on an overcast windy day with rain clouds all around , but not a drop fell. Mayor Todd Strange spoke of what the gardens will mean to the city, the community and visitors to Montgomery.  The Montgomery Garden Club  provided the delicious refreshments at the inspiring groundbreaking ceremony lead by Lallie Rogers who is the great, great grandchild of the Josephs, who were the former land owners of the Oak Park Property.

Heather Coleman and Ethel Dozier Boykin, both key players in promoting the project, presented the master  landscape which are currently on display at the park. It was created by Ethel  Dozier Boykin and Fairlie Rinehart and features the following specialty gardens:
Alabama Native Plants, Children’s Garden, Biblical Garden, Japanese Garden, Fern, Hosta and Hydrangea Garden, Ground Cover Garden, Butterfly Garden , Rose Garden, Rock Garden, Conifer, Holly and Evergreen Garden and a Serenity Garden.  The park is the perfect venue for future adult enrichment programs in gardening, botany, nature-related art, floral design, bird watching, botanical crafts, photography and health and wellness as well as children’s outdoor classroom activities.

The park will be a key destination for the city with the following concepts of its role developed by the Montgomery Botanical Garden Board of Directors.

–    A destination location for those traveling through Montgomery and for our citizens.
–    A natural science-based educational experience.
–    A role model for environmentally sound, sustainable horticultural practices.
–    An important and profitable venue for events and functions.
–    A plant collections-based living museum.
–    A museum of Alabama outdoor art.

Committees are being formed if you would like to sign up for any of the following:
Steering, fund raising, events planning, strategic planning, history, membership, plant procurement, finance and budgeting, research and park development.

How can you help? The gardens will be developed in stages as money and hands are available. If you would like to help volunteer to work in the gardens, doing something as simple as weeding, providing refreshments for volunteers, or helping on a committee, please email: You may also make donations in memory of a loved one or in honor of someone. Honor bricks will be sold in the near future for paving in a garden near the front entrance.  Please send donations to: Montgomery Botanical Gardens, P.O. Box 344, Montgomery, Alabama 36101. For many, Oak Park is only a memory but it now has a bright future role as a major recreational and educational asset in the River Region. Come watch the transformation taking place in our once beloved park. It will be an exciting journey. Be a part of it.