A Visit With Greg Grant

This past weekend Sally and I went to deep East Texas to spend a day with the noted horticulturist, historian, speaker and all around good guy, Greg Grant.  Greg and I share several friends and we both write for Texas Gardener.  However, because of our crazy schedules, we have never had the opportunity to just hang out.

My wife with Greg in front of Camellia sinensis. If you are not familiar with the Latin, this is the bush that gives us tea! This is one of many rare and interesting plants you can see at the SFA Mast Arboretum.

I was very excited to get this opportunity because I have so much respect for Greg.  In my opinion, he is the best horticulturist anywhere.  In fact, if my website gave awards he would be in the Hall of Fame and he would hold the honor of Master of Horticulture of the Century!  No kidding, Greg really is that awesome.  Here is an excerpt from his speaker’s bio:

To me, nothing says "Southern Garden" better than a tire garden. Here, Dawn Stover's students in the SFA School of Agriculture have made a very productive and attractive vegetable and herb garden out of discarded tires

“In addition to horticulturist, Greg is a conservationist, writer, and seventh generation Texan from Arcadia, Texas.  He is the author of Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, In Greg’s Garden-A Pineywoods Perspective on Gardening, Nature, and Family (2010-Kindle), and  co-author of Heirloom Gardening in the South-Yesterday’s Plants for Today’s Gardens, Texas Home Landscaping  and The Southern Heirloom Garden.  He also writes the popular “In Greg’s Garden” column for Texas Gardener magazine and contributes regularly to Neil Sperry’s Gardens magazine.  He also writes a monthly gardening blog for Arbor Gate Nursery (aborgate.com). In addition to all of this, he still finds time to serves as a part time research associate for garden outreach at Stephen F. Austin State University’s SFA Gardens in Nacogdoches, Texas.

Greg has degrees in floriculture and horticulture from Texas A&M University and has attended post graduate classes at Louisiana State University, North Carolina State University, and Stephen F. Austin State University.  He has past experience as a horticulturist with the Pineywoods Native Plant Center, Mercer Arboretum, and San Antonio Botanical Gardens, an instructor at Stephen F. Austin and Louisiana State Universities, an award winning horticulturist with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, director of research and development at Lone Star Growers, and on the staff of Naconiche Gardens and The Antique Rose Emporium.

Greg with a mass of John Fanick Phlox. This is one of many plants Greg has introduced to the nursery trade

Greg has introduced a number of successful plants to the Texas nursery industry including: Blue Princess verbena, dwarf pink Mexican petunia, Gold Star esperanza, Laura Bush and VIP petunias, John Fanick phlox, Stars and Stripes pentas, Pam’s Pink honeysuckle, Lecompte vitex, Henry and Augusta Duelberg sages, Big Momma and Pam Puryear Turk’s Cap, Peppermint Flare Hibiscus, and the Marie Daly and Nacogdoches (Grandma’s Yellow) roses.  He was presented the Superior Service Award by the Texas Agricultural Extension Service and the Lynn Lowery Memorial Award by the Native Plant Society of Texas for horticultural achievement in the field of Texas native plants.

He has traveled extensively to hundreds of botanical gardens throughout the United States and Europe and has given over one thousand entertaining lectures.  He is a graduate of the Benz School of Floral Design, a member of the Garden Writers Association of America, and a lifetime member of the Native Plant Society of Texas, the Southern Garden History Society, the Texas Bluebird Society, and the Big Thicket Association.  His garden, farm, and plant introductions have been featured in a number of magazines and newspapers including Texas Gardener, Texas Live, Texas Co-op Power, Woman’s Day, Farm and Ranch News, The Dallas Morning News, The San Antonio Express News, and The Houston Chronicle

Sally explores quilts made by Greg's grand mothers. Greg has not only loving restored both of his grandparent's homes, he has preserved and still uses, many of their furnishings.

Greg lives and writes in deep East Texas in his grandparent’s dogtrot farmhouse that he has lovingly restored.  He tends a small cottage garden, a vegetable garden, a patch of sugar cane, a flock of laying hens, and over one hundred bluebird houses.”

As you can tell, Greg is the kind of guy that anyone would love to spend a day with.  As his bio shows, he is VERY accomplished.  However, the bio doesn’t tell the whole story.  Greg is as open, friendly, and funny as he is accomplished.  Even though we had only met in passing, Sally and I both felt we had known him our lives.  He was such a great host and he never seemed to tire of endless questions. 

Greg showed us so much during our visit that there is no way to cover it in one post.  So, check back over the next few days to hear all of the amazing things that Greg shared with in Nacogdoches, at Stephen F. Austin University and in the thriving metropolis of Arcadia, Texas.

If you want to learn more about how to grow just about everything  or explore how our Southern history and culture is reflected in, and shaped by, the plants from the past, buy one or more of Greg’s books.  With six in print and one on kindle, this Master of Horticulture is sure to have something that is perfect for you.  Two of my favorites are featured in my sidebar!

Crimson Glory Antique Rose

A cloeup of the antique rose "Crimson Glory" in my front bed

When we bought our house it was almost devoid of ornamental plantings.  The previous owner must not have been much of a gardener.  However, he did leave behind a truly remarkable and beautiful rose called Climbing Crimson Glory.

A couple of months ago I did an article for Texas Gardener about how drought resistant antique roses have proven to be.  As you will see in the attached pictures, Crimson Glory is a testament to their durability.  Not only did this rose survive last year’s drought, it has produced more flowers this year than ever before.  AND … it did all of this in spite of the fact that I had just dug it up and moved it in March of last year.  Now that is durable!

Crimson Glory is not a true climber.  It is what some call a “mannerly climber”.  It has fairly thick canes that can be 12’ to 15’ long.  Instead of wrapping around an arbor, this rose is best tied along the top of a fence.  And that is exactly why I moved it.  It had been in front of our porch for about ten years.  However, last spring, I built a picket fence.  I knew this rose would be the perfect choice to put in front of the new white fence.  As you can see, it loves its new location and does not seem to mind that I ripped it out a place that it was pretty happy in.

The deep red color and lemon-y scent makes Crimson Glory my favorite rose in my garden

According to Mike Shoup (owner of The Antique Rose Emporium), both Crimson Glory and Climbing Crimson Glory are a great choice for anyone that wants a rose that “looks and smells like a rose is supposed to”.  With its deep red, velvety petals and bright yellow stamens, Climbing Glory will be a stand out in any garden.  Plus it’s beautiful, lemony scent makes it the perfect addition to those romantic, hand cut bouquets that can only come from a home garden.

Don't the deep red flowers look levely against the white picket fence?

If you have avoided roses in the past because they require so much pruning and spraying, give antique varieties a try.  These roses require less maintenance and trimming than modern hybrids.  They thrive in full sun and can with stand the worst drought in Texas history.  All they ask from you is about an inch of water per week and two good mulching a year with a high quality, finished compost.  Give them a try and I am certain you will be as impressed with their performance as this old gardener!

Garden Art

In my opinion, no garden is complete without garden art.  While it is true that a well designed garden needs no artificial elements to be beautiful, the addition of art allows the garden to become truly represenative of the gardener.

The Clio Garden at Bayou Bend after a heavy spring rain. Note the Italian marble statue of Clio, the muse of history

All of my gardening experience has happened in the South.  And one thing that I have learned about Southern gardeners is they love their garden art.  Garden art in the south ranges from the truly tacky (tire and toilet planters) to the truly elegant (the Greek Muses at Bayou Bend), but it all says something about the garden and the gardener. 

Garden art in Dr. Bill Welch's Louisiana garden cosists of an antique iron headboard, a whirlygig and a tire planter from his friend, Felder Rushing

Felder Rushing is a true Master of Horticulture who has done more to promote rural Southern garden art than anyone I know.  He is extremely found of bottle trees.  His website has a whole section devoted to them.  He also has a ton of pictures of the tire planters that he uses in his own gardens.  He even has a picture in one of his speaking presentations of a large stand of elephant ears with big black numbers spray painted on them.  When he saw this he pulled over and the owner what the numbers represented.  She quickly informed him that they were the numbers of the NASCAR drivers that she loved.  Now that is creative self expression in the garden!

My bust of St. Francis from Jim Jeffries of Crockett, Texas

I myself have a lot of this art scattered throughout my property.  One of my favorite pieces is a fairly large bust of St. Francis from Jim Jeffries of Crockett, Texas.   He was very good friends with my mother-in-law Pat Krischke.  The bust is a head cast of a large sculpture that he did of St. Francis playing with a deer and a wolf for St. Francis Catholic Church in Crockett.  Jim has now gone on to his heavenly reward and my mother-in-law is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s.  I miss them both dearly but this sculpture allows me to think of them every day.  Plus, it looks great behind my lantana.

The bottle tree in my potager

Bottle trees are probably the most common form of garden art in the South.  These trees take on a myriad of shapes and forms.  The tradition of the bottle tree was adapted from the African slaves of long ago.  In their native lands they believed that they could ward off evil spirits by hanging pieces of brightly colored glass in the trees around their homes.  They continued to do this once they were here.  This tradition evolved from hanging pieces of glass to placing whole bottle in the limbs of trees.  It was believed that the evil spirits would become trapped in the bottles.  It is also believed that the haunting “woooo” sounds that come from the wind blowing over the bottles are the cries of the trapped spirits.  I don’t know about you, but I can always use some help keeping evil spirits at bay. 

A whimsical piece of garden art at the Antique Rose Emporium. I love the addition of the rubber ducky in the "water"

I recently bought a new camera.  In order to learn how to use it I headed out to the Antique Rose Emporium (ARE).  While the plants were beautiful (and they always are, even in July and August), my best shots were of the art that Mike Shoup and his designers have incorporated into their display gardens.  As you can see, some of the art was elegant, some whimsical and some of it was just down right “cute”.  But you know what, it all worked.  Each of these things represents the spirit of the owners and staff of this incredible place.

A fountain made from an old watering can at the ARE in Independence

There is no doubt that Spring is the best and most beloved time of the year of most gardeners.  So this year, while you are out there digging and planting, why not showcase your personality by adding some art to your yard, beds and borders.

Hyacinth Bean (Lablab purpureus)

The lovely foliage of the Hyacinth Bean on my trellis

This past spring I was at a garage sale at the home of a truly extraordinary horticulturist named Lorraine.  She and her daughter hold this sale every spring.  In addition to clothes and knick knacks, Lorraine sells plants.  You never know what she is going to have.  Many folks in town know that she can grow anything, so they bring her pots, seeds and cuttings.  She always turns them into beautiful plants that she then sells at ridiculously low prices.  She grows in compost that she makes herself.  She has a green house, the cutest potting shed in town, and a dang fine vegetable garden that she has been tending in the same spot for over 60 years.  She is truly incredible and I hope to someday be just like her.  I really admire her and I never miss her sale.  This year, she had three pots of hyacinth beans that I snatched up and took home.  Those three little four inch pots of hyacinth beans have turned out to be the best $3 I have spent all year!

This year, the first flowers on my hyacinth bean appeared in late July

I planted Lorraine’s starts in May at the base of the trellis that leads to my side yard.  This trellis is over 12’ at the top.  I planted two plants on one side and one on the other.  Since May, those three plants have grown and grown until they almost completely cover this huge trellis.  The foliage is striking and the pinky-purple flower spikes are extraordinary.  The bees, butterflies and wife love them. 

Planting –Plant your seeds outdoors after all danger of frost has passed.  You can also start them inside three or four weeks before the last frost.  Some folks recommend pre-sprouting the seeds in damp paper towels before planting.  However you get them to sprout, be sure and plant them in full sun. Hyacinth bean likes rich, well drained soil.  Water regularly to get them established.  Germination from seed can take about two weeks.  Once the plant starts to grow, provide regular water but do not over water.  They are relatively fast growing and should start producing flowers 45-60 days after germination.

My hyacinth bean bloomed for over a month before it set seeds.  Maybe that was because it was just so hot.  I saw my first flowers in July but I did not see my first seed pods until the first week of September.  The plant is still blooming and it is beginning to get covered in the deep purple, iridescent seeds pods that it is famous for.

The first of the deep purple seed pods appeared last week

Hyacinth beans send out long runners that are perfect for quickly covering a fence, building or trellis. If growing on a fence, they need no support.  To get mine to go up the trellis I tied the tendrils and shoots to the posts of my trellis using a jute-like twine.  Once I had the vines trained over the structure I let them go.  They soon sent out their long inflorescence of magenta flowers that make them so attractive.  The posts of my trellis are 4 ½ feet apart.  The inflorescences of these plants are now so long that you have to push your way through the flowers.

Flower petals from the plant falling onto my yarrow

Harvesting – You can eat hyacinth beans if you harvest them when they are very young.  Many cultures around the world use them extensively in their cooking.  However, if you want to eat them you need to know that are slightly toxic when mature.  So only eat them if you know when to pick them.  In fact, once fully mature, they should not be cooked or ingested at all.

Hyacinth beans are fairly good re-seeders.  Leave them alone and they will come back year after year.  If you want to harvest the seed, wait until the plant has died and then pick the dry, brown seed pods.  Once fully dry, open the seed pod and save the unique black seeds in a cool dry place until next spring.

Heirloom Gardening in the South – Yesterday’s Plants for Today’s Gardens


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Bill Welch and Greg Grant are the premier “Masters of Horticulture” in the country.  Both of them have ample credentials to back up my claim.  However, what really sets them apart is their deep knowledge and sincere love of the plants and gardening traditions of the South.  They have worked for years to document, preserve and re-introduce “time tested plants” that have helped to color the fabric of the southern landscape tradition.  These true southern gentlemen share a common, and almost evangelical zeal to share that knowledge (which is another southern tradition). 

Heirlooms, a whirligig and a tire planter in a Louisiana garden. You can learn all about the origins of these southern garden accesories in this book.

Their latest book, “Heirloom Gardening in the South – Yesterday’s Plants for Today’s Gardens” is a masterful compilation of their many years of saving, growing and educating others on the value of heirloom plants.  Combining equal parts history, plant catalogue and how to information, this book is the perfect resource for all of us that garden in the South. 

The book is easy to read and full of eye catching photographs that document everything from stunning gardens to geranium cuttings.  The book is divided into five sections that tell you the history of the southern garden tradition, how to find and propagate these living antiques, where to plant them, and how to use them.  It also includes an exhaustive inventory of the heirloom plants that grow here.  Each plant in the inventory includes an in depth discussion of its history and habits.  This section alone would be worth far more than the cover price.

Byzantine gladiolus and a bottle tree in an East Texas garden

As an avid reader of gardening books, I have come to realize that most of them fall into two distinct categories: picture books and books that tell you how to grow things.  Rare is this book that combines these two elements.  “Heirloom Gardening in the South – Yesterday’s Plants for Today’s Gardens” is just such a book.  If you are serious about growing heirlooms in the south, then this book has to find its way to your bookshelf!

Propagating Antique Roses

A sprawling Cherokee Rose at Peckerwood Gardens. Photo by Dr. Bill Welch

Two years ago, I was training for the MS 150 outside of Cat Springs, Texas.  As I turned a corner and started down a long straight path, I saw something very unusual up ahead of me; a cedar tree covered in big white flowers.  Well, I knew that couldn’t be right so I pedal closer.  When I got close enough to be able to tell what I was seeing, I was shocked to discover that the white flowers on the cedar tree were coming from an incredibly large rose-bush.  I am not kidding, this rose-bush had sent out runners that were 30 to 40 feet long.  They were so long that they went all the way up the back of the tree and hung over the front almost down to the ground.  I was excited. 

I wasn’t sure but I thought this lovely, five petaled white rose with the bright yellow stamens was an antique rose called “Cherokee”.  The Cherokee Rose is truly an antique rose.  It has been here so long that some think it originated here.  In fact, the people of Georgia were so certain it was native that they made it their state flower.  I quickly pulled out my pocket knife and took a dozen cuttings.  This is why I love “antique roses”.  You can be on a bike ride in the country, find one, take cuttings with a pocket knife, stick them in your back pack, leave them there for over two hours and still be pretty certain that they are going to root. 

Propagating antique roses from cuttings is a fairly easy process. 

  1.  As a general rule, you should cut new wood that has just finished blooming.  This is usually in the spring but can be in the fall.  The rose is not particular as to where you cut it.  I use sharp shears to make 45 degree cuts to create stems that are about 6″ to 8’’ long.  Leave a few leaves on the stem.
  2. Next, I fill four-inch pots with a good quality garden mix and wet it.  Some people root in pure perlite, but you will need to add a little fertilizer if you go this route.   Most cuttings need two things to be successful: moisture and root aeration.  The perlite provides excellent aeration to the roots.
  3. Stick the cutting in the pot.  Many people like to dip the cuttings in a rooting hormone.  This is your choice.  It can increase your chances of getting the cuttings to take.  However, I am not certain they are necessary.  Roses naturally produce auxins at the cut.  Auxins are hormones that stimulate root production.  I have used both methods and have had success both ways.  Also, some people like to “wound” the cutting at the base.  This involves making little cuts at the base of the stem.  Roots will grow from the wound sites.
  4. Place the well watered pot in a produce bag and seal with a tie wrap.  This will keep the humidity high as the plant roots.  Open the bag every few days and make sure the soil stays moist (not wet). 
  5. Roses love the sun so find a place that is sunny but gives some shade during the hottest part of the day.  Since they are in the bag, it is very easy for them to get over heated.

Propagating plants is undoubtedly my favorite task in the garden.  Roses (especially old varieties) are very tough and very easy to grow from cuttings.  Don’t get too bogged down in the details.  Just go for it!  Remember, many of these antique roses came here in a box of dirt on the back of a covered wagon with mason jars stuck over them.  If they survived that, surely they can survive anything we do to them!

A Monday Holiday

Surprise Easter Lilies

We have been so busy with the holidays and the remodel that our beds have suffered.  All of them need weeding and trimming.  This past Monday was so lovely that my wife and I decided to do some of that much need yard work. We started the morning by cutting back the Lantana that grows by our back deck.  While we were pruning I got one of those little surprises that I just love in the garden.  Tucked under the leaves and the bare branches of last year’s lantana was this year’s Easter Lilies!  Truth be told, I had forgotten they were there.  I won a single stem at our church picnic last summer and I just stuck it in the ground.  Well, that was a good decision.  That one plant has now divided and given me five new plants for the price of one.  I have never grown Easter Lilies before so I am not sure if this much division is common, but I am excited about it.

The Milk and Wine Crinums that I moved

After we cleaned up our mess I decided to do my absolute favorite garden chore – move things!  Fall is the best time for this, but, with a little care, you can move plants anytime of the year.  My friend and garden mentor Cynthia Mueller says that if you move a plant correctly, it won’t even know its been moved.  I have fully embraced her advice.  The first thing that I moved was a bunch of milk and wine crinums (Crinum x herbertii).  I got my crinums from a friend.  I think that is how most people get them.  I had several small clumps scattered around the yard so I decided to dig them up and make two masses on either side of my propane tank.  I am hoping that their lush spring and summer foliage will help camouflage my ugly propane tank.  Next, I moved a few clumps of daffodils and narcissus that were left by the previous homeowner.  He had planted them willy nilly all over the place.  I am slowly trying to sort them out and plant them in masses.

The "Don Juan" climbing rose that I hope is about to swallow my arbor

Once I ran out of things to move, I did a little planting.  Since I have recently finished the arbor in the picket fence, I planted a Don Juan climbing red rose at the base of it.  Don Juan is a fairly aggressive climbing rose that can grow to 15’.  It has very beautiful deep red velvety double petals and it smells terrific.  I have high hopes that it will be stunning on my white arbor. 

Next, I got to plant some Primrose Jasmine (Jasminum mesnyi) that I have been nursing for the past nine month.  I planted these on the east side of my house.  My house is on a slope and it sits up on blocks, so I have a lot of space between the ground and the bottom of the windows.  Since primrose jasmine makes mounds up to 10’ feet high, I figure this is the perfect plant.  Primrose jasmine is an old-fashioned plant that is often called “Fountains of Gold”.  You can see them growing at old home sites all over Texas.  These plants make a huge mound of arching branches that are covered in double yellow flowers in the spring.  I got mine by pulling up shoots from an existing plant and then potting them.  I have kept them alive now since last spring and I am very glad to finally have them in the ground.

The shrimp plant that I divided and planted in the flower bed

To finish things up, I divided some shrimp plant that I had in a pot.  This one pot made four lovely clumps that I put by the steps to my deck.  I also planted some Society Garlic and day lilies that I had in pots.  I also planted a whole flat of dwarf mondo around the “stump” stepping stones that lead to my faucet.  All in all it was another relaxing and rewarding holiday at the nest.

Felder Rushing at the Antique Rose Emporium

The yupneck meets Felder Rushing at the Antique Rose Emporium

This weekend I got to meet one of my gardening heroes.  The Antique Rose Emporium  was holding its annual Fall Festival and the featured speaker was FELDER RUSHING!!!  (http://www.felderrushing.net/)  Now, if you are not familiar with Felder you are missing a treat.  Felder Rushing is a highly educated, highly respected and highly unusual MASTER of HORTICULTURE!  Felder is a very accomplished horticulturist and a very enlightening and entertaining speaker.  When he is not on the road extoling the virtues of gardening, he lives in the Fondren neighborhood of Jackson, Mississippi in a very interesting and cutting edge house (horticulturally speaking).  He is also the host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on Mississippi Public Broadcasting (http://www.mpbonline.org/radio/programs/GestaltGardener/index.htm).  In addition to his radio gig, he writes gardening books and travels the country evangelizing the masses on the virtues of “Slow Gardening” in his “truck garden” (I am not kidding here.  He really drives all around the country in an old truck that has a garden growing in the back of it!)

The yupneck and Felders truck garden

Felder is as much philosopher as he is horticulturist.  His talks and books are full of his Southern hertitage, humor, charm and wisdom.  If you like stuffy talks about how to properly prune your hybrid tea roses, then Felder is probably not going to be to your liking.  But if you enjoy listening to and learning from someone that admires a man that wore shoes spray painted silver with yellow lightening bolts on them while doing “wheelies” on his tractor through the middle of town, then Felder is all the gardening resource you will ever need.