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Pooler Magazine

The Busy Person’s Guide to Gardening

The Busy Person’s Guide to Gardening

Story by Walinda West

When it comes to his wife Ivy’s gardening skills, Ricky Eilerman has real opinions and he isn’t content just letting her know how he feels. Eilerman, an Army veteran and real estate agent, turned to the popular social media app TikTok to let the whole world know.

“How many dead plants do you have in your house? Let’s count,” he joked, while pointing to 10 plants around the couple’s Guyton home that have seen better days.

In the 50-second video, he also shows his wife who seems to be pruning a basil plant that is more stems than basil. “My wife insists on buying plants, but it’s a waste of money. That’s the one thing she doesn’t do well,” he says, saying he often sneaks her dead plants out of the house. “Our son, who is 19, bought her a plant, a southern cactus. He told her it would be a plant that wouldn’t die. It died.”

Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

For her part, Ivy Eilerman said it’s not that she doesn’t like a pretty garden or plants, but her demanding work schedule as a mortgage company executive in Pooler doesn’t allow the time she knows a healthy garden requires. “I just can’t keep plants alive. My grandfather owned a successful family-operated, 50-acre flower nursery for many years, but I guess the gardening gene skipped me. I love plants and get excited, and then the excitement dies with the plants,” Eilerman said.

Gardening is Having a Moment

According to an Axiom 2021 gardening insights survey, the spring and summer of 2020 saw homeowners gardening in record numbers. The research, conducted by Axiom—a Minnesota-based marketing firm—found that 86 percent of homeowners plan to continue gardening in 2021. Nearly 40 percent of those surveyed say they will plant about the same as last year. Approximately 47 percent said they will be planting more and expanding their garden spaces next season.

“With many of us spending more time at home and more time outside, gardening opened the door for positive activities and good feelings in a time where things were looking pretty bleak,” said Kathleen Hennessy, head of the horticulture marketing group for Axiom, which caters to the gardening industry. Hennessy said many homeowners surveyed said they were gardening in 2020 because it gave them something to do while stuck at home during the pandemic, provided a source of exercise and helped to cope with stress. But, overwhelmingly, most were gardening to add beauty in their lives. “More than half of those surveyed told us they just wanted a beautiful outdoor space.”

Heather Harrison of Pooler Plant Pick-up Station and Olde Savannah Gardens said the two garden centers she owns with her husband, Ross, have seen an influx of beginning and busy gardeners who want an instant garden. 

“Almost everyone who comes into our stores say the same thing. ‘I want a beautiful garden, but I want it to be low maintenance.’ A garden is not set it and forget it,” Harrison said. She said she sees her role to help customers set realistic goals. Most gardens fail, Harrison said, because of the selection of the wrong plants for the climate, planting in the wrong location, improper spacing or unrealistic expectations once a garden is planted, which, she said, is compounded by the area’s less-than-ideal soil conditions.

“One of the problems we have in Pooler is horrible soil with low nutrient value,” which Harrison likens to gumbo when it rains. “We have customers who come in after reading a magazine and want a specific kind of plant or garden, but our soil here has very little nutrients, and you have to learn how to plant here.”

Harrison, who grows 150,000 plants for both stores on 25 acres in Pooler, said she and her staff enjoy advising customers before purchasing plants so that they won’t waste their time and money. She said she also is selective in the plants she carries even if they are zoned for the area, and steers customers away from plants that she knows have difficulty growing. Those hard-to-maintain plants on her list include dogwoods, cypress (especially the Leyland and Italian variations), Indian Hawthorn and Oleander. Other plants zoned for the area but that would be especially difficult for busy homeowners to maintain include Encore Azaleas, hybrid tea roses, Dwarf Bottlebrush, and Redbud and Cherry trees.

Harrison also said while the normal planting convention is to prepare the garden bed allowing a depth of at least 12-inches for annuals and 18-inches for perennials, and planting flowers at the same soil level as they were in the container, she recommends planting three inches higher than ground level and use organic matter on the sides and below plants to supplement what is naturally lacking in the soil.

Have a Conversation with Garden Experts Before you Start

Garden experts recommend homeowners have an honest discussion with their local garden center staff before beginning any gardening project to let them know their individual planting conditions. Are you growing in sun? Are you growing in shade or have other conditions that will affect the plant’s chances for survival?

“If someone is designing a landscape, putting the right plants in the right place is key,” said Dr. Timothy S. Davis, coordinator of the University of Georgia’s Chatham County Extension Office, which also operates a consumer call center. “Consider the adult size of the plant and give it the appropriate space. You won’t have to prune anything if you give the appropriate amount of space in the first place. Consider environmental needs of the plants like how much sun, how much shade, how much water is needed. Some plants have more or less requirements – getting this right avoids most issues.”

Davis also advises busy gardeners to choose low maintenance plants and when it comes to grasses, choose a turfgrass such as centipede grass that needs to be mowed every five to seven days rather than Bermuda grass that needs to be mowed every three days.

He also suggests investing in an irrigation system that uses technology such as soil probes to automatically irrigate when the soil reaches a certain level of dryness and turns off when the proper level of soil moisture is achieved.

Polk’s Produce and Plants Has Decades of Experience Advising Busy Gardeners

For Becky Polk-Bashlor—whose family has a 70-plus year history of selling flowers and produce mostly in Savannah and, in the last decade, Pooler, where she operates Polk’s Produce and Plants and Polks on the Go, a food delivery service—her store has become a refuge of sorts for experienced and novice gardeners this past year.

Customers can meander the outdoor garden, enjoy fresh-picked produce or even sit down to enjoy the change of scenery. Bashlor, who regularly travels nine hours back and forth to Florida to handpick most of the plants she sells, said she shops understanding that some of her buyers have time to plant their flower purchases while others enjoy them in containers or hanging baskets.

“People will come in and say ‘I don’t have a clue what to plant,’ so I will take them back and help them choose what’s best for them. If they say, ‘I don’t like to water,’ I will say stay away from the ferns.”

For her customers who are too busy to tend to plants, Bashlor recommends Hibiscus, Passion Vines, Mandevilla, Dipladenia, Loropetalum, Sage, Petunia and Geraniums, which are easier to maintain.

Since the pandemic started, Bashlor said it’s not uncommon now to see as many as 100 customers a day, but she said she loves every minute of it. “I say if you have to be stuck at home, why not make it pretty.”