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Jun. 17, 2019
7:16 pm


Curb Appeal

Painted Lady: Rose Lane gets a facelift

The biggest question about having our house painted turned out to be really simple. My husband Rick said he’d do it, but I convinced him that hiring a professional would save time and an immense amount of wear and tear on Rick and his ladders. 
After chatting with friends and putting the word out on Next Door, a crowd-sourced localized website, I called three contractors based on recommendations. That’s about right for a home improvement project. 
Rick and I agreed that price was a secondary consideration to having a good fit with the contractor. Turns out that the “survival of the fittest” approach helped make our decision for us. The first contractor we called took two days to even return my phone call. Then his subcontractor showed up late and seemed rather disinterested in spending time to assess the job. I had to call three times afterward to get a written estimate.
The second contractor, recommended by a friend in my former subdivision, called back promptly, set up a time for the free estimate a few days later and even showed up a little early. Already a great sign as far as I was concerned.
The third contractor took three days to return my call, set up a time several days later, then called at the last minute to ask for a postponement until two days later. He said he had worked all day and the traffic was too bad for him to show up that day. 
Mickey Mitchell of Red Letter Painting,, who sent his estimate when he said he would, got the job, not just because he was the only contractor who responded. From the minute he stepped on our property I knew, even without reviewing his estimate, that I wanted to hire his company. 
His promptness was just part of the reason. He explained his process, from pressure washing not only the siding but also the patio and decks to removing the downspouts of our gutters to explaining that his crew would be draping landscape plants next to the house to avoid any damage from ladders.

Mickey’s estimate arrived by email when he said it would and it included details of services to be provided. After we agreed with the cost, he kept in touch with us by text and phone about when he scheduled the job. 
He told us he’d arrive on a Monday around 8 a.m. and actually got here around 7:30 to start prepping, clearing our decks and patio of furniture and thoroughly pressure washing over the next couple of days. 
As the job progressed, they caulked, cleaned the gutters, removed the downspouts to be painted, then either removed or taped over exterior light fixtures and doorknobs. Windows were covered with thin plastic to protect from overspray as they painted our Masonite siding with a brand-new color. 
We added haint blue, a southern tradition to protect a home from evil spirits, on the ceiling of our front porch and rear deck. It also helps give a cooler look in the summer. 
Trim was next so the covers came off the windows and doors. The brushes came out as several crew members set to work. Then they replaced the gutters and light fixtures, and I though the job was complete. 
Wrong. Mickey and his crew put back all the furniture and even washed the outside of our nearly 30 windows. I’ve never known of a contractor who really cared about his work as much as Mickey and Red Letter Painting. 
So, in a nutshell, here’s what I suggest if you’re thinking about hiring a home-improvement contractor. Get recommendations from friends, not just names and phone numbers, but actual comments about the contractors you’ll be contacting. 
Decide exactly what you want done and provide the details on the initial site visit. Ask plenty of questions about how they work, their typical number of hours a day and what days a week they work. Some contractors work longer days and take off Fridays, for instance.
Examine your written estimate to make sure that all the areas you’ve discussed are listed. You don’t need line-item estimates, but it is a good idea to cover any details that may be beyond a contractor’s typical scope of work. Set a timetable for the work, allowing for rainy days or other unavoidable delays. 
Sign the estimate to assure that both you and the contractor have a written agreement. If you have changes during the work, make sure that you and the contractor have an understanding of any additional costs. 
Painting your house is a major expense and should be treated like a business transaction. Some contractors may ask for a deposit up front; others do not. Whatever you do, don’t pay in full before the job is begun. That’s your leverage to assure that the job is completed to your satisfaction.
Sometimes the hardest part of hiring a contractor is getting estimates. Just remember to trust your gut. 

Pamela A. Keene is our senior staff writer and a Hall County Master Gardener.

May 2019 column

Garden Walk looks like a breeze, but there's work involved

Are you looking for a way to get advice and ideas about improving your gardens, yards and landscapes? Then plan to attend the Hall County Master Gardeners’ Biennial Garden Walk on Saturday, June 1
Four private gardens and two public gardens will be open for tours – three in Flowery Branch, two in Gainesville and one in Talmo. All are owned and/or maintained by Hall County Master Gardeners. Rick and I are honored to have our gardens at Rose Lane included again this year. It will be the third time that we have been on the Garden Walk, and it’s always a treat for us. 
It’s a chance to show off our yard, but it’s also a hard-stop deadline to get our spring gardening chores completed. When you have several hundred people coming to your house to see your gardens on a specific date, procrastination isn’t allowed.
People who have come here the two previous times tell us that they enjoy seeing how our landscape has matured, what we have added and how we have incorporated combinations of native plants and trees, hybrid tea roses, hydrangeas, azaleas and other landscape features. 
The first time we were on the walk, we had literally been living in our new home about eight months. The house took about 13 months to build, and almost as soon as we broke ground, I began moving mature azaleas, smaller flowering trees and other blooming shrubs from our former home a few miles away.
We augmented these with foundation plants and flowering shrubs purchased from area nurseries. Over the years, our landscape journey yielded plenty of failed plantings, more than 1,000 of black plastic growers’ pots, ranging in size from 4-inch to 15 gallon, many of which are still stored in our garage. 
Before that first walk, we built a raised-bed vegetable garden, planted about a dozen blueberry bushes and created two hybrid-tea rose gardens. Since then, we’ve removed about three dozen pines and invasive hardwood trees, planted pecans, pears and figs, and added more than 50 azaleas. Dedicated areas for camellias and native azaleas provide us with successive seasons of blossoms.

Over the years, we’ve experimented with perennials, plus beautiful but hard-to-grow Daphne, pink hawthorne and various varieties of spirea. Sometimes I learn my lesson on the first try; other times, I keep coming back to favorites that I just can’t grow here. I just end up throwing them away when they die. 
One of our most showy plants, a 22-year-old Chinese Snowball Viburnum, actually has been moved twice. It was originally planted at my home in Marietta in 1985 and moved to my subdivision home in Flowery Branch in 2001. In 2006, we pruned it back in the winter and moved it to Rose Lane. Even with intermittent shaping, it’s now well over nine feet tall and this year in April was covered with more than 150 blooms, each almost as big as a small football.
We also have a bank of about a dozen varieties of native azaleas, in full bloom now. They’ll be gone by the garden walk on June 1, but we plan to include photos of them in our identification tags. 
This year’s garden walk will also showcase how we’ve dealt with serious water runoff issues. Our backyard is downhill from adjacent properties and every time it rains, it floods. Video we took last winter proves that we had class III white water rapids several times. Friends joked they wanted to bring their kayaks.
Now all that’s fixed, thanks to my friends at Art of Stone Gardening. Jason Brosche is a master at masonry and water solutions. His wife Suzanne is a landscape designer who allows her clients’ styles to shine through. She’s been a steady Eddie when I get carried away and bring home plants I have fallen in love with but have no idea where I’ll plant them.
Make plans to visit all the gardens, including the Linwood Nature Preserve and the Old Piedmont Hotel in Gainesville. You’ll walk away with fresh ideas to try in your own landscape.
For more information about the Hall County Master Gardeners’ Garden Walk on June 1, or to purchase tickets at $10 each, visit or call (770) 535-8293. You can purchase and download tickets directly from the website.

April 2019 column

Green, green grass of home

The wetter than normal winter has created the perfect storm for your lawn, particularly if you didn’t put down a pre-emergent treatment last September. 
“Because we’ve had such a wet winter, you will certainly see more weeds in your lawn this spring than normal,” said Charlie King, owner of Gainesville-based King Green. “Right now, your lawn may be green, but it may be filled with weeds, especially if you didn’t put down a pre-emergent last September.” 
Although there may be little you can do about that good crop of weeds now, King recommends steps that you can take to minimize the weeds in warm-season grasses, such as bermuda, zoysia and centipede, begin to green up.
“Mow your lawn to about 1 inch tall, but don’t scalp it,” he said. “And the old wives’ tale about burning off your lawn is never a good idea. First and foremost, it is simply not safe and you run the risk of the burn quickly getting out of control. Second, it’s not really good for your lawn.”
Put down a pre-emergent for summer weeds “yesterday,” he said. “It’s better late than never and you may be able to reduce germination of some of the summer weeds, including crabgrass.” Use a dedicated pre-emergent, not a combo fertilizer/weed killer. And read package instructions to learn the rate of application. Pre-emergents will need watering in.
“April is the time to aerate your warm-season lawns, especially if you haven’t done so in a few years,” King said. Aeration helps break up hard soil and allows both airs and water to get to the roots. It encourages root growth, which will help ensure a healthier lawn. And when you fertilize afterward, the nutrients can also penetrate more deeply.
A word about watering 
One of the biggest problems with residential lawns is that people overwater. Experts recommend about one to one-and-a-half inches of water per week, applied in one watering session. 
If we have regular rain, supplemental watering is generally not necessary, but for dry spells, augment with irrigation. 
“Watering one time per week deeply is much better for your lawn than several times a week for short periods,” King said. “Deep watering allows the water to better reach the roots and helps them to grow deeper. This can help them better in times of drought.” 
Lawn irrigation systems can be set up to water on a schedule of days and times of day. It’s better to water in the morning to allow the grass to dry thoroughly. Watering in the early evening may create problems with disease.
Lawn mower maintenance 
King preaches “sharp blades, sharp blades, sharp blades” as a key component of good healthy lawn care. Keep your mower in good repair and periodically clean it to discourage the spread of weed seeds and disease.  “Having sharp blades can make good clean cuts on your grass and discourage damage and disease,” he said. 
Proper lawn care can produce a beautiful green carpet with little weeds or disease. With a bit of regularly scheduled attention, your lawn can be the envy of the neighborhood.

March 2019 column

Crepe 'murder' and other landscape adventures

I admit it. I committed crepe murder this spring in my landscape. But I had a really good reason. It was just one of many garden and landscape adventures that have made my to-do list for 2019.
Our home, named Rose Lane in memory of my mom Rosa who died three years ago, will be part of the Hall County Master Gardens Biennial Garden Walk on June 1. So some drastic activities are in order. Plus with my new Rose Cottage studio ready in April, it’s time for a serious look at our yard.
It all started with my hybrid tea rose gardens. The 40 some-odd bushes get a severe pruning in late winter/early spring each year. It removes dead branches and stimulates new lush green growth and increased flowering for the spring, summer and fall. 
Some of the bushes were six feet tall. Rose gardening requires that each bush be cut back to three to six strong canes – the thick branches that come directly from the bud union. In the process all the smaller weaker branches are cut back and discarded as well.
Already, little red leaf buds that will grow into new branches are spouting with the recent warm weather. As soon as the plants have leafed out, it will be time to fill my backpack sprayer with fungicide and insecticide for the first round of treatment. I’ll include either Hinder or Liquid Fence to keep the deer away. Applications of spray every two to three weeks should help produce the bursts of fragrant, colorful blooms all season long.
Roses require babying, but the rewards are amazing. All summer and fall I shared large bouquets with friends, my doctors and various groups, and I still had plenty to keep in my kitchen and office.
We also have about 20 Knock-Out and shrub roses along the front of our property that need attention, but they are much easier to care for than hybrid teas. Once they’ve been pruned in the late winter, cutting back smaller branches to leave the larger primary canes, they get sprayed regularly with the appropriate fungicides and insecticides. Hinder, alternating with Liquid Fence, every couple of weeks keeps the hungry deer away.
Other early spring landscape chores include cutting back the remains of last year’s perennials, pulling away dead leaves from the daylilies and reshaping my crepe myrtles. 
Once I had the pruners, clippers and loppers in hand, I was on a roll. I saved the crepes for last and enlisted husband Rick’s help with a ladder. My little chain saw also saw some action as we took out three to four feet of scraggly bare branches from the crepe myrtles flanking the front of our house.
My mission was to remove all the limbs that were taller than the house. And because we hadn’t pruned them back for four of five years, we were overdue. Careful to cut below any previous pruning to avoid those awful knuckle-like bunches on the branches, the plants have fresh cuts that will stimulate growth of the branches that will produce luscious blossoms later this summer. We also left some branches below the cuts about the diameter of our thumbs to keep the profiles of the crepes softer.
Several hours and a couple of large piles of debris later, the job was done. 
However, as I looked around our yard, I saw that the preparation for the June 1 Garden Walk was just beginning. It’s going to be a busy spring. And I love every minute of my gardening adventures.

February 2019 column

Deer me! What's eating your landscape?

Human hair, Irish Spring soap shavings, aluminum pie pans suspended on string, motion-activated lights or water sprinklers? Across Northeast Georgia, Bambi, his friends and family don’t seem to mind the smells, sounds and surprises when it comes to grazing on your prized roses, vegetables and hydrangeas. They’re much more interested in finding food with little consideration of your hard work.
You’d think that there would be many ways to keep the deer at bay, but not so. 
“There’s no fool-proof way to keep deer from eating your landscape if they’re hungry enough, but there are some ways to minimize the damage,” says Joe Lamp’l, creator and host of the award-winning PBS television series, “Growing a Greener World,” and a nationally recognized garden expert. “It takes persistence and a few tricks, but you can keep deer at bay.” 
Lamp’l suggests a couple of ways to at least minimize deer damage – exclusion/physical barriers or repellents. 
Do fence them out 
“Truly the most reliable way to address your deer issue is to create a physical barrier or a way to exclude them from your landscape,” he says. “Building a fence around your vegetable garden will do a great deal to reduce deer damage, but not just any fence will do.” 
Lamp’l suggests building a double, three-strand fence, like those used for livestock protection. Mount plastic insulators on 36-inch wooden, fiberglass or metal stakes and make two concentric circles around the area three feet apart. String the stakes in each circle together with wire strands, placing the wire in the outside circle 18 inches from the ground. Then put two strands on the inner stakes at 10 and 24 inches. 
Electricity, either through solar power or a battery-operated source, can be added, but Lamp’l says that’s not necessary in most cases. If a double fence is not practical from a space standpoint, build a standard fence from posts and chicken wire, woven field wire or welded mesh wire at least eight feet tall. Make sure that the fencing is tight against the ground. The deer won’t burrow, but they will look for an easy way to go under it.
The stories are legendary about people who scatter human hair clippings or bits of strong-smelling soap around their gardens in hopes of keeping deer from foraging. Crushing garlic, concocting a mixture of fragrant herbs, or spraying capsasian oil onto plants may keep the deer away, but these home remedies are truly not effective.
Some commercially available repellents have a good success rate, but the key is to alternate the brands that you use and to apply the repellents frequently, about every 10 days or so, and especially after it rains. Some of the most recognized brands are Liquid Fence, Deer Away, Deer Out, Deer Stopper and Hinder. You can usually find these at places like Tractor Supply, box retailers and nurseries. Follow the package instructions.
For an organic deer-repellent that’s marketed as fertilizer, try Milorganite, a waste-water treatment by-product that’s been produced by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District for more than 90 years. Without getting too scientific, Milorganite is the result of recycling nutrients in the city’s wastewater by using microbes that are then kiln-dried, bagged and sold across the country. The organic nitrogen-based slow-release fertilizer produces an odor that is offensive to deer. “I’ve seen it used as a fertilizer and deer repellent and the deer don’t seem to browse in areas treated with Milorganite,” Lamp’l says. “I find it to be very effective.”
For more information, visit Lamp’l’s website,, which offers podcasts, videos, articles and blogs related to all types of gardening. His show is also available on Georgia Public Television; go to and search for “Growing a Greener World.”

January 2019 column

Too much rain? What to do about rain water management

Can you recall the last time you had your gutters cleaned? If you can’t – or if it’s been more than a year – you’re probably way overdue.
Clean gutters are a major step in rain water management. Your gutters are designed to help direct the rain pouring off your roof away from your home’s foundation. They also help control harmful erosion around your home and landscape. Even gutters with guards and shields need to be inspected and cleaned regularly.  When your gutters are filled with leaves and debris, the water flowing off your roof can’t make its way to the downspouts. The water simply overflows all along the gutters, creating gullies where water gathers along your foundation. They’re unsightly, but they can also contribute to excess water around your house.
Your gutters can be a good tool for water conservation. By adding rain barrels beneath your downspouts, you can collect rainwater to use for irrigation, to wash your vehicles and to use for outdoor chores. Rain barrels often have an opening at the bottom, threaded to connect a faucet or hose to make it easy to use the contents. The top of the barrel is open, so cover it with a circle of fine screen to prevent the accumulation of debris and leaves. A closed top is even more effective and can prevent mosquitos from hatching in the standing water in the summer.
Box retailers and nurseries, such as Pike Nursery, seasonally carry rain barrels and diversion systems. And groups like the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper offer rain barrels for $35 each throughout the year. The unpainted rain barrel includes a kit for attaching it to your downspouts. Order them online and pick them up at the Riverkeepers’ offices in Atlanta, LaGrange and Gainesville. They will make a good indoor family project for January.
Some people install rain chains at the downspout locations along their gutters to help diffuse the water as it falls. The chains can be hung above rain barrels. You can also buy rain barrel diverters to direct the water into a barrel placed a bit farther from your foundation to protect against overflow next to your house.
When Rick and I built our home more than a dozen years ago, we buried a 1,500-gallon cement cistern on the back of our property. With 4-inch PVC pipes, we tied all our home’s gutters into the cistern, running them underground.  A converted 1,500-gallon septic tank with a large hole cut into the concrete wall between the two compartments, our cistern was connected to our underground irrigation system when we built the house. It’s a good way to have extra water during dry times in the spring and summer. 
We also installed four remote faucet boxes around our yard so that running water is never far from reach. They’re next to our vegetable garden, adjacent to my hybrid tea rose beds and near areas our plantings of native plants, trees and shrubs. These faucets are part of our underground irrigation system, put in at the same time.
For more information about water management in your landscape, visit or Both organizations periodically conduct classes for rain-water management. The Pike Nursery site also offers instructional videos about landscaping, including how to install a rain garden in areas that retain water in your yard.

December 2018 column

She Sheds: Today's answer to man caves

OK. We may be entering some dangerous territory here as I write about a new gardening trend, but bear with me. For years the guys have had their man caves, complete with big-screen TVs, surround sound and a license to have their “sacred private space.
Now it’s our turn. When I tell my friends that my husband Rick is building a garden house for me, people immediately ask me if I’ve seen the insurance commercial about the She Shed that burns down. That’s not really the way to start a conversation. Gardening, and all that goes with it, is a very serious topic. 
A brand-new book just came about from Quarto Publishing Group, which specializes in all kinds of gardening books. It is called “She Shed Style,” written by Erika Kotite, who also authored “She Sheds.”
The hard-cover, full-color book is gorgeous, but even more importantly, it’s filled with all kinds of decorating and DYI ideas to create a personalized She Shed that reflects your personality and style. From building an open-sided potting shed with loads of windows and plenty of shelf space for working, to designing a home-away-from-home with room for napping, reading or pursuing a hobby, Kotite has captured the essence of all things stylish. 
She delves into the architectural choices of She Sheds, ones that can range from a simple three-sided cubby in the garden to elaborate stand-alone rooms furnished with antiques, hand-made floor coverings and chandeliers. A She Shed can be as simple as a big-box retailer out-building to a custom-built all-glass cottage. Add an overhanging roof of four to six feet for storing garden tools, or create a patio covered by a pergola and draped with outdoor café lights.
Her book illustrates how to incorporate work space for journaling or letter writing, without taking up too much space. Create seating areas that encourage conversation, and add storage by building shelves above windows that can also be used to display your treasures. Hang colorful glass balls or floats from the ceiling at varying heights to provide dimension. 
Add interior space dividers using louvered folding doors as screens or drape soft fabric to hide clutter. Consider putting in a wood floor and stenciling it to create the look of brick or tile. 
Window treatments, if you even choose to use them, can be made of dishtowels knotted on wooden sticks or branches. Take an old suitcase, cover it with brightly colored fabric and you’ve got an ottoman. 
Furnishings can serve several purposes. A table with a shelf below can hold baskets to store supplies. A trunk or chest, repurposed, distressed and painted with chalk paint, can be both a coffee table and additional storage.
Shop consignment stores, antique shops and yard sales to find fun and whimsical items. Kotite added an old mantel and a couple of mirrors in one design. In another, she used broken china to create colorful stepping stones outside. Old doors can be retrofitted to provide a welcoming entrance.
I found a great Tiffany-style hanging light fixture that’s perfect above a wicker rocker in my little house. Another shopping trip yielded glass containers that I can use for flower arrangements. Souvenirs from my travels, such as a glass ball etched with a shamrock from Ireland, will also have a home in my She Shed. 
My She Shed has a name. It’s Rose Cottage, to go along with our having named our home Rose Lane in memory of my mother, whose name was Rosa. We have dozens of rose bushes, many of them hybrid tea cutting roses that I share with friends from May through mid-November.
As spring approaches, now is the time to daydream about what you can do to create your own She Shed. Check out “She Shed Style” by Erika Kotite for ideas. It’s available on Amazon.

November 2018 column

Winter color? Try new Cool Wave Pansies and more

A package arrived a couple of weeks ago from a public relations firm with a surprise – a dozen of the newest Cool Wave Pansies. As a garden writer I occasionally receive samples and trial plants with the stipulation that I report back to the growers about results in my Northeast Georgia garden.
Wave plants had been on my radar, especially the beautiful Wave Petunias that are available at box retailers and area nurseries each spring, but the Cool Wave Pansies got past me as each fall I purchased four to five flats of pansies to line my front walkway for winter color. Over the past couple of winters, my regular pansies suffered from various set-backs, from deer munching on them to just not performing as well as I expected.
Cool Wave Pansies, perfect for containers, window boxes and hanging baskets, are my new go-to winter color. My 12 samples, mostly in shades of yellow, purple and white will replace my Kimberly ferns on my front porch as it gets cold. The ferns will be overwintered in the garage – watered regularly and brought outside for some sun on warmer days. 
In the meantime, the Cool Wave Pansies fill two big squat ceramic pots. They’ll provide plenty of color as they spread and trail over the edges. According to Cool Wave spokesperson Katie Rotella, they prefer four hours of sunlight, being kept moist but not soaked, and regular pinching back of spent blooms to discourage seed-pod development. An occasional “hair cut” to remove leggy stems will encourage increased growth from the centers of the plants. 
Hybridized to produce more than a dozen colors of blooms, they look more like large violas with blossoms slightly smaller than standard pansies. They won’t freeze or be damaged by frost; in fact, they’re cold-hardy to -20 degrees, much colder than our Georgia winters.
 Feed Cool Wave Pansies when you first plant them and again every two weeks with liquid fertilizer until the first hard frost. They will flourish until late spring when the day-time temperatures rise to 75 degrees. 
For more information about Cool Wave Pansies or other Wave plants, visit And look for them at our area nurseries and box retailers. They’re definitely a great addition for your winter color.
November Gardening Tips 
With our warmer fall this year, we’re really waiting for the right time to prune trees and shrubs. Once they are dormant, which means growth has slowed or stopped for winter, you can sharpen your clippers and pruners and go to work.
Remove any dead limbs and branches, cutting selectively rather than lopping off all branches to the same length. You’ll create a much more interesting plant profile by pruning rather than hedging.
Rake and clean up any leaves and put them in your compost. Turn them into the pile, then cover the pile with a tarp to encourage more heat that will help break down the components and protect it from too much rain that may wash away nutrients. Use the mature compost to amend vegetable gardens, flower beds and to top-dress around trees and shrubs next spring.
What not to prune: To have lush spring blossoms, do not prune azaleas, forsythia/yellow bells, hydrangeas or other spring-flowering shrubs. Wait until after they’ve bloomed and then prune to reshape and stimulate growth and bud production for the next year.
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