Editors' Best Flower and Vegetable Tips

Our garden experts share their secrets for easy success.

Gene B. Bussell: Lots of Hydrangeas
The blossoms of French hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) fill the yards of the South. True pass-alongs, they are a necessity for any garden. There are plenty of selections to choose from. If you want repeat blooms, try 'All Summer Beauty,' 'Endless Summer,' or 'Penny Mac.' The classic blue flowers of 'Generale Vicomtesse de Vibraye' are great for drying. For white flowers, choose 'Lanarth White' or 'Madame Emile Mouillere.' If you are in a tight spot or you garden in containers, try the diminutive 'Pia.' A surprise is 'Sun Goddess,' which has chartreuse (almost yellow) foliage that will brighten any landscape. Whichever one you choose, be careful, as hydrangeas can be addictive.

These selections and many more can be purchased from Wilkerson Mill Gardens, (770) 463- 2400 or www.hydrangea.com.

Ellen Ruoff Riley: Easy Perennials
For the inexperienced gardener, using the words "easy" and "perennial" in the same sentence sounds like risky business. But choose wisely, and you'll discover a number of selections that come back quite happily and bloom consistently with minimal effort and encouragement. Remember this: The secret is meeting a few basic needs. Adequate sun and well-drained soil afford optimum growing conditions for most perennials.

With that said, which ones are the easiest? The rudbeckias, often called black-eyed Susans, lead the pack. Then there are the daisies. Ox-eye (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum) blooms first, followed by Shasta (C. maximum), and then the late-summer Nippon (C. nipponicum). Add purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) and summer phlox (Phlox paniculata) to the mix, and you have some easy, unbeatable choices.

Edwin Marty: Great Tomatoes
Everyone loves a juicy, ripe tomato--including all the birds and worms in the neighborhood. Get around the challenges of keeping these big, red, tasty targets protected on the vine all summer by growing cherry tomatoes.

There is a huge assortment of cherry tomatoes available that taste just as good as the big ones, if not better, and require only a fraction of the time to harvest. This means you get to eat them sooner, and the ubiquitous tomato predators have less time to gorge on your hard work. Plant my favorites, 'Sweet 100' or 'Sun Gold,' for uncompromising taste. Also try grape- or pear-shaped tomatoes for delicious fruit.

Once you've harvested your tomatoes, avoid refrigerating them. Cold temperatures destroy both the flavor and texture of the fruit. Eat your cherry tomatoes either raw in a salad or slightly cooked in a pasta sauce.

Rebecca Bull Reed: Colorful Containers
Even if time, space, and good soil are not on your side, you can still garden--in containers. Placement, scale, and combinations are the keys for big impact.

Think of your container as an exclamation point or a directional signal that guides the eye, visually leading you to each new destination. Areas where people pause are often good places for pots.

You may pay more at the register for a large pot, but you'll reap the rewards once home. Reserve small pots for tabletops or groups of three or more located close to a water spigot. Containers larger than 15 inches wide benefit from being set on pot feet. These decorative little pads do more than look pretty; the extra elevation improves drainage.

Imagine your pot or group of containers as a large flower arrangement. Select a vertical element, such as ornamental grass, for the back of the pot. Round forms, such as geraniums, impatiens, or coleus, work well in the center or as fillers. Cascading forms, such as petunias, sweet potato vines, or periwinkles, soften the edges. All plants in the container should have the same light and water requirements.

Pick a color to emphasize in the center of the pot, and then select shades of that color to use as a filler. Cascading and vertical forms should reflect the accent shades. What's hot now? The color chartreuse, succulent perennials such as hen and chicks, tropical foliage, and wide bowl-shaped planters.


Editors' Best Flower and Vegetable Tips is from the Favorites 2005 issue of Southern Living.