The Garden Gate: This column may someday be part of a home for a furry friend

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By Ellen Probert Williamson

A border of day lilies really dresses up your garden. All the pretty flowers are in bloom for only one day at a time, but the blooms are so prolific and replace each other so fast that it is hard to realize they are so well named. Because that’s what they are, one day at a time, day lilies.

The exuberant and lovely blossoms are among the most satisfactory and easy-care flowers one could imagine for any American or Canadian garden, and they flourish especially well in the gardens of Tennessee.

They come in so many beautiful colors and have equally colorful names like vibrant orange, pale pink, yellow, flutterbye, Bitsy, So Lovely and pretty Bitsy.

The flowers have small, rounded petals interspersed with long, thin ones, lending a fluffy, varied effect. In some areas, day lily festivals add to their charm for the gardeners who look forward each spring to the blossoming of their day lilies.

There are more than 2,000 varieties of these plants, and they come in every color except true blue. Some combine two or more colors.

Day lilies are satisfactory perennials that withstand heat and dry weather better than most garden flowers. They can be grown in practically all parts of North America.

Planting several varieties of day lilies together can keep a day lily garden in bloom from early spring until what is known as a killing frost in the fall.

Day lilies bloom on graceful stems several inches high and rising from a bank of fresh green leaves. Many colors have been developed from the original orange and yellow blossoms, including ruby, purple and copper.

Another old-fashioned flower enjoying renewed popularity is the hollyhock. The graceful, bell-shaped blossoms were popular in Victorian times and are almost always found in the gardens of historic or family-owned older homes.

Introduced originally from the Far East, hollyhocks have been grown in England at least since the 15th century and North American gardens since the 17th century. They have been grown in America for medicinal uses and ornamental qualities.

Hollyhocks belong to the mallow family, and the name comes from a Greek word, “malakos,” meaning softening. Extracts of hollyhocks are used in soothing creams for wounds and skin problems.

Several new versions of hollyhocks were developed during their popularity in the Victorian era. The most popular was the double-flowered “Chater’s Double,” which is still grown today.

Double-flowered hollyhocks have been known since the 16th century, when botanist John Gerard described them as “outlandish roses.”

Hollyhocks come in many colors, including salmon, apricot, red, buff, maroon and many pastels.

Hollyhocks can be found in the gardens of Monticello, the historic home of President Thomas Jefferson. He held a fascination for gardening, and in a gardening diary he recorded all the many details of planting, nurturing  and harvesting the plants he loved.

The record he kept almost daily for more than 55 years is so complete that his garden at Monticello has been planted anew according to his own directions, and area modern garden clubs can maintain it just as he would have done.

Jefferson was chiefly vegetarian, so his kitchen garden was both an essential larder and experimental laboratory. In it, he developed “new” vegetables such as tomatoes, cauliflower and eggplant. He acquired squash and broccoli from Italy, peppers from Mexico and figs from France.

This is the time of year when squirrels are busy constructing new nests in the tops of the tallest trees. The nests are much larger than those of birds, and they look rather like bundles of twigs in the treetops.

Squirrel nests are constructed of rather large twigs and small branches, as well as some other surprising materials. They incorporate bits of fabric or cardboard in various colors and, most surprising of all, strips of newsprint. This is because printer’s ink is a good germ killer, and newsprint helps to maintain a germ-free nest.

Perhaps the local squirrels subscribe to the Roane County News as enthusiastically as its human readers do!
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Ellen Probert Williamson lives in Kingston. Her column appears regularly in the Roane County News.