Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.


Lee May: Poet of the Spade

It is with great sorrow I share the news of the passing of our dear friend and Country Gardens contributing editor (from 2009 to 2013) Lee May. Lee, 73, died at his home in Georgia last Wednesday morning after a brief illness. Lee was diagnosed with cancer in mid-September and, after chemotherapy and a short hospitalization, he returned home to hospice care. “For three years, Lee wrote here about his gardening life in Connecticut and in Georgia,” posted his wife Lyn on his blog site. “While his greatest pleasure was digging in the dirt, nurturing his plants, bushes and trees and creating artful gardens, he took constant delight in exchanges with his readers and fellow gardeners.” Lee was a journalist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Los Angeles Times for more than twenty-five years.  He was a news writer and editor before becoming a food and gardening columnist for the Journal Constitution, and was the newspaper’s first African American editorial writer. During his tenure with the Los Angeles Times he wrote on a variety of issues including immigration and economics, and he covered the White House during the Reagan Administration. He moved from Washington to become the Times’ Atlanta bureau chief in 1989.

I interviewed Lee for Country Gardens’ back page “Over the Garden Gate” feature back in 2009 (above) and we featured his serenely beautiful garden in Connecticut in the Summer 2013 issue of Country Gardens (below). Here’s what Lee had to say to me in an e-mail last spring titled “midnight train to georgia” just before his return to the South:

“. . . Really. That’s our plan. To ride Amtrak overnight to the Peach State, where we are buying a home. We are scheduled to close the sale on our East Haddam home in mid-May and complete the purchase on a home in Marietta, Georgia, about a week later. It’ll be my third (and last) time, moving to Georgia and the second for Lyn. We can be helpful to our Georgia daughter, who is divorced, with an 8-year-old son—while she can be helpful to us, in case we ever get old. Of course, we loved our previous life in Georgia and expect to enjoy being there again. At the same time, we’ll be leaving dear friends, along with the home and garden of a lifetime. The long goodbye is underway. As is the anticipation of building one more garden. We began thinking about moving in January but didn’t offer our home and garden for sale until this month. I’m letting you know as soon as I feel enough certainty that the selling and buying will happen. I’ll miss working with you. But if your travels take you to my part of Dixie, you know I’d love to see you.

All the best, James,


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Feed the Birds











Now that my garden is kaput for the season, I can turn my attention to what remains. Like the coneflower heads bobbing in the frozen wind.  I don’t trim them in the fall, despite their bedraggled appearance, in hopes of luring a few birds to my dormant garden.  But that is not enough to sustain the local birds overwintering in my area. It’s time to clean and fill the bird feeders and hang out the birdseed ornaments.

Birds expend much more energy during cold periods to keep alive, while ice and snow obscure their natural seed sources.  Droughts in some parts of the country this year have further reduced the amounts of seeds and berries birds rely upon. Audubon Park, a company that sells wild bird feed, gives these 5 tips for keeping your local birds happy this winter:

  1. The right seed – research what the birds in your backyard prefer to nibble. High-fat (high-energy) foods like suet and sunflower seeds help keep them warm during frigid winter nights.
  2. Multiple feeding stations – mix it up by setting out various types of seeds in different areas, such as hanging feeders, platform feeders, and scattering some seed on the ground.
  3. Protection – place feeding spots in the sun, sheltered from the wind, and hopefully close enough to your window to provide ample glimpses of your visitors.
  4. Wet their whistle – offer clean water for drinking and bathing. Bird bath heaters keep water from freezing. Fountains with gently moving water will attract attention from birds.
  5. Landscape for the birds – Birds appreciate a variety of plants regardless of the season. Shrubs, tall grasses, and trees provide shelter from wind and predators as well as nesting space.

For more information on what and how to care for the birds in your neighborhood this winter, check out:


Country Gardens Awards!

Just wanted everyone to know that we’ve notified the winners of our 16th Annual Country Gardens Awards and will be photographing CG readers’ gardens this coming season in Oregon, Michigan, Florida and Washington. Plus, we’re especially psyched to let you know that Cool Wave Pansies will be officially presenting our 17th Annual Awards for 2015! If you’d like to see your garden in the pages of America’s favorite garden magazine, be sure to enter. Look for these award-winning gardens in the Fall 2015 issue, which goes on sale next August.


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150 Years of Hillier’s Nursery

While attending the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London last spring I stumbled upon a radiant grove of azaleas, rhododendrons, birches, and maples around the central monument in the Great Pavilion. This was Hillier Nurseries’ annual exhibit, for which, this year, the company won a 69th consecutive gold medal. At Chelsea, in what is Hillier’s 150th anniversary year, I spotted a fourth-generation family member: company president John, who first helped stage the exhibit in 1959—that’s the two of us, above, as John shows me around his Pavilion exhibit. Hillier’s began in 1864 when a 26-year-old journeyman-gardener, Edwin Hillier, bought a florist’s shop and three acres of land in Winchester. Edwin had spent 12 years working on country estates, including the Duke of Northumberland’s Syon House and Studley Royal in Yorkshire, as well as for the legendary Veitch nursery on King’s Road in Chelsea. Edwin’s ambitions are traced in a book, Hillier: the Plants, the People, the Passion, written by Robert Hillier’s wife, Jean, to mark the company’s anniversary. The 10-year project took the couple across England to archives and libraries, villages, churchyards, and estates associated with generations of Hilliers. In dusty crates in Hillier’s head offices, Jean found Edwin’s notebooks, which made it clear he aimed not to become a head gardener, but to run his own business. From those beginnings, Hillier has evolved into Britain’s largest wholesale hardy plant and specialist tree nursery, annually growing more than two million shrubs and perennials.

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Royal Horticultural Souvenirs

Last spring, I was fortunate to be invited by Collette to attend the Chelsea Flower Show in London as well as to tour other Royal Horticultural Society properties, including Wisley, Hyde Hall, and Harlow Carr, and Windsor Castle. While exploring the vendors at the Chelsea Flower Show, I stumbled upon Garden & Wood, a dealer in antique garden tools, furniture, as well as ephemera. Here was the garden gear of my greenest dreams: Handsome, fully restored spades and forks, hand tools such as trowels, daisy grubbers and dibbers; unusual glass cucumbers straighteners, grape storage bottles, hot bed thermometers, and seed measures; seed catalogs, seed packets, garden journals, and more. I struggled to find a suitable souvenir (that I could get back on the airplane) and settled on the two items you see here: A diminutive (just 3 1/2 inches tall) yet elegant green-patinaed toy or child’s watering can and a hand-colored etching of a Stapelia dated 1823.

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Powerful Plants

While serving as a judge for the 2015 Green Thumb Awards for the Direct Gardening Association a few weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find an entry definitely worthy of a shout-out. Powerful Plants is a new “edutainment” and healthy lifestyle brand from Al Benner, a father of twin eight-year-old boys who has been passionate about plants all his life. He feels that plants and the exploration of our natural world have taken a backseat to more passive forms of entertainment such as watching TV and playing video games. Powerful Plants is both a line of books as well as a line of vegetable and flower seeds packaged as characters that will appear in the books, like Snow Whate (‘Snow White’ cherry tomato), Dinosaur Kale (Lacinato kale), and Dragon’s Tongue (‘Dragon’s Tongue’ bush beans). Powerful Plants is all about getting kids re-engaged with the natural world and understanding how important it is to protect our environment, and our food supply. In the first book, The Carrot-Napping, Daucus our likeable carrot character is carrot-napped by Mean Gene and taken to his secret lab to be genetically modified. Can he be saved? Young readers find out the answers by responding to questions about what they have just read to unlock each animated scene. For more information, visit

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