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Characteristics of a Cottage Garden

Tough Plants for Southern Gardens (garden mainstays)

Native Plants for the Garden

Commonly-grown Plants of African Origin

Landscape-quality Fruit Plants for Mississippi Gardens


Outdoor Classrooms

More coming soon


The Southern Cottage Garden

Out of the Parlor, into the Den”


A brand-new (less than a year old) cottage garden in Madison

Some foundation plants were removed, a small fence was put out from the side of the house, and flower beds

are stuffed with a variety of low-maintenance plants (including herbs and vegetables), creating a small enclosed area

that still looks good from the street. And by the way, this garden was awarded Yard of the Month just a year after it was started!


Cottage gardening, a style with the freedom of growing what you like, where you like, and how you like, has great rewards for those who want to get the most out of their landscape - and don’t mind being called “gardeners” by envious neighbors. Anyone can have a cottage garden - or a piece of one. In spite of it being much easier - not to mention more socially acceptable - to mindlessly mow grass and trim shrubs into simple meatball shapes, any landscape can include an area where you can plant stuff “every which way” and enjoy using all your senses.

It doesn’t have to be an all-consuming obsession.

          Note: I spent an entire summer in a cottage garden in the western midlands of England, and believe me, no two cottage gardeners - or their gardens - are alike, though most share certain characteristics, including a love of being outdoors, keen observation, attention to detail, appreciation of variety, and a sharing spirit. Their gardens, filled with  plants having proven hardiness and often shared between a diverse lot of gardeners, typically provide a strong sense of place.

Just like here in the South. No real differences in style, merely in weather and plant selections.


- No apparent design to outsiders, but definite personal layout - usually best viewed inside-out (from the house, not the street); meandering paths.

- A sense of enclosure (fence, gates, hedge, divided garden “rooms”).

- Minimal lawn area, usually “throw-rug” effect well-defined by edged beds.

- Lots of seating, and evidence of outdoor living and gardening (tools, gloves, pots, water cans, etc. in full view, where they can be reached easily).

- Strong vertical effects using trees, arbors, and posts supporting vines.

- Great diversity of interplanted flowers: Shrubs (evergreens often pruned creatively), roses, vines, bulbs, perennials, annuals, vegetables, and herbs, providing a year-round display of texture, color, and fragrance.

- Potted plants, typically in a wide variety of containers and hanging baskets.

- Few pesticides (only pest- and disease-resistant plants survive for long).

- Abundant wildlife, often deliberately attracted, fed, and housed.

- Many “hard features” such as birdbaths, urns, small statuary, signage, whimsical “yard art” and found objects (rocks, driftwood, etc.). 

Not all these elements are requirements; main thing is to have fun growing plants for the love of it and indulge your creative fantasies.



from Felder Rushing's book of the same name

Note: If you aren't familiar with any of these by the names I have used for them, look them up -

and you will immediately recognize them as dependable old fashioned plants well worth

seeking out for your garden!

 (S) indicates tolerance or need for shade, (W) indicates tolerance of winter



burgundy mustard (Winter hardy)

castor bean



coleus (Shade tolerant)

copper plant



dusty miller (Shade tolerant)


johnny jumpup and other violas (W)

larkspur (W)


mexican sunflower

moss rose


pansy (W)





purple wave petunia

rudbeckia (black eyed susan)


snapdragon (W)


sweet potato



caladium (needs Shade)



elephant ear  (Shade tolerant)

garden lilies

garlic chives


grape hyacinth


leucojum (Shade tolerant)


lycoris (red spider lily,pink naked ladies)

EASY DAFFODILS (Narcissus): Tete a Tete, jonquilla, paperwhite, Carlton, Mt. Hood, Ice Follies, Unsurpassable


bamboo (clump kinds (Bambusa species) best)

broomsedge (native)

dwarf bamboo (invasive groundcover for shade)

japanese blood grass

miscanthus - a VERY good choice in many sizes and variegations



purple muhly grass

ribbon grass (S)

river oats (S)

giant striped cane


Ajuga (S)




aspidistra (ONLY S)

aster ‘Clara Curtis’

banana (Shade tolerant)

beebalm (S)



daylily (including both the old orange kind and the small Stella d'Oro)                           

ferns (S)

goldenrods (many are clump-forming and cut-flower quality)

hardy begonia (S)

hibiscus sp.




lenten rose (S)

liriope (Shade tolerant)

mexican petunia (Ruellia)


mondo grass (S)

obedient plant (physostegia)

phloxes (some S)

purple coneflower

rudbeckia goldsturm




spiderwort - tradescantia (Shade tolerant)

narrowleaf sunflower (helianthus angustifolia)

violet (S)



Abelia (Shade tolerant)

Althaea- rose of sharon (Shade tolerant)


beautyberry - Callicarpa (S)

boxwood (S)

camellias (S)

cleyera (S)


eleagnus (S)

euonymus (S)

flowering quince (S)

forsythia (S)

hollies (S)

hydrangeas (S)


kerria (S)

ligustrum (S)

mahonia (NEEDS S)

nandina (S)

philadelphus (S)

poncirus (trifoliate orange, hardy orange)

prickly pear cactus


spirea (S)


sweet shrub (S)

weigela (S)

soft-tip yucca and yucca filamentosa

EASY SHRUB ROSES: Knockout, Mutablis, Caldwell Pink, Heritage, The Fairy, Martha Gonzales, Mr. Lincoln, Carefree Wonder, Red Cascades


blackeyed susan vine (thunbergia)

climbing roses

coral honeysuckle (S)

cross vine, including the hybrid 'Tangerine Beauty' (S)

cypress vine (can be invasive)


hyacinth bean


smilax (S)

trumpet creeper vine


yellow Jessamine (S)



(Suitable for average garden conditions, relatively pest-free, and commercially available)

Felder's garden

Museum of Natural Science in Jackson


Tulip poplar (Liriodendron)

Willow, water, and live oaks

Bald cypress (rusty brown fall color)

Red maple                    


River birch                   



American holly               



Fringe tree (Chionanthus, grancy graybeard)

Silverbell (Halesia - good dogwood substitute)

Parsley hawthorn                                     

Wild plum   

Buckeye (needs afternoon shade)

Sumac (poor dry soils; red seedheads not poison)                                                  

Dogwood (tricky to get established)

Deciduous holly (needs nearby male pollinator)


Magnolia 'Little Gem'        


Cherry laurel                                         

Leucothoe (great in shade)

Yaupon holly                  

Wax myrtle



American beautyberry (Callicarpa)

Sweetshrub (Calycanthus)

Oakleaf hydrangea (afternoon shade, woodsy soil)

Deciduous azaleas (afternoon shade, woodsy soil)

Rabbiteye blueberry (add peat to native soils)


Dwarf yaupon holly           

Palmetto and needle palms

Illicium (Florida anise, great for shade garden)

Yucca (clump-forming filamentosa)


Carolina jessamine       

Trumpet creeper          


Cross vine                                             

Coral honeysuckle    

Sweet Autumn clematis


Coreopsis (official Mississippi state wildflower) (NOTE: there are many reseeding annual species)

Amsonia (blue star)

Daisy 'May Queen' (naturalized, not native)                

Joe Pye weed

Obedience (Physostegia)                                                      

Purple coneflower

Spiderwort (Tradescantia, several good cultivars)   


Phlox (all kinds, esp. divaricata and paniculata)    


Monarda (needs "woodsy" soil, lots of mulch)       

Prickly pear cactus

Rudbeckia (blackeyed Susan (esp. 'Goldsturm')     


Ferns (especially Southern shield and maidenhair)                  

Cardinal flower (Lobelia)

Yellow evening primrose and spreading Mexican primrose (Oenothera)

There are many more, of course, but aren’t these enough for a start?



Compiled in 1998 by Felder Rushing

Flowering annuals:

Periwinkle (from Madagascar) 

Gomphrena (bachelor buttons or globe amaranth)

Celosia (prince's feather, cockscomb)

Impatiens (Tanzania to Mosambique)

Pentas                                  Joseph's coat

Bottle gourd                        Gazania

Hyacinth bean                     Castor bean


Star of Bethlehem                                          Gladiolus (South Africa)

Kniphofia (Tritoma, "red hot poker") Algerian ivy

Nutgrass (chuffa)                             Calla lily (South Africa)

Gerbera daisy                                        Amaryllis (South Africa)

Holly fern                                                          Crocosmia

Potted plants ‑‑ too tender to leave outside:


Agapanthus (Lily of the Nile) ‑‑ South Africa

Sansevieria (snake plant, mother‑in‑law tongue)

Asparagus ferns, including plumosa (South Africa)

Kalanchoe (Madagascar Island)

Airplane or spider plant (South Africa)

Geraniums (included scented)

Fiddle‑leaf fig (west Africa)

African violet ("discovered" in Tanga, East Africa, 1892)

Draceana marginata (Madagascar Island)

Areca palm, plumbago, euphorbias (pencil cactus, etc.)

Vegetables of African origin:

Okra                             Watermelon

Eggplant                         Carrots

Muskmelon                       Salsify

Endive                           Sesame

Celery                           Blackeyed peas

Also: "California" ice plant (S.Africa), Jasmine vine, Fig, giant reed (Arundo donax), and English holly

South American plants introduced to N. America from Africa: Pepper, peanut, cassava (tapioca), croton, bird of paradise, and ginger

* This list is abbreviated; there are many other garden-quality plants from Africa.


Landscape-quality Fruit Plants for Mississippi Gardens

      By Felder Rushing with help from Tom Mann and other members of Southern Fruit Fellowship

            The lure of “growing your own” is hard to resist, and it makes sense to set out plants that not only look good in the landscape, but also produce something to eat.

            The most important criteria for choosing good fruits is to select those that naturally grow well in our climate – wet winters, dry summers, high humidity, freezing winters, late spring frosts, and sometimes-miserable soil. In most areas of our state, this rules out cherries which need more cold weather, and tropical fruits that can’t take freezes or late frosts.

            NOTE: “Chilling hours” refers to the amount of cold temperature we get that is above freezing but below about 45 d4egrees – fruit plants tell when it is spring by how many chilling hours they get. Too many chilling hours means a fruit will bloom early and freeze; not enough chilling hours means no fruit will set. Central Mississippi averages 600-800 chilling hours, but this cannot be depended on every year.

            The second consideration is the individual varieties of each fruit type; some hybrids, for example, have more weather or pest resistance, or produce better or more fruit. This simple tip can make or break whether your plants actually produce fruit.

            Planting in wide holes, lots of mulch, occasional deep soakings, and annual fertilizing are very important to any plant, including fruit plants. Pest control can be expensive, time consuming, and even dangerous or unhealthy.

So it is important to choose good fruit types, select good varieties of each, and plant and care for them like you would any other valued plants.

Here are some of the most commonly-grown fruit plants, including old standbys and some surprising or hard-to-find fruit plants. All look good in the landscape and produce well with little or no care or pesticides.

Apples – generally produce poorly because of “chilling hours” problems and severe “fire blight” disease. Choose only blight resistant varieties that require less than 600 chilling hours for central MS, and 400 for the Gulf Coast. Try Anna, Mollies Delicious, Golden Dorsett. Best with two or more for pollination. Apple trees are deer magnets!

Pears – attractive in landscape, “iffy” production because of chilling requirements, late frosts, and fire blight disease. Start with Orient. Kieffer loses some grittiness and softens after harvest. Bartlett nearly impossible because of fire blight. Pears are deer magnets.

Muscadine grape – native – great production, require trellis (best one is simple – a single wire, chin high, between posts every 10 feet, with one vine every 20 feet). Requires annual pruning to remove all but a few inches of growth. Choose self pollinating varieties such as Carlos and Noble to pollinate other varieties.

NOTE: the bunch-type Champanel grape bears heavily and make decent juice. Grow like muscadine.

Plum – Needs pruning, pesticide spray program is required and intense. Black knot disease incurable. Try Morris, Methley, Ozark Premier.

Chickasaw (wild) plum – native – never fails to produce big crop – look for Guthrie

Pomegranate – very attractive shrub, late spring and summer red blooms. Requires good drainage, no water. Many varieties, but avoid those listed as “flowering” - little or no fruit

Gummi berry – Eleagnus multiflora – attractive shrub, heavy production, great flavor

Elderberry - native shrub or small tree, often herbaceaous, with huge flower clusters followed by dark blue berries

Crabapple – highly ornamental, susceptible to fire blight. Look for Callaway

American beautyberry (Callicarpa) – native shrub with golfball size clusters of magenta-purple berries along long stems in fall. Not very tasty, even mealy but absolutely edible

Quince (fruiting kind) – very attractive (like a spring blooming crape myrtle), easy to produce. Fruit almost inedible without softening after harvest, makes fantastic jelly.

Peach – Highly variable production, often has off flavor. Pruning requirements are heavy, and pesticide spray program is required and intense. Try Indian Cling, Peeto.

Raspberries – very difficult because of hot humid climate (do better farther north)., fruit rot, and leaf and stem diseases. Require trellis and pruning. Dorman Red developed at MSU, tastes like turpentine

Blackberries – Can be management problems with runners, highly susceptible to flower diseases spread from wild stands. Require annual pruning after harvest to control wild canes and to make new canes bushier and more productive. Try “primocane” (upright bush type) thornless varieties with Indian names (Chickasaw, Arapaho, and Navaho).

Apricots - similar to loquats in that they bloom too early to have reliable fruit

Nectarines – simply peaches with out the fuzz. No good information on reliable varieties

Chinkapin (“dwarf chestnut”) – native – requires good drainage or dry soils, smaller nuts than regular chestnut, on smaller trees, are covered in spiny capsule

Amelanchier (Juneberry, shadbush) – small native tree with blueberry-like summer fruit

Mayhaw – native, tolerates low wet areas. Very ornamental when in bloom, highly susceptible to “cedar-apple rust” (requires spraying). Fantastic jelly. Many varieties.

Mulberry (white or native red) – Good shade tree, outstanding raspberry-like berries. Hard to harvest..

Paw-paw – native, tolerates low wet areas. Many named cultivars - get named grafted ones. Needs two or more different cultivars to set fruit.

Jujube – great ornamental tree with spines and fruit that ripens in late summer. Tasty with a single seed. Harvest when the fruit is partly brown. Several varieties, including Li..

Pyracantha – heavy berried ornamental plant with hundreds of small apple-like fruit, mealy tasting but useful in jellies or to extend other dishes.

Blueberries – Native – outstanding choice for home gardens, especially Rabbiteye varieties and very early-ripening varieties of Southern Highbush. Require well-drained soil, plenty of peat or composted pine bark to soil and lots of mulch. Produce best with occasional summer soakings. Best production with two or more varieties. Plant 3-4 feet apart for rows. Flowers can be killed below 28 degrees, spray to encase in ice. Tifblue, Climax, Premier, Brightwell, Delite, Powderblue, Alapaha, Centurion, Bluebelle, others.

Persimmon – native – highly variable production, separate male and female trees. Require softening after harvest to remove bitterness.

Japanese persimmon – highly ornamental, very productive with little care. Some varieties not astringent at all. Try Fuyu (Fuyugaki), Samopan, Tanenashi, Hachiya, Eureka

Fig – a must for every garden! Bush gets large without annual (winter) pruning to remove tall stems and to tip-prune new growth for bushier plants. Needs an extra-wide hole and lots of mulch, appreciates a deep soaking or two in early summer. Requires regular (daily) harvesting, and bird netting. Celese, Alma, LSU Purple, Brown Turkey.

Pecans  – Native – Full of calories (1 lb = 3500 calories!) with great storage potential. Bears in 5-6 years. Sprays required for pest especially with commercial “papershell” varieties such as Stuart and Delicious. Try Caddo, Elliot, and any with “Indian” names.

Other nuts: Black walnuts, Chinese chestnuts, and hazelnuts produce well with lots of calories but are hard to crack.

Prickly pear cactus – pads are edible (slice and cook like green bean), fruits are very tasty with lots of little seeds and juice that stains the hands. Harvest with newspaper or gloves, and roll around to remove tiny spines

Hardy citrus – not reliable in central Mississippi except for “trifoliate orange” (wild lemon, hardy orange) with lots of big spines and very sour fruit with lots of seeds. Best bets for container gardening are kumquats which can tolerate light freezes. Meiwa kumquats and lemoquats are hardy in central Mississippi most winters.

Loquat – great ornamental plants, but bloom in the late winter and usually lose their fruit except along the Gulf Coast. Very drought hardy.

Feijoa (pineapple guava) - not reliably hardy or predictably bearing in central MS

Banana – not reliably hardy for fruit production except along Gulf Coast, unless the plants are cut back to just two or three feet tall and wrapped or otherwise protected from hard freeze. More cold-hardy varieties are available from

Cornus kousa – Kousa dogwood – beautiful flowers (longer sepals than our native dogwood) on upright trees, followed by luscious, inch-long, raspberry-like red fruits     

Don’t overlook the value of “home-grown” HONEY from a simple beehive or two! Plus the benefits of having home-grown pollinators to help your plants make fruit.


Composting in a Nutshell

Unless you are in a race or something, there are only two “rules” for successful composting: Stop throwing all that stuff away, and pile it up somewhere.

What actually creates compost are bacteria, fungi, worms, and many other small creatures who digest organic debris (leaves, mulch, grass clippings, weeds, and kitchen scraps such as vegetable trimmings, coffee grounds and filters, and the like). Decomposition time will vary depending on the type and size and of the material, and the amount of air and water present.

In general, there are two kinds of organic debris: “Brown” stuff (dried leaves, mulch, paper), which is slow to decompose, and “green” stuff (fresh grass clippings, vegetable trimmings, weeds), which composts almost too quickly. What happens in a good compost pile, is the bacteria and fungi “eat” the brown stuff, using nitrogen from the “green” stuff. Therefore, a good blend of green and grown stuff composts the best.

If you want a “pretty good” compost pile that works regularly without a lot of work, simply blend a little green stuff - or a natural source of nitrogen fertilizer, such as cottonseed, fish, or blood meal - with lots of brown stuff. NOTE: Don’t overdo the green stuff or nitrogen, or the pile will turn to ammonia! One part green stuff to 10 or 20 parts of brown stuff is sufficient for composting. As long as the pile stays moist and aerated (doesn’t pack down) it will compost withing three or four months.

If a compost bin starts to smell, simply add more “brown” stuff and turn or aerate the pile.

While even a simple leaf pile works for composting - even just throwing materials behind other plants or burying them in garden rows - most composters make simple bins to keep things neat and orderly. A bin made of four wooden pallets wired together works fine, or a cage made from a roll of half-inch mesh “hardware cloth” available at lumber yards. Covering the bins is not necessary, and can prevent rainfall from keeping the pile moist. Sun or shade makes no difference, but in areas where tree roots grow into the compost, lay an old shower curtain on the ground before piling on compost materials.

Here are some quick tips for speeding things up, if you want “hot” compost that kills weed seeds and many disease organisms, or need lots of compost within three or four weeks:

- Make sure particle sizes are small by tearing or shredding them into small pieces
- Add a small amount of soil or compost to "innoculate" the pile with healthy bacteria
- Keep the pile moist - Turn or aerate the pile every week or two
- Pile the compost at least 3 or 4 feet high and wide to generate hot compost activity

There is NO need to add lime to a compost pile! Really.
And if FIRE ANTS get in the pile, just work around them, or throw a piece of clear plastic over the pile to overheat and drive ants out.

Again, there is no race for compost - a slow-working leaf pile, once started, can be a continuous source of compost with only occasional replenishing of fresh materials. In fact, the best “rule” for composting is simply to forget the rules, and just do it!



Note: While youth should be involved in as many aspects of design as possible, EVERY consideration must be given for SAFETY (sharp edges, falls, bee stings, poisonous plants and seeds, etc.), and MAINTENANCE. These CANNOT be overstated! 

CURRICULUM NEEDS ASIDE, here are a few design features found in most successful school/youth gardens around the country:

- “Special space” sense of enclosure, including walls and kid-size, kid-

designed entry; security

- Access to water (w/hard surface to keep feet dry), electricity (w/ground-

fault interrupter circuit for safety)

- Firm walkways (for wet weather and for access by the disabled)

- Teaching area (classroom setting, partially walled from rest of garden),

with shaded seating that stays dry

- Roomy potting bench, and tool and equipment storage (can double as seating)

- Signs, charts, maps, other teaching tools; outdoor erasable chalkboard

- Raised beds and varied, large containers

- Weather station (rainfall, temperature, wind, time (human sundial), etc.)

- Water garden (usually small, with easy access for experiments)

- Vertical structures (for vines, banners, art, more sense of enclosure)

- Smaller enclosed areas for special lessons (composting, plant starting, worm

box, private student counseling, visitors’ viewing area)   

- Varying elevations (may incorporate a tunnel, slide, bridge, etc.)

- Lots of color, texture, sound, and other sensory considerations

- Wildlife area (bird feeders, houses, butterfly plants (non-bee!), etc.)

- Art (multi-media, can be incorporated in all the other design features)

- Widely-varying plants to fit curriculum needs (beyond mere production)

A FEW examples: Historic plants, fast-growing, fragrance, wildlife (bird

and butterfly), taste (herbs and vegetables), geography (native American,

African, South American, Asian, etc.), shade, economic (cotton, pine)

Note: All plants MUST perform during the school year, or survive the

summer without supplemental care.


There are many other considerations, but these are commonly found in nearly every successful outdoor classroom with garden components.