A Fresh Cut Q&A with Rochelle Greayer

Michael and Elizabeth wanted to create a nicer yard, but they didn't know where to start. Lucky for them, Troy-Bilt showed up with the knowledge, expertise and tools to help them turn their subpar yard into their ideal outdoor space. But they had to work hard for it and learn how to accomplish a variety of outdoor projects to make their Fresh Cut yard transformation come to life. 
Since then, Michael and Elizabeth have been busy putting their new skills to use to maintain and evolve their outdoor space. Now it's time to check in with these fresh green thumbs with the help of landscape architect and gardening expert Rochelle Greayer of Pith Vigor to see what questions they have, issues they may have run into and what new projects they want to start.


1. What are good companion flowering plants to grow in raised vegetable beds to keep away bugs and complement the herbs?
a. In general, herbs are good companion plants to other vegetables (because they emit aromas that insects don't like). For example, basil can help keep bugs off of tomatoes. And rosemary, mint and dill all help to deter cabbage moths. Herbs in general, are tough, easy-to-grow plants that don't need much help from each other. However, if you want to plant something pretty and perhaps also edible, try nasturtiums (these can drape down the front of the raised bed or climb), marigolds, or borage - all have edible flowers. 
2. When should I fertilize the plants? Is there general rule of thumb, or is it specific to each plant? What do you recommend as an all-around good fertilizer? 
a. If you have plants that are struggling and in need of special attention, then address that plant (rather than the whole group). This way you can consult a nursery person and be more precise with your amendments. As a good overall strategy, I mulch in the spring (to keep weeds down as plants fill in). If you are buying mulch in bulk, ask for a 50/50 mix of bark mulch to compost. Not every nursery will do this, but it is worth shopping around for a supplier who will. This mix will not only help keep weeds down, the compost will help to build the soil is nutrients and encourage a good biome. If you can't find a supplier of a 50/50 mix, then either do two layers (compost and then mulch) or switch off every spring (one year compost, the next mulch). Compost itself can be used as mulch. With both compost and mulch, make sure not to put it right around stems of plants or you can damage them.
3. How do I know if the herbs are getting enough light? The leaves look more on the light green side and I am not sure if it is due to lack of water, light or something else?
a. Some herbs need very little water (thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage, lavender) and light green leaves can often mean that you are overwatering them. For these, let the soil dry completely before watering again. Others - like basil, dill, chives, mint, parsley, cilantro - prefer more water. It might be worth reworking a bit if you notice that some seem to be overwatered while others underwatered. Consider splitting by watering needs in two different beds. I suspect that light is not the issue, as you have great light, and many of these plants are pretty tolerant even if they aren't in full sun. 
4. What do you recommend for keeping caterpillars off the herbs and plants? 
a. Depends on what kind of caterpillar. It's probably worth talking to a local nursery person to know if these are beneficial or bad bugs and how to control them (if needed). 
5. What do you recommend covering the herb garden with: mulch, pea gravel or straw? What are the pros and cons of each? 
a. Mulch serves the main purposes of keeping weeds down and helping the soil retain moisture. It also has an aesthetic quality. As long as the mulch covers the soil enough to suppress weeds and retain water, then it is largely a preference for looks, cost and availability. If you opt for straw, make sure you are getting a seedless product (a common mistake ' using hay, which has lots of seeds - and causing more problems than preventing). Make sure your mulch is thick enough - generally a couple (2+) inches is needed.
6. Suggestions on keeping the deer away from plants in the front yard? 
a. Fence. Often all that is needed are a few well-placed wires rather than a whole fence - electrified can be even better, but not required. There are also some spray-on products that protect leaves by making them less tasty. I am not sure how well they perform where you are, but it's worth asking at a nursery. Some of these products are only recommended in the winter since they can damage leaves when combined with summer heat. 
7. I have multiple 16" clay pots that I would like to plant to create a real wow factor. How many types of plants should go in them? How do you choose which plants to pick? Multiple heights? Color schemes? How do you achieve coordinated, wow factor pots? 
a. If looking to create a grouping of pots, this is much more easily done with pots of different sizes. Having all one-size pots, you can plant them all similarly and line them up along an edge of something (like maybe around the edge of the driveway - spaced out - but since they are similarly planted, they will create a rhythm and visual line.) Clay dries out easily and quickly, so planting something that doesn't need to be watered all the time will help you to have more success. Think about succulents, grasses, and other plants that like to be dry and well drained (lavender). A local nursery would be able to help. One plant, one pot (or at least one type of plant, one pot) keeps things simple. However, if you want multiple things, make sure they all like the same conditions. 
8. What flowers grow very easily that I can cut and use inside for vases?
a. Spring: Bulbs. You can add lots of daffodils, tulips and other more exotic flowers. Summer: Roses. Ask your local nursery for easy care roses. Peonies - everyone's favorite - are great for cutting. Also, Dahlias are great for cutting later in the summer and into the fall. Flowering shrubs in general can be more consistent than perennial flowers - forsythia, quince, hydrangea, viburnum, lilac, spirea, landscape roses are all options that I grow and cut. 
9. Is there a natural weed killer that is your go-to? 
a. I love to torch my weeds - especially on gravel patios and in the cracks of stone patios and walkways. You can get a flame weeder (that sounds really dramatic when it isn't really) for pretty cheap (hooks up to a propane tank) and then you can blast with heat and kills things pretty quick. Be careful around plants you do want to keep - some really don't like indirect heat. (I have a boxwood near my patio that hates me and the torch.)
10. There is grass growing up in our driveway. I am not sure the best way to kill it without using harmful chemicals? 
a. Flame weeder. 
11. What are your favorite shade plants? 
a. I love Hakonechloa grass, especially when planted in an area where it can make a waterfall effect. I also love Brunnera (silvery leaf and the prettiest delicate blue flowers make me happy). I like hostas (I know, lame), but I especially love the blue ones that are so beautiful and also the ones with really huge leaves - so many varieties to try. I like Epimedium (a cool ground cover that is really pretty even though the flowers are not the main attraction - the leaves are). Ferns (my husband hates them, I love them). 
12. I added a climbing rose to our stone arch, but I am not sure if that spot gets enough light? How can I tell? 
a. I have seen a million gadgets that tell how much light you have in a spot come and go on the market. You can look at a local nursery and see if there is something (usually a few bucks) - usually some sort of solar indicator that turns color based on how much light it got in a day. Or you can watch and notice the shadows. Pick a time in the morning and evening (about 6 hours apart; a rose should be fine with a good 6 hours of sun). See if it is in the shade. If it is, adjust your times and see if there is a 6-hour window when it is not shaded. If there is, then should be fine.
13. What are the key elements to a cottage garden look and feel?
a. Lots of plants growing together (let things reseed where you can). Also, plants that are useful - history is based in small functional gardens (flowers and vegetables growing together) created by peasants. (Flowers attract bees and pollinators for vegetables). Jam as much in as possible with regards to plants; letting things get a little wild. Contain with little hedges or a fence.
14. What are your favorite patio pieces for outdoor entertaining?
a.Big long tables and built-in seating wherever you can (then you can add little stools, or upturned pots or whatever around so that drinks can be put down). Twinkle lights overhead always make an outdoor space feel festive and a little more enclosed and cozy. Fire - maybe more than one fire pit (I have 3), and torches. I have a weird piece that I love - it's an old sink (a really long rusty thing that isn't very deep, not sure of it's original purpose). My dad built a base around it so it is table height. Full of ice, it is perfect for a bunch of wine bottles or other help-yourself drinks. For a party, we have no qualms about moving indoor furniture outside - maybe not your best stuff, but indoor stuff, outside, is kind of fun for a night. For example, our barn, which is basically an outdoor party spot, has sofas and an old mantel that we propped up against a wall (these things were all indoor pieces at one time). We move other chairs and stuff out on occasion too.