All Posts By

Geraldine Adamich Laufer

Garden Filled with Birds and Fragrance

By | Blog, Gardening | No Comments

Garden Filled with Birds and Fragrance
copyright Geri Laufer, @gardengeri

It’s mid-June and my garden is filled with birdsong and fragrance. The deck acts like a promontory providing a bird’s eye view of the curving paths and herb and flower-filled beds spread out like a map, below. Colorful flashes of topaz Goldfinches and cobalt Bluebirds sketch swooping, scalloped flight paths, while songsters add their liquid musical notes. And filling the air with fragrance, Lavender, Southern Magnolia, Gardenia and Oriental Lilies (especially the Lilies) contribute their perfumed scents.

Birds are attracted to plentiful amounts of food in a healthy, organic garden. Brilliant yellow Goldfinches are irresistibly drawn by the seed heads of Peony Poppies, finished blooming but oh, so useful. As well, they feast on spent zinnias, hollyhock ‘cheeses’ and consume the centers of Coneflowers and Susans as they ripen.

Yellow Bird Finch


The bright blue Bluebirds are industriously raising a (very hungry!) second brood, and zoom back and forth with tasty worms, grubs, an occasional choice slug, tiny Alpine strawberries and blueberries ripening now.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Meanwhile, the fragrance in this garden is intoxicating. Step onto the deck and into a world of sweet Lavender, richly-scented Gardenias, lemony Southern Magnolias and the perfume of the Oriental Lilies, most fragrant of all.

‘Phenomenal’ Lavender by Peace Tree Farm is fully in bloom by Fathers Day. Twelve plants follow the curve of the stone steps, where ankles may brush against it to revv up the aroma.


Neighbor Hugh has a tall Southern Magnolia whose foot-wide blossoms bend over backwards across the fence to add a lemony citrus note.


The ten-foot shrub Gardenia in the shady back garden is covered head-to-toe with waxy white blooms, their scent rewarding those who wander back so far.

Fragrance Gardenia


Of all the fragrant flowers, I think Oriental Lilies are my favorites; even my dog is named Lily. Orientals and Orienpets grow strongly to 6 and 8 feet close above my head, and hold aloft candelabra of 16 or 24 huge perfumed flowers. My favorites are Casa Blanca, Honeymoon, Conca d’Or, Josephine and Muscadet. I plant more every fall, adding garlic cloves or top onions next to the bulbs to repel hungry rodents.


What does your garden hold? I’ll jot down notes in my garden notebook of where to squeeze in a few dozen more lilies this fall.

Seedlings with Chubby Cotyledons Fill Me with Joy

By | Blog, Tools and Techniques | No Comments


Dwarf Blue Curly Kale Seedlings

Cotyledons on Dwarf Blue Curly Kale Seedlings are nearly ready to sprout first true leaves.

New seedlings with chubby cotyledons fill me with joy ! I sowed Parsley, several kinds of Kale, and Rainbow Chard under grow-lights in my Light Garden, and to my delight, they have begun germinating. I am hoping for fresh new veggies in time for Thanksgiving.

Beets and Radishes are quicker to germinate. I direct-seeded three kinds of Beets and red globe Radishes out in the garden, then watered-in thoroughly. I covered the bed with a single layer of soaked, heavy brown paper bags for 4 days (and kept them wetted down) to keep the soil moist surrounding the seeds and to help them to germinate. In the next day or two, I will peek under the brown paper to check to see if their chubby cotyledons have appeared. I’m betting the Radishes will be first!

Direct-seeded parsley

Parsley seedlings with first true leaves are up after taking 2 weeks to germinate.

Parsley takes quite a while to sprout; the legend is that it must travel to the Devil and back 9 times before it can germinate. What do you think?

Overall, I am a bit late sowing my cool-season crops for USDA Climate Zone 8A #Atlanta due to the 67th annual Garden Writers Association Symposium that was held here in Atlanta for the first time Sept. 16-20, 2016. I had two wonderful houseguests for the Symposium, though. Better late than never!

The best time to plant cool season crops was a couple of weeks ago. (The best time to plant trees is 20 years ago.) The second best time is today!

Baby Bok Choy Cotyledons

Baby Bock Choy Cotyledons have emerged after 3 days in moist medium, under Grow Lights

I delayed planting a bit because my summer tomatoes were still bearing, and I had to pull them out in order to rotate the garden beds to veggies that grow best during the cool seasons of fall and winter. Despite hard frost or frozen soils, the cool season veggies continue to thrive, since Atlanta cools down and warms up regularly during winter, plus our soils rarely freeze more than a couple of inches deep for a few days.

Hope to post some mature harvest photos in a couple of months!



10 Key Mosquito Repelling Herbs, Plants and Flowers

By | Blog, Exciting Plants | No Comments

There are several key mosquito repelling herbs, plants and flowers that are easy-to-grow, natural garden plants that help to keep outdoor rooms, decks and patios clear of pesky insect pests, yet are safe for honeybees, butterflies and pollinators. You may wish to explore substituting fragrant and strong-smelling herbs for commercial chemical sprays.

10 Key Mosquito Repelling Herbs to Grow at Home

1. Lemongrass or Citronella Grass

Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus and C. winterianusis) is the real deal. Citronella is the most common natural ingredient used in mosquito repellents and its strong citronella/lemon/citrusLemongrass_ aroma covers other smells that attract mosquitoes (such as carbon dioxide from exhaling, or lactic acid from sweating), making it harder for them to find you. Citronella is offered commercially in many forms including scented candles and torches, but fresh leaves have the strongest smell. Citronella is in the same genus as Lemongrass (Citronella citrates), and the tender white bases of the grass are used in Thai cuisine, while the long slender leaves can be woven into a fan or mat. GardenGeri talks about Lemongrass on

Citronella nardus is a tropical, perennial ‘clumping’ grass that grows about 3-4 feet in metro-Atlanta and does best in full sun. Like any grass, springtime applications of nitrogen-rich compost or blood meal will increase vigor. It turns a lovely rust color in the autumn that harmonizes with fall mums and asters. Citronella sometimes winters over in Zone 8 or warmer, or if container-grown can be brought indoors during cold spells.

Get your citronella from a reliable source and choose Cybopogon nardus or Citronella winterianus. Other plants may be sold as ‘citronella scented’, but these do not have the mosquito repelling qualities of true citronella.

2. Lemon Thyme

Lemon Thyme has a greater concentration of citronella than the Scented Geranium widely sold as “fake citronella” or a mosquito repellent (!). Crushed leaves of thyme provide 62% of the repellency provided by chemical DEET.

Lemon Thyme is a hardy, edible perennial whose tiny blooms attract butterflies and bees in season. Its spreading, creeping habit is good on pathways or trailing down the side of a container or large pot.

3. Basil
All of the pungent kinds of Basil have a strong aroma even without touching or crushing. Pots of basil placed around the patio or deck are beautiful AND will help to keep mosquitoes away. Lemon Basil, Peruvian Basil, African Blue Basil and Cinnamon Basil are particularly strongly scented for this use. Basil  Pesto is delicious on pasta, burgers, chicken, fish, veggies, tomatoes and just about anything grilled.

4. Ageratum

Also known as blue Floss Flower, annual Ageratum is a low-growing ornamental plant which AgeratumWildreaches heights of 8 – 18” and is easily recognized by its lavender-blue flowers. This plant will thrive in full or partial sun and does not require rich soil.  Taller Wild Ageratum blooms in late summer or fall.

Ageratum secretes coumarin, a smell that repels mosquitoes and an ingredient widely used in commercial mosquito repellents. Crush the leaves of Ageratum to increase the emitted odor, but don’t rub on the skin.

5. Catnip

Catnip is a natural mosquito repellent. Work at Iowa State in August 2001 found that catnip oil is ten times more effective than DEET, while in more recent work ISU has patented nepetalactone, the primary ingredient in catnip oil, in the search for a product to thwart mosquitoes.

Nepeta cateria, is very easy to grow. This low-growing, lavender-flowered perennial herb is related to mint, and grows easily as a cultivated perennial.

While catnip will repel mosquitoes in close proximity to the plant, some people apply crushed catnip leaves or catnip oil to a scarf or handkerchief for more robust protection. Or put 2 handfuls of catnip in the food processor, then add boiling water and white vinegar, and steep as a tea to brew a home-made mosquito repellent.

6. Lavender

One of the most beloved garden herbs, Lavender is “ever gray” and adds a silvery note to the landscape year-round. In bloom the lovely lavender-colored flowers are fragrant, and remain so even when dried. Lavender is a familiar fragrance for soaps and perfumes, but it can also repel mosquitoes. Try rubbing the crushed leaves or a few drops of lavender oil on a hankie or towel draped over your chair to repel pesky mosquitoes.

Give Lavender full sun, excellent drainage and an alkaline soil for best growth. In Atlanta this means the addition of coarse sand or Permatill to Georgia red clay along with plenty of organic matter. A flowerpot full of pulverized dolomite lime mixed in with the soil offsets the acidity of the native soils.

7. Marigolds

Ubiquitous yellow- and orange-flowered annuals, marigolds are tough annuals for flower borders with a distinctive smell that mosquitoes (and some people) find offensive. A member of the Daisy Family, Marigolds contain Pyrethrum, a natural pest control compound used in Marigolds[crop]many organic insect repellents.

Marigolds do best with full sunlight and ertile soil. School kids often start marigolds for Mother’s Day from seed, but starter plants are inexpensive and readily available at garden centers. Sometimes marigolds will reseed in favorable conditions. Deadhead spent flowers to promote additional blooms.

Marigolds grown in containers can be positioned at entrances, open screened windows, decks or patios, and the smell may stop mosquitoes from going past this barrier. (Since wasps are attracted to bright yellow, avoid putting marigolds on the table.)

In addition to repelling mosquitoes, marigolds are said to be a companion plant for tomato plants (although this may be hearsay), so a few planted in and around tomatoes may help, and looks nice regardless.

Additional Strong-Smelling Members of the Marigold or Daisy Family (Asteraceae) 
Santolina, Wormwood and the genus Tanacetum (tansy, pyrethrum, feverfew), all offer some repellent qualities and are easy to grow garden plants.

8. Lemon Balm

Really E-A-S-Y to grow, Lemon Balm smells like Citronella and is an edible herb in the Mint Family that grows in sun or shade. Rub the crushed or minced leaves on legs and arms or on a cloth worn around exposed limbs to repel mosquitoes.

When your lemon balm grows exuberantly, make Lemon Balm Wine Cooler for a cool and refreshing summer drink.

9. Pennyroyal 

Fresh Pennyroyal is an amazingly effective natural mosquito repellent. This low-growing herb can be planted beneath a bench where shoes will bruise the leaves and emit the fresh minty smell, or in a vase as a cut flower for the table. Pennyroyal is also great against fleas and ticks. However, do not rub crushed Pennyroyal directly on your skin or on your dog’s coat because it is extremely toxic to the liver of humans, dogs and cats.

10. Bee Balm 

Also known as Oswego Tea, Horsemint or Monarda, Bee Balm is perennial plant in the Mint family gives off a strong incense-like odor, confusing mosquitoes by masking the smell of its usual hosts (warm people).beebalmfls

Bee Balm is a fast growing, shade-tolerant and drought-resistant plant that reaches a height and width of 2 – 3 feet with pink, red, rose, white or lavender flower heads that attract pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to the garden. Bee balm grows in sun or shade and can be divided in spring or fall and given to friends or transplanted to other locations in the garden. Bee Balm leaves are also dried and used to make herbal tea.

Claims for Scented-Geranium “Citronella” are greatly exaggerated! 

Garden centers often sell scented-geranium plants in place of citronella grass. These tender perennials (Pelargonium) are offered in pots ready to transplant to a larger container or in-ground beds. However, the University of Georgia cautions that no scientific data backs up the insect-repellent claims, with only 0.09% of the effective oil in contained in the leaves. Dr. Arthur Tucker of Delaware State College says that repellent claims are greatly exaggerated with only 0.09% of the effective oil in contained in the leaves.

Even without a repellent function, scented-geraniiums are wonderful, fragrant plants and are great houseplants or will occasionally winter-over in metro-Atlanta if temperatures do not fall below about 20 degrees F. Once established, new plants are easily propagated by cuttings and shared with friends and family after rooting. In addition to the “citronella-scented or lemon-scented geranium, there are many fun types of scented geraniums, from Rose to Coconut to Mint to Lime and more!

Additional Strategies

During summer and fall, folks are looking for ways to control mosquitoes. The first preventative measure is to drain standing water in order to eliminate breeding areas for mosquitoes. Mosquito dunks or mosquito fish are good to add to water gardens. Screen mosquitoes out of the house, and outside on the deck or patio, sit in front of a fan to blow lightweight mosquitoes away. A fabric softener sheet tucked into the sleeve also helps repel mosquitoes.  Tea Tree or Neem is non-toxic and is effective as a repellent.

In addition to the discomfort of the itch, diseases such as Zika and the West Nile virus add to the problem.  Commercial sprays are available, but exercise caution when using those containing DEET; adverse medical side effects can occur if used on children. Do not spray directly on the skin, but into a handkerchief or on a scarf, and wash off DEET repellents once you go back inside. Other  DEET-free sprays are based on citrus oils or other non-toxic ingredients.

Digging Deeper

The Chemistry of mosquito repellents. 

8 Top Tips to Attract Pollinators

By | Blog, Gardening | No Comments

Pollinators are a gardener’s best friend. The strategies that work best:BachelorsButton

1) Stop using pesticides. Pesticides will kill both the bad bugs AND your pollinators!

2) Plan a garden filled with color. Honeybees have good color vision so a garden with a gay profusion of zinnias or lilies will draw them.
Big swaths of flowers will bring them on.

3) Interplant flowers with veggies. Get more fruits and vegetables by drawing pollinators to less showy food plants.

WinterAHC54) All different shapes and colors are best.

5) More than 3,000 different species of bees and butterflies depend on a range of flowers.Bees can depend on a multi-season garden.

6) Support a wider range of pollinating insects by planning for year-round bloom.

7) Sunny sheltered flower gardens are ideal. Wind can blow the tiny pollinators around, so provide a windbreak.


8) Provide drinking water! Shallow pools are best. Shallow, as in, up to the bee’s knees!


by Garden Geri