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Lilly Mae's Doodlebugs and Petunias- Finding Your Microclimate

Updated: Dec 30, 2022

My Great-Grandmother Lilly Mae Irby was the consummate Southern Baptist lady. She always had matching plastic ear bobs and a necklace on with her matching dress and was known far and wide through the county for her potato salad and genteel character. At the back of her home, beside the porch and garage was gray sandy soil. Where it came from I have no idea, it was not "The Red Earth of Terra" as described by Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind like the rest of the Upstate of South Carolina and Georgia. My Great-Grandmother, or Memaw as I called her, would always find a tiny stick and show me how to stir up the small Doodlebug pits in the sandy soil saying "Doodlebug, Doodlebug won't you come out?". Then, the small Antlion (Myrmeleontidae) would pop up from the sand.

My Great-Grandparents Lilly Mae King Irby and Thomas William Irby March 1947

The other thing I remember about the area around Memaw's porch were chicks and hens and beautiful purple and white-striped Petunias (Petunia × atkinsiana) she planted each year and dead-headed each day. Over the years I've tried to grow petunias in every color and variety to no avail. Pink ones, purple ones, and hybrids that promise to work for anyone. All duds!

If you have a plant you want to grow in your yard and cannot or have a plant that excels in your garden, but is a flop for a friend, the answer may be your microclimate. As you garden, it's important to find what works well in your yard's unique climate.

Your microclimate consists of many factors: solar profile, shade or full sun, large trees or the absence of them, building siting, soil makeup, temperature, moisture and more items, too many to name. Researching plants that meet your site's unique climate is a start but it truly takes time, multiple growing seasons and experimentation to find what works best for your garden or patio from flowers to vegetables.

I can still see Memaw in my mind waving to me from her petunia encircled porch as my grandmother's blue diesel Oldsmobile crunched the pea gravel as we traveled down the drive. Petunias still elude me, but I'll find the right site one day encourage you to do the same. So never, never, never ever give up!

My youngest selecting petunia cultivars at Lowes
My youngest son selecting petunia cultivars at Lowes continuing the tradition of his Great-Great Grandmother.

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