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Paula Gross

Paula Gross

Paula holds a master’s degree in horticulture from the University of Georgia and is the former associate director of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Botanical Gardens. For twenty years, Paula taught courses in botany, plant identification, and economic botany, as well as led the creation of both children’s and adult education programs and helped guide the growth of greenhouse and gardens. She continues her love of sharing the world of plants with people through teaching part-time in the horticulture department at Central Piedmont Community College. Her deep belief that the connection between plants and people is vital for the health of both individual and planet is what inspires her to write, teach, and consult. She is co-author of the book Bizarre Botanicals with Larry Mellichamp.

 

1. What do you like most about gardening in your region?

In my particular corner of the Southeast—right where Zone 7 turns to Zone 8—there is a lot of room for experimentation. I can push the limits of cold-hardiness and often grow plants that are listed as Zone 8b or 9. I’ve also done my share of trying less heat-tolerant plants that I’ve admired in other regions. I’ve mostly lost that match, but every now and then I’ve been delighted with one that settles in. I love how diverse the Southeast is—each region has gardening cultures and styles that have a different flavor. It’s fun to relate and to compare. I’m pretty certain the bold, mixed tropical perennial border was born here! I’m a big fan of our native flora too. It is one of the richest in the entire country, sea to mountains. It’s never boring, y’all!

 

2. What’s the biggest challenge to gardening in your region?

The hot summers when it doesn’t cool down at night are the biggest challenge. This takes its toll on some plants, and by late summer we are all a little tired. But we can garden all winter, so it’s a fair trade.

 

3. What plant are you jazzed about in your garden right now?

I’m jazzed about ‘Welch’s Pink’ American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana ‘Welch’s Pink’, Zones 5–9). I had planted it in the far back of the garden without a tag and had forgotten it wasn’t the straight species. It seemed like overnight I looked out to see huge clusters of bubblegum pink covering every stalk. What a total surprise!

Welch’s Pink beautyberry
‘Welch’s Pink’ beautyberry is covered in clusters of bright, light pink berries that are sure to turn heads. Photo: Michelle Gervais

 

4. What was the last plant you killed?

Now, let’s be fair. It’s not so much “killed”—that sounds so intentional! How about watched pass on while under my (supposed) care? It was a mukdenia (Mukdenia spp., Zones 4–8). It was never meant to be.


 

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