Author Archives: Kris Blevons

In Appreciation Of Pollinator Gardens…Large and Small

This summer’s “Better Late Than Never” pollinator garden is coming along and, as in years past, will get even more colorful as the end of summer approaches. I’m happy to see that private and public gardens and gardening for wildlife is a growing trend across the country.

I recently returned from a trip back to my home state of Wisconsin, where I  visited a couple of county parks my late father helped make possible many years ago near the beginning of this movement in public gardening. My mother, sister, and I are certain he’d have been very pleased with the progress of this prairie reclamation in the middle of southern Wisconsin farm land.

At Dorothy Carnes County Park & Rose Lake State Natural Area we watched as dozens and dozens of purple martins flew back and forth to houses set up for them, butterflies soared through prairie plantings, and a group of special needs children returned from a morning hike.

 

 

The next day we visited Korth County Park  on Rock Lake and hiked down to a bench overlooking the water. Visitors can hike or bike along paths skirting the lake, and both parks have shelters used for picnicking. I feel so lucky to have visited these lovely and well maintained public spaces.

Our pollinator garden is tiny in comparison but there’s so much life in it too. This year I had trouble finding the peach porterweed that the butterflies adore, but a few weeks ago noticed that a number of them had reseeded from the previous summer’s garden. These volunteer surprises make this garden extra special.

Other “volunteers” this year are red gomphrena, rudbeckias with huge blooms, many zinnias, celosia, sunflowers, cosmos, hyacinth bean and moonflower vines on the arbor, cleome where the compost bin had been, and a lone dill plant. It’s truly an old fashioned cottage garden for the pollinators and the enjoyment of anyone who stops to look!

 

 

We also added a few new plants this year. Verbena ‘Lollipop’ and pentas for butterflies, cigar plant, pineapple  and Mexican sage for hummingbirds, African blue basil and purslane for the honeybees,  and red ruellia too.

The Mexican sunflowers, tithonia, are also slowly getting larger and will add their bright orange blooms that the butterflies love as the summer wanes. The annual milkweed is in bloom now too.

Perennials that return are always welcome in the garden!  The butterfly weed, purple coneflower, and salvia greggii are old friends.

A woman approached me the other day as I was watering to say thank you and said she’s created a pollinator garden of her own after following the progress of this small space in the middle of Crestline Village.

Talking with her and others has been so gratifying. I hope my Dad is watching from wherever he is and smiling at our efforts to create a beautiful space for community and nature too. If you’re in Crestline Village, I hope you’ll take time to stop and appreciate this little slice of pollinator heaven!

By Kris Blevons

 

 

A Mandala Inspired by Art

I grew up watching my mom create beautiful works of art using only a sewing needle and the colorful threads and yarns that she stitched into amazing designs on fabric.

She showed her stitcheries in a few  museum textile art exhibits, but mostly they were an artistic outlet for her and a joy for  friends and family.

 

One hot, slow summer day Jamie mentioned it would be fun to make another Oak Street Garden Shop Mandala (designs using blooms, leaves, and other materials around the shop.).

I agreed and mentioned the pieces of driftwood we’d gotten in reminded me of my mom’s stitcheries. She displayed them hung on pieces of driftwood found at area lakes where I grew up in Michigan and Wisconsin.

So we decided to try to make a mandala  in the same manner as one of my mom’s stitcheries and started out by laying fabric onto a table and positioning a piece of driftwood at the top.

 

 

Jamie began gathering colorful blooms and leaves, and I laid out stones to create the lines and forms we could work from. I remember my mom saying it was the relationship of forms that she enjoyed most.

 

 

I did mention it was a hot summer day, right? Of course that’s why it was a slow day too, perfect for a project like this. However I have to say that it might have been even hotter than normal on this particular afternoon in the greenhouse.

The table was set up up by the front door to take advantage of as much air as possible, but we had to  eventually close one of the doors because it was too breezy and nothing would stay where we placed it.

 

A few people came in looking for things here and there, and it was easy to tell the ones that didn’t really get it. “What is it?” was the usual question. “It’s a design”,  we’d answer, “using leaves and things.” “Ahh…” they’d say uncertainly and slowly walk away.

But one woman and a group of young girls were intrigued and asked what various things were and why we were making it, exclaiming that it was beautiful.

Here then are pictures of our “tapestry project” using my mom’s stitcheries as inspiration. And, whether you “get it” or not, we hope you enjoy the idea! If you like this one and would like to see some others we’ve made, look HERE. You can also click on Blog Posts,  go to Archives and use the Search feature. Just type in mandala.

By Kris Blevons

 

 

 

A Place To Sit…

This afternoon, glass of wine in hand, I take my usual late day walk through the garden, observing the landscape in the afternoon light. I can’t help but pull stray weeds – pull them now or pull them later, right? I hear the water rushing below after the recent rains, and decide to sit for awhile on a bench there.

A dear garden friend (now gone) once turned to me after seeing this bench, saying, “I bet you don’t sit here much do you? There’s always something to do.” I think of her comment often, but now is the perfect time of day to sit, listen, and watch. A movement catches my eye and my gaze settles on the tiniest of tiny worms dangling in the air in front of me. It jerks down, then sways. What is it? I watch as it moves down a bit more, with seeming enormous effort, until it hangs in front of me on its invisible thread.

I watch as it slowly, impossibly, begins to rise. I tilt my head up, looking at the branches of the Japanese maple above me, wondering. How would that distance translate for a human? A mile? 5? I watch til it disappears up and away from sight. This is why there are benches in gardens…

By Kris Blevons

Contained…Plantings To Inspire

It’s difficult to keep up with blog posts through the busiest stretch of spring, but now the pace has slowed and there’s time to show a sampling of the plantings we’ve done. This is by no means all of them, so there will be another post documenting more soon!

Cork bark containers continue to inspire us and can be used in sun or shade. This one, planted with a beautiful begonia, coleus and a tiny leaved maidenhair fern, is for shade.

White and green is always a hit.

Others were all color!

 

Succulents are still very popular, and herbs are too.

 

We made basil topiaries (and are working on some coleus topiaries too)!

And a vertical planting using foliage plants.

Some served double duty – arranged beautifully for a party, then taken out and planted elsewhere, or used exclusively as an indoor design element.

A few container gardens in a sunny section of the nursery…and next door at Dyron’s restaurant.

Driftwood pieces…planted. We had a lot of fun with these!

We hope this has inspired you!

 

By Kris Blevons

Leaving On Vacation? Don’t Forget The Garden…

Today marks the summer solstice and the longest day of the gardening year, with the 4th of July holiday and our long southern summer ahead.

This can be a tough time for our landscapes as other activities – trips to the beach or mountains, weekend getaways, and more – lure us away from our ordinary routines.

 

 

Before you leave for an extended time, make plans for a neighbor or friend to check on your garden. Ask them to harvest vegetables and herbs and keep any that they pick.

 

 

Basil in particular is a fast grower and benefits from being cut regularly. Give them an easy pesto recipe so they can make some for themselves (or even better, make some for them when you return).

Are there spots that need more water than others if it turns sunny and hot? Walk them through your landscape and give them a heads-up on problem areas or plants that you’d appreciate particular attention paid to.

 

If you have pots that will need consistent watering, group them together within easy reach of your hose. Remember very small pots dry out quickly, especially in windy conditions. Consider moving those in sun into more shade while you’re gone.

Walk your landscape and do any weeding, deadheading and cutting back, keeping in mind how much they will grow while you’re away. Make sure your garden beds are mulched and add some to the top of container gardens as well.

 

Finally, be grateful your friend made the time to check on your plantings but don’t expect perfection. If, when you return, there are overgrown plants, some that received too much or too little water, or vegetables that didn’t get harvested, don’t sweat it. After all, you just returned from vacation while they were hard at work for you!

By Kris Blevons 

 

 

 

Gardening For Your Health

What do you do to stay in the best of health? Maybe you go to the gym daily or at least once a week. My sister plays tennis, bikes, and walks too. A co-worker goes the to the gym every day and eats a well balanced and nourishing diet.

For myself, walking, eating right, and generally staying as active as possible are my goals. Of course there’s more to staying  healthy than just physical exercise, and gardening  can provide mental as well as physical rewards. If  I’m upset about something,  I get outside and immerse myself in gardening tasks, and I’m able to relax as my mind focuses on the plants and the environment around me.

Working  the soil, planting a garden, taking the time to observe changes as plants grow, these are all activities that are healthy for our bodies as well as our minds. Our children should be allowed to play and get dirty as well; introduce them to plants and gardening by letting them plant their very own small space with a few vegetables or some bright flowers. Help them tend it and you’ll be nourishing your relationships too.

We all lead incredibly busy lives, but more and more time is being spent looking at our phones, tablets, and laptops, inevitably resulting in less movement and more sitting and staring, completely unaware of our surroundings or people. Take a break from the devices for awhile and get outside again. You’ll be glad you did.

By Kris Blevons

 

 

Larkspur and Poppies – The Better Late Than Never Garden in May

Village Living, our neighborhood newspaper, did a nice story on pollinator gardening that ran in an April issue. It was a very good and informative article, but I fretted that the picture was of me weeding, and not very exciting. What a difference a month makes!

The bachelor buttons are putting on their annual show, tough plants that come back year after year to dazzle with their varied shades of blue, lavender, pink, and white flowers. I throw out more seed each January (I’m too busy during the holidays to sow it any earlier.) of select blooms from the previous year’s garden.

I’m pleased with the larkspur this year and marvel how it is a constant now, though I add more seed of it as well, not quite trusting that it will reappear each year. In May, on a warm morning, I walk through the small space, marveling at the abundance of bloom.

The  ‘Indian Summer’ rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan’s) have returned and are blooming. This is exciting, as I wasn’t sure if they’d be cold hardy in this open area. They’ve not only returned, but have sown themselves in another spot as well. Excellent, I think.

 

 

 

I move on, strolling around the corner of the back bed beside the compost bin. There’s a verbena blooming that I didn’t plant – I’d noticed it for the first time last year, and here it is again, a lovely lavender flower carpeting the ground beneath the blooming bachelor buttons.

I glance to my right and see a white snapdragon, clinging to the edge of the compost bin, a virtual annual espalier, only surviving the city worker’s weedeaters by hugging the weathered wood. We’re having to take the old compost bin out, it’s looking pretty ramshackle, and folks are beginning to throw trash in it.  So many survivors have seeded themselves around it, and I’ll miss the surprises it offered.

I know that soon the onslaught of heat will be too much for these winter beauties and they’ll begin to flag.  I already see signs of summer’s encroachment; sunflowers and zinnias have sprouted and grown from dormant seeds that have taken advantage of spring sun and warm soil.

I stroll and strive to savor every moment.  Motionless, I watch honeybees move from poppy to poppy, blurring my eyes to better see the morning sun shining through the beds of blue and pink. Gardens are transient and I know in another month (because this garden is  “better late than never”) when the seeds for the summer garden are finally sown, this early morning vision will be a distant, beautiful memory.

By Kris Blevons

 

 

 

 

 

Tropicals That Steal The Show – Plumbago and Thryallis

Thryallis, coleus and pentas…

May and June are prime months for tropical plants to enter the garden picture, as  temperatures during the day (and night) are finally warm enough for these tender flowering beauties.

The most common and widely grown is a native of South Africa, Plumbago auriculata,  a shrubby white or blue bloomer that’s typically used in container plantings in sun to part sun.  If you haven’t tried it and prefer either color in your garden or planters, it’s a lovely and tough addition. An occasional light clip and fertilizer to keep new growth and buds coming are all it requires.

Another of my favorites  of the last few years in container plantings, and pictured here, is Thryallis, Galphimia glauca, a floriferous yellow tropical that also blooms through the summer and is quite carefree. A native of tropical areas extending from Mexico to Guatemala in Central America, it likes it hot and soil that’s not soggy but well drained; take care to not overwater.

Since it will get quite robust by the end of the season, place it in a large container or bed and let it go. It will be at its best in full, hot sun, ideally in a spot that’s protected from a lot of wind. Finally some good  news for any of you that deal with deer issues – they don’t like it and won’t touch it  (Though we won’t  make any promises!).

We have plumbago and thryallis in stock now if you’d like either of these tropical beauties to brighten your summer garden. They won’t disappoint!

By Kris Blevons

 

 

Watering Wisely

We get questions about proper watering of new and existing plantings almost daily. Now is the time for responsible homeowners and gardeners to begin conserving water in preparation for the hot summer season ahead.
 Do you have an irrigation system? If you don’t know exactly how it works, consult your irrigation installer and get answers. Install a rain sensor so your system isn’t running during rain storms! Be sure that your zones are configured to each area for the proper amount of time for the plant material.
For example, lawns need infrequent but deep watering. This encourages deep root systems rather than shallow ones that will succumb in a drought situation.
Remember too that when your lawn turns brown it is more than likely going dormant and will green up when rains return. Established landscapes with shrubs and trees in the ground for more than 5 years will not need the same amount of water as new plantings.
If you don’t have an irrigation system, try to hand water early in the day. Water slowly to avoid runoff and to allow the water to penetrate.
Don’t automatically pull out the hose if plants are wilting, they may just be hot. Watch to see if they perk up once the sun is off of them.  Add mulch to conserve moisture in the soil. Look HERE for more about mulching.
Pay attention to annual plantings during hot and windy conditions, and water the next morning if they look wilted. Wind can be tough on plants that are putting all their energy into blooming!
We know from past experience that the Birmingham Water Works stated mission is that of purveyors, not conservers of water. As a business model they want to sell water as long as possible.
So, unfortunately, we know they are not going to be proactive in conserving water.  That means its up to us to be smart users of this important resource. Start the conversation with your neighbors and friends, and let’s do our best to conserve now.
Look HERE for another blog post on this subject with a link to the University of Auburn for more information.

Early Spring in the ‘Better Late Than Never’ Garden

bachelor buttons…

The past week we had two nights below freezing, and I wondered how the ‘Better Late Than Never’ Garden would fare across the street from the shop. I’d been checking it regularly, hand weeding the henbit. This pesky weed (Did you know it’s edible?) was determined to come up between the ferny larkspur, flat poppy leaves, and the blue gray foliage of bachelor buttons that looked like they were just beginning to stretch up toward the sky.

 

 

 

 

This garden is truly a stepchild of the garden world. I was out of town the day the temperatures were forecast to drop. I knew everyone at the shop was moving the inventory into the greenhouse – a big job and one that I’m sure would take a good part of the day. I let the garden go, hoping for the best.

sweet pea and oriental poppy…

With the first cursory glance as I parked my car across from Emmet O’Neal Library and walked up the sidewalk toward the garden,, everything still looked green, a very good sign. Looking more closely, the only damage appeared to be to the few sunflower seedlings that obviously didn’t get the memo that it was much too early to sprout, and were now black and quite dead.

Maybe the fact that I didn’t thin the crowded seedlings out like you’re supposed to kept everything warm, snuggled up together, I thought. Whatever the reason, it was good to spot even the sweet peas that I’d recently planted on one of the front arbors. I was looking forward to seeing them begin to climb up the fishing line I’d strung along the metal of the support.

I’m hoping some of the poppies coming up near the arbor in the front beds are the gifted seeds from a friend. She was given them on a garden tour to Maryland last spring and offered them to me to try, saying the color was exquisite. I can’t wait to see!

ipheion bulbs and larkspur…

Though there are always sights like that to look forward to,  many large flowering shrubs and trees in our landscapes may well have been affected by the last cold spell, their buds frozen. One of my gardening friends mentioned she was particularly worried about her summer blooming hydrangeas, and I’m concerned about my fringe tree blooms.

Only time will tell, and we’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed. Until then, enjoy the beauty apparent in the fresh green hue of unfurling leaves and the return of the many  pollinators that grace our gardens and landscapes. Be prepared also to plant the  flowers, herbs and perennials that they appreciate…and that we do as well. Happy gardening!

By Kris Blevons