Category Archives: Annuals

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

 

 

 

 

Early Fall Arrivals

 

August and September are usually hot and dry, but even with the lack of rain the transition into a new season has begun.  Many summer garden beds are tired and planters are overgrown or just plain gone. In the nursery business we look forward to October and new offerings of plants, as well as the beauty of pumpkins and gourds. Just when we need a fresh start, it arrives with new selections for the autumn plant palette, mumsmarigolds, and the first of the violas and pansies.

Marigolds come in all sizes, from tiny starter plants in cell packs or 4″ pots  perfect for tucking into tired pots, to 10″ offerings big enough to fill a planter all on their own. Mums covered in buds come in 8″ and larger pots, in many colors and make a big statement where it’s needed.  Be sure to handle them gently, as bud laden stems can break easily. Mums and marigolds aren’t available for long, but they offer transitional color if you choose to plant pansies and violas when the weather is cooler.

More herbs are beginning to fill  the nursery,  including rosemary that will carry on through the winter. We’re just beginning to get the first of the curly parsley that is so beautiful in winter beds and planters, and  ornamental and edible kale, mustards and more are beginning to appear also. Late summer brings perennials too. Have you tried heuchera in the garden or pots? They’re beautiful in part sun or full shade. Just be certain not to over water.

The greenhouse goes through transitions too. From succulents to many types of ferns and more, the amount of plants stays constant, though the variety changes with availability. So if your plants need refreshing with the new season, come take a look!

By Kris Blevons

 

It’s Blooming! The ‘Better Late Than Never’ Pollinator Garden

Kris - Better Late Than Never Garden Summer Prep 2016

Preparing the beds…

The pretty but very shy bright yellow goldfinches that have found the ‘Better Late Than Never’ Pollinator Garden across from the shop were still coming to the last of the bachelor buttons, larkspur, and some sunflowers that had seeded from last year’s plants when Bert and I began prepping the four beds for a new season mid-June.Better Late Than Never Garden - Early Summer Prep

So, rather than pull every bachelor button and larkspur out to make way for new, I left what had been the prettiest colors of both, including a lovely lavender larkspur. Who knows, maybe some seeds of it will return in next year’s spring garden…Kris - Better Late Than Never Garden Summer Prep 2016

The beds needed some additional organic matter, and we added bag after bag of topsoil, soil conditioner, and PlantTone to each.

Better Late Than Never Garden

Front beds, early July

Bert and I took turns with my heavy pick axe, each strike of the tool working the amendments in without turning the soil, since that would only turn up buried weed seeds to the light where they’d happily germinate and grow. Then I took a garden fork and loosened it even more.Better Late Than Never Garden

Any good garden begins with this all important work. Remember this in your own and always add more  to your soil before replanting for the new season. We usually have bags of soil conditioner and topsoil in stock, and the PlantTone is a great organic amendment that adds nutrients too.

Tall Marigolds and Zinnias - 'Better Late Than Never' Pollinator Garden

Finally the beds were ready for planting. After raking the beds smooth, it was time to sow the zinnia seeds in the two front beds. I also added lots of plants.

Malabar Spinach Vine - 'Better Late Than Never' Pollinator Garden

Malabar Spinach…

'Better Late Than Never' Pollinator Garden Summer 2016Tall cutting marigolds from a small grower north of Birmingham, tall purple and red gomphrena, a beautiful deep purple salvia and peach porterweed for the hummingbirds, angelonia, pentas, purslane, ornamental okra just for fun, pink mandevilla and malabar spinach vines on the two arbors, as well as seeds of moonvine and hyacinth bean to climb them too.

A few weeks later the last of the bachelor buttons and larkspur were pulled out, and the back two beds were planted with lots of sunflowers and tithonia, the orange flower the monarchs loved last year.  Annual milkweed that had returned from seed was already blooming, and I noticed that a yellow lantana and perennial butterflyweed  had come back from last year too.Annual Milkweed - 'Better Late Than Never' Pollinator Garden

Cleome and Zinnias 'Better Late Than Never' Pollinator GardenOf course the old fashioned Cleome, or spiderflowerhad reseeded, but I also added another, shorter variety and a few more perennials this year, including coneflowers and caryopteris on each corner of the two back beds.

Coneflowers...

Coneflowers…

 

 

 

'Better Late Than Never' Pollinator Garden - Looking Through The Arbor

 

 

 

 

Just as plantings change and evolve with the years, so do structures in the garden. Pinkie painted the back fencing white this year, and we added a trellis piece painted a beautiful blue. I think we should try to grow sweet peas on it this fall, though I’ll have to tie string onto it for them to climb on.

The days have passed. It’s now August and the true heat has settled in; the zinnias love it and are in a riot of bloom: California Giants, Cactus, Peppermint Stripe, Northern Lights – beauties every one.Zinnia Collage

Watering, pulling stray weeds, and deadheading are the important chores on hot summer days, but sometimes I have to stop and simply watch. I see tiny skipper butterflies, bees, and even a garden spider weaving its web near the arbor and bench.

Garden Spider - 'Better Late Than Never' Pollinator GardenThe sunflowers and tithonia will be blooming soon. They were planted a few weeks after the zinnias. I look forward to these towering bee and goldfinch magnets, in every color from pale yellow to deep red, and the brilliant orange flowers of the tithonia too. And, just the other day I threw out some seed of tall yellow cosmos, another butterfly flower.image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunflowers and Zinnias - 'Better Late Than Never' Pollinator GardenThe garden will reach its exuberant crescendo in the coming month before beginning a slow descent into fall. The zinnias will most certainly get mildewed leaves, and the heavy sunflower seed heads will droop on sturdy stems. But for now, it’s summer, and the garden is glorious.

By Kris Blevons

High Summer In The Garden

Last year about this time I wrote about the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. I hope at least some of you are also participating, either formally or simply by planting some nectar rich flowers and providing for wildlife in your landscape.

Rudbeckia 'Indian Summer' and PollinatorHigh summer here in Birmingham brings sizzling heat and lots of it, along with the welcome abundance of life in pollinator gardens. In mine the perennial summer phlox, coreopsis, coneflowers, butterfly weed, salvias, rudbeckias, and daylilys are abuzz.Zinnias and Skipper

 

Annuals, especially those in the sun, are also capturing bee, butterfly and hummingbird attention, and I try to plant a variety for each in my sunniest beds.  Angelonia, gomphrena, zinnias, batface cuphea, Mexican heather, purslane, and more jockey for space.

Red Cuphea, Zinnias, LobulariaI take walks through my landscape early in the morning before leaving for work (And the heat builds.), deadheading, weeding, and simply admiring too.Dalily 'Joan Senor'

 

This is the tail end of daylily season, and on summer evenings I pull off unsightly yellow leaves, faded blooms that might be hanging on, and then cut spent scapes to the ground.

Kris' Garden - JulyAfter they’re completely through blooming, if foliage looks rough, I’ll grab a handful, twist it, and cut it completely off. It will reflush with more sightly looking leaves lasting until the end of the season. Remember, you see foliage more of the year than flowers on most perennials. Plan for that when deciding where to plant them or if you’re dividing and/or moving them.Stressed Gomphrena

If it’s been very dry, the early morning hours are spent watering any plants that look wilted. If they’re left without water too often, the stress will weaken them and they’ll be more susceptible to disease and insect attacks.

I’ve noticed some of the small white gomphrena that I planted quite late are struggling. I don’t think they’re getting enough sun, and they’ve gotten parched  more than a few times. I’ll be keeping an eye on them.

Summer Phlox and BeesThe summer phlox and coreopsis are in full bloom and the bees love them. I watch tiny skipper butterflys light  on the coreopsis; they move so fast! When these two play out I’ll cut the faded flowers off the phlox and wait for a second, smaller display.Bee on Coreopsis

The coreopsis will be sheared back since there are too many small flowers and not enough hours in the day to deadhead each one.

As with most summer blooming perennials, I’ll cut stems back completely to neaten the garden and give late blooming plants room to shine when the weather finally cools.

 

 

imageHonestly, though, it’s really too hot to do much more than water, deadhead, and pull opportunistic weeds that seem to come out of nowhere. Even as I water I’m dreaming of my vacation north to see family and friends. I know my garden will be here when I return, grown even more lush with high summer’s heat and, hopefully enough rain too.

By Kris Blevons

 

 

 

 

What Is That?!?? It’s ‘Red Giant’ Mustard!

'Red Giant' Mustard with PansiesI’ve talked before of my love of foliage plants and how much I believe they add to planters and garden beds. Here is another that proves my point. I planted  a few small pots of  ‘Red Giant’ mustard in our sign planter out front, at the side of the shop in large troughs, and in urns at the front of the restaurant next door last November.

Now 4″ pots are not big at all, and the plants in them were quite small as well. But, if you know what that small plant will turn into, you can make some stunning combinations of your own. Just look at this!'Red Giant' Mustard with Carex

In fact, almost everyone who walks by any of these plantings asks what the big red leaves are and do we have any for sale?

Mustard Red GiantAt its most impressive in the winter, that’s not always when it’s available.  Though, if it is, you can be sure we’ll have it!

It will get knocked back by a freeze, but simply remove the most damaged leaves and usually it will grow back out from the center fairly quickly.

Make a note to ask about it in the fall when you’re planning your fall/spring garden plantings, because that’s when you’re likely to find this large and in charge plant. It’s truly stunning!

Some plants to combine with ‘Red Giant’ mustard in planters or garden beds:

Pansies, violas, herbs, including curly parsley, thyme (‘Archer’s Gold, variegated lemon); grassy foliage plants such as golden acorus or a variegated carex for contrast against the large mustard leaves; other greens such as ornamental kale (I’ve used lacinato to great affect.), spring blooming snapdragons to compliment the yellow blooms of the mustard as it bolts in the heat are a few suggestions.

Sunflowers…By Seed! The ‘Better Late Than Never Garden’

 Better Late Than Never Garden Sunflower Summer 2015The great thing about sunflowers, if you’ve ever planted them by seed, is that often they’ll reseed, or come back the next year, in the same spots or somewhere nearby. This is more likely to happen if you’re not diligent about deadheading (keeping the spent blooms cut off).Better Late Than Never Garden reseeded sunflower June26 2015

 

 

 

Late last fall the sunflower plants of summer were cut down and muscled out of the ground. By that point they had enormous stems and were very well rooted. It took some time to clear the garden of debris.

Better agate Than Never Garden Sunflower Summer 2015

 

 

 

Obviously, not all of the sunflower seeds were composted – and I’m glad they weren’t – because this year, in addition to the extra sunflowers I seeded in late June, I already had these beauties up and blooming.

 

 

 

What a great way to extend the flower season in our ‘Better Late Than Never Garden’!  Those shown here have bloomed out at this point, but their flower seed heads have created a feast for flocks of goldfinches…such  a pretty sight early in the morning!

 

 

Sunflowers are so easy to grow from seed, and  we carry many varieties from our supplier, Botanical Interests. New packets are available each spring, and the best selection always goes to the early birds!

Sunflower

Fading…

 

 

Buy your seed and wait to sow them until the soil is really warm. You can begin sowing them directly in the ground any time after the middle of May and sow more every couple of weeks for even more continuous bloom.

And, if you get a late start, don’t worry! Remember, this garden gets seeded as late as the end of June and provides continuous color through September. So much happiness from a few packets of seed!

By Kris Blevons

A Trio of Pots – Color and Texture In A Late Summer Planting

Summer can be hard on container gardens in the south. It’s so easy to finally just give up on them, especially when a last end of the season getaway beckons, or you’ve forgotten to water once too many times and the poor plants just look too sad for words. Well,  I’m here to tell you it’s ok.

You can forgive yourself for your forgetful plant parenting, because September is the beginning of a new season – we can call it the pre-pansy season, because even though it’s still too early to plant pansies and violas,  there are some other options to tide you over until cooler weather finally comes.

I had the opportunity to give a trio of pots just such a makeover the other day. There were actually two – a half planter, a terra cotta pot, and a cast stone pedestal the owners wanted a new planter set on.

Arranging them...

Arranging them…

Because their pots and pedestal are all of different materials and colors, I chose a simple lightweight black bowl to sit on the pedestal. The size works well with the others and adds a different shape too. I’ve suggested in past posts that wandering the garden shop picking up plants and grouping them together to see how they’ll work together is a great way to design plantings, and that’s just what I did here.Trio of Fall Pots

I changed and rearranged them until I was satisfied. It’s important,  however, to understand how each plant will grow out in a composition like this since  there are “many parts to the whole.”

Here’s what I came up with  for this trio of pots. I started with the deep red fountain grass for its beautiful fall color, and  I liked how it blended with the dark leaves of the heuchera in each pot. They also show up well against the cream color of the brick.

Trio of Fall PotsA blue-green fescue adds another, shorter, grass element, contrasting with the smaller, rounder leaves of the trailing angelvine and creeping jenny. White petunias add brightness and will also trail.

The red fountain grass is an annual, so it will be pulled out with the onset of cold weather and the bay planted with it will stay. In the terra cotta planter there’s a small arborvitae, and In each pot some elements are repeated so it’s not too chaotic looking…

Trio Of Fall PotsMaintenance will mean consistent watering since the planting will become root bound – in the smaller pots especially, and the petunias will need to be deadheaded to keep them  blooming. A few pumpkins and gourds would also look great at the base through the fall…

With the onset of cooler weather and pansy season, the petunias can be replaced by white (Or a color if they prefer.)  pansies or violas. The remainder of the plants are perennial, so can be left through the winter. They’re situated against a wall which should help keep them warm, but it would be smart to protect them with a covering if temps fall below freezing for any length of time.

By Kris Blevons

The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge

I recently learned of an exciting new program called the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. Since I love watching all the bees, butterflies, dragonflies and hummingbirds that come to both my home garden and the  “Better Late Than Never Garden” across the street from the shop, it was great to hear of a national program designed to help preserve them.

Pollinator bee on dahliaThe  National Pollinator Garden Network, encourages home gardeners, cities, community and public spaces  to plant for our all-important pollinators.

So, in your own gardens, plant flowering nectar plants  with your vegetables, add herbs like curly parsley, dill and fennel for caterpillars, basil, rosemary, mint, and lavender for bees, and stay away or at least please minimize the use of pesticides that kill beneficial insects as well as bad bugs.

I’ve learned I’d rather live with a few holes in leaves and a less than perfect garden than not have as many bees, butterflies, and hummers that add so much enjoyment to my personal space.

Rudbeckia, coreopsis, zinnias, purslane, gomphrena...

Rudbeckia, coreopsis, zinnias, purslane, gomphrena…

 

 

 

The National Wildlife Federation, national garden clubs and other organizations are joining in this effort to create a million (or more!) pollinator gardens across the country. I’m planning to register my garden and the “Better Late Than Never Garden”  and hope you’ll join in too!

 

                                                 

Butterfly Weed

Butterfly weed…

Pollinator Plants For Bees, Butterflies, and More

Perennials include: Anise hyssop (Agastache),  Aster, Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias sp.), Baptisia, Coreopsis, Daylily (Hemerocallis), Dianthus, Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia sp.), Bee balm (Monarda), Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium), Blazing star (Liatris), Gaura, Lavender, Mint, Thyme, Oregano, Phlox, Daisies, Yarrow (Achillea), Sunflower, (Helianthus sp.), Goldenrod (Solidago), Coneflower  (Echinacea sp.), Verbena

Butterflies like these cosmos, zinnias and marigolds

Butterflies like these cosmos, zinnias and marigolds

Annuals include:  Zinnia, Sunflower, Purslane, Mexican Heather (Cuphea sp.)  Mecardonia, Salvia, Cosmos, Alyssum, Basil, Nasturtium, Verbena, Lantana, Fan Flower (Scaevola), Gomphrena

For Hummingbirds: Ajuga, Bee Balm, (Monarda sp.), Begonia, Spider Flower (Cleome), Salvia, Cardinal Flower (Lobelia), Lilies, Penstemon

These lists are by no means exhaustive, and don’t include shrubs and trees that are host plants for caterpillars as well. Don’t hesitate to do research into pollinator gardens as you create your own!

Posted by Kris Blevons

Garden Alert! Summer To-Do List

Rudbeckia 'Herbstonne'

Rudbeckia ‘Herbstonne’

It’s almost July in Birmingham, time for weekends at the lake and trips to the beach or mountains (and aren’t we lucky to be so close to both?)  So I promise not to make you work too hard in the garden… but remember, a little work now will mean less later – and a prettier garden too!

So, here are a few things to be thinking about – and you don’t even  have to do them all at once! Simply walk through your garden at least every week and try to do at least a couple of the following tasks each time:

Pull weeds that may be coming up and dispose of them. Never put weeds on your compost pile unless you want more! Pulling weeds a bit at a time is so much easier than ignoring them and doing a marathon weed pull later. Trust me on this; I’ve been there. Did you see the post on mulberry weed? It’s one you need to keep out of your garden!

 'Becky' daisies
‘Becky’ daisies

Deadhead (cut off dead “heads” of blooms) any flowers that have passed their prime.

 

Along the same vein as deadheading is cutting back. Planters benefit greatly from being cut back when they are geting “out of control” in size  (usually around this time of year if you planted them in the early spring).  It’s a difficult thing to do for folks, but try it. Cut back those weedy looking zinnias. That coleus that’s gotten enormous? Cut it back! Those trailing plants that are looking a little worse for wear? Cut them back by at least half.

There, you did it! Now give those plants a bit of fertilizer, keep them watered, and then  stand back while they flush back out. You can thank me later!

Deadheading a phlox bloom...

Deadheading a phlox bloom…

 

Perennials in your garden will also appreciate a little attention here and there. When your phlox has pretty much bloomed out, trim the spent flower head off.  It will usually rebloom a second time. Once they’re completely done blooming, cut them back by half to neaten things up a bit. Rudbeckias, daisies and coneflowers will also continue to bloom longer if you pay attention and deadhead them just as you do your annuals.

 

Deadhead individual blooms on balloon flower

Deadhead individual blooms on balloon flower

 

Balloon flower is one perennial that you should never cut back while it’s blooming or you’ll lose out on a lot of flowers. Simply pinch off old blooms – this is best done daily. Confused about annuals and perennials? Refresh yourself by reading this post on them.

 

 

Do you see yellowing leaves on perennials or annuals? It only takes a few minute to “groom” a plant  – simply remove the yellow leaves; after all, they’re not going to turn green again! Daylilys definitely look better if you pay attention to this after you’ve cut back the faded bloom stem. You can even cut their  foliage back by half to neaten the plant up after it’s bloom period is completely over.

midsummer...perennials and annual share this bed.

midsummer…perennials and annual share this bed.

Some late blooming perennials should be getting taller…inserting wide border supports keep them in line (They are one of my favorite support systems.).  Take a look HERE  if you missed the post on late blooming perennials and what to do with them early in the season. The Rudbeckia ‘Herbstonne’ shown in the picture at the beginning of this post  is an example of a perennial I cut back in the spring to control it’s height and bloom time. They are in full bloom around town now.

See the mulch?

See the mulch?

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you need to refresh mulch in beds, now is a good time to get this necessary task done. Not the most fun job, but it keeps the soil temperatures at the root zone of plants at an even temperature – especially important in our hot climate! Mulch conserves moisture, smothers weeds, and eventually will break down, contributing  to the health of the soil too. Pretty good stuff all the way around.

Okay, that wasn’t so bad was it? Now you can pour yourself a glass of wine, pat yourself on the back and enjoy your beautiful, cared for landscape!

By Kris Blevons

Summer Horse Trough Planting…Caladium Encore 2015

Horse Troughs Planted For SummerThe troughs in front of Dyron’s Restaurant took a real hit this winter, so I was more than happy to pull out all that had died and replant for the summer.

Last year’s planting included a pretty yellow thryallis,  but this year I opted to leave it out. I did repeat the ‘Red Flash’ caladiums that had done so well last year and left the Carex ‘Evergold’ and Golden Acorus in each trough as well since they had sailed through the winter cold. Keeping  some perennials in planters as large as these makes sense.

This year, instead of zinnias, I opted for vinca and lantana for some white and yellow blooms respectively. They should definitely take the hot blazing afternoon sun. A dark leaf potato vine will trail over the edge, and its color should contrast nicely with these containers.

Last summer the Red Flash caladium almost overwhelmed the thryallis, so this year I decided to give them a run for their money and added a chartreuse coleus called ‘Wasabi’ that will get just as enormous. Here’s to another growing season!

Maintenance of this planting will involve consistent watering and the occasional clip back of the lantana and coleus. Seed pods that form on the caladiums will also be cut and any yellow leaves removed.