Category Archives: Flowers

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

A Flag For The Fourth

Last year’s massive “Botanical Fireworks”  Fourth of July project was pretty hard to top. This year we went a little smaller, and had some fun creating this tabletop botanical  “flag”. So far it’s made its way onto Facebook and Instagram, and after this post publishes I’ll put it on Pinterest too. How did we manage years ago without all this social media? They were simpler times, that’s for sure.

Botanical Flag CloseupIngredients for our flag project included blooms cut from the bleeding heart vine  (Clerodendron) growing around our entrance,  kalanchoe, vinca, dipladenia,  euphorbia, and geranium petals, cotton bolls and blueberries (We couldn’t resist eating some!)

Happy Fourth of July!!

By Kris Blevons

Container Gardening Design Tips

Urn Planted for SummerSpring is for planting in the garden and in pots. Flowers, herbs, perennials, shrubs, and vegetables are all players in the annual game of  “What will grow in this spot?” or “What can I plant in this pot?”.

Summer Container GardenDyron's Urn - Summer 2015

 

 

 

Now that summer is here though, the pace is slower with fewer questions as more people slowly stroll the nursery for pleasure,  picking up the odd plant here and there or gathering more varied selections for filling in garden spaces that need extra color.Summer Container Garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wheelbarrow - Summer PlantingMany of them come to see the planters we’ve put together, getting ideas for extra pots or to make note of a different combination of plants they might not have thought of.Hanging Basket Combination for Sun

 

 

 

 

 

We enjoy this time too (Since we’re all pretty much plantaholics!) and look on it as our play time with plantings, a reward for making it through another hectic spring season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Herb Box with VincaSummer Container Garden

 

 

 

 

So, while our neatly lined tables are still filled with a good assortment of varied plants, you’ll also find our container plantings in various spots throughout the nursery too.

 

 

 

Summer Container Garden

 

Some find their way onto our Facebook and Instagram pages, others make their way to new homes. Wherever they end up we hope they give you as much pleasure as they’ve given us creating them.Dwarf Evergreen Planters

Dyron's Planter Tubs - May 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Container Gardening Tips:

Know your light. Plants that want sun won’t perform well in shade and vice versa.

If you want a pot filled only with flowers, choose blooms with different shapes for added interest. An example: A spiky salvia, rounded blooms of zinnias, flatter blooms of lantana.

Make it even more interesting and add a foliage for additional texture or color. Begin by choosing it, then add some flowers to compliment the color or shape of the leaves. An example: A spiky grass, a round pentas, an airy euphorbia, a trailing vinca.

Bigger planters call for bigger plants. Use at least one eye catcher or “thriller”. Add intermediate or “filler” plants, then complete the picture with a trailing or “spiller” selection. This is the tried and true Thriller, Filler, Spiller recipe. It never fails.  An example:  A black elephant ear (thriller), sunpatiens (filler), scaevola (spiller).

Think about the setting the planter is in. What color is your house? What trees and shrubs will be in bloom at various times? Do you entertain at night? What are your favorite colors? Are you there to maintain and water regularly?

No matter how small your planting starts out,  with proper care it may  grow  to enormous proportions. Be prepared to deadhead faded blooms at least weekly and clip back your planting as needed.

By Kris Blevons

 

 

 

Gardening For Pollinators

Phlox 'Chattahoochee'I like to feel I’m doing a good job of gardening to attract pollinators. At any rate, my home garden and the ‘Better Late Than Never’ garden across the street from Oak Street Garden Shop seem to have lots of bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies, so I must be doing something right, right??!!??

Butterfly on Parsley Hawthorne Tree

Swallowtail Butterfly on Parsley Hawthorne

Researching pollinator gardening information for a garden talk and workshop recently, in the midst of wading through article after article (There are a lot of posts on honeybees and their decline, and numerous writings on attracting hummingbirds and butterflies to your garden.), I came to the conclusion that it basically boils down to this:

Your home and yard, garden, landscape, whatever you call the space that surrounds your home, is your personal ecosystem. The health of it and the pollinators that visit it depend on how you build your soil, what you plant, and how you choose to maintain it. 

So my choices have been to try to have as diverse a plant pallette as possible (I admit, I’m a plantaholic. Who knew that would play right into gardening for pollinators?) and to eliminate pesticide use almost entirely. I’m gratified when I hear of others that are trying to do the same thing.

Snapdragon

Bees love snapdragons!

I use organic soil amendments like PlantTone and Annie Haven’s Moo Poo Tea, have learned to live  with a few holes in leaves, let the ladybugs eat aphids (If they really get too bad, I wash them off with some soapy water.), and practice patience, knowing that most of the time an infestation of insects doesn’t last forever. I take great joy in bopping Japanese beetles off of my roses into a bucket of soapy water early in the morning when they’re most sluggish. I know each year they’ll be back – it’s just part of the garden’s cycle.

If you feel you have a large problem and must spray, start with the least toxic form of chemical control, and understand that even products labeled organic can be harmful to good bugs as well as bad.  ***Always read the label and follow directions carefully!Kris' Garden Late March 2016

I’ve learned that planting large swaths of color will attract bees, and that they prefer blue, purple, white, and yellow. I’ve learned to grow a wide variety of plants, including plants with a scent, herbs in particular. I’ve learned that while double blooms on flowers are attractive to us, they’re not especially useful for pollinators, and that they much prefer single, simple blooms. I’ve learned that flowers that come back from seed that drops in the garden (zinnias, sunflowers, bachelor buttons, larkspur to name a few),  perennials, and any of our native shrubs, trees, and wildflowers are preferable also.

Chionanthus virginicus - Fringe Tree

Chionanthus virginicus – Fringe Tree

Most importantly, I’ve learned that it’s not that hard, and actually quite a bit easier, to garden naturally. I have some clover in my grass. And you know what? It’s okay, because I have bees foraging it. Somewhere there’s some great honey in the making!

 

Our last average frost date is mid-April. In the coming weeks we’ll be stocking more and more plants for your pollinator gardens. Here are a few suggestions:

For Butterflies:   Zinnias, Gomphrena, Pentas, Marigolds, Verbena, Asters, Yarrow, Butterfly Weed

For Bees:   Purslane, Mexican Heather, Pentas, Sweet allysum, Bee Balm, Asters, Rudbeckia, Coneflower, Zinnia, Snapdragon, Sage, Basil, Rosemary, Agastache

For Hummingbirds: Cigar Plant, Salvias, Heat tolerant Fuschias, Agastache, Petunia, Hamelia, Lobelia, Bee Balm, Penstemon, NasturtiumsRock Outcrop Kris' Garden Late March 2016

Host Plants For Caterpillars:  Fennel, Parsley, Dill, Carrots, Zinnias, Viburnum, Oak Trees, Cosmos, Milkweed, hollyhocks

These lists are by no means exhaustive, but are meant to be a starting point for your pollinator garden. Some of these plants are best planted in the fall, while others are more heat tolerant.

*** Alabama’s watersheds, rich in animal and plant life, absorb  the brunt of chemical and fertilizer runoff from homeowner and commercial pesticide and fertilizer application. Be mindful that what you (and your neighbors) put in the landscape can adversely  affect these areas and the life in them.

By Kris Blevons

 

 

 

 

Botanical Interests Spring Seeds – So Much Promise In A Packet

On a gray, cold day in the middle of February, the promise of a beautiful spring and all the summer days to follow arrived in two nondescript boxes. Tearing them open, I looked at brightly colored seed packet after seed packet of herbs, flowers, vines, and vegetables, and began sorting them out.Spring Seeds - Botanical Interests

This was easier said than done, as we’re still in the midst of a major rearrange of the greenhouse, moving our work/design area from one end to the other, in the process cleaning, painting, reorganizing, and generally going through the proverbial “mess before it gets into some semblance of order” phase.

Spring Seeds - Botanical Interests

 

 

 

Jamie and I had prepared though, setting up seed racks by the front table where our garden shop cat, Liam, likes to sleep. I pulled all the fall “cool season” seeds and set out a 50% off sale sign on them.

Purchasing them now at a discount is a smart move. Keep them cool and dry, since humidity and warmth may shorten a seed’s shelf life.  Knowing this, the best way to store any seed you purchase is in plastic food storage bags, glass jars with tight fitting lids, or any other container that will stay sealed. Place them in your refrigerator (Not the freezer!) until you’re ready to use them.image

Once you’ve browsed the sale seeds, don’t forget to check out this season’s selection for your summer flowers and vegetables.  I’ve already set aside some of them for the Better Late Than Never Garden – assortments of tall cutting zinnias, sunflowers, tithonia (Remember the tall, beautiful orange flowers that bloomed late in the season?), spider flower, moonvine, ‘Red Burgundy’ okra (It’s ornamental and edible!) and more. I’ll be putting them in my refrigerator at home until I sow them sometime in late spring/early summer.Spring Seeds - Botanical Interests

Of course there are many things that can be started inside under grow lights or in a greenhouse much earlier, and this can be a fun and educational project for anyone with children. Simply follow the directions on the seed packet to ensure success. It will say how many days to sow before or after the last average frost (For us, that magic date is April 15th.). Knowing that will help you start your seeds at just the right time.

So plant some seeds this year. You just might be surprised at what comes up!

By Kris Blevons

Molly’s Wedding – One Of Our “Family” Gets Married At Oak Street Garden Shop!

Tithonia - Molly's Wedding

Tithonia and Larkspur…

Molly's Wedding FlowersSaturday, October 10th, 2015, was a magical, musical night. On this cool fall evening, Molly, a member of our Oak Street Garden Shop family for ten years, was married under white twinkling lights, surrounded by a circle of family and friends.

Flowers in Driftwood...

Flowers in Driftwood…

Earlier in the year she’d become engaged to V, aka Chuck. Not long after this, she came to me saying she’d really love to get married at the shop and did I think the owner would be okay with it.

'African Blue' Basil Blooms...

‘African Blue’ Basil Blooms…

 

 

Oh, that would be wonderful, I thought, and, certainly, Billy would say yes. I asked if they had a date in mind. October 10th, she answered. Oh, a fall wedding…how lovely it would be!

Molly's Wedding FlowersOf course, Billy did say yes, after cautioning the shop would be fully stocked since that would be in the middle of the fall pansy season. Well, that would make it even prettier, we thought!Molly's Wedding Flowers

Molly and her mom, Dená, another 10 year employee, made it perfectly clear they didn’t want to cause any trouble or difficulty, and we knew they meant what they said. From my perspective this wedding was a joy from beginning to end.

The cake would be set up here...

The cake would be set up here…

There wasn’t that much for us to do, really.  Molly, her mom, and family took care of the planning, and each guest was asked to bring a dish. It would be a relaxed night, full of music, laughter, and dancing just as Molly wanted.

The bouquet...

The bouquet…

Specifically, Celtic music and Irish dancing.  Molly had  taught Irish dance for a number of years, and many of her dancing friends and students would be at her wedding. So the bands Jasper Coal, Vulcan Eejits, and singer Beth Wetheral provided beautiful, lyrical, and at times, boisterous music amid the many guests.

We worked steadily through the day...

We worked steadily through the day…

Of course, my interest prior to the ceremony was the shop and the flowers and creating a beautiful setting for Molly and V’s nuptials.

Molly's Wedding Flowers Jamie ordered sunflowers, larkspur and other flowers from the wholesale house and brought perennial sunflowers and zinnias from her garden. The Better Late Than Never Garden offered up bright orange tithonia and colorful zinnias, and we cut purple gomphrena and ‘African Blue’ basil blooms from the sign planter in front of the shop.

Setting the flowers out...

Setting the flowers out…

Molly contributed blooming miscanthus, Pinkie cut dahlias and a long section of climbing fern from her home, and I brought leucothoe, sea oats, and golden chamaecyparis out of my yard to use in colorful bouquets we placed in driftwood pieces. These we arranged on the red market tables. They’d be on either side of Molly as she walked down the “aisle”.Molly's Wedding

Jamie designed  two beautiful flowered clips for her hair and a loose bouquet of sunflowers, zinnias, gomphrena, and greenery for her to carry down the aisle.

Molly's Wedding

Cupcakes on handmade wood stands – a wedding gift…

Jamie, Molly, and myself worked steadily most of the day on the flowers, and the rest of the staff of Angie, Pinkie, Danielle, Bert, and Ben really stepped up their game too, taking care of most of the customers since the shop was open until 5:30 on a busy day and the wedding would be at 7:00.   It was truly a group effort.

Finally the time came, guests began to arrive, and we scrambled to get changed from work clothes to something more fitting for a wedding. In the tiny office, with the door screened by a blanket and Danielle helping with her hair and makeup, Molly was transformed from a garden shop worker bee into a beautiful bride.Molly's Wedding

Molly's Wedding Flowers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her wedding dress, in rich brown chiffon, had been hand-sewn by her mother, Dená. And what a beautiful dress! On it she’d painted an entire colorful flower garden along front, complete with several butterflies and bees.

A Painted Garden...

A Painted Garden…

Her inspiration had been the ‘Better Late Than Never’ pollinator garden across the street from the shop, and the exquisite painting incorporated all the flowers in it – sunflowers, tithonia, zinnias, gomphrena, and more. It was truly a work of art, and Molly looked beautiful in it!Molly's Wedding

Molly's WeddingFinally it was time! Everyone gathered around the groom and family members standing under the arch marking the entrance to the nursery.

Then Molly came into view from the greenhouse, entering the circle of friends and relatives standing under hundreds of tiny white lights. There, in a beautiful ceremony incorporating the Irish tying of the knot,  Molly and V took their vows.

Molly's WeddingAfter, as the music played on and laughter filled the air, everyone danced and sang the night away. A beautiful cool evening in October had indeed turned out to be the perfect night for a wedding.

By Kris Blevons

Pineapple Sage, A Late Season Bloomer That’s Worth The Wait!

Late season color isn’t limited to asters and mums. Another that takes center stage this time of the year, and that makes us wait all summer, is the pineapple sage, Salvia elegans. And elegant  it is, with beautiful red blooms that begin in October and continue through the month. I’m sure their scarlet red blooms, signaling nectar, are a happy sight for migrating hummingbirds too. The one pictured here is just beginning to bloom in my garden.

Introduced into horticulture around 1870, pineapple sage has been around awhile, and new cultivars include a yellow-green leaf version. I prefer the old standby with medium green leaves that grows about 4 1/2 tall and makes a wide clump with age. Give it room!

Buds just beginning to form...

Buds just beginning to form…

 Put it in a sunny spot, keep it watered, and be prepared to wait for buds that begin to form in late September…about when another beautiful salvia, Mexican Sage, Salvia leucantha, also begins to show color. In Birmingham pineapple sage  is a tender perennial and will die to the ground with a killing frost. Knowledge is power. Knowing it is tender, be certain  to mulch it well with shredded pine bark or pinestraw. 

Brushing against the leaves of pineapple sage is an olfactory pleasure, as it really does smell exactly like  pineapple. They’re edible and can be made into a tea or chopped into salads. The brilliant red blooms can be eaten too, but I prefer them as a striking garnish on a plate and would rather look at them than eat them I think!

If you’d like to try this beautiful salvia in your garden, stop in. There are some available now.

By Kris Blevons

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