Category Archives: Nature

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

The Heat is On…Be Snake Smart

A very good snake to have, this is a non- venomous black rat snake.

A very good snake to have, this is a non- venomous black rat snake.

The other day I got into a long discussion with some gardening friends (These are horticulturists, growers, and garden writers, who I respect immensely.) about snakes in the landscape.  In fact, we’d just taken walks through each other’s respective gardens, along wooded paths, pine straw mulched areas, rock outcrops, and generally everywhere a snake could theoretically be encountered.

Soon we were swapping snake stories, including our encounters, our pet dog encounters with snakes, and various tales we’d heard from others. So many stories, in fact, that I emailed one of them that evening saying I thought I was really tempting fate by not having seen a snake yet  (And it’s high summer!) and felt certain I was now due for the “big one.”

Kris' Back Garden - Spring 2016In response, the next day (wonderful friend that she is) she sent me this link to  the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. It has some really good information on  the identification of snakes, and, even though it is for Georgia and South Carolina, the maps also include Alabama.  Take a look at the link, which has a lot of pictures and information,  and follow the advice.

I’m hoping you resolve not to kill every snake you see. Just like people, there are good and bad snakes, and, really, it seems they just want to be left alone. After all, they don’t want to mess with us; we’re a whole lot bigger than they are.

By Kris Blevons

This is a repost from a couple of years ago. However, I felt it was worth running again since snakes are always a hot topic, especially as the weather begins to heat up and they’re more active. Be careful when working in your garden or any over grown areas of your landscape. Don’t put your hand anywhere you can’t see it, and be alert. The pictures are of my woodland garden where I’ve seen non-venomous rat snakes that I’m happy to have because all the experts say they are territorial and keep poisonous copperheads away. 

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

 

 

 

 

Our Fall Mandala – It’s A New Season!

Fall MandalaThe first day of fall had come and gone, and, while we’d talked about doing a group project mandala design for each season, the days kept slipping away as days do. Our summer mandala had turned out to be so much fun for us, though, that we’d been looking forward to creating another one. Well, last Friday turned out to be The Day.

Dahlia, tithonia and penisetum blooms...croton leaves

Dahlia, tithonia and penisetum blooms…croton leaves

First of all, some of you may not be clear what a mandala is. By definition, a mandala is “any of various ritualistic geometric designs symbolic of the universe, used in Hinduism and Buddhism as an aid to meditation.” Another definition describes a mandala as “circular designs symbolizing the notion that life is never ending.” 

Fall Mandala While ours may not conform completely to a strict definition, this is our version of a mandala, using fruits, vegetables, seeds, leaves, and blooms of each season.

I can see how studying a mandala can be a meditative act. Almost everyone who gazed at it for any length of time mentioned continuing to see more things, and from different angles they had new observations of color, form, and texture as well.

Tacca thought it was a good spot for a nap...

Tacca thought it was a good spot for a nap…

This idea of a meditative design is an interesting one. A customer even wanted to take a picture of it for a friend about to have a baby so she could concentrate on it while she was in labor!

A snake gourd encircles smaller gourds and bittersweet with heuchera leaves, corn kernels and bulbs above...

A snake gourd encircles smaller gourds and bittersweet

With the start of our first mandala this past summer,  Jamie, Molly, and I had begun by gathering our “ingredients”.

Many people have asked whether we made some sort of design on paper before we began. While others probably can be that organized and clinical about it, none of us are, and I’m actually very happy to say there really wasn’t any planning involved in either the summer version or this one.

Tacca's playground!

Tacca’s playground!

Liam got in trouble going after the guinea hen feathers...

Liam got in trouble going after the guinea hen feathers…

So we began by gathering the things that spoke to us of fall, randomly laying them on our sections bit by bit and snitching blooms and leaves from various plants  between helping customers.

At the end of this post,  I’ll list everything we used since it may be hard to tell from the pictures. Wish you could all have seen it in person!

Pumpkins and gourds...

Pumpkins and gourds…

Fall MandalaAs we had done for the first one, we emptied the stage floor completely and laid out a backing of brown Kraft paper that all of our botanicals would be laid on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And, it turned out our garden shop cats, Tacca and Liam, wanted very badly to get in on the fun again.  It seemed like a repeat of July!

In fact, the very first pieces I had chosen,  the long, dark leaves of a Pennisetum named ‘Princess’, were quite obviously cat toys in Tacca’s eyes. They both loved the fluffy, light, guinea hen feathers too. We were worried we weren’t going to get very far with this project.

Fall MandalaBut it turns out we have the perfect shop cats. Really, we do. They got bored pretty quickly with our shooing them away constantly, gave up on trying to get those wispy feathers, and strolled off to find some other adventure (or a nap) elsewhere.

Some of the first things we pulled for our fall mandala were, of course, pumpkins and gourds. The snake gourds are so interesting;  it was impossible not to use them as a dark green counterpoint to all the brighter colors of flowers and leaves.

Fall Mandala

The ‘Better Late Than Never Garden‘ added its life to our design too, as we snipped  blooms from massive tithonia plants and the last of the season’s cutting zinnias. The towering hyacinth bean vine in full bloom at the very top of the arbor is so tall it was hard to get many blooms from it,  but the beautiful shade of purple from the few we had turned out to be very pretty in contrast to the orange colored blossoms we’d already gathered.

Orange tithonia petals brighten the lacinato kale, coleus leaves, miniature white pumpkins and guinea hen feathers....

Tithonia, blue kale leaves, feathers…

Other deep hued elements like the purple eggplant with its pretty shape, the dark blooms of African blue basil, and various salvias worked well too.

A particularly pretty grouping, I thought, were blue-green lacinato kale leaves interspersed with guinea hen feathers and single petals of bright orange tithonia.  In fact, many blooms were pulled apart to use, including marigolds with their orange-red streaked yellow petals.Fall Mandala

 

 

I stand back and look, studying what we’ve made.  Hmmm….I really like the green apples against the purple eggplant but the tiny white miniature pumpkins are pretty wonderful too.

Another view...

Another view…

 

Oh, but look at the  beautiful leaves of red leaf lettuce, silvery veined heuchera, the chard’s brilliant red stems,  and that gorgeous green rex begonia. Really, it’s impossible to pick a favorite spot, so I’m going to  stop trying and just meditate on it for now…because that’s what a mandala is for.Fall MandalaFall Mandala

 

 

 

 

 

I know describing the elements doesn’t quite convey the creation of it,  which was pretty much an instinctive  process.  I can say with authority that  it is a really wonderful way to spend time, and we left it in place for a few days (Amazingly, the cats continued to ignore it!).

Lycoris bulbs, coleus leaves...

Lycoris bulbs, coleus leaves…

 

Finally, it was time to dismantle it, as the tithonia  blooms were beginning to fade, the coleus and other leaves were curling, and we needed the space for shop business again. We’re already looking forward to the next one – our winter version, in January, 2016. Stay tuned!

 

FALL MANDALA INGREDIENTS:

Tiny blooms...

Tiny blooms…


Indian corn (whole and kernels), snake gourds, mini pumpkins, gourds, green apples, purple eggplant, lycoris squamigera bulbs, guinea hen feathers, miscanthus blooms Lacinato kale, Charlotte chard, red lettuce, coleus, croton, ‘Red Giant’ mustard, ‘Silver Dollar’ maidenhair fern, ‘River Nile’ begonia, ‘Princess’ fountain grass leaves
Tithonia, zinnia, Mexican sage, ‘Deb’s Blue’ salvia, dahlia, hyacinth bean vine, viola, marigold, dianthus, forced azalea, African blue basil, agastache (Sunset series), purple gomphrena blooms
Sunflower seed heads (gone to seed), bittersweet berries
Everything either from plants, food, pumpkins, in stock or picked from the shop’s garden…

By Kris Blevons