Category Archives: Perennials

Evergreen Ferns Are Waking Up

With warm temperatures and sunny days the evergreen ferns in the garden are beginning to unfurl their new fronds. Usually I wait another few weeks before trimming frost damaged leaves, knowing we’re certain to get another cold snap or two.

One reason many say to wait before cutting off all the older, winter damaged leaves is that they help protect the emerging fresh foliage from possible freezing temperatures. Usually I listen to this advice; but it was such a pretty day, we’ve had a mild winter, and I really just wanted to get one more chore out of the way while I was thinking about it.

Knowing this,  I’ll definitely keep an eye on the weather forecasts (Being in the nursery business I’m an avid weather watcher anyway!)  and will be prepared to throw some pinestraw over these plants  during any extended periods of below freezing temperatures. It’s certainly possible, since our last average frost is the middle of April.

The holly ferns (Cyrtomium falcatum)  I decided to clean up are in a protected spot at the edge of a patio area near the house, so they’d be easy to take care of in the event of a freeze. I brought out my folding garden seat and pair of small clippers and got to work.

With holly ferns, care needs to be taken doing this so any emerging fern fiddleheads aren’t cut off. Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora) and tassel ferns (Polystichum polyblepharum) are more cooperative and easier to deal with, as their old fern leaves lie flat on the ground around the crown of the plant and are easy to remove without damaging any new growth.

When I was finished, the bed looked pretty naked except for some leaf litter, which I left to help protect the crowns. By the end of March I’ll make a final clean up and remulch around these plants. For now though, I’ll enjoy watching the new growth unfurl a little more as each day grows longer on the way to spring.

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

First Shrubbery Shipment of the Spring Has Arrived!

Last week our first spring shipment arrived, this from a local grower in Shelby County. We can always count on them to supply us with healthy plants, all of which are chosen for our area.

Chinese fringe tree in Weesie Smith's garden

Chinese fringe tree in Weesie Smith’s Birmingham garden…

This shipment has treasures that you might not notice on first glance. Because of our space limitations we carry small quantities of plants we think are worthy of your purchase. These include our native fringe tree, Chionathus virginicus, a beautiful understory tree that everyone comments on when it blooms in April.

The common name comes from the clouds of white, fringe-like blooms that hang from its branches, and many believe it rivals dogwood trees for beauty.  Its size is variable, ranging from 12′-20′ and as wide, and the perfect spot would be in full to partial sun. This would also make a wonderful remembrance gift.

Osmanthus fragrans - tea olive

Osmanthus fragrans…tea olive

Osmanthus fragrans, the fragrant tea olive, is a large shrub that is unassuming until its sweet fragrance gives it away in the late fall, though there are also some flowers in the spring too. It’s very drought tolerant, but it does need a protected spot as it is as the edge of its cold hardiness here in Birmingham.  Most importantly, plant it where you’ll be able to enjoy its unbelievable fragrance!

Tea olive blooms...

Tea olive blooms…

If your landscape has room for any native deciduous azaleas, we also have these gorgeous harbingers of spring. Unlike the usual azaleas you might be familiar with, these bloom before they leaf out and the blooms seem to float in midair.

Native Azalea R. canescens

Native Azalea R. canescens

One of the most beautiful is the Florida flame azalea, and we have a selection of it, Rhododendron austrinum, “Escatawpa’. It’s a vigorous grower with fragrant yellow to orange blooms.

In addition, we have the soft pink flowering and very fragrant native azalea, Rhododendron canescens, also known as the Piedmont or Honeysuckle azalea. Perhaps you’ve seen large specimens up to 10′ tall  blooming in gardens here in  the early spring and not known what it was.

Another,  Rhododendron ‘Spring Sensation’, is one bred for heat and humidity tolerance and large blooms.  All native azaleas do well here if given filtered shade, though they need enough sun to set buds, so don’t site them in deep shade. Keep an eye on them their first summer, supplementing water if we go through dry spells, and enjoy the beautiful show each spring.

Virginia sweetspire and hellebores

Virginia sweetspire and hellebores

A native deciduous shrub (meaning it loses its leaves in the winter) available now that does well in the garden and in containers is our native Virginia sweetspire, Itea virginica. We have a selection called ‘Henry’s Garnet’, grown for its profuse and fragrant blooms, beautiful red fall foliage, and tolerance of dry or damp soils once established. It’s truly a wonderl in any garden, adding beauty in each season.

Spiraea is a deciduous shrub that many ask about when it’s in bloom. Its claim to fame has to be all the tiny blooms creating a beautiful show along arching stems. Selections we have now are ‘Renaissance’, and a dwarf selection, ‘Tor’.

An old fashioned shrub, pearlbush, ‘Exochorda’, gets its name by the round pearl like buds that open to  white flowers. The selection we have is called ‘Blizzard’, and for good reason; it’s reputed to have a blizzard of large, frilly, white flowers at its height of bloom. Spiraea and pearlbush are known primarily for their spring interest, and they are worth waiting for each year!

Fatsia 'Spider's Web'

Fatsia ‘Spider’s Web’

We have fatsia too, but not the plain green leaf fatsia you might be familiar with. This one is called ‘Spider’s Web’, and it has mottled leaves that reputedly become even more mottled with age. Plan to place this in a protected, shady spot, or utilize its tropical leaves in a summer container

Finally, a few more plants you might be interested in include bay laurel, Laurel nobilis,  for edible bay leaves if you’re a cook, and a deciduous vine called Schizophragma. Its common name of climbing hydrangea (though it’s not a true hydrangea) describes its hydrangea-like blooms. The selection we have is ‘Rose Sensation’.

Another vine of note we have now is Confederate Jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides.  The selection we carry is a more cold hardy variety called ‘Madison’.  These shiny green leaved vines with fragrant white blooms are a staple in southern gardens. Keep in mind that even though it’s listed as an evergreen vine, it can get knocked back by particularly hard winters.

Finally, we’ve gotten in a few evergreens and a pretty Deutzia called ‘Nikko’, a small mounding deciduous spring bloomer.

Of course, this is just the beginning, as the nursery will begin to fill quickly with the approach of spring. Stop in. There may be a treasure waiting just for you!

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

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

A New Planting Season Brings New Possibilities…Don’t Be Afraid!

Sunny Bed with Annuals & PerennialsI read a piece that Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery wrote in his April newsletter about some people being “controlling” gardeners while others are “gambling” gardeners. I really thought it was spot on, and I can say I’ve worked with both types.

 

Of course, many of us gamble each year, planting marginally  hardy plants that have done fine with our mild winters of past years. Boy, can some winters give us a whammy though!

Annual caladiums, coleus and pentas are added to this perennial bed

Annual caladiums, coleus and pentas are added to this perennial bed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I really liked this comment from Tony Avent,  “Controlling folks want everything to work out just as the gardening books say, and struggle when plants don’t do exactly that, while the gamblers take a chance, try new things and hope for the best.

For the gamblers if things don’t work out quite as expected, it’s an opportunity for something new, rather than a failure. Personally, I like the gamblers approach to gardening much better, and think it causes a lot less anxiety! So, what’s the point? The point is to relax and enjoy gardening, remembering that nature is always in charge.

Life and death in the garden are no different than life and death outside the garden. Our options are to dwell on the sadness of death or celebrate the life that passed and embrace the next life that lies ahead.”

Fall in the Herb GardenWith the beginning of a new planting season, my personal outlook is going to be that of looking on my  gardening efforts as a joy and an opportunity to not only beautify my landscape and surroundings but to nourish my soul as well; and, if there are failures, that will be part and parcel of the process. Some of my  best plant combinations have been happy accidents!

Herb Garden with Self Sown Vinca, Allysum & GomphrenaThe pictures here are of my garden – plants are allowed to self seed, failures are yanked out, and plants that strike my fancy are tucked in here and there where I think they might look good. It wouldn’t make anyone’s list of a perfectly designed space, but it’s mine and that’s how you should treat yours too.

Above all, whatever the outcome of your garden, take time to appreciate the life you bring into it…a butterfly on a zinnia bloom, a hummingbird hovering over a salvia, and bees doing their important work of pollinating your flowers and vegetables.

Mid Summer Perennials & AnnualsMy ultimate hope is that many of you adopt the gambler attitude. It doesn’t have to be the high roller, high stakes approach, but try to roll with the plant punches, knowing they’ll come, and  treat your gardening efforts as what they should be – a relaxing, and therapeutic addition to your  daily schedule rather than a chore that’s only done on the weekends.

Posted by Kris Blevons

A Winter Walk Through A Southern Garden – One Year to the Next

At first glance, it doesn't look like much is going on...

At first glance, it doesn’t look like much is going on…

The garden looked hunkered down and frozen the other day, and well it should, since 10 degrees was a mite chilly for Birmingham, Alabama.

While gardeners in northern climes take the winter off, perusing catalogues and dreaming of a new garden season still months away, usually we in the south, like it or not, don’t have any real down time. I seem to spend much of mine walking through the garden and simply observing and thinking about what needs doing, and, when the temperatures drop down below freezing, I’m more than happy to stay inside.

Mahonia 'Charity', adding it's winter color...

Mahonia ‘Charity’, adding it’s winter color…

For example, I’ve been thinking on and off for over a year now about moving one of the shrub roses from the front bed to the side of the driveway but haven’t quite gotten past the thinking stage yet. I’ve become much more relaxed about things; everything will get done in its own time. Don’t sweat the small stuff, right?
Here’s a bit from a post written last winter with some additional notes about what differences a year can make.

 

The mahonia, a year later, January, 2015

The mahonia, a year later, January, 2015

I see the Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ shrub that’s planted in a very shady spot is blooming. The birds love the blue/purple berries that follow the bright yellow flowers, and we don’t see the pretty fruit  for long. I cut it back quite hard last spring because it was getting leggy. It’s fuller as a result this year, and next year will have even more blooms. (A note: This year, 2015, there are more blooms, and they’re bigger too!)

Chamaecyparis obtusa selections are wonderful for the south...

Chamaecyparis obtusa selections are wonderful for the south…

Groundcovers... Veronica 'Georgia Blue' and a dianthus...

Groundcovers… Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’ and a dianthus…

Candytuft, catmint, poppies...

Candytuft, catmint, poppies…

 

 

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Golden Mop’ calls attention to itself out front with some yellow brightness of its own, anchoring the end of the front bed. It has loved this hot, sunny spot, and I appreciate being able to clip it for my holiday decorations. What a beautiful workhorse in the garden! I purchased it (and most of my shrubs and trees) in small pots and have let them grow into their spaces.
More subtle things are happening out front too. The early blooming evergreen groundcover Iberis, or candytuft, is showing its buds, and some are even opening. They evidently don’t look at a calendar or gardening book to tell them when they’re supposed to be blooming! (Update for 2015: definitely not as pretty as last year, but there’s still a smattering of bloom here and there.)

The veronica ‘Georgia Blue’, a white pass-along dianthus, and poppies seem happy, as does the catmint, ‘Walker’s Low’.  The beautiful veronica will be covered with tiny blue flowers in late January into February, just as the poppies begin to fatten up and the violas begin to show more color. If you haven’t planted poppies, pansies, violas, the ‘Georgia Blue’ veronica or candytuft yet, it’s not too late to find a few spots for some. They’ll add some extra and welcome color in your yard this spring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This bed will look much different in future  weeks and months,  but now, in the midst of winter, things are quiet…I must remember this is the season for patience.

daylily foliage...

daylily foliage…

Some daylilys, though, are pushing out new green growth in this warm south facing bed; winter barely keeps them down. A large prostrate rosemary, another that loves this hot spot, is blooming pretty purply blue flowers that the bees adore. (This Rosemary really took a hit during the second snow event of 2014 – I ended up pulling it out early in the summer since it looked absolutely awful.)

 

 

 

 

Spiraea 'Ogon'

Spiraea ‘Ogon’

 

My route has taken me again to the back, where the Spiraea ‘Ogon’ is holding on to its few remaining willowy leaves, and, looking closely, I can see all the little buds along the stem. These will result in pretty white blooms in beautiful contrast with chartreuse new growth this spring. (this year – no leaves, hoping it blooms as well as last year.)

 

 

 

 

 

I walk down another level and there’s one of many small Alabama crotons, looking a bit bedraggled, still with a few silver backed orange leaves. The crotons love this part of my garden – thankfully, since it’s on a rocky slope with great drainage that they prefer.image

 

 

 

 

 

 

sun shining through a miscanthus...

sun shining through a miscanthus…

Farther on, the plumes of a miscanthus show off in the afternoon light. This year, 2015, it looks so sad  I won’t hesitate cutting it back next month. This will also keep all those seeds from wanting to sprout here and there. My Midwestern soul loves grasses… but not everywhere!

I notice this year that the pieris is fat and full of buds – the cold doesn’t seem to have affected it at all, at least I hope it hasn’t. It may be in a favorable microclimate – warmed by the rock outcrop just behind it, and the water below.

The Japanese pieris is full of buds...

The Japanese pieris is full of buds…

 

 

 

 

epimedium spreads slowly...

epimedium spreads slowly…

I make my way across the water and toward the rocks where an epimedium resides in the shelter and shade of a large elm.

I’ll be trimming it’s tattered winter foliage soon in anticipation of the dainty orange flowers that will appear early spring. There is no procrastinating with epimedium; if I wait too long to clean up those tattered leaves, I risk cutting the delicate stems the flowers arise on. These small lessons are often learned by doing the wrong thing at least once. I love all the different epimediums I’ve amassed over the years. They are slow growing, tough shade groundcovers – some evergreen, some not, and all very beautiful, even without flowers!

(Unfortunately the summer of 2014 a woodchuck created some serious mayhem in the garden, eating all the buds of the epimedium and the blue woodland phlox as well. It was so disappointing! I’m hoping this spring is better.)

Edgeworthia chrysantha...

Edgeworthia chrysantha…

One shrub I never prune but let have it’s way, and that always blooms in the winter is the Edgeworthia chrysantha, or paper bush. I see the beautiful buds that have been getting larger all fall; soon they’ll begin to open and their incredible scent will fill the garden. It’s a true gem, holding interest in all the seasons, from it’s long lasting pretty buds to fragrant blooms, interesting bark, and big, bold leaves.

January, 2015

January, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

Native cardamine...

Native cardamine…

 

 

I need to end this post soon…Oh, but here, coming up through fallen leaves, is the Cardamine diphylla. I have this native in many spots under the shade of large trees. It will sport pretty white blooms on tall stems in late spring, but it’s  the winter when the foliage is at it’s prettiest. By summer it will have retreated below ground once again. This winter it’s spread even more,  and the pretty green foliage really stands out against the brown leaves beneath it.

 

 

 

Carex 'Evergold'

Carex ‘Evergold’

Parney's clusterberry cotoneaster...the cedar wax wings will devour these berries in another few weeks!

Parney’s clusterberry cotoneaster…the cedar wax wings will devour these berries in another few weeks!

 

Carex is another favorite, and here is Carex  ‘Evergold’, spilling from a planter. Look how bright is is in the shade of a Cotoneaster lacteus‘Parney’s Clusterberry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh so fragrant...daphne odora

Oh so fragrant…daphne odora

 

Finally, the daphne odora’s pink buds are getting larger, and soon they’ll open, adding their incredible scent to the whole back garden. This is one that I leave well alone – it needs perfect drainage, and on this slope it seems to be happy. Too much coddling and they are prone to up and dying. So far I’ve been lucky with this one.

The light is beginning to fade and there’s a definite chill in the air; it’s time to go in. There will certainly be more ups and downs with our  weather this winter – that’s a given.  Finally, though,  temperatures will gradually begin to  rise as we make our way toward spring, and each day there will be more to see.  I’m ready.

 

 

 

Bulbs – Plan Now For Spring Beauty In Your Garden

 

So many to choose from...

So many to choose from…

Want to be extra happy next spring? Start planning now for your spring garden to include more bulbs. They’re so easy to overlook in the fall since they don’t have flashy flowers to tempt you, but you’ll be so happy you took the time to plant them when their pretty flowers appear next March, April and May!

This fall’s bulb shipment has arrived, and the varied selection includes packages of tulips already mixed in beautiful color combinations. The important thing to remember when buying tulip bulbs is to buy them early and refrigerate them. Other bulbs you can purchase early simply to get the best selection, then keep them cool and dry until the time is right for planting all your bulbs, generally November into December here in the south.

Refrigerating the tulip bulbs at least 8 weeks is important for all of us who live in our warm climate where the winter soil temperatures don’t get cold enough for tulip bulbs to flower well. In the north, folks can buy their bulbs and plant them directly in the soil in the fall. Here, we’re tricking them into thinking they’re going through weeks of  necessary winter chilling.  Remember also that  tulip bulbs  should be treated like an annual and pulled out when they’re finished blooming.

Narcissus - Jack Snipe

Large blooming 'Ice Follies'

Large blooming ‘Ice Follies’

In addition to the tulip bulb mixes, there are also many packages of narcissus.  The smaller blooming varieties are perennial here and won’t need to be replanted each year.  With names like ‘Sailboat’, ‘Minnow’, ‘Sun Disc’, ‘Thalia’ and ‘Baby Moon’,  just to list a few, how can you resist? These smaller bulbs come in packages of 12,  and it’s best to plant them in groups in your garden, to make more of an impact each year.

For all of you who like the big yellow and white blooms of daffodils, we have those too. ‘Dutch Master’ and ‘Mount Hood’ are favorites with their big blossoms on tall stems, and just a few in a vase are so beautiful.

Lycoris radiata

Lycoris radiata

 

 

 

Each year we also have some of the lycoris , or red ‘Surprise Lily’ bulbs.  You’ve no doubt seen them blooming around town late in the summer, the long stems appearing, seemingly out of nowhere with their spidery red blooms. I have forgotten where I’ve planted them, and it’s always a happy surprise when they show up again each year. When they’re finished blooming, strap-like foliage will appear, persist all winter and then die down in the spring.

Ipheion 'Rolf Fiedler'

Ipheion ‘Rolf Fiedler’

Another of my favorite bulbs is the old fashioned ipheion. It’s a tiny naturalizing bulb, meaning it will spread gradually where it is happy, generally in a sunny, open area. They come in shades of blue, purple and white; however, the one we have is the sky blue ‘Rolf Fiedler’.  There are 18 tiny bulbs in a package, easy to plant and worth it too! You’ll see blooms late spring to early summer on these diminutive plants.

A couple of other perennial bulbs to try are cyclamen hederifolium and muscari or grape hyacinth. Both of these small bulbs  will spread if conditions are favorable and add even more color to the early spring garden.

Planting Tips For Bulbs:

Always plant your bulbs twice the depth of the bulb itself. For example, if a tulip bulb is 2″ long, plant it at least 4″ deep. There’s no need to plant tulip bulbs any deeper here in the south. The reason folks up north plant deeper is to protect the bulb from freezing. Our soil doesn’t stay below freezing long enough for this to be an issue.

Fertilize with a bulb booster fertilizer at planting time and fertilize established bulbs in the fall with a granular fertilizer as well. If you miss this fall feeding, you can also fertilize them in February with a liquid, even-formula fertilizer like Jack’s . A liquid feed is better in the spring since it will reach the root system faster than a slow release granular will.

By Kris Blevons