Category Archives: Summer

A Mandala Inspired by Art

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

By Kris Blevons

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

Spring To Summer In The Garden – It Happens So Fast!

Front bedA southern garden, not unlike like gardens elsewhere, is in constant change one day to the next, a living work of art subtly shifting in quiet or awe-inspiring ways. But here in Birmingham, Alabama,  we’re also able to revel in every season…each spring, summer, fall, and even winter, since, for better or worse,  there’s no real down time, no blanket of snow to envelope the garden in silence.  Each season slides easily into the next, with the appropriate and perfect accompaniment of plants.

imageThe mental transition from spring to summer is the hardest for me though. I want the perfect spring days to go on and on and wish the peonies, poppies, pansies, bachelor buttons, Japanese roof iris, and foxglove could bloom forever. But I know the relentless heat will soon arrive to stay for good and the earliest of the garden bloomers will go as the temperatures and the humidity rise.

So, I’m mindful each day to appreciate the spires of foxglove and blooms of colorful snapdragons I planted on cool fall days last October and that are blooming now, even as I tuck in my usual summer annuals of zinnias, lantana, gomphrena, and more in my hot, sunny front bed. As I plant I pull out many spent pansies and tired poppies, choosing to leave those that are still adding color.image

Many customers  I see each day have completely pulled out their scraggly pansies and are ready to move on. They walk out of Oak Street Garden Shop loaded up with top soil or soil conditioner to loosen the soil, PlantTone to feed it, and lots and lots of plants. They gather perennials that will come back each year, annuals for lots of continuous color, and herbs and vegetables to harvest through the summer.

imageThis year I’ve decided to add a new tall salvia selection called ‘Amistad’. I’ve fallen in love with its beautiful rich purple blooms and think it will be the perfect compliment for the yellow day lilies and other hot colors I usually use in this spot.

African blue basil is another addition this year that I’m planting for the honeybees. On an arbor I’ve decided to put a Malabar spinach plant, a fast growing and beautiful vine whose tender new leaves are edible. Trying new plants, and even different selections of those I’ve used before, makes each season a little different and a lot of fun.

It was a hot day today. I survey the garden as I water my new plantings in, eying a spot previously occupied by yellow violas. Yes, some bat face cuphea would look just right there, and I think the hummingbirds would like it too.

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

Head Planters – Planted!

Pinkie's planting in a cast stone head planter...

Pinkie’s planting in a cast stone head planter…

I’ve seen some interesting head planters on Pinterest and other social media sites over the past few years, and decided this spring it was time to get in on the fun. Since these pieces are heavy cast stone, they’re not going to tip over in winds and consequently won’t break easily either. The planting space isn’t terribly roomy though, so extra care needs to be taken to ensure they don’t dry out.

Pinkie planted the one shown in the first pictures here using mostly succulents. They’re the perfect choice for planting in small spaces like this since they tolerate dry soil.  Though the aeonium at the front is a short-term cool season plant,  you can see in the second picture that the peach purslane and yellow  bulbine were happy to take over the show once the aeonium  pooped out in the heat.Head planter

 

 

A sedum ‘Blue Spruce’ is the single plant in the second, smaller head planter. It was planted at the end of June, and this picture was taken the beginning of September. Not bad for a tiny planting space!

For part shade...

For part shade…

We had one head planter left at the end of August, and it looked too empty. Since Pinkie had planted the other two for sun, I decided to try one with something in it for shade or filtered sun. While Pinkie’s head planters really  look like hats, I decide mine would be a bit more bohemian.

One of my favorite plants is Hemigraphis ‘Red Flame’  or waffle plant. In container plantings it will steal the show, spilling out in a silvery purple wave. To it I added a tiny piece  of a blue  carex, a sedge that works very well in dry shade. The final addition was a dried pod for a “hat pin”. Now to find just the right spot…

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.

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