Tag Archives: better late than never garden

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

 

 

 

 

Preparing Your New Garden Bed

The other day I received an email from a long time customer asking if I’d consider writing a post on creating a garden bed from scratch. He went on to tell me he has a spot he’d like to turn into a garden like our ‘Better Late Than Never’ garden and wanted to do it right.

Following are two ways to create a garden bed. I’ll describe each method and let you decide which you would prefer. Each one was created in an area where there had been grass.

Spring – larkspur and bachelor buttons

When Oak Street Garden Shop owner Billy Angell created the four garden beds across from the shop, the first thing he decided was the size of each quadrant and how wide the paths between them would be. He was very precise in his measurements, but, since I’ve taken over the garden beds, the sizes have shifted to accommodate self-sown plants.

First he killed all the grass in the area by spraying it with the non-selective herbicide, Round-Up. After waiting a week, he spot sprayed again to be sure all the grass was killed. When this was completed, the entire area  was lightly tilled and then leveled to make it even. If you’re creating a bed where there are utility lines, always have them located before digging.

View through the garden, 4 beds and pinestraw paths

At this point the actual beds were measured and marked off. There would be 4 of them, each 6′ wide and 20′ long with 3′ wide pathways between each bed.  Next, each of these beds was deep tilled, using a bobcat equipped with a tiller attachment on loan from a local landscaper.

Now it was time for the final amendments. A truckload of 1/2 compost from the city of Mountain Brook and 1/2 coarse builder’s sand was unloaded on the sidewalk in front of the soon-to-be garden. Wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow the compost and sand was spread evenly over each bed. It was tilled one more time, then graded so each bed sloped slightly toward the walkways.

Billy sent a soil sample to Auburn, and about a week later they had the results. We were prepared to adjust the soil depending on what the findings were. Amazingly, they said the soil was near perfect and no other adjustments were necessary. You can obtain these soil test kits from the Birmingham Botanical Gardens Extension Service office.

Each season the beds are top dressed with soil conditioner and PlantTone  and regraded. Weeding is done by hand, and no chemicals are applied, in keeping with its designation as a pollinator garden. In addition to plants that reseed each season (zinnias and sunflowers in the summer, bachelor buttons and larkspur in the winter), transplants from the garden shop are also added. For more on plants in the summer garden look HERE.

This was a weedy patch of grass

At home, my husband and I have created many beds, the largest one in front of our house that had been weedy grass. In our beds my husband first dug out all the grass by hand, working in one small area at a time, shaking all the loose soil off and discarding the grass.

Rather than tilling the soil, he took a large pick-ax to break it up, loosening it and then removing any remaining roots and weeds by hand. The cleared area was then raked smooth.

The garden bed is filled with a mix of annuals, perennials, and shrubs

Following this, he applied layers of newspaper, wetting each area down, then covered  the paper with soil conditioner purchased in bags from the shop, and home made compost.  We left these areas through the summer, hoping  to kill any remaining rootlets of grass and weed seeds. I began planting a few things that fall but waited until the following spring to begin planting in earnest. I continue to pull weeds that appear and keep it well mulched as well.  Each season we add more shredded leaves and compost, and the soil has become looser each season.

Each year soil amendments are added to this bed

Whichever method you use, remember that creating a garden bed doesn’t end when the initial work is done. Good gardening practice is to continue to add nutrients to the soil as our hot temperatures break soil amendments down very quickly. The easiest amendment makes use of our fallen leaves each autumn. Run over them with your lawn mower and add them to your beds.

If you are beginning a pollinator garden with summer annuals and would like to sow seeds, be sure to wait until any danger of frost is past, then sow heat lovers like tall cutting zinnias directly in the ground. Be sure to keep seeded areas moistened until the seedlings show, then water as necessary as plants become larger.

Creating a garden bed by either method requires a good bit of initial labor, but the end result is worth the effort!

By Kris Blevons

 

 

 

 

From Seed – The ‘Better Late Than Never’ Garden Puts On A Show!

Better Late Than Never Garden - Spring 2016I’ll be honest, my hopes for a beautiful spring show in the ‘Better Late Than Never’ garden weren’t that great. Weather and time last fall seemed to conspire against me – no beautiful transplants of pansies, snapdragons, or foxgloves were put in the little plot across the street, even as everyone else was planning and planting their home gardens September through December. The summer garden went to seed and was finally pulled out with Ben’s help, in November.Better Late Than Never Garden - May 2016

Sometimes, though, nature helps us along. Walking to my car at the end of early winter days I’d glance at the garden, its four beds seemingly lifeless plots of earth. If I had time I’d walk through, looking to see if any seedlings were emerging. There were, zinnias and sunflowers mostly, seeds dropped from fading blooms,  germinating in the still warm soil. But I knew these were destined to freeze in the upcoming winter chill. Oh well, I thought, maybe I can get something in after the holidays.Better Late Than Never Garden - May 2015

Larkspur and Oriental Poppies - Better Late Than Never Garden May 2016The weeks of late summer through fall had passed quickly. We held Molly’s wedding at the shop, and autumn plants and loads of pumpkins arrived and went. The days flew by during the frenetic holiday season that ended as suddenly as it started. January, and a new year,  had arrived.

I finally had more time to concentrate on the little garden across the street with the apt name. I’d noticed,  on the few December days I had a moment to look,  that there were tiny bachelor button plants everywhere in 3 of the beds. I couldn’t do more than try to thin them out, though, with what little time I had.

Better Late Than Never Garden - May 2016They’d  bloomed in the garden the spring prior and had most definitely reseeded, but with barely any thinning were carpeting 3 of the beds quite thickly. I watched them fill in with some alarm. Would they smother themselves out because they were too close together? I decided to let well enough be and see what would happen.Oriental Poppy and Larkspur - Better Late Than Never Garden Spring 2016

Spotting  that bit of growth in the garden energized me. Even as the bachelor buttons were putting on their amazing growth spurt through January and February, I was tossing out seeds of larkspur in all shades.

I’d choose a few Botanical Interests seed packets off the rack, larkspur in shades of blue or mixes of blues, pinks, and whites. Eyeing the beds, I imagined perfect color combinations, letting the seed slip through my fingers onto the uneven soil.Better Late Than Never Garden - Larkspur and Oriental Poppies May 2016

I scanned the garden each morning, hoping to see some spots of green. Impatient, I would scatter more seeds – packets of sweet alyssum, oriental poppies, mixed colors of larkspur – willing an abundance of  flowers for spring.

Oriental Poppy - Better Late Than Never Garden - Spring 2016 Finally I saw the ferny foliage of the larkspur here and there between the crowded bachelor buttons and the distinctive blue-green foliage of the oriental poppies appeared too.

Each day as the plants grew, more and more people asked what was growing in the garden. I’d explain, smiling, about plants  reseeding and seeds thrown onto the ground on cold winters days. Most people looked incredulous. From seed? Yes, I’d answer, seeds, and a prayer for spring.

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

 

 

 

 

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

The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

Rudbeckia, coreopsis, zinnias, purslane, gomphrena…

 

 

 

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

 

                                                 

Butterfly Weed

Butterfly weed…

Pollinator Plants For Bees, Butterflies, and More

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

Butterflies like these cosmos, zinnias and marigolds

Butterflies like these cosmos, zinnias and marigolds

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

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

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

Posted by Kris Blevons

An (Almost) Blank Slate…The “Better Late Than Never Garden” Summer 2015

The “Better Late Than Never Garden” is living up to its name again this year. It was just about a year ago, at the end of June, 2014, that the garden was planted with sunflower, tithonia, hyacinth bean vine, and zinnia seeds, along with a myriad of assorted plants that were still in stock late in the season.Blooming Dill - Better Late Than Never Garden -June 2015

This year is right on track as the tired snapdragons, foxglove, delphinium, and the last of the very worn out pansies, barely hanging on in the summer’s heat,  were finally pulled out and tossed into the compost.  We left the dill that had bolted and is now in flower to continue blooming. Blooming dill always reminds me of my grandmother’s garden. She always let it go to seed and used them for dill pickles. Gardens are sometimes as much about memory as the here and now, aren’t they?

I surveyed the four beds after the winter’s  pinestraw mulch had been raked off, the beds amended with PlantTone, and finally a layer of soil conditioner had been lightly raked in. So nice and neat, I thought. We are ready to begin a new season! Stay tuned for more posts on this season’s planting adventures.

Posted By Kris Blevons

It’s Spring In The ‘Better Late Than Never Garden’…

Better Late Than Never Garden -Winter 2014-2015Last fall the little plot that I’ve come to call the ‘Better Late Than Never’ garden was gradually planted with foxglove, snapdragons, poppies, delphinium, bachelor buttons, ornamental kale, pansies, and violas. Dashing across the street between customers and shop business to add plants and tending it very early in the morning, the garden slowly filled in.

There were a few poppies...

There were a few poppies…

 

 

 

 

As with any garden, there were successes and failures. I’ve come to accept that nature always has the upper hand and not to take it personally when something doesn’t go exactly as planned. Take the poppies, for example. This year, for some reason (I think it was all the rain late winter into early spring.), they just didn’t fill out like they usually do. Disappointing for sure, but the snapdragons more than made up for the poppies lackluster performance.

Yellow snapdragons and white foxglove...

Yellow snapdragons and white foxglove…

I usually have lots of larkspur that reseed in my garden at home. This year I don’t see much coming up at all. Again, it could be the rains or

even the frigid spell late winter this year. It didn’t come up in the shop garden either. Oh, well! The foxglove is beautiful and is putting on quite a show with the delphiniums!

Red Russian ornamental kale adding it's yellow blooms as it bolts...

Red Russian ornamental kale adding it’s yellow blooms as it bolts…

My strategy is to have a variety of plants, knowing that there will be some failures but many more successes. Also, between business at the garden shop (and a personal life), I’ve tried to keep the garden weeded and tended as much as possible.

Early morning light on the snapdragons and pansies...

Early morning light on the snapdragons and pansies…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a perfect world, there would be endless help, every foxglove would be staked, the bachelor buttons would have been cut back at least once to keep them from flopping, the snapdragons would have supports around them, and the pansies and violas would have more constant deadheading…but whoever said life was perfect, and wouldn’t that actually be a little boring?

The nursery is full of plants for your summer garden.  Spring is all about renewal and hope for a new season, so plant your garden with things you love and try something new too. I’m not sure what this summer will hold for the ‘Better Late Than Never’ garden. I do know we’ll enjoy the beauty of all that’s growing now through our busy spring season and get it planted, finally…(Better late than never!).

Happy spring planting to all of you, remember to maintain the garden as best you can, and always enjoy observing life in your garden too…

Posted by Kris Blevons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ‘Better Late Than Never Garden’ – A Winter Update

Tucking in winter plants around fall annuals, late fall...

Tucking in winter plants around fall annuals, late fall…

The ‘better late than never garden’ is certainly living up to its name, since it was planted at the beginning of November 2014, and most of it finished just prior to the hectic holiday season, a full month later than I would have liked. This ‘better late than never’ schedule is working out okay so far, though, as the plants are growing steadily. Of course, more updates will follow, documenting successes and the inevitable failures that every garden and gardener has.

Most of these pictures were taken quickly  very early on a mid-December morning in the middle of the holiday rush. Since there were other things that needed to be done, I couldn’t linger; but now, with the new year and more time, here’s an overview of the planting process and selection in this ‘better late than never’ winter garden.

Mid-December. Mulched and growing...

Mid-December. Mulched and growing…

Let me admit right off that I’m not a “garden designer”. I can’t tell you that I drew a beautiful rendering of what I envisioned this garden to be come spring. No, the reality is that I grabbed a few packs of this and a few pots of that (usually in the middle of a busy day), raced across the street trowel and plants in hand, and plugged them in wherever I felt they worked best. So, in that way, little by little and over and over, the garden was planted. Time, attention, and the weather will determine how it turns out this spring.

Violas, delphinium, poppies, kale, curly parsley, bachelor buttons and more growing... Mid-December

Violas, delphinium, poppies, kale, curly parsley, bachelor buttons and more growing… Mid-December

I began by planting a few foxglove, delphinium, and bachelor buttons under the still blooming summer tithonia. Then, when it was finally pulled out (Better late than never too!), pansies, violas, and sweet alyssum were added to large spaces that opened up.

Red Veined Sorrel, Rumex sanguinea in the winter garden...January

Red Veined Sorrel, Rumex sanguinea, in the winter garden…January

Since the summer annuals were pulled out of them first, the two front beds were planted the earliest with snapdragons, poppies, bachelor buttons, chard, curly parsley, dill (The dill will eventually freeze at some point.),  red veined sorrel, ‘Bull’s Blood‘ beetskale, and mustard “Red Giant“.  There’s quite a mix of annuals, herbs, flowers, and even bulbs (dwarf narcissus and ipheionin each bed.

The 'better late than never garden' in mid-December...

The ‘better late than never garden’ in mid-December…

A good layer of mulch is really important for your winter garden. Some folks start with a completely empty bed, add the mulch, then plant through it, a great method and easy to do. Of course,  I did just the opposite. I had the time to plant before I had the help for the mulch! So, inevitably, there I was, mulching in the dark before the first cold snap of the season.

I also made sure everything was watered well before spreading the shredded pine bark around the little plants. There will be many more cold snaps before the winter is through, and I’m counting on this mulch to keep the soil warm since this isn’t a garden that gets babied.

A poppy, in bud, with 'Red Giant' ornamental mustard in the 'better late than never garden' in January...

A poppy, in bud, with ‘Red Giant’ ornamental mustard in the ‘better late than never garden’ in January…

For people that don’t have big blocks of time (That’s most of us, I think.), planting a little bit at a time does work…obviously I’m a poster child for it. Now I’m concentrating on keeping winter weeds controlled in the beds, since the two worst offenders, chickweed and henbit, insist on coming up. Don’t let these winter weeds get hold in your garden. Pulling a few every week is far more preferable than tackling them come spring, after they’ve been allowed to smother your pansies and  violas.

Have you planted some flowers for spring? If you haven’t, try a few poppies, pansies, or violas since, as you know now, it’s never too late to plant a garden. I’ll keep you posted on our ‘better late than never’ garden’s progress too!

 

 

A Guide…Plants Used In The “Better Late Than Never Garden” A Butterfly, Bee, And Hummingbird Haven

View From the street...Hyacinth Bean Vine on the Arbor

View From the street…Hyacinth Bean Vine on the Arbor

So many folks have stopped me, asking for a plant list of flowers in the “Better Late Than Never” garden, that I decided it was high time I posted this for those of you who’d like to have something similar next year.  Obviously our garden is sited in full, daylong sun, so plants were chosen with this in mind. You’ll need to provide at least 4-6 hours of sun, with regular watering and deadheading, to maintain your flower garden next year  too.

Indian Summer rudbeckia - "Better Late Than Never" garden

Rudbeckia ‘Indian Summer’ foreground. On arbor, moonvine and red mandevilla…

Any good garden begins with good soil, and, with previous vegetable garden plantings, ours had been amended with soil conditioner, compost and added topsoil. This past season we also added bags of PlantTone as well, raking it in lightly. No tilling was done since that tends to turn up weed seeds, and, once they hit the light, they all sprout, turning the garden into a weedy mess!

The tithonia came on strong, late summer...

The tithonia came on strong, late summer…

 

 

 

 

 

In a previous post I mentioned how late the garden was planted (not until the end of June!), so it was incredibly hot when the sunflowers and zinnias were planted by seed.  This is actually very good, since they need very warm soil to germinate and grow happily and consistent watering as well. I know many of you thought we were a little crazy to be planting in the incredible summer heat, though. (This is a good time to remind all of you to wear a hat if you’re out in the heat and sun and be sure to provide water for yourself too!)  Here’s a post highlighting how much the garden had grown by late summer. So many of you talk about how it seemed to explode overnight. Actually, it was steadily growing each day!

Here, then, is the plant list for a flower garden to attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds in Birmingham, Alabama, and surrounding areas with tips on planting and maintenance:

 

The sunflowers, planted from seed, towered over the garden...

The sunflowers, planted from seed, towered over the garden…

Sunflowers – We raided our Botanical Interests seed rack and planted a mix of sunflowers from Lemon Queen, mixed packs, and solid reds and yellows directly into the ground, then waited, impatiently, checking them every day – and watering each day – until they sprouted. Watching them grow and seeing folks taking pictures made all the effort worthwhile for these towering beauties.

Tithonia...

Tithonia…

 

 

 

 

 

Tithonia, Mexican Sunflower ‘Torch’  – These also were planted from seed at the same time as the sunflowers. At first the sunflowers eclipsed them, but, by the very end of summer after the sunflowers had played out, the Tithonia took over, and everyone was asking about it. It boasts never-ending orange flowers that attract yellow sulphur, skipper, painted lady, and, finally, at the end of the season, monarch butterflies. A must for any sunny flower garden. I kept it deadheaded and staked but left some to lean and sprawl since the stems got quite large.

Tall cutting zinnias – The zinnias were also planted at the same time as the sunflowers and Tithonia. Again, we used Botanical Interests seed leftovers on the seed rack – all mixes of tall varieties. We also had a few green ‘Envy’ zinnia plants in cell packs left over from spring. These I cut back by half and planted in the front two beds while we waited for the zinnia seeds to come up. As seedlings came up I pinched them back to promote branching, and they  were kept deadheaded to promote more blooms so everyone could enjoy the flower display.

Asclepias curassavica, Annual Milkweed – This milkweed was planted for the Monarch butterflies in hope that they would find it and lay their eggs on it for another generation of these beautiful butterflies. It was placed near the tithonia, and, by summer’s end, the monarch butterflies were all over the garden and on the tithonia in particular.  This milkweed should happily reseed itself in the garden next year. I tried to capture what it was like with this butterfly post from late summer.

Variegated hibiscus with the tall pink gomphrena growing through it...

Variegated hibiscus with the tall pink gomphrena growing through it…

Hibiscus – There were two hibiscus varieties planted in the garden. Unlike fancy big-blooming hibiscus you may be more familiar with, these were planted for their foliage appeal, with blooms being secondary. The first is an ornamental red leaf hibiscus, and one of these was planted on each side of the back arbor. By the middle of October, they had each grown to enormous proportions, adding another depth of color to the garden, growing up through the tithonia and moonvine.

Zinnias and gomphrena...moonvine and red leaf hibiscus...

Zinnias and gomphrena…moonvine and red leaf hibiscus…

I kept them clipped periodically to keep them in check and in proportion to the rest of the surrounding plants. The second was a variegated ornamental hibiscus. One of these was planted on each side of the front arbor and had pink gomphrena and tall cutting zinnias growing through it. They were not as vigorous as the red leaf but still added another leaf variation in the garden.

Gomphrena – A plant I wouldn’t be without in the flower garden. It never looks like much in a pot, but in the garden its globe-like flowers add a completely different silhouette among all the daisy-like blooms. And it is tough! We planted transplants of tall purple, red, and pink gomphrena and also added a short variety in all four beds. Here’s another post that features gomphrena.

Purslane, red bat face Cuphea and purple gomphrena edge the beds...

Purslane, red bat face Cuphea and purple gomphrena edge the beds…

Purslane – This low-growing, succulent-like annual is an amazing bee magnet. We had literally hundreds of honeybees each morning on the bright yellow, orange, and red blooming plants. They are best planted along the edge of hot, sunny beds. The flowers close late in the day, but that’s hardly noticeable if you provide other flowers to look at! Be sure to take a look at the video of the honeybees on our YouTube page.

Cleome - Spider Flower...

Cleome – Spider Flower…

 

 

 

 

 

Cleome (Spider Flower) – We had a flat of scraggly looking cleome left over from spring that needed a home…and what a home it got! I cut them back by half so they would branch and be fuller, and were they ever! Don’t hesitate to cut back stems of these flowers through the summer. When you see numerous seed pods hanging down the length of the bloom, it’s time to cut them back. Don’t worry; they’ll continue to bloom and will probably reseed next year for you. Old fashioned flowers, they attract butterflies and bees too.

Porterweed and Sunflowers...

Porterweed and Sunflowers…

Porterweed – An interesting plant that sends out long bloom spikes with blossoms the hummingbirds and sulphur butterflies adore. I would plant it again for that reason alone! I was also impressed that it never seemed to be bothered by insect pests.

Cuphea llavea, Red bat face cuphea  – You may not have noticed this plant right away, but the hummingbirds sure did! Planted along the front of the sunflowers and under the tithonia, it added a shot of red along the ground. Extremely tough and virtually carefree, it flourished with less than optimal sun, as it eventually  was shaded out by the towering sunflowers. Even so, it was one of the last things removed at the end of October.

Cuphea ignea, cigar plant – Another planted for the hummingbirds. This one sports orangey tubular flowers on a rangy plant that I put right in the middle of the zinnias. This post tells you more about this unusual plant.

Hyacinth bean vine, sillouhetted against a blue sky...

Hyacinth bean vine, sillouhetted against a blue sky…

Hyacinth Bean Vine – We started the hyacinth bean vine from seed, planting them all along one side of the front arbor, then waited and waited for it to come up. It finally did, but the leaves were being chewed to pieces and it didn’t look happy at all. Since the garden is pesticide free, the offending leaves were removed and it was given liberal doses of Annie Haven’s Authentic Brand Manure Tea. Gradually it grew stronger, whatever was chewing it moved on, and buds began to form. By September everyone was asking what the beautiful purple flowering vine was.

The back side - Moonvine on the arbor with the red leaf hibiscus on either side...

The back side – Moonvine on the arbor with the red leaf hibiscus on either side…

 

Moon Vine – The moonvine was planted on the back arbor and was the last one we had in stock from spring (They’re easily grown from seed too.). For the longest time, it seemed to be all leaves until buds began to form late in the summer.  Just about the time it threatened to engulf the arbor and everything around it, the fragrant nighttime blooms began to open each evening and were still open each morning.

Late summer - the moonvine and red leaf hibiscus have grown together...

Late summer – the moonvine and red leaf hibiscus have grown together…

Mandevilla Vine – A red mandevilla was planted on one arbor on the other side of the moonvine, and a pink mandevilla was planted on the arbor on the other side of the hyacinth bean vine.  The pink mandevilla was still growing strong at the end of October. The red mandevilla was swallowed up by the moonvine! Both are heat-loving vines and quite beautiful and carefree.

Cuphea hyssopifolia, Mexican heather – Yes, yet another Cuphea and one for the  bees.  This one is a mounding annual that’s just right for filling in spots toward the front of a flower bed. Bees love it, and it’s virtually maintenance free.

Otomeria – A plant I’ve never grown before this summer but that was very impressive in the garden! There were only two, and you may not have noticed them. They love our heat and hopefully will be available for you to try next summer. The two in the garden were planted in August and bloomed until the end of October, when they were finally pulled out. They offered clean white blooms on sturdy mounding plants.

Malabar spinach vine

Malabar spinach vine

Malabar Spinach – Not spinach at all, but an edible and heat loving vine with pretty purple flowers. Like the otomeria, this was another fun plant to try that was also new to me. It did extremely well, planted late, growing up each arbor and up the very ugly 2 hour parking sign. If you’d like to learn more about this fascinating plant, click HERE.

One of the many sunflowers in the garden...

One of the many sunflowers in the garden…

 

 

 

 

 

Rudbeckia ‘Indian Summer‘ – A sturdy annual Black-eyed Susan with large blooms, I’m going to leave these in the ground in hope that they’ll come back next year. We shall see!

Lantana – A couple of lantana were placed at the back of the sunflowers where they’d get the most sun. They were planted quite late (August) so didn’t have much time to develop. I’m going to leave them in those spots to see if they’ll return next year. They might if the winter is mild enough.

Cactus zinnia...

Cactus zinnia…

And the rest….

Assorted tip cuttings of succulents were placed at the front corner by the sign and began to really take hold by the end of the summer.  A rosemary plant was left in from the previous garden and a perennial Cardoon was placed on the end of one bed for its spiny, silvery foliage. A few dwarf purple ruellia, Mexican petunia,  were added by the back rose arbor. Finally, a couple of shade-loving torenia were planted under the sunflowers (They were just right to see from a child’s perspective!).

Dwarfed by the sunflowers...

Dwarfed by the sunflowers…

So, there’s your plant list if you’d like to have a similar summer garden next year. Please don’t feel tied to just these plants, though.  So much of the  joy of gardening involves trying new things and discovering how they work in your landscape. Meanwhile, for now, our winter garden is being planted gradually and offers an entirely different set of possibilities, again some from seed, others from transplants. I hope you enjoy the view!

By Kris Blevons