Leaving On Vacation? Don’t Forget The Garden…

Today marks the summer solstice and the longest day of the gardening year, with the 4th of July holiday and our long southern summer ahead.

This can be a tough time for our landscapes as other activities – trips to the beach or mountains, weekend getaways, and more – lure us away from our ordinary routines.

 

 

Before you leave for an extended time, make plans for a neighbor or friend to check on your garden. Ask them to harvest vegetables and herbs and keep any that they pick.

 

 

Basil in particular is a fast grower and benefits from being cut regularly. Give them an easy pesto recipe so they can make some for themselves (or even better, make some for them when you return).

Are there spots that need more water than others if it turns sunny and hot? Walk them through your landscape and give them a heads-up on problem areas or plants that you’d appreciate particular attention paid to.

 

If you have pots that will need consistent watering, group them together within easy reach of your hose. Remember very small pots dry out quickly, especially in windy conditions. Consider moving those in sun into more shade while you’re gone.

Walk your landscape and do any weeding, deadheading and cutting back, keeping in mind how much they will grow while you’re away. Make sure your garden beds are mulched and add some to the top of container gardens as well.

 

Finally, be grateful your friend made the time to check on your plantings but don’t expect perfection. If, when you return, there are overgrown plants, some that received too much or too little water, or vegetables that didn’t get harvested, don’t sweat it. After all, you just returned from vacation while they were hard at work for you!

By Kris Blevons 

 

 

 

Gardening For Your Health

What do you do to stay in the best of health? Maybe you go to the gym daily or at least once a week. My sister plays tennis, bikes, and walks too. A co-worker goes the to the gym every day and eats a well balanced and nourishing diet.

For myself, walking, eating right, and generally staying as active as possible are my goals. Of course there’s more to staying  healthy than just physical exercise, and gardening  can provide mental as well as physical rewards. If  I’m upset about something,  I get outside and immerse myself in gardening tasks, and I’m able to relax as my mind focuses on the plants and the environment around me.

Working  the soil, planting a garden, taking the time to observe changes as plants grow, these are all activities that are healthy for our bodies as well as our minds. Our children should be allowed to play and get dirty as well; introduce them to plants and gardening by letting them plant their very own small space with a few vegetables or some bright flowers. Help them tend it and you’ll be nourishing your relationships too.

We all lead incredibly busy lives, but more and more time is being spent looking at our phones, tablets, and laptops, inevitably resulting in less movement and more sitting and staring, completely unaware of our surroundings or people. Take a break from the devices for awhile and get outside again. You’ll be glad you did.

By Kris Blevons

 

 

Larkspur and Poppies – The Better Late Than Never Garden in May

Village Living, our neighborhood newspaper, did a nice story on pollinator gardening that ran in an April issue. It was a very good and informative article, but I fretted that the picture was of me weeding, and not very exciting. What a difference a month makes!

The bachelor buttons are putting on their annual show, tough plants that come back year after year to dazzle with their varied shades of blue, lavender, pink, and white flowers. I throw out more seed each January (I’m too busy during the holidays to sow it any earlier.) of select blooms from the previous year’s garden.

I’m pleased with the larkspur this year and marvel how it is a constant now, though I add more seed of it as well, not quite trusting that it will reappear each year. In May, on a warm morning, I walk through the small space, marveling at the abundance of bloom.

The  ‘Indian Summer’ rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan’s) have returned and are blooming. This is exciting, as I wasn’t sure if they’d be cold hardy in this open area. They’ve not only returned, but have sown themselves in another spot as well. Excellent, I think.

 

 

 

I move on, strolling around the corner of the back bed beside the compost bin. There’s a verbena blooming that I didn’t plant – I’d noticed it for the first time last year, and here it is again, a lovely lavender flower carpeting the ground beneath the blooming bachelor buttons.

I glance to my right and see a white snapdragon, clinging to the edge of the compost bin, a virtual annual espalier, only surviving the city worker’s weedeaters by hugging the weathered wood. We’re having to take the old compost bin out, it’s looking pretty ramshackle, and folks are beginning to throw trash in it.  So many survivors have seeded themselves around it, and I’ll miss the surprises it offered.

I know that soon the onslaught of heat will be too much for these winter beauties and they’ll begin to flag.  I already see signs of summer’s encroachment; sunflowers and zinnias have sprouted and grown from dormant seeds that have taken advantage of spring sun and warm soil.

I stroll and strive to savor every moment.  Motionless, I watch honeybees move from poppy to poppy, blurring my eyes to better see the morning sun shining through the beds of blue and pink. Gardens are transient and I know in another month (because this garden is  “better late than never”) when the seeds for the summer garden are finally sown, this early morning vision will be a distant, beautiful memory.

By Kris Blevons

 

 

 

 

 

Tropicals That Steal The Show – Plumbago and Thryallis

Thryallis, coleus and pentas…

May and June are prime months for tropical plants to enter the garden picture, as  temperatures during the day (and night) are finally warm enough for these tender flowering beauties.

The most common and widely grown is a native of South Africa, Plumbago auriculata,  a shrubby white or blue bloomer that’s typically used in container plantings in sun to part sun.  If you haven’t tried it and prefer either color in your garden or planters, it’s a lovely and tough addition. An occasional light clip and fertilizer to keep new growth and buds coming are all it requires.

Another of my favorites  of the last few years in container plantings, and pictured here, is Thryallis, Galphimia glauca, a floriferous yellow tropical that also blooms through the summer and is quite carefree. A native of tropical areas extending from Mexico to Guatemala in Central America, it likes it hot and soil that’s not soggy but well drained; take care to not overwater.

Since it will get quite robust by the end of the season, place it in a large container or bed and let it go. It will be at its best in full, hot sun, ideally in a spot that’s protected from a lot of wind. Finally some good  news for any of you that deal with deer issues – they don’t like it and won’t touch it  (Though we won’t  make any promises!).

We have plumbago and thryallis in stock now if you’d like either of these tropical beauties to brighten your summer garden. They won’t disappoint!

By Kris Blevons

 

 

Watering Wisely

We get questions about proper watering of new and existing plantings almost daily. Now is the time for responsible homeowners and gardeners to begin conserving water in preparation for the hot summer season ahead.
 Do you have an irrigation system? If you don’t know exactly how it works, consult your irrigation installer and get answers. Install a rain sensor so your system isn’t running during rain storms! Be sure that your zones are configured to each area for the proper amount of time for the plant material.
For example, lawns need infrequent but deep watering. This encourages deep root systems rather than shallow ones that will succumb in a drought situation.
Remember too that when your lawn turns brown it is more than likely going dormant and will green up when rains return. Established landscapes with shrubs and trees in the ground for more than 5 years will not need the same amount of water as new plantings.
If you don’t have an irrigation system, try to hand water early in the day. Water slowly to avoid runoff and to allow the water to penetrate.
Don’t automatically pull out the hose if plants are wilting, they may just be hot. Watch to see if they perk up once the sun is off of them.  Add mulch to conserve moisture in the soil. Look HERE for more about mulching.
Pay attention to annual plantings during hot and windy conditions, and water the next morning if they look wilted. Wind can be tough on plants that are putting all their energy into blooming!
We know from past experience that the Birmingham Water Works stated mission is that of purveyors, not conservers of water. As a business model they want to sell water as long as possible.
So, unfortunately, we know they are not going to be proactive in conserving water.  That means its up to us to be smart users of this important resource. Start the conversation with your neighbors and friends, and let’s do our best to conserve now.
Look HERE for another blog post on this subject with a link to the University of Auburn for more information.

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

 

 

 

 

Design Tips For Container Plantings Focused on Foliage

The blue primrose will be pulled out and replaced when the heat of summer arrives…

I’ve talked before about creating interesting container plantings with foliage and flowers, and here are a few more examples.

While this post is about choosing interesting plants for containers, the design concepts are used by the best garden designers for beautiful landscapes too. Plantings in pots are much less intimidating, though, and are a way to try new things just for fun.

Use your container as a starting point to give you hints about what will look best. Does it contribute color or texture, or is it fairly plain? The point here is that leaves in plantings add color too and sometimes last longer in a design than flowers; so think about this as you study the look and shape of your pot.

 

when the ligularia on the left and the iris aren’t in bloom, it’s the foliage contrasts that will capture your attention…

Are you looking for a container planting to be a focal point in a particular area? Some of the most dramatic plantings I’ve seen have made use of extremely large foliage plants, elephant ears being a notable example.

The photo here showing black elephant ears, fern, and ligularia in my garden is an example of a landscape design that would work in a contained planting too.  The addition of the chartreuse color of a creeping jenny to trail would add additional impact.

Conversely, smaller pots work well to showcase one striking specimen plant, and groupings of pots with one variety in each can be very beautiful.

Take a walk through a favorite greenhouse or nursery, looking for leaves that catch your eye (If the plants bloom too, consider it a bonus.) or start with some foliage plants you like and add blooming plants to accent them. Be sure to match the choices with the amount of available light, whether it’s full or part sun or shade.

The first collage shown here is a small sampling of heuchera leaves, a perennial that shows off its leaf color in the late winter and early spring. Houseplants are also very useful in plantings for shade and love the humidity our summer days and nights provide.

This planting of ferns, acorus and a rex begonia will appreciate a spot in filtered sun through the summer…

The second collage shows a few common but very beautiful houseplants. Showcasing a grouping of a few favorite and well grown rex begonias could also be a stunning tableau on any shady patio or porch.

The bottom line: Try to choose plants that play off your container’s size, color, and shape. When choosing your plants, consider your light and find those plants that have contrasting foliage shape, texture, varied sized leaves and that need the same water requirements.

 

 

All of these plants for a sunny spot will work well in a container…

Don’t be afraid to experiment with a new plant you’ve never tried before, and ask for help if you have questions. Enjoy your new plantings, and show them off to your friends!

 

All foliage…

Now that you’ve taken the time to choose just the right plants, take care of them. Start by purchasing a quality, light-weight soilless potting soil (We carry Fafard, and use it for all of our plantings.). Add a slow release fertilizer such as Osmocote. 

 

Position the plants in the container, then remove the plants from their pots and set them on the soil. Do any have roots completely encircling the rootball? Loosen them gently before planting. Firm each plant into the pot, and water them well.

As your plantings grow, they will need occasional trimming and grooming. This is part of gardening, and should be looked on as a normal part of plant ownership. Don’t be afraid to clip a plant back that is overgrown and remove any yellow or discolored leaves. If you’ve added blooming plants to your combinations, be sure to deadhead, or remove old blooms, regularly.

By Kris Blevons

 

New Statuary for Spring 2017

When the big crates of statuary arrive, it’s a sure thing spring is just around the corner. Here’s a look at a few of the pieces that came in recently. Whimsical animals, and pretty planters that struck our fancy and we hope will tickle yours too.

They’re even better in person!

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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

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