Cat Proofing the Sign Planter

This year was the worst. Because of the drought the sign planter stayed unplanted from November through January, and the cats noticed, notably Liam. There’s nothing worse than standing out front, helping a customer and seeing your cat, out of the corner of your eye, doing his business…ohhhhhh it was getting more and more agravating.

I didn’t want to plant pansies, simply because I wanted to have as many as possible for our customers. So, when some iceland poppies in cell pack flats became available, I grabbed a flat and planted them in the offending spot.

I wish I could say Liam took the hint. He did not. So, this past Saturday I took matters into my hands again, vowing to do all I could to keep him out. I’d already snatched him up repeatedly, toting him to the back of the greenhouse where the two litter boxes (cleaned religiously for them) resided. He would only hop out, give me a baleful look, and avoid me the rest of the day.

I had figured out my strategy the day before, and, on a sunny but cool Saturday morning, I got to work. Bert gathered pine cones from the side garden (I told him I needed a lot of them.). I pulled some tall, loose stems of the red twig dogwood and cut them to various lengths. There was a pot of washed pea gravel in the greenhouse, and I brought that outside too.

Bert began placing the pine cones between the tiny poppy plants, clustering them in various spots. When he had placed them all, I began arranging the red twig dogwood throughout the planter. This will fix him, I thought. Once the stems were in place, the pea gravel was distributed between the pinecones and branches, and, finally, a few faux fern fiddleheads were placed on either end.

Voila!!! A (hopefully) cat-proof planter. I will report back on how it worked.

By Kris Blevons

 

Catching Up In The New Year

It’s been a while since the last blog post, so this will be a catch up entry to give you an idea of what’s been going on the last couple of months. January and February are usually pretty quiet, and, to be honest, we’re glad of it. Aside from a big shipment of garden planters and statuary, it’s a time for planning and rejuvenating.

The garden is quiet too, though early blooming shrubs and perennials are beginning to put on their show, and cutting stems of forsythia, quince, and spiraea for early bloom indoors help stave off the winter doldrums.

 

 

 

 

In December Ben got the ‘Better Late than Never’ garden across the street cleaned up and ready for winter. Angie laid fresh pinestraw in the paths in January, and now we’re seeing  larkspur and bachelor buttons appearing..self sown seedlings from last winter’s plants. I sowed lots of poppies a few weeks ago in hopes that they’ll be abundant this year too. We shall see.

Our spring/summer seeds from Botanical Interests have already come in, though we’re still eyeing the winter options of lettuce and other cool season veggies and flowers. Jamie sowed a colander full of spinach seeds and is going to try them inside. It’s fun to experiment, and seeds are a small investment to make.

It’s a good thing the spring seeds arrived when they did. Yesterday a woman came in looking for zinnias, sunflowers and more summer bloomers, so we let her look through the boxes that weren’t unpacked yet. She mentioned last year she’d been disappointed, coming in too late to get any and was so happy this year to have first pick.

It’s hard to believe Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. We’ve got our orders in for the most beautiful blooming plants we can find. Orchids, hydrangeas, cyclamen, calla lilies, azaleas, and more – all plants, not cut flowers, so they’ll last longer.

In fact, every picture I post on our Instagram account of our planted arrangements has the hashtag #plantsnotcut. I love cut flowers as much as the next person, but it’s nice to have a gift that lasts a bit longer.

 

The cats of the shop, Tacca, Liam, Ozzie and Spooky, like the late winter quiet too, though they probably get the most visitors coming in looking just for them. There were at least 7 children in the other day squealing with delight and so happy to follow Tacca and Liam around. Spooky and Ozzie are too shy (Or smart?) to make friends, content to watch from a safe distance.

 

 

The cork bark planter inspiration continues. A couple weeks ago we planted three for a party with blooming blue anemones, ranunculus, and pansies. They really were striking, and since they’re planted to last will  only get better as they grow.

 

 

The pussy willow branches are abundant now. I’m not sure what stage they are when cut, I only know they’re perfect when they arrive here. I still remember my Dad cutting way back the huge pussy willow shrub in our back yard in Wisconsin and all the beautiful stems that it produced.

Those pussy willow branches were one of our earliest harbingers of spring in the dead of late winter – the catkins shining in the sunlight on days the drip,drip,drip of melting snow filled the air and puddles materialized on every flat surface.

 

 

Here in the south we use them as accents in orchid arrangements and with other spring flowers. Their fleeting availability makes them all the more special.

In the winter the nursery area out front can be very deceiving, and, if you take just a few more steps and enter the greenhouse, you’ll see all sorts of colorful blooming flowers and houseplants.

We stay busy maintaining the many plants, creating beautiful container gardens and arrangements for parties, and taking pictures of everything for our Facebook and Instagram social media accounts. Our goal this year is to create more video content to better communicate  the joys of what we do. 

Here’s looking ahead to spring, but ’til then enjoy these late winter days and appreciate the beauty of this quiet season.

And, if you need a beautiful respite from the world’s cares,  stop in and stroll through the greenhouse, either here or somewhere near you. It’s bound to make you smile.

By Kris Blevons

 

 

 

 

 

Holiday Happiness

PoppiesThe holidays snuck up on us this year. Summer drifted into fall, with record-breaking warm temperatures and drought conditions throwing all gardening activities out of kilter.

We breathed again when the calendar finally turned to November. Surely this month, after an October of lackluster activity as landscapes wilted, would bring us the rain we desperately needed.IMG_1100

The days passed, and customers began coming in to get our help with their Thanksgiving festivities and holiday tables.

At the same time, we were methodically clearing the nursery of every plant, table, container, and accessory to make every bit of space for the 750 Fraser fir Christmas trees arriving the day before Thanksgiving.IMG_1142

 

 

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Our bow-making class had more participants than the year before, and we knew the holidays were coming even if it didn’t quite feel like it.

 

The traditional Santa, Mrs. Claus, and the elves display was changed up too – this year they’re relaxing at the beach. Why wouldn’t they be with the warm weather?  We joked that when the Christmas trees came so would the rains, and hopefully cooler temperatures too, and darned if that isn’t exactly what happened!IMG_1115

 

IMG_1385The long soaking rains might have slowed down Christmas tree sales, but really we can’t complain. We’re busy enough again, with plants and planters, and that is a great thing. Here’s hoping you all enjoy the holidays, but mostly enjoy the rainy days, any day.

By Kris Blevons

 

October 2016…A Few Words On Water and Dealing With Drought

Well, here we are again. Though we’ve been fortunate in the Birmingham area and southeast the past years to have sufficient rainfall for our landscapes, this summer has been a different story. Warmer than normal temperatures and lack of measurable precipitation spell worsening drought conditions and the need for water conservation.

Rain GuageSo, what does this mean for you? Well, trees and shrubs that have been planted less than a year are the most susceptible and may be lost due  to stress from lack of rain. If your landscape is established with plants that have been well placed and are healthy, drought conditions hopefully won’t have as much of an impact – though if these conditions persist that may change too.

A good practice under normal conditions is to water no more than twice a week in any one area. With Birmingham Water Works Stage 3 watering restrictions in place,  hand watering is allowed twice a week and irrigation systems allowed once a week for one hour  between 8pm and 8am.

 

 

Assess your landscape and prioritize which perennials, shrubs, and trees require the most attention. Add mulch to existing plantings to conserve moisture. Hold off on doing any activity that will push growth (i.e. fertilizing and pruning) until rains come. Deadhead plants with old blooms, especially hydrangeas, and strip leaves from stems if they’re not too large.  Set out soaker hoses.

Conserve water in your home as well. When water is heating up for showers, collect it in a bucket for watering plants. It’s amazing how much water you can get from this simple step. Don’t let water run when hand washing dishes or brushing teeth, and run the dishwasher and do laundry only when there are full loads.

You’ve no doubt seen the symptoms of drought stress on shrubs and trees as leaves wilt, curl, and eventually drop. Evergreens show signs by turning brown at the tips, eventually moving into the center of the plant. Injury to trees can be sudden or may take up to two years to be revealed, so even after this drought ends it will be important to monitor the health of our landscapes.

One thing is certain. Even after the rains return, we must be mindful of the way we use water for our landscapes and in our homes, continuing to be good stewards of our environment, now and in the future.

By Kris Blevons

Some helpful links:

https://www.bwwb.org/sites/default/files/docs/doc-dmpsummary.pdf

https://birminghamgardeningtoday.com/water-conservation-now/

http://www.aces.edu/urban/metronews/vol6no4/gardens.html

http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2016/06/dealing_with_a_dry_spell_garde_2.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Decorated Pumpkins

Decorated PumpkinIt all began with my Mother’s 85th birthday in early October. She has macular degeneration and would rather stay close to home now.

Since I am in Birmingham and she is in Wisconsin, unfortunately, with this a busy time in the garden shop business, getting together on her birthday doesn’t happen anymore.

But she is on Facebook. I decided a couple of years ago to get her a Nook that she could use to listen to audio books, thinking it would be a perfect way to open her world. It also allows her, through Facebook, to see pictures of the garden shop and my garden. It has been a joy for her, and I’m thrilled!IMG_0285

So, with this in mind, I decided to decorate a pumpkin for her birthday and put a picture of me holding it on her timeline as her birthday gift from me. I’d seen lots of pictures of succulents on pumpkins (more on that later), but I wanted something bright and happy from me to her on her milestone day.

IMG_0445I chose a bright orange jack-o-lantern pumpkin, glued some cut flowers of gomphrena and mums to it along with a couple of okra pods, added  a few succulents, and tucked moss around the edge. I even cut a couple of tiny hosta leaves. Voila, the birthday pumpkin was born.IMG_0444

 

A few days later a customer came in with a picture of the aforementioned succulent topped pumpkins. They’ve been everywhere the last few years, in magazines and various places on line.

Easy to do but requiring lots of cut succulents, I’d stayed clear of getting into the making of them. I dutifully tried to emulate the white pumpkins in her picture with the succulents we had on hand.

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When they were finished, I set them on the display steps up front, where people could see them, and decided to make a few more. Here’s how they turned out. We had a few more orders that day as people saw them!

if you’d like to make a succulent topped pumpkin, choose a pumpkin and have fun! Any kind of moss can be used. I chose green sheet moss, gluing it to the top of the pumpkin.IMG_0413

 

Purchase or take cuttings from succulents you might have growing in your garden or pots and simply glue them to the moss. Succulent experts advise misting the cuttings once a week.

It’s also fun to add other decorative elements like the okra pods I used on my Mom’s pumpkin. Try tiny pinecones, acorns, and more to add interest. It’s only limited by your imagination!

If you’re in the area, and would like us to decorate a pumpkin for you, stop in and place an order!

By Kris Blevons

 

Decorating For Fall With Pumpkins And Gourds

Pumpkin StackEven if the temperatures have been slow to reflect fall, we are determined to celebrate a change of season.

The arrival of so many pumpkins and gourds in all sizes, shapes, and colors spur us on in our quest for the perfect choices for arranging in containers or to artfully stack at the front door.Pumpkin Display

 

 

Each year begins the same, with the first shipment unloaded and carefully placed, separated by variety. Long Island Cheese, Jharadales, Lumina, Fairytale and Cinderella pumpkins, Turk’s Turbans and the wonderfully bumpy Lunch Lady gourds (Yes,  they’re really called lunch ladies!) and more, all neatly set out.

PumpkinsSoon though, usually beginning with the second large delivery, all semblance of order gets tossed out the window, as we place pumpkin after pumpkin wherever we can find a spot.

That’s really how I like it best, with piles of orange, green, blue, cream, and white pumpkins creating a jumble of chaotic color in all shapes and sizes. It’s difficult to choose just one!Pumpkin/Gourd Arrangement

The cats soon discover new places to nap underneath and In the shade of the raised platforms we use for display of this beautiful fall harvest, coming out only when little ones spy them at eye level.

Long, vining stems of bittersweet hang above, another decorative staple of the season. For over 25 years they’ve been hand cut for us from our North Carolina supplier high in the mountains.Cloche with Mini White Pumpkin

Mini pumpkins and tiny gourds find homes in all manner of containers, nestled in beds of moss and angel vine, or carefully arranged to look as though they were casually placed.

White Pumpkin Arrangement

 

 

 

Usually these designs come together easily, but sometimes it takes more than a few tries to get it just right. We are all perfectionists!Pumpkin/Gourd Arrangement

Please stop in and celebrate the season with us. Even if you just come to look, we usually have something fun to see that we’re either working on or have completed in our design area right up front. Know someone that needs a pick me up? Bring them along!

By Kris Blevons

Pumpkins, Gourds and our Annual Fall Festival

PumpkinsThe temperatures are still summerlike,  but the pumpkins that need harvesting don’t know that, and what a harvest it’s been! We get the most beautiful pumpkins and gourds from a small farmer in Tennessee, and when he calls letting us know the harvest is ready, we make room for bin after bin of familiar and unusual varieties.Pumpkins

 

 

 

 

We have to get creative with our small space when so many come in at one time; but last year Billy came up with a method using sails to shade them from our hot southern sun, and Bert built platforms to keep them off the sometimes wet asphalt. Even so, we’ve commandeered table space too! It seems wherever you look there are pumpkins and pumpkin stacks!

Pumpkin Stacks

 

Saturday, October 8th we’ll be offering the orange jack-o-lanterns for carving and pie pumpkins for the little ones to decorate during our annual fall festival. Then they can check out the bounce house – it’s all free! This year we’re contributing a portion of the proceeds to Studio By The Tracks, and owner Billy Angell will be braving a dunk tank for donations. Our friends from SBTT will be here  with art work, artists painting, and merchandise from the studio as well. If you’re in the neighborhood, come on by!

 

By Kris Blevons

Early Fall Arrivals

 

August and September are usually hot and dry, but even with the lack of rain the transition into a new season has begun.  Many summer garden beds are tired and planters are overgrown or just plain gone. In the nursery business we look forward to October and new offerings of plants, as well as the beauty of pumpkins and gourds. Just when we need a fresh start, it arrives with new selections for the autumn plant palette, mumsmarigolds, and the first of the violas and pansies.

Marigolds come in all sizes, from tiny starter plants in cell packs or 4″ pots  perfect for tucking into tired pots, to 10″ offerings big enough to fill a planter all on their own. Mums covered in buds come in 8″ and larger pots, in many colors and make a big statement where it’s needed.  Be sure to handle them gently, as bud laden stems can break easily. Mums and marigolds aren’t available for long, but they offer transitional color if you choose to plant pansies and violas when the weather is cooler.

More herbs are beginning to fill  the nursery,  including rosemary that will carry on through the winter. We’re just beginning to get the first of the curly parsley that is so beautiful in winter beds and planters, and  ornamental and edible kale, mustards and more are beginning to appear also. Late summer brings perennials too. Have you tried heuchera in the garden or pots? They’re beautiful in part sun or full shade. Just be certain not to over water.

The greenhouse goes through transitions too. From succulents to many types of ferns and more, the amount of plants stays constant, though the variety changes with availability. So if your plants need refreshing with the new season, come take a look!

By Kris Blevons

 

Kris’ Gardening Tips (From the September 2016 Issue of Alabama Gardener Magazine)

Alabama Gardening Magazine - September 2016 - Kris' GardenHave you seen the September issue of  “Alabama Gardener” magazine? Well, if you haven’t, I’ll just tell you that the Blevons garden is in it!

Now, I’ll be the first to say this is a plant person’s garden. We could use a windfall in cash to take care of issues with retaining walls, steps, and other hardscape details that “finish” a well designed garden.  But I hope the huge, ancient moss-covered rock outcrop makes up for it…and well-placed, interesting plants.

The fun thing about being in the issue of the magazine was that writer Peggy Hill let me contribute my thoughts on gardening tips for readers. Here they are, since the article isn’t online yet and I’d like them available for anyone to read.

    • A great garden with healthy plants begins with the soil. Get a soil test, add amendments, and start a compost pile.
    • Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Studies have shown that gardening can be an anti-depressant. It’s good for the body and the mind!
    • Be careful with your plant selections, especially groundcovers. Our mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus), planted by the previous owner to prevent water runoff, threatens to overrun nearby plants, and keeping it in check consumes almost as much time as dealing with the neighbor’s bamboo. (!!)
    • Do a little bit in the garden each day. If you see weeds on a walk through the garden, pull as many as you have time for – they multiply fast!
    • Groom and deadhead plants regularly.
    • Find a good independent garden shop and frequent them for healthy plants and advice.Cuphea 'Bat Face' Alyssum, Pentas, White Roof Iris - Kris' Garden
    • Plants are great! Try something new or unknown just for fun, and research everything you can about your new acquisition.
    • It’s okay to start small. That shrub in a one gallon pot will grow just as well as one much larger, and your reward is tending it and seeing it mature. While small shrubs and trees are growing, add annuals to fill space and provide additional color.
  • Kris' GardenProvide for and protect wildlife in the garden.
  • Limit pesticide use as much as possible and, if needed, start with the least toxic option.
  • Educate yourself. There’s so much to learn and more ways than ever to get information. Take classes, consult botanical garden and university websites, follow favorite gardening bloggers, and read books about gardening. There’s a wealth of knowledge out there!
  • Be observant in your own garden space.
  • Gardening takes some work, but try not to let it overwhelm you. Don’t fret if things don’t get done exactly when the books or experts say. You’ll be forgiven. Spend time strolling through the space, enjoying what you’ve accomplished so far.

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