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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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!
The 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
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.
So, 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: