Category Archives: Fall

Thoughts Of Fall On A November Weekend

Liam, sunning himself on a warm fall day...

Liam, sunning himself on a warm fall day…

Every year it happens. Fall arrives, and we welcome it with open arms as a happy counterpoint to months of sizzling temperatures.

 

Fall - Violas, Peppers and Minipumpkins

It comes just in time too, since by this point  we’ve tired of watching spring plantings gradually and inexorably succumb to summer’s never ending heat and humidity.

Branches of bittersweet and mini pumpkins accent an oncidium orchid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the new season come truckloads of pumpkins, branches of bittersweet, traditional mums, and sweet pansies, showing all the hues  of the harvest, blanketing the front of  the shop with a riot of color.

Fall - PansiesFall - Pansies

 

 

 

 

 

Fall Orchid Arrangement

 

Even the orchids give way, the elegant white phalaenopsis stepping aside as oncidiums and dendrobiums in shades of yellows, golds, deep purples, and browns take center stage.

End of the season coleus mingle with ornamental peppers...

Fall - Arrangement

Working with plants as we do, the seasons seem magnified.

 

 

Our livelihoods are driven by them, and we look forward to the next, even as we finally tire of the previous palette’s flowers, herbs, shrubs, vegetables.

 

 

Of all the seasons, fall seems to be the most fleeting, at least here in Birmingham, Alabama.

Fall - Pumpkins

Perhaps it’s the relentless march of the holidays, with Thanksgiving  accordioned between October and December, and hearing the strains of Christmas music all too soon.

 

Harvest centerpiece...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fall - Arrangement

 

 

 

Cotton bolls in arranged with pods and stems, in a pumpkin...

So, as I write this the beginning of November, with Thanksgiving still weeks away, I’m already feeling melancholy for fall.

Fall - Gourd and Bittersweet

 

 

 

 

 

Fall - Mailbox Decoration

 

 

Fall - Arrangement

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The harvest season simply doesn’t last long enough for me. Looking through the pictures to add to this post lifted my spirits,  and I hope they do yours too.

Pumpkin centerpieces...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fall - Arrangement

 

 

I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving and the opportunity to celebrate all we have to be thankful for, and I’m trying to remember to enjoy each season, even those that pass far too quickly.

Planted...violas, herbs and pods...design Molly Hand

 

 

Fall - Lettuce and Herb Arrangements...

Orchids and Gourds Arrangement

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A final thought; Don’t allow yourself to get overly stressed during the coming holidays. Try to appreciate each day and the beauty it brings, and, above all, remember to slow down and breathe. A new season with fresh beginnings is right around the corner.

 

By Kris BlevonsFall - PumpkinsFall - Gourd Arrangement

Fall in the greenhouse..

Fall in the greenhouse..

Fall...Yellowwood tree

 

Fall Is Here, And The Harvest Is In!

Fall seems to have arrived, at last! When temperatures slowly drop after the sweltering long, hot days of summer, we all breathe a collective sigh of relief.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This year the heat felt like it would never let go, and we were unloading the harvest coming in from Tennessee as the temps soared higher and higher, nearing the 100 degree mark daily.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still it’s an exciting time, unloading by hand (It’s quite the workout!) all of the beautiful and unusual pumpkins and gourds. How could anyone imagine the variety and intricacy of each one? Each one individual, and, I dare say, even exhibiting personality if you look closely enough.

Speaking of personalities, the ‘Lunch Lady’ gourds really show off theirs (They also have my favorite name!). The other day a woman walked by with her ‘Lunch Lady’ purchase, one whose neck was turned back against itself exactly like a swan’s. I practically tackled her as she walked out the door, exclaiming that she’d found the best one and if I’d spotted it I’d have designed something with it for sure.

She laughed, agreeing that it did look just like a swan, and left. A few hours later she returned, saying she wanted to use her “swan gourd” on the center of her table and she had a silver platter she’d like to put it on, could I design something for her? I include the pictures of it in this post so you can see how it turned out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stacking pumpkins is still a “thing”, and we have all sizes for them. Here’s an over the top giant stack, using white pumpkins with added elements and branches between each pumpkin. Other smaller stacks also incorporate gourds, smaller pumpkins, lichen, and other organic items. There’s a lot of detail in these pieces!

Succulent pumpkins also continue to be huge, though we’ve put our own twist on them, adding more to our designs besides the beautiful succulents.

 

 

 

 

This vignette was created using a customer’s large piece of driftwood. Set on a large round table, different shapes, sizes, and colors of pumpkins and gourds are nestled into the wood piece and bittersweet, moss, and angelvine complete the picture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using lichen branches, different dried materials, and mosses has been exciting for all of us. Stretching the boundaries is always an interesting and fun thing, and we’re so grateful to have customers who appreciate this as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These pictures are just a sampling of the things we’re doing – each piece is a custom design, carefully thought out. The addition of bittersweet adds yet more color to some pieces, like the two here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We use bittersweet whenever it’s available. We’re grateful that our supplier in North Carolina takes the time to cut long, beautiful pieces for us. We have one customer who wraps her chandelier with it each fall. She showed us pictures of it; it is beautiful!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are more examples of some things we’ve been working on. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fall Planting Tips To Creating A Great Spring Garden

Yellow snapdragons and white foxglove…

Fall Planting Tips To Create A Great Spring Garden:

  • Amend your soil. You might think since you followed our advice and added soil conditioner, PlantTone, cow manure or compost  to your beds last spring you’re done. Not so fast! High temperatures break down soil amendments quickly, and plants take up nutrients. Continue adding to your soil every season. Healthy, loose soils create healthy plants.  (Instead of putting fallen leaves to the curb, start a compost pile with them, or run over them with your lawn mower and throw them in your beds. They’ll decompose and add to your soil’s structure and health.)

 

  • After you get your plants home, be sure to keep them watered, especially if you can’t plant them right away. We water small transplants in 4″ pots and cell packs at least once a day, especially if it’s hot and sunny. Of course, less water is required in cloudy, cool conditions. Right before you plant them, be sure they’re moist.

 

  • Early in the season while the soil is still warm, you can still plant with Osmocote. However, later in the winter months, use Calcium Nitrate to feed your plants, especially if the foliage of your pansies turns a reddish color. Remember, you’re planting for spring color, though on warm days through the winter you should also have some blooms.

 

  • Water your bed thoroughly after planting, and keep it watered while your transplants are getting their feet settled in their new home. Take care not to overwater, though, especially as the temperatures cool down going into the winter months.

    Mid-December. Mulched and growing…

 

  • Mulch your beds with shredded mulch or pine straw  to keep soil temperature around the roots as warm as possible.

 

  • Deadhead your pansies and violas! I can’t stress enough how important this is. A pansy that you leave a dead bloom on will form a seed there, instead of putting that energy into more flowers. Make a practice to walk through your garden at least once a week, taking a good look at your plants and deadheading  faded blooms. If you’ve missed some, you’ll see the seed pod beginning to form. Pinch any and all off! This will go a long way toward keeping your pansies happy!

By Kris Blevons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

The Change Of Season Inspires Us – We Love Fall!

The other day I reran a blog post from last year showing some of our fall-inspired arrangements, noting that I needed to write another for this season. A quick reply came from a FaceBook friend. “I want to see them. Get posting!”

So, while there are so many more we’ve done that aren’t pictured, here’s a sampling of arrangements using pumpkins and gourds, bittersweet and burlap, plants and dried materials, acorns and pinecones, literally anything that has inspired us this season. We hope they inspire you too.

Mums…And More!!!!

Every year around August and September, when the heat of summer has wiped out once fresh spring plantings, almost daily we hear one of two questions from multiple people – “Do you have any mums?” and  (insert desperate tone here) “When can I plant pansies??!??”

Well, as of this writing we do have plenty of mums, and, no, it’s not time to plant pansies – yet (October and November are the months, when temperatures begin to cool a bit.). But why settle for a simple mum now when growers are offering so much more this time of year? Here are a few interesting plants to use with the usual mums until its time for the winter fare of pansies, snapdragons, ornamental veggies, and more.

A difficult plant to find but one that offers gorgeous fall color is hamelia. Enjoy it’s orange blossoms and beautiful foliage in a special container. Add some sweet alyssum and petunias to add even more interest. The planter shown here also has a small pot of asters that once finished blooming can be removed and planted in the garden.

Marigolds are my unsung heroes of the autumn season. They bloom like crazy given some sunshine, prefer the cooler temperatures of fall, and offer loads of color. Who wouldn’t love that? I use them in the garden and tuck red or green lettuce and sweet alyssum in between for even more color. Try to use marigolds in planters or places you won’t be planting pansies though, because it can be difficult to make the decision to pull them out as they last even through a light frost.

Another that has become a popular addition to the fall plant palette is the ornamental pepper. These small plants loaded with colorful fruit are an unexpected and fun way to usher in a new season. Add some cosmos too for added interest.

Don’t forget that foliage plants can add color as well. Heuchera offers colorful leaves for just about any combination, and the lowly ajuga can be beautiful  too. Whatever you decide on,  remember that there’s much more than mums for long lasting fall beauty; so venture out of the mum comfort zone and give them some companions this year!

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 and exceptionally high temperatures 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 in October 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 4″, 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 and still allow you to plant pansies and violas when the weather is cooler.

More herbs will fill  the nursery as well,  including rosemary that will carry on through the winter. Curly parsley is beautiful in winter beds and planters, and  soon ornamental and edible kale, and mustards will 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

 

Pineapple Sage, A Late Season Bloomer That’s Worth The Wait!

Late season color isn’t limited to asters and mums. Another that takes center stage this time of the year, and that makes us wait all summer, is the pineapple sage, Salvia elegans. And elegant  it is, with beautiful red blooms that begin in October and continue through the month. I’m sure their scarlet red blooms, signaling nectar, are a happy sight for migrating hummingbirds too. The one pictured here is just beginning to bloom in my garden.

Introduced into horticulture around 1870, pineapple sage has been around awhile, and new cultivars include a yellow-green leaf version. I prefer the old standby with medium green leaves that grows about 4 1/2 tall and makes a wide clump with age. Give it room!

Buds just beginning to form...

Buds just beginning to form…

 Put it in a sunny spot, keep it watered, and be prepared to wait for buds that begin to form in late September…about when another beautiful salvia, Mexican Sage, Salvia leucantha, also begins to show color. In Birmingham pineapple sage  is a tender perennial and will die to the ground with a killing frost. Knowledge is power. Knowing it is tender, be certain  to mulch it well with shredded pine bark or pinestraw. 

Brushing against the leaves of pineapple sage is an olfactory pleasure, as it really does smell exactly like  pineapple. They’re edible and can be made into a tea or chopped into salads. The brilliant red blooms can be eaten too, but I prefer them as a striking garnish on a plate and would rather look at them than eat them I think!

If you’d like to try this beautiful salvia in your garden, stop in. There are some available now.

By Kris Blevons

A Trio of Pots – Color and Texture In A Late Summer Planting

Summer can be hard on container gardens in the south. It’s so easy to finally just give up on them, especially when a last end of the season getaway beckons, or you’ve forgotten to water once too many times and the poor plants just look too sad for words. Well,  I’m here to tell you it’s ok.

You can forgive yourself for your forgetful plant parenting, because September is the beginning of a new season – we can call it the pre-pansy season, because even though it’s still too early to plant pansies and violas,  there are some other options to tide you over until cooler weather finally comes.

I had the opportunity to give a trio of pots just such a makeover the other day. There were actually two – a half planter, a terra cotta pot, and a cast stone pedestal the owners wanted a new planter set on.

Arranging them...

Arranging them…

Because their pots and pedestal are all of different materials and colors, I chose a simple lightweight black bowl to sit on the pedestal. The size works well with the others and adds a different shape too. I’ve suggested in past posts that wandering the garden shop picking up plants and grouping them together to see how they’ll work together is a great way to design plantings, and that’s just what I did here.Trio of Fall Pots

I changed and rearranged them until I was satisfied. It’s important,  however, to understand how each plant will grow out in a composition like this since  there are “many parts to the whole.”

Here’s what I came up with  for this trio of pots. I started with the deep red fountain grass for its beautiful fall color, and  I liked how it blended with the dark leaves of the heuchera in each pot. They also show up well against the cream color of the brick.

Trio of Fall PotsA blue-green fescue adds another, shorter, grass element, contrasting with the smaller, rounder leaves of the trailing angelvine and creeping jenny. White petunias add brightness and will also trail.

The red fountain grass is an annual, so it will be pulled out with the onset of cold weather and the bay planted with it will stay. In the terra cotta planter there’s a small arborvitae, and In each pot some elements are repeated so it’s not too chaotic looking…

Trio Of Fall PotsMaintenance will mean consistent watering since the planting will become root bound – in the smaller pots especially, and the petunias will need to be deadheaded to keep them  blooming. A few pumpkins and gourds would also look great at the base through the fall…

With the onset of cooler weather and pansy season, the petunias can be replaced by white (Or a color if they prefer.)  pansies or violas. The remainder of the plants are perennial, so can be left through the winter. They’re situated against a wall which should help keep them warm, but it would be smart to protect them with a covering if temps fall below freezing for any length of time.

By Kris Blevons

The End Of The Season…Fall Arrangements

A reindeer moss wreath, with burlap and pods...

A reindeer moss wreath, with burlap and pods…

A copper planter for a table. Jamie's colorful fall design of chartreuse, orange and white...

A copper planter for a table. Jamie’s colorful fall design of chartreuse, orange and white…

Autumn  passes far too quickly. As usual, when a season is nearing the end, I find myself wishing I’d made the time to take more pictures of the many arrangements that we’ve created the past few weeks. Jamie, Molly, and I looked through those we had and here are a few of them – a simple goodbye to the autumn season for another year as we set our sights ahead to the holidays.

A vignette Jamie created with an orchid, sedum, tiny pumpkins and more...

A vignette Jamie created with an orchid, sedum, tiny pumpkins and more…

Pinkie used little white pumpkins, succulents, and bittersweet in a dough bowl...

Pinkie used little white pumpkins, succulents, and bittersweet in this dough bowl…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This simple tray became home to a gourd, mushrooms and moss, with Heuchera and autumn Fern adding more rich color...

My simple tray became home to a gourd, mushrooms and moss, with Heuchera and Autumn Fern adding more rich color…

A dough bowl Jamie designed...

A dough bowl Jamie designed…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fall is a favorite time, as the materials we work with are so interesting and organic. There’s none of the shiny, glittery, in-your-face glitz that will be here, oh, so soon enough, with the approach of Christmas. No, this time of year is quieter, as we embrace the down-to-earth beauty of mushrooms, soft green moss, natural branches, dark wiry angelvine, pods of all kinds, and interesting gourds. I enjoy the combinations that result, melded at times with the muted tones of burlap and raffia.

Molly's spirited fall arrangement with bright yellow Oncidium orchids...

Molly’s spirited fall arrangement with bright yellow Oncidium orchids…

I really enjoyed creating this "woodsy" piece...

I really enjoyed creating this “woodsy” piece…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fall flowers in pretty pots for a fall luncheon...

For a fall luncheon..

Oncidium Orchid 'Twinkle' Arrangement With Okra Pods and Pinecones

Oncidium ‘Twinkle’ in a sweet combination of Jamie’s. Okra pods and pinecones add even more texture…

My simple lady slipper orchid arrangement, watched over by pretty Tacca, our garden shop kitty…

 

 

Dená carved this pretty blue pumpkin, and daughter, Molly, planted it...

Dená carved this pretty blue pumpkin and daughter, Molly, planted it…

We see such interesting pieces in the fall too. Earthy dough bowls, dark metal planters and copper containers, low wooden trays just perfect for mossy vignettes, a majolica bowl the right size and shape for a woodsy arrangement. Soon enough we’ll be making quite different sorts of combinations through the holidays, with quite different materials. For now though, I’m content to enjoy these last few days of fall.

A colorful fall piece Molly created using houseplants and mini pumpkins...

A final fall piece Molly created using houseplants and mini pumpkins…

 

Amaryllis – Beauty In A Bulb

Amaryllis, unquestionably, are one of the most dramatic and elegant of flowers. That bold, beautiful blooms of all colors and sizes can emerge from such a drab, unassuming brown bulb is amazing. They are truly a wonder of nature!

Decorative moss and pebbles dress up this amaryllis bulb...

Decorative moss and pebbles dress up this amaryllis bulb…

Amaryllis in the greenhouse...

Amaryllis in the greenhouse…

Our final shipment of amaryllis bulbs arrived the other day and now is the perfect time to pot them up for the holidays. It’s so easy to do too.  My  friend, Nancy Wallace of Wallace Gardens  in Atlanta,  swears by soaking the bulb in Haven Brand Manure Tea, an odorless tea that we have in stock now, for an even better display.

In a shallow saucer filled with about an inch of this concentrated tea, soak the roots of the bulbs for no more than 20 minutes, then plant. From her picture I featured in the above link, she’s on the right track. I’ll be soaking mine this year!

Amaryllis arrangement...

Amaryllis arrangement…

So, you want to purchase an amaryllis bulb (or more than one) for yourself or as gifts for friends? First, you need to know that the size of the bulb corresponds to the size and amount of blooms. Their sizes range from “miniature” amaryllis bulbs to jumbo amaryllis and there are midsize bulbs as well.

Large blooms of this amaryllis offer a contrast to the fragrant jasmine...

Large blooms of this amaryllis offer a contrast to the fragrant jasmine…

Beware of gift boxes and bags already prepackaged. I’ve stopped carrying them because, inevitably, the bulb begins to grow in the box prior to purchase. Believe me, there’s nothing sadder than an amaryllis, stem bent toward the light, growing sideways out of a box. It’s just not right!

Potting them up is quite simple. First, soak your amaryllis bulb as described above so the roots rehydrate. Next, find a pot that is no more than an inch or so wider than the bulb and fill it with good quality potting soil (We use Fafard.) about half way up the pot. Next, position the bulb on the soil, pushing the roots firmly in place. The “shoulder”, or widest portion of the bulb, should be above the soil. Fill in around the bulb, push down gently, and water with some of the remaining manure tea.

Amaryllis Arrangement

The hardest part is the wait for the bud to begin to emerge. It may take just a few days in a warm, sunny room, but it can just as easily take longer. Amaryllis don’t always cooperate with our timetables. Take a look at this “Holiday Flowers” post from last year and you’ll see what I mean. When you do see new growth starting to emerge, begin to water just so the soil stays slightly moist and watch the magic happen! You can also “dress up” the top of the soil with decorative moss or pebbles. Amaryllis

In bloom amaryllis can get quite tall  and will usually benefit from some type of staking. In addition to simple bamboo stakes,  stems of red and yellow twig dogwood, birch, curly willow, or branches from your landscape can be used. Insert the staking material at the edge of the bulb and tie it with raffia or ribbon.

Amaryllis, budded, with ferns, and stems of pussywillow...

Amaryllis, budded, with ferns, and stems of pussywillow…

The pictures here show what we’ve done in the past using amaryllis. They make wonderful presents during the holiday season and simply watching the bloom stalk grow taller and the enormous buds begin to open is a gift in itself!

In addition to bulbs that are available for you to plant, we also will be receiving many amaryllis already potted up from our growers. So, if you’re in the Birmingham area, there’s  no excuse not to have one of these holiday favorites!

 

 

 

Watching the Butterfly Migration… And Transitioning the Summer Garden to Fall

Tithonia - Mexican sunflowerThe other day I slipped across the street to check the ‘Better Late Than Never’ garden – ostensibly to check new transplants for water. Really, though, I wanted to see if the butterflies were still there. Now, not just any butterflies (Though I admit I’m partial to them all.) but the imperiled monarch butterflies, who, I was told, are coming through now on their migratory paths. And they were still there, sailing through and landing on the Tithonia rotundifolia ‘Torch’,  (Mexican sunflower) feeding on the bright orange blooms. I’m doubly glad now that I left it standing while it was still in full color. I’ve been planting the winter garden under cover of its thickened stems, fully weighted down with its nectar filled flowers.

Monarch butterfly on tithoniaWhether these monarchs spotted the tithonia as they were coming through, or were a result of the butterfly weed  Asclepias tuberosa, is anyone’s guess. Butterfly weed and milkweed are the plants that monarch butterflies lay their eggs on – the caterpillars then eat the foliage, form their chrysalis and hatch to become the beautiful butterflies I was watching soar through the garden.Monarch butterflies on tithonia

I called out to a mother and her young son about to get into their car.  “Do you see the butterflies? They’re monarchs!” Oh my goodness!”, she answered. “Look at all of them!” Her little boy stood, transfixed, watching them maneuver gracefully through the garden. I told him how special these butterflies are, and that since they’re on a long journey to Mexico, it’s very important that they find the flower nectar to give them strength and energy so they’ll be able to fly such a great distance.

Butterflies like these cosmos, zinnias and marigolds

Butterflies like these cosmos, zinnias and marigolds

Over the next few days more people stopped to marvel at the butterflies, oohing and ahhing at the sight. It’s been such a pleasure to share this experience as fall moves toward winter. Soon the tithonia will have to be pulled up. Until all the butterflies are gone though, I think I’ll leave well enough alone…

If you want a butterfly friendly garden too, provide sources of food, (They love zinnias, cosmos, marigolds, and  tithonia, to name a few.) and  plants they can lay their eggs on. (And that you will allow to get chewed up by the caterpillars!) These include  the asclepias mentioned above for monarchs. Parsley, dill and fennel are commonly planted for swallowtails.

Provide pesticide free plantings, and cultivate a tolerance for the less than perfect garden. Learn to live with leaves that have been munched – more often than not, the culprits causing the problems are simply moving through your garden on their way somewhere else! Simple things like grooming plants by removing yellowed and chewed leaves, and practicing good garden sanitation by keeping fallen leaves and other plant debris out of the garden, will go a long way toward creating a healthy environment for your garden, you, and the creatures that inhabit its space. 

By Kris Blevons

 

 

 

Fall Container Planting…(There’s More Than Just Pansies Out There!)

Fall Planter With Chamaecyparis 'Crippsii'The temperatures are hopefully trending downward, and you’re thinking about redoing your summer plantings. There seem to be so many choices; it’s normal to feel overwhelmed at the garden shop, even though you probably thought you had it all figured out before you left home!

I’ve seen the slightly dazed look  on folks’ faces as they peruse the tables upon tables of pansies, violas, snapdragons, various herbs and ornamental greens. Invariably they turn to us with a bewildered look and say, “I have (insert number of pots here) and need to fill them. Can you help me?!”

Assuming you have at least a half days worth of sun for flowers, the usual pansies and violas will work just fine all on their own if you really don’t want to do a whole lot of thinking; but there’s so much more out there to play with! From the simplest addition of beautiful green curly parsley (It adds such great color and texture to a planting.) to a more complex mix of greens, grasses and herbs, there’s no limit to fun combinations.

Close up - fall planterThe large planter here is one of a pair, used at the top of stairs leading onto a wide open porch. I took my color cues from the red brick and cream color of the house in choosing my plants, using predominantly yellow with the evergreen Chamaecyparis ‘Crippsii’, yellow variegated  Acorus ‘Ogon’, golden creeping Jenny to trail, and Matrix ‘Lemon’ pansies. To this I added ornamental red mustard, and a chard with red stems called ‘Charlotte’. These will add big, bold leaves, beautiful foliage color, and added height.

Next, more flowers  with a trailing white pansy called Cool Wave White,  a few orange violas and a trailing rosemary  –  the brown grass trailing off to one side and tucked in the back as well is Carex ‘Toffee’. When the sun shines on this grass it glows!

Fall Planter - Cham 'Crippsii''These planters are quite large and can support this variety of plants. In smaller planters, a smaller shrub, some curly parsley, pansies and a trailing plant might be sufficient. Remember, more is always better in planters and windowboxes to give them a lush overflowing feel.These planters will make a definite statement as they grow out.

  • Tips For Maintaining Your Fall/Winter Planters:
  • – As always, keep faded blooms deadheaded.

– Don’t overwater.  As the weather cools in the fall and winter, it’s best to let planters go a bit drier.

– If plants like ornamental cabbage and parsley do get dry between watering, you’ll have some yellow leaves. Groom these and other plants regularly, removing any yellowing leaves that you see. Remember, they’re not going to turn green again!

– Watch the weather and be prepared to cover your planters if freezing temperatures are forecast. Prior to covering, water them thoroughly. Uncover them as soon as the temperatures are above freezing.

Some Interesting Choices To Use With Pansies And Violas In  Winter Planters:

  • Chamaecyparis obtusa – various selections;  they make excellent evergreen accents.
  • Cupressus ‘Carolina Sapphire’ – beautiful blue evergreen, good in the landscape also.
  • Rosemary – large evergreen herb, upright or trailing varieties.
  • Juniper – ‘Blue Point’
  • Thuja – ‘Golden Globe’ arborvitae, nice, rounded form.
  • Heuchera & Heucherella selections – evergreen perennials, interesting as a foliage element – airy blooms in spring.
  • Acorus – adds another texture to plantings; grasslike variegated leaves add color as well.
  • Ornamental Kale – ‘Redbor’ and ‘Winterbor’ are two very upright growing forms of kale,  but there are many others. ‘Red Russian’ and ‘Lacinato’ are also edible. In a normal to mild winter they’ll last til spring. As heat returns, they’ll “bolt”, or bloom, adding yellow flowers.
  • Ornamental Mustard – These add a bold leaf and a darker color to compositions.
  • Chard – another beautiful and edible addition to containers or garden beds.
  • Curly Parsley – Adds texture in winter plantings; also a beautiful shade of deep, clean green.
  • Golden Creeping Jenny – A useful trailing element, it may get knocked back in a freeze but adds color until then and will come back as temperatures moderate.
  • Muehlenbeckia, Angel Vine – tough as nails trailer. Will lose it’s leaves in a freeze but normally reappears in the spring. Protect it and it will be green through the winter in Birmingham.
  • Sweet Alyssum – not available for long in fall, but a nice addition to planters until it succumbs to freezing temperatures.
  • Poppies – available through the fall; worth trying if you haven’t. They hunker down through the winter but will fill out in the spring, adding their bright, papery blooms to liven any planting. Take care to not overwater under cool winter conditions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fall Favorites For Spring Flowers…A Primer On Pansies & Violas

Pansy Matrix Ocean Breeze MIx

Pansy Matrix Ocean Breeze MIx

Pansy Matrix Sunrise

Pansy Matrix Sunrise

Fall is planting time here in Birmingham, and pansies and violas are the stars of the show. Even if folks plant nothing else, it’s so easy to put a few of these spring beauties in a little spot in the garden, a pot, or a window box for the winter.

Panola Purple Face & Viola Sorbet Blueberry Cream

Panola Purple Face & Viola Sorbet Blueberry Cream

Pansy Dynamite Scarlet/Viola Sorbet Antique Shades/Viola Penny White

Pansy Dynamite Scarlet/Viola Sorbet Antique Shades/Viola Penny White

Pansy Majestic Giants Patricia

Pansy Majestic Giants Patricia

Pansy Dynamite Scarlet/Pansy Matrix Orange/Viola Sorbet Yellow

Pansy Dynamite Scarlet/Pansy Matrix Orange/Viola Sorbet Yellow

Oh but what a dizzying selection greets you at the garden shop! Tables upon tables of blooms…some diminutive, others large, some with solid colors, others with charming “faces”, all waiting for you to decide which of them to choose to add beauty to your landscape next spring – and even some color through the winter.

One rainy Saturday morning I put together a few sample combinations of pansies, violas, and mixtures of the two to show you a few options available for your planting pleasure…but keep in mind this is just the tip of the iceburg when it comes to playing with color in your garden!

Remember to think about what else will be blooming in your garden come spring.  You may not want a pink pansy in front of your orange azaleas (Though I’ve been known to favor pink and orange in certain instances!), so think it through before you decide.

Another consideration to keep in mind is the color of your house.  My first summer in our home I decided I wanted an “English Garden” look out front, using pinks/purples and silvers.

I was so caught up in my vision that I forgot this color palette would look like blech in front of the brick – I was unhappy with it all summer and couldn’t wait to tear it all out come fall.

Now I use brighter colors and include poppies –  it looks so much better!  I save the more muted colors for the back of my house where I play with my “English Garden” and plant everything  I want to – including foxglove and snapdragons for spring interspersed with pansies and violas.

Viola Sorbet Purple Duet/Blue Blotch/Banana Cream

Viola Sorbet Purple Duet/Blue Blotch/Banana Cream

 

The difference between a pansy and a viola is primarily size and shade tolerance. The pansy bloom and plant is larger. Pansies need at least half a day of sun to bloom well; full sun all day is best, but remember, in the spring as the temperatures rise, they’ll play out faster in so much sun.

Violas are smaller in size and the blooms are smaller as well. However, violas put out massive amounts of small blooms and the plants attain a nice rounded size which makes up for those diminutive  flowers. Violas can tolerate less sun, though, as with the pansies, at least half a day sun is best.

As for most plants, fertilizing is important.  Plant Tone is a good natural (and stinky!) amendment to add to beds in the fall.  Incorporate  it with a first feeding of Osmocote, which will release its nutrients until the soil gets cold.

Mid-winter apply  calcium nitrate to add extra nitrogen. After planting, always water your plants in and apply a good layer of mulch to keep roots warm through cold spells.While plants are blooming be sure to deadhead, (pinch off faded blooms) to keep more buds coming. If you leave old blooms on to die then set seed, this creates a messy looking plant that’s putting all its energy into that seed, not into future blooms.

 

This is especially important to remember come spring. Don’t be overly concerned if plants aren’t blooming in the middle of winter. This is normal – especially if we have cool, frosty  nights. Remember, the real reward comes in the spring!

Pansy Mariposa Peach Shades

Pansy Mariposa Peach Shades

Be mindful of winter temperatures – this is the time to watch the weather reports each morning or evening. Pansies are tough plants, but help them out by making sure soil in beds or planters is moist if there are freezing temperatures forecast.

Hopefully  these suggestions and tips will be helpful for any of you that get overwhelmed by the choices available…happy planting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foxglove – Plant It This Fall For A Beautiful Spring Display!

Foxglove...

Foxglove…

Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, is the quintessential English garden flower. It’s beauty has graced landscapes of great gardeners for hundreds of years, as well as those of more modest means.

Considered a biennial, foxglove is purchased as small transplants in the fall, growing through the winter and reaching their peak flowering time as the roses begin to bloom here in Birmingham.

Plant them in a partially sunny spot, ideally one that will receive some shade in the afternoon. This is especially helpful as temperature begin to rise in the spring and will help them bloom longer. Be sure your soil is loose, and add soil conditioner, shredded leaves, or compost if necessary. Mulch them with shredded pine bark or pinestraw after planting and Keep them watered during dry spells.

Foxglove and roses in my early spring garden

Foxglove and roses in my early spring garden

Foxglove look particularly lovely against an evergreen backdrop or a wall of some sort. Combined with other spring annuals and roses, they are reminiscent of a classic cottage garden.

Once they’re through blooming, plants can be left standing to drop seed, (You’ll see baby plants the following summer if this happens.) but they do get a bit bedraggled looking at this point, and I prefer to pull them out, replanting each fall.

 

By Kris Blevons

Planting The “Better Late Than Never” Garden For Fall

Chard and poppies mingling with pink gomphrena and the variegated hibiscus...

Chard and poppies mingling with pink gomphrena and the variegated hibiscus…

The owner of Oak Street Garden Shop, Billy Angell, and I have different approaches to gardening, mostly the result of our personalities, I think. Billy is very methodical and precise (not a bad thing), and I’m admittedly more undisciplined and haphazard in my gardening efforts.

I can almost feel him cringing as I yank just some of the  zinnias and other spent plants from the “better late than never” garden the other morning, rather than pulling everything out and starting  fresh with a completely new planting.  I’d gone in earlier than usual to take a look and assess what needed to be pulled out in anticipation of the fall/winter garden. I’ve been worrying that

Bachelor buttons and snapdragons...

Bachelor buttons and snapdragons…

as we get busier and busier with the fall planting season, not to mention the craziness of the holidays just around the corner, the garden could fall by the wayside; so the pressure is on!

Now, it wasn’t strictly just a pull some of the plants out mission. I had also brought a smattering of plants with me to plant here and there as holes conveniently opened up. A few iceland poppies, some snapdragons, bachelor buttons, foxglove, red mustard, chard, and  kale were all on my to-do list to plant.  Now, how all this mish-mash is going to turn out is anyone’s guess, since I’m not starting with a completely blank slate…but that’s half the fun!

Foxglove...under the sunflowers...

Foxglove…under the sunflowers…

This is how I’ve gardened at home for years. In the fall, I pull out spent flowering annuals a little at a time; and, as I do,  I add to the garden as holes open up. This works out well because not everything I want is available all at once, and the garden turns over to a new season gradually as summer annuals mingle with fresh plantings.

This year bachelor buttons, foxglove, and iceland poppies appeared in late September; so they’ve gone  into the first available spaces in the garden. More of them will be planted as room opens up. Summer annuals that are still hanging in are left to continue attracting late season butterflies and bees until the last will finally be pulled out to make way for the final winter plantings of pansies, violas, and, by seed, larkspur and delphinium. This planting method works well in beds that are a mix of perennials, annuals, and shrubs, too.

Poppies...

Poppies….

So, in the “better late than never garden”, the zinnias, cleome, and the few sunflowers I pull out (There are a lot more sunflowers to go!) make room for a few of each of the aforementioned snapdragons, iceland poppies, foxglove, bachelor buttons, kale, and mustard.  We’ll top dress the beds with PlantTone too and will see how the compost is looking in the bins, adding some of it if it’s ready.

In the coming days and weeks the garden will undergo even more changes until, finally, the last plants are in. Then it’s a waiting game until spring, when the real show will begin. Just don’t be surprised if you see us still planting in the dead of winter…I think the “better late than never” garden will always be just that!

 

 

Orchids…Early Fall Arrangements

A lady slipper is framed by angelvine...

A lady slipper is framed by angelvine…

Orchids, succulents, dried pods and foliage are the common theme in these four arrangements. With the heat of summer receding (Thankfully!) and fresh material arriving to work with, it’s a happy time in the greenhouse. So, between new shipments of pots, plants, ribbon and more, these were a few of the pieces we created. Let’s take a look.

Orchid, succulents and dried pods Someone who worked for us many years ago called from North Carolina to order an orchid for her mother’s birthday. She likes succulents too; so a double stemmed phalaenopsis and a lady slipper orchid were paired in a container and succulents nestled at the base. The addition of  angelvine and a touch of brown ribbon complete the design.

The next two small containers both started with an orchid, then succulents, ribbon, and, in the second, Jamie selected just the right white miniature pumpkin and burlap bow…the perfect gift for someone!Fall Orchid Arrangement

No two designs are ever alike for us, though sometimes a customer will see something they particularly like and will request another version of it.  Our least favorite thing is when someone brings in a picture with the request that we copy it, though we’ll always accommodate as best we can.Fall Orchid Arrangement - Customer's Dough Bowl

Happily, this large dough bowl of a longtime customer is one we see fairly regularly and one that we have complete creative license with. This go-round I filled it with orchids and under planted it for fall with Rex begonias, a pretty ivy, and added dark, shiny pods for their color and shape. A touch of chartreuse mood moss picks up the light green veining in the begonia leaf. Some tiny cattails are placed as accents, and my design is done.

Cotton stems, dried sunflower seed heads from the garden, and fern fiddleheads were the starting point for the last piece in a pretty brown and white bowl. . I added an air plant at the base and wound angel vine up through the cotton for even more interest. Some days are so much fun in the greenhouse!

Cotton, sunflower seed heads, fern fiddle heads and an airplantThis is just a sampling of the early fall things we’ve been creating! Since we’re always searching for new ideas and ways to make our arrangements more interesting and  unique, who knows what we’ll come up with next…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bittersweet…For Fall!

Our shipments of bittersweet have begun to arrive, and on its own or combined with pumpkins, gourds, and dried pods of all sorts,  fall decorating can begin!Arrangement Close-Up - Bittersweet, Mini White Pumpkin, Burlap, Pods

A Simple Arrangement of Bittersweet Each year we’re fortunate to have friends in North Carolina supply us with long stems of beautiful, freshly cut bittersweet that we enjoy using in many of our fall designs and that you can purchase to create your own too.

The vines are expertly hand cut in the mountains, packed carefully between paper, and shipped to us. It’s so fresh the berries are usually still closed until they begin to open in the heat of the greenhouse. To keep the berries from shedding, give them a good coating of a heavy-duty hairspray. We discovered this tip a couple of years ago, and it works well.

Stems of bittersweet...

Stems of bittersweet…

Bittersweet is lovely on its own in a simple vase,  but it can also be the star in more elaborate arrangements. The sky’s the limit with so many interesting supporting players of dried materials, gourds, and plants. Here are some designs from fall 2013. With this year’s season just beginning, I’m sure there will be many more to show you in the coming weeks!Bittersweet arrangement

 

Note:  This fall decorating staple is also an invasive vine in many parts of the country. Because of this, we recommend its use for indoor decorating only. This simple step will prevent birds from eating any of the seeds on outdoor decorations and depositing them in areas here where it could get a foothold.  We also ask that you dispose of indoor decorations at the end of fall by bagging them up in a plastic garbage bag and sealing it securely.

Fall flowers…Pansies and More!

So many to choose from!

So many to choose from!

We’re so lucky in Birmingham to be able to plan and plant our winter and early spring gardens in the fall, using fresh annuals, like the colorful pansies and violas, as well as  various vegetables – ornamental and edible kale, cabbage, and pac choi are just a few. With summer’s heat behind us, time spent in the garden is a pleasure, not a chore.

IMG_1851

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soon all the tables in the nursery will be laden with plants of all kinds – this is such a great opportunity for you to create the most beautiful early spring garden!

IMG_1572Start with pansies and violas for beds and planters, then add supporting players. Some of the prettiest additions to your winter/early spring garden are foxglove with their tall spires of white, pink and purple, snapdragons – they are worth waiting for – poppies, with their bright orange, yellow, red and white papery blooms, and the bluest blue bachelor buttons.

 

 

Curley parsley and lettuce...

Curley parsley and lettuce…

 

There are so many leafy greens to interplant in containers and beds too – colorful chard, kale and mustard are so beautiful and edible as well. Curly parsley is another staple of the winter garden, adding its rich green leaves and texture to any composition.

Finally, don’t overlook the unassuming fall bulbs. Planting a bulb is a leap of faith for some, while other folks plant a few every year to add to their spring display. It’s truly amazing that such  beauty lies in something so seemingly drab.

Smart gardeners know to look for all of these in the fall, planting them in anticipation of a gorgeous spring display!

 

 

Fall Planting Tips To Create A Great Spring Garden:

  • Amend your soil. You might think since you followed our advice and added soil conditioner, PlantTone, cow manure or compost  to your beds last spring you’re done. Not so fast! High temperatures break down soil amendments quickly, and plants take up nutrients. Continue adding to your soil every season. Healthy, loose soils create healthy plants.  (Instead of putting fallen leaves to the curb, start a compost pile with them, or run over them with your lawn mower and throw them in your beds. They’ll decompose and add to your soil’s structure and health.)
  • After you get your plants home, be sure to keep them watered, especially if you can’t plant them right away. We water small transplants in 4″ pots and cell packs at least once a day, especially if it’s hot and sunny. Of course, less water is required in cloudy, cool conditions. Right before you plant them, be sure they’re moist.
  • Early in the season while the soil is still warm, you can still plant with Osmocote. However, later in the winter months, use Calcium Nitrate to feed your plants, especially if the foliage of your pansies turns a reddish color. Remember, you’re planting for spring color, though on warm days through the winter you should also have some blooms.
  • Water your bed thoroughly after planting, and keep it watered while your transplants are getting their feet settled in their new home. Take care not to overwater, though, especially as the temperatures cool down going into the winter months.
  • Mulch your beds with shredded mulch or pine straw  to keep soil temperature around the roots as warm as possible.
  • Deadhead your pansies and violas! I can’t stress enough how important this is. A pansy that you leave a dead bloom on will form a seed there, instead of putting that energy into more flowers. Make a practice to walk through your garden at least once a week, taking a good look at your plants and deadheading  faded blooms. If you’ve missed some, you’ll see the seed pod beginning to form. Pinch any and all off! This will go a long way toward keeping your pansies happy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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