Category Archives: Gardening Tips

Alocasia lutea

Alocasias, Tropical Beauties of the Summer

Photo Courtesy Southern Living Magazine

Bold and dramatic, the alocasias are one of the most elegant  tropicals of the summer garden.

One look at the bright yellow stems of the showstopping giant Alocasia ‘Lutea’ rising at an angle upward can practically take your breath away. Mix it with darker green leaves and wispy foliage as a contrast and it’s unforgettable.

Alocasias are natives of Asia, from Sri Lanka and India through Southeast Asia to Indonesia. Keeping this in mind, Birmingham’s hot summer months are perfect for these giants from half a world away.

 

 

Alocasia luteaIf I had to give a favorite cultivar of Alocasia, it would be a tossup between the darker veined cultivars like ‘Mayan Mask’ and the above mentioned ‘Lutea’. But any of them offer a dramatic and large leaf presence in the summer garden.

 

Offer them dappled sunlight (More sun is ok, but be very sure to keep them well watered.) and ample moisture for the best growth. As large a pot as is feasible for your space, or well amended rich soil, if you’re planting them in the ground, will keep them happiest through the hot summer months.

Alocasias we have in stock now (as of April 26, 2018) include 10″ and 14″ Alocasia ‘Lutea’ and 5″ Alocasia ‘Portora, ‘Mayan Mask’ and ‘Calidora’.

 

Native Azaleas and Hybrid Aromi Deciduous Azaleas Add Blooms, Scent, and Structure to the Garden

Spring Garden

March garden scene…

March and April are the months in the south that finally drive winter out for good, after the usual roller coaster rides with temperatures rising then falling, and multiple cycles of freezing and thawing.

Though our last average frost isn’t until mid-April, this year the fat buds of cherry trees and crabapples, spiraea, forsythia, and many more have burst into fragrant, beautiful bloom, and neighborhoods are awash in color.

Snowball Viburnum buds

Snowball viburnums blooming in March

 

 

 

Favorite shrubs of mine that add to the spring symphony are our native deciduous azaleas and the hybrids that have come along in recent years.

We have a selection available now, and, as they’re considered by many to be some of our most beautiful flowering shrubs, you might like to add one or more to your garden this year.

 

Hummingbird Moth on Deciduous Azalea

Hummingbird moth…

Large, fragrant, honeysuckle like blooms open gradually, offering nectar to swallowtail butterflies and hummingbird moths. It’s a delight to catch these pollinators “working” the blossoms!

 

 

 

 

 

A mistake many people make when deciding where to put their deciduous azalea is placing it in too much shade.

 

They do need some sun to bloom well, so be sure to think about how much shade mature trees cast in your landscape when considering your placement.Hybrid Deciduous Azalea

Once you’ve decided on your spot, don’t make the next mistake many people do when planting a new shrub, especially deciduous azaleas which are shallow rooted, by planting too deeply. Plant the rootball slightly high, water well, and mulch with pinestraw.

 

 

 

Once your shrub is planted, don’t neglect water. Though they need a well draining soil, they also need even moisture, so be mindful of this especially through the first two summers and possible dry spells.

Though they can grow up to 12’ in height, I do very minimal pruning on my deciduous azaleas, because they’re in a rocky area and haven’t quite gotten that big.

If you wish to prune yours, it’s best to prune early blooming varieties right after they bloom, since the following year’s flower buds form in June. With judicious pruning you can achieve a smaller shrub at around 6’.

Native Azalea R. canescens bloom

 

 

 

 

Do you think you have just the right spot for at least one of these beauties? I hope you do. You’ll be creating  your own magnificent symphony of color and scent for neighbors, pollinators, (and you!) to appreciate and enjoy.

By Kris Blevons

 

Early Spring Container Garden

March…The In-Between Month

Container Gardens

These containers can easily be covered or moved if temps drop…

Sign Planter - Poppies and ViolasThere’s really no in-between month for hard core gardeners, as there’s always something to do or a new revelation in the landscape.

 

 

 

 

But for the more casual plant person, a few warm days signal it’s time to call or visit the garden shop to buy all the spring bedding plants they can get their hands on.

 

Unfortunately there are more than a few businesses willing to sell them, even knowing our last average frost in the Birmingham area isn’t until mid-April. But please understand, March soil is too cold for basil, tomatoes, begonias, caladiums, and more that are offered to tempt even the smartest of us.

Container Gardens - Green Pots

Planters with perennials and a few annuals that prefer cooler temps.

 

 

This is why I call March the in-between month. It’s getting late to plant pansies and winter annuals, but it’s still early for the heat lovers, though we know their time is getting closer. Remember the blizzard of 93? That was 25 years ago –  in March.

Heucheras - March

Perennials -Heucheras

 

 

A better choice to spend money on now are perennials, those plants that return year after year. If you have planters small enough to cover easily or bring inside when temperatures drop, many herbs, cool season vegetables like lettuce,  broccoli, and cabbage and some annuals (See list below.)  that appreciate more moderate temps can be planted as well.

Container Garden with Herbs and Violas

Container garden with herbs and violas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some perennials available for early season purchase include Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’, creeping and summer phlox, daisies, daylilys, many ferns, hellebores, stokesia, and lobelia to name just a few. If you don’t see something you’re looking for always ask!

Annuals and some herbs that do well in very early spring before our last average frost include thyme, chives, oregano, tarragon, lavender, sweet alyssum, bacopa, calibrachoa, geraniums, dianthus, marigolds, and diascia. Remember, you must protect newly planted greenhouse grown annuals from freezing temperatures. 

By Kris Blevons

 

 

 

Edgeworthia

The February Garden, Dreaming Of Spring

Lenten Rose

Lenten rose

Recently on a rare full weekend off I spent a bit of my free time doing some necessary chores in the garden and much of the rest simply piddling.

Daylily

Daylily emerging

I enjoy observing my plantings, checking buds on shrubs and trees, and scratching through the leaf litter looking for signs of life from perennials I know are there but just not awake yet.

I call these tours of the garden ‘taking a walk.’ When I say that, my husband knows I’ll be gone a while, and, if it’s in the afternoon, he usually has a glass of wine ready for me, knowing I’m not planning on doing any serious work.

Ipheion

First ipheion bloom

 

Viola

Pansy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earlier in the day I’d decided to cut back the Carex ‘Blue Zinger’ that is slowly beginning to take over the corners of some raised beds where I’d planted it a few years ago. The Carex family is a tough group of plants, and this one has a beautiful blue hue that I admire. Since it’s just a few small patches, my garden scissors did the trick.

 

 

 

The larger patches of mondo grass will be tackled by my husband this next week, as February is the month to get all the ornamental grasses cut back to make way for fresh new growth.

Strawberry Begonia - Saxifrage

Saxifrage, strawberry begonia

Some plants hug the ground tightly, as if hanging on for dear life. The strawberry begonias are like that. I know in another month or so though that their delicate white flowers will be reaching for the sky.

Poppy and Snapdragon - Winter

Poppy and Snapdragon behind

 

 

This winter saw a few really cold snaps, but even so, with a string of wet days and warmer temperatures, the pansies are beginning to look happier, not hunkered down and miserable but plump and full of buds and blooms.

 

I deadhead the ones that need  it and notice the poppies I’d planted last fall are taking on their characteristic spring fullness as well.

I wish the snapdragons looked as good, but some do have green growth beginning to show below the brown tops, and there are patches of larkspur seedlings coming up between them too. Sometimes it’s a waiting game, requiring patience to see what will be.

Georgia Blue Veronica

Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’

The tiny ipheion are beginning to bloom, the earliest of my bulbs, their flowering always coinciding with the first of the veronicas, ‘Georgia Blue’.  I make a note to combine these two for an early symphony of blue next year.

Lenten roses and Trillium

Lenten Rose and Trillium

 

 

 

Of course the Lenten roses are blooming, stalwarts of the shade garden, and I diligently pull  seedlings that come up each year too close to a patch of prized trillium.

Bloodroot

Bloodroot

I turn away and spot the very first bloodroot bloom and immediately go to check another area I know they’ll be, but there’s no sign of them. Microclimates at work!

Sedum ‘Ogon’

Sedum ‘Ogon’

 

 

 

Sedum ‘Ogon’ is filling a small trough planter and looks none the worse for the winter. It’s also in other containers and in the ground as well.

 

 

 

 

I continue on with my walk and notice the ipheion isn’t blooming quite yet at the base of a bird bath.

IpheionNative azalea buds are full of promise. I love their honeysuckle-like fragrant blooms and can almost smell them, but no, that’s the edgeworthia. It and the daphne are at their best now  and perfume the air. Next month will be the native azalea’s time.

 

 

I make my way back to the house, past the Spiraea ‘Ogon’, in full bloom with it’s tiny white flowers.  I know that froth of white will soon give way to chartreuse, airy foliage, yet another promise of spring on a gray, February day.Spiraea ‘Ogon’

By Kris Blevons

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

 

 

 

In Appreciation Of Pollinator Gardens…Large and Small

This summer’s “Better Late Than Never” pollinator garden is coming along and, as in years past, will get even more colorful as the end of summer approaches. I’m happy to see that private and public gardens and gardening for wildlife is a growing trend across the country.

I recently returned from a trip back to my home state of Wisconsin, where I  visited a couple of county parks my late father helped make possible many years ago near the beginning of this movement in public gardening. My mother, sister, and I are certain he’d have been very pleased with the progress of this prairie reclamation in the middle of southern Wisconsin farm land.

At Dorothy Carnes County Park & Rose Lake State Natural Area we watched as dozens and dozens of purple martins flew back and forth to houses set up for them, butterflies soared through prairie plantings, and a group of special needs children returned from a morning hike.

 

 

The next day we visited Korth County Park on Rock Lake and hiked down to a bench overlooking the water. Visitors can hike or bike along paths skirting the lake, and both parks have shelters used for picnicking. I feel so lucky to have visited these lovely and well maintained public spaces.

Our pollinator garden is tiny in comparison but there’s so much life in it too. This year I had trouble finding the peach porterweed that the butterflies adore, but a few weeks ago noticed that a number of them had reseeded from the previous summer’s garden. These volunteer surprises make this garden extra special.

Other “volunteers” this year are red gomphrena, rudbeckias with huge blooms, many zinnias, celosia, sunflowers, cosmos, hyacinth bean and moonflower vines on the arbor, cleome where the compost bin had been, and a lone dill plant. It’s truly an old fashioned cottage garden for the pollinators and the enjoyment of anyone who stops to look!

 

 

We also added a few new plants this year. Verbena ‘Lollipop’ and pentas for butterflies, cigar plant, pineapple  and Mexican sage for hummingbirds, African blue basil and purslane for the honeybees,  and red ruellia too.

The Mexican sunflowers, tithonia, are also slowly getting larger and will add their bright orange blooms that the butterflies love as the summer wanes. The annual milkweed is in bloom now too.

Perennials that return are always welcome in the garden!  The butterfly weed, purple coneflower, and salvia greggii are old friends.

A woman approached me the other day as I was watering to say thank you and said she’s created a pollinator garden of her own after following the progress of this small space in the middle of Crestline Village.

Talking with her and others has been so gratifying. I hope my Dad is watching from wherever he is and smiling at our efforts to create a beautiful space for community and nature too. If you’re in Crestline Village, I hope you’ll take time to stop and appreciate this little slice of pollinator heaven!

By Kris Blevons

 

 

Leaving On Vacation? Don’t Forget The Garden…

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

By Kris Blevons