Category Archives: Planting Tips

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

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’.

 

A New Planting Season Brings New Possibilities…Don’t Be Afraid!

Sunny Bed with Annuals & PerennialsI read a piece that Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery wrote a few years ago about some people being “controlling” gardeners while others are “gambling” gardeners. I really thought it was spot on, and I can say I’ve worked with both types.

 

Of course, many of us gamble each year, planting marginally  hardy plants that have done fine with our mild winters of past years. Boy, can some winters give us a whammy though!

Annual caladiums, coleus and pentas are added to this perennial bed

Annual caladiums, coleus and pentas are added to this perennial bed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I really liked this comment from Tony Avent,  “Controlling folks want everything to work out just as the gardening books say, and struggle when plants don’t do exactly that, while the gamblers take a chance, try new things and hope for the best.

For the gamblers if things don’t work out quite as expected, it’s an opportunity for something new, rather than a failure. Personally, I like the gamblers approach to gardening much better, and think it causes a lot less anxiety! So, what’s the point? The point is to relax and enjoy gardening, remembering that nature is always in charge.

Life and death in the garden are no different than life and death outside the garden. Our options are to dwell on the sadness of death or celebrate the life that passed and embrace the next life that lies ahead.”

Fall in the Herb GardenWith the beginning of a new planting season, my personal outlook is going to be that of looking on my  gardening efforts as a joy and an opportunity to not only beautify my landscape and surroundings but to nourish my soul as well; and, if there are failures, that will be part and parcel of the process. Some of my  best plant combinations have been happy accidents!

Herb Garden with Self Sown Vinca, Allysum & GomphrenaThe pictures here are of my garden – plants are allowed to self seed, failures are yanked out, and plants that strike my fancy are tucked in here and there where I think they might look good. It wouldn’t make anyone’s list of a perfectly designed space, but it’s mine and that’s how you should treat yours too.

Above all, whatever the outcome of your garden, take time to appreciate the life you bring into it…a butterfly on a zinnia bloom, a hummingbird hovering over a salvia, and bees doing their important work with them of  pollinating your flowers and vegetables.

Mid Summer Perennials & AnnualsMy ultimate hope is that many of you adopt the gambler attitude. It doesn’t have to be the high roller, high stakes approach, but try to roll with the plant punches, knowing they’ll come, and  treat your gardening efforts as what they should be – a relaxing, and therapeutic addition to your  daily schedule rather than a chore that’s only done on the weekends.

Posted by Kris Blevons

Design Tips For Container Plantings Focused on Foliage

I’ve talked before about creating beautiful combinations using primarily foliage as a starting point and adding flowers to complement  leaves. Container Gardens - Green Pots

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

All foliage…

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

 

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

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

By Kris Blevons

 

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

 

 

 

Early Spring in the ‘Better Late Than Never’ Garden

bachelor buttons…

The past week we had two nights below freezing, and I wondered how the ‘Better Late Than Never’ Garden would fare across the street from the shop. I’d been checking it regularly, hand weeding the henbit. This pesky weed (Did you know it’s edible?) was determined to come up between the ferny larkspur, flat poppy leaves, and the blue gray foliage of bachelor buttons that looked like they were just beginning to stretch up toward the sky.

 

 

 

 

This garden is truly a stepchild of the garden world. I was out of town the day the temperatures were forecast to drop. I knew everyone at the shop was moving the inventory into the greenhouse – a big job and one that I’m sure would take a good part of the day. I let the garden go, hoping for the best.

sweet pea and oriental poppy…

With the first cursory glance as I parked my car across from Emmet O’Neal Library and walked up the sidewalk toward the garden,, everything still looked green, a very good sign. Looking more closely, the only damage appeared to be to the few sunflower seedlings that obviously didn’t get the memo that it was much too early to sprout, and were now black and quite dead.

Maybe the fact that I didn’t thin the crowded seedlings out like you’re supposed to kept everything warm, snuggled up together, I thought. Whatever the reason, it was good to spot even the sweet peas that I’d recently planted on one of the front arbors. I was looking forward to seeing them begin to climb up the fishing line I’d strung along the metal of the support.

I’m hoping some of the poppies coming up near the arbor in the front beds are the gifted seeds from a friend. She was given them on a garden tour to Maryland last spring and offered them to me to try, saying the color was exquisite. I can’t wait to see!

ipheion bulbs and larkspur…

Though there are always sights like that to look forward to,  many large flowering shrubs and trees in our landscapes may well have been affected by the last cold spell, their buds frozen. One of my gardening friends mentioned she was particularly worried about her summer blooming hydrangeas, and I’m concerned about my fringe tree blooms.

Only time will tell, and we’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed. Until then, enjoy the beauty apparent in the fresh green hue of unfurling leaves and the return of the many  pollinators that grace our gardens and landscapes. Be prepared also to plant the  flowers, herbs and perennials that they appreciate…and that we do as well. Happy gardening!

By Kris Blevons

 

 

 

 

Preparing Your New Garden Bed

The other day I received an email from a long time customer asking if I’d consider writing a post on creating a garden bed from scratch. He went on to tell me he has a spot he’d like to turn into a garden like our ‘Better Late Than Never’ garden and wanted to do it right.

Following are two ways to create a garden bed. I’ll describe each method and let you decide which you would prefer. Each one was created in an area where there had been grass.

Spring – larkspur and bachelor buttons

When Oak Street Garden Shop owner Billy Angell created the four garden beds across from the shop, the first thing he decided was the size of each quadrant and how wide the paths between them would be. He was very precise in his measurements, but, since I’ve taken over the garden beds, the sizes have shifted to accommodate self-sown plants.

First he killed all the grass in the area by spraying it with the non-selective herbicide, Round-Up. After waiting a week, he spot sprayed again to be sure all the grass was killed. When this was completed, the entire area  was lightly tilled and then leveled to make it even. If you’re creating a bed where there are utility lines, always have them located before digging.

View through the garden, 4 beds and pinestraw paths

At this point the actual beds were measured and marked off. There would be 4 of them, each 6′ wide and 20′ long with 3′ wide pathways between each bed.  Next, each of these beds was deep tilled, using a bobcat equipped with a tiller attachment on loan from a local landscaper.

Now it was time for the final amendments. A truckload of 1/2 compost from the city of Mountain Brook and 1/2 coarse builder’s sand was unloaded on the sidewalk in front of the soon-to-be garden. Wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow the compost and sand was spread evenly over each bed. It was tilled one more time, then graded so each bed sloped slightly toward the walkways.

Billy sent a soil sample to Auburn, and about a week later they had the results. We were prepared to adjust the soil depending on what the findings were. Amazingly, they said the soil was near perfect and no other adjustments were necessary. You can obtain these soil test kits from the Birmingham Botanical Gardens Extension Service office.

Each season the beds are top dressed with soil conditioner and PlantTone  and regraded. Weeding is done by hand, and no chemicals are applied, in keeping with its designation as a pollinator garden. In addition to plants that reseed each season (zinnias and sunflowers in the summer, bachelor buttons and larkspur in the winter), transplants from the garden shop are also added. For more on plants in the summer garden look HERE.

This was a weedy patch of grass

At home, my husband and I have created many beds, the largest one in front of our house that had been weedy grass. In our beds my husband first dug out all the grass by hand, working in one small area at a time, shaking all the loose soil off and discarding the grass.

Rather than tilling the soil, he took a large pick-ax to break it up, loosening it and then removing any remaining roots and weeds by hand. The cleared area was then raked smooth.

The garden bed is filled with a mix of annuals, perennials, and shrubs

Following this, he applied layers of newspaper, wetting each area down, then covered  the paper with soil conditioner purchased in bags from the shop, and home made compost.  We left these areas through the summer, hoping  to kill any remaining rootlets of grass and weed seeds. I began planting a few things that fall but waited until the following spring to begin planting in earnest. I continue to pull weeds that appear and keep it well mulched as well.  Each season we add more shredded leaves and compost, and the soil has become looser each season.

Each year soil amendments are added to this bed

Whichever method you use, remember that creating a garden bed doesn’t end when the initial work is done. Good gardening practice is to continue to add nutrients to the soil as our hot temperatures break soil amendments down very quickly. The easiest amendment makes use of our fallen leaves each autumn. Run over them with your lawn mower and add them to your beds.

If you are beginning a pollinator garden with summer annuals and would like to sow seeds, be sure to wait until any danger of frost is past, then sow heat lovers like tall cutting zinnias directly in the ground. Be sure to keep seeded areas moistened until the seedlings show, then water as necessary as plants become larger.

Creating a garden bed by either method requires a good bit of initial labor, but the end result is worth the effort!

By Kris Blevons

 

 

 

 

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.   I noticed that a yellow lantana and perennial butterflyweed  had come back from last year also.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

Container Gardening Design Tips

Urn Planted for SummerSpring is for planting in the garden and in pots. Flowers, herbs, perennials, shrubs, and vegetables are all players in the annual game of  “What will grow in this spot?” or “What can I plant in this pot?”.

Summer Container GardenDyron's Urn - Summer 2015

 

 

 

Now that summer is here though, the pace is slower with fewer questions as more people slowly stroll the nursery for pleasure,  picking up the odd plant here and there or gathering more varied selections for filling in garden spaces that need extra color.Summer Container Garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wheelbarrow - Summer PlantingMany of them come to see the planters we’ve put together, getting ideas for extra pots or to make note of a different combination of plants they might not have thought of.Hanging Basket Combination for Sun

 

 

 

 

 

We enjoy this time too (Since we’re all pretty much plantaholics!) and look on it as our play time with plantings, a reward for making it through another hectic spring season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Herb Box with VincaSummer Container Garden

 

 

 

 

So, while our neatly lined tables are still filled with a good assortment of varied plants, you’ll also find our container plantings in various spots throughout the nursery too.

 

 

 

Summer Container Garden

 

Some find their way onto our Facebook and Instagram pages, others make their way to new homes. Wherever they end up we hope they give you as much pleasure as they’ve given us creating them.Dwarf Evergreen Planters

Dyron's Planter Tubs - May 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Container Gardening Tips:

Know your light. Plants that want sun won’t perform well in shade and vice versa.

If you want a pot filled only with flowers, choose blooms with different shapes for added interest. An example: A spiky salvia, rounded blooms of zinnias, flatter blooms of lantana.

Make it even more interesting and add a foliage for additional texture or color. Begin by choosing it, then add some flowers to compliment the color or shape of the leaves. An example: A spiky grass, a round pentas, an airy euphorbia, a trailing vinca.

Bigger planters call for bigger plants. Use at least one eye catcher or “thriller”. Add intermediate or “filler” plants, then complete the picture with a trailing or “spiller” selection. This is the tried and true Thriller, Filler, Spiller recipe. It never fails.  An example:  A black elephant ear (thriller), sunpatiens (filler), scaevola (spiller).

Think about the setting the planter is in. What color is your house? What trees and shrubs will be in bloom at various times? Do you entertain at night? What are your favorite colors? Are you there to maintain and water regularly?

No matter how small your planting starts out,  with proper care it may  grow  to enormous proportions. Be prepared to deadhead faded blooms at least weekly and clip back your planting as needed.

By Kris Blevons

 

 

 

From Seed – The ‘Better Late Than Never’ Garden Puts On A Show!

Better Late Than Never Garden - Spring 2016I’ll be honest, my hopes for a beautiful spring show in the ‘Better Late Than Never’ garden weren’t that great. Weather and time last fall seemed to conspire against me – no beautiful transplants of pansies, snapdragons, or foxgloves were put in the little plot across the street, even as everyone else was planning and planting their home gardens September through December. The summer garden went to seed and was finally pulled out with Ben’s help, in November.Better Late Than Never Garden - May 2016

Sometimes, though, nature helps us along. Walking to my car at the end of early winter days I’d glance at the garden, its four beds seemingly lifeless plots of earth. If I had time I’d walk through, looking to see if any seedlings were emerging. There were, zinnias and sunflowers mostly, seeds dropped from fading blooms,  germinating in the still warm soil. But I knew these were destined to freeze in the upcoming winter chill. Oh well, I thought, maybe I can get something in after the holidays.Better Late Than Never Garden - May 2015

Larkspur and Oriental Poppies - Better Late Than Never Garden May 2016The weeks of late summer through fall had passed quickly. We held Molly’s wedding at the shop, and autumn plants and loads of pumpkins arrived and went. The days flew by during the frenetic holiday season that ended as suddenly as it started. January, and a new year,  had arrived.

I finally had more time to concentrate on the little garden across the street with the apt name. I’d noticed,  on the few December days I had a moment to look,  that there were tiny bachelor button plants everywhere in 3 of the beds. I couldn’t do more than try to thin them out, though, with what little time I had.

Better Late Than Never Garden - May 2016They’d  bloomed in the garden the spring prior and had most definitely reseeded, but with barely any thinning were carpeting 3 of the beds quite thickly. I watched them fill in with some alarm. Would they smother themselves out because they were too close together? I decided to let well enough be and see what would happen.Oriental Poppy and Larkspur - Better Late Than Never Garden Spring 2016

Spotting  that bit of growth in the garden energized me. Even as the bachelor buttons were putting on their amazing growth spurt through January and February, I was tossing out seeds of larkspur in all shades.

I’d choose a few Botanical Interests seed packets off the rack, larkspur in shades of blue or mixes of blues, pinks, and whites. Eyeing the beds, I imagined perfect color combinations, letting the seed slip through my fingers onto the uneven soil.Better Late Than Never Garden - Larkspur and Oriental Poppies May 2016

I scanned the garden each morning, hoping to see some spots of green. Impatient, I would scatter more seeds – packets of sweet alyssum, oriental poppies, mixed colors of larkspur – willing an abundance of  flowers for spring.

Oriental Poppy - Better Late Than Never Garden - Spring 2016 Finally I saw the ferny foliage of the larkspur here and there between the crowded bachelor buttons and the distinctive blue-green foliage of the oriental poppies appeared too.

Each day as the plants grew, more and more people asked what was growing in the garden. I’d explain, smiling, about plants  reseeding and seeds thrown onto the ground on cold winters days. Most people looked incredulous. From seed? Yes, I’d answer, seeds, and a prayer for spring.

By Kris Blevons

 

 

 

 

Spring To Summer In The Garden – It Happens So Fast!

Front bedA southern garden, not unlike like gardens elsewhere, is in constant change one day to the next, a living work of art subtly shifting in quiet or awe-inspiring ways. But here in Birmingham, Alabama,  we’re also able to revel in every season…each spring, summer, fall, and even winter, since, for better or worse,  there’s no real down time, no blanket of snow to envelope the garden in silence.  Each season slides easily into the next, with the appropriate and perfect accompaniment of plants.

imageThe mental transition from spring to summer is the hardest for me though. I want the perfect spring days to go on and on and wish the peonies, poppies, pansies, bachelor buttons, Japanese roof iris, and foxglove could bloom forever. But I know the relentless heat will soon arrive to stay for good and the earliest of the garden bloomers will go as the temperatures and the humidity rise.

So, I’m mindful each day to appreciate the spires of foxglove and blooms of colorful snapdragons I planted on cool fall days last October and that are blooming now, even as I tuck in my usual summer annuals of zinnias, lantana, gomphrena, and more in my hot, sunny front bed. As I plant I pull out many spent pansies and tired poppies, choosing to leave those that are still adding color.image

Many customers  I see each day have completely pulled out their scraggly pansies and are ready to move on. They walk out of Oak Street Garden Shop loaded up with top soil or soil conditioner to loosen the soil, PlantTone to feed it, and lots and lots of plants. They gather perennials that will come back each year, annuals for lots of continuous color, and herbs and vegetables to harvest through the summer.

imageThis year I’ve decided to add a new tall salvia selection called ‘Amistad’. I’ve fallen in love with its beautiful rich purple blooms and think it will be the perfect compliment for the yellow day lilies and other hot colors I usually use in this spot.

African blue basil is another addition this year that I’m planting for the honeybees. On an arbor I’ve decided to put a Malabar spinach plant, a fast growing and beautiful vine whose tender new leaves are edible. Trying new plants, and even different selections of those I’ve used before, makes each season a little different and a lot of fun.

It was a hot day today. I survey the garden as I water my new plantings in, eying a spot previously occupied by yellow violas. Yes, some bat face cuphea would look just right there, and I think the hummingbirds would like it too.

By Kris Blevons

 

 

 

 

Gardening For Pollinators

Phlox 'Chattahoochee'I like to feel I’m doing a good job of gardening to attract pollinators. At any rate, my home garden and the ‘Better Late Than Never’ garden across the street from Oak Street Garden Shop seem to have lots of bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies, so I must be doing something right, right??!!??

Butterfly on Parsley Hawthorne Tree

Swallowtail Butterfly on Parsley Hawthorne

Researching pollinator gardening information for a garden talk and workshop recently, in the midst of wading through article after article (There are a lot of posts on honeybees and their decline, and numerous writings on attracting hummingbirds and butterflies to your garden.), I came to the conclusion that it basically boils down to this:

Your home and yard, garden, landscape, whatever you call the space that surrounds your home, is your personal ecosystem. The health of it and the pollinators that visit it depend on how you build your soil, what you plant, and how you choose to maintain it. 

So my choices have been to try to have as diverse a plant pallette as possible (I admit, I’m a plantaholic. Who knew that would play right into gardening for pollinators?) and to eliminate pesticide use almost entirely. I’m gratified when I hear of others that are trying to do the same thing.

Snapdragon

Bees love snapdragons!

I use organic soil amendments like PlantTone and Annie Haven’s Moo Poo Tea, have learned to live  with a few holes in leaves, let the ladybugs eat aphids (If they really get too bad, I wash them off with some soapy water.), and practice patience, knowing that most of the time an infestation of insects doesn’t last forever. I take great joy in bopping Japanese beetles off of my roses into a bucket of soapy water early in the morning when they’re most sluggish. I know each year they’ll be back – it’s just part of the garden’s cycle.

If you feel you have a large problem and must spray, start with the least toxic form of chemical control, and understand that even products labeled organic can be harmful to good bugs as well as bad.  ***Always read the label and follow directions carefully!Kris' Garden Late March 2016

I’ve learned that planting large swaths of color will attract bees, and that they prefer blue, purple, white, and yellow. I’ve learned to grow a wide variety of plants, including plants with a scent, herbs in particular. I’ve learned that while double blooms on flowers are attractive to us, they’re not especially useful for pollinators, and that they much prefer single, simple blooms. I’ve learned that flowers that come back from seed that drops in the garden (zinnias, sunflowers, bachelor buttons, larkspur to name a few),  perennials, and any of our native shrubs, trees, and wildflowers are preferable also.

Chionanthus virginicus - Fringe Tree

Chionanthus virginicus – Fringe Tree

Most importantly, I’ve learned that it’s not that hard, and actually quite a bit easier, to garden naturally. I have some clover in my grass. And you know what? It’s okay, because I have bees foraging it. Somewhere there’s some great honey in the making!

 

Our last average frost date is mid-April. In the coming weeks we’ll be stocking more and more plants for your pollinator gardens. Here are a few suggestions:

For Butterflies:   Zinnias, Gomphrena, Pentas, Marigolds, Verbena, Asters, Yarrow, Butterfly Weed

For Bees:   Purslane, Mexican Heather, Pentas, Sweet allysum, Bee Balm, Asters, Rudbeckia, Coneflower, Zinnia, Snapdragon, Sage, Basil, Rosemary, Agastache

For Hummingbirds: Cigar Plant, Salvias, Heat tolerant Fuschias, Agastache, Petunia, Hamelia, Lobelia, Bee Balm, Penstemon, NasturtiumsRock Outcrop Kris' Garden Late March 2016

Host Plants For Caterpillars:  Fennel, Parsley, Dill, Carrots, Zinnias, Viburnum, Oak Trees, Cosmos, Milkweed, hollyhocks

These lists are by no means exhaustive, but are meant to be a starting point for your pollinator garden. Some of these plants are best planted in the fall, while others are more heat tolerant.

*** Alabama’s watersheds, rich in animal and plant life, absorb  the brunt of chemical and fertilizer runoff from homeowner and commercial pesticide and fertilizer application. Be mindful that what you (and your neighbors) put in the landscape can adversely  affect these areas and the life in them.

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

Sunflowers…By Seed! The ‘Better Late Than Never Garden’

 Better Late Than Never Garden Sunflower Summer 2015The great thing about sunflowers, if you’ve ever planted them by seed, is that often they’ll reseed, or come back the next year, in the same spots or somewhere nearby. This is more likely to happen if you’re not diligent about deadheading (keeping the spent blooms cut off).Better Late Than Never Garden reseeded sunflower June26 2015

 

 

 

Late last fall the sunflower plants of summer were cut down and muscled out of the ground. By that point they had enormous stems and were very well rooted. It took some time to clear the garden of debris.

Better agate Than Never Garden Sunflower Summer 2015

 

 

 

Obviously, not all of the sunflower seeds were composted – and I’m glad they weren’t – because this year, in addition to the extra sunflowers I seeded in late June, I already had these beauties up and blooming.

 

 

 

What a great way to extend the flower season in our ‘Better Late Than Never Garden’!  Those shown here have bloomed out at this point, but their flower seed heads have created a feast for flocks of goldfinches…such  a pretty sight early in the morning!

 

 

Sunflowers are so easy to grow from seed, and  we carry many varieties from our supplier, Botanical Interests. New packets are available each spring, and the best selection always goes to the early birds!

Sunflower

Fading…

 

 

Buy your seed and wait to sow them until the soil is really warm. You can begin sowing them directly in the ground any time after the middle of May and sow more every couple of weeks for even more continuous bloom.

And, if you get a late start, don’t worry! Remember, this garden gets seeded as late as the end of June and provides continuous color through September. So much happiness from a few packets of seed!

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

It’s Planted! The ‘Better Late than Never Garden’ Summer 2015

Better Late Than Never Garden - June 2015Just about this time last year we planted the community garden across the street with flowers to attract bees, butterflies and other pollinators. The two years previous it had been a vegetable garden, though the first year of veggies turned out a bit better than the second. Regardless, this little plot of land has had a lot growing in it!

By the end of summer I’d begun calling it the ‘Better Late than Never Garden’,  and it’s certainly been a lesson to many in the neighborhood that a garden can be started any time of the year with care and attention.  I think the zinnias and other heat loving plants performed as well, or better, than if they’d been put in the ground 2 months earlier. In  fact, I’d probably be pulling a few out right about now!Better Later Than Never Garden - June 2015

When the summer seeds arrived early this spring, I perused the seed rack, choosing a good assortment of sunflowers and zinnias since they’d done so well last year. I squirreled them away and took them home, knowing it would be months before they’d be planted.

Finally, the other day I brought all the packets back, walked across the street, and laid them out on the ground in the four planting beds, randomly choosing spots I thought might work well between the various groupings of plants already in the ground.  I thought I’d picked the perfect day, since there was a good chance of rain that afternoon and for the next few days as well.

I’d been sure to set aside some packs of tithonia, the beautiful orange mexican sunflower too, and picked a spot in the garden for some, though there already were plants growing in random spots that had seeded from last year.  What a happy surprise that’s been! I’ve left them to grow in the spots they’ve picked and know the monarch butterflies will appreciate them again in late summer.

Better Late Than Never GardenOne flower I thought there’d be plenty of, because it’s a notorious reseeder, is the beautiful cleome or spider flower. I’ve been disappointed to find only one plant coming in the spot it was last year though. After giving it some thought,  I’m sure the reason no seeds that might have fallen to the ground germinated was  the heavy layer of pinestraw mulch I used in the winter garden. It was great for the pansies, snapdragons and foxglove but must have smothered any seeds that tried to come up through it.

Working my way through the beds one at a time, I used my pick to loosen the soil and make  shallow trenches. Most rows were planted 1/4″ or so deep, lightly sprinkled out, and then the soil gently pushed back. After all the seeds packets were opened and planted, the beds were lightly watered.

Remember I said rain was forecast that afternoon? Well, it turned out to be an absolute gullywasher.  I watched the rainstorm through the doors to the greenhouse, wondering if any of the seeds I’d just planted would still be in the same spot. Only time would tell, I thought.

The zinnia and sunflower seeds are coming up....

The zinnia and sunflower seeds are coming up….

There are at least 6 different varieties of zinnia and as many sunflowers planted in the four beds, and, if last year is any indication, the garden will be an explosion of color in another month or so and the bees and butterflies will be enjoying the patch of blooms in the middle of the village.

The hyacinth bean vine has been replanted too, on the first arbor closest to the sidewalk. The seeds were soaked overnight to soften them and planted all along the length of the arbor on both sides.

Luckily the torrential downpour didn’t wash all the seeds away and the zinnias, sunflowers, and hyacinth bean vine seeds are already coming up. Now the smallest plants will need to be taken out so they’re not too crowded. Crowding of tiny plants isn’t good, and none will be very strong if they’re left too long. This is called thinning and, hard as it is to do, is a necessary step to a beautiful garden.

So, it’s planted for another season, though a garden is never finished, right? Following is a list of the seeds planted in this year’s summer garden:

Zinnias:  Envy, California Giants, Fireball Blend, Northern Lights Blend, Solar Flare Blend, Persian Carpet

Sunflowers: Lemon Queen, Peach Passion, Flash Blend, Vanilla Ice, Moulin Rouge, Evening Sun

Cosmos:  Bright Lights Blend

Tithonia – Mexican Sunflower/Torch Flower

Signet MargoldsTagetes tenufolia – Tangerine & Lemon Gem

Hyacinth Bean Vine

Posted by Kris Blevons

It’s Spring In The ‘Better Late Than Never Garden’…

Better Late Than Never Garden -Winter 2014-2015Last fall the little plot that I’ve come to call the ‘Better Late Than Never’ garden was gradually planted with foxglove, snapdragons, poppies, delphinium, bachelor buttons, ornamental kale, pansies, and violas. Dashing across the street between customers and shop business to add plants and tending it very early in the morning, the garden slowly filled in.

There were a few poppies...

There were a few poppies…

 

 

 

 

As with any garden, there were successes and failures. I’ve come to accept that nature always has the upper hand and not to take it personally when something doesn’t go exactly as planned. Take the poppies, for example. This year, for some reason (I think it was all the rain late winter into early spring.), they just didn’t fill out like they usually do. Disappointing for sure, but the snapdragons more than made up for the poppies lackluster performance.

Yellow snapdragons and white foxglove...

Yellow snapdragons and white foxglove…

I usually have lots of larkspur that reseed in my garden at home. This year I don’t see much coming up at all. Again, it could be the rains or

even the frigid spell late winter this year. It didn’t come up in the shop garden either. Oh, well! The foxglove is beautiful and is putting on quite a show with the delphiniums!

Red Russian ornamental kale adding it's yellow blooms as it bolts...

Red Russian ornamental kale adding it’s yellow blooms as it bolts…

My strategy is to have a variety of plants, knowing that there will be some failures but many more successes. Also, between business at the garden shop (and a personal life), I’ve tried to keep the garden weeded and tended as much as possible.

Early morning light on the snapdragons and pansies...

Early morning light on the snapdragons and pansies…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a perfect world, there would be endless help, every foxglove would be staked, the bachelor buttons would have been cut back at least once to keep them from flopping, the snapdragons would have supports around them, and the pansies and violas would have more constant deadheading…but whoever said life was perfect, and wouldn’t that actually be a little boring?

The nursery is full of plants for your summer garden.  Spring is all about renewal and hope for a new season, so plant your garden with things you love and try something new too. I’m not sure what this summer will hold for the ‘Better Late Than Never’ garden. I do know we’ll enjoy the beauty of all that’s growing now through our busy spring season and get it planted, finally…(Better late than never!).

Happy spring planting to all of you, remember to maintain the garden as best you can, and always enjoy observing life in your garden too…

Posted by Kris Blevons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s A Look At Our Plantings in the Southern Living Magazine’s Container Gardening Collector’s Edition!

One of our favorite things to do at the shop when there’s a little extra time is to create imaginative and creative plantings to give people ideas for their own planters. The trick is using the right plants for our southern climate,   and maintaining them well.  So there just happened to be quite a few growing out last summer when the producers of the Southern Living Container Gardening Special Collector’s Edition stopped in to see if there were any they could use. The special publication would be available on newstands beginning February, 2015. All of the plantings in this issue make sense for southern gardeners since they utilize the plants that will withstand the heat and humidity we all contend with.

I wanted to do something a little different in this cone shaped basket, so I started with a pot of chives and added rhoes (oyster plant) Echeverias and trailing string of pearls for a textural feast... Photo Courtesy Southern Living

I wanted to do something a little different in this cone shaped basket, so I started with a pot of chives and added rhoes (oyster plant) Echeverias and trailing string of pearls for a textural feast…
Photo Courtesy Southern Living Magazine

One of my favorite shade planting designs because of how wonderfully it grew out after this picture was taken. The 'Babywing' pink begonia was a showstopper, growing through the large 'Garden White' caladiums and the carex 'Evergold' mingled with the silver waffle plant, (hemigraphis) trailing over the edge beautifully... Photo Courtesy Southern Living

One of my favorite shade planting designs because of how wonderfully it grew out after this picture was taken. The ‘Babywing’ pink begonia was a showstopper, growing through the large ‘Garden White’ caladiums and the carex ‘Evergold’ mingled with the silver waffle plant, (hemigraphis) trailing over the edge beautifully…
Photo Courtesy Southern Living Magazine

Between myself, Jamie, Molly, Pinkie, and Lauren, we are well represented in this informative issue, and I am so proud! Here’s a look at our designs (You can pick up a copy of the magazine while  it’s on newsstands until May, 2015).   Look HERE to see a post on a few more  of our plantings from  last summer including a couple of these right after they were planted.   Posted by Kris Blevons

I wanted to capture a Mediterranean feel with this summer planting in a large terra cotta bowl. I started with a variegated yucca and added drought tolerant silver thyme and sedums, a trailing jade plant (portulacaria) and a wispy Mexican feather grass (Nasella tenuissima)... Photo Courtesy Southern Living Magazine

I wanted to capture a Mediterranean feel with this summer planting in a large terra cotta bowl. I started with a variegated yucca and added drought tolerant silver thyme and sedums, a trailing jade plant (portulacaria) and a wispy Mexican feather grass (Nasella tenuissima)…
Photo Courtesy Southern Living Magazine

Large rounded leaves of a flap jack kalanchoe, thin, strappy leaves of an agave and trailing peperomia all combine beautifully in Molly's composition... Photo Courtesy Southern Living

Large rounded leaves of a flap jack kalanchoe, thin, strappy leaves of an agave and trailing peperomia all combine beautifully in Molly’s composition…
Photo Courtesy Southern Living Magazine

Three succulent plantings by Molly certainly showcase all the variety available... Photo Courtesy Southern Living

Three succulent plantings by Molly certainly showcase all the variety available…
Photo Courtesy Southern Living Magazine

An Alocasia is the star of this "large and in charge" planting by Jamie. She added Alternanthera 'Ruby Star' to fill out the base... Photo Courtesy Southern Living Magazine

An Alocasia is the star of this “large and in charge” planting by Jamie. She added Alternanthera ‘Ruby Star’ to fill out the base…
Photo Courtesy Southern Living Magazine

We love using houseplants in shade containers through the summer. Molly used various shapes and textures here, beginning with an anthurium and adding the parlor palm, agloenema and ivy... Photo Courtesy Southern Living Magazine

We love using houseplants in shade containers through the summer. Molly used various shapes and textures here, beginning with an anthurium and adding the parlor palm, agloenema and ivy…
Photo Courtesy Southern Living Magazine

Jamie used Oncidium orchids and Pilea 'Aquamarine' in this vertical planter... Photo Courtesy Southern Living Magazine

Jamie used Oncidium orchids and Pilea ‘Aquamarine’ in this vertical planter…
Photo Courtesy Southern Living Magazine

A glazed, blue footed urn was the inspiration for Pinkie's pink, blue, and white combination...the caladiums are a sun tolerant variety called 'Aaron' Photo Courtesy Southern Living

A glazed, blue footed urn was the inspiration for Pinkie’s pink, blue, and white combination…the caladiums are a sun tolerant variety called ‘Aaron’.
Photo Courtesy Southern Living Magazine

Succulents! Look at all the different leaf shapes and sizes here...Lauren's vertical planter is wood from a pallet with pots wired on. Photo Courtesy Southern Living

Succulents! Look at all the different leaf shapes and sizes here…Lauren’s vertical planter is wood from a pallet with pots wired on.
Photo Courtesy Southern Living Magazine

Begin your planting combinations with one plant you love, and add to it. I wanted to use this coleus, then added the trailing torenia and SunPatiens to compliment it... Photo Southern Living Magazine

Begin your planting combinations with one plant you love, and add to it. I wanted to use this coleus, then added the trailing torenia and SunPatiens to compliment it…
Photo Courtesy Southern Living Magazine

This brown bowl I designed was actually featured in another post on our website titled 'A Brown Bowl, 2 Ways'. This is the chartreuse, blue and white version for sun... Photo Courtesy Southern Living Magazine

This brown bowl I designed was actually featured in another post on our website titled ‘A Brown Bowl, 2 Ways‘. This is the chartreuse, blue and white version for sun…
Photo Courtesy Southern Living Magazine

A pretty blue glazed pot was the starting point for my planting using a dramatic elephant ear called Maui Gold. Look at that color! This was featured on the cover too... Photo Courtesy Southern Living

A pretty blue glazed pot was the starting point for my planting using a dramatic elephant ear called Maui Gold. Look at that color! This was featured on the cover too…
Photo Courtesy Southern Living Magazine

Hypertufa containers work well for herbs and flowers. In this bowl I used a lavender, ornamental golden oregano and added a splash of color with pink vinca... Photo Courtesy Southern Living

Hypertufa containers work well for herbs and flowers. In this bowl I used a lavender, ornamental golden oregano and added a splash of color with pink vinca…
Photo Courtesy Southern Living Magazine

In this large shade planter I decided to use a trailing 'Neon' Pothos instead of the ubiquitous chartreuse potato vine. Don't be afraid to use houseplants in outdoor shade planters! Here coleus, caladiums and an airy white euphorbia complete the design... Photo Courtesy Southern Living Design

In this large shade planter I decided to use a trailing ‘Neon’ Pothos instead of the ubiquitous chartreuse potato vine. Don’t be afraid to use houseplants in outdoor shade planters! Here coleus, caladiums and an airy white euphorbia complete the design…
Photo Courtesy Southern Living Magazine

I filled this old wheelbarrow up with lots of zinnias, fan flower and vinca, then added some purple basil, ornamental Kent's Beauty oregano, and scented geranium for additional foliage and texture. It bloomed all summer! Photo Courtesy Southern Living Magazine

I filled this old wheelbarrow up with lots of zinnias, fan flower and vinca, then added some purple basil, ornamental Kent’s Beauty oregano, and scented geranium for additional foliage and texture. It bloomed all summer!
Photo Courtesy Southern Living Magazine

The ‘Better Late Than Never Garden’ – A Winter Update

Tucking in winter plants around fall annuals, late fall...

Tucking in winter plants around fall annuals, late fall…

The ‘better late than never garden’ is certainly living up to its name, since it was planted at the beginning of November 2014, and most of it finished just prior to the hectic holiday season, a full month later than I would have liked. This ‘better late than never’ schedule is working out okay so far, though, as the plants are growing steadily. Of course, more updates will follow, documenting successes and the inevitable failures that every garden and gardener has.

Most of these pictures were taken quickly  very early on a mid-December morning in the middle of the holiday rush. Since there were other things that needed to be done, I couldn’t linger; but now, with the new year and more time, here’s an overview of the planting process and selection in this ‘better late than never’ winter garden.

Mid-December. Mulched and growing...

Mid-December. Mulched and growing…

Let me admit right off that I’m not a “garden designer”. I can’t tell you that I drew a beautiful rendering of what I envisioned this garden to be come spring. No, the reality is that I grabbed a few packs of this and a few pots of that (usually in the middle of a busy day), raced across the street trowel and plants in hand, and plugged them in wherever I felt they worked best. So, in that way, little by little and over and over, the garden was planted. Time, attention, and the weather will determine how it turns out this spring.

Violas, delphinium, poppies, kale, curly parsley, bachelor buttons and more growing... Mid-December

Violas, delphinium, poppies, kale, curly parsley, bachelor buttons and more growing… Mid-December

I began by planting a few foxglove, delphinium, and bachelor buttons under the still blooming summer tithonia. Then, when it was finally pulled out (Better late than never too!), pansies, violas, and sweet alyssum were added to large spaces that opened up.

Red Veined Sorrel, Rumex sanguinea in the winter garden...January

Red Veined Sorrel, Rumex sanguinea, in the winter garden…January

Since the summer annuals were pulled out of them first, the two front beds were planted the earliest with snapdragons, poppies, bachelor buttons, chard, curly parsley, dill (The dill will eventually freeze at some point.),  red veined sorrel, ‘Bull’s Blood‘ beetskale, and mustard “Red Giant“.  There’s quite a mix of annuals, herbs, flowers, and even bulbs (dwarf narcissus and ipheionin each bed.

The 'better late than never garden' in mid-December...

The ‘better late than never garden’ in mid-December…

A good layer of mulch is really important for your winter garden. Some folks start with a completely empty bed, add the mulch, then plant through it, a great method and easy to do. Of course,  I did just the opposite. I had the time to plant before I had the help for the mulch! So, inevitably, there I was, mulching in the dark before the first cold snap of the season.

I also made sure everything was watered well before spreading the shredded pine bark around the little plants. There will be many more cold snaps before the winter is through, and I’m counting on this mulch to keep the soil warm since this isn’t a garden that gets babied.

A poppy, in bud, with 'Red Giant' ornamental mustard in the 'better late than never garden' in January...

A poppy, in bud, with ‘Red Giant’ ornamental mustard in the ‘better late than never garden’ in January…

For people that don’t have big blocks of time (That’s most of us, I think.), planting a little bit at a time does work…obviously I’m a poster child for it. Now I’m concentrating on keeping winter weeds controlled in the beds, since the two worst offenders, chickweed and henbit, insist on coming up. Don’t let these winter weeds get hold in your garden. Pulling a few every week is far more preferable than tackling them come spring, after they’ve been allowed to smother your pansies and  violas.

Have you planted some flowers for spring? If you haven’t, try a few poppies, pansies, or violas since, as you know now, it’s never too late to plant a garden. I’ll keep you posted on our ‘better late than never’ garden’s progress too!

 

 

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!