Category Archives: Vegetables

Botanical Interests Spring Seeds – So Much Promise In A Packet

On a gray, cold day in the middle of February, the promise of a beautiful spring and all the summer days to follow arrived in two nondescript boxes. Tearing them open, I looked at brightly colored seed packet after seed packet of herbs, flowers, vines, and vegetables, and began sorting them out.Spring Seeds - Botanical Interests

This was easier said than done, as we’re still in the midst of a major rearrange of the greenhouse, moving our work/design area from one end to the other, in the process cleaning, painting, reorganizing, and generally going through the proverbial “mess before it gets into some semblance of order” phase.

Spring Seeds - Botanical Interests




Jamie and I had prepared though, setting up seed racks by the front table where our garden shop cat, Liam, likes to sleep. I pulled all the fall “cool season” seeds and set out a 50% off sale sign on them.

Purchasing them now at a discount is a smart move. Keep them cool and dry, since humidity and warmth may shorten a seed’s shelf life.  Knowing this, the best way to store any seed you purchase is in plastic food storage bags, glass jars with tight fitting lids, or any other container that will stay sealed. Place them in your refrigerator (Not the freezer!) until you’re ready to use them.image

Once you’ve browsed the sale seeds, don’t forget to check out this season’s selection for your summer flowers and vegetables.  I’ve already set aside some of them for the Better Late Than Never Garden – assortments of tall cutting zinnias, sunflowers, tithonia (Remember the tall, beautiful orange flowers that bloomed late in the season?), spider flower, moonvine, ‘Red Burgundy’ okra (It’s ornamental and edible!) and more. I’ll be putting them in my refrigerator at home until I sow them sometime in late spring/early summer.Spring Seeds - Botanical Interests

Of course there are many things that can be started inside under grow lights or in a greenhouse much earlier, and this can be a fun and educational project for anyone with children. Simply follow the directions on the seed packet to ensure success. It will say how many days to sow before or after the last average frost (For us, that magic date is April 15th.). Knowing that will help you start your seeds at just the right time.

So plant some seeds this year. You just might be surprised at what comes up!

By Kris Blevons

What Is That?!?? It’s ‘Red Giant’ Mustard!

'Red Giant' Mustard with PansiesI’ve talked before of my love of foliage plants and how much I believe they add to planters and garden beds. Here is another that proves my point. I planted  a few small pots of  ‘Red Giant’ mustard in our sign planter out front, at the side of the shop in large troughs, and in urns at the front of the restaurant next door last November.

Now 4″ pots are not big at all, and the plants in them were quite small as well. But, if you know what that small plant will turn into, you can make some stunning combinations of your own. Just look at this!'Red Giant' Mustard with Carex

In fact, almost everyone who walks by any of these plantings asks what the big red leaves are and do we have any for sale?

Mustard Red GiantAt its most impressive in the winter, that’s not always when it’s available.  Though, if it is, you can be sure we’ll have it!

It will get knocked back by a freeze, but simply remove the most damaged leaves and usually it will grow back out from the center fairly quickly.

Make a note to ask about it in the fall when you’re planning your fall/spring garden plantings, because that’s when you’re likely to find this large and in charge plant. It’s truly stunning!

Some plants to combine with ‘Red Giant’ mustard in planters or garden beds:

Pansies, violas, herbs, including curly parsley, thyme (‘Archer’s Gold, variegated lemon); grassy foliage plants such as golden acorus or a variegated carex for contrast against the large mustard leaves; other greens such as ornamental kale (I’ve used lacinato to great affect.), spring blooming snapdragons to compliment the yellow blooms of the mustard as it bolts in the heat are a few suggestions.

Group Project – Our “Fireworks” Mandala

Tacca and Liam helping....

Tacca and Liam helping….

Fortunately, none of us took the admonishments  by our parents when we were young  to not play with our food too seriously. The other day we really turned our inner child loose and played with lots of veggies, fruit, flowers, and leaves to create our version of a mandala for the 4th of July holiday.

taking shape...

taking shape…

Truthfully, we hadn’t yet decided what we were going to post on Oak Street Garden Shop’s Facebook page for the 4th and when we thought of doing a big design using all our varieties of food, we knew this would be the perfect thing – our version of botanical fireworks!

Not finished yet...

Not finished yet…

Thankfully the end of June is pretty hot and there isn’t a whole lot going on as far as planting, projects, or customers. This might normally be a bad thing for business, but, on this particular day, it was actually pretty good. To top it off, we’d  come in that morning to a shop with no power since there’d been some pretty hefty storms the night before.



After we came up with the big botanical art idea, Molly grabbed lots of brown Kraft paper and laid it on the floor of one of the display stages, moving furniture out of the way to create a big space to work in.  Jamie grabbed a ladder and set it up on one side so we’d be able to take pictures of it from above when we were finished.



I began gathering various leaves that I thought would be fun to incorporate with the peaches, tomatoes, eggplant, squash, butterbeans, blueberries, corn, and more that we began to amass. Slowly we started playing, laying out various veggies and fruits in designs that caught our fancy.


Angie brought in some big Kong coleus leaves, and I went across the street to cut some dried dill flower heads to add to our mix of food, foliage and flowers.





From the beginning our shop cats, Tacca and Liam, had to get in on the action. In fact, the very first leaf I placed, a yucca, was immediately a cat toy for Tacca. “Uh-oh”, I thought.  “I wonder if this project is going to get off the ground?!”Vegetable Mandala - Fireworks




Vegetable Mandala - Fireworks


Liam came and went, but he was surprisingly calm, simply walking through on his way to lie down under the coffee table we’d moved out of the way.



For a while at the very start, he and Tacca lounged in open spaces not yet covered with botanicals. Finally, though, they became bored and went off in pursuit of other things…or maybe to take a nap.

Slowly but surely our project became a colorful tapestry of shapes, textures, and design, with items carefully placed just so and moved if we weren’t happy with how it looked from atop the ladder. While this project was taking shape, Pinkie was busy planting two of the cast stone head planters – but that’s for another post….

I love how our project turned out. Playing with food has never been so much fun!

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.








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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Malabar Spinach – A Beautiful Plant, And Tasty Too!

Malabar spinach...One of our growers called the other day, offering a few trays of a plant called Malabar Spinach. “It’s a heat tolerant green that we can grow in the summer,” she said.  “It also grows like a vine with really big, spinach-like leaves and pretty ornamental red stems.” Well, how could I resist that? I ordered a couple of trays, received them, and promptly planted some in a couple of combination planters.

Jay put one on each of the trellises in the garden across the street, too, so we could see how they grow out in the ground. Basella alba ‘Rubra’ is native to India and Indonesia, so it’s used to some heat, and, unlike other leafy greens such as kale, lettuce, and mustards, it needs heat to thrive. It’s the perfect plant for Alabama in the summer!

Growing up birch branches...

Malabar spinach is also known as Ceylon spinach, Indian spinach, vine spinach, and Malabar nightshade and will grow 8′-10′ tall or more; so give it something to climb on. The flowers are inconspicuous. Some references say to remove them so the leaves don’t become bitter; others just mention that the seed the flowers produce is commonly used to make a purple dye where this vine is native.

Garden writer Barbara Damrosch calls this her “everything green”…the one she picks when she needs green in a dish for color, taste, or nutrition. Young leaves are best, and there are many recipes online. Both leaves and stems are edible. The hotter the weather, the faster it will grow, especially if it’s provided loose, rich soil with plenty of moisture, sun, and a sturdy support.

Since it’s still August and the temperatures are heating up, this might be a good addition to your late summer vegetable garden. Alternatively, it can be planted along along a fence or on a trellis where you can enjoy its ornamental beauty until frost. If you’re in the Crestline area of Mountain Brook, you’ll be able to watch ours as they grow in the garden across the street. It’s fun to try new things!

It’s Summer….The Red Market Tables Are Full!

Peaches and jewel like plums...

Peaches and jewel like plums…

Melons, Chilton County peaches, plums, and more are filling the red market tables at the entrance to the shop. There’s nothing better than biting into a ripe, juicy peach, or making a cobbler with the freshest fruit.

Fresh blackberries appear first, then the blueberries will follow...

Fresh blackberries appear first, then the blueberries will follow…





The cooler in the greenhouse is stocked with peas when they’re available, both  blackeye and pinkeye, as well as butterbeans, freshly shelled – they are huge summertime favorites  of many.  Here you’ll find all sorts of greens from Michael Dean  – mixed lettuces, tatsoi, mizuna, and more,  from his farm that provides fare for many of the best restaurants in town. And, whenever we can get them, organic eggs from Shannon Blount.

Garden Goodness...

Garden Goodness…

Do you like to make fresh summer salsa? All season long the local  tomatoes are plentiful, as are peppers, cucumbers, and vidalia onions – the perfect additions to a fresh salad or salsa. This year we’ve added a “tropical” table too – full of exotic fruits – mangoes, cactus and more – it’s a fun addition to the local fare!




The market has freshness every day of the week through the summer and into the fall. Located at the entrance to the greenhouse, you can’t miss the goodness!

Late February and March To-Dos

See the green growth at the base of this snapdragon?

See the green growth at the base of this snapdragon?

February is usually the month the temperatures begin to rise, though there is always the possibility of cold weather still through March. This year it’s definitely been colder than usual, and the pretty pansies, snapdragons, and other cool season annuals we all planted last fall have definitely taken a hit.



These pansies need to be deadheaded - they have cold damaged blooms and buds...

These pansies need to be deadheaded – they have cold damaged blooms and buds…

Normally in February, regular deadheading (pinching off faded blooms) should  be done to keep pansies and violas blooming well. Many of the snapdragons you planted will still be green at the bottom, but have dead growth that needs to be clipped off. With temperatures moderating and even rising, they will begin to grow again. In fact, they may be prettier than ever late spring into early summer; think of the cold damage as a rejuvenating pinching back!

Mondo grass, prior to being cut back with a string trimmer...

Mondo grass, prior to being cut back with a string trimmer…


Mid-February is the traditional time to cut back mondo grass, liriope, and acorus  in your landscape before spring growth begins. A string trimmer makes quick work of this job. Don’t wait too long to take care of this necessary grooming maintenance or you’ll risk damaging new growth.

This big clump of miscanthus needs to be cut down to make way for fresh growth...

This big clump of miscanthus needs to be cut down to make way for fresh growth…






Do you have tall perennial grasses in your landscape? They should also be cut back now. The easiest way to address large clumps of grasses is to bundle them up with strong twine or a bungee cord, then, if it’s a small clump, cut it back with your hand pruners. Or, if the clump is large, use a power hedge trimmer and simply cut the entire clump to the ground.  Again, don’t wait too long to tackle this chore or the new spring growth will already be up. Be very careful with these large perennial grasses; wear long sleaves to protect your arms and glasses to protect your eyes from the sharp grass blades.

It’s still a bit early to fertilize shrubs and trees in anticipation of spring growth – that is best left for the end of March into April.  However, if you didn’t shred your leaves this fall and work them into garden beds, resolve to do it this year. Adding any organic matter to beds helps loosen soil and provides nutrients,  contributing to the overall health of your soil and microbes that live in it.

These 4'x8' beds are just the right size for a few veggies...

These 4’x8′ beds are just the right size for a few veggies…

Have you been thinking about creating a new bed in your landscape? It’s a great time to do this as well. Perhaps you’d like to have a vegetable garden this spring. Even a small area of 4’x8′ can provide enough space to grow a couple of tomato plants or some peppers or a combination of a few different things.

The one thing to remember when making a new planting bed is you must add organic matter to our clay soil – leaf mulch, cow manure, soil conditioner, homemade compost (Do you have a compost pile? You should!).  Work as much organic matter as possible into your new bed. This will aid in drainage and soil fertility and make it easier to plant too!  If you have old newspapers, these can be laid over the top of your bed and a thick layer of mulch or leaf mold placed on top. Not only does the newspaper smother weed seeds you may have brought to the surface but it will decompose – the perfect way to recycle your newspaper!

Narcissus 'Baby Moon' foliage beginning to come up through the ipheion...

Narcissus ‘Baby Moon’ foliage beginning to come up through the ipheion…

You may have perennial bulbs appearing in your garden. As this foliage emerges, it is the time to fertilize them with a bulb fertilizer. If they seem crowded and don’t bloom well,  consider dividing into smaller clumps this spring.

Taken a bit at a time, these tasks aren’t too demanding, and the deadheading, cutting back, and fertilizing will make your landscape shine!


Fall Veggie and Flower Seeds…Try Some This Year!

Planting seeds is a fun project for the little ones!

Planting seeds is a fun project!

Our fall seed selection has arrived, and many folks have already been perusing the seed rack. From radishes to radicchio, lettuces to larkspur, the selection is varied, and the package description on our Botanical Interests seed packets are fun to read too.

Additionally, I’m so pleased this company only supplies us with GMO free seed, which means none of this seed is genetically modified.

If you’re planting seeds for the first time, be sure to read the instructions on the packet. They’ll tell you how deeply to plant and how long it will take them to come up, as well as any other instructions you might need to produce a healthy plant.

Seed packets have lots of information on them...

Seed packets have lots of information on them…

Remember, in Birmingham, our first average frost date is usually the beginning of November. This will help you determine the latest you can plant certain seeds.

Prepare your garden bed by pulling any old vegetation out. If you have a compost pile, everything but weeds can be put into it to decompose. Next you’ll need to loosen the soil – a garden fork works well for this. Push the fork into the soil 7″-8″ and rock it back and forth to loosen it, being sure to break up any big clumps. Many gardeners try to keep turning up the soil to a minimum, since that can bring weed seeds to the surface, providing them the light needed to germinate. Next, add 2″-4″ of soil amendments (dehydrated cow manure, Plant Tone, soil conditioner and/or your own compost) over the top and lightly fork all of it in. Rake the top of your bed to even it out and you’re ready to plant!

Watering your seed bed is important. If you’re sowing very tiny seeds, you may want to water the soil before planting. Once the seeds are sown at the proper depth, keep the soil consistently moist with gentle showers from your hose. Don’t get it too soggy or your little seeings may rot.

Seedlings of many vegetables and flowers benefit from being thinned. This term simply means taking out the smallest, weakest seedlings so one strong plant is able to grow large enough for you to eventually harvest.

Look at that cabbage!

Look at that cabbage!

The easiest way to thin is simply to cut out the weakest with a pair of scissors, leaving the largest to continue growing. Talk about survival of the fittest! You could also tease the weakest seedlings out of the soil and replant in another area – the more the merrier!

Some fall vegetable seeds we have include many lettuces, chard, beets, broccoli, mustard, spinach, turnips and more. If you’d rather plant flowers, larkspur, delphinium, poppies and bachelor buttons are just some of the choices.

Doesn’t this sound like a fun and ultimately rewarding project? If you have children, find a spot in your yard for even a small garden, and start planting!

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


Market Goodness…It’s Summer Fresh!

blackberries have arrived - blueberries won't be far behind!

blackberries have arrived – blueberries won’t be far behind!

It’s early summer and the market tables at our entrance are beginning to fill up with all the colors of the season.

And, since it’s at the greenhouse entrance now instead of separate from it, the visual addition of fruits and vegetables on our red tables is as pretty as the flowers that surround them…

red table produce...

red table produce…

Be sure to check out the cooler inside the greenhouse to the right – there you’ll find fresh organic eggs from Leeds, local blackberries and blueberries in season, and lady peas and other peas whenever they’re available. These are all big faves with our regular customers and with good reason – they are delicious!

strawberries from Hayden!

strawberries from Hayden!



The strawberries are still coming in from Hayden; this week the first of the blackberries arrived from Jemison – and the Chilton County peaches have appeared too!

Chilton County peaches!

Chilton County peaches!








We really have such an abundance of goodness, and Dená will continue to shop for the best and freshest produce through the summer months. We’re really looking forward to all the local tomatoes and pretty peppers!

While we do miss the admitted charm of the old space, it really was more room than we needed…and honestly a lot of folks have mentioned they like having the produce closer to the greenhouse. So, it seems to be working so far – really, it’s hard to go wrong with beautiful plants and delicious produce all in one stop, right?

fresh, organic eggs from Leeds...

fresh, organic eggs from Leeds…

In addition to the fresh produce, Seven Winds is continuing to supply us with their cookies, brittle and pecan goodies. These make really nice hostess or thinking of you gifts – just be sure to get some for you too…

The shelves past the cooler to the right have an assortment of jams, jellies, pickles and honey…there really is a little of everything!

Thank you to all of you who have supported our little market through these first years and all the changes its gone through…(We are still disappointed we can’t carry cheese items.) We’re so glad we can do our part to help you buy fresh and local!

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


Need Veggie Plants? We’ve Got Them Now!

If you want a good selection of tomatoes, now is the time to come in! One of our small, one man operation wholesale growers decided to get out of the business and go to work for a larger grower – and we told him we’d buy his inventory of tomatoes and peppers to help out. So….we have a LOT of tomatoes and peppers right now – please come and take a look! Most of those we have are heirlooms, and there are some hybrids as well.


A sampling of the tomatoes in stock now...

A sampling of the tomatoes in stock now…

First, here are some garden preparation and planting tips for growing the best tomatoes:

Tomatoes grow best in a spot with lots of sun – at least 8 hours. Try not to plant tomatoes in the same spot as the year before.

Prepare your beds well. Loosen the soil and add soil amendments – some good ones are mushroom compost, cow manure and soil conditioner.

Rotating them to different spots will help keep soilborne diseases like bacterial spot and blight to a minimum.

When you plant them, plant deeply, burying the stems – new roots will form on the stems under the soil and make a sturdier plant with more fruits.

After planting, water well and add mulch. Mulch will help conserve water in the soil and moderate soil temperatures too.

Be sure to water them deeply each week.  Watering every 5 days or so during the height of summer deeply is much better than watering a little bit every day. To prevent foliar disease, water the soil beneath the plant, not the leaves, and water early in the day.

Pinch out suckers – non fruiting branches that form between fruiting stems. It’s best to pinch them out when they’re young, so keep up with this!

Stake them. Put in stakes when you transplant them to avoid damaging roots later. We have 7′ bamboo stakes and garden twine.

Determinate tomatoes will produce one big yield and be finished. Celebrity is a determinate tomato. Most of those we carry, though are considered indeterminate, meaning the vine continues to grow and as it grows, will produce more flowers and more tomatoes as the season progresses.

On a quick perusal of our stock, here is the list as of this week:

SunGold: Very popular cherry tomato, SunGold was developed by a Japanese breeder in the 1990s. Good disease tolerance.

Yellow Pear: Another that folks ask for every year. Heirloom, with yellow, pearshaped, sweet fruit.

Red Cherry: An heirloom, cultivated since the early 1800s. High yielding.

Black Cherry: A hybrid, bred in Florida. Sweet, deep red tomatoes with a blackish hue.

Mortgage Lifter: Indeterminate heirloom that produces large, pink low acid fruits. Originated in the 1930s, and the developer  (with no breeding experience)  paid off his mortgage selling his seedlings.

Cherokee Purple: Heirloom with a unique dusty rose color. Extremely sweet with a rich, smoky taste.

Brandywine Red: An old Amish heirloom from 1885.

Beefsteak: Heirloom with 4″-5″ slightly ribbed bright red, sweet fruit.

Better Boy: Classic – prolific producer – hybrid.

Talladega: Hybrid – developed for the Southeast, it’s a midseason deep red beefsteak tomato.    

Park’s Whopper: Hybrid – Large, 4″ fruits.                                                                                     

Green Zebra: Hybrid developed in the 80’s. Popularized by Chef Alice Waters at Chez Panisse. It’s ripe when the light green stripes turn yellow.

Black Krim: An heirloom, it’s a medium size very dark maroon beefsteak tomato.

Atkinson: A good hybrid for the Southeast. Developed by Auburn University.

Celebrity: Another disease resistant hybrid, this one is determinate, but still will get quite large and produce a lot of fruit. A solid, all purpose tomato.