Category Archives: Vines

First Shrubbery Shipment of the Spring Has Arrived!

Last week our first spring shipment arrived, this from a local grower in Shelby County. We can always count on them to supply us with healthy plants, all of which are chosen for our area.

Chinese fringe tree in Weesie Smith's garden

Chinese fringe tree in Weesie Smith’s Birmingham garden…

This shipment has treasures that you might not notice on first glance. Because of our space limitations we carry small quantities of plants we think are worthy of your purchase. These include our native fringe tree, Chionathus virginicus, a beautiful understory tree that everyone comments on when it blooms in April.

The common name comes from the clouds of white, fringe-like blooms that hang from its branches, and many believe it rivals dogwood trees for beauty.  Its size is variable, ranging from 12′-20′ and as wide, and the perfect spot would be in full to partial sun. This would also make a wonderful remembrance gift.

Osmanthus fragrans - tea olive

Osmanthus fragrans…tea olive

Osmanthus fragrans, the fragrant tea olive, is a large shrub that is unassuming until its sweet fragrance gives it away in the late fall, though there are also some flowers in the spring too. It’s very drought tolerant, but it does need a protected spot as it is as the edge of its cold hardiness here in Birmingham.  Most importantly, plant it where you’ll be able to enjoy its unbelievable fragrance!

Tea olive blooms...

Tea olive blooms…

If your landscape has room for any native deciduous azaleas, we also have these gorgeous harbingers of spring. Unlike the usual azaleas you might be familiar with, these bloom before they leaf out and the blooms seem to float in midair.

Native Azalea R. canescens

Native Azalea R. canescens

One of the most beautiful is the Florida flame azalea, and we have a selection of it, Rhododendron austrinum, “Escatawpa’. It’s a vigorous grower with fragrant yellow to orange blooms.

In addition, we have the soft pink flowering and very fragrant native azalea, Rhododendron canescens, also known as the Piedmont or Honeysuckle azalea. Perhaps you’ve seen large specimens up to 10′ tall  blooming in gardens here in  the early spring and not known what it was.

Another,  Rhododendron ‘Spring Sensation’, is one bred for heat and humidity tolerance and large blooms.  All native azaleas do well here if given filtered shade, though they need enough sun to set buds, so don’t site them in deep shade. Keep an eye on them their first summer, supplementing water if we go through dry spells, and enjoy the beautiful show each spring.

Virginia sweetspire and hellebores

Virginia sweetspire and hellebores

A native deciduous shrub (meaning it loses its leaves in the winter) available now that does well in the garden and in containers is our native Virginia sweetspire, Itea virginica. We have a selection called ‘Henry’s Garnet’, grown for its profuse and fragrant blooms, beautiful red fall foliage, and tolerance of dry or damp soils once established. It’s truly a wonderl in any garden, adding beauty in each season.

Spiraea is a deciduous shrub that many ask about when it’s in bloom. Its claim to fame has to be all the tiny blooms creating a beautiful show along arching stems. Selections we have now are ‘Renaissance’, and a dwarf selection, ‘Tor’.

An old fashioned shrub, pearlbush, ‘Exochorda’, gets its name by the round pearl like buds that open to  white flowers. The selection we have is called ‘Blizzard’, and for good reason; it’s reputed to have a blizzard of large, frilly, white flowers at its height of bloom. Spiraea and pearlbush are known primarily for their spring interest, and they are worth waiting for each year!

Fatsia 'Spider's Web'

Fatsia ‘Spider’s Web’

We have fatsia too, but not the plain green leaf fatsia you might be familiar with. This one is called ‘Spider’s Web’, and it has mottled leaves that reputedly become even more mottled with age. Plan to place this in a protected, shady spot, or utilize its tropical leaves in a summer container

Finally, a few more plants you might be interested in include bay laurel, Laurel nobilis,  for edible bay leaves if you’re a cook, and a deciduous vine called Schizophragma. Its common name of climbing hydrangea (though it’s not a true hydrangea) describes its hydrangea-like blooms. The selection we have is ‘Rose Sensation’.

Another vine of note we have now is Confederate Jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides.  The selection we carry is a more cold hardy variety called ‘Madison’.  These shiny green leaved vines with fragrant white blooms are a staple in southern gardens. Keep in mind that even though it’s listed as an evergreen vine, it can get knocked back by particularly hard winters.

Finally, we’ve gotten in a few evergreens and a pretty Deutzia called ‘Nikko’, a small mounding deciduous spring bloomer.

Of course, this is just the beginning, as the nursery will begin to fill quickly with the approach of spring. Stop in. There may be a treasure waiting just for you!

By Kris Blevons


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

A Guide…Plants Used In The “Better Late Than Never Garden” A Butterfly, Bee, And Hummingbird Haven

View From the street...Hyacinth Bean Vine on the Arbor

View From the street…Hyacinth Bean Vine on the Arbor

So many folks have stopped me, asking for a plant list of flowers in the “Better Late Than Never” garden, that I decided it was high time I posted this for those of you who’d like to have something similar next year.  Obviously our garden is sited in full, daylong sun, so plants were chosen with this in mind. You’ll need to provide at least 4-6 hours of sun, with regular watering and deadheading, to maintain your flower garden next year  too.

Indian Summer rudbeckia - "Better Late Than Never" garden

Rudbeckia ‘Indian Summer’ foreground. On arbor, moonvine and red mandevilla…

Any good garden begins with good soil, and, with previous vegetable garden plantings, ours had been amended with soil conditioner, compost and added topsoil. This past season we also added bags of PlantTone as well, raking it in lightly. No tilling was done since that tends to turn up weed seeds, and, once they hit the light, they all sprout, turning the garden into a weedy mess!

The tithonia came on strong, late summer...

The tithonia came on strong, late summer…






In a previous post I mentioned how late the garden was planted (not until the end of June!), so it was incredibly hot when the sunflowers and zinnias were planted by seed.  This is actually very good, since they need very warm soil to germinate and grow happily and consistent watering as well. I know many of you thought we were a little crazy to be planting in the incredible summer heat, though. (This is a good time to remind all of you to wear a hat if you’re out in the heat and sun and be sure to provide water for yourself too!)  Here’s a post highlighting how much the garden had grown by late summer. So many of you talk about how it seemed to explode overnight. Actually, it was steadily growing each day!

Here, then, is the plant list for a flower garden to attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds in Birmingham, Alabama, and surrounding areas with tips on planting and maintenance:


The sunflowers, planted from seed, towered over the garden...

The sunflowers, planted from seed, towered over the garden…

Sunflowers – We raided our Botanical Interests seed rack and planted a mix of sunflowers from Lemon Queen, mixed packs, and solid reds and yellows directly into the ground, then waited, impatiently, checking them every day – and watering each day – until they sprouted. Watching them grow and seeing folks taking pictures made all the effort worthwhile for these towering beauties.








Tithonia, Mexican Sunflower ‘Torch’  – These also were planted from seed at the same time as the sunflowers. At first the sunflowers eclipsed them, but, by the very end of summer after the sunflowers had played out, the Tithonia took over, and everyone was asking about it. It boasts never-ending orange flowers that attract yellow sulphur, skipper, painted lady, and, finally, at the end of the season, monarch butterflies. A must for any sunny flower garden. I kept it deadheaded and staked but left some to lean and sprawl since the stems got quite large.

Tall cutting zinnias – The zinnias were also planted at the same time as the sunflowers and Tithonia. Again, we used Botanical Interests seed leftovers on the seed rack – all mixes of tall varieties. We also had a few green ‘Envy’ zinnia plants in cell packs left over from spring. These I cut back by half and planted in the front two beds while we waited for the zinnia seeds to come up. As seedlings came up I pinched them back to promote branching, and they  were kept deadheaded to promote more blooms so everyone could enjoy the flower display.


Variegated hibiscus with the tall pink gomphrena growing through it...

Variegated hibiscus with the tall pink gomphrena growing through it…

Hibiscus – There were two hibiscus varieties planted in the garden. Unlike fancy big-blooming hibiscus you may be more familiar with, these were planted for their foliage appeal, with blooms being secondary. The first is an ornamental red leaf hibiscus, and one of these was planted on each side of the back arbor. By the middle of October, they had each grown to enormous proportions, adding another depth of color to the garden, growing up through the tithonia and moonvine.

Zinnias and gomphrena...moonvine and red leaf hibiscus...

Zinnias and gomphrena…moonvine and red leaf hibiscus…

I kept them clipped periodically to keep them in check and in proportion to the rest of the surrounding plants. The second was a variegated ornamental hibiscus. One of these was planted on each side of the front arbor and had pink gomphrena and tall cutting zinnias growing through it. They were not as vigorous as the red leaf but still added another leaf variation in the garden.

Gomphrena – A plant I wouldn’t be without in the flower garden. It never looks like much in a pot, but in the garden its globe-like flowers add a completely different silhouette among all the daisy-like blooms. And it is tough! We planted transplants of tall purple, red, and pink gomphrena and also added a short variety in all four beds. Here’s another post that features gomphrena.

Purslane, red bat face Cuphea and purple gomphrena edge the beds...

Purslane, red bat face Cuphea and purple gomphrena edge the beds…

Purslane – This low-growing, succulent-like annual is an amazing bee magnet. We had literally hundreds of honeybees each morning on the bright yellow, orange, and red blooming plants. They are best planted along the edge of hot, sunny beds. The flowers close late in the day, but that’s hardly noticeable if you provide other flowers to look at! Be sure to take a look at the video of the honeybees on our YouTube page.

Cleome - Spider Flower...

Cleome – Spider Flower…






Cleome (Spider Flower) – We had a flat of scraggly looking cleome left over from spring that needed a home…and what a home it got! I cut them back by half so they would branch and be fuller, and were they ever! Don’t hesitate to cut back stems of these flowers through the summer. When you see numerous seed pods hanging down the length of the bloom, it’s time to cut them back. Don’t worry; they’ll continue to bloom and will probably reseed next year for you. Old fashioned flowers, they attract butterflies and bees too.

Porterweed and Sunflowers...

Porterweed and Sunflowers…

Porterweed – An interesting plant that sends out long bloom spikes with blossoms the hummingbirds and sulphur butterflies adore. I would plant it again for that reason alone! I was also impressed that it never seemed to be bothered by insect pests.

Cuphea llavea, Red bat face cuphea  – You may not have noticed this plant right away, but the hummingbirds sure did! Planted along the front of the sunflowers and under the tithonia, it added a shot of red along the ground. Extremely tough and virtually carefree, it flourished with less than optimal sun, as it eventually  was shaded out by the towering sunflowers. Even so, it was one of the last things removed at the end of October.

Cuphea ignea, cigar plant – Another planted for the hummingbirds. This one sports orangey tubular flowers on a rangy plant that I put right in the middle of the zinnias. This post tells you more about this unusual plant.

Hyacinth bean vine, sillouhetted against a blue sky...

Hyacinth bean vine, sillouhetted against a blue sky…

Hyacinth Bean Vine – We started the hyacinth bean vine from seed, planting them all along one side of the front arbor, then waited and waited for it to come up. It finally did, but the leaves were being chewed to pieces and it didn’t look happy at all. Since the garden is pesticide free, the offending leaves were removed and it was given liberal doses of Annie Haven’s Authentic Brand Manure Tea. Gradually it grew stronger, whatever was chewing it moved on, and buds began to form. By September everyone was asking what the beautiful purple flowering vine was.

The back side - Moonvine on the arbor with the red leaf hibiscus on either side...

The back side – Moonvine on the arbor with the red leaf hibiscus on either side…


Moon Vine – The moonvine was planted on the back arbor and was the last one we had in stock from spring (They’re easily grown from seed too.). For the longest time, it seemed to be all leaves until buds began to form late in the summer.  Just about the time it threatened to engulf the arbor and everything around it, the fragrant nighttime blooms began to open each evening and were still open each morning.

Late summer - the moonvine and red leaf hibiscus have grown together...

Late summer – the moonvine and red leaf hibiscus have grown together…

Mandevilla Vine – A red mandevilla was planted on one arbor on the other side of the moonvine, and a pink mandevilla was planted on the arbor on the other side of the hyacinth bean vine.  The pink mandevilla was still growing strong at the end of October. The red mandevilla was swallowed up by the moonvine! Both are heat-loving vines and quite beautiful and carefree.

Cuphea hyssopifolia, Mexican heather – Yes, yet another Cuphea and one for the  bees.  This one is a mounding annual that’s just right for filling in spots toward the front of a flower bed. Bees love it, and it’s virtually maintenance free.

Otomeria – A plant I’ve never grown before this summer but that was very impressive in the garden! There were only two, and you may not have noticed them. They love our heat and hopefully will be available for you to try next summer. The two in the garden were planted in August and bloomed until the end of October, when they were finally pulled out. They offered clean white blooms on sturdy mounding plants.

Malabar spinach vine

Malabar spinach vine

Malabar Spinach – Not spinach at all, but an edible and heat loving vine with pretty purple flowers. Like the otomeria, this was another fun plant to try that was also new to me. It did extremely well, planted late, growing up each arbor and up the very ugly 2 hour parking sign. If you’d like to learn more about this fascinating plant, click HERE.

One of the many sunflowers in the garden...

One of the many sunflowers in the garden…






Rudbeckia ‘Indian Summer‘ – A sturdy annual Black-eyed Susan with large blooms, I’m going to leave these in the ground in hope that they’ll come back next year. We shall see!

Lantana – A couple of lantana were placed at the back of the sunflowers where they’d get the most sun. They were planted quite late (August) so didn’t have much time to develop. I’m going to leave them in those spots to see if they’ll return next year. They might if the winter is mild enough.

Cactus zinnia...

Cactus zinnia…

And the rest….

Assorted tip cuttings of succulents were placed at the front corner by the sign and began to really take hold by the end of the summer.  A rosemary plant was left in from the previous garden and a perennial Cardoon was placed on the end of one bed for its spiny, silvery foliage. A few dwarf purple ruellia, Mexican petunia,  were added by the back rose arbor. Finally, a couple of shade-loving torenia were planted under the sunflowers (They were just right to see from a child’s perspective!).

Dwarfed by the sunflowers...

Dwarfed by the sunflowers…

So, there’s your plant list if you’d like to have a similar summer garden next year. Please don’t feel tied to just these plants, though.  So much of the  joy of gardening involves trying new things and discovering how they work in your landscape. Meanwhile, for now, our winter garden is being planted gradually and offers an entirely different set of possibilities, again some from seed, others from transplants. I hope you enjoy the view!

By Kris Blevons







March Brings New Shrubbery, Vines and Herbs…

Unloaded in the parking lot...

Unloaded in the parking lot…

It’s the beginning of March, and finally (!) the nursery looks like more than an empty parking lot. A sure sign that spring is approaching are the first shipments of shrubbery,  early perennials, and herbs, including a couple of different spiraeas, snowball viburnum, Deutzia ‘Nikko’, blueberry bushes, and ‘Red Star’ and ‘Golden Mop’ evergreen chamaecyparis.

Bay laurel

Bay laurel





If your  bay laurel, rosemary or confederate jasmine succumbed to this winter’s frigid temperatures,  we have some of all of these too. Unfortunately many of us have to replace them this year. The ‘Tuscan Blue’ rosemary is in one gallon pots –  a good size to plant now.

Confederate jasmine, shown here with a clematis growing through it...

Confederate jasmine, shown here with a clematis growing through it…


This shipment also brought Virgninia Sweetspire, Itea virginica. A great shrub for our area, it is adaptable to many situations and provides spring blooms and beautiful fall color as well.

In addition to the confederate jasmine, another  flowering vine, the beautiful (and non-invasive) honeysuckle, Lonicera ‘Alabama Crimson’, is in stock now too. It’s blooms are honey for hummingbirds as they repopulate our area for the summer.

'Alabama Crimson' honeysuckle, growing on my arbor

‘Alabama Crimson’ honeysuckle, growing on my arbor




This first shipment is just the beginning of the rebirth of the nursery for a new season of gardening. More and more will arrive until, finally, we’ll be oveflowing again with green and flowering goodness…stay tuned!






A Southern Garden In January…More Than Meets The Eye



The last couple of posts have taken a tour through my southern garden in the midst of winter. This is just one garden. The design  possibilities of winter gardens in the south are as endless as there are plants to choose from and the creative (and physical) force to make it happen. On this walk, there are a few shrubs highlighted, a vine, an evergreen perennial, and some bulbs. So, here’s a little bit of everything to whet your appetite for spring and the long summer to follow. With the below normal temperatures we experienced earlier this month, some of these shrubs may not bloom as I’d expected…this is truly one of the perils of gardening in the south. It’s impossible to cover everything!

mountain laurel buds...

mountain laurel buds…

One shrub that I’ll  need to cut back after it blooms this year is Chimonanthus praecox, or Wintersweet. It certainly lives up to its name, as its many pale, bell shaped,  yellow flowers are indeed quite fragrant and bloom over a long period. The first day I catch a hint of Wintersweet on the air I know it’s the new year in the garden. Its fragrant blooms are followed by the even more heavily scented daphne odora next month. Fragrance each month of the year should be everyone’s goal in the garden!






For pretty flowers in late spring and glossy evergreen foliage, the mountain laurel, kalmia latifolia, can’t be beat. I’ve planted two small ones along a slope, hoping they’ll eventually create a tall evergreen thicket as a back drop to the spike winterhazel (corylopsis spicata ‘Ogon’) that’s planted in front of them.

My friend, and noted gardener, Weesie Smith, always said I must deadhead the blooms of the mountain laurel (and pieris too) to ensure blooms the next year. I do this faithfully…though it’s difficult with the pieris as there are so many! Both the mountain laurel and pieris are loaded with buds this year. The pieris will bloom first, with many, many tiny dangling white bell shaped flowers along its branches. How beautiful it is in the height of spring!

Disporopsis pernyi

Disporopsis pernyi


Planted at the base of a large elm are some evergreen solomon’s seal,  disporopsis pernyi.  This evergreen, slowly spreading perennial groundcover is right at home in a woodland garden, offering  white, bell shaped flowers along the stems in early spring.  This clump makes  a good green counterpoint to the variegated Solomon’s seal in the same area that dies back each winter.  It is truly a beautiful addition to any garden.




A vine with a scary name, Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’, is also quite beautiful…though January might not be it’s best month. Also known by it’s common name, climbing hydrangea, because its blooms resemble those of the hydrangea, it was planted at the base of a tree and now has reached almost to the top, at least 30′ in the air. Its blooms will cover the tree trunk in mid summer, reaching out and away from the trunk. Though it took a few years before it bloomed, it has bloomed now reliably each summer.





Closer to the house, up in the herb garden, a columbine has seeded itself in a small, concrete planter. This is aquilegia chrysantha, with light yellow blooms on long spurs in late spring. The original columbine, a gift from a friend, is long gone, but this one found a happy home and has been here for a few years now. The extra drainage offered by the planter is appreciated by this columbine. All I’ve had to do is clear fallen leaves from the crown of the plant. It hasn’t died back yet; though, with colder temperatures, it might.




The ipheion, a little bulb that has slowly been spreading in this area, is now showing it’s short, strappy bulb foliage. The soft blue blooms will appear in early summer, ringing the base of this birdbath. It’s been one of my favorite bulbs since it’s easy to grow and naturalizes so readily. And, even more importantly, the squirrels and chipmunks don’t seem to care for it!

As you can see, there’s more than meets the eye in the January garden, and, if you know where to look, the promise of an entire season to come!




More Select Shrubs And Vines Available Now!

On a recent walk through the nursery in the last post, we highlighted leucothoe, oak leaf hydrangeas, Osmanthus fragrans, the sweet tea olive,  and Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’.

Burkwood viburnum

Burkwood viburnum

Viburnum burkwoodii blooms smell heavenly!

Viburnum burkwoodii blooms smell heavenly!

We continue our tour of durable southern shrubs and vines with Viburnum burkwoodii, Burkwood viburnum. This is an early blooming deciduous (losing its leaves in the winter) shrub. It begins to bloom in March, with pink buds opening to extremely fragrant, medium size blooms with a fairly open form. Pruning may be done after bloom to open it up or control its 8′-10′ size.

Virburnum opulus - snowball viburnum

Virburnum macrocephalum – snowball viburnum

snowball viburnum blooms start out lime green, then turn white

snowball viburnum blooms start out lime green, then turn white










Another viburnum, Viburnum macrocephalum,  or Snowball Viburnum, is often commented on when it’s in full bloom in the Birmingham area. Its blooms really do look like big snowballs (some also mistake them for hydrangea blooms, but this shrub blooms much earlier.) The buds, when forming, are a beautiful green. They mature to white, unscented blooms, but impressive nonetheless! This deciduous shrub will grow to 20′ with a rounded shape, but can also be pruned to create a tree form as well.

There are countless spiraeas that begin to leaf out in early spring and have many tiny blooms along arching stems – Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon’ has beautiful golden leaves too, (Ogon means yellow.) This is a lovely 3′-5′ shrub that will do well in a sunny spot.

Spiraea thunbergii 'Ogon'

Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon’


Fragrant, yellow blooms cover the native
Carolina jasmine in the spring








A native vine in plentiful supply now is Gelsemium sempervirens, Carolina jessamine. This evergreen vine has fragrant, bright yellow blooms usually beginning in March. It is a twining vine, so you will need to give it a trellis to climb on (it’s quite useful for hiding ugly chain link fencing.) Cut it back after it blooms if you need to control growth.

In a future post we’ll talk about the varieties of hollies available – and post pictures of some hollies and other shrubs that  owner Billy Angell is planting in his new landscape….

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Bleeding Heart Vine – Try One This Year!


imageOur beautiful bleeding heart vine…clerodendron thomsonae,  has graced the doorway here for over 20 years, and many of you have noticed and commented on it.  Many, many years ago we purchased some of these plants and there were a few that didn’t sell and outgrew the pots…what to do with them? The grapevine placed around the doorway seemed the perfect spot to grow a vine of some sort,  so we decided to try the clerodendron – really to use the left over plants more than anything! It’s been a smashing success and has become our signature tropical vine.

Pinkie works on cutting back the clerodendron - this is done each February without fail!

Pinkie works on cutting back the clerodendron – this is done each February without fail!


After all these years, the same plants are on either side of the door and have bloomed faithfully each Mother’s Day for us. Each February the vines are cut back quite hard and they bloom on all the new growth that results.