Category Archives: Winter

Calla Lily

The Winter Greenhouse Is Lush With Houseplants and Flowers

Bromeliads, Anthurium and Needle Palm in the GreenhouseIf you’ve never stepped into a lush greenhouse in the middle of winter on a rainy, cold day (or any day for that matter), you’re in for a real treat.

January was a turn the greenhouse upside down month, as pretty much every last thing was moved and rearranged, including one entire area that held an abundance of pots.Benches and Fountain Vignette In the Greenhouse




Anyone who ever said working in a greenhouse was a walk in the park never worked with us! Hard work aside, we’re pleased with the changes and hope you like it as well.


Tacca, supervising…







The cats took part too, though Tacca was more than happy to settle into a box and watch the goings on, and they all found new spots to take naps!


Liam, true to his personality, likes to be center stage, right at the front door where everyone who sees him gives him a pet, and sometimes Tacca joins him there.Tacca and Liam In the Greenhouse

Of course there are beautiful houseplants of all sizes in the greenhouse, and we pay attention to them so they’re at their best when you take them home. We’re all plant junkies too and are always on the lookout for new and different offerings (One for you, one for me…).Houseplants and Pots in the Greenhouse









Miniature Garden

Haley at work on the miniature garden display…

For everyone who loves tiny, miniature garden magic, Haley has taken over the display, transforming a corner of the greenhouse.

Our fairyland table now has a new backdrop and floating clouds above it. It’s a special spot for the young and the young at heart.








Margaret’s miniature garden…

Margaret was inspired to make her own little garden in a teacup. She had a little gnome; now he lives under a “tree” with a bench nearby if he wants to sit a spell. It is so cute!






Perhaps you have an interesting container you’d like to work a little miniature magic on. They’re so much fun, and we have everything you need to make it happen.Greenhouse

If you’re on social media, we are too! We were discussing the other day that the shop is the perfect spot to take social media pictures, so look for us on FaceBook – Oak Street Garden Shop and Local Market,  Pinterest, and  Instagram too.





Houseplant Monstera deliciosaThen, while you’re visiting the shop, take a selfie and tag us (We have the perfect monstera for #monsteramonday !). The enormous pot ours is planted in was rotated, the huge leaves cleaned, and lots of pictures were taken of it. It has been our shop mascot for many years now, and we think it’s worthy of Instagram fame!

Moving the Monstera deliciosa houseplant

Jamie and Allen rotating the monstera…






Installing the New Heater

Replacing the heater…


We all appreciate being warm, and well maintained and reliable heaters are the backbone of any greenhouse. One of ours finally wore out after almost 30 years of use, and while replacing it took the better part of a rainy Saturday, we’re sure the plants (and us)  will feel the difference.Houseplants in the Greenhouse



One thing is for sure, a lush greenhouse is the perfect place to be on any winter day – among houseplants and orchids, flowers, succulents, and blooming spring bulbs. Take a moment to walk through, you won’t be sorry!

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





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.

New Year’s Day…A Look Back And Wishes For The New Year

design Jamie Cross

design Jamie Cross

design Jamie Cross

design Jamie Cross

design Jamie Cross

design Jamie Cross









It’s a quiet, rainy morning as I write this,  too chilly to make my usual morning walk around the garden. The time the shop is closed between Christmas and New Year’s Day is a welcome respite from the previous month’s hectic pace. It’s such a relief to be still and have no demands, if only briefly.

design Kris Blevons

design Kris Blevons

Miniature Molly Hand

Miniature Garden…design Molly Hand

design Kris Blevons

design Kris Blevons

design Kris Blevons

design Kris Blevons





















design Jamie Cross

design Jamie Cross

I’m looking forward to the new year, and soon I’ll be writing of primroses and spring flowers…the ones that our growers magically produce for greenhouses much earlier than in nature – blooming daffodils, tulips, crocus and more.

design Kris Blevons

design Kris Blevons

design Molly Hand

design Molly Hand





 Kris Blevons

sleigh…design Kris Blevons

design Kris Blevons

design Kris Blevons

Today, though, I’m thinking of the holidays just past, when winter white azaleas, calla lilies, hydrangeas,  paperwhites, larger than life blooms of amaryllis in every color, jewel-toned cyclamen, traditional poinsettias, and all the most wonderful orchids on dazzling display turned the greenhouse into a wonderland.

design Jamie Cross

design Jamie Cross










I hope these pictures bring a smile at the start of this new year. The artful combination of plants, branches, textural mosses  (and other happy discoveries),  are our resolution for the coming year. Here’s to beauty and creativity in 2016!

A holiday Kris Blevons

A holiday terrarium…design Kris Blevons

While these designs are mostly mine,  Jamie’s, and Molly’s,  I’d be remiss not to mention that many more were created by Pinkie, Danielle, and Angie – worthy of a future post!

By Kris Blevons





Chickweed – Don’t Let It Smother Your Spring Garden!

Chickweed - Stellaria mediaChickweed, Stellaria media, is one of those weeds that isn’t there until, seemingly overnight, it’s everywhere in garden beds and lawns. A winter weed, cooler weather is conducive to its rapid growth. Where I find it most annoying is its rapid spread in flower beds of pansies and other cool season annuals. Fortunately, because it’s a winter weed, it’s usually gone by June with the onset of summer’s heat.

Chickweed has tiny, white, starburst shaped flowers that open on sunny days. Each plant produces thousands of seeds that can sprout immediately in warm weather and can remain viable in soil up to ten years.

If seeds are too deep in  the soil they won’t germinate, but, when they’re close to the soil surface, they will germinate readily and grow very quickly in cool, wet conditions. Applying a pre-emerge weed killer to lawn areas in September will help keep this out of your grass. But if you still spot it’s light green leaves in your winter tan lawn,  mowing before it goes to seed will help control it.

I hand weed it out of my flower beds, taking care to throw everything I pull into a garbage bag since any stray piece left in the bed will root, causing more work…

Chickweed - Stellaria media

Chickweed’s common name is appropriate because it’s a favorite food of chicks that eat the leaves and seeds. This could be a good reason to get some chickens! It’s also edible if any of you are so inclined, or you can leave it for the birds and rabbits, who also like it. Now that I think about it, next time I’m weeding it out of my flower beds, maybe I should save some to  try in a salad!

For even more details on chickweed, take a look HERE at a Penn State weed management post.



A Winter Walk Through A Southern Garden – One Year to the Next

At first glance, it doesn't look like much is going on...

At first glance, it doesn’t look like much is going on…

The garden looked hunkered down and frozen the other day, and well it should, since 10 degrees was a mite chilly for Birmingham, Alabama.

While gardeners in northern climes take the winter off, perusing catalogues and dreaming of a new garden season still months away, usually we in the south, like it or not, don’t have any real down time. I seem to spend much of mine walking through the garden and simply observing and thinking about what needs doing, and, when the temperatures drop down below freezing, I’m more than happy to stay inside.

Mahonia 'Charity', adding it's winter color...

Mahonia ‘Charity’, adding it’s winter color…

For example, I’ve been thinking on and off for over a year now about moving one of the shrub roses from the front bed to the side of the driveway but haven’t quite gotten past the thinking stage yet. I’ve become much more relaxed about things; everything will get done in its own time. Don’t sweat the small stuff, right?
Here’s a bit from a post written last winter with some additional notes about what differences a year can make.


The mahonia, a year later, January, 2015

The mahonia, a year later, January, 2015

I see the Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ shrub that’s planted in a very shady spot is blooming. The birds love the blue/purple berries that follow the bright yellow flowers, and we don’t see the pretty fruit  for long. I cut it back quite hard last spring because it was getting leggy. It’s fuller as a result this year, and next year will have even more blooms. (A note: This year, 2015, there are more blooms, and they’re bigger too!)

Chamaecyparis obtusa selections are wonderful for the south...

Chamaecyparis obtusa selections are wonderful for the south…

Groundcovers... Veronica 'Georgia Blue' and a dianthus...

Groundcovers… Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’ and a dianthus…

Candytuft, catmint, poppies...

Candytuft, catmint, poppies…



Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Golden Mop’ calls attention to itself out front with some yellow brightness of its own, anchoring the end of the front bed. It has loved this hot, sunny spot, and I appreciate being able to clip it for my holiday decorations. What a beautiful workhorse in the garden! I purchased it (and most of my shrubs and trees) in small pots and have let them grow into their spaces.
More subtle things are happening out front too. The early blooming evergreen groundcover Iberis, or candytuft, is showing its buds, and some are even opening. They evidently don’t look at a calendar or gardening book to tell them when they’re supposed to be blooming! (Update for 2015: definitely not as pretty as last year, but there’s still a smattering of bloom here and there.)

The veronica ‘Georgia Blue’, a white pass-along dianthus, and poppies seem happy, as does the catmint, ‘Walker’s Low’.  The beautiful veronica will be covered with tiny blue flowers in late January into February, just as the poppies begin to fatten up and the violas begin to show more color. If you haven’t planted poppies, pansies, violas, the ‘Georgia Blue’ veronica or candytuft yet, it’s not too late to find a few spots for some. They’ll add some extra and welcome color in your yard this spring.









This bed will look much different in future  weeks and months,  but now, in the midst of winter, things are quiet…I must remember this is the season for patience.

daylily foliage...

daylily foliage…

Some daylilys, though, are pushing out new green growth in this warm south facing bed; winter barely keeps them down. A large prostrate rosemary, another that loves this hot spot, is blooming pretty purply blue flowers that the bees adore. (This Rosemary really took a hit during the second snow event of 2014 – I ended up pulling it out early in the summer since it looked absolutely awful.)





Spiraea 'Ogon'

Spiraea ‘Ogon’


My route has taken me again to the back, where the Spiraea ‘Ogon’ is holding on to its few remaining willowy leaves, and, looking closely, I can see all the little buds along the stem. These will result in pretty white blooms in beautiful contrast with chartreuse new growth this spring. (this year – no leaves, hoping it blooms as well as last year.)






I walk down another level and there’s one of many small Alabama crotons, looking a bit bedraggled, still with a few silver backed orange leaves. The crotons love this part of my garden – thankfully, since it’s on a rocky slope with great drainage that they prefer.image







sun shining through a miscanthus...

sun shining through a miscanthus…

Farther on, the plumes of a miscanthus show off in the afternoon light. This year, 2015, it looks so sad  I won’t hesitate cutting it back next month. This will also keep all those seeds from wanting to sprout here and there. My Midwestern soul loves grasses… but not everywhere!

I notice this year that the pieris is fat and full of buds – the cold doesn’t seem to have affected it at all, at least I hope it hasn’t. It may be in a favorable microclimate – warmed by the rock outcrop just behind it, and the water below.

The Japanese pieris is full of buds...

The Japanese pieris is full of buds…





epimedium spreads slowly...

epimedium spreads slowly…

I make my way across the water and toward the rocks where an epimedium resides in the shelter and shade of a large elm.

I’ll be trimming it’s tattered winter foliage soon in anticipation of the dainty orange flowers that will appear early spring. There is no procrastinating with epimedium; if I wait too long to clean up those tattered leaves, I risk cutting the delicate stems the flowers arise on. These small lessons are often learned by doing the wrong thing at least once. I love all the different epimediums I’ve amassed over the years. They are slow growing, tough shade groundcovers – some evergreen, some not, and all very beautiful, even without flowers!

(Unfortunately the summer of 2014 a woodchuck created some serious mayhem in the garden, eating all the buds of the epimedium and the blue woodland phlox as well. It was so disappointing! I’m hoping this spring is better.)

Edgeworthia chrysantha...

Edgeworthia chrysantha…

One shrub I never prune but let have it’s way, and that always blooms in the winter is the Edgeworthia chrysantha, or paper bush. I see the beautiful buds that have been getting larger all fall; soon they’ll begin to open and their incredible scent will fill the garden. It’s a true gem, holding interest in all the seasons, from it’s long lasting pretty buds to fragrant blooms, interesting bark, and big, bold leaves.

January, 2015

January, 2015







Native cardamine...

Native cardamine…



I need to end this post soon…Oh, but here, coming up through fallen leaves, is the Cardamine diphylla. I have this native in many spots under the shade of large trees. It will sport pretty white blooms on tall stems in late spring, but it’s  the winter when the foliage is at it’s prettiest. By summer it will have retreated below ground once again. This winter it’s spread even more,  and the pretty green foliage really stands out against the brown leaves beneath it.




Carex 'Evergold'

Carex ‘Evergold’

Parney's clusterberry cotoneaster...the cedar wax wings will devour these berries in another few weeks!

Parney’s clusterberry cotoneaster…the cedar wax wings will devour these berries in another few weeks!


Carex is another favorite, and here is Carex  ‘Evergold’, spilling from a planter. Look how bright is is in the shade of a Cotoneaster lacteus‘Parney’s Clusterberry.











Oh so fragrant...daphne odora

Oh so fragrant…daphne odora


Finally, the daphne odora’s pink buds are getting larger, and soon they’ll open, adding their incredible scent to the whole back garden. This is one that I leave well alone – it needs perfect drainage, and on this slope it seems to be happy. Too much coddling and they are prone to up and dying. So far I’ve been lucky with this one.

The light is beginning to fade and there’s a definite chill in the air; it’s time to go in. There will certainly be more ups and downs with our  weather this winter – that’s a given.  Finally, though,  temperatures will gradually begin to  rise as we make our way toward spring, and each day there will be more to see.  I’m ready.




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!



First, the Christmas Trees Arrive…

Sugar Pine Cones

Sugar Pinecones…

SignI know the holiday season is here when the greenery bunches, garlands and wreaths we’ve ordered begin to appear – not to mention fragrant Fraser fir Christmas trees. I was looking forward to two of the boxes in particular  this year – the ones the huge sugar pine cones were packed in, just 30 to a box because they’re so big.

Sugar PineCone

Ribbon and Greenery added to a Sugar Pinecone…

Take a look in any craft magazine or on Pinterest and you’ll find plenty of decorating being done with these Northwest beauties!  There hasn’t been much time for us to play with these big pinecones, but I was able to add a bit of ribbon and some greenery to a couple before it got too busy.  A beautiful collection of these impressive cones in a large basket,  with a bit of reindeer moss tucked between and curls of ribbon for more color, would be festive too.

There’s a definite progression of the holiday season that I’ve noticed over the many years in this business, and, for no other reason than I’ve observed this phenomenon, here it is:

Alabama Cryptomeria Wreaths…

First the Christmas trees, outdoor garlands, and wreaths arrive, bringing the scent of the Carolina mountains to Birmingham. The trees are the stars of the show for a couple of weeks,  and the buzz of tree drills and saws fill the air.Holiday Greenery - Dyrons

Families arrive to find their perfect tree among the 700 that are  drilled for our tree stands and given a fresh cut before they’re moved out for sale. Bows for wreaths and other outdoor decorations are debated and chosen, and mailbox decorations are ordered.

Slowly but surely the outdoor decisions are made, trees are delivered, and festive decorations for inside and outdoors are complete.  Now the emphasis shifts to the  greenhouse, a magical place during Christmas, full of pretty flowering plants and more, and we begin the party season. Containers fill the back design area, waiting to be transformed into beautiful arrangements ready on just the right date. Finally, closest to Christmas, teacher’s gifts and gifts for family are arranged, to be picked up just before the end of school or prior to leaving town.

Orchids, Ferns, Ivy, Hydrangeas in Pretty Pots

Finished Arrangements…

The Grinch in the Tree

Our Grinch…

In fact, this year we had to make more room for finished pieces in front of the design area. Our new area has worked out well, since now it’s easier for everyone to see many of the finished centerpieces, pots, and special orders, and it gives people ideas for their own gifts or containers.

There’s another new addition this year too. Tacca, our garden shop cat, is experiencing her first holiday season and is she enjoying it! She’s taken to sitting in our Christmas display, right in the line of sight of all the children, who come in to pet her while they look at Santa and his elves. This year Molly created our wonderful grinch too.

Hydrangeas & Amaryllis...Gifts

More Arrangements…

While Fraser fir scents fill  the outside nursery, the greenhouse is truly a feast for the senses too,  filled with colorful flowers and lights.




Here you’ll  find orchids, amaryllis, jasmine, stephonotis, hydrangeas, rieger begonias and more, including the usual poinsettias.  There’s really nothing like a true greenhouse, devoted almost entirely to plants of the season.  Box stores with their fluorescent lights and a few holiday plants simply can’t compare. I hope you’ll come visit and see why.





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

Pansy Matrix Ocean Breeze MIx

Pansy Matrix Ocean Breeze MIx

Pansy Matrix Sunrise

Pansy Matrix Sunrise

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

Panola Purple Face & Viola Sorbet Blueberry Cream

Panola Purple Face & Viola Sorbet Blueberry Cream

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

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

Pansy Majestic Giants Patricia

Pansy Majestic Giants Patricia

Pansy Dynamite Scarlet/Pansy Matrix Orange/Viola Sorbet Yellow

Pansy Dynamite Scarlet/Pansy Matrix Orange/Viola Sorbet Yellow

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viola Sorbet Purple Duet/Blue Blotch/Banana Cream

Viola Sorbet Purple Duet/Blue Blotch/Banana Cream


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

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

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

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


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

Pansy Mariposa Peach Shades

Pansy Mariposa Peach Shades

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

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










Poppies! Plant Some This Fall!

I love poppies. Specifically, papaver nudicaule, or Iceland poppies, bright harbingers of spring in the Birmingham area.

IMG_2767Best planted in the garden in a sunny spot that won’t stay too wet, they’ll grow through the winter getting bigger and bigger. The first fat bud uncurling signals spring isn’t far off, and once they begin to bloom they continue, until, finally, they fade in the true heat of late spring.

Most people are skeptical when I go on about poppies – until they try them. (I admit I’ve had to work hard to talk some of you into planting them, they look so scrawny and pitiful in their little cell packs or 4″ pots.)

Poppy Care:

Plant them in a sunny, well drained spot.

When you remove them from their pots, disturb the root ball as little as possible. I know, this is contrary to what you’ve always heard about planting. But, trust me on this, poppies don’t like their roots messed with.

Don’t plant too deeply. Water them in after planting, then allow them to dry out between watering. Do not overwater!

When they begin to bloom, deadhead, or cut off faded blooms. This will ensure the energy of the plant will go toward producing more bright flowers, not a poppy seed pod.

IMG_1658Cut some to bring inside! Here are some tips for cutting your poppy blooms:

Wear gloves. Poppies secrete a liquid that can irritate the skin.

Cut stems early in the morning when the most moisture is in the stem. The best stage to cut your poppy is when the bud is just beginning to stand up straight and is slightly colored.

– Cut the stem with a sharp pair of scissors so the stem doesn’t flatten or get squished.

Sear the cut end of the stem with a match or dip it in boiling water to seal it. This will keep the moisture in the stem and help the flowers last as long as possible.

– Place your stems in cold water before moving them to their place of honor in your home or as a bright gift for a friend!

Poppies…one more in a long line of beautiful flowers for the spring garden. Don’t miss out this year – find a sunny spot and plant a few!

By Kris Blevons