Don’t Stress If A Plant Is An Ugly Duckling – Imperfection Can Be Beautiful Too!

Oak treeI have a tiny oak tree out back that used to be on its way to attaining an impressive size – until Hurricane Ivan hit and toppled a huge hickory tree onto it, effectively topping it.

I know I should have taken it down when the tree company came to clear out the downed hickory, but I couldn’t do it. I liked that little oak, and over time it’s become my crazy tiny oak tree up in my rock outcrop – a hurricane survivor.

I was working up around that oak this morning, cutting a few dead branches out of it and wondering at its tenacity. Below it, also improbably growing in the rock outcrop, is a shrub called Thujopsis dolobrata – a prized specimen I planted years ago.Thujopsis dolobrata

Unfortunately the Thujopsis started dying last summer, a victim to the previous fall’s drought. I watched anxiously as branch after branch eventually turned brown and died.

Unbelievably, about a third rallied and is still alive. I cut out the dead and now have half a shrub under my dwarfed oak tree. What a pair of misfits in the garden!

My imperfect garden might not be to everyone’s taste; but I’d rather have a little imperfection than everything being “just so”.  A friend in the horticulture profession said it well:

Imperfect Leaf“Plants are living things like humans. They need water and sun and some need food and each grow in different ways. That yellow leaf at the bottom of the dracaena doesn’t mean that there is something wrong or that the plant is dying – it’s just a natural part of the life cycle. People need to understand that imperfect is beautiful.”

My physically imperfect tree and shrub were caused by events out of my control – a hurricane and a drought. Other imperfections are simply part of a plant’s life cycle, yellowing leaves, and damage caused by insects or animals.

While it’s important to maintain a healthy landscape, it’s also important to know when to relax and appreciate that some imperfection is normal and not always cause for immediate alarm.

With proper watering, fertilizing, pruning and general maintenance, your plants will be better prepared to weather anything nature throws at them – and you will too.

By Kris Blevons

 

 

 

 

Paph, Chiritas, Episcias, Oncidium, and Jewel Orchid

Orchids, Episcias and Chiritas… A Pretty Vignette in the Greenhouse

Jewel orchid and air plant

It can be a challenge to display all the beautiful plants we have, rotating and changing displays on a consistent basis.

Multi-bloom Paphiopedilum

Multi-bloom paphiopedilum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many times during the busiest of seasons long-time customers know to look on tables and even on the floor to be sure to see everything available.Paph, Chiritas, Episcias, Oncidium, and Jewel Orchid

I wanted to share this pretty collection that caught my eye the other day – a grouping of diverse and beautiful orchids and interesting house plants Jamie had arranged at the entrance.

The multi-bloom paphiopedilums, chiritas, (Primulina), jewel orchids, and episcias were especially captivating on this cool April day, as their blooms and leaves glowed in the afternoon light.

If you’re interested in beautiful and well kept plants, please stop in!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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’.

 

Fiddleleaf Fig Houseplants…Identifying Leaf Problems and Tips For Growing A Healthy Plant

The fiddleleaf fig is the latest houseplant wonder, used by interior designers and houseplant owners across the country. Its popularity is well deserved as it’s a striking, large leaved plant, often trained into a tree form and seen on the pages of magazines everywhere.

Maybe you’ve succumbed to the “Everyone has a fiddle leaf fig, I need one too.” pressure but now aren’t sure how to care for it?  Well, first things first –  It’s always smart to look at where a plant originated, then try your best to duplicate that in your home.

Ficus lyrata are native to western Africa, from Cameroon west to Sierra Leone, where it grows in lowland tropical rainforest.  Their large leaves enable them to catch as much light as possible, and in this environment they can grow up to 100 feet in height.

Creating this environment in your home can be daunting. Light is the first challenge. Ficus lyrata will prefer an extremely bright room, but bear in mind too much direct sun may burn its leaves.

The ideal placement would be in a spot that is in very bright light most of the day. If there’s direct light through southern or western windows, don’t place your fiddleleaf fig directly in them but back it off so it receives the light but not the hot sun.

Fiddleleaf fig leaves are very big and they can be dust collectors. It’s important to keep these large leaves clean so they can absorb as much light as possible to aid in photosynthesis. To do this, carefully cradle each leaf in your palm and gently wipe them  with either a damp sponge or a microfiber cloth. Do this at least once a month.

Water is the next consideration. In its native habitat, the fiddleleaf fig stays uniformly moist all the time. The trick is to keep it watered just enough, but not to let it stay too wet which can cause root rot and bacterial diseases. Root rot will manifest itself in older leaves developing brown spots, then dropping off, a very common problem with ficus lyrata in the home. Leaves typically remain dark green with one brown spot that gets larger and larger.

If you suspect this is the case, take your plant out of its pot and inspect the roots. If any are soft and mushy, root rot is the problem and is affecting the leaves and health of your plant. Remove the bad roots and repot with fresh potting soil. Groom the plant, removing any affected leaves.

Try to let your ficus go just dry. Push your finger into the soil 2”-3”.  If it comes out dry, it’s time to water. When you water, water thoroughly, then let it go for however long it takes until your finger comes out dry again when you test the soil. Never let your plant sit in water.

If your fiddleleaf fig doesn’t receive enough water, it will be easy to tell as you’ll notice the edges of the leaves begin to turn brown, dry, and begin to curl. The overall look of the plant may appear wilted as well. Remove the brown leaves and try to be more aware of how much and how often you’re watering.

If the soil is coming away from the edge of the pot, that’s a sure sign you’ve not been watering enough. Check to see if your plant is near a heat vent that’s drying out the air and try misting your fiddleleaf fig to raise the humidity around it.

A serious problem, and another that also shows itself by brown spots on the leaves, is bacterial leaf spot. The difference between this and root rot is that bacterial disease affects all growth but especially attacks new leaves.  You’ll notice small leaves and stunted growth, yellowing, and many brown spots on each leaf rather than one large brown area.

With bacterial leaf spot, the leaf  will also turn yellow as the bacteria spreads. Eventually leaves will fall off. If less than 50% of the plant is affected, the best course of action is to remove all the diseased leaves and repot with new soil. Do not overwater as it’s recovering and place it in the maximum amount of light possible.

If your plant continues to decline or if more than half your plant has diseased leaves, it’s better to discard it and start over with a new plant.

Fertilize once a month through the growing season as they are very light feeders and let it rest through the winter. It also responds well to light pruning if necessary.

Finally, ficus lyrata prefer to be a bit potbound, but, if you see roots coming out the bottom of the pot and it needs to be moved up, repot using quality potting soil (We use Fafard.) into a pot no more than 2″ larger. The best time to repot is spring as your fiddleleaf fig is resuming more active growth.

Once you’ve found the right spot and have a handle on the proper care of your Ficus lyrata, you’ll find it to be a very durable and tough plant that should give you many years of enjoyment.

We offer Ficus lyrata at Oak Street Garden Shop when they are available. Please stop in and browse – you might find some other plants too! 

~ We’re sorry, but we don’t offer online sales or ship plants at this time ~

 

 

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

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

Spring Garden

March garden scene…

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

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

Snowball Viburnum buds

Snowball viburnums blooming in March

 

 

 

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

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

 

Hummingbird Moth on Deciduous Azalea

Hummingbird moth…

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

Native Azalea R. canescens bloom

 

 

 

 

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

By Kris Blevons

 

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

 

Early Spring Container Garden

March…The In-Between Month

Container Gardens

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

Container Gardens - Green Pots

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

 

 

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

Heucheras - March

Perennials -Heucheras

 

 

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

Container Garden with Herbs and Violas

Container garden with herbs and violas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

By Kris Blevons

 

 

 

Edgeworthia

The February Garden, Dreaming Of Spring

Lenten Rose

Lenten rose

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

Daylily

Daylily emerging

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

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

Ipheion

First ipheion bloom

 

Viola

Pansy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

Strawberry Begonia - Saxifrage

Saxifrage, strawberry begonia

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

Poppy and Snapdragon - Winter

Poppy and Snapdragon behind

 

 

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

 

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

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

Georgia Blue Veronica

Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’

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

Lenten roses and Trillium

Lenten Rose and Trillium

 

 

 

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

Bloodroot

Bloodroot

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

Sedum ‘Ogon’

Sedum ‘Ogon’

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

By Kris Blevons

Just In Time For Valentine’s Day – Flowering Plants For Your Love

If you need a beautiful flower for your Valentine, look no farther than your nearest independent garden shop.

 

 

Sure, you’ll see all sorts of blooming plants in every other store on the block  (They are everywhere!), but we like to think that, since plants are what we do, 365 days out of the year, we offer the best. And isn’t that what you want for your love today and every day?

The weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day really are beautiful in the greenhouse.

 

 

 

Orchids of all colors, forced hydrangeas in bloom, and the promise of spring with daffodils and other bulbs fill the tables.  It may be winter on the calendar, but it’s spring in the greenhouse!

 

 

 

 

 

Whether your gift is an elegant orchid in a pretty pot or an arrangement of mixed plants and flowers in bloom, we’ll make this holiday with your love special.

 

To place an order for a custom design give us a call at 205-870-7542.