Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Cornus kousa (dogwood) "Wolf's Eyes"

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The raised bed vegetable gardening project

Week 2 of my interim vacation and I have spent little time in my own garden. I've got to get on the ball with Master Gardeners visiting next week and I may possibly advertise another open garden date for next weekend. The hydrangeas are really beautiful this year. Anyway, I digress.

I told you earlier that I spent some time cleaning up the landscaping around Michael's salon. I've also been engrossed in another project at my mother's house in Franklin County - a raised bed vegetable garden. In our garden, we have one tiny spot for vegetables (tomatoes and peppers) and good grief, that is under a dogwood tree. However, the few peppers and tomatoes do well there. My mother has tons of sun and plenty of room. She also has horrible clay soil and after it rains, it sounds like you are walking across a water mattress. Planting vegetables in the ground would be suicide so I knew that raised beds would be the only way to go.

I've been putting off this project for years because I'm usually way too busy in our garden and I'm only down there once or twice a week (she is a 25 minute drive from Florence). My interest kept percolating though and I started doing some research about growing vegetables. I didn't get the garden started last year so I was bound and determined to do it this year.

So here I go with this project and I'm sure it will probably be hit and miss but I look at it as a learning experience. My sister, who lives next door to my mother, has promised to keep the plants watered. I was there today (still working on more raised beds) and glanced up to see a raccoon in broad daylight. I'm guessing critters will be another problem!

I have broad plans for this little garden. I plan to enclose it with a fence and get rid of the grass and replace it with gravel. If and when Michael and I build a house our there, it will be back in those woods that you see in the distance. I envision a pathway leading up to the vegetable garden where I can tend to it daily and supply the neighborhood with fresh vegetables. I also start thinking about things like raising chickens and this is when Michael starts giving me dirty looks.

Some herbs and onions-

A few months ago, someone on a blog directed me a blog called Our Engineered Garden. I couldn't believe it when I read that the blog belonged to a guy named Jeff and he lived in Russellville, Alabama. This is my hometown! I grew up outside of Russellville, out in the country, but our mailing address is still Russellville. The wonders of the Internet! What did we do before it came along?

Jeff is a goldmine for information on gardening in raised beds, restricted beds, gardening on trellises, self-watering containers, you name it. I attended a program that he did tonight for the Extension Agency and learned more things, like the flimsy trellis I built for the cucumbers will have to go! It is all quite intimidating and I wonder what I'm getting myself into?

A sign of success already - tomatoes!

Along with the tomatoes, peppers and herbs, I've also planted squash, canteloupe and watermelon. I plan to stop there for the time being although my sister told me today that she would love some zucchini so I will add a bed for that but I think that is enough for a beginner!

Somewhere up there my father is bewildered and asking - where was my enthusiasm for working in the vegetable garden when I was a kid? How I hated it then! Having to leave the TV and my Abba records to work in the garden was the pits and cause for major pouting. How life changes!

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Mystery plant

Thanks for the comments - it looks like the plant in question is Adenophora lilifolia.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Visiting Maria's garden again


The Master Gardeners took a field trip to Maria Wall's garden on Saturday. I've been there countless times but I never tire of touring her garden and I'm always amazed at what she has accomplished. That is Maria in the photo on the right standing next to a bed of giant hostas and azaleas. She is under 5' tall but don't let that deceive you!

We first met Maria when we were just starting out gardening. A co-worker of Michael's lived in Maria's neighborhood and arranged a visit with her. Every beginning gardener should visit someone like Maria - you will either go home full of inspiration or feel like a wimp after seeing what she had done.

First of all, her garden is on a steep hill. The front lawn is covered in lush green moss and punctuated with beds of ferns, hosta and azaleas. Another small area lies in back of the house, which features a fish pond and a collection of flowers that attract hummingbirds. This is the only area that gets sun.




From there, it is a steep descent down hill (walking canes are provided!). Large railroad ties serve as steps to help you get down but this is a slow walk because there are lots of beautiful plants to see along the way down.

At the bottom, the Tennessee River backs up to her property. It is this area that is the most magical.




Maria has carved out natural springs which led to the river. Mossy paths lead from one amazing garden to the next and water features are everywhere. She has a canoe and collects rocks and driftwood which is used for focal points and various projects.


Trees fall frequently in her woods and when they do, Maria always comes up with a plan on how to use them. Every trip I make to her garden, I'm always seeing something new.


Shade loving plants, like ferns, hosta and impatiens are abundant. One plant that you see everywhere is this lovely peacock moss (Selaginella uncinata) (below), growing next to hosta.




There are many sitting areas and Maria's garden is the ultimate place to relax. The only sounds are water and birdsong and even on a hot day, it is remarkably cool.



The tour of the bottom garden ends in an open area that has places to sit and relax, even cold drinks in the a basket under the bridge in the stream.

Then it is back up hill again on the opposite side of the garden. Along the way are grottos and "moss galleries". Back near the top is another sitting area where Maria has graciously provided snacks and drinks. There is also a miniature train and I forgot to take a photo of it.

Maria is a true friend and an inspiration to gardeners everywhere. I wrote my first article for Alabama Gardener about her garden. She has also appeared in Southern Living and two books about Alabama gardeners.








Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Salon scaping

Behind Michael's salon, between his parking lot and an adjacent lot, lies a "hell strip" that is anywhere from 60 - 80 feet long and about 10 feet wide. The strip is city-owned but abandoned. No one kept the Johnson grass and weeds mowed so we attempted to do it ourselves (or rather I did). This got old fast and if you know me, you know that mowing is not my favorite activity anyway. So, I started landscaping it.

The area is in full blazing sun, surrounded on both sides by asphalt and the soil was terrible. I started planting roses, daylilies, iris and any leftover plants from our own garden plus anything I came across that was on sale at the nurseries. At first I thought it was going to be a hopeless disaster. I didn't have time to keep up with the weeds or water. A yearly application of leaf mulch helped but the Johnson grass and ground ivy was hard to keep under control.

As with our own garden, the plan started taking shape after a while. I had been sowing seeds of annuals like larkspur and love-in-a-mist because the seeds were cheap and it was a way to have flowers that we couldn't grow well at home. Pretty but because of the weeds, not practical. Michael suggested that I just stick to large shrubs and he was right.

One fall, I bought four River Birch trees on sale at Lowe's and added oakleaf hydrangea, ornamental grasses, buddleia and Michael's favorite crape myrtle 'Dynamite'.

Neither of us can remember when we started planting but this year, it seems like it is finally a worthwhile project. We're amazed at how things have grown since last year! I haven't had time to get the weeds under control this year until this week and I've spent the past two days weeding and spreading mulch. The good news is that the weeds are not that bad except on the end where the smaller plants like daylilies and iris are planted. The larger shrubs are keeping the weeds in check nicely.

Another hassle to contend with is a large wooded lot next door with a dead tree that keeps dropping limbs. Michael called the city about it but they would not cut it because it isn't their property. Another big limb just fell about a month ago and landed right in the border. It broke some of the Knockout roses but the damage wasn't too bad. I took the fallen limbs and used them as accents.

I would love to landscape more around the salon (like I don't have enough to do!) but the previous owner covered every square inch of the property in asphalt! Talk about no mowing!

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Friday, May 14, 2010

Gardener's Bloom Day

I'm posting a day early to Gardener's Bloom Day (where garden bloggers post photos of what is blooming in their gardens on the 15th of each month). I'm taking a break from showing roses, although you will find a few here, and posting photos of other bloomers.

Clematis "Betty Corning" was just planted last year and has a few blooms this year.

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), tender perennial, butterfly and hummingbird magnet, likes well drained soils.

Clethra "Little Henry" - Not as large as the regular Virginia Sweetspire.

Iris "Edith Wolford" was a gift from Randy and Jamie.

I'm not sure what this iris is although I believe I've been told before. This one spreads rapidly and the deep purple color is lovely.

Iris pseudacorus - old fashioned Flag iris.

Peony "Raspberry Sundae" - yes, peonies can be grown in Alabama but they usually don't last long and rain ruins the blossoms.

Spirea "Gold Mound" and Achillea "Paprika" (yarrow)

Indigofera (Indigo Bush)
Hydrangea "Snow Queen"

A container planting of euphorbia "Diamond Frost" and Red Polka-Dot Plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya)

And, more roses!


"Petite Pink Scotch"

"New Dawn" growing alongside Miscanthus "Cabaret" and Hydrangea "Sike's Dwarf"

"Carefree Delight" with Purple Smoke Tree
Visit May Dreams Gardens for more garden blooms!

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

More roses

Thanks to all who came by last weekend to see the garden. The garden will be open again this coming weekend as well.

Also thanks to Steve Bender, Southern Living's "Grumpy Gardener" for making a long drive up last week. It rained out the photographers on Monday but perhaps another time.

"Rambling Rector", also known as the rose that ate the pergola, is really going to town right now. You may recall that I wanted to get rid of this rose because it was too rampant and the bloom time seems all too brief. However, when it is in its glory, it really commands your attention.

"Buff Beauty" blooms much longer with buds that open over a prolonged period of time. I love the color variations.

Looking through the pergola with "Buff Beauty" at the end.

"Nearly Wild" surrounds the fountain inside the circular hedge.

"Veilchenblau" often called "The Blue Rose" is another favorite and is beautiful every year. It is also quite rampant but easy to prune because the thorns are not that bad.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy