Monday, September 27, 2010

Birmingham Botanical Gardens

A container planting near the main building
I'm recouping from a serious case of poison ivy (again!) I came in contact with some while cleaning out a fence row on my mother's property on Saturday. I knew this would be bad when I woke up Sunday morning with my arms and legs covered with an ugly rash. I got a shot and the usual Prednisone pills which leave me irritable, groggy and restless. I'm feeling better this afternoon and wanted to share some photos of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

Last Thursday and Friday, I attended an Archivist conference there for my job, but I've been to the gardens many times before. I lived in Birmingham briefly right after my college graduation and visited often. It was a great place to take photographs, to relax and just get away from it all.

It was just as beautiful as I'd remembered it although many areas had changed somewhat and there were new things to see. Apparently the drought has been worse there than in Florence because the Japanese garden looked really bad with numerous dead trees and the pond looked nasty.

It was the only disappointing area though as the other gardens were beautiful. One of my favorites was the Fern Glade -

Beautyberry (Callicarpa) growing alongside the stream  
One of my favorite areas was always the Iris Garden. I did actually see some Iris blooming along with other perennials. This is really spectacular in the Spring of course.
Woodland garden
One of my favorite roses, "Mrs. B.R. Cant" was blooming over a rock wall
Check out the size of these castor beans
The BBG also has a fine rose garden. The hybrid teas were bursting with bloom. Behind the pergola is another rose garden with older varieties.
The Herb Garden -
This small formal area was enclosed by brick and featured ferns, evergreens and caladiums.
A beautiful water feature
This pergola is exactly the type I want to build if we move to the country.

A large raised bed with tropical plants

If you are in Birmingham, do visit the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. There is no admission price and the gardens are beautifully maintained. And after that, you can head across the street and visit the zoo.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Rain, glorious rain!

At this point, this is better than a Monet!

At least 1.5" since 6 a.m. and it continues...

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The parched garden

One of my favorite classic movies is "Auntie Mame" and when looking at the garden this time of year, I always think of the scene where Brian O'Bannion, the ghostwriter hired to write Mame's memoirs, presents her with "a slim volume of his poetry entitled "The Parched Garden". I think it is funny but our actual garden is no laughing matter. I can't remember the last time we received any significant rainfall and although I'm trying to keep everything watered as best as I can, the water from the hydrant is no match for actual rainwater. 

Some plants do better than others in these dire conditions. The following is one that doesn't - a paniculata hydrangea. It is planted in an extremely dry and poor area anyway. It is a disgusting and disheartening photo.

I am very concerned about the following shrub, one that I searched high and low for. It is a tea viburnum (Viburnum setigerum) and has a gorgeous display of red berries in the fall. It is located in the dry shade area behind the garage, an area that could be called "the death trap". Only the exceptionally tough will survive here. I've been watering this shrub often but the leaves do not seem to be responding. If it survives, I am going to relocate it.

Hosta looks like it is really suffering but I know that it is tough and should be okay. This area was just watered three days ago.

This red buckeye tree (Aesculus pavia) would probably be happier in shady woods than in a sunny border. I often regret planting it because of the seedlings. It is lovely in the spring when it blooms.

Sad, sad phlox -

Today it is 97 degrees and it is September 19th! The last I heard, there isn't a good chance of rain in the near future. The weather forecast is too depressing to watch and the weather people really irk me at times. Last week, a local forecaster said that a band of showers were headed this way and would UNFORTUNATELY interfere with the football games. I sent him an ugly e-mail. It turned out the showers vanished before they reach us. I guess at least the football fans were happy! :(


Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Golden Age of Couture Exhibit

Michael and I and our friend Cindy went to Nashville yesterday for the final day of the Golden Age of Couture Exhibit. We actually went on Labor Day at the spur of the moment and enjoyed it so much that we wanted to go back before the exhibit left. Nashville was the only city in the United States where the exhibit was held.

Michael likes fashion the way I like gardening but I was pleasantly surprised and fascinated by what we saw and I even learned a few things. Cameras were not allowed inside the gallery so I borrowed these from the Internet.

The exhibit featured dresses from the late 1940s and 1950s from such designers as Christian Dior, Coco Chanel, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Hubert de Givenchy. They were truly works of art.

Here is some of what we saw -

In addition to the dresses, hats, shoes and jewelry, there were many photographs by fashion photographer Richard Avedon as well as other photographers and artists sketches, film clips and various memorabilia.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Late summer roses

Roses are one of the most drought resistant plants available but when the summer temps get really hot, the flowers are minimal. In late summer and early fall, however, they usually bounce back with blooms that hang on until the first frost. This is especially true for the older roses. The above is "Weeping China Doll", a polyantha rose that is very easy to grow. I grow it as a stand-alone shrub but I've seen it grown as a climber.

To get more fall blooms, trim back roses in mid-summer and continue fertilizing through August. As fall approaches, stop giving roses fertilizer because this will prompt them to put out growth that will be nipped by frost.

"Weeping China Doll" is a very dense, twiggy rose. For a rose like this, I cut it back with hedge shears or the electric trimmer. It sounds brutal but it won't hurt the rose.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Kudzu - the vine that ate the South

I'm house/pet sitting for some friends for three weeks. They live on a beautifully wooded hillside that I'm itching to landscape but in the untended areas in their neighborhood, we have this -

I took this photo while walking Emmie (who you can see at the end of this post). This field is right next door to their house and extends down to the river. Unless you live in the south, you might not recognize Kudzu (Pueraria lobata), or as many people call it "the vine that ate the south".

I was reading a rather serious, scientific website and was amused when I came across this statement about caring for it: "Mulch with cinder blocks, fertilize with Agent Orange, and prune daily." hehe

Of course, no one in their right mind would be growing kudzu in their garden (or anywhere near their property) but, believe it or not, people once did. The plant is native to China and Japan and its appearance in this country came about in 1876 when it was introduced at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition and promoted as a garden ornamental! It took off, literally, and hasn't stopped since, swallowing over 7 million acres across the southeast. Apparently, the southern climate is ideal for kudzu and it grows better here than it does in its native country. It can easily grow one foot per day and over 100 feet in a year.

Kudzu's overly aggressive nature is damaging and destructive. It will quickly overtake trees, power lines and anything in its path. Scientists continue to study ways to eradicate it. A few years ago the city of Chattanooga started using goats to eat the stuff. I could not find an update on this so I'm not sure if this preventive measure worked. Goats and cows do love to eat it and it was first marketed as a food source for livestock.

Kudzu did have a lot of help in getting established in this country. During the Depression, the Soil Conservation Department promoted kudzu as a means of controlling erosion. The Civilian Conservation Corps put hundreds of men to work planting it and farmers were paid to plant fields of it. Smart!

It didn't take too long for the country to change its tune and in 1953, the U.S. government stopped recommending it and in 1972, it was classified as an invasive weed. This came much to the chagrin of one Channing Cope of Covington, Georgia, kudzu's most vocal advocate. Cope started the erosion control hoopla when we wrote glowing articles on kudzu for the Atlanta Constitution and promoted it on his own radio broadcast. In Cope's defense, kudzu does prevent erosion, but using it is kind of like setting your garden on fire to get rid of the weeds.

Kudzu can also be used for making baskets, soaps, candles, paper, etc. It is said to have medicinal qualities as well and is rumored to ease hangovers and help cure alcoholism and high blood pressure.

It is also a food source. Kudzu Tea can be made from either the leaves or the roots. Kudzu jelly is another goodie. - jelly The roots contain starch and it is used in many Asian dishes.

One nice thing about kudzu is the fragrance which smells just like grape soda. So, since we have the stuff, we might as well do something with it. I don't think many people around here use it that much though.

So, if you are driving through the south and see those creepy fields of vines, you'll know what it is.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy