Saturday, February 26, 2011

Just picked...


Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Friday, February 25, 2011

Two Rose talks next week

I don't know how I managed this but I have two presentations next week on the same topic. And I don't even do this sort of thing that often! Procrastinator that I am, I will be busy this weekend putting the finishing touches on my Powerpoint programs and I also realize we will be having nice gardening weather this weekend PLUS Sunday night is Oscar night. Anyway, I digress.

Monday night (Feb. 28th) I will be at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens talking to the Birmingham Rose Society about the evolution of our garden and the roses that we grow.

On Thursday, March 3 at 11:30 a.m., I will be at the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library for their gardening series "Get Dirty In The Library" (don't you love it?). My program will be on growing roses. The FLPB has a slew of good programs coming up. Click on the flyer below for more details (also check out their website).

I hope to see you there!

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Monday, February 21, 2011

It's time to prune roses

It was hard to believe that it is only mid-February with the wonderful weather we had this past weekend. We were off Friday for Winter Break and I enjoyed a long three-day weekend working in the garden. I was so tired and sore last night that I was in bed by 9:30 which is so not me.

I got out the mower and cut down the monkey grass, cut down a pitiful looking conifer and transplanted a virburnum in it's place and pruned, pruned, pruned. This is a good time to prune roses. I usually tell people to prune when the forsythia starts to bloom. I haven't seen it blooming yet but mid-February through mid-March is a good time to prune.

Since I grow mainly old roses, pruning is usually minimal. However, this year I decided to be a tad more aggressive with some of our roses.

Here are a few tips:

This is a shrub rose ("Carefree Wonder") that is very spindly and has several dead canes. First, you want to cut out all of the dead canes completely.

Take a look at the healthy canes and you should be growth buds coming out along the sides. You want to select an outward facing bud and make a diagonal cut just above this bud. Make the cut so that it slopes away from the bud.

You can cut down as far as you'd like. Hybrid tea roses are usually cut back dramatically, within 1 foot from the ground. Shrub roses, like floribundas are not cut as severely and may only require removing dead branches and light tip pruning. You want to cut the canes back to the healthiest looking area so if you see diseased stems or oddly colored stems, cut it off. Once you make a cut, inspect the cut, the cane should be clean and full on the inside. If you see holes inside the cane, keep cutting down until you no longer find that.

We have a lot of larger shrub roses and climbing roses and the only pruning I do to these is remove dead canes and lightly prune branches back to healthy growth.

When pruning roses, always dip your pruning shears in a solution of bleach and water to avoid transferring diseases from one plant to another.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Friday, February 18, 2011

I'm worried about the Cryptomeria

{{Read an update to this post here}}

For the past month or so, I've noticed that our big Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) has been turning brown. I know that it usually does this but I don't recall seeing it to this extent. The entire backside of the tree looks completely brown and the opposite side is slowly turning brown also. Is this normal???

I can see new growth sprouting out from some of the branches. I hope this is a good sign that nothing is wrong.

If any tree experts can weigh in on this, I'd appreciate it!

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cutting back ornamental grasses

This past weekend was sunny and beautiful with temperatures reaching into the 60s, quite a change from the relentless cold, rain (and snow) that we've been having. These temporary warm spells are great opportunities to get out in the garden and get some chores out of the way. One of these is trimming back ornamental grasses.

Late February and early March is the best time for this in north Alabama. You want to cut the grass back before new growth begins in the spring. Leaving the dead remnants will not affect the health of the plant but it can present an ugly picture.

Of course, some people cut the foliage back in the fall but there are two good reasons to wait. One, leaving the foliage brings winter interest to the garden and it is attractive (although some folks may disagree with that). Two, leaving the grass stalks will provide protection to the plant during the winter. Ornamental grasses are easy to grow and almost fool-proof but one thing they will not tolerate is excessive moisture. Cutting grass back in the fall causes water to collect in the open stems and this promotes crown rot which can surely kill the plant.

Cutting grasses back close to the ground at the end of the winter season will ensure an attractive and healthier plant and it promotes better growth since the warming rays of the sun will reach the new emerging grass quicker. This process is a substitute for the periodic burning and grazing that take place in natural grassland ecology. Of course, burning grass is not an option to most home gardeners. I use hedge trimmers which makes the job fast and efficient but any sharp tool will get the job done.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Chocolate Covered Cherries Cookies

Happy Valentine's Day!


* 1/2 cup butter (softened)
* 1 cup white sugar
* 2 eggs
* 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
* 1 (10 ounce) jar maraschino cherries
* 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
* 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips


1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Beat the butter and sugar together in a mixer bowl. Add eggs and vanilla and beat well. Sift flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, and baking powder together and add to the butter mixture. Roll into tablespoon sized balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Make an indention in each cookie with your thumb.
3. Drain cherries and reserve juice. Place a cherry in indentation of each cookie ball.
4. In a small saucepan, heat condensed milk and chocolate chips until chips are melted. Stir in 4 teaspoons of cherry juice (more if needed). Spoon about 1 teaspoon of mixture over each cherry and spread to cover cherry (or if you'd prefer the cherry to be seen, drizzle the icing in stripes).
5. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Another snow day

I can't recall a winter with this much snow. Last night we got another inch or two and the roads are very icy this morning. Michael called within five minutes after leaving for his salon and said that he slid really badly and almost hit another car when he pulled off of our street onto Dr.Hicks Blvd. UNA had initially planned to open at 9:30 but after reviewing the road conditions they decided to stay closed all day.

I just went outside to take these photos and to fill the birdfeeders. The birds were out in full force this morning. There were several red-winged blackbirds and another huge group of black birds that I didn't recognize. We rarely see them at the feeders. 

The sun is out but it is very cold outside. My fingers felt like they were getting frostbit while I was out there. I'm glad to be back inside.

But look at these little daffodils coming up. A sign that spring is surely on the way!

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Peach Pie

Another recipe (sorry Deb!)

Today is Michael's birthday and he requested Barefoot Contessa's Apple Tart except he wanted peaches instead of apples. In other words, same crust (which is fabulous) but different filling. I pondered this, did some searching on the web and finally found a peach pie filling recipe from that old standby, "The Joy of Cooking". It turned out great, he said it was the best thing I've ever made, and I thought it was delicious (although why someone would not choose chocolate for their birthday is beyond me!).

For the pastry (from Barefoot Contessa):

* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
* 1 tablespoon sugar
* 12 tablespoons (1.5 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
* 1/2 cup ice water

Place the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse for a few seconds to combine. Add the butter and pulse 10 to 12 times, until the butter is in small bits the size of peas. With the motor running, pour the ice water down the feed tube and pulse just until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. When ready to use, roll out on a floured board. Line a pie pan (or tart pan) with half the dough and set aside the remainder to use as a top crust.

Peach Pie Filling (from The Joy of Cooking)

2 1/2 lbs. peaches
1/2 to 3/4 c. sugar
3 TBS. all purpose flour
3 TBS. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. almond extract (optional)
1/8 tsp. salt
3 TBS. butter, cut into small pieces
Milk, cream or egg wash (for brushing the top crust)
2 TBS. sugar

Combine the peaches with the sugar, flour, lemon juice, almond extract (if using) and salt. Let stand for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
Pour the filling into the bottom crust and dot with butter.
Cover the pie with a pricked or vented top crust or a lattice. Lightly brush with milk, cream or an egg wash. Sprinkle with the 2 TBS. of sugar.

Bake in preheated 425 degree oven for 50-60 minutes (until the top crust is a golden brown).

After it comes out of the oven, I used the same glaze that Ina Garten uses for the apple tart. Heat 1/2 c. of apricot (or peach) jelly together with 2 TBS. of rum (or water) and brush the crust. 

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Monday, February 7, 2011

Katharine Hepburn's Brownies

As a big fan of both Katharine Hepburn and brownies, I've always wanted to try this recipe. I finally got around to making them this past weekend and they were well worth the wait. In fact, this will now be my "go to" recipe for brownies. They have a crackly crust but are wonderfully moist and chewy on the inside and deliciously chocolaty. And best of all, very easy to make!

2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 (1 stick) cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
2. Butter and flour an 8-inch baking pan.
3. Melt unsweetened chocolate and butter over very low heat in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of about 1 1/2 inches of simmering water, whisking until smooth.
4. Remove from heat and stir in sugar, eggs and vanilla.
5. Whisk in the flour and salt, until well blended.
6. Stir in the nuts.
7. Spread the batter in the baking pan. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the pan to a rack to cool completely. Cut into 9 brownies.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Saturday, February 5, 2011

16th Annual Urban Forestry and Horticulture Conference

Mark your calendars for the upcoming conference "Something to Grow On" to be held at the Cross Point Church (Cox Creek Blvd.) on Feb. 22. For the brochure and registration form, click here

The speakers include:

Keynote: Roald Hazelhoff: Community EcoScape Program
Director of the Southern Environmental Center, Birmingham-Southern College
The Southern Environmental Center partners with local government, businesses, and community organizations to construct EcoScapes and transform vacant lots into horticultural therapy gardens that serve as community parks and sustainable design showcases


Paulette Ogard & Sara Bright: Butterflies and Trees: An Intimate Relationship
Authors, Butterflies of Alabama: Glimpses into Their Lives
Participants will learn about fascinating butterfly survival strategies as well as the relationships of several butterfly species with their particular tree associates.

Margo Shaw: A Midlife Bloom: The Blossoming of the Nation’s only Floral Magazine
Editor-in-Chief, “Flower” Magazine
Editor-in-Chief and “Flower”magazine founder will share her floral past, inspiration and photographs and her unique experiences resulting from the magazine she has created.

Troy Marden: A Passion for Plants
Owner, Troy Marden Landscaping
Join Troy on a trip around the world and be introduced to some of the most beautiful and exotic plants that will thrive in your southern garden.

Rachel Mansell: Composting is Nature’s Way of Recycling
Education and Outreach Coordinator, Solid Waste, City of Florence
Recycling and composting have a huge impact on our environment and our future as our natural resources, including land, are becoming less available.

Steve Carpenter: Hydroponics
Owner, Jack-o-Lantern Farms


Arthia “Billy” Rye: Planning to Grow
President, Forest Management Specialist, Inc.
Growing a community tree program requires the fertile soil of science, the sunlight or energy of community support, and life giving water of organization. We will examine the process, format and components
commonly contained in an effective Urban Forest Management Plan.

Tom & Claire Pebworth: Trees and Fungi
Professors of Biology (Ret.), University of North Alabama
High School Biology Teacher (Ret.), Florence School Dist.

Henry Hughes: Regenerating Native Forest Trees in a Public Park in Birmingham Alabama and Urban Trees:Myth and Reality
Director of Education, Birmingham Botanical Gardens
George Ward Park has been collecting and propagating seedlings of Alabama native trees such as Black, Blackjack and Post Oaks, Hickories, Pecans and Blackgum and using non-traditional methods to
improve the quality of the park. Commonly held myths about trees and forests that contribute to the
decline and the basic principal of protection and preservation of the urban forests.

Joe McPhail: Look Up! Tree and Shrub Selection for Power Line Planting Zones
Line Clearance Supervisor, City of Florence, Electricity Dept.
Tips for successful selection and placement of trees in power line easements and beyond.


Chris Becker: Pesticide Management
Regional Extension Agent, ACES

Fred Kapp: Federal Law: Pesticide Formulation: Personal Protection Equipment
Education Liaison, Alabama Green Industry Training Center

David Hubbard: Weed Control in Residential Turf
Extension Liaison, Alabama Green Industry Training Center

Doug Chapman: Pesticide Hazards and First Aid
Regional Extension Agent, ACES

Tony Glover: Pesticides and the Environment
Regional Extension Agent, ACES

John Shields: Feeding Seven Billon People

Interim Director, Research and Development Division, IFDC

For more information, call 256-760-6400.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy