Sunday, June 26, 2011

More Lily Love

More lilies blooming this week -



Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Rabbit Patch Daylily Garden going out of business

The owner of the Rabbit Patch Daylily Garden is retiring after this year. He is having a great sale on his remaining daylilies. 

Directions: From Cox Creek Parkway in Florence, take Chisholm North.  Turn right on County Road 28. He is on the right about a mile down the road. He has a sign out in front and also on Chisholm.  Phone # 256-764-1489.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lily "Silk Road"

A few years ago, I was on a lily kick and ordered a collection from The Lily Garden.  I chose the Orienpet collection. They have performed nicely even if they don't receive as much sun as they would prefer. They are all leaning towards the sun. This could be good though because the company says that the vibrant color of these lilies tend to fade in harsh sunlight. The first one to bloom this year is "Silk Road" and it is loaded with blooms. All of these lilies are very tall, from 5 - 6 feet, and I've got to find a better way to stake them.

Orienpet Lily "Silk Road"

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Monday, June 13, 2011

Hydrangea "Charm"

One of the prettiest hydrangeas in the garden right now -

Hydrangea "Charm"

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Designing on a slope

I do hate the thought of going back to work tomorrow but I'm glad to say that I accomplished several projects during my time off. Kenneth & Toni, friends of ours, asked me to design a plan for a slope right outside their back door. I love their house. It sits on a steep hillside and reminds me of a Frank Lloyd Wright house. There are huge windows in front and you have a tree-house effect when you are inside. Outside, there are lots of trees and an open grassy area on the hill behind their house.  

When you step outside to the back, via sliding doors, you step onto a deck and the landscape is above you. In other words, you look up to see it. There are two sections on either side, leading up to the lawn, and both sides need work. The section on the right, however, was totally blank with the exception of some juniper shrubs. There is also a large dogwood in the center so the area is shaded except for a few hours of morning sun.

Neither Kenneth or Toni are gardeners so they wanted something that was easy to maintain. They liked monkey grass and we both agreed that it would be a good plant to keep water from pouring down onto their deck. I first envisioned sweeping lines of monkey grass bordering a dry creek bed. I wanted the creek bed to run diagonally across the middle from top to bottom. However, once I started the job, I realized that the slope was too steep and the gravel would just tumble down the hill. I opted for the gravel to be at the bottom of the area where the ground was more level. Hostas, ajuga, ferns and Jacob's Ladder are planted along the gravel area.

Two boulders (or you could say rocks as they are not too big) anchor the area at the bottom on both sides. The area above the gravel consists of monkey grass (both the variegated and green types), ferns and an Annabelle hydrangea in the upper right corner.

Kenneth and Toni were pleased with the results. This was a fun project to work on and the only difficulty I had was keeping myself from tumbling down the hill. I was able to get the planting accomplished on two half-days and fortunately the heat had not set in yet. We are all looking forward to seeing it once the plants grow together.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Notes on container gardening from a haphazard gardener

Our pot-covered patio table.
People often ask me questions about container gardening and I have to confess right off the bat that I am no expert when it comes to growing plants in pots. I much prefer taking care of in-ground plants. They are much more forgiving. I do admire beautiful containers overflowing with colorful flowers and eye-catching combinations and I admire the people who grew them because I know that they are a lot of work! They require attention and diligence.

"Bonfire" begonia, gomphrena, Euphorbia "Diamond Frost"

Every year I tell myself that I am not going to plant as many containers as I normally do. Then I proceed to not only plant as many as I did the previous year but I usually add more. My intentions are good. Containers fill in areas that need focal points and they add much needed color in the mid-summer when not much is blooming in the garden. When I'm planting the containers on a cool, pleasant spring day, I can easily convince myself that I will be up to the task of caring for them all summer long. No problem! Then the heat sets in and then the drought and when it is 105 outside and I'd rather be on the sofa under the air conditioner instead of sweating outside getting them watered, I'm silently cussing myself out.

So I've learned one thing although I don't stick to it - only plant as many containers as you are capable of caring for. Yeah right. Other things that I have learned and I adhere to:

Choosing a Container

This one is easy - anything can be used as a planting container as long at it will hold the soil and drain well. Drainage is important - there must be an exit for water to leave the container or you will end up with a dead plant. We have all kinds of pots and containers in our garden- terra cotta, concrete, urns, wall planters, statuary, trays, baskets, you name it. An old chandelier that Michael made into a planter always gets comments -

Chandelier planter with Begonia "Dragon Wing" and Sweet Potato Vine "Marguerite"

One of my favorite planters sits above my beloved Pan statue. Believe it or not, the planter did not come with the statue. We lucked out when we found the planter at Home Depot. It not only sits perfectly above Pan's head, it is the same color as the statue.

Impatiens, Million Bells and Fushia "Gartenmeister Bonstedt"
Getting it Planted

It is advisable to buy a professional planting mix (or you can mix your own if you have the time to do that). These soil mixes are light and some come with fertilizer mixed in. Some claim that they are more moisture retentive than others. Whatever the case, don't use regular garden soil that you have dug up from the garden for your containers. Potting soils can be expensive so if you have a huge pot, consider filling the bottom portion with rocks or other type of filler. (For more tips, check out the comments to this post). Most plants (especially annuals) will not have deep roots and the extra soil at the bottom of the container is just a waste of money. Unlike in the ground, plants can be placed close or right next to each other. After planting, place a layer of mulch around the plants. I prefer pine bark but sometimes use pine straw or pea gravel. After planting, water well, preferably with a water soluble plant fertilizer.

Begonia "Dragon Wing", Coleus, Angelonia

How you arrange your plants in the container is strictly up to you. If you are creating a mixed planting, the popular method referred to as "Thriller, Filler, Spiller" is a good rule of thumb. The "thriller" plant will be a taller upright plant that is placed either at the back of the planter or in the center. The "filler" plant is a lower growing plant that fills out the planter (such as Euphorbia "Diamond Frost"). And finally, the "Spiller" is a plant that will cascade over the side, such as Creeping Jenny.

This planter in downtown Florence demonstrates the "Thriller, Filler, Spiller" method
with Arborvitae, coleus and petunias
Of course, there is nothing wrong with using only one plant in a container, especially if it is small.

The location of the planter will affect your plant choices. If you have a planter in a harsh location, such as full sun and surrounded by concrete, you want to choose tough plants. The following planter is at Michael's Salon. He loves portulaca which is a good thing because it is a plant that likes hot weather and can endure the heat and drought. Still, regular watering and fertilizing will keep it looking its best.

Portulaca and Angelonia

Creeping Jenny, Calibrachoa, Spike Plant
The above combination was used two years ago in the same planter. It looked good for most of the summer although the creeping jenny suffered a bit during the really hot weather.

When choosing plant colors, consider what is in the vicinity of the container. If a plant is nearby, try to choose a color for the container that is either complimentary (contrasting colors) or analagous (neighboring colors) with it. The same goes for the colors and textures of walls, furniture or other objects.

The dark purple of the Wishbone Flower (Torenia) is analagous with the blue color of the "Endless Summer" hydrangea in the background.
This urn of purple petunias sits in front of a "Buff Beauty" rose which has yellow and gold blooms.
The two colors contrast nicely together

Calibrachoa and Ribbon Grass

Keep them looking good!

Now here is the hard part - you've got to maintain the darn things! That means regular watering, which can sometimes be daily when the temperatures climb into the 90s and we don't get rain. Test the soil with your finger before watering - if it feels dry, you need to water. You will also learn the needs of individual plants and find that some need more water than others. A pot of impatiens may need watering every day in hot weather whereas a pot of portulaca or sedum can get by on one or two waterings per week. Observe your plants closely, they will tell you what they need!


Pot bound plants need more fertilizer than plants in the ground because potting mixes loose their nutrients faster. Even if I'm using a potting mix with fertilizer already mixed in, I always water with a liquid fertilizer like Miracle Gro about once per week. Some people use liquid fertilizers at half the strength and use them every time they water. This is okay too but if you have lots of containers, boy is it a lot of work! I try to fertilize on the same day every week, the way I water houseplants. This helps me to remember to do it.

Pinching spent blooms and general grooming and upkeep will keep your container plants looking good.

Impatiens, Begonia, Dracena Spike Plant
I have learned what plants do relatively well in containers and I use the same ones year after year. I will usually experiment with a new plant or two as well. Some of my favorites:

Begonia "Bonfire"
Begonia "Dragon Wing"
Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)
Dicondra "Silver Falls"

Mexican Heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia)
Million Bells (Calibrachoa)
Periwinkle (Vinca)
Purple Heart (Tradescantia pallida)
Purslane and Portulaca
Sweet Potato Vine

Good luck with your containers this year and let me know if you have any tips to share.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy