Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Golden Spirit Smoke Tree

Golden Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggygria 'Ancot')

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Friday, April 26, 2013

Armand's Clematis

The Armand's Clematis (aka Evergreen Clematis) is just finishing up after putting on a spectacular show this year. It started blooming way back in early March. A few cold snaps along the way didn't seem to faze it much and the blooms just kept opening. This photo was taken in mid-March and the bloom was actually heavier a few weeks later. 

I had tried to grow this clematis before but failed. It is hardy only to zone 7 and very cold winters, which we haven't had much of lately, can do it in. Like most clematis, it takes about 3 years to get going. You've heard the saying - "First year it sleeps, second year it creeps and third year it leaps" - this certainly applies here. 

Clematis armandii is a vigorous climber and can quickly scramble into trees or cover a small structure.  Occasional pruning may be required to keep it in check. The lovely fragrant flowers are beautiful but the long, narrow glossy leaves are highly attractive as well. This is a good vine for providing shade under a seating area or patio.

Clematis like their roots in the shade and their heads in the sun. You can provide shade for the base of the vine by mulching or using rocks or pieces of broken pots. They prefer evenly moist soil but can tolerate drought once established. Be careful around young plants because the woody stems are fragile. Once the vine takes off, it is fairly low maintenance. 

I have not seen the pink flowered variety but there are some available ("Apple Blossom" is one and there are others).

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Little Cypress Natives

Thanks to the big box stores, our locally owned nurseries have either closed or turned to being landscape-only businesses. Fortunately, there are a few left and one of the most unique is Little Cypress Natives, owned by Harry and Linda Wallace. Even if you are not shopping, the picturesque location is well worth a visit. They are located on a bluff overlooking Cypress Creek, just right across across the road from the historic Forks of Cypress. The Wallaces have landscaped their property with beautiful native azaleas and other plants which are peaking now.

The nursery specializes in native plants and hostas. You will find a wide variety of oakleaf hydrangea (like the new dwarf varieties "Munchkin" and "Ruby Falls"), native azaleas, ferns, and shrubs and trees. During my visit this past weekend, I saw the exquisite Carolina Silverbell Tree (Halesia), Franklin Tree (Franklinia) and a large variety of redbuds in stock. These are plants that you probably cannot find at the local Home Depot or Lowe's. As for hostas, they have over 200 varieties!

I came home with a few plants that I couldn't resist.

This is Lilac "Declaration" (Syringa). This was bred by the National Arboretum and is said to be more tolerant of heat. I've only tried to grow lilac once before and was not successful. They are notoriously fickle for the South. We will see what this one does.
Hosta "Fire Island". I loved the bright yellow color and was torn between it and "Dancing Queen". Being an Abba fan, I almost bought "Dancing Queen" for the name alone but the reddish stems on "Fire Island" changed my mind.
Hosta "Empress Wu" - not much to look at now but this one is the rage now. It is a monster of a plant and is said to reach 4-6 feet high and 5-6 feet wide. Take a look at it here!

Little Cypress Natives is open on Saturdays from 9-5 and other times by appointment. They are having an Open House on April 13th, 20th and 27th. 

Directions:  Take Cox Creek Parkway west (Hwy.133) past Belle Foods / CVS Pharmacy (Hwy. 157) to County Road 41.  Turn right.   After about two miles, you will pass the Forks of Cypress ruins on your left.  Turn on the first driveway on the right.  Come to the end of the drive.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Monday, April 15, 2013

A successful garden tour!

We have survived the garden tour and I'm happy to say it was a success. The weather cooperated and we had a steady flow of visitors all day Saturday and more than I expected on Sunday. I was told over 500 tickets were sold. We were all exhausted by the time it was over. Who knew that standing around talking to people could be so tiring? I still haven't fully recovered.

A special thanks go out to George, Pam, Berniece, Joann, Rebecca, McKenzie, Kelly and Jim who worked all day Friday (and earlier) to finish up weeding and last minute chores. The garden has never looked this neat so early!

It was early for a garden tour and our garden is far from its peak. That usually happens in early to mid May when the roses are blooming. I hope I can invite everyone back for another view when that happens.

There wasn't much in bloom but we did have -

White Wisteria - Most visitors had never seen white wisteria before. This was a plant given to me by my great aunt Gertha who died last year. It is very special to me.

The fragrance filled the entire garden.

Piedmont Azalea (Rhododendron canescens) also looks great this year.
Kerria japonica
Carolina Jessamine
Honeysuckle "Alabama Crimson" - saw the first hummingbird of the year on it last Friday.
Woodland Phlox with Azalea "Delaware Valley White" in the background

Fothergilla "Mount Airy" (Fothergilla gardenii) - just opening

I'm hoping someone can identify this for me.

In the background, Ivy "Gold Child" on the wall. Behind the wall, you can see glimpses of the white wisteria, Piedmont azalea and the rose "Lady Banks".

Holly Fern got lots of comments
And the most asked about plant - Italian Arum (Arum italicum). For more information about it, see my earlier post.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Friday, April 12, 2013

Last minute reminder - Garden Tour of the Shoals

featuring "Garden Improvisations"
Saturday, April 13, 2013    9:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Sunday, April 14, 2013       1:00 PM to 5:00 PM
Tickets available at each garden--$5 for all gardens Saturday or Sunday


A “ must see” garden designed by an artist and Master Gardener! Wander through her many paths and you will get lost in the beauty of the design. Wildflowers, ferns, rare perennials, native shrubs and unusual plants abound in this wonderland! Arbors and other features backdrop all the beauty of the many blooms.
Directions: Out Hwy 43 north to the Greenhill area, turn right on county road 47, go 2.7 miles, turn right on county road 33, go 1 mile turn left on county road 174, go .6 miles turn left on Gillis Dr.(dead end street) about 100 foot on right.


This garden is a native plant bonanza! As President of The Shoals Wildflower Society, and a Master Gardener, Margie’s main interest is native plants and plantings for butterflies, hummingbirds and all other fauna. Her husband was a talented sculptor and you will notice all the wonderful wildlife carvings that abound in her garden. Don’t miss her “Redneck” area!  Her garden is surrounded by a Treasure Forest of hardwoods planted for wildlife. All the evergreens are shelters for the many birds that call this home. This is a collector’s garden so wander across streams, by bubbling rocks, ponds and you will get lost in the notion of plants, plants, plants!
Directions: Out Hwy 72 East through Killen. Turn left on County Road 31 at old “Outpost 72” restaurant. Go to 4 way stop, turn right on county road 71, go ¼ mile, turn right on county road 69 at Antioch Church, go 500 foot, turn right on county road 68. 3rd driveway on left.


Although this is a small garden, it is full of wonderful surprises! As a Master Gardener, see what you can accomplish to make your home look beautiful and comfortable. Connie has an artistic flair that you don’t want to miss!
Directions: Off Hwy 72 Take Indian Springs Road all the way to the river.


This garden’s design is what makes it an artist’s delight. You know immediately that the homeowner is an artist extraordinary!  Every shade and hue of green abounds throughout the garden. So restful to the eye and mind. Don’t miss the statue that centers the garden! Tommy’s artistic flair makes this garden complete.
Directions: Off Darby Dr. Turn into Hickory Hills, On left at corner of Hickory Hills Rd and Hickory Hills Court.

Dee is a certified landscape designer and Master Gardener and it shows in this indescribable garden! She calls it a backyard! We call it magnificent! Charles is a retired archeologist and stones and fossils abound throughout the garden.  The way Dee uses every item to make a statement is indescribably flawless!
Directions: Off Cox Creek, turn into Creekwood Subdivision, take first right and go one block to end of street. Her garden is on the left corner.


Phillip and Michael have developed their garden into a showplace! This historic small bungalow garden is full of surprises and BEAUTIFUL plants. There is something in bloom throughout the seasons with roses, hydrangeas, jasmines and special treats to admire!
Directions: Going west (towards ECM), turn off Dr. Hicks Blvd 1 block after Pine Street onto South Cedar St. Go one block - on right at corner of Cedar & Limestone
See what a wonderful job the Cole’s have done with a difficult home site! On the bluffs overlooking Cypress Creek, these beautiful brick terraces outline their beautiful home magnificently! With their tied planting beds and wonderful plants they have grounded what could have been a disastrous home site! Be prepared for a steep walk up to a wonderful view at the back.
Directions: Take Pine Street north, turn left onto Irvine St., turn right at 4 way stop. At bottom of hill turn left onto Waterloo Road at the UNA campus. Drive across bridge at Cypress Creek, turn left first street, then take immediate left onto Wildwood Trail (dead end St.) About middle way on left.
These two gardens together make quiet and forceful statements. Janice, as a Master Gardener, as turned their beautiful home with a fantastic view of the Tennessee River into a paradise! Pat, whose husband was the gardener and is now deceased, is only the “caretaker” she says! But she and her son have managed quite nicely. The views from these two gardens will take your breath away!
Directions: Hwy 72 south across O’Neal Bridge, take first right. Take next right and follow street around the bluff.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Nap time

I'm always amused at the places Chester finds to nap!

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Monday, April 8, 2013

Gardens on tour

This is a reminder that the Garden Tour is this weekend. The hours are Saturday 9-5 and Sunday 1-5. Tickets are only $5 and can be purchased at any of the gardens on the tour. Once you purchase a ticket at your first garden, you are good to go and your ticket is good for the remainder of the tour.

Also, the State Master Gardener conference is set for Monday-Wednesday, April 15-17. You do not have to be a Master Gardener to attend. Speakers include James Farmer, Erica Glasener, Walter Reeves, Troy Marden, Hayes Jackson, Cindy Shapton, Don Shadow, Dan Spaulding and David Tomlin. Visit the website for more details on the conference.

For the garden tour, in addition to our garden, there are eight other gardens that will be open. I have photographed and written about many of these gardens for Alabama Gardener magazine. They include:

Margie Anderton

Irene Fowler
Tommy Mathis

Dee Hubbert
For a list of all the gardens as well as directions, see my earlier post.

 Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Getting ready

The garden tour is one week away and I'm telling you now our garden is not the best for an early spring tour. We are actually having a late spring. The dogwoods aren't even blooming yet! Most of the trees have not leafed out and there is very little in the way of flowers. On the plus side, I've never done so much work in the garden this early! There is still quite a bit to do before next week.

I got a lot accomplished today. It was a gorgeous day!

I bought some plants this morning for the pots. The garden centers around town were super busy. Everyone is ready for spring!

A calla lily we picked up at Lowe's.

Caladium "Little Miss Muppet" for the bed at the base of the waterfall.

Swan River Daisies - there were four in a large pot and they flopped when I removed them so I have them tied for the moment.
Lobelia for the chandelier planter. I haven't had much luck with lobelia in the past so I'm not sure about this but I wanted something full for instant effect.
I cleaned the water features and turned on the pumps.
The urn fountain installation went smoothly - what a relief that was.
I took a few minutes after supper to take some photos of plants blooming right now. Totally forgot the Kerria which is spectacular but I will try and get that later.

Money Plant (Lunaria annua)

Azalea 'Koromo Shikibu'

Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)

Mohawk Viburnum (Viburnum x burkwoodii  'Mohawk')

Candytuft (Iberis)

Jacob's Ladder "Stairway to Heaven" (polemonium reptans)

Jacob's Ladder "Stairway to Heaven" (polemonium reptans)

Several late daffodils are blooming (I don't recall the name)

Spanish Bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica)
A returning tulip

The Weeping Cherry (Prunus subhirtella 'Pendula') over the patio is spectacular.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Monday, April 1, 2013


A beautiful evening to be out working in the garden with the birds singing and mild and dry weather. Everything is suddenly popping out - so much to photograph yet so little time. Tons of weeding yet to be done and the garden tour is weekend after next. Panic will set in soon.

The weather man I follow on Facebook posted today that the long term outlook for next week foretold an artic front that would have us with daytime highs in the upper 20s. I fell for it for a few seconds until I realized what day it is. Haha, very funny. Not.

The Yoshino Cherry trees are just beginning to bloom. They are very fragile and are usually destroyed by rains or strong winds. I'm hoping they will last for the garden tour but I'm not getting my hopes up.

The evening sky above our driveway.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy