Posted in gardening, The Southern Garden

A 6-pack of Flowers

Every gardener has their favorite flowers and shrubs. These are the ones we fall back on and use often. I have so many, but I thought I would pick six to share with you. These are not the typical geranium or petunias you often see in garden planters. Not there is anything wrong with either of those plants. The opposite is true, and I use them both and often.
But the following six flowers I like to use for special spots or containers. They may not be available all year long down here in the south, but when they are, you will find them on my plant pick list.
walsh kangaroo
Kangaroo Paw. This is a newish plant for me, and I am still becoming acquainted with it. It likes full sun, loose soil, and room to get some height. The foliage is a dark spikey green and the flower shafts rise from the center. The flower lasts for several weeks, paling as it matures. Multiple spikes will bloom at the same time. I have noticed that it does not like to be kept wet. Water thoroughly and let slightly dry between watering. A fertilizer for blooming flowers is necessary for continued spikes of flowers to be set. This plant can be mixed with other flowers or in a pot by itself.

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Cassandra. I love the deep salmon/peach color of these flowers. A plant that prefers light shade, it is a summer blooming plant. The flowers last, losing the lowest petals on the spike first. An interesting fact: if the flower spike is finished and water is applied to the spike, you can hear the popping of the seeds as they burst from the spike. Given the room, this plant can get 1-2 feet tall. Sniping off the dead spikes will promote fresh flowers. Because this plant is grown in lower light, do not over water.

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Mona Lavender. One of my favorites! The spikes of delicate purple flowers are long lasting and the plant, when properly pinched back, will become a full mound of color. Although, not a true Lavender, the foliage has a slight scent when crushed. This plant will grow in winter sun or partial shade. Unless in a shady area for the summer, it will not survive the intense summer sun and the plant will decline. Also, during the summer, it attracts soft scale and mealy bugs. A pretty plant  by itself or mixed with other annuals. This also makes a great bedding plant.

dragon wing
Dragon Wing Begonia. The delicate drape to the foliage and the lacy appearance of the blossoms makes this plant a great hanging basket or a trailing flower in a container of mixed annuals. It is also good for under-planting a taller palm or flowering tree in a container. The flowers are available in red or a coral color. This begonia will limp along through the summer months but only in a shady location. It is best to cut the plant back as the heat begins, since the leaves will often turn thin and drop.

madavilla
Mandavillea Vine. The large trumpet flowers on this vine are a big attraction for butterflies, and if you’re lucky, humming birds. Available in white, several shades of pink and red, the flowers are slow to appear in cool weather. But the lush foliage makes up for the lack of flowers. I mix lower growing annals at the base to give extra color. Once the weather warms up, the flowers will show, and is best grown in full sun. The plant is a rapid grower and fertilizing with a blooming plant mix is important. Don’t be afraid to cut the climbing tendrils when they get out of hand. This will help the plant stay lush and produce flowers.

dipladenia
Dipladenia. Similar to the Mandavillea flowers. But this plant is a great producer of consistent flowers. Blooms will slow if the weather is too cold. The plant does best to keep a bit dry. Tendrils should be cut back to keep the plant full. Because the plant spreads with in a container, it is best used by itself. This plant will last through the summer months, but the sun will scorch the leaves. Pink is the most common color, but can be found in white and a deep pink/read.

So, there’s my six-pack.
I hope you can find a place for them in your garden. I’m sure you will enjoy these plants as much as I do.
Maybe they will become your favorites as well.

Victoria LK Williams

Botanical Concepts

 

Posted in gardening, The Southern Garden

The Summer Cut

Around the beginning of June/July you should see a difference in your landscape. That’s because it’s time for the summer cut back. Often this includes cutting plants back so hard, they look like there’s nothing left of them.
This is a common practice with landscape companies in our area. Although it doesn’t look great right after it happens, most plants will flourish under this type of pruning and come back looking strong by the end of the summer months.
That’s fine and dandy, but if you live here year-round it can sometimes be frustrating to look at sticks instead of lush bushes. From a business standpoint this is how the landscapers have to do it; they are rarely contracted to provide  selective pruning your plants. But there’s no reason why you can’t.
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Some plants will survive without the summer cutback if you simply cut year-round. By selectively pruning branches as the plant grows, you can keep the plant at a nice year-round focus and shape. Plants like Dracaena Marginata, Ti Plants, Croton, and most trees  are perfect for this type. Even some of your hedging material such as Jasmine,   Hawthorns and Dwarf Ixora will maintain a good look if they are hedged periodically rather than a drastic cut back.
There are some plants such as Ornamental Grasses and Oleanders that thrive on the hard cut back and come back even stronger as a regrow.
It’s all a matter of knowing the plant structure and how it wants to grow naturally. If you have a plant that’s fast-growing and likes to spread, you may need to do more cutting or the drastic hard cutback to keep it looking full and thick.
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But slower growing plants tend to do better with selective pruning. It’s easier to stay on top of them keeping their shape manageable.
So whether you’re doing a hard summer cutback, or selective pruning, there are a few things you need to do before you start…
First and most importantly, make sure your tools are clean and sharp. If you’re pruning large plants make sure the area around is clear so  when the branches drop they don’t damage any lower plants. When you’re done pruning, make sure you clean up the debris, don’t leave it there to die off on the fresh growth. The debris is a primary place for insects and fungus to develop,  you want to be sure to get all cuttings picked up and disposed of, because along with the heat in the summer comes the rainy season. And a combination of the two was perfect for the spread of insects and disease.
After you cut back is the perfect time to fertilize, providing you are not breaking any county ordinances. Some counties will not allow fertilizing during the summer because of fertilizer runoff into lagoons. If this is the case, then try to time your cutbacks so your pruning just before the ordinance timing starts. If you’ve missed that date then as soon as the ordinance timing ends, apply fertilizer on the plants.
It’s pretty hard to cut back too much down here in Florida, between the heat, the rain, and the type of plants, things flourish quickly. By the end of summer you’ll forget how the plants looked after a hard cutback.

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So get out there and get your work done now before it gets too hot and then sit back, relax and enjoy your summer. 

Victoria LK Williams

Posted in gardening, The Southern Garden

What’s that I Smell?

When you look at a flower, a beautiful flower, an almost immediate reaction is to bend closer to it and take a sniff. Does it have a pleasant scent?
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From childhood we do this. I can remember holding the dandelions up to my chin or my nose and smelling, getting the pollen on the tip of my nose with giggling results.
We can plant herbs for the aroma. Their scent smoothing, soothing, and healing. Or we could plant herbs for the scent they add to your food. There are plants we plant because the smell repels animals that might harm our vegetable gardens.
But not every pretty flower has a pleasant scent. Not every person reacts the same way to the smell of every flower.
society garlic
A perfect example of this is Society Garlic. I love the flower. It’s airy and delicate, but the smell certainly isn’t delicate. You don’t have to get too close before you can smell the strong scent of garlic. So strong, it will take over your garden area. This is a plant that is best planted in the back corner or an area you may not wander into often, but can still see from a distance.
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Even the most pleasant of scents like a Gardenia or Jasmine can affect people differently. I have more than one customer  tell  me they love the smell of gardenia, but when their entire bushes in bloom; they can’t be around it because it gives them headaches. The flower’s scent is too overwhelming.
Even some shrubs have distinctive smells. Juniper has one of the most distinctive smells, often reminding me of cat urine. Other people may not smell it, but I certainly do.
If you’re unsure of the smell from a shrub, (will bother you, or give you enjoyment) I would recommend buying a single plant. Place it where you plan on planting it and leave it there for a couple of days. (Don’t forget to water and take care of the plant while it waits to be planted!). Wander around the plant, especially in the early morning when the scent is usually the strongest. Determine whether it bothers you. Does it leave a pleasant or repugnant scent? It’s best to find out now; there’s nothing worse in planting an entire hedge and then discover you can’t stand the smell.

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And don’t forget some plants don’t give off a scent all the time. For instance; Citrus Trees will only bloom around February and their scent is beautiful. But if you happen to be in the middle of a citrus grove during flowering season, you may find it’s too much.
Remember, some smells you may not like, could repel other things like pesky animals that might eat your garden, or insects that might bite you. Lemon grass and rosemary can repel mosquitoes and, although both produce a pleasant scent, too much of anything can be overwhelming.
So remember, your garden is more than just visual feast. There is also the sense of smell that has to come into play. And keep in mind; what you find attractive may not be attractive to your neighbor, so go easy on plants like Society Garlic.

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Posted in gardening, The Southern Garden

Little Gardeners

 

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I spent many hours helping my parents in our garden when I was younger, not always because I wanted to either. And my weekends weren’t always free from weeding and trimming; those are the times we went to help my grandparents with their garden work. All-in-all, they were happy memories, and they taught me a lot of good lessons about responsibility and how nature grows.
kids garden tools
The other day I walked into a garden center and I saw displays of gardening tools for children. Oh, how this makes my heart happy. It’s becoming a lost tradition with kids. A tradition as old as time.  Gardening is another form of art, one we want to nurture and develop with our children, just like music and painting. The only difference is you’re creating with a living, breathing plant to making a picture. Whether it be with symmetrical rows of vegetables or a hodgepodge of wildflowers, you’re creating an image when you create a garden.
I believe when a child has the chance to play in the dirt, they’re happy. And nothing grabs the child’s imagination like planting seedlings, knowing it will row into a full size plant. Your child may even think he is planting the next giant beanstalk. The younger the child the more imagination you use in your gardening chores. Tell them the story as you plant, making it fun and interesting. For older children this is a perfect time to teach responsibilities and basic botany.
But I think the most important thing about gardening with your children is the time you spend  with them. Nothing binds people together more than getting dirty and sweaty working on a project. And let face it, in the summer heat you will get dirty and sweaty in the garden. You can moan and groan about it, or you can enjoy having your child work alongside of you. So what if he pulls up a posy instead of a weed? He’s trying, and that’s what counts. You can always teach them the right way, you can show him what are weeds and what are flowers.
fun garden statues
Take a walk through the garden center and pick up a small watering bucket, hoe, rake or shovel that were made for the hands of a child.  Get them involved in the planning of the garden and in the work. Let your children take part in selecting the plants or small statuary you might put in the garden. Let them have part of the fun. It might surprise you the artistic abilities children really have.
Our local botanical garden is putting in a child’s garden this year. If you’re not able to garden at your home, check into the local venues and see what they offer. Your local garden center selling those small gardening tools, may also offer classes or workshops for the kids. shutterstock_404041375
So, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends; take the time and pass down the love and joy of gardening to the next generation.

www.VictoriaLKWilliams.com

Posted in gardening, The Southern Garden

Let the garden be your medicine

Healing powers of your garden.
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I know we’ve all heard working in the garden is therapeutic. And I’m sure there are tons of facts which can show this, proving it to everyone of you. But I’m going to talk about something much more personal, something I’ve seen for myself.
My mother recently had a serious operation and developed complications which left her in the hospital for quite a long time. As a result, she was getting despondent and seem to be a shadow of herself.
Now, let me tell you a few things about my mother. She’s a strong, determined woman who loves to work in the garden. Or just relax outside and read her books. For her to be in a hospital room for any length of time? Well, it just isn’t like her.
After a couple weeks I was up visiting her and it was a beautiful day. She looked so lost sitting in a chair and I made a few inquiries about getting her out of the room for a bit. We made her comfortable in her wheelchair and I took her outside. We didn’t go too far the first day, just down the sidewalk to look at the pond. But she got out of the room into the fresh air. The change in her was so visible and I wondered why we hadn’t thought of this sooner. The next time she went out for a longer time and sat in the garden watching the antics of a feisty squirrel.

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9367719 – gray squirrel attempts to steal seeds from a bird feeder

I think this was the turning point for my mother’s recovery. Everything she did from that point on in her recovery was with the goal to get home and out in her garden. It worked, too— she has gotten stronger and is getting around on her own now. I attribute a lot of this, but not all, to being able to be outside enjoying nature.
Her doctors and therapists all had a huge hand in her recovery as well as her own desires. But I believe by being outside and having the determination of being able to work towards achieving her goals to be in her garden has helped her.
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She still has a way to go, and still cannot work in the garden. But she can sit out in her lawn chair and enjoy her flowers with a cat on her lap and a book in her hands.
I have high hopes by the end of the summer she will be once again be planting her garden and planning the next area she wants to redesign.

http://www.VictoriaLKWilliams.com

 

Posted in gardening, The Southern Garden

A Plant’s Purpose

Plants do more than just look pretty. They serve a purpose.
The primary purpose of plant life is to clean the air, taking carbon dioxide and other gases and in and, through photosynthesis, releasing oxygen. Without the plants, our earth would most certainly perish.Not only do they provide the air we breathe but also our food. Either as a direct food source ( remember-eat your fruit and veggies!) or through the meat we eat. They can provide food and habitat for many animals, including endangered animals.

But there’s other ways that plants help us.
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If you live along the shore, you know how sandy it is and how easily the dunes can wash away during storms and high surf. The sea-grass and beach daisy planted on top of the dunes will help hold that sand in place, keeping it from eroding. As do the mangroves holding the riverbanks along the river. Plants will also filter and clean that same river water.
Plants can also protect property by being a wind block. When they’re properly pruned, they stand up to some tough winds. Trees provide shade and cooling for us. Some plants are deliberately planted by farmers to attract the insects to the weaker, less expensive plants. This is done so their primary crop can grow without being attacked by the insects. These host plants serve an unusual purpose of being planted deliberately to be infested.
We decide on the types of plants and placement when we plan our landscapes. Do you plant to provide screening or privacy? Or maybe to cut down the noise pollution? Or maybe you plan to create the calmness of a serenity garden.

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Our municipalities realize the value of plants and how important of a role they play in our life. County ordinance will demand that certain plant species and a  certain number of plants are planted. This is usually based on the space you are building. In our area there’s a big push for native plants to be use, cutting down on the need for specialized care that more tropical plants demand.
Even in the water plants serve a purpose to provide oxygen for the marine life and coral. Without these filtering plants, fish will die and the coral will fade and die. Pollution will take over, and our waters will be unsafe for drinking and recreation.

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So, I guess what I need to say is this; before you cut down that tree or remove that hedge think about the purpose of the plant. If the plants are being removed because of age or decline, can you replace it with something else? (An interesting fact; most Christmas tree farms will plant a new tree for every one cut down. It’s smart planning for the future, insuring future crops of trees and income.)

Can you plant something that will benefit not only yourself, but our precious planet?

http://www.VictoriaLKWilliams.com

Posted in gardening, The Southern Garden

Flower Care in the Hot, Hot Summer

Down here in the South we have two summer seasons; hot and hotter.

Once May slips through we’re into summer. And there won’t be much of a break from the heat until October/November. As the summer months crawl along, the heat builds up, day after day. Sometimes we get an afternoon rain to give us relief, but the humidity just builds until there’s a good old-fashioned thunderstorm. Or even worse, a hurricane!
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It goes without saying the plants we planted for color and beauty during the winter months will not survive in this hot heat. Even in the shade, the sturdiest of plants will suffer.
That’s why it is important to pick summer annuals to replace your winter annuals. You can still achieve a beautiful garden by using the right plants.

Listed below are summer annuals I like to use.
Caladiums, Cassandra, Periwinkle, Purslane, Sedum, Pentas, Portulaca, Lantana, Bush Daisy, Blue Daze, Angelina, Coleus, Phlox, Dipladenia, Scaevola, Gomphrena, Zinnia, Sunpatiens, Mexican Heather, Gaura, Society Garlic, and some varieties of Begonias.

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Along with selecting the right plants, proper care is essential. You need to make sure that the plants are watered consistently and thoroughly, fertilized when needed and check for insects weekly. This also means removing debris from around the base of the plant, looking at the underside of the leaves for the critters and snapping off any problem areas. Because the plants grow so fast during the summer months, the insects thinks it’s a feeding frenzy for them. A healthy plant will tolerate an insect infestation much better than a week plant, and that’s why it’s important to make sure they’re watered and fertilized properly.
With all this heat and humidity it is also important to keep an eye out for disease, mold and fungus problems.

This is also when most landscapers do their hard cut-backs on the landscape plants. Often this looks severe, but the plants will flush back out over the summer months to their full lush beauty. In the meantime, the area where you had your winter annuals may now be exposed to the full brunt of the summer sun, with no shade from the surrounding shrubbery. You need to be aware of these changes when you decide what plants to plant.
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But don’t be afraid to continue to garden in the summer months. Switch out those old tired annuals and put in fresh flowers that will last the summer.

Then hop in the pool and enjoy your garden.
Go ahead, you earned it!

 

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http://www.VictoriaLKWilliams