Category: Garden

Homegrown Wedding Flowers

Click the cover image to read more of Allen's wedding bouquet ideas on AYMag.com.Whether you’re saying “I do” in spring, summer or fall, there are a bounty of blooms that are easy to grow for use in arrangements and bouquets. Here are a few of my favorite, garden stems for these three seasons.

Spring

Daffodils – If you’ve been to my farm, you know daffodils are one of my favorites. Plant the bulbs in the late fall and you’ll enjoy vases full of the yellow charmers as soon as the temperatures begin to warm.

Peonies – Peonies are one of the hardiest and most resilient plants in the garden. What’s more their prime time for blooming starts in mid-May and runs through June—perfect for the wedding season. If you plan to cut peonies from the garden, I suggest selecting half-opened blooms, simply because they will last longer.

Tulips – You can find a tulip in just about any shade and there are a variety of bloom shapes too. Plant bulbs in fall. Check the bloom time for the variety to make sure it will be in flower at the time of your ceremony.

Bouquet Idea
Contrast the cup shape of tulips with the soft curves of calla lilies. I think yellow calla lilies paired with pale yellow to cream tulips would be lovely.

Summer

Hydrangeas – Because hydrangeas are so full you only need a few stems to create a lush bouquet. It’s important to know Hydrangeas do have a tendency to lose their vitality, so you’ll want to keep them in a cool place and give them plenty of water after they are cut. If possible, cut them the morning of the wedding to ensure the freshest bouquet.

Lilies – Lilies will come back year after year and be prolific producers of open full blooms. White Oriental lilies make for an elegant and fragrant bouquet. For the best color selection choose an Asiatic variety. Be sure to remove lily stamens to keep the pollen from getting on clothes.

Zinnias – Plant zinnias and you’ll enjoy a bounty of wildflower-like beauty from early summer until the first frost. I like cutting these and loosely arranging a mason jar for an effortless look. For a bouquet, I suggest tying with natural raffia.

Bouquet Idea
For casual, but colorful flowers mix red, yellow and orange with pink and green zinnias.

Fall

Sunflowers – An iconic symbol of the close of summer and start of fall, cut a few sunflower stalks and loosely assemble with ribbon for a tied bouquet or simply enjoy their beauty in tall metal or glass vase.

Cockscomb – With a vase life of 5-10 days, cockscomb’s modern look makes for a hardy bouquet. Mix with other seasonal selections from your florist or market, such as button mums, for a fall display.

Dahlias – One of the most cheerful blooms in the garden, you’ll want to plant your dahlias around the same time you put tomatoes in the ground. You can expect to have cut flowers from late summer until the first frost.

Bouquet Idea
Any of these blooms would be lovely for a monochromatic arrangement or bouquet. All three offer varieties that produce different bloom forms so you can pick flowers in the same color family, but with different shapes.

June Bloom – Hydrangea macrophylla

How many of you remember the part of Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty where the fairy godmothers fight over whether Sleeping Beauty’s ball gown should be pink or blue? I think of that scene every time the old-fashioned mophead hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) burst into bloom in June. The colors are so rich they are the stuff of magic.

It’s not a fairy godmother that determines whether this hydrangea’s blooms are pink or blue, it is aluminum. Lots of aluminum makes for blue flowers, lack of aluminum and the blooms will be pink.

The pH of the soil determines how much aluminum H. macrophylla can absorb.

Sweet soils (pH of 6.0 to 6.2) = pink hydrangea blooms.

Neutral soils (pH of 5.5 to 6.5) = purple blooms.

Acidic soils (pH of 5.5 and lower) = blue blooms.

Add lime to the soil for pink blooms; add aluminum sulfate for blue blooms. The amount of lime or aluminum sulfate needed depends on the soil composition.

If you are dead set on your hydrangea being pink or blue, grow it in a container where you can easily control the soil pH.

Deer Resistant Plants? Fact or Fiction?

Raise your hand if deer like to graze in your garden. How many different tactics have you tried to protect your plants? Have you tried hanging bars of soap from tree limbs, sprayed predator urine or scattered human hair around flower beds?

While these inventive measures may work temporarily, a long term solution requires a holistic approach. First, you have to give up the idea that you are ever going to deer proof your garden. Unless you build a 7-foot tall fence around your place, there’s not much you can do to keep them out. Next, make your garden less appealing to deer. Stop planting their favorites like tulips, roses and hostas and choose plants that deer are less inclined to eat. A few plant characteristics to look out for are fuzzy foliage, an antiseptic aroma and a bad taste.

Are there plants that are 100 percent deer resistant? No. The truth is that deer will eat anything when food is scarce, but if your garden is filled with plants that deer find unpleasant, there is a good chance they will move on to the delicacies in your neighbor’s yard.

 

May Bloom – Roses

Come rain or shine the last week of April and first few weeks of May are when the roses in my garden start their spring show. Even though we are a few weeks behind because of cooler than usual weather, the roses are right on schedule. This is good because Mike Shoup of the Antique Rose Emporium is coming for a visit in just a few days.

Mike is an expert on heritage roses so I thought it would be appropriate to invite him to speak on the subject when the roses are at their peak. To make the event even rosier Mike’s talk is at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion where heritage roses abound in the gardens.

I know not everyone can make it to the lecture and not everyone has roses blooming yet so I’m giving away a copy of Mike’s book Empress of the Garden. It’s a big, coffee table-sized book that defines rose varieties by their personalities, which makes it easy to decide if a rose is right for you. Mike introduces us “Balloon-skirted Ladies” and “Petite Party-goers” as well as “Mysterious Ladies.” And let me tell you it’s always good to know you’ve fallen for a “Petulant Diva” before you bring her into the garden.

If you’d like to win a copy of Empress of the Garden tell me what you love most about roses – fragrance, color, rose hips? Just post a comment below. I’ll select a winner at random on May 8th, 2013.

Congrats to Nancy Olig! She’s the winner of this month’s giveaway. Check your inbox Nancy for an email explaining how to get your copy of Mike’s book. Thank you to everyone who participated!

 'Star of the Republic' is a variety in the Pioneer Series developed by Mike and the Antique Rose Emporium.

I grow a hedge of 'Sarah van Fleet' roses at the Moss Mountain Farm Garden Home.

Mike classifies 'Mutabilis' as a "Big-hearted Homebody." The blooms open yellow and mature to pink and then red.

'Sombreuil' is a climber that produces very fragrant blooms. In his book, Mike writes that she is obedient, pure, and enchanting.

'Ballerina' is one of the more carefree roses that I grow in my city Garden Home. She's planted in the front garden in high shade and seems quite happy.

Tomato Tales

This is an excerpt from my column in AY Magazine. Read the entire article here.

Long before social media was even a spark in our collective conscious, bits of “wisdom” have been going viral via word of mouth in the form of old wives tales and folklore.

For me, these stories are interesting because they are part of our oral tradition. For instance, how many of you have heard that it is bad luck to place a hat on a bed or that going out in the cold with wet hair will make you sick?

Of course, my favorite anecdotes are about gardening and some of the best are related to growing tomatoes. It seems everyone’s grandmother had a pearl of wisdom about getting the growing the best tasting tomato.

Matt's Wild Cherry Tomato

Here are a few tomato tales that I’m familiar with. Some are based in fact, while others are pure fiction.

  1. Sprinkle sugar in the planting hole or water your tomatoes with sugar water to make them sweeter. This is untrue. The sweetness of a tomato is determined by the variety. If you want a sweet tomato try planting ‘Sungold’ or ‘Mr. Stripey’.
  2. If you have a tomato plant that is lush, but doesn’t set fruit, beat it with a broom. The idea behind this tip is that the beating will stress the plant and prompt bloom. More blooms mean a better chance for tomatoes. I haven’t tried this one, but the old-timers swear by it.
  3. To prevent blossom end rot add crushed eggshells to the planting hole. This suggestion actually has legs to it. The eggshells are a good source of calcium, which helps reduce blossom end rot.How about you? What’s the best tomato growing “advice” you know? Have you tried any of these tips?

Soil Secrets from an Expert

It’s often said that the secret to successful gardening is good soil. But what’s the secret to getting good soil? I asked Jen Neve, President of Oppenheimer Biotechnology, to shed some light on the mystery.

I first met Jen in 2011 when she spoke to a group of garden writers at Moss Mountain Farm. Her company specializes in growing the microorganism Archaea. Archaea is like the Incredible Hulk of microorganisms. Aggressive, fast and tolerant of harsh conditions, it is used at oil spills to recycle contaminants into natural compounds. The microbes break down complex materials into basic nutrients and trace elements that are beneficial to plants. For this reason Archaea is also a great soil amendment, which is why you’ll find it in fertilizers offered by my friends at Jobe’s Organic Fertilizers.

While she was at the farm I noticed how Jen was able to take fairly complicated information and translate it into something we could all understand – sort of like Archaea! I thought she’d be the perfect person to explain the nature of good soil.

Here are the questions I posed to Jen and her responses.

Allen: A common mantra in gardening is “feed the soil, not the plants.” What does this mean and how can gardeners feed the soil?

Jen Neve: Plants get most of their nutrients from the soil – so the way to have a healthy plant is to make sure your soil is healthy. When you start your garden make sure you use sand, compost and organic fertilizer and mix it into your existing soil. Microbes are hugely important and often chemicals can harm them so they may not exist in sufficient numbers in backyard soil. I suggest using an organic fertilizer that has beneficial bacteria, mycorrhizal fungi and especially Archaea. Plant whatever you want, mulch, and once or twice a year apply organic fertilizer then leave it alone. Too much digging and fiddling disturbs the root system, in fact it disturbs the whole soil structure and can harm your plants. I know I started that way – dig, dig, dig…fiddle, fiddle, fiddle – it was just more work for me without really helping the plants. So my gardening mantra is now “get it established and leave it alone.”

Allen: How can a gardener tell is their soil is healthy? What do you consider to be the most important elements of healthy soil?

Jen: I think the best way to tell if your soil is healthy is to take a look at the soil. Soil is a complex assemblage of decaying organic matter, stable organic matter, fresh residue and many living organisms ranging in size from the tiny bacteria, Archaea, algae, fungi, and protozoa, more complex nematodes and micro-arthropods, to the visible earthworms, insects, small vertebrates, and even plants. The most important elements are signs of life and non-uniformity. By signs of life I mean can you see little creatures in it? Are there bits of plant matter (green as well as decaying)? Can you see grains of sand? Tiny rocks? Perhaps some leaves and sticks? Contrast that to sand in the desert – yes, it’s pretty but it’s uniform & for the most part lifeless.

Allen: How does Archaea contribute to soil health? How is it different from mycorrhizal fungi?

Jen: Within the soil the mycorrhizal fungi establishes a symbiotic relationship with plant roots by penetrating plant root tissues and surrounding root mass to more effectively take in needed nutrients. The Archaea are microorganisms similar to bacteria that work in the soil to release greater amounts of nutrients so the plant can take in nutrition as required. There is a natural cooperation developed between Archaea and beneficial bacteria making them more effective as a group. Archaea also breaks down organic matter into usable forms that plant roots and mycorrhizal fungi can identify, absorb, and ultimately incorporate for new growth. There has been some interesting research in Europe indicating that Archaea have an important role in the nitrogen cycle, one that is completely different than the traditional role limited to bacteria only.

You can think of the mycorrhizal fungi as an extension of the plant roots allowing the plant to use more of the nutrients the Archaea have made available.

Imagine a family all sitting around the dinner table with different kinds of food all along the center of the table – where most of the food is in unopened cans. The Archaea are the can openers, allowing the food to be available but only to the people right in front of the food. If you hand some of the people 2-foot long forks (aka mycorrhizal fungi) they can grab food from anywhere on the table – allowing them a more varied diet and therefore a healthier life.

Allen: Beyond good soil, what’s your best tip for a successful garden?

Jen: Plant what grows & be patient. Seems simple but we all try to make plants grow where WE want them NOW. I always scour all the local nurseries and even big box stores looking for plants in small pots (lots of native plants) and then plant several different kinds all in one area and wait a season to see what happens. Then I buy & plant more of what thrived without extra attention from me. If a “weed” happens to grow and looks pretty then I leave it in the garden. I happen to love the wild English garden look so this method works for me. My friends all say I have a green thumb but actually, I just plant more of what has grown for me. Also, as I mentioned earlier – get the healthy soil established and just leave the soil alone.

Five Tips for Container Gardens

Whether you’re working with limited space or just looking for more versatility in your gardening, containers are a great option. Container gardens provide statement seasonal color and allow you to add more variety to your garden in spite of space limitations. Here are five tips that will ensure your success!

Select the right container

Begin by selecting the right container. First, consider the size; you want to take into account the mature size of the plants you’re working with. Also, look for a container with drainage holes, so that the roots don’t sit in water. I love a classic terra cotta pot, but they are a little fragile, so to prevent cracking over the winter, you’ll want to be sure to store them before the temperature drops below freezing. If you don’t have sheltered storage, remove the saucers. This will help keep the containers dry.

Use quality soil

The next tip is to select a quality potting soil that’s formulated for container use. When you squeeze the soil in your hand and release it, it should crumble, not clump. You can find soil formulated for container gardens with fertilizer included.

Select the best plants

Now that you have the container and soil ready, it’s time to choose the best plants for your container garden.

You can really use any color combination you like, but to create visual interest, I like to use the thriller, filler and spiller structural concept. You start with tall thriller plants that add a vertical element to the combination. Next, use more rounded plants as fillers to give the container the look of abundance. Finally spillers are trailing plants that are placed closest to the container’s edge to balance the height of the thrillers.

Fertilizer is key

Once you have your plants in place, another key to successful container gardening is fertilizer. It’s like a daily vitamin for your plants because it helps them perform to their full potential. Begin by applying a controlled release fertilizer at the time of planting. Then, mid-season apply a water-soluble fertilizer to really increase your flower power.

Water correctly

Now for the final step – properly watering your plants. Apply water at base of plants instead of over the top. This helps hydrate the plant at the roots and prevents wet foliage – which can leave plants vulnerable to disease. Knowing when to water is also important. This may seem a little basic but it really works. Simply touch the soil with your finger. If it feels dry, that’s when you want to water it. Also, remember that just because one pot needs water, it doesn’t mean they all do. Differences in pot and plant sizes will determine how quickly a pot dries out.

Give these tips a try the next time you garden with containers, and see what a difference they can make in the health and beauty of your plants.

Catlin's Giant Ajuga, Catalina® White Torenia, Sunshine Blue® Caryopteris and Efanthia Euphorbia

ColorBlaze® Sedonia Coleus, Supertunia® Royal Velvet Petunia, Lucia® Lavender Blush Lobelia, Sweet Caroline Raven Sweet Potato and Red Riding Hood Purple Fountain Grass Vine

Supertunia® Bordeaux Petunia, Lucia® Lavender Blush Lobelia, Angelface® Blue Angelonia, and Sweet Caroline Raven Sweet Potato Vine

March Bloom: Daffodils

We’ve planted 280,000 daffodils at the Moss Mountain Farm Garden Home. You might say I’m a little daffodil crazy, but what’s not to love about this cheery little flower? They are one of the first blooms to appear in spring, the fragrance is heavenly, and they are perennial. Plus the deer won’t eat them.

Right now the daffodils are in full bloom out at the farm and it’s a sight to behold.

 

If pictures aren’t enough for your daffodil loving heart, make a trip out to farm for one of our Daffodil Days open houses. Click here to learn more.

February Giveaway – Jobe’s Organics Fertilizer

What’s the secret to a bountiful vegetable garden? Healthy soil. Good soil, combined with ample sunshine and consistent moisture will produce a garden that’s easy to maintain and very productive.

Out at the farm we give the soil a leg up with Jobe’s Organics Fertilizer. Their products contain three essential microorganisms – bacteria, mycorrhizal fungi and a unique species of Archaea. Archaea sets Jobe’s apart from other microbial fertilizers because it is so aggressive, quickly breaking down material into nutrients for plants. Our tests of Jobe’s resulted in better looking plants, with increased resistance to weather extremes.

Do you want to try Jobe’s Organics out in your own garden? Leave a comment below for a chance to win an 8 pound bag of their Heirloom Tomato and Vegetable Food.

I’ll pick a winner on March 6th at 9:30 a.m. CST.

 

 Congratulations to Jim Allen! He’s the randomly selected winner of the giveaway. Get ready for a a bountiful vegetable garden this summer Jim!

Essential Tools for the Vegetable Garden

Walk into any garden center or flip through a garden supply catalog and you are bound to see an overwhelming number of garden tools. From hedge shears to hukari knives there is a tool for every task. When it comes to vegetable gardening there are seven essential tools you want to have on hand – a trowel, sharp shooter, garden fork, watering wand, hand pruners, staking materials, and twine.

Trowel – A trowel makes actions like digging, mixing and planting easier on you because it’s basically used as an extension of your hand.

Sharp Shooter – To create deeper, more precise holes, you’ll need a sharp shooter. This is a specific type of shovel with a long, narrow blade. It provides you with more leverage than a trowel and more control than a large garden shovel.

Garden Fork – Another great tool for working with the soil is a garden fork. Its primary function is to loosen or turn over soil, but it can also be used to rake out weeds or large rocks.

Watering Wand – Once your plants are in place, you will really appreciate the value of a watering wand. This tool allows you to be more precise in the amount of water applied to a particular area, which means more consistent watering with less waste. It also prevents some of the achy muscles associated with bending and stretching to water those hard-to-reach areas.

Hand Pruners – There’s nothing better than a great pair of pruners to manage the size and shape of individual plants. This is especially true when it comes to the lanky varieties that can easily over grow their bed companions. They are also handy for harvesting fruits and veggies with tough stems like tomatoes and peppers.

Staking and Twine – The last two things that every gardener needs to have on hand are staking materials and twine. These two work together to keep your vegetable garden in order. First, they provide an area for climbing plants to grow. And secondly, they create an aesthetic design element as a focal point in the garden.

Having the right tool for the job simplifies things and will ultimately give you more time to enjoy your garden.