Pondering landscape design in the urban southeast

Thoughts on landscape design in the urban southeast.

I guess little kids can remember different sorts of things. I can remember a couple of the houses that I lived in during the early 1950s in a small town in the piedmont area of North Carolina.  These houses didn’t have closed foundations, but were built on top of concrete block columns.  I guess I remember this because it made it easy to go play under the house on hot summer days.  I have a vision of myself sitting under the house, quietly playing with my toy soldiers that I had ordered from the back page of a comic book.

This is where I am going--read on

This is where I am going–read on

Knowing what I do now, I assume that these houses built on blocks were either pre-war homes or some that were thrown up quickly to take care of the needs of home-coming soldiers or those moving to town from the country.  Urban living was changing fast in those days.  I can also remember my father taking me to visit in a new neighborhood where the outside walls of the house went all the way to the ground. I guess I remember because  I felt sorry for those poor people—where would they play on a hot summer day?

And here’s how this relates to landscaping.  Most southern houses built during the first half of the twentieth century were perched up on a set of block or rock columns.  This left an ugly space at the bottom of the outside walls and people started planting shrubbery in front of the space to cover it.  And this is where the term “foundation planting” came from.

To this day, even though the outside walls now go all the way to the ground and there is no ugly space, we refer to our landscape gardens as “foundation planting.”  When I first started working in the landscaping business during a housing boom30 years ago, contractors would call and say, “Hey, John, I need a ‘close the loan special’.  That’s exactly what they wanted.  I found that a “close the loan special” meant to smooth down the front yard, plant 5 plants on one side of the front door, 7 plants on the other side of the front door, throw out grass seed and cover it with wheat straw.  I was very happy when my business got to the point where I didn’t have to do this any more.

A shaded area between the road and the home promises something special and adds depth to a small front yard.

A shaded area between the road and the home promises something special and adds depth to a small front yard.

Now, we have come to realize that since we don’t actually need foundation planting in the original sense of the phrase, we can extend our landscape plantings and gardens out into the yard and strive to create an effect that the house grew in the middle of a garden.  It is all relative to the view.  One of the rules of residential landscaping is to guide the visitor to the front door.  What better way is there to accomplish this than to build a garden around the entrance walkway?

Bold design creates an inviting and interesting entrance

Bold design creates an inviting and interesting entrance

An entrance through a garden is designed to be peaceful, to make the visitor comfortable, and to give a promise of being welcome.

Enter through the garden path

Enter through the garden path

It is also interesting to build a well designed and colorful garden in a spot which would ordinarily be relegated to grass.  The de Wits of Kingsport, Tennessee have spent several years tending and manicuring this front garden which contains dianthus, a perfectly shaped eastern red bud, and trailing roses among other delights.

An interesting front yard with no grass to mow.

An interesting front yard with no grass to mow.

The concept in this article swings around the dimensional viewing of a landscape garden.  A garden is an art form that may be viewed from the inside out as well as from the outside in.  I once thought there was a fourth dimension in landscape gardens.  I thought that dimension was time.  But, now, I wonder if there are not more sub dimensions within the fourth dimension.  As John Denver said, “It keeps changing fast, and it don’t last too long.”

 Got Questions?  Enter a comment.  I always try to answer.

I try to put up a new article every Sunday. Stay in touch.  Share it with your friends.

If you live in or around the northwest Georgia area and would like to have a consultation with johntheplantman, you may contact John Schulz by email at

wherdepony@bellsouth.net .  Do not send pictures or attachments as they will be deleted.

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

or print:

http://www.amazon.com/Requiem-Redneck-John-P-Schulz/dp/0981825206/

Try “see inside the book”

Here's where you'll find Johntheplantman at his best

Here’s where you’ll find Johntheplantman at his best

Summertime care for Knockout roses

Knockout Roses and summertime maintenance.

Over the last few years nothing has affected the color of our landscape like the Knockout rose.  Originally this rose was praised as “maintenance free” (and it is, to a point) but we have learned that there are certain tricks to getting the most out of the plant.  Read on—

Beautiful flowers on a Knockout rose, but the spring flush is starting to fade.

Beautiful flowers on a Knockout rose, but the spring flush is starting to fade.

After over 30 years as a landscaper and plant grower, I have learned that there is no such thing as “no maintenance”, only “low maintenance.” The Knockout rose is definitely in the low maintenance category.  After the first beautiful flush of bloom, the plant begins to fade.  This is because the first blooms have been pollinated and the plant is busy with its inherited job of making seeds.  This shows up as dead blooms and an overall dropping of the early spring petals.

The seed pods develop and the petals fall.

The seed pods develop and the petals fall.

Here’s what is going on.  The flowers have been pollinated and are in the process of making seed pods.  There is a chemical produced in the plant that slows down the next blooms so that the seed pods can mature.  In order to fool the plant that it needs to make more flowers, the seed pods must be removed.  This is called “deadheading.” All serious flower growers know about deadheading and I talked to Judy about her Knockout roses the other day about it.  Judy said that cutting off each spent bloom took a lot of time and trouble.  It started me thinking about the best way to accomplish the job.

My feeling on the deadheading job on the roses (and the way I do it on the job) is to combine the job of deadheading and cosmetic pruning into one operation.  I start by looking down into the plant to isolate the stems which have mostly spent blooms.

Look inside the plant to isolate the stems with spent blooms

Look inside the plant to isolate the stems with spent blooms

In performing my task, I am trying to promote new growth and more flowers.  I want to be careful to leave any new growth which looks like this:

Careful pruning and deadheading will produce new growth like this--with lots of flowers.

Careful pruning and deadheading will produce new growth like this–with lots of flowers.

If I reach inside the plant and cut the stem (directly above a new leaf node) I can not only get the plant deadheaded in less time but also cause the stem to branch out and make even more flowers than before.  You may read about some of the principles of pruning in this article onhow to prune a jade plant.”  The principle is the same. I carefully cut a stem in a manner that performs two tasks.  Here is what I cut.

deadheading and pruning the Knockout rose at the same time.

deadheading and pruning the Knockout rose at the same time.

After this cutting, the old stem will branch out and form new growth which will develop more flowers and will, again, look like this:

New growth on the Knockout rose

New growth on the Knockout rose

The process is really rather simple and you probably won’t mess up.  You can cut the stem short and get more branching at the top of the plant or you may wish to take out a larger cutting which will let more light inside the plant and increase the later flowering even more. You may wish to try deadheading on all of your flowers, especially marigolds and petunias. It does make a difference in the number of flowers you will get.

An application of a high phosphorous plant food or fertilizer will also help the plant to flourish and produce even more flowers.  Maybe use something with an analysis of 15-30-15 or a similar ratio.  Liquid feeds are fine and it doesn’t hurt to pour it all over the leaves as well as around the roots.  The upside for liquid is that it works faster.  The downside is that it doesn’t last as long.

Time release fertilizers such as Shake ‘n Feed or Osmocote will work well and last the entire season.  You need to scratch these into the soil or pour them into a small trench around the plant for full effect.

Time release fertilizers break down slowly and feed for the entire season

Time release fertilizers break down slowly and feed for the entire season

You may wish to read my article on fertilizer here.

Another article on pruning Knockout roses

And an article on pruning crape myrtles is here.

Every now and then you may get fungus on the roses, and sometimes aphids will set in.  I suggest a combination fungicide/insecticide which you can purchase at any good nursery.

Got Questions?  Enter a comment.  I always try to answer.

I try to put up a new article every Sunday. Stay in touch.  Share it with your friends.

If you live in or around the northwest Georgia area and would like to have a consultation on your property with johntheplantman, you may contact John Schulz by email at

wherdepony@bellsouth.net .  Do not send pictures or attachments as they will be deleted.

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

Or the traditional print edition:

http://www.amazon.com/Requiem-Redneck-John-P-Schulz/dp/0981825206/

Try “see inside the book”

 

Boys and Girls Club vegetable garden update

Garden update–Boys and Girls Club vegetable garden
Mother’s Day–It was time to check on the garden at the Maple Street Boys and Girls Club here in lovely Rome, Georgia.  The garden is a project of the Three Rivers Garden Club and is sponsored by the Rome Federated Garden guild. I have been involved in the the project from the design stage a year ago. So far, this garden has produced food for hundreds of people and has served as a learning experience for children and adults alike.
New gazebo and entrance arbors

New gazebo and entrance arbors

The garden design from last year called for a gazebo and for entrance arches. They are almost finished.  The kids are going to love this gazebo.  They already love the garden.

start with a picture of a gazebo

start with a picture of a gazebo

Mr. Barry Webb , who is the construction instructor at Georgia Northwestern Technical College was able to take a picture (above) and turn it into a reality.    The crew had started around the first of April and have almost finished the job.

The sign on the pick up truck was a welcome sight

The sign on the pick up truck was a welcome sight

The sign on the truck door announced the arrival of the building crew.

laying it out just right

laying it out just right

laying it out just right

The floor for the gazebo

William James and I took a walk around the garden.  He is kind of new to gardening and wanted to know exactly what needs to be done next.  I wanted to know all about what has happened with the kids, the staff, and the produce.

Mr. James was really proud of the strawberries.  There is a bumper crop coming on and a few days ago the boys and girls were able to have an afternoon snack with strawberries from the garden and some bananas that had been donated from a local organization.

Beautiful strawberries just starting to come in.

Beautiful strawberries just starting to come in.

These beautiful strawberry plants are loaded with little almost ready berries.  Love that compost!

These beautiful strawberry plants are loaded with little almost ready berries. Love that compost!

I liked this, also–earlier this spring, we got the kids in the garden and cleaned out the beds.  To make room for lettuce and spinach, the kids harvested over a hundred pounds of turnips and turnip greens which were donated to the local community kitchen.  Is that cool or what?  One organization growing produce for another.  At any rate, the produce goes where it is needed.

The lettuce likes the raised beds, also.

The lettuce likes the raised beds, also.

Mr. James told me that the children had had a number of afternoon salads from the garden with their own lettuce, onions, radishes, and spinach leaves.  He told me that the staff started sending “salad makings” home with the parents.

Now we are getting ready to plant tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, and lots of other veggies for the summer season.  Below is a picture of the almost finished gazebo with William James and Diane Harbin.  Mrs. Harbin is a member of Three Rivers Garden Club and has directed the garden project.  She knows how to get the job done.

Mrs. Harbin and Mr. James are proud of the progress on the gazebo

Mrs. Harbin and Mr. James are proud of the progress on the gazebo

Every time I visit the garden, watch, and interact with the children, I come away with a happy feeling.  It is an amazing project.  It helps people to laugh, work, learn, eat, and above all share.

This garden provided food for over 200 members of the Boys and Girls Club last summer and fall.  It provided learning for children and adults alike.  It is an amazing project.  I am proud to be a part in it.

Mrs. Harbin and Mr. James are proud of the progress on the gazebo

A strawberry plant blooms in the sun.

To visit the original article on the garden, click on the link below:

Raised beds for a vegetable garden

A beautiful backyard garden path

A walk through a garden pathway

I showed up to “tweak” the garden in preparation for a party.  I hadn’t been there for a while and when I walked up to the trellised gateway, I just stopped and said “wow.”

For a number of years I have helped Susan in developing the garden picture that she keeps in her head.  The garden is reaching maturity and Susan’s overall concept is beginning to really show up.  The gate is open and inviting.  How could you not walk through it?

An invitation to enter the garden

An invitation to enter the garden

Susan is anxiously waiting for the day when the magnolias, hemlocks, and white pines completely hide the black fence in the back and the houses to the sides.  The screen is almost there.  If you look really hard, you can get a glimpse of a neighboring house, but not much of one.

Seclusion created over a number of years

Seclusion created over a number of years

There are three pathway entrances to the garden.  The one pictured below leads from a grassy area past a koi pond and waterfall up into the garden itself.  The pathway is made with the use of random pieces of flagstone and a few custom poured stepping stones. A mulch of natural wood chips adds the perfect complement of texture and color.

Come on in and enjoy the garden. It calls

Come on in and enjoy the garden. It calls

When we established the pathway a few years ago, we used mostly flagstones, but we added hand made stepping stones using whisky barrel rings for a mold.  Leaves from surrounding plants were incorporated into the design, and the stones were colored with an acid stain.  I still remember seeing Susan bending over to look at a stepping stone and then straightening up to look around at the nearby plants. Grinning.

Hand poured stepping stones for accent

Hand poured stepping stones for accent

The pathway meanders to a secluded flagstone sitting area.  I like the way the hostas guide the visitor around the curve.

A flagstone sitting area for meditation

A flagstone sitting area for meditation

Walking toward the rear of the garden from the sitting area is like heading out into “the woods.”  I found azaleas on the left of me and a very large bed of Lenten roses to the right.  A snowball viburnum was showing off its spring glory.

From the sitting area into the garden

From the sitting area into the garden

At a curve in the walk I found this cute little bunny that is probably not going to ever get around to eating that hosta.

Little accents are tucked in interesting places

Little accents are tucked in interesting places

An entrance from the other side of the yard gives a vista of freshly planted begonias, coleus, white azaleas fading into a row of red Encore azaleas, and a beautiful Japanese maple.  As the azaleas fade, a large collection of hydrangeas will bloom in their place.  That’s when the Encore azaleas will really show off, also.

Waiting for the hydrangeas to bloom

Waiting for the hydrangeas to bloom

A view from the patio shows a short retaining wall built with large rocks and plantings to the front with a background of white azaleas.

From detail to background.  Lots of thought has been put into the garden.

From detail to background. Lots of thought has been put into the garden.

A good eye and an attention to detail give us the plantings on and in the rock borders.  Here we have variegated Solomon seal, ferns, and fig vine.  I really liked the basket accent.

Solomon seal and ferns soften the rocks.

Solomon seal and ferns soften the rocks.

The garden entrance from the patio is framed by a Buddha and a dragon fly giving an instant feeling of inner peace. I thought about the juxtaposition of the freedom of the dragon fly in flight and the quiet meditation of the Buddha.

A pensive freedom

Standing over the koi pond and next to a Japanese maple is the statue “la Breeza.” With the wind at her back she welcomes the sun to the garden.

"La Breeza" welcomes the wind and the morning sun.

“La Breeza” welcomes the wind and the morning sun.

I hope you enjoyed the tour as much as I did.  I’ll be back when the hydrangeas are in bloom.

Johntheplantman.

If you live in or around the northwest Georgia area and would like to have a consultation with johntheplantman, you may contact John Schulz by email at wherdepony@bellsouth.net  Do not send pictures or attachments as they will be instantly deleted.

related articles:

flagstone walkway and garden entrance part one

 

Flagstone walkway and garden entrance part two

Lenten roses, planting grass 

These articles are brought to you by John P. Schulz, author of the novel, Requiem for a Redneck .  You can read more of the adventures of John the plant man by visiting the sites below:

ebook:http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FOAJCGO

or the print version:

http://www.amazon.com/Requiem-Redneck-John-P-Schulz/dp/0981825206/

Try “see inside the book”

 

Visiting the Chieftans plant sale

The Chieftans Museum 26th annual plant sale.

I was honored this week to be asked to participate in the Chieftans plant sale.  I have attended the sale a number of times in the past, but it was quite an experience to participate from the “inside.”  I took my trusty little camera and was issued a nice yellow apron which would identify me as a volunteer.

johntheplantman is on the job

johntheplantman is on the job

The Chieftans Museum/Major Ridge Home is located in Beautiful Rome, Georgia and is “Dedicated to become a nationally recognized destination to experience 19th century Cherokee life and the events leading to the ‘clash of cultures’ that culminated in the Trail of Tears.”  I’ll tell you about the plant sale.  You may find more about the museum HERE.

The ladies who put this sale together comb the area to find herb plants, perennials, ferns, flowering plants, and many hard to find an unusual specimens.  They began the sale years ago in the yard of the museum, but it grew and grew until they had to move the sale to the cattle barn at the local fair grounds.  The ladies did an amazing job of putting this year’s collection together—there were thousands of plants, all labeled, priced, and identified with picture signs.

I got to the fairgrounds around 8 a.m. and found a lot of activity going on all around.  There were three sales tables being organized and stacks of “beer flats” at the entrance.  Visitors started showing up and the place soon filled up with browsers and plant buyers by the hundreds.

Thousands of plants were set up in categories with tags and pictures

Thousands of plants were set up in categories with tags and pictures

A holding area was set up in some of the stalls at the rear of the cattle barn and one of my jobs was to find people with full boxes of plants if I could “take this to holding, and, by the way, here’s another box.”  The holding area soon began to look like a garden in and of itself.

The holding area became a garden

The holding area became a garden

Marion is a dynamo.  I couldn’t believe her energy and her horticultural knowledge as she took on the role of resident expert.  It seemed that if no one else knew an answer to a question, they were told, “Just find Marion, she’ll know.”

"Find Marion, She'll know"

“Find Marion, She’ll know”

I enjoyed looking at one of the largest displays of herb plants that I had ever seen.  I looked and saw replacements under the tables.  Volunteers went around and pulled replacements out from under the table and replaced the ones that had been sold.  I enjoyed rubbing the curry plant and smelling my fingers.  Mmmmm. I like curry. I got hungry.  They had fresh donuts at the head table.  I like donuts, too.

Finding just the right herbs.

Finding just the right herbs.

Lots of lovely ladies had a good time finding what they were looking for and learning about new plants.

"Is this going to grow in the shade?  Why not? I want it to grow in the shade.

“Is this going to grow in the shade? Why not? I want it to grow in the shade.

I was delighted at the amount of fun everyone was having, especially the volunteers who were rather knowledgeable and extremely nice and helpful.

"This will give you the effect you want. That's my story and I'm sticking with it."

“This will give you the effect you want. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.”

I may have gotten the figure wrong, but I think I was told that last year the plant sale generated a $27,000 profit to donate to the museum. I thought that this was an amazingly successful fund raiser.

If you would like to read more about the history of the Chieftans museum, go to their website HERE.

I also thought that you might like a nice picture of my town–Rome, Georgia.  This is taken from the top of Myrtle Hill in the cemetary.  Rome was built around seven hills–sound familiar?

Rome, Ga. looking down from Myrtle Hill. Photo by Dekie Hicks

Rome, Ga. looking down from Myrtle Hill. Photo by Dekie Hicks

These articles are brought to you by John P. Schulz, author of the novel, Requiem for a Redneck .  You can read more of the adventures of John the Plant man here:

ebook: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FOAJCGO

Or the print version:

http://www.amazon.com/Requiem-Redneck-John-P-Schulz/dp/0981825206/

Try “see inside the book”

 

Planting instead of mowing on a hillside.

Installing a low maintenance planting on a small hill.

She said, “I don’t mind cutting the grass, but I would like for you to start taking care of that hill out front.  It’s kind of scary to mow.”  I guess she meant for me to mow the bank.  I always try to do as I’m told, but I don’t cut grass for starters and a long time ago I slipped while mowing a bank and my toe got caught under the mower.  Many years later this toe is so ugly it has a name, “Horace bad toe

A picture came to mind:

I got a picture in my head.

I got a picture in my head.

Anyway, since she didn’t say that I had to actually cut the grass but only to “take care of it”, I started thinking out of the box that I never think inside of anyway.  I looked at the project and thought about it for a while.  Then I got out the trusty Roundup sprayer and killed the grass on the bank.  That took care of that problem. But, then I had another problem.

Oakwood Street is aptly named.  It runs between rows of beautiful trees and well kept yards.

Oakwood Street is aptly named. It runs between rows of beautiful trees and well kept yards.

Oakwood Street is aptly named as you can see in the picture, and the yards are neat and well kept. It is a street where people walk their dogs, push their strollers, and jog so I wasn’t surprised a couple of weeks after the Roundup episode to hear the neighbors asking, “What’s wrong with your grass? And what are you going to do about it?”   I grinned because I had a picture in my head.  It was this:

An alternative solution to mowing a bank--cover it with cypress chips and plant neat stuff!

An alternative solution to mowing a bank–cover it with cypress chips and plant neat stuff!

In order to get the job done, I had to accept that any landscaping project includes a fourth dimension.  There are the three common dimensions of width, depth, and height, but a landscaping project also includes the dimension of time.  So, I took my time.  I started by purchasing and spreading 40 bags of cypress mulch that I got from my friendly Lowe’s nursery center.  Then I spread some high nitrogen seed starter fertilizer on top.  This would counteract the nitrogen depletion in the soil caused by the chips.

I found a bunch of liriope (monkey grass), dug a trench right behind the curb and planted it solid.  This would keep anything from falling out into the street.  Borders are important in landscaping as in life.  They define the parameters.

Liriope (monkey grass) installed as a curb side border.

Liriope (monkey grass) installed as a curb side border.

I set out to plant something new every day, but that determination soon changed to once a week.  I started out with some annuals last summer and then replaced them with pansies and violas for the winter.  Violas are very nice—they are hardy and long lasting.

Violas are very nice in the winter and they look fabulous in the spring

Violas are very nice in the winter and they look fabulous in the spring

Next, I started adding some perennials plants and ground covers.  Some lavender was nice at the entrance and of course, we had to plant a clematis to climb up the mailbox.

Clematis, of course, on the mailbox.  Lavender backing it up.

Clematis, of course, on the mailbox. Lavender backing it up.

I found a bit of Artemesia ‘silver mound’ to plant.  It disappears in the winter but comes out strong in the spring.  I love the dainty texture of the silver leaves.

artemesia 'silver mound'--one of my favorite perennials

artemesia ‘silver mound’–one of my favorite perennials

Another plant that will cover a lot of the bank with a silver/blue cast will be the santolina.  Santolina is a member of the same family as the chrysanthemum and blooms a pretty yellow, but its strong evergreen trailing foliage with a gentle frangrance is what I like.

Santolina--offers texture, fragrance, color, spreads, tolerates drought, and deer don't like it.  What more could you ask?  Kinda hard to find, though.

Santolina–offers texture, fragrance, color, spreads, tolerates drought, and deer don’t like it. What more could you ask? Kinda hard to find, though

This spring, the plants started coming out in clumps.  I will wait for the spreading clumps of dianthus, ice plant, and sedum to fill out around the larger plants.

Clumps of mounding ground covers develop well with the verticals supplied by the iris.  (there are also some 'roof iris' coming on)

Clumps of mounding ground covers develop well with the verticals supplied by the iris. (there are also some ‘roof iris’ coming on)

Now the only thing I have to do is pull a weed every now and then.  The chips will slowly decompose and earthworms will churn it into the soil, making a compost rich bed with time. I like the little dianthus, also–very dependable.

I like the little dianthus for foliage, bloom, and fragrance.  They are actually miniature carnations.

I like the little dianthus for foliage, bloom, and fragrance. They are actually miniature carnations.

I also love to use ice plant and different kinds of sedum.

Ice plant is a good choice for a bank.  It covers well, has purple flowers, deer don't eat it, and it is drought tolerant.

Ice plant is a good choice for a bank. It covers well, has purple flowers, deer don’t eat it, and it is drought tolerant.

Sweetie can cut the grass now and I will “take care” of the bank at the road by pulling a weed every now and then, adding some water when necessary, and sticking in a plant or two as it suits my fancy.   God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world.

 These articles are brought to you by John P. Schulz, author of the novel, Requiem for a Redneck .  You can read more of the adventures of John the Plant man here:

http://www.amazon.com/Requiem-Redneck-John-P-Schulz/dp/0981825206/

Try “see inside the book”

Or you may prefer the ebook edition:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FOAJCGO

A grand weeping cherry…and preparing flower beds

Going to see the grandpa weeping cherry …preparing some flower beds

First, the tree:

There’s a big, old weeping cherry tree on top of Mt. Alto.  I’ve been trimming on it and feeding it for over 20 years, and it was big when I got there.  I figured it was time for it to be in bloom so I took my camera and my lady to go check it out.  As we wound our way up the driveway, the tree dominated the top of the hill. I really couldn’t get a picture to do it justice.

A grand old weeping cherry.  The owners refer to it as "THE tree"

A grand old weeping cherry. The owners refer to it as “THE tree”

I think that my favorite view of the tree (either with blooms, with leaves, or bare) is from the top of the upper terrace.  It’s like looking through the top of a living sculpture into the valley below. This tree is on its own roots—not a graft—and it’s the biggest weeping cherry I have ever seen.

Looking through the tree into the valley below is a treat.

Looking through the tree into the valley below is a treat.

I walked around to look at everything and stopped to admire the Lenten roses which framed the shady flagstone walkway.

I love the lenten roses.  They brighten up a shady corner for Easter.

I love the lenten roses. They brighten up a shady corner for Easter.

I enjoyed seeing the bonsai tree sitting on the table creating a concept of a “mountain on a mountain”– macrocosm vs. microcosm.

The bonsai is in a hand made "hypertuffa" concrete dish.

The bonsai is in a hand made “hypertuffa” concrete dish.

We’ll probably have to make another trip in a week or so.  The flower buds on the magnificent old wisteria are getting ready to show off big time.

The wisteria will be covered with beautiful blue flowers soon.

The wisteria will be covered with beautiful blue flowers soon.

It’s funny, but for a long time this wisteria wouldn’t bloom.  Some old people told me to hit it with a sledge hammer.  I didn’t do that, but we pruned it quite a bit this past year.  Maybe that’s why it’s going to bloom so heavily.

I turned and noticed a stem of cherry blossoms hanging over Dekie’s head just asking for this picture. It was a delightful trip to the mountain top.

Walking through the cherry tree blooms.

Walking through the cherry tree blooms.

And on to prepare flower beds at another site:

A well thought out garden needs a touch of johntheplantman

A well thought out garden needs a touch of johntheplantman

On the other side of the county from the weeping cherry is a wonderful, secluded yard on the river.  The overall landscape has been well thought out and nestled appropriately into the environment.  But the flower beds have not been performing well.  After digging around a bit, I figured that flowers just weren’t ever going to be happy in unprepared clay.

On the upper gardens, we piled and shaped compost to form a mounded flower bed from the entrance of the yard down the steps to the lower level and the lake.  There is just something about a truckload of compost that I love.  The flowers will perform well the first year in this medium and the earth worms will churn the compost and mix it in with the clay, causing the bed to get better and better.

I tell people you can stick a pencil in this soil and grow erasers.

I tell people you can stick a pencil in this soil and grow erasers.

For the lower rock gardens, we carefully removed the plants-or what was left of them- and dug out the existing dirt about 8 inches deep.

Sometimes it is best to just get rid of the old dirt and start over.  We will pile it high with good stuff.

Sometimes it is best to just get rid of the old dirt and start over. We will pile it high with good stuff.

We pulled back the pine straw, replaced the dirt, and then put the straw back.  It looked a lot better even without the plants.

Rock garden ready for planting in a week or two.

Rock garden ready for planting in a week or two.

In a few days, according to the weather, we will return to the site and plant it with hostas, ferns, impatiens, and a number of perennial plants.  I love me some compost.  This mix is produced by Fineview Soils in Menlo, Ga.  Mike mixes cottonseed waste, manure, and other organics, turning it until it “cures”.  Before delivery, he has to add wood chips to keep the mix from being too rich.  It is wonderful. I will go back and take photos for this blog in a couple of months to show just how well this method of bed preparation works.

The benefits of my job as a “landscape artist” include meeting and getting to know some wonderful people who are talented in their own areas.  This time, I was able to tour the pottery studio operated by Julie Windler.  She makes beautiful and distinctive pottery and really loves her work.  You may wish to visit her website at The Riverside Potter

Julie Windler, The Riverside Potter. Look closely and you will see a picture of her from sometime back. (Woodstock days?)

Julie Windler, The Riverside Potter. Look closely and you will see a picture of her from sometime back. (Woodstock days?)

These articles are brought to you by John P. Schulz, author of the novel, Requiem for a Redneck .  You can read more of the adventures of John the Plant man here:

For the ebook edition: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FOAJCGO

http://www.amazon.com/Requiem-Redneck-John-P-Schulz/dp/0981825206/

Try “see inside the book”

 

Lenten Roses, planting grass seed, and the early spring vegetable garden

Getting gardens ready for the early spring growing season.

The week before the vernal equinox was a busy one.  The gardens were calling.  I walked into a back yard and enjoyed seeing a section of the beautiful meditation garden that was highlighted by the Edgeworthia and the Lenten roses.  I love Lenten roses (helleborus species) because they are true to their name, blooming without fail for Lent.

A meditation garden with Edgeworthia and Lenten roses

A meditation garden with Edgeworthia and Lenten roses

I studied the various colors of the Lenten roses and then carefully moved some of the leaves that had been left from the fall to find exactly what I thought would be there.  The seedlings from last year’s blooms were up and thriving.  Helleborus will often make a beautiful colony if it is planted in the proper location.

I love seeing the little Lenten rose seedlings up from last years blooms

I love seeing the little Lenten rose seedlings up from last years blooms

Lenten rose seedlings may be left to mature and become hardy.  Fall is usually a good time to carefully lift the baby plants, separate them, and move them around the garden.  They grow rather slowly and they seem to abhor the confinement of pots, but transplanting and thinning will give them room to grow and show off.  If you ever end up with too many Lenten roses, they make a wonderful gift for a friend.

Lenten rose, one of the first flowers of the new year--and long lasting.

Lenten rose, one of the first flowers of the new year–and long lasting.

Please remember my rule for giving plants to “mature” ladies (see, Mom, one more time I didn’t say “old lady”)—if you are going to give plants to someone, it helps to plant them also.  Sometimes a gift of plants creates a burden on the recipient.  At any rate, the gift of Lenten roses will always be appreciated.  They grow best in loose dirt in the shade and deer don’t seem to eat them.  What a plant!

Enjoying the seedlings made me think of the reason I had come to this garden in the first place.  I needed to patch up a little piece of fescue grass that had not performed properly.  Here’s a picture of the problem.

March is the perfect time to fix bad places in seeded lawns

Apparently some of the grass had washed out over the extremely rainy winter.  At least, I think that’s what happened.  One never knows.  The usual practice is to aerate and over seed cool season grasses in September, but if it doesn’t turn out quite right, an early spring patching job will usually suffice.  In my much younger days I tried just spreading seed on the ground but nothing ever came up.  Later, I learned how to do it.

Clean the area so the seeds will not have to compete

Clean the area so the seeds will not have to compete

Starter fertilizer, turf-type fescue seed, a potato hoe, and a rake--that's all you need

Starter fertilizer, turf-type fescue seed, a potato hoe, and a rake–that’s all you need

The important part of the process is to chop up the ground just a little so that the seeds can be covered just a bit.  I like to use what Granny called a “potato hoe”.  This is one of my favorite tools.  I use the potato hoe to chop into the ground in the bare spots.  It’s kind of like painting a floor and not ending up in the corner.  You don’t want to walk over the chopped up ground until after the seeds are in.

A potato hoe is ideal for the preparation

The next step is to spread the seeds and fertilizer over the chopped up places.  I use a starter fertilizer with high phosphorous which should get the roots moving fast as the seeds germinate.  After spreading the seed and fertilizer, I cover it up by running a leaf rake over the area.  You may think this will rake up the grass seed, but it won’t.  The raking will wiggle the seed around and down.

Rake the soil after putting down the seed and fertilizer.  Bring the seed into contact with the ground

Rake the soil after putting down the seed and fertilizer. Bring the seed into contact with the ground

Finally, it is good to tamp the ground and pack it around and over the seed.  You can rent or buy fancy equipment for this, or if you are lucky, you will have some size thirteen shoes to work with like I do.

The cheapest tool to tamp the seeds and dirt down.

The cheapest tool to tamp the seeds and dirt down.

I started carefully walking on the grass and got bored, so I backed the truck up and found just the right music to dance to.  I spent a delightful fifteen minutes dancing all over the grass while the cd player cranked out the song by Friends of Distinction:

“GROOVIN’ IN THE GRASS IS A GAS, BABY CAN YOU DIG IT?”

I started dancing and waving my arms and grinning at the coming of spring and the fact that it was a beautiful sunshiny day.

Dance

Dance

BABY CAN YOU DIG IT?

And off to the vegetable garden. I figured that it would rain in a day or two, so instead of watering in the seed as I usually do, I headed out to the Boys and Girls Club.  The early spring veggies needed planting.  The kids had cleaned out the left over turnip greens and were able to donate somewhere around 200 pounds of greens to the Community kitchen.  I thought that was a neat twist!!

We planted sugar snaps peas, lettuce, spinach, radishes, and beets in the beds.

Planting early spring veggies.  My first time for beets.

Planting early spring veggies. My first time for beets.

And this was funny

I had also ordered sets for potatoes—French fingerling and Yukon Gold.  The trick is to cut the potatoes up and plant them so that the eye can grow and make plants.  Some of the kids were astounded to learn that we would plant potatoes to grow potatoes.

The ten year old never knew that potatoes were planted to grow potatoes.

The ten year old never knew that potatoes were planted to grow potatoes.

One of the youngsters found a piece of hambone in the dirt—just a little circle like you would get with sliced country ham.  I don’t know how it got there, but I couldn’t resist when he asked me what a ham bone was doing in the garden and I told him, “We put that in there so we could grow us a big ol’ hog.”

The boy just shook his head and said, “Man I sure did learn me a bunch of stuff today.”

To read a previous article about the Boys and Girls club garden, go here:

http://johntheplantman.wordpress.com/2009/11/29/raised-beds-for-a-vegetable-garden/

*********

These articles are brought to you by John P. Schulz, author of the novel, Requiem for a Redneck .  You can read more of the adventures of John the Plant man on our Amazon page:

For the ebook edition, click here:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FOAJCGO or for the print edition go to:

http://www.amazon.com/Requiem-Redneck-John-P-Schulz/dp/0981825206/

Choosing the right fertilizer

How do I choose the correct fertilizer?

 “What do I feed my plants?”  “What is the best fertilizer?”  — I think that in my experience as a plant man, these are the most frequently asked questions, and everyone seems to want a concise, three word answer.  Here’s the concise answer:  “It all depends.”  Read on to learn how to choose the best fertilizer for your particular needs.

Basic 10-10-10 fertilizer.  What do the numbers mean?

Basic 10-10-10 fertilizer. What do the numbers mean?

 I will approach the topic with a series of pictures of fertilizer labels and an explanation. The most widely used (and usually cheapest) product used is the basic 10-10-10 fertilizer pictured above.  All fertilizer bags will have a complete analysis of ingredients.  This one shows us that we are getting 10% nitrogen (N), 10 % phosphorous(P), and 10% potassium(K).  This means that 30% of what is in the bag is actual fertilizer; the rest is filler.  N, P, and K are the symbols for the chemicals from the periodic chart of the elements.

 WHAT THEY DO:

Basically, nitrogen promotes green, vegetative growth, phosphorous helps the plant to develop a good root structure, and potassium promotes blooms.

My friend Mrs. Shaw said she remembers it by the use of

“Shoots, Roots, and Fruits.”

 Vegetable growers know that if you put too much nitrogen and not enough phosphorous and potassium on the plants, you will get beautiful plants but the fruit production will be diminished.  Grass growers know that too much of the last two numbers and not enough nitrogen will not produce the desired results for them. Note:  If you are dealing with centipede or St. Augustine grasses, do some research, they are different.

 Plants also need something called “trace elements.”  These are: boron, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc.  Better and usually more expensive fertilizer mixes will contain these trace elements.  Look at the label below for a grass starter fertilizer:

A good fertilizer formulated for a specific growing purpose

A good fertilizer formulated for a specific growing purpose

A well formulated fertilizer.  Note the inclusion of trace elements.

A well formulated fertilizer. Note the inclusion of trace elements.

 Note that this starter fertilizer for lawn seeds and sod includes high nitrogen (18%) for the green, vegetative growth, high phosphorous (24%) for developing root growth, and relatively little potassium (6%) because blooms aren’t really necessary for turf grass.

As a corollary, one of the best plant foods for tomatoes which is no longer available was Dr. Chatelier’s plant food which contained an analysis of 8-8-20 plus trace elements.  It also grew magnificent roses.  I have always tried to find a fertilizer like this for use on vegetables and flowering plants.  There are some products with this or a similar imbalance on the market—they’re just hard to find.  Remember, the numbers don’t have to be exactly the same, just the ratios.

 In my rambling through the fertilizer section at Lowe’s with my trusty HP digital camera, I found some very interesting products.  If you wish to remain organic and chemical free on a small scale, there is an organic fertilizer:

Organic, Anyone?  Check the numbers and the source on the back of the bag.

Organic, Anyone? Check the numbers and the source on the back of the bag.

An organically formulated fertilizer.  I like the use of bone meal for phosphorous

An organically formulated fertilizer. I like the use of bone meal for phosphorous

 There is a wonderful product called Ironite.  The need for iron shows up as a yellowing in the foliage.  This happens commonly with gardenias.  One time, a little old lady gardener (she was little, and definitely old, and she wore white gloves in the garden, but names will not be mentioned because she would slap me) told me to sprinkle Epsom salts around the roots of the yellowed gardenias.  It worked.  Ironite does it even better.

Ironite is a good supplement for trace elements

Ironite is a good supplement for trace elements

Look at all the good stuff in this formulation.

Look at all the good stuff in this formulation.

 The acid balance of the soil (Ph) is important.  Azaleas and Rhododendrons among other plants like an acid soil.  Others like a balanced Ph.  One of the most overlooked chemicals for success in plant growing is lime.  If you notice a failure to thrive or burnt leaf edges, you may wish to have the Ph of the soil checked.  This is easily done through your extension service.  The presence of moss is usually an indicator of an acid soil.  Pelletized lime works quickly and rather well.  Stay away from “hydrated” lime. Look at all the good stuff in a bag of lime

Last year when Sweetie asked me to fertilize the grass, all I did was put lime on it.  The grass was greener than ever!!

Last year when Sweetie asked me to fertilize the grass, all I did was put lime on it. The grass was greener than ever!!

 One of my favorite and most often used fertilizers for ornamentals is Osmocote.  This is a time release fertilizer that breaks down over a period of 6 months or so and offers continuous feeding of the plant.  I use a time release fertilizer whenever I plant flowers or shrubs.  It gives good results.  There are many time release fertilizers on the market, so you can compare the ingredients on the label.  Always be sure to work the time release fertilizer well into the soil. These products usually come with a formulation for either flowers and vegetables or for foliage plants.  Read the label.

Time release plant food makes for outstanding flower beds

Time release plant food makes for outstanding flower beds

 Tree spikes are a very effective product for feeding your prized trees.  These are made to be driven into the ground around the “drip line” of the tree and they feed it throughout the growing season.  There will be different formulations for regular trees or for fruit and flowering trees. 

I like to poke a hole in the ground with a digging bar before driving in the tree spikes.  It keeps them from breaking.

I like to poke a hole in the ground with a digging bar before driving in the tree spikes. It keeps them from breaking.

 Professional greenhouse growers usually use a liquid feed for their plants.  A lot of these growers use the liquid feed at every watering.  I personally like to use it every week or two during the growing season.  There are many brand names, Peter’s, Schultz’s (no relation, note the t.), Miracle grow, and many others.  The liquid feed fertilizers come in a number of formulations.  Here again, read the label. If you are a serious plant grower, you may need several different kinds.  Remember—“SHOOTS, ROOTS,FRUITS”—(first number, middle number, third number).  I always liked Peter’s 20-20-20, but I can’t seem to find it any more.

There are many brand names and many more formulas.  Read the label.

There are many brand names and many more formulas. Read the label.

 As I was finishing up my exploration of the fertilizer section at Lowe’s garden center, I noticed a fragrance that is common to the hills of north Georgia.  I looked around and found two different brands of Organic Fertilizer.

Not to be used for making chicken soup.

Not to be used for making chicken soup.

 I read the label and found that it was composted chicken feathers and manure—and it was only $8.98 for a 5 pound bag.  A little rich for my blood in more ways than one.

 Takeaway:  1. Read the label.  2 Shoots, Roots, Fruits. 3. The three numbers stand for percentages of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium (NPK) in that order.

 Johntheplantman appears in the book Requiem for a Redneck, by John P. Schulz.  Now you can go to Amazon and see inside!

Available as an ebook: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FOAJCGO

http://www.amazon.com/Requiem-Redneck-John-P-Schulz/dp/0981825206/

Any questions about fertilizer?  Leave a comment.

Building a flagstone walkway and garden entrance—part two.

Building a home and garden entrance—part two.

 I was really enjoying the flagstone and garden project.  Who wouldn’t?  There was always a fresh pot of coffee, the sweet lady fixed lunch for us every day, and the job was turning into a true work of art.  I was given total creative license.  It doesn’t get much better than that.  Read on, I will show before and after at the end of this article.

 I didn’t like the way the side of the landing at the back door was looking, so after pondering a bit, I decided that we needed to build a shelf for large potted plants to the side of the landing.  We started with cement blocks and framed in a nice level platform to end up a little lower than the level of the landing.

Building the foundation for a "plant shelf"
Building the foundation for a “plant shelf”

 My choices for facing the side of the shelf were either stucco or rock veneer.  It wasn’t really a hard choice to go with the rock veneer and I was intrigued as Jose showed me how to get the rocks to stick.  It was the same principle as a suction cup.  I got some pictures of the manner in which he made a suction application with the mortar. As I was writing this, my son, Paul, walked in and asked me how to stick flagstone to a wall.  I laughed and told him to read the article when I was finished.

It's all in how you apply the cement.  It starts with a thin layer over the entire rock surface
It’s all in how you apply the cement. It starts with a thin layer over the entire rock surface
A raised edge of mortar is placed on the side of the rock.
A raised edge of mortar is placed on the side of the rock.
an edge of mortar is put all around the rock with a hole in the middle to form a "suction cup"
an edge of mortar is put all around the rock with a hole in the middle to form a “suction cup”
The rock is gently tapped in place, the suction holds it
The rock is gently tapped in place, the suction holds it

 And when the veneer is finished, it looks really good.  Mortar is tucked around the joints.

The rocks are carefully fit into place
The rocks are carefully fit into place

 The elevation of the deck, the walk, and the hillside requires some creative terracing.  To do this, we shape and pack the compost and then add rocks to hold the terraces in place. 

time for the terraces
time for the terraces

The compost is held in place with carefully selected=

 Drip irrigation pipe is installed.  This is Rainbird drip tubing with emitters placed at 18 inches.  It is available at Home Depot.  I will write some irrigation articles at a later date.

drip irrigation is relatively cheap and easy.  Well worth the trouble
drip irrigation is relatively cheap and easy. Well worth the trouble

 A small tube is connected to the drip line and runs up to the pots on the shelf by the porch. We keep the tubing under or behind the pots to hide them as much as possible.

a drip watering tube is installed for each flower pot
a drip watering tube is installed for each flower pot

 An adjustable water emitter is placed in each flower pot.

adjustable drip nozzles for the flower pots.
adjustable drip nozzles for the flower pots.

The valve assemblies are installed by hooking into a faucet that is never used.  The installation will be semi automatic.  The white pipe will be painted flat black which will make it non obtrusive.

The Orbit electric valves are cheap enough at Lowe's or Home Depot.
The Orbit electric valves are cheap enough at Lowe’s or Home Depot.

Wires are run from the automatic valves to a simple controller clock in the basement.  The system may then be operated on either a manual or an automatic mode.

The Orbit controller.  Simple, dependable and worth the price--around $20.00 at Lowe's or Home Depot
The Orbit controller. Simple, dependable and worth the price–around $20.00 at Lowe’s or Home Depot

 Some leftover flagstone is laid as stepping stones to the bird feeder and all that is left to do is put down some pine straw and clean up.

make it easy to get to the bird feeder
make it easy to get to the bird feeder

Here are some pictures of before and after.

before
before
after--I can't wait to see it planted.
after–I can’t wait to see it planted.
entrance before
entrance before
A new entrance to home and garden.  What a difference!!
A new entrance to home and garden. What a difference!!

Turn your friends on to this site.  Leave your comments and questions.  I am always looking for a new topic to write about.

You may see the adventures of Johntheplantman in the book Requiem for a Redneck by John P. Schulz (Illustrated by my son, J.R. Schulz) at

The ebook version: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FOAJCGO

You may also wish to read the reviews on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Requiem-Redneck-John-P-Schulz/dp/0981825206/