Dealing with magnolias-and a grass free front yard

Dealing with the magnolia—and a private, grassless front yard

When we think of the southeastern U.S., the tree that usually comes to mind is the southern magnolia.  When I was a child, my picture with Mom and Dad was published in the Milwaukee Journal as we posed with a magnolia bloom that Dad had brought back from a trip to North Carolina. This was a rare sight for the people in Wisconsin. We moved back south soon after.  Mom wasn’t meant to be in Wisconsin–she’s a Southern Lady.

Unheard of in Milwaukee.  The Milwaukee Journal maybe around 1948.
Unheard of in Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Journal maybe around 1948.

We all seem to enjoy looking at stately magnolia trees, but a lot of people who have them in their yards complain about the constant debris and the fact that nothing much will grow under or around them.  My friend Ray Atkins (The Front Porch Prophet, Sorrow Wood) wrote an article about his magnolia problems called “The Tree of Doom.” Ray remarked that John the Plant Man might know how to solve the problem.  I couldn’t get it off my mind until I realized that my friend Ginger had, indeed, solved the magnolia problem. Ray’s article is here:

And here’s how the lady solved the problem

A magnolia jungle on a city lot.  The flowering cherry is a good accent.
A magnolia jungle on a city lot. The flowering cherry is a good accent.

You see, Ginger decided years ago that she perhaps wasn’t going to be able to grow a nice lawn under the magnolias planted on each side of her front walk, and a true Southern Lady must have a magnolia. Instead of growing a nice lawn, she decided to grow a nice jungle.  Ginger started by bending the limbs of the trees down to the ground and placing bricks on them.  The limbs obediently took root.

Limbs were bent down and allowed to root into the ground.
Limbs were bent down and allowed to root into the ground.

Years went by and more limbs were rooted while the trees got into the project and sent aerial roots down to help grow even more magnolias.  It seemed that the magnolias, even though confined to a relatively small city lot, enjoyed the freedom to spread out and express themselves in a totally natural art form.  Ginger found that Aspidistra (cast iron plant) would grow rather well as an accent plant and the magnolia accepted this and respected the aspidistra’s territory.

The aspidistra finds its place, the magnolia respects it.
The aspidistra finds its place, the magnolia respects it.

Now, instead of having to worry about a lawn of problematic grass, the homeowner is able to relax and enjoy the benefits of one of the best “privacy plantings” that I have ever seen.  The magnolia jungle also adds a certain feeling of peace to the walk down the flagstone entrance to the front of the house.  The walk is dark, green, shady, and cool with a true “light at the end of the tunnel.  It is compelling.

A most compelling entrance through the magnolias.  The gate is open.
A most compelling entrance through the magnolias. The gate is open.

A beautiful flagstone sitting area has been installed between the ‘jungle’ and the house.  A small accent fountain waits for the pump to be turned on after its winter rest.  It is a wonderful place for the lady and her friends to ‘wine down’ as she puts it.

A sound of trickling water will add to the overall ambience
A sound of trickling water will add to the overall ambience

A few years ago, Ginger decided to take out a row of hollies in front of the house and asked me to install a “different sort of garden with an oriental flair.”  So we built a dry river bed, raised the beds, and planted a meditation garden with a mixture of isolated, shaped shrubbery, ground covers, and flowers.

Early spring in the garden.  It fills in as the summer approaches.
Early spring in the garden. It fills in as the summer approaches.
Ginger had planted this different sort of Lenten rose. I can’t wait to get one!

A mature flowering cherry adds beauty, provides light in the winter and shade in the summer, adding a massive accent that ties in the magnolia forest and the patio garden. It is just coming into bloom.

The blooms are just about to open on the flowering cherry
The blooms are just about to open on the flowering cherry

Ginger says that once a year one may sit in the garden as the petals fall like snow.  Dekie and I are invited this year.

For an accent, we installed three large rocks on the hillside leading from the drive to the patio.  A visit to the “rock farm” ended up with a rock that formed a natural chair.  Dekie sat down to read the morning paper as I roamed around with the camera.

It was a lot of trouble to get it there, but what else is one to do after finding the perfect 'sitting rock'?
It was a lot of trouble to get it there, but what else is one to do after finding the perfect ‘sitting rock’?

Across from the rocks, a rhododendron pokes out from the magnolia jungle promising a nice show in a couple of weeks.

The magnolia jungle also respects a little space for a healthy rhododendron.
The magnolia jungle also respects a little space for a healthy rhododendron.

Roaming around toward the back of the house, I found this rather interesting camellia flower

This camellia stopped me in my tracks, I had to share.
This camellia stopped me in my tracks, I had to share.

And talk about privacy for a pool!  The back side of the pool is grown up in bamboo which is usually a worse problem than magnolias, but it is confined here with the pool deck.  A thinning is required once or twice a year but it is a good choice, overall.

Overall, bamboo is too invasive to use, but it is well confined here and gives a good screen
Overall, bamboo is too invasive to use, but it is well confined here and gives a good screen

I think that the lesson I learned in this remarkable garden is that sometimes we must give up on our obsessions with plant grooming and just allow the plants to grow free.  Sometimes we should lessen our control and allow nature to show us its own art form.

I loved the walk through the magnolia jungle--I felt like it was there just for me.  How cool is that?
I loved the walk through the magnolia jungle–I felt like it was there just for me. How cool is that?

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?

John the plant man has helped Ray Atkins.  How can he help you?

Go ahead, leave a comment–then share this with your friends.

 

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:

https://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/

Building a flagstone walkway and garden entrance

Building a garden walkway with flagstone-part one

I cringed when I first looked at the walkway and entrance from the driveway.  Everything else about the mountain home was perfectly lovely.  Rebuilding this part of the garden would be a challenge.  I don’t usually take “before” pictures but I thought these would be interesting.

See how they had to walk up the steps, grab the door handle and back down the steps with nowhere to set the groceries?
See how they had to walk up the steps, grab the door handle and back down the steps with nowhere to set the groceries?
Steps down from the driveway and water running toward the house
Steps down from the driveway and water running toward the house
She asked, "Could you perhaps add a few curves"?
She asked, “Could you perhaps add a few curves”?

The design request was not only to build a useable and visually pleasing entrance to the back door and down to the pool deck, but to also work everything into one of the nicest gardens I have seen in my thirty odd years of landscaping design and installation. The project also had to deal with a myriad of water issues.  I took the pictures above and then went home to sleep on it.  I tried a nap but found it insufficient.  I then slept on it for two or three nights before showing up with my measuring and drawing materials.  I knew that a drawing would be essential, and after several false starts I came up with this:

Driveway entrance from the lower end of the drawing to door at the upper end. Lots of curves and planting areas.  Brilliant?
Driveway entrance from the lower end of the drawing to door at the upper end. Lots of curves and planting areas. Brilliant?

I wanted to get rid of as many steps as possible and to build a practical landing at the back door that would allow a person to open the door without having to back up and step down.  This called for a six foot by four foot  platform landing.  To do this, we measured and built up a level base with concrete blocks.  We formed in the steps and added a flagstone veneer. The level of the walkway was also raised so that water would run toward the driveway instead of toward the house.

This makes it easier to open the door and creates a place to set the groceries.
This makes it easier to open the door and creates a place to set the groceries.

Years ago, I had made a mold for a butterfly stepping stone and given it to a friend.  A few days before starting this project, I found that the friend didn’t appreciate the gift and was keeping his garbage can on top of it so I repossessed it.  I didn’t know what to do with the stepping stone, but when I showed it to the client she asked if it could be inserted into the flagstone.  I was delighted.  Not only would the butterfly occupy a place of honor but my ego had been returned to the right level.  I really thought it came out nice.

I was happier having the butterfly here than under a trash can
I was happier having the butterfly here than under a trash can

Building with flagstone is both a skill and an art form. Installing flagstone veneer for a walkway is not quite as straightforward a job as laying tile or brick.  The installer is working with lots of variables such as shape and thickness of the block and maintaining a level without what I call “toe stumpers” (or little protrusions that catch the front end of a shoe).  The base for the project must be prepared with the thickness of the thickest stone in mind and then the stones are chosen for size and fit before being laid perfectly flat but not totally level (providing for water run off).  The first stage looks like this:

At this point a lot of careful work has been done.  Filling in the joints will tie everything together.
At this point a lot of careful work has been done. Filling in the joints will tie everything together.

When all of the flagstone surfaces have been carefully put into place and everything has been meticulously checked, we wait for the base mortar to dry.  The next step is to “pour the joints”.  This done with the use of a canvas bag that is not unlike a cake decorator bag.  It takes practice and skill to get it just right.  You will notice that the cement at this point sticks up above the surface of the rock.  This is essential for a good joint.

Pouring the joints.This takes practice, time, and care.
Pouring the joints. This takes practice, time, and care.
Waiting for the joints to dry--not too dry, not too wet.
Waiting for the joints to dry–not too dry, not too wet.

After all of the joints and crevasses have been filled and when the cement mixture has reached the perfect point of curing-not too dry and not too wet- the excess is carefully scraped off with a trowel making the entire surface smooth and walkable.  After scraping the joints, the entire surface is covered with a thin layer of sand and rubbed down with rags, taking off the excess cement and cleaning the project so that it looks like this:

Nice and smooth.  I love the random patterns in the rock.
Nice and smooth. I love the random patterns in the rock.

Mike Hutchins shows up with a dump truck load of the finest compost which he makes for me.  We will use this to fill in and to build rock gardens as we finish.  This compost is so good you can stick in pencils and grow erasers.

Magnificent!  There must be a pony in here somewhere.
Magnificent! There must be a pony in here somewhere.

As we raised the level of the walkway, we were careful to put in a drainage pipe to keep the entrance bed from filling up with water.  On any landscaping job, water is the boss.

We had the forsight to add a drain pipe at the start.  This was learned through hard experience.
We had the forsight to add a drain pipe at the start. This was learned through hard experience.

Field stone is placed around the edge for a raised garden bed.  I felt like the field stone would give an added juxtaposition of color and texture.  I can’t wait to see it planted.

A fieldstone flower bed border will add a juxtaposition of color and texture.
A fieldstone flower bed border will add a juxtaposition of color and texture.

The client was excited as her planting areas started taking shape and she felt comfortable pointing out little details that she would like to see as the field stone was installed.  I always enjoy such input as the job progresses because it provides for more thought, more comments, and therefore for more creativity.  It makes for a happy working environment and this helps us to end up with a happy garden.  I like a happy garden.

She observes, "a curve is more difficult than a straight line, but well worth the effort".
She observes, “a curve is more difficult than a straight line, but well worth the effort”.

John the plant man’s blog will have the rest of the story next week.  Of course, it may only be a part of the rest of the story.  Next week we will install shelves by the back door for potted plants. Then we will build rock terraces and fill the area from the walk to the landing, installing irrigation as we go..

It will never be finished, though.  A good garden is never finished.  Stay in touch.

To view part two of this article click here

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

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/

Funny, philosophical, and poignant.
Funny, philosophical, and poignant.

A February 20 walk through a north Georgia garden

A February 20 walk through a north Georgia garden

A February 20 walk through the garden.  I was working on a rock project for a lady who is one of the best plant people ever.  It was the first really beautiful day after a rather difficult winter and I went for a walk through the mountain garden to check out what was happening.  I thought back on one week before when I had seen violas poking through the snow.

The plant that first struck my fancy was a rather large Edgeworthia with its white flower buds beginning to make their fragrant yellow flowers.  I hadn’t seen one of these quite as large as this one.

The beautiful fragrant edgeworthia
The beautiful fragrant edgeworthia
An impressionistic view of the edgeworthia bloom and the blue, blue sky
An impressionistic view of the edgeworthia bloom and the blue, blue sky

I walked up on a birdbath hiding in a wooded alcove.  The oak leaf hydrangea flowers had been left for the winter.  I could envision the coming summer’s blooms hanging over the bird bath with lots of birds enjoying the water.

A visual treat hidden in wooded seclusion
A visual treat hidden in wooded seclusion

I had noticed the daffodils forming flower buds at the bottom of the mountain and found some on top of the mountain that were about a week behind.  I can’t wait to see the daffodils which, to me, are the true herald of spring.

daffodils in bud at the bottom of the mountain
daffodils in bud at the bottom of the mountain
Daffodils on the mountain.  Altitude makes a difference.
Daffodils on the mountain. Altitude makes a difference.

The aptly named Lenten roses were starting to show off as they do this time of year.  These were nestled in several open places and delighted me with their gift of brightness

I love the Lenten rose.  It offers hardiness, shade tolerance, and it offers early, long lasting color
I love the Lenten rose. It offers hardiness, shade tolerance, and it offers early, long lasting color

Around and back behind the Lenten roses, the Autumn ferns were changing from their winter bronze to a beautiful lush green.

Ferns offer a lush green floor in shaded borders
Ferns offer a lush green floor in shaded borders

I had to pause periodically to do a little supervision on the walk way installation, but the progress and the curved design made me even happier.  I can’t wait to see what she plants in the new garden around the flagstone creation

Work was progressing well for the back door landing
Work was progressing well for the back door landing
This will be quite the garden entrance.  Beds will be installed on all sides
This will be quite the garden entrance. Beds will be installed on all sides

Back to my walk to find that Columbine leaves were starting to push their way up with an array of new green leaves, preparing the way for intense, interesting flowers.

The columbine preparing for an April or May showing of color
The columbine preparing for an April or May showing of color

Iris have started their new growth for the year.  I like iris even without the flowers because they offer such nice vertical lines in the garden.  Verticals are hard to come by.

Iris give nice verticals and beautiful flowers as a bonus
Iris give nice verticals and beautiful flowers as a bonus

I spent a good bit of time studying the interesting hydrangea buds.  Sometimes they get over- anxious and come out too soon.  The late frost will damage them.  These buds looked right on time to me.

The hydrangea buds look to be right on time.
The hydrangea buds look to be right on time.

The climbing hydrangea is showing healthy growth buds and will continue its journey up the rock chimney blooming extravagantly in the coming summer.

I wonder how long it takes to grow a climbing hydrangea like this?

Walking around a corner I noticed a little clump of crocus nestled in the rock.  A good sight to end my nature walk.  I will have to go back as the season progresses to enjoy the developing beauty of this wonderful garden.  Thank you, Marion.  I enjoyed it.

The crocus tells us that spring is on its way
The crocus tells us that spring is on its way

It was truly a wonderful day on the mountain.

You can read of the adventures of johntheplantman in the award winning book Requiem for a Redneck.  Find it at Amazon, ebook or printed

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

The hilarious, sensitive, award winning "Requiem for a Redneck"
The hilarious, sensitive, award winning “Requiem for a Redneck”

You can read the reviews on Amazon here:http://www.amazon.com/Requiem-Redneck-John-P-Schulz/dp/0981825206/

Zen and the art of crape myrtle pruning

Zen and the art of crape myrtle pruning.

Of all the questions I am asked about landscaping and gardening, I think most frequently asked is about how to prune crape myrtles.  While thinking about the complex answer to this question, I have come up with the idea that we should talk about “shaping” the plant instead of “pruning” or “cutting back”.  Learning to grow a plant is one thing, shaping it is an art form.

A 40 ft. tall uncut crape makes nice shade but few blooms
A 40 ft. tall uncut crape makes nice shade but few blooms

I guess that the first part of the answer is that a crape myrtle will grow just fine without any pruning at all.  It may turn out to be a large bush or it may turn out to be a tall tree.  In the deep south, these plants are commonly grown as shade trees.  They will become rather large if left untouched—and if that’s what you want, leave it alone.  If you want a heavy blooming, well shaped accent tree for your yard, then the following information may be helpful.

You may wish to review the basics of pruning at another one of my articles which explains what happens to the plant when it is pruned. “The simple basics of pruning-pruning as an art form”.  Also keep in mind that crape myrtles bloom on new growth and that the bloom seems to be regulated by heat. This means that the more new growth shoots there are on the plant when it gets hot, the more flowers you will have.

The most commonly desired shape is that of several trunks (multitrunk) with no growth to a certain height and topped off with a canopy.  Let’s look at how this is accomplished.  Here is a group of plants that haven’t been worked on in a couple of years.

These crape myrtles need a bit of shaping to finish the 4 dimensional "picture"
These crape myrtles need a bit of shaping to finish the 4 dimensional “picture”

To begin, study the plant carefully. Look at the bottom of the tree and take out any undesired vertical trunks.  Common practice calls for the tree to have three or five trunks.  It also works, as shown here, to have quite a few main trunks, but of about the same size.

remove any unwanted vertical trunks
remove any unwanted vertical trunks

After taking out any undesired vertical trunks, look at the top of the tree.  Choose a desirable height and cut the tops of the plants so that 6 or 10 inches of wood is sticking up above a fork.

Pruning the tops also makes the trunks stronger.  Pruning above the "forks" offers more new growth and therefore more blooms.
Pruning the tops also makes the trunks stronger. Pruning above the “forks” offers more new growth and therefore more blooms.

This gives the plant much more opportunity to put out new shoots and new shoots are where the blooms come from.  The little balls that you see in the picture below are old seed pods which should all be trimmed also.

The tops are pruned correctly and the other seed pods should be removed.
The tops are pruned correctly and the other seed pods should be removed.

After taking out the undesired trunks and pruning the tops, look at the remaining trunks and remove all of the small side shoots.  This can be done by cutting or breaking them off.  Breaking them off seems to work best, but cutting will be necessary on the larger stems.  Try to cut as close to the tree trunk as possible.

Taking off the side growth makes the trunk stronger and maintains the "tree" image
Taking off the side growth makes the trunk stronger and maintains the “tree” image

In the large nurseries where the plants are produced for market, the side growth is removed several times a year by what is called “field stripping”.  This is done by wearing heavy gloves, gripping the trunk, and sliding the hand down over the trunks to break off any undesired growth.

"Feild stripping" should be performed to remove side growth periodically through the growing season.
“Feild stripping” should be performed to remove side growth periodically through the growing season.

If you have come anywhere close to following these instructions you will have a beautiful plant with lots of blooms for the spring and summer. Whenyou get through, your project should look like this:

All ready for the summer season.

Around the first of March, apply a general fertilizer with a high middle number (10-15-10 for example.  I plan to write an article on reading a bag of fertilizer shortly).

John P. Schulz has written a book that contains the adventures of johntheplantman it is offered as an ebook Here:

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

Independent Publisher's book award, "Best fiction-South"-2009
Independent Publisher’s book award, “Best fiction-South”-2009

Or you can read all the hype and reviews on Amazon:

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

What to use for an early spring garden

Planting an Early Spring Garden.

I had been wondering about the right time to plant for early spring at the Boys and Girls club’s vegetable garden.  That was when I ran across my friend Farrell the painter.  Farrell is one of those careful craftsmen who can do things like paint trim without masking tape or a drop cloth and end up with a perfect job.  I have always respected true craftsmen.

mmmmmmm.  English peas
mmmmmmm. English peas

I guess I’m a craftsman of sorts, also.  I spend a lot of time keeping up a few gardens for people who ask for attention to detail and for an overall distinctive look in their landscapes.  At any rate, I have been fortunate to meet a number of people up here in north Georgia who take pride in their work and who do outstanding work.  Farrell is one of them.

A lot of these people (especially those around my age of 64) seem to have a common background that I don’t share—they grew up in the country and on farms during the 1950’s and the early 60’s.  They moved to town when making a living in the country became rather difficult if not impossible.  Now, they make a living with trades that have been passed down for generations—painting, carpentry, electrical, earth moving, and the like.  Their common bonds are that they are caring and meticulous, patient, proud of their work, and that they grew up in the country.

A wonderful meal coming on--carrots and beets
A wonderful meal coming on–carrots and beets

Farrell was painting the garage at the estate where I was pruning the English boxwood.  He took a break, got his sandwich and a cup of coffee and walked down to where I was working.

Farrell said, “hey, John.  You were telling me about the importance of lime on my garden and I’ve been watching it and now I have moss just like you said I would.  How about telling me what to use and how much?  Is it too late to lime the garden?

I explained that it was not too late to lime the garden if he used pelleted lime instead of the white powdered lime (which is better but slower) and we talked about how lime is important.  Then I asked him what his early spring plans were for his garden.

Farrell thought about it for a moment and then started out, “well”, he said, “There comes a week around the end of February when it gets nice and dry and you kin work the garden.  That’s when I get ready and plant”.

I pushed him for details.  Farrell started talking about his gardening and I said, “Hold it right there, Farrell, while I go get my notebook”

ready for a spinach and radish salad?
ready for a spinach and radish salad?

When I got back, Farrell started up again.

The best early crop is English peas The English peas come in two kinds, bush and climbing.  The bush peas are a kinda new development and I think you get better results from the climbing kind.  It’s easy if you drive up two fence posts and run a piece of dogwire in between.  You can plant the seeds and they will come up as soon as the weather is right.  They won’t freeze, neither.

“And then there’s carrots.  If you got some loose ground, and plant them early, you’ll get a bunch of carrots.

“And you can plant seeds for radishes and lettuce and beets.  Man, there ain’t nothing like fresh beets from the garden and I love a radish sandwich—you slice the radishes and put them on toasted light bread with a little mayonnaise.

You can harvest your own taters
You can harvest your own taters

“And then the first of March you can plant potato slips.  You can get these at the feed store most of the time.  Then you wait about a week and you can plant cabbage plants.  These will grow quick.

“One of my favorites is spinach.  Spinach don’t like heat too much but you can plant the seeds and have a nice stand for early spring.  Mmmmm.  I cain’t wait to get me a spinach and radish salad.

I asked Farrell where he got his seeds and he told me that he had always gotten good service from Park Seeds but that there were a few other catalogues.  He said that he remembered both his father and his grandfather sitting up on cold January nights going through the ‘seed books’.

So, now I have the list for the Boys and Girls club garden and you know what?  I think I’ll try it myself.

You must remember that Farrell lives in north Georgia and that you will want to modify your planting dates to fit your own location.

If you want to read more from johntheplantman, check out Requiem for a Redneck. It is available as an ebook on Amazon at

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

Or, you may enjoy reading the reviews on Amazon

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

Requiem for a Redneck
A most entertaining book

Bubba the Squirrel Trainer

Bubba The Squirrel Trainer

 Morning coffee conversations with my redneck friend Bubba give me a lot of things to think about.  I like to share these stories and observations on occasion.

Bubba comes to my “office” for coffee about three mornings a week. He usually shows up at 7:45.  I had told him that 7 until 8:30 in the morning is my quiet time that I use for writing and ciphering and such as that, but he just keeps on coming.  One day, I decided to write down some of the things he was telling me in order to make up for the interruption.  Bubba doesn’t seem to mind if I am typing while he talks.

Bubba likes them squirrels
Bubba likes them squirrels

Today, Bubba was all excited about training squirrels. He said he was going to make a bunch of money.

I said, “Bubba, you can’t train a squirrel.”

Bubba bowed up and said, “Yeah, hell you kin.  I done seen it.”

Then he told me about it.
Bubba said, “I got on my Harley and went looking for ol’ Randy who used to be a old fishing buddy of mine.  That sumbitch didn’t ever want to do anything but fish all his life.  He was a self employed heating and air man and he made pretty good at it, too. I been looking for him for a while since he disappeared, but this time I had a lead on him and I found him.

”I pulled up to this pretty nice house-maybe about 1400 square feet that was nestled up to lake Weiss.  I walked around the side and there was old Randy sitting on the dock fishing.  I asked him where the hell he’d been and he told me that he was retarred.  He said he figured out a long time ago that if he kept his needs simple, he could retire when he was 54 and not do nothing but fish.

“So he spent a couple of years building his house – said he only had $30,000 in it – he did all the work himself – and that was one really nice house – and he sold his business and most of his assets and retarred to the lake to fish.
He fishes every day, rain or shine, cold or hot.

”After we talked a few minutes, we went to sit on the porch and Randy made some coffee.  We sipped and talked about old times for a while, and then I seen the squirrel.

”I told Randy that was the fattest squirrel I ever seen and he said: ’You ain’t seen a fat squirrel yet’ and he knocked on the porch rail like you would knock on a door.  All of a sudden the tree in front of us was filled with fat squirrels like you ain’t never seen.

”Randy knocked on the railing again and stretched out his arm, palm up like this (Bubba showed me).  He reached into a can and set a peanut on the inside of his elbow right here.  Then he tapped his forearm lightly and said, ‘c’mon Homer.’

”This time, what had to be the fattest squirrel in the world jumped out of the tree onto the porch rail.  Randy tapped his forearm gently again. ‘C’mon Homer’.  The squirrel hesitated for a moment and then ran up Randy’s arm, sat on his forearm, grabbed the peanut and sat up to eat it.  When he finished, he looked up at Randy as if to say ‘thank you’ and turned and
slowly walked away.

”I said damn, Randy, how many of them squirrels do you have?  He said, ‘fourteen and. Homer’s the oldest.  He’s my buddy’.

”I had noticed that the top of Homer’s head was all scratched up and bloody.
I asked Randy about it.

Randy said, ‘Well, ole Homer is constantly sticking his head into them squirrel nests trying to get familiar with some female and nine times out of ten she don’t want him to and she scratches him up pretty bad’.

”I said, Randy, why don’t you take Homer to the vet and get him fixed so
that he won’t get scratched to death?

”Randy done got all farred up.  He said, ‘You talking about Homer? Homer’s been my buddy for eight years.  I just couldn’t bring myself to do that to Homer.  I don’t even want to think about it. There’s always that one time out of ten.  Homer must think that’s pretty good odds.’

Then he started talking about fishing again.”

Them squirrels love them peanuts
Them squirrels love them peanuts

Bubba took a sip of coffee and looked at me as if to say, “I told you so.”He went over to the sink and rinsed out his cup.

I’ve got to go get busy at my new job”

I looked at Bubba kind of funny, “You got a new job”?

Bubba said, “Yeah, I’m going to be a professional squirrel trainer.  I got to go set on the porch and get started.  Time’s awastin’”.

If you want to read about Johntheplantman’s award winning novel, Requiem for a Redneck, You may find it on Kindle at

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

Or to read the printed book and the reviews on Amazon,

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

Would you like more Bubba stories?  Let me know.

Thanks, johntheplantman

How to build a portable rock garden

How to build a portable rock garden

Several years ago, I figured out how to build a portable rock garden.  The concept hit me when a client’s sister who was visiting from New York looked one of my large rock gardens and commented, “I wish I could take that home with me”.  I thought this was such a good idea that I went home and spent several days of experimentation and trial and error.  It felt really good to put my first specimen in the back seat of the lady’s car as she left to return home.

A truly portable rock garden.  Who would have thought it?
A truly portable rock garden. Who would have thought it?

I haven’t built one of these planters in several years, but I thought one would be a perfect 84th birthday present for Bob Hicks.  Bob is one of those people who have two of everything—but he didn’t have one of these.  Here’s how you do it:

I started by gathering my materials.  I picked up some nice sandstone specimens from the side of a mountain road and found a suitable  piece of flagstone for the base (there are rock dealers all over the place these days).  I got some moss from the back yard where the grass won’t grow, and some smaller rocks from a friend’s driveway.

find just the right rocks
find just the right rocks

The rocks will be glued together with a polyurethane caulk.  You will need a tube of this and a caulking gun.  These are pretty inexpensive and one tube of caulk will do three or four gardens.  I have tried other types of caulk but have found that nothing will do better than polyurethane.  I use PL polyurethane construction adhesive.

A caulking gun and polyurethane caulk for an adhesive
A caulking gun and polyurethane caulk for an adhesive

Be sure to use newspapers or some kind of drop cloth.  The caulk is very hard to clean up.  I got some on my jeans a few years ago.  I still wear the jeans—the caulk is still there, also.

Begin by laying the decorative rocks out on the flat stone that will be the base.  Experiment and get the rocks just as you want them.  Some times it takes quite a bit of adjustment and experimentation.  Take your time.

rocks laid out to perfection.  I'm happy with this
rocks laid out to perfection. I’m happy with this

Cut the tip of the caulking tube about ½ inch from the end.  It works best if you cut it at an angle.  Use a nail or something like that to poke a hole through the seal at the bottom of the tip.  Insert the tube into the caulking gun and you are ready to go.  If you’ve never used a caulking gun, it may take a little experimentation but it is relatively easy.

Next, carefully turn each rock to the side and spread a bead of the caulk on the base.  When this is done, turn the rock back down on the base so that any excess glue will be pushed to the inside.  Mash the rock down good and hard and then try not to move it around any more. Go slowly and do one rock at a time.

Use enough adhesive, but not too much.  Squeeze to the inside
Use enough adhesive, but not too much. Squeeze to the inside

When the gluing is finished, it will be time for the hard part.  The hard part is that you must let the project dry and cure in a dry, warm location for a few days.  Waiting is always difficult for me, but if you get in a hurry, you will mess it up.

Now for the hard part--wait a few days
Now for the hard part–wait a few days

After the glue had dried, examine the project and look for little holes where dirt might run out and stuff little pieces of moss here and there to plug the holes.

plugging the leaks. Do this from the inside
plugging the leaks. Do this from the inside

Now it is time to plant.  You will need one larger accent plant.  I am using a jade plant that has been pruned following the directions in my previous post “The simple basics of pruning”.  Place the accent plant in the correct position—you will want to experiment.  The root ball of this plant should be up high in order to form a “terrace”.

try the plant in several different positions
try the plant in several different positions

Finish filling the planter with good potting soil.  Pack it in around the accent plant and water everything.  This will be a good time to wash off the excess dirt.

water it in and wash the rocks
water it in and wash the rocks

To keep the feeling of a true rock garden, I like to build terraces with smaller rocks.  Sometimes, if the shape and feel is right, I like to use aquarium gravel for a “river bed” or flat rocks for a “stepping stone path”. At this point, pack the dirt and the rocks in so they will stay.

Terraces make the finished product look better. Be an artist.
Terraces make the finished product look better. Be an artist.

After studying the garden, I have decided to enhance the Ikebana effect with a smaller plant in one of the crevasses.  I am using a haworthia here. This will give me a three tiered effect with the difference in elevations of the jade, the haworthia, and some moss. An essay on Ikebana will be the subject of a future post.

just for effect
just for effect

Now, I will pack moss on top of the soil and tuck it in around the rocks.  The moss will live well if misted on a regular basis.  The effect I am looking for is a woodland scene with the moss representing the garden floor.

oooh!  Pretty moss will finish it off
oooh! Pretty moss will finish it off

Here is the finished product ready to be watered in and set in a place of honor.

Water it in and clean it up.  Be sure to set it on a trivet to keep from scratching your table
Water it in and clean it up. Be sure to set it on a trivet to keep from scratching your table

Look at this.  Now Bob will come in for his birthday dinner, admire the planter, and we will say “happy birthday”.  The plants will grow well in good light with a weekly watering.  The moss will probably need misting every couple of days.  As the jade plant grows, proper pruning will enhance the bonsai effect.  Yay!!

near a window or under a floor lamp is perfect!
near a window or under a floor lamp is perfect!

For more adventures of johntheplantman, read “Requiem for a Redneck”, a novel by John P. Schulz. You can purchase the Kindle version here

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

or read the customer reviews on Amazon:

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

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