Just wanted to share a photo of my ‘Coral Bells’ azalea. Nothing says like spring in Alabama like the blooms of this beautiful azalea (except perhaps for the glorious stretch of white dogwoods lining the street in my neighborhood). These warm days have led all of us to believe that spring is really here and winter is over. But the last official frost date for our area is April 15th. I can remember a snow on April 6th. So words of wisdom. It is too early to plant tender annuals. It is too early to put out a summer vegetable garden. Even if we do not have a frost, the ground has not warmed up enough to put annuals and summer vegetables in the ground. At a recent vegetable growing class I attended it was suggested that the ground be around 65 degrees for our summer vegetables to begin to grow. If plants are very tender the first week of May is even better for them. Most annuals are considered tropicals and we are way too chilly now for them. I have to admit I was tempted as I strolled the aisles of the big box stores and eyed the begonias, the impatiens, the zinnias, and others. But common sense took over. Those same plants will be waiting for me when it is safer to plant them. So spend this lovely weekend getting ready to plant. Add some compost to your flower bed. Wash the pollen off your car and enjoy spring in Alabama.
Most of the time this evergreen shrub adopts an unassuming role in the garden. A stiff upright- growing plant with prickly leaves that resembles a holly, it doesn’t command our attention like a camellia or a Japanese maple. That is, until January when magnificent sprays of bright yellow flowers bloom in spike-like clusters. The faded blooms are replaced by blue-black berries which the birds relish. This is one of those plants that must be planted in the right place, as the leaves are sharp and a little mean. It should not be planted close to walkways or where people sit or little children play. Mahonias do not seem to be bothered by either pests or diseases but they can get leggy. Use judicious pruning when needed to remove the leggiest canes to the ground.
I have many different mahonias in my yard but ‘Arthur Menzies’ (ordered from Heronswood Gardens, now out of business) may be a favorite. Friend and gardener Hayes Jackson told me this was a plant I should own. He was right; the beautiful glossy green leaves and the wonderful sprays of bright yellow blooms have earned a place in my garden’s heart. The sprays, resembling mini fireworks exploding in the landscape, are a special gift in January when the days tend to be gray and dreary. Although ‘Arthur Menzies’ will grow in full sun to part shade, mine is in filtered shade and doing well. This mahonia can reach 15 feet tall but not nearly that wide; in the ten or so years in my grden it has not reached that size. It is not a suitable choice for a foundation planting. It might make a nice screen as long as you plant it where no one can get stuck.
When I began to garden decades ago I went for all the splash and substance for spring and summer, an error commonly made by many gardeners, especially first timers. But gardening and the precious gifts that a garden can bring can occur twelve months of the year. A mahonia is only one of many wonderful plants that brightens the landscape at unexpected times throughout the year. So garden for the whole year. It takes a little practice and a lot of thought, but it is a worthwhile effort.
I will be presenting a free program on March 6 th at 2PM at the Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County: "How does Your Garden Grow." Grady Woodall will present a free bonsai program at the Library on March 13 at noon and then there will be a hands on workshop on March 30 (call the Library to register as there is a fee for this workshop).
Hayes Jackson is doing a "Rain Barrel and Cisterns" workshop at the Anniston Museum from 10 until noon on March 29 th . Please check with the Museum at 256-237-6766 to register.
Looking ahead "Lunch and Learn" with the Calhoun County Master Gardeners starts back on April 25 at noon. Dr. Harry Holstein of JSU will be our speaker. The first MG plant sale of the season is April 21 from 8 until 11. Both events are at Cane Creek Community Gardens.
For those of you who can always use another tree there will be 2 tree giveaways in the county this month:
Jacksonville Arbor Day Tree give away: Friday, Feb. 17 th on the Square from 3 until 5 PM
Calhoun County Beautification Board: Friday, February 24 at Foodland in Alexandria from 2:30 until 4:30 PM.
The flowering quince (chaenomeles) around town have been putting on a show now for a couple of weeks. This wonderful deciduous ornamental is just about the first thing to begin blooming in the garden each year; I have seen the quince in the photograph start to bloom in January. This is an easy plant to grow; flowering quince doesn’t seem bothered by insects, diseases (except perhaps leaf spot in the summer), or deer. If it had one drawback, perhaps, that might be the thorns. Flowering quince want full sun and, like all plants, well-drained soil. It is neat to bring branches in the house and watch them bloom during late January. The flowers make a glorious flower arrangement. The quince pictured here ( I don’t remember the cultivar) grows only about three feet tall and about five feet around. There are many, many cultivars of flowering quince available to the trade: some grow tall; others remain dwarf size. There is a wonderful assortment of colors, including coral, pink, red, white and, my most favorite, the one that sports pink and white and red blooms all on the same branch (‘Toyo Nishki’). I have been told that quince can even survive in dry shade--the gardener's worst place to get something to grow, but I have not been successful in that environment.
Flowering quince is a wonderful addition to your garden. It might almost be described as bullet-proof, a gardener’s favorite plant description.
THE SOUTHERN LIVING GARDEN BOOK was the source for my information.