Strange's is a full service Greenhouse, Nursery, Garden Center and Florist in Richmond, Virginia.
Follow our blog for a first look at new products, upcoming sales, and receive expert advice from our Virginia Certified Horticulturists. www.Stranges.com
The weather is finally perking up here in Richmond which makes us gardeners ever so happy.
With warm summer weather on the brain, let's talk today about a topic near and dear to my heart-- urban gardening!
I hail from a tiny apartment in the Fan, so I've had to get creative in the past 4 years when it comes to planting my garden. As a plant-lover with limited space and limited time to tend, I've spent the last few seasons honing a list of essential plants that make my garden complete. I call it my 'Great Eight'
To make the roster, each plant must meet a rigorous series of criteria because, let's face it, space is precious here and I need each plant to be high impact!
Before I reveal my starring plant lineup, there are a few things you need to know about my gardening space:
-The front 'yard' is full sun, surrounded by concrete, and approximately 20' wide and 12' deep with a curvy brick pathway through the middle leading to the front door. It is hot, hot, hot all day long out in the front, and the soil is pretty terrible (though I have been amending it with compost for the past two seasons in hopes of improving it!)
-The back 'yard' is tricky- most of it gets about 6 hours of morning/early afternoon sun, and one little section of it is pretty shady. Same soil conditions (in fact, when we first moved in I found several chunks of granite slab in the soil while planting one of the beds...)
-Most importantly, I have no outdoor water source so any watering I do is from a watering can that I fill from the shower inside (read into this: any plant in my garden must require little to no supplemental water!)
Now that you know the background, here's who makes the cut (in no particular order!):
1. Prostrate Rosemary - let me tell you about this high-impact plant. I popped 2 of these 1 gallon gems in the ground 3 years ago flanking either side of my front steps. They are now about 16" tall , 2' wide and BEAUTIFUL!
Here's why they're so great: they are much more compact than standard rosemary, they required very little water when I first planted them and I never water them now, they established quickly, I use sprigs of them in all sorts of dishes and cocktails (there's nothing like walking outside to pick fresh herbs for dinner!) they put on beautiful purple flowers in the early spring, they are evergreen, they smell fantastic, the bees love them, and I prune them once in the winter and use the clippings in my holiday greenery. Clearly, prostrate Rosemary definitely earns its spot in the garden!
2. French Lavender - I'm a bit of a francophile when it comes to gardening (and wine and pastries...) so my love affair with lavender goes beyond the utilitarian perks of this plant. Nonetheless, I'll stick to the horticultural basics and tell you that this plant is another absolute workhorse in the right gardening condition. I planted 3 of these 1 gallons as a border along the sidewalk in front of my garden at the same time I planted the rosemary. (To be honest, I planted them in this way to protect the herbs I cook with from dog passers-by-- a very important consideration for the urban gardener-- these three lavenders have served as excellent gate keepers and really 'take one for the team' so to speak.) 3 years later, they are about 18" tall and 16" wide and have created a beautiful silvery-green screen topped with dancing purple blooms.
Here's what they add to a garden: their evergreen foliage is a beautiful silvery-green that contrasts really nicely with most other plants, bees LOVE their blooms, they add a fun vertical shape in the garden, you can use their blooms as cut flowers, or dry them for use in cooking (we had a delicious lavender and sea-salt butter served at our rehearsal dinner that I've replicated every summer since!) and if you rub the blooms on a fresh bee sting it takes out some of the ouch! Definitely makes the cut. Water input: haven't watered it since the first summer I planted it!
3. Lemon Balm - I love this stuff. Lemon balm is a leafy perennial herb that adds a great color to the garden. Its lime-green leaves smell so lemony and delicious! It's great for covering space, but it's fairly compact, so it doesn't look too wild and unkempt. You can use it in salads and dressings and even to perk up a drink. Since it's a perennial, it graces your garden every spring and lasts through the first few frosts. All you have to do is water it until it establishes, and then cut it back once a year when the leaves die back. And it's great at suppressing weeds, which cuts way back on my tending time.
Photo credit: Proven Winners
4. Catmint (Nepeta)- This trooper makes the list for aesthetics and strength alone. I planted 2 of these opposite my lavenders to protect the other herbs and greet visitors and boy do they serve their purpose! These perennials also have silvery-green leaves and purple blooms. They spread nicely and bloom from April well past the first few frosts! In fact, mine was blooming in December last year! For looks alone this is a great pick, but it also establishes easily and requires little to no supplemental water.
5. Oregano- A staple for all Italian gardens. This perennial herb is so versatile and crucial to any culinary garden! It's got great color and a great scent and, of course, can be used in all sorts of recipes. I use it weekly for making dipping oil for bread. Cut it back once a year when the cold kills its leaves, and you're good to go! I haven't watered it since it established during the first summer I planted it.
6. Genovese Basil- If I were to choose a favorite herb, it would have to be basil. I could live on pesto linguine alone. My favorite variety of basil is Genovese for its sweet taste and lack of licorice twang. Basil is an annual herb, so every year I pop in 3 new plants. Of all my all-star plants, basil takes the most time and attention, but it is absolutely worth it. I do have to water the plants regularly (depending on the rainfall) and it takes some time to weed around them, but the flavor it adds to dishes and drinks is heavenly!
5. Mint-My husband is a novice bourbon connoisseur, so mint was a must-have from the start of our first garden. We have a small patch of soil in the front yard that is bordered on all sides by a concrete curbing; to cut back on weeding, provide some uniform color and texture, and of course have fresh mint on hand 8 months of the year, I filled the spot with some mint cuttings. *Be aware that mint is an aggressive spreader! Make sure that you plant it in a place where its runners are confined (like a container or a small concrete bed) lest you end up with a garden full of mint and nothing else! The only work involved with this guy is keeping it contained and cutting back the dead foliage in the late fall.
(photo credit: Proven Winners)
6. Creeping thyme- I originally chose this marginally evergreen little herb mostly for its creeping habit, but it has turned out to be a great addition for many reasons! Because it spreads nicely, it covers the ground and helps reduce the weeds, which saves me a ton of time. Its leaves are, of course, edible and a great addition to dishes. But what surprised me the most was how beautiful it is when it flowers! It looks like a little blanket of soft purple blooms. I do have to water the thyme once or twice a week (depending on the rain) but for the most part it is fairly low maintenance.
7. Knock-out Roses- One May I salvaged 3 pink knock out roses from a friend's house that were destined for the trash. They had been sitting bare-root by the trash for a few days when I spotted them and with her blessing I took them home to see if they'd survive. I planted them in my questionable backyard soil, crossed my fingers and was pleasantly surprised when they bloomed like crazy a few weeks later. All this to say, these plants are TOUGH! They bloom from April to December and require little water at all. I do have to weed underneath them every other week, but for the beautiful impact they bring to the garden, they make the cut!
8. Moonflower- This annual vine is so neat! It serves many purposes in our garden and is such a treat for us in the evenings. We have it trained on wires to grow up (and disguise) a very unsightly cinder block wall in the backyard. The best thing about moonflower is that it blooms at night! It has these beautiful white flowers that burst open each night (in fact, you can actually watch them open it happens so quickly!) Typically, by the time my husband and I get home from work it is almost twilight, so the white, night-blooming flowers allow us to enjoy our garden much later than we otherwise would!
And with that, you've met my 'Great Eight' essential urban garden plants. If you're strapped for space and time, try one (or all!) of these plants in your garden- I bet they won't disappoint!
There are tons of great plants out there! I'd love to hear your suggestions for great small space, low input plants that would make your list! Share your favorites in the comments so we can all see!
Onions are going to be my next topic of discussion concerning the cool season edible crops, given we are approaching the ideal planting window for onion sets and starts. Here at the Strange's West Broad location we have recently received our full selection of onion sets and starts in preparation of the big planting day, which I usually tell people should be around March 17th, or St. Patrick's Day (as a rule of thumb).
There are three classifications of onions, pertaining to when they will start to bulb, or enlarge. It is determined by day length (number of light hours), there is Long day (best for Northern area summers, as they have longer days), Short day (best for extreme southern area winter production, like Texas and Florida), and Intermediate day (best for transition zones, like Virginia, or the middle of the country latitudinally). As I said Intermediate day types would be the best choice for us in Virginia (earliest harvest around June or July), but Long day types will work as well, they just require a longer growing season here, and will be a later harvest (usually August if planted in late March).
There are also many schools of thought on the best way or method to plant your onions out in the garden. I will share the method I was taught, and the way in which I have had the most success here, in our Virginia clay soils. Onions require impeccable drainage, and prefer a loose, friable (crumbly) soil that is rich with organic matter (will require less additional fertilizer this way), so the best way I have found to give them all of this is to create a mounded or raised row planting system. I dig the soil and mound it into a raised row (either in fall, or if soil is workable in spring, before planting) to a height of around 4 to 6 inches and somewhere around 18-24 inches wide (enough to fit 2 rows of onions staggered) this helps with the diversion of water. The loose soil helps with the bulbing process and lets the bulb reach full size potential. I space the plants staggered in the row at 6 inch spacings/intervals (in the row) and about 12-18 inches apart (across from each other) and down the center of the bed I dig a shallow trench and fill it with a slow release organic fertilizer (I have seen great results with Bulb-tone, an Espoma product), but you could also use a synthetic fertilizer high in phosphorus as well. I also lightly spread out fertilizer over the whole row after planting, and side-dress occasionally. You will notice in the picture at the bottom, almost the entire bulb is above the soil surface (how onions naturally want to grow) this is ultimately helped along by the raised row system, but not burying the sets/starts too deep at planting is crucial as well.
I have talked mostly about mature bulb culture, primarily because that is what I am after, but there are also scallions and shallots that are essentially just early-harvested sets. Closer in-row spacing can yield good quantities of these while thinning and leave sufficient space for your mature bulbs to form.
We carry a multitude of onion varieties here at Strange's, but the types I have had success with and would recommend highly are Candy (an intermediate day, yellow onion), Red Candy Apple (your best chance at success with a red onion in VA), and Superstar (only white onion to win All-America selection and an intermediate day type).
Whatever onions you wish to grow, I hope this helps demystify the onion growing process, and leads to more gardening success!
'Candy' onions grown at the West Broad vegetable test garden in 2012
With the big day of March 1st hitting last week, a lot of dedicated edible/kitchen gardeners have got the itch to start putting in their cool-season assortment into the ground. Here at Strange's West Broad our full assortment has arrived, but I am going to focus on the most popular, lettuce. It is without a doubt the easiest and one of the shortest season crops that we can squeeze into our ever-shortening "Spring" season. We have a broad selection of popular lettuce varieties to choose from in 4 major "classifications": Looseleaf, Butterhead (or Bibb), Crisphead (or Iceberg) and Romaine. 'Simpson Elite' is a lightly colored looseleaf type, bred from and improved upon, the classic 'Black Seeded Simpson'. 'Red Sails' is a colorful looseleaf variety, that can be used as an ornamental as well. 'Buttercrunch' is a popular butterhead type, forming a loose head that has a thicker, more succulent leaf. 'Romaine' lettuce is an upright type, grown for its dense interior growth, also called "hearts". 'Great Lakes' is an old variety of crisphead lettuce that requires a longer season than the other types to wrap leaves and create the tight head that is characteristic to iceberg lettuces. Each of these varieties has different maturity/crop times, so proper timing of plantings can increase success. All lettuce varieties are cold-tolerant, but newly planted starts should be covered overnight if the temperature will fall below 32 degrees (established plantings can tolerate 20 degree nights uncovered). Some varieties can also hold up to summer heat better than others as well (like 'Romaine', and a new variety 'Heatwave' we carry later in spring) but most will "bolt" or flower and go to seed, rendering the leaves extremely bitter and unpalatable. Beginners and experts alike enjoy growing lettuce because of its resilience in the garden and its foolproof ease of culture, we encourage you to put in a cool-season garden this spring, incorporate a couple varieties of lettuce, and let us know how you do!
Introducing BrazelBerries, a collection of ornamental berry varieties that make berry growing easier and more accessible for home gardeners. Since the 1970s, the Brazelton family and their team at Fall Creek Farm & Nursery in Oregon have been propagating and growing berry plants for farmers and nurseries around the globe. Over two decades, their breeding program focused on finding berry plants that were simple to grow, exceptionally beautiful, and of course, delicious. Below, take a look at two varieties Strange's will have available in our nursery this Spring:
Raspberry Shortcake A Revolutionary, Thornless Dwarf Raspberry
Raspberry Shortcake is a compact, mounding plant, reaching 24 to 36". It's ideally suited for large patio containers, requires no staking, no trellis, no companion pollinator, and has sturdy upright canes -- without a single thorn. As if that weren't enough, it rewards home gardeners with super-sweet raspberries in mid-summer.
Fruit Season: Mid-Summer
Flavor: Sweet / Vanilla Essence
Shrub Habit: 2 - 3 ft Dense Compact Mound
Planting & Care: Full Sun, neutral soil (pH 6.5 - 7.5), good drainage, fertilize early spring, moderate watering.
Pruning: This dwarf red raspberry produces abundant new canes each spring and fruits on new canes that have gone through a winter dormancy period. Once fruiting is finished, prune out canes at the base that have fruited leaving new canes to fruit the next season.
Peach Sorbet A Four Season, Compact Blueberry Beauty
Peach Sorbet is a real peach of a blueberry. A four season show stopper, this compact blueberry is stunning with vibrant new spring growth ranging from peach to pink to orange to emerald. Spring's white bell-shaped flowers will give way to an abundant summer crop of healthy, peach-sweet blueberries. In most climates, Peach Sorbet keeps her leaves through the winter when the foliage color can dramatically shift to a rich eggplant purple. This blueberry is full of charm, color year round, and is perfect as a landscape hedge, an accent plant or in decorative containers right on the patio.
Fruit Season: Mid-Summer
Flavor: Sweet / Tropical Essence
Shrub Habit: 1.5 - 2 ft Compact Mound
Planting & Care: Full sun, acidic soil, good drainage, fertilize early spring, moderate watering
Pruning: This blueberry produces new canes each spring and fruits on new canes. Once fruiting is complete, prune canes that have fruited leaving new canes to fruit the next season. Annual pruning promotes plant growth and berry production.
Not every Virginia gardener may realize, but the time to plant bulbs for Spring is in Fall! Bulbs need several weeks to establish roots, and can be planted now as long as the ground isn't frozen.
Planting and growing bulbs in your garden is easy and fun. The shock of color they bring in Spring is well worth the effort of digging a hole and dropping them in! The general rule for the depth of your hole is to dig three times the width of the bulb, but consult the packaging to be sure. Drop bulbs in pointy end up and cover with soil -- it really is that easy. One of the great things about bulbs is they will return year after year, brightening up your Winter garden every Spring.
Don't miss out on this gardener's tradition! Generally, when buying bulbs it is best to purchase them early to get your pick of the best ones. However, bulbs at Strange's are now 25% off and there is still a great selection to choose from.
This extreme damage is the reason why we care about monitoring our cool-season crops for common area insect pests. Only a handful of worms likely did all of this damage, essentially ruining the chances of any harvest. Careful scouting and monitoring, along with some timely, organic controls, is essential in winning the battle against persistent pests.
The best way to predict whether you'll have to deal with these pests is to take a look around in late Summer/early Fall. If you see any of these "adult" moths/butterflies floating around your existing garden, chances are you'll soon see their nasty off-spring (larval forms).
Cabbage White Butterfly
Imported Cabbageworm larva
Adult Moth (Trichoplusia ni)
Adult Moth (Evergestis rimosalis)
Cross-striped Cabbage worm larvae
One thing you can look for -- hard evidence! Worm droppings:
Also, keep in mind that tomato hornworms are still out there as well! They don't just go for tomatoes; they're known for eating almost anything!
Pallet gardens are a fun, inexpensive way to utilize space and maximize plantings. They are ideal for those without access to their own yard, but can be used by anyone with a love for new ways to garden. At Strange's, we just put together our own pallet garden, and as you can see, it's in its infancy. Follow us on Facebook for updated photos as the lettuce seeds we planted grow. We might also be adding other plants to it, like pansies!
If successful, we will probably post a video tutorial for you to see how to make your own, but for now, we'll list how simple it really is if you are dying to try it right now. What you'll need:
1 Pallet (in good condition, no nails sticking out or broken boards)
Small roll of Landscape Fabric
Staple gun with staples
2 large bags of potting soil
Decide which side will be the back of your pallet garden, and roll the landscape fabric over the back, sides and bottom to keep your soil from falling out. Staple along the edges and middle to ensure fabric doesn't sag. Turn over so pallet garden has open slats face up, and pour first bag of soil over slats. Push into slats evenly and repeat with second bag of soil. Plant seeds or 4" plants into slats. Leave pallet garden flat for a few weeks to allow the roots to grow in and hold the plants in place.
If you try this yourself, be sure to share your progress with Strange's by posting a photo on our Facebook wall! We definitely want to see what you are doing in your garden.