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Author: Stephanie Matthews

Caring for Summer Annuals

Whether you are interested in growing annuals to use as cut flowers, or just to add color and blooms to your garden, there are a few basic principles you can follow for a more successful growing season and a more beautiful garden.

Coreopsis at Moss Mountain Farm

Watering Annuals

When it comes to watering the key is consistency. You never want your flowerbeds or containers to dry out completely. This can be tough on your plants, particularly young ones. They rarely recover. One of my favorite ways to water is to use a soaker hose. It deep soaks the ground, which encourages a deep root system and a stronger plant. Then I just put a layer of mulch around them, to hold in the moisture.

Osteospermum and Diascia

Fertilizing Annuals

To grow beautiful stands of annuals it is important to feed the plants. An organic slow-release fertilizer will cut down on the amount of time spent applying fertilizer and you won’t have to worry about burning the plants by over feeding. Choose one that includes microorganisms that will enrich the soil too.

Another way to keep your flowers blooming longer is to remove spent flowers. If this seems like too much work, look for varieties that are self-cleaning, which means the dead blossoms will drop on their own.

Hardy Volunteers

Now at the end of the season, to encourage hardy volunteers like larkspur, bachelor buttons and globe amaranth to come back next year, I shake the plants out and make sure the seeds get scattered through the beds. Then next spring they come up and bloom again.

A mixed border of shrub roses, perennials and annuals.

Furnishing Your Garden Room

Although the summer solstice falls on June 21, I think of Memorial Day as the introduction of summer in my zone 8A garden.

During summer our indoor activities such as dining and entertaining move outdoors so it just makes sense to have an area set up to enjoy them. In just a few easy steps a patio, porch or secluded spot in the garden can become an extension of your home’s interior spaces.

One of the easiest ways to give an outdoor room plenty of indoor charm is to add several “fool-the-eye” interior elements such as rugs, cushions, and other interior accessories. With today’s weather resistant fabrics and finishes you can create a stylish scene in no time by following a few simple tips.

Define the Space with a RugDefine the Space with an Outdoor Rug
An outdoor rug will give your setting an instant indoor feel, plus the edges of the rug create the illusion of four walls. Furnishings arranged around the rug further re-enforce this illusion.

Caring for an outdoor rug is usually quite easy since they are often made of durable natural fibers or synthetic materials. You can spray off the rug with a hose or use a brush broom to clean it. To prevent mildew, hang the rug over a chair or railing to dry after a rain, even if it is made from mildew resistant material. This will allow air to circulate on both sides, which speeds up the drying time. If the rug can’t be picked up, just roll back the edges.

Spruce Up FurnitureFurnishings
Too often outdoor furnishings fail to rise to the same level of comfort and style as interior rooms. Break the “white plastic chair syndrome” by finding outdoor furniture that serves as a better reflection of your home’s décor. Garage sales, antique stores and home improvement centers offer a wide variety of options.

It’s easy to give your garden furniture new life with a coat of paint. First evaluate the material you are working with – is it man made or natural? Then pick an appropriate paint that can withstand the weather. Once the paint is dry coat it with a water seal to give it a longer life. Metal furnishings can be sandblasted and taken to a powder coating shop where a virtually indestructible layer of paint is applied. Wooden pieces should be given protection during the cold, wet months and may require touch ups from time to time.

When choosing colors for your setting, the basic rules apply – vibrant reds, oranges and yellow draw the eye, while cooler hues such as soft blues, pinks and purples increase the sense of space. Furniture in bright colors is best placed in areas where you want to make a deliberate statement such as eye-catching red chairs against a dark green hedge. In a muted green, the same set will blend in with its surroundings.

Use Bright FabricFabrics
Fabric stores are stocking more and more indoor-outdoor fabric that’s brighter than ever before. What’s great about using this type of fabric is that it has been tested for years in marine environments so you know you’re getting a product that can really take the elements.

Consider using cushion covers that you can slip over the existing lawn furnishing cushions. You can throw these in the wash when needed and they make it easy to change the look of your garden room from year to year. If you’re not a seamstress, but want to try making pillow covers cut out an “envelope” of fabric that can be wrapped around the pillow. Use self-adhesive Velcro to affix the envelope tabs together.

Colorful tablecloths are an even easier way to add bold splashes of color. Again, if you aren’t into sewing use pinking shears to trim the edges of the fabric to create a clean line.

CabanaPergola or Cabana
The “must have” accessory for gardeners with a little extra room is a covered place to create an outdoor space. Fabric cabanas and pergolas are popping up everywhere. I was impressed with the price range – anywhere from $150 to the thousands of dollars depending on the size and style you choose. As added bonus these structures can be outfitted with mosquito netting to block out these little pests.

Accessories
An outdoor setting is tailor made for delighting the senses so when choosing accessories for your garden room go for items that will heighten the experience. Dramatic lighting is a must. Lighting Created AmbianceString up lights and set out candles. Battery operated LED lighting is a fun new option that takes away the need for outdoor electricity and you can get LED tea candles; they look like the real thing, but won’t extinguish when the wind blows. Don’t forget plants. Fragrant flowers and soft, fuzzy foliage will add to the ambiance. A table top water fountain, wind chimes or music will create soft sounds to block out street noises.

As the weather warms and you start spending more time outdoors rethink the place where you live and look for opportunities to set the stage, if you will, and push the boundaries of your home past the walls of your house and out into the landscape beyond.

Homegrown Wedding Flowers

Whether you’re saying “I do” in spring, summer or fall, there are a bounty of blooms that are easy to grow for use in arrangements and bouquets. Here are a few of my favorite, garden stems for these three seasons.
Spring
Daffodils – If you’ve been to my farm, you know daffodils are one of my favorites. Plant the bulbs in the late fall and you’ll enjoy vases full of the yellow charmers as soon as the temperatures begin to warm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

If you are interested in any of these varieties to grow yourself, you can find several here!

Summer Bulbs

When a gardener mentions planting bulbs, the first flowers that often
come to mind may be daffodils and tulips. We plant these types in our
gardens in fall for glorious displays in the spring. But if you are
willing to expand your definition of a bulb, you will find a whole
new season of beautiful blooms and foliage in what I refer to as
summer bulbs. Now technically these plants include true bulbs,
along with tuberous roots, corms, and tubers or rhizomes, but
it is just simpler to use the blanket term – bulbs.

The plants that grow from summer bulbs will add a tropical touch
to your garden. Many varieties have thick fleshy leaves and exotic
flowers, which makes sense because most originate from subtropical
regions such as South American and South Africa. I like to mix them
in with my more traditional annuals and perennials to add a little
flair to my flower borders and containers.
Summer bulbs should be planted in late spring or early summer when
soil temperatures have warmed to about 55°F. In general
they should be planted close to the soil’s surface, about 1 to 2
inches deep. Choose a location that has well drained soil, unless
they are suited to boggy conditions. One of the nice characteristics
about these plants is that many types, such as elephant ears and
caladiums, will perform well in partial to full shade.

True to their sub-tropical heritage, these bulbs thrive in heat and
humidity, but you can also grow them in northern gardens. The trick
is to lift and store them in the fall before the first frost. How
you store the bulbs depends on what type of plant it is. Most are
lifted from the ground and stored in peat or vermiculite in a cool,
dry area.

To find unique varieties of summer bulbs you may have to go through
a mail order source. You can find a few of my favorites here!

Low Maintenance Garden

I live in the country, but work in town and find I have less and less time for my flower beds. I need some advice on how to make them more maintenance free, but still have some color and beauty.

I can certainly sympathize with your plight of not having enough time to spend in your flower garden. I love to garden and find it very relaxing, but there are times when it is just plain work.

 

My first suggestion would be to determine the amount of time you have to spend in your garden and then consider the size of your garden. Keep the design simple. Maybe reducing the manicured portion and enlarging the natural portion would alleviate some of the problem. Later on down the road if you find that you have extra time on your hands to spend in the garden you can always expand.

 

To make your flower beds easy to maintain, evaluate how your plantings work with their surroundings. A garden that works with rather than against the environmental conditions will save you time and effort. Group plants with similar cultural requirements together and in the right spot. For instance, combine drought tolerant plants in areas that stay dry and group plants that enjoy moist soil or ‘wet feet’ in a wetter area.
If you’re spending a considerable amount of time watering, consider putting in some drip irrigation lines and irrigate each zone separately.

While both perennial and annual flowers are beautiful, they can be heavy maintenance, especially if deadheading is required to keep them blooming or they spread aggressively. Be selective in your choice of plant material as some require much less care than others. And do the research; make sure the ones you choose are not prone to disease or insects. Consider using some of the smaller or dwarf flowering shrubs as they require less maintenance and flower beautifully. As an added bonus, look for those that are fragrant as well. At heights of 12, 18 or 24 inches, they integrate beautifully in flower beds.
Other ideas include installing a mowing strip such as a brick edge to your beds so you can mow close and eliminate line trimming. Use landscape fabric and mulch to help retain moisture and control weeds. Replenish your mulch once every year. Use ground covers as ‘living mulch’ to fill in bare spots. When you are ready to plant it the area simply pull out the ground cover. And keep your tools handy and organized. Wasting time searching for the right tool means less time spent enjoying your flowers.

 

There are a couple pieces of equipment I keep on hand to make garden tasks a little easier, too. The Garden Scoot, Bypass Loppers, Double Cut Hand Pruners, and a weeder and trowel set are a few things I can’t do without!

The Story of Ralston Family Farms

For Tim and Robin Ralston, farming is in their blood. Even before the Ralston ancestors settled in Pennsylvania in the mid-1700s, they were farming in their homeland of Scotland, while Robin’s side of the family has been farming in Arkansas since the 1830s. Today, they sustainably grow, harvest, mill, and package traditional and aromatic rice on their 5,000-acre family farm in Central Arkansas.

A farm, of course, is more than just planting, growing, and harvesting. It’s business too, and for the Ralstons, family is at the core. “We all have our strengths, and it’s rewarding, from a parent’s perspective, to see those skills come together when we’re brainstorming and working on implementing those plans. Everyone is secure and grounded in what they do and we all get along exceptionally well,” says Robin Ralston, the matriarch of the family. She and her husband Tim are at the head of the family business.

Their adult children and their spouses are all heavily involved in the business as well. Tim and their son Matthew each have a background in agriculture and oversee the farming business. Along with Matthew’s wife Brittani, they handle all aspects of farming, from the farm’s crop production to working with Duck’s Unlimited on their environmental stewardship program that the Ralstons were asked to participate in.

Their daughter Jennifer has a degree in design and uses her talents by managing the Ralstons’ social media accounts, in addition to her other responsibilities. She also is the office manager. Jennifer’s husband Willie is the Mill Quality Control Manager and a “perfect fit for this job,” says Robin.

Their daughter Ashley and Robin work together on all outside and Internet sales. Tim and Robin’s grandchildren are involved with the farm and the mill as well. “We are all passionate about the business, the product, and giving back,” Robin says.

“We are committed to donating a percentage of our rice to charities and food banks,” Robin says. They’re currently working with Feeding America and Feed Communities, based in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Ashley, who has a Master’s degree in liberal arts and a background in education, is spearheading those efforts. She also is working on an outreach program to educate schools and other organizations about the family’s rice mill and agriculture.

You won’t be hard pressed to find plenty of family rice farmers, especially in Arkansas, which leads the nation in rice production. What sets the Ralston Family Farms apart, though, is the varieties that they grow. The Ralstons currently grow over six varieties of rice, including traditional and aromatics, such as basmati, jasmine, and beautiful purple rice.

They also offer a one-of-a-kind variety called “Nature’s Blend.” It is naturally pollinated out in the field and includes varieties of aromatic purple, red, and traditional brown
rice. Since this is naturally pollinated and not blended by hand, no one else has this variety. “We have had so much interest in this blend and couldn’t be more excited about it,” says Robin.

“We’re unique in that all the rice is grown in the same place where the mill is located. From the field it’s grown in, to the bin the rice is stored in, it’s all in one place,” Robin says.

The Ralstons’ rice is sustainably grown with irrigation from surface water out of the Arkansas River. Ralston Family Farms also is certified by the Non-GMO Project and are certified Gluten Free and Kosher (STAR-K).

That commitment to sustainability is what led the Ralstons and P. Allen Smith to form a partnership this past year. “I’ve always admired the Ralston family’s authenticity and commitment to sustainability, so our partnership is a natural fit. I am excited to continue working with them as they grow and deliver a great product that is produced in such an earth-friendly way and gives back to those in need,” says P. Allen Smith.

“Allen has been so supportive, and he’s passionate about the rice, our family, and Arkansas. That’s what endeared him even more to us. Thanks to Allen, we’ve met a lot of wonderful people and have had some amazing opportunities,” Robin says.

One of those opportunities is Ralston Family Farms’ partnership with Ben E. Keith Foods, a broadline foodservice distributor. The company is taking steps to provide their customers with local, fresh, sustainable food throughout their five-state reach in the mid-South region. “Ben E. Keith Foods is thrilled to partner with Ralston Family Farms to help tell their story and promote their rice to meet the demand for locally sourced ingredients,” says Yvette Parker, director of marketing for Ben E. Keith Foods.

Now that the mill is finished, the Ralstons are looking forward to more of these kinds of opportunities that will add even more value and longevity to their farming operations for future generations. They are also in the process of expanding their team, which will help create local jobs. Between donations to help feed food insecure Arkansans and the outreach programs, the Ralstons are hopeful that they can make a positive impact in their community and throughout the state.

If you are interested in purchasing Ralston Family Farms Rice, select varieties will be available beginning April 2018 at the following WalMart locations (check with store locations for availability):

BARTLETT, TN

BASTROP, LA

BATESVILLE, AR

BENTON, AR

BOONEVILLE, AR

BRANSON, MO

BYRAM, MS

CABOT, AR

CANTON, MS

CENTERTON, AR

CLEVELAND, MS

COVINGTON, TN

CULLMAN, AL

DYERSBURG, TN

FARMINGTON, AR

FAYETTEVILLE, AR

FLORENCE, AL

FLOWOOD, MS

FORT SMITH, AR

GREENBRIER, AR

GREENVILLE, MS

HARRISON, AR

HUNTSVILLE, AL

JACKSON, TN

JONESBORO, AR

LITTLE ROCK, AR

MALVERN, AR

MEMPHIS,  TN

MERIDIAN, MS

MILLINGTON, TN

MUSCLE SHOALS /SHEFFIELD, AL

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, AR

PEA RIDGE, AR

PEARL, MS

POPLAR BLUFF, MO

RIDGELAND, MS

ROGERS, AR

RUSSELLVILLE, AR

RUSTON, LA

SAVANNAH, TN

SPRINGDALE, AR

TEXARKANA, TX

TUPELO, MS

WEST PLAINS, MO

which roses are right for your garden

Which Roses are Right for Your Garden?

My love affair with roses began when I was pursuing my graduate studies in England. During a tour of Arley Hall, I met Lady Ashbrook and we became fast friends, bonding over our love of gardens, design, and painting. Years later, I dedicated the rose garden at Moss Mountain Farm to Lady Ashbrook, who taught me so much about these charming flowers.

Once you start growing roses, I am sure that you will fall in love with them the way I did. Below are some of my favorites. No matter what conditions you grow in or the kind of roses you want, there’s an option that’s right for you. Read more

Ozark Lawn & Garden Show

P. Allen Smith to Headline Ozark Lawn & Garden Show

P. Allen Smith is the featured speaker for the 28th Annual Lawn & Garden Show in Springfield, Missouri. You’ll have two chances to learn tips and tricks from Ozark Lawn & Garden ShowAmerica’s most well-known gardening expert, February 24 and 25 and 1:00 PM. Allen will share his advice on getting your garden ready to sing with spring color!

After the presentation, Allen will be available to meet with attendees and sign copies of his book, Seasonal Recipes from the Garden.

You may find out more details about admission, parking, and other seminars here.