I'm pleased to announce a wonderful discussion with a great man, Jerry Belcher. Jerry, the Accidental Gardener , is going to enlighten us on some tips and techniques for the garden, a great way to learn more about our local gardening community, and even share some great combinations of flowers that we all could enjoy.
Be sure to check out another site of Jerry's at: Gardeners Index . Keep in touch with the Accidental Gardener and get to know a terrific and knowledgable man.
Thanks so much Jerry, for your valuable time with us!!
1. Jerry, can you please take a moment to let us know a little about yourself?
I am retired and live with my wife, two golden retrievers and three cats in a suburb of Montgomery, AL. I moved to Alabama from New Jersey eight years ago when my wife and I married. As a little child, I helped my grandfather with his flowers in our yard; I would follow him around as he tended the flowers. Move ahead 25 years later when I was transferred to NJ in the early 70’s. During this period I was really into house plants and growing container veggies on my balcony. That was the extent of my gardening experiences up to that time.
Now fast forward to 2005 when I became the ‘Accidental Gardener’. My wife and I moved from the Birmingham area to our current location and she brought almost a hundred plants with her. The property had 250’ of lake frontage along out rear border. Except for some over grown shrubs around the house there was not a flower in sight.
I agreed to help put in the flower beds; but before we got any of the plants in the ground, she fell off the bottom rung of a ladder and broke her leg in such a way that she was unable to walk for almost two years. Her accident meant getting her flowers into the ground and tending to them fell on my shoulders. Somewhere along the way the gardening bug hit and I have been at it ever since. She is now back in the garden and we spend a lot of time together gardening.
2. What would be a hint or two (or three or four) you could share for someone who is just coming into gardening?
Without question I recommend the following website to gardeners of any skill level www.BHG.com. This is a 100% free website that is loaded with wonderful information, garden plans, container ideas, landscaping solutions and anything else you could want or need to know about gardening. Their free monthly newsletters will help any gardener.
Another thing I want new gardeners to know is that gardens are never finished; they are always a work in progress. Also, remember that nothing is fatal in gardening. By that I mean, even if you plant the wrong plant in the wrong place, careful observation on how your plants are doing gives you hints that the plants may need to be moved, or require less or more sun/shade/water etc. If the plant still dies, you know not to plant it in that location next year. For example I have learned that I cannot grow Lamb’s Ears anywhere in my flower beds. Oh well!
Every day in the garden is a learning experience; and no gardener, regardless of his/her experience knows all there is to know. We are all on learning curves; and we all continue to learn something new as the days, months and years go by. I used to tell my sales people that the expert in the room is the ‘one who knows just a little bit more about the subject than the rest of the people present’. . . Just a little bit!
You can find answers to any question you may have by searching the web, reading a book on the subject, asking a friend or neighbor and most importantly, calling your local county Extension. There are enough gardening books in print to fill an entire wing of the Library of Congress, get one that is geared to your learning curve and start reading.
3. I noticed on your blog, you are enjoying a Master Gardener's Class. You have a lot of experience in gardening, would you recommend this to everyone? Can you share with us a little of this experience?
I would highly recommend the Master Gardener program to anyone who wants to learn more about gardening and give back to the community. Master Gardener’s is a program offered by your local county Extension. The purpose of MG is to develop knowledgeable volunteers to help with the Extension services.
You receive a first class gardening education, and meet the most interesting people with similar interests as your own, including a passion for gardening. In turn for this education you are required to give 40 hours of volunteer time each year; such as working on public garden areas or answering the Extension’s helpline.
4. Could you tell us one of your most enjoyed flower combinations, whether it be in the garden or as a container garden?
I have two flowers that I consider my favorites. Favorite A is the daffodil but it only blooms for a short period in the early spring. My second favorite or favorite B is New Guinea Impatiens. In hot and humid South Alabama they look great in the ground or in containers. They are plants that ‘play well’ with others and their long purple green leaves with pink, white or red flowers bloom from early spring well into late fall. However, they are an annual and must be replaced every year.
I love color in my gardens and my containers and the more color the merrier. Unlike my wife I find single color in a container to be on the boring side, unless it is absolutely plush and flowing like a container of million bells.
I have 15 hanging baskets along my 250’ fence line that are watered by a drip system that is on an automatic timer. With that many baskets I try to mix up as many plantings as I can and only one or two are single plant baskets. I always try to incorporate the three plant method of ‘thriller’, ‘filler’ and ‘spiller’ plants in all my hanging baskets and containers.
I use combinations of Creeping Jenny, Petunias, Marigolds, Million Bells, Sweet Potato Vine, Begonias, Coleus, Vinca, New Guinea Impatiens, Zinnia, Asparagus Fern, Snapdragons, Verbena and Geraniums. I know I left out some but you get the idea. I use open wire frames lined with coconut fiber or sphagnum moss for my baskets. I cut holes in the side of the lining and the vine plants or ‘spillers’ grow down from these holes. It provides a very full effect and still allows room for colorful mixtures to be planted on the top of the baskets.
My flower bed which now circles the entire perimeter of my back yard is a work in progress. The outer edges contain the high plants, lilies, gladiolus, Mexican heather, butterfly bushes etc, while the middle and front areas contain the lower growing flowers, both perennials and annuals.
The bed around my patio is changed out twice a year. Right now, in the middle of February, it is full of pansies and early blooming daffodils but come May it will be replanted with summer annuals. I like to change the flowers from year to year and it will depend on what the nurseries and box stores have that look most interesting as to what will be planted this May.
Jerry's Favorite View Of His Yard
5. Lastly, reading on your blog about house plants, would you recommend indoor plants to everyone? Are they hard to raise, are they easy?
House plants are very easy to grow and maintain as long as you do not ignore them. They do require attention however; a common mistake many people make is to give them too much attention. Houseplants need water but you want to avoid over watering them. Eventually you will need to fertilize them but that is not very often. House plants are easy once you get the knack. A beginner’s book on caring from them will give you the necessary basic knowledge to help you avoid common mistakes.
House plants are absolutely the easiest way to beautify the interior of your house. Remember, there is nothing hard about house plants but you do need to know something about the particular plant. Most house plants come with a tag that gives you basic information about that plant. Remember all plants and vegetables need the same thing, water, light and fertile soil. The easy thing about containers is you can fill them with potting soil and the fertile soil problem is solved.
Most plants that we classify as house plants are native to the jungles and rain forests of South America where they grow wild. Their natural habitat is under a canopy of tall trees that block or filter direct sunlight. These plants will not survive in our outdoor climates unless you live in Key West or Hawaii but they prosper year after year inside our homes. Our homes are not rain forests so we do have to make some minor accommodations for them to thrive. The good thing about house plants is they are portable and can be easily moved to get the right amount of sunlight etc.
Thanks so much Jerry, for sharing with us. (I wish I had your beautiful yard and lake view....way to go!)