Gardener Alison Berger Gives Tips on How to Grow a Garden!
Alison and I met a little over a year ago at a bachelorette party for one of our dearest friends Alyssa. After a little talking, drinking and dancing we found we were two peas in a pod and started a friendship, she in Oklahoma and me in Los Angeles. It was on the first day of meeting her that I found out what a passion she has for gardening, plants and growing anything in the ground. On a recent trip to a botanical garden our mutual bachelorette, now a wife, Alyssa and I watched as Alison named plants and flowers and trees by heart as we walked around. She named them by their formal name guys, and then gave us the origin of that name. This talented gardener could've run that place. As she rattled off names and information I thought, how perfect to have her talk about something she knows best, how to garden and grow. I'm so excited to share her knowledge with you all! This will certainly not be the last installment of Alison's gardening wisdom on Reluctant Housewife!
How did you get into gardening?
My mom loves gardening and I remember our famously long tortuous trips to TLC. I used to dread it along with my sister and dad, but my mom's excitement is contagious and now my dad and I are just as bad. I mainly grew up tending flower gardens, but now I have been trying my hand at herbs, fruits, veggies, and composting the last 10 years. Now my husband, Thomas and I love walking down TLC's aisles and aisles of plants, even if we are not buying. Breathing in that sweet rich air is intoxicating. The more you slow down and learn about plants, the more you grow in appreciation for them during your hikes, when gardening, or looking outside and it will change your view.
Did you know anything about gardening before you started?
I learned more by watching my mom and winging it. Plant labels are important, but Oklahoma plays by its own rules so you learn by failing mainly. One tip for living in a place that is on the hotter end, play the safer side of plant care suggestions. So if they say something likes full sun to part sun, that translates to sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon. Full sun means full sun most of the time, until it doesn’t, and you learn by failing and finding it’s happy spot. That is part of gardening, taking risks and being okay if things don’t make it.
What are some of your favorite plants and flowers in your garden?
Oh my goodness! They are all my favorite! I am the weirdo that names her plants. My Agave, Bleu is special to me. As well as well as my Gardenia. Dahlia’s are awesome! They come back every year, are a statement flower, and can handle the heat. Please and thank you. Sedums always have a special place in my heart because they are so diverse and resilient. Hydrangeas are my jam. I cannot help myself and add a new one each year. Jasmine is intoxicating. But Vera, my aloe vera plant (I know original) just makes me happy because it is my baby I have had the longest.
It’s Spring right now. What are the best things to plant based on the weather?
You want to plant them while the weather is giving you plenty of nice mineral rich rain water to help the roots set before the weather gets hot. Best chance you can give your plants to survive the coming SUMMER!
Now what to plant. That will depend on what you are wanting! Do you want herbs, flowers, or both?
If you are wanting herbs, any herb is golden right now. Though cilantro and a few wimp herbs will die off and seed before the heat of summer. For me I mostly use herbs that are perineal , smell amazing, and ones I am going to use in my cooking, tea, and Kombucha. So basil, oregano, thyme, sage, licorice, Italian parsley, chamomile, lavender, fennel, and rosemary. Chamomile and basil will reseed naturally or by collecting the seeds at the end of the bloom for the following year. Herbs add a beautiful variety of greens in your garden and even add their cute little flowers to the mix. Bonus.
Arugula, bok choy, swiss chard, and blackberry bush love the heat, are pretty, and are good for you.
If you are looking for flowers, I like to do a mix of useful and beautiful. Dalia, dianthus, onion (when they bloom, watch out!), purslane (vitamins), sedum, hydrangea, yarrow, heliotrope, hellebore, butterfly weed, oregano, zinnia and oh the list can go on. For the sun, lambs ear and mums are good to mix in and all you have to do is prune/pull them back when they get over zealous in size. For the shade, coral bells, ajuga, astilbe, and hostas are great.
Bushes and shrubs are good to plant in the Spring or the early fall. Barberry, boxwood, knockout roses, and spirea are favorites. A lot of people love nandina, not one of mine, but does not mean it cannot be yours!
With Summer coming up what plants hold up with strong heat?
Full sun, well there is Sedum, sedum, and sedum. Now that we have that covered, crepe myrtle, lambs ear, chicks and hen, aloe vera, agave, cacti, bat plant, snap dragon, boy choy, hibiscus, zinnia, mint, lantana, cannas, and more.
What about caring for indoor plants like orchids?
Indoor plants I am bad at. Most indoor plants you need good light for them and my home fails at this. Some tips though I can offer: buy indoor plant food, buy a moisture probe to keep you from overwatering, and find a happy spot in your home. Orchids are different, I soak mine in a tub of water for 20 minutes a week, once a month I add orchid food in the water, and when it is blooming I add the orchid food with every soak.
If you want to take a plant and repot it what’s the best way to do that?
Plants are resilient and being repotted is a great time to break up the roots and refresh the soil. Be sure you get potting soil appropriate for the plant, place some broken pottery or large stones at the bottom of the pot to help with drainage to prevent rot, and do it over the grass or a tarp so you don’t have a mess to clean up. Don’t smother the plant, make sure you get a pot that is about double of what you are planting.
If you’re brand new to gardening and you wanted to start what are some of the first things you should get?
Basil, mint, marigolds. They complement each other, are easy, grow like weeds, and are a bang for the buck. Grow from there. But only plant mint in a pot, it will take over and not in a good way.
What are your tricks to keeping plants alive and flourishing?
Fertilize them once a month. Not hard, I just walk around my garden and disperse my herb/veggie/fruit/flower fertilizer over them. Best before a light rain to help it soak in and not wash away. Also, mulch is needed, not just for looks. Keeps the moisture in. Also pay attention to your plants, there is a thing of too much water. If the leaves are turning yellow and droopy, it is probably because of too much water. Plants turn crispy and sad when they need water.
Any last thoughts?
Perennials are amazing. Yes annuals have bigger grab you blooms, but it is expensive and exhausting replanting your garden every year. Start small and create a foundation of perennials. and then add a few annuals to change it up each year if you like. Perennials are usually a little more expensive, but they come back bigger and more glorious every year.
Look at the plant bloom time and be sure to get a mix that bloom in the spring, summer, and fall so you are always getting a seasonal surprise.
Let spiders live in your garden, they get rid of pests naturally. Look up your planting zone. It is a thing and it is real.
Always experiment! This year I am trying the Passion flower vine that fruits. I am beyond excited to see how this goes. Gardening is my adult playground. If it fails, try again, fail again, try again, fail again...okay let it die and move on. But just have fun learning and seeing how nature works and enjoy the view while you are at it.