Include Edibles in your Landscape Plans

Include Edibles in your Landscape Plans

A landscape that includes perennial and annual flowers and plants along with its trees and shrubs can enhance any home. When that landscape also includes edibles, the benefits increase.

“We’re definitely seeing an uptick of people growing food,” says Gardens of Babylon landscape designer Ryan Fogarty. “Ever since the pandemic, people have been growing more of their own food, so they know where it comes from,” she says. “We’ve had significantly more raised-bed garden installations since the pandemic began.” As the cost of food rises, the amount of those growing and preparing food at home rises as well.

Start with a plan to add edibles into your landscape

To include food in your landscape, start by assessing the conditions in your environment and what you hope to grow. Consider the amount of space you have, and whether you want to grow a garden in the ground or in one or more raised beds. Also note where the sun comes in and where you have shade. “Pretty much every edible, whether it’s trees or blueberries or herbs or vegetables, is going to need full sun to do its best,” Ryan says.

When you begin to think about what to include in your landscape, consider plants that serve a dual purpose: ornamentals that look good all year and that produce something you can eat. Here are a few that Ryan suggests:

Trees and shrubs

Serviceberry. This large shrub or a small tree blooms with white flowers early in the spring and produces fruit in early summer that is similar to blueberries in size and taste. In fall, the foliage of Amelanchier turns bright yellow, orange and red, and its gray bark stands out against a stark winter background.

Fig. The fruit of Ficus is a sweet treat when it ripens in the summer. ‘Brown Turkey’ is a variety that is hardy enough to survive a typical winter in Middle Tennessee. If there’s not room for a full-size fig tree in your landscape, Ryan suggests the dwarf variety ‘Little Miss Figgy,’ which tops out at 4 – 6 feet and can be grown in a pot.

Blueberry. These shrubs are not maintenance-free, but can provide a satisfying crop of tasty berries if the right conditions are met. Blueberries grow best in acidic soil that drains well, so soil preparation at the outset is key. Once established, your biggest problem may be finding a way to keep some for yourself while sharing with the birds that will inevitably find them.

Blackberry and raspberry. These are the most common types of plants horticulturists call “brambles.” Both are often grown as hedgerows, may benefit from trellis structures to keep the berries off the ground, and require regular pruning. They should also be planted away from potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant or strawberries, which are all prone to similar disease problems.

Herbs and vegetables

Thyme. As a landscape plant, creeping varieties can be an effective groundcover between stepping stones. In the kitchen, use thyme in cooking meats, sauces, soups, stews and vegetables.

Rosemary. The popular culinary herb grows as a small, spiky shrub that can be a good backdrop for other low-growing plants. Not all varieties are reliably hardy in Middle Tennessee, but ‘Arp’ and ‘Tuscan Blue’ are two that will likely withstand winter here if planted in a protected location.

Vegetables. A garden will always be evolving, Ryan says, and a garden bed of perennials may have space to include edible annuals that die at the end of the season. Think about adding vegetables or herbs that have a tidy growing habit, such as lettuce, spinach and kale in late winter and spring, changing those out to plant summer favorites such as basil, peppers or okra.

A final note: Gardens of Babylon offers a Personal Farmer service to help you plan your garden. “We give you what you want and what we know will do well,” Ryan says.

Beautiful Patio Ideas for Spaces of All Sizes

Beautiful Patio Ideas for Spaces of All Sizes

As spring rolls into summer, your patio comes into the limelight. It can be a place to hang out with friends and family, or it can become a quiet getaway in an outdoor setting, the central point of your private backyard oasis.

“It can be your own personal escape,” says Eric VanGrinsven, a landscape designer with the Gardens of Babylon design team. The designers are skilled in creating unique patio spaces among the hardscape elements as part of an overall landscape design. 

We’ve chosen a few to highlight – large, small and in-between – to showcase a variety of patio ideas. All were designed and built by the Gardens of Babylon landscaping teams. 

Outdoor room with a view

Backyard With Chairs

Designers Ryan Fogarty and Chloe Barrett incorporated a cozy gathering space in this patio overlooking the home’s expansive back yard. This circular design accommodates a crowd with its low wall that can serve as extra seating. Garden beds around a patio can serve to soften the transition between the hardscape and the lawn. 

Small upgrade, big impact

House With Plants

The existing backyard patio in this large yard was given new life with the addition of a flagstone walkway to the driveway, along with raised brick planters to achieve a better sense of scale, says designer Ryan Fogarty. “It completely changed the whole look,” she says. 

Other ideas for big-space patios could include a pergola, custom designed walls, trellises or built-in planters and fountains. Free-standing containers or specimen trees or shrubs around the patio can add to its visual appeal. 

Twice as nice

House With Patio

This landscape and patio layout includes two comfortable areas for gathering with friends – one for dining, one for warm conversations around the fire pit. To turn your patio into an outdoor living space, homeowners may also consider an outdoor kitchen, as well – or at minimum, a drop-in grill and three to four feet of counter space, suggests designer Mike Omar. 

A small yard with big ideas

Small Backyard Garden

Although this homeowner’s land area is small and sloping, a series of terraced spaces provides all that the homeowners wished for: a seating area, a level lawn space for their dog to play, and shade-tolerant plants for a vibe that is relaxed and natural, says designer Eric VanGrinsven. “The owners wanted to introduce uniqueness and variety, and that’s what they got.”

Other ideas to increase enjoyment on a patio of any size could include an outdoor audio system that’s designed to withstand the rain, cold, dust, sun and other elements; and strategic lighting to light a path or highlight and enhance specific features. 

At home in the woods

Flowering Plants

The stone stairs down the steep hillside lead to a private patio under the trees, where a fire pit is the central attraction is this patio designed by Eric VanGrinsven. Requests for wood-burning or gas-fired fire pits built into a design plan have seen an uptick in the past couple of years, says landscape architect Ryan Fogarty. Style choices run the gamut, from rustic stacked stones to designs that are sleek and modern, or anything in between.

Need to add or upgrade a patio in your landscape? Click here to book a consultation with a member of Gardens of Babylon’s design team.

Tips for Holiday Greenery

Tips for Holiday Greenery

For many who celebrate the Christmas holidays, there’s something special about bringing in a real tree to hang with twinkling lights, sparkling garlands and special ornaments. Once inside, though, that temporary houseguest needs attention to remain as healthy and last as long as possible. 

“We will have fresh cut Fraser fir trees available,” says Trevor Bradshaw, Gardens of Babylon’s director of retail sales. Read on for tips on caring for a cut Christmas tree, along with how to manage a living tree (with the root ball intact) decorated indoors during the holidays: 

How to care for a cut Christmas tree

The cut tree that you purchase at a garden center, Christmas tree lot, big box store or the nearest grocery has been raised as a crop, much like corn or tomatoes, then cut and shipped to their various destinations. When you buy it and bring it home, it likely was cut weeks ago, so it’s important to prepare it right away for its temporary stay inside your home.

Once a tree is cut, it begins to form a callus of sorts at the base, so to allow the tree to absorb water more easily, give the tree a fresh cut at the base, removing about an inch of the trunk. Place it in a sturdy stand that holds plenty of water. An internet search turns up a variety of water “recipes” that may help the tree stay fresher a bit longer; ingredients may include bleach, corn syrup, aspirin or other additives, but water – and plenty of it — is the most necessary ingredient.

For a tree that’s been in an outdoor lot, it’s a good practice to acclimate it to the temperature change inside your home by keeping it in an unheated but protected area (think garage, if possible) for a couple of days before you bring it inside. A sudden temperature change may cause needles to drop sooner.

Once it’s in place (in a safe location, away from heat sources) and decorated, check the water level in the stand daily. 

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How to care for a living Christmas tree

It’s also possible to use a container-grown or balled-and-burlapped tree as a Christmas tree that you plan to plant outdoors later, but more care is necessary. “We have live conifers that technically could be used as Christmas trees, but we don’t usually recommend it,” Bradshaw says. “They won’t live very long indoors.”

Indeed, trees are meant to be outdoors, so plan to bring your new spruce, juniper, pine or cypress tree inside as late as possible and take it back out (and get it in the ground) as soon after the holiday as you can. Expert sources advise that a living Christmas tree should be kept indoors no longer than ten days.

During that time, think of it as a finicky houseplant. Keep it away from heating vents, fireplaces, space heaters, stoves or anything else that would cause it to dry out more quickly. If you use lights on the tree, turn them off overnight and while you are away during the day.

Be sure the root ball stays hydrated; check the soil moisture every day. And when Christmas is over, get the tree back out and in the ground as soon as you can. A tip for planting: If the ground is not frozen, dig the hole where you plan to plant the tree before Christmas, and cover it and the soil you remove with a tarp. That way, when you take the tree back outdoors, it’s easier to remove any containers or wire fittings, place the tree in the ground, backfill the soil and water it well.

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Holiday greenery

Even if you opt for an artificial tree for the holidays, you can bring that Christmas fragrance inside by using other cut greenery – swags, garlands, wreaths and arrangements made from the branches of fir, pine or cedar trees as mantel and table décor. “We will have fresh wreaths, garland and branches available,” Bradshaw says.

To help cut greenery last longer, an anti-desiccant spray may keep it from drying out as quickly. Place any greenery away from heat sources such as fireplaces or heater vents, and be especially careful if you use greenery around lit candles.  

And, of course, those fragrant wreaths and garlands can dress up your home outdoors, as well, around doors and lampposts. Here, too, is where an anti-desiccant can keep the greenery green longer.

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Christmas and holiday trappings at the Gardens of Babylon Garden Center include fresh cut Fraser fir trees, along with fresh wreaths, garlands and branches. Indoor selections include poinsettias, Christmas cactus, amaryllis and paperwhites. Visit the garden center soon (800 Rosa Parks Blvd.) soon for the best selection.

This year we’re offering pre-booking of delivery for Christmas trees – we are Nashville’s source for the most beautiful trees and greenery that will elevate every celebration! To book & learn more, visit our Christmas Tree booking page!

How to Care for Mums

How to Care for Mums

You know it’s really fall when you see swaths of brightly colored flowers drifting across a garden center’s tables and shelves. Here’s where you can pick up a pot – or two, or three or more – of mums to take your landscape through the season. But what to do with them once you get them home? 

You have options: you can plant them in the ground as temporary accent plants; use them in container gardens with other fall-theme plants and flowers; you can display big, solo mounds of mums in containers. 

Most gardeners tend to treat mums as annuals, and toss them on the compost once their time seems to be up. But you can also plant these hardy mums in your landscape where they will return year after year to brighten your garden beds in the fall. 

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Accent with Mums

Potted chrysanthemums that you purchase in fall do well outdoors when they get enough sunlight and water, and the flowers last until they succumb to a hard frost. You may want to transplant them from their nursery pots into something more decorative with potting mix, but it’s easy enough to set the plastic pot of blooming mums into a decorative container and call it done. 

Smaller pots of mums can become great accent plants in a fall-theme container garden, paired with other fall annual and perennial favorites such as ornamental kale and cabbage, heuchera, juniper, sedges, pansies and other plants that don’t wilt in cold weather.

If you plant your just-bought blooming mums in the ground, be sure to cover the soil with plenty of mulch. While the first big frost will turn the flowers brown, the foliage will likely stay green for a while longer, and the mulch will help protect the roots, making it more likely that the plants will sprout from the ground again in the spring, if that’s your goal.

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From the Ground Up

Yes, if it’s a mild enough winter and they’re in a suitable location – full sun and well-drained soil — those mums in the ground likely will come back in the spring, and this is when the care and training begin. 

In my own garden beds here in Middle Tennessee, tender new foliage begins to appear as early as March, or earlier if the winter has been mild. As spring approaches, cut back the dead stems, and apply a balanced fertilizer. 

Mums’ foliage begins to grow steadily when the weather warms up, so for the best display in the fall, take time to pinch back the growing tips two or three times during the spring and summer, even if you notice buds beginning to form. This allows the plants to grow fuller and bushier, and delays blooming until fall, when you really need those flowers to open. Stop pinching them back about mid-July to allow buds to begin to form. Feed mums once again in early August. They will bloom in late summer and throughout the fall. After freeze has turned everything brown, allow the dried stems to remain; this increases the plants’ chances of survival in the ground. A light layer of straw or loose mulch provides additional protection.

A clump of mums tends to get woody as the plants get older so they should be divided every two years, preferably in spring. Dig them up, split the root clumps apart, then replant in your garden beds (and share the leftovers with gardening friends). This assures that your patch of mums remains full and attractive year after year. 

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Bring Mums inside

Although I find the scent of chrysanthemums to be a little too strong for indoor enjoyment, it is possible to enjoy those blooms inside. Give them a place with bright, indirect light. Check the soil frequently, and water the mums when the top inch of the soil is dry. Cut off the flowers as they begin to droop to encourage the mums to continue to bloom as long as possible. 

Visit the Gardens of Babylon Garden Center for a variety of fall-hardy plants and decorative containers for your home and garden.

Pets + plants: What’s safe? What’s not?

Pets + plants: What’s safe? What’s not?

As fall arrives, you may turn your attention to growing plants indoors. If you share your space with curious cats or a pup that likes to chew on everything, keep in mind that some houseplants pose a risk. Toxicity in some plants can cause a variety of ailments, ranging from irritation and stomach distress to more serious neurological symptoms – and possibly even death.

The lists below show you common houseplants (adapted from a much longer list provided by the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) that, if you display them in your home, should be kept out of a pet’s reach as well as a list of pet safe plants.

This information from ASPCA tells what to watch for:  

Five Favorite Houseplants Toxic to Pets

Dracaena species (Corn plant, Dragon tree and other varieties): Symptoms include vomiting (occasionally with blood), depression, anorexia, hypersalivation. Cats pupils may become dilated. 

Jade plant: Watch for vomiting, depression or incoordination.

Monstera deliciosa (Swiss cheese plant): A nibble of this will cause intense irritation and burning of the mouth, tongue and lips, and excessive drooling, vomiting and difficulty swallowing, according to ASPCA.

Peace lily: Despite its soothing name, this plant also causes burning and irritation of the mouth, vomiting, excessive drooling, and difficulty swallowing.

Pothos: Devil’s Ivy is a common name for some varieties of Pothos. The mouth irritation, drooling and vomiting in this and many other toxic plants are caused by insoluble oxalates – essentially tiny needle-shaped crystals – in the foliage.

Pet Safe Houseplants

Of course not all plants are toxic; there are many that are perfectly safe for pets if they happen to try a nibble. Here are a dozen houseplant favorites, adapted from ASPCA’s much longer list at its website, that shouldn’t be a problem if Fluffy or Max tries a taste. And since there may be different plants that go by the same common name, knowing the plant’s botanical name helps to know you’ve made the right choice. 

African violet (Saintpaulia species); Boston fern (Nephrolepis exalta bostoniensis); Cast-iron plant (Aspidistra elatior); Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera species, also called holiday cactus, Thanksgiving cactus; Gloxinia (Sinningia speciosa); Majesty palm (Ravenea rivularis);

Parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans); Peperomia (Peperomia species); Phalaenopsis (Phalaenopsis species), also called Moth orchid); Ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata); Shamrock (Oxalis regnellii); Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula)

Keep your pets off your plants

If you share your home with pets and unsafe houseplants, the most obvious way to keep them apart is by putting the plants out of reach. That’s easier if the fur friend is a dog; cats pretty much go where they please, so putting a plant on a high shelf may still be asking for trouble.

In that case, diversion or distraction may be a good option. You may be able to train your pet to stay away from plants through positive reinforcement. Provide plenty of safe toys so they won’t be tempted to explore the plants. Try placing scented items that pets don’t like (one suggestion is citrus peels) in the pot. Give cats their own “garden” of cat grass – typically a mixture of wheat, barley, oats or rye grown indoors from seed – to nibble on so they will be less likely to explore your indoor garden. 

More on pet plant safety

The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (ASPCA) Animal Poison Control Center website has a comprehensive guide to plants that are poisonous and non-poisonous to pets (www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control). 

The ASPCA also offers a 24/7 Animal Poison Control Center helpline, 888-426-4435. A consultation fee may be charged, but the call could save an owner a trip to the ER, or save a pet’s life.