Category Archives: Gardening

The Drought Continues

Yesterday, I visited the home of new clients. The couple moved to Montgomery from Albuquerque, New Mexico a while back and recently decided to construct a swimming pool in their back yard. My father was from New Mexico, and we had much to talk about. The newly excavated pool space and the resulting mounds of dirt, combined with this heat and drought, reminded us all of the New Mexico landscape. Our conversation turned to what we can do to prevent this temporary mirage from becoming a reality.

If you are getting tired of dragging garden hoses and sprinklers around the yard every few days, or even hours, there is an economical solution, far short of installing a custom irrigation system. A hose timer can be added to your outdoor water faucet for under $50.00. A hose timer has several settings which will turn on your sprinkler without you having to be there!

Hose timer

Hose timers are available at EWING IRRIGATION, 5890 Monticello Drive.  They carry the Calber 8444 Logica hose end timer, which is the one I often use for my clients and myself. A nine-volt battery operates the clock.

Timers are simple to install and set. But remember two things:

1) Do not use the timer in the winter, when freezing conditions occur.

2) Check your faucet for leaks before buying a hose timer. If your faucet leaks, you cannot connect the timer, because it requires an open faucet valve at all times. It is the timer that controls the flow of water.

If you still need a hose for hand watering and clean up, buy a hose splitter and put your timer on one side. Each side has its own control valve, so the main faucet valve can remain fully open for the timer while you operate the secondary hose as needed.

Hose splitters

Hose timers are also great for watering potted plants when you go on a trip. For more information, simply google hose timers, and get ready to be less stressed about your garden in this drought. Your plants will be less stressed, too.

Mark Montoya, the Practical Gardener, is a Montgomery native who first learned gardening from his father. He has designed, planted and nurtured gardens in our city’s neighborhoods — both old and new – for twenty years.

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House Plants for the Soul

What a world! What a world!  What a world! In this messed-up world — and this horrible drought we are in, bring yourself some joy with house plants. The green in your home will soothe your soul.

Some people feel that they must wait for someone to be ill or die before they can have a beautiful house plant. I say to them, indulge! Plan to spend about fifty dollars on a variety of house plants, and they will be happier with this heat wave, living the lush life up to the holidays.

I recommend a few plants that can be picked up at any home improvement store or garden center: Bromeliads, Dracena, Calathea, Orchids, Spathiphyllum, Sedums, Succulents and Sansevieria. No ferns, though, because ferns are not a house plant.

On bringing the plants home, wrap the bottom of the pot with aluminum foil, then place it into an attractive container. I have used baskets, decorative bowls, and urns. For best results, place plants in a north or south window. To water, place about six ice cubes on top of the soil around the plant three times a week — it’s easier and less messy than trying to water from a can or pitcher. Don’t worry about fertilizer unless you want to spend the rest of your life with them.

And, don’t stress out over the plants — enjoy them! They are meant to be an alternative to the horrible conditions in the outside world. Throw them away before they die. Just say ‘goodbye’ before the holidays begin, and you will truly enjoy your interior world for the next few months.

Mark Montoya is a Montgomery native who first learned gardening from his father. He has designed, planted and nurtured gardens in our city’s neighborhoods — both old and new – for twenty years.

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Red Root Farm

By Stephen and Kate

A typical week's CSA in the spring season

Every Tuesday from April to August, and then again from October to February, we make it to El Rey Burrito Lounge on Fairview by 4:00 to pick up a bag bursting with organic vegetable goodness brought from a farm near Banks, Alabama (in Pike County) to Midtown. The food arrives care of our friends from Red Root Herb and Vegetable Farm. Red Root’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program allows Midtown residents like us to buy CSA shares that support the farm providing bringing delicious and healthy produce.

The shares ensure that you get weekly batches of fresh, organic, locally grown vegetables, while giving you the knowledge that the money is going straight to the farmer and not the various middle-persons that profit from the conventional grocery chain. While the chain supermarkets can create economies of scale from dealing in bulk, with the CSA, you’re at least not paying a lot of hidden costs for refrigeration, advertising, etc.

One of the things we love about the CSA is that you never know what you’re going to get. While that’s not exactly true – you can predict collards at a certain time of year, zucchini at another, radishes at yet another – it’s still a bit of a mystery until you actually get the canvas bag home and open it up. This summer we were flush with watermelons – some massive, others tiny (they were calling them “personal watermelons” down at the farm when we visited), some red, others yellow. El Rey (which also buys food from Red Root for various menu items) memorably used these watermelons in a salad with mint and red onion as part of their Red Root Farm-based menu on Bastille Day (the one where they had hired, oddly, a belly dancer).

Each bag comes with a note from the farm, sometimes talking about weather conditions, sometimes telling you what veggies are coming along at what schedule, sometimes just including descriptions of things and recipes. Ever had a kohlrabi? Farmer Gary not only will sometimes include one or two in your bag, but will tell you a little about it and suggest a few uses. And if you’re reading this blog, you know how to use the Internet. So you’ll enjoy (as we do) searching around for various recipes for the surprises that arrive each week — some of which will force you to discover new cooking skills. Tons of fun!

Getting the CSA also encourages us to adapt our cooking to what is seasonal. We learn new recipes and figure out how to use ingredients – some familiar but abundant, and some strange. One year when we were rolling in radishes, we discovered how to make a delicious salad combining them with corn, onion and parsley. Another year, we learned an unbelievable new way to make turnips using a simple yogurt marinade. Leftovers go into fried rice, soup, salads. The next Tuesday you take your empty canvas Standard Deluxe printed bag back to the pickup site and exchange for a new one.

This is the sixth year of Red Root Farm’s CSA and the tenth year that proprietor Gary Weil has been farming family land in Banks. He has studied all manner of agricultural techniques and is also quite well-versed in the healing properties of many plants. He has a passion for using sustainable methods and can offer up a pretty withering critique of the health and environmental effects of industrial farming methods. His vision is to make Red Root a fully integrated keystone of the growing local and organic foods movement. Healthy eating and environmentalism aren’t fads for Gary Weil and his workers at Red Root. They are ways of life.

CSA subscriptions for the fall are now available. While in previous years the CSA has been more limited (and highly coveted), this fall Red Root will be adding twenty new Montgomery subscriptions. A subscription for a growing season (fall/winter or spring/summer) is $375. They say that you receive 627 items freshly picked and in season over the course of a subscription, but honestly we’ve never counted them all.

You can download a brochure about the CSA here. It includes a subscription form. For more information, you can also call Red Root Farm for more information (334-243-4072).

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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Midtown Living: The Ultimate Recycling

By Carole King

Whenever I send an email I complete my signature with an icon about historic preservation being the ultimate recycling. I consider myself a green person and try diligently to recycle aluminum, papers, cardboard, etc. but I’ve decided that living in Midtown in a 98 year old bungalow is the best way to live by that creed. A friend recently forwarded a great article that has the misleading title of “Ten Easy Steps to Becoming a Radical Homemaker” written by Shannon Hayes for Yes! Magazine. Anybody who knows me knows that homemaking, nesting and housecleaning are not my forté! But when I read the article, I realized that Ms. Hayes was really just explaining how to be true to the planet, true to ourselves, and true to our historic neighborhoods. And since living simply is the totally chic thing to do now, we residents of midtown Montgomery are in vogue. This is my version of 10 easy steps to living green and getting the most out of living in Midtown Montgomery:

  • Hang your laundry outside to dry. My dryer died last summer and I have actually gotten addicted to really fresh smelling sheets and towels and am saving money on utilities.
  • Try your hand at planting some of your own food. I have a plethora of multi-generational squirrel families in my pecan trees, so I always plant my Sweet 100s or grape tomatoes and peppers in pots. I also have several blueberry bushes in pots and move them around to make sure they get enough sun to produce berries. They have a great fall color as well.
  • Know who your neighbors are. They can be a cheap burglar alarm system. Every time I have any work done at my house, I get multiple calls from neighbors just checking to see who the unfamiliar van in my driveway belongs to. You might even consider carpooling with your neighbors if you work near each other, thus being even greener! Or better yet, bicycle to work — but that’s fodder for another post!
  • Buy your food locally. We in midtown are lucky to have three farmers’ markets available to us — Madison Avenue, Fairview Avenue and the State Farmers’ Market on Coliseum Boulevard. Vendors don’t just carry fresh produce. You can also purchase eggs, cheese, tea, flowers and gifts at our local markets.
  • Clean out regularly. Donate household items and clothing to the many charities we have locally. They can either distribute to their clients or sell in income-producing thrift shops. Plus, how many black pair of slacks do we realllllllly need?
  • Carry your own bags. Whether it’s the grocery store, farmers’ market, or discount store, carry something to bring home your purchases in. I enjoy using really fun carriers that advertise yet another cause!
  • Try your hand at preserving a seasonal food item that you will enjoy later. I grow the smaller tomatoes, dehydrate them and then store in (recycled) glass jars of olive oil and garlic. Lots of folks freeze peaches, peas, corn or beans to enjoy when the weather turns colder.
  • Spend time at home with your family while preparing and sharing a meal. It saves restaurant costs, catches up on family doings, cuts down on movie or other entertainment costs and could really be fun! Cancel the cable and get out those old traditional board games like Monopoly, Clue or checkers. It’s all new to the kids…
  • Use our local libraries. The outer neighborhoods have smaller satellite libraries but our Juliette Morgan Branch on South Lawrence Street stays open in the evenings and the weekends. Besides books for all ages, they have books-on-CDs, videos and DVD movies. Check out all of the libraries’ services. And it’s all free!
  • And last, but definitely not least: “Focus on enjoying what you have and who you are with. Stop fixating on what you think you may need, or how things could be better.” (Shannon Hayes in And I don’t think I could have said it any better.

Carole King (not the singer, just the hummer) enjoys midtown living from South Capitol Parkway in Capitol Heights where she has lived for 25+years. Carole has been the historic properties curator for the Landmarks Foundation that manages Old Alabama Town for 28 years and is passionate about neighborhoods, their architectural character, their people, and their preservation!

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Maintaining the Future

By Mark Montoya

HOT!  That is what I have to say about gardening this week.  Do as little as possible right now.  This is not the time to be digging and planting in your garden, but to enjoy what you planted months ago…and maybe pluck the occasional weed or two.  Maintenance, which includes watering, mowing, edging and blowing, is about all you should do.

Since less gardening may give you some extra time, you may consider reading or just looking at pictures.  Carole King and Karen Pell have just put together a glimpse of Montgomery’s historic neighborhoods in a book published by Arcadia.  Charming and nostalgic photos represent a southern paradise of pleasant houses and tree-lined streets.  How could those people have lived in this heat without air-conditioning?  That they did so, and created a lovely environment as our inheritance is something to be thankful for.

For the more adventurous, the care and maintenance of your garden doesn’t have to stop at your property line.  Simply maintaining your own garden takes time and a lot of water, so everyone in our older neighborhoods should take time to admire and thank the ‘keepers of the trees’.  These folks spend their extra time and energy watering many of our younger trees.  Karen Benton, with the help of the Old Cloverdale Association, organized a small army to keep trees, newly planted by the City, alive in this hot weather.  During the past 3 years, this army has included Joe Lenoux, Chris Harnady, Michael and Rosi Smith, Jean Smyth, John and Nancy Hartsfield, Bill Stone, Willemijn Kenzer, Joe Petranka, Michael Conden and numerous others.  These folks have embraced their neighborhood as their own garden.  Thanks to all of you for keeping our City’s investment alive.

Mark Montoya is a Montgomery native who first learned gardening from his father. He has designed, planted and nurtured gardens in our city’s neighborhoods — both old and new – for twenty years.

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Crape Myrtles

By Mark Montoya

Two Familiar Varieties of Crepe Myrtles: Natchez, left; and Tuscarora, right.

I’m sure that you have noticed the incredible crape myrtles in our older neighborhoods. They just love the sun and heat. Crape myrtles are originally from Asia, and have become as traditional a part of the Southern landscape as camellias and azaleas, which are also from Asia.

Crape myrtles are very easy to root from cuttings. Make a clean 45-degree angle cut anywhere under a joint of new growth.  You must cut from a woody part of a branch at least ¾” in diameter. Trim your cutting from the top to a length ten inches long. Remove all foliage.  The joint of new growth should be at the bottom.

Drive the cutting (or cuttings) straight into damp clay soil, with a hammer, somewhere in the yard where they will stay damp. Do this now, so that you will know exactly what color you are getting. You will have new growth sprouts from the bottom by fall, and a nicely rooted tree to transplant next spring. While it is possible to grow crape myrtles from seed, this may produce plants of numerous colors, and not necessarily the color of the mother plant.

Here are just a few varieties of crape myrtles that we have in our area:

  • Catawba, purple
  • Tuscarora, watermelon pink
  • Muskogee, light lavender
  • Natchez, white, and usually the first to bloom
  • Sioux, dark pink
  • Red Rocket, red

To learn more about crape myrtles, check out this website:, and look under deciduous trees.

In closing I would like to mention that crape myrtles are often a topic of heated discussion:  whether to be left alone when it comes to pruning, or to prune and risk the accusation of “crape-murder.” I have decided at this point in my life — and in my article, to say to those of you who know how to care for crape myrtles, “Thank you!” And, for those of you who don’t know what to do for them, or don’t care to find out, I say, do whatever you’re going to, because most likely, the crape myrtle is going to outlive you anyway.

Mark Montoya is a Montgomery native who first learned gardening from his father. He has designed, planted and nurtured gardens in our city’s neighborhoods — both old and new – for twenty years.

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Weed Control

By Mark Montoya

Just what is a weed? In the case of the dandelion, one person’s weed is another’s cooked greens. Goldenrod? It used to be the State flower. Let’s just say weeds are in the eye of the beholder, and that’s why I’m going to talk about weed control.

Weeds drive me crazy. Roundup and other weed killers are a great help in keeping the weeds and grasses that you don’t want under control. But there’s a tip that will also help with some of the volunteer trees and Asiatic jasmine that you don’t want.

I mix Roundup with water as directed on the label then add on half cup of vegetable oil and one packet of Quick Pro. The Quick Pro accelerates the Roundup and will even help the Roundup work in cold weather. The vegetable oil makes the mixture stick to the foliage. This will even kill monkey grass and nut grass.

Be very careful when spraying and never spray on a windy day. Keep your pets off the area because they can track it onto places you don’t want to kill.

Quick Pro is available at Ewing, 5890 Monticello Drive, telephone (334) 398 8202. Weed and brush killers are most effective on hot sunny days … that is now, if you haven’t noticed!

Mark Montoya is a Montgomery native who first learned gardening from his father. He has designed, planted and nurtured gardens in our city’s neighborhoods — both old and new – for twenty years.


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