This month’s Pink Pot Ambassador is Natalie Malan, a professional illustrator with a love of flowers! She grew up as a self-proclaimed “Army brat” and now lives in Utah with her husband and “four awesome kids.” After reading this month’s blog, be sure to follow her at @illustratorsgarden
to see additional videos of her incredible garden!
What inspired you to start gardening?
As a child I loved propagating plants in my room and working in the Army community gardens with my mama. My second pregnancy actually changed the course of my career and my life in many unexpected ways. With that pregnancy, I had an iron deficiency that made me crave the smell/feeling of dirt, so I'd wake up at 5:30 am and make my way through all the local stores checking out their stocks of plants. I would buy carloads full of bags of soil, and people would offer to help this crazy pregnant woman load her car to the brim with bag after bag of soil and flats of flowers. (Strangers in the gardening community are so kind!) That is the year that I started truly gardening, and it also changed the course of my career. Before that, I was primarily focused on book, magazine, and educational illustration and once I began growing flowers, I started incorporating them into my work in surface design. Turns out other people have a passion for flowers too!
Describe your garden.
I love romantic, Victorian, and southern styles. Moving to Utah was a shock for this mostly East Coast girl, and I did my best to research and plan all the things I loved from "home" and then tried to grow them all here in a desert.
My home is a new build and scaled-back Victorian style, so we have been working on a moonlight garden in the backyard where all the perennials are in shades of white. I change out my annuals with fun new colors every year. The flowers really do glow in the evenings! I also have a cut flower garden off in an unused utility area of my yard. It's been so great to experiment in those beds because it is a very narrow, hot, and sunny spot that is generally not used in my neighborhood.
The prettiest tree in my yard is planted there and I always get questions about it. It is a bi-colored grafted pink and white iceberg rose topiary that thinks it rules the place. It reminds me of Alice in Wonderland when they are painting the roses.
How have you used Wave Petunias or Cool Wave Pansies in your garden?
I thought you would never ask!!! My true love! Wave petunias are life changing, and if you haven't grown them yet, you are in for a treat! My front garden color scheme is all pinks, purples, pistachios, and whites - with an occasional soft blue.
But my mother lives down the street, and I've planned her gardens to all be red, yellow, and white.
I love to place higher contrast flowers by my lawn in my flower beds to define the transition to the beds. This is a trick my neighbor Haidee taught me. She said if I'm ever unsure on a color, that I should pick white - and it will always pop. It was great advice and has stood the test of time for me.
Then, I plant an evergreen to give structure, and then some favorite flowering perennials behind. I call this my three-layer system. I also use pops of Wave petunias in brighter colors within my beds to draw your eye through the garden.
Small containers or planters closer to eye-level are a perfect spot for smaller petaled brightly colored flowers like Shock Wave. I like to mix them with bacopa for a texture change and bright green sweet potato vine for a drapey romantic effect.
My window boxes are almost always a mix of Easy Wave Petunias and sweet potato vine with some dwarf boxwoods hiding underneath waiting for winter.
What’s one piece of advice you would give a beginner gardener?
Buy the genetically best/healthiest plants you can afford. I remember the day I asked a nurseryman unloading a truck which flowers would be best for my west-facing planters, and he handed me a Wave Petunia. I had no idea what the difference was between that plant and the regular six pack of petunias. He said, "Trust me" – so I did, and my planters have been thanking him ever since. I tend to shop at the same garden centers and ask for their most knowledgeable employees (and I learn their names), and they are kind enough to offer heaps of info.
Also, pick the right planter. I can't speak for all planters, but ten years ago I stumbled onto Mayne planter boxes for my window boxes, and I'm a 100% convert. My porch is very windy and dry, and they are the only planters that will keep my plants alive without me getting overworked and frustrated. I usually save that tip for very close friends, so you are all in my inner circle now. But seriously though, they have a well that keeps things hydrated but not soggy, and I literally curse my planters that are not made by them. Maybe they infuse them with magic. Who knows, but they are everything!
What would you tell someone who has never heard about Wave Petunias?
Waaaaaaayyyy too much. I really have to be incredibly conscious to make myself stop talking about them in a conversation. I have literally spent hours talking to strangers who stop by to ask about my garden, and then I realize the sun has set and my kids have fed themselves, and me, and gone to bed already. Wave petunias quickly grow to massive sizes. People are shocked when I show them ONE plug! I know for a fact that strangers think I spend waaaaay more on my garden annuals than I do, and my Wave petunias are the key. The second thing I'd be sure to tell them is they are hungry little fellas so be sure to read my tips below on that.
What is your favorite Wave petunia?
Shoot. I can't name a fave child, so here are my top four petunias:
White Easy Wave
Silver Tidal Wave
Purple Tidal Wave
Rose Shock Wave
Talk to us about feeding your petunias – How do you do it? How often? Do you notice a difference between feeding and not feeding them? Anything else?
One year I ran out of the usual potting mix that I use, so I did one planter with my favorite soil, and the other with a standard potting mix. My favorite soil grew twice as large as the other planter. I had to keep cutting it down. I'm also a huge advocate of feeding my petunias - they are SO hungry!
I always plant them with 1t of pink Osmocote IN THE PLANTING HOLE around their roots. I have tested both in the planting hole and on top of the dirt raked in, and there's no comparison; in the hole wins hands down. If I have time, I use bloom booster in the purple box mixed with water once a week. I like to call it “Fertilizer Fridays.” I miss more Fridays than I remember, but the flowers still look amazing!
What tips or tricks have you learned about gardening in Utah, Zone 7A?
Drip lines are life. You really need to be watering under the soil closer to the roots and mulching well on top to retain that moisture. I top dress my beds with green waste compost as a mulch (I buy mine at Rock Utah). I like the finer bark chips and my plants love the nutrients. I also love earthworms, nightcrawlers specifically.
OH! And I shouldn't be telling you this because it's basically top secret, but water early in the morning!!!! If you forget to water early, water as soon as you remember. Plants in our zone love a good soak BEFORE the heat of the day. If you've mulched well with compost or mulch, make sure you use a drip line, or pull the mulch back a bit before you water (and replace it). If not, you will think you've watered a ton, but all you've done is water all the mulch, and the roots of your plant are still parched. You can check this by watering, then using a hand rake or your hands to pull back the dirt/mulch and see how far down you've watered. The results might surprise you.
In the hottest months of the summer, my hanging planters like a second watering around dinner time. They prefer not to be wet late at night, so after dinner is a good time to give them a drink. Bonus: sometimes, it gets you out of doing the dinner dishes.
Do you know any gardening jokes? If so, tell us one.
I'm more of a memes kind of girl. Gardening friends new and old send me the best of the best that I love to share on my secret gardening account. I picture us all chortling together in our separate houses cooking dinner and it gives me joy.
Tell us something that most people don’t know about you.
I was homeschooled grades 3-9 moving around with the military, so I love seeing things grow more than a year or two. Honestly, only people who know me well or have met me in person know that I garden. I snag earthworms and lady bugs off the sidewalk whenever the opportunity presents itself. My best friend has been known to bring them to me in paper bags late at night to feed my addiction.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Just start!!!! And any "failures" are just knowledge to rule out that hypothesis and try a new one. Keep track, ask questions, and try again! Join a gardening group and trade ideas and plants with new friends. Keep it simple at first; try one pretty planter. Then move on to some foundational perennials in your flower beds. One single focal planter can really make a statement in your yard.
Plant for you. Don't do it for other people! I love my quiet mornings and evenings in my yard. I like meeting all my neighbors out on walks. Yes, I will be covered in dirt, but that's ok. If I lived deep in a forest. I'd still find a way to plant some kind of ornamental flower garden even though nobody else would ever see it.
I love the advice, encouragement, and success stories from my fellow online gardeners, too. We haven't met in person, but some days, a kind word makes your week.
Have one, five, and ten-year plans for your garden if it feels right! I'm hoping we will move onto phase four of our garden this summer. My talented husband has spent a couple years planning out some fun structures to DIY soon! Gardens come in lovely layers and mine is changing constantly as I learn and grow, which is part of the fun. Happy planting!