Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, August

Stachytarpheta 'Nectarwand Red', red false vervain, Pipevine Swallowtail. Thanks to Leslie Kuss and the Moth and Butterfly I.D. group on Facebook for their help. Bloom Day.

Hello friends! I’m actually making it to Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day this month on the actual day! I think it’s the first time this year. Go me!

Tiered borders with Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm,' 'Becky' shasta daisies and 'Bright Eyes' phlox is blooming with abandon from all the rain.
Tiered borders with Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ black-eyed Susans, Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Becky’ shasta daisies and ‘Bright Eyes’ Phlox paniculata are blooming like crazy from all the rain. Thank goodness for black-eyed Susans! They knit my entire summer garden together.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is sponsored on the 15th of each month by Carol Michel of May Dreams Gardens. Hop over there to see what’s blooming in other people’s gardens all over the world.

Rain again fell on Little Cedar today. We had several pop-up showers that didn’t last long, but when I went out to take photos, it was so humid my camera lens kept fogging up. Then, I came inside and realized all my pictures were black.

Arrrgh! No, I did not forget to remove my lens cap. I have no idea what happened, but it’s all fixed now. I ran back outside and took more photos as thunder boomed all around me. I was quicker than a frog sliding into a lily pond except I hopped back inside.

You know I have to include a photo of my favorite rose, 'Carefree Beauty,' a/k/a 'Katy Road Pink.' If this one ever gets Rose Rosette, you'll find me in the closet having a good cry.
You know I have to include a photo of my favorite rose, ‘Carefree Beauty,’ a/k/a ‘Katy Road Pink.’ If this one ever gets Rose Rosette, you’ll find me in the closet having a good cry.

We didn’t get any rain in June and July, but August has been a different story. I think over three inches fell on my little garden, and that makes my heart glad.

Trying to achieve the ever-elusive symmetry.
Trying to achieve the ever-elusive garden symmetry. Nothing in life is perfect. It’s not supposed to be.

I returned from GWA’s annual meeting in Buffalo, NY, last week, and I’ve been playing catch-up in and out of the garden ever since. I filed two columns with two different editors today and last week. I also harvested a ton of vegetables in my potager and cutting garden. I did a little live video on Facebook of the harvest.

As for blooms, because of the rain, we’ve got some. I wandered my overgrown ornamental garden this morning, and I feel rather bad about my neglect of it. After the garden tour, I lost all interest in these beds and borders.

Perennial garden doing its thing. Tightwad Red crapemyrtle in front. Purple crapemyrtles behind.
Perennial garden doing its thing. Tightwad Red crapemyrtle in front. Purple crapemyrtles behind.

I can hear you clucking. I’m sorry. I just worked so hard in it that I lost myself a little. I tried so hard to make it perfect that I forgot why I even garden.

Do you ever do that?

After the tour, I ran off to Garden Bloggers’ Fling and wandered other people’s gardens on tour, grateful that they weren’t mine. When I returned home, I was still tired. I overworked myself, and there’s a lesson, or as my friend, Mary Ann, of Gardens of the Wild, Wild West, would say, a pony in there somewhere. Maybe stop working so hard and trying to be so perfect? Maybe?

(Click on the photos to make them larger.)

I’m happy to say my vegetable and cutting gardens saved the day and me in July. They just seemed to ask for nothing, which isn’t true of course. I worked steadily in them too before the tour. However, they were ready for harvest, and harvest I did. I still have tons of tomatoes on the vine. I’m going to write another post on the cutting and vegetable gardens as soon as I catch my breath. Anyway, they made me remember why I garden.

Why you ask?

Because I simply must. I’m a writer and a gardener, and I must garden and write if I am to breathe. And, in these trying times, we must all remember to breathe.

Luckily, the ornamental beds and borders, while as wild as western mustangs, are somewhat contained by their formal edges and straight lines. I’m lucky ornamental gardens are forgiving. I just wish the Monarchs I’ve been seeing would get with it and lay some eggs. I’ll bring their caterpillars inside and raise them for a new generation if they do. I have tropical milkweed and perennial Asclepias tuberosa, butterfly weed, planted in many places–wherever it’s sunny. Oh, and if you live in Oklahoma don’t feel guilty for using tropical milkweed. It’s not going to kill your caterpillars. It dies all the way to the ground each fall so no worries. I’m saving seed this year to grow my own. I like A. curassavica ‘Silky Gold’ better than the orange one. Not being from Oklahoma State University, the University of Tennessee or the University of Texas, my favorite color is not orange.

I do, however, like a soft orange bloom, and some flowers are exquisitely beautiful in various shades of orange. Take agastache for example. Agastache Kudos™ Ambrosia is growing in a container on the deck. I never could grow agastache in my garden. The plants always rotted about Midsummer no matter how I prepared the soil. In a weird moment of buying plants online in a snowstorm last winter, I ordered two agastache plants. When they came, I was horrified and told my friend, Faire from Fairegarden. She calmly suggested I grow them in pots since it worked for her in Tennessee. Faire is a gardening guru in my book so I tried it. When it worked so well, I bought two more. I plan to bring these inside my greenhouse this winter and keep them for next year. I just used good potting soil, but if you’re worried, you could work in some sand too. The hummingbirds and I are very happy.

Agastache Kudos Ambrosia.
One bloom spike of Agastache Kudos™Ambrosia.

Another plant that’s really pleasing the butterflies and me this year is Stachytarpheta ‘Nectarwand Red’, red false vervain, a Bustani Plant Farm Introduction. Isn’t it beautiful? How about this Pipevine Swallowtail? Be still my heart!

Special thanks to Leslie Kuss of Growing a Garden in Davis, and the Moth and Butterfly Identification Forum on Facebook for their help in identifying this butterfly.

This is why I garden. Happy Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day.

Hydrangeas for Oklahoma’s finicky climate

Calamagrostis × acutiflora 'Overdam' in front of Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle'

Do you like hydrangeas, but despair of growing them in hot and sunny Oklahoma? Here are several hydrangeas for Oklahoma’s finicky climate. Choose wisely because hydrangeas live for a very long time, and many of them take up a lot of gardening room. If your garden is small, but mighty, choose one of the dwarf types I feature in this post.

There are old favorites and new ones to love. As you know, I lost many roses to Rose Rosette Disease, and I used hydrangeas and native shrubs to replace roses in my garden. These young plants are now growing into good anchor plants for herbaceous beds and borders. Plus, they’re easy care. Note: click on the photos in the galleries to make them larger.

H. arborescens ‘Annabelle’

First up, of course, is H. arborescens ‘Annabelle.’ The beautiful ‘Annabelle’ has lived in my garden for many years and grew from two small cuttings rooted by my friend, Wanda Faller. Hi Wanda!

For those of us worried about pollinators, it’s also the hydrangea that pollinators love. In fact, it is covered with many different creatures all summer long. ‘Annabelle’ was found in Anna, Illinois, and it’s native to southern Missouri, Oklahoma and even Louisiana. We need to plant more native plants in our gardens. Hybridizers have tried to improve upon ‘Annabelle,’ but for my money, they haven’t yet.

Hydrangeas for Oklahoma's finicky climate. Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' with pollinators drunk with joy
H. arborescens ‘Annabelle’ and pollinators drunk with nectar joy

‘Annabelle’ just gets better and better each year. I’ve rooted many cuttings for friends, and I think I’ll root more for overwintering in the greenhouse. Note: if you ever get a greenhouse, build it twice the size you think you need. You’ll find uses for it, I promise. Mine is much too small to do everything I want.

‘Annabelle’ is hardy to USDA Zone 3, and it gets 4 to 5 ft tall by 6 ft wide.

‘Annabelle’ holds onto her blooms throughout most of winter, and since she blooms on new wood, there’s no worry–cutting them off in spring won’t lessen her impact come summer. Not so with some of older H. macrophylla cultivars. To be honest, I’ve never had much luck with any of the traditional big-leaf hydrangeas in this garden. New and old cultivars live here just fine, but even the newer ones don’t bloom with any consistency. A non-performing hydrangea is a boring plant.

‘Annabelle’ can take some sun in Oklahoma, but not as much as some of the other hydrangeas I’ll feature in this post. She needs plenty of water as do most hydrangeas to look their best. Remember the word hydrangea starts with the Greek prefix “hydro” meaning water. All of mine are on drip irrigation to conserve as much water as possible.

H. quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’

My second-favorite hydrangeas are in a tie. I really love H. quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’ and H. paniculata ‘Limelight.’ The paniculata (panicle) group can take a lot of sun as can some quercifolia (oakleaf) hydrangeas. However, ‘Ruby Slippers’ wins for dealing best with intense sunllight. ‘Ruby Slippers’ resides at the end of the garden where she took over for my ‘New Dawn’ roses, the first to succumb to Rose Rosette back when I barely knew what was happening.

No, hydrangeas aren’t roses, but they provide three beautiful seasons of interest, and compared to roses, hydrangeas are so easy care it’s hard to believe. ‘Ruby Slippers‘ came out of breeding at the U.S. National Arboretum. It blooms on old wood so remove the blooms after they fade. ‘Ruby Slippers’ is hardy to USDA Zone 5. It’s also a small, compact shrub–3 1/2 ft. tall and 4 to 5 ft. wide–so not much pruning is necessary.

See? Easy.

H. paniculata ‘Limelight’ and H. paniculata Little Lime®

Limelight,’ took the garden world by storm when it was introduced, and it’s a very forgiving plant. With water, it can take a lot of sun. I’ve seen it growing as a standard–small tree–making an exclamation point in garden beds. Or, you can let it spread out and become a great backdrop for other plants.

Like ‘Annabelle,’ ‘Limelight’s’ pointed blooms start out green, turn to white and then back to green by end of summer. Eventually, they turn a rosy, light brown. It blooms on new wood so there’s no worry of cutting off the next season’s blooms. In fact, it’s such an easy plant to grow throughout much of the country that I see it everywhere I travel. It’s also hardy to USDA Zone 3a, but doesn’t mind heat either. Mine is planted at the end of a rose border where I lost a Knock Out® rose to Rose Rosette. ‘Limelight’ does get big: 5 ft. to 6 ft tall and wide so give it some room.

If you have a smaller garden, there’s now a newer and smaller version of ‘Limelight’ called H. paniculata Little Lime®. This is a dwarf variety of panicle hydrangea and grows 3 ft. to 5 ft. wide and tall. I planted three next to my deck behind some daylilies and Tightwad Red crapemyrtles. Last summer, I grew Senorita Rosalita cleome in front too, and the purple and green made quite an impact for the fall garden tour. These small beauties also work well in containers with drip irrigation.

H. paniculata Quick Fire® and Little Quick Fire®

At each end of the same border, I planted H. paniculata Quick Fire®. These shrubs grow larger, and their blooms have more visual interest as they fade than Little Lime. Just one of the prettiest hydrangeas in production, and they can handle at least half a day of morning sun. As you can see from the photo below, they also have red stems. Quick Fire grows six to seven feet tall and wide, and it’s hardy to USDA Zone 3.


If you don’t have that kind of space, there’s a Little Quick Fire® too. Up until now, I bought all of the shrubs I’ve discussed. Proven Winners sent me Little Quick Fire and H. serrata Tuff Stuff™ to try out last summer. Little Quick Fire settled right in and is growing great guns. It is hardy to Zone 3 and grows from 3 ft to 6 ft. Tuff Stuff is taking longer to settle in, but even though it’s a mountain hydrangea, I have high hopes for it. Tuff Stuff grows 2 ft to 3 ft wide and 3 ft to 4 ft tall. It is hardy to Zone 5a.

H. paniculata Pinky Winky®

Years and years ago, I received Pinky Winky at a Garden Writers Association annual meeting. It grew from a one gallon pot to a nice-sized shrub about 3 ft tall by 3 ft wide. It’s supposed to grow larger, but some plants in Oklahoma are more stunted. Mine grows in full sun all day. It is hardy to Zone 3. I love the long pointed blooms and its small size, but I hate the name. I’d really like to try H. paniculata ‘Renhy’ Vanilla Strawberry, but Pinky Winky has grown so well in this spot I don’t have the heart to remove it. Maybe I can find another spot for Vanilla Strawberry. It grows much larger–6 ft to 8 ft tall and 4 ft to 5 ft wide. It is hardy to Zone 3.

Now, most of these hydrangeas bloom white and then fade to either pink, red or brown. I know how much people love blue hydrangeas, but in my part of Oklahoma, they require very specific conditions. Conditions I’m not willing to provide. Why should I when all of these others are so happy here?