Fall flower garden dance

Centratherum punctatum, Brazilian button flower given to me by Cindy from My Corner of Katy blog.

A week ago, when I started this post, it was cold, bitterly so, after a very long and warm fall. Any tropical I didn’t get moved into the greenhouse froze. Deciduous trees and shrubs started their leaf fall and began pulling in their sap to wait until spring to rise again. The asters, garden mums and other flowers are all finished too, but they had their moment of glory. Let’s look back at their reign.

Tagetes lucida, Mexican tarragon is truly a thug so plant it in an area where it has room to roam.
Tagetes lucida, Mexican tarragon is truly a thug so plant it in an area where it has room to roam. It does bloom school bus yellow, but the smaller pollinators love it so much, and it’s great for fall color. Plus, the leaves taste good, like tarragon.

Summer in Oklahoma is hot and usually dry. The sun bakes the sky until it’s only a soft and hazy blue. In fall, that same sky is the most glorious color. Fall reminds me that God loves us. Autumn color is astounding against the green grass and blue sky.

It's not just about the flowers. Fall color in the front border from a 'Viridis' Japanese maple and 'Cherokee Chief' dogwood behind.
It’s not just about the flowers. Fall color in the front border from a ‘Viridis’ Japanese maple and ‘Cherokee Chief’ dogwood behind.

I can’t get enough of fall. It’s when I enjoy the garden most of all. I don’t worry too much about garden chores or spend my time working. Instead, I take my time walking around and gazing at the flowers and foliage before everything dies back to become one with the ground once more.

Variegated plectranthus and coleus were two tropical plants I grew this summer on the east side of the house. The plectranthus lost much of its variegation by the end of summer. I don't know why.
Variegated plectranthus and coleus were two tropical plants I grew this summer on the east side of the house. The plectranthus lost much of its variegation by the end of summer. I don’t know why. I probably won’t plant it next year.

Fall is usually balm to my weary nerves. It’s been hot this year all the way into November. I’m ready for hot chocolate or tea, cookies and sitting around the fire. Instead, temperatures remained in the mid-80s, and I had the air conditioning on in the house as late as two weeks ago. When I heard it was going to be a hard freeze last week, I thought, finally!

'Jessica Louise' mum with another mum friend. I lost the tag to the other, but I'm trying to locate the name in my purchase orders. If I find it, I'll update it.
‘Jessica Louise’ mum with another mum friend. I lost the tag to the other, but I’m trying to locate the name in my purchase orders. If I find it, I’ll update it. I bought them at the same time, but I don’t remember where. I should keep better records.

I never wish for winter, but if I wanted summer temperatures for Christmas, I would head to Australia. Rather, my winter heart resides in Vermont. I’ve not been to Vermont. Never been to Australia either, but there are other places I would go first, like Italy. We plan to go there in March.

Mexican bush sage up close and personal reveals its velvety texture. I find that the solid purple variety is more cold hardy than the one with the purple calyces and white flowers.
Mexican bush sage up close and personal reveals its velvety texture. I find that the solid purple variety is more cold hardy than the one with the purple calyces and white flowers. This is a photo from 2015, but it’s representative of what’s blooming in my garden until the freeze.

Back to the fall floral display. All of my gardens are designed with fall flowers in mind. If we get a hot summer, there won’t be much blooming then so I choose tropical plants to fill in those empty spaces. Then, I plan and plant for fall.

Centratherum punctatum, Brazilian button flower given to me by Cindy from My Corner of Katy blog.
Centratherum punctatum, Brazilian button flower given to me by Cindy from My Corner of Katy blog.

When I spoke last spring in Sugar Land and Tomball, I spent time with my friend, Cindy From My Corner of Katy. Cindy and I have been friends for almost nine years, and she never lets me leave her home without giving me some wonderful plant. This year, it was Brazilian button flower, a/k/a Brazilian bachelor’s button. My plant grew to be about two feet tall and wide, and I have it planted in clay. It simply shrugged off the terrible dirt and began blooming in mid-summer. Then, in fall it really hit its stride. I love this tender perennial which isn’t hardy in Oklahoma, but I’m sure it will deposit plenty of seeds for next year. Cindy says it can be a bit of a thug.

“Bring it,” I say. Not many plants are thuggish in Oklahoma. Garlic chives and autumn clematis are two thugs I can think of off the top of my head, but not many others.

Symphyotrichum laeve 'Bluebird' with a small bee.
Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’ with a small bee. One of the best “asters” I have in the garden.

In past years, I’ve written several times about favorite fall flowers and trees. You can plant fall-blooming flowers for pollinators like the Mexican tarragon, above. Remember, simple flowers are always best. That way, small insects can really get their nectar fix. You can also plant fall eye candy for yourself. Mums and asters make good companions. And, while you’re going around admiring your gardens, don’t forget that planting bulbs is an act of faith. I’ll be outside on Friday planting the rest of mine, 200 or so. I planted some tulips, but I waited for a couple of cold snaps to let foliage die back and give me space to work. It also helps cool the ground off. We had a very warm fall, and we’ve had to wait. Wait no longer. Get your bulb on now so you’ll have a beautiful spring. Remember that good gardens take planning, and bulbs are part of that too.

'Emperor of China' mum in the border along the garage.
‘Emperor of China’ mum in the border along the garage.

Much love to all of you. Thank you for reading my blog in this, its ninth year. You don’t know how much I appreciate you still stopping by and leaving a comment. It makes the writing and photography worth it.

Why garden?

My youngest daughter holding radishes

Why do you want to garden?

People plunge their hands into the soil for a variety of reasons. Are you following in your grandmother, grandfather, or parents’ footsteps? Did your mother ever build a sunflower house just for you, or did your father let you play in the garden next to him?

Then, again, maybe you don’t have a mentor. If not, I want to help. My passion for gardening knows no season. Spring is nearly here, and all I can think about are seeds. From favorite flowers that make up the bulk of my garden and new varieties of vegetables I want to try, each day is an adventure. Even though it’s winter, on those days that it’s warmish and sunny, I’m outside cutting back perennials and adding more shredded leaves to the soil. Soon, I’ll be starting seeds indoors and sowing cold crops outside too.

My joy is complete on that first, warm spring day when the Earth is green and growing. It is as close to heaven as I’ll get during my lifetime. Spring is how I know God loves us.

Why garden? A beautiful spring day in the garden is as close to heaven as we can get.
A beautiful spring day in the garden is as close to heaven as we can get.

I want to pass on this essential craft to you. Yes, gardening is a craft. It’s not magic. The magic comes after you plant seeds in warm soil, but there are no secret formulas involving household products that make us successful. Good, old-fashioned compost improves soil and makes magic on its own.

If I pass on my hope and knowledge to you, maybe you’ll pass it onto your children too. I sometimes fear we’re coming to a time when no one, except Big Ag will grow anything. My concern is one reason I wrote The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff. Writing books doesn’t make much money, but it is satisfying to talk to so many people who love, or want to love gardening too.

There are zinnias hiding behind those sunflowers in the vegetable garden.
Building a sunflower house isn’t hard, and it makes memories that last forever.

I’ve done my best to transfer my love of growing things to my children. They are young–most are in their 20s–and just starting out, so only time will tell if I’ve been successful. I built Megan a sunflower house when she was small. She still talks about it, and I know, one day, she’ll build one with her children when she has them. We built it before I began taking photos and blogging, but we still have our precious memories of that summer. Bear and I planted and harvested radishes, and she loves radishes to this day. Brennan played with his Tonka trucks making construction sites in a bare are of the garden as I planted nearby. He doesn’t garden yet, but he knows how because he teases me about it all the time.

The view of the potager from the other side. I'm standing next to the greenhouse and facing south.
The potager (kitchen garden) in June.

It’s important to pass down our love for soil and sunshine to our children because they don’t get outside as often as children once did. Worries over child predators and use of the Internet have changed childhood forever. Do you remember playing outside all day and listening for your mother to call you home for supper? I do. Each day was a grand adventure filled with bike riding, scraped knees and dirt. Gardening is as close as our children and grandchildren will get to that feeling of freedom and earthly joy. Plus, they’ll get more vitamin D if they get outside. So will you.

Another view of the potager in spring.
Another view of the potager in spring.

Here are some other reasons why I think people start gardening.

  • To save money. In the long run, gardening will save you money. However, you will have startup costs like purchasing seeds, containers, building materials for raised beds, purchasing manure or other organic fertilizers and potting soil or soil. Yes, people who live with terrible buy it and burm it up for raised beds. You may also need to rent, buy or borrow equipment to help you break up your native soil. So, while you may garden to save money, know that you will need to purchase some things to get started. To minimize expenses, trying buying tools with friends, or borrow them from a neighbor. Be sure to return the items in better condition than you found them. It will make you friends with your neighbor for life. As a friend, you can also “borrow” his/her knowledge if he/she is a gardener too. There’s nothing like the knowledge from someone who grows in your own climate and conditions. Also, join a seed swap and trade seeds with others. It’s another great way to be part of the community.
'Park's Whopper Improved' tomato was a determinate variety that kept me in tomatoes all summer.
‘Park’s Whopper Improved’ tomato was a determinate variety that keeps me in tomatoes all summer.
  • Food, glorious food. Vegetable gardeners tend to be foodies. I know I’m one. One reason we grow our own vegetables is to have the very best ingredients. However, don’t feel like you have to grow everything you see in the supermarket. Different plants have different seasons. You can still go to a great grocery store and find many items, including organic produce, that may be too hard to grow in your area. Certain foods like lettuce, green beans, tomatoes, eggplant and many herbs are the best you’ve ever eaten when grown right outside your back door. That’s why I line my kitchen garden beds with herbs. I can step outside and cut some for supper. There is nothing like it, and I feel so self-sufficient when I do. Herbs are easy to grow too.
Variegated culinary sage is a perennial herb in my climate.
Variegated culinary sage is a perennial herb in my climate.
  • Natural Beauty. My surroundings are as important to me as the air I breathe, so I often choose vegetables, fruit and flowers simply for beauty’s sake. Bill loves blueberries so I grow them in containers outside on our back deck. In fact, I have twenty-three containers of various plants at last count. Some are vegetables. Others contain roses and tropical plants to create an oasis that softens the sounds and sights of my closest neighbor.
My blueberries growing in containers.
My blueberries growing in containers.
  • Peace of Mind. Our Earth is a fragile ecosystem, and anything we can do to make the planet better is one of the best reasons to garden. By the very things we choose to grow, and how we grow them, we can definitely help our planet and pollinators. If you’re worried about the agriculture system, growing your own food is one way to lessen the impact of genetically modified produce and chemicals in what you eat. Our ecosystem is delicately balanced, and the animals and insects that call your garden home will bless you everyday as they go to work. You help the bees, hoverflies and other insects by providing them with nectar, and they help you by visiting your plants and pollinating them. It’s a beautiful thing.
Bumblebee on Echinacea purpurea.
Bumblebee on Echinacea purpurea.
  • Unplug and go outside. Finally, we should all just unplug and spend some time outside breathing fresh air. Unplug and go outside is the motto of the U.S. Forest Service. I spend a lot of time in front of my computer screen, and I bet you do too. Fresh air, exercise and even dirt are good for us. Soil has good bacteria that makes us feel good. It’s true! A strain of bacteria in soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, has been found to trigger the release of serotonin, which elevates mood and decreases anxiety.
  • So those are some of the reasons why I think people garden. Hands in the soil and sunshine on our hair are good reasons too. I’d love to hear why you like to garden. I’ve also linked to some of my previous posts on starting seeds and other early garden chores for you to find more easily. Have a glorious Sunday my friends!