Flower bed before and after & plant shopping 101

Dee Nash raking debris to the burn pile.
After returning home from Italy last week, I found the garden in better shape than I expected.

Ornamental gardens are forgiving. In spring, my garden is always covered in leaves and debris. I live at the axis of the shortgrass prairie and the beginning of the deciduous forest in the hills of east central Oklahoma after all. In the back garden, we removed the surrounding chicken wire fence and blew the leaves out into the lower pasture.

The entire garden, including the back beds, is way ahead of last year.
The entire garden, including the back beds, is way ahead of last year.

We will replace the worn out chicken wire with flat cattle panels cut in half to make it easier to weed-eat around the garden’s border while keeping bunnies at bay.

Front beds before cleanup yesterday and today.
Front flower beds before cleanup yesterday and today.
Yesterday, after a few days recovering from jetlag, I went outside and worked on the last two beds in disarray.

I cut back the ornamental grasses, including my favorite, pink muhly, and dead perennial stalks. I pruned and fed the roses, adding a couple of roses to my garden this year. ‘Boscobel‘ and ‘The Poet’s Wife‘ went in these beds. I haven’t decided where The Alnwick® Rose will go yet.

Front beds after cleanup. It took me one and a half days, but I also removed a lot of Phlox paniculata that was taking over.
Front flower beds after cleanup. It took me one and a half days, but I also removed a lot of Phlox paniculata that was taking over.
I also overseeded my small fescue front lawn.

I find fescue a constant source of irritation partly because I live on a hill. Without something to hold back the hill, my front doorstep becomes covered in muck, but only after a rain. Since rain comes in fits and starts mostly in spring and fall, it’s barely possible to keep the front stoop clean. Fescue is a lot of maintenance, and where the native moss and clover grow, I consider it a boon.

I don't care if my lawn has weeds. Never have, never will. Click To Tweet

I overseed my little lawnette each spring and fall and feed it with Milorganite as needed. Because it is such a pain in the rear end, I only grow fescue in a small shady area. The rest of the grass on our land is all Bermuda not planted by me. I keep adding gardens so the Bermuda is reduced bit by bit. Look for new raised beds we’re installing this month. I also don’t worry about the dandelions that come. In fact, I saw a honeybee feasting on the nectar from a dandelion only yesterday.

So, don’t expect a lot of grass maintenance info from me. I’m no expert, and I don’t use weed and feed.
So, don't expect a lot of grass maintenance info from me. I'm no expert, and I don't use weed and feed. Click To Tweet

I’d much rather talk about flowers and vegetables you can grow.

I also went to three nurseries yesterday and purchased a plethora of plants.

There are three types of plants that perform well in Oklahoma: those native to Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas and Arkansas; tropicals grown as annuals for summer color; and tough perennials.

Still, even some tough perennials aren’t consistently, well, perennial.

I pondered this yesterday as I planted two more Big Bang™ Redshift coreopsis in my lower/back garden. I also bought ‘Rose Glow’ ajuga to replace some that wasn’t happy after winter. Many perennials like coreopsis, gaillardia, rudbeckia and some salvias bloom themselves to death. S. leucantha, Mexican bush sage, isn’t always hardy in our climate either, but oh, when it is, in late August and September, you get large stands of blooms like this.

Bumble on Salvia leucantha, Mexican bush sage. There is no purple like this plant. It doesn't always overwinter, but I keep some starts in the greenhouse just in case.
Bumble on Salvia leucantha, Mexican bush sage. There is no purple like this plant. It doesn’t always overwinter, but I keep some starts in the greenhouse just in case.

The vagrancies of our stupid, unpredictable weather also kill some perennials that may be extremely hardy elsewhere. I could rail against perennials that don’t stay perennial, but instead, I just replant those I love best. The Big Bang™ series of coreopsis is worth planting again, as are ‘Arizona Sun’ and ‘Arizona Red Shades’ of gaillardia along with pretty-in-pink ‘Punch Bowl.’ You can start seeds for ‘Punch Bowl‘ indoors in February, or buy plants from Bustani Plant Farm, my favorite plant nursery. I’ll be buying plants this year.

Gaillardia 'Punch Bowl'
Gaillardia ‘Punch Bowl’ in my garden in 2015.

Echinaceas like ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ are worth growing. So is E. pallida if you can ever get it going. I keep trying, and I will again this year.

I’m only telling you this because I don’t want you to feel badly when perennials die after a season or two. It’s not you. It’s them.

Side border with Cheyenne Spirit echinacea and daylilies.

Side border with ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ echinacea and daylilies from 2016. Being a seed strain, ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ comes in a multitude of heights and colors. It’s also dynamic for an unusually colored echinacea.

I'm only telling you this because I don't want you feel bad when perennials die after a season or two. It's not you. It's them. Click To Tweet

So, into my basket went a few things I wanted to replant. I also decided to try a couple of new plants I found, including Geum ‘Banana Daiquiri.’ I love geums, and they are often hard to find. I’m hoping this one settles into my hot and dry prairie section of the garden.

Geum ‘Banana Daiquiri’
Geum ‘Banana Daiquiri’ new to my garden this spring.
Note, it’s too early to buy true tropicals although the nurseries and box stores are selling them.

I’ll put my tropicals in the greenhouse for a couple more weeks. Even though our average last freeze date is April 20, we may be finished with winter, but remember, tropicals don’t like temperatures under 45°F. I found several new varieties of coleus at Davison’s Nursery, including some of the Main Street series. Davison’s is not my favorite nursery. I think they are too high priced on many plants, but they often have coleus no one else will.

Pink muhly grass from the opposite side of the garden bed.
As you can see from this photo, coleus is a great plant to work in with other perennials like pink muhly grass and Mexican sage.

Under the Sun, also expensive, had lots of fresh tropical plants no one else will have like several varieties of alternanthera, Joseph’s coat. You pay more for exclusivity. They also had a new variety of zinnia, Swizzle Cherry and Ivory, that I plunked into the ground. It’s too early for zinnias, but I’m willing to cover these little darlings if I must. So far, the weather looks ok, and zinnias are tough little plants. In the new raised beds, I’m planting seeds of tall zinnias for butterflies.

Swizzle Cherry and Ivory zinnias I planted yesterday before the rain.
Swizzle Cherry and Ivory zinnias I planted yesterday before the rain.
So, here’s the dilemma with Oklahoma gardening. No matter what you grow, you’re doomed to failure. Just kidding, at least partly.

We added these new narrow borders for daylilies I wanted to add for the tour.

We added these new narrow borders for daylilies I wanted to add for the tour.So, here's the dilemma with Oklahoma gardening. No matter what you grow, you're doomed to failure. Just kidding, at least partly. Click To Tweet

We are often cool in spring, but maybe we’ll be hot instead. We sometimes get copious amounts of spring rain that drown your xeric plants, but then it’s super hot and dry in summer. Autumn can be long, or extremely short. A lot depends on first and last frosts.

So, what’s a gardener to do? Watch the weather.

Don’t pay attention to charts devised by people who live anywhere else. Instead, watch your local news each evening and note cold fronts coming to town. If rain is coming from the south, it will be warm and often heavy. If it’s coming from the northwest, we may get a freeze.

Know your garden too. As I wrote above, I live on a hillside. I planted my fruit trees at the top of my front yard to protect them from frosts and freezes. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, I eat peaches and tart cherry pie. Occasionally, I get an apple or fifty. When we get a late freeze, I just enjoy the spring blooms until they are frozen and gone. I’ve ceased to worry about it. I’m a gardener. I’m used to disappointment. Ha!

'Miss Kim' lilac next to Black Lace® Sambucus. Flower bed
‘Miss Kim’ lilac next to Black Lace® Sambucus.

Know your garden with all of its idiosyncrasies, soil types, and microclimates. The soil in my garden is different in each section with most being sandy with pockets of clay. I have a new section that is clay through and through. I’m working to create good soil there so I pile on shredded leaves, Back to Nature compost and more mulch as the leaves decompose. I now have about two inches of good soil over bad.

Gardening in Oklahoma especially is a lesson in humility. That's why gardeners are so kind. Click To Tweet
Back garden with roses about to explode into bloom.
Back garden with roses about to explode into bloom.

At the bottom of the hill where my main garden is, microclimates exist because of tall grasses and trees. I waited until the last minute this year to chop my ornamental grasses because they protect other plants from freezing. Go out into your garden now and look for plants that have heaved themselves out of the soil. Some of my autumn sage does this every year, as do the heucheras. Poor heucheras, they often want to die. I think growing in Oklahoma makes them suicidal. I use my hands and my feet–in shoes, of course–to push their roots back into the soil. Then, I place some shredded leaves or finely ground cedar mulch on top to comfort them.

Polygonatum falcatum 'Variegatum,' variegated Solomon's seal with a red heuchera (I don't remember the variety.)
Polygonatum falcatum ‘Variegatum,’ variegated Solomon’s seal with a red heuchera (I don’t remember the variety) and Phlox divaricata not yet blooming.

On these warm days with the sun at my back and birds surrounding me with song, I’m out working every minute. Yesterday was cloudy and gray. There was fog this morning, and clouds blanketed the plants and ground with warmth. Tomorrow morning may not be the same so keep your eyes on the weather and your heart ever hopeful. Spring colors are so glorious my eyes mist at their beauty.

Cotinus 'Grace' smoke bush.
Cotinus ‘Grace’ smoke bush.

What gardeners do may look like work, but we know different. Hands in the soil, eyes raised to heaven, Up close and personal, we see God’s handiwork in all its glory.

Spring has sprung, and we are the fortunate ones. Garden on my friends.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: February indoor plant party

A closeup of the blooms of an interspecific orchid hybrid. I love the yellow color too. So cheery on dark days.

Sorry, I’m late to the Garden Bloggers Bloom Day party. I didn’t realize it was already mid-February. How could I miss it with Valentine’s Day right before? Well, everyone here has been sick since Christmas. That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.

There’s so much blooming in my red dirt world so let’s get on with the show.

Among my indoor plants, I’ve forced hyacinths, and I’ve also bought some small daffodils already doing their groove thing.

Hyacinths 'Delft Blue' Garden Bloggers Bloom Day
Hyacinths ‘Delft Blue’ I forced this fall and winter. Dreamy aren’t they?

All of my hyacinths performed wonderfully except the white ones. Most of them rotted. I prepared them the same way as the others. I placed them in paper bags in the garage refrigerator in late August because we don’t get that cold in Oklahoma at the beginning of winter–at least most of the time. I used paper bags because we occasionally store fruit in that refrigerator. I was super busy throughout fall, so I didn’t get them on vase until mid-December. I then put them in the bulb closet in my kitchen so they could start growing roots.

Bulb closet in my kitchen.
Bulb closet in my kitchen.

All of them rooted except the white ones. They just sat there. I watched for green shoots on top too, but nothing. When I pulled up the bulbs, they were rotten. I don’t know why.

Hyacinths mature at different rates when you force them, so I pull them out of the closet when the green shoot is about 1/2-inch high. Then, I place them in a sunny window. Before long, they turn bright green and begin to grow. You’re simply fooling the plant that it’s spring. It’s tons of fun and a good thing to do with kids. I usually get two months of bloom.

See those in front with the yellow tips? They just came out of the closet today. The vase on the left is modern. The turquoise one may be modern too, but it has the Tye type shape. It came from England.
The hyacinth tips were yellow until they sat in sunlight for a few days. Then, they turn bright green.

I gave loads of already-planted bulbs to family and friends at Christmas. They make excellent gifts.

I noticed Trader Joe’s already has plenty of forced tulips and daffodils. Go ahead and buy yourself some. They don’t cost much, and they make this period before spring seem shorter. I bought these daffs and slid the plastic pots down into my containers. I watered and enjoyed them until they bloomed out. Because they are planted in potting soil, I can transplant them outside for bloom in spring 2018. Daffodils are such strong growers that they transplant pretty well even when forced in potting soil. Other forced blooms, especially those in water, do not.

Forced daffodils from Trader Joe's.
Forced daffodils from Trader Joe’s.

After Christmas, Whole Foods put their amaryllis on sale, so I snatched up two I love. They bloomed just in time for Valentine’s Day. Who says amaryllis (hippeastrum) are just for Christmas?

I’ve also been obsessed with orchids this year. There is no easier plant to bring into your home. By the time you see the orchid in the store, someone has worked very hard in a large greenhouse to make it bloom. We visited an industrial greenhouse orchid operation when we were in California for spring trials. I have those photos, and I should write a post about it. Would you like that?

Greenhouse growers take your phalaenopsis orchid from a tiny cutting and eventually bring it to bloom. Then, all you need to do is sit it on a table or mantel and give it some sun every couple of weeks. Oh, occasionally, you water it too.

It’s almost a plastic plant!

For larger orchids, you can do the ice cube trick every other week to water, but even that’s too much for mini-orchids. The mini-orchids and the interspecific (mixed species) are my current favorites.

An interspecific orchid I found at a box store.
An interspecific orchid I found at Lowe’s.
A closeup of the blooms of an interspecific orchid hybrid. I love the yellow color too. So cheery on dark days.
A closeup of the blooms of an interspecific orchid hybrid. I love the yellow color too. So cheery on dark days.

I like how the minis aren’t top heavy, and the blooms on the interspecific ones, shown above, are truly spectacular. I found the minis at Trader Joe’s and the interspecific ones at Lowe’s. You just have to shop every couple of weeks because orchid stock seems to be replenished every week or so. I have a couple of larger phalaenopsis orchids too. I nearly drowned one of them, so I repotted it in orchid bark and stashed it in the greenhouse. It seems happier. Orchids like to grow on tree branches in tropical rainforests. They don’t like wet roots.

Orchids like to grow on tree branches in tropical rainforests. They don't like wet roots. Click To Tweet

When I started posting a lot of orchid photos on my Instagram account, I got questions about reblooming. Well, my friend, Shirley Bovshow, made a video on getting your orchid to rebloom.

Here are my thoughts. If you want to try for rebloom, great. If you don’t, just compost your orchid after it blooms. It’s no different than buying cut flower bouquets–they cost about the same–and orchids bloom for months.

I hear you. It’s–gasp–a plant, not a flower! Yes, but even plants die, and that’s ok.

I hear you. It's--gasp--a plant, not a flower! Yes, but even plants die, and that's ok. Click To Tweet

I repotted two of my orchids–including the unfortunate drowning victim–and put them out in the greenhouse for now. I’ll place them by a window in my bathroom come summer. We’ll see if I can get them to rebloom. I’ve never tried, but I never bought so many orchids before either.

Most of my February blooms are indoors, but I have a few outside too. My hellebores started blooming today in fact. I trimmed back the old foliage a few days ago and accidentally cut off two blooms. It is one of those things that just happens I guess. Some people in milder climates don’t cut away the old foliage, but here it looks so bad I do. That way, everything is fresh, unhidden and ready to bloom. I have more to trim, but as you can see, I need to cut back the ornamental grasses too.

We are supposed to have a high of 68F today. I think I’ll get out there and garden.

Just one of my ornamental grasses that needs cutting.
Just two of my ornamental grasses that need cutting.

Yesterday, I contacted Grooms Irrigation Co. and asked for them to come out and estimate what it would cost to expand the irrigation system. Since we installed it in 2008, I’ve added three or four more borders. I should get the costs soon and get started. I told him we needed it done before June and the daylily regional tour. Hopefully, since I contacted them early, they can get to it soon.

Happy Garden Bloggers Bloom Day everyone, and thank you, Carol, for once again hosting us.