No garden variety apologies needed

Plant rack at Northwest Flower and Garden Show.

While shopping at box stores and garden nurseries, I often see old friends and meet new ones, usually over plants. In fact, it’s one of my favorite ways to meet people.

At parties, when new friends learn I’m a garden writer, they seem to feel the need to apologize for their garden or lack of plant-growing expertise.

Deck with plants, chairs and rug. It's a cozy outdoor space where we relax in the evenings.
Deck with plants, chairs and rug. It’s a cozy outdoor space where we relax in the evenings.

No garden variety apologies are needed. I don’t expect everyone to garden like I do. Really, I don’t.

What I do is labor-intensive, obsessive and hard. Also, the garden--and my plant knowledge--grew over the years. Click To Tweet

What I do is labor-intensive, obsessive and hard. Also, the garden–and my plant knowledge–grew over the years. I know I’m nuts.

I do hope you’ll garden though. You don’t have to plow up the back forty or plant an acre of tomatoes, peppers, and squash either. Even tending one pot on your deck or porch is gardening.

Hemerocallis 'Ever Redeemewd' (Carpenter 2003) daylily
Hemerocallis ‘Ever Redeemed’ (Carpenter 2003) daylily. Check out that saturated color.

Really. I started with houseplants in the 1970s and macrame. My first real “garden” was a small plot outdoors with three roses, some begonias and another tropical/annual I no longer remember.

Potager and boxwood hedges. I didn't start gardening like this. It evolved over time.
Potager and boxwood hedges. I didn’t start gardening like this. It evolved over time.

Men seem to feel the need to apologize for their lawns or lack of one. If only they knew how little I care about grass maintenance. Women tell me their true confessions about all the flowers/vegetables they’ve killed.

Do you think I don't kill plants? Oh yes, I surely do. I just don't take pictures of their dead bodies. Ha! Click To Tweet

Do you think I don’t kill plants? Oh yes, I surely do. I just don’t take pictures of their dead bodies. Ha!

H. 'Mystical Intuition' daylily (Petit 2011)
H. ‘Mystical Intuition’ daylily (Petit 2011)


If you don’t kill something once in a while, you’re not growing as a gardener.

You’re not branching out and trying new things. Plus, the climate in Oklahoma lends itself to plant death and destruction. It’s ok. With every plant we kill, we learn new things about our climate, soil and water conditions. We discover those plants that can deal with clay and those that turn up their leaves and die.

Do you think people find me intimidating? Gosh, I hope not. I don’t want to intimidate anyone. Instead, I want to help. It’s why I wrote The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff.

My last post on lilies made me realize, again, that people find gardening hard. It’s not hard. It’s simply a skill that must be learned, one tomato plant, one lettuce, one zinnia at a time. I’m still learning.

Gardens take planning, but in our hurry-up world, gardening is the balm of Gilead.
H. 'Dragonfly Dawn' daylily (Trimmer-J., 2010)
H. ‘Dragonfly Dawn’ daylily (Trimmer-J., 2010)

Gardening is unhurried and calm. If you don’t use power tools, it is also supremely quiet other than the sounds of insects buzzing about doing their thing. By the way, gardens should be full of insects, toads, and frogs, rabbits, and birds. If you’re able to create a small ecosystem for them, they will come, and your garden will be better for it.

Ecosystem sounds so grand, doesn’t it? It’s not really.

Just don’t use pesticides, organic or chemical–as much as possible. Cut down on herbicides too. Plant flowers full of nectar and those that feed baby butterflies and moths, and have some type of water in the garden. Really and truly, that’s all there is to it.

H. 'Free Wheelin'' daylily (Stamile, 2004). This big and bold daylily is truly one of my favorites. It blooms pretty early, but the flowers are huge and open in multiples.
H. ‘Free Wheelin” daylily (Stamile, 2004). This big and bold daylily is truly one of my favorites. It blooms pretty early, but the flowers are huge and open in multiples.

But, back to intimidation, no worries. When I visit your home, or see you at the box store or nursery, I’m not judging your space. The only garden I ever judge is my own, and I’m constantly learning, one mistake at a time.

Do you think seeing my garden online stresses people out?

I hope not. I don’t expect anyone to garden this much space this intensively. Cottage gardens are a lot of maintenance. I’d like to think that if I started over at a new property tomorrow, I would go for an easier landscape style, but I doubt it. I need flowers like some people need their morning latte.

I need crowded, jumbled and tumbled spaces. I need scented plants. I need butterflies, moths, bees and flower flies. I crave the garden the same way some people crave chocolate cake. If you told me I couldn’t garden, I think I would simply wither up and die.

My garden represents a lifetime of learning, and please note, I’m still learning. My garden is my life’s work, and since I began gardening when I was nineteen, that translates to thirty-six years.

Gosh, that makes me sound old. I think I’ll just go off and totter into the sunset.

Just kidding. I do mean this though. If you have a question, please ask me. I may not know the answer, but if not I’ll find it. Gardening is like breathing. It’s what I do, and I want to help you garden in whatever capacity you can. We need to get off our computers and see and touch the real world. It brings down stress, and it makes us slow down and appreciate our lives.

So, ask me gardening questions, but no garden variety apologies please.

What looks good now

Hibiscus 'Moy Grande' will always have a place in my garden. Bumbles love it, and, as the name says, the blooms are huge.

Good morning Sunshines! I hope all is well in your world today. Mine is a-ok, copacetic, in fact. Today, I want to share what looks good now. Even though Oklahoma is still hotter than a firecracker–97F forecast today–the garden looks pretty darn good. We’re in that in-between-the-blooms stage so foliage plants are carrying the load. Asters and mums have yet to start, and as days grow shorter, tropical bloomers are slowing down. However, ‘Moy Grande’ hibiscus, shown above, is still strutting her stuff. Other plants, like orange crocosmia ‘Antique Montbretia,’ are sporting interesting seed heads nearly as pretty as their flowers.

What looks good now. Seed heads on crocosmia are almost as beautiful as the blooms.
Seed heads on crocosmia are almost as beautiful as the blooms.

Mexican feather grass and purple heart are show stoppers in late summer. If you don’t grow either of these in Oklahoma, why? I know they’re easy. That’s the point. Try the hard stuff–fine–but also save places in your garden for things you can grow no matter what challenges you face. There’s only one other plant that’s easier for the beginning gardener–‘Margarita’ sweet potato vine. When I bring up purple heart in my talks, people almost sneer. Well, tell me of another plant that has such presence and asks for so little. Okay, I can think of one group, and I’ll talk about them below. Purple heart is dark, sultry and beloved by butterflies. Who cares if it’s easy? Gardening isn’t easy. Let’s take our passes when we can.

Side borders with Mexican feather grass, Nassella tenuissima (f/k/a Stipa) and Setcreasea pallida 'Purple Heart.'
Side borders with Mexican feather grass, Nassella tenuissima (f/k/a Stipa) and Setcreasea pallida ‘Purple Heart.’

Another easy group of plants makes my heart grow fonder everyday. It’s the Plectranthus scutellarioides clan. Haven’t heard of Plectranthus scutellarioides? How about their former botanical, now common name, coleus? I’m crazy about coleus. When hybridizers figured out how to make them sun tolerant–even in sultry Oklahoma and Texas–gardeners raised their trowels in rejoicing. Remember, though, not every coleus is sun tolerant. The Wizard and Kong series, for example, still need their sun parasols, but most of the extended family laughs at the sun. If you’re unsure, pick out varieties in late spring or early summer that have very thick stems and leaves with substance. ‘Henna,’ ‘Wasabi,’ ‘Religious Radish,’ ‘Gnash Rambler,’ the Main Street series, and ‘Campfire’ are just some of the good ones. If you want to see some of my other favorites, I have a Pinterest board with Helen Weis called simply Coleus.

Plectranthus cutellarioides 'Wasabi' and others in the garden. Commonly and formerly known as coleus.
Plectranthus cutellarioides ‘Wasabi’ and others in the garden. Commonly and formerly known as coleus.

A new coleus to my garden this year is ‘Defiance Sunset.’ I’m not sure that’s exactly how you write its name because I can’t find much information on it. I saw it across the parking lot at Under the Sun and knew I had to have it. It performed well all summer in full sun in a very dry spot.

'Defiance Sunset' coleus. I bought this locally at Under the Sun.
‘Defiance Sunset’ coleus. I bought this locally at Under the Sun.

Nothing is prettier in the late summer garden than coleus with grasses just beginning to bloom. Below are ‘Adagio’ maiden grass and one of the dark coleus. Can you also see Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ peeking out in between? I cut smoke tree way back twice a year to keep it from elongating into a large tree. I like them bushy. Next to the grass is Vitex Delta Blues™, listed as a smaller and more delicate chastetree. It is still growing quite large in the crummy clay soil of this border. I think I’ll chop it back and see what happens. In the garden, I am often a see what happens kind of girl.

Miscanthus sinensis 'Adagio' with one of my pretty coleus, maybe 'Gnash Rambler.' Also, purple smoke bush or tree is peeking out from behind the coleus.
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’ with one of my pretty coleus, maybe ‘Gnash Rambler.’ Also, Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ smoke tree is peeking out from behind the coleus.

I created this side border to be less upkeep than the rest of the garden. Click on the photos to make them larger. I put a lot of easy plants in here that don’t require much deadheading, if any. I have enough to deadhead in the rest of the garden. I added several varieties of grasses to this space along with tough-and-true native and non-native plants. Most of the natives have already done their thing for the year, but some of the tough non-natives are still performing.

Speaking of natives, I moved two of my favorites to the back of this border where it extends down past the air conditioner and the basement. This is a tough spot for plants, but I think Eutrochium purpureum ‘Little Joe,’ Joe Pye weed and Silphium perfoliatum, cup plant, will be fine here. Plus, the yellow and purple-pink flowers will be beautiful together.

‘Little Joe’ was not so little anymore in the triangular bed in the back garden. Grown into the middle-aged plant he was, he was crowding out his neighbors with his girth. Because my hand is still not right, I asked my son, Brennan, to help me move both plants. He is strong and twenty-one. He lifted each gigantic specimen out with no trouble. I then split the plants and took the best specimens to their new homes. The rest went into the compost pile with no guilt. In the triangular bed, I’ll plant some daylilies because the garden is on tour next June. Out by the street where the cup plant waved in the wind, I may move a Panicum virgatum ‘Cheyenne Skies.’ It’s crowded in another spot. Fall is a great time to move plants because the weather is much more amenable for them to settle into their new homes.

Hole left by 'Little Joe' Joe pye weed. I'll put daylilies and maybe a 'Baby Joe' Joe pye weed here.
Hole left by ‘Little Joe’ Joe Pye weed. I’ll put daylilies and maybe a ‘Baby Joe’ Joe Pye weed here.

Just look at that soil where ‘Little Joe’ was! I know it’s not dark black, but oh the texture was sublime. Only a gardener would be rhapsodic about soil texture, but all the years of leaves and compost have turned this into a wonderful spot. Those daylilies, or whatever I put there will be so happy.

Another plant I find very pleasing most of the year is Coreopsis Li’l Bang™ ‘Daybreak.’ With deadheading, it blooms and blooms, and it’s been in this spot for two seasons now. We’ll see how it does next year. It was very pretty with purple alternanthera and the pink crapemyrtle.

Coreopsis Li'l Bang™ ‘Daybreak’ has been pretty all summer, and with deadheading will bloom again.
Coreopsis Li’l Bang™ ‘Daybreak’ has been pretty all summer, and with deadheading will bloom again before frost.

From far away, the garden looks pretty good in spite of little care this summer. Up close, you can see that ‘Grandpa Otts’ morning glory has had his way with every plant in his path. He is rude that way. Also, autumn clematis, which I hate, established itself next to my ‘Australia’ cannas. Still, I must admit, I like the play of light and dark even if I want to rip out that clematis. I’ll just beat it back after it blooms. Right now, it is covered with pollinators including wasps that wouldn’t be very happy with me if I did it now.

Canna 'Australia' with autumn clematis--my nemesis.
Canna ‘Australia’ with autumn clematis–my nemesis.

Another couple of hateful plants have popped up in the garden in my absence, garlic chives and obedient plant. Lord, how I hate those two early gardening mistakes. I know many of you think garlic chives are pretty, but they are terrible to eradicate once you have them. Obedient plant is the same. People complain about spearmint, but I’ve killed it several times with vigilant weeding. You can spray herbicide on garlic chives, and it just waggles its blooms and says “Come on. Try me.” Obedient plant does a whole other trick. It lays down another underground runner and hides in the ornamental grass. I find digging up garlic chives and obedient plant with a digging fork is about the only way to keep them in check. Young gardening mistakes linger, don’t they?

Garlic chives are so pretty and so awful.
Garlic chives are so pretty and so awful. I’m not even taking a picture of obedient plant because I don’t want to give it the time of day.

A more happy circumstance is my Japanese beautyberry. It is beautiful every year. I also have an American beautyberry in the side border that survived the crummy soil. I hope to add a couple more next year. I’ve killed three. I’m good like that.

Japanese beautyberry.
Japanese beautyberry.

Out by the street, things are starting to heat up. Once the pink muhly blooms in earnest, won’t it be pretty behind this ‘Alabama Sunset’ coleus and in front of the Mexican sage? I can hardly wait. coleus-alabama-sunset-1-of-1This is my favorite fall bed. Also blooming in here are Orthosiphon aristatus, cat’s whiskers, which are adorable, Stachytarpheta frantzii, purple false vervain–also comes in blue and red–and Hylotelephium spectabile ‘Neon’ sedum–just beginning.

Okay, that’s what looks good now. The crapemyrtles are still doing their thing, and it won’t be long until I’m writing about asters and true garden mums. However, I want to hear what you like best about your garden this time of year. For me, it’s the sweet late-summer days. Don’t let them pass you by my friends. They shorten with each passing hour. Get out in the garden and enjoy it while it lasts.