Dee Nash raking debris to the burn pile.

Flower bed before and after & plant shopping 101

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… 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… 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… 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.

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11 comments on “Flower bed before and after & plant shopping 101

  1. Robin Ruff Leja

    I’m rarely upset to find that one of my perennials hasn’t returned. Often times, my love for that plant has faded. Plus a dead plant means space to put something new! And who doesn’t love plant shopping?

  2. bittster

    What’s with all the doom and gloom? Oh wait, you’re a few weeks ahead, and we are still living through those magical end of winter days when there will be no fungus or drought and the deer don’t find the lettuce. Just a couple more days though and reality will sink in.
    … but then there are those amazing moments and it’s all forgotten and all you can utter is “wow” 🙂

  3. Mona

    Dee,
    I enjoyed every word of this post. You sound like me..and I love your gardening wisdom..I too am learning not to sweat the small (or big) stuff in my garden and just enjoy it…
    Happy gardening
    Love, Mona

  4. Rose

    “Gardening in Oklahoma is a lesson in humility”…what a great quote! And it happens to be true for those of us in the Midwest as well. I’m wondering how our mild, snow-less winter might have affected the plants in my garden this year. Usually, I can count on a layer of snow to provide insulation for the perennials, but not this year. Once again, you’ve given such a great advice, Dee, and you’ve also made me feel less guilty about some of the “perennials” I plant that I know will never make it to another year, like Agastache, one of my favorites that just doesn’t like Illinois winters. Your advice about micro-climates in your garden is spot on, too. I often have to explain to friends who live in town why I can’t grow some of the things they do–I’m in the middle of flat prairie where the winter winds whip across my garden, and not every plant is happy with that. ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ is one of my favorites, and I love that ‘Punch Bowl’ Gaillardia!

  5. Beth @ PlantPostings

    I like your plant selections. Agreed, regarding the joy of gardening. We are blessed! And I share your philosophy about the lawn. We use pre-emergent organic corn gluten meal, which keeps the weeds down a little in the front, but I don’t really care if they pop up. The back garden is full of beautiful moss and wild violets and that’s OK by me. Love your wider view of your property. It is gorgeous!

  6. Linda Lehmusvirta

    Your garden is lovely! And I love your new additions: wish I could get that yellow Geum. I love my native white but a yellow–wowsa!

  7. Debbie Fish

    Lovely flower beds. Got a question. I’m in Shreveport, Louisiana, considerably south of you. I tried the smokebush which grew beautifully for a number of years but never bloomed. Finally dug it up and pitched it as the real estate was too valuable for no blooms. After pitching it I wondered if it just took a LONG time to begin blooming. What do you find with yours???

    1. Dee Nash

      Hi Debbie! I’m sorry I’m just seeing this. I’ve been swamped with wedding stuff. Here’s the thing about smokebush, it needs nearly full sun to bloom well. Plus, if you cut yours back like I do, they may not bloom at all. You may be cutting off the blooms. I say this because that’s my intention with my dark purple ones. I actually don’t like the blooms all that much because they make the bush get all out of its rounded shape. I hope that helps. Thank you so much for stopping by, reading and commenting. Sorry it took me so long to answer.

  8. Kathy from Cold Climate Gardening

    “No matter what you grow, you’re doomed to failure.” I wonder if there’s a place in the country where that’s not true? It’s certainly true in my cold climate. All your advice was spot on: watch the weather, and know your garden. As gardeners, we’re not only used to disappointment, but also beauty in unexpected places, and surprising successes. It prepares us for life, yes?

I love your comments. Thanks for letting me know what you think.