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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.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!
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
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.
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.
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.