Easy-to-grow plants for the middle south

In between rain showers and sky-pounding thunder, I went out to explore and take some photographs. There is nothing prettier than a plant with raindrops etched across its surface. While walking around, the gravel crunching under my feet, I considered what to write about this morning. I’m in the midst of my fifth year of writing Red Dirt Ramblings. Plus, I already write regularly for Fiskars, Lowe’s, Oklahoma Gardener magazine and Proven Winners so there’s a lot of “me” out there. I don’t want to bore you.

Single flowering Japanese kerria, a plant we should all be growing if it can be found. Mine was given to me via Wanda. The double-flowering Kerria japonica is easier to find, but not as delicate. It will grow and bloom in shade or sun.

One difference between writing this blog and writing for other publications and companies is that they have specified parameters, categories and content. There are also schedules, so I may be writing about vines and tools in the middle of winter.

'Cl. Old Blush' which has bloomed in this spot for over sixteen years.

RDR, on the other hand, is all about the “now.” The present, or indeed, what’s happening at any given moment.

Today, the lilacs are blooming in three stages. My original lilac, which my husband’s family called “French,” but which is probably Syringa vulgaris, and still my favorite, is at its end of bloom. The fragrant flowers have  turned nearly white instead of brilliant purple, but they still smell exquisite. The nearly white blooms are a beautiful contrast to with my Canadian Explorer rose. For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of that red rose, nearly twenty years old now. I’m sure I have record of its planting somewhere. Oddly, it often looks terrible in spring, but this year, it is outshining everything else.

Common lilac with a Canadian Explorer rose

It and the two ‘Old Blush’ roses, climbing and bush, are blooming with abandon. They, along with the lilacs could perfume an entire block. Sometimes, I’m sad I live so far out in the country. I’d like to live on a street where people still stroll down sidewalks and stop to smell the roses, but I don’t. In their cars, they sometimes slow down to see what’s going on in my yard. Most of the time they race by instead.

If they’re not careful, they may also race through their lives and miss it all. Or, worse yet, crash into something. There is a wicked curve just past my driveway heading out of our addition. I’ve seen two different drivers nearly lose their lives when they mixed alcohol with speed. One rode a motorcycle and now walks with crutches on a good day. The other rolled her car several times coming to rest in our lower pasture.

It’s good to slow down. It might even save your life.

Sambucus nigra 'Eva,' Black Lace™ elderberry and Syringa pubescens subsp. patula,'Miss Kim'

Back to plants. The Korean ‘Miss Kim’ lilacs, Syringa pubescens subsp. patula, are just starting to bloom. My Chinese lilac, Syringa x chinensis, has already bloomed. Everything is early because of the fantastic spring weather we are having this year. I took this photo of ‘Miss Kim’ with Sambucus nigra ‘Eva,’ better known as Black Laceelderberry. I bought mine many years ago, and it has grown into a large shrub. It is a Proven Winners® plant, but I loved it long before I even knew what Proven Winners® was . . . let alone, worked for them. The interesting thing about this elderberry is that I almost killed it three times. I kept trying to nurture it, giving it the best of everything. When it was down to one stick, I sat down in the garden and pondered why it was dying. It finally occurred to me that it was an elderberry for pity’s sake, and all it wanted was some lean, well-drained soil. Bill and I had just built the tiered beds on the east side of the house, and we used soil in the top tier which was already there. It was sandy and not much good so I tried it. You see the results here. I’ve never amended that soil with much, and I grow all the plants which like their soil lean and mean there. The elderberry will grow larger and larger, and honestly, it is really too big for the space where I grow it. However, I just whack it back every spring after bloom to maintain its shape and size. I do the ‘Miss Kim’ lilacs the same way so that I don’t cut off next year’s blooms.

I would plant all of the plants I’ve listed again. They all have good plant habit. They are truly easy to grow, and each is beautiful in its own way. What are some of the plants you’ve grown which you would recommend to others? I’d love to hear. There’s always room here for another great plant here no matter how crowded things get.


  1. sweetbay says:

    The single Kerria is a plant I have wanted to add to my garden for a long time. Gorgeous picture of Old Blush.

  2. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    This time of year I think of the native Columbine that are blooming like crazy here. They are so reliable and need no help to spread or even live. Drought tolerant. Not fussy at all.

  3. Just lovely! Spring is treating your garden well this year.

  4. lovely roses…. i love the tiny flowers on those climbing roses…

  5. Chiot's Run says:

    Black lace elderberry is one of my favorites. Mine are still small as they were only planted 2 years ago and have been nibbled by deer, but they are so lovely. I’m a big fan of anything with black foliage with pink blooms. I acquired a beautiful black pussy willow at a local plant trade and can’t wait to see it in bloom next spring.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Me too. Me too! Black foliage with pink or yellow or orange is a must in my garden. Oh, and chartreuse. Thank you so much for stopping by. Happy Spring.

  6. Gail says:

    Kerria is one of my favorites and I have both the single and double. I love their graceful stems and the color is fine under our Middle South sun. Thanks for the reminder to chop back the Elderberry! It’s gotten too leggy and once it blooms I will tame it a bit! xogail

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Yes, I love the color of the brilliant green stems of the Japanese kerria with the yellow blooms. I also have the double, and once upon a time I had the variegated, but it died in one of our cold winters. I cute my doubles back by a bunch a month ago. They bloom so much I wasn’t worried.

  7. Pam/Digging says:

    That lead photo is really lovely, Dee. Congrats on five years of blogging. Keep up your Red Dirt posts. I always enjoy them even if I don’t always have time to comment.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you Pam. I always enjoy yours too.

  8. Simone says:

    I too have the Black Lace Elderberry, this is it’s third year. I have it in a large pot as I am not sure where it is going to have its permanent home. The plant I would suggest is hibiscus. I have “Disco Belle” and it has thrived for 25 years. It was even transplanted once to another spot and still strived. They have so many colors and varieties available now. Everyone in my neighborhood keeps asking me “what is that?” The flowers are just absolutely huge and I find that they do not like a lot of water and love the heat, so that is a plus. When I water the rest of my garden, I skip watering the hisbiscus and just leave it to mother nature.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Aaah, Simone, yes, the perennial hibiscus. I don’t have ‘Disco Belle,’ but I do have two others, one of which is ‘Moy Grande.’ They are lovely. Thank you so much for the reminder. They love our Oklahoma heat.

  9. I miss the fragrance of lilacs, tried to baby one in Virginia. Just as it started to bloom (mature enough) we had a flood (brackish water). Some parts of it survived but later succumbed to voles. Guess it wasn’t in the cards.
    Really like the Black Lace elderberry, will have to ponder a place for one to grow. Love the black foliage. We have some native elderberries growing in the area.
    A plant that I would recommend? I am a fan of the Loropetalum ‘Ever Red’. The blooms are hot red instead of the bright pink and the foliage is dark burgundy. Really a nice plant. According to the label 6′ x 6′ at maturity…..we shall see.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Janet, glad to say one thing Oklahoma doesn’t have weather wise is brackish water. That sounds horrible. You’ll have to come sniff my lilacs. I do love the loropetalums, but I’ve yet to see ‘Ever Red.’ Must go take a look. Thank you so much for the suggestion.

  10. Raindrops on roses (and everything else), just one of my favorite things!
    I always slow down past beautiful gardens. I’d probably stop and stare at yours!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      They are all my favorite things too. Thank you. I’d hope to have you over for tea if you were ever in the neighborhood.

  11. Carol says:

    Get bored with RDR? Never. There is always a new pretty plant to admire, good conversation to listen to, and advice to live by when I stop by to see what’s going on in your garden.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Carol, dear friend, thank you. It was lovely to hear your voice yesterday on the phone. I’m excited about those raised beds.

  12. yours truly, Melissa says:

    Im so happy to have come across your blog! I actually think I’ve been by it before, but was living in a rental at the time & therefore not in as much of a position to do much gardening. My husband & I bought our first house last spring & are looking into improving our yard & flower beds. We have LOTS of work to do & very little knowledge or experience. I’ve been researching & reading as much as I can about gardening in general & gardening in Oklahoma specifically. I’m happy to have your blog as another resource as I make my novice entrance into the gardening world.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Melissa, your comment simply made my day. My daughter, Bear, read it to me as I drove her to school. I’m glad my little blog inspires you. We all need to look for inspiration and kindness wherever we can. Thanks again, and I hope you keep coming back.

  13. Frances says:

    What a delight to see these wet beauties, Dee. The rain has made your garden dreamy and full of magic. The Kerria is lovely, as they all are, but my favorite is the old fashioned lilac. We have that here, as well, and it too is turning whitish. So fragrant, and so old fashioned. It reminds me of my Oklahoma home.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Frances, thank you. It was fun to take pictures between the storms. I love the scent of lilacs, and I finally found a candle which does the original lilac justice. I burn it at my desk.

  14. CurtissAnn says:

    All so beautiful! Thanks for the peek.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you Rosebud.

  15. Layanee says:

    You are well into the season there aren’t you? I like everything about kerria, well almost everything. It is definitely school bus yellow. Still, pretty in the border and a true ’50 mile an hour plant’. You wouldn’t miss that color when driving on the highway.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I’m afraid so. Our spring is speeding past. We did get a respite and rain yesterday. Here, kerria isn’t that bright because of our very harsh sun. Love to you Layanee.

  16. Dee… Just the photos of your lilacs and that kerria choked me up, it is all so beautiful… And thank you for the perfect message about slowing down. Gardening is just about the most complete life metaphor I have ever found, and you struck one of its best elements with that reminder. So sad about the motorcyclist. Please keep sharing, because otherwise I will miss a lot of details in the days or weeks it takes to plan a field trip! xoxo Beautiful.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Marie, it was ironic to go over to your blog and read about a man who had died in an accident outside your house. Living in the country is not for the faint of heart. As for visits, I’m ready when you are. The garden changes every day this time of year. Some people think the daylily time is best, but I don’t know about that.~~Dee

  17. Dee these are great choices even for the NE…your gardens look gorgeous!!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Donna, yea! Glad to hear you can grow all of them too. Too far south, and lilacs won’t work. Thank you for your kind words.

  18. I have a plant that was given to me by my father-in-law, he called it Mexican Petunias. They love the heat and are quite drought tolerant. They are listed as invasive in some states, and I wouldn’t recommend planting in a flower bed as they spread like crazy and grow to 5 feet tall with lovely purple trumpet shaped flowers and a dark green foliage. I have planted them on the west side of our house where I never water them and the heat radiating from the brick in the summer is like an oven…they love it! Another huge benefit is that they shade the side of the house a bit as they grow and help with our electric bills! Hoping to divide them and plant some along our fence line this year.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Oh yes, Ruellia brittoniana. I’ve seen them a lot in Texas. I wonder why we don’t grow them here that much. I’m thinking of growing my potatoes in five gallon buckets this year. I better get to it. I love your story of your brick wall with all that heat and the Mexican petunias.~~Dee

  19. Melissa says:

    Your photos are lush and gorgeous. I am always thrilled when I notice a lovely garden when I’m driving in the middle of nowhere. Like a well-kept secret, it has power. I’m even more thrilled when the same gardens come up on garden tours so I can have a closer look.

    Driving slowly,


    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you so much Melissa. Yes, drive slow especially around curves. 🙂

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