Gardens take planning

The United States went off daylight saving time and back to standard time last weekend. That means the dark closes in more quickly in the evenings, and if you live in Oklahoma, you often wake up in darkness too. Not the best time for gardeners who crave the sun like an essential vitamin. So what’s a sun-starved hort head to do?

My back garden in early April.
My back garden in early April. It’s so fresh.

Well, first get outside. We’ve had glorious weather. Run, walk or garden. Gardens take planning. Start on next year’s now, but don’t panic. I have some ideas from a garden club talk I gave yesterday to get you started.

The Scheepers hybrid tulip mix is designed so that tulips bloom in unison.
The Scheepers hybrid tulip mix is designed so tulips bloom in unison. Mine lasted weeks.

1. Buy bulbs if you haven’t already. By the time foliage emerges in spring, you’ll cheer each new leaf. Trust me. I know this. If you want the best and largest bulbs, buy them from online sources. If you like heirlooms, try Old House Gardens and sign up for their informative email newsletter.

Narcissus 'Mrs. Langtry'
I bought Narcissus ‘Mrs. Langtry’ from Old House Gardens. I love delicate daffodils.

I’m planting narcissus and tulips in several strategic places in my large garden. I have two packages of the same tulip mix for the front and garage borders. I’m doing coordinating, but different bulbs in the back garden. I found that if I plant bulbs there it gives me the inspiration to get out there and work in early spring. From Brent & Becky’s Bulbs I bought N. ‘Lorikeet,’ ‘Goose Green,’ ‘Thalia Sun’ and ‘Merels Favorite.’ I’m interspersing these daffodils with tulips ‘Apricot Beauty’ and double tulips ‘Charming Beauty,’ ‘Pink Star,’ and ‘Upstar.’ John Scheepers sent me the last three tulips for my garden. It was a kind gesture. They hope the double blooms echo the roses I’ve lost.

'Kingsblood' and 'Black Parrot' tulips in the front border. --Red Dirt Ramblings
‘Kingsblood’ and ‘Black Parrot’ tulips in the front border in 2015.

Voles, moles, squirrels, and in some part of the country, chipmunks, are hard on tulips, the chickens of the bulb world. Everything wants to eat them. I’ve found that placing daffodils around tulips stops some of this nonsense. Nothing eats daffodils.

Bulbapalooza in Dee Nash's kitchen from 2011. I'm kinda crazy.
Bulbapalooza in my kitchen from 2011. I’m kinda crazy.

Buying bulbs takes some planning to get a continuous show. I was really happy with the Scheepers hybrid tulip mix I bought last year. John Scheepers is the retail arm of Van Engelen. If you buy $50 or more, you can buy directly from Van Engelen. This year, I ordered the smoldering pink and tangerine collection for the front and garage borders. I see it’s now out of stock. If you want the best bulbs, you need order by early September at the latest. However, sales should be going on now. I’d take advantage of those.

'Scheherazade' (Orienpet lily) with 'Australia' cannas in the side garden. Garden Bloggers Bloom Day July
‘Scheherazade’ (Orienpet lily) with ‘Australia’ cannas in garage border. They are much taller now.

Now, is also the time to buy true lilies. Lilies are not the same plant as daylilies. Instead, true lilies are grown from bulbs with small divisions, scales, that overlap. They are the queens of summer unfazed by hot temperatures. This year, I ordered three more lilies to grace my garden: ‘African Queen,’ an Easter lily type, ‘Corsini,’ an Orienpet and ‘Morini,’ another Orienpet. A lot of you asked about my lilies when you visited on the garden tour. B&D is where I get my bulbs.

Pink muhly grass always reminds me of my friend, Faire, who turned me onto this pink confection.
Pink muhly grass always reminds me of my friend, Faire, who turned me onto this pink confection. It takes about three years to get established.

2. Give your garden a hard look, or ask someone else to do it. We look so much at our gardens that it’s easy to ignore trouble spots. Ask a good friend with a head for design, or hire a landscape designer to give you an honest appraisal of your landscape. Don’t be surprised though if landscape designers don’t want to touch your space. If you’re an avid gardener, you make their job very hard. Design ideas for everyone include: Focal Points, Living Structure, Repetition of Color and Form and Pathways.

Back garden with Hydrangea quercifolia 'Ruby Slippers' and my purple chairs. The crapemyrtles are 'Pink Velour.'
Back garden with Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’ and my purple chairs. The dark-leafed crapemyrtles are ‘Pink Velour.’ The chairs are an easily recognized focal point in the garden.

3. Focal Points. What would you change about your garden if you could? Would you place an arbor at the entrance to make visitors feel more welcome, or would it look better at the end of a path? How about placing a large empty pot where it will command attention? Is there an artistic gate you’ve been dreaming of? These can all be focal points, and they help you frame the rest of the garden into views whether you’re taking pictures or not.

Add living structure like our apple trees in the front yard. This 'Enterprise' apple seems to only feed the deer, but it makes up for this with such gorgeous fall color.
Add living structure like our apple trees in the front yard. This ‘Enterprise’ apple seems to only feed the deer, but it makes up for this with such gorgeous fall color.

4. Add living structure now if your part of the country is still warmish. Oklahoma is having beautiful weather this very long fall so, now is the time to add trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses and even vines as living structural elements. Fall is the best time to plant trees and shrubs. Just don’t forget to water them at least once a month in winter if the temperatures are above forty degrees. Oklahoma and much of the prairie have desiccating winters because of nearly constant wind and cold temperatures. We simply must water our newly planted trees and shrubs, and it’s easy to forget. I set a reminder on my phone to do mine just like I do for my dogs’ and cat’s medicines.

These zinnias against a pink fence in Tucson are a great example of repetition of color.
These zinnias against a pink fence in Tucson are a great example of repetition of color.

5. Repetition of Color and Form. Pick a few colors you love and implement them everywhere. I love dark purple and red foliage so I use these colors throughout the garden. By repeating the same colors, the garden is much more cohesive. It’s a wild and crazy garden anyway so it needs both form and color to keep it whole.

Arbors represent repetition of color and form. They are all painted a soft green to help them blend into their surroundings.
Arbors represent repetition of color and form. They are all painted a soft green to help them blend into their surroundings.

6. Pathways. The types of paths you choose for your garden depend upon your home. Because my design is very formal, I have a lot of straight paths in the back. However, I live in a log cabin out in the country so I can’t be too formal. I chose river rock for the paths for several reasons. First, it was free for the taking because of a job we did for the Boy Scouts years ago. Second, I like the satisfying crunch of gravel beneath my shoes as I walk through the garden. It’s a sensory experience. Third, it’s not as formal as using brick, for example. The garden is rural and in the cottage garden style. It needs to be both formal and informal. I have brick paths in other places, and many of them are curved. Again, it’s all about formality and informality. I’ve gardened here for over twenty-five years, and over the years, my approach to everything has changed. Paths are certainly part of that.

The paths in the back garden are straight, but they are made of river rock.
The paths in the back garden are straight, but they are made of river rock.

Other chores I work on in winter are:

1. Clear away leaves and jump in them. Shred and reuse leaves as mulch if possible. In my part of Oklahoma, we have two stages of leaf fall. The first is in the fall, and another occurs in early spring. Keep oak leaves off your precious shade grass and use them for the wonderful mulch they are. Many trees have leaves that don’t need shredding, but oak trees are very fibrous. They will smother your fescue and mat down in your garden beds so I suggest shredding them with your mower and placing them in piles where you can use them at your leisure. A good layer of shredded leaf mulch is a great way to help plant roots maintain a steady temperature during winter too.

Shredded leaf piles used in Dee Nash's gardens all year.
Shredded leaf piles I use in the gardens all year.

2. Cut back perennials after the first. freeze to minimize chores in spring. However, don’t cut back everything. Birds depend upon seed heads of some plants like echinacea and rudbeckia for additional food sources. They also use strong stems for perching and hide in large grasses. I don’t cut down my grasses until spring. They also look great during much of winter. Also, be aware that many native bees and other pollinators lay eggs in hollow stems like those of perennial phlox, rudbeckia and echinacea. Firefly larvae reside in leaf litter so this is another good reason to use leaves on your beds and borders as mulch. Pile dead foliage that isn’t diseased onto compost piles and keep feeding your pile with kitchen scraps throughout winter so that you’ll have compost in spring.

Winter potager and greenhouse
Cut back perennials after the first freeze, but save some things.

3. Make room for something new next year. I’m prepping for the American Hemerocallis Society’s 2017 regional tour so I’ve been investing in newer daylilies. Still, I’m always on the lookout for other new plants just like every other gardener, but I don’t try everything new because some plants need the test of time before we see if they’re worthy. That’s why my bed that faces the street has so many unique plants in it. It’s my testing ground for plants I’m sent by hybridizers, and other new things. I figure if they can make it there, they can handle our variable weather.

So many seeds, so little time.
Seed catalogs are crack for the winter weary gardener.

4. Make a seed and plant list now. That way, when the crack–I mean, catalogs–come in the mail in December, you won’t be tempted to buy everything. Think about your space and decide which seeds are a must have. Flowers I can’t do without are: sunflowers, zinnias, four o’clocks, celosia, especially tall varietiesNicotiana langsdorffii and N. ‘Lime Green’–both great fillers in bouquets, cosmos, hyacinth bean for my mailbox, larkspur and annual poppies for early spring or fall sowing, nasturtiums and calendulas. For the vegetable garden, I always want lettuce, spinach, Asian greens, Swiss chard, kale, onion sets, radishes, beets and turnips. In fact, I sowed an entire fall garden in September. It’s now almost ready to harvest. The greens are ready.

Okay, that’s all I’ve got for today. Have a great weekend and start garden planning.



  1. As always great advice Dee…sadly no bulbs this year. I ran out of time and with an injury I knew I couldn’t get to it. But I am making a new cutting bed where I will plant tulips. It will be lines with screening to keep out the voles and I plant to dome it with removable chicken wire to keep away the deer. I do have to do lots of planning this year as I redo areas…and your advice is so helpful.

  2. Because I’ve been battling my ailing knee, I tried resisting most bulb purchases this year. But I did buy tulips, after wandering through the tulip fields of Holland Michigan with an old, dear friend. And wouldn’t you know? They did not arrive till late, AFTER my knee replacement surgery. Poor hubby was out planting them for me today, the dear. He said it was NOT his favorite chore! But I did promise to give him all the credit.

  3. I am itchy to tear up my garden and start over. Crazy but true. Of course my garden is much smaller than yours so it would be doable. Good info here.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Lisa, I don’t think that sounds crazy. I’ve redone at least a third of my garden this year after losing the roses.

  4. Rose says:

    Such great advice, Dee! And your garden is the perfect example of all of these points. I just finished planting my bulbs. I tried to cut back this year, because I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of time to plant. It’s easy for me to get carried away, though, and as I’m digging on my hands and knees, I ask myself why I bought so many. But every spring I’m so glad I did! Ooh, that Muhly grass! I think Frances made believers of all of us; I am going to have to find a place for some in my garden.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      That muhly grass is the best thing I’ve added in years Rose. Hands down. I feel exactly the same way you do about bulbs. I was bemoaning the many I bought when I was planting yesterday, but I’ll be so glad in spring. So glad.

  5. A wonderful walk through your garden and I enjoyed your tips and suggestions…I did add more bulbs this fall.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you Charlie. Thank you so much. I’m glad you added more bulbs. I’m on a mission. 😉

  6. Good advice! I need to try Tulips again one of these days. Rabbits are such a big problem here and have eaten most of my Tulips over the years. I’ve been meaning to try your technique (my mom does this, too) of surrounding the Tulips with Daffodils. Also, I’d like to try Tulips in pots like Jason and Judy at Garden in a City. Thanks for the info about the Scheepers Hybrid Mix!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Beth, I’ve also done the tulips in pots. It’s pretty easy really. In my zone though, I have to put them outside next to the greenhouse to get them cold enough. I kept them in the garage last year, and they didn’t sprout. Tulips are such a lovely snack for so many creatures.

  7. indygardener says:

    Good advice, Dee. And I’m living proof that a garden designer can make a big difference in a garden, even if you are an avid gardener.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Carol, a good designer helps us refine our vision.

  8. liz piccione-volger says:

    Great ideas! Thank you so much.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thanks Liz. Glad to help.

  9. More bulbs = More better. Enough said.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hey Linda, yes, bulbs are the secret to spring happiness.

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