Monday, June 9, 2008

Garden Variety Adventures

Twenty years ago when I purchased my house, I was thrilled with the idea of getting out of the apartments I'd lived in since college. But along with the house came a rather large back yard and a postage stamp-sized front yard. Most of my actual gardening experience to that point had come from watching my grandparents and parents plant and tend both vegetable and flower gardens. My role in their endeavors was reluctant "weed-puller" and "vegetable picker."

My interest in gardening increased when I had my own patch of dirt. I approached gardening like I did writing; full steam ahead with the research coming later when things didn't quite go as expected.

My backyard came with six trees – two peach, a plum, two apples, and one overgrown evergreen something. I cut the evergreen down within the first four months and added a deck in that location. Best decision I ever made – it really opened up my backyard and I was immediately able to enjoy "my" outdoors. The fruit trees were about ten feet tall when I moved in. I admit it – I really didn't like the fruit trees. There were too many of them for the size of my yard and fruit trees take a lot of time and attention if you intend on eating the fruit. Webworms, molds, diseases - you name it, fruit trees are afflicted. I wanted those trees gone with a passion, but people gave me the "what, are you crazy?" look every time I mentioned it. I couldn't just cut them down. It took a number of years, but God finally took the decision out of my hands via several storms. The last of the fruit trees toppled two years ago during one of Oklahoma's worst ice storms. I don't miss them at all. The neighbors' trees provide all the shade I need and I have a very nice crepe myrtle (planted some ten years ago) left.

Another plant that came with my mortgage was a very healthy vine on the west side of my yard (full-sun location), running along the top and sides of a chain-length fence. Medium large green leaves, hard green berries, strong pencil thick vines, and no flowers. When clipped and controlled, it's a great privacy feature. Leave it alone two weeks in the summer and the battle is on! I have no idea what this vine's real name is. Anyone have any ideas? I call it my "monster vine." It can grow five feet overnight, choking everything in its path.

My area of Oklahoma is known for its azaleas. Muskogee has an Azalea Festival every April. Most of the yards on my block are filled with glorious azalea blooms each spring. Not my yard though. I tried for five years to get azaleas to grow in my "dirt." No go. After a month the azalea would turn rusty brown and I'd feel guilty for sacrificing another plant.

My success stories – and there are some – involve hydrangeas, a variety of Rose of Sharon species (Hibiscus syriacus), shrub roses, and lilies. I have at least three different types of Rose of Sharon in my yard today. One variety is more like a tree than a shrub (up to 8 feet tall) with pink, white or purple blooms from late spring through fall. They require no care other than pruning. One type has plate sized blooms, but it only blooms for about six weeks and bugs love to chew on the flowers.

If you've never tried shrub roses, you're missing out. They have a wonderful fragrance and I've never had to use any pesticides or fertilizer on them. They're very hardy plants having survived the worst of Oklahoma's weather. Other hardy plants are hydrangeas. Mine are a brilliant blue when in full sun, paler in the more shaded areas.

I love lilies and usually plant new ones each year to replace some of the ones I lose to moles or hard freezes. Some of new varieties are just gorgeous.

Peonies, hollyhocks, and lilacs are great additions to most gardens but I've had problems with them. Peonies are beautiful but need perfect light for the blooms to last more than a couple of weeks. I haven't found a good location for them yet. Hollyhocks, another of my favorites, need a protected area from the wind and insects are a problem. Lilacs need lots of room and light. If you crowd them, they won't grow, won't bloom, and develop all kinds of leaf molds etc. I've given up on them for my yard.

Do you have a flower garden? What are your favorites?

Evelyn David


  1. Hi, Evelyn: My favorite, low-maintenance, hardy plant is my blue mist spirea. It blooms in August, although it is green now. It was taken down by a hurricane two years ago, yet we managed to prop it up and don't you know it's blooming again? It's amazing. I thought it was a goner.

    I'm with you on the azaleas...they are not my favorites and they grow sporadically in our dirt as well.

    I'm not an outdoorsy person but I do plant window boxes every year (although they're still not in this thing at a time!) and like begonias and potato vine.

    I love hearing about your gardening endeavors. Maggie

  2. We just tore out our old deck and redid the whole yard with lots more perennial beds, a good cedar fence, a pond, a new paver brick patio, and a brick walled raised kitchen garden.

    I especially love the kitchen garden. I put in eight different herbs in about a quarter of the bed and the rest has two types of tomato, four types of pepper, and a mound of zucchini. It's lovely.

    I hope to put acorn squash, cantaloupe, and cucumber on the ground in an area left empty for future plantings and a compost area.

    Even my yard work is food-centric.

    Otherwise, we are trying to go with native plantings here, so for us that means Joe Pye Weed, Cardinal Flower, Phlox, Liatrus, Coneflower, Viburnum, etc. We also put in old-fashioned Persian Lilac and Witchazel and Lamarki Serviceberry that on the first weekend attracted a pair of Cedar Waxwings!

    Taking a "staycation" just got wonderful.

  3. I used to have a green thumb, but over the years it turned black. Roses are the extent of my flowers and I'm not the one who takes care of them.

    We do have a lot of vegges and herbs growing--tomatoes are nearly ripe. Yum! I don't take care of those either.

    Loved hearing about everyone's expertise in the gardening.