August 18, 2016

Weekend Gardening and 5 Tools to Make You More Efficient

My favorite view of the entrance to the potager, through the giant viburnum canopy to the arbor.

I spent an absolutely blissful two days this past weekend working in the potager in remarkably cool temperatures for August. These pleasant conditions continued into the week, when I finished my three day prune (I break it up into an hour or so a day to protect my back and give my glutes a break) of the boxwood hedge surrounding the edible compartments. When the weather is nice, I find it a meditative chore (read more on my philosophy of pruning here), with a great sense of satisfaction at the end, delighting in the perfect orbs and clean lines of the clipped boxwood. Against this definition, the tomatoes look redder, the peppers look perkier, and the basil looks fresher.  A very satisfying end result. BUT, I couldn't do it without my little helpers that dramatically improve my gardening efficiency.  Here are 5 of my favorite garden 'tools' for weekend garden warriors. I have written about and recommended  them before... but they are so important to my efficiency in the garden, I think think they deserve a second look. Oh, they work in the middle of the week too. :)

Collapsible pocket hose with brass end fittings.

 1.  Collapsible Garden Hose with Brass End Fittings from Bed, Bath and Beyond. Find them here.

Do they last more than a season or two? Probably not, but they are SO much more functional and lightweight than traditional rubber hoses that it is worth the time and expense and effort to replace them. But here is a tip. They never go on sale anywhere, and they seem to be the same PRICE every place, so I buy mine at Bed, Bath and Beyond, and use one of their endless 20% off coupons to get a $29.00 hose for around $23.00.  I also make sure to save the receipt in case it dies or malfunctions during the season. In my experience, the fittings (in brass) are not an issue. But if you aren't mindful about draining them after watering (and sometimes even if you ARE) ...the intense heat of the day may make them ulcerate and explode (yuck) requiring replacement. They are so much more convenient IN EVERY WAY...kinking, weight, portability, storage...that they are more than worth it. During the heat of the summer when  daily hand watering can be a tiresome chore, these hoses are just the ticket.

Watering the root zone of a newly planted boxwood while standing outside the border.
Hose end spray gun set to jet makes watering at a distance a breeze.
Watering a pot long distance in the potager.

2.  Hose End Spray Gun

I have no allegiance to any particular brand...most of us have them in some form or another...but I have FINALLY (I can be a VERY slow learner) learned how to use them more effectively and efficiently. My garden is very densely planted and I have a LOT of container plantings. I am constantly maneuvering myself about the garden to get access for watering. Just this year, I realized I could rotate the setting to full or jet, and the water could travel a good distance without my having
to scale the boxwood hedge in the back, or brick wall in the front to water said pots or window boxes.

Nor do I have to trample through the beds to water the root zone of a newly planted shrub...or knock off aphids or whitefly from a perennial under attack. Particularly helpful if your hose is just a wee bit too short  to reach the area in distress. If you are now thinking 'I can't believe she has gardened all these years and she is JUST now figuring this out' you would be justified in your bemusement. My brain isn't always as efficient as the tools it is required to use. But I am learning.

Small head perennial shovel for planting in tight spaces between shrubs.
My trusty steed, ever at my side in the garden.
3. Small-head perennial shovel

I think I am on my third such shovel, having broken beyond repair a couple of others. (The metal ends now reincarnated as scoops for gravel and compost). Its smaller size makes working in tight spaces much easier than a standard navigate and plant between shrubs, against the fence, or scooping soil out of large pots. Lighter weight and a sharper in form I think, and more effective in chiseling through hard pan Oklahoma clay. Smaller size makes for easier storage as well.

4. Inexpensive showerliner to collect clippings and debris

4.  A large piece of plastic, or in my case, a shower curtain liner from the dollar store.

The dollar store part is important, because they are lightweight, thin and cheap. A better quality one will be heavier and not as easy to lift and maneuver in the garden. I drag it along with me as my boxwood clipping progresses along the hedge. It makes clean up all of the sheered leaves a breeze, and short work of putting them in the compost pile. It's valuable for gathering ANY kind of garden debris, and makes for a bigger target than a trash bucket or wheel barrow when pulling out dead plants with abandon, frenzied tree thinning and leaf clean up, or tossing shovelfuls of dirt being excavated for a NEW must-have plant in your garden bed.  (You just HAD to have that one more hydragea didn't you?)
Freshly clipped boxwood hedge in the potager.
Note the absence of boxwood clippings on the flagstone surface.
5.  Large dustpan and whisk broom to sweep up what the tarp didn't catch.

Great for sweeping up soil that washed out of your pots and onto the porch, the granules of fertilizer you spilled on the drive (and want to salvage) or dirt and gravel those infernal squirrels dug out of your carefully composed containers.  So there you have it. My list of must-have tools to tackle those weekend garden chores. Tell me what tools you most value in the garden.

Metal dust pans are more durable and long lasting for heavy garden chores.
Cheery cherry metal dust pan for scooping up debris.
Well worth the time, tools and effort.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to stop by Potager!  If you don’t want to miss a post, you can sign up to receive a daily email and you will never miss a thing. I’m also on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. Or missed a 4 YOUR GARDEN segment? Go here

August 10, 2016

America's Happiest Flower: the Sunflower

From the cover of the book SUNFLOWERS, by Courage Press.  

There are painters
who transform
the sun
into a yellow spot,
but there are others
who, with the help
of their art
and their intelligence,
transform a
yellow spot into 
the sun.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

This huge field of sunflowers manages to stand up to the grandeur of our vast Oklahoma skies.

I do believe that given the chance, sunflowers could bring about world peace. I mean really. Is there anyone on earth who is not cheered by its sunny nature? Captivated by the wondrous spiral of seeds in the heart of its radiating petals?  Fascinated by the way they turn their heads towards the sun as the day ages? Compelled to smile at their presence? I think not.  My friend Catherine just wrote a wonderful post about their history and magical nature on her blog In the Garden and More: the Magical and Majestic Sunflower. A good read for the curious on a hot day in August. 

Two lone trees seem to erupt out of a field of sunflowers.

I have long been smitten by this most quintessential summer favorite is the pollen less Sunbeam variety with its fresh light green center. I've taken a thousand pictures of all varieties of sunflowers in my garden over the years...against the crystal blue backdrop of an Oklahoma summer sky. Catch some of their garden beauty in the potager in a previous post Expressions of a Sunflower...or in this post "Sunflowers: Nothing Gold Can Stay" striking and grand as each individual bloom reaches for the heavens. For more sunflower eye candy and poetry, I pull out my book SUNFLOWERS by Courage Press (which you can find for as little as a penny on Amazon here) each season, leafing through its pages for inspiration and compensation for late summer heat.  

This season I am more captivated by their beauty en masse, absolutely blown away by the muscular magnificence of huge expanses of sunflowers looking in unison towards the infinite summer sky. I took these pictures en route to Colorado in July, frequently bringing our road trip to a halt so I could snap just one more....and then one more again as the color of the sky, or the backdrop of the sunflower field changed.

Sunflower field in western Oklahoma en route to Salida, CO.
Golden sky, golden blooms, golden summer.
Husband should take most of the credit for these images...calling my attention to them, and away from my book, so as not to miss their grandeur. Breaking up the prairie landscape with their golden nodding heads; breaking up a long drive with a glowing field of happiness.

It seems to me that these sunflowers are in the midst of some animated conversation.
It seems to me that these sunflowers are in the midst of some animated conversation.

Speeding by a sunflower field.
Speeding by in the car...hesitant to say good-bye.
Sunflower,  I bow to thee in awe, in gratitude.

Thank you, Husband.:)

Field of sunflowers agains a gray Oklahoma sky.
As beautiful from behind as from in front....with a gray sultry sky as a background.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to stop by Potager!  If you don’t want to miss a post, you can sign up to receive a daily email and you will never miss a thing. I’m also on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. Or missed a 4 YOUR GARDEN segment? Go here


August 5, 2016

5 Things We Should Be Doing In Our August Gardens

Concrete pots filled with evergreens need top-dressing in late summer.
Potted Nellie Stevens Holly needs a topdressing of compost. 
Okay. Garden chores in our Oklahoma gardens in August aren't much fun, to put it lightly. But they are important and can significantly improve the health, vigor and appearance of our landscape and outdoor spaces. So what are some late summer garden chores we should be putting on our garden to do list here in our Southern gardens? Here are some of the things I've been sweating through in my own garden.

Large boxwood is shaded by a board and protected from SW sun.
A recently transplanted boxwood shows signs of heat
stress and belated transplant shock.
 Large boxwood is shaded by a board and protected from SW sun.

1.  Provide temporary shade to distressed plants and flowers.

Shrubs, flowers and some veggies that sailed through the first part of the summer with ease may now be showing signs of heat and drought stress from searing sun and drying winds. In my case a transplanted boxwood from six weeks ago was showing distress from the laser-like rays coming from its southwest exposure. One could use shade cloth (for a variety of sizes and styles, visit the SUNCLOTH STORE here ), but I used a simpler and equally effective method for my situation.  I propped a board up with a bamboo stake to shade it from the offending sun. Easy to put up and take down. A version of this technique might work for you depending on the size and scope of the area you need to shade.

Last chance to trim back your mums to delay bloom until fall. Don't wait!
2. Cut back your mums and asters for the last time.

Garden tradition tells us to cut back our mums and asters for the last time around July 4. In Oklahoma, I think we have a little more latitude in this regard. Cut back your mums now (don't wait much longer!) to delay bloom until later in the fall. Just sheering off the top inch containing the buds should do the trick. And don't forget to keep deadheading your spent flowers for continued bloom.

Cut back your basil before it goes to seed and keep the deliciousness coming.
3. Keep cutting back your basil to keep it from going to seed.

Your basil is no doubt flourishing in the intense heat. Prevent it from going to seed by pinching it back just above a set of new leaves. This will keep this valuable summer herb producing heavily (and deliciously!) for weeks to come.

Pots of mixed succulents were moved to a less harsh environment.
These large and small pots of succulents were moved to a more amenable spot.
Pots of mixed succulents were moved to a less harsh environment.
Small pots of succulents were moved to the ledges in the potager.
4.  Move container plantings that are struggling or dying to less harsh positions in your landscape.

I am embarrassed to tell you this, but it was a real aha! moment for me when I realized that I could move (imagine that!) containers that weren't happy to a more hospitable location. Doing so has saved many a plant in my garden. An added bonus? Often I can move them into spots inside my garden beds that are now bare or devoid of color, filling the gap left by a dying or dormant plant or plants.
I moved all of the succulents in the images above from an area off  my kitchen to the step and ledges on the north side of the studio. Use a two wheeler for large and heavy planters.

Virginia creeper bounds the fence and begins to creep into beds.
Virginia Creeper from my neighbor's yard threatens to take over my garden bed.
 5.  Cut back and tame aggressive vines that threaten to strangle areas of your landscape.

Most of us have some type of overly aggressive plants that can take over our beds and borders if we don't stay on top of them and cut them back regularly. Sometimes ruthlessly so (believe me, you won't kill them!) In my case, I have Virginia creeper and trumpet vine to my north, and wisteria with trumpet vine and Virginia creeper to my west. I spend more time in late summer cutting back plants from neighboring properties that have jumped the fence than I do weeding.  If not kept in check, these vines can strangle trees, take root in your garden beds and bring down your fence. Be vigilant about pruning and taming their rampant growth and invasive nature.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to stop by Potager!  If you don’t want to miss a post, you can sign up to receive a daily email and you will never miss a thing. I’m also on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.

For more August garden chores,  watch me and Linda Cavanaugh today at 4:30 on 4 YOUR GARDEN on Newschannel 4.

The Blogger Platform was acting up yesterday and only some of you received my  post. If so, here is an addendum from yesterday that I did on artificial turf . You might find helpful.

P.S.  More Observations on Artificial Turf

~~Because so many of you have expressed intense interest and had more questions and concerns about NEXGEN LAWNS , I want to address some additional points about the specific turf product I selected (I cannot speak to other brands or other lines of artificial turf.)

It is not organic and does not attract pollinators. It is a synthetic substance. The infill however, is not synthetic (unlike the sports field in-fill concerns you may see being discussed in regards to child safety issues) is sand with the substrata being a combination of gravel and crushed gravel. This has improved the  drainage and rainfall absorption in my gardens considerably (far less water runoff into the municipal sewer system and now absorbed into my green spaces, on top of not having to water.) In addition, when healthy turf succumbs to heat and drought (and dies, not just goes dormant) in our brutal OK summers, the exposed topsoil is subject to erosion that washes away in heavy rains or blows away in heavy winds. This problem can be mitigated in other ways than this turf, but they are also labor intensive, costly, thirsty, often prone to the same fungal and insect issues, and often not long-lasting solutions. (Or one could put in a pool or a tennis court or concrete patio, but they do not attract pollinators either, LOL) In my case, all of the topsoil excavated to accommodate the gravel under layer was put to use in other areas of my garden and composting area.

As you no doubt know, growing grass under a heavy canopy of shade (or areas that have changing sun exposure as the course of the season unfolds), is extremely difficult to impossible. Artificial turf in some cases could provide a solution in troublesome shade when trees are prized and shade is  a priority over a grassy lawn that must grow in enough sun to support its health and vigor, and/or expanded garden areas.

I do believe it is a solution for small spaces rather than large sunny expanses for a number of reasons. It is expensive, largely because of its labor intensive installation.  Again, I think it is a more practical application for areas that are shaded or sun-shaded and cannot support real turf (or in my landscape, even ground covers), for whatever reasons. In my case I had already removed over 50 percent of my pitiful turf and converted the area into more garden beds, combined gravel/flagstone/brick areas, and also removed a section of my drive to do the same. This left me with little turf area for kids/dogs/and people to enjoy. This turf provides a green space for these activities that requires no maintenance or resources to keep it looking good. (I can blow it off with a leaf blower if need be) Removing a good portion of dedicated turf area also reduced the square footage of artificial turf I needed thus making its installation more affordable.

For most of the day/season my yard is shade to part shade. This is important because the synthetic turf will heat up in full sun and will reflect this heat back into the atmosphere. So again, I wouldn't use it as a replacement for large expanses of turf in sunny areas. where one wouldn't have problems growing a stand of bermuda for example. If you have followed my blog, or visited my garden, you will know that I am a HUGE fan of gravel and flagstone for 'hardscape' spaces
And we may want a new puppy..who will need
soft turf to play....This is my grand-dog Goose, with
 whom Husband
and I have fallen in love.
used for dining and outside living areas, and I recommend it and use it in many of my designs. This may be a non-grass  alternative for those areas, but it too does not transpire like grass and will heat up greatly in full sun. While I love this look as a practical and handsome aesthetic choice, I also for the same reasons want a small area of soft-scape turf to use and enjoy, hence my decision to use Nexgen.

Artificial turf is not a perfect ecological choice and has downsides. Growing a thirsty lawn with its requisite care and fertilizing and spraying and treating is not a perfect ecological choice and has its downsides. I tried the latter for 25 years with no enduring success and great consumption of time, $, water and other resources.  Given the pros and cons and my very particular set of landscape circumstances, I chose the former. AND  I didn't want to buy a new lawn mower (whose presence alone, much less carbon output is also an issue)... AND because it seems foolish to keep up the overseeding-every-fall battle as I age :) , water becomes more and more scarce, and heat intensifies.

Hope this additional information is helpful as you make decisions battling heat, fungal and drought  challenges in your own gardens.

 Reporting from my gardens where it is forecast to be 99-100 every day this week and where we are on mandatory odd/even water rationing.  Jeez. Have I mentioned August is my least favorite month of the year? But fall is on the horizon!  Hope lives!

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to stop by Potager!  If you don’t want to miss a post, you can sign up to receive a daily email and you will never miss a thing. I’m also on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.

July 30, 2016

Artificial Turf: Stage II

Newly installed artificial turf in back yard under canopy of redbuds.
My back lawn this morning after artificial turf installation and a cleansing rain.
Anyone who follows this blog (or who lives in my neighborhood) knows about the huge gardening risk (with the even larger payoff ) that I took last fall when I installed artificial turf in my front yard. I wrote about the extensive decision process of choosing (a) which synthetic turf product provided me the most realistic look and feel, (b) what my priorities were in artificial turf selection, and (c) the elaborate, labor intensive process it involves... in a blog post here. Oh, and the company I used, and that I would HIGHLY recommend (and, no I don't get a kickback, LOL) is NEXGEN LAWNS (here). You can follow them on FB here (and yes, that is my house as their FB header. ) Since the the artificial turf in the front has been such an incredible improvement in every way over my real turf,  I decided to install it in the back as soon as my thrifty self would allow.

Water and heat stressed turf in mid-summer in my back yard.
Testing samples of turf options and blade density for the back yard.

And that was this week.

Back lawn with real turf this spring.
How the back real grass turf looked this spring. Not unlike how the artificial turf appears now!
Like my front landscape, the back had very little grass. The beds that border the turf are deep and the rather large 'entertainment' or deck area off of the kitchen door is gravel and flagstone. Once again, it is just a 'throw rug' of lawn......which I think is the perfect application for NEXGEN LAWNS (here) artificial turf use. Like my front lawn, the back turf looked incredible in spring and fall...after considerable effort, watering, seeding, edging, mowing, and on and on. But as soon as those high temperature and humidity levels hit.........WHAM!!!!  That turf raised the white flag of surrender and no coaxing or intervention could keep it alive and thriving, much less  replicating its beautiful appearance in the spring and fall.

Two inches of existing turf and topsoil is removed.
Removal of the struggling turf begins.
Also like the front, I kept the same bedlines, the same stepping stone placement (this was one of my criteria for selection....whether or not the company and the product could work around the stepping stones---a signature feature in my garden, both practical and pretty), and the same appearance and contours of the edging. 

Two to three inches is dug out to make room for depth of synthetic turf.
Turf removal is a labor intensive job; more exacting than you would think.

Basically, exactly how the real turf looked. NEXGEN (here)  worked with me to get exactly the look and feel I wanted. I won't go into all the details of installation can find them here, but between myself and the installers, we managed to get just the right, and realistic, look I wanted. Briefly, here was the installation process with one departure...

The process is back breaking and labor intensive.
And yes, it took a village. Of hard-working, sweaty, good-natured guys. And some good tunes on the radio.
Mess first, beauty later.
Existing brickwork and brick border was left undisturbed and in place.
Thankfully it rained the night before rendering turf removal much easier.
After the turf removal, flexible edging was put in place using the old bed lines as a template. These guys were uber accommodating as I moved the edging an inch here and an inch there.
Workers look over the edging and work done thus far.
Edging is in place on west side! Workers survey the work thus far.
Stakes hold the parabola of the curves  in place.
I made sure there was a void between the brick and the grass. This was very important to me...I think it enhances the realism of the synthetic turf, softens the look, and really mimics the way I have always trimmed, groomed and mowed my turf in the past. Aka, the 'signature' look in the garden I have worked hard to create. And, it just makes me pleased and happy with the overall appearance of the garden, no matter what the season.
Stakes driven into soil hold edging in place.
Ground covers, like ajuga, golden moneywort, and golden oregano grow in gaps between the bricks. This too was left in place and softens the appearance overall.  It also provides extra textural interest, and gives me more variety in things besides grass to grow.
Gravel is wheelbarrowed in.
Large quantities of crushed gravel was brought in as the base to the synthetic turf.
They then put down a layer of black porous weed barrier inside the edging. Here is where I made a departure from the front process of installing the grass. Rather than using the Airfield Systems (here) grass drainage system (if you want to see installation images of my front lawn, they used it as a case study on their website here)  I opted to use gravel as the substrata to the turf. Largely because the area was so small and sinewy in a tight space.
Another labor intensive process: bringing large amounts of crushed gravel
Copious amounts of first crushed gravel, then a slightly larger gravel were wheelbarrowed in and then shoveled and tamped and prodded into place. Again, with exacting detail. I was so impressed with their professionalism and craftsmanship.
Stepping stones are placed, leveled, and then 'graveled'  in.
I then, with their help, strategically placed the stepping stones where they had been before. We took pictures to ensure the look and cadence of the placement was the same.
Minor tweaking of the edging was not an issue for them; they were eager to please.

Then with both manual and motorized tools the gravel was leveled and tamped into place making sure all was stable (particularly the stepping stones) and even under foot.

Quite honestly, after this step, it looked so good I was almost tempted to stop and just leave a gravel surface! Had I a different style home....where, I think, this look is amazing....I would do so.

Compacted gravel and stepping stones is handsome without grass!
The packed gravel looked so good I was tempted to leave it that way!
Notice that the gravel is now level with the top of the edging, and border is tailored, crisp and neat.
 With the undergirding in place, they then laid the turf, and cut and trimmed it into place.

I pretend to help secure the turf.
They thought I should at least help a bit by securing some of it in I was so fascinated with the process.

turf is cut around stepping stones.
Cutting around the stepping stones is an exacting, slow, careful, methodical process
As before, they carefully mimicked the look of the edges, then power brushed large amounts of sand into the turf to weigh it down and make the blades stand up.  I am thrilled by the excellent drainage I will now enjoy......poor drainage always having been an issue in the past. An added benefit to the finished product........which looks spectacular.  Examine the images below noting the real turf and the faux gras as Husband calls it. One can barely tell the difference. In fact, as I loaded these images it was very hard for me to tell what was real and what wasn't. Only the blooming borders provided the answer for me! The entire installation process took only two days.

After completion: artificial turf.

After completion: artificial turf

Real turf in early summer. I can hardly tell the difference!
Real turf, late spring.

After completion: synthetic turf, mid - late summer

 The biggest difference in the images isn't the turf, it's the quality of light when the photos were taken.

Back lawn with real turf this spring.


 After on the left, before on the right.
Artificial on the left, real on the right.

No maintenance or water on the left.....water, seed, fertilizer, fungicides, mowing, edging, blowing and frustration on the right.


Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to stop by Potager!  If you don’t want to miss a post, you can sign up to receive a daily email and you will never miss a thing. I’m also on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.