August 29, 2016

How to Use Gray and Silver Plants In Your Landscape

Three textures and shades of gray converge: bold vertical spires of an unnamed iris is planted in front of the lacy evergreen foliage of a small, common Bluepoint Juniper. Both join forces with the foliage of a limey-gray succulent, sedum 'Pure Joy' to create a pleasing composition.

The longer I garden, the more enamored am I of using gray in the landscape. Partly because it suits our geographic climate and soil, but also because it is just so darn striking and all manner of garden styles, from formal and traditional like mine, to graphic and contemporary spaces with strong lines and edgy vibes. Often with a hint of blue, this neutral color is far from neutral in its landscape impact and contribution to the overall beauty of the garden. Here are some ways and whys to use gray in your landscape.

The fuzzy texture of this ornamental vermillion or mullein helps it reflect strong sun and heat. Its constitution can handle the most brutal of Oklahoma summers.
As much as I love lush and verdant green, I also like a break from it every now and again, and gray often does the trick in breaking up the monotony of too much green. Especially in the dead of summer when a plant of ANY hue that thrives in the heat and remains fresh and healthy looking is valued. Gray plants often have fuzzy, highly textured foliage that is very effective in reflecting strong sun and heat, and why they are found so often in arid landscapes. Even when not in bloom, gray plants like santolina, lamb's ear, many sedums and herbs, look quite handsome... and consequently are often used more for their foliage than flowers. 

Contrasts in color, texture and form is  visually appealing and contributes to an interesting flowerless gray-toned vignette.
In Oklahoma, we don't get rain for weeks on end and the heat can be brutal, so gray and silver plants can be smart and attractive choices. However, our growing season can ALSO be extremely humid as in many areas of the country.... an environment NOT usually favorable to their growth and vitality in the garden. Consequently, they demand excellent drainage, good air circulation, and no risk of over-watering. Try not to plant even NEAR areas that tend to hold water, or that will constantly be showered with a sprinkler head. Too much water + heat = a pile of gray, dying mush.

Note how the mullein grows in between flagstone with excellent drainage, whereas the box balls and other green growers in the background are growing in the garden bed.

Mullien, easily started from seed, resembles Lamb's Ear closely, but handles heat and humidity in my garden far more successfully.

When planting, I usually give them a a nice shovelful of sand, grit or gravel in the planting hole to improve drainage in my heavy clay soil, and I also dig an especially generous sized hole for them to get a good start. Once they are nestled in, I usually mulch them with grit or gravel as well. This does two things:

A small and happy mullein takes seed and grows in the gravel.
it keeps soil and moisture from splashing onto the foliage itself, and provides a hospitable medium for germination once the plant matures and goes to seed. (I wrote about it in a post on 5 Ways to Use Gravel here

Dainty gray foliage of yellow columbine that germinated easily in gravel mulch.
The delicate cut foliage of this columbine is attractive with or without its yellow bloom, and is often used in my garden bouquets.
While attractive growing solo, gray as a foil to color may be even better. I especially like combining it with pink, both a soft or raucous hue. Just a hint of gray artemisia paired with pink ice plant in the image below softens the look and makes a pleasing visual contrast. Note also that both growers appreciate the same arid growing conditions.

Pink Ice Plant and silvery artemisia grow at the base of a stone bench, reveling in the dry environment.
Choices abound in selecting a gray plants for your gardens or containers. Try Evolvulus, common Blue Daze to spill over the sides of a container, or, as in the image below, as a full sun ground cover. The heat-loving PROVEN WINNER variety, 'Blue My Mind'  looks incredible mixed with low growing Mazus Reptans (find Mazus at Blue Stone Perennials) thriving in extreme sun and heat at the DALLAS ARBORETUM AND BOTANICAL GARDEN in the image below. (Do be careful with Mazus however as it can be an overly aggressive self seeder... and in my garden has been prone to spider mite.)

'Blue My Mind' growing as a beautiful gray, blue flowered ground cover, another effective gray + color combo.
Gold and gray is also an excellent color combo, used here as a ground cover in a full sun exposure in-between massive slabs of flagstone at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens.

Gray and silver choices are plentiful in the succulent category. One of my favorites: 'Rock 'N Grow' Pure Joy Sedum from PROVEN WINNERS  sent to me a couple of years ago to try out.

Beautiful fresh blooms on Pure Joy Sedum.
Not yet in color, the blooms of Pure Joy Sedum equal the beauty of the foliage itself.

I am especially fond of the tidy gray tuft of foliage that erupts from this sedum each spring... a gray spring delight that plays beautifully with other fresh green residents of the garden poking their heads out in the new season. 
Potted olive tress in all sizes adorn my small stone fireplace in the summer.

Finally, my now favorite gray hued container plant.....the olive tree. I buy them from SCHUBERT NURSERY in varying sizes and add to my collection each year. Two are now three years old...I overwinter them in a friend's greenhouse; the smaller ones I keep in a sunny window at home over the winter. 

So there you and why to grow gray/silver plants in the garden. If I haven't convinced you yet, go to 4 YOUR GARDEN  and watch the segment Linda Cavanaugh and I did a couple of weeks ago talking about this very thing. 

OH!! One last mention for those of you now color starved after reading this post. One of my favorite garden accessories are my Red Hunter Tall Garden Boots. I saw a special on them for a fraction of the cost I paid last year through Brad's Deals. Go to 

if you are in dire need of these cheery muck-abouts.

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 InstagramOr missed a 4 YOUR GARDEN segment? Go here. 

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.