[dropcap]There’s[/dropcap] very little that is pretty about a winter garden unless it snows. Occasionally, a brilliant red cardinal will fly in, giving the dreary scene a fleeting dash of color.
Yet winter’s waning days are perfect for planning the spring/summer garden you hope to create. You’ve probably already perused new seed catalogs, sparking ideas about flowers or veggies to plant.
What can you do now to yield the best results in your spring and summer garden?
We’ve asked some of Oklahoma’s garden gurus to offer advice to help you create a garden worthy of envy from friends and neighbors.
Steve Smith, garden guru for Tulsa’s Southwood Landscaping and Garden Center for 20 years, says soil preparation is the first step toward a successful show. That involves using natural ingredients and organic fertilizers. You may even need to shake up the ground by rototilling.
If you’re eager to start planting, Smith says, “Now is the time to plant bigger trees and shade trees. March is perfect for planting pansies. Mid to late April is prime time to plant all other flowers.”
Planning a vegetable garden? Smith says it’s crucial to have your soil tested. Oklahoma State University’s Cooperative Extension Service has county office staffers who can help with this chore.
“Vegetable gardens thrive when the soil is mixed with mulch or mushroom compost,” Smith notes.
“Map out your garden on graph paper before you plant and allow space for growth,” Smith says. “The Tulsa Extension office has space charts available. Keep your garden simple. Start small to avoid gardening frustration.”
Tips From A Veteran Gardener
Barry Fugatt, director of Tulsa’s Linnaeus Teaching Garden in Woodward Park, echoes Smith’s tip about garden size and spacing.
“Carefully consider the size of garden appropriate for you,” Fugatt suggests. “Gardens require maintenance. Often, we plant more garden than we can reasonably care for. One of the biggest mistakes I see in garden planting is overcrowding – not spacing plants properly. Eventually this leads to excessive pruning and poor plant performance.”
Plan for four seasons. “Many gardens are interesting during spring, but fail to impress during fall and winter months,” Fugatt says. “Summer color is enhanced by adding summer blooming perennials. Shrubs with gold, silver or red foliages add summer interest. Fall and winter gardens are more interesting with fall berry-producing plants like deciduous hollies and serviceberry.”
Public Gardens Yield New Ideas
Oklahomans are fortunate to have numerous public gardens providing a wealth of ideas for creating a beautiful residential garden.
Tulsa’s Linnaeus Teaching Garden celebrates its 10th anniversary June 1 and is a perfect setting for gleaning ideas. Run entirely by volunteers under Fugatt’s direction, this garden is open in Woodward Park from March to early December.
The three-acre setting includes a picturesque, koi-filled meandering pond, herb, vegetable and orchid gardens and an architecturally inviting tree-lined walkway leading to a sheltered oasis.
Fugatt says the garden “is at its peak in mid-May, when there’s the most color in the garden.”
The Linnaeus garden is adjacent to the Tulsa Garden Center and the Rose Garden, which is getting a spring facelift. It also has been chosen as an All American Rose Selection display garden, one of only two in Oklahoma. The other is on the branch campus of Oklahoma State University in Oklahoma City.
“The selection process for creating such a trial garden is stringent,” Fugatt says. He will be watching the performance of each rose species to see how they perform in Oklahoma’s mercurial climate.
“There’s a lot of trial and error in a garden,” Fugatt says. “At Linnaeus, if a plant doesn’t perform, it gets jerked.”
Also worth visiting for ideas is Tulsa’s Botanical Garden, the lush gardens at Philbrook Museum of Art and Gilcrease Museum, which offers a breathtaking view of the Osage Hills.
Tulsans are eagerly awaiting the completion of A Gathering Place along Riverside Drive, designed to rival New York City’s Central Park.
Oklahoma City’s Myriad Garden Center is a gardener’s paradise. The center also offers a garden school. Also worth seeing is the Will Rogers Garden Center and the sprawling grounds at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
Muskogee is well known for Honor Heights Park, especially during its April Azalea Festival. The Papilion, a butterfly house and a raised bed garden, each featuring a different theme, are also HH Park features.
The grounds at OSU’s Stillwater campus are beautifully manicured. OSU’s Botanic Garden and the Bustami Plant Farm, reflecting the owners’ exotic plant travels, are also worth seeing.
Don’t forget to rely on the staff at your favorite nursery for garden tips, trends and advice. Retail nurseries are eager to help you plan and nurture your home garden.
OSU’s Extension Service offers a wealth of information for garden gurus. Particularly helpful is the pamphlet touting Oklahoma Proven annuals, shrubs, trees and perennials. These are all plants that have been tested to survive Oklahoma’s varied soil conditions and its ever-changing weather.
Tips for Your Garden
Barry Fugatt, who launched Oklahoma’s Master Gardener program 30 years ago, has several tips for people looking to improve their garden:
- Consider using lots of native trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants. “Often native plants are better equipped to thrive in our hot climate,” Fugatt says.
- Pay attention to traffic patterns during garden planning. Walks and paths define and organize garden space and move visitors through a garden in logical, creative ways.
- Great gardens have design features that have eye-capturing appeal. Focal points may include plants with great architectural features or hardscaping, including fountains, garden art, decorative pots and urns.
- The most interesting gardens appeal to all of our senses, including taste and smell. Look for opportunities to include colorful, tasty plants like Rainbow Swiss Chard and highly scented old world roses.
- Plan for wildlife. Gardens are more enjoyable when birds, butterflies and other wildlife are present. Lots of annuals and perennials attract butterflies. Some trees and shrubs, like hawthorns, provide birds with food and shelter.
- Ideally, great gardens include spaces for outdoor living and entertainment. “Gardens are meant to be used – lived in – and not simply looked at,” Fugatt says.