This funny thing happens around April in Tulsa. The weather warms, all manner of greenery blooms and blossoms, the winter clothes go into storage, those pastel saturated commercials take over the television; and all of a sudden, like magic, plants that range from esoteric herbs to every kind of annual that can be started in a six pack line the shelves at every home and garden center, herb fest and garden shopping oasis. Spring is a season that is short-lived -- a sweet spot of only a few weeks -- and is an excellent time to catch the gardening fever, re-design your current raised bed, or spruce up that poor container that has been relegated to a corner of the dark garage.
The gardening I'm talking about might be classified by some as "Punk Gardening." This isn't your Nana's gardening, or your Mom's fussy garden that is kept by someone else. This is get out there in your favorite old rocker t-shirt, in the old Doc Martins, gloves up to your elbows, well equipped with "God Save The Queen" pounding into your ears as they are caressed by your old DJ headphones, swinging a trowel and fertilizer like it's your last farewell concert. This is a gardening revolution -- one that feeds your family, a healthy habit, or at least a bit of your black little heart. These are themed gardens of only night-blooming beauties, or a dragon shaped garden, or perhaps you like your green with a bit of poison -- an evil queen garden with only poisonous plants that will teach that neighborhood cat once-and-for-all who rules this land.
Let's not leave out all the "Mellow Yellow" designs of all yellow daylilies, planted en masse, as they wave a cheery hello as you pass. Perhaps you feel extra royal and want only red gardenias and purple sweet peas to greet you as you walk out the door in the morning.
Gardening is a broad term that can mean anything from sprouting seeds in a paper cup in a kindergarten class, to massive plantings of an organic veggie garden in a raised bed in a sunny yard, to planters neatly lining a cottage, to landscaping, to a massive herb collection that ranges from tea to medicinal. ... The sky is the limit. One is only bound to the space available and the time one has to devote.
Perhaps you have considered yourself a person with a "black thumb," or maybe you just have no idea where or how to begin; maybe you have walked away from gardening and are ready to rekindle the love affair, healthy addiction, lifestyle or whatever you call it: It's time to join the revolution and get down and dirty!
So, why garden? Gardening is good therapy. Got a boss who is a moron? That coworker who is begging to be shot and their head mounted on the wall? Weeding is just the thing to keep your body active and your spirit on the upswing. Place your sorrows and frustrations on those weeds. Give them a name and start plucking. Those dandelions that are violating your yard? Think of everyone you cannot stand, or is just simply too dumb to live, and start plucking. You can even whisper the weed mantra: Die, die *pluck* die! See, don't you feel better already?
Gardeners are known to dream big, and your garden should match your taste, but it is critical to evaluate how much time you have to devote. Are you a weekend warrior? An early morning riser? Only a few hours every month? These lifestyle choices are all things to consider before plopping down a good chunk of change on those gorgeous plants. A great garden requires a great deal of dedication and a large garden requires a good deal of watering, even when -- and especially when -- the temperature rises above 100 degrees.
The reward, of course, is creating something beautiful, perhaps edible, and the level of self-satisfaction is unparalleled.
Planning for Success
Most of Northern Oklahoma is in zone six, and has definite seasons, not to mention that fifth season: tornado. A plant needs the right amount of sun or light, water, food, and it needs to be nestled into the right soil. Sounds simple, right? It can be, but it takes a bit of preparation and design.
"For beginning gardeners we would recommend they start simple with a container garden," said Marcy Smith, co-owner of The Garden Trug, in a recent interview. "You can make container gardens as big or as small as you like. Each container should feature a combination of thrillers, spillers and fillers. Your thrillers are going to be showy or flowering plants. These flowers could be petunias, begonias or lantana. Spillers, are going to be those types of plants that -- spill-bocopa, calabrachoa or our favorite sweet potato vine. Lastly, drop in some filler. You could use Persian shield, Joseph's coat or a dracaena spike."
Marcy's favorite form of gardening is flowering because flowers are fun and easy -- and if done correctly can provide color year around. Garden Trug offers monthly classes on all manner of gardening topics. For more information visit gardentrug.com
Container gardens work well for those who wish to feed the gardening need, but lack a plot of land or a yard. As with all types of gardens, it does help to place said container next to a watering source. If you lack an outdoor spout, there's a large selection of watering pails at all gardening centers or big box stores. Pick a color that tickles your pickle and be sure to water your new plant kingdom on a regular schedule. One can also add liquid fertilizer to your water, killing two gardening chores with one trip. I've even been known to not drain my bathwater after use to water my plants during times of severe drought, like last summer's 60 days of over 100 degree weather. It's a good toning exercise for the arms and saves on the monthly water bill. Be sure to water the plant, not the leaves, as some plants don't like their leaves to get wet.
Water conservation is also a good idea if one has outdoor plots, raised beds, or even landscaping. One simple way to achieve this is the use of water rain barrels. Water conservation, along with living green, is the lifestyle choice of the owners of Grogg's Green Barn, Carla and Kelly Grogg. Kelly is an Accredited Organic Land Care Professional.
Mr. and Mrs. Grogg worked with Oklahoma Conservation Commission and the City of Tulsa when creating their organic gardening indoor/outdoor store at 10105 E. 61st St., called Grogg's Green Barn. They truly practice what they preach in all manner of living green and welcome Tulsans of all gardening backgrounds.
"The majority of our customers are first-time gardeners, and they want to grow their own vegetables," Carla Grogg said. "And so we take them from beginning to end and walk them through it, holding their hand. We also talk about making it fun: don't grow something that you aren't going to eat. We also talk about companion gardening -- doing the vegetables, herbs, and flowers all together -- so it can be a beautiful thing. We have several customers who do that even in their front yard as part of their landscape. We sell native plants here and those are great pollinators for bees and butterflies."
Take into account where to place your garden oasis. Do you have a yard you are sick of mowing, drenched in more than eight hours of sun a day? This would be the perfect spot for a raised bed filled with vegetables for your family. Speaking of family, why not get the kids involved by starting a race: Who can grow the tallest tomato, the biggest pumpkin or the most summer squash? If one is to grow veg for the family, there is no question: Organic is the way to go.
One doesn't have to buy the entire farm, perhaps just plant what will be eaten. Or perhaps a favorite plus some to share with those who are less fortunate.
"I love tomatoes, nothing like it!" said Harvey 'Gene' West, a Master Gardener since 2004, who was on hand as a volunteer for the Southwoods Nursery charity event, "Plant a Row for the Hungry."
Participants received a free vegetable plant from Southwoods in exchange for a non-perishable food donation. All donations benefit the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma. Southwoods donated over 7000 lbs. of food and is in their seventh year of hosting such an event.
"Maybe this year we'll have some good weather to grow tomatoes," West said. "There's nothing like having fresh tomatoes. You have to consider what will be your last frost date. If you go ahead and plant, and hear that it is going to freeze or frost that night, go ahead and cover it. If your leaves start to turn purple, that shows that it is affected by the cool weather. Hopefully we'll get proper amounts of rain, go ahead and warm up, and not totally go into the 90s, so that we can have some good tomatoes this year."
A trip to Southwoods is a like a trip to gardening heaven -- or Disneyland. "We're all about knowledge -- [it is]really our key by providing the proper plants for people to put in their gardens to be successful. We do a lot of research before we put items on the floor. We also hire really good people; we have an elaborate hiring and training process," general manager Joe Ward said.
Southwoods also conducts many outreach projects, such as working with the Linnaeus Teaching Gardens in Woodward Park.
One of the highlights of the Southwoods experience is the wisteria growing in the middle of the indoor/outdoor store, which has been lovingly cared for by Betty Tam, resident perennial expert. Betty's late husband, Pat Tam, grafted seedlings from a shipment of wisteria for several costumers of his nursery in Miami, Okla., back in 1950. These seedlings were cultivated for many years and now are covering the twelve greenhouse supports at Southwoods Nursery. Pat's special wisteria is the show-stopping focal point when it's in bloom, which happens twice a year.
Lavender Falls wisteria, which is available throughout the US, is actually tied to the 2009 plant patent #19,655, which was issued for Wisteria floribunda 'Betty Tam.'
It's Easy Being Green
"The thing with organic gardening is getting out there, getting exercise, getting the vitamin D from the sun," Kelly Grogg said. "You are actually outside working in the garden rather than just spraying some chemical on there. The easiest way out isn't always the best way out. I've learned that in all aspects of life.
"That's not to say organic gardening is hard. The other advantage is that it's less expensive. People don't think that. They think that anything that is 'green' or 'environmentally friendly' is going to be more expensive."
Grogg's Green Barn offers many native plants, fruits, vegetables and a plethora of organic gardening needs, including items specifically for children. Check out their class schedule at groggsgreenbarn.com.
One can also visit the many great outdoor gardening centers in Tulsa and the surrounding areas as a student. Rather than blowing your gardening budget on the first shipment that arrives in spring, why not spend a Saturday chatting up the professionals at several high-end nurseries? The fine folks can answer your design questions and would welcome the chance to talk shop. The folks at Linnaeus Teaching Garden, located in Woodward Park, are also manned by trained professionals who are friendly and eager to help answer questions.
Long on ideas but short on cash? Check out the "reduced section" of most big box garden stores. Sure they might have weathered a bit of rough-and-tumble, but select one with a good root system and not too much damage. Take it home, pluck off those old worn leaves, give it a bit of fertilizer when it's replanted and you might just be amazed what a little love, in very little time, can do to a poor neglected plant. You will feel like a miracle worker!
Long ago, herbs used to be used as medicine. Today, herbs can do everything from cure headaches to season food. They can also provide texture, color and splash to any garden. Want 10 kinds of tea this winter? Need to drop your sodium intake for health reasons? Be sure to find yourself a 'full sun' plot of land -- which means 6-8 hours or more of sun -- lay down some compost into freshly tilled earth, and hit up the many local herb fests.
Each new transplant will cost between $1 and $4 depending on how exotic the plant is and the size. Make sure you do a bit of homework on what kind of herbs you wish to grow and their growth pattern. Place the tall ones in the back and be sure to mulch, which will suppress weeds and keep the soil moist. Whether in the ground or in a container, leave room between plants so they have plenty of space to grow.
Want an herb garden but really have no idea where to start? Think about how you will use your herbs: whether to cook with, make herbal sachets, keep as very lovely-smelling arrangements for the outdoor picnic table, or use as an "insectary" to invite good bugs into an existing garden as organic pest control.
One good idea, if it's your first year, is to get a small variety and see what you like to grow and use.
If tea is your thing, lemon verbena and lemon balm go together well. Mints -- from chocolate to peppermint -- make an exciting tea that can be used to calm a nervous stomach, or steep it with lemongrass and vanilla to mix with vodka for a refreshing cocktail at your next party.
Maybe cooking is your thing? Rosemary makes potatoes zing -- and what's a good, hearty tomato sauce without basil and oregano? You can grow all three: tomatoes, basil, and oregano in one big container with a few bulbs of garlic and have an Italian feast- garden that will be the talk of your next dinner party.
I like to grow lots of herbs, dry them on wire hangers and then decant them into inexpensive mason jars. It's a lovely treat to sip an herbal tea hot toddy next to the fire in the dead of winter.
One of the largest herb festivals is the Jenks Herb and Plant Festival, which will take place this year on Jenks downtown Main Streets, April 28, from 8am-4pm.
The Jenks Garden Club, who helps produce the Jenks Herb and Plant show, states that the most underrated herb is parsley for a multitude of reasons.
"The leaves and root are high in iron content and rich in vitamins A, B, C and trace minerals," said Ivy Repasky of the Jenks Garden Club. "Parsley adds color and aids digestion of the foods we eat and acts to prevent gas and bloating. Culinary uses as a garnish, bouquet garni, salads, soup vegetable, key ingredient in many European dishes and is also inexpensive. Parsley attracts some wildlife such as butterflies, bees and birds eat the seeds. It is also a good companion plant in the garden. It will attract predatory insects."
If you live on the West side of the woods, Sand Springs hosts a local herb fest, the Herbal Affair, at the Downtown Triangle, 2nd and Main, and this year it falls on April 21 from 9am-4pm. There is also a diverse assortment of food to eat, entertainment, and lovely volunteers will hold your goodies while you shop to your heart's content.
All herb fests mentioned above happen rain or shine.
Bring Me a Shrubbery!
Shrubs. You can cut them into any shape, are relatively easy on the pocket book -- especially if you purchase them off-season or in the fall -- and once planted can withstand years of Oklahoma weather. Landscaping is an entire profession, and if you are planning on selling your house, I would strongly recommend consulting a professional. If you are planning on staying in your house, or want to revamp or add some color to the front of whatever you dwell in, why not try your hand at landscaping? Lots of free garden design websites can help you take your curb appeal from drab to fab. Don't overlook herbs, flowers, or even vegetables in addition to shrubs for great landscaping. Please make sure the space you are landscaping doesn't back up to a major car thoroughfare if you are planting things that will go into your mouth, unless car exhaust is on your list of daily recommended nutrients.
Plants native to Oklahoma will also go a long way in any garden. They can take the Oklahoma summer heat, and if cared correctly will make a long-lasting addition to any type of yard, garden or special space. Most nurseries will carry a collection of native plants and can counsel you which will work best for your garden planning needs. Native plants will add pizzazz to your landscaping and more money to your wallet in the long run.
If 'going native' is truly a calling, why not look up plants native to Oklahoma online. There's a gold mine of seed purchasing sites online as well, but, as with all purchases online, make sure it's a secure site and buyer beware.
Born Free ... and Frugal
Mulch is a great idea. You place leaves, hardwood bark or plastic sheeting around your plant babies, and in return weeds die, the ground stays warm and the moisture level stays level. Yes, you can plop down cash for those bags of industrially created mulch. Steer clear of "dyed" mulch if you are growing edibles, as the die can leach into your beds -- which isn't really a great thing.
A great, free source of hardwood mulch, especially for non-edibles, such as landscaping, is the Tulsa Greenwaste site. You drive up in a truck and they dump an entire truckload of mulch for you to take home and use. Tulsa Greenwaste is located at 10401 E. 56th St. N. and is open seven days a week from 8am-4pm excluding holidays.
Seeds fall under 'free' because there is nothing better than swapping seeds with someone you love, or at least have a mild affection toward. Spring seeds can be started indoors in a myriad of containers to help Mother Nature get a jump start come the last frost date. Seeds are an economical way to begin your garden and require only material to plant them into and good light. A few containers placed in a sunny window will work, but be sure to keep them moist. It sounds like common sense, but start all seeds in a seed starting mix, not potting soil mix. Please note that seeds can be started any time and most will last up to a year. Summertime is a great time to stock up on seeds you might have missed out on and are usually on sale or clearance. Summertime and fall are also a great time to stock up on "seed starting packs" and seed starting soil mix for next season. A good gardener is always thinking one season ahead.
Consider starting your seeds in well-washed items from your kitchen trash. This is the ultimate recycling project and can be a great way to be thrifty, fun and green at the same time. Think of how many plastic containers you throw out in a year. Add a few holes in the bottom for drainage, add some seed starting mix, your clearance seeds, and put it in a sunny spot on top of a plate you aren't using, and you are in business. Not everything can be grown in your leftover 32 oz. yogurt container, but imagine the possibilities of what can. What's especially grand about those Mesclun greens you grew in your window is that you probably spent less than $5 by using this method and you can have an entire season or more of organic greens. Yummy!
Got a question? Can't figure out what disease has taken over your flowers? Another great, free resource is the Master Gardeners of Tulsa. Professionally trained volunteers man the lines from 9am-4pm, weekdays, and can answer most any horticulture question you may have. They can be reached at 918-746-3701.
From growing seeds in plastic containers, to landscaping your front yard in native plants, to growing your own organic veg, I hope the garden bug bites you gently, but deeply. Welcome to the most rewarding, healthy addiction on earth.
Want to swap seeds, stories, need a little inspiration, or have something especially revolutionary to share? Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy Gardening!
Share this article: