Planning For A Few Pops of Color

West side of guest house

Guest House 
Our property naturally slopes. In some places, the slope has been exaggerated. One such place is on the west side of our guest house. The hill is rather dramatic. It’s a difficult area to cut with a lawnmower. And at the bottom of the hill resides Brad’s salsa garden.  

We decided this would be a good place for wildflowers. I’ve done a little research on wildflowers native to our region. I’ve been contemplating ones that are drought-tolerant because I don’t want to water this area forever. I’ve also given consideration to ‘hill-stabilizing’ as a wildflower characteristic. I’m definitely attracted to flowers that will grow and expand on their own – almost aggressively. And then there is the ever-important point – What is on sale?   

I purchased several droopy-looking plants last August at my local nursery’s end-of-season clearance sale, and planted them at the top of the hill. I was pleasantly surprised to see three Yarrow plants return this spring! Once I saw that, I knew it was time to begin developing this area in earnest. With the help of some sprouts obtained from my local botanical gardens earlier this spring, I have planted the top five and a half feet of the hill. I can’t be absolutely sure because the sprouts were not well labeled, but I think I’ve planted Goldenrod (Solidago “Little Lemon”), Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea Pallida), and Wandflower (Gaura Lindheimeri “Siskiyou Pink”) in this area – and much of it is growing. I think I waited too long to get the Swamp Milkweed (Asclepia Incarnata “Cinderella) in the ground, and I may have lost these plants. Certainly, I see no growth this year but I will watch this particular area and see if something happens next spring before planting over with something else.  

Overall, growing in this space has not been an easy endeavor. I think the Oklahoma wind sweeps through here a little too easily – scattering the straw mulch everywhere. Between searching for bugs and lounging for an afternoon nap in the sun, the cats wreak havoc upon the straw as well. And within the bare spots, the dogs find a cool spot to lie and watch Brad tending his garden below. I find myself constantly repairing the area – though I am not discouraged. In fact, I am preparing for stage two.  

View from the top; Brad’s garden below

A couple of weeks ago I replenished the straw, added some stakes and brightly colored ribbon – hoping to at least deter the dogs. I then added sheets of black plastic to the lower end of the hill in an attempt to kill the underlying weeds with the help of the heat and the sun. From the top to the bottom, this is about twelve (12) feet of space. With any luck, I will be able to snag some more wildflowers on clearance later this summer and fill-out this area in no time.  

The eventual configuration will include a path between the wildflowers and the fence to Brad’s garden. It will have gravel or wood chips as a base – and be wide enough for a wheelbarrow.  

This plastic stayed in place for all of two days! Then an Oklahoma wind storm blew through. Despite the rocks and bricks, there was enough open space around the edges for the wind to creep in and upend the plastic. I’ve re-installed everything, tacking the edges down with landscape staples. Only time will tell if this is enough to withstand the next Oklahoma wind! 

There are two small rock circles to the north of this wildflower area. These are forsythia shrubs that I have planted and mulched with straw. The rocks remind Brad that the plants are there and keep him from running over them with the lawnmower. I got the idea of trying this plant after reading The Rural Diaries by Hilarie Burton Morgan. The author writes that her husband, growing up on the west coast, had never seen this plant. He was fascinated by its neon yellow blossoms. Their farm is located in an east coast town, where “huge hedges of the flowering bushes lined the roads and sent up fireworks of flowers in front of the businesses.” The author admitted that the view was striking. And all of that was enough to intrigue me.  

I found the shrub at Home Depot, but the $40 price tag was not enticing. I later found a $3 version (basically, what one would refer to as a stem cutting) at another plant store – and thought that would be worth a try. Through research, I discovered that this shrub can be used for erosion control on slopes. They are fairly tolerant of poor garden soil and they have some drought tolerance once they’re established. As long as they are situated where they can get good sunlight, they should grow well. They grow tall and wide. They can be pruned or left to grow wild. And they propagate well/easily.  

I’ve planted three sets of two forsythia in the yard – one set here by the wildflowers, another in a random place closer to the house where I am anxious to have a pop of color, and a third in the transition area where our yard falls away to a natural, unkept area. For $3 a plant, I like my chances of success.     

Vitex – aka Texas Lilac for its purple flowers

Back Path 
Speaking of that transition and natural, unkept area towards the back of our property – we also have a plan for that. We have our yard, then there is about 70 feet of woods, and then the property opens up to a nice clearing – where I hope to someday keep honey bees. Right now, we stomp through weeds and brush to make our way to the clearing. Our plan it to have a formal path, wide enough to accommodate our riding mower and attached wagon loaded with supplies. At the entrance to this proposed path, I have already flanked each side with a Vitex, aka Texas Lilac or Chaste Tree. It’s considered a shrub or small tree that can grow 15-20 feet tall and 10-15 wide – and does so rather quickly. It attracts bees and butterflies with its gorgeous purple blooms. I noticed it everywhere I looked last summer and knew that I had to find a place in our yard to showcase this beauty.      

Adjacent to My Vegetables 
I’ve been cultivating another area of perennial flowers in a bed just outside my vegetable garden. Last spring, I had started some Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias Tuberosa) seeds indoors and moved them outside as the spring progressed. However, the plants never did much of anything. They pretty much stayed at the same 2” height all summer. I added some annuals – Zinnia, Cosmos, and Marigolds – to give me a little color for the season. And then – from the end-of-summer clearance sale, I grabbed two butterfly bushes, two lantana plants, and one mature Butterfly Milkweed to stage here. The great news is that everything is coming back with a bang this summer. The established plants are coming in strong. And a few of the Zinnia and Cosmos self-seeded because they are popping up here and there. But the exciting news is that the Butterfly Milkweed that stalled last summer is flourishing this summer. I have plants everywhere. I supplemented the area with ten additional Butterfly Milkweed sprouts from the botanical garden sale. And then, a couple of weeks ago I added five Sweet Joe Pye Weed plants around the outside corner of this bed. This particular area of the bed doesn’t get much sun because of the oak tree that resides within the bed, so this shade-loving perennial should feel right at home. The flowers on Sweet Joe also attract monarchs, swallowtails and native bees – so they are a perfect match for the other flowers already in this area.  

Front Yard 
I’m also cultivating one other area of wildflowers in the front yard. However, this area has received the least of my attention to-date. In spring and summer, you can drive down a random highway or country road in Oklahoma and see a big swath of wildflower color. I told Brad that’s what I would like to create on the north side of our driveway. There is roughly a 15’x30’ open area to the right of our driveway that is anchored by two flowering fruit trees. This area transitions into the natural, upkept land of a lot owned by my parents. To me, it seems like a natural location for a swath of color. I scattered a wildflower mix here last year. And a few little stems of color of have returned. Still, it doesn’t look like much at the moment. A couple of weeks ago I grabbed six drought-tolerant plants to serve as the boundaries for this area; two each of Tickseed (Coreopsis grandiflora), Balloon Flower Astra Blue (Platycodon grandiflorus) and Blanket Flower Mesa Bright Bicolor (Gaillardia x grandiflora). I scattered another large bag of annual color as well. And I’m in the process of painting an old birdbath that I will relocate to this area to provide a visual anchor of sorts. This is probably the most ‘natural’ looking area, and it will probably take a couple of years to achieve my desired look. 

Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food, and medicine for the soul.
~ Luther Burbank

There is still so much to be done. I’m pleased to have these photos and notes to track my progress. Eventually all of these areas will be teeming with color. I can’t wait to see the bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators that will be flocking to my gardens.

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