Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.


I don’t know about you, but my patience has been tested this spring. Just when I thought winter had finally lost its grip, a freak snowstorm hit Iowa last week, leaving several inches of heavy, wet, white stuff in its wake. But we Midwesterners are resilient. And so too, it appears, are many of the blooms that were caught naked in the arctic blast. The fat lavender buds on my Jane magnolia, for example, were just beginning to open when temps plunged from 82 degrees one day to 32 the next. If the cold doesn’t finish them off, I figured, the wind and driving sleet will. Happily, I was proven wrong. My magnolia blooms are still intact and prettier than ever.

This isn’t the first year that early blooms have had their toughness tested. Spring’s mood swings happen so often that cool-season gardening has become, well, cool. We can resist planting tender geraniums and petunias until warm weather is here to stay if garden centers offer up a smorgasbord of irrepressible flowers. Here are several container recipes that I’ve tried that will flourish even if temperatures dip into the nippy range.

These pink pots set the tone for picking plants that show off the season’s hottest hues: soft shades of pink, purple, green, and gray. In the background pot: Helichrysum Icicles, English ivy, Osteospermum Soprano Light Purple, and Diascia Little Charmer. In the foreground pot: Diascia Little Charmer, Intensia Neon Pink phlox, Heucherella Stoplight, Armeria Rubrifolia, Osteospermum Soprano white, Snowstorm Giant Snowflake bacopa, Nemesia Compact Innocence, and Ajuga Catlin’s Giant.

The edible ingredients in this container salad garden are just too pretty to eat…for now, at least. Included in the mix: Pigeon Red kale, Esmeralda lettuce, chives, Ultima Baron Merlot pansy, and Sorbet violas.

This sky-blue planter brightens a gray day with these cheerful, chill-shrugging occupants: Sutera Blue Showers, Snowstorm Giant Snowflake bacopa, Bracteantha Sundaze Golden Beauty, Osteospermum Orange Symphony, Nemesia Compact Innocence, Trinitaria pansy, and Fire and Ice hosta.


I love easy-growing perennials, fun foliage, and the color blue. So it’s really no surprise that perennial geraniums (also called cranesbills for their beak-shaped seedheads) are among my favorite flowers.

The mourning widow geranium (Geranium phaeum ‘Samobor’) is currently in full bloom in my shade garden. This beauty grows about a foot tall and has clusters of dark purple-black flowers rising above the mounds of purple-splotched foliage. It’s a real winner because the foliage looks great from spring to fall.

It’s not blooming yet, but I’m already appreciating the tidy mound that is bloody geranium (Geranium sanguineum). I know its may sound a little morbid, but the moniker actually stems from the fact that the foliage turns bright red in autumn. This great perennial puts out a big flush of purple, pink, or white flowers in early summer, then continues to offer a spattering of bloom until autumn.

The real winner among perennial geraniums, though, is ‘Rozanne’, the stellar selection pictured here. ‘Rozanne’ offers lovely blue-purple flowers in late May or early June and continues to be in constant bloom all the way until frost. Plus it has marbled foliage that looks great in the garden while you’re patiently waiting for its blooms.

Geranium hanging basket

Millions of geranium (Pelargonium) baskets will be purchased this weekend to honor Mom, and to adorn decks and patios everywhere. Now you have another good reason to purchase these colorful flowers. Researchers at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service report that the brightly hued petals of this landscape staple are deadly to Japanese beetles. More accurately, after eating geranium petals, the beetles become paralyzed for several hours. In the lab, the beetles recovered after 24 hours, but presumably in nature, paralyzed beetles would be easy pickings for birds or other predators who would devour the pests before they could revive.

Japanese beetle

Researchers provide no indication of how to force feed geraniums to Japanese beetles. However, if your yard has ever been infested with them, you know that the beetles are not picky–they’ll eat hundreds of types of plants. Admittedly, geraniums in the garden won’t likely keep Japanese beetles at bay in your yard, but they certainly can’t hurt. The ultimate goal of the scientists is to develop a natural botanical control for the pests derived from floral extracts of the geranium.

In the meantime, you can buy geraniums for Mom this weekend and know that they’ll be safe from attack by Japanese beetles.

While there’s  still a bit blooming in my garden (for example, ‘Rozanne’ geranium, ‘Luscious Citrus Blend‘ lantana, and ‘Little Mischief’ shrub rose), my attention has pretty much turned to my indoor garden.

I have some of the usual suspects (ficus and moth orchids, for example), but I also grow some less traditional choices, including a white double impatiens (shown here), a few fun plectranthus, and of course my favorite passionflowers.

Why bother with so many houseplants? Besides the fact that I’m a gardening fanatic, I know they also help my health. A number of scientific studies have revealed that simply having plants around can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and help improve concentration.

Plants are good for my physical health in other ways, too. NASA experiments have shown that plants are able to remove nasty pollutants such as formaldehyde and benzene from the air.

And my indoor plants release moisture into the air as a part of their breathing process — this increases the relative humidity in the rooms where I keep my plants. Spending time in these rooms is like a mini vacation from the desert-dry air coming out of my home’s furnace.

Really when it all comes down to it, though, I’m a plant lover. Do you have houseplants? If so, share your reasons with me by commenting below!

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