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.


There are a handful of perennials that I consider must-haves for the garden. Phlox is one of them. In full bloom right now, it’s offering big heads of flowers reminiscent of hydrangeas in luscious shades of pink, purple, and red. During the day, the flowers are butterfly magnets; I often see hummingbirds visiting them, too. I have several varieties of phlox planted on the west side of my house; in the late afternoon the fragrance is almost overpowering.

While there’s a lot to be said for this wonderfully old-fashioned perennial, there are a couple of reasons some gardeners don’t love it. The biggest drawback is that many varieties, especially older ones, suffer from a disease called powdery mildew which can make them drop their leaves by midsummer. Happily, newer varieties of phlox such as ‘Grape Lollipop’, ‘Blue Paradise’, and ‘David’ do a stand-up job of resisting the disease. Or, if you don’t grow disease-resistant varieties, grow a medium-height perennial in front of your phlox to hide the foliage.

Another drawback is that phlox will create a lot of seedlings the following spring if you don’t clip off the faded flowers. But deadheading phlox will prevent this. And keep it reblooming through late summer or early autumn.

Do you grow phlox? Do you have a favorite variety?

blog1Last week, for the third time in a row, I had the opportunity to judge the trial gardens at Costa Farms, near Homestead, Florida. At first blush, it seems an easy thing to do—just wander through bed after bed of beautiful flowers on a sunny Florida morning. But, in reality, it’s hard work, evaluating each plant on four important criteria: growth uniformity, foliage appeal, flower power/size, and consumer appeal. Fellow judges included Heather Will-Browne from Disney and Dr. Alan Armitage from the University of Georgia. Here are a few of my favorite picks (left to right, top to bottom) that you should watch for in your garden, this year or next.



I had the opportunity to see some cool new plants on my recent trip to Costa Farms — as well as some favorites, such as this delightful annual phlox. This variety is ‘Phloxy Lady Pink’, and there’s a lot to be said for it: A nice, compact habit, loads of blooms, and great heat/drought tolerance (this species is native to Texas, so hot and dry isn’t a problem!).

Grow ‘Phloxy Lady’ and other varieties in full sun in well-drained soil. Don’t let them stay wet too long — that’s a surefire way to make these gorgeous plants sulk. Its compact habit makes this particular variety especially good in containers, too!

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