May - What's in Katie's Garden?



In My Garden (Zone 7-8)

Katie Elzer-Peters
Katie Elzer-Peters is the author of Beginner's Illustrated Guide to Gardening, Carolinas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, Southern Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, and many other vegetable gardening books. She lives in coastal North Carolina, where she enjoys four-season gardening. 

This month I want to talk a little bit about a project I’ve had on my mind for years. I’ve probably been thinking about it since we bought our house, honestly! I’ve wanted to plant a garden with “prairie” types of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and annuals. First we did our big front garden, though. Then we focused on the back, which has grown “fast and loose” and needs to be re-done again.


About four years ago when we had a huge load of turkey compost delivered for me to use as mulch for the gardens. (The pile was as big as my car.) After we mulched everything we still had a huge amount left. My husband came home to find me wheeling compost over to the far corner of the yard to make yet another garden bed. It started out as an extension of our vegetable gardens, but soon we realized we really didn’t need that much space. But we had a nice big garden bed. What to do?


Because our yard is mostly shady, but this corner was in the sun, I decided to plant a cutting garden. It’s much less expensive to cover a 20 by 20 area with seeded annuals (and perennials) than it is to go full-throttle and buy container-grown plants. I bought packets and packets of zinnias, Mexican sunflowers, cosmos, alyssum, bachelors buttons, poppies, larkspur, annual rudbeckias, black eyed Susans, perennial mixes—you name it, I bought it and scattered it in the garden. I let morning glories ramble through it. It was glorious!


The "Wild Garden" in it's wild state. Filled with Zinnias and morning glories, late summer.

Coreopsis that re-seeds everywhere. If you're going to have a plant re-seed all over the place, this is a good one.

Bachelor's buttons growing from seed and blooming last May.

I did that for a few years, letting perennials re-seed themselves and get some size on them, continually growing annuals around them, and generally enjoying the bed. This year, I decided it was finally time to kickstart plans of my prairie/grass/shrub border. What helped was the fact that, for years, I’d been throwing perennial plant seeds into the garden, so it was already filled with coneflowers, rudbeckias, coreopsis, blanket flowers, and more.

My friends and I got together and dug out plants that didn’t fit with the new plan. We re-planted them elsewhere or gave them away. I took a look at my main front garden bed and found some plants that would grow better in the new garden—some ornamental grasses that were being shaded, particularly—and moved those. Lastly, I purchased a few container-grown perennials and shrubs for some instant size and worked them in around the plants that had seeded themselves in the garden. Voila!

The "Wild Garden" re-imagined.

Red circles show plants that I planted from containers. Organge circles show plants that grew from seed over the years.

You Can Do This At Home!

I wanted to talk about this project in my blog post this month because creating a big beautiful garden can sometimes seem out of reach and extremely expensive—particularly one that is immediately full of color.


That doesn’t have to be the case, though, when you start with seeds and have a plan to grow the plants over a few years. The first couple of years plant annual seeds. (They’re less expensive and provide instant, season-long color.) Start throwing some perennials and biennials in there and let those plants grow. Don’t till that garden. Just hand-weed so that you let things establish over a period of years. You’ll be surprised at just how much you can do with seeds if you’re patient. 






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