July - 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. 

All of a sudden it is hot, hot, hot in the garden! I’m still hobbling around unable to do a whole lot of gardening other than watering (I can stand there with a hose), but I’m enjoying looking at all of the flowers and veggies! I’ve found when you have to spend the majority of your time at home (I’m recovering from a broken leg.), having a gorgeous garden to look at makes a big difference. Every time someone picks me up to take me somewhere I enjoy looking at the progress of the plants I can’t see from inside the house. When your world shrinks you can acutely observe everything in your small domain. I notice even the tiniest changes in the plants because of this. Here’s what I’m seeing right now.


When we first moved into our house I planted a butterfly garden for my dog. That probably seems dumb but she liked to lay on the couch and look out the window. Instead of a manicured foundation planting bed, I encouraged a jungle to grow. She went on to the big field in the sky this spring but her garden lives on. A few days ago I saw the first giant swallowtail butterfly flitting around that I’d seen this summer and I thought of sweet Lucy keeping her eyes open for butterflies and hummingbirds.

Rudbeckia (yellow and black) and bee balm are great nectar plants for butterflies.

Coneflowers (purple flowers) are good sources of nectar.

Fennel (the ferny-looking plant) is a favorite source of food for caterpillars.

To get butterflies, you have to plant host plants and nectar plants. A few of my favorite host plants are Asclepias (milkweed) to attract monarchs and fennel. I always know when there have been babies nearby because the fennel plants are eaten back to sticks! For nectar plants I like bee balm and aster family flowers such as rudbeckia and coneflowers.


The tomatoes and peppers that my in-laws planted are growing like gangbusters. I think it’s the mulch they were so skeptical about. I encouraged them to put a two inch layer of wood mulch down (keeping it away from the plant stems) because it keeps the roots cool and the soil moist, no small feat in our hot coastal garden. We have pods on the first okra plants we’ve ever grown! I can’t wait for some spicy oven-roasted snacks in a month or so.

Okra pods forming in the vegetable garden.

Looking Back

I had someone call my garden a “rainforest” a few weeks ago. Compared to meatball pruned shrubs and sparse lawns in suburbia, I guess my garden does look like a rainforest. I had one of my friends lop a few branches off the big sweet gum tree that’s in the middle of my front garden so that the edge next to the sidewalk would get some more sun.

Just for giggles, I found a picture of the front bed when we put it in six years ago. Everything is so tiny! There’s so much mulch! Steadily and patiently we’ve added more perennials and a few shrubs so that most of it is perennial now, save for some key spots for seasonal annuals. How time flies!

My big front garden in the spring of 2008.

same garden in spring 2014. What a difference! It is kind of a jungle. . .






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Gardening Tip of the Day

  • When cutting a head of cabbage, don't be in a hurry to yank out the ""stump."" If you leave the lower leaves attached to the roots, you'll soon see multiple heads form around the top of the severed stem. Although the heads will not be as large as the initial head, you can often harvest four or five baseball-sized cabbages within a few weeks. Harvested young, these mini-cabbages are tender enough to grate raw for slaw or fresh salad.