If we must have Oklahoma weather, then maybe an Oklahoma landscape

Published 8:51 am Thursday, October 5, 2023

By Felder Rushing

Gardening Columnist

If we’re gonna have Oklahoma weather, I’m creating an appropriate slice of Oklahoma landscape. This is in line with my longtime mantra for dealing with all stressful issues of life, including in the garden: If you can’t fix it, flee it, or fight it, flow with it. In that order.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Don’t get me wrong, not giving up on having a garden worthy of the Magnolia State. But as I wallow in solstalgia – the unsettling thoughts and emotions caused by a relatively sudden, profound loss of the familiar – I am starting to move forward. No more handwringing, just solutions.

The pooh-poohing of climate change doubters aside, I am preparing my garden for this weather to last awhile. Tired of walking on grass that feels and sounds like dry cornflakes, and browned-out azaleas, Leyland cypress, ligustrum, and now even magnolias suffering the onslaught of sudden hard freezes and interminably hot summers coupled with prolonged drought. Oklahoma conditions.

I haven’t had a lawn in a while, would if I had enough space; meanwhile there are generous areas for entertaining and for fluttering butterflies and swooping birds, designed with flat, weed-free, blow-not-mow chipped slate, flagstone patios and paths, and mulch. The trees, shrubs, and perennials that still fill in the borders are all tried and true natives or proven imports that thrive in country gardens and cemeteries without a hose. I am keeping an area that can be watered in tropical lushness, a different woodland “stumpery” of logs and shade plants, a contemporary entertaining area, and a sweet little visual nod to my small terrace house garden in England with snapdragons and violas and accessorized with chimney pots and gnomes.

My newest vignette, in what has long been the hardest spot in my garden to tame, is a steep clay hillside in broiling hot sun; harsh doesn’t come close to describing it. For years I have had trio of large gray agaves, commonly called century plants, skirted with a hodge-podge of various perennials, something for each season. The only things that survived this past year were the agaves.

So this week I softened the clay over a couple of days with a little water, then dug it a solid shovel deep and worked in a little bark to fluff it up a bit, and started my newest project: a xeriscape of various plants that I see thriving in Texas and Oklahoma in conditions similar to what we’ve been experiencing.

I planted cold-hardy dwarf agaves, some thin-leaf red-flowering yucca, a group of golden variegated clump-forming Golden Sword yuccas, and shrubby smooth (spineless) prickly pear cactus. I’ve including a handful of hardy perennials including new England asters, multiplying daffodils, Powis Castle artemisia, native guara, pink turk’s turban (Malvaviscus, a Texas native), and soon a gray-green Texas sage with lavender flowers. More will follow as the seasons progress.

Of course, I positioned a few large stones, a shallow birdbath, and a flock of Chihuly-like glass ornaments designed by my friend Andrew Young from Pearl River Glass in Jackson. These simple hard features complete the scene and make it more Mississippi; plus, they are all-season anchors and will carry my attitude as well through thick and thin, a foothold in a changing world.

I get that this is not everyone’s cup of tea. But it is attractive to me and minimizes the harder-to-maintain garden areas.

Solastalgia can have a silver lining. Rather than indulge in non-stop handwringing, it allows us to process emotions and can lead to resilience and growth. If it takes learning to garden as if I live in Oklahoma, welcome to Tulsa Corner, Mississippi.

Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB

Think Radio. Email gardening questions to rushingfelder@yahoo.com