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gulf coast special magazine
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GARDENING

NORTHERN LOOKS FOR SOUTHERN CLIMES

What do You Mean, You Don’t Sell Peonies?
Story and Photos by Joshua Kornegay

We garden year-round here along the Gulf Coast and January is a common month for planning outdoor projects for the new year. Not to say we Texas gardeners don't have our challenges but it can be extra tricky if you've just moved here from another state. One basic point, often overlooked, are the varied climatic zones within the United States. It’s normal to turn to the internet for advice, and there’s no shortage of data out there, but sadly there’s also an enormous amount of ambiguity and misinformation.

I cannot tell you how many times customers have asked, “When do you get in your peonies?” Crestfallen with my reply, they then ask, “Well, how about lilacs?”

“Sorry again,” I have to reply. “They're just not for this climate.”

Chances are, if you're looking for childhood favorites from your mother's garden in Ohio, it’s not going to happen here.

If you're new to Houston, or simply new to gardening, try asking your neighbors for plant advice. Consulting a native Houston gardener with seasoned experience is even better.

Another option is to check out some of the books by regional experts. Perennial Garden Color (Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Service Series), by William C. Welch, is one trusted resource. Another is A Garden Book for Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast, written and edited by Lynn M. Herbert and presented by the River Oaks Garden Club. These locally written books have information about organics and native plants, and there are many more. Texas A&M and Stephen F. Austin Universities both have informative websites.

Here are a few of my suggestions for successful plantings.

Instead of peony, a flower found in more northerly gardens, try althea, a southern classic. Both species are large shrubs or small trees with very showy big blooms. If you desire large patches of purple lilac (like those found in Indiana), plant lespedeza, Mystic Spires blue salvia or even a Montrose Purple vitex instead. These alternatives will reward you with striking displays of purples in heavy blooming cycles. These have a similar look and take our searing heat, poor soils and even flooding.

My rather long-winded point is this. Do your research first before you expend all of your enthusiastic gardening energy trying to track down plants that will never do well here in Houston. You'll never find then available on the upper Gulf Coast, anyway.

Remember, "Work less, enjoy more!"

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