Monday, February 20, 2012

10 fantastic shrubs for under $10 each

I am going to continue my series of posts on topics I discuss in my lecturing.  I would love to discuss these garden ideas in person with you, but here is the next best thing!

So one of the most asked question I hear is… “How to landscape on a tight budget?” As you read in my last post, my first answer would be seeds.  But my next one would be long blooming shrubs.  Why, because once shrubs are established for a year or two they are almost guaranteed to look good in your garden.  They are work horses, tough as nails and dependable.  Whether it’s a monsoon style wet spring or drought like no rain summer, these tough shrubs will look and preform fantastic in Midwest Gardens.
Okay, once you venture past the pizazz of the bright colored annuals and oh so tempting new perennials…. step into the woody section of your local garden center!  It is easy to feel intimidated or the very least overwhelmed.  The reason I say this is a shrub is more than likely a lasting part of your home landscape.  Many will last for 20 years or more.  So it is a big decision and with that there are several things to consider…  

-Overall size.
-Bloom times.
-Sun and water requirements.

For this post we will be using selections that are readily available in my zone 6 area for less than $10 for a gallon size plant.  Some of the places I have seen them if you live near me are Lowes, Home Depot, Wal-Mart and my personal favorite…. Rural King.  They normally go on sale for around $6.99 a few times per season and that is when I would stock up.  Here are a few suggestions for long seasons of color from either the blooms or dramatic foliage.  It was hard to limit it to 10, but here is a good start!

1. Altheas or Rose of Sharon
The variety I am showing here is Red Heart Althea.  I have this on two corners of the front of the house and they bloom for at least 2 months.  I can see these thru the dining room window and from the upstairs.  They are bee magnets and such bright clear blooms.
I have trained mine as a standard but they also can be large shrubs for screening.  They are very forgiving and easily trained to a single or multi-trunked small tree reaching only about 12 feet tall.  Some varieties are self seeding, but easily removed or shared with garden friends.  I also grow the magenta double variety called Lucy and the Blue Satin proven winners introduction.  Newer varieties do not self seed, but they are a bit more costly (under $20).  But for this post I will say I love the old fashioned pink and white ones and they are perfect for the cottage/mixed border garden.  Super tough and drought resistant, full sun to part shade.
2. Crepe Myrtles
I live right in the middle of the country and am blessed with the opportunity to grow both Northern and Southern style plants.  And one plant that screams Southern gardens is Crepe Myrtles.  And I am not alone, it seems everyone loves them for there are so many to choose from.  The one I am showing here is called Sioux, but I also grow Centennial Spirit, Rhapsody in Pink and others that I am not sure the names of.  Again they can be maintained as a small tree to large screening shrub…. depending on how much you trim them.  I know of several gardeners that trim them almost to the ground and keep them as less than 3 ft. tall and they do wonderfully.  It is really up to you.  They bloom for such a long time and are so beautiful, I can’t recommend them enough.
3. Spireas
Looking for a shrub that will be tough as nails and not get too big and out of control?  Take home a spirea and enjoy it for years.  This is one that is seen every year at my local garden centers, “Anthony Waterer”.  But I also grow and enjoy Neon and Goldflame which turns a lovely fall color adding addition interest. 
I almost treat mine like a perennial and cut it way back after blooming and it will rebloom in about a month.  It also makes it fuller and more health looking.  I have them out by the mailbox with no irrigation and they do fantastic. 
4. Big Leaf Hydrangeas
If you have read my blog for any amount of time, you know I have never met a hydrangea that I didn’t love.  But there are so many old favorites that can be added to your garden for next to nothing.  Remember these lovely old-fashioned beauties change color depending on your sold type.  For me they will bloom pink every year, that being said let me suggest the variety Nikko Blue.
It starts out a lovely light green, then a creamy yellow then huge pink balls.  I have several varieties that cost so much more, but Nikko Blue always gets ooooohhhs and awwweees and you too can have it for a very reasonable price.  Remember sometimes the classics are just better, you can’t beat these long lasting bloomers.  This one is shade and does need watering, but beside that is pest and worry-free.
5. Butterfly Bushes
When I designed my butterfly hill I knew one plant that just had to be included.  A Butterfly Bush of course!  But they are a good choice for any style garden, but they do need a bit of care.  This is when you need a bit of tough love, 2-3 times per year cut them WAY back.  Like early June and late August…  when the blooms start to look more brownish than your color, cut them back. 
They are not suppose to look like trees, but to be about 4-5 feet tall and lush. I could spend hours watching things flutter around them, so plant them near a garden bench if you can!
6. Weilgelas
You often see me post pictures of my weigela shrubs but today we are going to showcase “Wine and Roses”.  It is a relatively recently introduced variety but has spread like wildfire thru the gardening world for good reason.  It should be grown for its healthy burgundy foliage alone, but the the pink blooms are delightful.
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Easy to maintain, disease resistant….  It could be used in so many different areas of the garden your choices are endless.  I grow several including variegated leaved ones, red and white blooming varieties as well.  But the Wine and Roses has the dark foliage that I believe you would really enjoy.  Blooms heavily in Spring and reblooms a few times during the summer, but not as many as the first flush.
7. Flowering Almond
Spring flowering shrubs are so welcomed in the garden when we are longing for color.  I walked on into the garden today and noticed this one with swelling buds.  As most blooming plants, they will only be offered in bloom so you look for this plant to be in stores in a few weeks time. I just love the little pink puffs.  After blooming it just kind of blends into the other plants, but it is not an unattractive plant.  It’s size is manageable and it is well worthy of your investment.
8. Viburnums
Oh I love the smell of Viburnums!  The one you see for less than $10 around here is Mohawk.  It has a lovely scent that can be noticed from a distance away.  The buds go from creamy-peach, to pink… opening to a pure white.  It just blooms in the spring, but it is a nice looking shrub all year round.  This one does not set berries for me, but spend a few dollars more and other varieties have red, blue or black berries in the fall and winter for more seasonal interest. 
9. Smokebush
If you enjoy interesting shaped leaves and dramatic color, smokebush is for you.  This variety is called Royal Purple, but there is also a bright chartreuse green one as well.  It does “bloom” to look like smoke, but I grow it for the color.  It too can take some heavy pruning to keep small, so I would give it plenty of room and enjoy it’s unique habit. I also enjoy taking cuttings and using these in arrangements as filler.  
10. Lilacs
Okay, I will admit that lilacs can be a bit big and messy, but I just cannot imagine a spring garden without one or two or ten!  This is my favorite, “Sensation” and you can easily see why.  It has this lovely white edging on its petals.  I have mine trained as standards to they don’t take up room in the garden.  I will talk more about this in an upcoming post.  I grow several varieties including Miss Kim, Bloomerang, James MacFarlane, Beauty of Moscow and Ludwig Spaeth.

Also on my list that might be a bit more of an investment than $10 are Heavenly Bamboo, French Pussywillow, Sand Cherry, Abelia, Beautyberry, Flowering Plum, Elderberry, Ninebark, Summersweet and Japanese Willows.  I grow all of these and enjoy them.

I hope I have given you some ideas of how to stretch your gardening budget and make a long lasting season of interest in your home landscape.  Thanks so much for visiting and please consider becoming a follower!

Happy Gardening….Brooke
All photos of my own home and garden ©Brooke Kroeger – Creative Country Mom

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sweeten Up Your Garden or the Fairy Method of Direct Sewing Seeds

Notes from a Country Garden.... Feb 19, 2011


Okay, this is going to be a long post.  So forgive me, but this is one of my main garden methods I firmly believe in and speak about often in my lecturing.  I wish I could explain it to you as we walked around my garden in bloom, but this is the next best thing.  These pictures are all of my own garden from 2009-2011.  You will notice quite a few changes along the way.  Let me explain how I made them.

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-The front border June of 2008-

We built our home in 2006.  We moved from a 1200 sf bungalow to a 3000 sq farmhouse.  I needed everything, literally.  I left all of my drapes in the house we sold and I felt I had all these empty rooms to fill.  So the first 18 mths almost nothing was done to the exterior besides decorating the porch.  In 2008 we finally added the deck.  That spring I really focused on starting the garden.  But budget was still a big issue.  So I added a few shrubs and perennials.  But they were nothing fancy.  Lots of pass along plants from garden club sales and divisions from friends.  I was laying out beds and doing the heavy lifting.  That entire summer I dreamed over photos in garden magazines and HGTV shows like “A Garden Diary”.  I knew what I wanted…. Something relaxed and country like our life out here at the lake.  Something that looked like it had evolved from an old farmhouse 100 years old.  So I was on a mission, and that mission was old-fashioned flower seeds.
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Same area in 2009, thanks to my seeds!  Look at the difference!!

-And finally in 2011, I did not do as many seeds last year, and honestly I missed them-

Let me start by saying,  I am not a patient woman.  I am more of an instant makeover girl.  I know that the joy of a garden is watching it grow and evolve.  But I wanted it to look that way in a year, not 20 years.  Here is how I took my beds from nothing to full in 2 garden years.  It’s all about the seeds and a bit of help from a few garden fairies…. or sugar…. you decide.

-White Yarrow and Feverfew from seed with some perennial salvias-

This is a good example of how I love my borders to look.  A mix of a wildflower garden, country-quilted patchwork mass of blooms.  If a little is good, a boat-load must be better right?  I seem to do everything to the extreme (see this recent post) and sewing seeds might be my most extreme garden sport to date.  Lets start with a few highlights and favorites.  Get your garden journals ready, you might want to start a list!

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Annual Candytuft is a cottage dream.  It blooms the first year, reseeds lightly…. meaning I would add a few more each year if you really want a mass like this one.  It is not evergreen like the perennial variety, but it does rebloom!  It is similar to sweet alyssum is growing habit, but the blooms are much bigger and seem from across the garden.  No smell that I have noticed, but the foliage is pretty even before the blooms arrive.  Spring, Summer and Fall Blooms in intervals.

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Red Bee Balm is so striking.  And most of the time you can get a start from a garden friend.  But it is also easily grown from seed.  It makes a lovely mass of colors, I also have purple and pink…. but the red is my favorite.  Mid Summer Bloomer.

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Shasta Daisy, “Alaska” is a fantastic easy to grow perennial that will bloom the first year if planted early (like right now).  It is evergreen and loves full sun growing to about 30 inches tall.  I used it in almost every garden bed I did and love it.  If you shear it back after blooming it will send up a whole new batch of blooms.  Mid Summer and again in the Fall.

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Blue Cornflowers will pop right up and bloom in less than 8 weeks.  I use these in my wildflower bed and love the look of them with red poppies (we’ll see more to them in a future post).  This is an annual that will reseed a bit too the next year.  Early Summer bloomer.


Pink Baby’s Breath is so charming.  This is one that most people have never seen, but I highly suggest it.  I have found that only a few seeds come up, so seed heavy to make sure you get a good showing, but it is worth it, I promise!  Great airy filler plant!  I also grow the white kind (shown here are well with smaller blooms, thinner petals).  I think if you can find the pink ones you will fall in love with them. Mid Summer Bloomer.

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Pink Yarrow from seed is soooooo easy!  Yarrow can be a bit overwhelming and take over, but I have the pink variety to be more well behaved.  I started this one area from seed and now have it all over my butterfly hill.  Talk about bang for your buck!  I grow about 5 different yarrows, there are so many different colors.  Take your pick, they all work well in a cottage garden. Mid Summer to Fall.

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Evening Scented Stock is a lovely pale blue/purple as shown here with some corn poppies.  They both are from seed.  Catchfly has several hues of color, some almost looking white.  It is a very old variety that I feel so many would love if they tried it. Mid Summer to Frost.

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Feverfew is the little white bloom with the yellow centers.  There is more evening scented stock in the pack of this photo as well.  They play nice together.  I have heard of gardeners that let feverfew grow all over their gardens at will, and I can see why.  It is like little rays of sunshine.  My mom thinks it looks like a weed, but I really enjoy it.  Mid Summer to Frost.

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Mallows and French Hollyhocks are always welcome and will bloom from the first year.  This one is Zebra, but I just did a post on another variety I enjoy called Windsor Castle.  Any of them are beautiful and well deserved in the country borders. The little white bloom is Sweet Alyssum.  Mid Summer bloomer.

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This is a double shot of two favorites with my Mister Lincoln rose.  It is larkspur and false Queen Anne’s Lace.  I had never heard of False Queen Anne’s Lace till I ordered from a vintage seed catalog.  It is a quick growing annual that gives you that flat headed look of our beloved weed here in Indiana, in a much tamer package.  It doesn’t get overly tall, but blends very well into a mixed border as shown here.  Mid Summer to Frost.


Blue Sage is sooo easy from seed and it is a perennial.  I can’t remember if it bloomed the first year or not, but one package of seed did a whole big area that I have enjoyed every year since. Butterflies love this beauty! Mid Summer to Frost.


Cleome or Spider Flower.  This is one you either love or hate, and I love it.  I use it extensively down at my firepit rock garden and wildflower beds.  But they can also be at home in the mixed border.  Annual that pops right up and blooms in a few weeks…. late summer to fall.  I also grow a white variety that is lovely.


Sweet Alyssum, grow it for the scent alone.  I have it along the path to the front door and have so many comments on what smells so good…. it is these tiny blooms.  Mine will reseed every year, but not if I mulch in the spring.  They need some light and air to germinate.  I have seed bought to have them again this year, I can’t wait.  This is a plant that more is a good thing for a big impact.


My favorite things to grow with sweet alyssum is moss verbena.  As all of these plants I am showing you today, it is grown from seed.  It will bloom from May till late December and NEVER stop.


It is a groundcover and spreader, but I get so many comments about it’s mass of purple colors. I have grown this one in a container and it does okay, but nothing like it does in the ground. Perfect for a bank or under evergreens or shrubs.


I will always have this in my garden, I love it that much.
Okay, I hope I have given you some good ideas on how to make an “Instant Garden” this year.  But wait, I haven’t told you how to do it.  What was that about fairies and a sweet garden? 

Well if you ask me, I say the garden fairies plant all these beautiful seeds where they want them while I sit on my porch swing.  But if I had to tell the truth…. my secret is the sugar.  Yes, good old white kitchen sugar.  Here is why….. please don’t tell anyone, it is my little garden secret!

I use sugar to “thin out” my seeds so they cover a larger area.  You see if you sprinkle seeds with your finger tips you only get a small spot here or there.  I want to cover a big area with these tiny little seeds….   thus I need a medium to dilute my dispersal of seeds…. I use sugar!  You can also use sand, but I never remember to buy sand, but I always have some sugar around here. 

I place the seeds and a good amount of sugar in cleaned plastic spice jars.

I keep ones with little tiny holes and bigger holes depending on the size of the seeds!  When you have it mixed together it will look like this….

Leave enough room at the top to give it a good shake!

BIG BONUS…. the sugar is white and I can see where I am sprinkling it in the garden. With sand I have a harder time seeing where it is going.  Isn’t that a fun way to do it?  See, I told you your garden will be sweet! 
Remember sugar can stick together, so this is not a good way to store seeds.  Only mix it up when you are ready to use the seeds.

I hope you have as good of luck as I have with heirloom seeds.  I think there is no greater compliment than a visitor saying I haven’t seen that in years or asking what a plant is.  Spread the love garden friends!!

You can find more of my posts about sewing seeds by clicking my tag line "Seeds" below.

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All photos of my own home and garden ©Brooke Kroeger – Creative Country Mom