Another garden I visited at Oklahoma State University was next to the Engineering Building. It is composed entirely of native plants. There is a nifty garden directory sign so you can identify every plant if you feel like it. It was getting pretty hot, so I did a quick walk through and got back into the shade of the Student Union.
I love the Redshift Tickseed (Coreopsis); I could make an entire bed of various coreopsis cultivars. Our side yard is filled with Plains Coreopsis and we let it bloom for about a month every summer.
Once it goes to seed and looks really raggedy we mow.
Since these are Oklahoma natives, they are well suited to our, shall we say, extreme weather conditions. Once established they are fairly drought tolerant and attract our native pollinators.
It was nice to see an entire garden of Oklahoma plants to get an idea of just how many there really are. I’m especially intrigued by the Tiger Eye Sumac and am thinking about adding one to our landscape someday. It reminds me of a Japanese maple, but one that might actually survive in my yard.
Last week my younger son attended a one-day engineering camp at OSU in Stillwater, Oklahoma. I hung out on campus all day and took lots of pictures of the gardens and flower beds. After a day of breathing the “O State ozone”, I’m ready to pack up and move to Stillwater. (Just kidding.) Our family has a running joke about being on the OSU campus. Something in the air makes us really happy to be there so we think they must be pumping ozone. Or is it the Eskimo Joe’s cheese fries? (According to my older son, the ozone effect does wear off after you have been there for a while.)
Anyway, I had a full day to hang around and wander through the plantings on campus, read, and people watch.
The Price Family Garden is outside the Rancher’s Club, a steakhouse on the OSU campus. It combines edibles and ornamentals and is just gorgeous. They list descriptions of the plants along with planting diagrams on the internet. Here’s a link to the summer 2018 plan. They have a sign with a QR code you can scan and download this PDF with the plant descriptions.
I can’t tell which variety of eggplant this is. There are two listed on their PDF. One is ‘Barbarella’ and the other is ‘Galine’. If I had to pick, I’d say this was Barbarella based on the leaf shape.
If you are in Stillwater, take some time to visit the Price Family Garden and get some ideas. My plant list is super long already!
A flower that doesn’t open until late in the day might seem a little pointless, but the four o’clock (Mirablilis jalapa) is a nice addition to your flowerbeds. When the flowers open in late afternoon you will notice a lovely fragrance, and the little flowers are worth the wait! They originate from South America but grow well nearly everywhere.They are perennial in warmer climates (7 and higher) and also reseed freely.
When I was a kid my mother grew four o’clocks in her east facing flowerbeds. (Actually, she still does.) They were all one color, kind of a fuschia purple, and the blooms closed during the day. The bushes got huge over the course of the summer and would crowd out other plants in the process. So I wasn’t really a fan of this particular plant.
Imagine my joy when after moving to this house I discovered the very same four o’clocks, same boring color and everything, all over the flowerbeds! Squee.
Landscaping was not a priority for the first several years after we moved here, with small kids, homeschooling, and interior remodeling. So I let the boring flowers go crazy. They were flowers at least, and they were pretty tough (benign neglect, right?).
Finally, we got roses for the main bed, and I started taking a little more care with our landscape. At this point, I was pulling hundreds of little four o’clock seedlings as they sprouted because this is a very floriferous plant, and each flower makes a black seed that looks like a tiny grenade.
I left some in the north end because it’s pretty shady and I hadn’t planned anything for that area yet. These flowers do attract sphinx moths, hummingbirds, and butterflies, so that’s kind of cool, and I planned to keep a few plants even though I wasn’t a huge fan of the boring flowers. But about four years ago something interesting happened…
One of the plants had some yellow flowers on the same plant with the fuschia flowers. That was really neat! The next year, more of the flowers were yellow or streaked. This kept increasing, until last summer I had several different colors of four o’clocks. I saved some seeds to give to friends; who knows what they will produce?
After some research, I found that this is not at all unusual with Mirabilis; the thing I don’t understand is why the different colors took so long to show. Perhaps one of those nice moths brought pollen from different colored flowers and got us some genetic variation going. Regardless, I no longer dislike the four o’clock flowers. I will still judiciously pull hundreds of seedlings as they show up where I don’t want them, but I will be sure to leave several plants. I can’t wait to see what they look like this summer!
If you decide to plant some four o’clocks, now is the time. After danger of frost, plant the seeds in the garden and water regularly. They prefer full sun (6 hours minimum). I don’t fertilize, but some garden sites do recommend a little fertilizer. They can get up to four feet high and wide–mine usually top out around three feet, but I don’t water as much as they would probably like and we have a lot of wind. You can trim back if they get too enthusiastic. They start blooming mid-summer and will go until frost. The seeds are considered poisonous. Most pests don’t seem to bother them, but in seriously bad summers, we have had grasshoppers eat some of the flowers and leaves. Give them a try!
Star Roses and Plants, the growers who produced the amazing and wonderful Knockout Rose family, have my undying gratitude. (I am in no way affiliated with their company, I just love their plants!) I have four of the Red Double Knockouts in my front flower bed and they look fabulous. They have cherry red blooms that look like a classic rose. My sweet husband bought them for me as an anniversary present years ago.
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They are super easy to maintain and are prolific repeat bloomers from early May til frost. They are hardy in zones 5 to 11. They need full sun and adequate drainage. Maintenance consists of pruning down to around 12 to 18 inches tall in February or early March (ideally before they leaf out but that’s always hard to pin down here in Oklahoma) and maybe some rose fertilizer occasionally. Pruning large canes is much easier if you have something like these Fiskars loppers:
Regular deep watering keeps these roses blooming like crazy. The tradeoff for all those blooms is the lack of fragrance. They have survived my preferred gardening method, “Benign Neglect”, for seven years. These roses are “self-cleaning”–which means you don’t have to deadhead to get more blooms, but it won’t hurt and might help reduce the incidence of Rose Rosette virus (more on that below)…
If you put them out in the landscape, pruning is optional but they will get pretty big, like four feet tall by four feet wide, and I don’t think they look as nice as with that yearly pruning. Of course they are roses, and these babies have some seriously wicked thorns, so don’t plant them where thorns will be a problem–and consider how big they could get before you place them near a pathway or under a window. You can give them a trim any time of the year except in the late fall because it could encourage tender new growth that could be killed by frost (you’re probably going to prune that away come spring, but it might harm the overall health of your plant.)
The only potential downside to these awesome roses is Rose Rosette disease, also known as Witches’ Broom, which is a nasty virus carried by microscopic mites. Here’s a link to an informational PDF from Oklahoma State University. There is no treatment or cure, and infected plants start getting uglier and uglier until they finally die. If your rose gets this, the recommended action is the immediate removal of the entire bush, roots included. It should be burned or bagged and discarded. Do not compost these bushes! Roses in proximity may or may not get infected; direct contact seems to be the easiest way for it to spread but I think it’s windborne to some extent considering the way it has spread around here. Since nearly every landscaper in Oklahoma has planted some of these roses, the disease has made its way all over the state. Luckily mine are okay so far but I keep a close eye on them. If they ever get the disease my backup landscaping plan (after the wailing and gnashing of teeth) involves dwarf Crepe Myrtles. Once they are established, they are almost bulletproof.
There are ten colors of Knockout Rose available now (wow!). I just spent some time on the Star website and now I am seriously trying to figure out where I can put more roses. One of each, please? You can find Knockout Roses at most garden retailers in the US and Canada. Look for the lime green pot and enjoy your roses!
Back in January, we took a day to visit the Florida Aquarium in Tampa because we are all about aquariums…seriously, we go to every one we possibly can, including the ones here in Oklahoma, which are obviously few and far between…
Our visit coincided with a rare cold spell in south Florida, but it was still warmer than Oklahoma. The first full day we planned to check out the aquarium in Tampa then make our way to our hotel in St. Pete Beach that afternoon. It was COLD. A really good day to be inside somewhere–and lots of other people must have agreed because the place was packed. There was a pretty good line of people waiting to get tickets when we arrived. We finally got our tickets and made our way inside. I took some pictures but they don’t really do things justice. It’s a very beautiful facility with oodles of amazing animals.
Sand eels are so cool!
The duck above is watching all the strollers closely so it can snatch up dropped kiddie snacks…”Pay no attention to that sign behind me!”
We went through the whole place in around two hours; keep in mind my boys are 20 and 16 so they weren’t interested in the hands-on or outdoor play areas (they have an outdoor splash pad playground which was not open during our visit, go figure!); families with smaller kids might want to allow more time. And if you go when it’s warm, which is apparently almost always, you will want to bring swim gear, towels, and sunscreen so your kids can play out there. They have a place to change in and out of swim gear right next to the playground.
There is a snack bar on site but since we had seen everything we wanted, we walked about a block down the street and found a New York style pizza place which was really good. It had a New York police precinct theme. It is called, appropriately, Precinct Pizza. Check it out if you are in town!
We were thinking about heading to the rental car and finding our hotel, but had noticed a sign on the way into the aquarium mentioning something about a historic victory ship nearby…so we followed the signs and found this:
The SS American Victory Maritime Museum is one of only four working WWII era ships in the country. My older son is a major history buff, so of course we had to spend the rest of our day exploring the massive ship.
They take this old merchant marine cargo ship out on a Relive History Cruise twice a year, and we were bummed that we missed that. Perhaps another time. There are nine decks to wander, including 3-story cargo holds, galleys, crew cabins, mess halls, officers’ quarters, and lots more. They also have medals and many historic artifacts.
Above you can see the dazzle paint scheme that helps to break up the shape of the ship.
Both places are definitely worth a visit if you are in the Tampa Bay area! If you decide to include the ship on your itinerary, keep in mind it has nine stories to go through and it is a ship…so expect lots of walking, and lots of steep metal stairs. To give you an idea, I had 10,975 steps on my Samsung phone for that day. 😀
Do you enjoy watching birds in your yard? One of the very best things you can have is a birdbath. Water is vital for birds all year round. What do you do when it’s freezing outside? You could bundle up every hour or two and run outside with some hot water in a kettle and pour it into your birdbath…or you could get a deicer for your birdbath and stay cozy indoors.
This post contains affiliate links. See my full disclosure here.
Here’s my birthday present this year! We have a birdbath in our backyard and with our temperatures going and staying below freezing so much, we really need a heater to keep the water liquid for them. Birds don’t get in the water and splash around when it’s super cold, but they always need water to drink. It’s especially important around here this year, where we are in a full-on drought.
My husband found this on Amazon and I think it’s pretty well designed. A few years ago we had a different heater and it had lots of ridges that made it very difficult to clean. This is smooth, and you can even sand it and spray paint it to match your bird bath. I elected to leave mine natural, as our bird bath is light colored. And I’m lazy.
It has a thermostat so it doesn’t run when the temperature is above freezing and has a 3 year from purchase warranty. That’s really good since birdbath heaters in my experience only last a season or two. It uses just 50 watts of power so it’s energy efficient. It has a short 18-inch cord so you will need to get a good outdoor extension cord and plug into an outdoor outlet, ideally one that is GFI just to be extra safe. You should probably also wrap your connection with some electrical tape or use a weatherproofing connection.
So far our temps have gone down to the low 20s and there was a ring of ice around the edge of the bath but liquid water in the center. The result, happy birds this morning. Happy me, because I don’t have to run out and refill with warm water. This is a win-win!
I will update this product review as needed. So far, I am really happy with this deicer.
It’s February and almost time for the 2018 Great Backyard Bird Count! This year it goes from February 16 through 19. Started by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audobon Society in 1998, this is a free four-day long event and anyone can participate. You can count for as little as fifteen minutes or as long as you like, one day or all four. This event helps scientists get a better idea of how bird populations are doing. Last year (2017 GBBC) was the biggest ever with over 160,000 people participating!
To find out exactly how to participate, go to the GBBC website. You will need to make an account if you haven’t already. Here’s a link to an instructional PDF. If you are a brand new user, they recommend registering at BirdCount.org.
You can count birds in your own yard, a park, on roadsides, or anywhere. The online report forms allow you to log the time and location. There are lots of tips on counting and identifying birds on the website as well and many excellent bird photographs. If you take some bird pictures you can submit those too.
You can start with a printed checklist or just use a notebook. Note your date, time, and location. I usually take a notebook and write in the birds I expect to find then use tally marks during the observation period. If there are several birds of the same species, try to report the largest number you saw at one time, this way you won’t overcount. If I get an unexpected bird I just write it in. After I have completed all my viewing I log in and enter the data using their easy forms.
I have tried to participate a little bit every year but it’s been kind of hit and miss. In my own backyard, we usually see lots of birds when it’s cold and nasty out, but when the GBBC rolls around we nearly always have nice warm weather and the birds don’t show up. 😀 I will give it a whirl anyway!
If you really enjoy keeping track of bird sightings, on the eBird website you can log bird sightings year round and it will track all your data for you. I haven’t logged in a while and have some serious updating to do…
Helpful bird identification tips can be found at eBird, along with bird data and news. Audobon.org has news and photos. Cornell’s website has an online searchable bird guide. There are also mobile phone apps you can use.
This is an excellent opportunity to get your kids involved in citizen science, a process in which volunteers partner with scientists to answer real-world questions. Anyone can “do science” this way; you don’t have to have a degree. You could go on a field trip to a park and make a really fun day of it, and you might spot more than just birds!
Are you planning to participate in the GBBC this year? Let us know in the comments!
While in Florida we visited the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. If you have small children, you have probably seen this place in the Dolphin Tales movies. It was all new to us. This is a wildlife rehabilitation center that rescues and releases marine animals. There are a few permanent residents that couldn’t return to the wild due to their injuries. The most famous is Winter the dolphin, who has a prosthetic tail. When she was about two months old she was found with her tail flukes wrapped tightly in a crab trap rope and they ended up having to remove her tail. Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics worked with the aquarium personnel to develop a new tail for Winter to help her swim normally.
Nicholas is another rescued dolphin who came to CMA when he was a tiny baby with severe sunburn on his back from beaching himself next to his mother. Dolphins must be taught survival skills by their mother and unfortunately, his mother didn’t survive. He did recover from his injuries and is now a permanent resident at CMA. He lives in an outdoor tank. You might see him here on his webcam.
There are many educational presentations going on during the day. One of these is Tail Talk with Nicholas. If he feels like participating, he does some high leaping out of the water-the first three rows are a splash zone.
There are also resident otters, sea turtles, stingrays, pelicans, and sharks at CMA.
Because this is a working animal hospital it is unlike other aquariums. You can observe medical procedures through glass windows. When we visited there were many cold-stunned sea turtles in the surgical suite. Since our visit, they were able to release several of those turtles, as you can see in this video:
We took a Sea Life Safari boat tour after lunch. (We packed along some cold cuts and cheese and ate in the parking garage). You can get a combo ticket for a boat tour and CMA admission. This tour goes through the intracoastal waters where they do a net pull to collect sea creatures (they identify them, pass them around, log them and put them back where they were found at the end of the day). We cruised out to a tiny shell island and hung out for about 15 minutes, collected a few shells, then headed back. It was a very fun and informative trip.
If you visit the Tampa Bay area, don’t miss this aquarium. They are in the process of expanding the facility. The staff and volunteers are obviously very dedicated and are focused on educating visitors. It is also kid-friendly, but there are a lot of stairs. The Sea Life Safari was a lot of fun and I highly recommend it as well.
CMA can always use financial support, so if you would like to donate to help support wildlife conservation, go here.