Category: Article:

The Garden Flowers
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

Morning-glory Blossoms


Lilies of the Valley


Bells of Spring

The urge to create your own scenic garden can strike at any time of the year. But in the midst of azaleas and Bradford pear, while watching for bluebonnets and looking to smell the lilacs, an especially gorgeous spring afternoon could suddenly trigger your first steps into gardening. And why not? Spring is an ideal season for planting!

With many readily available resources, anyone can create a garden. Helpful tips and flowers are found at local nurseries, the Dallas Arboretum, the Dallas Horticultural Center, and at florists, neighborhood floral centers in do-it-yourself stores and even in grocers. And a number of books offer practical advice on planting in Dallas.


Planning is key to a successful garden because plants thrive only if their environment provides for their needs. Proper temperature, soil, drainage, and location are important factors for the plant's survival. So before you buy, look at your yard for a day noting the areas of changing sunlight, shade, and existing vegetation.

Visit the Dallas Arboretum and the Dallas Horticultural Center for examples of ideal garden settings. Take your camera. Also, visit local nurseries to get acquainted with the plants being sold. You may find yourself face to face with a beautiful bloom that you don't recognize. So, what do you do if you want to purchase the plant? Read the plant's identification tag, or ask the sales staff for the name of the plant. Nursery personnel are knowledgeable about the plants they sell and often can instruct you about how to grow them. When shopping, choose the most robust specimens, preferably ones with lots of buds.

It helps to learn about plant life cycles. For instance, annuals germinate, grow flowers, and die in a single year. Some familiar examples are impatiens, forget-me-not, pansy, petunia, zinnia, and periwinkle. On the other hand, perennials renew growth each spring. They include the daisy, daylily, hibiscus, and violet.

"Perennial gardeners are a work in progress," says Josh Bracken, one of two brothers who own Nicholson-Hardie, established independently in 1899 and merged in the 1830's, then bought in 1974 by the Bracken family. Many gardeners come into Nicholson-Hardie at 5725 and 5060 W. Lovers Lane saying that they moved a bunch of flowers or divided and shared them with their neighbors, says Bracken. "Perennial gardening is very relaxing and a great leisure activity. You can't really think about all the stuff that eats you up during the week when working in the yard and focusing on the plants."


Bulbs, corms, tubers, and rhizomes are all various forms of dormant subterranean structures, which grow into flowers when planted. Plant indoors for forced blooming or outside. Plants appropriate for springtime planting and summer blooms are the lilies, gladiolus, Iris, canna, amaryllis, dahlia, and caladium.


Most spring blooming shrubs tend to be deciduous (shedding leaves in the fall) such as forsythia, flowering quince, and spiraea (bridal wreath), according to Margie Garland of North Haven Gardens at 7700 Northaven Road. Azaleas and Indian Hawthorne are two of the best spring blooming evergreen plants (retaining leaves year round).

Azaleas prefer shading from the afternoon sun yet require bright light for flower development, and they grow best in mildly acid soil; Dallas' dense clay soil is alkaline. Nevertheless, Dallas neighborhoods are lush with azalea blooms, which makes for beautiful spring drives. Unfortunately, this perfusion of azaleas sometimes leads to a misconception that azaleas grow easily in this area. Often, people will purchase azaleas and plant them in unprepared soil, where the plants develop alkaline toxicity and die, according to Bracken. Growing azaleas in Dallas requires special beds and maintenance. Bracken recommends digging out 12 to 18 inches of soil and replacing with azalea mix, peat moss or peat.

Indian Hawthorne, a dwarf shrub with small white or pale to deep pink spring blooms, does not require special soil treatment, and it grows well in sun or partial shade. The only down side to Indian Hawthorne is a tendency to develop leaf spot problems, says Bracken. Fungus can sometimes be a challenge to small backyards with eight foot fences, especially when the spring is wet and air circulation is poor.

Hydrangeas are wonderful blooming plants to grow outside, according to Bracken. You can choose between pink and blue varieties. However, all hydrangeas in Dallas tend toward pink because of the alkaline soil. To maintain blue color, you have to amend the soil with aluminum sulfate.

When buying any shrub, Bracken suggests digging a hole twice as large as the container holding the potted plant. Then back fill the hole with a 50-50 mix of preexisting soil and compost, peat, or some type of organic matter before adding the plant. This procedure provides extra room for roots to grow because the hole's thick, clay perimeter, pressed smooth by the shovel during digging, forms a barrier to the penetrating growth of tender roots. Breaking up the surrounding soil helps alleviate the condition.


Roses can provide garden flowers from April to December because many varieties bloom in both spring and fall up until frost. And cutting off long stem roses (below the three-leaf junction) stimulates and helps maintain blooming.

You can plant dormant bare root stock from December to February or potted roses after the first of March. That's when Northaven Gardens releases their roses. Sold in "peat pots" to protect the root system during planting, the roses, once planted, will gather a small amount of nourishment from the slowly disintegrating peat pots.

Roses have not gone up in price in nine years at Northaven Gardens. They start at $9.99 for un-patented varieties (expired patents) and $15.99 for patented roses. Patented and un-patented roses are hybridized roses grafted onto hearty root stock above the "bud union," a swelling just above soil level. Roses thrive in sunny locations in slightly acid soil raised up for good drainage. Garland recommends adding pine-bark mulch and compost to the soil. Keep roses away from competing plants, and cut off any growth below the swelling because it is non-productive and takes nourishment from the plant. Each spring cut vines back to 12 or 15 inches above the bud union.

Antique roses are often found in country gardens and have been in existence for hundreds of years, according to Garland. Many blooms open wide into flat petals with only the yellow stamens standing in the middle; some lack fragrance or bloom only in springtime. Antique roses fell out of favor because rose growers began concentrating on hybrid tea roses creating unusual colors and formal looks. But today, many people are getting back to the low maintenance, easy care natural look of the antique rose. As a result, antique roses are gaining popularity, according to Garland. They cost $12.99 at Northaven Gardens.

Indoor-Outdoor Gardening

Indoor gardeners can purchase potted blooming flowers for indoor display and then transplant outside after the blooms fade. Not all, but some potted plants adapt to the outdoors. Such is the case at the Garden Gate, a florist located in an old house at 2811 Routh Street, where manager Cassie Holcomb has planted a hodgepodge garden around a small whiskey barrel turned upside down. Cultivated with leftover plants worked into the soil whenever Holcomb finds a few minutes of free time, the garden is very casual. It suits the name--Garden Gate, where pansies are followed by daffodils, and tulips, and a redbud tree stands just outside the front door.

Native to Texas, the redbud tree with its spectacular fragrant hot-pink blooms (There's also a white variety.) stands ten to twenty feet tall, is drought tolerant, and grows in dappled shade or full sun. Branches of the flower still in bud can be forced to bloom in-doors during early spring.

European Dish Gardens

Potted tulips sell well in the spring at Petals & Stems, located at 13319 Montfort, at Fairmount Hotel and at Wyndham Anatole Hotel. Many potted flowers are purchased as single plants or in multiples as European dish gardens for gifts, anniversaries, and congratulations although some customers use the flowers for home decor and special occasions. Favorite are the bromeliad, azalea, and Kolacha, a year round blooming plant with succulent tiny flowers. Before planting containers outdoors, determine winter hardiness. For instance, the bromeliad, a native of Ecuador, is tropical.


Orchids, more than any other plant, are very popular at the Garden Gate And getting the plants to bloom again can be quite exciting. New varieties, such as the phaleonopsis, will bloom in about eight to nine months if they're tricked into thinking they're dying, according to Holcomb. After blooms fade, cut off the bloom stalks, and begin fertilizing the plant once a month for about six months. Then discontinue fertilizing, and the plant should send out a bloom stalk within one month. If it doesn't, withhold watering until the plant wilts. Water again, and allow plant to wilt again. Repeat water-wilt cycle until plant sends up a bloom stalk. Blooms last three months.

Emanuel Borok, concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, once created a photographic study of orchid blooms, in which his lens peeked deep into the flower openings and magnified their petals and colors into new worlds of visual perspectives.


Available at local nurseries and bookstores are a number of publications with practical tips on the what, where, when, and how to do Dallas planting.

1. Dallas Planting Manual, The Twelfth Edition by The Dallas Garden Club of The Dallas Woman's Club is actually the fiftieth anniversary edition of The Dallas Garden Club founded in 1926 and known today as the Dallas Horticultural Center. The club, located at Fair Park, encourages members to learn flower arranging and gardening methods and is involved in civic beautification.

2. Plants of the Metroplex by J. Howard Garrett and Trent Humphries.

Plants for Texas is Garrett's latest book.

3. Complete Guide to Texas Gardening, 2nd Edition by Neil Sperry.

4. The Texas Flowerscaper by Kathy Huber offers a seasonal guide to blooms taking into account the height, color and texture of the plants.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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