Today is the Multi-County Master Gardener Plant Sale. Lots of healthy plants. Come one come all! This morning in Stillwater is the Oklahoma Master Naturalist Prairie Ecology workshop.

Today is the Multi-County Master Gardener Plant Sale. Lots of healthy plants. Come one come all! This morning in Stillwater is the Oklahoma Master Naturalist Prairie Ecology workshop. Central Oklahoma is a blend of rugged oaks that hug the high ground, redcedars tucked into valleys or taking ownership of pastures, riparian plants growing along waterways and the grasses and wildflowers of the prairies….and wild deer….wild hogs….wild birds….wildlife. Prairies are open, wind-swept seas of vegetation. When you stand in the prairie, the unimpeded sky reach to the heavens and endless rolling lands stand firm beneath your feet. You are transported to another world and truly become a soul freed in the vastness of nature.

Living day in and out on the prairie could be a challenge, at least to this Little Dixie native from the hills of southeast Oklahoma. I do remember Ms. Jessie, a lady from Western Oklahoma who had come to teach so close to the Arkansas border. She always had this feeling of claustrophobia. How could we stand being hemmed in by hills and smothered by trees?

Not unlike the comment I heard at the art show in Yukon years ago. Their Czech Festival, started in 1966, is the first Saturday in October. Hills and trees were well-represented on my art panels. An old local man walked up, stared at the pictures, glared at me and stated it was all make-believe. There was no place like that in Oklahoma. Try as I might to explain these places truly existed in Oklahoma, the man looked at me with disdain and stomped off.

The Prague Czech festival is the first Saturday in May (last Saturday), the same day as the contested Kentucky Derby. I like horses and felt sorry for those thoroughbreds galloping around the muddy track with their tiny little jockeys perched on nearly non-existent saddles, flailing arms and whips. Seems like the horse race is now all about the best jockey, not the horse.

But I veered off track. The Prague Kolache Festival, held each year since 1960, had the ubiquitous Kolaches, food trucks, carnival with Ferris wheel, arts and crafts show, flags, various organizations, floats, vintage restored cars, utility and fire trucks, Shriners and horses. Black shiny Clydesdales pranced as they pulled the carriage loaded with people down the parade route. Fourteen Clydesdales live in luxury at the Express Ranch in Yukon. These beautiful animals make appearances throughout the US. The Shriners zoomed around in their mini-vehicles as Shriner clowns interacted with the kids along the way. Extra special was the dentist and crew throwing candy and telling all to make appointments for dental check-ups! Polka street dances, beer tents and other venues assured the revelry would continue deep into the night.

Kolaches arrived with Czech settlers nearly 200 years ago and are the star attraction at Czech festivals. The rich sweet yeast rolls originally had the traditional plum/prune, poppyseed or thick cheese fillings. These ingredients could be stored and used in a pinch. Regular jams soaked into the rolls and boiled over during cooking. Today additional flavors may be apricot, peach, cherry, blueberry, cream cheese or apple topped with a streusel topping. Prior to the festival, the Prague Bakery and several churches in the area spend weeks baking and assembling Kolaches. This year Wilber Nebraska and their Kolaches made an appearance. Wilber has the fifth largest Czech population in the country. Their festival is in early August.

We toted Kolaches and nine recently excavated Goldenrods up to Tulsa the next day for a visit and a ‘little’ garden work. Note I said ‘little’ which translates to back-breaking excavations euphemistically labeled gardening.

A few plants were needed for the lengthy backyard bed which undulates along the wood fence on the north and east side. The width varies from five to fifteen feet. Waiting to be planted sat two May Night Salvias covered in purple flower spikes, three red-leaf Cannas and an Astroemeria purchased the day before. We took off to Southwood Nursery and came back with an oakleaf hydrangea, OK Proven Southern Wax Myrtle and a Viburnum all in five gallon pots. The two Astilbes, two Hostas and the breath-taking dark maroon Heuchera (Coral Bells) were in two-gallon pots. One rose bush with multi-colored roses to be subjects for an art competition was 30% off. The Jeep-------------------------------------------- looked like a portable greenhouse.

The Oakleaf Hydrangea is a very southern perennial shrub. When established it is drought tolerant. Southern Wax Myrtle, call it a tall shrub or short tree, has waxy berries once used to make bayberry candles. This hardy plant I know from the Outer Banks of North Carolina where it grows by houses and in yards quite close to the ocean. The native range follows the Eastern coastline around to Texas and even extends into Oklahoma. Brushing against the foliage released a light lemony fragrance.

The native version to hydrangeas is the Viburnum. In spring it produces balls of white to pink flowers (depending on the species) followed by fruit relished by wildlife. Along my road grow the native Rusty Blackhaw Viburnums unless severely pruned by the county. The Hydrangea, Wax Myrtle and Viburnum will be planted in the partial sun section of the bed.

Native to North American woodlands are the Astilbes, shrubs with fern-like leaves and striking flowers. They appreciate dappled sun as do the native Heuchera and Japanese Hostas, both perennials. The deepest section of the bed is shrouded in shade and stays moist; perfect for these low-light dwellers. On the other hand, the Salvias, Cannas and Astroemeria will be planted in the sunny part of the bed. The South American Astroemeria is known as Lily of the Incas. The spotted, trumpet-shaped flowers are beacons for hummingbirds. This perennial produces strong wind-resistant stems. The May Night Salvia flowers were already inundated by honey bees, unnerving one gardener.

The arrogant Goldenrods (Solidago sp.) have proven themselves to be aggressive. Offspring from the Pottawatomie County Extension bed, they are larger than the native goldenrods in front of my house. Three groups have been dug and moved to other gardens. The gift that keeps on giving. Goldenrods are great plants that can’t be beat for attracting butterflies and native bees. These guys will have lots of room in the west-facing bed to spread out with wild abandon, which they no doubt will.

The mulch was pulled away and we got to work digging holes. Tree roots. Rocks. Slabs of sandstone. Pieces of concrete. Broken red tiles. Vintage red bricks. Clay pipes. Small clay pots inserted into each other to form long tubes. What was this? The buried clay rows were at the highest point in the bed; dozens of little pots. Leftovers? Innovative drainage solution? The planting took on the atmosphere of an archaeological dig which lasted much longer than anticipated.

As the sun set, a cookout commenced. Steak, salmon, cheeses, chips, asparagus and potatoes were served outdoors on the patio. What a great way to spend the evening before our late trip back to Shawnee.

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at Becscience@att.net.