I had to laugh at myself. There are so many things to do in our little garden right now, I hardly know which way to turn when I’m out there. Being out for the count of five months –FIVE MONTHS! – not only put me behind. It gave me a new perspective and appreciation for my garden. And I think I might call it “my garden” for a while. In the face of what was becoming an overwhelming mess, Joseph actually suggested taking out the vegetable beds. Gasp!
I’m back, now, and he’s pleased to be harvesting cucumbers and mehti this week. Humph!
Back to my folly… Every year, I have an issue with purslane. It’s a superfood – did you know? And we love it in salads, especially fattoush. Problem is, it’s invasive. I believe I’ve mentioned before that it will grow on your head if you stand outside long enough. And to those who don’t know, it looks weedy. So, this past weekend, when I surveyed its rampant growth around our – my – tomato plants, I decided to pull it in favor of neatness.
In case you're wondering, I don’t mulch. On a rare occasion, I might top sections with good, organic compost. But I won't cover my beds with commercial mulch. Can’t stand the stuff. And, in this case -- to be perfectly clear -- it would lose to the purslane.
That being the case -- the case of no commercial mulch -- it became obvious that I was baring the soil to who knows what noxious weed seeds. So, I stopped pulling what was essentially green, edible groundcover.
Phew! I just hope it grows back!
Gardens are fun in that there are always challenges and choices. With small gardens, especially my tiny one where everything is on display, we have to be mindful of aesthetics. For example, wildlife gardens can be messy – the messier the better, in fact. And vegetable and cutting gardens can also look ragged at times – even the best of times.
Our HOA would assuredly object if I allowed a prolonged mess since my garden can be viewed from the golf course. But I wouldn’t want that, anyway. My vision for this particular garden is flowering borders with vegetables and herbs growing neatly down the middle in raised beds.
Well, as neatly as possible. 😉
Herbal Notes: Tagetes Lucida
Tagetes Lucida, Mexican Mint Marigold, Mexican Tarragon, Yerba Anise...
We call it Texas Tarragon.
I absolutely love this herb. It's wonderfully hardy in its native regions -- the American Southwest, Mexico, and Central and South America. In our area of Texas, it usually dies to the ground after the first freeze and returns bigger and better each spring.
It's heat and humidity-tolerant, disease-resistant, and takes well to division. It's beautiful in the garden, adding color and fragrance with its bright yellow flowers and aromatic, deep green foliage. Pollinators love it. In case you are considering it for your garden, at its most robust it can probably reach two feet in height and at least as wide. But I would think, under average conditions, it gets 15" to 20".
It's also a lovely, elegant culinary herb. Like French tarragon, it has a mild, anise or licorice flavor. Even so, despite its common name, it's not related to French tarragon. In fact, there are some important differences. Texas Tarragon is a lot hardier and much easier to grow than French tarragon and sports bright, yellow flowers for much of its long growing season. However, it loses its flavor when exposed to too much heat and is tasteless when dried. French tarragon, on the other hand, holds its flavor well in cooking and is excellent dried. But it's a tender plant, requiring strict growing conditions.
Whichever you can grown, there are lots of recipes out there for both French and Texas tarragon. So far, I've mostly used it with fish, which is delicious. I've been reading up, though, and have a mind to try it in other recipes this summer.
If you have the space, even if you live in a slightly cooler climate, you might find tagetes lucida worth a try.
The Hedge: The Actual Hedge
I think I must start this post by explaining why a gardener would pay someone to take care of a small patch of lawn and a small hedge. Well, I wouldn’t. But Joseph would. When we moved to this property from our acreage, he got rid of almost all of his lawn equipment. Not only did we not have much space in the garage – he has a (wood) workshop – it costs little to pay someone to take care of the more mundane gardening tasks.
The lawn maintenance guys deal with the edging, hedge maintenance, mowing, and, of course, clean-up. It takes the current three-person crew 15 minutes or less most days, a little longer when tending to the shrubs.
The last crew chose to ignore that part of the deal. The hedge, I mean. We didn’t realize it at first, but one day we were looking at a hedge that was at least two feet higher than it should be according to HOA standards. We basically had ligustrum walls.
Most of the hedge wasn't particularly healthy, either. We asked the guys to take care of it. They never did. Hence, new guys.
We like the new crew. But by the time they trimmed the hedge – a pretty impressive undertaking – it was early winter. Within a few weeks of the severe trimming, the Houston area had one of our weird and unexpected hard freezes. For the first time ever, ALL the ligustrum leaves dropped.
At the beginning of March, they were still mostly bare – mostly being important here. A few were undeniably dead. So we talked with our lawn service boss. We walked the small perimeter together. He recommended that we first replace only the dead ones.
“See?” He pointed to a few buds towards the bottom. “Green.”
And so we agreed. I’m glad that we did.
Oddly, a few leaves began popping up along the lower half of the hedge, towards the bottoms of the shrubs. Not only up from the ground, but from the trunks. The top half seemed dead. I don’t really understand this, but I’m not complaining. The lawn crew pruned, cutting off another foot or two. You know how it sometimes seems that plants leaf or bud out overnight? It wasn’t the case this time. Slowly, painstakingly, leaves returned. The hedge is still fighting the good fight. But I think it might come through!
It’s funny. As a general rule, I prefer native plantings. Ligustrum shrubs are not native to Texas. They’re native to Europe, where they are called privet. But these shrubs had been here for around twenty years, and they’re not aggressive plants. It seemed a shame to me that they would die on our watch.
We kind of like the renewed, short hedge. There’s less privacy, but it’s so much more open than before. Being on the golf course, the hedge is supposed to be no higher than the low fence, anyway. That’s fine by us.
More soon! Happy Gardening!
Spring at Last!
Happy April! Happy Spring!
I'm baaack! And so is our garden! It was worrisome for a few months there. We had a few hard freezes. I had foot surgery AND a deadline. And then for the past few weeks we've had lots of rain. I was very worried that the garden and I would be embarrassed for our Easter celebration. We had so many less blooms than previous years.
Our entire hedge almost died this past winter. I'll save that chat for another post.
Most of our roses died, too, as well as our last citrus. I won't be planting more of either. Yes, I know I've said that before. But really, there are lots of other plants I can try. Whether it's due to weather or some other mysterious condition(s), roses and citrus trees have never fared well on this property.
Not all of the vegetable seeds I sowed sprouted. None of the kohlrabi and only a few measly radishes. I could have tried sowing the latter several times over, but I was inside with my foot up. And only a few of the lettuces grew.
But this past weekend, it all seemed to be enough. Amidst all of the celebrating, family and friends spoiled us by requesting taste tests of our carrots. Little ones were bright, moving flowers as they ran around the garden hunting Easter eggs. There was a lot of bare soil -- I don't mulch and didn't have time to plant a lot of annuals -- but there were also pops of color here and there.
And the weather was glorious. Thank God for our loved ones, our garden, and for the hope in our hearts.
More soon! I have so much to tell you!
I learned a lesson from a good friend years ago. With few exceptions, she refused to buy "fresh" herbs at the grocery store. If she needed something that was not in her garden, she bought the plant whenever possible. I laughed about it the first time she told me, but it didn't take me long to follow suit.
My fall plantings have been meager this year. There are a lot of empty spaces in the garden and freshly raked soil waiting to be sown. But I was away for much of October, catching up in early November, and it's pretty much been raining for two weeks. Still, the garden has my back! I have just the right herbs for our Thanksgiving feast.
I love rosemary and have it in a few places out there. Our sweet bay tree reaches for the sky. It is so easy to grow in our subtropical climate. Parsley flourishes. And while the sage and thyme aren't looking too good, I also have those in a few places, enough for turkey and stuffing. Or do you call it dressing? Anyway, I have the herbs!
I'm not sure what other herbs I might incorporate into our meal, but I am happy that, as usual, the garden is providing. It would provide even more if I would just give it a little more time. I look forward to doing so. Seed packets are ready and waiting. But it will have to be after Thanksgiving. :)
Wishing you a wonderful feast day and joy always, friends. Happy Thanksgiving!
The Hedge: Red Shrimp Plant
Justicia brandegeeana, also known as Red Shrimp Plant and Mexican Shrimp Plant, is a member of the Acanthaceae family. Native to Mexico and Central America, it has made itself at home along the Gulf Coast. It's a sprawling, tropical plant that dies to the ground in cold winters, but dependably pops back up in the spring. With the right conditions, it can be a bit aggressive. It grows large and suckers, but I know from experience that it can be effectively pulled or dug up.
It usually starts blooming by midsummer, but this year, in our garden, it didn't really get going until October. I can't say that I mind. Better late than never! The flowers are cute and often very much resemble shrimp, hence the common name. It comes in other colors, a popular and common option being yellow. There's a fairly new cultivar from Florida that I'd like to get my hands on. It's called Shrimp Fruit Cocktail and is sort of yellow-green (chartreuse) and pink. But I digress... In short, I like all the varieties, but the red looks really nice this time of year.
If you have hot summers, mild winters, and enough water for your garden, I recommend planting Shrimp Plant where it has room to spread out. Hummingbirds love it, and it draws butterflies and bees as well.
It will do you proud.
Meet Salvia leucantha, garden superstar, also known as Velvet Sage and Mexican Bush Sage. Drought-tolerant and pest-free, it’s been named a Texas Superstar by Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension, who put the plants through the ringer before recommending them as such. Trust me, if a plant makes it to Texas Superstar status, it can grow almost anywhere for at least a few months.
In our area…I daresay in most areas of Texas, Salvia leucantha grows very well indeed. For my own purposes, I have created a category of plants that I have a complicated relationship with – “giant plants”. It’s in that category and one of the plants I was hesitant to plant in our small garden when we first moved to this property. But I can’t help but love this giant. It can be a little obnoxious at times, but it’s never failed me. It blooms spectacularly every September, continuing until the first hard freeze. It did so even after the deep freeze that killed so many plants a couple of years ago.
Why do I love it? Aside from it being gorgeous, you mean? It draws pollinators by the score. Bees and hummingbirds can’t get enough of it. And it smells so good! It doesn’t have a distinct fragrance like pineapple or culinary sage, but rather holds the deep, fresh, green scent of the salvia genus in general. I love the scent; it’s one of my favorites in the garden.
It may or may not die to the ground in winter (depending on your weather and area), but it comes back in spring.
So, that’s the glory. The pain? It’s size and robustness can be a challenge. Sometimes, it seems to have doubled overnight, crowding the plant(s) next to it. I’d like to say that that’s an exaggeration. I’m not really sure it is, though. 😉 Along our hedge, it’s planted next to a tough, antique rose. Marie Van Houtte is not usually a small shrub, and I admit that I've seen larger specimans. But it looks positively puny next to this sage. Throughout the blooming season, I have to regularly cut back the salvia's growth.
To be clear, Mexican Bush Sage isn’t an aggressive plant. It wouldn’t be a Superstar if it was. It’s just big and happy. Even though it’s drought tolerant, in our garden it gets watered with the rest of the plants. That’s not overly much, but it doesn’t need a lot of encouragement to grow rampantly. Eventually, it has to be divided which, given its size and root ball, isn’t the easiest garden chore. On the upside, the divisions transplant well, settling easily into new spots around the garden, and are easy to share.
There’s some old garden wisdom about being cautious when it comes to free plants, that they might overtake your garden. Salvia leucantha isn’t one of those. If someone offers it to you from their garden, accept it without reservation. You’ll be glad that you did.
Herbal Notes: Lemon Balm
Doesn't this look fresh? Lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, is an important plant in our herb garden. A gentle press to the leaves releases a fragrance that's green, citrusy, and deep. I love it, especially in tea (hot and cold). It's good for you, too, with a wide range of benefits.
The genus name surprised me. Melissa? Why? When I looked it up, I learned that the name comes from the classical Greek word melissa, which means "bee" and meli, which means "honey". Moreover, the Melissae were nymphs in Greek mythology as well as oracles. They were said to be able to take the form of bees.
Lemon balm does attract bees and has been used by beekeepers for centuries. In ancient times, it was presumed that its power to attract also affected humans. It was believed to improve beauty, sexuality, and fertility.
These benefits haven't been proven in modern medicine to any great extant. What has been found is that lemon balm is good for digestion and has a certain, lightly sedative effect. For centuries, lemon balm tea has been recommended to reduce headaches and help with menstrual cramps.
The medieval physician Paracelsus called it "the elixir of life".
The good news is that this herb, a member of the Lamiaceae or mint family, is very easy to grow. It's boisterous but not invasive and can be pulled up easily. It can be used in beverages and baking and of course in aromatherapy.
Centuries ago, the nuns of the Abbey of St. Just in Paris created "Eau de Mélisse", otherwise known as Carmelite water. It was known for its fragrance as well as medicinal qualities. I was astounded to learn that the formula was purchased by the Boyer family in the 1800s and is still sold in French pharmacies today. In addition to lemon balm, it has lots of other natural ingredients such as chamomile, cinnamon, and rosemary, to name just a few.
You can find the very interesting history of the tonic at the Boyer website.
The Hedge: Clean-up!
I began this past weekend Friday, changing my plans in order to stay home and work in the garden. The hedge was getting out of hand.
It all started with one of our shared fence boundaries. In your opinion, whose responsibility is it if grass is growing through a wrought iron fence? The neighbor who the grass belongs to or the neighbor whose bed is being overrun? Well, once it's in my beds, I count it my concern. But if I don't see it -- and I don't because I have a row of flowering plants fronting our hedge -- then it doesn't concern me overmuch. But it doesn't look so good from the other side of the fence.
So, well, their grass, our hedge. But despite the normal, little aggravations of suburban life, we do have excellent neighbors, and the weather was good. Did I need more encouragement to play outdoors? Nope, not a bit!
I worked in the garden most of Friday, and Joseph and I spent several hours more out there Saturday. It was great! Bees and butterflies abounded, squirrels were making the oddest sounds, and the hummers have returned!
Pretty soon, it will be time to add some fall color out there. I can hardly wait!
The Hedge: Hamelia patens
Hamelia patens, commonly known as Firebush, Texas Firebush, and Hummingbird bush, is a wonderful addition to the garden. In our area, it usually dies to the ground at the first or second hard freeze and is one of the first to pop back up in spring. However, after the historic deep freeze of 2021, it did not return that year, nor did it show up this past spring, 2022. There wasn't a single shoot that we could see. But I didn't replace it. I just couldn't accept that it had succumbed. You can imagine how glad I was when, late this past June, I saw signs of life. Yes! It needed some time, but it's every bit as tough as I've always believed it to be.
We've grown them for years. In our last garden -- the big one -- we had a few of them. It was one of the "giant plants" that I decided I just didn't have room for in our new, small garden. But I missed it and felt as though I was cheating the hummingbirds. Of course, I ended up planting one.
Hummers absolutely love it. Bees and butterflies like it, too.
This is a heat-loving plant and drought-tolerant. But with regular watering and in our heat, Firebush easily grows as tall as me (5'2"), sometimes even taller. This one hasn't grown to its original proportions yet, but there's still time. It will probably bloom at least until Christmas.
When it beds down for its fairly short winter nap, I may or may not front its spot with pretty little annuals. And I will hope that it returns stronger than ever come spring. :)
For years, my husband and I worked at creating a series of gardens on our four-acre lot in a rural, Texas subdivision west of Houston. I have to say, it was a fantastic experience. Now, I have a pocket garden on a golf course.
From me to you with a smile.
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