I noticed a FB post from one of my favorite nurseries. They have tomatoes, hot peppers, and other warm season vegetables for sale. I understand that lots of people like to get an early start on the spring season. It works, especially around here, and probably especially if you put them in pots (since we often get that singular, late, killing frost). But given the current state of my vegetable garden, it annoyed me.
Where are my lettuces? I sowed so many! I suppose it’s possible – dare I say, likely -- that I raked the seedlings out with the weeds, even though I tried to be careful. There were just so many weeds. They were practically popping up over night.
It’s not that early tomatoes don’t sound nice. They do. But the days are still cool. I’m just not ready to give up on beautiful salad greens.
So, in a fit of rebellion, I pulled out all stops. That is to say, I pulled out all of my seed packets. Decided to throw caution to the wind. What does it matter? I’d might as well try a little of everything. I sowed seeds I didn’t sow last year, some not since 2016, when my little garden was new. I sowed generously – endive, mesclun, romaine, oakleaf lettuces. I planted fava beans where cabbage failed to grow. I sowed more sweet little radishes. And what happened to the kale, which I certainly did sow in late fall? I scattered a different variety. And my leeks didn’t come up, so I sowed more of them. Now, I curiously wait to see what will happen with both the garden and the weather.
And I do have the one happy veggie bed.
Sooo… it’s true that I don’t have quite as much outdoor space as I used to have. One of the first things we did when we acquired our last property was to plant a small orchard of around forty fruit trees and a long fence line of blackberries. When we moved to our current home, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to bother growing much of anything. But the gardener within was stealthy, sneaking in flowers, herbs, and trees a little at a time.
When my husband built raised vegetable boxes for me, my interest was renewed. I began experimenting with herbs, then sowed vegetable seeds, and was thrilled to enjoy some success. In our tiny garden, just steps from the kitchen door, we now have fresh herbs and vegetables year-round. Then we planted a couple of loquat trees. And then a Meyer lemon.
Then I went crazy and purchased a fig tree, which we truly do not have space for. And then someone gave us an olive tree – we’ll have to give it a few years before we know if it will produce.
Our grandchildren love gathering food from the garden. Loquats are our granddaughter’s favorite. When their season was over, she was so sad that I rushed out and bought blackberry and blueberry bushes.
The two blueberry bushes are my first healthy ones ever. They are lovely plants, gloriously red at the moment.
And now I want more blackberries. Suddenly, I want as many food plants as I have ornamental and I definitely want as many as I can fit into our garden.
But of course, it’s not really sudden. My enthusiasm is born from a little simple success and the great satisfaction of growing fresh produce. And – perhaps most of all – our grandchildren's pleasure in picking loquats, pulling up carrots, and clipping fresh herbs for our salads.
In the past few months, I’ve added a pineapple guava and a grape vine. Last week, I bought a dwarf mulberry. I have a shopping list for January/February: persimmon, astringent until ripe - 1, Moro blood orange – 1, Meiwa kumquat – 1, Tropic Snow peach – 1, more blackberries, a dwarf peach, and a dwarf blueberry. And maybe one more grape… And a jujube.
I’ve even considered planting a pear tree. practice a little espaliering. How much space could it take if it's flattened against a wall? But somehow, I don't think my husband Joseph would be very enthusiastic. You see, I'm very reasonable where my garden is concerned. Like all gardeners are.
In the meantime, we have vegetable seedlings at long last. So much fun!
Fall is a busy time of year for me. Let me say that again, just to make sure I remember it. Fall is a busy time of year.
Every October, I tell myself to start preparing my vegetable boxes for the cool season. But here in southeast Texas, it’s still hot in October. Whatever plants survived August are still fruiting away and it seems a shame to yank them. And then we get busy or go out of town.
And then bam! It’s November and truly lovely weather finally arrives. And where are my sweet little seedlings? In my head, of course, since I haven’t sown any seeds yet. And I have such a wonderful selection this year.
Our weekend looks busy, as it so often does. But maybe I’ll manage to get in a little gardening time. Sow my radishes – lovely, French radishes – or purple dragon carrots. Or leeks. Something. Anything!
Oh… ugh! We came home from a two-week trip to an alarmingly over-exuberant garden. Most of the plants, largely natives, were robustly healthy. But even the vegetables, which weren’t healthy at all, were attempting a coup. Can you see that one pumpkin shoot disappearing into the hedge? It had made it through and was peeking into the neighbor’s garden!
Much as I would like to think otherwise, I don’t believe I’m meant to have a pumpkin patch in this garden. And yes – sigh – my husband told me so. I didn’t realize that ALL pumpkin patches are pumpkin FIELDS. And it’s not as if he ever grew pumpkins! And I might be exaggerating a little – about patch = field. Fact is, I’m just not sure. But that’s only two plants and they were sending roots down into the grass. And I had trimmed everything back to the raised bed before leaving.
We have three little pumpkins that will never grow to their lovely potential because I need that bed for my winter crops and, well, let’s face it, this just isn’t working out. I’m sure I would have had lots more pumpkins. Yes, it's the greatest pumpkin patch that never was. But I’d cut lots down while trimming -- repeatedly. It’s not that I treasure the little bit of grass so very much, but some minimal amount of walking space is necessary if I’m to care for the rest of the garden. I have no doubt that a talented gardener, possibly a square-foot gardener, would have those babies climbing trellises to the sky, but I just don’t have it in me. And, as I said, I need the space for more versatile crops. It’s time to sow salad greens, which we enjoy from fall and/or winter through spring.
In the name of full disclosure -- our garden really isn’t all tragedy, but it does offer enough drama to keep me on my toes – I will show you some of the scary stuff. Then, it’s off to the garden for me. I need to clear it before my brother sees it. He would be merciless with his teasing. Brothers are just that way.
The weather is oh-so-hot. Last week, we hit triple digits. With our humidity, that’s saying something. In our garden, some plants are a little stressed, but most are taking it far better than I am.
We’re having problems with a few of our azaleas. Those planted around the most oak roots seem to be struggling despite water and shade. Whether or not they survive, we’re thinking to build some low boxes, fill them with a good garden mix, and probably sow or plant a nice variety of annuals with shallow roots.
But most of the little azalea plants still seem happy. Besides r. indicum and the Encore azaleas, we have three Robin Hill varieties and they are mostly fine. We also have several of one Glenn Dale hybrid named Fashion. If azaleas could glow, these babies are glowing. And to think, I bought them by accident, thinking they were the orange macranthas (I’d clearly been out in the sun too long by that point).
Glenn Dale is an interesting story. In the 1930s, Benjamin Y. Morrison, Director of the National Arboretum, began a hybridizing program. His goal was to develop cold hardy azaleas, especially for the Washington D.C. area, with large flowers and an extended blooming season. He went on to name and register 454 cultivars. 454!
The name “Glenn Dale” came from the USDA Plant Introduction Station at Glenn Dale, Maryland, founded in 1920. As the last century advanced, the station fell into a state of neglect. Thanks to the Azalea Society of America, the Glenn Dale Preservation Program officially began in 1982. Glenn Dale and the Azalea Test Area have been restored with much success.
At the National Arboretum, there is a walled azalea garden named Morrison Garden, after Benjamin Morrison. There is also Glenn Dale Hillside, which is said to be spectacular in spring.
There’s so much more about Glenn Dale and the azaleas. Below are some links that you might want to check out.
I’ve been watching out for all of my baby azaleas, but I’ve been especially keeping an eye on the Encores I brought home. They were bigger than the rest and we planted them in boxes, not amidst the oak roots. I’m watching for blooms.
Encores were invented by Robert “Buddy” Lee of Independence, Louisiana. Like so many southern states, Louisiana’s azaleas have bloomed gloriously every spring for decades. But now, with Encore, there can be azaleas blooms Spring, Summer, and Fall.
Mr. Lee, former president of the Azalea Society of America, is still an active horticulturist. He’s Director of Plant Innovations at Plant Development Services, Inc. in Louisiana. He’s recipient of the Lousiana Nursery and Landscape Association’s Professional Achievement Award and the Azalea Society of America’s Distinguished Service Award.
To date, there are 31 varieties of Encore azaleas, all patented by Mr. Lee and all with names beginning with “Autumn”. That hot day, amidst the hundreds of azaleas at that nursery, I found two Autumn Lilies, which are white, and one Autumn Sunset, which is red. I’m waiting, fingers crossed, for the fall show of blooms.
Horrors! Two weeks of neglect is one week and six days too many. Yikes. That poor tomato plant finally succumbed to the heat and who knows what else. I’m pretty sure someone would know, by the way – even me – with a moment’s examination, but that’s not the point. It stopped fruiting weeks ago and was fighting an interesting battle with the purslane.
The pumpkin plants weren't fighting. They were bailing, desperately trying to find another place to grow. Our little grandchildren had carefully sown the seeds and the birds got most of them. I know this because I saw a cardinal helping himself. But a couple of plants survived in two different beds and I aim to watch out for those as best I can.
It was a hot, muggy, buggy, unpleasant task cleaning out that bed. Fire ants had taken over a corner, even despite the crazy purslane. But I did manage to clear it and now the pumpkin, Musquée de Provence, has room to spread. I haven’t raked the bed yet, but it looks so much better.
It’s lovely just thinking of fall.
Is the light beginning to change? Are the days a little shorter? Yes and yes, but it’s still hot, hot, hot. And yes, maybe I’ve been boycotting just a little. I was sneak-attacked by poison ivy, after all, AND it’s steaming hot by 8 a.m. Not my cup of tea, as my grandmother used to say.
But I got out there this past weekend. I needed to reconnect with my garden and show some weeds who’s boss. I yanked some poison oak, btw, and spoke to it rather aggressively as I did so. But I digress.
Azalea time! Have I mentioned that they belong to the genus rhododendron? It was quite a learning journey when I looked up my azaleas R. indicum, “Macrantha Orange”.
First of all, r. indicum suggests that this rhododendron originated in India. But it didn’t. There’s some speculation as to how it got that name, mostly to do with trade routes. All of my excellent sources agree that most of our evergreen hybrids originated in Japan and China. And while sources suggest that R. indicum originated in both countries, most or all of those here in the U.S. originated in Japan, where they’re called Satsuki-tsutsuji. The Japanese, by the way, have their own naming system. For themselves, they don’t use the Latin. Can’t say I blame them, but, well, aaaaagh. ‘Macrantha’ is just another name given by another botanist for this same hybrid, and there have been many other names. If you're further interested in the tongue-twisting, mind-boggling nomenclature of these azaleas, Virginia Tech website has an excellent article written by Harold Greer.
After the hybrid groups and, within those groups, the hundreds and thousands of cultivars, we can consider developers, breeders, nurseries.
Given the vastness of it all, I was rather surprised that I was able to trace the history of the azaleas I brought home. I have three cultivars from Robin Hill, and Encore azaleas, and a Glenn Dale variety, and the orange macranthas.
My macarantha azaleas are happy so far. I hope that they bloom this fall, but that might be expecting too much. But to show you the color, here's a photo from OnlinePlantGuide.com:
Aren’t azaleas pretty in bloom?
In my next few posts, I’ll share a little information about the Robin Hill, Glenn Dale, and Encore azaleas. In the meantime, here's a link to the Satsuki page on the Azalea Society of America website.
During the past week and through the weekend, I considered changing the name of this blog to “Garden Warrior”. I plot and plan. I work under dangerous conditions. I am frequently under assault. At times, I might drop everything and run for cover. I hope that I’m working towards the greater good.
And last week, I got taken by surprise, a flat bad thing in battle. I don’t know precisely how it even happened, did not see the enemy attack. Clearly, poison ivy is sneakier than one might anticipate. On the bright side, I don’t seem to be highly sensitive to it, just enough to be extremely uncomfortable for the first several days.
Yep, Garden Warrior totally fits. But I digress.
Let’s talk azaleas.
Our babies seem to be faring well so far. There was a bit of a hard time with availability close to home. Here in Texas, high summer is not the time to transplant them. But when I did find a nearby nursery with azaleas in stock, I found they had a lot. So very many, all different kinds, all mixed together, all baking in the sun. And they were priced to go.
At the time (just a few weeks ago), I knew very little about azaleas, which was ridiculous considering how much information there is out there. I had not done my research. What can I say? I was going on emotion. But I had my phone to look stuff up and I had a very basic idea of what I wanted: evergreen, extended bloom-time, and compact. Our garden space is small and some azalea varieties grow taller than me. That simply wouldn’t work.
And so it began. Several hours later – I'm not exaggerating – it took me hours -- I was the proud owner of 30 azaleas. The next day, after only a few additional hours, I was the owner of ten more. I think I will hold on telling you about the varieties I ended up with. The stories of the breeders are just too interesting to gloss over. So it looks like there will be one or two more azalea posts -- until bloom time, that is!
But I would like to mention, because of the lovely story and website, that in the U.S., azaleas were first planted outdoors at Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, South Carolina, by plantation owner Reverend John Grimké Drayton. If I tell you the story and do not send you to the website, I'm doing you no favor. Suffice to say that it’s a romantic story. Gardens and romance – a perfect combo for yours truly. I’ve never been to Magnolia Plantation, but it’s now on my list.
I plot and I plan. I work under dangerous conditions. I am frequently under assault. At times, I might drop everything and run for cover. I strive to work towards the greater good.
Gardening in southeast Texas can be brutal. Heat, humidity, and potentially disease-carrying mosquitoes are problems for more than half the year and a dangerous combination in summer. That’s to say nothing of fire ants and other biting, stinging insects. Snakes, too, although they only make a rare appearance in my little garden. Poison ivy and oak are common and birds sow both generously.
Despite some uncomfortable conditions, I feel very protective of the wild in my garden. It’s important to know friend from foe, for example, venomous from nonvenomous snakes and even then, it’s often not necessary to engage. As for the bugs, it is not fine with us to hurt the good with the bad. Pesticides are banned. So are herbicides. Our beds, whether food or ornamental, are organic. And while our garden isn’t entirely native, we do have plenty of native plants that please the local wildlife as well as ourselves.
While every garden is different, they all offer challenges, pleasures, time with nature. Much like people, they have their good days and bad days, high seasons and low; and they can all be fun and beautiful if you love them enough.