Soooo, maybe I was a little hasty. Maybe just a little annoyed.
Fact is, we had temps in the mid-80’s last week, which pretty much never happens in July around here. It was raining for much of the time, it is true, but not constantly. One overcast afternoon, I decided that I just couldn't stand it. Our poor garden.
I’ve joined a few gardening FB groups. I’m finding them fun and really helpful. I was able to get an ID on some weeds that, if not new in our garden, than new in their enthusiasm. So I knew what I was yanking.
A few weeks ago, I sowed tomato seeds. I was feeling pretty sad that none had come up. But when I cleared one of the areas...
I was so excited to discover that lone tomato. I don't even recall what variety it is. I don't even care. I'm just hoping it will continue to thrive. I've never tried growing tomatoes at this time of year. The only reason I thought to try is because the tomato plants we buy from the nursery in late spring never survive past mid-July, at least not happily. In fact, this little plant represents two firsts for me -- my first time to grow a tomato plant from seed and my first time to sow mid-summer. Gardening is such a hopeful occupation.
I got a lot of weeding done and there is still a lot more to do, not to mention pruning, training, and planting. There are, at least, lots of flowers among the weeds.
And isn't that true of life in general?
Our garden has gone wild. We left for a week and returned to chaos. The giant plants are well on the way to their gigantic, summer proportions. Some plants are bent with blooms and even our little Meyer lemon can barely seem to hold the weight of the fruit. There is not a single bare patch in the whole of the back garden, but not because I managed to find/choose annuals to cover every inch. There’s a lot of purslane, which is fine, I suppose. But I take issue with the spurge, crabgrass, and other weeds that obviously decided to throw a party while we were away. Everyone accepted.
Mosquitoes are horrendous. We could install a misting system to deal with them. Except that we can’t. The notion of setting poison to a timer is so unappealing that it would keep us indoors as much as the insects and heat.
And speaking of heat – well – it’s stifling. It’s a veritable sauna out there.
And we just returned from the mountains, where we spent as much time outdoors as possible and felt cool, dry, and free.
The boycott is on.
Traditionally, the boycott has started some time in July and usually ends mid-September, give or take. I virtually ignore the garden during that time. I’ll tend to emergencies, deadhead in quick little spurts, yank a weed in passing, and certainly harvest any vegetables that had the wherewithal to persevere. But that’s it.
Last year, I couldn’t do it. I’d planted azaleas and a few other things and felt compelled to help them through summer. Not this year. You’re on your own, babies.
I’ll read gardening books and blogs. Enjoy a few gardening vlogs. Plot and plan. Maybe even order seeds. But the hot version of a blizzard has hit.
The boycott is on.
There’s a longstanding, wonderful, well-documented affair between writers and gardens. Oftentimes, it’s the gardener writing about his or her own garden and experience, sharing knowledge, joy, and goodwill. There are many wonderful, inspiring, and often hilarious books written by gardeners. But even with the most prosaic how-to gardening book, there is a strong, inherent undercurrent of passion.
Then we have the reverse. Through history, there have been countless writers – novelists, historians, poets – who not only looked to gardens for inspiration, but gardened themselves. To name a few are Beatrix Potter, Emily Dickinson, Ronald Dahl, Leonard and Virginia Woolf, all of whose gardens are now open to the public.
Eleanor Perenyi (1918-2009), author, editor, gardener, wrote a collection of essays about gardening that was published in 1981. Her book, Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden, is now a beloved classic. I’ve decided to borrow part of her title for a series of posts about writers and their gardens. I will cover great writers of the past as well as some of today’s wonderful writers. For my first post, I am proud to introduce Vonda Sinclair, novelist and gardener par excellence.
Welcome, Vonda. We are ready and eager for a tour!
I call this the secret bench because it's difficult to see in the shadow of this huge 'Limelight' Hydrangea paniculata (not yet in bloom). I can see this small vignette outside my living room window. I wanted something pretty to look at there. I planted variegated hostas and ferns on either side of the bench. Beside that is raspberry pink hydrangea macrophylla 'Summer Crush', Heucherella 'Sweet Tea', Arborvitae fern (Selaginella pellascens), a prehistoric plant. The pink bloom in the foreground is Invincibelle Mini Mauvette® Hydrangea arborescens. A small stream runs behind the bench. It's a nice shady spot to sit and rest. I love benches in the garden and plan to add more.
Hi, Anastasia. Thanks so much!
I live in the beautiful North Carolina countryside, close to nature and the woods. I welcome wildlife into my garden (but I hope no bears or copperheads show up.) lol As I was growing up, my mom grew lots of flowers and vegetables, and she still does. I started gardening here on these few acres more than 30 years ago, right after I got married. My late husband built some stone walls, a pond, and other things. He helped me plant many of the trees and shrubs. I decided to start a remodel on the garden about two years ago because a lot of the plants had either taken over or disappeared during times when I didn't have time to devote to it or wasn't able to garden due to injuries. I noticed that my flowerbed by the mailbox looked best, but I couldn't see it from the house because of the large shrubs and trees. I decided I wanted a beautiful flower garden that I could view from the house and especially from the screened porch I use a lot. I enjoy writing there while I listen to the pond waterfall and fountains.
I've had this pond for around 20 years and I only grow my favorite pond plants. I've tried most of them and removed them all except for 4 colors of water lilies and variegated Japanese Iris. The iris is beautiful from the time it emerges in spring until frost kills the foliage in fall. It blooms purple in June. The waterlilies provide cover and shade for the goldfish in summer and they bloom off and on all summer. I have dark pink, light pink, white and pale yellow lilies. These are all easy care plants.
My goal in the garden remodel was to have a low-maintenance garden that is pretty in all seasons. I soon realized this would require a lot of thought, planning, and orchestration. And yet, I wanted to follow inspiration and have fun with it. I wanted to explore lots of color combinations and try out plants I hadn't before. Of course, it is also very hard, physically demanding work that I must do myself. I've discovered digging out plants, sometimes large clumps of plants or small trees is great exercise. Physically, I'm stronger than I was before, so it has been good for me in many ways. I find working with nature to be very healing and calming. Plus, looking at beautiful plants makes my soul light up. I don't know why, but plants bring me great joy.
I was surprised at how well this combination turned out. The 'Salmon Beauty' yarrow and 'Cheyenne Spirit' coneflowers will bloom for over a month each but the focal point here, the red Asiatic lilies, only bloomed for a week. Still, they were worth it. Hopefully, next year they will have more buds for a longer succession of blooms.
As I said, I welcome wildlife into the garden. In addition to the goldfish that live in the pond, the water attracts a few different species of frogs and toads. There are turtles, songbirds of all types, snakes, lizards, chipmunks, rabbits, insects, etc. I don't use insecticides on my plants. I garden organically and plant many things specifically for hummingbirds, and I love watching them feed from the flowers. I also love to plant flowers for butterflies and bees.
As for the garden makeover, I saw that many new plants or improved varieties have been introduced recently. They bloom longer or have better disease resistance. Some also rebloom. I've been removing problem plants and replacing them with improved varieties that require less work and put on a better show. The fun part is experimentation to see how plants perform and how they look. One example would be two plants I bought at the same time from a local nursery. One came down with a horrible fungal disease and will likely have to be removed, while the other has bloomed for months and has no diseases. The plant in this case that gets the thumbs up is Stachys 'Hummelo'. It was awarded perennial plant of the year 2019 by the Perennial Plant Association. I pay special attention to award-winning plants because they are usually great performers and require less work.
Almost any plant that blooms for over a month, stays healthy, and doesn't require constant coddling is one that I will enjoy. I especially love plants with beautiful foliage. And I love evergreens for winter interest. As for a favorite group of plants, I would probably choose hydrangeas, especially the blue mophead type (hydrangea macrophylla). Here in the southeast US, they're not bothered by pests or diseases and they put on a great show for months. They require little care and are easy to grow. I've been collecting a few more varieties to try. My soil is acidic and fortunately hydrangea macrophylla love that and turn blue as a result.
My favorite garden style would be cottage garden or English country garden. I enjoy watching English gardening shows and find them inspiring. I love the romantic look of ancient, moss-covered stone walls and weathered statues, as well as arbors or gazebos enshrouded with roses and clematis. I find benches tucked away in hidden corners to be charming. I'm not sure if lots of writers also like to garden, but for me both are creative outlets or ways I can express myself. The palate being either plants or words to create a form of art. The feeling of inspiration in either writing or garden creation is wonderful.
I write Scottish historical romance and have traveled to Scotland seven times, I think. My favorite things to explore there are castles and many of them have stunning gardens. Scotland usually has a temperate climate, thanks to the Gulf Stream. The country also receives lots of rain, which many plants love. Some of the amazing gardens I've visited in Scotland are those at the castles of Dunvegan, Dunrobin, Inveraray, Crathes, etc. as well as Inverewe Gardens. Scotland's natural flora and scenery is most beautiful of all. Nothing can top the heather-covered Highlands and moors or the prickly yellow gorse blooming along the edges of dark lochs. I try to include as much of Scotland's scenery as possible in my stories. In my newest release, Highlander Besieged, the heroine is especially fond of growing roses. ;)
Vonda, thank you for the fabulous tour. There are a few plants I'm going to have to check out for my own garden, and I look forward to reading Highlander Besieged.
Amazon Author Page:
Newest release, Highlander Besieged
I’m feeling very protective of our garden this summer. Of course, we haven’t reached boycott conditions yet. It’s still only June. I wonder if I will get to the point of pretty much leaving it to fend for itself for the better part of two months. It’s a distinct possibility and, I admit, a tradition.
At the moment, the giant plants haven’t reached their gigantic proportions just yet, flowering plants are still pretty, and the vegetable beds are untroubled. Moreover, I just received some new seed packets as well as discovered some I forgot that I had. They’re not old packets, either. So now I find I have three different tomato varieties rather than one, three peppers rather than one, and a fairly exciting assortment of herbs and annuals. I don’t usually have luck with flower seeds, which makes me wonder how much it could hurt if I sow them here, there, everywhere. With this gardener’s luck, they will probably pop up and thrive in all the least convenient spaces.
I’ve never tried to grow tomatoes from seed. But due to Covid-19, there are not a lot of transplants available right now, nor will I go here, there, everywhere to find some. I’m just happy that my favorite seed company, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, is still operating. Most of my seed packets are from them. I have a Sunrise Bumble Bee tomato, a Purple Russian tomato, Borage, Pepper Lipstick, Blue Spice Basil, and Cosmos, to name a few. What I don’t have is space for so much variety. Eeek. I mean, do I yank the kale? And can herbs crowd out or choke my two small blueberry bushes?
I guess I’ll be finding out.
Today started off steaming hot. By the afternoon the temp had risen to 98 degrees with a heat index of around 102. But even in the early morning, we could see the humidity.
My husband and I enjoyed our garden from indoors, gazing out the windows as we sipped our morning coffee. To our amusement, for the second morning in a row, a cattle egret ambled across our ligustrum hedge. Seems a strange place to take a walk, in my opinion, but I suppose the rough areas around the golf course might offer a breakfast buffet.
As for a garden update, we don't have a lot of vegetables growing at the moment. We have one tomato plant that has been generously providing us with unspectacular but homegrown, non-GMO tomatoes. We have a variety of hot peppers and many herbs. We also just sowed cucumber seeds a few days ago. They're our grandchildren's favorite, so you can believe we'll be babying those along as much as possible.
But it's the flowers that are showing off right now, particularly the roses.
Portulaca Oleracea, also known as purslane, common purslane, pigweed, and -- my new favorite -- “pursley” is very happy in hot, humid climates. In fact, it will grow just about anywhere. Flowers, leaves, and stems of this easy-going, flowering plant are edible and highly nutritious. What’s not to love, right? It will grow in your hair if you give it a chance --that’s what’s not to love. It’s invasive. I didn’t plant any of it in the photo above. I didn’t even plant it in that raised bed. I planted it nearby, in the ground. Because I like it and I can if I want to.
I’m not sorry I did, either. I even moved some today, to a raised bed on our back patio. It will have to contend with mint and lots of shade. We’ll see what happens.
I love the flowers and we love adding it-- especially the succulent leaves -- to salads. It has a nice, mild flavor and texture and just makes a salad prettier by its presence. Purslane is good for us, too. It's high in vitamins A and C and it's rich in calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium. It’s also a good source of alpha-linoleic acid.
I’m not going to not plant it, just as I will not stop planting mint. But I’ll have to be vigilant.
Do you feel that you're getting mixed signals from me? Well, some things are worth mentioning, like the growing in your hair possibility. But I recommend planting this lovely edible in your garden. You might never have to buy it again.
Welcome to our home sweet home. I was fairly miserable when we first moved here, leaving behind our acreage and the gardens we'd worked so hard to create. But family, friends, and gardening reconciled me to the new space. It's been six years and I've enjoyed house and garden more each year. The garden has been so much fun.
There are actually four oak trees squeezed together in our front yard. I cut two out of the photo so as to protect our neighbors' privacy. There's not a lot of distance between our homes. And, see, it looks quite basic from the street. I'm sure passersby must wonder why I'm always crawling around. But if you are a gardener, you know why. There's a lot going on.
Aside from the maroon and pink Ti plants, there are pops of color all around the front garden -- the welcoming garden. The azaleas I planted last summer and fall are working. And our new curbside beds, constructed because oak roots make grass impossible in some areas, are wonderful hosts for almost anything. I planted azaleas and annuals in them to start with. See the foxglove and snapdragons in the first photo, top left?
Salvias, Turks Cap, and indigo are happy under the oaks. Coneflowers are coming up, too, and herbs such as lavender, bottom right, and rosemary are also at home in the poor, dry soil under the trees. Our house is south-facing, so they get enough sun despite the mini-forest overhead. When we moved in, the Ti plants and asparagus fern were already in place. They wouldn't be my first choices, but I'd feel churlish pulling them up. And you can see that we don't mulch. I'm working really hard at filling these beds with enough plants that mulch isn't necessary.
On the other side is what I call my East Texas garden. There was already a crape myrtle (not native, I know) and a palmetto (native). I added American Beautyberry, a weeping yaupon holly, Turk's Cap, and all sorts of bulbs, both native and non-native. I also planted a variety of indigo which the nursery worker thought was native but which I've come to think isn't. I still like it, though, right along with my azaleas. They might not be native, but they have relatives that are, and they're not hurting anyone.
There's althea and happy, healthy camillas, too, and a host of other things. Enough to keep me crawling around weeding, digging, rearranging from sunup to sundown if I have the desire and enough insect repellant. I have a long bed on one side, too, between our property and our neighbor's. We created it because we liked the idea of flowers and a maple tree better than lawn. I'll share that one next time. In the meantime, can you see the wandering jew, tradescantia pallid, in three of the four photos below? My husband keeps sneaking in clippings here, there, everywhere. I know. It's his garden, too. But I'm keeping an eye on the situation.
You can see that there's more than a neat row of hedges. There's actually very little that's neat about our welcoming garden. I like to think of it as "interesting". And that's to say nothing of the garden variety wildlife, which provide us with almost constant entertainment.
Typical of spring, the garden is beginning to explode with blooms. I finally harvested what was left of the root vegetables -- a nice, big basketful. It's time for the nightshade family -- in my case, tomatoes, peppers -- and cucurbits. For me, once again, that means mostly cucumbers. I'm not even going to consider pumpkin and probably not even squash. In between the vegetables, I'll tuck some herbs and ornamentals. Can we ever have too many?
I could make room for a squash plant or two, and the same goes for beans, eggplant, and okra. I could even use pots if necessary. But small though my garden might be, that's not why I'm restricting the variety and quantity. I know my limitations and I am somewhat familiar with the plants' limitations. Our very hot, humid, buggy summers take a special kind of wherewithal. Sometimes I can hack it, sometimes I can't, and the same goes for garden vegetables.
I might be tempted by a seed catalogue, though, especially Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Have you seen their catalogue?
Wishing you all to be well and safe. Happy Gardening!
Left to right, top to bottom: lemon balm, culinary sage, rosemary, marjoram, mints, lavender
I love herbs. We also have oreganos, basils, and thymes -- several varieties of each -- around the garden. Most are still small. I'd pulled a great many because they were looking a bit old and worn. We also have tarragon, pineapple sage, and lemon verbena coming up from their roots.
Purslane, which is lovely in salads but not EVERYWHERE in the garden, is returning with a vengeance. I'm trying not to panic about it. If I thought that panicking would help, I'd go for it. But I don't think it will.
And sad to say, the cilantro's bolting became uncontrollable. I tried to keep it in check, but I finally had to give up. The weather was simply too warm for too long. I pulled it all and have some baby herbs, such as dill, in its place.
I didn't have any luck with parsley this past mild winter, even with soaking the seeds. I'll try again this spring, though. I'm also going to replant lemongrass if I can only figure out where it won't get in the way, and I can hardly wait for borage. That's such a gorgeous herb.
We use herbs a lot. I've already thought of several others we have growing, but I do realize that no one needs my list. But they're such lovely plants, adding fragrance, beauty (bolting cilantro aside), and usefulness to the garden. We add them to salads, cooked foods, and teas. It's convenient to have fresh herbs a few steps away, ready to snip as needed. They don't need much care, either. The Mediterranean herbs hardly even need water.
Whether your space is a large yard or a balcony or somewhere in between, they are worth the space and effort. I'll leave you with a shot of our sweet bay "shrub". It's only a few years old and the leaves are wonderful in gumbos, stews, and soups. They're not bad in hot tea, either.
Do you remember how annoyed I was with my garden in February? If not, for full effect, you might glance at my previous post. Half of my veggie beds were almost empty. With winter almost over, I went ahead and sowed some seeds of almost every cool season vegetable that I had. I figured I had nothing to lose by trying.
I'm here to report -- with a big smile -- that it worked! And it worked fast! Endive, spinach, fava beans have shot up. Kale, early and late plantings, has grown generously, my few cabbages are gorgeous, and that one happy bed is producing glorious root vegetables and greens. Oh -- and we have enough lettuces for more than one household's dinner salads. What more could a rookie vegetable gardener hope for?
Herbs are looking pretty spectacular, too. I want more, of course. My current aim is to have a thoroughly Mediterranean garden this summer. Can there ever be too much rosemary, lavender, basil? We already have an olive tree, some citrus, even a fig tree. But herbs -- I want them everywhere.
More soon! Be well and safe. May your garden be a source of peace and pleasure.
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. 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.