With some extra help from Mother Nature, my garden shall have a new face this spring! Here in the Houston area, we’ve mostly enjoyed a very mild winter. I’m not at all sure whether the garden plants were loving it or getting exhausted. Where we currently reside, there are many perennials that go year round, even those that would die back for the winter in my old garden, less than thirty miles northwest. Until last week, tomatoes were continuing to ripen, pentas welcomed butterflies, a few small lemons were growing, roses were blooming away. Then, out of nowhere, the weather went from mild to freezing; temperatures held at below freezing for two full days. It might not sound like much to those in colder climes, but it was enough to turn much of my garden into mush.
I don't even feel dismayed. Why bother? In fact, I am rather excited. With gardens both old and new, we sometimes find things aren’t working out quite as we had imagined. I had made a promise to myself that I would mostly avoid giant plants. I kept that promise. The few giants that I have, like the hummingbird bush that I bought and the hibiscus I inherited, are pitiful sticks right now, but they’re good, hard workers most of the time. I don’t begrudge them their space. But there are some things I planted, not giant at all, that simply decided to take over. Pretty as they might be, likely as they were to come back from their roots, those huge piles of mush were yanked. The tomatoes were disgusting, poor things, not that I expected to keep them through winter. I won’t plant those in a flower bed again, not that I now have a sunny box ready and waiting. I’m not sorry about the Norfolk pine, either, and only slightly regretful about the Eureka lemon tree. I am rather sorry about the rosemary, but it’s inexpensive to replace and grows quickly. You see that overall, I’m fine with the purge. My little garden shall be renewed.
I have lots and lots of new space, considering the size of my garden. Before the frost, we had removed a dead hedge fronting a north-facing wall. It was a benign but ugly non-native of which I can never remember the name. I don’t know what killed it, only that it wasn’t me and I was glad to see it go. I hope to replace it with a row of yaupon holly, NOT dwarf. We shall see how big a struggle it is to keep the yaupon hedge at a reasonable height. From what I’ve read, it’s an ongoing but not difficult process. I adore native hollies. For now, I shall not entertain negative thoughts; I cannot find a shade-tolerant hedge I like better. I’m not sure what else I will plant in that bed, but it’s going to be wildlife-friendly.
I have a few more weeks of a southeast Texas winter left to plan for our new landscape. If all goes well, it will be beautiful, different, and even more native than it was. In the meantime, hope springs eternal in the garden.
I'm so excited! My lettuces and leeks might be taking forever to shoot up, but other green leafy vegetables, namely two varieties of Swiss chard and Red Russian kale, don't seem to mind our Gulf Coast winters at all. To be fair to the struggling vegetables, our weather has seemed more like fall than winter, and I mean a Houston fall. In our particular area, we have not yet had a freeze, but in the past few weeks we have had a a few days when temperatures reached the low 80's. Lettuce simply doesn't like that.
Swiss chard, Beta vulgaris, isn't native to Switzerland. It's actually a Mediterranean plant. In truth, I have three varieties growing happily in my back yard at the moment.
My rainbow variety, through no fault of its own, looks a little silly because I sowed the seeds along a sidewalk, fronting a bed of knockout roses. It clearly looks like food, so the lawn posse hasn't done away with it. It also looks very much out-of-place. The other two varieties, Ruby Red and Lucullus, showcased above, look fabulous and taste as good as they look. They have surprisingly tender leaves and a delicate flavor for their size.
My kale, Red Russian, is something different for me. I've grown kale before, but the curly-leaf kind. I never even realized that there are two different species, Brassica oleracea and Brassica napus. The curly, green kale is of the former, Red Russian of the latter. The Red Russian leaves look spiky, but they're soft and cook as easily as other greens. Unlike Swiss chard, Red Russian kale did come from the country of its namesake. Evidently, it first reached North America from Russia through Canada. Whatever their countries or regions of origin, both kale and Swiss chard of all varieties were mainstays in the diet of medieval Europe. According to nutritionists, they still should be. They're charged with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. Both taste great. They also look awesome in the garden, although not perhaps not so much along a sidewalk.
Leafy green vegetables are easy to grow. They make this gardener feel quite brilliant, really. Why not give them a try if you haven't already?
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 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.