Our front garden – I like to think of it as our Welcoming Garden (check out Gorden Hayward’s book The Welcoming Garden) – is surely feeling proud of itself. This gardener is certainly smiling. All but two of our new azaleas have been planted and they look right at home.
With the exception of a few Encores, we opted for one-gallon plants. Azaleas don’t require deep holes. In fact, it's recommended that the root ball be an inch or two above the soil. But it would have been excruciating to dig holes big enough for larger shrubs. Even with the one gallons, the prep and planting weren’t easy. The little plants were terribly rootbound. I had to slash and fluff most of the forty root balls. It was harder than I expected and, feeling rather sorry for the plants, I grimaced most of the time I was working on them. I’m glad to report that so far none seem to have been damaged by the experience.
Then we had the oak tree roots to contend with. My husband brought out his reciprocating saw for some of the more stubborn ones. And the soil was very compacted in places.
Azaleas require or, at the very least, prefer light, acidic soil. The soil type most common in our area is gumbo, which is a heavy clay loam. The soil in our front yard is an unfriendly mix of builder’s sand, builder’s junk – including, to my shock, chunks of concrete – and gumbo.
In areas where there were less roots, I cleared out concrete, bottle caps, and other oddities, and broke up some clay. I’d purchased some good compost and one bag of topsoil mixed with peat moss to amend the sorry mess. I always feel a little guilty buying peat moss and don't do it often, but that’s another subject altogether. Anyway, one by one, the little plants were set in their new homes and watered thoroughly. Since then, I’ve been adding coffee grounds to each bush in turn, just to be on the safe side.
We do have the right light requirements. Azaleas like dappled shade and with the four oak trees in such a small area, that’s a done deal.
According to the Azalea Society of America, azaleas have been hybridized for hundreds of years and there are over 10,000 cultivars. Those are just the named ones. That’s a bit – just a tiny bit – too wide a scope for this little blog. It took quite a lot of reading just for me to untangle a drop of the vast amount of information available.
Most evergreen azaleas are native to Japan, while our native North American species are all deciduous. I’m certainly pro-native, but considering the reason I wanted the azaleas – to cover the bare patches – of course I wanted evergreens. Moreover, the more the plants bloom, the better. With any luck, the varieties I chose, out of the selection immediately available to me, should bloom spring and fall. And yes, they absolutely had to be immediately available due to the rampage situation.
I’ll share a little more, and more specifically, of my newfound knowledge in another post. For now, following is the link for the Azalea Society of America. It’s a large and fabulous website: www.azaleas.org/
I’ve finally reached an amazing conclusion. If I’m going to garden through the long, hot summer, I should do so in early morning whenever possible.
Not exactly innovative, you say? Intelligent gardeners have been doing that forever, you snicker? Yes, well, there are two common warnings about being outdoors in summer, especially a southeast Texas summer. Avoid being out in the sun in the middle of the day and beware that disease-carrying mosquitoes are worse at dawn and dusk. I can expand on that. Where I live, it’s extremely damp and buggy until mid-morning. After that, it’s blazing hot. So, which will it be, mosquito bites or extreme heat? How about both? Let's toss in ninety percent humidity, free of charge, with either. I usually pass. But this year, as I mentioned in my last post, I’m on a rampage. My bare patch rampage.
But I’m taking a little azalea break today. Trust me, it’s needed.
I worked in the garden a lot this past weekend. At one point, in the heat of the day, I realized that not only was I covered in sweat and dirt, but also insect repellant. I hate having bug spray all over me. It’s one of the reasons for my boycott. But this year I’m out there. Of necessity, I cover myself with insect repellant. I spray it on in the middle of the day as needed. In this particular garden of ours, at this time of year, we need insect repellant almost any time we’re out there.
Please bear with me while I review. In the middle of the day, it’s very hot and moderately buggy. In early morning, it’s moderately hot and very buggy. But if the repellant takes care of the bugs, then it’s less hot AND less buggy. Moreover, the garden will have been tended before the work day even begins. It's a win-win.
Congratulations to all of you for knowing that since forever. For me, it’s a wonderful revelation. Let me enjoy it, insect repellant and all. After all, now I have more time in my garden.
Could we get more suburban? I hope not. But really, I can't complain about such a friendly view, can I? Then again, looks can be deceiving. What do you think we hear when we open our front door? In summer, more than anything else, it’s usually the persistent hum of cicadas. For some reason, it sounds like the wild west to me. It doesn’t feel like it, though. No, it feels like a rainforest – hot, humid, and buggy.
It’s the time of year when I usually begin my boycott. I stop working outside from mid-July through mid-September. It’s simply too uncomfortable to spend long hours in the garden. This year, however, I’m on a rampage.
Once upon a time, our family lived on four acres in a restricted, rural, beautiful subdivision. The flower gardens were close to the house, which was in the center of the property. But the front yard was view enough. It was a pecan grove. To look positively lovely, all it required was mowing and edging.
But houses were few and far between and we rarely saw anyone.
Then, a few years ago, we moved to our small lot on a golf course. And wouldn’t you know, practically a zillion people pass by every day - front and back. Golfers could hardly care less, of course. I'm more worried about the front. People driving in and out of our neighborhood, kids walking to and from the school bus, people out for a stroll, a run, walking their dogs. Even the mail carrier comments on our garden. And our neighbors are a stone’s throw away.
So many people. They deserve a nice view when they pass our house. Our front garden will look like a gardener tends it. It will bring joy. Butterflies will flutter and birds will chirp.
One fine day. . .
The thing is, our house is north facing and there are four – FOUR – live oaks in the tiny front yard. It’s not large enough to properly support even one and the ground shows it. We have lots of shade, lots of roots, and more bare soil than grass. I want more flowers in our flower beds, it's true, but those bare patches are driving -- have driven -- me nuts. They are the reason I've delayed my summer boycott.
I was complaining about the problem to a friend from garden club – our wonderful Sugar Land Garden Club – and she told me that she used to have the same problem. She told me that she planted azaleas in all of her bare patches and it turned out beautifully. I trust her.
I'm the obsessive sort, so I've been learning a lot about azaleas. I'd share with you now, but I still have several flowering, evergreen shrubs to plant. I'll see you again soon!
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.