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!
Margaret Roach’s new edition of her classic book A Way to Garden is out and it makes for a wonderful reading experience. Both the writing and photos are beautiful.
Ms. Roach – really, she’s so approachable from her podcast to her blog to her book that I think of her as Margaret – gardens in upstate New York. Can gardeners from other regions, such as Texas or California, benefit from her experience? Yes, we can, with pleasure. Newbie gardeners might learn more from the book than seasoned ones, but there are great tips and reminders for everyone.
Chapters are broken into two-month sections. The first chapter, for example, is called Conception, January & February. Some of her garden photos in this section have snow, which some of us rarely or never see. But her topics in this chapter range from seed catalogs to garden design to taxonomy (she calls it Taxonomy Lite) to botanical Latin to seed viability and much, much more. That’s only one chapter.
She’s just so passionate about gardening.
For more information, so much great information, check out Margaret’s website: https://awaytogarden.com/
You are as welcome as the flowers in May. – Charles Macklin, 1825
It’s such a lovely time of year. The weather is mild, the bugs aren’t yet awful, and the weeds are still small. It’s almost possible to stay ahead of things.
In our garden, cool and warm season plants are growing side by side. They’ll probably continue to do so for another month. For now, we can enjoy the combination of roses, bulbs, and spring annuals at their best as summer perennials begin to awaken.
My family enjoys this cool-season herb. I realize that not everyone likes it, but it’s an herb I keep on hand year-round and one for which I sow seeds every fall. Coriander is a decent source of fiber, vitamins A and C, and a great source of vitamin K. More to the point, it adds a fresh, sort of citrusy touch to food, cooked or uncooked.
I could go on and on about benefits, recipes, the debate over whether some people are genetically predisposed to disliking it. When I read in one article that whole countries of people aren’t used to it and, hence, dislike it, while other countries absolutely can’t imagine eating without it, I looked up its name in different languages.
Latin – coriandum sativum
Arabic – kizbra/kazbarah/so many other translations
Chinese – xiăng căi
English – coriander
French – coriandre
German – koriander
Greek – kozbara
Portuguese – coentro
Spanish – cilantro
I saved my favorite for last, which removes it from alphabetical order. Call me childish – go ahead! But I think it’s a grand-sounding word.
Italian – get ready -- Coriandolo!
What's not to love? I think I’ll throw it into conversations for the fun of it and let people wonder…
Say it with me: orach. How did you say it? No matter what, I encourage you to go with it. I’ve heard it pronounced so many different ways that I’ve pretty much decided that no one really knows for sure.
But isn’t it pretty?
Atriplex hortensis is its Latin name. Orach, also spelled orache, also known as mountain spinach and saltbush, is a wild spinach native to the Mediterranean. It’s a cool season plant, tending to bolt in warmer weather. Here in the Houston area, we’ve had a mostly mild winter with a few nights below freezing, but temps generally in the 50’s and 60’s. Our orach has seemed happy throughout.
We don’t have a lot, yet. It was an experiment, but I might plant some more. Recently, we’ve started adding it to salads. It has a very mild, delicate flavor, vaguely like spinach, and entirely pleasant. It looks great in a salad and, best of all, it’s good for us. Like other leafy greens, it’s high in Vitamin K, Vitamin C, iron, magnesium, zinc, and several other minerals. It’s also a good source of tryptophan and dietary fiber.
We tossed some seeds into the bed, raked over them lightly, and watered. That's it. Orach is an ancient plant that grows in the wild. It doesn't require lots of attention.
In case you’re interested, we purchased our seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Company. https://www.rareseeds.com/
Our poor garden is confused. It thinks it’s spring. Or perhaps it has simply decided to live each day to its fullest, without worrying about the future.
In southeast Texas, winter is pretty much a wonderful time to garden. Today, I spent a few hours weeding. I crawled in and out of flower beds without worrying overmuch about poison ivy, mosquitos, fire ants, or heatstroke. The sky was clear, the sun was shining, and the temperature was in the mid-60’s. It was the first decent amount of time I’d spent out there since early December and it felt great.
At first, I was shocked by the size and abundance of dandelions. They usually wait until spring to really take off. While it’s true that it’s been a fairly mild winter so far, it’s still early January. We’re talking lots of dandelions. I don’t mind telling you that for a few moments I felt a little nonplussed, but the fragrance of the garden soon soothed my irritation. A brush with rosemary here, juniper there, then roses, alyssum, stock, thyme. . . It was wonderful. And then I saw them, a true sign of spring. But it’s too soon, isn’t it?
Snowflakes! Not the kind that fall from the sky, but those that break up through the soil. Leucojum Aestivum “Gravetye Giant” has proven to be wonderfully dependable and hardy. I have the bulbs growing thickly by now and intend to plant more. I only hope that they’ll keep blooming for a while.
What’s that saying? Hope springs eternal? Or is it spring hopes eternal? Does spring give us hope or does hope give us spring? Let us take a clue from the snowflakes.
Can you see it, the monster poised to munch my Scorpion pepper plant to nothing? It is manduca sexta, the tobacco hornworm. I can never decide if hornworms look scary or cute. This one didn’t seem so bad. We didn’t even toss it on its pointy little horn. Joseph, my husband, simply cut the branch and moved it to another part of the garden. Now, however, I’m on the lookout not only for the same caterpillar but others as well.
There is also a tomato hornworm, manduca quinquematulaca, which resembles it closely and also defoliates plants of the nightshade family (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants) of vegetables.
Both turn into large moths. I do like and enjoy the moths these fat green blobs turn into. They become Sphinx moths, also known as hawk or hummingbird moths. I’ve seen these moths in most of my gardens over the years. They look very much like hummingbirds, hovering over nectar plants, and they are good pollinators. But do I like them enough to willingly allow the caterpillars to defoliate what’s left of my summer garden? Probably not, but life in the garden is wonderfully varied and interesting.
Pensée, French for a “thought.” It could be a romantic thought and pansies are small, sweet flowers for a meaningful bouquet. Happy Valentine’s Day in advance!
Until recently, I’ve never been much of a fan. I’m more partial to the smaller violas or Johnny Jump-ups, as they are commonly called.
Pansies, violas, wild violets all belong to the plant family Violaceae and the genus viola. They are varying degrees of fragrant and they are edible plants. Just be sure of the source.
Personally, I find pansies and violas to be cheerful, useful garden plants. I especially like the ones sometimes found in nurseries, those in hard-to-find, “designer” colors. But I don’t have a local, specialized nursery nearby and, anyway, I rarely skip the opportunity to look at plants, even those in the large, home improvement centers. That’s how I came to acquire a rather large amount of common pansies. We had a rare freeze in our area and it seems that the folks at the home improvement center didn’t think the pansies would make it. I stumbled upon bedding plants being sold at an outrageously low price and shopped accordingly.
As a result, we have pansies everywhere, not to mention violas. I’m growing fond of them. They don’t exactly cover my winter sticks, but they provide color where it’s severely lacking. It doesn't even matter that they're not an extraordinary shade of apricot. They’ve been tolerating our crazy weather without complaint. In my garden, pansies usually last through mid-summer despite their aversion to heat. It’s for that reason that I sometimes hesitate to plant them. They won’t give up and easily wither away. It makes me think that being called a pansy should be a compliment instead of an insult.
Be tough! Be a pansy!
This fall has proven a hectic time in our lives and our garden. But oh, what a difference some loving care makes.
It was no-kidding-disgraceful. The jasmine around our Mary arbor had gone wild, obscuring the statue. My husband cut it almost down to the quick.
Our roses, crowded by self-seeded sages (say that ten times fast) that had grown all out of proportion, are celebrating now. We pulled those impertinent plants out by their roots! Yes, they are beautiful, native, and beneficial to wildlife. But they don’t have to be allowed to take over. Now, other plants can breathe. I also have room to plant pretty, cool weather annuals.
Speaking of planting, our cleared and ant-free, raised vegetable boxes still await sowing. We should receive seed packets in the mail any day now. It’s been a few weeks since we cleaned out the one disastrous box and so far only a few nutsedge have returned.
I don’t doubt that the worst offenders – Bermuda grass, nutsedge, fire ants, are lurking below the surface and beyond. But I’m hoping that with vigilance and a healthy crop of lettuces or greens, we can keep the weeds to a minimum. In any case, the weather is nice, the bugs are less, and I'm looking forward to some lovely months of gardening.
Eeek! I know I have only myself to blame, myself and the weather. The weather really does bear responsibility. None of it matters, of course. It is what is is.
It's well-known that I boycott my garden during the worst of summer's heat. By the second part of July throught August, I'm off-duty. This year was no exception, but September and October were unusual. Hurricane Harvey swept through our area in September, while my husband and I were on a long weekend trip that extended to a week. By the time we got home, there was so much to do that I couldn't go out in the garden. We were leaving again within a few weeks. Before October was upon us, we were off again, to be gone for three weeks. Our garden wasn't forgotten, but it was neglected. As a good friend told me, "You're a smart one!" Ha!
Have you ever seen anything so disgraceful? In all my years of gardening and with a much, much larger piece of property, I have NEVER had a planting bed look like that in the photo above. Gulp. The weeds are a tight bunch of the worst sort -- Bermuda grass, nutsedge, and crabgrass (least worrisome of the three). They could not have been completely avoided because our backyard is on the golf course - Bermuda grass heaven - nor can they be completely eradicated. But it never has to get to this outlandish level. Removal was one tiresome task.
Was -- did you catch that? My husband and I toiled at the bed for over an hour, removing as much as we could. We had to stop just short of finishing, which is why I'm not posting a before and after just yet. Did I mention fire ants? There was a huge bed of fire ants in the bed. My husband doused it repeatedly with boiling water. The one corner of the bed looked like a brownish-red sea of dead ants.
The whole garden is in a similar state. Tomorrow, I should be able to finish weeding the raised garden bed. That purging should hold for a few days and give me time to move onto other areas of my poor, woebegone garden. I'll post before and after shots until the worst of the weeds and overgrowth have been tamed. If anyone has any before and afters to share or any advice, welcome!
Really, I'm excited about the opportunity to spend more time out there. When I mentioned to our kids that it seemed impossible for such a small garden to get so out of control, they corrected me.
"You don't have a small garden, Mom," our son objected. "You might have a small yard, but you have a large garden."
I like that.
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.