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.
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. 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.