I had begun to despair that I could never have healthy roses in this garden. I even yanked a few, an unusual action to be sure since I usually must travel a good distance to find them, pay for them, and then go through the trouble of planting them. Two convictions fed my decision. One was an old one that is particularly applicable to small gardens: if it doesn’t work, get rid of it. There are plenty of plants that will! The other concerns a long-held commitment to native plants and wildlife. I just love roses so much that I've always exempted them, especially since they aren’t invasive and I usually have plenty of natives around. But at some recent gardening lecture I attended, the speaker mentioned that non-natives are no better than plastic plants. That’s a little harsh, but the combination of looking pitiful and not even growing well enough to provide a decent habitat encouraged me to pull them. Some roses had even died before I could pull them. Those, I had ordered but from a reliable source, so there’s no telling what went wrong. I’ve raised roses a long time. Antiques don’t insist on splendid soil, but of course they like it well enough. All of the roses in our garden enjoy rich soil, lots of sun, and sufficient water. Anyway, I felt rather guilty for pulling those few, but they’ve been replaced by useful natives. As for the roses that made the cut, they are showing off brilliantly and it’s only the first day of Spring!
Wishing all a beautiful, fragrant Spring!
I cannot yet report that all of my bulbs survived the lawn guys’ assault, but some seem to be popping up. I wonder if the garden is confused as to the season? Our winter has continued to be milder than mild.
Spring bulbs – snowflakes, narcisuss, daffodils -- are waking from their long naps. Larger plants that go dormant in winter are beginning to bud or return from the roots. We had a nice surprise. Previous owners had planted a row of kordyline, the Hawaiian Ti plant, in one of the front beds. After our two nights of winter, those exotics appeared quite dead.
I was already replacing them on paper, but my husband had more faith in their hardiness than I did. He was right. This morning we found signs that they will be back!
Do you see the green or, rather, the pink? Hooray!
Many, many of our garden plants go dormant in winter, leaving a rather pitiful landscape. I can – and usually do – cover the gaps with cool-season annuals, but I’ve noticed that in this garden, they seem to linger halfway into summer. I guess it’s the shade. They don’t look their best, however, and I’m always waiting for the other shoe to fall. It’s hard for me to yank flowering plants. I’d rather not have to and so I’ve been considering mixing in some evergreens.
An excellent example of this are the raised beds running along the side of the house, which I can see from the kitchen windows. This past summer, we accepted that it really doesn’t get enough sun to make vegetables happy. In their place, I planted pentas and Turk’s cap and enjoyed butterflies and hummingbirds for months. When the freeze hit, those plants went dormant and the boxes were attractive to no one.
The Turk's Cap is already returning and the pentas will, too, but it was a pitiful show from the window the past several weeks. It shows a problem with my planning or design. If I had some early flowering bulbs or a few small, evergreen shrubs mixed in, at least I wouldn’t be looking at empty beds or stick plants all winter. Another option would be shade-tolerant herbs, but there surely wouldn’t be very many. The freezes, however few, along with the shade and my desire to reduce the number of annuals I plant, make for a very limited selection. We only need so much cilantro.
All of which means I have much to look forward to in the way of planning and implementing, dreaming and planting.
What did Audrey Hepburn say? To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.
Wishing everyone hope and happiness.
A few days ago, I enjoyed a full, blissful day of gardening. I was so happy. I planted over 100 bulbs and still have a few more to go. I pruned roses and pulled dead plants. The weather was cool, sunny, breezy. It was great.
The next day, I got so upset that I had to lay down. It was almost funny, really, except that it wasn’t funny at all. I caught one of the lawn service guys spraying herbicide onto my flower beds! WHAT? We’re ORGANIC! I’ve told them before! How long have they been doing this? Is that why the hedge suddenly died? Poison? What do you do when you’re beside yourself?
Yet we are going to give them one more chance. Does that sound crazy? Yes, of course it does! We have not had good luck with lawn services. I don’t think I’m particularly difficult, either, although for sure I am firm and involved. What right do they have to spray chemicals on my beds? How hard is it to just NOT do that? I had just spent an investment of time, money, and love planting bulbs. I can only hope that the spray did not kill them. I asked in person and via text what the name of the poison was, but the only answer I got was “to kill the weeds.”
The last lawn guys did not presume to use herbicide in our garden, but they took out so many plants through sheer carelessness that it was as if we were paying them one and a half times their asking price. The guys before them, the first we had for this house, lasted a day. They topped my crape myrtle even though I told them not to touch anything but the ligustrum hedge. I only have one crape myrtle and they lopped off the top. I was soooo aggravated.
The answer, of course, is to tend to the yard ourselves. That way, our garden might stand a chance. In the past, we took good care of a much, much larger property ourselves. Our life is busier here in our new house, however, and as far as edging, hedging, and timeliness go, the current guys are good. They’re human, too, and therefore no more fallible or infallible than the rest of us. So, here’s to another chance.
In the meantime, we have a watchman. He perched on that branch, albeit coming and going, for most of the day. Perhaps he likes golf?
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?
Our fall kitchen garden has been producing beautifully. I'm so excited! My husband built a raised vegetable bed for me right in the middle of our small back yard where it gets full sun. For the first time in four years, we have French breakfast radishes on our table. Those are my favorites; I love the tops, too. They're spicy and delicious sauteed in olive oil with onions and garlic and a squeeze of lemon. They're also good cooked with other greens. But I digress. Also in the box are kale and Swiss chard, which are coming up nicely. I sowed lettuce seeds too soon; the weather turned warm again and the soil was definitely too warm. I'm not sure if now I should sow more seeds or wait to see if any seedlings come up. In another area of the garden, fronting a hedge, fava bean plants are shooting up. Our few tomato plants are growing well, with a cherry variety producing daily. Another tomato plant -- I'm not sure what kind -- threatens to overtake a small lemon tree! I'm not too worried about the tree, at least not yet. Hot peppers are producing generously, too, although they are plagued by a pest of some sort. Some herbs are done for the year, others just getting started. As I had anticipated, the lawn guys have not been kind to my seedlings.
I really oppose having these guys stomp my garden, but we didn't hire them for my sake. It gives my busy husband a break and for that reason, I must try to get along with them. They're the best lawn service we've ever had and, thanks to me, they're also the most expensive. I actually told the owner of the small company that he doesn't charge enough. They're timely, immaculate, efficient, but just a little too helpful. I've asked them repeatedly to leave the beds untouched. We pay them a lot to do less, but they forget. The other day, I actually caught one of the guys setting an electric edger to my parsley seedlings! He assumed they were weeds and was trying to do me a favor. But you're not supposed to do that even with weeds, much less someone's garden plants. I will add that they've also been awfully hard on my day lilies, apparently assuming that they're nutsedge. Again, chopping the tops is not the way to go!
They're not gardeners. So long as they keep our hedges and edges looking good, our grass clipped neatly, and blow our patios so that my husband doesn't have to, I will stop trying to turn them into gardeners. I'll probably stick with flowers in the borders and plant my parsley crop in a raised bed. They will, however, have to find a way to stop cutting back my bulbs.
My flowers aren't doing nearly as well as the vegetables -- a first! Even the roses aren't looking as sprightly as I would expect. I am probably being very demanding. Many were planted just this year and I've moved them around quite a bit. Like all living things, plants need time and good growing conditions to thrive.
One of the best aspects about our fall garden is that we can enjoy quality time in it. The heat and bugs of summer are behind us. Be it snow, unyielding high temps, or absolutely glorious weather, the most wonderful thing about gardens is that connection between garden and gardener.
Salvia leucantha, also known as Mexican Bush Sage, usually starts blooming in September or, if you prefer, late summer. I, for one, have never known it to fail. The plant in the photo was a small, bedding plant this past spring. Now, mid-October, it's a beautiful hummingbird and butterfly magnet.
We're still very green here in southeast Texas. Many gardeners, myself included, consider fall the best time of the year in the garden. For one thing, it feels great outside. It might not be very cool just yet, but it's much less hot and humid. For another, plants really seem to like it, too, and many thrive in the temperate conditions.
I've been moving things around a lot, still trying to figure out my space, but I think I'm finally getting the hang of it. I have a friend, Mary Ann, who has a knack for sharing a bit of wisdom at exactly the right time. No preaching, no lectures, just a spare comment now and then just when you need to hear it. After listening to my complaints and frustrations all summer, she calmly suggested that I try sticking with what works. I thought about it for a while and concluded that it was a much better approach than to stand knocking my head against the proverbial brick wall.
What works: Globe Amaranth, Gomphrena globosa
Our gomphrena reseeded itself from a single plant last year. I had one red gomphrena and one white. Curiously, the white is the only one that returned and in a big way. I'm sure that the red would have looked wonderful as well, but I cannot complain about such a generous showing. Gomphrena likes full sun and does not care to be pampered.
Then, of course, are pentas, pentas, and more pentas! I have them in the sun, in the shade, and in many places in between. Those in the photo below are thriving under the shade of live oaks and sharing a border bed with dwarf hollies. They are extremely undemanding and butterflies really do love them.
Recently, I added lots of Turk's Cap, malvaviscus drummondii, to the front beds. Turk's Cap is a Texas native. It's drought-tolerant, thrives in heavy or sandy soil, and blooms in sun or shade. The lovely flowers are a mighty draw for hummingbirds and butterflies, and it even produces edible fruit. In 2011, it was designated a Superstar by Texas AgriLife Research, Texas A&M. There are white and pink varieties as well.
So, here's to sticking with what works! That's not to say new plants can't be tried or introduced, but it's nice to have a happy foundation. Thank you, Mary Ann!
That's poison ivy, strong competitor for top place as my very least favorite gardening hazard. Now that the temperatures have dropped from the upper nineties to the mid-eighties, I'm prepared to roll up my sleeves and get to work. Actually, I should say "roll down" my sleeves. For areas like ours, where mosquitoes, fire ants, and poison oak and ivy run rampant, long sleeves are advisable. You can still be bitten, obviously, but every bit of defense helps.
I was happy, thrilled, really, to work in my garden over the weekend. I pretty much boycott it in August. It has to fend for itself. But this past Sunday, I had a blast! I spent the afternoon weeding, deadheading, trimming. I need to plant seeds, but I ran out of daylight. I have decided to have food growing all over the backyard this fall and winter. I will give the raised beds another chance even though they receive only partial sun. I've also created lots of empty spots in the beds and hedgerow by pulling half-dead or obnoxious annuals (and even some irritating perennials.) I added organic fertilizer to all the beds and intend to sow vegetable seeds.
To my surprise, a lot of people who live in areas of year-round gardening don't realize they can grow vegetables year-round. I've met many gardeners here in Texas who sadly declare they're going to give up gardening because their, oh, cilantro failed in summer. Cilantro is a cool season herb! But the fact is that lots of vegetables that grow in mild summer climates are also well-suited for mild winter climates. It would be wrong to say "mild is mild" in this case; some seeds or vegetables need specific temperatures to grow and thrive. But there's a lot of elbow room.
I'm going to try to grow radishes again, of course. They are the easiest of all vegetables to grow, a great intro to vegetable gardening for children. But I haven't had any luck with them in my current garden. I don't know if it was due to a lack of nutrients, sunlight, or both. But I love to eat them, my favorite being the French Breakfast radishes. I also have a packet for a pretty radish called "Miso".
As for the rest, I am really excited to try growing leeks, another favorite thing for the kitchen. I also have lettuces, kale, chard, spinach, fava beans. . . My biggest worry right now is that, since I'm going to sow them in the flower beds, the lawn guys might flatten them. I'm not sure how to prevent that catastrophe.
In the meantime, the roses are gearing up for a beautiful Autumn.
While some native plants do excite lots of attention, I've never heard anyone brag about Rose Mallow, otherwise known as Rock Rose, Latin Name Pavonia Lasiopetala. I am here to do so. It belongs to the Mallow family, Malvaceae, and in fact the flowers look like tiny hibiscus. It's a wonderful plant, flowering from Spring through Fall. It might even bloom through winter if it's in a protected spot or the weather is mild. It grows quickly and branches out generously. It's not aggressive; it is exuberant. It has a high heat tolerance, accepts full sun or part shade, and it's not fussy about soil or water. What's not to love?
The only thing a gardener needs to consider is the amount of space available, as the plant does tend to branch out. According to the Texas Native Plants Database, it grows from 1.5 to 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide. If you aren't gardening in Texas, don't worry! There are plenty of pavonia species out there. Many are known as swamp mallows. They are all named after the late Spanish botanist Jose Antonio Pavon Jiminez, just in case you're curious.
If you have a space that could use some pretty, easy-going little flowers, try Rock Rose.
Hooray! Do you see it? Do you see the flower at the tippy top of our yucca gloriosa?
It's our third summer in our current house and the plant has never flowered before. So exciting! It's supposed to flower every year, but our area was suffering drought conditions; it was probably using all of its energy to survive. This spring, we installed a sprinkler system and it's also rained a lot. Yuccas don't need lots of water, but they need some. Now, our yucca is ready to roll.
Yucca gloriosa, also known as Spanish Dagger because of its sharp, pointy leaves, is native to the coastal regions and islands of southeastern North America. It is a member of the genus asparagaceae, along with agava and, to my surprise, asparagus. Also to my surprise is that after flowering, this yucca produces edible fruit. From what I've read, it's supposed to be quite tasty, but since I didn't plant the plant myself and it's all news to me, I'm not really to eager to try. We'll see what happens if fruits ever do really appear. I know it makes sense, the fruit following flowers. I guess I'll feel more comfortable when I know what I'm dealing with.
In the meantime, I'll just enjoy the spectacular bloom.
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.