Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Let's Have A Show of Dirty Hands!

When the weather turns evil in summer, and the heat and humidity get to be too much for me, I become an armchair gardener. I dream of cooler temperatures as I lounge in a corner of the sofa and pour over books and magazines about gardening. Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens and the Garden Bloggers' Book Club, I've been enjoying Robin Chotzinoff's book of essays about PEOPLE WITH DIRTY HANDS. I first read this book about 10 years ago, not long after I started gardening on my corner of Katy. As much as I enjoyed it the first time, I found it even more compelling now that I have so many garden experiences of my own under my pruners holster. What I thought I'd do, in lieu of a thoughtful and considered review, is share some of the passages that spoke to me and why.

Beth Benjamin of Shepherd's Seeds charmed me with her statement that "I had sixty-seven unspecific hopes and desires by the time I left home." Although she wasn't talking about gardening, that's frequently how I feel about it.

Robin told Rick Roen of Lake Valley Seed Company that her garden didn't look like much of anything and by August it was full of weeds. His response: "And that's okay ... If by July, it's too hot to sow successive crops and you don't care anymore - that's okay." It's a good reminder that I don't have to follow the rules all the time. If something works for me, that's okay.

Renee Stephenson Mitchell, who started a garden at a women's shelter, says "... I've only been working this garden for ten years or so. It's all still trowel and error." I want a sign that says that. THIS GARDEN IS ALL TROWEL AND ERROR.

Susan Spalding, supervisor of a seven acre garden in Boulder: " ... there's a lot of sitting and looking and asking everyone's opinions to get it to look this way." I sit and look, or I stand and look ... it may appear mindless but I'm actually thinking furiously. The longer I garden, the more I value my own opinion. That's not as arrogant as it sounds: I'm the only one who really knows the vision I have in mind for my garden.

Robin speaks of her Aunt Cookie who bethought herself of homegrown tomatoes from her childhood and decided to create a garden "out of hunger for one good tomato". "It is just like Aunt Cookie to bethink herself when anyone else would just think." I want to be the kind of woman who bethinks herself rather than just thinks. Seriously. I do.

I also identify with Aunt Cookie's tendency to ignore recommended spacing when planting. "I overplant like mad. I can't pay attention to that twelve-inch spacing because all I can think of is eleven inches of emptiness."

Plus I have to admire a woman who quoted from Jane Eyre when she inadvertently cut the wrong flower or knocked off a live bud. "Jane, I never meant to hurt you" eventually became just "Jane", shorthand for her dismay at her error.

Describing Gerrod Smith, project director for the Shinnecock Indian Cultural Center, Robin says "He stops in mid-sentence to ponder a persistent ragged green weed. 'Do I remember what this is?' he asks himself." Who among us hasn't done that more times than we can count? I can't rely on my memory as much as I used to, which frequently results in the dilemma of 'to pull or not to pull'. What if it's a seedling of something rare or special, planted once long ago, and then never seen again? It could happen. This is how gardeners end up with a 5 foot tall weed in an inopportune spot.

Donna Collins, Collections Manager for Shinnecock believes that "... when my hands are dirty and my back is hurting, it does something for my soul." Amen.

Lydia Fontenot of Louisiana told Robin "Gardening's such strange work." Strange and wonderful. I feel blessed to be a gardener.

Describing his partner Bruce Wakefield, Jerry Grossnickle says "He reads himself to sleep with catalogues and plant books." Sweet dreams are made of this, methinks. Dreams come true in their garden, which Bruce thought contained "about a thousand different" plants "but only eight hundred are labeled." ONLY 800? Bruce also had me nodding in agreement when he talked about wanting to take a book down to the pond to relax and read; he finds himself unable to make it from the house to the pond without finding work to do. It matters not where I'm headed in the garden, I never fail to be sidetracked from my purported mission at least once along the way.

Margaret Johnson: "Nature is one thing - snakes are another." Uh-huh. Enough said.

Willa, a resident of Hannah House women's shelter reflected that "Gardening is all there is, while you're doing it." Wayne Hills of Lonesomeville on the West Coast: "We are building this life ... with two hands. That's all that matters." Two very different people and yet their hearts are in the same place. The latter statement especially resonates with me: in crafting my garden, I am crafting my life.

Finally, I liked Robin's closing question: "Is it elemental to cleave to dirt because it gives you a place to put your feet? Something to smell? Or because, no matter what you have or don't have, you still have dirt?" For me, I think if you have a patch of dirt to cultivate, you have all of life's lessons at your fingertips.

Thanks for hosting, Carol! I look forward to our next selection.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Calm Before The Storm

It's been a quiet day here on my corner of Katy, all of which will change tomorrow when my daughter's best friend and her 2 year old descend upon us for 10 days. I suspect by the time they leave, I'll feel like I've been through a hurricane! So this morning I took advantage of the peace and quiet, as well as the much longed for cooler temperatures and rainy weather, to sit in solitary splendor on my kitchen patio, sipping my coffee and gazing at the garden. A lone hummingbird nectared at the Montrose Purple Vitex ... I first spotted him a couple of days ago and it seems that he's going to linger. I imagine he doesn't want to travel any farther south until the weather improves a bit. A neon red dragonfly hovered over the pond and then darted off, perhaps to shelter from the light drizzle. I caught a glimpse of something hot pink over at the pond and went to investigate further. My water lily had opened its first bloom, which was an occasion worthy of a picture. I'm fairly certain this is Perry's Red but (as usual) don't make me swear to that! I love the raindrops on the petals.

The pond is scheduled to undergo a major renovation the first week of August and I'm looking forward to seeing what my pond guy and I are able to achieve together. The current pond is a 90 gallon preformed/rigid model and no matter how I arrange the moss rocks around the edges, I haven't been able to disguise the edge of the liner. Thanks to our clay soil, that liner has heaved over the years and is anything but level. Those things, along with the increasing size of the trees on the south side of the pond, have made me less and less satisfied with the way it looks. With my pond guy and his crew doing the heavy work, we plan to enlarge the pond and install a flexible liner. A small waterfall and bog filter are planned as well. I'll do my best to document the process.

The Polynesian Delight daylily had two blooms open today. Look at the difference in color between today's picture and the one I posted a few days ago. This is one of the reasons I love gardening: the only thing that's constant is change!

Last week I found black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars on a rapidly declining parsley plant in the courtyard. How it survived this long, when it's a cool season plant for us, I have no clue. Isn't it great that it did, though? Here's one of the three larvae on the poor pitiful parsley (Pearlsley for those who remember that doll).
While one is still MIA, I found the third caterpillar hanging from a crocosmia scape. In the course of an hour, he went from caterpillar to chrysalis:When I checked earlier this evening, I found that the chrysalis is changing color, so the butterfly's wings are starting to show through.The picture below is of the first blooms ever on my Crinum rattrayi, a plant given to me by my late friend Amy. I took this picture when the blooms opened yesterday and I so wish I could call Amy to share the news and to celebrate the rainy day.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Very Short Sunday Stroll ... Let's Play Tag Instead!

Now that summer has well and truly descended upon my corner of Katy, an extended stroll around the garden on a Sunday evening is only slightly more enticing than an invasive medical procedure. Fortunately the daylily I purchased at Home Depot last week, the lovely Polynesian Delight, resides in a pot on the dining room patio, mere steps from the door. I popped out the door with my camera, snapped a picture and quickly returned to the comfort of central air. Although the plant label claimed this is a fragrant daylily, I'm unable to detect any scent. I won't be planting it out before September and when I do, I think I'll put it somewhere with a bit of shade. The bloom that caught my eye at Home Depot was almost bicolored: some of the petals had a deeper rosy blush to them than it's showing on my patio. Since it was displayed in a shady area, I'm thinking giving it more shade might result in more intense color.

I was recently tagged for the first time by Linda of Meadowview Thymes, a fellow Texas garden blogger who lives and gardens in the Dallas area. The rules are as follows:

1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on the blog.

3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post.

5. Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

So here's my six random things:

1. Although my husband and I met during my orientation week at Rice University in 1973, and were close friends from that point on, we didn't start dating until spring of 1983. I always said I'd never marry an engineer, I'd never marry a man like my father, and I'd never marry EM. This is how I learned never to say never! We celebrate our 25th anniversary in November.

2. I lived in Hawaii for two and a half crazy years when I was single, during which time I worked for a while as a waitress at the Blue Water Cafe, located next to the lobby of an Outrigger hotel. I wore a cowboy hat and was known as Tex. The house band was led by a former member of Bill Halley's Comets and I sang with them a couple of times (very badly)(tequila may have been involved). When I finally made it back to Hawaii on a visit in 1997, I was dumbfounded to see that the Blue Water Cafe had devolved into a Chili's.

3. I've met several celebrities over the years without even trying.
  • Ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev was walking along Waikiki Beach with a companion and was very gracious when I stopped him to express my admiration and respect. I was fortunate enough to see him dance twice during my lifetime and I've never forgotten those experiences.
  • Pat Morita (Arnold of Happy Days, Mr. Miyagi of Karate Kid) frequented the restaurant/bar near the University of Hawaii where my flatmate worked. I stopped in after a very enjoyable date one night and was so radiant that Pat kissed me on his way out the door. (Said date was not with my spouse.) (Hey, I was single and it was HAWAII.)
  • In the mid-80s, a friend and I were waiting for the elevator at a Houston hotel, headed up to the rooftop bar, when singer Mac Davis joined us after his performance at the Houston Rodeo. He joined us in waiting for the elevator, not joined us and partied all night, just in case anyone's eyebrows were going up.
  • In 2006, my daughter and I met Evangeline Lilly of LOST while we were visiting family in Hawaii on spring break. We'd actually gone to the store hoping to run into Jorge Garcia since we knew he lived in the area. It was early morning and a total shock to see EL walk in as we were picking up breakfast. She was as gracious and accomodating as she is lovely (truly a natural beauty) and petite (let's hear it for short girls).
4. I've broken my right foot twice, dropped a wooden pallet on it once, and had bunion surgery on it just last year (9 weeks in a hard cast, 2 weeks in a boot, but at least I timed it so I'd be out of the garden during the worst of the heat).

5. I seem to be the Designated Dog Rescuer for this part of the neighborhood. Several times a year, dogs who have escaped their yards find their way to me. Mojo and Murphy, a Basset Hound and a Boston terrier, were the last pair to come through.

6. I firmly believe life is too short to drink bad champagne. Give me Veuve Clicquot or Piper Heidsieck if you want to bribe me.

OK, now to tag six other bloggers ... I'm tagging these folks (but will not get my knickers in a twist if you don't want to play):

Christopher C. at Outside Clyde
Leslie at Growing A Garden In Davis
Gail at Clay and Limestone
Lori at The Gardener of Good and Evil
Barbara at Mr. McGregor's Daughter
Anna at Woody and Herbaceous

OK, that's it for tonight. Tomorrow morning will find me dragging hoses once again and pondering whether a minor tropical storm would really be such a bad thing.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Orange You Glad It's Bloom Day?

From Abelmoschus to Zinnia, this July's bloom day is a juicy one!


Cosmos 'Bright Lights'

Crocosmia (Montbretia)

Crocosmia (Montbretia)

Crossandra with Festive Dance Coleus
Cuphea 'David Verity'

Daylily 'Mambo Maid' (I think)
Hamelia: This Hummingbird Bush is on the north side of the sidewalk.

And this Hamelia is on the south side. Surely they're two different varieties? (Of course they are and don't call me Shirley ...)

The multi-talented Tithonia aka Mexican Torch Flower. They seeded themselves in various spots in the front gardens. Those in the corner bed are in full sun for most of the day and the colors are definitely richer and deeper, although some of them sport interesting variations in color.

Over near the sidewalk, these plants get fewer hours of direct sun. Y'all think that's why the petals are almost striped?

Tired of Tithonias? Then how about some zesty, zingy Zinnias? My zillions of zinnias all came from a few packets of seeds (please don't ask me to remember which varieties! I think I bought a packet of Scarlet Flame last year but all the others are self-sown or collected from previous years' plants.) I suspect they've hybridized themselves over the years and that's fine by me.

This zinnia is a bit of a chameleon: it changes color from pink to orange as it ages.

I call this shade Dreamsicle: orange you in agreement?

As I told Carol of May Dreams Gardens, our Bloom Day provocateur/instigator, this is by no means all that's blooming here on my corner of Katy. Despite the heat and lack of sufficient rain, the plants continue to amaze me with their ability to withstand summer. That said, when I went out to take more pictures early yesterday evening, I found the corner bed in dire need of watering. There was rain in the greater Houston area last night but it stood me up yet again. That's OK, I know my trusty garden hose will be too much of a gentleman to do such a thing.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Mystery of the Morbid Melampodium

So the Head Gardener walked outside to water this morning and was met by this gruesome sight:This Blackfoot Daisy was not merely healthy, but vigorous and thriving in the post of 2 days ago. (In the picture of the bed surrounding Smithley Rock, a portion of this plant is just visible on the bottom left.) Were the Head Gardener a cursing woman, her reaction would have probably been something along the lines of "what the bleep?" Especially given that not 6 feet away a fellow Melampodium continues to bloom itself silly.

For that matter, returning to the first picture, the small plant growing in the gravel just under the misbegotten Melampodium? That's a Blackfoot Daisy as well, that reseeded from the plant above.

As the plant continues its downward spiral, the Head Gardener is left wondering why, why, WHY? Did running one of the sprinklers in the back 40 cause this sudden and rapid decline? Does that mean running the other sprinkler in the back 40 this morning will consign the currently healthy Melampodiums to a similar fate? Can This Melampodium Be Saved?

The Dirty Detective is on the case.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Wandering Wednesday

There's no real rhyme or reason to today's post ... it's just a random collection of recollections, thoughts & musings about what's been going on with me since my last post. Last weekend, as seen in the picture, I wasn't home to post OR to work in the gardens. I woke early this morning, so I donned my gardening togs and headed out to the corner bed, thinking I'd get some weeding and clean-up done before the sun made it to that spot. I had such grandiose plans: once I'd cleaned up that bed and moved rocks around, I'd make a trip to the soil yard for more mulch, then come back & spread it where needed. Having spent most of yesterday afternoon in and around that corner bed, it didn't seem overly optimistic of me to think I could do this. What I hadn't factored into the agenda was the oppressive level of humidity. Evidently yesterday's unseasonably dry air was the result of an all too short-lived cool front. So I hung up my long-handled Cobrahead and came inside to have my first cup of coffee and read the paper. I did venture back out to water a few containers, at which time I was also seized by the need to pull up and pot a Brugmansia that's been languishing in the south bed. I couldn't look at it in that spot another day ... so now I'm looking at it in another spot.The Brug is not as ugly, however, as this poor pitiful Clematis texensis 'Gravetye Beauty'. Is it afflicted by the dreaded Clematis wilt or is it merely (!) a victim of drought? The posting of this picture may cause my readers to question my talents (or lack thereof) as a gardener, which I quite reasonably wonder about myself. Anyway, after some judicious pruning and a thorough watering, I chose to be optimistic that the plant would begin to perk up. I will NOT post a picture in illustration of its failure to do so. Poor pitiful thing, it doesn't like our heat and humidity any better than I do.

Let's turn our attention to happier things. This is a partial view of an area in the back 40 which I reworked in late spring. See that rock on the ground in front of the birdbath? That's Smithley Rock, a new addition to the garden. We spent this past weekend at Inks Lake in Burnet, Texas, enjoying a getaway with longtime friends. We took a small hike up a mountainside to check out the view on one couple's retirement property, and I caused a great deal of comment and merriment with my exclamations over the geological wonders of the hillside. Shoot, I thought I was quite restrained in my collection efforts: I only picked up five rocks out of the thousands to be found there. Later on that day, as three of the guys in our group were traversing country roads, they found themselves unable to resist the impulse to wrestle a large boulder into the truck in 90+ degree heat and bring it back for me. Of course, they probably considered it an added pleasure to picture my spouse's reaction to their placement of this boulder in the trunk of his car. (That made me laugh, too.) In their honor, I christened this beauteous boulder John Smithley Rock and it will be a happy reminder of my fellow Inksters whenever I see it.
In keeping with my fondness for mysteries, I'm not going to say much about the other garden treasure I found at a little antiques & gift shop in Burnet. It was leaning against the side of the building and it called my name as we were leaving. When something speaks to me, I've learned to listen ... I'd have had to turn a deaf ear this time if there hadn't been a truck in which to bring it home! Y'all are curious now, aren't you? All I'll say is that it's green but it's not living. I'll unveil it in a later post.
Back to rocks, aren't these two cool? A friend's daughter found them in Santa Barbara and brought them back for me. I have some very generous and indulgent friends and I love them dearly, not because they bring me things but because of the spirit prompting those gifts. It's a blessing to be understood and loved for your eccentricities as well as indulged in them.

That reminded me that I've never shown y'all a picture of a Mother's Day present from my sister, who is the most generous and indulgent of friends and someone for whom I am thankful on a daily basis. This is Leon, who's named after Houston Chronicle columnist Leon Hale. I realize some people might consider it a dubious honor to have an armadillo named after them but I hope Mr. Hale isn't one of them.

I didn't spot any live armadillos over the weekend but we did see deer grazing on the golf course across the lake. There were vultures soaring and purple martins swooping, and a heron sailed across the lake to land in the shallows Saturday evening when the boat traffic had died down. What a treat it was to sit out on the patio at night and listen to the lake lapping at the shore as we stared up into the skies. The stars at night really are big and bright deep in the heart of Texas! Saturday night we also watched lightning over the hills in the distance and hoped that rain was falling somewhere. It was surprisingly windy so we had to forego our plans for a fire in the firepit. We were all too full from dinner to eat somemores anyway!

As we drove up into the hills, we saw native Texas Prairie Bluebells along the roads and in fields, thriving in the heat and drought, and I had one of those "ah-ha!" moments. Finally I understand why I have such trouble growing Lisianthus/Eustoma in my garden beds: the soil is nothing like that in the Texas Hill Country. Obviously these plants like it lean and mean ... I've been killing them with kindness. I have to say that the weekend really brought home to me the difference between too little rain and real drought. The only green plants to be seen were the omnipresent cedar (the overabundance of which explains why Hill Country residents who suffer from cedar fever are so miserable when it's pollinating).

I'll close for today with a picture of the summer's first plumeria blooms. I don't know if this one is a named variety or a seedling plant, I just know that it came from my friend in Corpus Christi. I wish I could send the fragrance into cyberspace so y'all could enjoy it, too!