Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wonder of Wonders, Miracle of Miracles

Cue music from FIDDLER ON THE ROOF:
Wonder of wonders,
Miracle of miracles,
I grew an artichoke on my land
When I first planted it
How I had hoped for this
Nature agreed and they grew as planned!

OK, I'm done singing ... but isn't this just the coolest thing? Mama Artichoke and one of her triplets are seen above. I had planted Cardoons in this same bed quite a few years ago and they grew spectacularly so I thought I'd give an artichoke a try. I really didn't expect it to produce but as I was moving rocks the other day, I happened to glance over in that direction and saw that Mother Nature had been generous. I plan to harvest them later today and serve them tonight so I need to do a little recipe research. Any ideas?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Earth Day Report from the Head Gardener

In my previous post, I'd talked about feeling a need to simplify, to bring a bit more order and design to my corner of Katy. Standing out in the north 40 yesterday, I was once again feeling overwhelmed: everywhere I looked I saw weeds and unruly plants. That and the fact that summer heat and humidity made an early visit to our area combined to make me a not so happy Head Gardener. There are no Under Gardeners, which is the main reason I feel the above-mentioned urge to downscale. Said urge peaked yesterday midway along the daylily bed and I even briefly contemplated reducing the size of the bed and allowing the grass to grow back. One thing to be said in favor of grass: at least weeds blend in when they're in the midst of the lawn.

But over the course of the day, several neighbors came by on their daily walks and each time, they stopped to talk to me about the garden and exclaim over one plant or another. Some of them thanked me for my efforts. One woman told me that as she walked with her 9 year old daughter and daughter's friend recently, the friend exclaimed at seeing so many flowers. The daughter informed her friend that "one lady takes care of all this". "ONE lady?" "Uh-huh, only ONE!" And THAT reminded me that there's more to why I do this than my own love for gardening or personal satisfaction: it's a way to make a difference in the world and in other people's lives. The visitors to my gardens don't see the weeds and disorder, and if they're overwhelmed, it's by the beauty of the blooms. In honor of Earth Day, here are a few of the blooms they've been seeing. The opening picture is a shot of the rose bed with pink larkspur, white winecup, Gulf Coast penstemon, toadflax, pink evening primroses and pink skullcap all vying for attention.

This is a close-up of the foliage and blooms on the red bauhinia. Carol of May Dreams Gardens, I think you're right: it would not be happy on your corner of Indy! It's hardy to 20 to 25 degrees ... you get a little colder than that, right? ;-)* The winter of 2006-2007, we had enough freezing weather that I had to do some very heavy pruning and take it down to about 3 feet high . This past winter, though, there was so little cold weather that frost damage was minimal and I've only done a little pruning to shape it thus far. I'd been perturbed by how many yellowing leaves I was seeing, thinking that perhaps the lack of rain was making it unhappy. I learned at the website of San Marcos Growers, though, that it tends to be deciduous in spring and should be refoliated by summer.
This is Tecoma stans 'Tangerine', aka Esperanza. I haven't ruled out moving it to a spot where it gets more sun, since it's not blooming as prolifically as it should. I'll give it the summer before I decide .
Here's a stand of Gaillardia at one end of the corner bed:

A close-up shot of some of the blooms on these Indian Blankets:
My oakleaf hydrangea is starting to bloom. We can grow some of the same plants as you more northerly gardeners, we just have to accept that they won't look the same as they do in your pictures or in catalogs!Then there's the Perle D'Or rose in the back garden. I've never seen it this loaded with blooms!

Pam of Digging posted pictures of her Clematis texensis 'Duchess of Albany'. I think mine is 'Gravetye Beauty'. Now that the plant has finally settled into her spot, I think she's a beauty indeed.
One of my garden angels. I was trying to get a shot of the purple columbine blooms (there are 2 of them about 2/3 of the way down her wing). My little Nikon Coolpix isn't up to capturing the shot I wanted (or maybe it's the Head Gardener's lack of photographic ability). Mother's Day is coming up ... I think a new camera might be the perfect gift.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Too Bloomin' Busy ...

Carol at May Dreams Gardens invites garden bloggers to share what's blooming in their gardens on the 15th of each month. I had completely forgotten that it was Bloom Day until I checked a few of my favorite blogs Tuesday night but I do think I have a good excuse. Since last weekend, we have been blessed by absolutely glorious weather here on my corner of Katy: low humidity, temperatures in the 70s, sunshine and clear skies. With summer closing in on us, we gardeners in this area take full adantage of such days. Since most of the gardens in the back get full sun, I've been working on those. I figure I can move around to the shadier front gardens as the temperatures rise. That's my plan, at least ... it's subject to change, especially when I walk by the daylily bed and see how much work needs doing there. The weed situation along the edge of the bed is deplorable: mulch may suppress germination of the seeds under it but those that blow in and land on top of the mulch are quite happy to sprout and grow where they find themselves. There's also the matter of the Verbena bonariensis, Purple Knockout Sage and zinnia seedlings and plants that have taken up residence there. Yikes ... so many plants, so little time.

I've been mulling over my garden design since attending the Garden Bloggers' Spring Fling and seeing the beautifully composed gardens that blogger Pam Penick of Digging has created. As much as I love the look of barely controlled chaos here on my corner of Katy, I'm feeling the need to simplify. As I Twittered recently, I say this every year but "this year I mean it". (I believe I say that every year, too.) I am finding that each passing year imposes more limitations on my physical abilities ... even more so since last summer, having had to recover from both bunion surgery and an appendectomy. There was a time when my plan was to create such intensely planted beds and borders that no bare soil would be visible, happily discounting the fact that while such plantings are beautiful, they are also highly labor intensive. During my recent recuperation, when my time in the garden was spent lazing in a chair and enjoying the sights and sounds of nature, I became much more aware of how valuable and how necessary it was to spend time just being in the garden. So while I'm working on my spring cleanup, I'm rethinking what I want to do with the gardens and my time therein. I am making progress on one of my goals: getting plants out of containers and into the ground, hoping to cut down on the time I spend on summer watering chores.

The c
orner bed, at least, is one of my more xeric efforts. Here's a picture that I took on the day after Bloom Day: the red bauhinia (B. galpinii), Engelmann's Daisy, Indian Blankets, Mexican Hats, Toadflax and Evening Dewdrops are all competing for attention. The cooler temperatures have had the Bauhinia in a sulk but it won't be long before it bursts forth in exuberance over warmer weather!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

My Dilemma ...

It's a beautiful spring day, albeit a bit windy, and I've been out in the garden puttering. We've had too little rain and too much wind recently, which means I'm doing a lot of watering by hand, not just containers but the garden itself. As I watered plants and pulled more violas, I found myself mentally composing posts for this blog ... which brings me to my dilemma. If I take time away from the garden to blog about gardening, no actual gardening gets done. But if I'm outside working in the garden, I can't blog. I suppose I could do shorter posts but then I feel like I'm cheating myself and any readers. Do I overthink things? Oh, YEAH. ::: sigh ::: How do you other bloggers handle it?

As for the garden itself, I'll share a picture I took earlier this week. Last spring, I bought a small bauhinia tree at Mercer Arboretum's March Mart, as usual without any idea of where I was going to put it. Impulse buying is one of my weaknesses as a gardener ... but when this bauhinia began to bloom for the first time, it reminded me of how richly I can be rewarded by my impulse buys. The label says "Hardy White Bauhinia", which is all well and good but WHICH hardy white bauhinia is it? This is when botanical names are not only useful but important. For some reason, I keep coming back to Bauhinia acuminata. So I went Googling and found this page from Top Tropicals. OK, so the petals are a bit different than those in their picture but, hey, this is Katy, not Phuket. Even if it's one of the other varieties, I'm delighted to have found Mark Shedden aka Bloomin' Bert. I gotta love a guy who offers this advice on pruning my tree: The best advice I can give is to prune after your second beer - not too many to affect your judgement, but enough to gather a little enthusiasm for the task. And now, I take my leave of y'all and head back to the garden to continue my attempts to impose a vestige of order upon the chaos.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Home Is The Gardener, Home From the Fling

Friday afternoon, as the rain began to descend upon I-10, I climbed into FloraBob, my little red truck, and headed out for Austin to participate in the Garden Bloggers Spring Fling. As I traveled along I-10 between Katy and Columbus, I was disappointed to see that the wildflowers were indeed not as prolific or as colorful as in years past. There were fewer bluebonnets, only a paucity of my favorite winecups and the Indian Paintbrush were a washed-out orange rather than the vivid red I so love. Thankfully, from Columbus to LaGrange on Highway 71, there were several very nice stands of bluebonnets, interspersed with Indian Blankets (Gaillardia), Thread-leaf Coreopsis, Evening Primroses and Drummond Phlox that positively glowed! (This does seem to have been a banner year for evening primroses and Coreopsis. A warning to those tempted to plant the former in garden beds: it will take over. World domination is its goal. Do not be misled by its demure demeanor.) From LaGrange to Columbus, only a few patches caught my eye. Still and all, there were enough to brighten the drive and make me smile.

I made it into Austin and arrived in Central Austin late afternoon, giving me just enough time to relax and catch up with my awesome/wonderful/amazing sister and the Wild Bunch (Chihuahuas Otis & Ricky and Chihuahua-Terrier mix Sydney) before heading over to Matt's El Rancho to meet the garden bloggers. This isn't the first time I've met up with a group that I'd only known online ... I've been part of an e-mail group known as the Garden Bobs for nearly 10 years now. We've been through a lot in those years and we've become close friends. Still, first time meetings can be a little anxiety-making and because I was probably the newest of the Garden Bloggers, I was a tad nervous. Any trepidation vanished the moment I walked in the door, got my name tag and spotted other bloggers eager to start talking about gardening, blogging and our lives beyond those passions. It was a noisy, entertaining, and absolutely delightful beginning to an even more amazing weekend. (A shout out to the staff of Matt's who were in charge of our rather unruly and very talkative group ... they did an awesome job of keeping us supplied with food and drink. despite the difficulties inherent in doing so for 35+ people.)

Saturday morning we headed over to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and I hope our out-of-state bloggers were wowed by the native beauties it had to offer. (God bless Lady Bird Johnson for her vision, dedication and passion ... our country is so much richer for it.) My favorite factoid supplied by our docent: if you look at a bluebonnet, you'll notice white dots on some of the petals and red on others. The red dots are a sign that the bluebonnets have been pollinated by a visiting bee. Bees are unable to see the color red so they don't waste time attempting to pollinate those petals. Isn't nature wonderful?

Later, we were treated to a very tasty fajita lunch, with a meaningful and thought-provoking talk by Tom Spencer, heard on radio station KLRU in Austin and blogger himself at Soul of the Garden. His words on finding sacred moments in the garden and how important it is to our spirituality resonated with many of us. From there we headed to The Natural Gardener, John Dromgoole's organic nursery. I won't guess how many of us bought plants there but I can tell you that I was one of them! Afterwards we headed to the amazing and inspiring gardens of James David and Gary Peese, a special treat since they normally open only for the Garden Conservancy's Open Garden Days.

Right now, a caveat lector (reader beware): I did not take a single picture over the course of the weekend. I was too busy talking, looking, socializing, talking, eating, talking, drinking and discussing.

Fling organizer Pam of Digging hosted a most convivial and entertaining happy hour at her home and garden: thank you, Pam, for welcoming us to Green Hall and its surroundings. Our official activities concluded with dinner at County Line Barbeque, to make sure our out-of-state visitors didn't go home inexperienced in the magic wrought when mesquite wood meets brisket. No one went home empty-handed, either: door prizes were awarded to each blogger and I was ecstatic to be the recipient of a long-handled Cobrahead tool. I bought one of the hand tools from Cobrahead blogger Geoff, one of our Fling participants, several years ago at a Farmer's Market in Austin. It has become an indispensable implement in my garden.

After attending services at Trinity United Methodist Church with my sister on Sunday, we made our mandatory visit to Trudy's for Migas Enchiladas and then headed to Shoal Creek Nursery, which is blocks away from Pam of Digging AND my sister. I did not go home plantless: Mexican feather grass, Texas Betony (Stachys coccinea) and one unidentified but very cool agave are now residing in my garden.

So there you have it: a chronicle of a weekend well spent. Next time, I'll do my best to stop talking long enough to take pictures!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Whoopee-Ti-Aye-Oh ...

I composed this little ditty Monday after spending several very happy and productive hours in the garden for the first time since my appendectomy. With a tip of the cowboy hat (and apologies) to Gene Autry:

I'm back in the garden again
Out where the sun is my friend
Where the monarch pillars feed
On red-orange butterfly weed
Back in the garden again

Roamin' the beds once more
Even tho I'm still a little sore
I can dig and weed and prune

While to my plants I croon
Back in the garden again

Runnin` to and fro
Back in the garden again
I go my way
Back in the garden again.


See if you can spot the tiny monarch caterpillar on this milkweed!

blog post photo

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Welcome to My Corner of Katy!

If you garden, you'll understand what I mean when I call myself a Horthead. When I first started gardening on this corner of Katy, I had no clue where it would lead me. But down the garden path I went. Almost 11 years later, what started out as a fairly typical suburban landscape is now anything but (the yard police have not always been tolerant but they appear to have thrown up their hands and resigned themselves in recent years).

There's more garden than grass to be found here on my corner lot. In my saner moments, I wonder what in the HECK possessed me to create so many planting areas ... then there are moments when the urge to expand hits me and at the end of the day, there's a little less lawn than there was at the beginning. I could argue that those fits of lawn reduction are actually an altruistic act of marital devotion. Since my spouse (to whom I refer as my executive producer) complains about having to lift the mower up and down because there are 3 separate areas of grass in the front/side yards, I'm working on eliminating one of those areas, thus sparing him the arduous effort of hauling the mower from the north 20 to the south 20. This corner bed is in between the north 40 and north 20.

I call mine a Texas cottage garden: there's nothing highly structured or formal about any of the areas. There's no grass at all in the back yard: just garden beds and paths. The picture to your right is the view as you enter the back 40 from the driveway. As you might suspect, I'm aiming for a look of controlled chaos. Wildscaping and habitat gardening are big interests, so I plant a lot of flowers for the birds, bees, and butterflies. As in traditional English cottage gardens (or my perception of them), plants are allowed to reseed themselves freely so that it's never the same from one year to the next. I like change ... although I have been told that my plants should have wheels because I move them so often. I consider it an exercise in stretching myself as a gardener.

We gardeners have a highly personal relationship with weather: here in South Central Texas, most of us both bemoan and bless the fact that we can garden year-round. Some of us develop strange one-sided relationships with the TV weather forecasters. A friend of mine falls into a funk each time her favored forecaster departs Houston for another station: mere days later, she has transferred her affections to the replacement, despite my warnings that it can only end in heartbreak. I myself have what I know to be an unreasonable animus for Dr. Neil Frank ever since Hurricane Rita didn't hit us. That's probably because I spent a good two days needlessly hauling in plants and yard art in anticipation of the havoc they could wreak when hurled about by hurricane force winds. I blame Dr. Neil for all the time I lost, both moving things in and then back out again. I refuse to watch him on the news and have been known to hurl insults if he appears during commercials. Yet I continue to read his forecast in the paper each day, because I'm a gardener and I feel the need to know what my gardens and I can expect in the days to come. This frequently results in muttered imprecations on my part and the shaking of heads on that of my family. I don't expect them to understand ... they don't garden.

I'd been unable to do much gardening myself for the past 3 weeks, owing to an unexpected surgical adventure. It's been difficult to stay out of the garden at this time of year, when much of it is at its peak. Blogging about the garden has been a good way to keep myself inside and away from the temptation to do too much digging, pruning, planting, weeding, etc. Although I joined the blogging world back in December when I started a garden blog on the Houston Chronicle's reader blogsite, the problems some readers have had linking to that site have led me to Blogger, where I set up this blog and Carpe Rutila (where I installed Twitter so I can keep track of my gardening activities, bloom dates, etc
). Right now I'm thinking I'll use Carpe Rutila as more of a garden journal ... but I'm looking forward to talking about it with fellow bloggers at the Garden Bloggers Spring Fling this coming weekend. For those who'd like to read my past posts on my original blog, here's the link: From My Corner of Katy. (This post is an amended version of my first post there.)