Monday, June 23, 2008

Speaking of Rain ...

Although it's only a dim sweet memory 4 days later, rain did fall on my corner of Katy Thursday afternoon. It came down hard and fast, accompanied for a few minutes by pea-sized hail. 30 minutes later, it was gone, leaving the garden and the Head Gardener refreshed, renewed and reinvigorated. When another storm system came rumbling through the Houston area on Friday, I had high hopes as I followed its progress on the radar map. I can literally zoom in to my corner on the Weather.com radar map to see where the rain is falling. There's only one small problem: it was wrong. Although the radar showed light rain falling on my street, nary a drop was to be seen out the windows. So now I'm not only unable to trust the meteorologists, I'm unable to trust their computers? This is very unsettling.

Thankfully there are some things this gardener CAN trust when it comes to rain and one of them is the small bulb Zephyranthes grandiflora, known as the Rain Lily. Give them a good soaking and they'll reward you with beautiful blooms like these:

These are very hardy little plants in my garden, to wit: I inadvertently pulled up some bulbs a couple of weeks ago and left them sitting in an empty pot for a few days. After 2 or 3 soakings with the hose (while I was watering other plants), those little buggers bloomed! That's one of those unexpected garden delights that keep me heading out the door to putter even when it's way too hot to do so. And speaking of delights, Plant Delights Nursery carries a diverse selection of Zephyranthes. They say that the blooms are attractive to butterflies but I can't vouch for that, having never seen any butterflies on the plants in my garden. (I'm hoping the butterflies are visiting the blooms when I'm not watching.) (When you think about it, a lot of what goes on in the garden does so when we're not watching ... like those unpotted rain lilies blooming!)

Despite the Head Gardener's lack of fondness for summer weather, she can say one good thing about it: tropical plants like this Mickey Mouse Taro really come into their own at this time of year. The leaves on this Taro are so wonderfully weird and wacky, they make me smile every time I see them. It's hard to see the "mouse tail" in this shot; it's that slightly lighter green line at the top left, that looks like it could be part of the leaves below it. The plants are small right now but they shouldn't be for long. In my garden, the MMTs appreciate some shade in the afternoon and regular watering. I can't remember how long ago I bought the original plant but it's been at least 5 years; since then it's multiplied several times over. I've dug up and relocated some of the offspring, only to find that enough root was left behind for another plant to sprout! It's not as aggressive as Elephant Ears, however, and the roots stay a much more manageable size. (Ever tried to dig up one of those giant EE bulbs???!!!)

The camera battery ran out before I could take any more pictures, and it was just as well because it was early afternoon and way too hot to spend any more time out there! This won't be the last time you hear me whining about the heat, the humidity, the lack of rain, the weather folks, plants that go roots up, and who knows what else. Having other garden bloggers to rant with on
Plurk and Twitter does tend to reduce the amount of ranting on the blog itself. Of course, this can also lead to the need for more whining and ranting, such as when you learn that someone, let's say in Indianapolis, is enjoying temperatures in the low 70s and still visiting garden centers on the way home from work. That's OK, though: my turn will come in January!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall ...

Except mine, that is. The storm system that pounded much of the Houston area yesterday stayed well south of MCOK. As usual.

Fine, I exaggerate. But it FEELS that way. It seems like light years since I've seen a view like this out my front gate (This is an old picture, taken in November of 2003 or 2004, I think.) That wheelbarrow is at the end of the sidewalk and the lake you see? That's my street.
I feel like this Goddess of the Garden ... I swear her face changes expression according to my moods. Doesn't she look despondent right now?


She and I would both do well to take inspiration from this brave little native columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). I bought several 4 inch pots of these at a local nursery and planted them in my courtyard sometime this spring ... I'm thinking it was before my surgical safari in March. I was disappointed (there's a dis again) and perplexed when they failed not only to bloom but to grow. They languished there, showing no inclination to do anything other than sulk. It was a happy surprise yesterday to find one of the plants blooming. True, it's a little droopy and disheveled, much like I am these days. This isn't the kind of weather it normally prefers: it's supposed to be happiest in spring's cooler temperatures and softer light. Yet somewhere in its depths this plant found the strength to carry on. It's a reminder that I can, too.




Sunday, June 15, 2008

Dis Bloom Day ...

I am feeling dispirited, dissatisfied, discouraged, disenchanted, disgruntled, disheartened ... oh, hell, just look in the dictionary under dis-! Right now they all feel like they apply. I headed outside thinking that I would water and then take a few pictures to share for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. After seeing the dismal and disappointing conditions wrought by the disinclination of rain to fall on my corner of Katy, I am filled with dismay and disgust. I am disconcerted. I am disconsolate. I am distinctly disposed to disappear for distant and distinctively different destinations ... do not try to dissuade me lest I become disputatious and disorderly.

Seriously, folks, it's bad out there. Let me be clear: I have blooms a-plenty. The plants to which those blooms are attached, however, are feeling the stress. What MSS at Zanthan Gardens calls Brown Summer is upon us a month sooner than expected, by gardeners or by plants, and it is
indeed painful to experience on many levels. A gardener learns that sacrifices must be made: which plant gets to live and which should be yanked and thrown into the compost? Those that are deemed worthy will need the gardener's attention ... nay, vigilance. Watering twice a day may be necessary: is this plant worth her/his venturing forth into the heat and humidity, wrestling with the hoses, getting dirty and sweaty? Will the eventual rewards make that gardener glad s/he sacrificed personal comfort, time and effort in order to nurture that plant through hostile weather conditions? It's a very personal decision and one only that gardener can make.

There are very few plants that show no signs of stress in the most dire of conditions. I am in awe of Batface Cuphea's ability to thrive with almost no attention. Copper Canyon Daisy (Tagetes lemonii), which was a fall/winter/spring bloomer on MCOK, increases in size almost daily and will have once again taken over the front garden by the time cooler weather arrives. Gaura is offended by too much water and too rich a soil. I saw a planting of Blue Daze, Evolvulus, today in a commercial landscape: it was covered with blooms and the foliage was in near perfect condition.

OK, now that I've had a chance to rant a bit (and a couple of glasses of La Vielle Ferme rosé), I'll share a handful of pictures taken on Friday when the weather and I were both in better moods.

This Duranta (Golden Dewdrop) is planted outside my breakfast room window, where I can see the butterflies visiting it.

I am a big fan of ornamental grasses and Ruby Crystals grass is one of my faves. It reseeds but not obnoxiously and the blooms are lovely:


Bright Lights or Klondyke Cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus) aren't impervious to the heat and drought. They reseed so easily, though, it's only a matter of days before they're up and blooming again.

Porterweed has reseeded itself in several locations throughout my corner of Katy.

There was a time when I wasn't all that fond of petunias. This little Supertunia Mini Silver is quite the charmer, though. (And she was only 25 cents on Lowe's clearance rack, despite being in good condition.)
Just to show that I haven't lost my sense of humor or appreciation for nature's little quirks, I offer as my final Bloom Day shot this courageous cyclamen who refuses to give up despite the most adverse of conditions:
(Stay tuned for July and August, when the Texas garden bloggers go ballistic ...)

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Flowery Friday the 13th

I headed out the door this morning with camera in hand and took a tour of my corner of Katy. It's hot and steamy out there ... looking at the skies in between taking photos, I found it difficult to believe the predictions of rain, which means I should be outside watering. However, I spent over four hours in the sun yesterday in my ongoing effort to take back bed space from the weeds. Weed, water, unload mulch, spread mulch, repeat. For four hours. My reluctance to be out today is understandable, surely. I see clouds to the south now so perhaps the weather folks will be right. Perhaps. I have learned from experience not to put my faith in forecasters. Better to have faith in the blooms to be found on MCOK.

The Dicliptera suberecta has just begun to bloom. This fuzzy-leafed perennial loves hot and dry weather. It can be an assertive spreader so it's best to keep a watchful eye on it.
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I can't remember ever seeing Russelia, alias Firecracker Fern, suffer from a lack of rain or surfeit of heat.


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Like the previous two plants, Hamelias are a wonderful source of nectar for hummingbirds ... if only they were around to enjoy the blooms. The hummers must not be all that thrilled with our weather, either. Who can blame them?


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I like the multi-colored blooms on this Hamelia.

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This Native Turk's cap is another great hummingbird plant. The sun hit this bloom just as I clicked the shutter:


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Over the years, I've bought several different types of Echinacea (Purple Coneflowers), as well as sown seeds given to me by fellow gardeners. There's quite an assortment of blooms on MCOK. I suspect they've hybridized themselves over the years and I never know for sure what any given plant will do. These are in the south border of the back 40:
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This one is in the daylily bed in the north 40:


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This one is ... somewhere I can't remember ...


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I bought some Angel Wing Jasmine plants years ago at my local Target and they have taken over the trellis that screens my breakfast room windows from the street. It will probably collapse from their weight one day! I spent some time recently clearing out dead wood and doing a little judicious pruning. Not only do they smell heavenly, but they hardly ever stop blooming.


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On another section of fence, this Mascagnia macroptera, Yellow Butterfly Vine, is growing vigorously and rooting wherever it touches the ground, making it a great passalong plant , as mine was. I didn't realize that the plant is a member of the Malpighiaceae family, and thus related to Barbados Cherry. The name butterfly vine comes from the winged seed pods that will form from the spent blooms. The willow oak nearby has grown and that area of the south 40 gets too much sun for this vine to bloom as profusely as it could. I didn't crop this picture because I liked the shadows of the plant on the fence.
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Gaura 'Whirling Butterflies' is another plant that has reseeded itself throughout my gardens. This drought tolerant native plant gets its name from the beautiful white blooms. It's a loose and airy plant that sways in a breeze, lending movement to the garden. I had a little trouble getting a clear shot because they were moving so much!


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Another plant that reseeds for me is Profusion Apricot zinnia. Leaf miners may mottle the foliage but have little effect, if any, on the blooms. If you look at the bloom on the far right, you'll see a pink tinge at the end of the petals. Depending on where they're growing on MCOK, that tinge can be so pronounced as to be a stripe or streak, or a flush.
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I found this Cuphea at the fabulous Enchanted Forest nursery. The name escapes me but it has a growth habit very much like Batface Cuphea. It's drought tolerant, great in containers or in beds, and reseeds (but not agressively).
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Rock Rose, Pavonia lasiopetala, is another drought tolerant native. It also reseeds but not in the thuggish fashion of its relative, Peruvian Pavonia. Here on my corner of Katy, it seems to do well in dappled sun, semi-shade or full sun.
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Like the Peruvian Pavonia, Monarda citriodora, commonly called Horsemint or Lemon Mint, can self-sow to the point of thuggishness. Right now I only have the one plant in the corner bed but I expect to see more of them. This is another native plant that's frequently used in wildflower mixes. If you're driving out I-10 west, you'll see these blooming in the plantings along the new sections of the freeway. (I find them a less than felicitous combination with screaming taxicab yellow Stella D'Oro daylilies, however!)


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This year I'm undecided whether my favorite daylily is 'Enon' or the pale yellow daylily whose tag has been lost.


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Since Garden Blogger's Bloom Day is coming up on Sunday, and one should always leave one's readers wanting more, I'll wrap it up for today picture-wise. By the way, those clouds that were hanging around at the beginning of this post? They've vanished into the ozone and the skies are ominously clear. Stinkin' weather forecasters!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Sunday Evening Stroll Through the Garden

The Head Gardener was allowed to take a day off from the garden today. Because the Head Gardener is an avid reader, almost as fond of books as she is of plants, she can usually be found lolling in a chair or on the sofa, book in hand, when the summer heat and humidity prove too much for her delicate sensibilities. So it went today. Having finished her book, she moseyed outside with the camera before dusk to see how the garden had fared without her. For your viewing pleasure, she presents the following.

In the back yard, a white sport of Mrs. B.R. Cant showed off this creamy bloom. This rose was a gift from a fellow antique rose aficionado.

The HG is very fond of this cool and refreshing combination of Blackie Sweet Potato Vine, Serenity Mix verbena and Peachie's Pick Stokesia. She would like to say it's the result of her canny knack for garden design and that she chose and planted each of them envisioning just such a picture. Being an honest sort, however, she must admit that it just kinda happened.
Here's a closeup of the Peachie's Pick Stokesia:
Being on occasion an agreeable and indulgent mother to the 19 year old girl child still residing at home, the HG agreed to said girl child's request that someone bring her dinner at work. As she passed the side yard on her way upon her return home, the HG spotted this daylily bloom. Much to her regret, it too is missing a tag and is thus unidentified. She didn't see the ant on the bloom until she downloaded the picture!
Zinnias are a summer staple here on the Head Gardener's corner of Katy. There are a lot of different colors, shapes and sizes, since they reseed every year and seem to hybridize themselves in the process. However, she remembers buying a packet of Purple Prince last year and believes that's what this one is.
This is a favorite color, not quite red, but not quite pink (and a nice foil for the Gaillardia):


This one, however, is most definitely red.
As is this Abutilon 'Voodoo Red', who is summering on the dining room patio. When cooler weather returns to this corner of Katy, the HG hopes this little darling will still be with her to be planted in a congenial spot near two other abutilons.


Rudbeckias also reseed themselves in the corner bed. The HG was quite taken with the markings on this one .

Calylophus is a tough little Texas native. It's planted next to the curb, where it's mighty hot and dry ... unlike the HG, this plant prefers such conditions.
The HG tried several times to plant 4 inch pots of Tithonias from local growers and failed miserably each time . She finally bought seeds and scattered them quite randomly ... success! The butterflies really do love these flowers.

This includes the pictorial tour for today. The Head Gardener thanks you for your kind attention!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Windy Wednesday

It took a little doing but I managed to get a few good shots around the garden despite the wind here on MCOK. I'm going to let the pictures do most of the talking so I can head back outside and see what kind of trouble I can cause.

The Coconut Lime Echinacea I bought at Lowe's last week will be planted when we get a cloudy day, or maybe just potted up into more moisture-retentive soil. Pam at Digging said in a recent post that she does her best not to plant anything after May 1st. That makes a lot of sense,
especially given the early onset of summer this year. I checked the historical weather data on the Houston Chronicle's website and learned that our temperatures this year are running 5 to 7 degrees higher than in 2006 and 2007. Those of us who have been whining about it's being hotter than usual were right!

I bought this blue Agave at Shoal Creek Nursery in Austin during the Garden Bloggers' Spring Fling. This is the mother plant: she had 2 pups, as well, much to my delight. I used to not be a big fan of agaves but Pam's Whale's Tongue agave is what really won me over.

Look at Stokesia 'Peachie's Pick', which I bought at Houston Bulb & Plant Mart last fall. I paid $11 for a
one gallon pot, which is a pretty steep price for that size plant here in Houston. I was seduced by the description of what an incredible performer it is, so I bit the bullet/took the plunge. This is one time I'm very happy I succumbed!
For comparison's sake, here's a picture of my garden variety Stokesia: it's only a few feet away in another bed and just a wee bit less floriferous (one bloom, count it, ONE). Those are Supertunia 'Mini Silver' on the left (found on the Lowe's clearance rack for 25 cents).

The Desert Willow tree (Chilopsis linearis):

These Crocosmia/Montbretia were passalong plants from Diane, a gardener from the West
University neighborhood in Houston, who was preparing to move to Wimberley. She had posted a message on Craigslist offering free plants for the digging. I am so glad I drove into town from the burbs and dug these because I'm deeply in love with these blooms. Carol at May Dreams Gardens talks about how few red flowers she has in her garden and it's been interesting to read other gardeners' comments on their color preferences. Before I started gardening in the front yard as well as the back, I did find reds, yellows and oranges a challenge to integrate into the garden. Now that I keep the hot colors in my front gardens where there's enough open space that they don't overwhelm the cooler colors, the plants and the head gardener are much happier!

I do break my own rules on occasion, however, as evidenced by this vignette in the back. These zinnias seeded themselves in the path at the end of a bed: they make me smile every time I see them.
I took this picture last week but it's worth sharing. This is Morning Glory Tree, Ipomoea fistulosa. Be prepared to give it some space if you plant it ... it's big and rangy but the blooms are just glorious (and you won't find yourself pulling up an infinite number of seedlings, unlike the vining varieties).



If anyone recognizes this pink rose, let me know! I have no idea who she is but she's been a very well mannered shrub thus far, maybe 2 feet high and 2-1/2 feet wide. I think this was a cutting I started from someone else but I just cannot remember. I should spend the summer making indelible labels!

I chastised this plant last week for taking so danged long to bloom ... it seemed like the buds took weeks to open. It's white Texas Star Hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus, I think?).I've dallied long enough ... time to go chase the squirrel off the bird feeder, put on my gloves and get busy!