Thursday, August 27, 2009

Three for Thursday

My friend Plantwoman posted this week about a semi-annual ritual we Houston area gardeners know well: the trimming of the trees. Unlike at Christmas, this is rarely a festive occasion or cause for celebration. The local electric company sends crews out to cut back trees that are growing too close to the power lines. These guys aren't much interested in artfully pruning and shaping: they're not paid to do an artistic job, just a utilitarian one. Like Plantwoman, I acknowledge the necessity of keeping power lines unobstructed and I appreciate the workers' efforts in the miserable August heat. Should we have a repeat of last September's hurricane, I'll be much happier if we don't lose power (the Head Gardener and I get cranky if we don't have a/c). It's not even my own trees that were butchered ... mangled ... decimated, but those of my neighbor across the alley. Still, the "borrowed" view is very much a part of my garden and I enjoy it as a backdrop to my own plantings. Or I did.

Here's how it looked Monday morning. The dark green tree festooned with pink coral vine (in the upper right quadrant of the picture) is a Bradford Pear; to its left but not quite visible, there's a pale pink Crape Myrtle.

This is the view today.

Here's a close-up view of what's left of the Bradford Pear tree. Pretty sad, isn't it?

Truthfully, I really don't know why my neighbors don't cut the whole danged tree down. Well, yeah, I do: it provides some shade from the afternoon sun, although I can't believe it's enough in proportion to the aggravation it causes. WHEN it has leaves, it's a very messy tree. I'll be interested to see how this one recovers from the whackness. And I believe I'll start looking for something to plant along my back fence to fill the empty spot. Too bad Grancy Greybeard (Chionanthus virginicus) is so messy, too. It's way too big for my back garden anyway.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Through the Garden Gate: Monday, August 24th

37 days, y'all. 37 days till October 1st and we can reasonably tell ourselves that the worst of the heat is over. Actually, I only have 31 actual days to suffer through here on my corner of Katy, since I'll be in Raleigh, North Carolina for 6 days at the end of September. I'm attending the Garden Writers of America conference, which promises to be a great deal of fun as well as very educational. And I hear there are some cool freebies, too! I'm excited to have another chance to hang out with some of the garden bloggers I've gotten to know through the garden bloggers' spring flings. One of the scheduled tours is a visit to Plant Delights Nursery and I expect to feel like a kid in a candy store! Y'all can expect to see some of the goodies I bring home on a future look through the garden gate!

As for what there is to see today, by the time I made it out there, here's the usual view.

It would behoove the Head Gardener in future to take into consideration the amazing growing power of Ipomoea batatas 'Blackie', the ebony purple hued sweet potato vine, before she sticks it any old where. Can you see the ribbon of purple running down the center of the picture?
There's a flagstone sidewalk under all that vine, as you can just barely see in the picture below. Blackie is also creeping onto the patio, into the path, through the fence and would probably head across the alley given a chance.

The Rock Rose, Pavonia lasiopetala, has been looking less than happy most of the summer. The Head Gardener thinks it's a good reminder that we shouldn't expect too much from a plant just because it's considered to be drought tolerant. Tolerating drought and thriving in it are two very different things: look at how healthy and floriferous the Pavonia is now that we've had several good rain showers on my corner of Katy!

The Head Gardener and I had a brainstorm today and even though we had to walk through the garden gate and down the garden path to document the results, we wanted to share it with y'all. Even though my wonderful pond guy repotted and fertilized both water lilies when he did my pond cleaning this spring, the Perry's Baby Red water lily has yet to bloom. I finally decided that the pond is just too shady for this baby and moved it into a large tub last week. As the Head Gardener was trundling the old wheelbarrow away, it occurred to us that it was just the right size to hold that water lily! So we placed it on the south patio, set the water lily inside and added water. That area gets enough direct sun that we're optimistic we'll have blooms before cold weather arrives.

While I was there, I took a couple of shots of the garden from that vantage point. You can see in the second picture just how shady the pond area is (it's the large dark hole between the two chairs).

I'll wrap it up with a picture of the Laura Bush Petunias that I cut back a couple of weeks ago. They're looking much happier for that haircut and the rain!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

On This August Occasion, Let Us Celebrate ...

For blooms can be found on my corner of Katy despite painfully hot and dry weather. It's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day and this month I've decided to spotlight one special plant.

11 months ago, Hurricane Ike tore through the Houston area and left a wake of destruction in its path. My Bauhinia galpinii was one of the plants most affected by the high winds. She was a pitiful sight indeed right after the storm, as you see in this picture. I remember all too well my despair at the first sight of her ... I wondered if she would ever return to her former glory.

The answer to that question is in the picture below. Just look at her now! Even my highest hopes have been exceeded and I've decided I should call her Tina because she survived the worst Ike could throw at her and came out better than ever.

Thanks to Carol of May Dreams Garden for hosting Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Visit MDG for links to other garden blogs and see what's blooming in gardens around the world.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Through the Garden Gate: Monday, August 10th

At 8:10 p.m, with the light fading and the day almost gone, I finally made it outside to grab a couple of shots for this week's TTGG post. If you look at last week's post and then at this one, you'll note the cleaned up vitex. The Head Gardener removed all those suckers and shoots along the trunk and limbs. I'm much happier with the way the vitex looks now so I guess it's staying, at least until I get unhappy with it again or I give in to one of those sudden urges to redo an entire area.

I zoomed in on this portion of the garden to see what might show up ... I like the way the Taro in the bog stands out against the fence.

And as the the light continues to slip away, I aim the lens at the gazing globe and capture the sunset.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Different ...

We bring you pictures of a rare and precious commodity here on my corner of Katy. Click to enlarge and take a closer look at the petals of this Abelmoschus.

Raindrops were falling on my head out front ...

Raindrops were falling on my head out back ...

and raindrops were falling on my head out in the driveway!

When the storms had passed and I ventured outside to check on things, I was gobsmacked, as our British friends say, by the number of dragonflies that were dashing about the garden. I've never seen that many in my garden at once! They were so active that I knew it would be impossible to get a photograph of any of them ... it only now occurs to me that I could have taken a video. Next time, perhaps.

The rain was a blessed and welcome treat on what I thought would be another hot and dry summer Sunday afternoon. We had some pretty impressive thunder and lightning going on for an hour or so, and some fairly strong gusts of wind when the storm first rolled in. As far as how much rain we actually got, I would guess less than an inch. It's nowhere near enough to make up the deficit but we'll take whatever Mother Nature gives us at this point. Should she choose to send more, the Head Gardener will be positively giddy and may have to be restrained from cavorting about wildly. The media will not be alerted as she does not wish photographs of her unseemly behavior to be bandied about. Give her a rhubarb Bellini (or any Bellini for that matter), and that could change!

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Back at the end of June, I posted about the problems heat zone gardeners face with peat-based potting mix (you can read that post here). A few days later, I picked up some Cleome plants at Nelson's Water Gardens, thinking they would add a nice punch of color to a bed out back. They had been watered at the nursery that morning and were full of buds and blooms. I set them in a bed and went about the rest of my day. The next morning, I walked out and found this sad sight:

I foolishly neglected to check on them the afternoon I brought them home; left in the blazing July sun, the peat dried and hardened very quickly. Only one of the plants was able to rebound. I removed the plant from its 4 inch pot and used a gentle spray of water to wash the potting mix off the roots. I dug a hole, watered that well, then placed the Cleome into the hole and watered the area around it again after planting. I forgot to water it the day after that and was sure I was going to find it on the edge of death when I finally remembered a couple of days later. I was very surprised to find that not only was it alive, it was thriving. Just over 4 weeks later, this is how it looks. Well, slap my face and call me sassy but I doubt it would still be with me had I not removed the potting mix.

I've since tried this with other plants and it continues to make a tremendous difference in their survival rate. I talked with Rolf Nelson about it at the time I bought the Cleomes and he confirmed that they always wash the potting mix off before planting, no matter what the season. Today I was out back watering and I found more peat victims: two badly wilted pentas that were planted at least 3 months ago and have been watered semi-regularly. I yanked them up and came inside to grab the camera so I could use them as yet another exhibit in my case against peat. The top plant managed to spread its roots outside of the original pot shape a bit; the bottom one clearly did not.

Once again, I used a gentle stream of water to wash the soil off the roots of the plants, then potted them up, resulting in this sorry sight (the pink flowers are verbena, not penta ... sorry, I didn't pick the best spot to take a picture).

But wait ... there's more! Take a look at the difference in them not two hours later.

I went out just now to check on them and take a picture, in the interest of full disclosure. The one whose roots were constricted was struggling. I took it out of the shared pot, cleaned it up and repotted it by itself.

Although it's most critical in my garden that this method be used with peat based potting mixes, I also used it recently when planting eleven Gulf Coast Muhly grasses (Muhlenbergia capillaris). Although they were in a fairly loose and well drained mix composed of compost and bark, they had been in their pots for a while and their roots needed some loosening up. After I'd done that, I washed off at least one-third of the soil on each of them before planting them. As usual, I watered the hole first and then rewatered the area after covering the roots. The grasses are in a bed covered by the sprinkler system so they've been watered every 2 days. They seem to be settling in quite nicely.

So there you have it, a method that enables those of us gardening in the heat to plant even in July! That said, I will stress that if you do buy plants in temperatures like we're currently experiencing and they're in a peat-based potting medium, you probably should plant them the day you buy them. If you don't, be sure you put them in an area where they get afternoon shade AND remember to water them at least twice a day. And while this method has worked for heat-loving summer annuals and grasses, I'm not so sure how perennials would fare. It's probably best to wait for cooler weather to plant those. Only 55 days till October 1st, when we know the worst is behind us and life in the garden can begin anew!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Through the Garden Gate: Monday, August 3rd

I've been remiss in posting my Monday views through the garden gate. I can't remember why I missed the 20th of July ... looking at my garden journal, I see I spent most of that morning outside. I picked up 20 bags of organic compost, ferried them home in FloraBob and then used a goodly number of them to plant the 11 Gulf Coast Muhly grass I bought at Joshua's Native Plants on the 14th. FYI, I washed off most of the soil from their roots, even though it wasn't a peat based mix, and puddled them in thoroughly. They've been watered every other day by the sprinkler system and are settling in nicely. I have more thoughts to share in another post on the peat issue. I might get to that later today or tomorrow, if things are slow at the model home where I'm working the next few days. Anyway, by the time it had cooled down enough to go out in the garden to take pictures, it was dark. So the gate remained unopened that Monday.

Last Monday, I was down at the Houston Chronicle all day, making entries in their plant database. They had asked me a while back if I'd be interested in helping them build this database of plants suited to the greater Houston growing area. It's already proven as interesting and educational an experience as I'd expected and I'm looking forward to helping my fellow Gulf Coast gardeners learn more about what plants work for us, as well as learning more myself. My first day there, I brought in some of the ailing Iris cristata for the Chronicle's garden editor, Kathy Huber, to look over. She's as knowledgeable and helpful in person as she is in her writing, and we had a nice chat about some of the garden challenges we've each faced recently. (Kathy's shade garden was rendered a sun garden by the vicissitudes of Hurricane Ike and this summer's weather has added insult to injury). By the time I'd gotten home, I'd settled in for the night before it occurred to me that once again, I hadn't opened the gate.

This morning, I'm taking a look through the gate before I head in other directions. Changes include the whacking back of the Laura Bush petunia, pulling out of summer-stressed parsley and a serious haircut to the Echinacea. The Vitex tree is suckering big time: the light green you see the left of that large branch is shoots that have arisen along and near the trunk. One of the things I talked with Kathy Huber about is taking drastic measures: cutting the trunk of the tree down to the ground and letting it regrow. Of course, no sooner do I threaten that than it starts another bloom cycle. It's taking up a lot of room and blocking a fair amount of light, so cutting it down would give me room for more roses or some other shrub that I haven't tried yet. Should I put it to a vote on my sidebar????

Periodically, I show y'all the seamier side of things here at Wit's End: here's the view TTGG in a different direction. The hose is rarely to be found neatly coiled in its blue tub ... most often, the Head Gardener has to watch her step as she makes her way along the path, in an effort not to trip and break her foot yet again.

This, my friends, is one of the sad stories on my corner of Katy. It's a Goodwin Creek Lavender and, as the late herbalist Madalene Hill would say, it's going to its fathers. Thanks to my garden journal, I see that it was planted on November 30th. I should be grateful it's lasted as long as it did since previous tries at growing it have been much shorter in duration. Even those it's in about as Mediterranean an area as can be found in back, I suspect the humidity was too much for it. Madalene Hill recommended mulching with granite or pea gravel. I may plant another one and try that.

Since I prefer to leave you with happy thoughts, as it were, I'll close with a picture of my Salt Marsh Mallow (Kosteletzkya virginica), a native plant that is currently wowing me with scads of these pretty in pink blooms.