Thursday, December 31, 2009

An End and A Beginning

Here I am at the end of 2009 with only minutes to spare if I'm going to be ready when my guests arrive to ring in 2010. Having been so sporadic in posting here lately, though, I wanted to take a few of those minutes to check in and wish y'all a festive and safe New Year's Eve, and say thank you for visiting my cyber corner of Katy. I'm hoping to be a lot more diligent in putting fingers to keyboard this coming year. Perhaps I should be thankful to the cold weather for giving me ample subject matter ... parts of my garden are barely recognizable, thanks to the blizzard of aught-nine, and it will be a very different garden in 2010 than it was in 2009. I'm more excited about that than I am distressed: as I've mentioned before, I like changing things up and reworking the scenes I've set. (I do wish I'd covered the variegated Firespike, though ... I fear it has, as Madalene Hill was wont to say, gone to its fathers.) I've already gotten into the spirit of things and moved some moss rocks to the rose bed, added compost and will get busy seeding Linaria out there tomorrow. Then there's that whole area under the pine tree to consider ... and the spot presently occupied by what's left of the Erythrina crista-galli (yeah, I didn't tell y'all about that ... just wait till you see ... but I had good reasons, really I did ... ) ...

But those are stories for another day ... so for now, I'll bid y'all a fond adieu and see you in the New Year!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Why I Garden

My friend Mary Ann over at Gardens of the Wild Wild West asked us a while back to share with her the stories of why we garden. "What makes you brave the wind, sleet, high temperatures, low temperatures, frost and frost bite to put little tiny seeds or great big trees in the ground. Why oh why? And you do it again and again. Eternal optimists, yes. But I know there is mor e to your story. Tell me what it is." I've only read one of my fellow bloggers' essays and Leslie of Growing A Garden in Davis certainly captured a good many of the reasons I garden. Like Leslie and probably most gardeners, certainly I garden for the joys and delights both the process and the results bring me. There are days when my heart is so full of emotion that I can only sit and sigh as I survey the beauty all around me.

But I garden not just because of what it gives to ME, I garden because it's an opportunity for me to give to others and to make the world a better place. I garden because I believe it's a way for me to be the change that I wish to see in the world. Even if it's insignificant in the grand scheme of things, my small surburban corner of Katy affects the lives of those who walk or drive by. Sometimes they stop to ask the name of a plant or to tell me how the garden reminds them of a special time or place in their lives. They recognize a plant that their mother or grandmother grew and for an instant, they're that beloved child or grandchild again. Young children stop to exclaim over the butterflies and to shyly ask if they may pick a flower. Even a few of the teenagers fall under the garden's spell and stop to tell me, as one young woman did, that seeing it "makes my day all bright and shiny". I garden because I know that someone's day is better for having seen the poppies in bloom or watched a Monarch butterfly nectaring amongst the coneflowers and Cosmos. I garden to remind them, and myself, that life is good.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Bedraggled December Bloom Day

I knew there would be a difference between my December 2008 Bloom Day post and what I have to show you today, but I am shocked at how tremendous that difference is. It's anything but colorful on my corner of Katy this Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. The weather has been dismal and abysmal the last week or so and I haven't been able to spend much time in the garden. When I do step outside for a few minutes, I'm vividly and repeatedly reminded that Mother Nature always gets the last word. She may take a little time to get that word in ... lull you into complacency ... and then WHAM! a plant you were certain had come through the freeze unscathed shows unmistakable signs of having been scathed and scathed again. I won't say that I regret having let the gardens fend for themselves but I might actually cover a few plants the next time a freeze is predicted. In the meantime, here's a slideshow of the few blooms I actually have as of today.

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is the creation of Carol, who blogs at May Dreams Gardens. Mosey on over and see who else is blogging about their blooms (or lack thereof).

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Big Chill

So here we are one week after the Big Chill visited the greater Houston area ... and the scene on my corner of Katy is one of damage and devastation. True, it doesn't look all that bad as seen through the garden gate.

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But if you take a little walk around the garden with me, I'll show you what I mean. The Chinese Hat, Holmskioldia sanguinea, is a very sad sight. I'm following Houston Chronicle Garden Editor Kathy Huber's advice and resisting the temptation to prune it back. (OK, The Head Gardener may have nipped an inch here and there but that's resisting temptation by our standards.)

Like many of the woody perennials, the Durantas were hit hard. I've gone ahead and started pruning them back, which falls under the category of DAISNAID ... Do as I say, not as I do ... a term I borrowed from Mr. McGregor's Daughter in Chicago (read her latest DAISNAID post if you need a good laugh). I've grown these plants long enough that I have a fairly good idea of how much pruning I can get away with at this point. I also know that if it takes umbrage with my doing so and dies as a result, it can be replaced as it's a fairly easy plant to find locally. Conversely, the Holmskioldia I mentioned above is less widely available, which is why the HG and I are more or less following the rules with that one. I was going to post an individual picture of them, but I think this one is a better illustration of the freeze's effects on the Holmskioldia, the Duranta and the Blue Butterfly Bush (also the Eranthemum).

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Blue Butterfly Bush, formerly Clerodendrum ugandense and now reclassified as Rotheca myricoides 'Ugandense', was seriously affected by the cold. I have two of these large bushes: I cut one of them back to about 6 inches high and the other I removed only 6 inches or so from the tops. This is one of the plants the HG suggested we experiment upon: we'll see how each of them fares and that will give us an idea of how to treat them in future winters. Clerodendrum wallichii and Clerodendrum thomsoniae 'Delectum' also suffered extensive foliar damage. It's still too soon to tell how much of it affected the stems.

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My coral woody pentas were in full and glorious bloom and it's truly painful to look at them now. They were well and truly zapped by the extended cold. These shrubs, though, are a good illustration of how damaging cold air can be: the less exposed lower portions of several Rondeletias are still green and healthy.

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I was surprised at how tender the Salvia madrensis, Forsythia Sage, were. They're not all crispy critters but some of them really did take the freeze badly. While Salvia greggii and Salvia regla only suffered a little freezer burn to the foliage, some of the Salvia miniata and Salvia blepharophylla died back to the ground. It's so interesting to see a group of these plants with only one affected by the freeze. Microclimates? Nanoclimates!

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My Big Blue Sage, Eranthemum pulchellum, was given to me by my late friend Amy and I'll admit to being a bit worried about this one. I knew it was tender but I didn't realize it's most often classified as only hardy to Zones 10b-11. There are anecdotal reports of its surviving temperatures below 30, though, so I'll cover it next time and hope for the best. (That's a banana shrub, Michelia figo, to the right of the GARDEN sign ... it shows no signs at all of having resented the cold weather.)

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I've often heard from gardeners in more northerly climates that snow is a great insulator and actually is less damaging to plants than frigid air temperatures. I saw this for myself first hand: the herbs I set out just the day before The Big Chill were covered with snow but survived unscathed and have put on new growth this past week. Even the delicate ferny foliage of the Bronze Fennel seems unaffected!

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Now that I've seen how the plants handled a truly hard freeze, I feel more confident about their ability to make it through an entire winter of such experiences. I'm not saying they haven't been set back by such bitter cold OR that they won't suffer further damage from future freezing temperatures. But what I've observed thus far is encouraging to me. It seems odd to say I'm encouraged when so much of what I see can be described in terms better suited to a foodie's blog: blackened, browned or fried! Nonetheless, I'm optimistic that I'll still have a beautiful garden when spring gets here. It won't be the same kind of beauty as that of previous springs but as a gardener who not only enjoys change but celebrates it, I say bring it on!

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Walking In A Winter Wonderland ...

A snow covered garden is definitely an unaccustomed sight on my corner of Katy ... so pardon my giddy rhapsodizing and enjoy a rarely seen view of the gardens here at Wit's End. The first and second videos were taken on Friday afternoon and are not my best work but hey, it's hard to focus the camera and keep it moving steadily and gracefully when you're in the throes of a snow-induced euphoria! The third video was taken early this morning and I was very happy to come inside and have a cup of hot coffee by the time I finished. By this afternoon, there was only one small patch of snow left on the ground but the plants were showing the effects of a true hard freeze. It's been so long since we had one that I'd forgotten just how much damage a real freeze could do. On a happy note, though, you'll hear me fretting on the 3rd video about the plants I'd set out into the garden on Thursday, and my fears that they had succumbed to the cold. Most of those had bounced back quite nicely by late afternoon today.

It was interesting to watch and read the meteorologists' explanations of how this storm developed. It truly is a "perfect storm" situation: more often than not, the cold dry air of an Arctic front arrives before or after moisture in the atmosphere's middle and upper levels does. On Friday morning, though, the Arctic air arrived in Houston in tandem with a low-pressure system in the middle and upper atmospheric levels, thus creating an unprecedentedly early snowfall. In fact, according to today's Houston Chronicle, Houston beats Chicago as far as seasonal snowfall this winter! It's pretty freaky that I've had more snow thus far than my friends Mr. McGregor's Daughter, Ramble on Rose and Prairie Rose but I have no illusions that I'll hold that distinction for long!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Three for Thursday: December 3, 2009

Today was one of those beautiful fall days on my corner of Katy, the kind that make all the miseries of summer seem like a bad dream. Blue skies, sunshine and 60something degrees all came together to make perfect gardening weather. So after my morning roar (2 cups of Lion Coffee, one of the many things that make Hawaii just about my favorite place in the world), and a visit with my friend Prince (Cavalier King Charles spaniel and just the sweetest little boy ever), I put on my gardening gloves and hit the back gardens. It didn't take me long to decide that what I really needed back there was bark mulch and compost ... so off came the gloves and away I trundled to Lowe's. Since it took them a few minutes to get the 5 bags of pine bark mulch and the 10 bags of compost onto the forklift, I used that time wisely and perused the plants on offer. I think I showed admirable restraint by only coming home with 2: a red Kalanchoe and a blush pink Kalanchoe. Then it was back home again to unload and spread 30 cubic feet of mulch and compost. Where was I putting it? Take a look at a picture from November 23rd.

The flagstones were left over from the paths and I asked the crew to put them there, thinking I'd use them in that spot. The more I looked at them, though, the less I liked them there. So I shifted them a few days ago, putting the largest ones off to one side and placing smaller pieces along the path between the planting areas. I lived with it for a bit and decided that would work, which is where the mulch and compost came into play. I used the mulch as an underlayer and then added compost on top of that to bring the level of the soil up. Here's how it looked after about 8 bags of material had been spread.

On the lower left side, you can see moss rocks that have formed an edging for the last couple of years (maybe less, maybe more ... I change things up pretty often, you know!). After spending a fair amount of time squinting and staring (thus requalifying for the title of OutStanding Gardener on this corner of Katy), I decided that edging should go. I took them out, tweaked the flagstones a bit and here's how it looked at the end of the day.

I'm back to this area being one big bed with stepping stones running through it so I can work in the beds. I'll need to add a few more stones here and there, and heaven only knows what other scathingly brilliant ideas will come to mind between now and the next time I post pictures!

In addition to all these activities, I planted a few of the various herbs and annuals I'd bought with my Bullfrog Bucks at Nelson Water Gardens. I scored some mighty fine plants, y'all: I've got three 2-gallon pots of Farfugium/Ligularia out front waiting to be planted. Boy howdy, are they purty. Earlier this week I planted the Salvia elegans, Pineapple Sage, I bought; it went along the south fence. If there are any errant hummingbirds still in the area, they'll be happy to spot that! Bronze Fennel, Arp Rosemary, German & French Thyme, Chives, Cilantro, Creeping and upright Sweet Marjoram are nestled into the ground in their pots for now. I'll tell you why in half a tick. Several 'Cutie Pie' Violas are brightening the bed to the right of the gate from the driveway into the back. In the big dark green ceramic pot that sits behind a green Adirondack chair, I planted Dianthus, Alyssum, Cutie Pies and a Snapdragon. That pot needs more but I can pretty much guarantee that I won't be shopping for plants tomorrow. Brace yourselves to hear the reason why ...

(get ready, this is positively shocking coming from my corner of Katy ... shoot, it's shocking coming from my part of Texas ...)

Folks, we are forecast to get SNOW tomorrow. Yes, you read that right. Snow. Wintry precipitation falling from the sky and sticking to the ground, if the meteorologists are to be believed. We could even experience temperatures below freezing for 10-12 hours! I don't know whether to hie myself to the grocery store and stock up before the winter weather arrives, or take my chances on the forecasters' being wrong (they've been wrong before). IF they're right, and I can get outside to take some pictures, I'll share this momentous event with y'all. It won't look like much to those for whom this is a regular winter occurrence but believe me, it will be huge for us!