Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Love Amongst the Roses

I'd been talking with fellow garden bloggers on Plurk and wondering what to do about Rosa 'Mutabilis'. I'd taken pruners and loppers to her back in January, attempting to wrestle her into submission. The picture below shows her a bit more restrained than when I started ... but far from submissive!

Rosa 'Mutabilis' after the first round of pruning a few weeks ago. She started life in a 4 inch pot as a cutting given to me by one of the Texas Rose Rustlers.

Both Dee of Red Dirt Ramblings and MaryAnn of Idahogardener have experience pruning old roses and they're the ones who told me a reciprocating saw, especially a cordless one, would make my task much easier. So when EM asked what I wanted for Valentine's Day, I knew right away what to tell him. I even made it easy on him by buying it myself. As it turned out, I might have saved myself a trip. I got the saw home and discovered that it did not come with a battery and charger, a fact not mentioned by the salesman at Sears Hardware. On my return trip, a different salesman was as indignant as the Plurkettes that this not so small detail went unremarked. What's more, after querying me as to what I planned to do with this tool, he presented me with another option: a set of 4 cordless power tools with charger and 2 battery packs, for only $40 more than it would cost to buy the saw/battery/charger separately. EM was delighted when I proposed we make this our mutual Valentine's Day gift. After all, nothing says love like a reciprocating saw.

So yesterday morning, I headed out to the rose bed with saw in hand, ready to do what had to be done. I did pause beforehand to take a picture from another vantage point. That's Madame Antoine Mari in the foreground, another leggy beauty. The pale pink bloom at the top is hers. She too had been previously pruned with less than satisfactory results. She continued to bloom but her shape was less than graceful. The trunk of Mutabilis is just behind the bag of soil I forgot to remove before taking the picture. (This is a working garden, not always prettified for photo ops!)

Mutabilis: the after picture. I'm wondering if I should have cut her back even further. MA & Dee, or any other rosarians, what do y'all think?

Madame Antoine Mari, after.

I'm quite enamored of the reciprocating saw, by the way. I used it on a few other wayward plants before I put it away for the day. I don't expect that I'll think of EM and sigh in girlish bliss each time I use it but it WAS just what I wanted ... that's love amongst the roses, MCOK style!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bloom Me Away!

Today marks the beginning of the third year of Bloom Days, in which Carol of May Dreams Gardens in Indianapolis invites her fellow garden bloggers to share what's blooming at their place on the 15th of each month. If blooms outside are still weeks or months away, gardeners are encouraged to get creative and post about their indoor plants, that favorite needlepoint pillow, a floral comforter or quilt ... even silk flowers!

At a time of year when many gardeners are still feeling winter's chill and even their winter blooming snowdrops are shy about making an appearance, I feel very fortunate to have another colorful Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day here on my corner of Katy. This is the first year I've had success with Delphiniums, which took a bit of a pounding from the rain. Purchased as sturdy young plants in 4 inch pots, just barely budding out, they've grown and flourished and are loaded with bountiful blossoms of blue. Perhaps the weather conditions this year were more to their liking or perhaps I placed them in exactly the spot they wanted ... whatever the reason, they look lovely to me despite their sodden condition. I'm learning that Delphs can get a bit top heavy and need staking: here we see my friend Alvaro helping out.

This gorgeous blue flower is Eranthemum pulchellum nervosum, sometimes called Blue Sage.

Nothing says spring in Texas like our native Bluebonnets. Peak bloom season is usually March to April, but several of mine decided they didn't care what the calendar said. Notice the red dots on a couple of the lower flowers? Here's a bit of bluebonnet trivia for you: that red dot signifies that the bloom has been pollinated. The white spot on the flower is to attract bees to pollinate. Once the flower has been pollinated, the spot turns red so the bees will know to go to another flower. (I learned that fun fact at last year's Garden Bloggers' Spring Fling visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. More on this year's Fling at the end of this post.)

Much as I love bluebonnets, if I were allowed only one spring annual, there's no doubt in my mind at all what it would be: Linaria maroccana, Toadflax.

This Osteospermum was a rescue from the clearance racks at Lowe's. I've had trouble getting them to grow before so I'm delighted at how happy this one has been where I planted it.

I do have other colors besides blues and purples in the gardens. A Crown of Thorns adds a splash of red to a patio.

The Calylophus in the corner bed have bloomed nonstop this winter.

As I mentioned earlier, plans are in the works for this year's Garden Bloggers Spring Fling, to be held May 29-31 in Chicago. Check out their website at Chicago Spring Fling for detailed information on the schedule of events. In addition to the fantastic gardens I'll get to visit, I'm looking forward to reuniting with some of the wonderful gardeners I met last year, and meeting others for the first time.
Many thanks to the organizers who are working so hard to make this an amazing weekend for bloggers from across the country.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Confinchion on My Corner of Katy

This just in: American Goldfinches have converged upon a suburban corner lot in Katy, Texas for their annual confinchion. Attendees agree that the new meeting place, a wood and cattle panel trellis built after Hurricane Ike destroyed the longtime confinchion center, is a definite upgrade from the old facilities. With more room to maneuver, sturdy wire upon which to perch while awaiting turns at the thistle socks, and adjacent bathing/sipping arrangements, it's not surprising that these colorful winter visitors give two wings up to the new construction.

There have been some complaints, however, by those who prefer sunflower chips to thistle seed, that confinchion hosts have been less than diligent in refilling the tube feeders. The picture below would seem to bear out that allegation. However, when questioned on the matter, the Head Gardener noted that she was having great difficulty keeping up with what she called the unusually heavy demands of the chip-loving confinchioneers and that restocking those feeders twice a day is not always feasible.

A small confinchent of birds is seen below, resting up from confinchion activities in the Vitex Lounge. Oaks and pine trees are conveniently located nearby for overnight accomodations.

Although there was widespread panic at the appearance in the vicinity of a member of the feline persuasion, and great sadness over the loss of one or more confinchiongoers to his felonious activities, birds are encouraged by the Head Gardener's efforts to deter such activity. They also commend the Head Gardener for her rescue of a finch who strayed from confinchion grounds and found himself in the unfamiliar environs of a back patio. Unable to fly through a door to get to the confinchion center, the stunned bird was given shelter until he recovered his wits and was able to return to the festivities.

As is customary, confinchion attendees have not indicated how long they will remain in the area. The Head Gardener will be restocking the sunflower chip supply later today and has vowed to be more diligent in refilling the feeders. In fact, that's where she's headed right now.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

In the Immortal Words of Ringo Starr ...

"I've got blisters on my fingers!"

I didn't start out yesterday planning to cut back the Miscanthus on the north side of the garage. I had hopes of visiting the soil yard to pick out some more rocks for an area beside the pond. But when I went out to feed the fish, I noticed that I needed to take care of some watering chores. I've been spending a lot of time lately reworking, or attempting to rework, the way I have my hoses set up in the back gardens. I decided yesterday morning that there was no time like the present to try method number 253 (hyperbole, perhaps ... but it FEELS like that many). I had removed the biggest hose and hauled it over to a different spot, threaded it through the tangle of pink skullcap, Old Blush rose and Barbados Cherry, and was preparing to attach it to the connecting hose. That was when she knew she had made her first mistake (apologies, Lyle Lovett). I bent over to connect them and felt a disc in my lower back crunch. That was not pleasant. After a few moments of deep breathing, I straightened up ... again, not pleasant. Once I'd determined that I could indeed still walk, I discovered that movement actually made me feel a bit better. So I continued with my watering. As I aimed the hose along the alleyway fence line, I realized I hadn't checked on the progress of my sweet peas. Next thing I knew I was pounding nails into boards and stringing fishing line from nail to trellis so the sweepies would have something to climb up on their way to the trellis.

Just after I finished that task and was contemplating my next move, I saw a terrible sight. My neighbor's cat, a sleek black feline named Night, was padding across the street with a bird in his mouth. Knowing that he's been hanging around the trellises where my goldfinches feed, I chased him down. Sadly, it was too late for the wee bird. Now, I know that it's just his instincts kicking in and I don't hold it against Night (well, not much). He's a fine fellow and I don't wish him any harm. That said, I see no reason to make it easier for him to catch MY birds, who have flown all this way to visit me and to whom I wish to offer protection. So for the rest of the day, passersby were occasionally treated to the sight of me racing across the yard, hose in hand, to spray Night on his next predatory mission. I enlisted the help of my darling daughter, who collected pine cones from around the yard and put them on either side of the trellis. I'm told that cats don't like things prickling their paws. I'll be making a trip to Sam's today to buy red pepper, too. My intent is to convince Night that unpleasant things happen to him when he visits my yard.

So what does all this have to do with Miscanthus? Well, the beds in front of the trellis and along the garage wall are lined with 9 clumps of the larger variety of Miscanthus (I'm not sure what the cultivar is). These ornamental grasses are the perfect hiding place for a felonious feline. I usually leave them up as long as possible because their winter colors appeal to me. But when it's a choice between the safety of my finches or the view, I choose the finches. The grasses will grow back ... the finches are only here for a while. Below are views of the aftermath of my Miscanthus management exercises.

I was so incensed at Night and so fired up to get the grasses cut back that I neglected to grab my camera before starting. In checking last year's post on the annual whacking of the grasses, I see that I'm almost 3 weeks ahead of myself. Woo-hoo! That's like sand going backwards in the hourglass!

Now if you'll excuse me, achy back or no, I must head outside and get busy raking and bundling the trimmings. Before I do, I must give a shout out to my thoughtful and delightful friend Robin of Bumblebee Blog. When she was here in November for a visit, she brought me a most useful and much appreciated birthday gift: Pallina gardening gloves and gardening gauntlets. Friends, let me tell you, never have I appreciated a gift more than I did yesterday: those gauntlets saved my forearms from the depredations of the grasses' sharp edges. Bless you, Robin!

I'll leave y'all with a picture of my favorite spring annual, bar none: the delicate blooms of Linaria maroccana, Toadflax. That's a bluebonnet in the lower right corner ... well, shoot, I can't not show you a picture of it, as well. Then I'm really going!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Happy Groundhog Day!

It matters not what a groundhog in Pennsylvania says ... here on my corner of Katy,blooms on the Freesia laxa*, pictured above, are only the first of many harbingers of spring. Clear sunny days in the mid-60s encourage a gardener's thoughts to turn to such things as pruning. Winter-damaged plants look very shabby right now and it's very tempting to venture forth with Felcos and loppers to remove the dead wood. This being south central Texas, however, there's no guarantee that winter won't make a sudden and vicious return so gardeners would do well to be not only vigilant but patient. The Head Gardener is lamentably lax on both counts ... she falls into the "do as I say, not as I do" category. However, in two weeks' time, she can let herself run rampant with pruning tools, secure in the knowledge that any plants pruned will not suffer any lasting damage from subsequent winter weather.

*When I first bought these small bulbs several years ago, they were known as Lapeirousia laxa. They've since been reclassified but I much prefer the old name. It's much more fun to say!