As the summer sun beats down relentlessly, and the heat index climbs ever higher, I'm spending a lot less time in the garden than I'd like. We who garden here in Texas know that summer is the price we pay for being able to garden our way through the winter months. Unlike our counterparts in cooler climes, though, we can't put the garden to bed for the summer as they do in winter. Watering chores must be tended to if we want our plants to live and sprinkler systems can't be relied upon to properly nurture our most precious progeny. So we venture forth before the sun is up and wonder as we're watering if it will EVER rain again. Some of us may even find ourselves pondering the possibility of a tropical storm with wistful longing. Nothing serious, of course, no repeat of last September's hurricane ... but a tropical depression, perhaps, that would bring us several days of gentle rain ... that we can wish for, surely?
One of the hardest things for me NOT to do at this time of year is buy plants. The nurseries are filled with bright summer annuals and it's hard to resist them. Who can fail to be seduced by the vivid colors of coleus, the zing of the zinnias, the punch of Laura Bush Petunias? It's actually that last plant that brings me to the real subject of this post. In catching up on various garden blogs, I read with interest Plantwoman's post about the demise of her Laura Bush petunia. Although she'd planted it several weeks ago, when she dug up the dead plant, she found the root system virtually intact. I have a theory about what could have happened; even if it's not the cause of Laura Bush's untimely passing, I think it's worth sharing with y'all. I'd actually been thinking I should post on this subject so thanks for the nudge, Plantwoman!
The gist of my message is this: Peat is not our friend here in South Central Texas. Take a look at the potting medium used in the plants you buy: more often than not, you'll find that it's a soilless peat based mix. It's lightweight and fast draining, and thus well suited to a commercial growing situation. Once you get your plants home, though, that peat based mix can become a real problem, especially as the weather heats up. All of us know to make sure the plant is well-watered before it's transplanted from its pot to the garden. I'm not sure if everyone follows my practice of watering the hole and doing what I think of as puddling in the plant. And all of us know to make sure we water the plant in again once it's in the ground. Yet way too many plants, enough to make me question my abilities as a gardener, have failed to thrive even when they've been carefully transplanted and monitored. Plants that should have doubled or tripled in size languish unchanged from the day they were planted.
The one thing each of them have in common when I dig them up? Their roots have not expanded beyond the original shape and size of the pot they were in, including the plants whose roots were gently loosened before they were put into the ground. Almost always I find that the peat mix has hardened enough that no amount of soaking can penetrate to the core of the plant. Once that peat mixture has dried out completely, it's close to impossible to water the plant enough for it to thrive, even in our moderate spring temperatures and with regular rainfall. In heat and drought conditions like we're currently experiencing, I find it literally impossible. (Note: In some cases, when I've washed the mix off, I can see the Oasis foam plug that was the starting medium for the plant. Those seem to be the plants that fare the worst. The roots are constricted from day one, and more plants than not seem to object to that.) So what's a South Central Texas/Gulf Coast gardener to do? I certainly don't consider myself an authority so I can only tell you what seems to be working for me. It's pretty simple but some may consider it drastic: I carefully wash off all that peat-based potting mix and put the bare-rooted plant into the ground, making sure that I puddle it in and then water both plant and surrouding soil thoroughly afterwards. It's a method that seems to work for me ... let me know if it works for you!
When I planted the Scaevola next to the Texas Betony, I didn't think they'd be blooming at the same time. But I have to admit, the combination has grown on me and it's totally in keeping with my style as a gardener to shake things up with a little jolt of the unexpected. But for those who have to avert their eyes from this unlikely couple, perhaps it will reassure you to know that I don't plan on planting these two together anywhere else!
This post is in response to Elizabeth at Garden Rant, who posted about the screaming color combination in her garden with a request that we share our own such vignettes. There's a giveaway involved, books from Timber Press, so grab your cameras and get busy!
"If you can't take the heat, get out of the garden" seems to be my mantra lately. Too much of the painfully intense summer sunshine triggers Seasonal Affective Disorder just as effectively as too many days of gloomy gray skies. I was thinking that I was a good month ahead of schedule and that it usually takes me until July to start threatening to run away. Then I went prowling in my archives to find my post from last summer in which I lamented the absence of rain and the unusually high temperatures. I'll be darned ... that post was for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day in JUNE of 2008 ... so I'm right ON schedule to be feeling dispirited, dissatisfied, discouraged, disenchanted, disgruntled, and disheartened! It still feels wrong to be this miserable (diserable?) in June.
Nonetheless, I took camera in hand about an hour ago and ventured out to take pictures through the garden gate. Since I missed the June 2009 bloom day to post about getting stoned, I took a few pictures of some blooms that make me smile despite the inclement weather. First, though, here's the views through the garden gate:
Green is the predominant color this week.
Where have all the flowers gone (not such a long time passing)?
Sunshine & shadow
The desert willow feels right at home in this weather.
This Cuphea is handling the heat well, too. Does anyone know her name? She was purchased unlabeled at Enchanted Forest a couple of years ago.
Oh, the irony ... the bitter irony ... y'all know what this bud will become?
A rain lily. Yep. RAINless lily is more like it.
One of many Echinaceas here on Coneflower Corner
Pandora Vine/Bower Vine with busy visitor
Lindsay Woods water lily
While I continue to dream of a cool, wet summer like those so many gardeners in the Midwest, on the East Coast and even in IDAHO are experiencing, I'm doing my best to follow the directive on this sign* and take what pleasure I can in and out of the garden. I hope each of y'all is able to do the same!
* Which was found in August of 2001 at a cool little shop in (I think) Rockport, New Hampshire ... where it was COOL and RAINY in August, something that doesn't happen in Texas ... exactly the kind of place I plan to go when I run away!
DISCLAIMER: Today's subtitle should be "Oh, What a Beautiful Mess." The stonemasons have come and gone ... where once there was only flat gray concrete, there are now beautiful flagstone patios. Pots, planters, shelves, moss rocks from the sidewalk borders and what my mother calls dec obs are scattered here and there about the garden, which is where the mess part comes in. Eager as I am to get things put back where they belong (not necessarily the same spots they were in before ... and I'm not telling whether that's because I want to redecorate or I can't remember!), I'll exercise patience. Grouting left a light haze on the flagstone, and the concrete needs a week to cure before my contractor is able to acid wash the flagstones.
The kitchen patio
The bedroom patio
The sidewalk that runs along the garage wall
Once again, I am in awe of Senors Isidro and Blas: Isidro is truly an artist when it comes to his craft. Time and again, I saw him thoughtfully considering which stone to use and how best to place it, carefully cutting it to make it fit his vision. That he and Blas did this in near record heat makes me even more appreciative of their efforts. My courtyard thermometer reached a high of 102 two days running, and it's always warmer in the sunny back gardens, so I know they had to be pretty miserable much of the time. The heat wasn't the only thing that got to them: like me, they were about ready to commit grievous harm to the mockingbird who sits on the telephone wires across the alley and sings literally ALL day long. This morning he started up at 2:45 A.M. and is merrily chortling away as I type. I don't want to hurt him ("it's a sin to kill a mockingbird") but I would definitely like to catch and relocate him so he could sing far, far away.
Meanwhile, the Head Gardener will not be unemployed while the concrete cures ... she began a new project in the courtyard last week. While the back gardens were occupied, she dug up the courtyard garden, dismantled the moss rock edging, and has been moving rocks around trying to decide on the design. Garden designer Mary Ann of Idahogardener has offered great advice: will the Head Gardener be able to simplify and repeat, as instructed? I'll let you know.
I feel like I need a sign out there that says "Bless This Mess". Thanks to the stacks of flagstones in the foreground of the picture, y'all can't see quite how disarranged the garden is right now. And what are those flagstones doing there, you ask? Well, celebrate with me, friends: the ugly concrete patios on either side of the living room are about to be resurfaced! The mess results from having to move the contents of the two patios to other areas of the garden so my hardworking stonemasons can do their thing. Isidro and Blas, who did such a stellar job on the courtyard flagstone, have returned to work similar magic in back.
In a few days, I expect this gorgeous Texas multi-blend flagstone to bring a whole new look to the back gardens. I'm fully cognizant that doing this is likely to have a domino effect and result in several other changes. I The 12 inch square concrete pavers in the garden path were chosen to echo the square concrete patios: my thinking was that it would tie the patios into the overall garden more. Once the flagstone is laid, though, I suspect the Head Gardener will find those pavers lacking in charm and you will subsequently find her at the rock yard again! That is, if she can take the time away from watering. With no rain since the flood of April 28, and temperatures in the mid to high 90s, the ground is parched. No amount of water seems enough for it and I'm growing ever more concerned with how the gardens will survive summer. The Head Gardener can retreat to the comfort of her air-conditioned house ... the poor plants can only curl up their leaves and hope she doesn't give up on them entirely!
Memories of a breathtakingly beautiful garden nestled amidst skyscrapers ... the Lurie Garden at Millennium Park ... first seen in the late afternoon light of an already happily memorable Friday ...
And revisited on a Sunday morning because once just wasn't enough ...
And even glimpsed through a gap in the window of the Art Institute of Chicago (another venue that left me breathless and in tears from the beauty I saw there)
But the most cherished memories I brought home with me are of spending time with so many wonderful garden bloggers, who share my love of gardens and words. Pictured here are Elizabeth from Gardening While Intoxicated and Garden Rant, who is spearheading next year's event in Buffalo, New York; Carol of May Dreams Gardens in Indianapolis, the sponsor of Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day; Leslie of Growing A Garden in Davis, one of 3 Californians to make the trip; and the Head Gardener here on my corner of Katy.
Many thanks to Chicagoan Mr. McGregor's Daughter, who said yes when last year's Spring Fling organizers asked her if Chicago garden bloggers could host the 2009 event ... mille grazie, Barbara! And thank you to the Chicago Spring Fling committee for all they did to make the weekend so special.