Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Seedy Truth About My Corner of Katy

All right, children, gather round, it's true confessions time. I feel that I must unburden myself of a secret compulsion ...

one that compacts my cabinets ...

clutters my closets ...

and shambles my shelves ...

and makes near incessant demands on my time and energies. And yet I am helpless in its grip for loathe as I am to admit it to such august company, I am she who is unable to resist the ineffable lure, the limitless potential, the seductive promise of future glory ...

Oh, screw it, I save seeds. Which means I also save bags and jars and bottles and envelopes and tubs and cartons and cylinders and whatever other containers I think might serve my cause. As you can see from the picture below, this year I pressed old sushi trays into service. Now if only I could remember what plant these seeds came from ... I always think I'll remember or that I'll be able to recognize the seeds without difficulty and so I skip that pesky little step of LABELING them.

Don't think I can't hear what you're thinking. "Well, gee, that doesn't look so bad." Let's take a closer look, shall we?
This is one side of the table ...

And this is the other. (There are a few more bags & jars in the garage, but I didn't feel like hauling them in to be photographed.)

Right about now I can hear you saying "hey, there's an awful lot of seed packets that obviously didn't come from your corner of Katy!" Well, damn skippy there are! Shoot, some of them are heirlooms, although not in the usual horticultural sense. The three packets below were my grandmother's; my mother found them amongst Grand's belongings after she died ... in 1978. The Burpee packet is Iceberg Candytuft (Iberis) and the two from Park Seeds are Chamomile and Curled Cress.

I also have packets dating back to 1998, when KringleBob bestowed upon more than 20 lucky gardeners the gift of 200 some packages of seeds. It's a long story ... suffice it to say for now that 2 East Coast members of my e-mail group, the GardenBobs, discovered a dumpster full of discarded seed packets. Diving for delphiniums ... what a Christmas treat that box was!

There are also some very special seeds, given to me by gardeners who are no longer with us and are saved because the handwriting on the labels is one of the few tangible memories I have of those dear friends.

And try as I might, I can't stop myself from buying more seeds. This is how gardeners gamble. We place a $2 bet, hoping to be rewarded with weeks or even months of glorious blooms. We can't help ourselves: we're sure that this is the season when every last seed will germinate and become a breathtaking vision of horticultural beauty. We're aided and abetted in our wagers by the purveyors of seed who seduce us with tantalizing descriptions and mesmerizing photographs.

By and large, though, it's seeds from the plants that grow here on my corner of Katy that I can't seem to stop saving. I cringe mightily at the thought of all the possibilities come to naught if I throw the spent seedheads in the trash. Some of them make their way into compost but way too many of them (at least I think so) still end up in the back of the big blue truck. I tell myself that perhaps somewhere in the landfill, an Echinacea or Gaillardia is brightening an otherwise dull horizon. It's a nice fantasy and it makes me smile.

Right now, though, if you'll excuse me? I have to go sort through all those seeds and clear the table before the Executive Producer sees it and starts fussing!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Head Gardener Speaks: Bloom Day, November 2009

She Who Must Be Obeyed sent me out yesterday to brave the hordes of hungry mosquitoes so we gardeners here at Wit's End could participate in Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Blooms have we a-plenty but I fear the mosquito population exceeds that of the flowers. I have suggested that the Executive Producer and SWMBO consider investing in the stocks of companies that manufacture mosquito repellents and mosquito dunks so we can at least profit from our misery. A more practical alternative would be the installation of a bat house. Although weather forecasters are predicting a drop in temperatures today or tomorrow which we hope will discourage the pestilential beasts, a bit of Googling suggests that the temperatures must consistently fall below 60 degrees before mosquito feeding activity ceases. Our forecast low is 45 degrees tonight but tomorrow's high is 63 so we are prepared to be slapping and scratching for a while to come.

On to more felicitous subjects! Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, sponsored by Indianapolis gardener Carol of May Dreams Gardens, brings together garden bloggers from around the world on the 15th of each month to share the beauty to be found in their gardens. Here on our corner of Katy, many of the fall blooming perennials are putting on quite a show for us. One thing SWMBO and I have in common is our love for toad lilies. This stand of Tricyrtis is planted under the Persian Vitex and the original plants were a gift from our beloved friend Amy.

Another passalong plant from Amy's garden is what we think is a relative of Philippine Violet relative, a Barleria whose species we've been unable to determine. We saw it growing last year outside the main building of Enchanted Gardens, and since Amy was such a fan of the Enchanted nurseries, we're certain it has its origins with them. We've sent them an e-mail to ask if they know the species and will update this post if they have an answer for us. UPDATE: Denise Riccobono of Enchanted Gardens e-mailed me to say that although she's always heard it described as a Barleria, the botanical name is Hypoestes aristata. Like Barleria, it is a member of the Acanthaceae family. Perhaps the botanical name was changed along the way? Thanks to Denise for the information!

Passalong plants have a special place in our gardens and our hearts, reminding us of the friends and experiences that gardening has brought to us. This beautiful rose was given to us by Mike Kopetsky, an enthusiastic gardener and Rose Rustler. A rare white blooming sport of Mrs. B.R. Cant, this rose has really come into its own this year, most likely because SWMBO has allowed it to remain in the spot where it was originally planted 2-3 years ago. I count this as one of my successes in my ongoing efforts to persuade her that her plants should not be treated as though they have wheels (an expression coined by another gardening friend).

A brief update on the mosquito situation: unhappy with some of the images we shot yesterday evening, I ventured outside to reshoot a few of them. Although I saw several mosquitoes flitting about, not one of them made a landing on my usually irresistible skin. Be still my heart!

Although her penchant for rescuing plants from the clearance racks at Lowe's has often been followed by a trip to the compost bin, such was not the case with this unnamed Lantana. This is ONE plant ... it started life in a 4-1/2 inch pot but once planted, it hit the ground running. A second pot planted on the opposite corner (just visible in the lower right side of the picture) is performing equally well. The butterflies are as delighted with these plantings as we are!

Salvia leucantha also takes up a lot of space in a bed or border but it too more than earns its keep once it starts blooming.

Barbados Cherry (Malpighia glabra) is smothered in tiny pink blooms right now, some of which have already morphed into the small red fruits enjoyed by birds and wildlife.

Bleeding heart vine (Clerodendrum thomsoniae 'Delectum) blooms in partial shade here at Wit's End. We can understand why some people find it too aggressive for their gardens, since it does sucker from the roots. If that gives you pause, perhaps it will help you decide for or against it if I tell you that I do not find it nearly as obnoxious in its suckering tendencies as Passion Vines. The vine in this picture is planted against a fence but was originally situated in a pot against the south-facing wall of the house. A sucker took root in the granite under the pot and survived separation from the mother plant. That offspring is thriving and still blooming despite being disturbed during the recent path laying project.

Mrs. Dudley Cross is planted in the rose bed on the back corner of Wit's End. She's not been the most prolific of bloomers for us and we're still not sure she'll be allowed to keep her spot. If she produces more blooms like this one, though, we'll consider it!

Souvenir de la Malmaison, however, we would never want to be without.

When Coral Woody Penta (Rondeletia leucophylla) finally bursts forth into bloom, we forgive her for making us wait so long.

We used some of our Bullfrog Bucks from Nelson's Water Gardens to buy some fall/winter annuals for this hayrack planter. Stock, 'Spooky' Dianthus, Sweet Alyssum, a Pansy and an Osteospermum should really take off soon and fill this planter with color and fragrance. We might throw some Earl Grey Larkspur seeds in there and see what happens.

It's not hard to understand how this Salvia earned the name Hot Lips.

Clerodendrum wallichii (aka Wallich's Glorybower, Nodding Clerodendron, Bridal Veil or Waterfall Clerodendron) has finally settled into a spot behind the pond and condescended to bloom for us. That's more of Amy's Barleria you see with it.

There are still quite a few summer annuals blooming here on our corner of Katy. We've left a few of the less manky zinnias since butterflies are still numerous and they do love these blooms.

SWMBO must have direct sowed 4 or 5 different kinds of cosmos in various areas of the garden. This plant is one of the two that came up. That's two plants, gentle readers. Had I been consulted before the scatterbrained scattering commenced, I feel certain there would be more!

Leon the armadillo is now wandering through the winecups, having just passed through a self-sown plant of Profusion Apricot zinnia.

Time is of the essence so I'll close this post with an image of one of MCOK's most prolific fall and winter bloomers: Copper Canyon Daisy (Tagetes lemonii) is just getting started. We didn't plan this combination of Blackie Sweet Potato vine and CCD but we're rather enamored of it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Three for Thursday: November 12, 2009

I was headed inside this afternoon, thoroughly exhausted by another day of extreme gardening (and mosquito slapping), when I noticed that the orb weaver spider I'd seen earlier now had something beside her in her web. I thought at first it was an egg case but on closer examination, I saw that a hapless bug had ventured too close and gotten caught in her web. The spider was busily working to mummify the bug. Isn't the coloring on her legs extraordinary?

I watched in fascination as the bug literally revolved while she spun. It was eerie and creepy and absolutely enthralling. I'm not an arachnophobe but it did make me a little nervous to get as close to her as I did while shooting these pictures! I kept envisioning her scrambling onto my hand in her hurry to get away from me.

I finally got just a wee bit too close and startled her ... she scurried up the bloom stalk of a Salvia madrensis and made herself very small and inconspicuous. Is it just me, or does the way she's resting in this picture remind anyone else of a Thanksgiving turkey?

If only she'd eat mosquitoes!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Through the Garden Gate: Monday, November 9, 2009

Various forces have conspired to keep me from regularly posting a Monday look through the garden gate over the last couple of months. Today I dashed outside to capture the usual view, along with a view from the other garden gate and a lament thereupon.

The usual view is a bit less floriferous than it has been. Those with sharp eyes might notice that the rock edging has been rearranged (yes, AGAIN). Since I'd spent most of last week working in front, I set out to putter around for a bit in the back this morning and ended up spending several hours tending to one thing and another, including shifting rocks around.
Fall always puts me in the mood to make changes! I wonder what it will look like this time next year? Shoot, who am I kidding? It may look entirely different this time next week! I'm still not sure I like that rock border on the left and I really want to put flagstone stepping stones in that dirt path and plant around them. Oh, yeah, I want to take up the square pavers and put in flagstone there, too. Which would mean taking up the river rock as well.

Speaking of flagstone, since the crew was already here last week putting in the flagstone sidewalk, I decided to have them lay flagstone in the path along the south wall of the house. The path leads from the front gate to the bedroom patio, which you might remember had flagstone installed earlier this year. Here's the view from the front gate. They did a very nice job of sloping the path and working around the drainage system installed last week. (I decided AFTER they'd done the drainage that I wanted to go ahead and put flagstone there, too. I do that kind of thing way too often, according to the Head Gardener. She's right.)

And now for the lament. What's wrong with the picture below?

I doubt I need to spell it out, but I will. Yep, folks, the flagstone used for the patios doesn't match the flagstone used for the paths as it was supposed to. How no one caught on to this until the job was completed is an interesting thing to ponder. You'd think the crew would have noticed that the stones were markedly different colors and stopped work to ask their boss about it. Pedro was tied up on another job, though, and they didn't check with him. You'd think I would have noticed, too! All I can say is that on my one visit to see how it was going, I wondered about the color difference but passed it off as being due to granite dust covering the stones. Unusually for me, I didn't make frequent visits to the work site. They'd done such a splendid job on the front sidewalk that I was confident this would turn out well, too. And it did, save for the not so minor matter of the color difference.

Fortunately, my contractor is a reasonable guy and all it took was one look for him to agree that his crew had messed up and it was up to him to make it right. I ran by the stone yard today and picked out a pallet of stone that's in the same color range as the patio. Tomorrow morning the guys will be back and we'll start over. We're hoping that they can find a way to avoid having to re-do the whole path but I've reserved the right to object if I'm not happy with our efforts. I say our because I'll be paying closer attention to the process this time around. While they're working on the path tomorrow, I'll be out back planting fall annuals in one of the hayracks, continuing the never ending chore of weeding out unwanted spiderwort and reminding myself to deadhead them more diligently next season, and making frequent inspections of the stone laying process!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Big Changes on MCOK

I have such good intentions about keeping y'all informed of the happenings on my corner of Katy. Then we get a spell of glorious weather like the one this week and all those intentions fall by the wayside, replaced by my desire to spend every moment I can out in the garden. The fall weather here in my part of Texas is our reward for making it through the infernal summer heat and humidity. I claim that reward every chance I get!

We've been living in this house since 1997 and the front sidewalk has been one of the banes of my existence since the beginning. I don't know whose bright idea it was to build so many sidewalks out here with narrow beds running down the middle. It's probably a good thing I don't know because I'd harangue him/her mercilessly about the difficulties it's posed over the years. When we moved here, the bed was planted with a hedge of dwarf yaupons. Dwarf yaupons are great evergreen plants if you want something that's bulletproof in the Houston area, but suited to the middle of a sidewalk they are not. I yanked them out about 9 years ago and since then I've experimented with a variety of plants in that bed. Most of y'all know that I like a look of barely controlled chaos and that bed was no exception. This led to frequent complaints by the Executive Producer and occasional threats to decimate the plant population therein. It also led to a broken right foot for the Head Gardener when she attempted to step over the bed and landed wrong. Not her finest moment.

Certainly I could have done a better job of planting that bed and avoided some of the problems it caused. But that wouldn't have solved my other big issue with the sidewalk, its straight and uncompromising lines that couldn't be softened with plantings without further incensing the EP. I tried over the years ... in its most recent incarnation, the sidewalk was edged with large river rocks artfully (?!) arranged to soften the edges. That too caused some problems: that size of rock can be nudged or kicked loose all too easily. The concrete/pea gravel aggregate surface was also an issue, albeit a more minor one. What it all came down to was that it wasn't the sidewalk of my dreams. I longed for a flagstone path that meandered gently towards the front gates, a path that invited you to enjoy the garden as you walked towards the house. This week I finally got it. The path of my dreams has become a reality!

I'm only sorry I didn't get more pictures of the building process. I got sidetracked in the garden, working on pruning my red bauhinia and visiting with neighbors who stopped to chat. By the time I thought to come in for my camera again, they were almost done!