Thursday, December 30, 2010

Three for Thursday: Adios, Aloha, Adieu!

We're sailing away to the Caribbean, leaving the pets (and the GARDENS) to the tender mercies of housesitting friends.  The camera is packed and I hope to find some felicitous photo ops on our stop in Cozumel.  See you in a few days!

bonne nouvelle annee
hauoli makahiki hou
happy new year

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Through the Garden Gate: Christmas Edition

On a chilly Christmas Day, I stepped outside, Canon in hand, to document the garden before tonight's hard freeze.  As 2010 winds to a close, I wish for each of you the same peace and joy I find in my garden, today and every day.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Fall Foliage in Fine Fettle

Although I've never been to New England in autumn, when I think about fall foliage, my mind turns to the pictures I've seen on friends' blogs or in magazines: pictures of New England's brilliantly colored trees, with not a green leaf to be seen.  Or I picture the golden leaves of the aspens on a Santa Fe mountainside, trembling in the breeze.  And I sigh, wishing we had such beautiful fall foliage to grace our vistas.  This year and last, though, I've realized how much more there is here on and near my corner of Katy to appreciate when it comes to fall foliage.  And I've broadened my definition of fall foliage, thanks to fellow bloggers, to include perennials whose leaves change with the seasons and give me more than just beautiful blooms to enjoy.  I've stopped thinking of fall foliage as endless vistas of blazing sunset colors and started looking for the smaller vignettes that can be found all around me.   I hope you'll enjoy a Christmas Eve tour of the beautiful autumn leaves now gracing my corner of Katy.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Three for Thursday: Last Minute Gifts for Gardeners

So your loving spouse/significant other/life partner or your parents/siblings/children* are just now realizing that Christmas is two days away and they still need to get presents for you.  You're busy in the kitchen, baking the cornbread for the stuffing and making pies, Christmas music on the sound system to put you in a festive frame of mind ... and suddenly to your wondering eyes there appears one of the above people ... or the phone rings ... and the seemingly idle chatter begins. 

"Wow, that looks good, Mom/Sis/hon/daughter/son, but I'll bet you'd rather be outside in the garden, digging in the dirt, ... what DO you use to dig out there, anyway?  A trowel, huh? Where do you get trowels? Do you have a favorite kind? No, no special reason for asking, I'm just wondering ..."  

"Hey, what's the name of that nursery you like so much?  My friend Pierpont needs to get a present for his mom and she's a gardener, like you ..." 

"Your hands look dry ... wonder if you need some of that bee lotion, the kind they make for gardeners?  What's the name of that guy? Ben? Bob? Bill?"

In the spirit of the season, the Head Gardener and I offer three suggestions to help you steer the conversation towards gifts that will elicit a real smile when you open them:

  • Sending the giftgiver to a nursery is tricky business unless you've given them specific instructions on items that you want.  Trust us on this one, it's how we ended up with a statue of 3 cardinals, a plaster duck and a pair of bunnies that can only be described as twee. Step away from the cutting board or the stove for a few minutes, make a cup of tea or hot chocolate, and tell them about some of the items you've seen at your local nursery and would love to have.  Don't give them the names of more than one nursery, if you're fortunate enough to have several faves in your area. It will only confuse them.
  • Most of us who are gardeners, even in areas like mine where winters are mild, have days when weather won't allow us outside to work in the garden.  Good books are boon companions on such days.  You doubtless have several "how-to" gardening books on your wish list but since gardening is so much a spiritual endeavor, perhaps you could consider asking for a volume of Mary Oliver's poetry.  A gardener herself, her words will make your heart sing and your soul soar.  Or if you want to be well and truly indulged, mention Anna Pavord's book, BULB: although I have yet to see it, it has received rave reviews from every gardener who has.
  • If there are no nurseries or bookstores within a reasonable distance, never underestimate the riches to be found at a hardware store.  Be it a big box store like Lowe's or Home Depot, or a smaller local retailer, there's always something a gardener will find useful.  Finch socks, prefilled with thistle seed, will provide much-needed sustenance to the goldfinches and house finches overwintering in your garden; in return, you'll have the joy of watching them  as they flit and skirmish.  Always wanted a chipper shredder?  Go for it!  And as odd as the giftgiver may find the suggestion, remind them that you can never go wrong with compost!  Many bags of compost make merry the gardener!
The Head Gardener and I hope our ideas will resonate and that they'll make for smiles on the faces of our readers and gardening friends, whether you're the gardener or the giftgiver!  Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wildflower Wednesday: The Beauties of A Misty Morning

Considering that this is the most moisture we've had on my corner of Katy for weeks now, I found it a pleasure to be out on a cool and misty morning.  The ground was only barely damp but at least the flowers felt the dew on their petals. 

 Each of the Gaillardia blooms is the same and yet slightly different ... they fascinate me with their diversity.
 I invited my young friend Lily to smell the Berlandiera lyrata yesterday and asked her if she thought it smelled like chocolate.  "It DOES!"

 Pardon the blur on this picture ... I wanted to show the mist on the petals.

Dewdrops on Sundrops are a lovely sight to behold.  Sundrops is a Calylophus but I'll be darned if I'm sure which one.  I thought it was drummondianus but now I think it could be berlandieri ssp. pinifolius because of the needle-like foliage.

Wildflower Wednesday is my friend Gail's celebration of those tough native beauties ... won't you visit her Tennessee cedar glade at Clay and Limestone and see what other gardeners are celebrating this month?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Three for Thursday: A Tale of Three Cyclamens

Three Cyclamen atop 'Table with Legs'
In a search for pink skullcap a few weeks ago, I wandered the aisles of a large local garden center, one whose red and yellow striped awnings are ubiquitous in the greater Houston area. I don't visit this chain's stores more than a handful of times in a year, preferring to support small local nurseries with knowledgeable staff who are themselves gardeners and nursery stock that comes from local growers. As it turned out, neither my usual haunts nor the big box garden center had pink skullcap.  What I did find at the latter were rows and rows of annual Cyclamen.  Garden plantings of these exotic beauties are a familiar sight in Houston gardens from November through February; while I don't participate in the mass planting exercise, I do enjoy seeing their bright blooms nodding above the striking foliage.  It was the foliage which compelled me to bring home three white Cyclamen from the BBGC and to share them with you as this week's Three for Thursday.  The pictures speak for themselves and it's appropriate that today is also Foliage Follow-Up, Pam at Digging's meme celebrating the beauty and intricacies of foliage.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

December Bloom Day

 Aloha from my corner of Katy on a breezy December bloom day!  I had a hard time taking photographs this afternoon, thanks to wind gusts of up to 20 mph. It was a very blustery day but I persevered so I could participate in the Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day celebration, the brainchild of Indiana gardener Carol of May Dreams Gardens.

Leon, the armadillo named after my favorite columnist, appears to be investigating the Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights' which is planted near a patch of Alyssum that reseeded.  Over the years I've sowed both white and purple varieties and they've hybridized themselves to create a variety that's neither one nor the other (so the Head Gardener and I call it Mr. Humphries). 

Although we've had two or three nights when the temperature dipped below freezing, the basil continues to thrive.  Since the bees are so enamored of the blooms, I'm leaving the basil until it's well and truly zapped.

Many of the roses are bedraggled but still beautiful.  Their shabby appearance is due as much to drought as cold, I think.  The 'Bon Silene' roses are finally the deep pink color I remember them being. 

Old Blush is also a deeper pink thanks to the cooler temperatures.

I love how the clusters of 'La Marne' rose have so many different stages of bloom going on at once.

The Bottlebrush tree is in full and glorious bloom ... it's a shame the hummingbirds aren't here to enjoy it.

Copper Canyon Daisy will sport these golden blooms into January.

If it hadn't been for the wind, I might never have noticed how beautiful the underside of the petals are on Chocolate Daisies (Berlandiera lyrata).

Clerodendrum thomsoniae var. delectum are growing on both the south fence and the south-facing wall of the house in back, which offer them some protection from colder temperatures.   

Out front, 'Country Girl' Aster/Mum flaunts her pretty pink blooms.  I've seen this plant sold locally as both Chrysanthemum 'Clara Curtis' and Aster 'Country Girl'.  Is it the same as Frances of Fairegarden's beloved Sheffies? 

Duranta 'Sweet Memories' offers nectar to the butterflies still flitting about here at Wit's End.

Out in the corner bed, Engelmann's Daisies are sunshine on a cloudy day, while the Gaillardia, Calylophus and Batface Cuphea spill over the rocks and into the street.

Angel Wing Jasmine continues to bloom sporadically.

The Leonotis leonurus, Lion's Ear/Lion's Mane/Lion's Tail, has taught me to love the color orange in the garden.

Giant Ligularia (Farfugium japonicum) is grown primarily for its striking glossy green foliage but I enjoy the contrast of the daisy-like flowers with that foliage.

Pink Skullcap (Scutellaria suffrutescens) is one of my favorite Texas natives.

Heat-loving Zinnias are finally beginning to show the effects of too much cold weather.  While there are still a few plants with colorful blossoms like the one above, most of them are a pathetic sight.

See what I mean?  I'll pull these out over the next few days.

And now for the list of everything that's currently blooming on my corner of Katy (in no particular order):

Verbenas: Moss, Serenity mix, Plantation Rose, bonariensis
Pansies, Violas, Phlox, Alyssum, Calendula
Pigeonberry, Skullcap, Blackfoot Daisy, Australian Violet, Echinaceas, Toad Lilies
Calliandra aka Fairy Duster
Clerodendrum: C. wallichii, thomsoniae, buchanii (Pagoda)
Pink Muhly Grass, Miscanthus
Salvias: S. farinacea, greggii, 'Teresa', madrensis, leucantha, 'Hot Lips'
Russelia 'Red Rocket'
Cosmos 'Bright Lights'
Butterfly Weed/Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) (red and gold)
Pavonias, both peruviensis and lasiopetala
Roses: Marie Pavie, Reve D'Or, Madame Antoine Mari, Maggie, Caldwell Pink, La Marne
Roses: Old Blush, Bon Silene, Heritage, Belinda's Dream, Storybook Rose 'Moby Dick', Aloha
Duranta: 'Sweet Memories' and D. erecta
Bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus)
Copper Canyon Daisy (Tagetes lemonii)
Barbados Cherry (Malpighia glabra)
Cupheas: C. macropetala, ignea 'David Verity', llavea (Batface)
Sweet Almond Verbena (Aloysia virgata)
Chile pequin
Red Jatropha (J. integerrima)
Strawflower (Bracteatum)
Miniature Hamelias
Bauhinia galpinii and B. mexicana
Sedum 'Autumn Joy'
Turnera ulnifolia, white and yellow
Pinecone Shrimp Plant (Justicia brandegeana)
Red Firespike (Odontonema strictum)
Abutilon 'Marilyn's Choice'
Castor Bean Plants (Ricinis communis)
Polygonum Pink Buttons (P. capitatum)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Read It And Weep ...

"The great drought of 2011 may have started two months ago."  The Houston Chronicle's Eric Berger, a/k/a the Science Guy, has some disheartening news, especially for gardeners in the greater Houston area.  The Head Gardener here at Wit's End is muttering again ... I think I heard something about hanging a black wreath for Christmas and she's been poring over pictures of the garden in the rain ...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sing Hallelujah, Come On, Get Happy!

The HG's expression is not unlike this cherub's.
For months now, I've been lamenting the loss of my fabulous Felco 13s.  When I was unable to find them after a particularly intense session of pruning in the front gardens, I assumed that I'd inadvertently dropped them into the garden cart along with the branches and twigs.  THe contents of the cart were subsequently dumped into a trash can in the alley and los senores de basura carried it away, as is their job.  Every time I needed those pruners and remembered how careless I'd been with them, I cursed my lack of attention to proper tool placement.  The Head Gardener has been positively despondent and I've endured what I consider an excessive amount of headshaking and heavy sighs over my lapse.
The pocket extends almost to the top of the wheel.
But the HG can punish me no more for that which is lost has been found!  While out surveying for possible freeze damage this morning, I opened the side pocket of my garden cart to put my fish/leaf net inside.  Much to my surprise, I could see a flash of red in the depths of the pocket.  Oh, joy ... oh, rapture ... my Felcos had not been improperly placed NOR had they been carelessly tossed.  They had been tucked inside the deep and capacious pocket of the cart (by the Head Gardener, I might add).  Although they had a bit of rust on them, that was easily removed with some extra fine sandpaper and my beloved pruners are once again ready for duty here at Wit's End.  

Even Seamus is rejoicing!
As for the HG, she will be subject to the same treatment as that which I have received at her hands lo these many months ... and then some!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Today On My Corner of Katy ...

I planted bulbs: 20 Tulip 'Chrysantha', a species variety that I hope will naturalize and return each year; 14 Narcissus bulbicodium, 'Hoop Petticoats', an old Southern favorite from the Bulb Hunter, Chris Wiesinger, of Southern Bulb Company; and 25 Narcissus 'Texas Star', also from the good Mr. Wiesinger.

As I was planting, a car stopped and parked in front of my house, and I was greeted by the occupants, Dale and Elizabeth.  Both of them are KISD bus drivers and Elizabeth passes my corner of Katy on her route.  She's been wanting to stop and take a closer look at the garden and today she did so.  Since I was at a stopping point in my labors and they were clearly appreciative of my gardening efforts, I took them on a tour of Wit's End.  Elizabeth is the passionate gardener, while Dale is the builder and handyman.  She was delighted by the plants AND the yard art, while Dale exclaimed over the many found objects incorporated into the gardens.  Like the Head Gardener and me, they're fans of the Round Top/Warrenton area antiques fairs and were delighted to hear how many of my finds had come from there.

Meeting folks who get what I do here on my corner of Katy is one of my greatest pleasures.  
I think by the time Elizabeth and Dale left, they were full of even more ideas and dreams for their new property out I-10 west.  I'm so glad they stopped to look and I wish them much success and happiness in their endeavors!

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Case of the Solitary Salvia

There's a mystery on my corner of Katy and the Head Gardener has demanded that I call in my best investigators.  Since Guy Noir is unavailable, I turn to you, my trusted readers, to help me solve this perplexing puzzle.

I first noticed this plant a couple of months ago, when it was a small tidy rosette of foliage hugging the ground.  The overall height of the plant, including the bloom scapes, is about 21 inches.  The foliage, however, is only 6 to 7 inches tall and there are about 4 inches of bare stem between the basal rosettes and the foliage. 

You can see that bare stem under the textured blue-green foliage, which is almost heart shaped.  Earlier today, I decided that perhaps this was actually one of the native Heartleafed Skullcaps (Scutellaria ovata or S. ovata ssp bracteata) because it's so similar in appearance to those pictured online.  But if this is Heartleaf Skullcap, then what is the plant I've been calling Heartleaf Skullcap?  That plant has lighter green leaves, a more spreading and mounding habit, and the stems are not as sturdy.  It also increases by rhizomes which send up new plants along their length, to the point I'm beginning to feel some alarm at its ability to propagate itself.  The plant pictured is not showing such an ability. 

So I'm back to thinking that this is indeed a Salvia of some sort.  Which begs the question: WHICH Salvia?  Had I kept a list over the years of the various and sundry varieties of Salvia which have come and gone here at Wit's End, I might have some chance of figuring it out.  Since my garden journal is sorely lacking in such details, I'm hoping someone will recognize this plant and provide me with its identity.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Three for Thursday: Under Construction

Having ordered more than a few bulbs from various and sundry vendors, the Head Gardener and I have been busy working in the back gardens to get those bulbs planted. 

The Ulysses S. Grant Persimmon area
Narcissus 'Thalia', 'Grand Primo' and 'Geranium' join the Leucojum aestivum, Summer Snowflakes, and Narcissus 'Avalanche' on the north side of the bed along the back fence.  I've planted three Muhlenbergia capillaris, Pink Muhly, towards the back of the bed.  Also in that area are a Pink Turk's Cap (Malvaviscus drummondii),  Rock Rose Pavonia (P. lasiopetala), Barbados Cherries (Malpighia glabra) and Amy's Crinum (C. jagus var. rattrayi?).  Groundcovers include Alyssum, Pigeonberry (Rivinia humilis) and one Dianthus I think I rescued from Lowe's.  It's just started to bloom and perhaps I'll get some help from y'all identifying it.  The plan is to broadcast Toadflax (Linaria maroccana) seeds over the planting area.  There are Larkspur and Viola seedlings popping up already, along with a few Oriental Poppies (Papaver somniferum). 

The Robert E. Lee Persimmon bed

There were an alarming number of chickweed sprouts in this bed, so I cleaned it out yesterday and pulled mulch from another area to spread (to be explained shortly).  My plan is to add more shade plants to the bed.  Currently in that bed: Gulf Coast Penstemons, Hostas, Toad Lilies, Australian Violet (V. hederacea?), Bear's Breeches (Acanthus mollis), and shade-loving Iris varieties (I. neomarica & japonica/cristata/confusa???)  There's also a Dutchman's Pipe vine (Aristolochia fimbriata) being trained up the vintage hose reel. Hopefully I didn't bury the seeds of Purple Columbine (Aquilegia dichroa) so deeply that they can't germinate.
The Sweet Almond Verbena planting area on the south fence

This area of the south fence bed is a bit tricky to plant, due to the changing sunlight conditions.  While it gets partial sun most of the year, during those hot summer months, the afternoon sun beats down mercilessly.  After I cleared out the remains of spring annuals (Linaria, larkspur, Violas), I dithered too long about what I wanted to plant there and weeds began an attempt to take over.  Once I'd vanquished those unwanted intruders, I spread a heavy layer of cedar mulch to keep the weeds at bay.  The mulch did its job well but it was too thick for next spring's annuals to germinate.  So I raked back the mulch and used it under Robert E. Lee.  I do plan to add more perennials and low growing shrubs in that area by next spring.  Pay no attention to the mutterings of the Head Gardener about mice and men ...