Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tuesday's Big Storm ...

The skies grew dark and cloudy ... the wind blew fiercely ... and when it was all said and done, this is what I saw.

That's the second time in 3 days this has happened: all sound and fury, no rain. By now I doubt I need to tell y'all how the Head Gardener and I feel about that.

Monday, August 30, 2010

They're Baaaaaacckkkkk ...

The heat and humidity, that is.  At 8:30 a.m., the humidity was 91% and the temperature was already in the high 80s.  I'd gladly give up the romantic soft focus in these pictures to have my cooler, drier air back!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

In Summary: August 23rd-29th, 2010

Thanks to the cooler, drier air that graced my corner of Katy for several blessed days, you will not hear me complaining about the temperatures this week.  Next week promises to be a different story, as the humidity is forecast to return with a vengeance.  I knew intellectually that the delightful weather was too good to last but just as I do every year, I let myself believe that this was more than just a hint of what fall had in store for us.  The disappointment when the humidity returns will doubtless be as crushing as it is every year, but like Gloria Gaynor, I will survive.  

As for rain, that has been very much a non-event on my corner of Katy, especially compared to southwest Houston.  To say that the HG and I are disappointed is an understatement. Disgruntled, definitely ... it's been a long time since we've been gruntled when it comes to rain.  Two or three times this week, storms swept through southwest Houston: we could see the stormy skies, watch the lightning, hear the thunder ... but if we got more than 15 minutes worth of real rain all told, I'd be surprised.  

I got a little carried away with myself this week and did some things I may come to regret.  In addition to yanking up and returning 5 out of 7 Sky Pencil Hollies, I dug up the Clematis armandii I bought in April at Barton Springs Nursery in Austin.  It was languishing in a spot that turned out to be far too dry and sunny for it.  I'd planned to wait until October to move it but with August on track to be the hottest in Houston history, I just couldn't wait and subject it to the harsh conditions in that spot any longer.  Armand did not take it well.  He was replanted in a spot that I hope will be more to his liking, IF he survives.  I cut him back severely and I'm watering him regularly.  The Head Gardener is even more unhappy with me than Armand about it.
My Rangoon Creeper in better days (May 2009)
She's slightly less miffed about my insistence on removing the Rangoon Creeper (Quisqualis indica) from the half-barrel in which it has grown for 4 years or more.  Once we'd wrestled the Rangoon Creeper from the container, it was easy to see why we'd had so much difficulty keeping it hydrated.  The soil was extremely loose and sandy; the barrel bottom had rotted and pulled away from the rest of the barrel.  After dividing the RC into several separate plants, we repotted most of them and placed one on a section of the south fence.  Because Rangoon Creeper is such a heat-loving tropical, we believe it will rebound from the surgery.

The Eranthemum that Amy gave me several years ago, which I've moved 2 or 3 times, was also having a difficult time staying hydrated, even though it was planted in shade and received regular watering.  I pulled it up to find dead woody sections of trunk/roots that were infested by ants.  That plant too has been divided and potted up.  I'm hoping it will forgive me the insult.

I stopped at Wal-Mart on a search for something, I forget what, last week and exited via their garden center.  Which means I did not leave empty-handed.  One Texas Sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri), one Confederate Rose Agave (A. parassana), one Thread Agave (A. filifera) and an Echeveria 'Black Prince' came home with me.  They're currently gracing 'Table with Legs' in the courtyard (but still in their nursery pots while I decide on appropriate containers).
Hummingbirds are frequent visitors to the gardens and turf wars are seen on a daily basis.  The butterflies coexist much more peacefully: I've seen swallowtails, fritillaries, monarchs, sulphurs and  skippers flitting about the garden from zinnia to zinnia.  Each day I found another milkweed/butterfly weed (Asclepias curavassica) stripped of leaves.  

August is the month in which it's hardest for me to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.  I think that will come next week, when I am thankful that August is over and done with for another year!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Pondering Water Purslane

I spent a good portion of this morning working on the pond, tending  to a black algae problem.  With the help of some Algae-Off, a powdered form of hydrogen peroxide, I was able to rid the bog and rocks of the black slime that plagues me in warmer water.  As I was working I also decided that the water purslane, pictured above growing amongst the rocks and gravel around the pond, was getting more than a wee bit out of hand.  It covered about 3/4 of the bog, trailing into the water and out of the bog into the garden soil.  By the time, I got through yanking, there was only one small patch of Water Purslane left in the bog. You can see it on the far right side. 

It won't be that puny for long.  This plant grows quickly and vigorously.  Although it's sold as a bog plant, I've found that it thrives whether in gravel, soil, or a boggy combination.  I planted it in a couple of other spots near the pond: one of them the gravel/rock area seen in the first picture and the other amongst the river rocks in a path near the pond.  Neither of those areas receive supplemental watering and yet the Water Purslane thrives, so much so that the Head Gardener and I are beginning to feel strong twinges of alarm.   It may yet earn itself noxious plant status.

By the end of the day, the murky water had cleared but the Japanese fantails refused to cooperate for the camera.  You'll have to take my word for it that all eleven, 3 adults and 8 juveniles, are doing well.  I'm not sure there will be room for all of them as they mature, so some of them may be put up for adoption next year.  I'm thinking that I'll keep four of them and name them Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Hope Has Wings

I walked outside this morning to enjoy the cooler, drier air that is forecast to depart the Houston area later today.  As I stood in the back garden, watching it wake up to the day, I heard strange cries coming from the sky.  I looked up to see a flock of eight to ten huge birds flying low overhead.  I got chills ... in all my years of watching for the first geese to arrive, I've never seen them this early. I was filled with hope and awe, and gratitude I was there at that moment.  

I came inside to report what I'd seen to friends and after they too had expressed delight and wonder, we began to discuss the earliness of the birds' arrival and how surprising it was. Inevitably the question was raised: are you sure they were geese?  I thought about that question as I worked in the garden this morning.  As I relived the experience in my mind, I remembered that the birds' cries, which first alerted me to their presence, were indeed different.  This afternoon I did a little Googling and while I'm still not sure what the birds were, my best guess is that they were some type of crane.  

What I am sure about is that my experience was no less moving or uplifting for the mistake in identity.  Rather than disparage and discount the feelings those birds inspired in me, I want to acknowledge and honor them.  It's been a hot and steamy August, and the days have dragged by, dragging my spirits down as the temperatures climb.  What I felt when I saw them is no less real and no less valid to me because they were something other than my usual harbinger of autumn weather.  The hope with which those birds filled me is real, speaking to me of days to come when I'll be able to spend entire days outside, marveling at nature's beauty and doing my part to encourage it.  The awe I felt was real: those birds in flight were an amazing meld of natural engineering and innate grace.  And the gratitude I felt for being there at that moment? That was real, too.  I was blessed and uplifted by being there to witness their flight. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Three for Thursday: A Glorious Morning

In more ways than pictured: a  front blew through earlier this week and cooler, drier air has made it possible to work outside in the morning in relative comfort.  I headed outside to capture pictures of the Perennial Morning Glory for this week's Three for Thursday post.  The weather was so delightful that I brought the camera inside, grabbed my Tula and my gloves, and spent several happy hours playing in the dirt!

Although the temperature's up to 98, the humidity is still low and there's a light breeze.  I know it would be foolish to expect this to last ... I'm sure there's still some Awful weather left.  But I can't help hoping that maybe this year, it really is over with so soon!    The Head Gardener is laughing at me (not with me) but she looked pretty happy out there this morning.

We're both delighted that the Perennial Morning Glory finally decided to bloom ... and we both love those little touches of fuchsia on the edges of the points of the "stars"!

I hope you'll join me in posting Three for Thursday, if not this week, then next!  Pick 3 pictures of plants from your garden ... tell us about 3 books you've read that you want to share ... rant about 3 things that bug the heck out of you ... show us 3 pieces of garden art or 3 photos of egregious crimes against gardening ... have fun, be creative and leave me a comment when your post is up!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wildflower Wednesday: Indian Pink

Indian Pink blooming in April here at Wit's End

Spigelia marilandica is one of my favorite wildflowers and it's taken me several tries to grow it successfully.  I've lost them twice before ... or have I?  When I bought 2 one gallon pots of this charming native from Enchanted Gardens (I think in fall of 2009 ... despite having a garden journal, I can't see any record of when), I left them in their pots and set them on the north patio near my kitchen door so I could keep an eye on how they were doing.  They produced a couple of  blooms and then began to decline.  I feared the worst but allowed them to remain where they were, even as they dwindled to dry brown nubbins.  Within a week or two, I began to find new growth emerging from those nubbins.   It was an excellent lesson for me in the behavior of perennial plants.  You would think that as long as I've been gardening, I'd have a fair amount of experience in that area.  Thanks to almost 15 years of warm winters, though, most of my perennials never went through the cycles of death and rebirth that nature intends for them. 

Also known as Woodland Pinkroot, these plants need a fair amount of moisture, so I placed it in the rain garden I made last year.  As you might gather from the common name, this plant can be found in shady spots in the wild, although the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center's information on its native habitat mentions open woodlands and woodland edges.  Here on my corner of Katy, it's been getting a fair amount of sun this summer.   As you can see from the picture below, by the end of August it's nowhere near the beauty that it was in spring.  Even though I know its shabby appearance right now is due to its going dormant, I plan to move it to a spot where the sun is a bit less intense and I don't have to do as much supplemental watering.

I did collect seeds when the plants finished blooming and scattered them in an area where I think Indian Pink would grow well. I'm hoping in years to come I'll have more instances of the beauty below in my garden!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Message from the Head Gardener

It has come to my attention that SOME gardeners in the Houston area have received a disporportionate share of the area's rainfall over the last two days, leaving us high and dry out here in Katy.  She Who Must Be Obeyed can murmur soothing platitudes all she wants ... they lose their effectiveness with me when she does so with hose in hand.  I must respectfully insist that any further rainfall be distributed more evenly and believe that in fact it would be only fair if those areas who have already benefited from nature's bounty this week, agree to donate their predicted rainfall for the upcoming weekend to those of us who have not been so generously blessed.  We will, of course, be willing to return the favor in future should a similar fate befall other areas.  

Respectfully submitted,
The Head Gardener

Monday, August 23, 2010

Cloud Series

As the day comes to an end, I stand outside and take pictures of what might have been ... the clouds that brought storms to the Southwest Houston area instead of to my corner of Katy.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

For Your Viewing Pleasure

Although I've been using Sundays as a day to review what went on in the garden during the week, the heat has addled my brain and I can't remember much of what I did when I was able to be out there.  So instead this post is a tip of the Tula* to Elizabeth Licata (of Gardening While Intoxicated and Garden Rant) for her comment on yesterday's post.

Zooming in through the garden gate

A view from the path, complete with tub trug and umbrellas to protect plants from the sun

Standing on the southwest patio

Look to the east for a view of the pond

Looking west towards the front gate

Standing on the patio, looking northeast

A gratuitous shot of my neighbor's crape myrtle festooned with coral vine, part of my borrowed view

*My Tula gardening hat, which does a splendid job of protecting me from the Death Star's fierce glare as I ramble about the garden.  By the way, I remember how I spent a significant portion of my time outside this week.  I watered.  Big whoop.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Friday, August 20, 2010

True Confessions

So as I mentioned in last week's wrap-up post, the Sky Pencil Hollies had been steadily declining, with only one of the 6 remaining plants in reasonably good health.  That was then ... this is now.  Yesterday the Head Gardener and I were dismayed to discover it too in a serious state of decline.  Although the HG originally intended to wait to yank them, we agreed to go ahead and remove them forthwith. Since the one on the left above had healthy new growth emerging at the base, we cut it back and will nurture it along to see how it does. Neither of us are convinced it will be with us for long but we're doing it mostly as an experiment.  The one on the right is there just to show you how bad a shape they were in.

Now for the true confessions, of which the HG wants no part. She's stomped off and is hiding somewhere in shame and abject humiliation.  She fears being she will be deemed unworthy to garden and stripped of her Felcos (when I pointed out that I'd already lost them, she was not amused).  I'm embarrassed to share our deficiencies and failings as gardeners with y'all but I will do it in the hope that it will save other gardeners, most particularly my fellow heat zone gardeners, from similar experiences.  

Although I washed off some of the planting mix, the picture above is pretty much how the roots of each shrub looked when I pulled them up.  Yes, it's been exceedingly hot and we've had very little rain lately. I have been watering each shrub individually during the dry periods and I thought I was drenching the soil thoroughly.  But it's clear to me that these shrubs have not gotten anywhere near enough moisture since I planted them in April and it's also clear to me that it takes a LOT more regular moisture that I realized, be it rain or supplemental watering, to keep plants healthy in my climate.  

I've been gardening on this corner of Katy for over 13 years and you would think I knew what it takes to keep plants hydrated by now.  Clearly I did not in this case and that leads me to question whether I need to take a hard look at my watering practices in general.  I am still pondering just what I need to do differently.  There's only so much time for watering unless I stay up all night with the hose.  (The HG and I both get really cranky if we don't get enough sleep so that's not a viable option.)

There are quite a few other unanswered questions in my mind when it comes to the hollies, which lead me to question my gardening practices in general. One of those questions is whether I should have removed virtually all of the soil mix, such as it was, before planting these shrubs. I usually remove part of the If you enlarge the picture of the roots, you should be able to see the chunks of bark still clinging to the roots.  There was a lot of bark mulch in the soil mixture, and I'm wondering if it were too well-drained to retain moisture around the roots.  Bare-rooting them completely might have given them a better chance of survival. I've made it a practice to do that with plants in a peat-based soil mix but perhaps I should be doing that with all my plants.

I'm also questioning whether my soil is contributing to the problem. Good soil is certainly  a basic premise of gardening so I do add organic matter periodically, working in compost, manure or leaf mold.   But I have learned over the years that it breaks down very quickly in the summer months, especially in the full sun areas of the garden.  Looking at the soil as I removed these plants, I was concerned to see how gray and lifeless it appeared.  Then I look out my window at the sun beating down relentlessly and it's understandable how the soil could become depleted, especially without adequate rainfall.  When it's this hot and dry, the earthworms can't always survive to do their job.  What other bioorganisms are struggling that I can't see?

Finally, although the plant information on the tags stated the hollies needed full sun and were hardy in zones 5-9, no one would dispute that zone 9 in south central Texas is very different from zone 9 in Oregon or Washington state.  I should have listened to the HG when she voiced that concern and not been so sure that we could push the boundaries.  The hollies were planted in the bed along the back fence, which receives full sun from about noon till 6 pm.  Given that the temperature today was 100.9 at 4:30 in the afternoon, the plants in those beds have to be seriously heat tolerant and somewhat drought tolerant.  Need I say that I will not be replanting Sky Pencil hollies in the empty spots?  I have yet to decide what might go there instead but I do know I will be a bit more attentive to the HG'S concerns in the matter.

Right now I'm going to go coax the HG out from whatever closet she's been hiding in and pour her a glass of wine to improve her mood.  With 41 days of awful left, the only thing that might make her less surly is rain!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Three for Thursday: Stalwarts of the Summer Garden

I walked outside this morning to see what might make a good subject for this week's Three for Thursday post.  As you might be aware from all my whining and whining and bitching and moaning about the weather, there are a lot of plants out there that aren't handling summer very well.  Thankfully, there are also some plants that seem to positively thrive on excessive heat and lack of rain.  So I chose three of those to feature in today's post.

I don't believe I've ever seen Peruvian Pavonia (P. peruviensis) wilt, even when it's had little to no water and  the temperature soars over 100 as it has recently.  It's covered in these pale pink blooms with deep maroon throats and red stamens.  It blooms profusely in sun but will also bloom in partial shade.  I'm not going to lie to you: I'm not wild about this plant: the  Head Gardener's says I'm a plant snob.  She says I don't like it because it presents no challenge to me as a gardener: it's easy peasy lemon squeezy to grow.  She also alludes to my complaints about its tendency to reseed freely, and for those seedlings to grow all to quickly into a veritable thicket as they did in the rose bed.  Well, pfui, she's right: the plant has certainly proven its worth to me this summer.  I will do my best to think more kindly of it in the future since as my late friend Amy used to say about plants that could take our most brutal weather, "it's so brave".  A note re the botanical and common names: I've also heard this plant this referred to as P. hastata, Spearleaf Pavonia and Brazilian Pavonia.

Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum) is one of my favorite Texas natives.  This one requires full sun, lean and mean soil, and very little water.  In fact, I've had plants die back from an excess of rain after one of those drenching torrential storms.  I don't water these plants at all and they reward me with a profusion of small white daisies for months on end.  They also reseed, but not thuggishly.  This one is actually growing in a crack between the moss rocks of the border along one of the granite paths.

Rock Rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) is a little more mannerly in its reseeding habits than its relative.   I've seen some catalogs and articles where this plant is classified as a shade plant (partial or dappled).  Here at Wit's End, it blooms and grows its best in full sun.  I do have some plants that get a fair amount of shade; those plants don't bloom as profusely.  This one has wilted a bit in the afternoons recently and I've noticed that it needs supplemental watering to keep the foliage a healthy dark green.  I love the hibiscus-like blooms on this one, which is why some refer to it as Rose Mallow.

I hope you'll join me in posting Three for Thursday, if not this week, then next!  Pick 3 pictures of plants from your garden ... tell us about 3 books you've read that you want to share ... rant about 3 things that bug the heck out of you ... show us 3 pieces of garden art or 3 photos of egregious crimes against gardening ... shoot, get creative!  Make it fun for yourself and it will be fun for us!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Read Any Good Books Lately?

If the summer doldrums have you in dis mood again, and all you want to do is huddle in the coolest corner of the house with a good book, then search no more!  Frances at Fairegarden mentioned on Plurk recently that she was reading Radical Prunings by Bonnie Thomas Abbott.  Nothing would do for her fellow garden bloggers than to race over to Amazon and find it for themselves, me included.  It's by turns hilarious and poignant and I believe most gardeners will find it a delightful read.  Mertensia Corydalis is a most memorable character and the supporting players in her story are quite a motley crew.  I hope it will lift your spirits and make you smile and nod in agreement with the redoubtable Mertensia, as it did me.  I just might read it again this afternoon! 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Monday, Monday, So Good To Me ...

In some ways and so disappointing in others ...

See these clouds roiling over my corner of Katy?  You can practically hear the thunder, can't you? So you're expecting to hear me say that moments after I took these pictures, the rain came tumbling down and the gardens of Wit's End got a good soaking.  You would, however, be as disappointed as I was by the pitiful amount of rain that fell.  It didn't even rain long enough or hard enough to wash off the foliage, let alone penetrate the soil.  There's more rain in tomorrow's forecast so perhaps Tuesday will be my good news day rain-wise.

However, despite that disappointment, I found something to rejoice about.  As I worked my way down the south fence with hose in hand, I made a happy discovery. 

The Oxblood Lilies given to me by MSS at Zanthan Gardens are not only emerging from their dormancy, they're blooming!  I have a long way to go to achieve her stunning success with these lovelies, but I'm delighted no end that I'm on my way!  Thanks, MSS!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

August 2010 Bloom Day: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Frequently all in the same plant ... it constantly surprises me how plants can have the most beautiful blooms and look like frass* otherwise.  We've reached that point in summer weather where both the garden and the gardener are all showing the strain of being subjected to too much heat and too little rain. I've started to question our abilities to make it through permanently unscathed, which is my usual August state of mind here at Wit's End.  It's reassuring in an odd kind of way to know that I'm back where I've been so many times before and to remind myself that I still had a garden each time the summer came to an end.  46 more days of awful to go ... I made it through last summer and the summers before ... I'll make it through this one, too.  

And now, for your viewing pleasure, some of the blooming beauties on my corner of Katy.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Wrapping Up Another Week

I usually do this post on Sunday, but since tomorrow is Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, I'm reviewing the week a day early and foregoing pictures.  I promise there will be pictures a-plenty for GBBD!

Have I mentioned that it's been hot? As in beastly, ungodly, excruciatingly, unnervingly, soul sappingly HOT? Each day it seems the Head Gardener and I find ourselves heading inside sooner than we intended, leaving chores unfinished and our hopes for the day unfulfilled. And no measurable rain has fallen on my corner of Katy in at least two weeks, making for some very unhappy flora. When even the xeric and waterwise plants are pallid and drooping, it's time for the Head Gardener and me to step in and take hose in hand and do what we can to keep plants from going roots up. Most of the year the gardens are required to fend for themselves and make do without any supplemental watering but not in July and August. That's cruel and unusual punishment and a crime against botanity.

So, yes, I've spent a fair amount of time watering this week. The temperature has gone over 100 several times this week in my community, according to the Personal Weather Station I follow on WeatherUnderground. I'm seriously considering setting up a PWS of my own so that I can have really accurate weather data for my corner of Katy. The Head Gardener asserts, however, that we will not do any such thing until cooler temperatures arrive. She has no intention of attempting to install such a system in August, no matter how nifty it might be to have the data!

Supplemental watering hasn't been enough to keep the Sky Pencil hollies (Ilex crenata) happy on my corner of Katy. Despite my best efforts, these shrubs continue to die back. Of the seven shrubs I planted in March to add evergreen structure and vertical interest along the back fence, only the one that is in light shade most of the day seems to be healthy. The others, which are in sun to part shade, all have several dead or dying branches. Although the plants were labeled for Zone 5 to 9, and full sun, I suspect they're not really suited to growing in zone 9 OR full sun. The Head Gardener believes we should pull all but the healthy one, and return them to Lowe's for a refund per the guarantee. Again, however, she has no intention of accomplishing this in August and says that gives us some time to decide what we can plant there in lieu of the hollies.

We also discovered a large dead portion on the Mutabilis Rose this week. How we managed not to notice that it was dying, we can't tell you. That rose hasn't been truly healthy since the severe pruning I gave it in February of 2009 ... the HG says the only way it could have been whacked more thoroughly was to let Tony Soprano have at it. Then she decided perhaps Freddy Krueger was more appropriate, given that I used a saw to do the pruning. Hyperbole aside, I do agree that I overdid it. The bush is still blooming and I'm thinking I'll take some cuttings in October as insurance. I haven't started any roses from cuttings in a while and as a former member of the Texas Rose Rustlers, I should get back to doing that once in a while.

Oh, oh, OH! The Rose Rustlers' reference reminded me (because there was a brief mention of them in the book): if you have not read RADICAL PRUNINGS, get yourself over to Amazon and order it forthwith. Frances of Fairegarden recommended it and like several other garden bloggers, I have found it an absolutely delightful read. By turns hilarious and poignant, the writings of Mertensia Corydalis and her stories of the eccentric characters with whom she surrounds herself should resonate with any gardener.  If you use this link to order, I get a little bonus from Amazon, so thank you in advance if you order.  Search Amazon.com for radical prunings  That title is sadly apropros to what I did to poor Mutabilis, by the way.

Back to my garden and more notes/observations, to wit: The Toad Lily (Tricyrtis spp.) opened buds this week. Not surprisingly, the flowers are much smaller than usual. I wonder what would happen if I removed the buds? Would it bloom again in October, which is when I usually start seeing flowers?  Ideas, anyone?

Despite it's being a less than felicitous time to transplant, I yanked some of the White Swan Echinacea I'd planted out front, and the White Flag/Summer Poinsettia (Mussaenda Luteola) that were planted behind them.  They had been languishing for months without growing any larger and with only minimal blooms, due to too little sunlight in the spot I'd chosen.  I replanted them in sunnier spots and we'll see how they fare.  I removed any buds and flowers after planting them, and covered them with overturned plastic pots to shade them while they settle in.  Thus far they appear to be making it.  If the heat index continues to soar over 100, though, it's going to be a struggle. 

Although the tomatoes are history (except for a Green Zebra plant I kept to see if I could get just ONE tomato from the little bugger), the pepper plants are still producing. I have 'Mucho Nacho' Jalapenos, 'Golden Summer' sweet bell peppers, 'Giant Marconi' sweet Italian peppers and 'Mariachi' chile peppers. I had to go on a hunting expedition for the Mariachis, having planted it in the corner bed near the Tina Turner Bauhinia. It took some searching but I found it ... which led to a serious pruning session for Tina. Diva that she is, she still dominates that corner but at least she's now allowing a few of the back-up singers some time in the sun. Oh, yeah, one other thing about the peppers ... we don't really eat a lot of hot peppers around here so I've been taking the bulk of them to the waiters at our favorite neighborhood cantina.

While working in that corner bed on Thursday, dispelling mankiness and pulling weeds, I became aware that my legs were itching fiercely, followed soon after by my arms. Dousing myself with the hose and dunking myself in the pool gave only momentary relief. So I repaired inside to the cool and comfort for a break. When the itching subsided after a few minutes, I headed back outside, and confirmed that whatever was making me itch, the sunlight and heat made it worse. I was forced to concede defeat and called it quits for the day at 10:00 a.m. As for what caused this episode, after some research, I've decided that the most likely culprit is the Nodding Spurge, the most prevalent weed in that bed. The sap of plants in the Euphorbia family are known to cause skin irritation when exposed to sunlight.  The plants in that bed are self-sown and I don't do any thinning, so it's hard to walk amongst them without brushing against one or another.  It's too darned hot for long pants, even the most lightweight ones ... I guess this means no weeding back there until cooler weather prevails. (Oh, darn.)

Happy news from my corner of Katy: If all goes smoothly, "my" pool and the house that goes with it will have new owners (a family with 2 elementary-age kids) by the end of September. I met dad Brian on Tuesday and I was pleased to learn that he's very enthusiastic about gardening. One of the things that drew him to the property was the greenhouse enclosure the current owners had constructed by the garage. We were both delighted to spot an anole leaping from plant to plant in my rose bed so I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Especially since he said he'd be happy to take me up on my offer of plant/house/pet sitting in exchange for pool privileges!

And now, if you'll excuse me, there's a sofa awaiting my presence and a brief siesta to be taken before we head out to celebrate a friend's birthday with margaritas and fajitas and senoritas, oh my!

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Plight of My Plumerias

I've been growing Plumeria (aka Frangipani or Hawaiian Lei Flower) since I started gardening on this corner of Katy. My mother gave me a branch of her white Plumeria and a friend from Corpus Christi handed out Plumeria sticks at a dinner with friends not long thereafter. Every time I'd visit her in Corpus, she'd send me home with another stick or two, which is how I came to own somewhere around 8 to 10 plants. None of them were profuse bloomers, owing to the fact that I'd forget to haul them out of storage in the garage until May or even June most years, and then rarely fed them. Eventually I passed most of them off to friends and fellow gardeners. I kept the one my mother gave me and I think the other, which is small tree sized, is one of those Jan gave me. It hasn't bloomed yet this year (no surprise there).

One of the problems I've encountered each and every year is pictured above and below. The leaves grow pale and scorched and they're a sad sight indeed. I'm wondering if the problem is due to my habit of placing the pots on the concrete driveway and in past years, on the concrete patios. Considering how hot concrete surfaces get in a Houston summer, I think it's possible that the intensity of the heat traveling up into the pot is too much for the plants. If there are any Plumeria fanatics out there who can tell me whether I'm right, please leave me a comment. If that's not the problem, I'd very much appreciate your input. For now, I've moved the pots into the garden, so they're resting on soil rather than concrete.

I'm happy that the white Plumeria is blooming: one whiff of the fragrance and I feel like I'm back in Hawaii!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Three for Thursday: Heritage Rose

Today on Three for Thursday: a David Austin English rose, 'Heritage'.

I wish I could capture the fragrance for you, too ... it's swoonworthy.

You can see this rose in an April post, when I was sure that the plant had been mislabeled. Happily I was wrong: it seems that this delicate beauty behaves a bit differently in my climate than that of the English countryside.

I didn't get this post up in time to invite y'all to join me in posting Three for Thursday, but this is a heads-up for next week. Cheryl at Conscious Gardening joined me on a previous Thursday: those scarecrows were pretty danged funny! David at Tropical Texana is participating again this week. I'd love to have more of y'all do so. Choose a theme (whatever you want, feel free to interpret it loosely) and choose three photographs to share, then have at it!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dis Wednesday

Today I share with you a picture of a Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis), one of the few plants actually happy with the levels of heat and drought currently afflicting my corner of Katy, and some words from a post I wrote in June of 2008 which reflect my current state of heart and mind.

I am feeling dispirited, dissatisfied, discouraged, disenchanted, disgruntled, disheartened ... oh, hell, just look in the dictionary under dis-! Right now they all feel like they apply. I headed outside thinking that I would water and then take a few pictures to share ... After seeing the dismal and disappointing conditions wrought by the disinclination of rain to fall on my corner of Katy, I am filled with dismay and disgust. I am disconcerted. I am disconsolate. I am distinctly disposed to disappear for distant and distinctively different destinations ... do not try to dissuade me lest I become disputatious and disorderly.

Seriously, folks, it's bad out there. Let me be clear: I have blooms a-plenty. The plants to which those blooms are attached, however, are feeling the stress. What MSS at Zanthan Gardens calls Brown Summer is upon us ... and it is indeed painful to experience on many levels. A gardener learns that sacrifices must be made: which plant gets to live and which should be yanked and thrown into the compost? Those that are deemed worthy will need the gardener's attention ... nay, vigilance. Watering twice a day may be necessary: is this plant worth her/his venturing forth into the heat and humidity, wrestling with the hoses, getting dirty and sweaty? Will the eventual rewards make that gardener glad s/he sacrificed personal comfort, time and effort in order to nurture that plant through hostile weather conditions? It's a very personal decision and one only that gardener can make.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Alley Oop!

This planting in the utility easement along my back fence is a conglomeration of plants that I stuck out there because I couldn't stand to throw them awayl seeds tossed on the ground to see what happened; and a few things that seeded themself or sprouted from runners inside the fence. Peruvian Pavonia, white Plumbago, Coral Nymph Salvia, Coral Vine/Queen's Wreath (no blooms yet), Spiderwort, Crinum, Alyssum, and a smattering of weeds share this space. What's noteworthy about it? It grows and blooms with no supplemental watering whatsoever, only whatever rain may fall.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Love Thy Neighbor ...

Even if her Rangoon Creeper is way better than yours. Like light years better.

My Rangoon Creeper (Quisqualis indica)

My neighbor's Rangoon Creeper

Both hers and mine froze to the ground this winter. Clearly, this is a plant that prefers to be planted in the ground rather than confined to a container, even one as large as the half barrel in which mine is planted. I've asked Susan before whether she fertilizes it or does anything special for it ... according to her, she might feed it a little Miracle-Gro now and then if she thinks about it. I have to wonder, if like real estate, it's all about location, location, location with this plant. Susan's is planted on her back fence, which has a north-south exposure. The roots are on the southern side of the fence. There's almost no shade in her back yard and I think the plant gets at least 8 hours of full sun a day.

Come mid-September, I plan to release my Rangoon Creeper from captivity and find a place for it in one of the garden beds. It may never look as good as Susan's plant, but it's got to look better than it does now.

I find the flowers only lightly fragrant but Amy must have had far more developed olfactory glands than I do, because she'd practically swoon from the fragrance.

What's more, you have to love a plant that is performing as beautifully as this one under adverse conditions, i.e. August.

I've changed my mind at least twice since I started this post about where I think I should plant mine. I'll figure it out eventually!