Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lichen It

I've been reading A Photographer's Garden Blog, David Perry's thoughtful, eloquent and provocative musings about his garden as it applies to life. As you'll see from the post I linked to, the object of his attention, affection and imagination was a terracotta ball that was becoming colonized by lichens and fungi. I was enchanted by his musings that day, delighted to know that I'm not alone in my tendency to find beauty and treasure and inspiration in what some might see as mundane, like this lichen I found as I was walking the dog one morning. Fallen from a branch on high where only the birds and squirrels could see it, it came to rest on the fawn-colored grass and I suspect would have remained there unnoticed had I not happened by. I think it's one of the most beautiful and intricate things I've ever seen: the ruffled and frilled edges, the subtle shades of blue and green that play against the gray, the tiny goblets upturned to capture the raindrops. I brought it home with me and placed it in a bowl with other bits of nature's ephemera. It reminds me that there's more to the garden than pretty flowers and although like Claude Monet, "I must have flowers always", there are other things that deserve my attention and respect and imagination, and my willingness to play with all that nature has so kindly given me. Claude knew that, I believe, and his willingness to take his art beyond the literal and into his imagination meant that the beauty of his garden lasted far beyond its natural life and remains with us still in his paintings. That's what I want to do in my garden AND my life: see beyond the literal and let my imagination run free.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Saturday, Saturday, Ever Loving Saturday ...

I was up bright and early this morning so I could make it to the Tomato-Pepper Sale in a timely manner. Although I was surprised by how few people were in line when I got there, there was a full house in the auditorium for a presentation on the varieties available. When we opened the doors, those folks didn't saunter out casually ... most of them sprinted! As she checked out, one woman told me that she'd gotten a call from her husband in the thick of things, asking where she was. She shouted at him that she couldn't talk, she was too busy trying to fight her way through the throngs to get to the plants! From 9-10:30, we had a constant flow of customers waiting to check out, most of them happy to have gotten what they wanted and willing to be patient. While we did sell out of several varieties of tomatoes and peppers, and our entire stock of herbs was sold, we still had a nice selection of Lycopersicon and Capsicum by the time I got a break. Since my veggie growing pals are determined that I too shall become a veggie grower, I fulfilled their fondest wishes and brought home a nice assortment of peppers and tomatoes, as seen below. Peppers include Golden Summer, Mucho Nacho, Mariachi and Giant Marconi. I bought Jaune Flamme and Green Zebra tomatoes, as well as 2 plants of Sungold. I love cherry tomatoes so I don't think 2 plants is too many. My first year growing them, I planted 12. Uh-huh. TWELVE. I had a cherry tomato jungle in the back yard.

Although the day started off cloudy and chilly, once the skies cleared and the temperatures warmed, it was a great day to be outside selling plants. In between tending to customers, my cashiering cohorts and I ate our lunch al fresco and talked about what we'd be replacing in our gardens. It's comforting to know that others share my predicament! By the time I made it home in the afternoon, I was too tired to do anything in my garden, though. Once I'd had a little nap, though, I grabbed my camera to capture proof of my veggie purchases. While I had the camera in my hand, I looked around for any other photo ops worth sharing and I realized that I keep forgetting to mention my new toy. I was getting ready to check out at Lowe's recently and this baby was sitting near the checkout stand. I've been wanting a tumbling composter and the price was right ($99), so I brought it home for the Executive Producer to put together. It claims I can have compost in 3-4 weeks but I expect it will take a bit longer, seeing how little green material I have to add right now.

I've been watching this Laura Bush Petunia for a few weeks now: it made it through the January freezing spell just fine and is now sporting a couple of blooms.

And much to my surprise, there was a bloom on a Calibrachoa.

I was going to close by saying that hopefully, I'll have tomatoes this color in a couple of months. Then I realized that I didn't buy any red tomatoes. I need to do something about that!

Friday, February 26, 2010

February Is Winding Down

Random thoughts on a Friday night:

Tomorrow, Saturday, February 27th, is the Harris County Master Gardeners' annual Tomato-Pepper Sale. Official sale hours are 9 AM till 2 PM and I'm here to tell you that official hours don't mean diddly. If you're a Houston area gardener and you want to have ANY chance at all of getting the plants you want, put on some warm clothes, come early and be prepared to wait to get in and to pay. And when I say come early? Folks start lining up by 6:00 AM most years.

I was downtown working at the Chronicle today, adding entries to the Plant Database and drooling over one particular plant. I'm not that big a fan of Petunias but this new Supertunia from Proven Winners is positively psychedelic: take a look at Pretty Much Picasso. Rumor has it that one local grower has hanging baskets of these going out to area nurseries, including Another Place in Time on W. 11th Street in the Heights.

I was do determined to believe that spring is on its way, I convinced myself that the high winds we've had all day as a sign of spring. Never mind that the chill goes right through you, especially in the wind tunnels that are Houston's downtown streets. Even more especially if you left your jacket in the truck and had to walk back to the parking lot in short sleeves. As I drove home today, I had to keep both hands firmly planted on the steering wheel because poor FloraBob was rocking something fierce. Tonight the windchimes in back are ringing fairly steadily. I will be dressing warmly tomorrow: I've already laid out my silk thermals and plan to take a blanket to block the wind from our legs. It gets cold out there on the prairie when the wind's blowing. My determination to believe in spring took a nose dive as I was searching for a reference to NOAA's freeze occurrence data on Science Guy Eric Berger's blog. Ratfarts. There's another winter storm headed our way on Monday. We're going to get slapped around by Mother Nature again. And, yes, it really has been significantly colder this winter. Here's how Eric Berger put it:

Consider last year's February in Houston, when 21 of the month's 28 days had high temperatures of 70 degrees or above, and there was not one night of freezing temperatures. On three days temperatures topped out in the 80s.

Contrast that with this February, when we've had just one -- just one! -- day when temperatures reached 70 degrees. And so far there have been four freezes.

And speaking of the NOAA, I am not happy with them. Seriously, they have freeze occurrence data for towns as small as Flatonia and Danevang, but not for Katy???? I mean, come on. I protest this omission, and I am unanimous in that! The closest recording stations are Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston Hobby Airport and Sugar Land. All of those are a good 25 miles from Katy. I sat here the other day trying to figure out just what our actual probability dates were compared to theirs and I may even have come up with something that sounded reasonable to me at the time. I didn't write it down, though and it flitted, it floated, it fleetly fled, it flew ... right outta my brain. Hasta la vista, baby.

Blogger's being exceedingly weird for me tonight, refusing to save things properly, so I'll spare you any more of my ramblings and shut it down for the night. If you're at the Tomato-Pepper sale tomorrow, swing by the credit card booth and say hi. I should be able to spare a few seconds to return the favor!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Three for Thursday: Tulipa 'Monsella'

This is an unsolicited, unpaid, unequivocally enthusiastic shout out to Brent and Becky Heath of Brent and Becky's Bulbs. Envious of my bulb-growing fellow bloggers, and determined to have some bulbular beauty for myself, I placed an order with them in December for pre-chilled tulips. Although this winter's weather has certainly given them more chill time than in other years, it's still necessary for us to refrigerate tulip bulbs for 6 to 8 weeks prior to planting them. Since I was late in realizing just how necessary tulips were to my continued happiness and well-being, I was indeed fortunate that Brent and Becky had some beautiful tulips chilling out in their refrigerators, just waiting for me to summon them to my corner of Katy. Emboldened by my success, I'll be ordering a LOT more from them this coming fall/winter!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Flurry of Activity ...

And I didn't even get any pictures! I looked out the window late this afternoon and big fat snowflakes were drifting towards the ground. While my sister in Austin and a friend in Waco got significant accumulations (for those parts of Texas, not for Chicago or Minneapolis), nothing stuck here because the ground was wet from the rain that fell throughout the day. The snow was all over within minutes. Although a low of 31 degrees is predicted tonight, I'd be surprised if my corner of Katy got anything more than a light frost.

Although I did get outside to feed the goldfinches and their avian brethren (including 20 or more white-winged doves wandering the grounds of the Confinchion Center), that was my only excursion for the day. It's just too danged cold and wet to be out there for even a few minutes! I'm consoling myself for the lack of outside time with the thought that the rain will encourage the spring annuals to get growing and by April, there will be a much more colorful flurry of activity here at Wit's End.

Monday, February 22, 2010

More Bulbalicious Beauties!

An over the top view of Tulip 'Monsella'

How did I garden this long without having experienced Narcissus 'Erlicheer'? I'm already making plans to order mass quantities for next year's garden.

Ditto for 'Avalanche"!

No demure nodding of its head for this Leucojum ... it's showing its face for all to see!

My attempt at forcing Hyacinths last year was a dismal failure, so this year's success is that much sweeter.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Amaryllis By Morning

Three of last year's Amaryllis bulbs are preparing themselves to bloom again and their timing couldn't be better. After several days of mild temperatures and even some sunshine (you knew there was a reason you hadn't heard me whining lately!), winter will soon be returning to my corner of Katy. The forecast calls for a low of 32 on Tuesday and Wednesday nights and there's even a possibility of snow on Tuesday. I don't believe I'll be outside much this week! I'm optimistic that this will be winter's last hurrah in the greater Houston area. Whether that optimism will be justified, we shall see.

At least I can be certain of these Amaryllis. In the clay pot on the left, one of the Cybister varieties, is unfurling its starburst blooms. I believe this is Chico but I won't know for sure until it blooms. To be honest, I'd forgotten it was in there! I'd planted a Neon Rose Amaryllis in that pot last spring, intending it to be temporary. I set it outside on my dining room patio, protected from the afternoon sun, and then brought it inside back in December when we had that early freeze. When I saw a bloom stalk emerging I expected it to be Neon Rose. Once the stalk began to open, though, it was obvious from the bloom form that it wasn't Neon Rose and realized there was another bulb in there! Since I'm partial to the more fanciful forms of the Cybisters, I'm excited that this one has chosen to rebloom.

I'm even more excited that La Paz has a bloom stalk. I'd heard from a friend that an amaryllis expert she knows finds it difficult to get La Paz to rebloom after the first year. I wonder what I did that persuaded it to do so? Oddly, it's accompanied by only 2 small thin leaves off to one side. I'm wondering if the bulb has produced offsets and those leaves are the product of the offsets.

Then there's big, bold, beautiful Red Pearl, whose leaves are such a dark and velvety red that no picture can do them justice.

Shoot, I'm wishing now I'd bought just a few more Amaryllis bulbs this year. I still have a few surfaces available where I could put pots! It's probably just as well that I didn't ... I have a lot of plant buying to do for outside and I hope the weather will allow me to do it SOON!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Confinchion Continues ...

The Wildlife Catering Department here at Wit's End brought in a new dining facility for the goldfinches this week. The Fly-Through Feeder came from Lowe's and it proved an immediate hit with the confinchion goers, who show no signs of departing the Confinchion Center any time soon. Sunflower chip and thistle consumption are at an all time high; the head of the Procurement Division has taken to shaking his head and muttering darkly each time he is informed of the need for more provisions. (He is not a nature lover by nature.)

The peace officer in charge of security arrangements is happy to report that there have been no repeats of last year's attacks by a felonious feline. The officer has recommended, however, that bird screens be installed ASAP on windows near the Confinchion Center due to injuries sustained by misguided attendees.

The Head Gardener, who is the employee in charge of wildlife observation, has noticed that the finches have taken on a brighter hue in recent days. The HG has read reports from more northerly climates saying that the goldfinches there begin to acquire their new summer coats in March. It makes sense to us that in our southern location, they would begin that process earlier. Whatever the reason, all of us here at Wit's End enjoy seeing the confinchion goers so cheerily attired, especially knowing that their time with us is likely to end before long. When it does, the Head of the Maintenance Department will swing into action: cleaning out feeders and cleaning off squirrel baffles, assessing the condition of thistle socks and discarding those with large holes from the repeated pecking of tiny beaks, and then dismantling and storing the dining facilities until next year's convention. The 2010 Confinchion has been a great success and we have high hopes for 2011!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Do Tell

Back in September, I visited SEEDS Community Garden as part of the Garden Writers of America symposium. I was quite taken with this vine and no one there was able to come up with an ID for me. It's not Cypress Vine or Cardinal Climber: the flowers are slightly larger and the foliage is different. If anyone knows what it is, please enlighten me! The folks at SEEDS graciously allowed me to take a few of the seeds and I'm planning on sowing them soon. It would be nice to know what in the heck it is I'm growing, though!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tulip Time

Today I finally made it over to Amy's house to plant her tulips. Heaven knows they've gotten enough chill time to make beautiful blooms ... here's hoping they'll be rip-roaring and raring to grow! I was a bit trepidatious about what kind of freeze damage her gardens might have sustained. It was a pleasant surprise to see that at least in front, things came through fairly well. The Sweet Almond Verbena (Aloysia virginiana) took a hit and I had to yank three Encore Azaleas (those may have died over the course of the summer, though). Planting the tulips wasn't too arduous a task: I removed a few weeds and dug a nice-sized trench, placed 100 Ivory Floradale bulbs in that trench and then covered them up. I could have wished for slightly drier soil to work in ... they've gotten a fair amount of rain out that way. Dampness not withstanding, I was once again in awe of Amy's rich dark soil. Years of mulching well have resulted in something that looks more dark and delicious than a double fudge brownie.

That soil is likely responsible for how well the roses, iris and crape myrtles were doing. Unfortunately, the wild Goldenrod (Solidago) is running rampant throughout one of the streetside beds and I hope my efforts to remove as much as possible didn't just encourage more to grow. I know I left pieces of the runners despite my best intentions. I don't know if cultivated varieties of Goldenrod are less aggressive in their running tendencies and perhaps in the right environment, it's not a problem. True, the only right environment that comes to mind right now is an open field or meadow far FAR away from cultivated beds and borders. As beneficial as it may be to wildlife and as attractive as the blooms can be, I would not recommend that anyone plant it unless they can do the maintenance needed to keep it in check. Amy's beds may be one of those situations where the best solution is an herbicide, especially considering that the basal clumps of the plants suffered absolutely NO damage from the freezes.

I forgot to bring my camera along with me and I didn't think to use my iPhone camera so I have no pictures to share. The picture at the top is her tulips in bloom last year. And the picture below is of Amy with The Poodle. The story behind The Poodle, I'll save for another time. Sadly, I don't think I have any of the e-mails that were a part of The Poodle saga. It lives in my memory as a shining moment in Amy's and my history, that much I'll say now.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wordless Wednesday:These Are Not MY Fuchsias*

*Sorry, y'all, didn't mean to mislead anyone. It was wordless Wednesday, probably not the best day for me to post without an explanation. I took these pictures at a wonderful small nursery near downtown Houston, Another Place in Time. These were all hanging baskets that the owner, Mike Lowery, had recently gotten from the growers.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Flirting With Foliage

Pam of Digging has initiated Foliage FollowUp on the 16th of each month for bloggers to share the charms of non-blooming plants in their gardens. First up on my corner of Katy is a Flirt Nandina, which I received* from the Southern Living Garden Collection at the Garden Writers of America symposium back in September. I don't know how it will do in our summer heat but the small plan has held up to the cold well and I love how the color has gotten deeper and richer throughout the winter. I'm quite enamored of this shameless Flirt thus far and am looking forward to trialing her sister Blush Pink.

The Ligularia were a little droopy after the spell of freezing temperatures in January but they perked back up. I love the shape of the leaves and the beautiful glossy green texture.

Although the main reason for growing Hinckley's Columbine (Aquilegia hinckleyana) is the fluorescent yellow blooms, I'm always excited to see the lacy foliage renewing itself as the weather grows cooler.

I think this is a Rabbit's Foot Fern that I rescued from Lowe's clearance table. It had very few fronds when I brought it home and it poked along for a while not sure whether it would make it or not. Evidently it too responds to cooler weather with a spurt of growth!

The Bear's Breeches (Acanthus mollis) don't appreciate extremes of hot or cold: their leaves grew yellowed or crisped up this past summer and freezing temperatures made them sadly droopy. They seem to be recovering nicely, though.

Agave lophantha and Agave lophantha 'Quadricolor' came home with me from North Carolina. The first was a purchase at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens and the second came from Plant Delights Nursery. I fear I'm becoming an Agave addict.

I don't remember where I bought this one and don't know the species (tell me if you do), but isn't it cool?

I've always had a succulent addiction, however. This Aloe joined the collection last year, I think.

Thanks to Pam for reminding us that foliage plays an important role in the garden, too. I'm happy that I have so many lovely shapes and textures of leaves to share but I suspect this time next month I'll be even happier!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

This Just In ... Sun Continues to Shine!

And the gardener goes wild ... again! The Head Gardener and I have been outside all afternoon, and we are tired and sore but happy. We started out in the back and were greeted by this winged visitor, much to our delight.

Although the sun was flitting in and out of the clouds, the HG decreed that if it's sunny enough for a butterfly, it's sunny enough for a gardener. Once we'd finished our photography session (when the Sulphur butterfly decided he'd had enough of our disturbing his meals and flitted away himself), we headed out front to work. In keeping with tradition here at Wit's End, we continue to rethink our rethinking when it comes to design and layout. We have a bad habit of planting under pressure (usually self-inflicted). Below is an example, although you really need to see it in person to get the perspective.

An aside before I continue: do you see why I've been whining about the lack of green and the predominance of brown? Winter. Huh. Yeah. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Sorry, the HG tells me to stop exaggerating and move on. In the picture, there's a small lime tree behind the bag on the left (both of those hold rocks as we continue our efforts to remove them). Oh, hey, another aside: I listed the rocks on Craigslist free for the shoveling and hauling and had numerous responses. The big pile that once loomed in the area where the bags now sit is gone, baby, gone. Woo-hoo! Rock on! Interjection from the Head Gardener: Apologies, gentle readers, I can only assume that the sunshine has gone to her head. Yes, sunshine nearly always makes me high. Interjection the Second: Get ON with it! Oh, yeah ... so the lime tree was planted there because the spot was empty and it seemed like a good idea at the time. Interjection the Third: If I had a rock for every time she's said that ... We do, that was YOUR bright idea.

It was mine, however, to also plant the Erythrina crista-galli (Fireman's Cap) near the lime tree. The Erythrina eventually grew higher than the lime tree and began shading it. You might note that you no longer see the Erythrina to the left of the lime. That thing has roots like you would not believe. I've found them growing under the lawn. I decided it needed to go, so it's gone. Now I'm looking at that area and trying to decide whether the lime tree stays or goes. I do enjoy using the limes, which are small, yellow-green and juicy (Mexican lime, I think, too thorny for Key). I may prune it down to its central leader: I think it would grow better and be a prettier shape.

I had some other big ideas but I'll save them for later. Chime in and let me know what you think about pruning the lime. Interjection the last: Like she'll really listen to you. Oops, the HG's getting a little cranky. Perhaps I should let her relax a while. A strong cold front is predicted to blow through sometime this evening and bring a return of the rain. She'll have to put up with my crankiness tomorrow!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

News Flash! Sunshine Spotted At Wit's End!

Hyacinth 'Carnegie' with Cutie Pie violas

And the gardener goes wild! She smiles, she laughs, she pulls spiderwort! Even the fact that it's a whole tub's worth of spiderwort fails to dim her glee! "Quick!", she says to herself, "get the camera and take a picture of how the Tinka tulip looks ... they didn't get to see your clean-up efforts the other day."

When she sees that the Eranthemum, freeze damaged and presumed dead, is sprouting green leaf buds at the base, she points and shoots. "Look at THAT!" she exclaims to an invisible audience, "it's coming back!"

The gardener spent a couple of very pleasant hours out back. She may actually stop whinging about the weather now that she's gotten some hort therapy!


Friday, February 12, 2010

Take Heart

What does a gardener do to fulfill her creative urges when the garden is denied her? She writes about gardening, when she's not too busy bemoaning the winter weather which she so coveted in years past. She peruses plant and seed catalogs in anticipation of the return of spring, creating amazingly beautiful gardens in her mind or on paper. But what does she do when that's not enough? When she sees her garden as a canvas with plants as the colorful brushstrokes and her longing to once again paint with plants cannot be contained, does she race out to the nearest nursery and throw caution to the winds, or does she find other outlets? Even she is surprised at the answer!

Last night a group of 7 friends and I ventured into midtown Houston to visit what may be the best venue around for a ladies' night out. Pinot & Picasso is located at the intersection of Fairview and Taft in an unassuming, slightly shabby, storefront. You bring the wine, they supply everything else you need to create a masterpiece, including step by step instructions and some great background music that causes some ladies to break out in song and dance. Think you can't create a painting in 2 hours (especially under the influence of a little vino)? It's a pleasant surprise to find that you can. This was not my first time at Pinot & Picasso, nor will it be my last. I should note that on my first visit, quite a few men participated; the one lone male in last night's class seemed to enjoy himself nonetheless. The classes fill up pretty quickly, with some paintings more popular than others. If you want to grab some dinner before your class, there are several restaurants in the general area (we chose Pronto Cucinino on Montrose). And if you're in the mood for dessert afterwards, all of us recommend The Chocolate Bar on West Alabama.

I like my painting well enough to hang it in the powder room along with the other hearts I've collected over the years. When I see it, I'm reminded to TAKE HEART ... it won't be winter forever.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head ...

It was a wet and chilly winter day here on my corner of Katy. Again. I think about last year's painfully hot and dry summer and the elation I felt when the fall rains finally began. I remind myself of my vow, first made in the drought of 2006 and renewed last year, that I would never again complain about too much rain. I tell myself I'm not complaining, not really, just whining a little. But I know better. Quiet whinging though it may be, my words on the subject of the recent winter weather have not been positive ones. I console myself with the knowledge that many of my fellow Texas gardeners are struggling with warring impulses: we want to celebrate the cold and the rain even as we bemoan them. We remember summer's heat and drought all too vividly and we know how we longed for today's kind of weather six months ago. So we continue to tweet and plurk and blog about our struggles with the extremes of weather we face and hope for more temperate days to come.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

This Time Last Year ...

I doubt I need to say anything more (but you know I will) ...

I would have taken a picture of just how different it looks one year later if it hadn't been raining again by the time I got home from a day at the Chronicle. At least I got to research and write about plants all day, even if much of it did involve describing freeze damage and the probable outcome of such damage to certain plants. There's no getting away from it! (On the up side, it did not freeze Tuesday night as predicted.)

Also on the up side, when I went out earlier this week to see if there were any trace of the species tulips that I planted last year, I was heartened by what I found. They were difficult to spot amongst the cursed spiderwort but a few Tinka tulips are indeed coming up.

One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong ...

Those leaves that would be pointing at 4:05 on an analog clock are Tinka's!

I've removed the unwanted spiderwort since I took this picture but again, rain precludes my showing y'all the results. As I walked from the Chronicle office to my little red truck, and then drove home, I learned something new: how to tell the difference between rain and sleet. Unlike rain, sleet bounces off whatever it hits. I'm not sure how that's useful ... consider it one of those little things that makes you go "hmm ...".