Monday, May 31, 2010

Through the Garden Gate 2010: #5

Some days you might as well not even put on your gardening togs. On days when the heat and humidity make the slightest effort outside seem like swimming through molasses, and the mosquitoes and gnats conspire to make any exposed skin their own personal snack station, even the Head Gardener has been known to throw up her hands and disappear inside for hours on end. The HG and I are used to such days in July and August but to have them in May feels like a violation of our amenities and we wish to protest. While we cogitate over to whom exactly this protest should be addressed, here are pictures of the back gardens earlier this evening.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Say Hello to My Little Friend ...

As the Head Gardener and I strolled along behind the daylily bed, we caught movement out of the corner of our eye.

Someone had chosen an appropriately named daylily* to bask in the warmth of the sun.

Enjoy your Bittersweet Holiday, my friend!

* Yes, believe it or not, we actually do know the name of this one!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Summer Storm

What a delightful surprise: it rained this evening! Although the forecast included a 20% chance of thunderstorms, experience has taught me to take the word of the weatherpeople with copious amounts of salt. Were they even aware of my existence, they'd doubtless be thumbing their noses at me right now.

Not only did it rain, it rained hard. There was some pretty intense lightning and thunder (which sent the poor pup under the bed to hide out). I was more concerned about the wind gusts than anything else: I kept a close eye on my market umbrella. The last time I looked out at it, I discovered that the wind had actually done me a favor: the sign above had been turned backwards for a couple of weeks now and I kept forgetting to flip it. The wind did it for me!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Love Those Lycopersicons!

With apologies to those for whom tomato-picking time is as yet a distant hope, I present a few pictures guaranteed to make your mouths water in anticipation of your own harvest.

Lycopersicon esculentum 'Carmello'

Aside from the year in which I created a veritable cherry tomato jungle in back, thanks to having planted 10 or more 4-inch pots of Sweet 100s, I've not had any real luck in growing tomatoes prior to this year. Either I start them too late, or I don't fertilize and water them enough. This year, however, I vowed I'd do it right ... and for the most part, it would seem that I have. I picked two 'Carmello' tomatoes earlier this week but I can only show you one. The Head Gardener ate the other one.

Look at the fruits on 'Bella Rosa'/! It's a shame I can't remember when and where I bought it, but I do remember that it was touted as an exceptionally heat tolerant and productive variety, as well as one with terrific flavor. I look forward to tasting it for the first time.

Lycopersicon esculentum 'Jaune Flamme'

'Jaune Flamme' was one of my purchases from the Harris County Master Gardeners' Tomato and Pepper Sale. The HG and I have already enjoyed 2 or 3 of the tasty fruits. Unlike my friend Carol at May Dreams Gardens, I do not have a Ritual of the First Tomato. I'm so excited about the 'Bella Rosa' tomatoes, though, I might have to do something special to commemorate the event of their consumption!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Three for Thursday: Vitex 'Montrose Purple'

Every year at this time, the number one question from visitors to my corner of Katy is "WHAT is that tree????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!", followed by "Where can I get one?"

This is Vitex agnus-castus 'Montrose Purple', aka Chaste Tree, Texas Lilac or Lavender Tree. 'Montrose Purple' and 'Shoal Creek' seem to be the best varieties for this area: the bloom spikes are larger and deeper in hue than the species. Most of the independent nurseries in the greater Houston area should carry them.

Vitex are very easy to grow. Plant them in full sun in well-drained soil and give them room to spread. They can be grown as large shrubs, or limbed up and shaped into a small tree, as this one has been. They make lovely multi-trunked trees, and the HG has long been unhappy with me that I didn't shape ours that way. Vitex are fast growing and established plants purchased from a nursery should bloom for you their first year. Be aware that they do reseed (seedlings are easy to pull). They are deciduous trees and will lose their leaves before new growth emerges in spring. The leaves are very fragrant, with a sharp aroma. If you're prone to allergies, the leaves may cause problems for you as they have for me: mild irritation of the eyes and sinuses. Removing the spent blooms/seed pods can encourage another flush of bloom but in a tree of this size, that can be a difficult task! This year I chose not to prune off the spent bloom tips and I've been pleasantly surprised in how little difference it made to the lushness of the blooms.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wildflower Wednesday: Soapwort

I'm pushing the boundaries today but I have a special reason for choosing Soapwort. Maybe it's not so much a wildflower as an old-fashioned flower. And maybe this flower isn't really Soapwort? In doing some research online, the pictures I'm seeing of Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) blooms don't in any way resemble the plant I have! Maybe mine is a double variety or maybe it's something different altogether?

I chose it today because it's pink, which was my daughter Hayley's favorite color in her younger years. 21 years ago today, I met my baby girl for the first time. She's put me through the full gamut of the emotional spectrum over those 21 years and I think she'd agree that our journey together hasn't always been easy for either of us. I think she'd also agree, though, that it's been wonderful and amazing. She's very different than the daughter I always imagined I would have and I am SO glad of it: she's a vastly more interesting and engaging person than I'd ever dreamed. Happy Birthday, Hay-Hay!

Thanks to Gail at Clay and Limestone for hosting Wildflower Wednesday!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Another Farewell

I learned this evening that my sweet and gentle neighbor Flora, who I met on her walks with her granddaughter, died at the end of April. Flora was of German origin; she and her late husband moved here from Brazil to live with her daughter and granddaughters. For the last three years, she would stop to visit as she and Michelle walked past my corner of Katy. Michelle would ask to pick a flower and we'd talk about the blooms and the butterflies. Flora would light up as she talked about the gardens she'd seen in her life and how mine reminded her of one or another. Although her husband had been gone since before we met, she still missed him terribly and we shared some tears together over that. I didn't know her well but she endeared herself to me and I to her in our brief acquaintance and my life will be diminished by her absence.

Monday, May 24, 2010

In Memory Of A Friend

Way back in 1997-1998, when I was really getting into gardening here on my corner of Katy, I began visiting the Garden Chat folder on AOL's gardening forum. Gardeners from around the country posted there to talk not only about their gardens but about what was going on in their day-to-day lives. The folder had that feeling of a close-knit community, where you'd lean on the fence or stroll across the street to share news, trivia and rueful complaints about your life with your neighbors. At a time when I was absolutely enthralled with learning about gardening and wanting to know more, each time I read the posts from gardeners around the country, I came away happy to be a part of that community.

When Sally from Maryland's daughter got married, she sent an e-mail to a group of us who had expressed interest in seeing the pictures from this event. From the reply-alls that were sent amongst the group, the GardenBobs were born: 20 gardeners from around the county who didn't want to give up the pleasure of those e-mails and the friendships that were becoming stronger and more important to all of us. One of those gardeners was Jeanie, who lived in the same suburb of Maryland as Sally and had even met her once or twice, but didn't connect until they both joined AOL.

In the fall of 1998, I traveled to Washington, D.C., to stay with a friend I'd known since junior high days and to meet some of the DC area gardeners I'd met on the Garden Chat folder. Much to the concern and puzzlement of my friends here in Katy, I was met at the airport by Sally and Jeanie. Back then, the Internet was still a big scary place to many people and the horror stories were rampant ... but I knew these women and counted them as friends, even though we'd never seen each other before. I walked off the jetway and into their hugs, and off we went on a delightful weekend together. They have been ever more cherished friends as the years have passed and we have shared so many of our joys and sorrows.

I write all this with a heavy heart because I learned this afternoon that Jeanie died unexpectedly this morning. Jeanie had some serious health problems earlier this year but we had hoped she was on her way to overcoming them. Sadly, she was unable to do so. Although her health problems had prevented her from being at the computer for more than a brief note for many months now, the Bobs have a legacy of messages from Jeanie to treasure.

I have to admit, before I met her in person, I was a little scared of her. Jeanie was one of the most determined and tenacious people I have ever met and she was never hesitant to tell you how she felt about a particular issue. She was passionate about her opinions but open to hearing what others had to say. All of us who knew her were aware that there was quite literally nothing that she would not do for her family and friends. Jeanie didn't wait to be asked: she stepped in and offered whatever she could of herself in support of those she loved. For many years, she worked as a medical transcriptionist and she retained most of what she learned from that job. When one of the Bobs had a health issue to confront, we could be sure that Jeanie would be first to do the research and provide us with information that was pertinent and helpful.

I learned after my first phone call from Jeanie that when she called, it would be necessary to drop everything, settle into a comfortable spot and prepare to talk for a couple of hours. Or more. It was always time well spent and I'd come away feeling warmed by our conversations. I know she was a great source of support for me in some difficult moments, and I believe I was for her too.

Jeanie loved her gardens and provided us with many humorous moments describing her husband T's assaults upon her plants. T is a man of boundless energy and when he had nothing else on which to expend it, he'd grab some clippers or loppers and wreak havoc (without informing Jeanie first, of course). He's fortunate she didn't take them away and use them on HIM, considering some of the depredations her plants suffered at his hands! He did stay away from her pond, however, which was Jeanie's favorite part of her garden. Each spring, we'd hear about her cleanout efforts and she'd report on Franklin, the resident turtle, and the bullfrog count.

I take comfort from knowing that she is free of pain and reunited with the newborn daughter she lost many years ago and her beloved granddaughter, who died in a car accident in 2007 at the age of 18. I ask that my readers take a moment to send prayers of comfort, healing thoughts, positive energy and caring to her family, which includes T, daughters L & A and 3 grandchildren, as well as numerous friends.

You are missed, PondBob.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Go Ahead, Make My Day!

This morning, as I was working in the rose bed by the street, one of my neighbors stopped on his walk and said to me, in a delightful British accent, "This is a very English garden." I almost swooned from his words because that is a compliment of the highest order in my world. He asked if that were what I was hoping to achieve and I assured him that it was, and thanked him for making my day (shoot, my week/month/year) with that remark. He stopped again on his way back home and he told me that the garden reminded him of those in Sussex, which made me swoon again. We chatted for a few minutes, then he went on his way and I went back to cleaning out the remains of spring from that bed with a happy heart.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

This One's For Tricia

By far the most valuable inheritances I've received from the friends I've lost are the other people they've left behind. In Amy's case, I inherited her membership in the Garden Gang, an e-mail group that was one of doubtless many begun through participating in an AOL forum. Since 1998 Amy and eight other women from around the country shared their joys and sorrows, both in and out of the garden. Several months after Amy died in 2008, the GG asked me to join them. They have been a blessing to me as they were to her and for all of us, it's helped to keep her memory and spirit alive amongst us.

Tricia was one of Amy's neighbors for many years and they had become good friends even before they joined AOL. When Tricia moved to New Braunfels and then to Waco, e-mail and phone calls kept them connected across the miles. Last year, Tricia drove over from Waco to take ownership of Amy's potting bench, which had been lovingly crafted by Amy's father-in-law and artfully painted by Amy. Before we picked that up, though, Tricia and I made a trip to Enchanted Forest to check on the tree planted in Amy's memory and, of course, to shop.

When I saw the Triumphator Lilies blooming, I pointed them out to Tricia and nothing would do but that she must send one home with me. Thank you so much, Tricia: I am SO glad you did ... the blooms are out of this world amazing. Most of the Oriental lilies don't do very well in our heat and humidity but these are a wonderful exception, due to their breeding. Triumphator is a cross between Lilium longiflorum (Easter Lily) and Oriental lilies: the shape is more like the Easter lily, but the flower texture and size are more like the Oriental lilies. The light fragrance is pleasant but don't lean in too close or you'll have smudges of pollen on your nose!

Friday, May 21, 2010

The One In Which the UPS Truck Makes A Delivery

Today I became the happy recipient of a package from White Flower Farms. Several of my garden writer Friends had already received plants to trial in their gardens, courtesy of Proven Winners Color Choice Flowering Shrubs and WFF. I was beginning to feel sadly neglected until the friendly UPS man pulled up to my curb. He got quite a kick out of my exuberant welcome ... I knew what was inside as soon as I saw the box. I carried the box inside and unpacked it on my dining room table.

I received a total of 8 plants in all. As you saw in the top picture, each quart pot came tidily bagged, with a card inside the bag that provided cultural information and a color photograph of the plant in bloom. A shout out to White Flower Farm: I have to rave about the careful packaging of these plants. The box above was packed in two layers. Each pot was laid on its side with the bottom of the pot resting against a side wall of the box. A cardboard insert in the center of the box held the foliage from all 4 plants in place; a layer of cardboard covered the bottom 4 plants and was the resting place for the top 4 plants. Another layer of cardboard also covered the top 4 plants. Wadded sheets of blank newsprint were stuffed in between them to help hold them in place and cushion them. There was no sign that they had shifted at all during transit; not even a speck of soil was loose!

When I removed the bags and set the plants out on the patio, they were a little contorted from their stay in the box but the foliage on all but one, a CANDY OH (TM) Vivid Red rose, was healthy and vigorous. As you can see below, the plant on the left has some blackspot and dead leaves at the bottom. The soil in this pot was dry to the touch, unlike that of the other plants, so I would suspect that's the cause of the foliage problems.

The double flowering quinces, however, were all in excellent condition. There are 2 pots each of Chaenomele Double Take Scarlet Storm, Orange Storm and Pink Storm. These spring-blooming shrubs are thornless and just as importantly for me, heat tolerant. I'm looking forward to seeing how they do in my garden.

When I joined Garden Writers of America, I wasn't aware that I'd receive occasional deliveries like this of plants, garden tools or even soils from growers and manufacturers. It's an interesting perk but I believe it does carry with it the responsibility to provide a fair and impartial review of the plants or products I received. In the case of Proven Winners, I was asked to share my experiences growing these plants with them and with readers. In the case of the latter, I'll do my best to let you know the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to growing these plants on my corner of Katy.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Reprieve

I've decided to allow the Arrowwood Viburnum (V. dentatum) to stay. After a good five years of not blooming, it has finally justified its existence on my corner of Katy. I told it last fall that if it didn't bloom within a year, it was history. Evidently it took the threat seriously. It's planted next to the Oakleaf Hydrangea (H. quercifolia) and Bear's Breeches (Acanthus mollis). I'm quite taken with the combination.

The Head Gardener points out that perhaps it would have bloomed sooner if I had followed her advice sooner, which was to plant it in a spot and LEAVE it there. Know-it-all. I hate it when she's right.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Fragrant Former First Lady

I walked outside this evening and almost swooned from the heady fragrance filling the garden. I looked around for the source, thinking one of the Triumphator lilies had opened. But the buds were tight, as you can see from this picture and I continued searching the area for the plant responsible for this perfume.

I didn't remember Rain Lilies being fragrant but I bent down and sniffed them anyway. I forgot to mention that in addition to the weekend's rain, we got one heck of a storm on Monday evening. The thunder and lightning were intense and the rain came down pretty hard (no flooding, though). The Rain Lilies have been putting on quite a show since then.

Then I stooped to smell the Laura Bush Petunias: I almost toppled over from the sweet aroma wafting from those blooms. I didn't realize that Petunias are often most fragrant in the evening. If the heat and humidity permit, I'll spend a little time outside each evening enjoying these.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Slowly but Surely ...

I'm getting some plants into the new bed areas out front. Today I planted most of my purchases from Sunday's trip to Enchanted Forest. They look like a drop in the proverbial bucket ... a grain of sand on the beach ... OK, maybe not that bad. How about a puddle in the middle of a street and a seashell lying alone on the sand?

This is Donalena Red Pepper Verbena. I've not had a lot of luck with red verbenas in my garden. I'm not sure why they aren't happy on my corner of Katy but I've had them and lost them in several different areas. I planted this one in one of the expanded front beds near the curb, where it will get sun most of the day. If we get one of our torrential downpours and the street floods, it could be underwater for an hour or longer. I'm taking the chance it can handle that. We shall see. NOTE: Please excuse the blurry quality of this picture and the next. I didn't realize the camera lens was clouded from the humidity.

I first became acquainted with Mussaenda luteola when I worked at a now defunct nursery on Fry Road in Katy. The grower called it Summer Poinsettia. I've also heard it referred to as White Wings. Mussaenda is a member of the Rubiaceae family, which includes coffee (no wonder I like it!). It should grow to about 24 inches tall and 14 inches wide ... it should -- in this climate, that means it might stay that size or it might exceed expectations. I've grown it before and it stayed at that size. That doesn't mean it will do it again. You can read a description of it from Top Tropicals here. They say it's evergreen but that has not been my experience.

Turnera alternifolia (which I mistakenly called T. alnifolia in a previous post) is a great reseeding perennial for central Texas gardeners. Heidi Sheesley at Treesearch Farms calls the white variety I bought T. alternifolia 'alba' (scroll down and you'll see the listing). Mike Shoup of Antique Rose Emporium called it by the common name of Fluttermills, which is really a great name, don't you think? Heidi says it's a mounding perennial up to 3 feet tall ... I don't remember it getting that big when I grew it before. I certainly hope it doesn't this time, either, considering that I put it near the front of the bed. Maybe I should move it back? Shoot! Well, whatever I decide to do with it, I know I'll smile each time I see the creamy white blooms with dark chocolate centers.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday Morning Meltdown

Remember how I sat on the patio Saturday morning, watching the rain and sipping my coffee? I sat down in one of my comfy chairs this morning and before I'd even settled in and taken a sip, I knew this morning was going to be nothing like Saturday. I didn't even last 5 minutes ... it was too darned warm and humid to be out there. Even enticements like the bloom on the Web of Intrigue daylily failed to keep me outside.

And, by the way, why do daylily growers and hybridizers persist in calling colors such as this one "cream"? Daylily color descriptions frequently disappoint me. If they call it "pink", it's usually what I would call "peach". Pfui. I'd probably complain about the color description being not to my liking on this one too ... if I could find the tag or remember what the heck it is. (The HG has no sympathy for me, needless to say.) Based on where I planted it, I did not expect it to be these colors! I like it, don't get me wrong. I don't like it THERE, though.

Perhaps I'd better sign off and go work in the shady front gardens for a while. I believe I should take out some of my frustrations on weeds and spent plants. It's a good thing I have a night out with friends planned ... surely it will put me in a better mood for tomorrow morning!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Friends, Flowers and Foliage

I spent a couple of happy hours today in the company of good friends. My friend Cynthia, another result of time spent on the AOL Gardening Boards some years back, and I headed out to southwest Houston to meet up with our "Mom*", Jan, also a friend made through AOL. We've had some wonderful times together over the years and taken some memorable trips together ... but not enough of them in the last few years. In 2008 Jan was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a radical mastectomy. Her recovery was fraught with difficulty and she's not been up to doing any trips.

Early this year, the symptoms that had her in and out of the ER were finally correctly diagnosed and open heart surgery was necessary. She's also had a rough recovery from that and this is the first time we've seen her this year. She was in town for her granddaughter's graduation festivities, so on her way out, she and her wonderful husband Ron stopped to meet us at Houston Garden Center. Since I have an HGC near me, I bought no plants but was pleased to find Consan Triple Action 20, which I've been needing to clean the fountain out front. Once we were done, we trekked out to Caldwell's Nursery in Rosenberg, hoping to find some botanical treasures. Unfortunately, their hours have changed and the gates were closed. So we said our goodbyes and agreed that Cynthia and I will find a way to visit Jan in Corpus Christi in the next couple of months.

Since we were in the area anyway, Cynthia and I headed over to Enchanted Forest to see what we could find there. It was their Tropicals Festival so while we shopped, we enjoyed the sounds of a steel band and admired some absolutely gorgeous tropicals. Our favorite was this Sun Parasols Mandevilla, Stars and Stripes. Look at that bloom!

Since today was Foliage FollowUp for Garden Bloggers, I celebrated by buying a sun Coleus, Indian Summer, pictured at top and above. Isn't it gorgeous? I suspect I'll be buying a lot more Coleus and other heat lovers soon, to fill in the bare spots out front this summer. It's already too warm to plant most shrubs and perennials ... well, I could do it but the level of care required to keep them alive and thriving in the summer heat is more than I want to take on! In addition to the Coleus, I came home with some Mussaenda luteola (Summer Poinsettia) and white Turnera alnifolia (Fluttermills). I also found a Rangoon Creeper as a farewell present for my neighbors, who have moved to the country and put their house here in Katy on the market.

As I was strolling the back path when I got home that afternoon, I was delighted to discover that one Calliandra (Fairy Duster) is growing like gangbusters after seemingly having succumbed to the cold temperatures this winter. I'll leave you with that image and say that it reminds me of Jan, who's been through some tough times and is on her way back to better days!

*Oh, yeah, and that Mom thing? On our first trip together, after having gone separate ways in one part of Butchart Gardens, we came face to face and I greeted her with "Mom! At last I've found you! After all these years! Why did you do it, Mom? Why did you give me up for adoption?" We embraced as she exclaimed "I didn't think I had any choice ... I was young ... can you ever forgive me?" Yes, there were other people in the area, people unconnected with us who had no idea what to make of this. She's been Mom to Cynthia, our friend Emily and me ever since. None of us in any way resemble each other, which makes it even more fun to mess with unsuspecting victims ... er, shopkeepers, waiters, whoever. Yep, if we come your way, be afraid. Be very afraid.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

I'd Forgotten ...

How beautiful my garden is in the rain ... not a torrential downpour but a soft and steady rain that soaks into the ground, replenishing the parched soil and bringing new vigor to thirsty plants. Today is Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day but I'm not bemoaning being unable to make it out into the garden to take pictures. I'm celebrating this for the happy occasion it is. I came out to the patio and sat sipping my coffee in the cool, moist air and taking in the view. I wanted to share it with y'all so I stepped inside for my camera, then snapped off a few shots from the vantage point of my chair (which is under an overhanging section of roof). Later this week I'll post about what's blooming ... for today, I want to savor the rain for however long it lasts!

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Head Gardener Regrets ...

That She Who Must Be Obeyed has been so lamentably inconsistent in labeling the daylilies. Despite my reminders of the importance of same, and her earnest assurances each year that THIS will be the year she gets that done, numerous Hemerocallis remain unidentified here at Wit's End. On the most recent occasion of gentle chiding, SWMBO attempted to justify her deficiencies by enumerating the difficulties of finding a labeling system that is weather-resistant and not cost-prohibitive. True, that. Nonetheless, as I kindly but firmly reminded her, other gardeners still manage to do so and we must soldier on, united in our efforts to identify lovelies such as those pictured here.

True, she does have an Excel spreadsheet listing the varieties she has purchased over the years, with fields for color and bloom size that are intended to help us with identification.

However, SWMBO acknowledges the possibility that she failed to enter some of her purchases, thus complicating our identification efforts.

She believes the daylily pictured above might be "Mister Lucky". Ironically, I believe she's correct and this is indeed its lucky day.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Confusion Reigns ... Again ...

Not only is this sweet little fall-blooming Aster out of sync with its season, I seem to be confused as to its identity. I thought this was Aster novi-belgii 'Daydream' ... but all the descriptions of that one say that the flowers are lavender-blue. So I think this must be Aster dumosus 'Woods Pink'. It's a lovely little plant and I'm happy to see it blooming, although I hope that doesn't mean it won't bloom again in fall. (More confusion.)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Confusion Reigns ...

The Rain Lilies, Zephyranthes grandiflora, are under the mistaken impression that we have received rain lately and they should start blooming. Were they not located in 2 or 3 different parts of the garden, all of which have been watered only sporadically, I'd assume that our humidity levels and my watering efforts had caused them to open. I seem to recall hearing that changes in the barometric pressure might cause them to bloom ... or am I as confused as they are? Whatever the case, I'm delighted to see the blooms and look forward to more!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Coming to Terms With Composting

I think of myself as having become a gardener when I moved to this corner of Katy but I started taking the first tentative steps at my old house a few blocks away. My neighbors George and Billie were my first mentors. George tended the vegetable garden, which was bountiful, but it was Billie's flowers which captured my heart and imagination. The first seeds I sowed, Abelmoschus, were given to me by Billie. They also introduced me to composting: behind their garage, George had built a rectangular wooden bin into which they tossed their kitchen scraps and yard waste. I was so taken with that bin that I had George build one for me ... that may have been the first thing he ever built for me. It certainly wasn't the last: the bookshelves to the right of my desk were handcrafted by George in his garage. George was a foreman for one of the homebuilders in this neighborhood and his carpentry skills were superb.

When we moved from that house to this corner of Katy, I brought the compost bin with me. I used it as such for a while but then a visit to my friend Jim's garden encouraged me to try a new system. His bins were simple: cylinders of chicken wire that were wired together. Jim put some together for me and I used those for quite a while. As I read more about composting and got more ambitious, and as I harvested some magnificent compost, I became more adventurous and tried making bins from wooden pallets. I abandoned that method when I dropped a wooden pallet on my foot, thus causing a hematoma that was the most painful thing I've EVER experienced. (The skin on the top of your foot is not intended to stretch that much.) I'd found a picture in the paper of bins made from 1x4s and hardware cloth. Since George had retired from his carpentry and handyman business at that point, I enlisted another contractor to build three new bins for me according to the design plans in the paper.

I used those bins for quite a few years but as the garden grew, it became harder to find a place to put them where they didn't intrude on the view but could be easily reached. Even more significantly, the amount of plant material available for composting was staggering and the time and energy it took to do it was even more so: being of an obsessive-compulsive nature, I spent a lot of time cutting and shredding the material for faster breakdown. I loved the finished product but getting it to that point was becoming ever more exhausting and less rewarding. The bins folded for storage so I put two of them away and only used one. Eventually even that one seemed too cumbersome and tiring to maintain. Storing them was also a problem: they took up a lot of space in the garage. Since by then I'd ordered the bin pictured at top from Gardener's Supply Company, I gave away the big bins on Craigslist. I told myself that I'd continue to compost kitchen scraps and the more manageable remains of spent plants. The bin can only hold so much, after all, and I thought it might be a good way to rein myself in.

Yet over the last couple of years, I still find myself dragging other large containers out to the garden and filling them with clippings and shreddings, all done by hand. I'd fill the 30 gallon plastic pots to within several inches of the top, then add soil and plant into that, usually annuals and herbs. By the time they were ready to be composted themselves, the contents were fairly well cooked. Most of these sat out on the driveway and the biggest issue I had with them was run-off. It was almost painful to watch all that rich compost tea leak out of the pots and run off into the alley. I tried finding a way to capture it, but it couldn't be done.

Since I'd long coveted a compost tumbler, when I found an affordable one at Lowe's a few months back, I was optimistic that this would help conserve my time and energy. Some of you might remember that my brief fling with this composter ended in the breakdown of the frame after only a few weeks. The flaws in the tumbler itself aside, I found that the process of filling the bin was as tedious as any other method, with the same need to cut and shred materials.

The longstanding conversation I've had with myself over the practice of composting became much more heated after that episode. As I've been dealing with the clean-up of spring annuals, I once again find myself questioning whether composting is really something I must continue to do. I know all the arguments for doing it and I truly hate the thought of all that material going into the landfills when it could serve a purpose. I have reluctantly acknowledged, though, that I no longer have the time and energy to compost the way I would like to. It's not an effective use of either resource. My community doesn't have a yard waste recycling program, and a better use of my time and energy might be to work towards establishing one.

I've filled the blue bin one last time, even layering it properly. When that batch of compost is done, so am I.

Monday, May 10, 2010

There's A Method to My Madness

Those piles of dying plant material at the front of the bed are Toadflax (Linaria maroccana). That is by no means all of them, by the way! I'm leaving their remains in that area to dry out over the next couple of days. When I do remove them, I'll shake them out over the soil to release the seeds that have dried on the plants, thus preseeding that area for next year's blooms.

Conventional wisdom tells us to allow seedheads to dry on the plant before removing them. My experience has been that if I follow the procedure above, I still get a fair number of seeds from the plants, with a good germination rate. However, I do believe it's critical to success that the seedheads or seed pods are already partially dried by the time I pull the plants. Pulling up plants with newly formed heads/pods would probably NOT produce good results. I suspect that if seeds need to reach a certain maturity level before this will work. Knowing when they do is something you have to learn from experience. Experiment with a few plants and see what happens. Poppies are a good example: I've learned that once they begin to rattle in the pod, they can be cut from the plant and bagged to continue drying out.

As for what's going to be planted in that area for summer, I usually have zinnias coming up there. I may plant some summer perennials and fill in with Cosmos. I'm feeling less than optimistic about what summer will bring to my corner of Katy. The high today was 93 and the sun was too intense for me to work past noon. This does not bode well.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Wit's End of the Week Report: May 9, 2010

Some gardeners have bluebirds nesting ... I have starlings. Today there were 4 of these fellows atop the birdhouse at one point. Shortly thereafter, one bird made his way inside, to the intense displeasure of another. The second bird appeared to be trying to pull the first out from the house. I could see something in his beak on which he was tugging mightily, but I believe it was a piece of the nest and not a leg of the other bird!

I have cantaloupe seedlings! I've been very remiss about making notes in my garden journal so I can't remember exactly which day I planted these ... I think it was Tuesday or Wednesday. I have Dr. Hortfreud's favorite patient, Carol at May Dreams Gardens, to thank for the seeds for Heart of Gold melons. Here's hoping I'll be thanking her for tasty fruit in a later post!

I know this yellow Stokesia came to me from the GWA symposium in Raleigh last fall. I just can't remember if I bought it at Plant Delights or it was one of the trial plants I received. Overall, I'm happy with the plants I bought at PDN. Only one, the 'Attraction' Buddleia, has struggled to survive. I've moved it twice thus far and it's now sitting in a pot waiting for a new permanent home. As permanent as a home as any plant ever gets here at Wit's End ...

I've spent a lot of time yanking spent Violas and Toadflax lately. That segued into pulling some manky Verbenas in a couple of areas out back and the Head Gardener is muttering about the need to pull more. Though their blooms are as lovely as ever, the foliage is not a pretty sight. What's more, they've rambled rather wantonly through the beds, to the point that they're almost matted, causing them to crowd the more shy and retiring types of plants. So the HG is probably right that they've overstayed their welcome. If we go ahead and pull them, we can add compost to replenish the soil in those areas. Perhaps that will help it retain more moisture when we water (since rain appears a very dim hope).

As I surveyed the rose bed earlier this week, I noticed a blossom that was unfamiliar. Woo-hoo, the Calochortus my sister gave me are blooming! I wasn't sure how they would do here so I'm pleased to see blooms on them. Admittedly, I only saw TWO blooms out of the five to eight bulbs that were planted. (The blooms were gone before I could photograph them.) The HG says we should categorize them as iffy and count it as a happy surprise if they return next year. The same goes for the Scilla, a few of which came up but don't appear too happy about it. The heat will probably cook them before they can bloom. The Babiana stricta bloomed, though ... this isn't a great picture but it does show how intensely blue they are. Babiana are South African natives and should be adapted to hot, dry conditions but judging from the singed foliage, Texas heat and drought aren't much to their liking.

A perplexing and frustrating matter is the failure to grow of the Ipheion bulbs I planted in one bed. When I discovered that several of the Hyacinths in that bed had rotted out, I thought perhaps that was the case with the Ipheions, too. It seems odd not to find any rotted carcasses, though. Out of 50 bulbs planted, I retrieved 12. I've cleaned them up and brought them inside; I need to consult Brent and Becky Heath for answers. Ipheion grow and naturalize well here ... I've had them before ... so that's not the issue.

There is some good news, though: the one remaining Coral Woody Penta (Rondeletia leucophylla) is putting out new growth way down at the base of the plant! I'd already dug up a couple of these shrubs in back, having been told by a local nurseryman that they wouldn't return from the roots. This particular shrub was planted earlier on in the life of the garden: it's just outside my kitchen window and while it's a lovely sight, it's been obstructing my view for a number of years. Until this winter, it had never received anything worse than tip damage during winter. I was going to have Otahal's guys dig it on the next visit but I may wait so I can see just how fast it grows after a hard winter and whether it even makes it into bloom.

Speaking of winter reminds me ... that plant I thought might be Kaleidoscope Abelia? It's not. Even more surprising is its true identity: it's a Bougainvillea! I certainly didn't expect this tropical plant to survive. The variety is 'Raspberry Ice' ... it was one of those Lowe's clearance plants that cost me no more than 50 cents.

'Torchy' Hibiscus is coming on strong ... wasn't it just tiny stems last week?

I'm sure there's more that I'd like to report but retrieving that data from my brain is not so easy. My goal for the coming week: write more down!