Monday, May 23, 2016

WE MET IN A PARKING LOT

It was a cold December day when I met Daphne Richards, our Travis County Extension Agent for Horticulture, in the parking lot of a local store. We transferred a couple of chunks of a dormant plant into the trunk of my car. Monarda, Peter's Purple, was the new sensation and Daphne had plenty to share among the Austin gardeners. Monarda, more commonly known as bee balm, suffers greatly from our hot, humid summers but this one, a cross between two southern varieties, was supposed to stand up to such conditions without developing mildew. It is much showier than our native bee balms Monarda punctata and Monarda citriodora, whose blooms vary from white to pale purple and bloom about the same time.


I and my fellow gardeners began sharing until we could share no more. I even sent some up to a gardener in Dallas. Then I took a clump and put it above the sunken garden between the sunken garden and the pool. Because this plant spreads by underground runners the second year it grew into the yellow iris. What I great idea, I thought, the two can bloom together or if the iris is slightly ahead the monarda will take over. Indeed. The monarda has taken over to the point where this year I will be pulling it all out and finding a new home for it. My yellow iris didn't care for its companion.


It is such a pity because a photograph of the plant in my garden, very similar to the one above, was chosen by Nancy Ondra to be featured in her recent book, The Perennial Matchmaker.  Monarda, Peter's Purple, purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, and Rudbeckia hirta do make for a very pleasing combination.
And there is no surprise as to how the bee balm acquired its name because all manner of bees are attracted to the flowers.


And what great long lasting cut flowers they make. So when I began pulling some of the clump out last week I brought a huge bunch of flowers into the house. They are still going strong.


Never fear. I have this plant growing in two other places in the garden and I will likely find a new home for some of the one I take out. But if you live in Austin and would like to meet me in a parking lot this winter. Let me know and I will put you on the list.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

FOR THE BIRDS

This year we have really enjoyed the bird life in our garden. With multiple bird houses both inside and outside the walls as well a preferred spots for the wrens and cardinals, we have had several successful nests this year. The first nest was the cardinal building in the little espalier alongside the greenhouse. It was the second year for a bird to nest in this spot and this year it was successful. That nest has now been removed and has joined last year's nest on the outside fireplace. I placed 3 little painted eggs in the nest.

This year's cardinal nest with painted eggs

Last years cardinal nest
The nests are identical in construction. A fine mesh work of thin twigs, followed by woven cedar bark with a few leaves and a softer lining of dry grass.
I'm wondering if the same pair is now building a nest in the umbrella in the old Spanish Oak garden.

It's a messy looking affair but then these birds seem to know what they are doing. I never even noticed the work going on until the nest was complete...but as yet there are no eggs.
We have another messy nest on the front gate. This time it is a wren. Thank goodness that plant doesn't need any water. Both these birds have chosen a nice dry place to be during this very wet weather.


We have three owl boxes but no owls. However, we did have birds in one of the boxes, although they were in and out too quickly for us to identify. Also wrens in 3 boxes and doves in an oak tree.
We also have a new bird house in the English garden. It replaces the dovecote which started its life in Pam Penick's old garden. When she moved house she passed it along to me where it spent several years. But the weather had taken its toll and we had to remove it. I looked for a new dovecote but the cost was prohibitive.

The idea for the replacement was taken from a bird house we saw in Canada a couple of years ago. It seemed a perfect fit for the original 4x4  post. David worked out the plans and put them into action. The little metal wren which I bought 4 years ago and couldn't find a home for finally found the perfect spot.


In the past we have always relied on the garden to provide for the birds but several chance finds at garage sales have me actually adding bird food to my weekly grocery shop. I found this hanger for a bird feeder last year at a garage sale and the feeder I had picked up years ago on a trip to England and never used. It is great for the peanut/mealworm bark butter bits. The tufted titmouse are always at the feeder and the cardinals sometimes manage to cling onto the sides, although they are rather clumsy.


More lucky finds last weekend and at the same sale found these long metal poles. They are perfect for hanging the new feeders which are really old but still serviceable and after a good clean up they look almost as good as new. At 75c each how could I go wrong?


Next stop will be the store to find bird seed. Maybe we attract a greater variety of birds to the garden. I wonder what the painted buntings like to eat?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

THOSE BRITISH CRITICS ARE TOUGH

I never watch reality television shows. Well, almost never. But this week I have been watching a competition among 6 amateur garden designers vying for a chance to do a garden design in the small gardens category at the Chelsea Flower Show. It follows the lines of the Great British Baking show-or at least I think so, because I have never actually watched that. They were chosen from hundreds of applicants and now they enter the final stages of the competition.


On day one, under the watchful eye of Joe Swift, their mentor, and judges Ann-Marie Powell and James Alexander-Sinclair, the group of three men and three women, all amateurs, set about designing a Cottage garden in a 4m x 3m space. And, in true reality show manner, one was bumped off at the end of the day. Day two saw them designing a Formal garden, with the second lady leaving the scene. Yesterday, I watched day three. The briefs are getting more difficult, this one was to be a Conceptual garden.
I should make it clear that my main reason for watching this program is really just to see those gardens although I may learn a thing or two along the way. When several of them started putting in their gravel paths before they had done their planting I did wonder if that was staged. Joe Swift stopped them working and told them that that is the very last thing they do. Even I would know not to do that. There have been some really creative ideas including the one below which won gold in the episode I watched today. In three segments it showed a dry Australian outback garden followed by  the same scene after a brush fire. There were even smoldering embers; and then the final section showed the renewal. I can relate to this because there are lots of burnt out stumps on our lot where wildfire raced through our land in the drought-stricken fifties.


But those judges are critical. It reminded me of being in school and, at the age of 15, hearing the English exam results being read out by the teacher. It was typical to start at the bottom with something like 35% and work upwards reading out each girls' name. When she got to 70% and my name hadn't appeared I was wondering if I had missed it. But no, at 75% there I was, second to top. (In my day marking was harder and if you got over 70% you were at the top.) I let out some kind of sound and the teacher looked across at me and said, "You still have room for improvement"  Typical British teacher from the 50s. Rarely a moment of praise.


The last woman standing called her garden Thirst. Her garden appealed to me because of the dry desert scene. Behind the desert scene there was an oasis with a water faucet which was, alas, dry. The judges didn't feel the scene made them feel thirsty and there was criticism about her attention to detail. The agaves had sand covering their bases. She was out.
The competition has by now finished and one of the three men left will go to Chelsea and design a garden. It is going to be very interesting to see how well he does. Will he get one of those much sought-after medals? If he does, he will be well on the road to designing gardens as a career. Or will he?
There was much furor about this show. Garden designers described the show as 'dumbing down' their profession and demeaning the industry. Really? As an onlooker I can only say that I doubt it. Do they really think that people who watch this program are going to go rushing out there and start designing gardens for the public. If anything it might encourage young people to go into the business-to take formal education in landscape design. Anyone who is a gardener knows how difficult it is to design a garden. In the business world there is room for everyone to try their hand at what they want and if they fail, well...just part of life.
By the way, at the very start, Joe Swift said that the cottage garden was the easiest of gardens to create. I'm so glad I picked the easy one! I'd like to tell Joe that it may be easy for him but taking care of it is endless amounts of work keeping things under control. Not that I am going to change.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

I HAVE THE COTTAGE GARDEN GENE

It's not surprising that I have this gene. After all, I spent the formative years of my life growing up in England, the land of cottage gardens. You only had to drive into a rural area to see multicolored, informal groups of plantings both in gardens and along the hedgerows. Who knows how far back the cottage garden dates but their numbers increased dramatically during prosperous Elizabethan times.  Once-fashionable garden designs have come and gone but the cottage style of gardening has remained. It seems I have brought it to Texas.


It isn't an easy gene to carry with you to Texas. In the words of Penelope Hobhouse, 'Well, I just think that if I were a plant, I wouldn’t want to live in Texas.' Not true. There are plenty of plants that like living here in Texas and even though their flowering may be short they are happy enough to return for another year. The problem is more to do with their success during a long growing season. They don't come in quietly in the spring, flourishing through the summer and fading into the fall. They just keep growing.


This year many plants didn't even go dormant and the penalty is that they now have a very long growing season to look forward to and they will keep on growing and growing unless they are cut back.

Engelmannia peristenia with Verbena bonariensis

So what are the features of a cottage garden. The first is that they are usually enclosed by walls or hedges. The garden is not meant for the person passing by. Plants are crowded together so there is little soil showing. The plants generally come from neighbors and friends, cuttings and seed. The plants are a veritable jumble with flowers growing alongside the vegetables.


Plants put themselves where they want to be.


And even the most weedy plants are welcome.

Pink primroses among the Dicliptera.

And when the annual  plants fade the cottage gardener goes out and collects their seed to save for next year so she can spread the flowers everywhere.


It's in the genes.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

GOING TO SEED

This is the second year I will let my Italian parsley, Petroselinium neapolitanum, flower and go to seed. I will probably do so for the rest of my gardening life. The insects adore those tiny flowers. In the warm sunshine it isn't just the bees, but all manner of insects, most of which I am unable to identify. It might be easier if I could just get a good shot of them but they just don't like that camera lens moving in on them.


Parsley nectar attracts many beneficial insects and encouraging them may even protects plants such as tomatoes from the tomato hornworm caterpillar. That would be a bonus. And right by the side of the parsley plant is my newly made bug hotel. It's early days yet but someone has already moved in.


When a friend came over with her camera with new macro lens the other evening I gave her a mission. A nice close-up of those parsley flowers. Of course the bees had gone home for the night but she managed to capture this ladybird feasting on the parsley.


Yesterday, I tried once again but my camera has trouble finding the right focus. I wonder if I need to try manual?


Is this a big-eyed bug? Either way it has a big head.


Who is this?


And the ladybirds were back again only this one has spots.


Last year when the seeds were ripe I took down the plants and carried them out and threw them under the cedar trees on the edge of the septic field. I have often taken plants to this area and there is quite a garden there now. Among the plants growing is a nice field of parsley. The poor quality of the soil there has meant the plants have not grown much-unlike those in the herb garden.


The grasses are in full seed mode. In the herb garden, Mexican feather grass, Nassella tenuissima, and Ruby crystal grass, Melinis nerviglumis, caught in the morning sun.


Both these grasses need to be controlled a little as they are a little too generous with their seeds. The older ones need to be pulled out.


The same is true of the bluebonnets. I have been snipping off the ripe seed heads every day and putting them in brown paper bags until planting time in the fall.


Clearly I have missed some.


After losing the whole of last years crop to the hail it is a relief to see the seed bank filling up again. By the end of the week I should be able to remove all the dead, dried foliage and the garden will start to look a lot tidier.
But there are those plants whose seed heads put on quite  a show. First it was the poppies and now it is the Love-in-a-mist, Nigella sp. They are wonderful in dried arrangements.


Before they went to seed they put on a wonderful show, returning year after year in all different colors.


I heard the designer Bunny Guinness espouse the growing of Nigella in the rock garden where they never achieve their full height. She was right. Seed away as much as you like.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

THE BLOOMING

Last year, at just about this time, Lori, The Gardener of Good and Evil, gave me a rooted Brugmansia cutting. Never having grown one of these before I thought it prudent to do a little research to make sure I was going to give it the best conditions. I re potted and it put on lots of leaves during the summer but never produced any blooms. Then it spent the winter in the garage where it was sadly neglected. Finally when it was warm enough it was watered and brought outside. New leaves grew and then I noticed a branching of the stem.
Didn't I remember reading that the plant will not flower until it branches? Sure enough two flower buds began to form. It was going to flower.


There are three stems to the plant, two of which have already branched. Today I noticed the third one also branching. I'm going to have lots more flowers. This morning I counted 8 new flower buds.



On Sunday I had a group of ladies over and I proudly showed them the flower bud, as yet unopened. I really had no idea what color it was going to be, although Lori said peach.


Overnight the color changed to this gorgeous deep pink. It fits perfectly the description of one called Pink Dragon, so that is what I shall call it.


The plant sits in the corner by the front gate where it is protected from the afternoon sun. It is receiving 3 gallons of water twice a day. Not sure how this watering schedule will work when I go away.




Monday, May 2, 2016

MY GARDEN CELEBRATES NATIONAL WILDFLOWER WEEK MAY 2-8

The week of May 2nd is National Wildflower Week and I am delighted to share some tiny Texas treasures with my readers as well as some of my more boisterous blooms.
I have always had a weakness for the more delicate of our wildflowers so I was happy to see that for the first time the violet wood sorrel,  Oxalis violacea, has appeared in my garden. I'm sure readers are saying they have this plant growing everywhere but for me it is a joy to see this one plant has found a home in my garden. I would be happy to see it growing as a carpet.


It is growing beneath the unnamed clematis which I purchased from the Wildflower Center. It is of the group of clematis that share the name leather flower, possibly Clematis viorna.


 My entry courtyard is full of yellow blooms, Engelmann's daisy, Engelmannia peristenia,  being one flower of the more boisterous.


 I always try to gather up seeds before they fall but  some always escape. They will grow out of rock crevices and in the gravel.


My gravel garden is a perfect place for Zexmenia, Wedelia texana. Another plant whose seeds need controlling.


 The square but primrose, Calylophus berlandieri, is one flower I would be happy to see seed out but it never does.


The purple skull cap,  Scutellaria wrightii, and Blackfoot daisy, Melampodium leucanthum, mass together along the edge of the dry creek.


This same skullcap can be trimmed to form a low mounding plant.


Scutellaria wrightii in the sunken garden
 I just have a few standing wine cups, possibly Callirhoe leiocarpa or C. pedata. The flowers are on a tall leafless stem.


They are quite distinct from the trailing wine cup, Callirhoe involucrata, with its heavy foliage.
 

Another member of the mallow family, rock rose Pavonia lasiopetala,


 I am always on the lookout for plants that form tidy mounds. A chance seedling of gray vervain,Verbena canescens, pruned to form a mound.


 You have to get close up to appreciate its tiny flowers. It seeded in a few places and I have moved the seedlings into other areas.



I took a walk in my meadow today and discovered several delicate blooms. The first the Colorado Venus' Looking-Glass, Triodanis coloradoensis.




and Prairie brazoria, Warnockia scutellarioides.


Now that the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush have set seed it is the time for the yellow flowers to carpet the meadow.


Antelope horn, Asclepias asperula, in the meadow.


HAPPY NATIONAL WILDLFOWER  WEEK TO ALL MY READERS.