Sunday, September 28, 2008

MOTHER NATURE'S ROCK GARDENS

Is there anyone who can beat mother nature when it comes to planting a rock garden? These photographs were taken whilst hiking in Idaho this summer.





That's why I rely on her to plant a few seeds among the rocks and gravel in my sunken garden.




Friday, September 26, 2008

THE TROUBLE WITH DECOMPOSED GRANITE

Earlier this year David took on the job of creating a pathway at the back of the house. He bordered the path with chopped block limestone some of which came from a leftover project we did at our son's house. As this is a place we push wheelbarrows gravel wasn't a consideration for the surface. A plentiful supply of granite from the Marble Falls area means that decomposed granite is an inexpensive substitute. Plants love to grow in granite and weeds love to grow there too. An underlayment of newspapers was used for most of the path but when those ran out nothing. An open invitation for the bermuda grass to grow. When we returned from our trip there was quite a covering in the area without newspapers. Roundup to the rescue!  After two weeks this is what it looked like.

Pretty ugly! I hated walking by and I knew it wasn't going to go away. Yesterday I took a shovel to it and this is what the area looks like now.

I hope David will be pleased, when he returns from his trip, to see one job he won't have to do. I did have a slight ulterior motive. I needed to be sure that recently germinated plants didn't leave with the bermuda.

Dahlberg daisy.

Plains coreopsis. (Coreopsis tinctoria)

Bluebonnets.

For now the area is ablaze with Salvia leucantha. This one is the bicolor.


This one the solid purple. These plants do get quite large and once you have one there is no need to ever buy another. It divides extremely well in the spring and soon is back to being its former self.
Make no mistake the bermuda will be back too but I am hoping to weaken it by dealing with every little shoot that shows its face to the sun.





Wednesday, September 24, 2008

TEXAS' SECOND SEASON

It's nice to have a pretty flower at the head of the blog so before I get onto the greens-Recognize this flower? You would normally see this along the roadside. It is the mullein. Every year one or two position themselves in the garden. I enjoy their rosette of soft leaves over the winter and the flowers in the summer, then they're out before they seed all over the place. One or two always get away.

While May Dreams is busy embracing the end of the growing season in Indiana, I am getting ready for our second planting season. There are a few left overs from summer. The chard is coming back to life and I am saving a couple of plants to tide us over until the newly planted crop matures. 

This is the final bean planting. This morning I went out to find some cedar brush to use in the same way my mother used brush to support sweet peas. These are bush beans but they do better if they are supported off the ground.

Peppers are still going. This one Alma paprika, taking its time to turn red.

Last week I learnt that you can grow rhubarb and strawberries in Texas, you just have to grow them as annuals.( I'm beginning to think that may be true with a lot plants here!) Imagine growing rhubarb from seed and it maturing to the point you can pick it in the spring. I have a head start because an Austin vegetable gardener gave me some little plants she started from seed this year. They were in cells so the first thing I did was to pot them up in 4" pots to help them along. 

I don't think I have room for strawberries, if we could find them at this time of the year! The rhubarb will have to go it alone in the pie. Growing up in England we always had rhubarb, gooseberries and blackcurrants in the garden. I have a taste for these sharp tasting fruits. I grew all of them in St Louis. It was wonderful.
At the same time I have potted up some rosemary I grew from cuttings. I just stuck them in the ground in a sheltered spot and they rooted in about 2 months.
My Persian lime has 15 limes this year and according to some research I did this morning they are ready to pick. They are the limes most commonly seen in the grocery store. I have a Mexican lime tree too and I usually pick them when they turn yellow or fall of off the tree. I freeze the juice for margaritas.

Next year I will have to root prune several of my citrus because they have not done too well this year. That's a spring chore, thank goodness. 




Monday, September 22, 2008

THE CARELESS GARDENER


Yesterday was a day to start cutting back some of the overgrowth at the back of the garden. A Joe Pye weed had appeared and was a 6' stand covered with morning glories. Pretty flowers that I would rather not have anymore. Anyway, the deer was there within minutes and when he had taken what he wanted he stood looking at me through the fence. I could see by the expression on his face that he was saying "Please can I come inside and trim your vegetable garden for you?"

I said "No" but he came in anyway because I made the mistake of leaving the gate open. Up the steps he came trimming the tomatoes as he went. It wasn't until he reached the smaller beds that I saw him and went running down the path screaming "get out, get out", which he did in a hurry. 


I am so nervous now that he will come up the steps and jump over that I have started to barricade the steps with wheelbarrows. Incidentally this Salvia leucantha was dumped in this spot this year after I removed it from the pool garden. I just dug into the ground with the pick axe and plonked it down. I did water for a week or two but after that it was on its own. I think  it is quite happy here.
I was lucky to see the deer before it got to my newly emerged beans. It is bad enough to have lost all the new growth on the toms. 

My second careless trick was to put my knee down on one of the nails which holds the string in my square foot gardens. I remember thinking about the hazard as I was setting up but decided it was unlikely I would ever put my knee there. I did and the nail was rusty so I was thankful that I keep my tetanus shot up to date. Do you? Every gardener should make sure they are protected in case of an accident. 
So now having learnt a couple caveats I moved into the front garden. Tidying up along one wall I spotted "leaflets three" and promptly went into the house to find plastic bags. They are in short supply these days because I have my own reusable grocery bags. Nevertheless found one with bread in it and went back to remove what I thought was poison ivy. This is what I saw. 

Leaflets 5 and leaflets 3 on the same plant. Now this is really confusing for me.

Particularly as the leaves have the mitt look. Perhaps someone out there can offer a suggestion. Is this poison ivy masquerading as Virginia creeper? 

Late edition. Just did a little research and this is what I found, which explains everything but is still confusing.

"Encountering a plant with three distinct leaves does not necessarily mean the worst- Virginia Creeper is a native plant beneficial to Florida bees and wildlife. But this benign relative of the Grape can sometimes masquerade as Poison Ivy, causing confusion and consternation. Because, though the creeper's compound leaves usually have 5 leaflets, they may also have 3 (or 7). And, both Virginia Creeper and Poison Ivy display red pigments in fall and winter".





Thursday, September 18, 2008

OXBLOOD LILIES

I can't believe that I have lived and gardened in Texas for 12 years and this is the first year I have seen the Oxblood lilies. Of course most have been on garden blogs but this month the plant is featured in Judy Barrett's Homegrown magazine. This magazine can be picked up at local nurseries in Austin and has a wealth of information on local gardening. The fall copy was timely because yesterday I received some of the Oxblood lilies from Zanthan Gardens. Melissa suggested that I enjoy the flowers indoors before setting  them in the garden. So here they are- aren't they beautiful?

This morning I prepared a second square foot garden. I used string to divide the spaces. It is really a temporary measure and if I find it works for me I will try to find something a little more sturdy; strapping tape seems like it would do well. I made a start on the first garden yesterday by planting already germinated ( kitchen roll) Pak choi. I planted 4 in each of the first four squares. In two more I planted basil, rescued from the paths.
Last evening I attended the Master Gardeners' Fall seminar on vegetable gardening. Patty Leander gave a wonderful presentation filled with great information on the vegetables that are perfect for the fall/winter garden. I am planning to try out a few new ones this year including rhubarb. The idea that it can be grown as an annual is amazing but then we know how quickly things grow here in Texas. Garlic  and onions are new on my list of things to grow aside from the usual peas, beets, lettuce and cilantro. I am starting  spinach by the kitchen roll method.
The one danger at this time of the year is the awakening of the pill bugs and snails.  They may do a lot of good in the garden by breaking down organic matter but they actually prefer sprouting seeds of every vegetable. Sometimes the seeds germinate and disappear overnight. Forget the beer they would much rather have seedlings.

Ah! isn't he cute. This is a baby hispid cotton rat. I can handle a few of these but they breed like rabbits! and can do it all winter. Judging by the amount of damage to my gomphrena there must be an army of them out there. I'm sure he will be much happier out there in the long grass where he belongs. I just hope he doesn't know how to home.

In the summer he eats tomatoes and eggplant and then moves onto the gomphrena in the fall. He's just been having a terrific time this year. This damage is evident all over the garden. 


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

SQUARE FOOT GARDENING


If you are planning a vegetable garden this fall you might want to investigate the idea of Square Foot Gardening. I am planning to try out the method myself. This summer while strolling around the gardens of Temple Square in Salt Lake City I chatted with someone who was also admiring the plantings. 
The conversation turned to native plants and I told him about the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin and how my hobby was gardening. He told me he taught gardening and had just come from the radio station where he hosts a Saturday morning call in gardening show. He introduced himself as Mel Bartholomew, the author of the book by the same name, who came up with this system of gardening. By amazing coincidence I saw his book in a second hand book store just a few days later. 
Mel's idea for this method of gardening came about as a result of watching the frustrations of gardeners at the community garden, who started the gardening year in the spring with great enthusiasm only to become overwhelmed and demoralized by mid summer. Too much weeding watering and thinning to be done. Long rows of lettuce and spinach needed thinning but there was a reluctance to kill young seedlings. Within a few weeks thin spindly plants were growing too close together. They had planted half a packet of seeds, about 100, in a 10 foot row. This scenario was repeated throughout the garden and by September the gardens were overgrown with weeds and only the dedicated gardeners returned. Most had lost interest.
Square foot gardens are based on squares rather than rows. The ideal size for each garden is 4' square, divided into 16 squares. In these squares are planted just enough seeds to provide the necessary plants for a harvest.
Now, if you are like me you plant more seeds than you can possibly deal with. Even 30 lettuce seeds mean 30 plants and that takes up a lot of room in the garden. How much better to sow 4 seeds in one of the squares followed a few weeks later by another planting. The other squares might hold 4 swiss chard plants, 4 parsley, 9 beets, 9 spinach etc. Imagine the crop in a 4x4 square. The best thing is that this method is adaptable to the small garden, balcony and can be raised to make gardening accessible to the handicapped. You can have just one square or many.
By chance we already have the 4x4' squares so all I have to do is to find something to divide them into 1' squares.

The book has information on the kinds of soil to use in the beds and how many plants to put in each square. Companion flowers can be mixed along with vegetables. Mel gives ideas for growing tomatoes, cucumbers and cantaloupes on a trellis, thereby taking up less room.

It's time for fall vegetables in Texas and I started with a new method of germinating this week.


 Actually it isn't new. Remember when you were a child how you grew beans in a jar with wet blotting paper? I sowed my chard seeds on wet kitchen roll and placed in a plastic bag on the counter. ( This method can also be used to check viability of seeds). They germinated within 2 days and are now planted in the garden.


Two days later they are up through the ground.

You may notice I didn't follow the advice on the number of seeds to sow but the packet was 2 years old so I wasn't sure how many were viable. All apparently! I'll just have to thin!




Friday, September 12, 2008

IT'S LOOKING LIKE SPRING AGAIN


The cooler morning temperatures are having a positive effect on my garden. In some areas plants that were at their peak in the spring are coming back into flower. Zephirine Drouhin is offering up a few flowers with their delicious fragrance.  

In the sunken garden the blanket flowers are coming back to life along with the white Alyssum.

Plains coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria) have reseeded in among the Blackfoot daisies, (Melampodium leucanthemum).

The Cross vine  (Bignonia capreolata) is also sending out new blooms.
This is one plant I am having difficulty with. This Texas sunflower seeded in my herb garden and grew to be 6' tall whilst we were gone. How can I pull it out when the goldfinches invade the garden in the evening to feed on the seeds and it makes for a splendid vase of cut flowers for the house.We may even have bluebonnets for Christmas judging by these which started growing in an empty bowl.




Monday, September 8, 2008

POMEGRANATE DAY

After pruning all morning I decided it was picking time this afternoon. Various critters are making inroads into my crop of pomegranates and I keep finding new ones on the ground in the mornings. They have to work hard at getting out the seeds as the skin of this variety (Wonderful) is tough and leathery.
The pomegranate is native to Iran and Northern India but has been grown in the Mediterranean countries and Caucasus for centuries and giving its name to the city of Granada in Spain. The origin of the name  comes from the latin pomim (apple) and granatus (seeded).  Many seeded it is and the challenge is getting those seeds out. I have decided there is no easy way but to cut in quarters and break open the membranes. It's best to do the job outside because it can be messy and most would wonder is it all worth it. No ordinary juicer will stand up to the a pomegranate and I have found the best way is to use my good old Mexican lemon squeezer. 
A couple of large fruit yield about 500cc of pure juice. The juice has a cloudy appearance and will settle clear but I believe many of the healthful properties lie in the cloudy residue so I don't usually discard it. We drink the juice, which can also be used to make a salad dressing and use the seeds whole in salads. In the past I have made pomegranate syrup which is great for margaritas.
Last year I threw the seeds onto the ground and many of them germinated. Don't know what kind of tree they will produce but it is worth a shot. The tree is not fussy about what it grows in and is quite happy in rock strewn gravel. 
Ideas for seed removal and juicing gratefully received.
Here is a picture of last years pomegranate with the dreaded leaf footed bug nymphs. They preferred tomatoes this year.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

THE DEATH STRIP


Most of us have a strip that lies between the sidewalk and the road. For most it is just a few feet wide, which of course presents a challenge, and there is rarely a water supply. Cars pass by blowing their fumes on the plants. In all it is a struggle and rightly named the death strip. For the past 3 years we have spent a week in Salt Lake City. Our reason is the largest collection of genealogical records in the world, located in the LDS Family History Library. It is here that we, along with hundreds of others, search through the records for our ancestors. Walking to the library I was struck by the "death strip" in front of their conference center.

Walking along beside the stream certainly had a cooling effect on a hot day.
Adjacent to the LDS conference center the center of the road is planted with cactus agave and native plants.

Not the usual planting for the middle of the road.

As we were leaving the city we passed an incredible site. On the corner of the road someone had created an incredible vegetable garden. Zucchini, pumpkins, beans were all thriving in the death strip. Admittedly it was a little wider than the ones I have seen around here. I saw someone watering , stopped , and ran back, camera in hand.

Gina, the owner of the garden, was gracious enough to spend time chatting with me about her achievement. She introduced me to her chickens and would not let me leave without one of her white pumpkins. So far Gina has managed to do her gardening without the city taking her to task. She has expanded her garden onto an adjacent piece of land where there is a large billboard. With the owners permission of course. I think it is a wonderful story and far from a "death strip."