Saturday, June 1, 2019

SOMEONE LIKES 92°

Having worked outside all morning, in the ever increasing temperature and humidity, I told myself I could take it easy this afternoon. But isn't it true that a gardener always remembers something else that needs to be done. I had forgotten to fertilize my orchids ( they deserved a treat for blooming so well) and needed to get rain water from the tanks. Then I remembered how I must pot up the begonias that have been growing in water and move them and another potted one to an outdoor spot in the shade where they would be on a periodic watering from the drip system during my absence. That job took me out into the front garden at 2pm where I spotted this. I wouldn't have missed this moment for the world.


The balloon cactus, Parodia magnifica formerly Notocactus magnificus, was putting on a worthy show. It had bloomed with one or two flowers already but this was a crown of flowers. Splendida.



Native to Brazil and Uruguay, its native habitat is hilly grasslands where the summers are warm and winters cool but well above freezing.  In the USA it must be protected in zones below 9 so I take it into the potting shed or garage for the winter to keep it dry.
In previous years it has suffered the visits of cactus bugs that suck the sap leaving behind rings of lighter green. When I became aware of this last year I took precautions to check the plant regularly and remove the invaders.



As well as periodic blooming through the summer season babies are forming at the base but I don't have plans to remove them at this time.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

A SURGICAL PROCEDURE

Fifteen years ago we took out of town visitors to the cactus show. They very kindly bought me two plants for my young garden. A large pot of Mammilaria (name lost in the mists of time) and an Agave desmettiana variegata. The agave is long gone but its offspring soldier on. The Mammilaria....that's another story. They came tightly packed in the pot and after a few years I decided I wanted to repot them into a wider pot. Mistake. When I removed them from the pot the whole plant collapsed. Those individual cactus had very long bare necks and were supporting each other. For years the pot languished, the plants looking uglier by the year until moving the pot outside this spring it tipped over and several of the plants just broke right off. It was the impetus I needed. I shortened up the stems of the broken plants, allowed them to callus over and then repotted them. They seemed happy enough and have just started to bloom.


Now this past week, after the they had finished their bloom cycle, I tackled the mother pot taking my serrated knife( used to remove agave leaves too) and cutting them off. Quite the prickly mess (Barbecue tongues to the rescue).


Oh! how they bled


I needed to leave them for at least a week to heal over before gathering my tools together.


And my bag of cactus soil. Most times I make up my own cactus soil but once in a while I splurge and buy a bag of very good cactus potting mix from East Side Succulents. It isn't cheap but it has pumice in the mix and not the perlite that you find in cheaper bags.


There were enough plants to make up 3 good sized pots.



I topped them off with the very fine granite gravel which I usually use in soil mixes, for drainage.


You don't have to use much imagination to get an idea of just how bad the original pot looked before surgery. Why did I wait so long? All to do with time.



Sunday, May 26, 2019

GARDEN VISIT WITH LUNCHEON AND TEA, I'LL BE THERE

As I sit here, housebound, with my foot up (surgery on Friday to remove a piece of glass) I am reminded of how different last Sunday was. With an invitation to visit a garden with luncheon and tea it was not difficult to give up the Sunday morning walk around the lake with taco to follow!
On arrival, glass of bubbly in hand, we walked out to the back garden where our hosts had erected a unique gauze covered gazebo under which a small table was laid with delicious savory pastries and bunches of grapes. These little appetizers a homage to their Greek ancestry.
I can imagine the fun they had erecting their gazebo.


We strolled around the garden, sat chatting under the live oak trees and then were called indoors where the table was laid for luncheon. These day the word luncheon has been abbreviated to lunch, but the word luncheon is actually a northern English term for a smaller meal taken during the middle of the day. In the past it might have been a piece of bread and cheese. Not so today. Did I say how much our hosts love all things English? I think they might be more English than I as they are avid Chelsea fans.
The table was laid with an antique table cloth (we always had a tablecloth on the table when I was growing up) beautiful vases of roses and baby's breath. Everything matching perfectly even to the glasses and decoration on the cups and tea service.


Plates of sandwiches, cookies, scones and the customary jam with clotted cream. I knew we were going to talk about which goes on first jam or cream. Jam for me!



But before we spread our scones with jam and cream, we were served a wonderful quiche and salad.


And served cups of tea......milk in first for me, please.  Could we possibly have room for one of those lemon curd tarts? Of course.
Replete it was time for a little exercise as we took a guided walk around the garden which had been designed by our hosts mother. No agaves, please was their only request.


Under towering live oak trees a small area of grass is fringed by native, drought resistant plants like rosemary, salvia, Texas sage. It is a green and serene space with a cleverly placed bench made from chimney flue tiles. They recently spend quite a lot of money protecting their live oak trees from the encroaching Live Oak Wilt, which is already in the neighborhood. Several trees on the lot next door has succumbed to wilt and have yet to be removed. Recognizing the value that trees bring to a home they felt the cost was justified.
Those flue tiles show up once again in front of their front entrance, where three have been placed to soften the concrete foundation. This time spiked grasses create height and a trailing rosemary allowed to spread and soften the gravel.


In the back garden they found an equally clever use for the tiles. This time to hide air conditioners.


A river of cotoneaster softens a large expanse of gravel. Possibly Cotoneaster horizontalis. I wonder if it berries in the winter. I love the grey contrasting with the lighter green of their other landscaping.


I think we were all thinking how nice it would be to just pop down in the hammock, but then that is something I have never quite achieved with aplomb.


And I was also casting a wary eye over that kangaroo lurking in the distance.



Maybe this would be a safer seat to try.


Clever use of the different shades of green. I heard today that the eye is capable of distinguishing more shades of green than any other color. Here was a good test. And plenty of room to pass between the plants when weeding or trimming was necessary. And a nice brick edge to assist with a clean mowing line.


A lot of work has gone in to creating a beautiful space for outdoor enjoyment and entertaining as well as a major transformation of the interior of their home. Thank you girls and to your garden designer for a memorable visit.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

A MUSTER OF MULLEIN

Earlier this year I wrote about how I appreciated having several of our roadside mullein plants, Verbascum, in the garden for their early rosettes of soft grey leaves. Read here. Well here they are all grown up, and standing to attention ready for drill practice.


They would like to be in the sunken garden but can only look over the wall. They are destined to stay in the vegetable garden. Unnoticed as they spent the winter underneath stands of Love-in-a-mist, they seemed to shoot up within days-or was I just not watching. I think they benefitted from drip irrigation along the bed.
One thing about mullein, they want to stay put. I have tried without success to transplant them.


A trio of mullein on our septic field. Slower growing because of less water.


These accidental plantings are welcome. I have to pull some but every year several pop up and get to stay because they are well placed. Many are pulled.

A couple get to stay on pathway, between the septic field and wall, now cleared of bluebonnet skeletons.


But I may have been won over by some of the hybrid mullein displayed at the Chelsea Flower Show this year. Some pretty colors in peach and rose. Now to find the seeds.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

THE TEXAS TWO STEP AND THE CHELSEA CHOP

Having a cottage-style garden is one of the most difficult gardens to have even though many say it is the easiest. It isn't just a matter of throwing out a few seeds and waiting for them to flower. It is trying to create a balance between those annual plants and perennials which carry the garden through the remaining months of the year. In Texas, because we have such a long growing season, a cottage garden will go through many changes and must be helped along at every step.  Texas Two Step is my term for that time when annuals have done their thing, set their seed and must now be pulled for tidiness sake. You sow them, you gather them.
Take this area of bluebonnets, a beautiful sight back in March.


Not looking quite so attractive by mid-May. This annual plant has made and thrown its seed and the dried, crispy remains of the plant must be removed for neatness sake. It's time for the Texas two step.


Having bluebonnets is a labor of love, but isn't all gardening. I have at least 8 areas of dried bluebonnets that I need to work on over the next week or so-if the weather would just cooperate. A stroll around the garden this morning made me realize that I won't be doing much of that today unless the sun comes out and pops those seed heads. But, I will be snipping some of the almost ready heads and storing in a brown paper bags or boxes until the fall.
But first up for the two step this week were the poppies. Those of ten thousand seeds. I'm guessing that like many wildflowers their seeds lie dormant in the ground waiting for me to disturb the soil, just like the poppies in the Flanders fields following WW1, so despite the fact that I have plums to reduce their numbers next year I am sure they will be back.
If you want these, and I do.



Then you must wait for this and hope to catch a few of them. Brown paper bags at the ready!


I am serious about collecting some of these this year because of a long term project we began two years ago. That of converting our septic field into a wildflower meadow. When the field was originally done I ordered 2 bags of wildflower seeds from Native American Seed with instruction for them to be added to the spray mix they use to cover the field. It wasn't enough to tell my builder and give him the bags with instruction for them to be put in the tank before they spread. It was never done.  I would plant seeds in the fall but nothing ever grew and then I discovered that the soil was probably to rich for them. For the past 3 years we have mowed and bagged and last fall I threw out blanket flowers and bluebonnets. It worked. These and so many more wildflowers showed up this year.

May 2019 on the septic field
The next Two-Step with be with Nigella,  Love-in-a mist. A cottage garden must have these.


Their seed pods put on a pretty good show too, but....


But there comes a time when they must be pulled too.

And the herb garden will hopefully take on a tidier appearance as I remove the parsley and cilantro once the seeds are ripe.



It's Chelsea Flower Show week and many gardeners in England adhere to the old rule of cutting back perennials by half at this time. The practice is known as The Chelsea Chop. I have quite a few plants that will get this treatment over the next couple of weeks. The roses, salvias, Mexican marigold mint, Copper Canyon daisy, mealy blue sage, the mint-I may even pull that out completely, oregano, basil, All of theses if left to continue growing will swamp the garden. I want them to look good right through to the fall. A little cut back will help them do that-and some summer rain.


Saturday, May 18, 2019

A LITTLE FLOWER WITH THE SWEETEST FRAGRANCE

It is likely I would never have noticed the fragrance of this little flower had it not been at nose level last year. Not would I have noticed the simply stunning structure of the tiny flowers.


The flower is Callisia fragrans, sometimes known as basket plant, chain plant, or inch plant for the way it inches its way along the ground. It can be grown as a ground cover in partial shade but also works well in a hanging basket. That was where I had it last year, on the wall as you enter the front courtyard garden from the side door. When it flowered there was a sweet fragrance on the air which caused me wonder its origin.


The basket plant is hanging down to the right beneath the soap aloe. It is a busy planter with Agave demettiana and aloes and couple of other succulents tucked in the top. All enjoy the filtered sun under the oak tree.
The flowers this year are in a different place, growing at ground level, not so accessible to the nose but clearly perfuming the air. Our mild winter meant that the plant survived under the shade and shelter of the Lady Banks rose and is blooming early. Endemic to Mexico, the plant is only hardy to around 32° so must be protected in winter. It is easy to break off the small plants that form along the chain and root them to save over winter. Or the plant can be grown as a houseplant.


Looking a little worse for the wear after a winter outside. It has something in common with its companion plant Tradescantia pallida  purple heart. The synonym for Callisia fragrans is Tradescantia dracaenoides.

New plant forming along the chain
This year the I changed the planter on the entry garden gate to include not only the Huernia schneideriana but also a piece of the basket plant I had saved over winter. Maybe I will be lucky enough to get a bloom this year and it will wow visitors to the garden with its fragrance.





Sunday, May 5, 2019

THE FRONT COURTYARD GARDEN

It may seem strange that in my front courtyard garden, protected from deer by walls, I have mainly native plants. This is partly due to the way we had to design the garden for rain water run off, by creating a wet-weather creek, raised beds and areas of gravel. These gravel areas are ideally suited to native plants.


Large feathery stands of gayfeather, Liatris sp. prepare for a fall flowering. It would be easy to have a garden full of these as they are aggressive seeders. Their current competition for height is the Engelmann's daisy, Engelmannia peristenia, whose petals, characteristically,  curve downwards during the heat of the day.




There are good stands of Barbara's buttons, Marshallia caespitosa, with their sweetly fragrant flowers.

They spread quite readily from seed. This clump is three years from seed sown in place.


A happy accident 3 years ago was the  introduction of Colorado Venus' Looking Glass, Triodanis coloradoënsis, a member of the bluebell family.  The seed must have been in a hole inside a rock I brought in and one day I noticed this blue flower. The numbers have increased until this year they have shown up in multiple places.




Texas betony, Stachy coccinea, is a favorite of humming birds. This perennial native would be just as happy outside the walls as it is deer proof.

Artichoke agave, Aloe desmettiana Blue Boy and Texas betony.

You might not appreciate its flowers unless you look really closely.




Somehow these plants just fit together well in the landscape along with a few hardy, spikey agaves for structure.




The Asiatic jasmine, Trachelospermum asiaticum, similar to the Confederate jasmine, may not be native to Texas but its hardiness makes it a better option for a fragrant vine by my front door.


A good trimming one in a while keeps its wandering tendrils in check as it reaches around the other side of the wall.


Undoubtedly the mocking bird planted this Yaupon on the corner of the wall. It has grown into a fine tree which provides winter food for the returning cedar wax wings and shade for a corner of the garden.

I have flowers on the pink Oxalis sp. I am more than happy to have it in this shady corner.


Along with the Mahonia in its fruiting stage.


The larger raised bed, created by using large ledge stones from the foundation needs a little work to make it more manageable. I regret that I lost a white Texas sage this winter. It came as a shock because ti flowered twice in succession in the fall. It's last hurrah. But when I took it out it made me realize I could live without it. Friends convinced me to leave the opuntia in place and a passalong Salvia 'Amistad' seemed like the best plant to put in there to take its place. In the corner a crape myrtle seeded and in the center a tree-shaped Texas Mountain Laurel. I seem to be very lucky with plants seeding in my garden although there are many more that seed and are removed.



On the trellis in the back corner climbs the native Clematis versicolor. One bonus from removing the sage was finding several seedlings of the clematis. I will try to rehouse them over the winter.


Along the front edge are several agaves, including A. parryi and A. lopthantha 'quadricolor'


Beneath the large Ladybanks rose is an area of morning sun and shady afternoons where a few shade lovers survive.
And always my favorite picture off the garden as I walk from garage to house. The reflection in the dining room window.