Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Very Sunny Weekend

The article on the main page of today's local paper was about the difficulty of predicting this year's winter season due to a late El Nino. This weekend is warmer than normal, - 90degrees in mid-October is odd - and appears to be a trend of what forcasters are predicting this winter will be. Personally, I don't mind the warmer winter forecast as long as it is accompanied by lots of rain. However, West Texas could use a cold, wet winter to kill bugs and help with next spring's crops. In terms of the drought scale, we have moved from last year's D4 rating (exceptional) to a D3 rating (extreme) thanks to the almost 11 inches of rain this year versus the 3 inches last year. Fingers crossed we'll get another 2-3 inches before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, last weekend was a little cooler and I was able to put in a good 6 hours in the yard on Sunday. First thing up was finishing off the bird feeder. Since the pole would not stand upright I placed cement blocks around the base, filled the centers with potting soil and relocated some yellow ice plant from another section of the yard. This should look pretty in the spring all cover with flowers and trailing over the cement sides. Penny the Pill gave her stamp of approval by walking all through the small planter and then bending over for a drink from the bird bath, which sadly cannot stay on its heavy cement base because somehow the strong winds keep flipping this heavy top off the base. So bizarre, really, but the birds do seem to enjoy climbing in and bathing in it.
Next up was removing the decayed base of the previous bird house from the top of the pole. Discovered the thin platform on the pole to attach a bird house is thoroughly rusted too. The hard water and winds do take their toll on everything here.
Managed to temporarily rig up the new birdhouse to the platform and will later buy a new pole. The bird house is a little too small in scale but works fine for now.
The expanded side bed that I planted this summer by the front gate is doing very well. The Cleveland Pear tree seems to be doing just fine and I can't wait for the shade and privacy it will provide in the future. The shades of pink and purple planted around it really have brightened up a dull area. I was thrilled to find an apricot Mullin this summer and it's sent up two rounds of tall stalks of flowers. The flower, in the center of the picture, looks pink but it's really a soft peach in person. Hoping this will survive our winter and come back next year with more stalks of delicate flowers. Other plants I tucked around it include pink geraniums, The Fairy Rose, pink gladiolas, pink caladiums, and purple salvia.
Speaking of pinks, the Veronicas are in full bloom thanks to the cool spells we've had over the last month. They're blooming better than in the spring amazingly enough. One should have spiked flower shapes in a cottage garden and Veronicas are excellent for this purpose. Just planted a red one under the pear tree and looking forward to seeing what those spikes look like.
October is a good time to visit local nurseries and scour for bargain plants. Scored two of the Flame Acathus or Hummingbird Bush plants for the price of one originally. I'd been looking for these for the past two years. The one pictured below is three years old and covered with red flowers that humminbirds and bees like. Beside it is a ruella that I planted at the same time that has grown almost four feet tall and is loaded with purple flowers. I'd like to plant more of these elsewhere in the garden next year.
The Angelonia that I got on clearance this spring looked pretty pathetic up until about two weeks ago when suddenly blossoms started to appear. The rain and cooler weather seemed to have done the trick. These are so pretty when planted en mass and when the three trees I've planted this spring fill in I'll tuck more of these into the beds.
And speaking of clearance plants, I bought this one at Sutherlands, which strangely enough at times has a really good selection of perennials from time to time. The tag said this was a delphium. I hope it is because it's doubled in size and has yet to produce any type of flower. Hoping I didn't inadvertently buy some invasive weed by accident.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Fall in West Texas

The temperatures are back down to pleasant ranges and the 2 inches of rain my garden has received in the last two months has done wonders for the strolling gardening. Everything's so green again and many of the plants are flowering again. The roses have all produced more blossoms and their colors fare so much better without the harsh 90-100+ degree heat bearing down on them. Now, if only I could find time to work more in the garden on the weekends when we don't suddenly have a cold front or winds.
Hyacinth Bean has been a very lovely surprise. My co-worker gave me a few seeds she'd received during a sale at the local garden and arts center and the blossoms are so lovely. The wind knocked many of the vines off the trellis though so I will be tying them to the trellis next year with twine.
The shades of pale lavender to a darker plum purple of the hyacinth bean flowers are so attractive.
The veg bed had mixed results. The heat and drought from June through early September fried most of what I planted in the raised bed. I did get one really nice zookini and two squash before I had to pull out the dried up plants. Watering everyday and using good planting soil with moisture retention beads wasn't enough to keep the vegetables alive. Three bell pepper plants, seen above with the hyacinth bean flowers, is doing great now though and has blossoms on them. I might be able to get a few peppers before a freeze kills the plants.
I have discovered that mint does really well in the raised cinderblock beds. And for the first time I've been able to successfully grow basil and keep it alive. In fact, it's reseeding in the cement opening before the plant. As with all gardening, growing things in the cinderblock bed is a case of trial and error. I've decided that it will become a mint bar now, with basil and hyacinth bean mixed in. The larger central section will have flowers in it next year. Just need to track down the tags for the various mint plants and put their names on the brass plant markers I got on clearance from Target. The nice thing about the mints is that the more exotic ones can be identified by their scent and tastes. Shouldn't be too hard to figure out which one is the mojito mint, the orange mint and the chocolate mint. I also have English mint planted in the corner. So the hunt for other mint varities will be next year's adventure. A mint bed fits in well with the English cottage theme, right?
The roses have been blooming nicely since mid-September, when our temperatures started dipping and rain came to visit the West Texas area. Above is The Fairy, which has numerous branches with tiny pink blooms. Just wish it didn't have all the tiny, sharp thorns along the branches. Am probably going to regret planting this near a walkway in the furture. But is is lovely nevertheless.
I think no flower garden should exist without an Iceberg Rose. First of all, the white color glows at dusk and the buds have a nice scent to them. So many modern roses seem to be missing the scent aspect. The green of the leaves have a yellow undertone, which contrasts well against other plants, such as the two varieties of sedums underplanted here. Lastly, the number of flower buds on it when it blooms is fabulous. I definately plan to try to cram one or two more of these in the garden in the future. There is a garden at Sportsmen's Hotel in LA that is mostly planted with Iceberg Roses and it is stunning. No wonder so many people get married there.
This was labeled a Kordes rose with a tag that said it would bloom white with pink. Well, it blooms yellow and fades to white. Oh well, it's still a lovely rose and I just consider it my yellow rose of Texas.
My favorite rose in the strolling garden is the Climbing Americas. Besides their spicy floral scent, they have been blooming non-stop since May. Pictured are two of four of Americas I have growing. Their canes are incredibly strong and are upwards of 9 feet tall so far.
And speaking of sedums, the three varieties I have planted in the front and back yards are all blooming. Such an easy plant to grow and the butterflies seem to love flitting around it and feeding from the blossoms. Well, that's all for today. I will try to be better about updating this blog. Meanwhile, I'm off to put out buckets to catch the light rain falling down right now. If we got more rain I'd buy a rain barrel but there's no point paying upwards of $100 when rain doesn't fall often here. Little buckets work just fine.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Latest Blooms

Just a quick update as it'll be a busy week. The first of the lilies has bloomed and several others have buds on them. Can't wait to see the rest of the bulbs I planted several last year since the drought dried them out before the buds could completely form.
Planted this pretty little Passionflower vine yesteday. I'd been looking for a white one for a few months.
My favorite little pink Rose of Sharon starting blooming yesterday too. Wish it would get taller than 4 feet.
The first Rudbeckias I planted are blooming and the multiple colors are a nice surprise.
And finally, the queen of the garden is enjoying her sunny naps on the royal garden bench.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Let It Rain!

Today we in West Texas have been blessed by a day of measurable rain. I think I have received more rain today than any other day this year. The little sparrows and morning doves have been enjoying the moisture as they feed at the bird feeder and root around in the grass and flower beds. The plants seem to be loving the rain too as they are all standing at attention, such as the holleyhocks in the back corner.
 Since today is the last chance for rain for the next 10 days I set out a bunch of buckets to catch what extra rain I could. There's no point in buying a rain barrel right now since rain is such a rarity. Buckets will work fine.
Little by little the rain is bringing West Texas out of the sever drought from next year. Most of Texas has gotten out of the sever range and here's hoping that West Texas will achieve this by the end of the summer.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day! We're having another lovely cloudy day with a few sprinkles that I keep hoping will lead to actual rain. The cooler weather has had such a good effect on the garden. The Cleveland Pear tree, whose branches bough down somewhat like a weeping tree, wasn't doing so well two weeks after being planted and I though it might be dying. But the cooler weather and the little bit of rain we've received this week seems to have revived the tree. Yay! The other tree I planted at the same time, the peach tree, is doing just fine too. It has four tiny little peaches on there so hopefully at least one of them will survive and ripen before the end of the summer. Meanwhile, here are some lovely flowers blooming in the garden today:
A fragrant daylily I purchased from Home Depot two years ago. The tag that came with it said it would be pink, when in fact it's a creamy beige with purple and yellow eye. It's doing really well and has spread.
The Scabisoas are all pale pink so far. Not a dark burgandy in sight, unfortunately. That color was the reason I planted the seeds two years ago. The pinks are cheerful though.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Fertilizer Friday, May 11, 2012

Here in West Texas we have been blessed to have several chances of rain in the last two weeks. In my area we've reach above 3 inches in rain to date this year. One of the local weatherman announced last night that we would have to get 30 inches of rain before the end of the year to make up for the several drought from last year and barring a major flood before December that's just not going to happen. We will be very lucky if we hit 15-18 inches before the end of the year. However, today I'm just going to celebrate the beautiful abundance that the rain has brought to my strolling garden.
My little book fairy statue tucked under a miniature rose bush, which is actually around 3 feet tall, and by lilies and daylilies.Growing on the trellis behind is a yellow Lady Banks which frankly hasn't seemed to have grown in the three years it's been in the ground. Fast growing rose my foot.
Larkspur Lane gone amuck. Beautiful though. Pulled up a bouquet of them from the walkway to take to a co-worker today. Three of my colleagues have asked for larkspur seeds from my garden. Can't wait to see what color the hollyhocks are that are towering over the garden bench in the background.
The Shasta Daises are loving the gentle rain we've received over the last two day. I'm loving it too!
The Gaillardia seems even brighter this cloudy day.
The Zebrina Mallow is blooming their little hearts away. They're shorter than I expected at less than 2 feet tall but their flowers are so abundant right now.
The Yarrow is spreading like crazy in the front bed. It's popping up everying in the grass. I knew the plants were hardy but I had no idea they would fast spreaders and crowd out the roses and salvias. The silvery dusty miller looks striking against all the shades of green.
The black of Nigra Hollyhocks is eye catching on a cloudy day but looks washed out on a bright sunny one. I plan to pull these out at the end of the year to put in some more colorful ones. 
The Ditch Lily, the tallest of my daylilies, is the first to bloom this year. The middle of last month I was noticing that all the daylilies were going into stress and showing signs of dying back but the cloudy days and gentle rains over the last two weeks seemed to have made a difference. Hoping this keeps up for the next two months as May and June are our raining month.

Visit Tootsie Time to see who else is participating in "Fertilizer Friday" and showing off what's blooming in their gardens.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Veg Bed

For the last three weeks I've been working on creating a raised concrete bed to grow my first vegetables after seeing different examples of these types of raised bed on Pinterest. The spot chosen was a central area along the east fence where everything I've planted over the last three years, even the hollyhocks, struggled to grow. A raised bed seemed the ideal solution. Next year I'll paint the blocks a bright color like green or French blue. The temperature hit 100 degrees today and therefore any type of outdoor painting is a no go.
I have to say that took a lot longer than expected. The concrete blocks were very heavy and had to be carried one by one from the garage through the house out the back door to the other side of the yard. And it took more blocks than I anticipated. And the number of bags of garden soil and planting soil to fill what appeared to be a small bed was even more surprising. However, next year I should only have to top off the bed so that expense won't be much at all. Before pouring in the soil I lined the bottom and sides of the two-tier bed with weed block fabric. For the smaller one-tier bed I just lined the bottom with the fabric.
Planted in slots around this bed are three types of mint (orange, chocolate, and Mojito), two strawberries, a sad looking nastursium that doesn't seem able to stand upright, Texas terragon, cilantro, English and Provence Lavender, a grape tomato, and shallot and garlic bulbs [they're planted in the back in the slots that look empty right now]. Lowe's was having a half price sale of herbs and veggies this past weekend for $1.50 so I kind of went overboard with the plants. The center of this bed has zucchini, squash and bell peppers. Marigolds, one of the plants I have always killed, was tucked in to help ward off bugs. The veggies and herbs I have high hopes for. The marigolds I have no doubt I'll kill within three weeks, which is my record for how long I can keep this particular plant alive.
In the lower bed, I have onions, the remainder of the garlic bulbs, and three strawberries planted in the outer slots. The central bed has two types of cucumbers and blue lobelia [for some color until the cucs grow up the trellis].  As a first time veg grower I think I made an amateur mistake. When I described what I was growing my co-worker pointed out that some veggies cross pollinate. So I may have some very onion-y tasting cucumbers before the summer is out. Oh well. Live and learn.
My luck with seeds has improved this year. The chammomile I planted last year came up and is blooming. The cheerful little white flowers look great next to the dill, and little seedlings of the cilantro I planted at the end of March are poking up from the soil too. Yay!
And lastly, the Zebrina Mallow seeds I planted in the fall of 2010 made it through the severe drought of last year thanks to much nursing from me to FINALLY bloom this year. It's not quite as tall as I was expecting but the lovely striped flowers make up for its stature. Now if we could only get more rain. The stage 2 water restrictions are a royal pain. We can only water 1 day a week 1 time. Handwater is allowed anytime but with a garden like mine it takes an hour just to do the backyard. Course, it's rather relaxing to walk around and slowly handwater the beds and inspect everything.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Do or Do Not - You Can Always Try

I have discovered over the years that many gardening rules can be broken... or at least you try. It might cost you a plant or a few plants but one of the appealing parts of gardening is that it's a living palette and you, as the artist, can move the plants around as much as you like.

I often read that you are only supposed to transplant plants at certain times. Well, I've moved irises around in the spring, summer and fall. And when I bought my first [and so far only] home five years ago, I dug up every bulb I could in my rental cottage to take with me. And boy am I glad I did. The four feet tall magenta asiatic lilies bloomed that summer and I have never found these again in the big box stores. I also haunt the clearance racks of Lowe's regular and have gotten such great deals that I didn't care what month it was when I had to plant it. For example, I got a lovely white rose standard for 75% off at the end of last october and planted it immediately afterwards... and it's doing just fine as the central focal point in the center bed. Can't wait to see it bloom for the first time this spring!

Pictured below: Transplanted lilies and larkspur. All doing just fine in their new homes. Got dirt? Will fill!
If you don't succeed, try, try again.... this circular bed dug two years ago was supposed to be a herb circle. Well, I learned that first year that I can kill more herbs than I can grow. So year two daylilies, gaillardia, and shasta daisies were inserted into the bed along with the parsley, dill and cilantro - the herbs I did succeed in growing. Now it's just the circle bed and this year the dill and parsley are already coming back in full force. The cilantro I've had to reseed. And a beautiful rose bush that I scored for $2.50 from Lowe's along with that rose standard mentioned above made it through winter just fine. Course, we really had a mild winter so I probably just got lucky with this one. 
That plant I saw and wanted... then couldn't find. My co-worker bought a new house right before me and I discovered what looked like striped miniature hollyhocks in her backyard. Before I could make it back over to dig it up - since they were cleaning out this overgrown bed - her hubby had run over it with the mower. No more plant, wah! Two years later I found it at a local nursery and eagerly bought it and planted it along the back fence. This was a pricy plant for me, though I'm sure most folks would find the price reasonable. Anyway, it died by winter, 5 months later. Then I discovered that the nursery on the Texas Tech campus had this plant - the Zebrina mallow - growing in their strolling beds and collected a few seeds. Got nada. In case you're wondering why I didn't order the plant from a nursery the reason is simple - I kill over 50% of all plants I've ever ordered. The odds are just not in my favor. So I try to buy my plants from local nurseries and big box stores, which I know get a bad rap but for a gardener with a small wallet they really are great options for plant buying.

Finally find the mallow seeds at Sutherlands's two falls ago. Plants came up last spring but died down almost to the ground due to the drought. But this year might be my lucky year. Several healthy little plants are growing and I am excited to finally get some purple striped blossoms this summer. Some plants are worth the wait. [I am wondering when they'll finally get taller though. The seed packet said they'd get 3-4 feet tall. So far not even breaking 1 foot.]
Ever wonder why when you scatter seeds that nothing ever comes up or your plants don't reseed like they're supposed to? Maybe it's because you're using mulch. For three years I regularly mulched my beds to keep them clean looking and to keep down the weeds. Last year I didn't get around to it fast enough and bingo! suddenly I have tons of baby plants coming up in the fall and early spring. Pictured below are about 1/3 of the tall coreopsis plants that have reseeded themselves from last fall.

No more heavy mulching of the beds for me! I want my freebies for next year's garden. And I've discovered some plants reseed themselved several feet from their mother plants. For instance, today I dug up 5 purple salvias, 1 maroon scabiosa, and 1 gaillardia babies from the grass walkways and transplanted them into the various flower beds. The salvias particularly are really good about putting out offshoots or babies. More free plants, wahoo!
And sometimes the plant just win. I have tried to dig up this large hollyhock for two summers. The tap root is so deep I can't get it out. So I've decided to just let it flower this year and then try killing it again... and dig out all the reseeded plugs that will obviously result. Meanwhile I guess I'll need to transplant the two pincushion plants being overshadowed by this monster. Seriously, this thing is 3 feet x 3 feet, the widest hollyhock I've grown so far. This is growing around the small patio and this variety of hollyhock has reseeded itself around three sides of the patrio. The seeds get between the concrete and the grass and the tap roots are impossible to pull out. So I'll just go with the flow and enjoy the flowers in the summer... while I quietly plot it's death in the fall.
A few other quips of gardening wisdom. Bermuda grass is evil and always will be. It is next to impossible to remove when I'm creating a new flower bed and then sneaks back in before the season is out. Like coachroaches, you cannot truly kill Bermuda unless you pave over it. So I just have to continue to curse it regularly as I putter around in the beds.

True gardeners are plant collectors. We can't help it. We have to have as much as we can cram in the ground. Got a bare spot to fill? I'll cram a daylily, rose or salvia in it as soon as possible. Course, it will probably involve shoving the garden cat, Penny the Pill, out of the way as I'm doing it because as far as she's concerned a bare spot is grounds for rolling in the dirt... before she waddles over to roll on top of my plants. A fluffy bed of larkspur? Penny finds it to be a very comfortable place for a nap. Funnily enough, she can't stand the catnip which is running amuck in three of my beds. I only planted it in one!

And if you see a plant with the words "The plant you can't kill" written on it just spit on it and keep walking. It's only teasing you. For example, I've killed marigolds more times than I care to admit. I simply cannot grow this plant. And yes, the stupid plants did have that written across the pot. The only reason I want to grow it is that it reminds me of my late granny. She had a green thumb like nobody's business. I've inherited my semi-green thumb from her. So each spring I buy a marigold and hope that this is the year I can get granny's signature plant to grow... but deep down I know I'm going to kill it within 7 weeks. I guess I'm an ever hopefuly optimistic pessimist?

 And last, but not least, you should always wear either sunscreen or a hat while working in the spring/summer garden. A rule I'm constantly guilty of not doing. Yesterday it reached 82 degrees with a soft breeze. It didn't feel hot enough to get a sunburn but my lobster reflection in the mirror says otherwise. I so need some shade in the backyard! Even Penny wanted inside to take her afternoon nap.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Color Green

As of this week we have now had over 1 inch of rain since January and what a difference this year is so far from last year. The color du jour in the strolling garden is green, green and more green. The cloudy days combined with the rare day of soft, drizzly rain and warmer than normal temperatures have done quite a number on the yard. The center bed below was heavily effected by the drought last year and I had though half of the daylilies had died. There's no brown here now. The daylilies are back in full force. The larkspur is reaching for the sky and has developed flower heads this week. The miniature roses are fully leafed out and I spied tiny rose buds on the rose standard in the middle that I managed to get for a steal last November.
This is another view looking back onto the house. The irises have tripled in size and the purple ones in the front year have already started blooming. The large Climbing America rose bush to the left already had clematis growing up it and they already have blossoms on them. The rampant larkspur growing in the middle of the pathway still needs to be transplanted to other spots in the garden beds. It's amazing that all of that came from only three seed packets originally.
This clump of dianthus has been a reliable bloomer two years in a row. I'm sure for most folks that would be no big deal but I somehow manage to kill these after two years. Keeping my fingers crossed this clump makes it to next year. The light pink colors really stand out in the evenings. Pinks, purples, whites and yellows are the main colors I'm planning to add this year. They seem to stand up better to our hot, intense sun during the summer months and lend to the moongarden feeling in the evenings. [oh, the striped thing in the lower corner is my camera cord, not a snake... believe me, I wouldn't have stuck around if it was one of those!]
The first rose blossom of the spring is from the pink Knockout Rose. Have been contemplating digging up all three of my Knockouts. The red Knockout bushes are huge! Had I known those suckers would have gotten four feet tall and just as wide I wouldn't have planted them where they are. [okay, I'm sure the tag had the size on it but I'm terrible about reading the size part. The joy of having a cottage garden is being able to plop whaterver one wants whereever one wants.] The pink one is a third of the size and has never bloomed with the hearty gusto that the red ones have.
I am bummed to find that the majority of my 25 rose bushes, including the minatures, have serious aphid problems this year. Have been hosing them down with water to knock the little suckers off but had to go get some Ortho spray today. I did spot one Lady Bug and one of the creepy pre-Lady Bug stage bugs on one of the tall Climbing Americas. Only need about a 1,000 more of those to take care of these awful aphids.

Hope your garden is enjoying a green insurgance the way mine is. There is nothing better than being in the garden in spring. Even Penny the cat, the little pill I adopted from outdoors, is having a ball in my garden. Course, she doesn't enjoy being rubbed down with a wet wash cloth after her naughty jaunts rolling in my flower beds.


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