Sunday, December 31, 2006

Blooming December

I seem to get more enamored with amaryllis every year. This one opened its first flowers the day after Christmas and is still going strong. It is a 'President Johnson' hybrid.

I bring my hibiscuses inside every year with varying degrees of success. They usually get spider mites something awful and then it takes them nearly all spring to recover. Well, not so with this beauty. This is 'Hurricane Lily,' and she really seems to like it in the sunroom (next to the cool mist humidifier, natch).

Happy New Year, everyone!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Bow to the Master

The Master Gardener, that is! Hehheh...not trying to get all imperial on y'all. But I am now officially a Master Gardener for Collin County. And it feels great.

Graduation last night was wonderful. We were treated to a great meal, an interesting speaker and several nice freebies. The best part was seeing my fellow classmates again, beaming from ear to ear, knowing that a year of hard work had finally paid off. There was a lot of pride in the room.

Speaking of guest speakers and freebies, Brice Creelman of local nursery Shades of Green talked about trees and trends, mostly, but also brought some plants for all of the graduates. And you can guess what happens when you offer free plants to a room full of Master Gardeners: mayhem ensues!

We each received a Zephranthes Labuffarosa (Blogger Matt Mattus has a gorgeous picture of one on his blog here) and an apparently very rare pink Turk's Cap (Malvaviscus) called 'Pam's Pink'.

We each also got a beautiful potted poinsettia and a cute Christmas tree ornament too, along with our requisite graduation certificate.

To top it all off, I was asked to take over the Webmaster duties at the CCMG website, and I quickly agreed. There is so much that needs done there, but it could be a phenomenal site.

What a great night. And what a great year 2007 is going to be!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

December...the New January

I'm not sure what Al Gore would think of my theory, but it seems to me that over the past couple of years, the weather patterns have bumped up a whole month here in North Texas.

When I moved here in 1989, January and February used to be the really crappy months. December was always pretty decent. Well, not anymore. Nowadays, November remains mild, and as soon as December hits, the bad weather comes with it. And the springs are hotter now too. The past few Junes have been almost unbearably July usually is.

So yeah, it got down to 23° the other night. Nothing in my community garden veggie plot is flat-out dead, but there was significant leaf scorching. I shudder to think what would have happened if hubby and I hadn't covered the whole thing with frost cloth before the storm came.

The Purple Orach took a beating, as you can see here:

The Savoy Cabbage still looks glorious, though!

The Front Yard Garden Project stood up admirably to the ice and cold temperatures. It was my plan, of course, to only put in stuff that could take the rough Texas weather -- on both extremes -- and I'm happy everything has lived up to expectations so far.

I'm trying not to let the onset of winter depress me too much. The cold weather does bring unique pleasures. For instance, I could sit at the kitchen table for hours and watch the half dozen or so mostly female slate-colored juncos that congregate right outside the window. It is like having a bunch of miniature gray chickens in the yard, with all the pecking and soil-scratching. Adorable. They're an ornery bunch, though, and twitter at me angrily when I go outside for the mail and temporarily break up their little hen party.

Lastly, this week sees me finally, officially becoming a Master Gardener. Our graduation banquet is Thursday. Weeee!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Unlike Any Other

Well, we're being treated to a fabulous fall here in North Texas. The temperatures have remained mostly above freezing well after our expected first frost date (generally around 11/15) and the 10-day forecast continues in the same pattern. We'll get a slight morning frost on rooftops, but it warms so quickly that none of the plants really feel it. My coleus are pristine. One of the cannas by the swimming pool is in the process of blooming.

In my 17 years here, I don't remember it staying this nice for this long. I am grateful, as I still haven't moved most of my tropicals into the house yet. Or propagated any of the annuals. Or planted all the perennials lounging in pots on the patio.

Here's how the one backyard bed looked as of November 12. Pretty incredible.

Husband and I are taking the week after Thanksgiving off work, though, and with the weather being so cooperative, I hope to get caught up on everything indoors and out...including the many pictures I've promised to produce here, but haven't yet.

Things can change dramatically and quickly here, though, as I witnessed nearly a year ago. For now, it's wonderful.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Busy Bee

Well, it's been a whole lotta gardening for me the past couple of weeks. Let's review:

* The company I work for moved into a new building Friday. Prior to the move, I was asked by management to oversee the installation of some new landscaping, which thrilled me no end. My first landscaping job (sort of)! The hard part was finding somebody to do the work in such a short time; landscape companies are generally pretty busy this time of year.

I did the actual choosing, purchasing and arranging of the plants, and the crew simply came in and did what I told them; dig there, remove that, etc. It was great.

I'll post before and after pictures soon.

* Our Community Garden hosted a Fall Festival last weekend that turned out to be a really fun time. Nobody stepped in any of the fire ant hills that were rampant throughout the pumpkin patch, so that was good. I helped out at the Make Your Own Bird Feeder booth, where we smeared pinecones with peanut butter and then rolled them in birdseed. The kids really dug it.

My plot out there is really humming along, and I'll tell you what: putting hoops and bird netting over everything has made an amazing difference. Nothing has been munched on at all. I sprayed Bt on the curcurbits a couple of weeks ago, so the cabbage worms have been staying away too. My only wish is that I had planted more of the Purple Orach. It is gorgeous, but I only have one.

Pictures of the plot coming forthwith too...

* Today I spent the day outside in the glorious 60° weather doing various chores, like:
  • Pulling up three dead or mostly-dead nandinas and replacing them with two Texas sage.
  • Planting two five-gallon ornamental grasses that I got for $16 each at Lowe's. Really big and healthy plants too - not rootbound in the pots at all.
  • Planting 15 crocus bulbs (which I generally hate, but got by mistake from Nature Hills Nursery so I thought what-the-heck, I'll plant 'em) and six Allium Schubertii bulbs.
  • Planting various perennials that were lounging on the patio in pots.
  • Mulching the Louisiana iris bed.
  • Potting up three amaryllis bulbs. (I've placed a layer of sand on top of the soil to see if that technique really works in keeping the fungus gnats away.)

    And now...drum roll of the Front Yard Garden as it stands right now (top) and as of October 2005 (bottom):

  • Monday, October 16, 2006


    Sorry for the lull here. Have been terribly busy at my "real" job and with other projects as well. Blogging, unfortunately, takes a backseat to most other stuff...including actual gardening, which I've been doing a lot of as the weather permits. We've received over 3" of much-needed rain in the past 24 hours, though, so gardening has snitched the backseat away from blogging for the time being.

    Been receiving lots of orders from various companies, with mixed results. I don't know whether I attribute it to general Old Lady Crankiness or just a higher expectation for better service, but I don't hesitate to bitch (or, at least, notify the company) now when I receive a plant order that I am less than satisfied with. Cases in point:

    Annie's Annuals: The 'Ladybird' poppy and one of the sages died within days of my receiving them. I let them know, and they cheerfully replaced the plants within a matter of days. Both are now doing spectacularly. Big thumbs up for Annie's - they have SO much cool stuff, too.

    Bluestone Perennials: They used a box that was MUCH too big for my recent order. The plants were just thrown in among some packing peanuts, completely unsecured. Dirt was everywhere. I had to dig one of the three spindly euphorbias out of the bottom of the box - disgraceful. I let them know, they apologized and told me to notify them if the plants didn't make it. I'm kind of down on Bluestone at the moment. They are nice people, but the plants I've received from them lately have been less than healthy-looking. They've slipped, in my opinion.

    Forest Farm: As you may remember, I was all hot over the Gold Ring barberry featured recently in Garden Gate magazine, and ordered one from Forest Farm at the end of August, along with a Helmond Pillar barberry and a Golden Smoke Bush (cotinus). Well, I received my order the other day. No Gold Ring barberry, but a note on the invoice stating it was no longer available.

    As you can imagine, I fired off an email to Forest Farm expressing my disappointment that they hadn't notified me about the Gold Ring, since it was the main reason I ordered from them at all.

    I received a nice reply from Ray, one of Forest Farm's owners, apologizing and explaining that they were phazing out that particular berberis and thought they had called everyone who ordered one letting them know of such. (He also said Garden Gate didn't bother asking them about their available stock of the plant when the article was published.) Ray said that frankly, they didn't feel Gold Ring was all that great; the rings are hard to distinguish, apparently. And then he offered to give me a full refund for my entire order, a very nice gesture that I couldn't rightfully accept. But wow. Impressive.

    Van Bourgondien (aka Placed an order online for three items, as the catalog I had was advertising free shipping no matter what the merchandise total. Cool. I entered the code where applicable and away it went. A few days later, I got an email with the total...including a $10 shipping charge. I wrote to complain, and resubmitted my code. They sent an email back that the $10 shipping had been taken off. Keep an eye open when ordering from these folks...I've seen lots of complaints about them on

    Garden Crossings: No complaints here at all. Big, healthy plants, well-packed, at pretty good prices. They are currently running a season-end sale, plus free shipping on orders over $75. Don't miss out.

    Now, my next project is to find a way to have all my plant purchases be tax deductible.

    Monday, September 25, 2006

    Monday Morning Aches & Pains

    When is having various bruises, bites, aches and pains on a Monday morning a good thing? When you got them spending nearly the entire weekend gardening.

    In anticipation of our monthly Community Garden Work Day, I had gone to my plot last Wednesday and ripped out all the vining stuff and the squash and tomato plants. What a fun chore that was...not. I did uncover a 12" zucchini, several cantaloupes and lots and lots of squash bugs. Blech.

    The only stuff left in the bed now: Kakai pumpkin, Delicata squash, Burpee eggplant, Ancho pepper, and Lilac pepper. Given that our beds are each 18' x 4', it looks pretty empty.

    The work day started bright and early Saturday at 7...and I showed up around 7:30. I spent the entire time removing the old mulch, killing the few remaining squash bugs with orange oil, and adding a fresh layer of compost to my plot. I also worked in 5 lbs. of "Something Special," a really nice soil blend made by the great folks at Rabbit Hill Farm in nearby Corsicana, Texas. It's primarily bunny manure, alfalfa and various rock phospates. Great stuff.

    Because we were supposed to get torrential rain and hail on Saturday, I elected to hold off on planting anything. We did get some rain, but nothing monumental, so...Sunday morning I was back at my plot, planting seeds. The air was crisp, cool and quiet. It was sheer heaven.

    On the way home, I was a naughty girl. Stopped at Calloway's to see if they had any of the Tiger's Eye Staghorn Sumac. Now, I've had one of these for a year now (I got it from Wayside **cough-ripoff-cough** Gardens) and love it. But Dallas Morning News gardening writer Mariana Greene wrote a great article recently about how this glorious sumac is capturing everybody's heart and well...I decided I needed another one. Plus a couple of cool-looking pumpkins.

    The rest of Sunday was spent piddling around outside in the great weather. It was about 80° with a nice breeze - just perfect. I divided a few irises and heucherellas, planted the new sumac and a few other things, put the tomato cages in the attic, and neatened up my potting bench area in the garage. Oh, that every weekend could give me Monday Morning Gardener's Ache...

    Tuesday, September 19, 2006

    Letter to the Editor

    Here's a letter that was published in today's Dallas Morning News (I've taken out the author's name, although the paper did print it):

    Naturally, it's a gamble

    Re: "Tainted spinach illnesses grow – 109 E. coli cases listed; mixed greens among more brand recalls," Monday news story.

    If the food is naturally grown, it's fertilized only with manure – the prime host for E. coli. So it seems that parasitic poisoning is a risk whenever you buy foods grown organically.

    Say what you will about food grown with chemical fertilizers, but they don't harbor E. coli from fertilizer.

    Here's the response I just emailed in:

    As a Collin County Master Gardener intern and an organic gardener, I was deeply disturbed by XX's letter criticizing the use of organic methods in light of the recent spinach-related E. coli outbreak. My first thought was "Gee, I wonder what chemical company he works for?"

    First off, Mr. X is premature in blaming cow manure. On Page 6A of the very same edition in which his letter ran, investigators revealed they still had no idea what the source of the outbreak was. It could be contaminated water in the area, unsanitary harvesting practices...lots of things.

    Secondly, the FDA issues guidelines for composting manure before it's used on crops. No organic gardener or farmer in their right mind uses uncomposted cow manure on food crops. Composting, when done correctly, kills dangerous pathogens in the manure.

    Lastly, Mr. X's statement "If the food is naturally grown, it's fertilized only with manure" is dead wrong. There are many, many FDA-approved organic fertilizers out there that farmers use, including rock phosphates, fish emulsion, seaweed and more.

    For someone so concerned about manure, Mr. X seems quite comfortable spreading it around.

    I'll agree that organic farming probably needs better regulations, though. It wouldn't surprise me if some of the farms are neglecting to compost properly or whatever.

    And here is an interesting study I found while doing my research. Molasses can make your compost tea grow bad pathogens all over again. Interesting. Howard Garrett's popular product Garrett Juice is a mixture of compost tea, molasses and other stuff. I wonder if he's seen this study.

    Lastly, if I was a conspiracy theorist-type, I'd wonder seriously if this whole spinach/E. coli thing was cooked up by someone who wants to either bring down the organic farming industry or maybe deal a blow to Wal-Mart and their recent organic food efforts. Not that I'm a fan of Wal-Mart either.

    But it kind of makes you think. Maybe because these organic farms are struggling to keep up with demand, they're not composting properly, workers aren't washing their hands, etc. Who knows? I'd hate to see organic food standards lowered as much as I'd hate to see the organic "trend" stymied.

    I just started some spinach seeds the other day. When in doubt...grow your own.

    Monday, September 04, 2006

    Rainy Days with Annie

    Labor Day has been all wet here in DFW...not that I'm complaining. It's been an expensive day, though, as I've been spending this rainy afternoon placing fall plants orders over the Internets like an addictive fool.

    Here's my first-ever order from Annie's Annuals:
    Verbascum chiaxii 'Album Wedding Candles'
    Verbascum 'Southern Charm'
    Uncinia uncinata 'Red'
    Trifolium rubens
    Salvia munzii "San Diego Sage"
    Salvia mexicana 'Limelight'
    Rudbeckia occidentalis 'Green Wizard'
    Papaver commutatum 'Ladybird'
    Kniphofia citrina
    Delphinium belladonna 'Cliveden Beauty'
    Carex testacea "Orange New Zealand Sedge"
    Carex comans 'Bronze'
    Asclepias speciosa "Showy Milkweed"
    Artemisia filifolia "Sand Sage"

    Shipping was $42, which is a little high, but I do appreciate the fact they're using 2-day air. It still works out to about $10 per plant overall, and that's not bad.

    Annie's has an excellent feedback rating over at Gardenwatchdog, in case you're curious. Will let you know how the plants look when they arrive in a week or so.

    Monday, August 28, 2006

    What's That Stuff Falling From the Sky?

    Well, all I had to do to bring heavy rains to the DFW area was throw a pool party, it seems. (Somebody remind me of that next August when I'm bitching about the continual drought and triple-digit heat, ok?)

    We did manage to get in some water volleyball before the clouds rolled in. Everyone oo'd and ahh'd over my mostly-Texas SuperStar garden, which still looks pretty fab. It even shrugged off a few boinks of the volleyball.

    Once the rain came, we all crammed under the awning and watched the hummers fight. Great stuff.

    The 10-day forecast for our area sounds pretty darned reasonable, with temps dropping into the unheard-of 60s at night.

    Speaking of cold weather (just kidding), be sure to go over to Kathy Purdy's Cold Climate Gardening site. Kathy rounded up several seasoned garden bloggers -- myself included -- and posed questions to us about the state of garden blogging, how we got started, etc.

    The responses are very interesting, and I feel really honored to be a part of it. Kathy is posting the responses in a continuing series all this week. Check it out.

    Tuesday, August 22, 2006

    Another Shrubbery!

    Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It's been only two days since my last plant order and I find myself yet again tempted by the horti-porn that regularly appears in my mailbox.

    Yes, I succumbed to the wares of Forest Farm. The latest issue of Garden Gate magazine (a mag which I love, btw) had an article about a barberry bush called 'Golden Ring' and well, I just had to have one. Forest Farm was referenced in the mag as the only nursery that carries it.

    And, of course, with the cost of shipping, it's never prudent to order just one plant from FF. So I got another barberry ('Helmond Pillar') and a small smoke bush (the lovely Cotinus coggygria 'Golden Spirit') while I was at it.

    My penance? To flog myself repeatedly with the Bible-thick Spring '06 Forest Farm catalog. Out, you demons, out!

    Break the Bank

    Here's a nice announcement from Bank of America: for every customer who stops their monthly paper checking, savings or money market account statement before December 31, Bank of America will donate $1 to The Nature Conservancy's reforestation programs.

    Here's the story - a little old, but I just noticed it and wanted to pass it along.

    Monday, August 21, 2006

    Lovely Louisianas

    Just a reminder that time is running out to order Louisiana irises from many of the online vendors. Two very reputable sellers, Zydeco Irises and Iris City Gardens, both have order deadlines of September 1.

    Although several varieties have sold out, there are many beauties left over at Iris City least, there will be until they pull my order. I went a little overboard. Click on the image below to see a full-size summary of what I indulged in.

    Thursday, August 17, 2006

    Of Hummers and Hares

    This is a common sight just outside of our kitchen window. He looks pretty darned relaxed, doesn'the?

    There are actually two rabbits that like hanging out together and lounging in my flower beds. Not that I mind - they generally stick to munching on things other than my flowers. (The plant in the photo next to the bunny is the now-infamous and somewhat crispy Black Snakeroot.)

    I have at least two female hummingbirds coming to my backyard feeders on a regular basis. They also engage in frequent, chatter-filled midair battles with each other. I was hoping that separating the feeders by 30' or so would give them adequate territory, but the larger female is a real piece of work. Miss Thang likes to sit on the very top of the crossvine trellis and watch for the other female to come along, so she can ambush her at one of the feeders. It's quite entertaining.

    I don't know if the unusual heat is a factor, but the dragonfly population seems to be at an all-time high around here. There are always at least two patrolling our backyard, especially the zone directly above the swimming pool. They've done a great job of keeping the mosquitoes at bay; I've barely been bitten this year at all. Of course, the extremely dry conditions help in that regard, as does an ongoing organic program.

    I am grateful for all of the creatures that feel comfortable in my yard. Heaven knows they're about the only things still thriving; my plants look like hell.

    Monday, August 14, 2006

    Meet the Prickly Gardener

    I am sick, on several different levels.

    First of all, I've been struggling with a cold/flu for the past week which has turned horrendous over these last three days. Spending the weekend curled up with a box of tissues is not my idea of fun. None of the OTC drugs is helping me sleep, and when you don't sleep, you don't get better.

    Second, I am totally sick of this triple-digit heat. You can't spend any amount of time doing stuff outside, even in the early morning. It's despicable.

    Third, and related to #2 above, I am sick over the plants I've lost over the last month. Stuff that shouldn't be dying, is. Apart from our once-a-week allowed automatic irrigation, I hand-water everything once or twice. I don't know what's happening, except to blame the heat.

    A silver lavender that I nursed back to robust health a couple of years ago is suddenly turning brown from the ground up. That great-looking ligularia I was bragging on from Garden Crossings? I think it's dead, despite the fact I poured water on it every other day (and it shouldn't get root rot from such treatment; it's a bog plant, for pity's sake).

    Heucheras and tiarellas have turned to crisps. Even several of my young echinaceas have died. Satsuma mandarin? Dead. Dragons blood Sedum? Dead. A small stevia and an artemesia I recently bought shrivelled and died within a week of being brought home.

    Can someone please tell me what the hell is going on???

    Saturday, August 05, 2006

    Hot for Heirlooms

    Needless to say, staying inside and ordering fall seeds is the best way to spend a Saturday afternoon at this stage of the summer.

    I found a lot of what I wanted at (also known as Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co.). I've not ordered from them before - prices seemed more than reasonable.

    Here's what I got:

    Broccoli - Early Purple Sprouting
    Broccoli - Romanesco Italia
    Broccoli - Waltham
    Beetroot - Golden Beet
    Beetroot - Chioggia (Bassano)
    Cauliflower - Giant of Naples
    Parsley - Giant of Italy
    Leek - Giant Musselburgh
    Orach - Purple Passion
    Swiss Chard - Fordhook Giant Chard
    Spinach - Bloomsdale Long Standing

    Sense any trends among these? Several "giants" and several purple-hued cultivars. Hmm.

    Anyway, the 2006 Fall Seed List, regularly found in the righthand column, has been updated too, including pictures.

    Tuesday, August 01, 2006

    Stay Cool

    I know I complain about the Texas heat in this space pretty often, but I'm not going to do that today. After all, I go from my air-conditioned house to my air-conditioned Jeep to my air-conditioned office each day. Occasionally I swim in my unheated pool. Life is pretty good.

    But I know a lot of you suffering in this heat don't have A/C in either your car or home. My mother in Pennsylvania usually retreats to her cool, damp basement, but even this latest wave is getting to her.

    Be safe. Drink lots of water. Move your container plants into the shade.

    Think "autumn".

    Monday, July 31, 2006

    A Gardener's Rationale

    Well, I caved and bought the $50 phormium. Actually, I bought two.

    I know, I know...but those of you reading this who don't suffer from plant fetishes (and honestly, I don't know why you're here, in that case), let me give you some reasons why I plunked down that much moolah for two plants:

    1. I didn't actually pay $50 each. The Calloway's down the street now has "Happy Hour" every Friday from 5-7 p.m. whereby you get 20% off your entire purchase. So that, my friends, means I "only" paid $40 for each phormium...

    2. ...which is still a helluva lot, in my book. But to further rationalize, both of these plants are huge and ready to be divided. So I figure that I might actually get three additional plants from each one. Now we're down to $10 per plant.

    3. Dutch Gardens recently refunded about $45 to one of my credit cards for some dead plants I reported. Using that credit means we're down to under $5 for each plant. Excellent!

    See how easy that was? You too can rationalize your way into overpaying for plants you're obsessed with.

    By the way, the two phormium cultivars I got were 'Jester' and 'Pink Panther' - both gorgeous. I just couldn't choose between the two of 'em. *wink

    Thursday, July 27, 2006

    Gardening on

    Just a little plug for my favorite local nursery, Northhaven Gardens...they now have their own MySpace page.

    Wednesday, July 26, 2006

    High On Dry

    The new issue of Horticulture Magazine has an interesting article about a lady in Washington state who turned her front yard into plant-land. What was really fascinating was the true point of the article: plantings for dry climates.

    I was like "WTF? Washington state is dry?" But apparently, outside of Seattle, they get less than 1" of rain during the summer. That's a head-scratcher, isn't it?

    There are some truly drool-worthy pictures too, the kind that send me off to the nursery in a plant-buying frenzy...which is what I did today at lunch. I loaded up on perennial herbs, sedums, an Achillea 'Paprika', a Penstemon 'Huskers Red', a 'Mordens Pink' loosestrife, a couple of ornamental grasses, a couple of artemesia, and a really cool-looking green santolina.

    Lastly, I am suffering with "phormium phetish" at the moment. Unfortunately, few of the nurseries around here carry phormiums (i.e. New Zealand flax), and when they do, they're $50. The best online source seems to be Heronswood.

    A guy at the nursery talked me into a Dianella tasmanica, which he called Tasmanian flax or a Variegated Flax Lily. The foliage was nice, and a bit softer than some phormiums, so I took it.

    Monday, July 17, 2006

    Ain't Nothin' Goin' On...

    ...but the heat, to paraphase the old Gwen Guthrie song.

    I refuse to garden when it's 103° outside. Spot watering is about all I'm doing at the moment. I spent Saturday afternoon in our swimming pool scrubbing at spots with a steel brush. If I have to be outside doing physical labor in this heat, I'd better be boob-deep in cool water, that's a fo' sho'.

    My community garden plot looks pretty good - lots of tomatoes, a couple of cantaloupes, a couple of eggplants, and a watermelon are all developing nicely. I've started seeds of Kaika pumpkin, Delicata squash and some Bright Lights Swiss chard, just for kicks.

    I've noticed that the Lemon Cucumber in my plot is starting to kick into gear and that it is pretty much the only cuke doing well for anybody; I'm glad I handed out some of those transplants. Rust or some kind of virus has overtaken the other cultivars, and rust ruined everybody's beans too. While I don't have it in my space, the okra is getting big and beautiful in other plots.

    I took several pictures while there on Saturday morning and will post them soon.

    Wednesday, July 05, 2006

    The Old Man is Snoring... in, "It's raining, it's pouring" etc.

    Actually, it's rained on and off for the past two days. July Fourth BBQs be damned. I (and that black snakeroot I just planted) couldn't be happier.

    Hubby and I had pizza last night and watched Mother Nature's fireworks: a full-fledged supercell thunderstorm to our north around 9:45, while somebody's lame holiday display fizzled out to the south.

    Speaking of the snakeroot, my order from Garden Crossings arrived in absolutely outstanding shape. Huge, huge plants. And who knew Ligularia was so cool? I sure didn't. Mine came out of the box a full 1-1/2 ft. tall. It too is loving all this rain.

    Also included in my order was Echinacea 'Hope', a new pale pink coneflower cultivar developed to honor breast cancer survivors. What's nice is that a portion of all proceeds from Garden Crossings' suppliers has been donated to the Susan G. Komen Foundation for each plant sold.

    I left a review on Garden Watchdog if anyone's interested. Somebody just left a bad review for GC, though, which is a shame. My experience with them has been exceptional.

    Wednesday, June 21, 2006

    Shades of Belize

    My new spider lily plants are blooming. These were just planted in the spring and have come on like gangbusters. This is the 'maximillianii' cultivar, and was purchased from YuccaDo.

    I purchased these after being inspired and impressed with the gargantuan (5' +) hymenocallis that grow wild all over Belize. Hard to believe it's been nearly a year since we were there.

    Tuesday, June 20, 2006

    I Wish I Knew How to Quit You, Snakeroot...

    Every year, I order Cimicifuga ramosa (aka Actea, Bugbane, Black Cohosh or Black Snakeroot). Every year, it dies. I try different locations, different light exposures, different soil blends. No dice. This has been going on for about three years.

    Well, make that four...I just ordered another one, this time from Garden Crossings, a company with an excellent feedback rating on Garden Watchdog. Maybe this one will take - many times, Cimicifuga is listed as only enduring temperatures into Zone 7, but Garden Crossings shows this particular cultivar - 'Hillside Black Beauty' - as hardy in zones 4-8. I am determined to grow this plant, dammit!

    Incidentally, Garden Crossings is offering free shipping on orders of $50 or more through 6/26. You can also get 10% off if you order $150 or more, in addition to free shipping.

    Monday, June 19, 2006

    Maybe It's Zombie Grass... that it will eventually come back from the dead...

    Obviously our yard just screams of the fact that a Master Gardener lives there. Not.

    You can see the new oval bed I created yesterday to cover the biggest and worst dead patch. I laid down newspaper first (not sure why, since the grass was already dead), then 15 bags of Plano Pure Soil Blend. This made a nice 9' x 4' berm to plant in. I put in a Zebra Grass (which gets quite large), four cannas of varying types and sizes, a hesperaloe, two coreopsis, two verbenas, a white echinacae, a dwarf daylily, and a gorgeous Achillea 'Terra Cotta', then topped it all off with two bags of mulch. Looks pretty good, I think.

    Thursday, June 15, 2006

    The OTHER Front Yard Project

    While the now mulched-over Front Yard Garden project has gone pretty well (new pictures coming soon), the other half of the front yard that actually still has grass on it is, well, not so good.

    The problems started last summer when, in keeping with his "if I screw this up enough, she'll stop asking me to do it" philosophy, my darling husband ran over one of the sprinkler heads with the lawn mower. Subsequently, we had a really hard time finding a similar replacement head. I tried two different ones, but certain areas of the lawn were getting missed during watering. Full sun for most of the day on that corner of the yard didn't help.

    Well, you can guess what happened. The previously lush St. Augustine turned to straw. In big brown patches.

    Speaking of brown patches, we learned about Brown Patch and Take-All Root Rot in my Master Gardener class, but to be honest, I must have some kind of blind eye for diagnosing grass problems. I just stare at those brown blotches in my lawn, pull up a few stolons to examine them and then go "WTF?"

    Well, we had a company called Organic Systems Lawn Care out a couple of weeks ago to look at it, and he said it was brown patch. I still tend to disagree, but scheduled an aeration, which they performed yesterday. We'll see if it greens up. But since we're entering the dregs of summer, I doubt much will happen. It's much easier for me to believe that it's drought rather than a fungus.

    Which is why I'm planning on digging up a big six-foot kidney-shaped blob in the worst area and making an island bed out of it. I already have threes cannas (sorry Amy...I know you hate them), a hesperaloe, a pink lavender and some sedum poised to go. It's all about having more plants, you know?

    Wednesday, June 14, 2006

    Urban L.A. Garden Gets Testy

    This is an unfortunate situation, for sure. But it certainly doesn't help for people to get violent. And since it's privately owned land, there isn't much debate about who has the say in what happens to it.

    Maybe the City should step in and donate some government-owned land for the garden the way my town did.

    Thursday, June 08, 2006

    There's No Such Thing... global warming, eh? Triple digits and drought are already present here in North Texas. My city has started enforcing its mandatory water restrictions. We don't usually see this kind of heat and dryness until July or August.

    But it's all just an evil liberal plot to get more grant money for atmospheric studies, right? Sheesh. Ok, end of tree-hugging rant.

    Sorry for the lull here lately. Between the Dallas Mavericks advancing through the playoffs (which is the only time I enjoy watching the NBA), taking up tennis again (which I really enjoy when it's not 100°) and various other social engagements and commitments, blogging has taken a backseat.

    I'm still taking pictures around the garden, though, so be sure to check out the latest Flickr additions in the slideshow to the right. My daylilies are really lovely right now, and I had some gorgeous gladiolas come up recently too.

    We had a bout with some honeybees recently. They were buzzing around our kitchen windows and some were even getting into the house. We spotted them entering the outside wall and quickly called our favorite organic exterminator, who said it was his third "bee call" that week. We were only seeing about 20 or so hanging around, so we figure they must have just been getting started in setting up house for their queen. All are now completely gone.

    I really hated killing them, since honeybees are good creatures and becoming more scarce all the time. But even beekeepers who are called out to deal with bees in a wall will generally kill them since they can't adequately get at the hive, so I didn't see much point in messing with that avenue.

    The community garden is humming along. Everyone's tomatoes and squash look really good, and I think we're close to our first harvest. My 'Butterscotch' cantaloupe has four or five melons on it too. I try to get out there at least twice a week to water, especially with the recent hot temperatures.

    We are losing one of our hardest workers on the project, though. Cliff is moving his family to Oregon shortly. He happened to come by the garden when I was there watering Tuesday afternoon and was amazed at the progress of everything. It was nice to chat with him one last time. He is a great guy and (*sexist comment alert*) one of the most gorgeous men I think I've ever laid eyes on. Plus, his enthusiasm for gardening is infectious. I wish him the best, with hopes that our paths will cross again someday.

    Starting this Saturday, I will be without my husband. It's World Cup time, you see. As an Englishman, he is predisposed to being obsessed with soccer football, and is literally glued to the television during the World Cup.

    This allows me to spend more time on my little projects, of course, but I do miss him after awhile.

    For example, during the England game this Saturday, I'll be remulching the entire Front Yard Garden, which is starting to look sort of ratty with three different colors of mulch presently on it. Should be fun in 101° heat. Maybe I'll stay in and watch soccer football after all.

    Sunday, May 07, 2006

    Rosy Relaxation

    Dutch Gardens delivered my replacement Ebb Tide rose on Friday. It looked much, much better than the one I received initially.

    I stuck the rose in the ground right away and already, it is sending up shoots.

    Apparently, it is also being guarded by a not-so killer rabbit. I was watching this bunny just a few minutes ago as he lounged and snoozed right next to the Ebb Tide and among the dahlia sprouts.

    Note how his back leg is hanging over the metal edging...that is one relaxed rabbit.

    Thursday, May 04, 2006

    More Photos...

    I had a really nice email from author Jeff Gillman about the review of his book I posted here the other day. Jeff, thanks for writing and keep up the great work!

    Now, without further ado, more garden photos taken yesterday:

    Clematis (not sure what kind)

    Echinacae 'Orange Meadowbrite'

    Variegated Sweet Flag Iris

    Sprekelia formosissima aka Aztec Lily

    Isn't that Sprekelia cool? That thing went from bulb to bloom in about two weeks...spectacular!

    Sunday, April 30, 2006

    Book Reviews

    I was recently asked if I would review the book 1001 All-Natural Secrets to a Pest-Free Property in this space. I responded by saying sure, send it along and I'll take a look at it. So they did, and I am.

    The book, written by Dr. Myles H. Bader (aka HGTV's "Wizard of Food"), was originally printed in September 2003 and falls under the As Seen On TV product line. Keep that in mind as you continue here.

    First of all, let's examine Dr. Bader's credentials. In the book's About the Author preface, it states Bader "has studied extensively in the field of zoology (bugs and critters) before receiving his Doctoral Degree from Loma Linda University in Preventative Care."

    That's a direct quote: "bugs and critters" as a definition for zoology. Gosh Gomer, he must be an expert!

    So, in other words, the guy isn't an entomologist, a horticulturist, or anything moderately close to either. Of course, being unqualified hasn't stopped many hacks from writing books about something they know nothing about.

    Let's move on and look at the book's title: 1001 All-Natural Secrets to a Pest-Free Property. Once you open the book and start reading, the problems with this become evident. Many of the "tips and tricks" shared inside aren't natural, most aren't "secret" (whatever that means) and the idea of creating a "pest-free property" is the kind of thing no organic gardener or naturalist would EVER recommend.

    Moving on to the actual content of the book, I'll just throw out a few eyebrow-raising zingers that come directly from its pages:

    Controlling Fire Ants pg. 23 "ONE OF THE BEST ORGANICS. The product is called "SevinTM" and contains a combination of pyrethrums and DE. It is safe to use in vegetable gardens, which most other pesticides are not."

    Uh, no. SevinTM is simply another name for the chemical Carbaryl. While the jury is still out on how toxic Sevin/Carbaryl actually is to humans, it sure ain't organic.

    On a related, strange note, absolutely no mention is made of controlling fire ants with Spinosad, one of the safest and most effective remedies to come on the market as a fire ant bait in recent years.

    Controlling Termites pg. 31 "Diatomacious (sic) earth (DE) is one of the safest and most effective termite controlling natural substances."

    Natural DE is an effective termite controller. However, Bader should emphasize repeatedly that he is referring to NATURAL DE and NOT swimming pool grade DE. This is a common and potentially deadly mistake people make in using DE. Also, Bader recommends spraying wood surfaces in the attic with a DE and boric acid mixture. I wouldn't do this. Long term exposure to any type of DE can be harmful to the lungs and skin...and just think if your home's air system is located (like mine is) in the attic. Bad idea. Natural DE should be used as a soil amendment pretty much exclusively, with the gardener wearing gloves and a mask during application.

    Throughout the book, Bader also mentions the use of cigarette smoke to kill spiders and insects. Wow.

    Well, you get the idea. In a nutshell, Bader is basically trying to cut in on Jerry Baker's folksy, irresponsible brand of garden remedies made with various foods, household products and other so-called "natural" items.

    Format-wise, the layout of the book is a mess, and there are no photos, just goofy, low-quality drawings. Also, there is no page reference index at the end.

    My main complaint is that I could find no mention of the IPM (Integrated Pest Management) method of handling insects. But then, of course, I guess that sounds a little too snooty and scientific for the average moron who sees an insect and just wants to kill it.

    Rating: One Trowel Out of Four

    A better book is one I recently bought myself: Jeff Gillman's The Truth About Garden Remedies: What Works, What Doesn't and Why. Gillman is a Ph.D. and an associate professor in the Department of Horticultural Science at the U. of Minnesota, not some tacky circus carny just trying to make fast bucks.

    The book is well laid-out, easy to follow and incredibly informative, with results from Gillman's own testing. Each supposed remedy is introduced with a brief paragraph about what it is, how it is used, what it's supposed to fix, whether or not it really works and what the test results mean to gardeners. Gillman gives both sides of the synthetic/organic story and actually mentions IPM on pg. 102.

    Rating: Three Trowels Out of Four

    Friday, April 28, 2006

    Thursday, April 27, 2006

    Many Happy Returns?

    I've received nearly all of my plant orders for the year season. Most are in the ground and doing pretty well.

    A few notes:

    I have another Ebb Tide rose coming from Dutch Gardens. The one I received looked like it had been either run over or stomped on when I got it. Still, I soaked it in weak compost tea with the others before planting and went ahead and put it in the ground. While the others started sprouting enthusiastically, the poor Ebb Tide did nothing. I can't say I'm surprised.

    When I called Dutch Gardens to tell them about it and request another, I kept going on about how damaged it was. It broke my heart to throw it in the compost bin, I said, but there was no hope. "Mmm-hmm," said the operator idly. "It'll be a couple of weeks before we can get another one to you." Sheesh, don't they care?

    (At least they send replacements without 20 questions. I'm hearing that Parks and Wayside are only offering store credit for dead plants now. That sucks. I've stopped buying from them for the most part anyways because their prices are ridiculous, but that certainly solidifies my decision.)

    ANYWAY. I also still have an ornamental grass collection on order with Spring Hill. And do you know what the projected ship date is, despite the fact that I ordered it in MARCH? June 13-July 4. A month ago, I looked at my order status and they had the dates as April 30-May something. Have they bothered to let me know of these continual delays? No. Am I going to cancel the order? Probably. After all, even ornamental grass has its limits. Planting in July is useless. I'm not ordering from these jokers again, and their affiliate banner is coming off this site as well.

    Man, I am one cranky gardener today.

    Ok, here's some good customer service news. I had ordered a passiflora 'Lady Margaret' - yeah, the brilliant red one - from Select Seeds (the picture at left is from their site). When the rest of my order arrived, the passionflower wasn't there and was marked as backordered. Then, the total amount of the plant was suddenly refunded to me a month or so ago.

    I was looking on their website the other day and there it was, for sale. I called, and the lady said they were in the process of recharging my account and sending me one. "The plants we got in were unacceptable," she said, "but we managed to get some more since then." I received my plant yesterday and, while small, it looks healthy.

    Sunday, April 23, 2006

    More Iris Photos

    Wow, what a show my irises are putting on this year! Here are some more photos:

    'Earl of Essex'

    'First Interstate'

    I'm pretty sure this is the 'Pride of Ireland' cultivar - it's much greener in person than what the photo indicates...

    Another look at that gorgeous 'Spiced Custard'

    There are several more that I haven't seen yet: the near-black 'Swazi Princess,' the bold orange 'Copper Classic,' the wildly flecked 'Gnus Flash,' and my favorite from last year, 'Starship Enterprise.'

    Thursday, April 20, 2006

    Guerrilla Gardening

    This sounds like fun...but here in the gun-happy, territorial U.S. (particularly Texas), it could get you shot. Or, at least, fined.

    Tuesday, April 18, 2006

    The Plot Thickens

    ...or something like that. My community plot is looking pretty good, despite triple-digit temperatures yesterday. Here are a couple of pics:

    Monday, April 17, 2006


    It's going to be 95° here today. That's just sick.

    The flowers and plants are putting up with it, so far. They're not used to it either.

    My irises look lovely right now; every day another variety opens.

    Columbine 'Black Barlow' - Truly the blackest plant I've ever seen/grown in person.

    Iris 'Stellar Lights' - This plant is huge, especially compared to last year, the first year in the ground for any of my irises.

    Iris 'Spiced Custard' - This one didn't bloom last year, so I'm very pleased to see it. The picture doesn't do it justice, believe me. Gorgeous!

    Monday, April 10, 2006

    Gardening 24-7

    My body feels like I've been pulling weeds and digging for 48 hours straight. And that's really not too far from the truth.

    Ah, I exaggerate. But I did have a big weekend.

    Friday afternoon, I raced up to McKinney to work at the Heard Museum's Native Plant Sale. Friday is always Members-Only day, and there were several people waiting at the gate when I got there around 2:15 (and the sale didn't start until 4)!

    The Heard holds this event each year and has the checkout process down to a science. I was assigned to be a ticket writer, which was a lot of fun and allowed me to chat with people as they prepared to pay for their stuff. Of course, I did a bit of shopping main catch of the day was a fabulous (and fairly large) Variegated Agave 'Marginata' (Agave americana) that is now majestically guarding a corner of my front yard. I got it for $25...a real steal.

    As soon as I quit being a camera-forgetting dumbass and start taking pictures, I'll show y'all what mine looks like.

    Saturday brought the Grand Opening of the Plano Community Garden. Mayor Pat Evens showed up to cut the ribbon at noon, and we proceeded to plant. I am already out of space, can you believe that? I shared some extra transplants with other gardeners and we'll see how they do. And see my above comment about the camera...I will have pictures of my plot to share shortly. Once I post pics, I'll list what all is in my plot.

    In the meantime, here's a picture of the remarkable Jodi Rea finishing up the roof on one of our sheds. Don't tell Jodi she can't do something because, by gawd, she will prove you wrong. I really love the attitude and energy everybody has had with this project.

    On Saturday afternoon, I went twelve rounds with the variegated vinca taking over the beds at the front of our house. The vinca eventually won, but I foresee some 20% vinegar giving me an advantage in our next battle.

    Sunday morning, I couldn't resist dragging my husband out to my plot (and making him carry a trellis for me). He was pretty impressed with the whole setup, but called me a "show-off" because my plot is the only one full of transplants, each with a cage or a trellis.

    "You always have to be different, don't you?" he teased with a wink.

    Yup, I guess I do.

    Thursday, March 30, 2006

    Comment Follow-Ups

    First, to whoever anonymously provided the link for - me and my community garden plot thank you! Very cool. I'm still messing with the program, but something like this is well overdue. My community plot is a whopping 4' x 18' and I want to make sure it is laid out wisely; this will certainly help.

    Second, I was recently contacted by Janet of Amity Roses, who had come across my previous comments here about the difficulties I had with their website, and how I cancelled my order and stated that the reply I subsequently got from Amity wasn't very nice.

    Janet wanted to clear the air and I really appreciate it. That to me shows a real dedication to customer service and professionalism; it's no wonder their Gardenwatchdog rating is so high.

    If I was more "into" roses, I would certainly be ordering from Amity, who hand-propagates and grows the own-root roses they sell.

    My Dutch Gardens roses did arrive earlier this week, and they look pretty good. We'll see.

    Thursday, March 23, 2006

    Please, Please Contact Your Senators...

    The Endangered Species Act, as it stands now, is...well, endangered. While many agree it is need of a tune-up, the bill being considered by the Senate is downright disgraceful. One provision contained in the act would remove restrictions on the use of pesticides in biologically sensitive areas for five years, including chemicals that have been linked to the declines of Pacific salmon, sea turtles, and other aquatic species.

    Read more about it here.

    Please contact your Senators through the NRDC website now.

    Friday, March 17, 2006

    Welcome Back

    For one reason or another, I've been surprised at a few of the plants that have sprung back to life now that temperatures are warming around here a bit. Some plants are popping leaves out at a breakneck pace, while others are sprouting a bit more cautiously.

    The latter is probably a wiser approach. We've been known to have one final, cruel freeze during the last two weeks of March in past years; the forecast is hinting at such for next Monday night. We'll see. At the moment, the only thing that would probably bite it is a squash plant that's in a big container by the pool.

    Shredded Umbrella Plant

    Remember when I reported this Cordyline as dead back in December? Well, lo and be-frigging-hold...

    Hosta 'Stained Glass'

    Several of the cannas are showing themselves already.

    I built this walkway along the back of the Front Yard Garden in about 30 minutes. Turned out pretty well, I think, for being just stone and mulch.

    Speaking of the FYG, looks pretty crappy at the moment. I'll show another photo in June and I bet y'all will be amazed. (Notice that I left being "amazed" open to interpretation...)

    Wednesday, March 08, 2006

    Nothing Personal...

    Don't you love receiving garden catalogs with a cheezy, personalized message printed on them?

    "We've got the perfect plants for TAMARA's garden!"

    "TAMARA, we miss you! Take $10 off your next order!"

    I got one from Dutch Gardens yesterday with the telltale capital letters screaming at me:

    "TAMARA, you ordered DAHLIAS last year for your PLANO, TX garden! See what new DAHLIA offerings we've got this year!"

    To which I responded: "Yes, TAMARA was an IDIOT for planting DAHLIAS in her PLANO, TX garden!"

    Needless to say, my dahlias didn't do well. It gets ungodly hot here and they just don't like that.

    Although...the heat apparently didn't kill them. There are a few shoots already emerging from the tubers that I left in the ground. I wish they would grow and bloom before July gets here...we'll see.

    On a related note, I am planning on putting the new roses I ordered where the dahlias are now. It's about a 25' long bed, so I'm hoping there'll be room for everybody.

    Lastly, I know I wrote in January that I had ordered roses from Amity Roses, but I ended up cancelling the order within a day of placing it. Amity was already sold out of two of the plants I wanted, and Dutch Gardens had all of them, and had them cheaper. No sense in paying double shipping to order from two places, right?

    Well, the lady from Amity who wrote to confirm my cancellation was not very nice about it. I found their website to be really messy, which is why I didn't notice a couple of my choices were sold out, but whatever. No hard feelings.

    Here's what I'm getting -- hopefully within a week or so -- from Dutch Gardens:

    Distinctive Rose Collection: includes Honey Dijon, Neptune, Sunstruck and Caribia
    Ebb Tide

    Tuesday, March 07, 2006

    Monday, March 06, 2006

    Could It Be...?

    Here's a not-so-bold statement: Spring has arrived here in North Texas.

    Our usual last freeze date is around March 15, and the forecast for the next ten days has nighttime lows nowhere near 40°, let alone 32°.

    Am I gloating? Yeah, a little.

    It's been a weird winter, the strangest one I can remember since coming here in 1989, actually. Every time I am with a bunch of other gardeners, the topic of our unusual winter always surfaces, mostly because we're not sure how our plants will react.

    Several plants in my landscape did not go completely dormant, despite the single-digit temperatures we briefly saw in mid-December. I wonder how they'll be when the sweltering summer comes. This is a common comment from others too, regarding their own gardens.

    In other news, I'm happy to report that my name was one of only 12 drawn in the recent Plano Community Garden plot lottery. (The plan is to eventually get up to 80 plots, but they're starting with a dozen for now.) I would have been terribly disappointed if I hadn't been selected, not so much because I've devoted several volunteer hours to the project already (in pouring rain and mud, at times...that's me in the green Target wellies below), but I just really, really want a plot to grow veggies in. Vegetable gardening is probably my favorite kind of gardening, and our current yard just has no space for such an endeavor.

    The food we grow is being donated to a local shelter, which makes it even more rewarding. I am looking forward to spending many an evening tending to my new little rectangle of land.

    My gardening engagements are starting to stack on top of one another, however. I'm supposed to be helping out at the Heard Museum Native Plant Sale on April 8, but now the Community Garden is tentatively planning to have the opening ceremony (complete with an appearance by the Mayor) on the same day. So, you know...being only one of a dozen folks to have a plot, I feel I should be there.

    Besides, I can probably reschedule my hours for the Plant Sale. In fact, (and yes, this is self-serving and evil...), if I work the members-only pre-sale on Friday, I could get my hands on some yummy plants before the crowd descends...mwahahahaha!

    Thursday, February 23, 2006

    Dutch Gardens Photo Contest Winners Announced

    There are some breathtaking photos of stunning gardens out there. It's amazing what beauty and work people put into their gardens.

    If you're looking for garden layout ideas, flower color combos, etc., browsing through the entire gallery of pics is also helpful.

    click here to view the winners and other photos

    Wednesday, February 22, 2006

    Behold the Power of Poop - Behold the power of poop

    Continuing with the poop discussion...

    The issue of composting pet poop has long been debated. Ideally, you are not supposed to do it, as most homeowners' compost piles do not reach a temperature high enough to sufficiently destroy the pathogens which might exist in pet feces. I have done it, but made sure to only use the resulting compost on non-food crops.

    I also have one of these thingees, but with two big, poop-productive dogs, it filled up too quickly and decomposed poop too slowly.

    Now, unfortunately, I just bag it up and put it in the trash each week.

    Hopefully, San Fran will come up with something innovative and successful, and will pass it along to other cities.

    Sunday, February 19, 2006

    Forget About Fox Urine...

    ...tiger poo is apparently going to be the way to go, so to speak, in repelling garden predators. story

    Thursday, February 09, 2006

    February 2006 Bloomers

    We're supposed to get down to 22° Saturday night. I sure hope not, although we really had it coming. Lots of my outdoor plants seem to think it's March or April...

    Sunday, January 29, 2006

    Days of Wine and Roses

    Just placed this order with Amity Roses, a company with a great selection and an excellent reputation.

    Ebb Tide
    Honey Dijon
    Double Delight
    Tequila Sunrise

    As for the wine part referred to in this post's title, husband and I attended a wine tasting Friday night. My favorite - a cabernet called Poppy Hill - was not just tasty, but also featured a lovely label: