Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sunrise Serenity

If you don’t already have plans to attend an Easter Sunrise service at your church, the folks over at Shangri-La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center in Orange invite you to theirs. Sunrise in a garden can feed the soul on any day; for people of faith, watching the sun come up over a garden on Easter morning can be a deeply spiritual experience.

The gates open at 6:30 a.m. and the service begins at 7:30. Rev. Tom Stephenson from First United Methodist Church in Orange will conduct the service and Doug Rogers will provide the music. The gardens are at 2111 W. Park Ave in Orange. From Beaumont, take Interstate 10 east toward Orange. Exit 877/Hwy 87/16th Street. Follow the feeder road and turn right onto 16th Street. Go 2 miles to W. Park Avenue and turn right. Go about a quarter-mile. The gate is on the left.

Don’t forget to take your own chairs as seating will not be provided.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Gardening and kids

Most gardeners can pinpoint the moment they fell in love with watching things grow. Many of us were born into gardening families and never knew any other way. Our parents or grandparents always had a vegetable garden and fruit trees to keep food on the table and a flower garden to keep beauty and joy in their hearts. As children, we shared the bounty, learning what fresh peas, corn and strawberries still warm from the sun should taste like. Sitting on the front porch shelling peas or slicing fresh peaches, we drank in the sweet scent of gardenias, climbing rose bushes and jasmine.

The world needs more gardeners – and you can help carry on the legacy of the gardeners in your past by instilling a love of gardening in a young person’s life. Where to start? At home, of course, by providing your child or grandchild with a few simple tools that will fit their hands. Let them pick out some seeds and plant them so they can see the magic unfold. Buy them a seedling and teach them how to pot it, place in the right location and water it.

Or, invite the Jefferson County Master Gardeners to your school. Last week, my 11-year-old grandson Jordan proudly showed me a rosemary seedling in a plastic bag that the Master Gardeners provided his class.

“Where are you going to plant it?” I asked.

“Actually,” he said, using one of his favorite words of the moment, “It has its own environment,” explaining the evaporation/condensation cycle going on inside the plastic bag. I complimented his knowledge and suggested that the seedling would need to go outside soon, so perhaps we could plant it over the weekend. Remember how eveything needs three things to grow: food, water and light? I reminded him. That led to a discussion of the difference between fluorescent light and sunlight. Anything that convinces a 12-year-old to have a conversation with his Gram is a welcome blessing.

On April 2, the folks over at the McFaddin-Ward House provided an opportunity for youngsters to get started gardening with its “Green Thumbs” program for children ages 6-12. Future projects will be creating and maintaining a child's garden at the house, 708 N. 4th Street. For more details on their gardening and conservation programs for kids, call (409) 832-1906 or visit mcfaddin-ward.org

Friday, March 27, 2009

Attracting hummingbirds

If you haven’t already seen hummingbirds in your yard, you soon should.

Hummingbirds grace Southeast Texans with their presence a couple of times a year as they migrate.

Spring migration brings them our way from March through May as they head north. In mid-July, those headed south start coming through, steadily building in numbers through September.
If you want to provide food sources, plant salvia, bee balm, hibiscus, butterfly bush, columbine, flowering quince, lantana, cigar plant, coral vine and pentas.

Is there a plant in your garden that never fails to attract the tiny creatures?

Fun with Fennel

Why didn’t someone tell me fennel is the rabbit of the herb world?

I bought a scraggly little fennel plant three years ago and placed it in a shallow clay pot, but it never did well.

Last year, when it looked like it was a goner for sure, I took pity and transplanted it into a large terra cotta pot in my herb garden. It immediately took root, shouting, “I’m going to live!”

I was thrilled to see feathery plumes that danced gracefully in the wind, followed by big, yellow umbrella heads that hold the tiny, licorice-flavored seeds often found on pizzas. I never got around to harvesting it because I was waiting for the bulb to get big enough to try some roasted fennel and fennel soup.

This year, after I cleared the fallen oak and pecan leaves around the old brick sidewalk, I found dozens of sassy little fennel plants, happily anchored everywhere the wind took the bazillion seeds the mother plant produced. Reading up on fennel, I learned that, yes, indeed, they multiply wantonly, like so many March hares.

After the good rain we had recently, I figured it might be better to pull the whole bulb and root up, rather than cut it back and risk another fennel explosion.
Fat chance. It wouldn’t budge.

Now, I’m worried that the roots are so deep that I’ll crack the container if I tug too hard.

Any fennel growers out there with suggestions?

Simple Fennel Soup
1/4 cup butter
5 fennel bulbs, trimmed and quartered
1 (32 fluid ounce) container vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add quartered fennel bulbs; cook, stirring often, until golden brown (about 10 minutes).
Add broth and simmer until fennel is tender, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with finely chopped fennel leaves.

Butt out

I didn’t want to have to say this, but here goes. As cute as some yard art can be, some things are just tacky. Like those hand-painted plywood cutouts of big-butt women bending over in a garden.

While I never would want to hurt any fellow gardeners' feelings, I’m sorry, but some things just ain’t fittin.’

I suppose they might have been funny at first, in a Jeff Foxworthy-kind of way, but I think they have outlived their miniscule moment of cuteness.

If I want to see bloomers and pasty white legs sticking out from beneath a behemoth of a cotton housedress-covered hiney, I’ll close my eyes and remember my childhood.

Women were not meant to dig in the dirt in a dress. I love sundresses. Love ‘em. Add a hat and sandals and you’ll look divine standing in the yard, clipping roses and placing them in a wicker basket while the wind ripples the dress just so.

But if you’re going to flash the poor neighbors, wear pants.

Ruby's Garden

My grandmother could grow anything.

When she’d visit family or friends, she’d walk through their yards and, like most women of her day, pinch off shoots or branches to take home to root. She was incapable of walking past a flower gone to seed without dislodging the tiny prizes and catching them mid-fall.

On occasions when permission wasn’t easily attainable, whether a deserted homestead or an unattended garden, she took matters into both capable hands.

In our hurry-up world, where potted plants are so readily available, the idea of starting from scratch seems archaic.

But in my grandmother’s Arkansas world, a woman who couldn’t drive and who couldn’t afford a nursery, even if one was available, had to be resourceful.

And she certainly was. Her beautiful garden was a tribute to women like her who might not have much, but even on the darkest days had brightly-colored blooms in their yard.

When my grandmother died in 1968, two people sent gloxinias to her funeral. The lovely gesture of respect and affection was a bittersweet moment for those of us who knew how long she had coveted one of the exotic plants.

Today, The Enterprise debuts “Dig it!” a gardening blog for those who cannot imagine life without flora (and fauna), from herbs to flowers to vegetables. This is not an expert answering complicated botanical questions, although I’ll certainly do my best to find answers for you.

This is one person passionate about gardening sharing with others of like mind.

If you already garden - or want to start, if you love thumbing through gardening magazines or seed catalogs, if you have a gazebo or front porch or simply love being outdoors, this is the spot for you.

So take off that wide-brimmed hat, put down the trowel and join me in lifting a glass of iced tea to Ruby Lee Johnson Nowlin, the woman who taught me to love digging in the dirt. As she would have said, pull up a chair and sit a spell. And remember, the pleasure of shared conversation requires your participation. We'd love it if you'd join in.