Thursday, April 30, 2009

Seedy Cilantro

Growing cilantro in Southeast Texas is a challenge. Not because it won't grow - it will. In fact, it thrives here. The problem is, it bolts practically as soon as you put it in the ground. As soon as the soil temperature reaches 75, cilantro sends up some lacy fronds and white flowers that mark bolting.

I know slow-bolting varieties exist, but before I invest time and money searching for them, I'm wondering if any of you have had success with a particular variety. If you have, please clue me in. Cilantro is one of my three favorite herbs, along with basil and mint.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Craving chocolate

Last week, I spoke at the Beaumont Council of Garden Clubs monthly meeting, where one of the members asked if anyone had a chocolate plant (Pseuderanthemum alatum) or knew someone who did. I offered to put the word out.

The chocolate plant, also called chocolate scented daisy or green eyes (for its attractive set of green calyxes that are good for dried arrangements) is native to the southwest. The leaves are copper/brown with a sprinkling of silver. It's a low-growing plant (12-18 inches tall) that puts out pretty purple flowers on 18-inch racemens, blooming at night, giving off a chocolate scent. It does best with partial to full shade in moist, well-drained soil. Let it dry slightly between waterings.

The chocolate plant is easy to root - thus the gardener's request - or can be grown from seed. It self seeds and if flowers aren't deadheaded, will spread freely. If you have one, let me know, and I'll pass the info along.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Three Sisters Garden

It's as old as the hills, but I'd never heard of the Three Sisters Garden until recently. The origin is unclear, but native cultures of North America are best known for their trio of corn, beans and squash.

Here's how it works: prepare the soil and build a mound 12 inches high and 20 inches in diameter. Plant four corn seeds in the center in a 5-inch square pattern (Native Americans placed them at the north, south, east and west corners). When the corn gets about 6 inches tall, plant six pole beans around the middle of the mound and four squashes around the edge. Later, thin the corn and beans to three plants and the squash to one plant.

The trio complements each other: corn provides support for the beans, which furnishes nitrogen for the corn. Squash leaves provide shade and help suppress weeds. The trio also provide good nutrition.

Simple, but effective.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Can trees and utility lines co-exist?

If you've ever cringed when the Entergy truck comes around to trim trees before winter, like I have, you know that trees and power lines aren't a good combination. As homeowners, we want our trees to have a nice shape and enhance our landscape. Entergy wants branches that hang over power lines cut back so they don't bring a line down during a storm and knock out not only your electricity, but all your neighbors', too.

Our house is more than 100 years old, so we didn't plant the trees that loom near power lines. So when Entergy comes around, we fill out the card that tells them we want to be there when they trim. The tree trimmers are given guidelines by Entergy that tell which branches to prune, where, and how far from the line, but I still like to be there to watch out for my trees.

If we were building a house in an area without underground utilities, we'd pay close attention to the graphic you see here. It's provided by Entergy in honor of Arbor Day. By the way, The Arbor Day Foundation has named the folks at Entergy a Tree Line USA utility, noting they follow guidelines on how to prune properly.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Make your own floral basket

Recently, I hit all the plant nurseries in the area looking for bargains to blog about. As I was walking out of Ellis Discount Pottery, I noticed a woman holding a beautiful and unusual basket of live plants. So, being me, of course I stopped to talk to her.

Gladys Thomas, a former florist owner, had put the basket together herself. Instead of ordering a spray or potted plant for a funeral of a friend, she created a unique arrangement filled with perennials that will provide the recipient years of pleasure.

Gladys filled the basket with a quartet of plants, each carefully chosen. First came a maidenhair fern, which spilled over the side in graceful arcs. Next came gerbera daisies and a spectacular fuchsia Easter cactus for color. Last, but most significant, rosemary for remembrance.

What a great idea. You get to choose the basket and the plants it contains, so you can match them to a friend's personality or style of garden for any special occasion, from birthdays to a hostess gift. Any friend would be sure to appreciate the thought that went into such an offering.

Thanks, Gladys, for the inspiration.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Get a free green bag at H-E-B today

H-E-B is giving away 300,000 reusable shopping bags from 3-7 p.m. today to celebrate Earth Day.

To get yours, take in five or more plastic shopping bags to any H-E-B store, which will recycle them.

The plastic bags don't have to be H-E-B's; any plastic grocery bag will do.

Don't be like me, though, and leave them in the car when you shop. I have one from Target, one from Home Depot and one generic Earth Day bag in the trunk. I usually remember them at checkout. Bad Jane...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ed Begley, Jr & Earth Week 2009 at Shangri-La

If you haven't yet been to the magical Shangri-La Botanical Gardens in Orange, this is the week to do so. For Earth Week 2009, Michael Hoke and his crew have lined up everything from seminars on composting and tropical gardens to painting classes and a lecture on bats (with the delightful Mel Moreau). Be sure to watch the butterfly release at 4 p.m. on Wednesday (April 22).

My pick for the week is an appearance from 6:30-8 p.m. tonight at the Lutcher Theater by Super GreenGeek Ed Begley, Jr, who I've had a crush on ever since watching him as Dr. Victor Erlich in St. Elsewhere. How can you not love a man whose commitment to the earth is so complete he generates power for his toaster by riding a stationary bike? If you're not a St. Elsewhere fan, you might know Ed from his HGTV show, "Living With Ed," or one of his 200-plus TV and film roles.

Events continue through Saturday.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Gardening for people who don't like to get dirty

Remember back in the early 90s when the opening of that huge H-E-B grocery in Houston was a big deal, especially that one wall of row after tiered row of vegetables growing in water? Hydrophonics was going to be the soiless wave of the future. Well, that didn't last, which is fine with me. There's something so...wrong about it.

I read last week about a new desktop hydrophonics growing machine. It's a box you fill with a "sponge" in which you place seeds and then fill a chamber with water and plug it in. The seeds germinate, helped by a warming chamber, I suppose. You pour a solution of water and nutrients into the gadget and then watch your herbs or flower seedlings grow.

I can think of several reasons why the desktop hydrophonics unit would hold no appeal for gardeners. First of all, we're gardeners. That means we like to get our hands dirty. There's something so soulless and sterile about throwing some seeds into a machine, fed only by jacked-up water and second-hand sun through a pane of glass.

All that aside, I suppose that anything that gets people involved in the cycle of plant life is a positive one. Maybe having fresh basil for homemade pesto or bruschetta might encourage the machine gardener to check out the real thing. We're all for that.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Plant a Tree - It's Texas Arbor Day

Kudos to MobilOil Federal Credit Union, which donated 2,100 trees to fourth grade students across Southeast Texas. Teachers will pass out the trees to children so they can plant them at home or in their schoolyards. What a great opportunity to teach children about the many ways trees benefit the environment - and enrich the soul.

Like the idea? Take your child to an area nursery today and let him or her pick out a tree. Sit down together and do research on the best ways to plant a tree. It's something they will remember forever, and perhaps carry down to their own children. Just think - one simple act could begin a legacy that your grandchildren always will connect to you.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thyme for Herbs

I've been getting emails from gardeners who've been waiting for news about The Thyme for Herbs Society's annual spring plant sale. I'm sorry to say the group is skipping this year. That's a disappointment for those of love who load up on herbs each spring to carry us into summer and beyond.

The group has tentatively scheduled its next sale for March 27, 2010, according to Janis Prestridge, the incoming president of TFHS. But don't wait that long. The group, which welcomes visitors and always is looking for members, has its meeting at 2 p.m. the third Sunday of each month - that's this weekend - at Beaumont Botanical Gardens.

Go by and watch Southeast Texas' Chef Monica give a cooking demonstration using herbs. It's free to you as a visitor, you'll have fun and meet some nice people. Tell 'em Jane sent you.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Old Farmers Almanac goes hi-tech

My grandmother had two bibles - the Holy Bible - and The Old Farmer's Almanac. One was her guidebook on how to live; the other taught her how to grow.

The familiar yellow book never was far from her hands. As a gardener who planted by the moon, she counted on the Almanac to tell her when to put the beans and corn in. By the end of the year, the old book was dog-eared, worn and smudged and she was ready for a new one.

Now, the gardener's bible has gone on-line. I suppose it was inevitable, but it seems an odd pairing - the folksy publication that has been around more than 200 years and the pornography-laced, Facebook-posting, YouTube-broadcasting e-medium.

I love the Almanac, partly because of its history, but also because it's fun to read. Being a tactile reader, I want to hold my reading material in my hands, whether a newspaper, magazine or Old Farmer's Almanac. I want to sit in the sun on the deck or prop up against fluffy pillows on the couch, not sit with a laptop balanced on my knees. Still, I acknowledge the value of taking a quick look at the weather or searching for the right recipe.

Find the online version at

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Quote of the day

"I never had any other desire so strong, and so like to covetousness, as that one which I have had always, that I might be master at last of a small house and a large Garden." -- Abraham Cowley, The Garden, 1666

I believe one of the signs of a true gardener is this: We would gladly give up a big room in a house to gain even a modest garden. Maybe it's because we'd much rather be outside than in. Maybe it's because housework is, well, work...while gardening is pleasure. I know I'd rather spend two hours pulling weeds than 30 minutes scrubbing a bathroom.

Wouldn't you?

No ornate room with everything artfuly arranged is more beautiful than a simple garden, even one blowsy and untamed.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Lunching with Gram on Easter? Take a lily.

"If you have only two pennies left in the world, with the first penny, you should buy rice to feed your family. With the second penny, say the wise Japanese, you should buy a lily. The Japanese understand the importance of dreaming..."
-Japanese Proverb, from "Lilies" Words and Music: Annie Walker”

If my grandmother had a penny to spare after meeting her family's needs, she very well might spend it on her garden - and she certainly understood the importance of dreaming. She didn't have an easy life, but she made the most of it. Her antidote to the disappointments in life - and she had many - was family and flowers.

Each year when I see the banks of pristine white lilies at the altar on Easter morning, I think of her. I think of the purity, sacrifice and loss they symbolize and I think about what I would give for the opportunity to take a lily to her on Easter. I lost my grandmother, who raised me, when I was 20, so the time I could surprise her with a lovely plant on Easter is long gone. If you are blessed to still have your grandmother with you, consider taking her a lily - or other lovely plant - this weekend. Easter lilies can be planted in her garden and bloom again and again.

Many of the nurseries in Southeast Texas have them in stock. I saw some large, healthy ones at Al Cook earlier today ($7.99 - pictured above). Home Depot and Lowe's also had them in stock. Pop them in a pretty basket, add a ribbon and you're good to go.

Happy Easter!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Is your soil delicious? Test it.

You can’t grow great plants in poor soil.

If you want your ornamentals, vegetables or shrubs and trees to be as healthy and productive as possible, you need to make sure the soil they grow in has the right nutrients and pH.
How to find out? Take a soil sample.

In Southeast Texas, gardeners can get help from our local Ag Extension office over at the Jefferson County Courthouse Annex. If you prefer, you can buy a kit from one of the local nurseries or hardware stores. The kits will give you a “rough idea” of soil conditions, but aren’t as accurate as laboratory testing, says Jefferson County Agent Micah Meyer. A&M labs also provide info on what and how much to add to amend soil.
To get one of the A&M kits, call the Extension office at (409) 835-8461 and they will send instructions along with the sample bag and order form. Box it up and send it on. Tests run from $10, which will tell you the pH and liming requirement, along with macronutrients NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous and potash or potassium). More specialized tests run up to $50. The test takes up to two weeks and if you have any trouble interpreting the results, call Micah and he’ll walk you through it.

I’ve heard that you can test ph by putting a soil sample in a bowl and adding a half-cup of vinegar. If the soil fizzes or bubbles, it's alkaline. If not, get another soil sample and add a half-cup of water, stir, and add a half-cup of baking soda. If it fizzes, it’s acidic. Personally, I’d go with the Aggies. I mean, how much fizz is considered fizzy? How much bubbling is acceptable? I don’t want to bake a cake; I want to know if my dirt is delectable – or lousy.

And for those who live in areas that had salt-water intrusion after the hurricane, the Ags are offering salinity testing at a greatly-reduced rate of $2 a sample. The test is only for people who had salt water intrude into their area, Micah stressed, so don’t participate if you are just curious.

Check out the Master Gardeners plant sale this Saturday

Learn about composting, have gardening questions answered by Master Gardeners and pick up some cool plants Saturday at the Jefferson County Master Gardeners Market Day and Spring Plant Sale at Hanger No. 4 at the Southeast Texas Regional Airport (5000 Jerry Ware Drive).

The sale opens at 11 a.m. (and trust me, there will be people in line by 10 or 10:30) and lasts until 2 p.m..

Plants for sale include citrus, bulbs, perennials, vines, and the ever popular Peggy Martin roses. Last year, while I stood with several others waiting for the “doors” to open, everyone I spoke to said the same thing: I came early because I wanted to be sure to get a Peggy Martin.

The day includes a garage sale, kid’s corner, food booth and vendor booths. The money goes to scholarship programs, the demonstration garden at the airport and programs that encourage gardening in Southeast Texas. Admission – and parking – are free. For more details, call (409) 835-8461.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Texas 1015s are plentiful this year

The guys at Texas A&M can’t explain why the fabulous sweet 1015 onions we get each spring from South Texas are so bountiful this year. We don’t care. We’re just grateful.

During the type of dry, hot weather we’ve had lately, thrips usually wreak havoc on onions, sucking juice from the bulbs, says Dr. Juan Anciso, an AgriLife Extension vegetable specialist in Weslaco. Not this year. They are conspicuously absent, saving farmers the money they’d normally have to spend on pesticides.
Growers are harvesting around 800-950 (50-pound) bags per acre, about twice the yield when bugs are bad.

Here's a recipe from the Aggies that can put those sweet onions to good use. Enjoy!

Margarita Texas Sweet Onion Salsa

1 1/2 cups chopped Texas 1015 SuperSweet Onion
2 cups diced fresh peaches
1 to 2 T finely minced, seeded Serrano or other small hot chile peppers
2 T chopped fresh cilantro (I use more)
3 T tequila
2 tsp lime zest
2 T fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)

Mix all ingredients and serve as a dip with tortilla chips (I like Tostados Scoops). Make ahead if possible and refrigerate several hours or overnight to allow flavors to blend.
Makes about 3 cups.

Bluebonnets, Part II

Tuesday, I shared a photo of a child being photographed in a field of bluebonnets in Fannett. If parents have a camera in the car, it's next to impossible to drive by without stopping to mark the moment.

Yesterday, I drove by the same field to find yet another camera in action - but it was pointed at a pair of tennis shoes perched on the rusty railroad tracks running through the field.
Tennis shoes and bluebonnets?

Yep. Commercial photographer Will France of In Focus Creative Imaging & Design also found the bluebonnets irresistible - but the baby he was photographing was a pair of Nike's for an upcoming ad. The combination of the intense blue of the flowers, the aged browns of the rusted tracks and the bright orange trim on the shoes undoubtedly will make a striking photo.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Grab a camera - the bluebonnets are here!

If you live in Texas, you are required to take at a least one picture a year of a child in a field of bluebonnets. I think it might even be a law.

The most famous fields of the Texas state flower are in the Hill Country, but as this picture shows, you don't have to take a long drive to snap a pic. This lovely patch covers no-longer-used railroad tracks along Texas 124 in Fannett. The owners of the Texas-style limestone house nearby once told me people stop there constantly, rolling down the windows to get a better look. Many make a special trip, camera in hand, like this threesome I passed one day recently, prompting me to take a picture of the young woman taking a picture of a man and child.

Who can blame them? It makes a lovely portrait.

Monday, April 6, 2009

2009 Flower Show

The Milady Garden Club is hosting its 59th Annual Standard Flower Show this weekend. That's no typo; the club has been hosting the show for more than half a century. The free (!) public event is from 3-5 p.m. Sat, April 18 and 1-4 p.m. Sun, April 19 at the Beaumont Botanical Garden Center at Tyrrell Park.
The event is held in conjunction with the Neches River Festival.

If you've never been to a flower show, you've missed out. Think of the most unique, striking, creative floral arrangement you've even seen, then imagine a room full of them. Designs are based on the theme, "Dancing Flowers," which has the categories modern dance, waltzing, cha-cha, all that jazz, put your little foot (miniature) and the two-step (table desings for two), acoording to show chairman Elizabeth Gibbs.

Look for horticulture specimens of annuals, perennials, roses, bulbs, trees and shrubs, vines, cut foliage, herbs, flowering plants and foliage plants, succulents, bromeliads, hanging containers, oversized plants for floor display, miniature designs, designs on pedestals, table designs and trays - all as defined by National Garden Clubs handbook for flower show judges. Judges will give Awards of Merit and ribbons, plus special awards including the Neches River Festival Special Award Design trophies.
For more information, call Bev Flosi (409) 201-7696.