Sunday, May 31, 2009

Are banana peels good for roses?

If you haven't seen Will Smith's "Seven Pounds," see it. Not only is it a wonderful, thought-provoking movie, but it also provides a great gardening tip.

Will Smith's character walks by a yard filled with beautiful roses and remarks to the woman working there, "Banana peels." He goes on to explain that bananas are great fertilizer, especially for roses.

It's true, he tells her. And it is. Bananas are great sources of potassium and magnesium and break down easily, making the nutrients readily available to the plants. You can use bananas in several ways, whole, chopped or as a liquid. Chop the peels up and toss in a compost pile if you have one. Emulsify peels and overripe bananas in a food processor and pour it around the plants. Toss peels in a bucket of water and let it sit in the sun for a few days; then pour around the base of plants. If you prefer, just toss a peel under the shrubs and let nature take its course.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Baby bird update

If dogs age an average of 7 years for every 1 for humans, birds must age so fast they create a time warp. It's only been a week or so since I posted the last photos, and the baby mockingbirds are teenagers now. Check out the grumpy beaks and fixed eyes.

Mama mocker continues to warn me to keep my distance. She'll fly to the fence beside me and watch. When I move the branch aside to get a photo, she'll actually brush it with her feet, which are so little they dodn't leave a scratch, but make her displeasure clear. Here's a shot of her giving me the evil eye.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Calendar of events

There's lots going on for gardeners through the Texas AgriLife Extension Service office, 1225 Pearl St, (corner of Franklin and Pearl). If you aren't familiar with the services offered by the county, you need to be. Here's a list of some upcoming events and what you can learn:

Rainfall Harvesting Seminar, Tuesday, June 9th, 10 am- Noon (at the ag office). Learn basic rainfall harvesting systems, using rainfall for irrigation in the home and landscape, and storm water management. Speaker Billy Kniffen, Extension Program Specialist for Water Resources. FREE!

Growing Tomatoes, Field Workshop. Friday June 12, 10 am - Noon. (at the variety trial site - at Mosquito Mart, 11475 Highway 90, 3 miles past the intersection of Major Drive and College, next to the Elk's Lodge). Learn production techniques, pest control, weed control, disease control, and variety trial results (with Q&A) . Speaker is Dr. Joe Masabni, Extension Vegetable Specialist. FREE!

The 37th Annual Jefferson County Fruit and Vegetable Show will be Saturday, June 13 at Central Mall. Enter your fresh or processed fruits, vegetables and herbs between 9 am and noon. (judging at noon). Ribbons and prizes awarded. FREE to enter. Call the office for a copy of the rules and regulations - 835-8461 or 727-2191, Ext 8461.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Fresh produce!


It's almost opening day for the Jefferson County Master Gardeners Farmers Market. The market opens at 8 a.m. sharp Saturday out at the Master Gardeners Test Garden at the Southeast Texas Regional Airport, but people begin lining up long before that to get fresh produce directly from the farmers.

Look for string beans, new potatoes, squash, beans, blueberries, corn , onions, and maybe even tomatoes. According to Arthur Newman, market director, the weather has been so weird this spring that the timetable for produce to be ready might have shifted from what we're used to.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wrist-neutral hand tools

When it comes to gardening hand tools, I am always on the lookout for something that helps my weak grip and wrist strength. A set I found this weekend in Fredericksburg shows promise.

The tools are by NRG (it stands for natural radius grip and is pronounced energy), and the ergonomic design keeps the wrist in a neutral position to reduce stress and fatigue by providing more strength and power. They are ultra-light and have big, comfy handles. Women with very small hands might find the handles a bit large, though I think they'll be good for me.

I bought the hand trowel (straight blade edges for scraping and scooping and a beveled front edge to cut through compacted soil), cultivator (with three wicked-looking tines), hand transplanter (good for transplanting deeply rooted plants - the extra-long blade had little raised dots to measure bulb hole depths) and the nifty hand weeder (a long, narrow blade to pop out weeds without disturbing plants - plus a seed well).
The pieces were $12.99 each, which I will happily pay for something that works. They come with a lifetime guarantee, too. Note: I like to shop locally. I bought these when I ran across them in Fredericksburg because I hadn't noticed them in Beaumont and wasn't sure I could find them here. When I got home, I did a search of NRG's website and found that Al Cook Nursery out on Hwy 105 sells them.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Remembering Lisa

Memorial Day is a day to remember those we lost, especially those who died protecting us from harm. So today, I remember my niece, Lisa Beaulieu.

Lisa worked hard to put herself through the police academy, taking a job as a jailer in Dayton, Texas. She later worked as a dispatcher at the Beaumont Police Department and part time as a reserve officer with the Kountze Police Department.

I was there when Lisa was sworn in at the Beaumont Police Department, beaming with the pride of having accomplished her goal. Lisa had a dynamite smile anyway, but that day, it was positively radiant.

Six years later, Lisa was killed by a drunk driver with a suspended license with previous violations. She was 36. She became the first female officer in Southeast Texas to die while protecting others, directing traffic around a bad motorcycle accident on the Eastex Freeway. Thousands of officers from around the state came to pay tribute to Lisa during a beautiful funeral that brought comfort to her family and received nationwide attention.

Lisa loved her family, her two dogs, Bados and Clouseau (rescued from the Humane Society of Southeast Texas), her career and her fellow officers, friends - and shopping. Fierce and fearless while in uniform, Lisa a girly girl with a contagious giggle.
Just weeks before Lisa was killed, her grandfather passed away. She asked her mother, Gloria, if she could have a yellow hibiscus sent to his funeral. She loved the flower whose vibrant colors mirrored her personality.
And yes, there were yellow hibiscus for Lisa at the celebration of her life.

Lisa, you are as loved today as you were the day you were born - and the day you died. We remember - and honor you.

Aunt Jane

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mystery continues

Folks, the mystery of the unidentified blue flower remains.

Micah Meyer, horticultural ag agent for Jefferson County, wrote in to say he thinks the flower Judy of Lumberton has been trying to identify is neither a Peruvian lily, as I thought, or a walking iris, as PJ thought.

Micah said he can't tell for sure, but the flower looks like what is commonly called "blue-eyed grass" from the genus Sisyrinchium spp. One of his plant books says that there are around 16 species in Texas and that they tend to hybridize readily. That could explain why it isn't an exact match when I look it up, though it looks close. The only difference is the leaves of blue-eye grass are skinnier.

Dig-It! reader Margie said the plant is Aristea Ecklonii, commonly called Blue Star. The avid gardener sent along a photo of her plant - and it's about as close a match as I've seen. Here it is so you can judge for yourself - and thanks, Margie and Micah.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

You pick 'em, we dig 'em

Daylily lovers in the Lumberton area will no doubt be pleased to hear that Bubba and Judy Abate have opened a new business, Landscaping With Lilies. Monday was their first day to be open to the public. I dropped by last weekend to check out their place and found a peaceful setting to shop for lilies and other perennials.

The Abates have 3 1/2 acres, most of it landscaped and filled with flower beds, a garden shed and shade trees that make walking through looking for just the right daylilies a pleasure. They have 200 cultivars beginning at $5. A few specialty lilies run up to $40, but they are the exception. If you want to take home one whose pedigree has been lost, you can pick it up for $4. They also have a small selection of perennials - they're waiting to see if there is much demand for them, Judy said, before stocking up. They have salvia, society garlic, agapanthus and Stokesia daisies.

The cool thing about the Abates' place is you find the flowers you want, and they dig them up, putting them in a plastic bag for you to take home. I'd suggest picking out your spot in the yard or bed and preparing it before you go - but you can always stick it in a pot until you decide.

The retired couple, who said they "just needed something constructive to do with their expendable income," haven't hybridized any lilies yet, but plan to.

Go by and say, "Hey."

Baby bird update

And then there were four...

This weekend, we had two brand new baby birds and two eggs. As of today, all four babies have pecked their way through the shell and into the world. The two older ones are getting some fuzz, so all is progressing as Mother Nature intended.

The babies have a great mom - when I went to get updated photos, she let me know with a fly-by warning slap to the head that I was way too close to her babies. When I got closer for another shot, she flew about one foot from my hand and bravely landed on the tree limb to make her presence known. You have to respect a mom like that!

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bluebonnets in art

If bluebonnets come just behind Blue Bell (ice cream, that is) on your list of things that make you happy, take a trip to Orange and see the “Bluebonnets and Beyond: Julian Onderdonk, American Impressionist” exhibit at the Stark Museum of Art.

The exhibit is in its final week and will offer special open hours on Sunday, May 24, from 1-5 p.m. (the last day of the exhibit).

Docents will lead tours of the exhibition and admission is free. The museum is at 712 Green Avenue in Orange. Regular hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Group tours are available by appointment. Call (409) 886-2787 or visit

Monday, May 18, 2009

Peruvian lily - or not?

We're still trying to identify this plant for Judy in Lumberton.

PJ wrote in to say he thinks it's probably a walking iris (often called the Apostle plant). As I noted, they do have a lot in common, from the shape of the leaves to the way the stems arch and bend toward the ground, which is what walking irises do.

But in researching the walking irises, I noticed that the petals on the bloom are different. They are a distinct blue, not violet or lavender, and have a different shape, without the iris throat.
Our best guess so far remains the Peruvian Lily. Here's a closeup of the bloom. Can you help ID this plant?

Baby birds

Around our house, climbing and rambling roses seem to be a favorite spot for birds to build a home for their spring families.

A mockingbird built this well-sheltered nest in the space between a rambler, the wooden fence and a vitex tree.

I was getting ready to weed the bed beneath the vitex when I saw a mockingbird fly from behind the tree. A closer look exposed the nest. I got as close as I could to see what was inside. I spotted a couple of eggs, so I fetched the camera. I had to pull a branch aside, point the camera blindly and hope it was in the right place.

When I looked at the photos, I was surprised to see two babies. Judging by the skin, I'm thinking they are brand-new. Like a proud aunt, I'll be tracking their progress.

Another bird has built a nest in the climbing rose on a trellis in the side yard, but it's too high to see what's inside. I'm thinking I might have to get the ladder out to satisfy my curiosity and see if we have more new birds.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Chaste tree love

If you’re looking for a large shrub or small specimen tree, you can’t go wrong with a Vitex, often called chaste tree or lilac chaste tree. Some call it hemp tree or sage tree.

I have two in my yard, one that has been established for about five years now (it’s the one in the photo) and the other entering its second year. They both have brought much pleasure, not only for their beautiful 8-12 inch spires of lavender blooms (which makes it less painful knowing we can’t grow lilacs in the South), but also for their fragrant leaves, which resemble hemp leaves. The leaves give off a pleasant, herbal fragrance, which only adds to its charm.

Vitex grow well in most soils. They bloom best in full sun and are drought tolerant once established. Like its other Vervain family cousins, it attracts butterflies. Cut the spent spikes after the first flowering to encourage another spurt of blooms. Vitex respond well to pruning – you can take off as much as one-third – and come back fuller the nest spring.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Weekend buy

Shopping for plants this weekend?

We found some nice 1-gallon pots of vincas, zinnias and celosias for $1.48 at Home Depot.
They also have large, patio-ready pentas, lantana and zinnias ($12.88) in terra-cotta colored pots that are a step up from the ugly, black plastic ones. They're still plastic, but the ribs give them texture.

I bought pentas a week ago and they still look great, though I have to water profusely to keep them from wilting. If you pick some up, be sure to offer filtered sun and afternoon protection until they get acclimated.

Alstroemeria psittacina

In the previous blog, I tried to help Judy from Lumberton identify what looks like an alstroemeria, or Peruvian lily.

I'm not sure we got it right, but I am sure about this Alstroemeria psittacina, found in my daughter's Nederland yard. She just moved into her new digs and we're having a lot of fun trying to identify what's there.

This lily is lovely; the deep maroon/purple leaves are a dramatic contrast to the tell-tale spots inside the throat.

Is this a Peruvian Lily?

Judy from Lumberton has a plant in her garden she can't identify and asked if Dig-It could help.

The leaves of the plant look like those of a lily - which is the first clue. It's a perennial, and tends to spread. Although the bloom in this photo of the plant in her yard is small, and therefore harder to verify, it might to be an Alstroemeria, more commonly known as Peruvian Lily.

In one of those serendipitous moments, her question helped me identify a plant in my daughter's new yard that I wasn't sure about. Turns out it's an Alstroemeria psittacina.

Judy, if your plant is indeed a Peruvian lily - and I'm not convinced it is, so I'd like to hear from others - be aware that it self-seeds freely if not deadheaded.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Electric Lawnmowers

Hey, blog friends,

I'm seriously thinking about buying an electric lawnmower. While we have a big, riding lawn tractor to do the almost two acres we have, one side of our yard is enclosed too tightly - and planted to heavily - for a riding mower to get in.

So, I'm thinking an electric - probably corded because the battery types are heavier - will do the trick handily.

Which brings me to you. While I've been researching the mowers extensively, I'd really like to hear from users who can tell me how it's worked out for them.

Just fill in the comment section at the bottom of this post or email me.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Documenting a garden

Gardening is a life-long pursuit - and gardens change constantly.

I was looking back through some old photos and was surprised by how different some of my flower beds look now as opposed to when we planted them a number of years ago. There were plants I'd changed out - and had forgotten about.

Documenting a garden through photos provides an historical context that reminds you how far your design skills have come, how your tastes in plants has changed and which plants work where -and which don't.

Best of all, they're just fun to look at.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mothers and roses

Of all the plants in my garden, the one that brings me the most pleasure is the one that blooms for only two weeks a year. While I appreciate the shrubs and flowers that faithfully produce all season long, none of them began with my grandmother's hands.

The rambling rose that covers one corner of our front yard fence came from a cutting my Aunt Shirley took from what was one of grandmother's favorite roses. It likely is New Dawn, a heavily-thorned rambler that produces roses that begin as a pale pink and fade to near white.

The rose blooms each year right around Mother's Day, as it has this year. My aunt tells me that in many churches, tradition says a woman wears a red rose on Mother's Day if her mother still is with her. Those whose mothers have passed on wear a white rose. My grandmother always cut a big bowl of blooms from her rose each year and offered them to others.

Many of her children and grandchildren, like me, have a cutting from her rose, which undoubtedly is more than 100 years old.

Long after my grandmother died, the rose bush she planted grew gloriously in the abandon field where she planted it. It was a sight to see, many yards wide, filled with the lovely blooms.

Happy Mother's Day to each of you.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Bargain plants

In case you missed the comment by a Dig-It reader offering a tip of good prices, Sutherlands in Port Arthur - over by Central Mall - has a sale through May 10th.

Vegetable plants are $.99 per six packs. If you haven't yet added summer color to your beds, an assortment of flowers of all kinds also are $.99 per/ six pack.

The reader reports they "are really nice looking plants."

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Leapin’ Lizards!

I was strolling through Al Cook’s Nursery looking for inspiration when I stopped to take a close look at a hydrangea, one of my favorite landscaping choices. I swear I felt something staring back at me. I looked closer and there, stretched out on one big leaf and shaded by another, a big ol’ lizard peered at me, then blinked.

As it turns out, he’s not the only one of his kind to find the lush plants at Cook’s a fine place to make a home. Every time a big shipment of plants comes in at the nursery, lizards come with them, from all across the country: California, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Florida, Alabama and Georgia. The nursery has become a veritable breeding ground for the critters, who evidently have neither geographic nor skin tone prejudices when choosing a mate.

It seems Al Cook’s has become a lizard farm. They multiple so well people come to the nursery to catch them and take them home to their gardens. If you’re short on lizards, now you know where to get ‘em.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Jan McCall's wildflowers

After two hurricanes, Jan McCall of Hamshire decided her little town needed some cheering up, something colorful to lift the spirits and bring beauty to the hamlet.

She began reading up on wildflowers, then visited with Wildseed farms in the Texas Hill Country. There are no garden clubs, city funds or workers available for beautification projects in Hamshire, so Jan spent $1,000 of her own money buying the right mix of wildflower seeds for Southeast Texas. Then, with the help of her husband, Travis, their children, local Boy Scout troops, and Ag group from Hamshire-Fannett High School and anyone else she could round up, the McCalls sprayed and killed the weeds along a 2-mile stretch of Texas 124, drug the old weeds away, planted seeds, then stomped them in. They used heavy equipment for the big stretches, but literally stomped the small areas in with their feet.
Then they waited. The wildflowers were glorious last spring and Jan got calls from people saying "Thank you" for making our town better. This year, as you can see from the photo above, the

One person can make a big difference in a small community. Next time you drive down 124 in Hamshire, think of Jan, and think of ways you might make something drab more beautiful with landscaping.

Friday, May 1, 2009

More garden blues...

When it comes the shades of blue and purple, I also like this Salvia greggii 'Purple' Autumn Sage I found at Wal-Mart for $5.

Salvias are good plants for Southeast Texas, and this perennial will grow about 3-feet tall and 2-feet wide.

I'd pair it with a Sapphire Carpet Sage (salvia de alfombra de Zafiro), a clump-forming perennial that needs full sun but has low water needs.

Blues and purples cool down hot gardens

As a gardener, I am drawn to the pastel portion of the color pallet. While I can appreciate bursts of vivid color, I prefer them to be small, carefully placed complements to the more soothing colors of the overall garden.
A garden should be a place of rest, a place where the harshness of the world retreats, and to me, nothing does that better than blues and shades of purple - mostly lilac and lavender.
This morning, I visited some of the local nurseries to find some plants to recommend for those looking to introduce these colors to their garden. Two I found are:

(Above left) Balloon flower (platycodon grandiflorus) - in Sentimental Blue. The Japanese lantern-shaped buds open to lovely flowers that will bloom all summer. The tags say sun to part shade, which, in Southeast Texas, means they'd appreciate filtered sun in the heat of the afternoon. This one was $3.95 at Beaumont Greenery on Delaware.

(Above right) Angelonia offers lilac/lavender flowers on stalks that grow from 10 to 18" tall and a little more than a foot wide. The flowers are a nice contrast to the bright green stems. I found nice ones for $10.98 at Lowe's.