Monday, August 31, 2009

Good bulbs for Southeast Texas

If you're ready to plant some classic naturalizing bulbs for late winter and early spring blooms, try this pair of dependable bulbs that perform well in our area:

Golden Dawn jonquil (Narcissus tazetta) Plant by Nov 25 - Blooms: March - needs full winter sun

Snowflake ( Leucojum aestivum)
Plant by Nov. 25 - Blooms: February – needs partial shade to full sun.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Time to plant fall bulbs

Have you been tilling and composting and getting your beds ready for fall vegetable planting? I wish I could say I have. You know that saying about the best-laid plans of mice and men and how they oft' go astray? Well, this was going to the year I planted a fall garden, but if I don't get my butt in gear, another year will have come and gone.

The past few years, Joel and I have putting our energies into the inside of our home. When you live in a modest 100-year-old farmhouse, there's always something that needs to be done. So we have a wonderful new kitchen with granite counter tops and new cabinets and wood floors and our dining room looks great and the guest bedroom (decorated in a garden theme, of course) is taking shape nicely.

But work outside has been limited to post-hurricane cleanup, brush control, mowing and small ornamental bed planting and maintenance. The garden has yet to be dug, let alone planted. Here's what I planned to grow, along with the dates they should be put in the ground in Jefferson County:

Broccoli (Aug 15-Oct 1)
Cucumbers (Aug 15-Sept 20)
Lettuce (Sept 15-Oct 15)
English peas (Oct 1-Nov 1)
Radishes (Sept 1-Oct 15)
Tomatoes (July 15-Aug 1) Ooops!

To those of you who are on target with your fall garden, good for you! I hope we'll be able to join you soon.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Let it rain!

Every day I check the weather forecast to see what the odds are of us getting any rain. After a long, hot, dry summer, we really need it here in Southeast Texas. The trouble is, in our region, when it does rain, it's hit or miss. On the way home from Beaumont a couple of days ago, I drove through a nice sheet of rain. It stopped five miles from our house, which was dry as a bone. How can a cloud hold so much water that it has to let it go only to dump it with such precision that you'd think it had a logistics map and strict orders not to miss the target area?

We've gotten some rain, but not enough to make the kind of difference the ground needs right now. At this moment, the skies outside are a promising gray, but I'm not going to get excited until I hear the soothing sound of plump raindrops against the window panes. The weather forecast says a 50 percent chance of rain. I think they need to define 50 percent. Is that a 50 percent chance it will rain SOMEWHERE in the area - and that of that 50 percent, there is a 50 percent chance of catching a little of it? I'm not great at math, but to me, the odds are against us.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Garlic chives - you win!

I give up. I've battled and battled the garlic chives that keep showing up everywhere in my herb garden ever since I allowed them to go to seed before discovering it. I went so far as to pull out the plants and pull up the heavy clay chimney flues that make up the base of the herb bed so I can start again. I took out all the soil, then pulled each plant up by its root. They still kept coming, so I pulled some more. I think I might have eradicated them in a couple of pots, but they have completely taken over the space between the pots and the edging next to the brick walkway.

I am at a loss how to contain them without using a weedkiller, which I won't do around my herb bed. I bought some of that organic "weed killer" with cloves - and the chives just laughed as they licked their leaves murmuring, "Yummy!" Does anyone have any suggestions on killing them without toxins? And yes, that lone plant in the pot is a wayward Mexican petunia, another invasive plant that even pushes up through my brick and concrete walkway. My recommendation: don't plant either.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Do Dirt Daubers Sting?

Ah. summer. Cicadas singing harmoniously in the trees, fireflies dancing delicately across the pastures and dirt daubers darting daringly into the house at every opportunity.

We seem to have an abundance of the skinny little wasps that look so intimidating but pose a real threat only to spiders, which they sting and place inside the nest as food for the young. Dirt daubers don't bother me, and won't you, either, unless you try to squeeze one in your hand. But their nests do make a mess on our front porch and under the carport. Yesterday was clean-the-front-porch day, so I spent a lot of time washing away their mud huts. Sorry guys.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bromeliads and moss

How cute is this? My friend Buddy gave me this recently at a celebration in my honor. It's a wonderful bromeliad mounted in moss on a wooden plank.

I've had only one bromeliad in my life. It was a plant sent to the memorial service of Tim Halley, a reporter I worked with who died of AIDS. Tim wrote a heartbreaking piece on battling the disease. It drew a lot of attention in a time when the disease wasn't talked about much. For many years after Tim's death, I coordinated the Tim Halley Scholarship, given to a Lamar University nursing student each year. It has gone to some outstanding students with hearts for service to those in need.

I nurtured Tim's plant as best I could, but after a few years, it died. I'm sure it was something I did or didn't do, not knowing any better. I think it was this same variety. I'm reading up now on what care bromeliads need. We have a local bromeliad society and I'll get some tips from them. In the meantime, I'm misting it often and watching it take off. Soon, I'll have to move it to a larger host.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Coral Vine or Queen's Wreath

Here's a closeup that shows the vine's heart-shaped leaves and pink blossoms.
The bees and hummingbirds love it.
It's beautiful crowning a fence or climbing a trellis - and produces great color in the fall, when many other plants have completed blooming.

Ruly versus unruly vines

Because our home is 100 years old or more, most of the hardy varieties of old plants already were here long before we were. That's been an amazing blessing. Who wouldn't love moving onto two acres that had an abundance of paperwhite narcissus, hardy amaryllis, old-fashioned daylilies, spider lilies (Lycoris radiata), a Belinda's Dream rose and more?

We had a little harder time learning to love two of the three vines that already had taken deep hold: wisteria and sweet autumn clematis (Clematis ternifolia aka paniculata). The wisteria had taken over the back fence, trees and surrounding hardscapes. We fought it for years before bringing it under control. Like an unruly child, it still tries to go where it shouldn't when your back is turned. The sweet autumn clematis is lovely when in bloom, but as a vine that can grow to 30 feet tall and spring up in clumps where there once was a lawn or flower bed, it is a bit of a challenge.

The coral vine, also called Queen's Wreath (Antigonon leptopus), is a delight. It can cover a fence or climbing rose bush, as it has here, but the vines are tender and easily pulled or controlled. The pink is so vibrant it lights up everything around it.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Ginger Jungle

The pendulous blooms of the ginger plant are elegant and fragrant. But is fighting the plant's voracious spreading habit worth it? I'm beginning to wonder.

I've wanted ginger for some time, after seeing it in bloom at Nelson's Water Gardens in Brookshire, so I was delighted when my friend Laura gave me a couple of clumps from her grandmother's stand a few years back.

Now, it's crowding out everything around it. To be fair, it's not the ginger's fault I chose the wrong spot for it. That's often the case with wayward plants. I should have known more about its tendency to spread and placed it where that would be a good thing. But, as a novice gardener, I stuck it in an existing bed where its presence was unwelcome.

Another drawback to the tall plant is it almost never blooms. I can count on one had how many of the fragrant blossoms have made an appearance in all those years. Of course, there are many types of ginger, and this old standard might not be one prone to blooming well. Now, we're faced with the daunting task of digging up deeply established clumps to move it someplace more appropriate. One more lesson learned.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Broken china and mosaic flower pots

Last week, I took a brief mosaic class from Summer Sanderson at the Thyme for Herbs Society's monthly meeting out at Beaumont Botanical Gardens. I'd often thought about trying Mosaic work, but it looked rather intimidating and complicated.

As it turns out, it's not. At least, not for small projects. Yes, it takes a certain amount of creativity and patience - the process isn't speedy - but it's great fun. First, you get to take a hammer and whack an old, chipped china plate. Then, you take those broken chips and glue them to a terracotta pot, then fill in the spaces with grout. You can make it as ornate or simple as you wish.

I find the process calming. I can sit and look for the right pieces to fit just so, and get lost in the process. No thinking about the worries of the world, no thoughts of what else I should be doing - just the joy of creating.

Here's a pot I'm starting now, to give you an idea of the early stages. I'll be filling in the rim of the pot with more pieces before grouting.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Horace the Garden Spider

I walked out on our back porch one morning and looked up to find this big garden spider. I decided to call him Horace because he seemed so proper and aloof. Garden spiders do a lot of good by promptly dispatching pests. They do not, however, discriminate when something plump and juicy blunders into their web, as I discovered one day when I found a dragonfly wrapped as neatly as a mummy under Horace's feet.

Horace chose a spot just outside our guest bedroom window and showed no signs of moving on, so I started leaving the lamp on in that room at night. It attracts night bugs and Horace seems quite pleased with the arrangement.

My grandson, Jordan, however, was not. He hates spiders, especially big ones, so I've been spending some time talking with him about it. He thought it was funny that I named the spider Horace. Calling him by name seemed to make him more "human" and Jordan eventually began speaking to him. He still won't get too close, though. When he remarked that he'd never seen Horace move, I explained that he lives his life in the web, eating and sleeping there and never wanders. That made Jordan feel better, since the guest bedroom is where he sleeps when stays with us.
I viewed Horace as one more opportunity to teach Jordan that most bugs are harmless and have a role to play. And with garden spiders, it certainly doesn't include attacking humans. Before he left, Jordan said, "He's pretty cool."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Grandmother's Garden

Yesterday was my Grandmother's birthday and the rose she loved (which still lives on through a cutting in my garden) had one lone rose. The bush blooms profusely in late April/early May, but sometimes a few blooms come again in fall. I like to think the rose was her way of reminding me on her birthday that she still is looking out for me. For those of you new to Dig-It, here's the first post I made when I started this blog:

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.

“Dig it!” is 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. I'd love it if you'd join in.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Hibiscus and heat

The last of the trio of blooms that keep on going even in the dead of a summer with little rain is the hibiscus.

Our friend Gene Soper sent this one to us after we lost my niece, Lisa Beaulieu, and my Mother, Juanita Swann, two years ago.

My husband , Joel, put the hibiscus in the ground after a few months, and look at it now. It's gone from about a foot tall to five feet or more.

The first year, it wilted often, but bounced back quickly. This year, it's not shown any sign of stress, despite the lack of water.
Although yellow was her favorite color, Lisa loved hibiscus, so we love this one doubly so.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Heat-loving Firebush

Here's another great performer during the long, hot days - and nights - of summer.

The firebush, a favorite of hummingbirds, dies back after a heavy frost and then grows so rapidly starting in spring that by summer, it's a thick, hearty bush covered with blooms. If you prefer, you can cut it back in late fall.

The bush blooms continuously, producing vivid orange and yellow blossoms. If you plant it, don't do what I did - hem it in. Give it plenty of space and it'll easily become a focal point.

By the way - I've never fertilized and only occasionally water the firebush. It's that hearty when established.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Bless the Plumbago

After all these weeks of heat and little rain, several plants in the garden still look great, even when neglected from time to time.

One of my favorites is this plumbago. It's still young and in its first growing season so it's not thick and lush, but it's lovely. It will take all the sun and heat you can throw at it and keep on putting out those icy blue flowers.
I'm looking forward to next spring's growth to see how it fares. I'll be planting another one on the new bed we're going to establish on the north side of the house - the side that has been neglected while the south side is almost to capacity.
They grow fast, branch out well and can make a real statement in a bed.

I am contemplating starting a photo diary on the blog to show our new north-side bed step-by-step, but I'm not sure I'm ready to embarrass myself yet. We'll see...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Compost bins

I've made one more step toward being a serious gardener - I bought a compost bin.

I had considered making one myself of wood and wire, but when I found this one on clearance at a close-out sale, it was too good a bargain to pass up. It was the last one in the store, and the clerk said she thought she had a couple of extra pieces in the back. They wouldn't be able to sell them, she added, so I might as well take them for extras. When she looked, she found enough to make a second bin, including the top! So my great bargain became a real steal. The bin is in sections, so you can take the top layers off as the compost gets closer to completion. With the two I have, I'll be able to have one ready and the other on its way.
And yes, the adorable boys in the bin are my grandsons, Jordan and Jarrod. They thought it would make a good hiding spot.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Scorpion in the Garden

Did the photo make you do a double-take? The real thing sure made me look twice when my husband brought it home and placed it on our copper birdbath.

Being a lover of all God's creatures, I have respect and affection for things that make many people shudder, like spiders and snakes. But the one thing that will make my hair stand on end is the scorpion. I have no rational explanation for this. I've never been stung by one, though I've had some close encounters in Arkansas, where I grew up. They just look so dangerous.
My husband bought this one from an unemployed man selling them downtown. It was the only copper one, he said, so that's why he chose it. He claims to have no ulterior motive, but I'm not so sure. Instead of giving it to me, he placed it in the garden and waited for me to discover it. Even though it's obviously way bigger than a real scorpion, I was startled for a couple of seconds. I might not like the real thing, but I love this quirky sculpture, which perches at the edge of the water. I wonder what the critters that come looking for a drink think?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How will you be remembered?

Yesterday, I sat in Claybar Funeral Home in Orange and listened to friends and family members tell how Dr. Dennis Franklin (The Plant Doctor) touched their lives. It was time of laughter, as one by one, they talked about how kind Dennis was, how great his enthusiasm for life was, how cheerful he always was and how much he loved to laugh.

One of the things that struck me most was how more than one person mentioned that Dennis never had a bad word to say about anyone. He was a man who didn't need to find fault with others. He was too busy being Dennis, a man who had rather encourage than discourage.

That's something worth thinking about, in an age when sarcasm, backbitting and cutting people down has become an art form. Showing others how to be kind, empathetic and gracious is no small legacy.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Smith and Hawken Bites the Dust

If you've ever shopped at Smith & Hawken, you know much fun it can be to wander the aisles and look at everything. You also know how expensive they are. We've bought several things from their Houston store, but only during clearance sales.

I've been following a blog - and all the rumors - about what will happen now. For those who might not know, Dave Smith and Paul Hawken founded the company decades ago to sell quality English garden tools. And by quality, I mean lifetime guaranteed heirloom pieces. The duo found a loyal following in Earth-Mother, Gardening Guru types who appreciated their dedication to the environment.

Imagine their dismay when Smith & Hawken, which they sold to the owners of The Nature Company, eventually was bought out by Scott's, the makers of Miracle-Gro. Not only did Smith & Hawken start pushing pesticides, but they began replacing those fine English tools with those of lesser quality.

Rumor has it that Hawken might start another garden tool business. Let's hope so. He was good for gardening - and the environment.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dr. Dennis Franklin, The Plant Doctor

I've tried four times to start typing this and keep erasing it because I don't know what to say about such awful news. Yesterday, Dennis Franklin, the man we call The Plant Doctor, was found dead in his car at an area supermarket.

I met Dennis when he began writing a column for The Beaumont Enterprise. I got to know him well because I edited his columns for quite some time. During that time, Dennis endured major hardships. Hurricane Ike put 6 feet of water in his Orange home. He lost pretty much everything. Months later, his father, from whom Dennis inherited his love of plants and whom he adored, died. Dennis was by his side the entire time he was in the hospital, even when his father no longer recognized him. He continued to turn in his column, true to the professional he was.

Two weeks ago, Dennis taught a class at the Jefferson County Master Gardeners course. I learned even more about him there. Dennis was a powerhouse of knowledge on anything and everything to do with plants. His seminar was amazing, a combination of knowledge, energy, humor and a love of growing things. I respected him more than ever after spending a day absorbing everything I could on what he had to offer.

I still can't believe he died. He was 57, energetic, active and always had a positive attitude, even when things went wrong. He sent me an email thanking me for a note I sent when his father died. It was a gentle, lovely, appreciative response to something that mattered a great deal to him.

Dennis touched many thousands of lives. He wrote the column for the Enterprise, hosted a radio show on KLVI and answered questions for gardeners with problems at M&D Supply each Saturday, in addition to the other jobs he held and as a plant and tree consultant. I have no doubt people were lined up at M&D to see him this morning, only to be told the sad news.

Dennis was a kind man. A gentleman who would do anything he could for others to help make their gardening experience richer. He had the most voracious appetite for knowledge I've ever encountered. His influence is making me a better gardener and I am grateful for that.

I will miss you, Dennis. Thank you for your enormous contributions to the gardening community and to your family and friends.

Friday, August 7, 2009

How to make basil butter

If your basil has continued to produce faithfully through the summer (like this pot of mine) and you're looking for something to do with it, try basil butter.

The recipe is according to taste, so use the amount that your palate prefers. Start with a couple of sticks of butter, sitting at room temperature to soften. Chop a couple of hands full of fresh, washed basil. Dice three or so cloves of garlic (or put through a garlic press). Add the basil and garlic to the softened butter and mix well with a hand mixer. Do not whip; the idea is just to incorporate the basil and garlic well. If you have butter molds, use them. If not, place the butter on a piece of Saran Wrap and roll into a log. Twist ends tightly and freeze. When you need some basil butter, slice off as much as you need and pop the rest back into the freezer. Another way to freeze is using ice trays to freeze the butter individually.

There are many ways to use the butter: place a pat on fish when baking or after broiling or grilling. Add to cooked vegetables for flavor. Add to a soup. Use to make an omelet. Toss with fresh pasta.
Butter like this can be made with almost any herb. Choose your favorite combinations and enjoy.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Composting in the kitchen

If I'm going to get serious about composting, I'm going to need a small composting pail for the kitchen. My sister told me about one she uses that has a charcoal filter in the top to keep it odor-free.

I went to a couple of local stores but they didn't have any. So I went online and found several like the ones she's talking about, including this one, which is stainless steel and has the filter. It's a bit pricey, so I think I'll keep looking for a while.

Any tips?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

There's always next year

Several people emailed during the time I was taking the Master Gardener class to ask about it. While it was too late for them to attend this year's class, there's always next year

The Jefferson County Master Gardener Short Course is taught once a year. Those who express interest are mailed a packet explaining what the program is, what the requirements are, how much it costs, when it is held and other vital information. You have to sign up in advance to take the course because the class is limited to around 30.

Taking the class is a commitment. The MG program is above all a volunteer group that works within the community to further the goals of Texas Agri-Life. Those who finish the two-week course are interns. We won't be certified as Master Gardeners until we complete 50 hours of volunteer work, divided among the test garden at the airport, answering the phone at the Agri-Life office and other public education opportunities.

As someone who has taken the course, I can tell you you that if you love gardening and are serious about it, this is an amazing opportunity. The workshops are packed with information from knowledgeable people - many experts in their fields - and the book you receive is an invaluable resource.

I loved taking the course and look forward to getting know my fellow interns and master gardeners better. They are a great group of people.

To learn more, call the Jefferson County Agri-Life office at 409-835-8461. If you live in another area, check with your local county extension office.

Happy gardening!

Monday, August 3, 2009

What I Learned - Days 9-10

As you can tell by the lack of posting the last few days, I've been busy. It's time to catch up.

Thursday, at the last seminar day of the Jefferson County Master Gardeners course, I learned:
Ideal soils contain 50% solid materials and 50% pore space. To improve pore space and water retention, till 3 inches of expanded shale into 3 inches of organic matter.
Once a plant has a virus, it always has it. Destroy it.
Integrated pest management is critical to the health of plants AND the environment. IPM is a strategy that avoids or prevents pest damage with minimum adverse impact to human health, environment and non-target organisms. The misuse of chemicals is a huge problem. More on this later...

The last day, we were supposed to meet at the Jefferson County Master Gardeners Test Garden at the airport but the weather had other ideas. The rain was heavy, so the morning was cancelled. Still,I sloshed around for a while, looking at the garden where I will be volunteering at least 20 hours of my time for the next few months. I learned the test garden includes a greenhouse, rainfall water harvesting system and composting. The more I learn about the Master Gardener program, the more I realize what a great resource it is to the area. This week, I'll post more about the program.