Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Breast Cancer Awareness

Each year, I look forward to the first day of October. It means that, for the most part, the days of 90-plus degrees and humidity are over. That's welcome news to gardeners, who are worn out from battling the heat that exhausts both them and their crops and gardens.

Summer has its charms; the long, hot days help make the garden bountiful. Many beautiful flowers and ornamentals are at their glorious best in the heat. But there is something about those first cool mornings that promise a revival of the body and the spirit.

October is important not only for gardeners and those who love the outdoors, but for all women and those who love them. It's National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and a reminder to get a mammogram. While the weather turns cool in October, display shelves turn pink. Each year, more companies are joining the list of those who promise a portion of the proceeds from sales of their products will go to breast cancer research.

Gardeners who want to support the fight against breast cancer can buy gardening tools like these I found at Al Cook Nursery in Beaumont. Look at your favorite nursery, home supply store and discount stores for similar products. As a breast cancer survivor who prays her daughter - and all our daughters and granddaughters - never have to battle this cruel and persistent disease, I join millions of other women who say, thank you.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fall veggies

If you want to plant fall vegetables, you can find young plants all around town. Here's what I found at area nurseries yesterday:

Ritter's garden center - buttercrisp lettuce; Georgia collard; broccoli; Snow Crown cauliflower - $1.50 a four-pack

Al Cook - nice 4-inch pot of yellow straight-neck squash for .99; Giant Marconi Italian grilling peppers and buttercrisp lettuce, $1.99 a four pack

Lowe's - Rio Verde cabbage; broccoli; Georgia collard; Rubra spinach - 2-inch pots for $1.78, as well as larger biodegradable pots of Celebrity and Better Boy tomatoes and Black Beauty zucchini for $3.48.
Beaumont Greenery - broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage - $1.75 for a 4-pack

Monday, September 28, 2009

Nursery News

Today, I'm heading out to some area nurseries to see what gardeners are buying this week, what's on sale and what they recommend for planting right now.

Check back later this evening to see what I found.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Where can I buy spider lilies?

Yesterday. S. Ward emailed to ask where she could buy spider lilies. She had thumbed through catalogues but couldn't find any. I placed some calls to see if we had any available at local nurseries, but also came up empty.
They are available at Southern Bulbs ( one of the best and most reliable sources online. But they are pricey - $9 for two bulbs. In the way of the gardening world, a once common plant that was in every garden began to seem too common and fell out of favor with growers. Now, spider lilies are popular again, and demand is high. Old House Gardens also has them as well at 3 for $10.75 or 5 for $17. Both sources carry the original Southern heirloom triploids. Many of the commercially available bulbs are earlier-blooming diploids, so check that out before buying from other sources you might find. The triploids are extra hardy.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cool nights and warm days

Today is the day gardeners have been waiting for - waking up to crisp, cool air that promises relief from the brutal heat and humidity that makes gardening in the summer in the South a challenge. For four months, we've been sweating enough to water a garden full of bromiliads - and that's no fun. The sweating, that is.

For those of us who are especially susceptible to heat because of age or health, October - now just a week away - is a month filled with promise. We can work for hours instead of minutes at a time. We don't have to wear cool towels around our neck or caps with sweat bands. We can stay hydrated without keeping a gallon of water at our side.

Best of all, we can look forward to 8 months of good weather - minus about 8-10 weeks of cold - before the heat starts up again.

Most plants are happy to see the cooler weather as well. No more mid-day wilting and scorched leaves. As the weather grows cooler still, established plants that have been putting all their energy into producing leaves and blooms can use that energy to store up for next spring.

Fall is a great time for planting shrubs and ornamentals because it gives plants time to establish a strong root system before depleting energy stores on new growth next year.

Good-bye summer. Hello fall. Your gardening friends are happy to see you!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Horticultural Day at Houston Zoo

If a day trip to Houston sounds like a good idea, you might consider dropping in at the Houston Zoo Saturday, Oct. 10 for a 2-hour guided tour of the zoo's 55 acres of tropical and native plants, trees, flowers and ground covers. The zoo's horticulture Manager, Joe Williams, will lead the tour. In an inspired move, the zoo will open its gates 90 minutes early at 7:30 a.m. which means you can tour it during cooler hours. According to a press release, each year the Houston Zoo’s team of 12 horticulture professionals spend than 20,000 hours taking care of the plants. Tickets are - Member $25; Non-Member $30; Child/Student/ Senior Member $15; Child/Student/Senior non-Member $20. Admission includes a continental breakfast and all-day access to the Zoo. To purchase tickets on-line, see
Photo from Houston Zoo

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Surprise flower

The first spider lilies (Lycoris radiata) of the season popped up this week. It's easy to understand why they are known as the "surprise flower." Unlike most plants, where flowers bloom on stems and greenery already in place, this old-fashioned lily emerges from the ground as a single stem with the hint of a bud at its tip. It grows so fast you can almost see it, forming a big, spidery bloom.

After the bright red blossoms fade, the bulb's greenery emerges, forming sword-shaped clumps of leaves. The plant stores food for the next season's bulbs, so don't cut them back or mow over them after the blooms die. Divide the bulbs of the spider lilies in spring when the foliage starts to yellow.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Speed up your plant's growth?

This morning, I read about Timelapse PlantCam, a camera that takes photos "at user-selected time intervals and then converts them into a time lapse video, so gardeners can see an entire growing cycle in seconds!"

Is this a good thing? Gardening is very much a zen experience - a celebration of the act of preparing the soil, planting a seed or transplant, tending it regularly, and watching it grow. It is a lesson in patience and perseverance, two things the world seems to be losing.

I believe that gardening is good for the soul - and like most things that enrich us in life, can't be rushed. Though harvesting the vegetables and fruits and enjoying the flowers are immensely satisfying, much of the pleasure of gardening is derived from the act, as well as the result.

I can see some positive points. It could be a good tool to explain to a child how a plant matures. Because most kids have short attention spans and are visually-oriented, watching a video could captivate them - and anything that helps create an interest in children for gardening and the outdoors is a blessing.

The product($79 retail) is from Wingscapes (; see it at:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I checked on the rainwater harvesting system at the Master Gardeners Test Garden and this is what I found: According to Micah Meyer, the Horticulture Agri-Life agent, the system wasn't expensive.

"We had to buy the gutters, pvc pipe, & glue. The rain barrels were donated. I think we spent around $100 dollars on it. You should be able to find a rain barrel for under $50 or sometimes free. Depending on your current gutter system, you may not have to buy anything extra at all. I would imagine that most people could install a simple rainfall collection system for around $50 to $150. Its just a matter of how fancy you want it to be," Micah said.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Frog bookends

A photo to make you smile today...

I found these adorable frog bookends by Austin in the clearance room at Olive Barn in Houston, where I had gone to pick up a stainless steel counter top composter (which I love, by the way).

The frogs cost more than I would have paid at regular price, or maybe even on sale, but at clearance price, they were a steal.

I especially love the scroll work on their legs.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Pride of Barbados

While eating lunch with friends after church today, the subject of plants that produce colorful blooms in Southeast Texas came up. Glen and Mary mentioned that when they evacuated for Hurricane Ike, they stayed in Uvalde. While there, they became fascinated with mass plantings of a good-sized shrub with vivid red/orange blooms 3 inches across. When they returned home to Winnie, they called the city of Uvalde and asked for the name of the plant.

They had fallen in love with Pride of Barbados (Caesalpinia pulcherrima), an evergreen shrub that can grow to a small tree in frost-free areas. They called around local nurseries and found one at Al Cook's in Beaumont.

There are many things to like about this plant, which is so drought-hardy once established. In zone 9, it is a deciduous shrub. After a frost, it can die down, but comes back faithfully in spring and quickly attains 5 feet or more in height. It reseeds freely, so if you don't like to deadhead, plant it somewhere that you can mow around or weed out seedlings. The plant blooms in summer and fall and benefits from pruning to a desired shape - or you can let it spread into a small tree. It can grow in alkaline to acidic, well-drained soils. Full sun is best for the showiest blooms, but it tolerates some shade. All these positive traits earned the Pride of Barbados the Texas SuperStar designation.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tree Frogs

One of my favorite creatures found in abundance on our two acres are tree frogs. These sweet little insectivores are native to the Southeastern United States. I love the songs they sing to each other late in the evening.

Since childhood, I've loved picking up a tree frog and letting it walk along my arm or leg. They are so funny when they shift their soft, sticky little feet as they walk around. Of course, when you first pick them up, they might pee on you a bit, since it's a little intimidating to be enclosed in a big monster's hand. We forgive them for that tiny social faux pas.

Yesterday, all that tea I drank working around the house built up and I had to take a bathroom break. I relieved myself and stood up to flush the commode. Just as I pulled the handle down, I saw something dark bobbing on a toilet paper boat. As it started down the drain, two pair of little green legs splayed wildly, trying to get a grip on the wet porcelain slopes.
Thank heavens tree frogs have those sticky pads. He was able to grip good enough to get above the swirling water. When it was done, he gave a huge jump and cleared the toilet by at least three feet, happy, I'm sure, to be safe. I didn't want to touch him at that point - having turned the tables for once and peeded on him - so I opened the window and used a magazine to steer him toward it. He cooperated, turning back to give me one last look of betrayal, and fled onto the front porch, then into the yard. Hey, even tree frogs get thirsty. I don't know how long he had been in the house, but they need to stay moist, and our air-conditioned house provided an inhospitable environment. Bless his little heart. I'm sure he's been immersing himself in a wet spot in the garden all night.
Photo from National Geographic

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Rainwater harvesting systems

If you've been thinking about installing a rainwater collection system for use in a home landscape, now would the time to do it. Because of a stalled low pressure system and an area of disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico, it looks like Southeast Texas finally is going to be very wet for the next few days - at a minimum.

Rainwater collection is obviously a good practice on many levels, from conserving water to saving money. Long before water wells, people collected rainwater in cisterns and barrels, usually from roofs. All it takes is a surface area (roof), a way to channel it (gutters and downspout) ad a receptacle (barrel, bucket, tank). The container needs to be food-safe and clean and ideally, will have a spigot for easy access. Be aware that asbestos shingles are not a good choice and old gutters could contain lead. Even though you aren't drinking the water, it will be absorbed into vegetables.

Numerous companies sell the barrels and kits, but you can make your own if you're handy with a few simple tools. Here's a good video from wonderhowto to get you started:

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Trees and Family Portraits

Joel and I took a trip to Kerrville over the Labor Day Weekend to celebrate his parents' 60th wedding anniversary. While we were there, we arranged for his brother, Denis, and sisters, Brenda and Sherry, to meet us early Saturday morning down at a little park on the Guadalupe River so we could take a family portrait for his parents as a surprise gift. We used a digital camera, downloaded it on Joel's laptop, printed it out and framed it. His parents loved it, as we knew they would.

When we scouted locations Friday night, I knew the minute I saw this beautiful oak on the banks of the river that we had our spot. The Texas Hill Country is filled with such scenery, which provides a perfect backdrop for a portrait. This is right behind his parents' home, in the oldest RV park in Kerrville, shaded by aged trees. The value of trees, as the late Dr. Dennis Franklin loved to say, is far more than to provide shade. You can insure trees, but it's impossible to calculate the aesthetic value of one of nature's most beautiful blessings.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

September Birth Flower

The birthday flower for September is the aster, which represents Love, Faith and Wisdom and symbolizes Valor. Asters are members of the family Asteraceae (sunflowers and daisies belong, as well).

My favorite aster is the Stokes' Aster (Stokesia laevis), a perennial with deep green leaves and intense blue/purple flower heads that float on upright stems. They attract butterflies and have a long cut life. I planted Stokes in a bed that didn't get a lot of attention but it came back faithfully for four years, until my husband did what I should already have done - weeded the bed of all the Bermuda grass that had taken it over. Unfortunately, the Stokes got in the way and out it came. That's OK; it gives me a chance to put it in a better-suited place - and the bed looked so much better when he finished!.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Glue for mosaic work

Sarah posted a comment asking what I used to adhere the broken porcelain plate bits to the clay pot. For this project, I used a mastic adhesive that comes in a little tub, ready to go.
It takes only a small amount to adhere each piece, and it doesn't dry so quickly that you can't adjust it a bit if it isn't exactly where you want it. You can get mastic at Lowe's or Home Depot or a local hardware store. Be sure to tightly reseal the tub after use so it doesn't dry out.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Mosaic pot fun

Well, here's the finished product of the clay pot I covered with bits of broken china and pottery. The one on the right is the first one I ever made, using some leftover materials a fellow classmate had on hand (thank you again for sharing!). That was a challenge, which is one reason it's so gloriously gaudy with all those shiny beads, but that's OK. I'm giving it to my mother-in-law, Alta, whose taste tends toward the colorful and heavily embellished. I'm thinking it's a match made in heaven.

The one on the left is slightly more subdued, which will fit nicely in the Garden Room (our guest bedroom). And yes, I realize these are amateurish, but they are my first efforts, after all. I'm enjoying it so much I'm going to tackle a tray and then a table. I find it both challenging and restful. It's so beautiful outside today it was perfect for doing Mosaic work. I did notice that the low humidity and breeze meant the grout dried much faster, which made it a little harder to work with.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

How to keep birds away from fruit trees

In the age-old battle between birds and fruit tree owners, the birds often win. It's hard to keep them away from ripening fruit. Even if they don't eat it, they can mar the fruit, the way birds do by pecking away at citrus fruit to get oil to rub on their feathers. One of the old-time methods was hanging aluminum pie plates from strings on the tree branches. Sunlight reflects off the pans as they spin in the trees and frighten the birds away. Really smart birds catch on, though it does help. Next on the shiny object arsenal came compact discs. Thread a string through the hole, and, voila - instant reflectors.

Now comes a new product. Whether it will work, who knows? But here's the info in case you're interested in trying. New product: The Bird Irator Reflective Discs -- Made of stainless steel, the discs are round and have a protective silicone edge. Hang the discs about 3 feet apart ("units will move and sway with the wind, setting off a reflective shine that deters the birds.") Suggested retail price: $29.95, available on For more information, or for ordering, call (800) 851-6030 or (412) 288-1368; fax (412) 338-0497.