Friday, October 30, 2009


If you've never grown crocosmia, consider picking up some corms to add this pretty cousin of the gladiolas to your perennial bed. Crocosmia also can be grown in pots in a sunny location. A new friend from the Jefferson County Master Gardeners gave me a bag of corms a few months back that she thinned from her garden. I cut the tops back to a few inches and stored them in a cool, dry spot. Now, I'm ready to plant for a colorful display in the spring.

Crocosmia (Montbretia):

Bloom: orange/red/yellow flowers in spring and summer; makes good cut flower
Size: 24” wide, 24" tall, with spikes of blooms
Space 6-8 inches apart; plant 2-4 inches deep. Multiplies
Native: South Africa
Soil: grows well in well-drained soil; can rot in standing water
Light: Best in full sun; can tolerate some shade
Zone: 5-9
photo: Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Naturalizing Paperwhite Narcissus

When we moved into our 100-plus year old home in rural Jefferson County more than 25 years ago, we were lucky enough to inherit numerous bulbs. The most consistent - and far-spreading of these - is the paperwhite narcissus. The bulbs multiply with abandon, forming attractive clumps wherever a bulb ends up. They are so hardy that I've tossed some on the ground when digging up a bed, and a couple of years later, a new clump emerges. These paperwhites - hundreds of them - are clustered around an ancient tallow tree in the back corner of the yard. Two other volunteers showed up here as well: old-fashioned canna and a dewberry vine or two. I also have a couple of hundred or more paperwhites in the yard on the south side. I've given many away, and just started a big pot for my daughter, who will plant them in her Nederland yard.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Little Volcano Bush Clover

Sheri B. bought a plant this past weekend at the Master Gardeners Plant Sale and couldn't remember anything about the plant other than it was a volcano plant. When she started researching the plant, she couldn't find any information. What Sheri bought is a Little Volcano bush clover, a semi-deciduous shrub with dramatic clumping branches filled with small, dark green leaves. Pretty fuschia blooms cover the bush from summer through fall.

Little Volcano Bush Clover (Lespedeza liukiuensis )
Height:4-6 ft. tall and 6-8 ft. wide
Spacing: 36-48 in.
Hardiness:USDA Zone 6-9
Sun : Full Sun
Blooms: Late Summer/Early Fall

Monday, October 26, 2009

Planting lettuce

My well-intentioned plans for planting a fall vegetable garden for the first time this year fell by the wayside. Both my husband, who was going to build a tall, raised bed and yours truly, who was going to do the planting, had a full schedule. So, instead, I decided a couple of the clay chimney flues that I use for my herb garden would work just fine. I bought Romaine and two loose-leaved varieties, including red tip lettuce, and planted them densely in one of the pots, sort of a mini-one-square-yard garden. I plan to harvest often, so hopefully, it will work.

I discovered baby lettuce is hard to transplant. With the exception of the Romaine, the leaves were so tender I mangled half of them getting them in the ground. Lettuce is easy to grow from seed, but I took the shortcut. I did buy some arugula and cilantro seeds, which I will start this week.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Successful sale

Each year, I look forward to the Jefferson County Master Gardeners spring and fall sales. This year, I saw it from the other side when I worked at the sale as a Master Gardener intern. It takes a lot of work to get the sale ready, and there were lots of willing hands this year.

As usual, the line began forming around 7 a.m. even though the "gates" didn't open until 8. Many savvy shoppers knew exactly what they wanted and headed straight to the desired plants. As usual, citrus trees went quickly, especially considering we had a truckload. Also quick to go were Peggy Martin Roses and clumping bamboo.

The variety of plants was impressive. The first run ended about 10 a.m. and the shoppers had made a huge dent in the inventory. Shoppers kept coming until we closed at 1. All in all, a wonderful day, both for shoppers and for us newbies who got to see what it takes to run a plant sale - as well as get to spend time with our fellow gardeners. Look for the next sale next spring. Come early if you want to ensure getting just the plants you want.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Eastern Screech Owl

Several years ago, I pulled into the carport one night just as my cell phone rang. I answered it, then sat in the car for about 10 minutes while I chatted with a friend. When I got out, I reached up to grab the top of the door to close it and found myself face-to-face with an Eastern screech owl. He was literally less than two feet from my face, yet didn't fly away.

We stared at each other for a minute while I held my breath. I'd seen a screech owl in the oak tree in our backyard before, but never had been this close. I gently closed the door far enough to turn the inside light off, but didn't shut it all the way. He had to lift his foot to keep from getting it caught, yet still, he didn't leave. I backed away a few feet and watched him for a while before going in.

Those few minutes were extraordinary. Being in such close proximity to something wild makes my heart race. Not in fear, but sheer delight. Growing up in the country, I saw many of God's beautiful creatures up close, but today, those types of encounters are more rare. The owl took up residence in the oak tree and for years, I'd sit on the back deck and search the branches for him. I'd always find him. One year, there were no sightings, which worried me. None the next, or the next. Finally, I stopped looking for him.

This spring, I was in the laundry room when I glanced out the window and saw two familiar eyes staring back at me from the fig tree. I don't know how long screech owls live, so I don't know if this was my old Friend or a new one. But I grabbed my camera and took a couple of shots through the window pane. Isn't he beautiful?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Master Gardener Plant Sale

Gardeners who look forward to the annual Jefferson County Master Gardeners Fall Plant Sale will be happy to hear the rain should have passed and the weather should be good for the sale this weekend.

Fall is a great time for planting. It gives trees, shrubs and ornamentals time to develop good, strong root systems before spring, when most of the plant's energy is concentrated in producing new foliage and blossoms.

The sale is from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. out at the MG test garden at the airport in Nederland. Parking is free.

Shopping for plants sometimes is a hit-and-miss proposition. Unless you read labels carefully and do your homework before you go, you can end up with a beautiful plant that will take a nose dive when the Southeast Texas heat and humidity hit it. That's not the case with this sale. Phyllis Smith, plant sale chairman, said gardeners can rest easy. Every plant sold this weekend was chosen for its suitability to Southeast Texas. Some, like select varieties of citrus, are Texas SuperStars.
"We have a wide variety of things people will be looking for, including unusual and uncommon garden plants. We focus on getting things that are different from the everyday plants, but are zoned for Southeast Texas weather," Phyllis said.

Here's some of what will be available this weekend:
Shade and ornamental trees (including Trident maple and the Chinese Pistache tree which provides wonderful fall color), shrubs (mayhaws, azaleas, banana shrubs and assorted flowering shrubs that will continue blooming into winter), citrus (lemons, satsumas, mandarin oranges, grapefruit, kumquats), a few cool-weather herbs, bulbs (red spider lilies, crinum, canna) and roses, all chosen for fragrance, including a few Peggy Martin roses. New this year is clumping bamboo (not the running bamboo that can be invasive).
The sale also will have some home decor items. The Master Gardeners booth will be open for questions, as well as selling its cookbook ($15) and copies of Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac ($20).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Master Gardener Plant Sale

The popular Jefferson County Master Gardeners Fall Plant Sale is this weekend at the Southeast Texas Regional Airport in Nederland.
I'll post again later today with details about what plants will be available this year. The sale always is a good one - and Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer questions.
They'll be wearing blue aprons like this one. Later...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Multi-tasking Gardener

I like to think of myself as a multi-tasking gardener. I've always got any number of gardening tasks going at one time. Right now, I'm doing a lot of fall tasks, from clearing out a small bed that borders the brick walkway to digging up plants that I put in the wrong place or would do better elsewhere.

The truth is, my husband would say, is that I am easily distracted. Example: Saturday, I was weeding the brick-bordered bed and digging up old plants to put in annuals for the fall and winter. I dug up all the irises in the bed, along a Texas gold lantana. The irises will go elsewhere, but I called my sister, Billie, to see if she wanted the lantana. She did, and asked about some shell ginger I had offered her a while back. So I started digging up, or shall I say, tried to dig up, some ginger. The roots have grown so dense and deep that after an hour of solid digging, I was only able to break off three roots for her. I have a deep trench dug around the roots, and they still show no signs of budging.

Sunday, I woke up with a monster stomach virus and fever and chills and stayed in bed all day. This morning, I woke up better, although tired, and went outside to see what I wanted to tackle today. As I looked around the south side of the yard, my version of a secret garden, I had to laugh at what I saw. I have a bed waiting for new plants, partially-dug ginger, The Fairy climbing rose prunings I completed Saturday that need taken out back, a Peggy Martin Rose I planted Saturday that needs tied to the trellis and mulched, and empty pots in the herb garden that need filled. I counted at least six tasks already begun and none completely finished.

I don't mind. I can work on whatever my level of energy permits. Like today. I'm still recuperating, so I will go into town, as we country folk say, and pick up supplies: mulch, fire ant killer, plant ties and new plants for the brick border bed. Tomorrow, I will be able to take my pick of any number of works-in-progress.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Goodbye Garlic Chives

See those thick, multi-fingered roots at the bottom of these garlic chives? I spent three hours today digging the little bas#*tar#s up from around my herb garden.

To do that, I had to pry the chimney flues up with a shovel and empty all the dirt from them before I could get to the roots. I'd guess they weigh about 50 pounds or more with the soil in them, and I know I will pay for this dearly tomorrow, especially since I spent three hours this morning working at the Master Gardeners test garden at the airport.

I know, I know. Not long ago I said I was giving up the chive battle. You win, I said. But gardeners don't give up. Total defeat is not an option. Of course, some things are going to die, but you replace them with something better. But letting something so innocent looking as garlic chives get the best of you is not an option.

I don't know that I've gotten all the roots, but I used a hand cultivator to keep raking through and picking them out. If any more come up, I'm getting out the Roundup and dabbing it on with a little sponge. We'll see how they like that!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Growing limes in Southeast Texas

All the recent rain has sent my lime tree into production. I bought the tree three years ago and have yet to put it in the ground, so the production has been limited. The rain brought a bunch of new blossoms and many of them produced fruit, as you can see in this photo of a new cluster. Don't do like me; choose your location and put your citrus trees in the ground right away, in a well-drained site. Pick the fruit off a newly-planted tree for the first couple of years to get it established. Fruit grows on last year's wood, so avoid pruning anything but shoots that sprout below the graft line. Cut those off.

Limes do well in Southeast Texas. They can freeze, so winter protection is important. Plant them in the sun on the south side of a house when possible. My lime is a Bearrs, often called Persian lime. For a good publication on citrus, get a copy of "Ambrosia from Your Backyard: Growing Citrus Fruit on the Upper Gulf Coast of Texas." It's available through the Jefferson County Agri-Life office.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Art of Rain

One of my favorite times to walk through a garden is after a gentle rain. When the clouds open and light comes through, colors explode. The greens are more vibrant, allowing you to see the endless variations of shades from leaf to leaf. Bright colors, like the red of this hibiscus that grew taller than me this year, are saturated with hues that reflect off the raindrops that pool like jewels.

I've always loved rainy days. I think it goes back to my childhood, when I'd pack a lunch, call my dog to come along and go exploring the woods around our Arkansas home. I'd stay gone for hours, enjoying the solitude and being at peace in surroundings that fed my soul. I loved the days it misted. I'd sit under a big oak and listen to the subtle ways the woods changed. The rain sent creatures seeking shelter, and although a forest never is truly silent, everything became a whisper: the wind, heavy drops cascading down a leaf's vein and falling from the tip with a liquid plop!

This morning, I stood under a small porch my husband built with a bar and space for the barbecue pit. It has a tin roof, and there's no better place to listen to rain than that. A good friend recently brought me boxes of mix-and-match Mexican-style tile he found at a rummage sale. I've been sorting through the boxes seeing if there was enough tile in one pattern to cover the bar. While it rained, I shifted tiles back and forth, looking for a pattern that would fit. The silence, except for rain, soothed me and brought such peace while I worked. My prayer for you today is that such moments come to you often, and that you find your own company entirely pleasing.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Paul James at Shangri-La

Paul James, the host of HGTV's Gardening by the Yard, will not be making his scheduled appearance at Shangri La Botanical Gardens in Orange.

James, who lives in Oklahoma, is known for using goofy jokes and making faces while giving out serious advice for gardeners. He was supposed to lecture at Shangri La Oct. 17, but his people called and cancelled, a spokeswoman at Shangri La said. No reason was given.

No appearance has been rescheduled.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Spotlight on: Orange Bulbine

Although the photo is as hazy as the early morning when I took this picture today, you can tell that orange bulbine is an attractive plant with deep green succulent leaves that look a lot like onion leaves and stems of orange and yellow blooms. My plants, which badly need to be divided, bloom all year except for winter. They produce thick clumps that nicely fill in an understory.

Orange bulbine (Bulbine frutescens):
Form: clump-forming
Season: evergreen
Bloom: continuous from spring to fall (deadheading promotes more blooms)
Size: 18-24” tall. Space 18-24” apart. Produces 10-12 flower stalks per plant 2-3 feet above foliage
Native: South Africa
Soil: grows well in a well-drained soil; very tolerant of poor, dry soil.
Light: Best in full sun
Zone: 9 (20 °F) to 11 (40 °F) Grows 18-24” tall. Space 18-24” apart.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Orchid Festival at Shangri La

Orchid lovers - be sure and check out the Orchid Festival at 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Oct. 10 at Shangri La Botanical Gardens in Orange. Orchids are among the world's most beautiful flowers - and make up 20% of all identified plant species, according to Shangri La, which houses many varieties in its Epiphyte House.

Among the events: 10 a.m. - Growing Orchids in the Gulf Coast Area by Jim Butler, accredited judge with the American Orchid Society.

1 p.m. - Orchid Jewels of East Texas by authors Joe Liggio and Ann Orto Liggio.

10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily Oct. 13-17 - Guided tours of the Exhibition Greenhouses.
All events are free for Shangri La members and included in the general admission fee for non-members ($4 for kids, $5 for seniors and $6 adults). Check it out at

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Southern Living Pumpkin Recipes

I love fall food. Almost any dish with pumpkin in it calls to me. And call me strange - you won't be the first one - but I also adore squash, turnips, beets and other root crops. I like them roasted with a light glaze of olive oil and sea salt, pureed in hearty soups, or baked into casseroles. Most of all, I like breads heavy with spices and pumpkin.

This month's Southern Living has great recipes in it using pumpkin: Caramel-Pecan-Pumpkin Bread Puddings and Mini Pumpkin Cakes, along with a tutorial on how to roast pumpkin seeds, which are both nutritious and tasty. The bread pudding recipes are simple. They also offer a one-dish version if you don't want to make mini-puddings. The recipe calls for eggs, pumpkin, milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, vanilla extract and French bread. The sauce uses pecans, brown sugar, butter, corn syrup and vanilla extract.

The October issue is worth buying (in my opinion, they all are), but if you don't have one, here's a decade-old recipe from Bon Appetit

Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce

2 cups half and half
1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
1 cup (packed) plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
10 cups 1/2-inch cubes egg bread (about 10-ounces)
1/2 cup golden raisins
Caramel sauce
1 1/4 cups (packed) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup whipping cream
Powdered sugar

For bread pudding:Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk half and half, pumpkin, dark brown sugar, eggs, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon and vanilla extract in large bowl to blend. Fold in bread cubes. Stir in golden raisins. Transfer mixture to 11x7-inch glass baking dish. Let stand 15 minutes. Bake pumpkin bread pudding until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare caramel sauce:Whisk brown sugar and butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until butter melts. Whisk in cream and stir until sugar dissolves and sauce is smooth, about 3 minutes.
Sift powdered sugar over bread pudding. Serve warm with caramel sauce.