Thursday, May 27, 2010

Growing clematis

When it comes to vines, I've had my share of learning experiences. Flowering vines are a beautiful addition to a garden, but care should be given to choosing the right one for your needs. When we moved into our 100-plus-year-old home, the yard was rich with established plants. The first spring, we found the back fence line covered with wisteria. By year five, we were constantly fighting to keep it under control. It went up trees, across the yard and started new vines with wild abandon. We also had an abundance of star jasmine that was equally invasive. I've been fighting both vines for 20 years.

When LOML (Love of my Life) Joel built us some new, small arbors, I planted moon vine (which was spectacular until it died) and a Peggy Martin rose, which is looking promising. This week, I added clematis, which my Aunt Shirley loves but I've never planted. I bought a vivid purple and a pastel lavender. I'm still debating where to plant them. I have at least three choices.

Here are some guidelines for growing clematis, taken from the American Clematis Society(

Light: at least 5 to 6 hours of sun (pastel varieties will not fade as badly if given some afternoon shade)
Site: Critical to long-lived clematis. Dig a hole 24 x 24 and fill with quality topsoil that has been amended if needed. Cut the container to avoid damaging the plant. Sink the base of the plant's stems 3" to 5" below soil level. Keep the stake in place the first year to give support.
Mulch: 3" to 4" of soil amendments or peat moss over root zone. Keep mulch 8" away from the stem to avoid stem rot.
Feed: Clematis are heavy feeders. When spring buds reach 2" long, feed with Gro-Power Flower 'n' Bloom. Alternate feedings every 4 to 6 weeks with Gro-Power All Purpose Plus. Use 2 tablespoons per plant every feeding until the end of September.
Water: Water regularly, thoroughly and deeply during hot summer months. Don't keep too wet, especially in dormant winter months.
Support: They will climb on an arbor, a trellis, other shrubs, a fence, or other structures.
Disease: Susceptible to stem rot or wilt, but it's not usually fatal. Cut off all diseased parts and discard in trash bag. Don't forget to disinfect clippers after use. The ACS recommends Physan 20.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Olive Barn is not closing

Oops. When I said Olive Barn was closing, I was wrong. What I should have said is that Olive Barn's Outlet & Warehouse in Houston is closing. Olive Barn still is very much alive and well online at They have some unique and interesting items and are worth checking out.

Thanks, Jacqueline, for calling that to my attention.

Easy to use gardening tools

For gardeners, the older you get, the more important it is to find the right tools. Gardening is physical labor. Digging, weeding, hoeing, planting - all can take a toll on the back, shoulders, arms, legs, hand and feet. While the exercise is good for the body, sore, painful joints and unnecessary callouses are not.

A couple of years ago, I found a set of hand tools at the Olive Barn in Houston that looked promising. They have become my favorite tools. They're made by NRG and have large, round handles that are ergonomically sound and easy to grip. They are not cheap (in any sense of the word), but the quality is excellent. When I retired from The Enterprise, my friend Torchy gave me a set at my going-away party because she knew I loved gardening. We lost Torchy to cancer not long ago, but the tools - along with countless other things - remind me of her energy, sweetness and joy of life when I use them.

I have lusted after NRG's large tools ever since I found the small ones, but hesitated because of the cost ($40 each). Well, the Olive Barn is going out of business (sad face) and have the tools on sale for half price. Joel splurged and bought me the weeder, spade, fork and bulb planter. They are wonderful. I'm doing some major flower bed work right now and they make it much easier.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What happens when you don't water

It seems I picked one of the driest months around to be out of town. While I was gone from mid-April to mid-May, my sweet husband tried to water all the plants, but not being the one who usually has water duty and unaware of how many plants we have and how potted plants need more water than those in the ground, well ... let's say I came home to some seriously damaged plants. When I saw the brown, shriveled up lime tree and herbs, I figured I might could save some of the herbs, but the lime tree probably was a goner.

Well, while the top of the tree still is brown and shriveled, new green shoots are coming out half-way down the tree. I'm not sure if the damage was severe enough that I should pitch the tree and start over, but I think it deserves a chance to prove itself. I have a hard time throwing out a plant, even when I should. I will discard diseased plants, however.

I'm going to give the lime tree a couple through summer to see how well it rebounds. It needs pruning, but not having experienced this before, I'm not at which points I should begin the pruning. I hate to take the top third out, but that might be exactly what the tree needs.

What do you think?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tuscan mystery plant

One of the many plants I saw during my three weeks in Europe that I'm not familiar with include this colorful succulent. The yellow, orange and green combination is striking. It was always growing in full sun and though I didn't break a leaf off to check, it looks like other succulents I've seen.

The plants in Tuscany all seemed somehow brighter, more vivid and color-drenched than most. Perhaps it just seems that way because of the more neutral tones of the stone, brick and rock of the 300-year-old bed and breakfast where we stayed.

Do you know what this plant is? Please share.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Grandma's Yellow Rose

There's something about yellow roses. As a young woman, I fell in love with a beautiful climbing yellow rose that spilled along a neighbor's chain link fence. The color was vivid, yet restful. Even on cloudy days, it seemed to pull all the light onto its petals. When I moved, I missed that rose. As an adult, when my friends got a dozen red roses on Valentine's Day, I always secretly wished for a dozen yellow ones.

When my first marriage was falling apart and we separated, my soon-to-be ex sent a dozen roses to my office. They were yellow. I couldn't believe it. Seven years of marriage and they were the first such roses. I threw them in the trash. All these years later, I can appreciate the too-late gesture (and remain on good terms with the ex, who found the right woman for him and is happily married) but don't regret what I did.

I've never planted a true yellow rose in my yard. I think it might be time to remedy that. The latest rose to be added to the Texas A&M List of Texas SuperStars is Grandma's Yellow Rose, shown above. The rose is the first of five plants that will be named in 2010. The blooms are not the usual short-stemmed types found in most home gardens, but a true long-stemmed "Valentine's Day Rose," the Texas AgriLife Extension Service horticulturists say.

The researchers named the rose after Dr. Larry Stein's grandmother, Tillie Jungman, who loved the rose and helped test it in her garden near Castroville. Stein is an AgriLife Extension horticulturist and one of the developers of Grandma's Yellow rose. The new rose produces successive flushes of blooms from spring until frost and so disease tolerant that fungicide sprays seldom are needed.

Miss Tillie died in Nov. 2005. Her pallbearers each wore a yellow rose bud in their lapels.

Texas AgriLife Extension Service photo by Robert Burns

Sunday, May 16, 2010


For the past four days, before hitting the gardening duties/pleasures, I've been getting up early and sitting on the deck to enjoy a few minutes of the few crisp, cool hours of the day May brings in Southeast Texas. I sip tea from this lovely cup (complete with a strainer and brewing lid) that Stephanie gave me for Mothers Day. It looks like you, she said when she gave it to me, along with a beautiful earthenware pot filled with a citrus-scented candle.

I've been home only a week since my Trip of a Lifetime to Europe. While there, I drank hot tea every day. With perfect 60-degree weather, I grew to love the hot brew with biscotti or biscuits (of the afternoon tea European kind, not my grandmother's breakfast delights). I plan on keeping up this daily routine until the heat of summer makes it less appealing. Then, it's back to cranberry juice or iced tea.

How blessed I am to have a daughter (and son and daughter-in-law) who spend time looking for gifts that "look like me." Speaking of Chris and Sheila, they gave me a Lily, the first Asiatic lily to go into my garden. It's potted right now, but will be planted this fall when I find the right spot.

Speaking of finding the right spot... I have a lot of catch-up blogging to do. I missed the prime spring gardening days from Mid-April to Mid-May, so I'm working hard to make up for that. It's hard to complain about not being here when I was on the T.O.A.L.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

So where have you been?

I've been getting that question a lot lately. If you're a regular reader, you've no doubt noticed a looong absence of posts. There's a good reason - I've been on the trip of a lifetime.

My sister Gloria and I spent three weeks in Europe. Our travels took us to London, Paris, Rome, Tuscany, Edinburgh, Dublin and across south and west Ireland. It was fabulous. You'd think at least one thing would let you down, but other than being stuck for two extra days in Tuscany because of the Iceland ash cloud (not exactly a hardship), everything was more than we could have expected.

I saw lots of new plants, several gardens (although time didn't permit touring Kew Gardens in London, much to my sadness) and the greenest green you can imagine in Ireland and Scotland.

I'm sorting through the 1,750 photos I took (seriously) and will post many of them here later. We'll start with these lovely irises at the fabulous B&B Agriturismo Il Rigo, San Quirico d'Orcia in Tuscany (

Of all the places we stayed, this was one of my two favorites. If you are traveling to Tuscany, I can recommend this B&B without reservation. It is a 500-year-old farmhouse that sits high on a hill in the Tuscan countryside. It's minutes from several lovely villages. Everywhere you look is a picture-postcard perfect view, with lots of flowers and gardens.