gardening, nature

The herbal way to attract pollinators

A year ago, I visited a Texas lavender farm for the first time. I was in awe at the number of bees buzzing around as I stooped to harvest some of the flowering stems. Until then, I had no idea what a bee magnet lavender was!

lavenderfarm7

I have long grown herbs in our North Texas garden. I have always planted at least one African blue basil plant each spring, as the bees are drawn to its blooms in droves. I have even planted fennel and parsley as host plants for butterflies. But beyond that, I never gave much consideration to planting herbs specifically for pollinators until the day I saw a lavender field alive with bees!

This week is National Pollinator Week.

There are many ways that gardeners can lend pollinators a hand. Some may prefer to use only plants native to their region, while others may be drawn to annuals such as zinnias and pentas. Still others may choose the herbal way – attracting pollinators to their garden with herbs and their fragrant blossoms. What a winning arrangement! Growing herbs for use in the home, while also benefiting the earth. (Just please be sure to plant enough to share and don’t use pesticides.)

Lavender (shown in photo above) does best in full sun, with well drained soil. There are over 400 varieties of lavender. Some are grown specifically for cooking or for crafting, for distilling into essential oils or for landscaping. The United States Lavender Growers Association is an excellent resource for researching which varieties may be best suited for your intended use. A few lavender varieties have white blossoms, while the majority are some shade of — lavender.

butterfly

Garlic chives (shown above and below) are somewhat invasive in my North Texas garden, but always a welcome sight. When other plants are slowing down in the late summer heat, garlic chives are only beginning to show their spectacular white blossoms. (Garlic chives can be contained by cutting off the spent blossoms before the seeds have had a chance to dry and spread about. I just never get around to deadheading it in time…)

I choose not to use garlic chives in my kitchen, as I find their flavor to be overpowering. I much prefer the milder onion chives, which have a small pinkish purple bloom in the spring. I do not personally find as many pollinators using  onion chives.

bee on chives

Fennel, as shown below, can be used as a host plant by the black swallowtail butterfly.

caterpiller june 1

The fennel blossom – large, flat and bright yellow – makes the perfect “landing pad” for pollinators large and small. Parsley and dill are also host plants to the black swallowtail butterfly. I have not had great success with dill in my garden, though fennel does extremely well. Parsley has lovely blooms but does not attract pollinators as well as fennel. (Fennel shown below.)

hairstreak on fennel

While Greek oregano does not have showy blossoms, bees and smaller butterflies can often be found on it. (Shown below. I personally think this oregano’s blooms look a mess!) Greek Oregano is evergreen in North Texas and can be harvested year-round for Italian cooking. Like lavender, oregano prefers well drained soil and a sunny location.

bee on oregano

Kent Beauty, an ornamental oregano with lovely cascading blooms, will also attract pollinators. What you give up in culinary use, you gain in beauty with this one… Kent Beauty is reported to be winter hardy to zone 9, though I have yet to have one make it through a winter. (I blame our wet winters…)

There are more than 50 varieties of basil, most grown for their wonderfully edible leaves. To keep a basil plant producing leaves, the blossoms need to be pinched off or it will put its energy into producing seeds. Simply snip off any forming blooms every time you harvest basil.

African blue basil, however, is not commonly used in the kitchen as it has a strong camphor smell that many dislike. It will continue producing blossoms – and attracting pollinators – all summer long. In fact, African blue basil (shown below, with okra) is often planted near vegetables to aid in pollination.

african blue basil with okra

This is in no part a complete list of herbs that attract pollinators, rather just a taste of the possibilities As you are celebrating National Pollinator Week, consider adding a few herbs to your garden. A treat for you and a treat for our pollinators.

 

 

gardening, nature

Native Host Plants for Texas Butterflies: A Book Reviewed

There are numerous books on the market for butterfly gardening, but Native Host Plants for Texas Butterflies (by Weber, Weber and Wauer) is the first one I have found dedicated exclusively to the butterflies that call Texas home and the native plants they require for their survival.

June 17th to 23rd is National Pollinator Week and what better time to research and plan your own butterfly habitat.

“The very nature of a healthy ecosystem is defined by the interrelationships and dependencies between species, and nowhere is this more evident than in the world of butterflies and their larval host plants,” the authors write in the book’s opening pages.

native host plants book

Indeed, the balance between the adult butterfly, the tiny eggs she will lay on a specific host plant and the growing caterpillars’ feeding requirements captivates us all, young and old alike. Texas has nearly 500 butterfly species that call it home and this book features more than 140 of them, along with the host plant that the butterfly needs for reproduction.

native host plants turks cap

Written as a field guide (and aptly subtitled “A Field Guide”), the material is presented in a clear and concise manner. The book is divided into sections: Wildflowers, Trees, Shrubs and Vines.

Each plant (such as Turk’s Cap, shown above) has two pages dedicated to it. The left page shows the plant – leaves, flower and seed – along with a map where this plant naturally occurs. The right side page includes both the common and Latin name, along with plant and flower descriptions and sizes. The book then shows at least one Texas butterfly – in both adult and larval (caterpillar) stage – that uses that specific plant as its larval host.

turks cap backyard

To  have that healthy ecosystem, one with interrelationships between species, it is important to remember to offer both foliage and nectar rich flowers. The adults need that foliage to lay their eggs on and for the caterpillars to feed upon, while flowers will attract the adults.

Turk’s Cap (shown above, in my backyard garden) is host to the Turk’s Cap White Skipper. If one is new to butterfly gardening, it is important to remember to plant enough that you can look the other way as the hungry caterpillars munch on the leaves, as those leaves are food for the future generations. Please remember – never use pesticides in a butterfly garden!

turks cap flower

Adult butterflies, moths, bees and hummingbirds will all appreciate the nectar from the blossoms on the Turk’s Cap (shown above).

Bluebonnets, the official state flower of Texas, are the host plant for the Gray Hairstreak and the Eastern Tailed-Blue. Bluebonnets can be started either by seed or by plants, which are available at garden centers that specialize in native plants.

burr oak canopy

Many of the plants featured in this book are attractive – plants the average homeowner would want to have in their landscape. Bur oak trees (two of which are shown above) offer a lovely shade canopy to our front garden. This oak, available at most garden centers, is the host plant to the Banded Hairstreak and the Juvenal’s Duskywing.

Some of the native plants featured in this book are becoming more and more common across the state, such as the Redbud (host plant to Henry’s Elfin), Black-eyed Susan (host plant to the Silvery Checkerspot) and Cenizo (host plant to the Theona Checkerspot.) Others may need to be purchased either through Native Plant Society’s plant sales or at wildflower centers. (Both The Heard Natural Science Museum and The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center have plant sales every spring and offer harder to find native plants.)

This book will appeal to anyone interested in either butterfly gardening or in native plants of Texas. It is easy enough for a beginner gardener to use, but extensive enough to satisfy even a more advanced naturalist. The reader may chose to stick with those native plants that are easier to find or may take the book as a challenge, as they seek out hard to find natives.

Please consider planting a native plant (or two or five) next week in honor of National Pollinator Week.

gardening, nature

National Pollinator Week (Bee Kind…)

Next week – June 17th through the 23rd – is National Pollinator Week.

Seven days to honor the pollinators that our food supply depends on 365 days a year…

Pollinators – bees, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles and small mammals – are responsible for pollinating more than 180,000 plant species and 1,200 crops. Yet they are under threat world-wide due to loss of feeding and nesting habitat, pollution, pesticide use and many other factors.

Thankfully, gardeners and farmers worldwide are realizing that more can be done – needs to be done – every single day to assist the humble workers that pollinate as much as three-quarters of our food crops.

In Texas, gardeners often talk about planting for year-round interest, so their gardens have something in bloom every month of the year. This is actually the single best way to help out our pollinators, too! If you live in colder regions, the principle is still the same. Extend your season. Plan and plant to have something in bloom as much of the growing season as possible.

Coneflowers, shown below with a bumble bee, are one of my favorite native plants. They have a long bloom season, blooming roughly seven months of the year in my zone 8a garden. (From May to the first freeze in middle to late November.)  When researching new plants for your garden, make sure to look at the blooming season and include plants that bloom both early and late.

coneflower with bee

Native plants are very beneficial for pollinators, but one does not need to rely solely on native plants. In fact, I prefer to fill in my seasonal garden with non-native annual flowers, such as zinnias and pentas in the summer. Do include mostly plants that have not been hybridized heavily and avoid plants with “double” blooms as they often produce less pollen. Simple flat flower heads, such as the garlic chive bloom shown below, are best for larger pollinators, while small pollinators will crawl inside a flower bloom. Do plant a variety of bloom colors and sizes, as well as flower types.

butterfly

To specifically help butterflies and moths, plant “host plants,” the plants they will eat while in the larval (caterpillar) stage. Below is a swallowtail butterfly in the larval stage, eating fennel in my garden. Which brings us to the next important thing to do – or rather, not do – to protect pollinators…

caterpiller june 1

Do not use pesticides!

More and more studies have come out in the past few years showing how harmful pesticides are for all of our ecosystem, not just the pest they are intended for.

If you want to attract pollinators to your garden, you do need to adopt two very important rules. 1.) Overlook cosmetic damage done by insects in your garden. 2.) Plant extra for the insects to munch on. These two rules actually go hand in hand. The more you plant, the less you will notice a munch here and there…

There are organic methods to control many common garden pests, but I have found in  25 years of organic gardening that nature tends to balance itself out quite well when left to its own.

Pollinators prefer a sunny area, sheltered away from the north wind. (Below, butterflies on fall blooming Gregg’s mist flower.)

butterflies

Pollinators need habitat to roost and to nest, not just to feed. Leaf litter (unraked leaves) is a great place for pollinators to seek cover in the fall and winter. Dead trees, if they can be safely left to rot in place, are a great habitat for pollinators. If a dead tree does need to be removed, consider leaving a portion of it down on the ground. Even a small collection of tree branches and twigs can be beneficial to pollinators on a smaller property. Bee boxes or condos for our native bees can also be constructed from tree branches.

moth on coneflower 1

But… Most importantly… Bee Kind.

bee kind cup and tea towel

Be sure to check out your own local resources, whether an arboretum, a native plant nursery or a regional nature guidebook. The more one knows about gardening and nature, the more one can appreciate it.

winecup and mallow

Resources for Texas:

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (Austin, Texas)

Redenta’s Garden (Dallas, Texas)

Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden

bibliophile, gardening, nature

On this June day…

On this June day the buds in my garden are almost as enchanting as the open flowers. Things in bud bring, in the heat of a June noontide, the recollection of the loveliest days of the year – those days of May when all is suggested, nothing yet fulfilled.
– Francis King

coneflower

Purple coneflower. Echinacea purpurea. “…suggested, not yet fulfilled.”

The unopened bloom is almost. almost. as pretty as the opened bloom.

So symmetrical. So green. So full of promise, with not even a hint of the “cone” of which its name comes from.

coneflowerjune1

And then this happens. The bloom is fulfilled and oh, so enchanting.

The many stages of blooms in just one brief snapshot. From bud to cone. From suggestion to fulfilled.

~ ~ ~

I garden to have year-round color, so “all” is not suggested in May as Francis King writes, yet his thought is so beautiful I cannot pass over it.

In June, as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day. No man can heed all of these anniversaries; no man can ignore all of them.
– Aldo Leopold

Indeed, a dozen species – or so it seems- are bursting forth each day. Spring rains have left the garden lush and thriving. Especially the weeds. But such is life in the garden.

The daylilies are stealing the scene on this June day. The winecups continue to offer a colorful backdrop from every vantage point.

daylily and winecup

This one (I believe it is Ruby Spider) is especially big and bold today. Oakes Daylilies has long been my go-to source for quality daylilies. Their website allows you to shop by bloom size, bloom height, color or many other features you may be searching for.

For me, last year was the year I shopped for daylilies with huge blooms. That decision is paying off already with this stunner!

daylilyjune1

Daylily blooms, as their name suggest, last for one day. Daylily plants are generally loaded with both blooms and buds this time of year. The suggested and the fulfilled.

(Speaking of weeds. Sometimes our “weeds” were once well intended plants that thrived all too well in the garden. Such is the case with that lovely Oriental Limelight Artemisia, to the left of the daylily in the photograph above… It is beautiful, but way, way too happy in my garden!)

It’s beautiful the Summer month of June
When all of God’s own wildflowers are in bloom
And sun shines brightly most part of the day
And butterflies o’er lush green meadows play.

– Francis Duggan, June

Zexmenia, a Texas native wildflower, is coming in to bloom.

zexmenia

I have yet to see many butterflies fluttering over its sun gold blooms… I am trying not to worry, but the bees and butterflies have been noticeably absent from my garden this spring. I am hoping the rain has just delayed their presence. National Pollinator Week is coming up and, like every year, I will add more pollinator plants to my garden. Won’t you do the same? So much of our food supply is dependent on pollinators and our pollinators are struggling as more and more of the world is moving from rural, untouched earth to developed suburbia.

In Dallas, North Haven Gardens is hosting a workshop for National Pollinator Week. Planting a pollinator garden with your children or grandchildren is a great way to expose young ones to the joy of gardening. I hope to write more on that in the upcoming weeks.

No flowers, no bees;
No bees, no flowers.
Blooming and buzzing,
Buzzing and blooming;
Married and still in Love.
–  Mike Garofalo, Cuttings

daylily winecup coneflower

One of the benefits – and joys — of planning and planting a garden for year-round color is that you can attract – and assist – wildlife year-round. In the photo above are winecups,  coneflowers and daylilies. The winecups and coneflowers are both native, while the daylililes are well adapted to much of the United States. They have similar water, soil and sun requirements, though their bloom season overlaps. The winecups have been blooming for well over a month now…while the daylililes and coneflowers are just now starting to bloom. The coneflowers will now bloom off and on to our first freeze. All are beneficial to pollinators. I will allow the late coneflowers to dry on the plant, where the seeds will attract and feed winter birds.

I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June.
– L. M. Montgomery

I love L.M. Montegomery’s thought. June is perhaps my favorite time of year. So much happening in the garden! And yet… I would miss the other seasons in the garden.

button bush

Our native Button Bush is just now forming buds, these tiny green balls – so much suggested and not yet fulfilled.

beauty berrry

Same with our native Beauty Berry. As the name applies, it has beautiful berries, still a few months from fully developing and ripening into its rich purple berries that the birds love.

turks cap

Our native Turk’s Cap has loved the abundant rains this spring, but its red blooms – a true hummingbird magnet – have not yet appeared. Once it starts blooming, it will continue to bloom – and attract wildlife – through to our first freeze next fall/winter.

What is one to say about June, the time of perfect young summer, the fulfillment of the promise of the earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade.
–  Gertrude Jekyll, On Gardening

I hope you have enjoyed walking through my garden and my thoughts with me today.

gardening

Earth friendly gardening

We all have something we are passionate about. Me? I am passionate about earth friendly organic gardening methods that benefit wildlife. And promoting childhood literacy through classical literature. A bit ADHD I might be. (***)

My sister-in-law, Kerri, is passionate about eliminating single use plastics. A point at which our passions overlap, like on a good Venn diagram. Kerri and I are both very interested in the 3 Rs – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. We both put an emphasis on the first two Rs – Reduce our impact on the earth. Reuse whenever possible.

Kerri founded SeaGreenProducts, to encourage others to look for alternatives to single use plastics.

I founded the melodious garden, which is a melody (ie: collection, garden) of passions. Passion 1: To promote beauty through gardening, both outdoors and in. Passion 2: To sell vintage items, which is, after all, the classic way to reuse things that are still full of life. Whether it be a piece of Pyrex from the ’60s, a table from the ’40s or a children’s book from the ’70s, if it is beautiful and still has life, I want to see that it finds a new home.

Kerri’s business has encouraged me to reflect on my own gardening practices and see what I already do to eliminate single use plastics – and to see where I have room for improvement! (Because. Don’t we all have room for improvement?)

One thing I have long done was purchase compost and mulch in bulk from a local supplier. One cubic yard of compost or mulch fits in the bed of a regular pick-up, which saves about 14 plastic bags from going to the landfill. If I order four cubic yards for delivery (the minimum amount my supplier will deliver), the price by bag and by bulk is comparable, but I save about 56 bags from going to the landfill. My garden can easily handle six cubic yards of fresh compost and mulch every two to three years, at which point it saves not only money but also 84 empty plastic bags from the landfill. I also find it easier (lazier…) to shovel the compost or mulch into a wheelbarrow than to wrestle the heavy and often wet plastic bags and get them ripped open.

I will admit that I do buy potting soil and fertilizers in plastic bags, as I have never seen them available any other way. This is obviously one of my areas for improvement. I do try and save empty nursery pots, as my garden club has an annual plant sale and we pot up plants from our own gardens for the sale. This is another area, though, that I would like to improve on. I do wish the nursery pots were recyclable or – better yet – biodegradable.

Composting… Not only does it keep food wastes out of the landfill, but it is a great way to make your own fertilizer. When shopping, I look for items in their natural containers that can be composted instead of sent to the landfill. One example is lemons.

lemon on milk glass

I buy ‘real’ lemons (or limes) instead of lemon juice in a little fake plastic lemon. The remains of the real lemon can be composted, whereas the plastic lemon may or may not end up recycled.

I also grow my own herbs, instead of buying store-bought herbs in plastic containers in the produce department.

summer3

Most herbs are extremely easy to grow, esp in flower pots! And nothing is more satisfying that stepping out the back door to pick your own herbs for supper.

I use our leaves on our own property rather than bagging them to send off to the landfill. We own a chipper/shredder and rake and shred the leaves before returning them to the garden beds, though a mulching mower is another alternative. Shredded leaves make excellent mulch. They can also be added to the compost pile, where they will break down quickly. Earthworms love shredded leaves, which is an added bonus. If you must bag your leaves, consider using large paper bags, purchased at home improvement stores, instead of plastic bags.

 

(*** As proof of that I submit to you: The poem I stumbled across and memorized by myself, for myself, when I was in elementary school. It is, I think, the perfect insight into my brain…

I meant to do my work today –
But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.
And the wind went sighing over the land,
Tossing the grass to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand –
So what could I do but laugh and go?
By Richard Le Gallienne) 

gardening, herbal fare

Harvesting herbs ahead of freezing weather

Wow. Is that a scary headline or what?!
Freezing weather?!
Here in North Texas, we are staring our first official freeze straight in the face. The night that all gardeners fear – the end of fresh basil and fall tomatoes… (Unless one is blessed with a greenhouse.)
Mid-November is our first average freeze date so we are due for some cold weather.
Most of our herbs are cold hardy here in zone 8a. We are fortunate to harvest thyme, rosemary and the like all winter long. But – basil, lemon verbena, scented geraniums, lemongrass…all melt at the first whiff of winter air.
Thankfully, there are as many ways to extend the season as there are ways to enjoy fresh herbs.
Without further ado, here is a list of my favorite ways to use summer herbs all winter long…

1.) Basil pesto
Pesto can easily be frozen in small Ball canning jars or ice cube trays, then thawed slightly to pop out and use all winter long.
Basil can also be chopped up and frozen in a bit of olive oil to be used as a dressing for salad or pasta.

2.) Herbal vinegars
lemon vinegar

I love to make herbal vinegars to use as a base for salad dressings. Use white vinegar, red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar – whatever suits your tastes. (And vinegar is inexpensive – try out some new varieties!) Add any combination of herbs, citrus rind, hot peppers, etc. Let set in a cool dark place for six weeks or so, to allow flavors to meld. Strain out herb mixture and pour vinegar back into a clean jar for use.

herbal vinegars

3.) Hang to dry, then store in Ball canning jars for winter stews, sauces and teas

4.) Herbal butters

herbal butter

Add herbs of choice (such as a mixture of parsley, thyme and basil) in a food processor with softened butter. Pulse until herbs are chopped and incorporated throughout the butter. Roll into a cylinder on wax paper and store in freezer until ready to use. (They can be stored about 3 months in the freezer. Butter can be stored 7-10 days in the fridge.) Use on vegetables or meats.

5.) Make and freeze bone broth or stock

6.)  Bake and freeze for later

rosemary zucchini bread

Baking and freezing is a great way to enjoy the fresh taste of herbs all winter long, plus gives you a head start on holiday festivities! (Orange rosemary cake with rum glaze pictured above. This recipe freezes incredibly well!)

What are your favorite ways to extend your herbal harvests?

 

bibliophile, gardening

Bulbs: Buy now. Plant later.

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
bulbbulb
If you find yourself wandering around the nursery and see – A host of golden daffodils! All bagged and begging to be bought! And visions of daffodils, beside the lake, beneath the trees, dance in your head…

Yes! Do buy them!

Just, please. Do wait to plant them!
Spring blooming bulbs are now in garden centers, but our soils are still too warm. The correct time to plant daffodils, tulips and such in zone 8a/North Texas is between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when our days are reliably cooler. For best selection, though, buy now. Just store them in a cool place for another six to eight weeks.
bulbdaffodil
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
daf
Daffodils are easy to plant. Dig a hole two to three times the height of the bulb and place the bulb pointy-side up. Cover with soil. Repeat. And then you, too, will have a crowd, a host of golden daffodils.
Or snow white daffodils.
daffodils 3
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
~ William Wordsworth
bulbtulip
Tulips are also easily planted. They have a definite “right side up” and “wrong side down.” But they do need to be chilled before planting in North Texas. (For as much as we like to complain about the weather, it doesn’t get cold enough to give tulips the right amount of chill hours…) Buy your tulips now, but store them in the veggie section of your refrigerator until closer to year’s end. (You can also mail order pre-chilled tulip bulbs. A few select garden centers, such as North Haven Gardens in Dallas, offer to store and chill your bulbs for you. You buy now. They store until ideal planting time. Then you have room for veggies in your fridge. Because you know you were worried about where to store your broccoli.)
Tulips are an annual in North Texas and are prone to wind damage, though they are beautiful in the garden. If garden space is a premium or money is a consideration, plant reliable bulbs, such as daffodils, and just plan to buy tulips from the florist. (See photo below.) (I do occasionally succumb to tulip-mania and plant tulips… Like this year.)
red tulips3
Anemones are another beautiful spring blooming flower that is planted in the fall. It is is a bit trickier to plant. Which way is up? Which way is down? Is this really a bulb or is it a dried mushroom?
bulbanemone
If you look closely at the bulb, you will see that one side has a circle with what looks like the source of now chopped off roots. That is down. Anemones are not reliably perennial in this area, but offer a bold splash of color come spring.
anemone
Plan now for your spring garden. Spring blooming bulbs are so rewarding!
gardening, nature

The creation of a thousand forests…

The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yes. I know I often quote Emerson, but I was reminded of those thousand forests this afternoon when my puppy drug in the largest acorn I think I have ever seen.

burr oak cap

Sorry. No adorable puppy photo. But I was able to save the acorn cap to measure and photograph. It got me thinking about the bur oak tree… And how a long-time friend, Tamara, says that the bur oak tree is the “oakiest” of all the oak trees.

Indeed. It has the largest acorns.

Quercus macrocarpa – The bur oak’s latin name. Macrocarpa means “large fruit” in Ancient Greek. (Photo below is a slight exaggeration.)

oak ornament

It has the largest leaves.

burr oak leaf

The roughest corky bark.

burr oak bark

And. Truly. If the creation of a thousand forests is contained in a single acorn, then a million forests must be contained within a bur oak acorn.

burr oak with house

Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago. ~ Warren Buffett

I have read mixed reports of the bur oak’s rate of growth, but from personal experience, I would rate it as a fast grower.

We have two bur oak trees on our suburban lot. One planted by the developer 25 years ago and the other planted by a squirrel 15 years ago. Both trees now tower over our house. (Photo above and below.)

oak tree2

Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.  ~ Kahlil Gebran

The bur oak, which in the white oak family, is native to much of the United States, including North Texas. It is sometimes appropriately called “mossycup oak.” (See photo below.)

burr oak acorn

Bur oak trees can reach 100 feet tall and live to around 200-300 years old.

The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all, our most pleasing responsibility.  ~ Wendell Berry

November 1st is Arbor Day in Texas, so plan now to plant a shade tree so future generations can sit in its shade and wax poetically about forests and acorns.

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree oak tree. ~ Martin Luther

gardening

Fall Planting

Being able to garden and plant in the fall is our reward for surviving yet another hot and dry Texas summer. Planting in the fall may be a new idea to some gardeners, but there are many benefits to it.

The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago.
The second best time is now.
So the proverb goes…

harold

(My late father-in-law in his family’s garden seventy or so years ago. Check out those iris! A topic for another post…)

In Texas, Arbor Day is celebrated on November 1st, while the rest of the country celebrates the planting of trees in April. Why the difference? Because trees (and shrubs) planted in the fall get off to a much better start than those planted in April.

Our soil never freezes in zone 8a, even in our coldest winters, which means that plant roots continue to grow year round. Plants that are put into the ground now have time for their roots to get established, with at least six months of cooler temperatures and heavier rainfall before summer sets in yet again. The soil is still warm from summer, while the air is cooling down, thus creating better growing conditions. All of those factors give plants an advantage come August to plants that weren’t planted until spring.

If you are in the market for trees or shrubs and fall leaf color is a consideration, fall is a great time to visit nurseries and see plants while their leaves are turning color. Leaf color varies from tree to tree, even within one variety, so look for individual plants that have the most vibrant fall colors.

If you are in the market for trees, visiting a botanical garden or arboretum is a great way to look at many types of trees in one location. The Grapevine Botanical Garden, for example, is free and open to the public and features several dozen different trees, all native or well adapted to North Texas.

Need another reason to plant now? Fewer insects are out and about in the fall, which means less pest management and a more enjoyable gardening environment.

Trees, shrubs, hardy perennials and winter hardy annuals (such as pansies and ornamental kale) can all be planted now. Availability of plants will vary by garden center, with independent garden centers carrying the best selection in the fall.

Don’t forget that we can also grow vegetables, such as lettuce and beets, through the winter. Check with your county extension office for a chart of what vegetables can be planted now.

gardening, herbal fare

Rosemary + Lemon =

I am always looking for new ways to use fresh herbs in my baking, but often think I have tried every flavor combination possible. And then along came…

Rosemary lemon bars.

I was intrigued. And rightly so. The rosemary gave an earthy depth to the citrus punch of lemon bars. I won’t bore you with a recipe, aside from this: Add one to two tablespoons of fresh minced rosemary to the dough portion of your favorite lemon bar recipe. Be sure to incorporate well so the oils from the rosemary infuse the dough.

lemon rosemary bar2

A few culinary tips for the day…

Adding fresh lemon zest is one of the quickest ways to up the citrus flavor in any recipe. Be sure to zest just the yellow portion of the lemon. Do not zest the bitter white portion.

lemon zesting2

What is the easiest way to mince fresh rosemary?

rosemary1

Take the rosemary section and lay it down on a cutting board. Hold in place.

rosemary2

Run your knife down the leaves, just offset from the branch.

rosemary3

Once the leaves are off the branch, you can mince as fine as you like.

All rosemary varieties are edible, though they do vary in flavor and in growth habits.

Some rosemary plants grow as stiff upright shrubs. (See photo below.) Their branches can be cut and used as kebob skewers to impart more rosemary flavor into meat or mushrooms.

upright rosemary in pot

Trailing rosemary (shown below) is lovely growing over the edge of a raised bed, retaining wall or container.

trailing rosemary in pot

Rosemary is winter hardy in North Texas. If you are “blessed” with heavy clay soil, as many of us are, it is best to amend your soil with compost and earthworm castings, as rosemary likes well drained soil. Rosemary can be planted year-round in zone 8a, though garden centers will have the best selection in spring and fall.

lemon rosemary bar1