gardening, vintage

Potted doll heads…

My husband and I have been married for over 30 years, so he should know me, amiright? And yet we still have conversations like this…

DH: Whatcha doing today?

Me: Giving a doll a hair cut. And a lobotomy.

DH: Whyyyyyy?

Me: Why not?

I have been wanting to make potted doll heads for several years now… For the past three years, I would be busy right now potting up succulents for the local Master Gardener’s fall plant sale. Alas. Covid. Their wonderful event is canceled this year. Every year, ahead of their plant sale, I would ask myself… Is this the right crowd for potted doll heads? And every year, I would say to myself… Um… Maybe not. So I would stick with my tried and true. I would pot up vintage tea cups and McCoy pottery and all sorts of beautiful vessels. This year, I vowed I would do it. I would find some old dolls and cut open their heads and pot them up. But – No Master Gardener sale this year. (Imagine a great big frowning face emoji…) Thankfully, https://www.grapevineantiquemarket.com/, where I have a few booths, is having a super-fun event… Talk Like A Pirate Day! This Saturday – September 19th. Now I know. Pirates have nothing to do with creepy doll heads filled with succulents. But it gave me an excuse to finally lop off some doll heads.


Let me tell you… Finding the dolls was hard! I looked and looked at thrift stores and found nothing interesting. Then along came this auction. Not just any auction, either. A three day auction. In a massive house. One day was just…. the lady’s doll collection. Yes. A whole auction devoted to bidding on dolls.

So you enter the house… Which has been vacant for quite a while…. Go up a steep set of stairs…. Turn a corner and go down a short hall and enter… The Doll Room. A massive room. Floor to ceiling, wall to wall – Built in bookcases. With glass doors. And there on the many shelves….

Dolls.

Dolls.

And. More dolls.

I went for the vintage sewing notions, as this lady sewed many of her dolls’ outfits. I thought I would come home with a few boxes of wooden thread spools, some old buttons and a few dolls. Instead, I came home with… Dolls… And… More dolls. And doll pieces and parts. Yes. I am still sorting out heads and shoulders, and knees and toes. What a fun – yet downright creepy – auction!

Now… For the gardening part!

I gave the dolls a shave and a cut, then found a suitable base. The doll heads are glued to their base, then green moss was glued around the edges to make them look mossy and neat. I used long tweezers to attach the moss, to save my fingers from getting super-glued to the moss and the doll and everything else. If you don’t have long tweezers, you can use regular ones, but I happen to love long tweezers because… well, they are long. And big. And great for so many uses. I bought mine from a pet store many years ago. I think they were sold as “cricket feeding tweezers.” And. Yeah. That is what I initially bought them for. Back when we had an aquatic turtle who loved him some fresh crickets.

Aside from holding the moss, the tweezers were also great for pushing the small cuts of coco liner into the dolls heads. (I decided on coco liner as the best way to cover any openings in in the doll, like at her neck or mouth.)

I used a quality cactus potting mix to fill the heads. (And one leg… More on that later…) When transplanting succulents, it is best to knock off all the potting mix that is on and around their roots and give them fresh soil to grow in. Below are photos showing what a succulent looks like straight out of the container and the other photo shows what it looks like with its soil knocked loose. The goal isn’t to strip the succulent of all of its soil, but to break up the soil and encourage the roots to grow outward instead of the spiral they were used to growing in.

And…

After planting, I covered the soil with additional green moss. I normally top-dress my succulents with tumbled glass or pebbles. I am hopeful the moss won’t retain too much moisture. Potted succulents should always be watered in small quantities and at the soil level. Do not water from overhead.

Now… For the reveal…

Potted doll heads! And one leg…

As I mentioned earlier, I also got a number of doll pieces and parts, including this broken doll leg.

Most any item can be used underneath the potted head (or leg), as it just needs something to stabilize it… As you can see, I used a plate under the leg and this head…

an old canning jar lid…

a demi cup…

and a small vase…

All my pretties together…

They will be available at Grapevine Antique Market Friday afternoon, through Halloween or while available. Please drop by Saturday and talk like a pirate and shop for some super cool vintage and antique fall decor!

Be safe!

gardening, herbal fare

Lemon herbs… Lemon verbena and Lemon balm

I rave about lemon verbena most any chance I get.

Meet a new gardener? I am bound to ask them if they grow lemon verbena, then I will start into a five minute mini-lecture on why everyone should grow the herb.

Talking to an experienced cook about using fresh herbs versus dried herbs in the kitchen? I am likely to start talking about my passion for using lemon verbena.

Discussing flower gardening with a grower at the farmer’s market? Yes. Even then I will recommend lemon verbena.

If the botany world had Super Fans, I would be Lemon Verbena’s biggest fan.

But why lemon verbena when lemon balm is so readily available? Following is a bit of a compare/contrast of the two herbs… (I will leave lemon grass for another day, as that is in a league of its own.)

Let’s start first with a side by side look at the herbs.

lemon verbena and balm

This collection of potted plants is right outside my front door, where I can run my fingers through the leaves of the herbs or run outside to snip off a bit of herb for cooking. I grow both lemon verbena and lemon balm in containers, though I will also plant lemon verbena in the ground.

Lemon balm is in the mint family, which means… It would overtake the world if given the chance. I always, always, always plant lemon balm (and mints) in containers. For me, one lemon balm plant is sufficient. It has an impressive root system and will readily spread to fill a container. Or the neighborhood.

Lemon verbena is a woody annual herb, which grows and produces leaves along one central woody stalk. I generally plant half dozen plants each spring, some in containers and some in the ground. I don’t use all that I plant, but it is a lovely carefree addition to the garden. I love the way it tends to sprawl around other plants and I love brushing against its fragrant leaves whenever I am in the garden.

Lemon balm is extremely winter hardy and can survive temperatures up to 20 below. Lemon verbena, however, is frost tender around 30 degrees. I have had a few plants overwinter in sheltered locations in my zone 8a garden, but they are nowhere near as robust as they were the previous year. Likewise, I have overwintered the plants in a container in the garage during cold spells and it comes through just fine, just not as full and lush as a new plant.

The most important comparison, for me, is in the leaves…

lemon verbena and balm2

Lemon verbena has long, thin leaves with smooth edges. Pinch off a leave and crush it to release the oils and you will smell a cool, refreshing scent. Lemon balm has short leaves with scalloped edges. Crush a lemon balm leaf and you will smell warmth. To me, that is also a great indication of how I use the two herbs. If I want to make lemonade or iced lemon tea, lemon verbena is my go-to. If I want to make a warm cup of tea to soothe a sore throat, lemon balm is my first choice. I also prefer to bake with lemon verbena, as I find it brings a bright zest to most recipes.

Both lemon verbena and lemon balm can be easily dried for winter use. (My preferred lazy drying method is to put a baking rack over a cookie sheet and place the cuttings out flat to dry.)

Likewise, the leaves of both can be used in soap making, tea blends, baking, etc.

My preferred method for using their leaves in baking is to add several leaves (fresh or dried) into the sugar portion of the recipe. Whirl in a food processor to finely mince the leaves and release the oils directly into the sugar. The sugar is then incorporated into the recipe where the scent and taste can be enjoyed throughout.

lemon verbena1

Lemon verbena will flower, however I am always pinching leaves off so do not get any flowers on my plants. Lemon balm does freely bloom, which the bees and small butterflies enjoy. Lemon balm can and does spread through seeds, in addition to its spreading roots. The photo below shows, just above the center leave, where the lemon balm had earlier bloomed.

lemon balm

Lemon verbena and lemon balm grow in very similar environments. Both do well with adequate water and are not happy with dry conditions. Lemon balm would love an extra drink or two of water, but certainly does not need it. But it is forgiving to occasional over-watering. When grown in a container, allow for good drainage for both herbs. Both herbs prefer a sunny location, but are happy with some afternoon relief in the hottest of Texas summers. Mine are near a large bur oak tree and get bright light in the morning until early afternoon, then a bit of shade until evening.

Now… For the million dollar question… Why do I prefer lemon verbena over lemon balm? I think its leaves are prettier and I love the coolness of its scent. It has more of a crisp summer smell, in my opinion.

Whichever one you plant, I hope that you enjoy experimenting with herbs in your home.

gardening

Earth Day 1970-2020

Today my mind wanders back to Earth Day 1990… The 20th anniversary of Earth Day.

I was a young college student then, wishing to become an environmental writer. A local environmental group was hosting a bucket brigade from the Trinity River to City Hall in downtown Dallas. Bucket by bucket the water was passed from one to another, until it reached City Hall and was dumped in the fountain outside. My 30-year-older self now reflects back on how young and naive I was then. Have we made progress since that April day three decades ago? I would like to think that we have.  I see gains. I also see setbacks. But, just as we passed those buckets of river water from one to another in 1990, I hope we have passed from one generation to another that desire to do what we can – no matter how big or how small – to save our planet.

I have grown and matured a lot since that April day, but I still want to grow up to be an environmental writer and I am still passionate about saving the Earth, even if my acts are just one small piece of a much bigger need.

Following are just a few of my favorite gardening tips for a healthy planet.

1.) Compost your household and yard wastes, including your leaves in the fall. Build up your soil first and foremost and the rest will come.

“If healthy soil is full of death, it is also full of life: worms, fungi, microorganisms of all kinds… Given only the health of the soil, nothing that dies is dead for very long.” ~ Wendell Berry

I love this quote above. It reminds me of “the rotting log” science experiment that we did several times when my son was younger. Have you ever looked under a rotting log, either in your backyard or at a nature preserve? That dead log is so full of life! It is the perfect cycle of life, just as Berry said.

2.) Plant native plants and well-adapted plants. Avoid non-native invasive plants. Native and well-adapted are easier to grow, less prone to pests and drought conditions, plus feed native wildlife. A few of my favorite natives…

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium) is not a true grass, but is a beautiful native wildflower with grass like foliage and light blue flowers.

blue eyed grass

Winecups (Callirhoe involucrato) is a sprawling native perennial that blooms in the spring.

winecup on sidewalk

Penstemon tenuis grows to roughly three feet tall and is attractive to pollinators. Here, it has seeded itself at the base of a holly tree and has grown up through the holly.

penstemon with holly

3.) Plant flowers, shrubs and trees that are beneficial to pollinators, birds and other native wildlife. Feed the birds! Research your local area and try to have a buffet available year-round. Plant a tree (or three) on your property. Avoid junk trees such as Bradford pear and opt for natives, such as oaks or redbuds. Research which native trees are best for your property. There is a tree perfect for any yard, whether large or small.

Below, just a few berries remain on the native shrub Beautyberry. The berries form a beautiful (!) purple cluster, which remain from summer until they are eaten by birds in winter.

beautyberry

Below, holly berries on a small tree.

holly

4.) Garden organically. Invest in a good insect guide book for your region and research insects before reaching for the insecticide. The majority of insects are harmless. The few that are harmful (such as aphids and hornworms) can generally be treated organically. Always try organic methods first and foremost. In our 26 years gardening on this property, I have yet to find a pest that I couldn’t eliminate easily and cheaply via organic methods.

I snapped this photo a few night ago of a tall bearded iris with this insect on it. Harmful? Nah.

bearded iris3

Avoid pesticides, insecticides and herbicides whenever possible. Research what weeds you have in your garden and look at natural remedies for them, if you can’t stand them. But know that even the hated dandelion (though not native) is a great food source for humans and a good source of nectar for bees and butterflies.

5.) Plant extra for those few “garden pests” that you actually want to attract. People are always amazed that I plant extra for caterpillars to munch down on, but planting host plants is the basis of a great butterfly garden. Last year, we had over 50 caterpillars of the swallowtail butterfly on the fennel in my front garden. Decide what wildlife you want to attract into your garden and then plant for them. Plant it and they will come!

caterpiller june 1

6.) Reduce your lawn size. Expand your garden beds. In general, lawns are the biggest consumer of water and fertilizer in the world. This is the topic for a whole ‘nother post at a later date! Ditch the gas powered mower for a reel mower, which adds a zen-like ambiance to mowing. We have used the same reel mower for 26 years now! We have the blades sharpened every few years, which is the only upkeep it needs.

7.) Allow wild areas on the edges of your property whenever possible. This area is the perfect habitat for wildlife of all kinds.  I leave the stalks of coneflowers, penstemon and turk’s cap up through the winter, as songbirds use the stalks to land on them and feed on the seeds. I allow these plants to reseed along our back fence line as they are good cover for small mammals, birds, lizards and insects.

I will close with this pre-Earth Day quote…

“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people” ~ Franklin D Roosevelt

I hope that each and every one of you can (safely) get out into nature this week.

Those are just a few things that I do at the melodious garden to lessen my impact on Earth. I hope that I have inspired you to look for options that you can implement on your own piece of Earth.

 

 

gardening

…I will always plant a large garden in the spring

” I think that no matter how old or infirm I may become, I will always plant a large garden in the spring. Who can resist the feelings of hope and joy that one gets from participating in nature’s rebirth?” ~ Edward Giobbi

My dear readers, I apologize for my long absence. As I was searching for a poem or some words of wisdom to come back with, I came across the above Giobbi quote and… How appropriate it is… I have been battling some chronic health issues for almost a year and am only now getting some answers and new medications and much needed relief… Infirm, I have felt it.

A month ago, as the global pandemic was closing down businesses and changing the face of retail, I decided to place a large order at one of my favorite independent garden centers for curbside pickup. I rang them up, told them – in a vague sense –  what I wanted. Several smaller size tomatoes, whatever you have. One of each variety of scented geranium. One each of whatever vegetable plants you have. Five lemon verbena plants. Five salad burnet plants. Five basil plants. New pruning shears.

My dear husband drove me to the garden center, as – at that time – I was still unable to drive myself anywhere more than a block or two from home. We were almost to the garden center before he questioned me… How do you think you are going to be able to plant all of this when you haven’t even been able to walk around the block? My answer was, ironically, very similar to what Giobbi said… I Must Garden.

How can I resist the pull of spring on my soul? I have to feel the hope and the joy that a spring garden brings.

“Even if I am not able to do anything other than lay in the driveway, absorbing the sun’s healing rays, and fondling my new plants, it will have been money well spent. Even if I only get one lone tomato and am able to eat it fresh from the vine, still warm from the sun, it will have been money well spent. Gardening heals the soul and the body,” I told my dear husband.

I, thankfully, have now started a new medication for yet another autoimmune disorder (my fourth autoimmune?) and am feeling so much better! I have been able to plant my summer vegetable garden and tend my garden, neglected most of the past year. Thankfully, gardens are forgiving.

winecup with rosemary

The native winecups returned, as they always do, to scramble up and around anything they can, such as the rosemary above and the fennel, below.

winecup with fennel

The Louisiana iris, always carefree and easy to grow, are still stunning.

la iris2

This velvety deep purple iris, unknown variety, is my favorite by far.

la iris3

Penstemon tenuis, another native… I scatter their seeds freely over the garden and allow them to grow wherever they want.

penstemon2

Although I didn’t capture any bees in either photograph, this patch of penstemon was covered in bees today… Such a welcome sight.

penstemon

So much is happening in the garden this April and I will save some to share over the next few days. But I wanted to leave you with this photo… Two baby tomatoes… Which I hope to eat ripe, straight from the garden, still warm from the sun.

tomato

Blessings to you. Be safe during this crazy time. Remember to stop and enjoy some nature each and every day, for nature truly is healing.

 

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?