gardening, nature

Does your garden bug you?

Does your garden bug you? It should.

Indulge me a moment on why bugs are good for your garden and, by extension, good for you.

Last summer, our doorbell rang, which set off my rescued mutt Princess Leia. Don’t let her name fool you. She is no princess. Ferocious guard dog, yes. Princess, no. Normally I would ignore the door except my dog smelled a killer on the other side of the door and wasn’t about to back down. Nor was the person on the other side of the door, as knocking soon followed the doorbell. Wrestling Princess Leia into my arms, I opened the door without looking through the peephole to see who might be on the other side. And. Wouldn’t you know it. There was a killer on the other side of the door.

A bug killer.

Nice young man. But a bug killer.

He flashed the identification badge the city requires door to door salespeople to wear, announced what company he was representing, then proceed to tell me I had an incredibly beautiful garden. Now this was after I had renovated the front garden, topped it off with fresh compost and cedar mulch, but before the real heat and drought of summer had set in. It was actually looking quite incredible, if I say so myself. We chatted about the garden for five or ten minutes, while Princess Leia was debating whether she could let her guard down. I mean, Momma is talking gardening with this bug killer, so he must not be too bad, right?

Then the guy drops the conversation down to why he was actually at my door in the first place.

“With a garden like this, you must have a lot of bugs! For only x-amount a month, we can come out and spray your entire foundation, interior and exterior, and you won’t see a single bug!”

I said that I actually wanted to see bugs.

Come again, he asked.

Yes. I want to see bugs.

But bugs are bad! You don’t want bugs!

Oh, but I do want to see bugs. You see, bugs are what pollinate my vegetable garden, bugs are what feed my soul when I see them fluttering from leaf to leaf in search of nectar, bugs are what feed the geckos and lizards and birds that call my garden home. Why would I want to kill them?

His reply? “OMG! You have an entire ecosystem here! That is so amazing!”

Why, yes, that is correct. It is an entire well balanced ecosystem. When you let nature take the reigns, it finds a way to balance things out. You build it and let it be and they will come.

Yes, I do get some bad bugs from time to time. But while I sit back, research options and decide how I want to handle the situation at hand, more times than not something has already moved in and taken care of it. From time to time, we do decide to intervene, though always taking the least harmful options first. Every few years, for example, I apply beneficial nematodes to the gardens, which are fantastic at keeping the dreaded fire ants at bay.

The young man and I ended up chatting about nature and the cycle of life for another ten minutes. I thanked him for his time and he walked off. To the neighbor’s house. To try and sell them on killing all the bugs that were, well, bugging them.

Sometimes it feels like an uphill battle, educating and encouraging others in living a non-pesticide lifestyle.

Not thirty minutes later, my husband, son and I were leaving the house for the afternoon. I kid you not, an anole was our vehicle’s windshield, stalking a bug. As we were laughing about Mother Nature’s wicked sense of humor and impeccable timing, and asking “Now where is that bug killer when we need him?” the anole jumped on to our son’s shoulder!

(And. No. I didn’t ask the anole to pose nicely. Happy chance photograph.)

Now my son hasn’t cut his hair since Covid lockdown, which coincided with his first year away at college. He looks a bit like a mashup of John Lennon and Jesus. Seriously. Even people that don’t know him say that when I proudly show off recent photographs of him. So the anole decides he needs to take shelter because six human hands are trying to catch him, which resulted in lots of twisting and turning (us humans) and flipping (the anole) and hiding (still, the anole).

I am pretty sure the bug salesman was across the street this whole time, thinking, Yeah, they do, too, have some bug problems.

We were finally able to coax the anole to a nearby tree, shown above.

We bought our home 28 years ago, knowing at the time of purchase that I wanted to have an extensive organic garden that welcomed wildlife. We have never used pesticides, nor have we ever been tempted to. As in the movie Field of Dreams, “Build it and they will come.” The good, the bad, the ugly. But they all have a way of balancing off.

There are tons of insects in the world. (More like ten quintillion bugs, if you want to know.) Less than a million of the different species of insects in the world have actually been identified by scientists.

Insects are often classified by gardeners as beneficial (bees), bad (tomato hornworms) or somewhere in between. The majority of insects fall in that middle range. They are neither bad nor beneficial – or they are equally bad and beneficial. The praying mantis is a great example of an insect that falls in that middle area. They are fabulous hunters, taking down both dragonflies (bad!) and grasshoppers (good!) Selective control of bad insects is warranted in some cases and, thankfully, natural options are available. Aphids, for example, can be hosed off a plant with a strong burst of water. Or the gardener can create a habitat that welcomes in natural controls for aphids, such as small hiding places for amphibians and reptiles around the garden. It is also important to be able to recognize insects in their various stages, as the larva stages look nothing like the adult forms more widely recognized. The larva stage of the ladybug is just one example of an insect that is often mistakenly identified as a bad bug. Field guides – either an old school printed book or an online version – are an important resource for creating a pesticide free, wildlife friendly garden.

I have never found a reason to like grasshoppers, though I do know they are an important food source for birds, amphibians and reptiles, so I try to be tolerant of them. But even the much maligned fly serves an important part of our ecosystem, as they pollinate our crops, control other pests, decompose wastes and are an important food source for species further up the food chain. Hoverflies, which are often mistaken for bees or wasps, are quite beautiful and harmless to humans. They also cover a wider territory than bees and will fly in a wider range of weather conditions, making them more effective as a pollinator than bees.

The world is slowly starting to awaken to the reality that indiscriminate killing of insects is harmful to all species on the planet, humans included. What affects one species down the food chain ripples up the food chain. The majority of our food crops are dependent on insects for pollination, whether in own vegetable patch or in a farmer’s field in some far off place. So please, Keep calm and garden on and let your garden bug you.

gardening, nature, vintage

If you don’t like the weather…

Y’all know the saying… If you don’t like the weather in (enter your region), just wait a minute… Though too much a cliche, no truer words have ever been spoken about this week’s weather here in North Texas.

Six days ago, we were battening down the hatches and filling our pantries and readying ourselves for a good old fashioned Texas ice storm. Most of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex hung out the “closed” sign as three rounds of sleet and freezing rain made the region one large ice skating rink.

Today? Wearing shorts and a T-shirt and giving thanks for making it through the past week unscathed, thankyouverymuch. But please bear with me as I share a few more photographs from my frozen melodious garden, taken this past week.

I know.

The ice storm is behind us now; let’s move on and look ahead to spring! But it is always a good reminder that even a few days of severe weather impacts our gardens and the wildlife that inhabit our gardens, long after we humans have moved on.

No croquet games played last week.

Even my meditating gnome (below) seemed cold.

I have collected Campania statuary since I worked at Redenta’s Garden 20plus years ago. I love picking out pieces that represent who I am, my interests and my hobbies. Each piece is so special to me. The gnome and fairy, shown above and below, are both Campania pieces. (Sadly, I dropped something on the bowl of the fairy a few years ago and broke a chunk off. It just reminds me that while we are all broken in some way, we are still beautiful.)

More vintage around the garden. I love using bed frames as trellises or to mark off different areas of the garden. (Above photograph.)

Bear with me while I prattle on a bit about the messy photograph above…

When my now adult age son was much younger, we read together Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. My son was enthralled with the idea of having his very own secret garden, though he quickly decided he wanted the area to be his very own observation point for wildlife. Thus began “The Secret Biology Lab.” I happily obliged in helping him set up his own space in my overfilled garden. (Read: as in the book, my own garden was somewhat untended, thanks to motherhood…) We crawled to the back fence line, hidden by years of shrubbery left to grow wild. Among the accessories that went in to the secret biology lab, the basket (above) attached to the fence and for years filled with acorns and dried corn on the cob.

Last year I undertook a massive garden deconstruction and renovation project. That line of shrubbery was slated to be removed, having long outlived their usefulness and not in alignment with my current desires. But first, I had to text my son, away at college, and ask him if he would mind if I dismantled his secret biology lab. His response? “Uh… You still have that?” I think he was a tad embarrassed…

Having cleared that hurdle, I shed a few tears, reflected back on those younger days, removed my son’s discarded Tonka truck and the pink flamingo “Welcome” sign he wanted to mark the entrance to his secret biology lab… then I ordered my trusty garden assistant, the dear husband, to take the chainsaw to the shrubs.

To new beginnings! It is never too late to start over, redo, undo, move on!

I decided to leave the basket on the fence and do find it rather useful to hold assorted garden items. The fencing and landscaping pins landed there “for another day, for another project…” Until then – it is a great juxtaposition. The past – the basket – and the future – what project next? – frozen in time. Or frozen in ice, as it is. Someday I will reflect more on the dismantling of the secret biology lab. Good lessons to be learned. Good reasons to never cement anything in place. Until then… A few more frozen photographs!

I love this little… bird? chicken? Not quite sure what it is, but I love it all the same. (Above photo.)

I love to mix different elements and pieces of color around the garden. A very modern, very boho windchime. (Above)

Two frozen cherubs, acquired at an auction. Auctions, estate sales, antique markets and thrift stores are all great sources for unique garden items. A garden, like a home, should be filled with treasures, lovingly collected!

Happy gardening. And remember: It is only February. Yes, we are wearing shorts now, but our average last freeze date isn’t until mid-March. A lot can happen between now and then, so Keep Calm and Garden On! But keep the frost cloth handy and don’t plant those tomatoes outside just yet!


Keep your faith in beautiful things

Mother Nature, it seems, likes to keep us gardeners on our toes. From deep freezes, to prolonged droughts and epic heatwaves, to December tornadoes and back around to another deep freeze. January here in North Texas ended with round one and round two of a four day ice event and made way for February to usher in the final, round three, of ice. In its wake, trees are bent and broken, encased in a thick layer of ice.

“Keep faith in beautiful things; in the sun when it’s hidden, in the spring when it is gone.” (Roy R. Gibson)

It is easy to see the stark beauty of the garden when the sky is dark and heavy with clouds, where few colors remain but shades of gray and white and brown, to pause and take in the frozen wonder all around us.

Keep faith in beautiful things.

Our native buttonbush, shown above, is one of my favorite plants for summer pollinators, though summer seems a long way off today. Still, I can stand under its frozen branches and feel and hear the buzz of bees, a promise that the seasons come and go, winter folds in to spring, then summer.

Keep faith in beautiful things.

Garlic chives (shown above), originally planted 25 years ago, have seeded themselves happily around the property. Every fall, I say I will be diligent about removing the spent flowers before they go to seed, as I really should do more to prevent their onward spread. Every fall, I fail that garden chore and only get a fraction of the seed heads cut down. Today, though, I was lead to this frozen garlic chive and am thankful I hadn’t gotten around to removing its flower. The garlic chive’s umbel flower head, perfectly frozen in time and perfectly representing its Latin meaning: Umbel, meaning “umbrella,” a flower bloom that resembles an umbrella flipped inside out.

Keep faith in beautiful things.

“While it is February one can taste the full joys of anticipation. Spring stands at the gate with her finger on the latch.” (Patience Strong)

We are still unsure if my beloved fig tree (shown above) will ever fully rebound from the hard freeze of February 2021. It was knocked down to the roots and has struggled to regain even a fraction of its once grand size. On good days, I say it is in an important life lesson that we can all learn from the garden. Get knocked down seven times, get up eight times – or so the proverb goes. On bad days, I find myself perusing garden catalogs and planning a replacement, knowing there is likely a life lesson in there, as well. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And sometimes that may simply mean moving on. Longtime followers of my garden know the hard pivot I made when the one-two punch of rose rosette virus and young onset Parkinson’s altered my garden (and life) plans. Moving on doesn’t mean defeat. Moving on may simply mean cutting your loses and forging ahead on a different path. Only time will tell. This tree produced a few tiny figs very late in the summer, which never ripened, and now remain frozen, shriveled and suspended in ice.

“From December to March, there are for many of us, three gardens: the garden outdoors, the garden of pots and bowls in the house and the garden of the mind’s eye.” (Katherine S. White)

While the garden outdoors is awaiting sunshine, warmer temperatures and a chance to thaw, the garden of pots and bowls inside is sprouting tomatoes, peppers and basils. The anticipation of the spring garden is real. The garden in my mind’s eye is taking shape bit by bit. Seeds have been started. More seeds have been ordered and I anxiously await their arrival so I can expand my indoor seed sowing adventures. My pivot from ornamental gardening to “growing nutrient dense organic foods for my health” is entering its second year. Last year saw the near total deconstruction of the previous garden and the renewal of the garden and the gardener. I enter this year stronger physically and mentally, nourished by a year of tending the vegetables, eating green beans and tomatoes and okra straight off the plant, seeing the garden through last year’s unending summer of record heat and record drought, knowing that we can still thrive in the face of adversity.

gardening, nature

Go hug a tree, it’s Arbor Day!

Happy Arbor Day!

I hope you are celebrating by planting a tree, or at least hugging a tree. Now I know if you are out of state, you may be thinking, “Wait. Isn’t Arbor Day in April?” Yes, it is in April. For the rest of the country. In Texas, we celebrate Arbor Day on the first Friday in November. While you can technically plant a tree any day of the year in the south, where the ground never freezes, fall is the optimal time for tree planting in Texas. (And most likely for most of the south.)

The theme for this year’s Texas Arbor Day is “It takes all kinds,” which represents tree diversity, the wide variety of ecoregions throughout the state and the amazing and wonderful diversity of humankind. Okay, I added in the amazing and wonderful, but isn’t our population really amazing and wonderful? Even among gardeners, no two are alike. If we were to make a large Venn diagram of gardening styles and types, the central part would most likely be trees. For every garden, for every property, for every need, there is a tree suited to your space and needs. Interested in native gardening and creating a haven for wildlife, trees will be a central part of your design. Interested in growing your own food, fruiting trees can produce a harvest for years to come. Interested in simply stringing up a hammock and enjoying the good life, surely you would enjoy your serene nook even more if it is shaded by a tree or two. It truly does take all kinds!

Our front yard is dominated by two bur oaks, which a dear gardening friend of mine calls, “The Oakiest of the Oaks.” True enough, of all the oaks, the bur oak has the largest acorns and the largest leaves. The larger of our two bur oaks was planted by the developer about 30 years ago. while the slightly smaller oak was planted by a squirrel about 20 years ago. Every autumn, I threaten to hire a flock of neighbor children to pick up the copious amount of acorns that fall from those two trees…

Ignore the green briar…

As my own gardening style is evolving from ornamental rose garden to an edible food forest, I have been exploring the new-to-me world of fruiting trees. It takes all kinds has been my gardening mantra this year. How can I extend my harvests? Can I harvest different fruits six months of the year? Which fig trees produce a breba crop? Which fruit trees remain small and can be grown in a container? (The driveway is mostly wasted space, amiright? Might as well grow food there, too!)

It really does take all kinds. Go out and explore your local garden centers this weekend and see what tree varieties they have. Surely you will find one that is perfect for your property.


Keep Calm and Garden On

It has been an awkward minute since I last blogged and there is no great way to break the awkwardness… There are probably a thousand and one relevant quotes I could toss out, like John Lennon’s, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” But I will cut right in and simply say:

Keep Calm and Garden On.

Garden On has, indeed, been the motto of my life the past few years. When life gives you lemons, throw them back and Garden On.

Rose Rosette Virus swept through North Texas a number of years ago now, destroying my beloved antique rose collection. As I was trying to regroup and figure out my “What Next,” my body had other plans. In early 2020, as the world was plunged into a global pandemic, I was being diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease. Nothing like going in to an apocalyptic era barely hanging on to the bottom rung of a very real ladder otherwise known as Survival of the Fittest. Add in Texas’ historic winter storm in February 2021, where the entire state was plunged into a deep freeze like never before. And that was just the temperatures inside our homes! We were, of course, destined to have a repeat in February of ’22, though thankfully shorter lived and – this time – with power! Very, very thankfully – with power! But, after all of that, many of my once overflowing garden beds were barren, except for the hardiest of plants.

But gardens – and gardeners – are resilient. And full of hope.

I started on medications for YOPD at Christmas of ’21, which has allowed me to fully resume gardening. I am still stiff and sore, especially between doses of medication, but I am able to get up and down easier again and can again bend my fingers to use pruners. My strength has returned and my balance – while wobbly at times – is getting better. So Garden On I have been. But what to garden?

It is not yet safe (in my opinion) to plant roses in this area. The winter storm of February ’21 killed many of the shrubs I had planted as place-holders after removing the infected roses. Was it even wise for me to start over again, knowing that I face an uphill battle with my health?

To Re-Sod or Not To Re-Sod was the topic of many conversations around the melodious garden. I had spent so much time and energy removing our lawn, did I really want to give up parts of the garden and re-sod our property?

We always circled back around to:

Gardening keeps you young and active.


I would rather die today in my garden than in ten or twenty years, immobile and confined to my home.


What can I garden today to benefit me tomorrow?

Somewhere along those conversations, I stumbled upon the concept of food forests and fruit tree guilds and permaculture and where has this been all of my life?

I have maintained our property organically since we bought this corner of the world 28 years ago and the organic garden center I worked at in the late 1990’s was an early source for heirloom seeds and plants in this area. I think I must have danced around the edges of the permaculture circle for years, as I was far more interested in growing ornamentals with a few herbs and veggies tossed in for good measure than in primarily growing fruits and vegetables. But now, with my health such as it is, turning all of my empty flower beds into extensive food production turns out to be the perfect answer to “What can I garden today to benefit me tomorrow?”

And with that – I hope to chronicle here what changes I have made to my gardens, what I am growing, why I am growing the varieties I am and, maybe most importantly, what I am doing with what I am growing.

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,, 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….



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.


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.


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.


Below, holly berries on a small tree.


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.




…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.


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


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.


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!


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.


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.