gardening, herbal fare, vintage

Garden Travels: Lavender Ridge Farms

Last month, I had the great pleasure of visiting Lavender Ridge Farms, an herbal and culinary destination just up the interstate from my house.

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Located in Gainesville, Texas, this two acre lavender farm has been in the family for more than 150 years.

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In previous generations, the farm grew melons and strawberries. It opened in 2006 as a lavender farm, one of the few such farms in North Texas. (If you have ever tried to grow just a few lavender plants in your backyard garden, you will understand and appreciate why there are few lavender farms locally.)

Visitors to Lavender Ridge Farms are given a basket and instructed on how to properly harvest lavender.

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I was surprised to see that all sorts of pollinators are as attracted to lavender blossoms as humans are.

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In addition to growing and selling lavender, the farm’s gift shop houses many lavender items for bath, kitchen and home. (If you are weak and buy all things herbal, take a trusted guardian. Though I don’t regret buying two cookbooks, a package of their house blend lavender tea, lavender pepper spice blend and an enormous bag of dried lavender buds for future craft projects. Plus. A few plants, including the lavender plant Phenomenal. Below is a display of Lavender Phenomenal, not what I purchased.)

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Lavandula x intermedia Phenomenal is a new variety of lavender that is marketed as durable in our high heat and humidity better than other varieties. Lavender Ridge Farms has had phenomenal success growing this plant.

The farm also sells irises, which can be viewed and ordered in the spring, with delivery and planting that fall.

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Cafe Lavender offers a shady respite, where you can dine in a lovely plant-filled courtyard while overlooking the lavender field. (Sorry, I failed to take a picture looking that direction, I was too enamored by the plants in the courtyard!)

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The cafe’s menu features several lavender infused dishes, such as lavender honey chicken salad and lavender cheesecake. (Both were divine!)

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The farm’s large pollinator garden was aflutter with butterflies the day of my visit.

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I could have spent all day poking around the gardens and viewing the many assorted garden ornaments.

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I loved their creative use of rusty saws and garden implements.

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Lavender Ridge Farms’ facebook page says it best:
An herb’n experience you can’t get in the city.

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gardening, nature

Buttonbush for pollinators

When I broke ground on my first garden area 23 years ago, I knew I wanted to create a habitat for butterflies and birds, lizards and toads and such. But specifically bees? Pollinators? It wasn’t until the European honey bee’s population started to decline from Colony Collapse Disorder around 2006 that our pollinators gained some much deserved attention.

buttonbushbee

Eleven years ago, the U.S. senate voted to mark a week each year to address pollinators’ declining populations. What started as an American initiative is now a worldwide movement to “promote the health of our pollinators, critical to our food and ecosystems, through conservation, education and research.” (Mission statement from Pollinator Partnership.)

This week is National Pollinator Week. Somehow a week hardly seems enough time to celebrate our pollinators, so vitally important to our world’s food supply. Currently, about one third of the food we consume is reliant upon pollinators for production.

Pollinator Partnership reports there are 200,000 species of pollinators, with only about 1,000 of those being hummingbirds, bats and small mammals. Bees, ants, beetles, butterflies and moths make up the remaining pollinators.

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After all these years of gardening in North Texas, I have several plants that I now recommend for attracting wildlife, specifically butterflies and bees. But one plant, in particular, is my favorite – and it is also one of the unsung natives that, like pollinators, deserves more attention.

Buttonbush – Cephalanthus occidentalis

This plant – large shrub or small tree, depending on how pruned – produces white perfectly spherical globes of nectar.

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Butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects dine on the nectar, with birds eating the fruits in the winter. Buttonbush is also a host plant for several species of butterflies and moths.

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Buttonbush is native to many areas of the United States and can be found naturally growing in wet areas. Thankfully it is highly adaptable and will grow in any soil type and in a traditional garden setting. It likes full to partial sun.

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To attract pollinators, it is important to select a variety of plants so your garden features blooms throughout the growing season. Native plants are preferred, whenever possible. Be sure to include larval host plants, such as milkweed for monarchs and fennel or dill for swallowtail butterflies. And. Avoid pesticides!

Please visit Pollinator Partnership for additional information and ideas on what you can do in your own backyard or corner of the world to support pollinators.

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bibliophile, gardening

the summer moon begins to dawn

Spring in North Texas went out with a bang. Correctly, it went out with a rumble of thunder, a flash of lightening and 60 mile per hour winds. And, as a dear gardening friend said, “a legit downpour.” The rain was a much welcome sight. The wind, not so much. And with that —- spring is over and we welcome in the first day of summer.

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Daylilies have been blooming for over a month now, yet I still walk the garden each morning, eager to see which ones are blooming that day. My garden is in transition – leaving behind the pink flowers and rose-filled cottage garden to a tapestry of bold colors and even bolder blooms, sans the roses. (Rose Rosette is still running rampant in North Texas…)

summer 3 daylily

“Clapping my hands
with the echoes the summer moon
begins to dawn.”
~ Basho

A new daylily for my garden, still in its nursery pot on my driveway. The blossoms are larger than my hands.

summer 2 daylily

“To see the Summer Sky
Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie  –
True Poems flee”
~ Emily Dickinson

Tropical plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) perfectly echos the color of the summer sky. Though not winter hardy in my zone 8a garden, it has overwintered in a container in my garage for many years now.  It has a sprawling habit, so is great to grow in a container or spilling over a retaining wall.

summer plumbago

“The hum of bees is the voice of the garden.” ~ Elizabeth Lawrence

The coneflowers were abuzz with bees this morning, a good reminder this week – National Pollinator Week – of the importance of planting flowers that attract and nourish our pollinators.

summer coneflower with bee

(I am not sure why bees always pose for photographs on the rattiest flowers available.)

summer coneflower

I cut back the coneflowers once they have bloomed in early summer, allowing for a second or third wave of blooms in the late summer and fall. Below, a gray hairstreak braved the bees to partake of the coneflower’s nectar.

summer sulfer on coneflower

(See above about bees posing on the rattiest flower. This hairstreak sure picked a messed up flower!)

Two of my favorite flowers for pollinators are red yucca and Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus drummondii). Red yucca is extremely drought tolerant, once established, and makes a nice “evergreen” in the winter garden.

summer yucca

Turk’s cap has proven to be extremely adaptable in my Denton County garden. Originally planted in partial shade in an area that stays relatively moist due to our neighbor’s overwatering tendencies, it has spread into heavier shade and out into full sun and very dry patches. It grows just as well in all areas of my garden, though the leaves are smaller on the plants in full sun. Turk’s cap blooms from May until first freeze. It dies to the ground in the winter. I generally wait to cut it back until new growth is appearing in the spring. Below, Turk’s cap has spread along our driveway. Some of the plants are under the shade of a bur oak tree, while others are out in full sun.

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Below, Turk’s cap has seeded out into full sun.

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“There ought to be gardens for all months in the year, in which, severally, things of beauty may be then in season.” ~ Sir Francis Bacon

Summer is the perfect time to gain an appreciation for foliage, reminding ourselves that beauty does not only come from flowers. Below, an ornamental banana, which overwinters in my garage.

summer banana

Coneflowers have popped up next to a variegated canna.

summer canna

Caladiums, to me, have always been a foliage filler in a summer container arrangement… And then along came… Frog in a Blender, pictured below. I was wandering around Marshall Grain early this spring, when I spotted the bulbs, in a box labeled… Frog in a Blender. Always game for something unusual, I grabbed a few bulbs. And… I may now be addicted. To Frog in a Blender.

frog in a blender

“Gardening imparts an organic perspective on the passage of time.”
~ William Cowper

We are always reminded to stop and smell the flowers, but we should also be reminded to stop and look up, for you never know where you might find a cicada molt.

 summer cicada molt

The pink rainlilies have been especially beautiful this season. I wait until the seedpod has dried and cracked open to take the fresh seeds and scatter them throughout the garden.

 summer rainlily

Below, the seedpod to the far right is still drying… I will wait until the seedpod has split open, like the one in the middle of the photo. One can pop off the seedpod and rub the papery seeds to the wind, allowing rainlilies to pop up wherever they may.

summer seed pod

“When on a summer’s morn I wake,
And open my two eyes,
Out to the clear, born-singing rills
My bird-like spirit flies.

To hear the Blackbird, Cuckoo, Thrush,
Or any bird in song;
And common leaves that hum all day
Without a throat or tongue.

And when Time strikes the hour for sleep,
Back in my room alone,
My heart has many a sweet bird’s song —
And one that’s all my own.”
~ William Henry Davies, When on a Summer’s Morn

summer crinum

Whichever way you look at the blossoms, the crinum lily (above and below) are a true Southern garden staple. Steve Bender writes that the crinum lily “has a bulldog constitution.” Yes, they are that tough. And yet – so beautiful!

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“Now summer is in flower and natures hum
Is never silent round her sultry bloom
Insects as small as dust are never done
Wi’ glittering dance and reeling in the sun
And green wood fly and blossom haunting bee
Are never weary of their melody
Round field hedge now flowers in full glory twine
Large bindweed bells wild hop and streakd woodbine
That lift athirst their slender throated flowers
Agape for dew falls and for honey showers
These round each bush in sweet disorder run
And spread their wild hues to the sultry sun.”
~ John Clare, June

Below, Leia, now nine months old, looking adorable and innocent in the garden. (She had just eaten my brand new prescription bifocal glasses an hour before…)

summer leia

bibliophile, gardening

When June comes dancing…

“When June comes dancing o’er the death of May,
With scarlet roses tinting her green breast,
And mating thrushes ushering in her day,
And Earth on tiptoe for her golden guest.”
~ A Memory of June, by Claude Mckay

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The first of June in North Texas, where a forecast “cold front” promising highs “only” in the mid-90s is music to the ears. We are coming off one of our warmest and driest springs, with summer heat setting in early. But the garden still shines bright.

The coneflowers are coming on strong. I love the varying shades of pink as the blooms slowly open to reveal the center cone, the source of its name. Coneflowers will bloom from now until the approaching winter. I deadhead coneflowers through the summer, then stop deadheading them in early fall so that the cones can remain upright through the winter, a source of food for songbirds. Come spring, I will remove the remaining stalks standing in the garden and scatter the seeds wherever I want coneflowers to grow.

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“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.” ~ On Gardening, by Gertrude Jekyll

The colors in the early June garden still radiate, no sun bleached petals yet. The daylilies are having their time in the spotlight.

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“It is the month of June,
The month of leaves and roses,
When pleasant sights salute the eyes
And pleasant scents the noses.”
~ The Month of June, by Nathaniel Parker Willis

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“And since all this loveliness can not be Heaven, I know in my heart it is June.” ~ Abba Woolson

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“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

I love growing sedums in clay pots inside ornate metal hanging baskets. They bring another layer to the garden, where the sun, peeking through the tree leaves, highlights sedum and metal alike.

sedum

No bees this morning, but the bee balm is blooming beautifully.

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Vitex, sometimes call the Texas Lilac, is blooming and buzzing with life this June morning. (Perhaps it has lured the bees away from the bee balm?) Alas, the vitex smells nothing like the real lilac! (I find it malodorous…) Vitex has been noted as a Texas Superstar plant, as it is very well adapted to grow and thrive throughout the state, even in hot and dry locations. The spiky lavender blooms attract both bees and butterflies in abundance.

vitex

“Summer is coming!” the soft breezes whisper;
“Summer is coming!” the glad birdies sing.
Summer is coming – I hear her quick footsteps;
Take your last look at the beautiful Spring.
~ Summer is Coming, by Dora Goodale

Passion fruit vine is showing off its exotic blossoms. It scrambles here and there throughout my garden, not being the best behaved of plants. Passion fruit vine is often grown in butterfly gardens, as the gulf fritillary butterfly uses this as a host plant.

passion vine

I love to grow fennel both for its ferny foliage and for the black swallowtail butterflies. This caterpillar has been munching and growing for the past week or so.

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“I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June.” ~ L.M. Montgomery (Montgomery is the author of The Anne of Green Gables series, a great book to read-aloud! Boys and girls alike can identify with the lovable Anne.)

Though I don’t have much shade, I love to tuck in hosta plants wherever I can. While grown for their foliage, hosta have beautiful and delicate blooms in early summer.

hosta in container

Hosta leaves and blooms are both edible. I have not yet tried them myself, but these blossoms would be a colorful addition to any salad. (As would daylily blooms, which are also edible.)

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I love how dainty hosta blooms are! This one is no larger than a nickle.

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Hellebores, which began blooming in mid-winter, are still going strong.

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I love using metal tubs and buckets and such as planters. This old tub is planted with coleus, rue, silver thyme and begonia. Rue is a host plant to both the black swallowtail and the giant swallowtail butterflies.

metal bucket

An orange scented geranium and an old ceiling tile add a mix of texture to my potted garden by the front door.

scented geranium

Ah… The fig tree. Beautiful leaves. Wondrous shade. Edible figs! Though they are little now, they hold the promise of an abundant harvest.

fig tree

Once upon a time, when I grew antique roses by the dozens, I planted garlic around the garden, as it is reported to ward off insects. While it didn’t save my garden from being ravished by rose rosette, I still have garlic blooming here and there. I love their large flower heads.

garlic scape

I will leave you with one more bloom – a mutant coneflower. And one last poetic look at June.

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“With flower petals soft unfurled
And vines around the trellis curled.
The grass is sweet and richly green
With shining luminescent sheen –
Your face, my June, a beauteous scene.”
~ My Lovely June, by Valerie Dohren

gardening, herbal fare

Of rhubarb and nutmeg

I have no clue who first tasted rhubarb and thought, “Why, if one only added enough sugar, this might be edible!” I do know that rhubarb didn’t become widely consumed until sugar became affordable.

The children in my neighborhood would sit and swing and dare each other to eat a bit of raw rhubarb. “Found a peanut, found a peanut, found a peanut yesterday” we would sing as we swung. “Cracked it open, cracked it open, cracked it open yesterday,” and we would snap a piece off and eat it. If we were brave enough. My mouth still remembers that sharp tartness all these years later!

Much like lemon and gooseberry, rhubarb is in a league of its own. Perfectly inedible alone. Wonderfully edible with enough sugar.

As a new Texas homeowner 22 years ago, I thought rhubarb grew like a weed everywhere. Not so. The foliage came up beautifully that first spring. It grew and grew and looked wonderful. Then summer hit. And the rhubarb melted back into the earth from which it had emerged, never to be seen again. I have since thought rhubarb impossible to grow this far south.

Alas, Texas A&M says it is possible! As an annual, not a perennial like northern gardeners grow it. Oh. And through the winter, not the summer. Basically, if you are familiar with growing rhubarb up north, turn everything on its head and you, too, can grow it Texas. Maybe some day I will try again to grow rhubarb. Until then, I will just buy it at the grocery store.

(Texas A&M also says that rhubarb is never eaten raw, which may explain why I still shiver when I think about eating it raw as a child.)

rhubarb

Rhubarb upside down cake

Ingredients:

3 cups sliced fresh or frozen rhubarb
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup butter, melted

Batter:

1/4 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup whole milk

Place rhubarb in a greased 10-ince cast iron skillet. Combine sugar, flour and nutmeg. Sprinkle over rhubarb. Drizzle with butter and set aside. For the batter, in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until blended. Beat in the egg. Combine flour, baking powder, nutmeg and salt. Gradually add to the egg mixture alternately with milk, beating well after each addition.

Spread over rhubarb mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Loosen edges immediately and invert onto a serving dish. Serve warm.

Serve with whipped, cream, if desired.

(Rhubarb is technically a vegetable so eating the leftovers for breakfast starts your day off right. Just sayin’.)

nutmeg

If you have never tried fresh ground nutmeg, you must… It is so much fresher than the ground spice bought at the grocery store.

gardening

Hibiscus 101

Memorial Day traditionally kicks off the start of summer but here in North Texas, gardeners have been thinking about (dreading?) summer for the past month or two. The temperatures have crept up.  Then jumped up. And with that summer is here.

What plants can survive – let alone thrive – a Texas summer? Above 100 degree days. Nighttime lows a sticky 85 degrees. Endless days, weeks, with no rain in sight.

Hibiscus are a great option. While some are native to this region and others from far away continents, all do very well in this area and offer bold splashes of color that will last through the summertime.

Where to even begin when talking about hibiscus? Malvaviscus… What a mouthful the Latin name is! They are often referred to as mallows, which is much easier on the tongue.

Some hibiscus are perennial in North Texas, while others are not. But almost all of them have large, tropical looking blooms. Wiki reports that they have “conspicuous” flowers. You think?!

orange tropical hibiscus

As Steve Bender wrote in “Passalong Plants, “If you are the kind of gardener who considers bright, splashy colors and big, bold blooms an affront to polite society, then you should probably pass (hibiscus) by.”

Not one to shy away from big and bold, I grow a number of hibiscus varieties and am always looking for more.

Tropical hibiscus…

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Tropical hibiscus are available in a wide range of colors – reds, oranges, yellows, pinks and white and many variations in between and blends thereof.

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I bring my tropical hibiscus into the garage once temperatures get into the 40s at night, though I will schlep them outside and water them on warm winter days. (I just have to remember to get them back inside before the temperatures drop!)

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Hibiscus schizopetalus, sometimes called fringed rose mallow or spider hibiscus… It has delicate petals that hang downward, sure to stop garden visitors in their steps. (Photo below.)

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Perennial hibiscus…

Texas star hibiscus – hibiscus coccineus – a native hibiscus. Sometimes called scarlet rose mallow. This hibiscus can grow in swampy areas or in a pond, but will also tolerate drier (though not dry!) areas of the garden. Like all hibiscus, it will do best with ample water and fertilizer. It can grow to 6-7 feet tall in one season, so is best planted at the back of the flower bed. Texas star hibiscus is also available in white, if bright red is not your style.

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texas star hibiscus

Perennial hibiscus – hibiscus moscheutos – sometimes called hardy hibiscus. This hibiscus is available in red, pinks, white and variations of those. (Photos below.)

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dinnerplatered

All hibiscus can tolerate some afternoon shade, but do best in full sun. The more sun, the more flowers. Likewise, more fertilizer, more flowers.  I feed my perennial hibiscus once in the spring, early summer and late summer. I try to fertilize my container plants, hibiscus included, once a month as container soils do not hold nutrients as well.

Perennial hibiscus will die to the ground in the winter. Do not remove the dead plant stalks until spring, when new growth is emerging. I top-dress hibiscus with fresh compost each spring when I cut them back.

Both tropical and perennial hibiscus are easy to grow, with big rewards.

There are several hundred species of hibiscus, from our 35 rose mallows that are native to southeastern part United States to hibiscus syriacus (also known as both Rose of Sharon and Shrub Althea) which can be grown as a large shrub or a small tree. I am still exploring all the nooks and crannies of this genus. To nourish me along this horticultural quest, I am experimenting with food and drinks made from hibiscus. (Next up: Hibiscus lemon bars…)

 

 

hibiscus flowers

 

bibliophile, gardening, vintage

Sweet April Showers…

“Sweet April showers do spring May flowers,” wrote Thomas Tusser in 1557.

“When April steps aside for May, like diamonds all the rain-drops glisten; Fresh violets open every day: To some new bird each hour we listen,” penned Lucy Larcom.

If the earth does indeed laugh in flowers, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, it surely must be May that binds poetry and botany forever together.

“May and June. Soft syllables, gentle names for the two best months in the garden year…”~ Peter Loewer

stock in pottery

“The May-pole is up, now give me the cup; I’ll drink to the garlands around it; But first unto those whose hands did compose the glory of flowers that crown’d it.” ~ Robert Herrick, The Maypole

tea may with book

Come take a tour of the melodious garden, located in zone 8a, southern Denton County, Texas, and see what is blooming this first day of May, 2018.

“Horticulturally, the month of May is opening night, homecoming and graduation day all rolled into one.” ~ Tam Mossman

clematis

This deep purple clematis is always a show-stopper. And a reminder that I simply must plant more! While many vines are aggressive overachievers (I am talking to you, trumpet vine!), most varieties of clematis are well-behaved and grow lightly over rose branches or trellis.

“Now every field is clothed with grass, and every tree with leaves; now the woods put forth their blossoms, and the year assumes its gay attire.” ~ Virgil

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Wine Cups (Callirhoe involucrata) are a native wildflower that rivals the best patch of bluebonnets, in my honest opinion. It grows from a rhizome, with foliage branching out along the ground. The hot magenta flowers (shaped like… wine cups!) attract bees and butterflies. It is extremely drought tolerant and slowly reseeds in the garden. I thin out the older rhizomes when the Wine Cups have finished blooming, then I thin out a few more so I can share this beautiful flower with fellow gardeners.

“Sweet spring, full of sweet days and roses…” George Herbert

green ice rose

Green Ice, a unique miniature rose, is one of the few roses in my garden that survived the plague that is Rose Rosette Virus. I am not sure why or how not one, but two! Green Ice roses survived when the other roses in the area were infected. Miniature roses are not known to be exceptionally hardy, after all. But here they are. Beautiful. The white blooms will take on a greenish cast over the next few weeks, hence its name. Green. Ice.

“The world’s favorite season is the spring. All things seem possible in May.” Edwin Way Teale

winecup and green icie

The photo above shows the mini rose Green Ice with Wine Cups scrambling through its branches. Wine Cups do not smother out other plants, in my experience.

“Never yet was a springtime, when the buds forgot to bloom.” ~ Margaret Elizabeth Sangster

poppy

Ah. One lone poppy. I have no idea why, but after years of not growing in my garden, I had one lone poppy pop up this year. It is a stunner, isn’t it?

“A little madness in the spring is wholesome even for the king.” ~ Emily Dickinson

penstemon

I love plants that reseed here and there. Above is Penstemon tenuis, the perfect reseeding perennial. Tough as nails, not aggressive, lovely shade of lavender. What more could one ask for? Well, it also makes a great cut flower. I do not dead-head this plant when it is done flowering. Rather, I let the seed pods dry completely on the plant, then I cut them way back and cast the seed heads here and there, wherever I would like to see it spread. On-site composting and super easy seed sowing all in one.

“O the month of May, the merry month of May, so frolic, so gay, and so green, so green, so green!” ~ Thomas Dekker

hosta

I love the greenness that hostas add to the garden. While flowers are lovely, sometimes green – different shades of green, different textures of green – are a welcome relief to the riot of color that is spring. The above hosta, Curly Fries, has been a great container plant in my garden, nestled back into my one shady spot.

“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

amarylis

And who can resist a shot of bright red on the first day of May? Hippeastrum (amaryllis) is a great addition to any southern garden. It is often dug up, divided and passed along to others after it is done blooming.

“Sweet May hath come to love us, flowers, trees, their blossoms don’ and through the blue heavens above us the very clouds move on.” ~ Heinrich Heine, Book of Songs

veilchenblau

While there is no such thing as a blue rose, Veilchenblau may come closest of all. This is another RRV survivor in my garden. A rambling old rose, its blooms start out crimson colored, then fade out to the above colored grayish mauve. While it only blooms in the spring, it is worth the garden space!

“Among the changing months, May stands confest the sweetest, and in fairest colors dressed.” ~ James Thomson, On May

winecup and mallow

As I was contemplating my RRV devastated garden a few years back and wondering how I would ever be able to garden again, something hit me. Orange. Bright orange! Gone are the soft pinks of my dear antique roses. I am now playing more with colors and adding in splashes of oranges, yellows and reds. Above, Munro’s Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea munroana) blooms happily alongside Wine Cups.

“Be like a flower and turn your face to the sun.” Kahlil Gibran

dandelion

I couldn’t resist. She was blooming in my garden today and I just could not overlook her. The dandelion. The lowly dandelion. Why it has that reputation, I do not know. Please, please leave dandelions in your garden. They are an important source of nectar for honeybees!

bibliophile, gardening, nature

The Praying Mantis

In the insect world, there are good bugs and there are bad bugs. And then there is the praying mantis. The indiscriminate hunter. The dinosaur of the insect world. The hunter and the hunted. Both intriguing and deadly.

Watching a praying mantis stalk its prey feels a bit like Jurassic Park. They will sit still, waiting the perfect moment to ambush the unexpecting. Insect. Lizard. Small bird. They don’t care. They will take down a nasty grasshopper just as easily as a beautiful butterfly or a beneficial honeybee. They are carnivores, eating meat instead of vegetation like many garden insects. The mantis: both good bug and bad bug. All in one fascinating package.

Mary Ann, a child’s picture book by Betsy James, was a favorite at our home when my son was young.

elf on mantis 2

Amy, sad that her best friend Mary Ann moved away, told her daddy that she wished there were hundreds and hundreds of Mary Anns. “Then if one ever moves away, it wouldn’t matter,” she says. When Amy finds a praying mantis in her clubhouse, she names the mantis Mary Ann and puts the mantis in a terrarium inside their home. Every day the mantis gets larger and larger, until one day, “when summer was over, she pushed a ball of foam out of her tail, onto a fern stem.” This foam hardens, thus protecting the eggs inside. Mary Ann, the mantis, passes away after laying her eggs, as often happens in the insect world. Time passes, and the lid falls off the terrarium. Then.. one day… the family returns home to find…the egg has hatched!

“Look at all the Mary Anns!”

Hundreds and hundreds of Mary Anns.

mantis2

Mary Anns in the teacups. Mary Anns on the toaster and the telephone, under the soap, behind the vegetables! Mary Anns all over the house! “I had hundreds and hundreds of Mary Anns,” the excited girl in the story exclaims!

And such it is when a praying mantis egg hatches. A small hard foamy egg about the diameter of a quarter, home to hundreds of babies!

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The babies, about the size of half a grain of rice, emerge in bunches, by the hundreds.

mantis1

It is an amazing sight to behold.

The female mantis lays one egg case in the fall – a foamy capsule, generally attached to a small stem or branch. She then dies. Come spring, the egg case hatches.

Praying mantis egg cases may be purchased from science supply companies, online garden sources or at some local nurseries. Place the egg case in a (well!) covered terrarium (so you don’t have Mary Anns in your teacups!)  Make sure the terrarium is out of direct sunlight! And then…wait patiently…ever so patiently…until one day you will notice – movement! The egg case is…covered…with itty bitty baby praying mantis.

There are around 2,000 species of mantis around the world. Depending on the species, one praying mantis may lay up to 400 eggs.

mantis4

The praying mantis has an incomplete metamorphosis, meaning that the nymph (young insect) that emerges looks like a mini replica of the adult praying mantis. Triangular head. Bulging compound eyes. Elongated body. Large forelegs, perfectly adapted for catching prey.

elf on mantis 3

Fierce hunter, right from the beginning. Once hatched, the terrarium lid needs to be removed so the mantis can scatter. They are hungry and ready to eat immediately and, if not able to find other food, they will turn cannibal.

praying mantis

Insects that go through incomplete metamorphosis have three stages of life – egg, nymph and adult. They will shed their hard exoskeleton as they grow, molting, discarding one exoskeleton for another, several times throughout their short lives. Most of the praying mantis species in our country grow to about three inches in length.

Never pick up a praying mantis, as they are easily injured. However, you can place your hand near them and they will walk onto you. No need to worry about being bit.

Whether they are beneficial to an organic garden or not is debatable, but hatching a mantis egg is a fun spring-time science experiment for children – of all ages!

elf on praying mantis

gardening, herbal fare

If you give a friend some eggs…

…with apologizes to the mouse and the boy who let him in the house…

If you give a friend some eggs,

eggs6

she is going to ask for some milk and cream. When she gets some milk and cream, she will probably ask for some sugar. When she gets the sugar, she will likely need some flour. Then she will want an iPad so she can search for some recipes. When she looks on Pintrest, she might realize that she also needs some strawberries and vanilla. She will probably ask for a whisk. When she is finished baking,

german pancake

she will want a broom to sweep up her mess. She will start sweeping. She might get carried away and sweep every room in the…Oh, who are we kidding? She would never get carried away sweeping. Especially in the spring when she has raking to do yet.

When she is done sweeping, she will probably want a nap. You will need to make up the couch with her favorite blankie and pillow. She will lay down and make herself comfortable and call for her puppy. She will probably ask you to read them a story…

“Diary of a Compost Hotline Operator: Edible essays on city farming” might be the perfect book on such a day.

strawberry cafoutis

While our urban town has allowed chickens for the past few years, I still have not taken the urban chicken plunge. I don’t know why exactly, except that my life already seems overrun with animals. Two indoor cats. One puppy. A large garden that seems to attract every wild animal for miles around.

Recently a dear friend gave me a dozen eggs from her own urban chickens. What to do with them? How best to use a dozen fresh eggs? The first recipe was easy to chose, as I have long wanted to make the French dessert, clafoutis. Alas, I used strawberries instead of the usual cherries, which makes the dish a flaugnarde instead of a clafoutis. I like the word clafoutis best, so I am sticking with that. Either way, it is an egg-rich dish, much like crepe batter but baked in the oven instead of the stovetop one by one. The next dish – mini German pancakes – baked in muffin tins. Topped with strawberries and blood orange segments (above, on red and white plate), these will be good for breakfast or a quick snack.

egg shells

Look at these beautiful eggshells! They are almost too pretty to compost.

Eggshells have many garden applications and can be used directly in the garden. Just crush the shells. Scattered around your tomato plants, eggshells – high in calcium – can help to prevent blossom end rot in the ripening fruit. Scattered around hostas, the rough edges can ward off slugs and snails. Crushed eggshells can also be added to your birdfeeders in the spring, as female birds need extra calcium during nesting season.

bibliophile, gardening

If ever there was a spring day so perfect…

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

… … … part of Billy Collins’ poem Today

 

First day of spring blooms, North Texas, zone 8a

Dutch iris, below

dutch iris

I feel a bit like Bubba in Forrest Gump… You got your bearded iris, your reticulata iris, Dutch iris, Louisiana iris, Japanese iris, Siberian iris… some are bulbous irises, some are rhizome irises… some are bearded, some are beardless… Someday I will blog about the different irises that grow well in this area.
For now: Dutch irises are perennial, grown from a bulb planted in the fall.

And now… daffodils, the harbinger of spring…
I love the shadow cast by these daffodils, below.

daffodils 2

“When the winds of March are wakening the crocuses and crickets,
Did you ever find a fairy near some budding little thickets,…
And when she sees you creeping up to get a closer peek
She tumbles through the daffodils, a playing hide and seek.”
~Marjorie Barrows

A happy little clump of daffodils, below.

daffodils 1

Leucojum, pictured below. If you ever need proof that fairies dance in the garden, this is it. Just look at that little green dot, along the scalloped blossom.

“And as the seasons come and go, here’s something you might like to know. There are fairies everywhere: under bushes, in the air, playing games just like you play, singing through their busy day. So listen, touch, and look around — in the air and on the ground. And if you watch all nature’s things, you might just see a fairy’s wing.” ~Author Unknown

lecojium

I know. We aren’t suppose to believe in fairies past a certain age…

“Every time a child says, ‘I don’t believe in fairies,’ there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead.” ~James Matthew Barrie, Peter Pan

Hyacinth, below.

hyacinth

The above bulbs are all planted in the fall for spring blooms. Make a note now of any bulbs you see and like. Mail order catalogs will start taking orders in late summer for fall shipment. Garden centers will receive bulbs in early fall, but hold off on planting until Thanksgiving.

Now, for some spring blooming shrubs…

Shrubs can be planted year-round in North Texas, just know that all new plantings (even many Texas natives) require frequent watering until they get established. Garden centers generally have their best selection of shrubs in the spring, though some also receive fall shipments.

Bridal wreath spirea, below.

bridal wreath spirea

And loropetalum, aka fringe flower. Please, please don’t prune these into round balls or square cubes. They look best when allowed to grow naturally. Loropetalum are evergreen.

fringe flower

Cherry laurel. While I didn’t capture any honeybees in this photo, the shrub was buzzing with life. It is also evergreen.

cherry laurel

Sigh… My bright orange tulips are done blooming, but I had to include a photo anyway. Because. Pollen! Just look at all that pollen!

tulip
“If we opened our minds to enjoyment, we might find tranquil pleasures spread about us on every side. We might live with the angels that visit us on every sunbeam, and sit with the fairies who wait on every flower.” ~Samuel Smiles