Yes! Do buy them!
The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Yes. I know I often quote Emerson, but I was reminded of those thousand forests this afternoon when my puppy drug in the largest acorn I think I have ever seen.
Sorry. No adorable puppy photo. But I was able to save the acorn cap to measure and photograph. It got me thinking about the bur oak tree… And how a long-time friend, Tamara, says that the bur oak tree is the “oakiest” of all the oak trees.
Indeed. It has the largest acorns.
Quercus macrocarpa – The bur oak’s latin name. Macrocarpa means “large fruit” in Ancient Greek. (Photo below is a slight exaggeration.)
It has the largest leaves.
The roughest corky bark.
And. Truly. If the creation of a thousand forests is contained in a single acorn, then a million forests must be contained within a bur oak acorn.
Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago. ~ Warren Buffett
I have read mixed reports of the bur oak’s rate of growth, but from personal experience, I would rate it as a fast grower.
We have two bur oak trees on our suburban lot. One planted by the developer 25 years ago and the other planted by a squirrel 15 years ago. Both trees now tower over our house. (Photo above and below.)
Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky. ~ Kahlil Gebran
The bur oak, which in the white oak family, is native to much of the United States, including North Texas. It is sometimes appropriately called “mossycup oak.” (See photo below.)
Bur oak trees can reach 100 feet tall and live to around 200-300 years old.
The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all, our most pleasing responsibility. ~ Wendell Berry
November 1st is Arbor Day in Texas, so plan now to plant a shade tree so future generations can sit in its shade and wax poetically about forests and acorns.
Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my
apple tree oak tree . ~ Martin Luther
Being able to garden and plant in the fall is our reward for surviving yet another hot and dry Texas summer. Planting in the fall may be a new idea to some gardeners, but there are many benefits to it.
The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago.
The second best time is now.
So the proverb goes…
(My late father-in-law in his family’s garden seventy or so years ago. Check out those iris! A topic for another post…)
In Texas, Arbor Day is celebrated on November 1st, while the rest of the country celebrates the planting of trees in April. Why the difference? Because trees (and shrubs) planted in the fall get off to a much better start than those planted in April.
Our soil never freezes in zone 8a, even in our coldest winters, which means that plant roots continue to grow year round. Plants that are put into the ground now have time for their roots to get established, with at least six months of cooler temperatures and heavier rainfall before summer sets in yet again. The soil is still warm from summer, while the air is cooling down, thus creating better growing conditions. All of those factors give plants an advantage come August to plants that weren’t planted until spring.
If you are in the market for trees or shrubs and fall leaf color is a consideration, fall is a great time to visit nurseries and see plants while their leaves are turning color. Leaf color varies from tree to tree, even within one variety, so look for individual plants that have the most vibrant fall colors.
If you are in the market for trees, visiting a botanical garden or arboretum is a great way to look at many types of trees in one location. The Grapevine Botanical Garden, for example, is free and open to the public and features several dozen different trees, all native or well adapted to North Texas.
Need another reason to plant now? Fewer insects are out and about in the fall, which means less pest management and a more enjoyable gardening environment.
Trees, shrubs, hardy perennials and winter hardy annuals (such as pansies and ornamental kale) can all be planted now. Availability of plants will vary by garden center, with independent garden centers carrying the best selection in the fall.
Don’t forget that we can also grow vegetables, such as lettuce and beets, through the winter. Check with your county extension office for a chart of what vegetables can be planted now.
I am always looking for new ways to use fresh herbs in my baking, but often think I have tried every flavor combination possible. And then along came…
Rosemary lemon bars.
I was intrigued. And rightly so. The rosemary gave an earthy depth to the citrus punch of lemon bars. I won’t bore you with a recipe, aside from this: Add one to two tablespoons of fresh minced rosemary to the dough portion of your favorite lemon bar recipe. Be sure to incorporate well so the oils from the rosemary infuse the dough.
A few culinary tips for the day…
Adding fresh lemon zest is one of the quickest ways to up the citrus flavor in any recipe. Be sure to zest just the yellow portion of the lemon. Do not zest the bitter white portion.
What is the easiest way to mince fresh rosemary?
Take the rosemary section and lay it down on a cutting board. Hold in place.
Run your knife down the leaves, just offset from the branch.
Once the leaves are off the branch, you can mince as fine as you like.
All rosemary varieties are edible, though they do vary in flavor and in growth habits.
Some rosemary plants grow as stiff upright shrubs. (See photo below.) Their branches can be cut and used as kebob skewers to impart more rosemary flavor into meat or mushrooms.
Trailing rosemary (shown below) is lovely growing over the edge of a raised bed, retaining wall or container.
Rosemary is winter hardy in North Texas. If you are “blessed” with heavy clay soil, as many of us are, it is best to amend your soil with compost and earthworm castings, as rosemary likes well drained soil. Rosemary can be planted year-round in zone 8a, though garden centers will have the best selection in spring and fall.
Fall may still be a week away, but the many seeds about my garden have me thinking of autumn, harvest and the promises held within each seed.
“For man, autumn is a time of harvest, of gathering together. For nature, it is a time of sowing, of scattering abroad.” ~ Edwin Way Teale
Red yucca (shown above as a dried seed pod and below as a green seed pod) has put on quite the show this year and, as always, was a hummingbird magnet.
“The milkweed pods are breaking, and the bits of silken down float off upon the autumn breeze across the meadows of brown.” ~ Cecil Cavedish, The Milkweed
Milkweed, shown above and below, is still flowering and just now starting to set seed. It will be another month or so before we see the mature pods split open and the silky down float upon the autumn breeze.
“Flowers and fruit are only the beginning. In a seed lies the life and the future.” ~ Marion Zimmer Bradley
Pomegranate (above) has quickly become one of my favorite shrubs. In flower and in fruit at once, it offers many colors and shapes at one time!
“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
I don’t have much to say about Emerson’s quote… Please excuse me while I grumble under my breath about picking up buckets and buckets of acorns to stop those thousand forests from sprouting within my garden. (I do love my oak trees. I just don’t love the potential forests contained within each acorn the squirrels bury and leave behind for me to deal with.)
“This very act of planting a seed in the earth has in it to me something beautiful. I always do it with a joy that is largely mixed with awe.” ~ Celia Thaxter
Looking at the seed heads of the native coneflower, one is able to see where its common name originates.
“If seeds in the black earth can turn into such beautiful roses, what might not the heart of man become in its long journey toward the stars?” ~ G.K. Chesterton
“Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.” ~ Jim Bishop
Golden rose hips (above and below) from Thomas Affleck contain the rose’s many seeds.
“The seed cannot sprout upwards without simultaneously sending roots into the ground.” ~ Ancient Egyptian Proverb
(Bee balm seed head below)
The PSA came across my garden newsfeed this week. Urgent! If you want a life without dandelions and henbit, NOW is the time to apply a pre-emergent!
As we walk through the neighborhood, we observe the lawns. Which ones often have the most weeds? The ones that are scalped in the spring, and regularly sprayed and fed with chemicals of all sorts. Pre-emergent. Weed killer. Chemical fertilizers.
Then we end our walk… looking at our own lawn, which has been organically maintained for 23 years now and is nearly weed-free. If I didn’t want to sound like an environmental zealot (which I don’t mind sounding like!), I would call our lawn “maintained the lazy way.” We have a long list of things we don’t do to our lawn.
We don’t scalp our lawn in the spring. (Cutting the grass too short allows more sun to hit the soil, drying it out faster, while also allowing weed seeds to germinate.)
We don’t bag our grass clippings. In fact, well, we don’t even have a typical lawn mower let alone a bag for it.
We don’t apply pre-emergents or weedkillers of any sort. The “weeds” we do fight are mostly self-inflicted weeds. Trumpet vine. Mexican petunia. I am not saying that we don’t get weeds. Yes, we do get weeds. But we chose to allow some to grow (such as dandelions and henbit), as they are beneficial to the pollinators we depend upon. The few “weeds” we do get, we pull by hand.
A weed is a flower in the wrong place,
a flower is a weed in the right place… ~ Ian Emberson
Henbit, in particular, blooms in late winter and early spring when few other flowers are blooming. Dandelions – no matter how many wishes have been blown to the wind in our garden – have never reproduced to any point of being a nuisance.
Weeds can actually tell you a lot about your lawn. For example, clover in the lawn indicates low nitrogen levels. Sedge and bindweed generally grow in soils that are poorly drained, while dandelions grow in poor soil. Studying up on weeds can tell you a lot about your lawn and its needs.
A few lawn pointers:
Never mow lower than 2 1/2″ inches, while 3-4″ high is best. Mowing at least once a week during the spring disrupts weeds’ growing cycle, as the weeds never have time to set seed.
Leaving grass clippings on the lawn is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to add essential organic matter to your yard.
If you must apply a pre-emergent, consider using corn gluten meal, an organic method of controlling weed germination. (In full disclosure, I have never used corn gluten meal as weeds have never been an issue for us.)
Leave some leaf litter around the garden for lizards and bugs to hide out in through the winter. If you are lucky, you will also see birds, such as the brown thrasher, come in to thrash about, looking for food. (Above mentioned lizards and bugs. Such is the cycle of life)
“Darting about in the thickets,
His red-brown coat to veil,
Foraging there amongst dead leaves,
Thrashing his long brown tail.”
~ Alice E Ball
We shocked the neighborhood when we moved in and proceeded to pull a brand new reel mower out of the garage. We had several neighbors come rushing over, offering us their gas powered lawn mowers “until we could afford a real lawn mower.” Cost wasn’t the reason we went with a reel mower. In fact, our reel mower, new, cost more than a basic (ie: cheap) lawn mower. We knew from experience that a reel mower did just as good of a job of maintaining a lawn, while also being environmentally friendly, quiet and low maintenance.
There are two small downsides to the reel mower: Twigs will stop the blades immediately, so all lawn debris does need to be picked up first. (Which is advisable with all lawn mowers.) Deeper patches of grass (like after a rainy period) may need a few quick passes, in alternating directions, to be cut evenly.
Every few years, we take it into the shop and get the blades sharpened. (We could do that on our own, but prefer to hire it done.) That is the extent of its upkeep.
Flower beds prevail over lawn today, but our house – situated in a cul-de-sac – has a large yard, by suburban living standards. When we first moved in, we had quite a bit of yard to mow, but it was never an issue to mow it with the reel mower.
We have now had said reel lawn mower for 23 years now and still love it as much today as we did when we first bought it.
“All your renown is like the summer flower that blooms and dies; because the sunny glow which brings it forth, soon slays with parching power.”
~ Alighieri Dante
Ah… Late August in Texas… Where even long-time Texas gardeners wonder if cooler days will ever come. The calendar may say fall is around the corner, but this heat says, “Not so quick, I am not done yet.”
This summer has been particularly hot. And dry. I won’t bother you with statistics (like how many days in a row it was 103 degrees and above…) but I will say this: This summer, in particular, I am thankful to each and every plant that not only decided to brave the Texas sun’s parching power, but did so with style and grace.
To the each and every survivor and thriver, I say Thank You.
Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus drummondii)
With bright red blooms that shine from late spring to first frost, Turk’s cap attracts hummingbirds aplenty. It is native to shady, wet areas of Texas, but can take sun and drier conditions if it receives irrigation during the most intense part of summer.
What started as one or two plants in my garden has happily spread the entire length of the driveway to take the place of the roses that once grew in this bed. Parts of this flower bed are shaded by a volunteer bur oak tree while others are in full Texas sun. All receive reflected heat off the driveway.
(As an aside, there is Full Sun, then there is Full Texas Sun. If a plant tag or garden source says the plant can take Full Sun, check and verify with a Texas source before believing. Because. There is Full Sun and Full Texas Sun and they are as different as New Jersey and Texas.)
Variegated ginger (below) receives dappled shade where it grows in a container alongside the driveway. While not hardy in my Zone 8a garden, I am willing to schlep it into my garage in the winter. It is important to remember that tropical foliage plants can offer summer interest when some plants may be dormant or uninteresting.
Dwarf pomegranate has quickly become one of my favorite post-rose-garden plants. Below, the pomegranate grows and blooms with Turk’s cap in my front flower garden. The glossy, deep green leaves hold up in the full sun.
The flowers and ornamental fruits (below) are a bright reddish-orange. (My new favorite garden color – also, in these post-rose-garden days.)
So much to love and be thankful for! A great addition to the kitchen garden, an ever green shrub in the flower border, a tactile plant for the sensory garden… Here, the rosemary grows along the front sidewalk in full sun. Not quite its rocky Mediterranean habitat, but it is still a happy grower in Texas.
Another post-rose-garden plant for me: The newer Black Diamond Crepe Myrtle. I have three planted around the garden and all are settling in nicely and blooming well two years after being planted.
Blue plumbago (Plumbago auriculata
Plumbago is a tropical addition to my garden and has been blooming since early June. Its soft blue color is so welcoming.
This plant is several years old, as it was planted with another tropical and was brought inside for the winters. It grows fast enough and is readily available in the nursery trade, so that it can be treated as an annual. It is winter hardy in Zone 8b, so may survive outside in a mild winter in North Texas if planted on the southern side of the house. It grows 2-3 feet tall and wide, with a draping habit. It is beautiful cascading out of a container or over a raised bed.
Beautyberry. (Callicarpa americana)
The native shrub that lives up to its name.(Shown below)
It is a sprawling plant, growing 3-5 feet tall and wide. It is loaded with berries through the summer, which the birds will devour once they ripen. There is a white variety but I honestly can’t imagine growing it when one can have luscious purple berries in their garden.
Thyme (below) does equally well in a container as it does in the garden. I keep this one right outside my door so I can easily harvest for culinary use. (Don’t forget that containers can offer a great splash of color year-round.)
Another herb – garlic chives, below. Half weed. But how you have to love something that comes into bloom when it is hotter than Hades outside.
These should be in full bloom within the next few days, making an important nectar source for sulfur and skipper butterflies. (Photo below from several years ago.) I do not care to use this variety for culinary uses, as onion chives have a milder – and more pleasant – taste.
Passion vine (Passiflora)
This is another plant that thrives in our hot summers and is an important larval food source for Gulf Fritillaries. The holes in the leaves (below) are from the caterpillars. It is purely cosmetic damage and does not slow down or hinder its growth. (Ha. I don’t think a chemical bomb could slow down this vine. Plant with care.)
Autumn… It will come in its own time. Until then, Keep Calm and Garden On.
“There ought to be gardens for all the months in the year, in which, severally, things of beauty may be then in season.” ~ Sir Francis Bacon
If your only idea of a fig is a highly processed cookie with a sticky fig paste inside and a crumbly cake outside, you are in for a wonderful treat when you first taste a fresh fig. Better yet, taste one straight from the tree. Pure bliss.
Figs have been grown in Texas since the early Spanish settlers arrived and brought the trees with them. That variety was later named Mission fig, and it is still grown throughout the state today.
Celeste, the variety I grow, is reported to be the most cold tolerant fig. Indeed, I have not had any freeze damage in the many years I have had the tree. Brown Turkey and Texas Everbearing are two other fig varieties our local nurseries carry. All varieties grow to about 15-20 feet tall and wide. Once established, they require very little care, aside from watering during dry periods and the occasional application of fertilizer. (Do not fertilize in the fall, however, as you do not want to push out tender new growth before winter.)
Figs require a sunny location for the best fruit production. In dry spells, irrigation is needed to get the fruit to harvest. They are not picky about soil type, though cannot take standing water. My fig tree is in heavy clay soil. I do amend my soil with loads of organic matter, like shredded leaves, compost, earthworm castings and such. This area of my garden, though, seems to resist my attempts to break up the clay. Thankfully, the fig doesn’t seem to mind.
(Ignore the glass glare in the above photo, please. This photo was taken from inside our kitchen, right after we got new windows, removed icky old wallpaper and painted the kitchen a vibrant shade of green. I am excited I had the forethought to plant a beautiful tree outside this formerly awful window years ago, so now I may enjoy this view.)
The Celeste fig is small and ripens to a brown to purple color. The figs ripen over several weeks in mid-July, so not all are ready for harvest at once. (See photo below, with one ripe fig and two figs that needs about a week yet to grow and ripen.)
I use the scientific method to tell when it is time to harvest the figs. If I touch the fig and it falls off, into my hand, it is ready to pick. (Newton’s Law of Gravitation… See? Very scientific.) If it stays tight, I wait another day or two.
Aren’t the leaves gorgeous? The fact that this wonderful shade tree also produces edible fruits is just a bonus.
(Technically, figs are not a fruit, rather they are a flower… Isn’t botany amazing?!)
Last month, I had the great pleasure of visiting Lavender Ridge Farms, an herbal and culinary destination just up the interstate from my house.
Located in Gainesville, Texas, this two acre lavender farm has been in the family for more than 150 years.
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.
I was surprised to see that all sorts of pollinators are as attracted to lavender blossoms as humans are.
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.)
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.
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!)
The cafe’s menu features several lavender infused dishes, such as lavender honey chicken salad and lavender cheesecake. (Both were divine!)
The farm’s large pollinator garden was aflutter with butterflies the day of my visit.
I could have spent all day poking around the gardens and viewing the many assorted garden ornaments.
I loved their creative use of rusty saws and garden implements.
Lavender Ridge Farms’ facebook page says it best:
An herb’n experience you can’t get in the city.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.