bibliophile, gardening

Scattering abroad

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 seed pod

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.

red yucca seed pod2

“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

 butterfly weed

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.

milkweed

“Flowers and fruit are only the beginning. In a seed lies the life and the future.” ~ Marion Zimmer Bradley

pom in fall

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.)

acorns

“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

coneflower seed1

Looking at the seed heads of the native coneflower, one is able to see where its common name originates.

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“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

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“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.

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“The seed cannot sprout upwards without simultaneously sending roots into the ground.” ~ Ancient Egyptian Proverb

(Bee balm seed head below)

bee balm seed

 

gardening

Organic lawn care 101

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.)

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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

lawnmower1

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.

lawnmower2

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.

gardening

The summer flower that blooms and dies

“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.

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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.

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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.

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The flowers and ornamental fruits (below) are a bright reddish-orange. (My new favorite garden color – also, in these post-rose-garden days.)

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Rosemary.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Beautyberry. (Callicarpa americana)

The native shrub that lives up to its name.(Shown below)

Beauty. Berry.

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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

butterfly

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.)

summer16

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

 

 

 

 

 

gardening

Fig 101

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.

fig tree outside windo

(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.)

fig on tree

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.

figs

Aren’t the leaves gorgeous? The fact that this wonderful shade tree also produces edible fruits is just a bonus.

fig leaf

(Technically, figs are not a fruit, rather they are a flower… Isn’t botany amazing?!)

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.)

lavenderfarm2

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.

lavenderfarm9

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.

buttonbushbutterfly2

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.

buttonbush3

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.

buttonbush2

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.

buttonbushladybug

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.

pwgraphic-for-SM-post

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.

summer daylily 5

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.

summer turks cap 1

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

summer turks cap3

“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!

summer crinum 2

“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

daylily june 1 7

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.

coneflower june 1 2

“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.

daylily june 1 5

daylily june 1 6

“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

daylily june 1 1

daylily june 1 2

“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.

bee balm 1

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.

caterpiller june 1

“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.)

hosta june 1

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.

hellebore june 1

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.

coneflower june 1 4

“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.

When I was growing up, 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…

hibiscusveryupclose

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

tropicalhibiscus3

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!)

yellowhibiscus

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.)

tropical hibiscus 1

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.

texas star hibiscus3

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.)

dinnerplatehibiscus

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