Texas winterEarly yesterday I walked outside my kitchen door to toss the morning’s coffee grounds on my garden. What a beautiful morning it was, and hearing the sounds of the robins somewhere close by made me think spring was here. I stopped by the store and picked out some potatoes and onions to plant, not a lot, since my garden is small. But I need the experience of harvesting just a few of my own potatoes each year. I tidied up some plants and planted a few carrot, lettuce and radish seeds.

Then my husband gives me the bad news. By Tuesday we will be below freezing and stay that way until Friday. Those football fans from the north are bringing their weather with them!

I guess that means the frost cloth comes out again. Winter is still here.

PossumhawWe moved to Texas in the late 70’s – I cannot believe it has been over 30 years! One of my earliest and fondest memories was a tree in the middle of a field down a country road near our house (and at that time Keller was ALL country roads). In late fall, its leaves disappeared. Until sometime in early February, it was a spectacular sight covered in thousands of beautiful red/orange berries. Nothing around it had color, just this lonely, beautifully-shaped tree. One day in late winter, the berries just seemed to disappear.

WaxwingsOf course, I learned that this was a possumhaw tree, commonly called deciduous holly. Now I am fortunate enough to be able to enjoy my neighbor’s possumhaw tree right outside my kitchen window. During last year’s snow, it was postcard beautiful. Each year I watch flocks of cedar waxwings strip it clean in just a few hours, while robins congregate on the ground underneath eating up the droppings. This year the squirrels have been quite busy feasting on the berries as well. I guess I just had not noticed them before. It took me by surprise. They better enjoy it while they can, as I expect the waxwings any day now…

Lots of thoughts and ideas run through my mind when I engage in my favorite pastimes.  I was thinking about this yesterday as my husband and I were hiking out at the Fort Worth Nature Center (By the way, if you live nearby, you must check this spot out. I met no one the whole two hours I was on the trail – it was so beautiful and so quiet). What hit me was what a difference the proper equipment meant. When I cook, I bring out my favorite knife and frying pan. When I used to run marathons, the proper shoes really made a difference. Hiking is a fairly new pastime. I knew I needed the proper footwear, but I resisted trekking poles, thinking they were just for show. One long hike up and down some steep terrain convinced me that my knees needed some help. I am now a believer.

Hori-Hori ToolAnd the same goes for gardening. My Felco pruners, Dramm watering can, Hori hori tool and Korean hand tool come out each and every time I go into the garden. These are all old and well-used. As my father used to tell me, a good tool will last a lifetime and will bring you pleasure each and every time you use it. He was so right!

Wow! We were out of town for only ten days and came back to such treats. I took a chance leaving the garden as is, hoping there would not be a freeze while were gone. We lucked out. There was actually one red, ripe tomato. Hopefully, we will have more, if that first freeze holds off for a bit. The Meyer lemon tree is groaning with its crop that will soon be ready to be harvested. I will use one for tonight’s fish dinner, together with some thyme. The fennel that had been stripped by caterpillars a couple of months ago, looks robust again. One small problem – it is once again covered in caterpillars. Obviously, the black swallowtails had paid a visit either just before, or while we were gone.

Lion's Ear The Mexican mint marigold is in full bloom. And my very favorite fall perennial, Lion’s Ear, has just started blooming. I am so excited…

It is hot and quite humid. Every Texas gardener plans their gardening for early morning and late evening. That really is the only time you can enjoy being outside. At the stores, we have to do it all day long as some of the plants at the stores have to be watered two and three times a day (hats and lots of sunscreen!). I know some of these plants are asking why they are being subjected to this extreme.

SwallowtailAnd then I go on a drive, get out of the car in a small town just west of Denton in the middle of the day and see this vivid splash of color against our deep blue Texas sky.  A pipevine swallowtail (I am pretty sure that is what it is) butterfly was feeding, going from blossom to blossom unfazed by the heat. The Texas sage was in full bloom and a morning glory vine was trying to set up territory in the sage.

I could not help but stop and admire – it was beautiful even in the blazing sun!

PlumeriaSo, what is going on in your garden right now? It was 104 yesterday and it is going to stay over 100 for the next several days. It is August in Texas, so this is to be expected. It amazes me how some plants just seem to thrive in this weather, and others just say “no thanks”. My basil, parsley and fennel look pathetic. Lemon grass, rosemary, thyme and Mexican oregano are as happy as can be. There are still a handful of olives on my tree – surely the birds will leave me at least one! It looks like I will have another great yield from the Meyer lemon tree. The old reliable salvia Greggii, rudbeckia, flame acanthus, cigar plant and butterfly weed stand up in the sun and act as if they just want more and more.

Something new for me is a plumeria. Carol, at our Dallas store gave me a 12″ cutting early last summer in a one-gallon pot. It has already been repotted twice. It is now in a much bigger container as it well needs to be. The plant is now between five and six feet tall, with two branches, each sporting beautiful blooms. What a treat. I do hear complaints from my husband, though. He is the official waterer of the container plants – and this one needs it twice a day now. I believe it needs to be repotted again. Carol did not warn me about this one!

Greece

PorosOne of the things I love the most about traveling is to see the plants we sell growing in their natural environment. A small island in Greece that I recently visited was no exception. It was hot and dry and very rocky as we hiked up the hills outside of the small town we were visiting. The only plant with blooms turned out to be thyme. It was in such abundance that hundreds of beehives had been set up along the roads. Little did I know that Greece is famous for its thyme honey.

On the sides of the hills, along the sides of the road and even in the road, I kept noticing a fairly low growing mounding plant with rather lush looking leaves and pinkish flowers. These were caper bushes. It turns out that the immature flower buds are pickled – this is what we buy as capers. If not picked these buds form the pinkish-white flowers we also noticed. These produce the larger caperberry which are also usually pickled and served as an appetizer. Not surprisingly, the Greeks also use the caper leaves in salads.

I also noted sage, oregano, rosemary, lavender and sweet myrtle. Did I mention it was hot and dry? After 8 inches of rain here at our house this past month, I now know why my sage is dying. It wants to be in Greece!

Cedar Ridge PreserveAfter more than thirty years living in the metroplex, you would think that I had scoped out everything there was to see. Not so. Searching for places to hike, I came across the Cedar Ridge Preserve on Mountain Creek Parkway in Dallas. I do remember hearing about it when it was called the Dallas Nature center; alas, I never found the time to visit. Now Audubon Dallas maintains it, and is certainly work checking out.  

It encompasses 600 acres, with most left in its natural habitat. There are 9 miles of hiking trails, with lots of hills, something not so common in this area. At an elevation of 755 feet, one feels “on top of the world” overlooking the surrounding area. Native grasses and wildflowers, butterflies and birds made the hike so pleasant. The highlight was a painted bunting perched on a dead branch right out in the open. What a treat!

There is an old adage in the gardening world. When you plant a perennial, the first year it will sleep, the second year it will creep and the third year it will leap. How true that is of some of the plants in my garden. Purple coneflower from 4″ plants three years ago, have completely taken over the spot I planted them in, far exceeding my expectations. What was going to be a two to three foot plant is approaching four feet and still growing. It goes without saying that next year I will be thinning out this bed.

MonardaTaller and much more striking is the ‘Peter’s Purple’ monarda. I have fallen in love with this plant. The lavender-purple flowers atop erect 4 ½ feet stems are beautiful. There has not been any hint of powdery mildew, a common complaint with bee balm. True to its name, bees love it; so do the butterflies.

There are other stories – Rudbeckia goldsturm knows no bounds, one hardy hibiscus is at least four feet wide, Turk’s cap keeps on growing and growing…

Orange RoseWhat an incredible spring this has been! Good, that I have been quite busy in the stores…bad, that I have spent so little time in my own garden. We have had lots of rain and cooler temperatures. Some plants look like they are on steroids. Others have bloomed like they never have before. A couple of weeks ago, the garden was a riot of color. It has quieted down for a bit as warmer weather plants get ready to put on their own show.

My favorite orange rose, as you may know, has had an interesting history. First of all, I have no idea what it is (if someone can tell me, I would be so happy). I planted it about five or six years ago. Two years ago, it had reached eight feet in height. The thorns are formidable, but it makes a great cut rose that lasts for days. It is a favorite of my husband – he loves to cut flowers from our garden and place them by the kitchen sink. Disaster (in the form of beavers) struck. The rose bush was cut down overnight to about two feet in height. It has never looked as good as it did this year. Neighbors across the lake were even impressed and I had lots of flowers in the kitchen.