Archive for the ‘General’ Category
Sunday, I found myself in our garden all day long, the first time I have done that in awhile. What a lot there was to do and discover. Our exceptionally cold winter had me worried about plants that might not survive. That was not necessary. The olive tree had not one dead leaf. It is already beginning to flower, though I suspect again I will not see one olive to pick at season’s end. The birds always win that one. Lemon verbena, Mexican oregano, prostrate rosemary – they are all thriving. Until a week ago, I was sure my five-year old lemongrass was history. Not so, new shoots are sprouting. Three esperanza bushes are starting to grow again. I never thought for a minute they would make it.
The eight-foot bay tree suffered the most. There were lots of dead stems and crispy brown leaves. I thought I was going to have to pull it out and start all over. A win for procrastination – there were new shoots all over the tree. I spent at more than an hour selectively pruning it; I think maybe it will one day return to its former glory.
For as long as I can remember, there has been a purple martin house mounted on the fence in front of our Dallas store. Several pair returns each year to nest. I absolutely love their songs as they fly into and around the house. This year I was in a state of panic. We had remodeled the front of the store and had forgotten about the purple martin house. A few weeks ago the martins returned to find no house there – I was crushed. Almost daily, they flew over the store, to no avail.
On Friday morning, the new purple martin house was raised. Within one hour, six martins were back singing and settling in to their new abode. All is right with the world. In the meantime, a pair of robins have started a nest under a prime spot above the perennials. And Friday morning, I watched a hummingbird at my house sit and drink out of our little water feature. Spring has sprung!
The “Herb of the Year” is dill. Had I known, over 40 years ago, that the name comes from the Norse word, dilla (to lull), for its ability to soothe colicky babies and induce sleep, I would have used it in abundance with our first child, whose name I will not mention.
I do know that it is a great herb that easily grows from seed. Successive seeding in very early spring will provide a continual source of fresh dill weed. I cannot imagine grilled salmon, new potatoes or lamb chops without it. And my favorite dish of all is tzatziki, a Greek dip made with yogurt, cucumber and garlic. Successive seeding will also ensure lots of seed when you are ready to pickle. If you do end up with seed before the cucumber harvest, just dry them and save till you are ready to use them. Do leave some of the seeds on the plants -it will reseed readily. My first vegetable garden in Texas was a classic example – dill could be found in every nook and cranny.
Plant extra for the swallowtail butterflies – they like it as much as I do!
We had all of maybe two hours of sunshine today. Typical February weather would be 60 degrees, only 2.37 inches of rain and sunshine more than 50% of the time. That is not what we have had so far. The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicted below average temperatures for February and March, above average precipitation for February and below for March. This is tracking true. What worries me is the prediction for snow showers March 15 - 20.
What a challenge this is for gardening (and the gardening business) here. We will have to capture every sunny, dry moment to plant our cool season garden. If we do not, our “window of opportunity” will pass. But then, that is part of the fun. If we plant early, if it does not rain, or snow, or get too cold we may have a bumper harvest. So this week, no matter what the weather, I have planting to do. I have waited too long and my window is almost running out.
I never believed I would ever experience the likes of the snowstorm we had here late this past week. Not that it was like anything I grew up with – eight to ten foot snow banks lining the sides of the country roads our school bus drove down were not unusual. But it was a thrill, never the less for me, as well as many a child. I did not build a snowman, but I did spend a good deal of time outside reliving childhood memories. It was so beautiful. Three days have passed – there is still snow on the ground – unbelievable.
Twice we had to knock the snow off our olive tree. It does look as if it has survived intact. Rosemary, oregano, cilantro, parsley, lovage and salad burnet are unfazed. Lettuces and peas are just fine. I am a bit concerned about my bay tree (it had been transplanted last summer); otherwise, I see little to worry about.
This morning the cedar waxwings were out in force stripping the berries off our yaupon holly. On the ground underneath were flocks of robins cleaning up the berries that had dropped. Is it possible that spring may be on its way?
One of my New Year’s resolutions (other than losing the five pounds I gained over the holidays) is to use as much as I can of what I have on hand in my pantry and freezer before buying more groceries. It is not as easy as it sounds. This morning I was looking out my kitchen window and noticed the silver-grey Bergarrten sage. What could I do with the leaves today? I needed to cook some dry white beans for a soup – sage leaves were added to the water. I fried some in a little bit of olive oil and sprinkled them with salt and pepper – these will be used as a garnish for the soup. It has been a great while since I have explored the other possibilities of what to do with sage. This week some more fried leaves will top some mashed potatoes. I know I have on hand all the ingredients to make the sage-feta cornbread from Jerry Traunfeld’s book ‘The Herbal Kitchen’. (By the way, the Sage Rush, a cocktail in the same book was our Super Bowl cocktail – it was great).
Sage needs lots of sun and very well drained soils. There have been three or four times in the last twenty-five years that I have had to replace my plant because it just up and died. Most of the time, it was because of a particularly wet winter. The blossoms are good sprinkled on salads. The best time to trim back your plant is right after it blooms. It is so easy to forget what you have…I am going to continue the process…
This month of January has just flown by so fast. Inspired by the Ken Burns documentary series “The National Parks”, one of my sisters and her husband (both from Ontario) joined my husband and I on a trek west over the holidays. Christmas Day found us hiking down the Bright Angel trail in the Grand Canyon. Words cannot express the experience. It was 10 degrees when we started out; the sun was shining and wind was minimal. It took us 2 ½ hours to go down 1 ½ miles. Three out of the four of us (not me) had cameras. Every step and stop revealed incredible, breathtaking sights and views. I was thrilled to have snow again on Christmas day, only to learn that so did you back in Arlington Texas!
Three days later we found ourselves in warmer climes (the Canadians decided they had had enough of the cold!), hiking in the red rocks outside of Sedona AZ. I fell in love with an incredible Manzanita shrub. The red, twisting branches were so striking – I wonder if I could grow one in my yard.
For someone who loves green hills as opposed to desert, I found myself drawn to the landscape as we continued to drive south. In Saguaro National Park we hiked amongst the gigantic cactus. These monsters can grow as tall as 45 feet and live as long as 150 years. The old gnarly ones are fascinating. Woodpeckers and flickers create holes for nesting. In subsequent years, house finch, purple martins and even owls take them over.
I had no idea that there were pistachio, pecan and walnut orchards in Arizona. The Gila National Forest stretches from desert to forested hills. Watching the sandhill cranes returning from their daily feeding to roost in the marshes at the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge was spectacular. I could go on and on…but it is back to work and gardening in Texas.
Thirty-one years ago this month our family drove from the Pacific Northwest to begin the next phase of our lives in north Texas. That first winter we flew back to my family home in Ontario for Christmas. We were welcomed back to DFW with a massive ice storm. The drive home from the airport was more harrowing than any drive I had encountered in an Ontario snowstorm. The next winter my family visited us in Texas. We were outside in short sleeves, cooking on the BBQ and eating fresh broccoli from our garden for Christmas day dinner.
Family members from the great white north again visited us at Christmas in 1983 in hopes of warmer weather. What a shock that was – the coldest winter on record here. That year we lost ligustrum hedges by the thousands – they were replaced with red-tip photinia. Indian hawthorn, pittosporum, crape myrtle and even live oaks suffered. We began to feel that we needed to reconsider the core plantings of our gardens. Including more native plants in our landscapes became more important.
Weather in Texas is definitely unpredictable. It makes gardening a challenge, but the possibility of harvesting broccoli, greens, radishes and carrots for Christmas dinner keeps me always trying to outwit what nature brings us.
We are going on a road trip west next week – will keep you posted.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and the best to all in the New Year.
Sitting at home, sipping tea, wrapped in a blanket, sniffing and watching a cold front move in – a perfect day to clean up some computer files. I found all sorts of old photos and files. The one that caught my attention was taken 10 years ago in our front yard. My, it has changed so much (and so has fashion!). Originally there was a little bed around some trees, and the rest in St. Augustine grass. Weed killer was used constantly to keep out my neighbors travelling hypericum and the continual popping up of redbud trees, cherry laurel and Turk’s cap from seeds left by the birds. The grass has long been gone. The cherry laurels, oak trees and eastern red cedar have grown so much. Under them are a wide variety of native and well-adapted plants. Oak leaf hydrangea, Japanese maple, viburnum, lots of Turk’s cap (I let them pop up wherever they please), aralia, leatherleaf mahonia, coralberry, a solitary gardenia and camellia (for fun), salvia guaranitica, possumhaw holly, inland sea oats and many more plants thrive under the trees.
Weed killer is no longer used. My neighbor’s plants are always welcome. The earthworms are happy and so is my husband. There is no grass to mow.
I am just thrilled. My Meyer lemon tree, now probably 5 years old, has produced what I think is a bumper crop. The first couple of winters, I kept it in a spare bedroom when temperatures approached freezing. Last year I potted it up into a 19″ rectangular pot. The tree has flourished to the point that a big decision must now be made. If I want to have guests, there is no room for the tree. Which shall it be – tree or guests in the spare bedroom? Alas there is no choice. Sadly I will have to miss the fragrance of its winter blossoms – they will help perfume the greenhouse at our Arlington store instead. (As a footnote, Michael and Lorie planted their Meyer lemon outside in a protected spot. I will let you know how it fares this winter).
Meanwhile we are in the process of harvesting 56 lemons. I have already made some Meyer lemon marmalade – my husband loves it. I am anxious to taste the preserved lemons – this is a new one for me. Meyer lemon limoncello is next on the list. And half of the lemons are still waiting to be picked.
What a treat this has been…