Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pond Pump and Iris

In what is obviously a Christmas miracle, today I accidentally came across two pieces of documentation that I really needed and thought were lost forever:

(1) Our current pond pump's capacity is (a puny) 560 gph.  It's a "Smartpond" pump, model #DP560

To put this into perspective, my Christmas present this year from Matt is going to be a super-powerful "professional-grade" Savio 2050 (we got $100 off at Amazon!).  In other words, it will have 4 x the pumping power.  This will obviously require some kind of weir or basin at the top of our waterfall, or it's going to shoot water straight out like a fire hose.  Am thinking of attempting something with one of those cheap aluminum catering pans.

There's a guy online who shows how to turn a plastic tool bin into a weir, and I'm thinking of imitating him, only I need the flexibility of aluminum because of the irregular shape of the aperture at the top of our waterfall.

(2) The second documentation-related miracle was that I stumbled upon--and read, stranger still--an old Lowe's receipt that (amazingly) listed the name of the iris cultivar that I bought from them and then promptly forgot months ago: 'Spartan.'  (I had googled 'Hector,' 'Troy,' 'Achilles,' and even, desperately, 'Trojan' trying to track this thing down to no avail.  Right culture, wrong piece of geography.)  It's near the volcanic rocks in our pond bed, and is a lovely sulky shade of burgunda, or so the picture indicates.

Iris germanica 'Spartan'

Thursday, December 8, 2011

But I LIKED Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

We're going to take an unusual detour from our regularly scheduled programming into politics.  I realize that my readers (all three of you--how I cherish you!) don't come here for political disquisitions. However, this particular issue is important enough to be an exception.

The Senate has recently passed a bill (S. 1867, the National Defense Authorization Act) containing provisions that allows US citizens on US soil to be detained indefinitely by the military without trial. (It is a measure of how low we've sunk that we're accustomed to detaining non-citizens indefinitely, and we barely blink when US citizens are detained--or assassinated--by the US on foreign soil. But at least for the moment, the idea of detaining US citizens here at home indefinitely is shocking and appalling.  As it should be.)

The House also has a version of this bill (H. 1540), so the two bills are now in conference to be brought into consistency with one another prior to final passage and signature by the president.  The White House, though it has made some vague rumblings about vetoing it, appears to be doing so under the deranged impression that the problem with the bill it that it is too limiting in its scope of presidential prerogative.

If you like freedom, or America, or justice, or if you are opposed to banana republics in general and to living in one in particular, please write to the morally bankrupt goons in DC and tell them to knock it the fuck off. I don't know how they justify their actions to themselves (to us, they use a lot of bloviation about "protecting the American people" and how traitors don't deserve defense lawyers), but this bill is a wholesale violation of Amendments 5 and 6 of the Bill of Rights, which were intended to protect us against detention without due process and indefinite detention. 

On the lefty side, here's a detailed breakdown of the issue by Salon's Glenn Greenwald. The NY Times has a piece as well.

Right-wingers and libertarians have no reason to favor this bill, either.  To his credit, Rand Paul was one of only SEVEN* senators to speak and vote against NDAA.  Here's a right-wing perspective from The American Spectator.

The ACLU has a form letter you can use that they will automatically forward to your reps and senators.

Alternately, you can write your own letter and post it to each of your rep/senators/president will get you their contact info.

If you live in my neck of the woods, these are your elected representatives:

And here's what I wrote.  It's probably too wordy and sarcastic, and it will presumably only be glanced at by an aide or two and then deleted, but if enough of us write in... maybe the aide's delete finger will get a cramp.  That's something.

The National Defense Authorization Act is a travesty. It is blatantly unconstitutional, and more than that, it is immoral, unethical, and, by furthering the corruption of the government, undermines the stability of the country.  

It is difficult to find language strong enough to describe how evil and dangerous this legislation is, particularly sections 1031-1032 of the Senate version of the bill (S. 1867), which allow US citizens to be indefinitely imprisoned by the military and allow the military to imprison anyone who “substantially supports” al Qaida.

I’m appalled that I should have to point this out to the legislative branch of the government—people whose basic job qualifications include a passing familiarity with the US Constitution—but indefinite detention and detention without due process are blatantly, trenchantly, utterly unconstitutional. The Fifth and Sixth Amendments are perfectly clear on this point:  [No person shall be] deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; and In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial. This echoes that fundamental formulation of American values from the Declaration: that among our inalienable rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

You cannot attack a more essential principal of our government, even of our identity as Americans. It is ironic that this egregious example of legislative malfeasance is being defended in the name of fighting treason. The legislation itself is a more violent piece of treason against America than all of al Qaida’s bombing and shootings, including September 11th. In fact, it might be looked upon as al Qaida’s crowning achievement.

I vehemently urge you to vote against this bill when it emerges from conference. And I will vote against—and campaign against—anyone who supported it.


I had trouble coming up with an illustration for this post, but I finally decided to go with the cute little girl in the Statue of Liberty costume.  Let's not let this little girl down, okay?

*The seven nays were Coburn (R-OK), Harkin (D-IA), Lee (R-UT), Merkley (D-OR), Paul (R-KY), Sanders (I-VT), Wyden (D-OR).

Friday, December 2, 2011

Designy Thoughts

I've never been very designy about gardening--mostly, I find a neat plant and then find some place to stick it. But I'm trying to be a little more deliberate about our planting decisions (after our front beds suffered an overdose of the I-don't-know-let's-just-stick-it-here syndrome). As part of this effort, I recently bought a book that's just a fat little compendium of gardens.

Each garden gets a single page with a paragraph or two of text, which I thought at first was going to be annoyingly superficial. In the end, though, I think such a broad survey actually helps to clarify things that you hadn't ever articulated to yourself before. For example: I like topiary. I had no idea. I never thought I cared about topiary one way or another.  But many of the gardens I sticky-flagged were topiary embellished if not downright topiary-centric.

For example, I mentioned in a previous post how much I liked the use of topiary in the Bagatelle rose garden in France. I like how, in combination with the lawn and the trees in the background, the smooth green of the boxwood edging and the topiary cones keep the roses from being too gaudily overwhelming.

 The rose garden at the Bagatelle in France.  Image from

I also like how they impart structure and tidiness--roses being a bit apt to be blobby or scraggly.  And they provide height, as well, which is nice since roses tend to be short--the topiaries add drama and help integrate the rose garden with the background.  The columnar metal trellises, standard roses, and swags provide a similar punctuation mark sort of function--they help break the garden into discrete and intelligible chunks instead of its being an undifferentiated mass.

 Another view of the Roseraie at the Bagatelle in France.  Image from

The same concepts apply to this garden at Arley Hall in the UK.  A riot of a perennial bed, made intelligible by the pauses and cleanness provided by an immaculate green lawn, some austere topiary/hedges, and a brick wall.  I look at this example with particular interest because a perennial bed is alarming in much the same way as blank verse is--it's such a free-for-all. There are so few rules or guidelines.  How does the gardener (or poet) know where to begin?

Arley Hall's Herbaceous Border, Cheshire.  Image from 

The Foresters House in Wiltshire (couldn't find a pic online) by Preben Jakobsen, though much more contemporary, was similarly interesting.  It showed how you can choose a plant with a strong, dramatic structure (in this case, an iris), and use it in the perennial bed to slow down the viewer's eye at some strategic point.  It's like it gives your brain a place to pause and process.

Then there's the Birch Allee at the Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens in Ohio.

Birch Allee at the Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, Ohio.

The walk is actually much longer than this photo indicates. In the Garden Book photo, the base of the trees is planted, dully, with Asian jasmine.  And really, what we're talking about here is two long rectangles with a perfectly straight sidewalk in between. And yet, that long, golden walk with those pale, white birches is just so arresting. If I ever get a several-thousand-acre estate, I'll be sure to plant an allee just like this.

One of my very favorite gardens in the whole book had no flowers whatsoever--the curious topiary garden in the cloister at the Monasterio de San Lorenzo at Santiago de Compostela.  It is wonderfully strange, secret, and mysterious. What do all those endearingly stubby symbols mean? And why do they look Asian? Or possibly Mayan?  Unfortunately, there was exactly one photo of it on the internet (how is that possible?!?) and it is copyright protected (see link above).

I also liked Mottisfont Abbey, designed by the very same Graham Thomas for whom the lovely but maddening 'Graham Thomas' Austin rose was named.

Graham Stuart Thomas's garden as Mottisfont Abbey.  Image from

Once again, I think I was drawn to the contrast between formalism and informality. Somehow, I had never grokked onto the fact that a cottage garden can include formal elements like giant topiary pillars. I know it now, though...

But that's not really enough topiary. What you really need is nothing but grass, a pond, and a dozen or so gargantuan clipped yew pyramids.

The Stonehenge-like collection of weird giant topiary at Athelhampton Manor.  Image from Alice's Garden Travel Buzz

This is from the grounds of Athelhampton Manor in Dorset, UK.  I like it for all the reasons I would think that I wouldn't like it--it's austere, rigidly geometric, the colors are decidedly sombre, and it's utterly artificial.  But I love it.  Monumental, inexplicable pyramids towering over the visitor like Ents or moai or something. What every garden needs.

Finally, the book had a surprising number of Chinese garden windows, apparently known as "lou chuang." I couldn't find any really good examples online, though this one is certainly quite pretty:

What it doesn't capture is the way (some) Chinese gardeners use the windows in garden walls to artfully frame some particular scene or garden element, or combination of colors and textures. I'm hoping to someday make a western version of this in the fence by our pond to create (what I hope will be) an enticing glimpse of the pond as seen from the side of the house.

So that's it: topiaries and garden windows. I'm not really sure how to break this new development to Matt...

Monday, November 21, 2011

This Grass Almost Made Me Miss a Wedding

Masses of 'White Cloud' Gulf Coast muhly

Matt and I were in Atlanta last weekend for my cousin's wedding. We went to the Atlanta Botanical Garden during the day, where we saw the awesomest grass--'White Cloud' Gulf coast muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris).  It makes frothy masses of pale blond billows, and it is very aptly named: it's like being surrounded by a fluffy, luminous cloud.

In my excitement over sharing pix of this beautiful new grass with my brother, I kept the three of us from leaving the hotel on time, which meant we had to slip in the side as the bride was processing up the aisle. Oops. The irony is, my brother doesn't really care about plants at all ("Sure. It's awesome," he said, appeasingly.  He did not say, "Can we go now?" but I'm pretty sure that was in the subtext.)  The further irony is that none of my pix really do the plant justice.  You'll just have to take my word for it: in real life, it's awesome.  AWESOME.

More 'White Cloud' in the background

Anyway, the ceremony was very nice (flowers were very stylish--terra cotta orange lilies and lime green accent flowers. And the boutonnieres were made of moss and yellow globes of the disc flowers from some sort of asteraceae--very funky.  And at the reception:  sashimi!).  I don't think anyone noticed our late entrance, aside from my gimlet-eyed grandmother.

And we really enjoyed the botanical gardens (good thing, too. Admission was $20 a pop!  Yeesh.)  It wasn't a super-geeky bot. gar.--labeling and signage was spotty; you got the feeling it was more into design than botany.  But it was very pretty, and intelligently pretty.  Sometimes this kind of pricy destination garden depends on waves of gaudy annuals (yuck) to wow the visitor.  But when the heart of your gardens is perennials and shrubs, you have to know how your plants will work in all four seasons.  In Atlanta, for example, they left spent hydrangea heads on the fading shrubs, which is wonderfully seasonal and melancholy; not the Disney World approach.

My second favorite plant, after the inestimable 'White Cloud' was this radioactive Japanese maple, 'Yama Kagi' or "Full Moon" maple.

Acer japonicum 'Yama Kagi'

Here's a closer view, showing the brilliant color and interesting leaf shape (click for a bigger version).  I started making sounds about digging a really deep hole, filling it with peat moss and sulphur, and trying to grow this glorious thing back in Texas.  Matt just snorted.  Maybe he was remembering my earlier attempt at this kind of thing with the doomed farkleberry. Ours is a cruel, cruel climate.

Closer shot of 'Yama Kagi'

Also of interest was this espaliered loquat--who knew you could grow them this way?  Matt thinks it's insincere, but I think it's a very clever way to enjoy your loquat without having to find space for a giant, shaggy monster.

Espaliered loquat (Eriobotrya japaonica)

Other than that, my favorite thing was the orchid house, which was really a wonderful place: tons of freaky strange orchids, several very nice water features, and three staghorn ferns that were bigger than stags.  No lie. Beyond that, it was just a place that felt nice to be in, maybe because it featured a stimulating balance between formality and wildness.

Orchid house with giant staghorn ferns

This was one of many nifty weird orchids in the orchid house.

Strange pink orchid

Finally, my other favorite thing of the whole trip. I give you--Bugscuffle, Texas. It's better than Oatmeal, Dime Box, or even my old favorite, North Zulch. To whomever named this town: my hat is off to you.

Bugscuffle, Texas

Saturday, October 29, 2011

October: I Love You

 'Buff Beauty,' back in bloom after a long, grouchy hiatus

Love, love, loving the lovely weather.

Things are blooming again.  Not that it's raining, mind you.  They're just so relieved that it's not 113F anymore. I think it's like those investors that keep buying US bonds despite the downgrade in our credit rating. They're so relieved that we haven't had a complete meltdown that they've decided to take our continued solvency on faith. So with the plants. Sure, we've had a downgrade in our weather quality for the past few years, but at least the climate's still capable of doing autumn at all, right? At least we're not Namibia.

And we've been planting again, also on faith.  (We're like those big corporations that took stimulus money and are now taking a chance on the economy by hiring agai--oh, wait.)  Anyway, we're really happy with some of our new additions.

For example, this 'Victoria' Salvia farinacea.  My phone tends to be a leetle over-enthusiastic about saturating its colors, but this deep indigo isn't too far off from the real thing.

Salvia farinacea 'Victoria'

And another gorgeous treat from the Salvia genus: bog sage (S. uliginosa).  I didn't get a very good picture of this tidy, upright, ~2ft perennial, but it is almost that vibrant and luminous, except that it's prettier in real life. Once Matt has propagated it, I'm going to put this one all over the place. That's how much I love its cooling brightness.

Bog sage - Salvia uliginosa

In the same area (the pond bed), we finally got a vine for our third trellis, the evergreen wisteria (Millettia reticulata).  It has a faintly Asian flavor to it, but I don't think it will be too incongruous with all the buddleia and butterfly weed--not to mention bog sage--that will ultimately fill these beds.

Evergreen wisteria (Millettia reticulata) and Matt's Insta-Fence Solution: 'Red Shield' hibiscus

Also, I'm trying a little experiment around the pond.  I bought a maidenhair fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris) at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center's plant sale the other day, and I unpotted it, divided it, and rolled each root ball into a sort of burrito made of the shreddy coconut matting stuff that people use for hanging plants.  Then I crammed (really--it wasn't a very dainty process) each burrito into the waterfall wherever they could be fit. So the experiment will be (1) can they survive that much pummeling? (2) Will they stay sufficiently moist? (3) Is there enough soil in each burrito to provide the plants with whatever sustenance they need? (4) Are they strong enough to withstand winter, especially considering that our last two winters have involved snow(!)

 The pond seen from the gazebo.  Click to biggiefy--half a maidenhair is right by the edge of the water in the waterfall

Two other super-strong performers in this difficult year have been 'Hot Cocoa,' a recent grandiflora release by Weeks Roses, and 'Pam Puryear' Turk's cap, the beautiful shell-pink variant of the more familiar Camaro-red Malvaviscus arboreus.  

I planted 'Hot Cocoa' last spring--it's one of those new off-color roses that have brown or tan or silver undertones.  I really like them--Matt thinks they're rather vile. Color issues aside, HC has been a surprisingly shapely, robust, free-blooming, and low-fuss rose, despite some hiccups with our watering system and the horribleness of the summer.  I think Matt may have been right that it's a little to corporate and rigid-looking for the G-n-R bed, but it's been so unstintingly doughty and cheerful that I think it's earned the right to stay there.

And 'Pam Puryear'--which is one of Matt's favorite perennials--is just knocking our socks off (constantly. We put on our socks--boom!--they're gone. Just. Like. That. That's how this plant is.)  We planted it this summer in the middle of the Awfulness--which was deranged of us--and it's grown faster than all the salvias and bachelor's buttons and buddleias planted with it.  From a one gallon, it's now a good 2' x 2' shrub and it's covered in just the prettiest little peachy-pink baubles.

Mostly, I'm a grown-up lady now, and my favorite color is green, and I love weird, off-colored roses that look like a cross between a pomegranate and a bruise. So my inner 8-year-old doesn't get a lot of gratification, is what I'm saying.  But when I look at PP, I completely love it, both with my grown-up eyes and my inner 8-year-old eyes.  Sophisticated. Strong. Prolific. And pink.  Lots and lots of pink.

'Hot Cocoa' in the middle of the grass bed (not the purple, of course--that's sweet potato vine), and 'Pam Puryear' Malvaviscus arboreus in the foreground--looks a little washed out here.  In real life, is much more vivid.

Speaking of off-color roses, we lost funktastic (and rare!) 'Wedding Cake' earlier this year to the weather and a faulty irrigation timer. I scoured the internet again and found a source of 5-inch "bands" (a small, deep, square pot that seems to get used a lot for mail order roses). I would have really preferred a nice, stout 2-gallon, but you take what you can get.  Anyway, this time, I bought two.  Here's one of the little babies.  Looks so helpless, doesn't it? Fingers crossed this time.

In other essays into strangeness, we were both captivated by the toad lily (Tricyrtis hirta) at Emerald Gardens last weekend (also the source of the Millettia, incidentally.  Which was $15 for a great big thing.)  If it does well over the next year, I'll be tucking them all over the shade bed.  I love their orchidy weirdness, and all how they draw attention to themselves, but in a mannerly, non-overwhelming way.  They'll add oomph without dominating, I think.

Toad lily Tricyrtis Hirta - looks like an orchid, but isn't--is a lily, just like the name says

We've also got some well-established garden heroes, like the fantastic 'Souvenir de la Mamaison,' possibly my favorite rose in--brace yourself--the history of the entire world.  Yes. I like it that much. It has gorgeous, huge, cabbagey pale pink blooms on beautiful little shrub with immaculate grey-green foliage, and it acts as though we had perfectly balanced summer in the 80s with a couple of inches of rain every month, plus fertilizers and fungicides. Instead of which, we give it irrigation and nothing else, plus a side of bermudagrass and torture by fire on the west side of the house. Nicely done, S de la M.  Nicely done.

 'Souvenir de la Malmaison'

In conclusion: I love October.  It feels nice.  It looks nice.  I love it.

 Glass slag in the mellow light of an October afternoon

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Oh, so busy!

I think we've been liberated by the cool weather--it's been crazy busy time in the garden.

Manicure a la pipe primer

We went to the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center's fall plant sale last weekend, and I ordered a bunch of bulbs from the Southern Bulb Company, plus I extended three zones of our irrigation system (with much digging, breaking of pipes, more digging, gluing, not fitting, recutting, regluing, and raking) and added some stake drippers to another zone.  Oh, and I added some lights to the pond's landscape lights.

Busy times.

Here are the new plants:
  • Nimblewell (wonderful name, no?  Very Tolkienian. If only Aragorn had had access to a patch of nimblewell during the battle at Helm's Deep, the whole thing would have been over before the rain even started.  No need for Entish intervention whatsoever.)  It's a diminutive, rather blowsy little Muhlenbergia (M. schreberi) that I'm hoping will behave in a groundcoverish way. [Update: CA considers this an invasive weed.  But... the LBJ Wildflower Center wouldn't lead me astray, would they? Perhaps it's better behaved in Texas's less hospitable climate.]
  • Sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula)
  • Missouri violets (Viola missouriensis)
  • Blue flag (for the pond - Iris virginica)
  • Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) for a groundcover in the shade garden
  • Chandler's craglily (Echeandia chandleri)
  • Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica - and can I just say to this picture: Yes, please!)
  • Grape hyacinth (Muscari neglectum) - a very promising specific epithet.  They are likely to be more or less neglected, so hopefully that's something they relish.  I imagine this is the species that one often finds naturalized in cemeteries.
  • Chinese Sacred Lilies (Narcissus tazetta orientalis - unlike the N.t.o. in the link, my existing clump has bloomed faithfully and delightfully since they were first planted.  I bought more to plant a matching clump on the other side of the front bed.)
  • Tulipa clusiana var. Tinka - a cute little striped species tulip.  Apparently, T. clusianas are sometimes referred to as "lady tulips," which is rather sweet--they are dainty-looking.
  • Narcissus cyclameneus 'Jetfire' - I've always wanted to grow a cyclamen-flowered daffodil--I find their blown-back petals oddly endearing.
  • Narcissus tazetta 'Golden Dawn'
  • Jonquil (Narcissus jonquilla)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Horticultourism--Tyler, TX

Lovely glass fountain at Blue Moon Gardens with complementary gazing balls

I've been meaning to visit Tyler's very large municipal rose garden for some time now.  We are rose enthusiasts, after all.  So we woke up early, stopped off at the little red taco wagon for our customary Saturday chicken fajita breakfast tacos, and hit the road.

The gardens were looking well--plenty of blooms, well maintained--but the truth is that it's not really our cup of tea (excuse the pun)--and not just because of its focus on moderns.

Here's the thing: making an entire garden out of nothing but modern roses is like trying to write a sentence using nothing but exclamation marks.  All these vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows are screaming at you from all over the place, trying to grab your attention.  But there are so many of them, and they are all in uniform, boxy parterres, so nothing really draws you eye any more than any other thing.  It's overstimulating and unsatisfying simultaneously.

Using parterres seems like a clever way to impose form on plants that are often so formless and scraggly, but it represses the distinctive personality of each cultivar.  It de-emphasizes the rosiness of roses.  Or so it seems to me.

The admittedly impressive rows upon rows of roses.  Note that the garden is at least this big again to the right.

There are some nice architectural elements in the park. I think it would have been better to select some roses for specimen plantings and some for massing, and then use the architectural elements to support the specimen plants--corners and archways and urns and central medallions in walkways that direct your attention and make the best use of different cultivars' strengths.  And then use evergreens in the background to ground the whole thing and to give some relief from the riot of color.  Think of a classic perennial border in England--a veritable Mardi Gras of colors and forms, set off by an impossibly smooth grass walk and the neutral background of a weathered brick wall--uniform, serene contrasts to the busyness of the flower beds. (See also the Bagatelle rose gardens in France)

As it is, this was our favorite part of the whole experience--a three-level koi pond tucked in a shady spot away from the roses.  Why not put a few roses around the pond's sunnier bank?  Some lovely cascadey thing, like swamp rose or 'Climbing Pinkie' or a very mature unpruned Tea rose.

And then my other favorite thing was this cultivar--you should click on it to fully grasp how heavily covered it is with hips, and what a bright gold those hips are.  I've never seen anything like it. Unfortunately, it was unlabeled--maybe 'Dainty Bess'?  If anyone recognizes it, please let me know.

I feel like I've been a little unfairly harsh--it's pretty nifty that a smallish town--or any town at all, really--has taken on the expense and trouble of maintaining a collection of this size.  I mean, look at the pic above--so clean and orderly!  Can you imagine how much mulch this requires annually?  And there are some very pretty spots--the koi ponds, the camellia walk, and the idea garden full of blooming perennials, for example.  It was just that it helped clarify for us some of our own ideas about how we think roses are best used in the landscape, which would be less rigidly formal, more individualized, and mixed with other species.

After that, we went to Chamblee's Roses, which I had always thought of as the Antique Rose Emporium's main competitor.  I think their main focus is wholesale and mail order, though.  Their excellent facility was scrupulously clean, tidy, and weedless, but it isn't a showplace the way that A.R.E. is. It is definitely worth the visit--we bought 8 roses and a book between the two of us--but it's a straightforward production unit for a terrific boatload of roses rather than a magical garden experience.

It was thanks to Chamblee that we finally got Buck roses.  "Moderns," we had hitherto sniffed dismissively.  But when saw them in person and full of blooms, they pretty much had us at hello.  We bought 'Dawn Star' and coveted 'Quietness' and 'American Legacy.'  They seem to combine old rose flower shapes with high fragrance on what are reputed to be very hardy plants.  We'll see what kind of shrubs they make. (Footnote: all 3, coincidentally, are posthumous releases of seedlings Dr. Buck gave to family and friends, according to this thread on Gardenweb.)

And I finally got some David Austins: 'Abraham Darby' and the 'Ambridge Rose' and 'Sharifa Asma'.

We also picked up a 'Mrs Dudley Cross' and peppery little 'Spice,' to replace the one from my undergrad days that died of Horrid Fungus our first summer in Elgin.

Then, back in Tyler, I saw the official lettering of the trip--how adorable is that New York Store?

 Delectable vintage lettering in Tyler's brick-paved downtown square

Next, on the spur of the moment, we googled "best nursery in Tyler," and got a recommendation for Blue Moon nursery, which turned out to be that unexpected something extra that makes a trip.  It was a small place with a lot of very nice plants in excellent shape set in creative, lovingly tended--and immaculate--display gardens.  We picked up a bog sage, a tiny yellow daisy whose name eludes me, some purple-flowering Thai basil, a hummingbird feeder, and two Dwarf Hamlins (that Pennisetum alopecuroides cultivar I was seeing all over the place at TNLA).

On the grounds they have this awesome patio/performance area--a fireplace, a niche for an urn, a mantel, a window, and--is that a pizza oven?  Whatever it is, it's delightful and convivial filled me with envy.

 Fireplace and patio at Blue Moon Gardens

At Blue Moon, they recommended we eat at either Edom or Ben Wheeler--apparently, these two rather remote hamlets are bursting with culinary goodness.  We chose The Shed in Edom where we had very satisfactory old-school chicken fried chicken and country fried steak; but interestingly, it was the fried cabbage (pretty much everything on their menu is fried--be prepared) that was the revelation--caramelized, sweet, but not soggy. Delectable. They must fry it very fast, in what tastes like bacon grease.  So it's going to be a salady week making up for that one, but, lordy! that cabbage was good.

I like this conjunction of signs.

So, all in all, a good trip. Long, but good.  We learned some useful things, bought some nice plants, saw some gardens, and had some yummy food.  That's about all you need.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Twenty Percent More Color!


This birdseed is the shizz

Well, I'll be monkey's uncle (or aunt?). It worked!  That bird seed just about did attract twenty percent more color.

See this thing?  It's... kinda small.  But I swear, it's a bird!  Not a sick leaf!  And it's very yellow.

A tiny yellow bird, attracted to our color-beguiling birdseed

Here's a perfectly awful closeup (I can see that our new bird feeders will require me to buy a new camera).  You can see... well, you can see that it's yellow, anyway.  I'm currently guessing that it's a yellow-throated vireo, but given my knowledge of ornithology, I wouldn't be shocked to learn that it was a Miniature Amber-Chested Mexican Vulture.  Or a Great Gulf Dwarf Primrose Whooping Crane.  But for now we'll call it a vireo.

A vireo.  Or a small vulture.  One of the two.

We've also been attracting Carolina chickadees (I assume that's what this is).  They aren't exactly roseate spoonbills, but they're cute enough.

A jumpy little chickadee

I didn't get a picture of the neatest birds--a pair of tiny, dusky blue things. The closest species I could find for our area are the blue-crowned vireo and the eastern kingbird, though neither of those are really very blue, and I would have sworn that our visitors were. Dark and slatey, but definitely blue.

On the other hand, this hummingbird obligingly paused for a number of blurry, indistinct photos.  I don't know what kind it is either, except that it doesn't appear to have a ruby throat.  I imagine it's here for the Chitalpa though (blooming away cheerfully, drought be damned), not for the birdseed.

A pointy-snouted little hummingbird

Speaking of nectar feeders, I was reminded the other day to put out nectar for the bees & butterflies.  It's migratory butterfly season, apparently, and we're really low on nice, nectary flowers across the state.  And the bees, of course, always seem to be having a rough time of it.  I read the other day that their wax starts to melt above ~110F.  So on top of everything else this summer, they had to cope with melty hives.

For the nectar lovers, I was told to put a piece or red or orange sponge out in a pie plate with some sugar water (3 parts water to 1 part sugar) and orange quarters.  We've had a couple of these little bird feeders kicking around for years in the garage, so they're finally getting their day in the sun.  Haven't seen many butterflies, but every bee in the neighborhood has heard about our nectar sponges.  I froze extra nectar in 1/3 cup servings, and every morning (when I remember), I drop a chunk of frozen nectar on each sponge and let it melt in.

In a similar vein of folksy strategies for a crappy climate, we're giving our trees a deep soak via kitty litter buckets.  I used an ice pick to pound 5 small holes in the bottom of 3 kitty litter buckets.  I placed the buckets around the drip line of this little Lacey oak, filled them, and let them slowly drip out for a nice, deep drink.  I think three buckets is enough for this little tree, but I'll probably move & refill them 1-4 times for the larger trees.

Because we can't stop ourselves, we've been putting in a few new plants.  This is Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition' blue grama grass.  Those white-gold horizontal flower heads are pleasantly sparky, especially in front of that red shield hibiscus.

We've also planted this interesting hesperaloe, 'Brakelights' (stupid name, as per usual. Have breeders been outsourcing their branding to some sort of cheapo advertising sweatshops overseas?  How are the connotations of brake lights--stop!--traffic!--you can't go!--eek! accident!--what you want associated with a nice landscape plant???).  Yuccado has an interesting comparison of BL flower versus a standard red yucca.

Meantime, some of the 50 or so oxbloods that I planted in that same bed earlier this year--and which have receive ZERO water all summer--are poking their brave little crimson heads above a cracked and parched earth.  Oxblood lilies are STRONG and BRAVE!  And, by happy coincidence, they look quite nice with 'Brakelights.'

Oxblood lilies:  horticultural heroes.  And new Hesperaloe parviflora cvr 'Brakelights'

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I've always vaguely meant to add more wildlife-friendly plants to the yard.  Who doesn't want butterflies and birds, after all?  But we've been much more focused on finding homes for our roses and more general landscaping priorities since moving in.  But now that the Grass-n-Roses bed is taking shape (grasses being generally rather WF by virtue of providing habitat, apparently),now that the pond is providing a copious water source for the thirsty, and now that the climate is in such a homicidal and faunicidal rage, now seems like the right time to get serious about lending our furry, feathered, froggy, and chitinous brethren a hand.

We installed our first two bird feeders around the pond this weekend, an activity that for some reason made me feel more than usually married. Somehow, it just seems so homey and pleasantly settled to have bird feeders.  Matt said it made him feel like an 80-year-old.  I said, but a married eighty-year-old, right?  (Side note: is there anything we should know about which birdseed to use?  We just bought whatever they had at Lowe's, a mix that promised--I kid you not--"20% more color!"  We haven't yet figured out if that means the birds will be 20% more colorful than they used to be, or we'd get 20% more highly colored bird species than we used to.  At present, it appears to be netting us 2,000% more mourning doves, but whatever.  We did see one bright yellow thing, one cardinal, and a sort of titmouse kind of a fellow, which was nice.  Oh, and an inexplicable hummingbird.)

And I also trolled through Austin's Grow Green Guide for ideas of plants we could add to the yard.  What came as a pleasant surprise is how many WF plants we already have.  This begs the question: where are all the bunnies, herons, pumas, foxes, and other furry friends?  But perhaps we don't have a high enough density of WF plants.  Must work on that.

Wildlife-friendly Plants We Have
Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum)
Montezuma Cypress (Taxodium mucronatum)
Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
Lacey Oak (Quercus laceyi)
Mexican White Oak (Quercus polymorpha)
Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)
Eve's Necklace (Sophora affinis)
Kidneywood (Eysenhardtia texana)
Texas Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora)
Cordia (Cordia boissieri) - a new one; our previous specimen croaked last winter.  If at first you don't succeed...
Pomegranate (Punica granatum)
Evergreen Sumac (Rhus virens)
Abelia (Abelia sp.)
Chitalpa (X Chitalpa tashkentensis 'Morning Cloud')
American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)
White Boneset (Eupatorium havanense)
Turk's Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus 'Pam Puryear')
Red Columbine (Aquilegia sp.)
Obedient Plant (Physostegia sp.)
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea - butterflies)
Pavonia (Pavonia braziliensis - butterflies)
Salvia spp (Salvia spp. - hummingbirds)
Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora - hummingbirds)
Inland Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)
Big Muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri)
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata - butterflies)
Horseherb (Calyptocarpus vialis - a volunteer that acts as a proxy lawn for us--not sure if it will have survived the Great Dryness)

But more is required!  So I'd like to start working some of these species in, mostly in the G-n-R bed, the bed around the pond, and the shade bed.

Wildlife-friendly Plants We Want
Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica)
Barbados Cherry (Malpighia glabra)
Buddleia (Buddleia sp.)
Chile Pequin (Capsicum annuum)
Fall Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium - nectar)
Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri - butterflies)
Purple Skullcap (Scutellaria sp - butterflies)
Perennial Winecup (Callirhoe involucrata - Hairstreak butterfly)
Yarrow (Achillea sp. - Painted Lady butterfly)
Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium - Skipper butterflies)
Bamboo Muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa)
Gulf Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris)
Wood Violet (Viola sp.)
Echincea Sombrero series 'Sandy Yellow' or 'Hot Coral' (Echinacea purpurea)

Also--and Matt doesn't know this yet, lucky guy! --I'd like to make a rain garden.  The Guide had this really cool pic of rain garden, and I realized that something like that would really add pizazz to the the shade bed, plus we'll need and overflow spot anyway when (as I hope will someday happen) we get that old cistern under our house back in operation.  Think of all the nice boggy plants we could grow, like cardinal flower!

Pretty, no?  And the shade bed would adore the extra water.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Labor Day Fires 2011

I couldn't find a map of the wildfires online, so I had to resort to making one myself.  This is a VERY APPROXIMATE map based on the loose descriptions of fire locations from YNN, KXAN, Statesman, Elgin Courier, &c., &c.

At present, as you can see, Elgin is in a safe patch.  Fingers crossed that we stay this way, what with the winds and lack of humidity.  My inlaws were coincidentally in the area at the time and had to evacuate, so we're now running a tiny, one-family refugee camp.  Everyone's fine--not even the dogs are singed.  I wish I could say the same for everyone else in Central Texas.  First reports are saying that several hundred homes in Bastrop Co. alone have been lost, and the firefighters aren't even trying to fight it--they're just focused on evacuations.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

TNLA 2011

'Emerald Choco Zebra.' Yeah, I'm serious--that is its name. A zebra that is made of chocolate and also of emerald. That makes sense.
Matt's company went to the 2011 Texas Nurseryman and Landscaper's Association convention in Dallas a couple of weeks ago and very kindly let me come too.

I saw some of my old favorites from previous TNLAs, like 'Summer Chocolate' mimosa, 'Teddy Bear' magnolia, weeping atlas cedar, and 'Emerald Choco Zebra' curcuma (above). I have no idea how they perform (except for the Atlas cedar--we can't grow that one here). But I noticed a hell of a lot more grasses this year than previously. Not sure if that's because I'm in a more grass-receptive mood, or if there is a turn within the industry this year toward drought-tolerant/nativey sorts of plants.

If so I sympthize. All the plant pain in my garden distresses me (we've lost my new funky 'Wedding Cake' rose to a faulty irrigation valve, 'Autumn Damask,' a rose I nurtured along in a pot for eleven years after A&M and that has been in the ground happily for four, is on the brink, and it looks like Serenoa repens is succumbing to transplant shock + heat stress + drought after we planted it (idiotically) in July. Ths is despite getting water 3 times per week.) And I hate the amount of watering we're doing--I hadn't expected to water more than once per week during the heat of the summer, but we'd be living in a desert if I kept to that schedule these days.

So. Grasses.

We've got 3 varieties in the Grass-n-Roses bed:
  • Big muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri)
  • 'Mexican feather grass (Nassella/Stipa tenuissima)
  • the new blue grama grass, 'Blond Ambition' (Bouteloua gracilis).
And we're looking for more.

This appears to have been the year for 'Dwarf Hamlin,' a Pennisetum alopecuroides cultivar. It was all over the place, along with 'Little Bunny' a particularly compact and adorable cultivar of the same species.

Pennisetum alopecuroides cvr. Hameln AKA 'Dward Hamlin'

Pennisetum alopecuroides cvr. 'Little Bunny'

That dramatic purple millet from a couple of years ago (or one like it) was also everywhere. Very stylish, but it doesn't look drought-hardy.

This specimen of little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium--how's that for an orthographically challenging mouthful?) made a compelling case for use in the garden--so dense, vertical, and strikingly colored.
Schizachyrium scoparium
And this yucca with the painstakingly coiffured trunk--wouldn't that be a wonderfully sculptural addition to the garden? I love the buff-colored trunks against the grey-green leaves.

Yucca,  Can't remember genus offhand

I also saw quite a lot of both green and silver Carexes this year. They're pleasingly tufty and soft-looking. We might try some in the shade garden as a ground cover, if the heat ever breaks and we ever plant anything again.

Mexican blue palm and Carex flacca/glauca

Other than grasses & friends of the grasses, there were also some interesting new Echinacea cultivars. It's a lousy picture, but I love the pale lemon of the 'Sandy Yellow' Echinacea in the Sombrero series (poorly named--it's not the color of sand at all). And, while not to my taste, the I-am-a-PRINCESS! frills of 'Double Scoop Bubble Gum' would add variety and pizzaz to a nativey perennial bed. (But who comes up with these names? My mouth feels sticky just reading it.)

Echinacea 'Double Scoop Bubble Gum' and Echinacea Sombrero 'Sandy Yellow'

I also really liked two more cultivars in the Sombrero series: 'Hot Coral' and 'Salsa Red'. How well all of these fellows perform down here is an open question, but I do love their looks, and their slightly unusual proportions for an Echinacea--great chubby disc flowerheads with adorably stubby little ray flowers (the "petals"). Kind of the opposite of a sombrero, really, but what the hell.

Echinacea Sombrero 'Hot Coral' and 'Salsa Red'

In other trends, the industry seems very interested in new redbuds. In addition to the lovely 'Forest Pansy,' which has been around for a while, and the 'Hearts of Gold,' which I remember from last year, they're also selling 'Ace of Hearts,' 'Rising Sun,' and the stunning if slightly coarse 'Ruby Falls.'

(A) Hearts of Gold, (B) Forest Pansy, (C) Ace of Hearts, (D) Rising Sun, (E) Ruby Falls 
Apologies for the atrocious picture!

(A) Hearts of Gold - chartreuse leaves
(B) Forest Pansy - purple leaves
(C) Ace of Hearts - compact form, dense small leaves
(D) Rising Sun - newest foliage is orangey-pink, with older chartreuse leaves behind and mature dark green behind that
(E) Ruby Falls - weeping purple

Magnolia grandiflora appears to be undergoing similar diversification. There were several cultivars that appeared to be 'Little Gem' competitors--large, columnar evergreens. However, the only one that was really compelling at first glance was 'Teddy Bear' (so cute! so fuzzy!), which is several years old.

In a completely different vein, TNLA always has at least a few lovely things trucked in by hopeful vendors from Florida or Tennessee or Oregon that would never do here, like this wonderful strangeness: a Black Bat Tacca. I've never seen anything quite like it. Sadly, it's incredibly prissy, so I'll just have to admire it from afar. If I ever become a vampire, however, I'll have to have a whole garden of these.

Tacca chantrieri "Black bat flower"

Finally, I rather fell in love with these pots this year. I love the blue and the old fashioned French-looking patterns.

Some nice pots

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