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

Related Posts with Thumbnails