Monday, November 9, 2009

Montgomery Co Master Gardeners

Just returned from a Propagation Specialist training in Montgomery County and wanted to add my voice to the crowd singing the praises of the Montgomery County Master Gardeners. They really set a high standard for the rest of us by installing and maintaining an amazing variety of demo gardens - floral, fruit, butterfly, xeriscape, bog and pond - and in their "spare time" they've raised the money for and installed a huge multipurpose building for their Extension office. They even have real china cups for the coffee! Talk about attention to detail...

If you have reason to be in the Houston/Woodlands area - it's worth the drive to Conroe to see what can be accomplished with a big dream, hard work and a team spirit. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have Tom LeRoy as coach/Extension agent.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bloom Day 03.09

Yellow bulbine, Asian ground orchids, and a Pat Austin rose are three of the shows currently appearing in my garden.

But, what I'm really excited to tell you about are these irises...

My husband and I rescued these last year after I noticed a familiar crown shape off to the side of the road. I joked then that being moved from blazing sun and neglect in a former pasture to a place of honor in well amended soil and constant attention in my garden would probably kill them. Instead, they've quadrupled in size and rewarded us with the most interesting blooms. Many of them have petals that are exactly one half purple and one half white. I've started calling it Night and Day, both for the change in their growing conditions and for their unique coloring.

Another interesting iris blooming right now is one that develops absolutely NO stem. It's hard to capture in a picture, but here's my best effort. The blooms are silvery white with a small amount of purple deep inside. I've looked everywhere to find if it's symptomatic of a disease, but everything just says that some dwarf varieties don't form a stem.

This peachy one is a pass-along plant, so I don't have the actual name. It has enough brown in it that I call it Peach Tea. The beautiful peach iris I got from Annie in Austin (of the Transplantable Rose blog) hasn't bloomed yet, but it's planted nearby looking promising.

These white irises were in a group of unmarked plants being sold for next to nothing because no one knew what variety or color they were. The antique roses and salvia guaranitica "Black and Blue" behind them haven't really come to life yet, and the spots of white on tall stems really brighten up that bed. Just in front of these white irises are the purple verbena canadensis "Homestead Purple" that are usually one of the first things to bloom in the garden. This year they were beaten to the punch by several irises and the Old Blush rose.

Here's Old Blush - my nominee for hardest working rose in the garden. It has so many blooms, its stems just faint under the weight.

I once overheard other members of the Austin Iris Society talking about silly people who try to grow irises and roses in the same bed. They must not have been talking about Earthkind or antique roses, because my irises seem very happy growing among them. They're all in raised beds, receive full to part sun, and require very little water or fussing. This one is called "Royal Knight", and it's done surprisingly well with morning sun only.

Scattered among the white irises are poppies and the larkspur seedlings that are coming up all over my garden thanks to the seeds MSS of Zanthan Garden gave me. The poppies weren't quite ready for bloom day, but I decided to give you a preview.

The Martha Gonzales rose in that bed is blooming fairly well, but the Marie Pavie, Old Gay Hill, Lindee, and Franziska Krueger have just produced single bloom previews of what is to come.

Martha Gonzales (right) and Franziska Krueger (below)

Marie Pavie (right) is the most fragrant rose in my garden, making up for its demure blooms. When in full bloom, it scents the entire back yard.

Also on that side of the garden is the Tulipa Clusiana "Cynthia" that I discussed in my previous post. Here's another picture. They began to bloom March 8th, and are still at it.

Of the approximately 15 varieties of salvia in my garden, the salvia Greggii was probably my least favorite until I started trying to kill it by cutting it to the ground every year. It got bushier and prettier, and now blooms heavily in a lovely fuschia color. It also seems to have absolutely no pests.

Moving to another area, the Loropetalum chinense "fringe flower" is still blooming, but I didn't take another picture to leave room for the new additions. Demonstrating favoritism, however, Marilyn's Choice abutilon blooms all year, and I still couldn't resist giving you another look.

Keeping the Marilyn's Choice abutilon company are Gregg's Mistflower (Eupatorium greggii), pink Texas rock roses (Pavonia lasiopetala), yellow cestrum (Cestrum elegans), and two colors of shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeana). The abutilon and chartreuse/pink shrimp are the only two in bloom right now.

This rose is called "Colleen's Climber". It's a found rose named after my friend, Colleen Belk. Those of you in Austin may know her from her many years at Barton Springs Nursery, one of the best in our area in part due to her hard work.

Orange Bulbine isn't producing flowers right now as well as the yellow variety, but both are blooming. Yellow is pictured at the beginning of this post, and here's the orange.

A new type of lavender I'm trying this year is called "Blueberry Ruffles", a lavandula cultivar. It's supposed to have early and repeat flowering, with very fragrant large flower spikes. This teeny bloom may not look like much, but none of my other lavenders has produced any flowers at all this spring.

Moving toward the other side of the house, Old Blush, Lady Banks and Cecille Brunner roses are all in bloom.

Lady Banks (left)

Cecille Bruner (right) started from a 4" cutting two years ago.

The snow peas are still producing flowers and peas.

Usually the wisteria threatens to take over its side of the yard, but this time of year it seems fairly tame. Its clusters are just beginning to open and the branches are still bare.

In the front yard, the only things blooming right now are the white spirea, a Mutabilis rose, and a yellow columbine called "Hinckley's" (Aquilegia hinckleyana).

When looking for the botanical name for the spirea, I found lots of websites saying it should be blooming in June and that it has low tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions. Mine defies such thinking, blooming like crazy as soon as the weather warms consistently above freezing (usually late February to mid-March) and flourishing without supplemental watering.

I realized I also have purple spiderwort, asparagus, and a succulent named "Ghost" in bloom but didn't get their pictures. In the greenhouse, a miniature yellow rose and several of the scented geraniums are blooming. There may have to be an addendum in a couple of days for all the things that were overlooked. It's great to have so much going on out there!

Hinckley's columbine (left) and Mutabilis rose (below). The Mutabilis is covered with blooms of pale pink, coral, peach, and fuschia fluttering like its namesake butterflies.

I also have another yellow columbine, locally called "Hot Mama" that has larger blooms but contrary to her name isn't showing her goods yet.

Once again, I thank Carol of May Dreams Gardens for inspiring me to look more closely at the beauty in my own back yard. I hope you enjoyed the visit.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tulipa Clusiana is Back!

Just had to share these with you. There's a lot happening in my garden, but I'm saving most of it for Bloom Day. These old friends surprised me on Sunday, March 8th, but I'm just getting around to showing them off.
I didn't know you could get a tulip to naturalize in our heat and horrible excuse for soil until a friend at Barton Springs Nursery introduced me to Tulipa clusiana "Cynthia" several years ago. I was charmed by the idea of having these delicate beauties popping up each spring, and even happier they share the name of my oldest stepdaughter. Even if there were other tulips that could be happy here, I'd still grow these for the dark pink on the outsides of their sunny lemon yellow petals. I'm told they're originally from Uzbekistan - who'd have thought our climate would support their natives?! But, they happily signal spring each year just at that time Austin gardeners are trying to guess if it's going to be in the 80's or freezing tomorrow.
I'm also a sucker for their grey foliage which is completely hidden in this picture because they're peeking up through the foliage of a Peggy Martin rose. The bladelike foliage you see is narcissus tazetta.
Be sure to pop back by on the 15th for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - I've got a lot of plants promising to put on a show.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

There's rosemary, that's for remembrance ...

Knowing this day was coming hasn't softened the blow nor has it prepared me with the right words. It's been my preference to just get through emotional events, then to use words later to reflect back when I've established the necessary distance and objectivity. I'm breaking with tradition today because we've all lost a treasure and I need somewhere to go with the feelings.

Madalene Hill passed away yesterday at the early age of 95. "Early" because she seemed immortal to me and because I don't know what we'll do without her. "Early" because she always had more energy than anyone else in the room. "Early" because I'm not ready to let her go.

My husband says that when I mention Madalene in my writing, I always say her name as though everyone on the planet automatically knows who I'm talking about - like "God" or "Elvis". And I always answer that they do. Anyone who knows much about herbs does, and they're who I'm really talking to now.

Do you remember the exact day you first discovered a passion for something? Something you thought you could make your life's work? I do. It was in a cooking class being taught by Madalene and her daughter, Gwen, in Houston in the early 70's. Although already working in restaurants, I hadn't really decided what to be when I grew up. That night Madalene said something like "Herbs are the thin thread that links you to your ancestors no matter what part of the world they came from." For someone looking for connections, family, and my place in the world, those were powerful words. A lot of firsts in my life occurred in her presence, a lot of lightbulbs went off. And after all of these years, it's just too hard to imagine her gone.

There's one memory I'd like to share. I was the general manager of Hilltop Herb Farm in Cleveland, Texas, working on opening the new one in Houston. If you don't know about the original Farm in Cleveland, it was a true destination location. People would drive the two hours or more from Houston and other cities to this place out in the piney woods of East Texas, down a two lane country road with no streetlights, to the middle of absolute nowhere. A turn onto a dirt drive would land you by an enormous greenhouse where a prix fixe dinner centered around culinary herbs was served on Friday and Saturday evenings.

This particular Friday evening in 1983 seemed like the others. A "little weather" seemed to be blowing in, but the staff was in the kitchen finishing the meal preparation as Madalene greeted arriving guests. One arrived at the main entrance to the greenhouse in a wheelchair, about the time a tornado also made a surprise appearance. With Madalene holding onto the guest with one hand and holding firm to the wooden doorframe with the other, they rode out the tornado right there in the door. The wreckage of the greenhouse was strewn about them, but there they were. You can see why I might think of her as indestructible. To give you an idea of the devastation that night, it took several hours to clear an exit back to the road, and several more before we could even think of leaving. Friends of the Farm returned the next day to do what we could, but it was a crippling blow.

Years ago I lost another friend too early - Warren Skaaren. When he died, I eventually realized that all we can do to get through the loss and to honor them is try to cultivate in our selves more of the traits we loved in them. With Warren, it was humility and a generosity of spirit. With Madalene, I don't know where to start.

This post started with Ophelia's line from Shakespeare's Hamlet: "There rosemary, that's for remembrance..." It continues "pray, love, remember..."
I know we will.

(Latest update is that there will be a memorial service for Madalene on March 22nd, at 2 p.m. in the beautiful Concert Hall on the grounds of the Festival Institute in Round Top.)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

In the three years Carol at May Dreams Garden has been hosting Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, this is the first time I've managed to take pictures and get them posted in time. When I first heard of it, I had the impression it only happened once a year; but eventually I caught on that the fun happens every single month. So welcome ... here's what's putting on a show in my Zone 8 garden in Austin. Thanks for stopping by. That's a red shrimp plant to the left. I think the frost damage makes it look like chintz.

Frost damaged, but still covered with blooms and reddish new growth - "Old Blush" rose.

Bulbine frutescens, yellow (above) and orange varieties (below)

Meyer lemon getting a start on this year's Meyer Lemon Ginger Marmalade.

Fringe Flower (Loropetalum chinense)

German Iris "Feedback" with MSS' larkspur seedlings in background.

Chandler variety strawberries - here in Austin, we plant our berry plants in the fall for a full crop the following spring and summer. These guys have been blooming a little off and on all winter, reflecting how crazy our cold/hot cycle is with 80 degrees and freezing weather in the same week.

In the greenhouse, the pelargoniums (scented geraniums) are putting on their dainty blooms. This is an apple scented one.

This abutilon has the common name of "Marilyn's Choice" and mine looks like this all year. If anyone has the botanical name of this variety, please let me know.
That's all that's blooming today, but the garden was full of promise as I was snooping around for blooms. Thanks, Carol, for getting me back outside.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Wow ... it's really happening!

Just made my hotel reservation for this year's Spring Fling to be held in Chicago and had a few thoughts that actually apply to the bigger picture:

1. It's possible to trust other people to get things done - at the first Spring Fling in Austin, the Chicago gardeners were telling us that we'd be gathering "next year in Chicago". Honestly, it was hard to imagine they'd go home and not get so busy gardening and being regular folks that it wouldn't slide to the bottom of the "to do" list.

2. Sometimes others do a better job than I ever might have done - This is probably something I should engrave on a metal disc and wear around my neck. I mean, just look at the Chicago Spring Fling website! They have a logo, and hotel info, and links, and lions and tigers (well, okay, no lions and tigers but there IS a borzoi!)

3. There are people you just met (last year or last week) but feel you've known your whole life and your life is actually better for knowing them - whether it's our common interests or what we learn about each other by reading blogs, I don't know. But, in these times when so much talk is about what's wrong with everything from the economy to politics to the taste of tomatoes, it's refreshing to remember the world is full of things and relationships that are absolute perfection . Without exception, the Spring Flingers are amazing people with talent, people I'm proud to call friends, people I want to hate because their gardens are so much better than mine. See for yourself - visit every link over there on the right under "Their sites are prettier than mine" and go to Chicago Gardeners at blogspot dot com. There's worse ways to spend your time.

Purple Martin Party Time!

Travis Audubon hosted a Purple Martin Colony visit this past Saturday next to the historic home of Laura Joseph.  Laura started...