Wednesday, December 30, 2009

If the southeast is the only place on the east coast not buried in snow this holiday season, at least the delphinium are ice blue.

The 'Neon' dianthus, on the other hand, are HOT!

Ginny prowls for deadheads

And an azalea vies for attention among the winter annuals

How can I leave a place where I can still plant flowers in December!

Behold, the Winter Garden.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Thanks to Susan over at GardenRant for giving me the phrase I couldn't quite get right: re-design. That is the concept I'm try to get across when a client doesn't want a landscape design and they don't quite know what it is they do want. Now, I can tell 'em, "Hey, sir, what you need is just a little 're-design'. Sure, that loropetalum someone planted across the front of your house is cute now, but do you realize those rascals will want to be eight feet tall and six feet wide someday? Since you want that magical 'low-maintenance' landscape, how bout we use those loropetalum over in the side yard where you want to hide the view of your neighbor's ugly shed, and we'll replace them with a more interesting selection that you won't have to fight with every year? Just a bit of re-design will make years of difference!
Here is my friend Marc's entrance on the day I met him. I thought this was not the best look. What he needed was a little 're-design'.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Early winter, gray days

This pyracantha greets visitors to Silver Lake Recreational Park every winter. The berries are large and lusciously colored, but the plant itself climbs up through a sapling oak tree, and it is practically invisible until the berries begin to turn. When we see the occasional cedar waxwings in the park, they are usually dining on these berries.

The second picture is looking up through the branches of an oak tree draped with Spanish moss. Spanish moss is an epiphyte, an air plant, living on a host plant but drawing its food from air and rainwater. For some reason the oaks here have not grown proportionately with the Spanish moss, and the trees are overwhelmed, constantly dropping limbs heavy laden with moss. The moss has a reputation for harboring red bugs, but my sources tell me otherwise. Chiggers (aka red bugs) only infest the plant when it lies on the ground. If you ever get a chance to inspect Spanish moss up close, take a single strand and lay it out so you can see how it grows. Another fantastic child of Mother Nature!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Murderous, Murderous Me

Yesterday, I killed. God's own handiwork, just like me, and I snuffed it out.

My Buddhist husband called me out on this, when I told him about it.
What right have I, after all, to take life?
But such is the life of a gardener. As DH says when quoting one of our favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver, living takes life.

My victims were a covey of black widow spiders, living in some nice, big, 45 gal. size containers (with lids!) that had contained molasses treats for the horses out at the Greensboro farm.

Normally, I'm a catch and release kind of girl. Bees, army flies, and the occasional palmetto bug wander into our teeny-tiny home, and I capture them and take them outside with the admonishment: "Now don't come back in here... and tell all your cousins not to come in, either."

Life is sacred, and I am not willing to say that my life is more important than that of the proverbial sparrow. Or spider. But there comes a time at which I have to admit that living does take life, otherwise, I would be frozen in motion and could not even perform my humble duties as a gardener.

I killed a total of 16 spiders in three containers. The containers will make wonderful compost bins, worm bins, dry storage, etc. The spiders? They made quite a mess.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

ground cover

This is why I love using strawberry begonia as a groundcover!

I H Ground Cloth

Yesterday I worked for a client who is my favorite kind... someone who truly loves her garden. She has a small front yard in a suburban neighborhood that is still in its early years, and from her front windows she looks out into a sweep of color. The house sits down from the street slightly, and the colors she has chosen for the garden pick up colors in her drapes and artwork. Her favorite view is from her office, where she looks through a foundation planting of loropetalum, thinned and trimmed back to frame a view of the Knockout roses that grow right in front of them, and then the upward slope of the yard allows her to see, through the Radrazz red blooms, a bed of deep blue salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue' surrounded by lantana 'Gold Mound'. It isn't quite the design I would have done but she loves it, and patiently adds more of the same to the mix to achieve a fuller, and fuller, and fuller, look.
And so that's what I was doing yesterday, filling in with more salvias, more artemesia 'Powis Castle, more salvia leucantha 'Purple on Purple', tucking new plants into existing borders, weeding and trimming as I went. A pleasant enough job. It was a cold day with temperatures hanging around 46 degrees, and my helper and I were moving along at a pretty good pace.
Until I hit the freaking ground cloth. I was going to move a line of hydrangeas from the west wall of the house to a shadier spot in the back yard, and as soon as I put shovel to ground I knew I was in trouble.

I hate ground cloth. Hate is a powerful word, and I reserve it for truly awful things, like terrorism, and ground cloth. I hate hate hate ground cloth because it keeps decomposing mulch from adding humus to the ground, and because the cheap stuff tears and pokes up through the mulch and shreds into pieces that end up who knows where, and because the good stuff -- like the fabric I had just hit with my shovel -- is expensive and just... wrong. It is hard to change plantings with ground cloth in the way. The mulch we dutifully add to the beds each year decomposes and sits on top of the fabric, making it oh so much harder to remove, and eventually seeds sprout on top and wiggle one little hair root down through the weave of the textile, and next thing you know there's some big honking weed firmly rooted right through the cloth, and you either have to cut it back and suffer with sprouts that continue to grow from the root forever, or you rip the thing out through the ground cloth and tear the cloth... grrr. Stupid ground cloth.
Now, to be fair, this particular yard had been mulched with lava rock originally, and that is one circumstance in which I have used ground cloth, too, as a barrier to keep rock from sinking into the soil. But have mercy, this bed had ground cloth pinned so tightly around the base of the hydrangeas, the poor things couldn't sucker and spread at all. On top of the fabric was several inches of lava rock, and on top of that was a layer of wood chips, because the current owners of the house had decided they didn't like the lava rock, and on top of that was the generous layer of pine straw we had put in, because they didn't like the look of the wood chips either. Here is what I had to do: rake off the pine straw, shovel up the rock and wood chips, schlep it around to the backyard in a 15 gal. nursery container (I didn't have my wheelbarrow... thank goodness I had the container!)and spread it underneath the back deck, pull, tug, and cut the heavy fabric from around the shrub, and then do another two feet. A job that should have taken one hour took four, thanks to that ground cloth. Stupid ground cloth.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I love weather. Too many calm, sunshiny days in a row make me pretty grumpy. I like wind and rain, cold, not heat so much, and definitely not tornadoes.
Yesterday was so warm and humid, it felt like walking out into a gymnasium locker room after practice. Yuk. But it started raining a little as soon as our job was finished. We stopped at the local Circle K and had a little pow-wow, deciding that, even though the radar (on my phone!) did not look all that threatening, we would call it a day, work wise. After all, there was a little lightening around, and that is kind of a job killer.
I dropped off Ginny, my helper, and headed out of town to pay off a nursery bill. My husband Brooks headed to the other end of town to collect some money.
I was still a few miles from the nursery when Brooks called and told me he had just heard a tornado warning on the radio. The tornado was in the Lake Jackson area and thought to be running parallel to the interstate, I-10. Well, crap, I said. The nursery was in the direction of Lake Jackson, and I had to go either that way, or back towards the interstate, to get home. What to do?
AS it turns out, I merely 'hid' in the parking lot of a nearby Walgreens, refusing to go in and leave my precious Pearl dog in the storm alone. It got really dark, the pine trees across the road swayed wildly, and the rain came down in sheets, but no funnel cloud. I waited till the warning expired (I thought... I learned later it had been extended) and drove home through the rain and the wind, relieved to see the world looking much as I had left it earlier, only wetter.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I love a plant nursery that delivers. To wake up this morning and have plants waiting for me -- big, beautiful, fresh plants -- is definitely worth getting out of bed for.
I've had relationship with this particular grower for the better part of nine years. Seldom have I ever had to turn down something they brought. I do have that option, but why would I? Their plants are big, well-rooted, pest-free, and if they are not, the salesmen let me know so I can decide how badly I need that particular thing.
Every now and then I get brave and order an 'unknown' from their incredibly good catalog. I'll ask one of the salesmen first what they think of it, and I always get an honest answer. Today I got heuchera americana for the first time, and I'm in love with it! Beautifully scalloped leaves, nice silvery color, great veins, thick, full, and sure to make the shady area where I'll use them come alive.

How many times have I passed over this beauty in favor of the fancier hybrid cousins?
Yesterday I removed five hollies that had become a nuisance to my customer and her husband, both of whom get their cars scratched by those shrubs when pulling in and out of the garage. The plants had been there for over fourteen years. They were boogers to get out, too. The one on the right was a large single shrub which threatened to take down the gutter when we started pulling on it... turned out the roots had grown around some drain lines that attached to the gutters and took the runoff underground under the driveway. It took a little extra time, and digging, to restore the lines to their proper position. The other four hollies had been planted in a narrow bed in front of a nice brick wall, which I had never even noticed until the hollies were removed. When someone plants a shrub that wants to be six feet wide in a two foot space, there is lots of pruning involved to keep them contained. The plants were under a lot of stress from so much pruning and did not look good.
Today we put in the new plants: a 15 gal. tea olive, and against the wall, four three gal. canna lilies. The tea olive was big, full, and in full flower... what a glorious scent! The cannas -- a yellow-blooming 'King Humbert' -- look amazingly good for this time of year, too. No blooms, but the foliage is perfect. Perfect!