Creating a Kitchen Garden

We hadn't lived in the house two weeks before making a kitchen garden, and it's creation has delighted us all fall.

I love edible gardening and have since I was five years old.  For me growing edibles is part of life.  It's just something you do.    

Of all the gardens to create here at our new property, we made it first because we wanted to have food we grow available throughout the fall and winter before growth slowed too much. 

Choosing a location was a no brainer.  We placed it right out the door from the kitchen.  You can see the garden standing at the kitchen sink.  It makes zipping out to get fresh thyme for jambalaya, crisp lettuce for Doritos salad, or a few tomatoes for caprese easy.  Since we see it frequently, we can respond with a quick shot of water from the hose or trellis the leaning tomatoes or rambunctious peas.  The area is currently approximately 20 × 20 ft, but we plan to expand it further down our drive to double our growing area.

Just days after we moved into the house, I ripped out the small, struggling rose collection hugging the driveway and porch, killed the surrounding grass, tilled it with my small Mantis tiller, and aerated the soil using my broadfork.  

Adios, Rosa.

Adios, Rosa.

For the design we created a large central path for access and then divided the beds up on either side with the remaining space. 

Then it was planting time!  *Jazz Hands* We planted cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and Chinese cabbage in a diamond pattern in the beds, alternating two-one-two-one.  We planted the north side of each bed with everbunching onions.  And, in the large beds near the garage, cherry tomatoes, lettuce, and peas were planted.  I used 8 ft long 2 × 2's for tomato stakes.  Before the peas went in the ground, I walked around the property collecting straight sticks from some shaggy trees that haven't seen a pruner in some time and fashioned them into a trellis. 

The planted kitchen garden.  I didn't mention the Eragrostis spectabilis in the front left corner, but I found it growing nearby and moved it to the kitchen garden to have a seed source for future projects.

The planted kitchen garden.  I didn't mention the Eragrostis spectabilis in the front left corner, but I found it growing nearby and moved it to the kitchen garden to have a seed source for future projects.

Next to the driveway we also planted some zinnias for late season color as well as herbs like lemon verbena, thyme, horehound, chives, and rosemary.  Some like my chives and rosemary have grown in container culture since 2008, and they have responded quite well to getting their roots in some soil.  Underneath this planting, I sowed 'Magma' mustard seed to provide a post-frost ground cover.  'Magma' is a beautiful two-toned frilly type from Wild Garden Seed.  On the south side of the garden, I scattered some 'Champion' collards seed whose leaves made their way into some bacon grease and brown sugar.

The garden beginning to fill in

The garden beginning to fill in

Zinnias coming into color.  The purple cultviar made a great color companion with the purple cabbage.  I made a note to use them more together in the future.  

Zinnias coming into color.  The purple cultviar made a great color companion with the purple cabbage.  I made a note to use them more together in the future.  

The garden looking quite lush.  I still haven't planted that pot!  

The garden looking quite lush.  I still haven't planted that pot!  

 
I realize that cacophony is about sound, but I also think it a great word to use to describe the mish-mash of color here.  You can see in spots the 'Magma' mustard growing underneath.  

I realize that cacophony is about sound, but I also think it a great word to use to describe the mish-mash of color here.  You can see in spots the 'Magma' mustard growing underneath.  

 

We haven't faced too many challenges with this garden.  A Yard Enforcer motion sprinkler system has kept the deer away if they ever even got close.  It sent a lightning bolt of adrenaline through me more than once when I forgot whether it was on or off.  Gophers, a new pest I've never faced, have created mounds in the garden, and it's been frustrating to go out and have to clear the soil off young plants.  We had an explosion of cabbage worms once over night, but Dipel has since helped to keep them at bay.  And, an unusually early frost toasted the tomatoes and zapped the tops of the zinnias, but the cool season crops took the cold weather like a champ.

 
First frost, about 3 weeks early

First frost, about 3 weeks early

 
See the frozen guttated pearls on the center leaves?  I live for little moments like these in the garden.

See the frozen guttated pearls on the center leaves?  I live for little moments like these in the garden.

Even with the challenges, it's been a blast growing our own produce, and we are thankful for the new memories and the fresh produce we are harvesting.  I look forward to seeing how this garden evolves from this simple start into a source for year-round food in years to come.  

Mulch Happens

The other night a phrase in The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips stopped me reading mid-paragraph.

"Mulch happens."

I was surprised because I feel like horticulture is moving away from wood mulch with the interest in mixed plantings and covering the ground with plants.  Or, at least with that desire in mind (like here and here) if we all aren't quite on board yet. 

The action of mulching just isn't sustainable.  Depending on dead organic matter to prevent weed growth around perennials in place of living plants is a fallacy that will have to constantly be remedied.  It is Sisyphean task.  Hardwood mulch also doesn't naturally occur, except maybe under a fallen, decaying tree.  As Thomas Rainer says, you won't find mulch circles in the forest. 

So, does mulch really happen as Michael wrote?  To make sure that I'm not taking the quote out of context, here it is in full: "Nature builds soil from the top down: Leaves fall, tree limbs decay, mulch happens.    

In the sense that we are used to seeing hardwood mulch strewn across the landscape, no .  We do have an organic layer present in most soils, but it's not a few inches thick of hardwood.   Instead, it's dominated by a mixture of the abscised and the fallen, the green and the brown, the leaf and the stem.  

Michael wrote that when he mentioned mulch he was not talking about recalcitrant hardwood mulch that takes years to decompose.  Instead, he was discussing ramial wood chips, a type of organic matter that comes from branches and stems that are less lignified and higher in nutrients.   He advocated applying these wood chips in random patches throughout the orchard to feed the soil.  His approach is to chop stuff up and then dump piles of it around his fruit trees. They don't form a solid cover, which encourages grasses and other forbs to grow to create a multiculture.  He stated most fruit trees originated along ecosystem edges.  Introducing rough, slowly decomposing organic matter helps to improve the soil similar to these plants' native habitat.  While I haven't studied the use of these ramial wood chips much but want to learn more, the logic behind their use seems sound.  

What I think is fascinating for these perennial cultures—mixed plantings and the use of ramial wood chips in orchards—both schemas ask the question how can we emulate nature and try to enhance the biological systems already in existence, especially with covering the soil.  In both cases mulch happens, just not the way that we traditionally think about mulch. 

Titanotrichum Or Treat

One of the plants I associate with fall is Titantrichum oldhamii (gold woodland foxglove).   The flowers look like candy corn.  From the outside they are costumed in a bright canary yellow that can rival any sugar maple's foliage, and looking inside the flowers is a smoldering burnt red throat. 

Also, my first encounter with this Gesneriad was in the fall of 2011 with Jon and Adrienne Roethling in Wyatt LeFever's garden in Greensboro, NC.  They had taken me to see his garden on an cool, overcast day and built up his horticultural reputation by saying he was the breeder of the Forsyth daylily series.  The garden certainly did not disappoint.  Before even looking back at photos, I remember a towering Magnolia macrophylla that Wyatt at one point sported a leaf as a temporary umbrella and the surprise of seeing Cylcamen flowering in his lawn.  Some gardeners can't even grow them in garden beds, and here they were in the turf! 

We rounded a corner in his garden and I remember Adrienne commenting to him about how his Titanotrichum was beginning to flower.  To me it looked like a hot-rod colored Digitalis flower.  I added it to my mental plant wish list as we continued to tour his garden. 

 
See? Candy corn.  

See? Candy corn.  

 

* * *

Seeing it at Wyatt's inspired me to purchase one a little over a year ago, and it's been blooming on my patio in a container for weeks now.  The indeterminate inflorescence keeps elongating and throwing them out. 

 
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I haven't always been as impressed with it.  Earlier this year the plant did an odd thing.  It put up an inflorescence that resembled something in the amaranth family.  I was quite confused.  At first I thought it was actually a different plant that had somehow seeded in.  Or, maybe it had not enough energy to fully develop flower buds and needed a few more years before it actually bloomed.

 
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However, from my investigations I learned Titanotrichum can actually produce two different types of inflorescences!  Depending on the time of the year, the inflorescence can either sport a shoot that contains thousands of small bulbils for vegetative propagation (much like the little black bulbils on some lily scapes, but smaller) OR it can produce a flowering inflorescence.   The research says the plant produces the bulbil-producing shoot during short days and flowers during long. 

In an inspection of the inflorescence one morning earlier this month, I counted nine flowers blooming and one in bud.  However, this morning it's flowerless.  The inflorescence is continuing to elongate, but I don't see any more yellow flower buds at the top.  So, I assume it's made the switch back since we just started autumn? 

I'll keep a watch on it in future weeks.  Even though this plant tricked me with it's weird inflorescence, it's always a treat to learn about a plant that breaks the mold. 

A Frigid Autumnal Fritillary

I love the cool mornings of fall.  They are so invigorating.  Sure, the day may forget that it was ever in the 50's by 2 pm, but I don't.  I revel in them as I'm out and about enjoying this vacation from the heat that's blasted us all summer.  

However, other creatures that depend on ambient temperatures are a bit slower.  

* * *

I remember one of the first cool mornings of fall last year I was out the door before sunrise to enjoy the coolness of the day.  My journal showed it was 54 degrees that morning, and I remember hardly a cloud in the sky.  Brisk and beautiful.

I began tackling my tasks, and inevitably this led to snapping some golden-hour photos.  My subject for the morning was to capture autumn color on my colleague Dawn Stover's ornamental grass collection at SFA.  As I let the shutter fly, a colorful blotch in one of the grasses caught my eye.

"Is that... a BUTTERFLY!?!?" I asked myself quite surprised.  I dashed to get a good photograph as if it were going to fly away, but I needn't rush.  Poor thing couldn't budge since it was so chilly.  It was a Gulf Fritillary. 

 
 

I was mesmerized by the idleness.  Butterflies are fleeting moments in the garden, and being able to snap a picture of them is like trying to photograph a ghost.  Yet, here was one frozen in time.  I paused to admire the minutiae that are usually a blur in flight—the autumn-colored regalia, the black-outlined white spots, and the curled proboscis.  

As I walked away, I savored the up close and incredible experience and thought about it being a once in a lifetime encounter.  I began to turn my attention back to the other grasses when I saw a SECOND one!  This time it had fastened itself onto Schizachyrium scoparium 'Standing Ovation' (little bluestem).  

 
 
 
 

I was really perplexed as I've never seen butterflies roost before, and now I've discovered two in one morning?  A bit of research shows that indeed others have witnessed the phenomenon.  Grasses are a common perch for them overnight, yet another reason to add these stellar perennials to the garden.  

As I walked away, I thought how thankful I am of these chilly mornings that inevitably are winter's pregame.  We all know what comes next—frost and the close of the season.  Therefore, as cooler days descend on us, rise early and look for these little moments that add so much to our gardening life.  

 

Tendrils from Speaking of Gardening 2017

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In August I presented with several other outstanding horticulturists at the Speaking of Gardening Symposium in Asheville, NC.  It was a terrific educational event to attend in the mountains, jam-packed with great ideas and awesome plants.  Below I offer three "tendrils", paraphrased nuggets of knowledge or interesting thoughts that you can really wrap your mind around from each speaker.  

 

THOMAS RAINER | PLANTING IN A POST WILD WORLD

  1. Planting design in the public sector has to be legible at 45 miles an hour.
  2. With native plants there is so much focus on where they are from but not enough on how to cultivate them.  When people plant things and then see them fail, they get depressed. They blame native plants.
  3. Use tools like plants shape and plant sociability to determine how to combine plants together.  For example, everything about Asclepias tuberosa is an adaptation to where it grows and what it grows with. Deep roots grow through grass roots, and the leaves are able to emerge through shady areas in a prairie.  

ROY DIBLIK | BEYOND THE USUAL: PLANTING THE LURIE GARDEN WITH PIET OUDOLF

  1. When planting the Lurie Garden, I wasn’t accurate.  I stepped it off.  It took a day and a half to do the site. It's not a building; you don’t have to be super accurate.
  2. Teachers come in to help maintain the plantings with students.
  3. They selectively prune the Salvia river at the Lurie Garden.  If you cut Salvia 'May Night' back, it may never bloom again that year.  'Wesuwe' is the fastest rebloomer. If you cut it back, it reblooms in three weeks.

DAN LONG | GROW UP! USING VINES AND CLIMBERS

  1. Clematis need something slender to hang onto.  For other climbers don’t put anchors right up against the wall because the wrappers can't get through that narrow space. Also, being that close to the wall results in low air circulation.
  2. Campsis likes to bloom on horizontal stems or those that droop.
  3. Tropical Aristolochia species can kill pipe vine swallowtail larvae.

PATRICK MCMILLAN | BLURRING THE LINES BETWEEN NATURE AND CULTURE AT THE SOUTH CAROLINA BOTANICAL GARDEN

  1. Every decision we make at the South Carolina Botanic Garden we ask is this good for life.
  2. BOTANICA CAROLINIANA features letters from early explorers like Mark Catesby that have first hand accounts of South Carolina that were written to Britain.  These perspectives help us understand what South Carolina looked like back many years ago and in some cases helps us find where plants were and still are today.
  3. We filmed Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and captured the fastest video footage of them ever. These birds lift themselves because they flap their wings in a figure-eight motion, which generates lift on both the forward and reverse flap.  And, as you can see at the 1:50 mark, they can fly backwards and upside down!

THOMAS RAINER | THE GARDEN OF THE FUTURE: REIMAGINING THE AMERICAN YARD

  1. Turn wall-to-wall carpeting of grass into turf rugs.  The lawn can make the planting look better. It can be a frame to the wilder areas.  Use lawns like a clearing in a meadow.  
  2. Landscape plugs are best for designed plant communities. Most plugs are grown as liners and sold to pot up; thus, liners can dry out fast in the ground.  Deep landscape plugs are longer and deeper.  Make sure that the plugs have good roots.  They can be soaked in buckets or trays before planting. 
  3. Many perennials maintain green rosettes or basal foliage during winter so that winter weeds like chickweed can't grow.

LARRY MELLICHAMP | THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF FERNS

  1. Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) gets it's name because it is sensitive to freeezing and can burn from cold temperatures.
  2. Ferns can be divided when actively growing.  SUPER IMPORTANT (His emphasis).  Do not disturb the roots and cut off leaves at same time.  You can do either/or but not both.  Broken fronds can still function well.
  3. Lycopodium spores are pyrotechnic!  Light them, and they explode!  The spores were used to make fireworks. 

ROY DIBLIK | THE KNOW MAINTENANCE PERENNIAL GARDEN

  1. First year, install the matrix, and then you keep plugging things in to enhance it over time.
  2. You can wait and plant aggressive plants like Solidago after five years to reduce their competitiveness.
  3. I spray the grass with glyphosate, and then I use a two cycle engine and auger to install the plants into the ground.

Finding a Home

Gardeners are frequently faced with a compelling question—where can I find a home for this new plant I've just purchased on a whim?!  The garden is so full that often no spot can be found. 

I face the opposite problem.  I have thousands of square feet available to me, which in a way creates the paradox of choice.  There are so many places it almost hinders me from planting anything.  Almost.  

My solution has been to put some plants into a holding trial garden to see how they fair in the ground while others are placed in permanent locations.  I'm planting the latter with purpose by citing in favorable growing conditions where they can be enjoyed and will fit my larger overall design scheme.

Edgeworthia papyifera 'Winter Gold' (paper bush) was the first one I wanted in the ground.  I brought it with me from the Pi Alpha Xi plant sale in North Carolina when I moved in July 2014 because it's one of my absolute favorite shrubs, and I was worried I might not find it in Texas.  Why do I like it, you ask?  During the growing season, the large tropicalesque, pubescent leaves collect water and refract rainbows in the tiny, liquid diamonds.  Then, in the winter fuzzy buds that look like dozens of little dog noses huddled together in the cold swell and open to reveal fragrant canary yellow blooms.   The plant also has quite the story.  The Japanese make bank notes and paper (hence the name paper bush) out of this beautiful shrub, which I liken to using the Mona Lisa as toilet paper.  I appreciate the utilitarian purposes of plants, but I cherish the blossoms so much I would never think of destroying a branch. 

Since I purchased it, the plant has grown to be 3–4 ft tall and prone to drying down.  It's ready to go in the ground, but where to put it?

Diamonds are forever on Edgeworthia chrysantha.  Or, at least till the dew dries off. 

Diamonds are forever on Edgeworthia chrysantha.  Or, at least till the dew dries off. 

 
The flowers of Edgeworthia chrysantha face downward, likely an adaptation to protect the pollen from rain.  If you lay on the ground (like I did for this vantage), the glorious chandelier of flowers glows in the winter sun.  Don't forget to brush the leaves off your bum when you stand back up, though!    

The flowers of Edgeworthia chrysantha face downward, likely an adaptation to protect the pollen from rain.  If you lay on the ground (like I did for this vantage), the glorious chandelier of flowers glows in the winter sun.  Don't forget to brush the leaves off your bum when you stand back up, though!    

 

As I wrote in a previous post, I've already begun sectioning the 2.5 acres here into smaller parcels, and the front yard will be a winter garden that will feature color, fragrance, and interest during the dark season.  We have a large wrap-around porch to enjoy the outside—summers in the back and winters in the front.  Also, our master bedroom windows face this area, and what we plant will be easily enjoyed regardless of the weather. 

I hoisted the 12 gallon faux terra cotta pot in my hand out of my make shift nursery.  It was light and needed some moisture.  I walked around to the front yard and sited it in the shrub border that runs the length of the front part of the property.  There are several openings where we want shrubs to grow to block the view from the road.  I chose a gap beneath a large, weathered Juniperus virginiana (eastern red cedar) and plopped the shrub down.  I walked to the front door, the swing on the front porch, and the bedroom window to make sure it was in the line of sight from each view.  I walked back to the transplant and pulled it out just a tad from the shrub border to make room behind for an evergreen.  I imagined the flowers popping against the verdant foliage of a future Osmanthus or Camellia.  

I dug the hole, the shovel slicing through the sandy loam like a hot knife through butter.  I chuckled to myself that with my 27 years of gardening experience in sub-par soils that I've leveled up enough to reach soil heaven!

I took the plant out of the pot and looked at the roots.  I was surprised at the absence of any circulating.  They all looked healthy and growing downward.  I teased them slightly. 

I put the rootball in the hole.  Too deep.  Pull out.  More soil in.  Rootball back in the hole.  Perfect.  I made sure the pretty side was facing the house. 

We were left a nice long 100 ft hose with the house, and I hooked it up and drug the nozzle to the gaping hole.  I turned the water on a slow trickle and walked away to find more homes for my weary plant travelers that have journeyed with me from place to place.  It is dry, and I want to make sure that the plant has enough water to get it adjusted.  When I returned, the hole runneth over, and I turned the spigot off. 

I started to return the soil to the hole, it slurping as it sank to the bottom.  Once finished, I let it settle, and I turned the water on again a bit later to further remove any air pockets. 

This process, digging a hole and planting a plant, is something I've done a thousand times (nay, 10,000?!  100,000!?!?) in my life.  But, this time, this first planting at our new home, feels extra special.  I've been a container gardening vagabond, travelling from place to place, accumulating plants as I've moved about.  Some have not made the entire journey, but for those that have, it's going to be fun finding them their homes just like I've found mine. 

Settle in for the long haul, paperbush.  It's gardening time!

Settle in for the long haul, paperbush.  It's gardening time!

 

 

Dyeing to Learn

During the Perennial Plant Association's symposium this year, we visited Chatfield Farms, a beautiful extension of the Denver Botanic Gardens with an agricultural twist.  Here in the farm's productive, flat fields surrounded by towering mountains, we learned about agricultural education and food production that occurs in the greater Denver area.  I was inspired by seeing the short grass prairie and other perennials planted, but one section of the garden really impressed me because it was different than anything I've ever seen in a garden.  

Eventually we came to an area surrounded by a fence.  I didn't know exactly what was inside, but from the table set up outside and the colorful cloths displayed, I quickly put two and two together.  It was a demonstration garden for educating people about how fabrics are dyed.  

The Chatfield Farms dye garden featured a variety of common garden plants that can be used to color-change clothes.

The Chatfield Farms dye garden featured a variety of common garden plants that can be used to color-change clothes.

I immediately fell in love with it!  The whole concept.  I'm always looking for new ways to connect people to horticulture, and right now plants fulfilling utilitarian purposes are a gateway for reaching people who aren't horticulturists or gardeners.  Also, kids these days seem to change their hair color every time they wash it, and the link between dyeing your locks and dyeing your socks could could be another connection with young people.  

Using plants as dyes is always something that I've know can be done.  Colors have come from plants and been used for thousands of years, but to see it so eleqantly displayed was engaging.  

The carpeting Coreopsis matches the drapes.  Simple scraps of cloth hung near each color's source offers a teachable moment.  

The carpeting Coreopsis matches the drapes.  Simple scraps of cloth hung near each color's source offers a teachable moment.  

A sphere made from dyed strips of wood demonstrates that the craft isn't just limited to cloth.  

A sphere made from dyed strips of wood demonstrates that the craft isn't just limited to cloth.  

 
A close-up of the colorful wood slivers.  

A close-up of the colorful wood slivers.  

 
 
A variety of threads dyed from a plethora of plant pigments.

A variety of threads dyed from a plethora of plant pigments.

 
 
Indigo. Cerulean. Salmon. Russet.  The blue- and pink- colored threads were my favorites, and I was amazed to realize that all these colors can come from nature.  

Indigo. Cerulean. Salmon. Russet.  The blue- and pink- colored threads were my favorites, and I was amazed to realize that all these colors can come from nature.  

 

The educational aspect of the garden really enchanted me.  As a professor of horticulture at an agricultural college, it made me ask how can we replicate this approach throughout the gardening and natural world because the experience left me dyeing to learn more.  

 

 

Delightful Plants from Denver

Now that our house move is over, I'm reflecting on photos from this past summer like July's Perennial Plant Symposium in Denver.  I wanted to share a few plants that two months later still impress me.  Some were old friends, and others were new acquaintances that I'm dying to try here in Texas.  

SESELI GUMMIFERUM (MOON CARROT)

The nebulous foliage and flowers of Seseli gummiferum just inside the entrance of the Denver Botanic Garden made myself and many others starry-eyed.  I first encountered it at Wave Hill a few years ago and tried to grow some from seed in Texas.  Alas, it never germinated for me from a fall sowing.  Seeing these great growing plants has inspired me to try it again and figure out the germination minutiae.  

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That's no moon!  It's a moon carrot!  

That's no moon!  It's a moon carrot!  

SOLIDAGO 'CROWN OF RAYS' (goldenrod)

The Denver Botanic Garden herb garden looked—and smelled—fantastic, and brightening the beds was a dwarf goldenrod.  A member of PPA identified it as Solidago 'Crown of Rays'.  I love goldenrods that aren't too thuggish, and I added it to my wish list of cultivars to trial for the southeast.

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Solanum wendlandii (giant potato creeper)

Scrambling through a planter near the greenhouses was a new-to-me tropical climber, Solanum wendlandii.  The lilac, half-dollar sized flowers really stood out from a distance and harmonized well with the diversity of textures and colors in the planting.  

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Jarava ichu (Peruvian feathergrass)

I had never heard of this species before, but the smoky wisps remind me of a more plumose Calamagrostis × acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'.  It was beautiful watching the panicles dancing in the dry, mountain breeze.

 
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Lonicera 'Kintzley's Ghost' (honeysuckle)

I met Lonicera 'Kintzley's Ghost' last year at Chanticleer for the first time, and it seemed to be growing well in Denver, too.  The gray-powdered bracts give a much longer season of interest even in absence of the flowers.  

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Epilobium canum ssp. garrettii 'Orange Carpet' (California Fuchsia)

California fuchsia.  Roughly translated, instant death in the heat and humid south?  Perhaps, but it's worth admiring in Denver as a groundcover with red flowers.  

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Oenothera macrocarpa (Bigfruit evening primrose)

Hubba hubba!  I've professed my love for evening primroses before, and you can certainly add Oenothera macrocarpa to that list. While I couldn't find a label on some of the plants I photographed, this might be the cultivar 'Silver Blade', although the foliage in the background looks a little less silvery.

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catananche caerulea (cupid's dart)

Cupid's dart in Washington Park was a new plant for me, and it looks like a chicory on steroids.  Ruth Rogers Clausen was standing nearby as I snapped away, and she said that it used to be as common as dirt years ago.  

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CRAMBE MARITIMA (SEA KALE)
¡Ay, crambe!  I delighted seeing the glaucous blue foliage of this plant in Washington Park.  I've lusted after this species for a while for it's giant leaves, and I finally have seeds to try this fall!  No, I didn't steal them from the plant below.  

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SALVIA PACHYPHYLA (Mojave Sage)

This plant stopped me in my tracks.  Holy.  Cow.  I'll pause for a second while you take a look at it.  

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SEE!!!  Blue-green foliage adorned by mulberry-colored bracts and purple flowers.  I want to grow this so bad...  Maybe it would live in the southeast?  Also, I rubbed the foliage and discovered it's covered in oils.  

IPOMOPSIS RUBRA (STANDING CYPRESS)

I enjoyed seeing this Texas native in Colorado as did several people on our tour bus.  While we were photographing away, a hummingbird flitted down and perused some flowers.  We grew this in our trial garden this summer, and I've already been at work scattering seed for next year.  

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Vernonia lindheimeri var. leucophylla (Wooly IronweeD)

Wowzers... it's like a plant covered in gray suede. Evidently, it's a Texas native, and I cannot wait to try this in Nacogdoches.   Can you imagine it dotted with purple flowers?

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Homeowners... and Garden Owners

I am ecstatic!!!  Karen and I have purchased a beautiful log cabin just outside Nacogdoches!!!  And, in the process, we've gotten a school-of-hard-knocks education in house buying.  There were times we thought the whole process would fall through, but it all worked out in the end.  

 
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But, that's not all…  the house came with 2.5 acres of land!!!  Approximately an acre of it is shaded with mature trees, and the rest is open turf, ripe for planting various woodies and forbs.  Holy.  Cow.   

It's so much fun to think about finally having a place of our own that we can tend to and transform.   I love finally using design techniques and themes that I've taught for years and did at clients' houses to our own place.  And, it's amazing to be cognizant of all the iterations my brain has as I really ponder the genius of the place. What does a landscape in east Texas look like?  How can it be functional, beautiful, and ecological?

First, I'm considering views from the house.  Where can we stick plants to enjoy them inside and out?  Also, there's a spacious wrap-around porch that surrounds most of the house, save for the garage, and I'm dreaming of beautiful vistas that can be enjoyed from these outside sitting areas.

 
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From a brief survey of the property, I already know that I want an edible garden by the kitchen.  Karen has already made a long two-column list of all the edibles she'd like to grow here.  I'm up to the challenge.  Yes, sometimes vegetable garden areas can look a little rough, so how can I make it beautiful year-round with foodscaping?  Or, perhaps we use this space for edibles for a year or two and then transform it into another type of garden all the while creating a larger edible garden out back.

 
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The north and east sides of the garage and the back porch, respectively, create guidelines for a large rectangular area where I'd like to kill the turf and create an entertaining space.  I envision a fire pit off to the side with seats around and perhaps some wooden tables scattered about for succulents. 

 
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There are no gutters on the house, so I'm considering some type of short ornamental grass groundcover that could take the rain coming off the roof.   Having this feature has become even more apparent with Hurricane Harvey dumping rain on the house a few weeks ago.

To the west of the garage, there is a slight slope and a large back lawn that receives abundant sun.  I detest mowing large spaces, and these areas will give way to gardens such as a larger production vegetable garden for corn, pumpkins, etc.; a moveable hoophouse; an orchard type space for figs and muscadines; a cut flower garden; and of course, a mixed planting prairie. 

 
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To the east of the house is a glade framed by large oak trees.  I understand this area was the old home place.  The mature trees form a nice backdrop for another outdoor entertaining area, perhaps a place where bocce ball or croquet could be played.  However, the glade is currently populated with an arboretum-like scattering of various immature woodies like Vitex, Punica, Camellia, Spiraea, and others.  I plan to move these to open the area up, and it will also help create a long vista from the front of the house.  Karen has mentioned wanting a white garden somewhere on the property, and whites at the end of the glade would help to pull the eye through this garden.  

 
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In front of the house and to the east are more mature trees and shrubs in a line by the road.  I'm already calling this planting the shrub border where I can plant a variety of plants over the coming years.  Directly in front of the house are a few Camellias, and I see this area becoming the winter garden.  The front porch would be a great place to sit on warm winter days, and I've had an Edgeworthia cramped in a pot for long enough. 

 
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South of the line of woodies the land slopes off suddenly for about a four-foot drop.  My guess is that this bank may have been the side of an old road bed since it looks like the ditches that flank roads back home in Tennessee.  We were walking by it the other night, and I commented it would be a great place to plant daffodils and other shade-loving ephemerals.

 
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My mind also drifts to the problems we will have, mainly in the way of deer.  The lady who previously owned the property actually fed them corn!  No more of that.  And, we've found in our backyard evidence from pigs roughing the soil up, too.

But, even with the potential problems, the possibilities here seem endless.  (Did I mention the soil looks like sandy loam!?!  The shovel cuts right through it!)  But, enough writing for today.  I've been a container gardening nomad for long enough.  It's time to go out and garden. 

I LIKE SHOWY EVENING PRIMROSE

I like showy evening primrose (or, Oenothera speciosa for those of us who are botanically inclined).  I love seeing the cheerful little flowers that dot roadways, and when the petite, pink parasols pop up in the lawn, it brings a smile to my face.  It was actually one of the first wildflowers I ever grew.  I recall buying a pack of seed at the garden center, scattering them in my tiny garden behind our pool, and watching as they quickly came into bloom.  Success in a season.  What gardener doesn't want that?  

But, I didn't realize there was such animosity towards one of my favorite wildflowers until I read Steve Bender's piece "If you value your life and yard, don't plant this."

 
Such a scary thing, huh?

Such a scary thing, huh?

 

He writes,

If you see pink evening primrose ... for sale at your garden center, I have a single word of advice. RUN. Do not buy. Do not plant. Do not say to yourself, “It’s a native plant, so it must be good.” Do not overlook the fact that any wildflower that can conquer acres of farmland can gulp down your garden in a single sitting...
— Steve Bender

Reading that opinion made me sad.   My biggest qualm with the piece is recommending to thousands of readers to not plant something because it spreads.  He goes on to say, "a pink primrose tsunami swept over my garden the next spring, choking the phlox and drowning the daylilies".  

That's such a boring way to garden!  Plant perennials.  Mulch them in their little cubicles.  Don't let them touch.  Repeat next year.  And, the next.  And, the next.  Ad nauseam.  

I want plants to touch, mingle, grow through each other, and duke it out in the garden.  I want to see ecology in action and for plants to actually live instead of being static chlorophyllic mannequins.  

I'm constantly looking for good groundcovers for southeast mixed plantings, and this native primrose shows such promise for use in mixed plantings.  In Texas, it covers our soil in the winter and reduces erosion, and ours that we grow in the Sprout garden have been blooming now for over three months since March 8th.  Then, come summer it peters out with a reflush of flowers in the fall.  As a bonus for the pollinator groupies out there, research conducted at UT Austin showed honeybees, skippers, and pierid and papilionid butterflies visit the flowers.  

Sure, it's aggressive and seedy as many ruderal species are.  But, in a world covered with mulch, hell strips, and roadsides, I'd rather look at pink flowers.  To tell people to not plant something because it proliferates itself is wrong.  

So, spread the word.  Plants like evening primrose that spread can be a gardener's best friend.  Unless you want to keep mulching...