Falling in Love with the Fall Garden Center

I had to be in Wichita Falls today for an appointment. So before coming home, I made a stop at Smith Gardentown. What a treat! I love to visit garden centers, farms and nurseries at all times of the year. This time I was just looking and trying to get ideas for Christmas for the various horticulturalists and ornithologists in my life.

I drove up and instantly loved the place because there were ducks on the pond, Canada geese grazing and little garden statues of pigs.

Canada geese!
A little concrete piggy for the Kentucky Pig!

I love to visit farms and nurseries in the fall because it shows me what plants look like in the fall – whether the foliage is colorful, evergreen or if a deciduous plant has pretty bark.

Little Henry will be a definite addition to my garden. Beautiful spring blooms, beautiful fall foliage!
Opuntia Prickly Pear-- Thornless!

In the hustle bustle of the spring some plants get overlooked, like this really cool cacti! A prickly pear without the prickles.

Then there are the perennial favorites … a Shumard Oak. I have one just like this in my front yard and this photo reminds me why … It’s beautiful and well adapted for our area.

Shumard oak tree -- excellent tree for North Texas.

A place with a friendly cat that comes meowing for affection is always a good sign. Two cats who are friendly and want attention and are neutered means that the people here care for lots of living things – not just plants.

This cat chased me down so that I could pet it.
Kitty #2 sleuthed across the patio to get a scratch.
Swiss Chard-- excellent for the fall kitchen garden. I think this is the "neon lights" seed mix.
Mixed pansies ... happy pansy faces.
Some of the greatest rose gifts are the blooms in the fall.

The garden center is always a good place to get gift ideas for the gardener. Look at these beautiful garden globes. We can just file that under the “pretty-stuff-momma-can-never-have-because-she-has-a-boy-and-a-dog-that-is-OCD-with-spheres.”

I can never have pretties like this ...
Cloche terrarium ... nice coffee table gift for the gardener.
A flag for everyone (at least in my divided house).
Bird feeders and houses for all the little finches in your life.
Happy pansy face, y'all!

Aquarium Gone. Now What?

Aquarium, part deaux.

The aquarium in its glory days:

And the photo doesn't do it justice.

Over the weekend my husband started the process of taking down our 120 gallon saltwater aquarium. Three days later, and a whole lot of elbow grease, the tank and contents have been broken down and moved into the garage. The garage smells like Galveston, Texas. Amazing how smelly saltwater can get when it’s not moving.

It’s also quiet in the house – really quiet. There is no more pitter-pat of running water. No more whirl and hum of filters and pumps. No more fizzy bubble sounds.

Saltwater is seriously corrosive. It peeled the paint off the baseboard and discolored the the wall. We’ll be going to get a gallon of primer and matching paint so we can touch up [repaint] the wall. No wonder classic car enthusiasts don’t want cars from the coast or northern states where they use salt on the roads.

But now we have this huge, blank space in our main living room – a little more than 8 ft. of wall space. Everything is off balance. Before we had this nice balance – the fireplace on one end and aquarium on the opposite end.

Before/After

The initial set up
After the aquarium ... (the photo isn't great, but you can see the space).

I have a some ideas …

  1. Bookcases, you can never have enough
IKEA totally Rocks!

2. Kid space, with toys and games and stuff (all organized)

Yeah, right. Our crap never gets put back up and our kid is spoiled.

 

3. Art! (I’m not an art-y person but can appreciate a nice original, professional or amateur.)

Starry Night, Y'all.

 

4. A collage photo gallery — I take lots of photos of flowers. Maybe a good place for a collection of framed originals.

Zinnia blossom a few days before the "killer" frost.
Passion vine. Hearty vine that even the grasshoppers don't bother.
A Taos Mountain flower with a moth. Maybe a entomogy major can identify it.

 

5.  A wine rack (with wine, of course)

Williams Sonoma Rocks!

 

 

Nanny …  all I want for Christmas is a gift card to IKEA!

When Frost Happens

One and a half days ago the weather really changed when a powerful cold front move through. The temps dropped considerably in an 18 hour span. It went from being summer to fall in a few hours. There was nothing gradual about it. But then again this year has been anything but typical … 10 degrees in February then 100 degrees in April. Really!? Seriously!?

Yesterday… (OK, 1.5 days ago)

Today …

The first hard, killing frost happened close to dawn today – it was 25 degrees at 8:15 this morning. The frost twinkled brightly all over creation this morning.

At the stop sign near my kid’s school …

Sun on the left, frost on the right. Awesome display of the warmth of the sun.

I attempted to cover my garden and a nice stand of Siam basil in my front flower bed. I had beautiful zinnias in orange and pink. Zinnias are a favorite of mine because they bloom constantly and do well in the hateful August sun plus they are drought tolerant. And we had a hell of a hot, dry summer this year.

When Frost Happens, Things Die.

Yesterday …

Today ….


The frost happened, and made this a very sad flower (and a dead flower.)

Frost killed this future eggplant.

Dead basil.

Although, the frost can bring about beauty of its own.

(How great is it to have a handy iPhone when you are driving down the alley and see something pretty?)

Welcome to the weekend, y’all!

Killing Frost and Terrorist Black Flies

The first day of November was glorious—a bright blue sky, upper 70s, no wind, overnight low in the upper 50s. Totally kick-ass weather for growing a fall crop of tomatoes, eggplants and chili peppers.

This is North Texas …It can be 90 degrees one day and 30 the next; we can have 100-degree temperature swings within the same year.


(February 2011. It was 10 degrees. 113 degrees August 5, 2011 after 10 p.m. )

I knew something was up because the last two days have been filled with black flies acting crazy, terrorizing me – at home, the office, the coffee shop, everywhere.

Black flies are one of the most annoying critters on Plant Earth. I grew up on a ranch with lots of animals pooping nearby, let’s just say you can never have enough fly swats, fly paper or bug zappers. But when the flies swarm and act crazier than usual, you know the weather is about to change. After a sudden killing frost you can walk around and see thousands of fly exoskeletons on the ground.

As a gardener, I know the end is near for my tender annual vegetables—it’s November. I’m in USDA zone 7B with an average first frost date of November 14. But, I’m clinging to the hope that I can nurse my plants along, especially since they just started producing fruit after surviving a wretchedly hot, bone-dry summer. (No exaggeration, it’s on record as the driest, hottest summer since 1950).

So I pulled up my trusty weather app on my iPhone and sure enough … big cold front moving in—decidedly not good for the garden.

I put in an emergency call to handyman husband to get supplies at the hardware store and I made a mad 5 p.m. dash to the feed store to get plastic sheeting. An hour and a half later we have the garden covered. (I am not going back out there to take a picture, Ok I took a picture this morning.)

The temps went from 70 degrees to 45 in about two hours with winds gusting up to 40 mph. I made one last harvest, just in case.

Jalapenos are beautiful, fruity and spicy-delicious right out of the garden.

Serrano peppers just off the vine.

Thanks for the help, sweet husband. Eggplant parmesan is in your future.

Garden Calamities, Bad Kids and More Bad Dogs

Garden Calamities, Bad Kids and More Bad Dogs

7 to 10 days ago I planted a few rows of spring plants that are space-savers—ideal for my intensive gardening plan. These are also the plants that give you quick pay-off in terms of gardening—radishes, mesclun, rocket (aka arugula), spinach and carrots. All sprout quickly and can be harvested between 25-45 days.  A super-speedy turnaround considering our beloved tomatoes can take up to 90 days to mature.

Planting a sorta-early spring garden...

These quick-return crops have already started to show signs of life … this photo was taken on Monday, 7 days after they were planted.  

Showing signs of life.

See the little sprouts coming up … I have no idea what this is because I didn’t properly label my rows – oh well. I will be able to identify them once they get past the initial phase of sprouting.  

Then Tuesday, I started writing this piece and decided to take photos showing progress.  I went out to the garden to take photos, but there was evidence of a minor Garden Calamity.

Evidence of a very bad dog.

A big dog print in my raised bed …  I only planted half of one raised bed and that is the only place the dog tromped thru. Of course it’s right in the middle of a planted row.

 I still didn’t get the story finished, so after work on Wednesday, I went to take another progress photo.

Then another Garden Calamity struck … usually when that happens it has to do with a bad dog. Yesterday it had to do with a kid … my 4-yr old son came into the house and declared: “I water momma’s flowlers. I help jew, mom.” I didn’t think a lot of it, but then walked out to see what he was talking about.

Seedlings almost washed away by a 4-yr old.

Holy Garden Calamity, Batman! I don’t’ think 4-yr olds understand that you can’t put the sprinkler wand/spray head thingy right up next to the seedlings. And this story has changed drastically since the initial draft, due to Garden Calamities.

Bad kid, good kid? Definitly a cute kid!

More to come on tomatoes and spring gardening in North Texas… I’m dying to plant my tomatoes, but the old farmers say, “thunder in February, frost in April.” And we had thunder in February along with a frozen foot of snow and ice that cancelled school for a week. I’m going to wait a few more days on planting my tomatoes. Hopefully I can avoid future Garden Calamities.

96 tomato plants ... almost ready for a North Texas garden home!

Perennial Favorites and Bad Dogs

Perennial Favorites and Bad Dogs
I was just writing about spring and how I love to watch things grow … and it’s even cooler to see perennials emerging from their winter slumber. 
 
Half the time I forget I’ve planted them, then I will start to see this little bit of green peeking out.  After an investigation, I realize it’s not a weed, but a perennial. 
This is a lilly -- not sure which kind yet.

Love perennials … they are more expensive than annuals, but if you select the right varieties for your area, you will be able to enjoy them year after year. 

I personally try to have a good mix of perennials and annuals.  One of my most favorite annuals of all time is the pansy. 

Happy Pansy Face

Look at this pretty, happy pansy face!  Fortunately where I live, I can plant pansies in the fall and they will usually overwinter then grow all spring until the end of April.  Then I rip them out and replace them with something more heat tolerant.

 This is Mexican sage, a hearty perennial.

Mexican Sage waking up from a long winter's Siesta

Sometimes I find this in the garden… bad dog … if you can’t tell by the photo,  my dog Ruby, dug in the flower bed and dislodged this beautiful specimen of Mexican Sage. 

Bad dogs dig in the flower beds

I love Mexican sage for my particular area, because it’s hardy and blooms continuously, it can withstand the hot Texas sun and summer, and requires very little watering.

Mexican sage in full bloom -- pretty!

This is a variegated sedum, another hearty perennial that can grow just about anywhere in the U.S.

Variegated sedum, aka striped sedum
Verigated sedum in its full bloom, in the late summer or early fall.

 What’s the difference?

Annuals complete their lifecycle in one growing season, meaning that an annual plant can grow from seed to maturation (seed reproduction) in one season—snap dragons, petunias and pansies. Generally most garden vegetables are annuals.

Perennials have an ongoing lifecycle, meaning they come back every year after a period of dormancy. Trees and shrubs are good examples, but other flowers are salvia, daisies, sedums and chrysanthemums. Some perennials are grown as annuals in northern climates because they are not cold-hardy.  A good example of this is dusty miller. It’s a perennial where I live, but in Kansas and north, it’s not hardy enough to overwinter.     

BTW … for those of you North Texas gardeners out there, we are coming up on our last average killing-frost dates this week and next.  For more info contact your local Texas county extension agent– they know all the scoop for your county’s growing particulars. (PS– if you live in a different state they have extension offices too).

The bad dog ... Looking very pretty on a spring day at the "Goat Ranch." (there aren't any goats, btw).

Just a few good Tomatoes …

I woke up and it’s Spring.  First week of March down and it seems like it was just winter – wait it was just winter.  One month ago we were still digging out of a big-time snow storm that left all of North Texas crippled — school was cancelled for a week!

This looks like the coldest animal on Earth

Nothing says spring in Graham like Daffodils. 

There was once a big push to make Graham the Daffodil Capital. [of Texas or the U.S., I’m not sure]. But you can still see the remnants all around us.

To me Spring means Baseball … 

AND gardening. Oh how I love to plant stuff to watch it grow … 

Plant a seed and watch it grow ...

 

This year, Spring has a new element for me – my greenhouse!  One of the best, most-thoughtful gifts ever given to me. (awwwhhh – thanks, babes.)

The day it was set into place ... We have very good skilled labor. Look at the hat --it's felt-- that means winter.

Look!  Sprouted seeds!  This just happens to be Nasturtiums, which are also edible.    Very cool touch to throw a few blossoms into a tossed salad.

 When these sprouts grow up they should look like this …

A red nasturtium ...

And look at the Tomatoes!  Oh I am hopeful that we will have lots of good Tomatoes!

Just a few good tomatoes ...

I am sharing my plants with other vegetable gardeners around me.  Just a few good tomatoes … that’s all I’m looking for. That and maybe a BLT sandwich …