Monday, July 31, 2017

Time for a Haircut

A common rule for containers is they need a "thriller", a "spiller", and a "filler".  One of the go to spillers for many gardeners is sweet potato vine.  Before this year I definitely like the stuff.  It wasn't true love, sweet potato is a little too utilitarian for that, but I was okay with it being in the garden.

We put some on our blue pots that are around our pool this spring.  It looked okay for a time, but then they began to take on the look of a chartreuse ball.  They weren't really trailing, they instead resembled a shrub.  Very full and thick, rounded, and covering EVERTHING else.  I tried to pinch them back.  I tried selectively taking our stems.  Neither option worked.   The were not doing it for me at all this year.  Whenever I glanced at the three pots, I was secretly cursing the stupid sweet potato vines in my head.  In fact, often it wasn't actually in my head.  My husband (the true Plant Geek) and daughter have heard way too much about them.

So I went out the other morning in my pajamas and cut them off.  Literally, took the pruners and cut them down to little nubs.  They should re-sprout and grow into weird sweet potato balls again, and honestly, I might chop them off again.

Look how much better it looks.  There are even entire plants that were formally covered by their balls of foliage that now can be seen.  I'm no longer convinced that these pots need a spiller to soften their edges.  I think the smaller pots and plants around them do the job just fine.

More than likely there will be no more sweet potato vine for us, at least not in these pots.  There are a few places where it hasn't become a "gardening don't", but it may be time to try something new in it's place.  After all it's always good to challenge ourselves to be more creative.

What "gardening don'ts" have you committed in your garden?  Have you ever taken somewhat drastic measures to fix them?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Walk Around the Back Garden

I thought it might be a good day to take a tour of the back garden.  When you enter our gate you are greeted by our Shade Garden.  Somebody planted a Southern Magnolia a little close tot he patio and pool at some point in our garden's history.  It provides amazing shade, but it is also so messy.  This is actually one of the first gardens we installed after moving here.  It was born out of necessity as much as a desire for beauty.  All the soil in the yard would wash down onto the patio.  The retaining wall solved that problem.  There a mixture of perennials and a few shrubs in this garden. Right now I'm really enjoy the hardy alstroemeria and all of our potted begonias (all along the wall) in this garden.  It has a little fence around it because our dogs and the squirrels can't declare a truce.  We won't get into the specifics of their was right now.

Next you come to our in-process Ruin Garden.  The idea is that it will look like a "ruin" when it completed.  The edging is stacked like this on purpose and there is a set of chairs and table as well as a slightly damaged chimera in this garden.  Right now were also using it to house some potted dayliles we inherited from a neighbor.  We aren't sure what we're going to do with them as none of them have turned out to be anything outstanding. We have a few fabulous Vitex planted to create sort of a wall and enclose the yard a bit more.  I think the best feature of this garden right now is how we have some of the plants growing through the furniture.  It obviously needs work, but it's coming along.

Next you come to an area that will at some point become part of a play area.  Right now it has a large Pecan tree, a Japaneses Maple, a few Buckeyes and a triceratops.  She arrived last night and is fabulous.  We may paint her (we're thinking turquoise) but for now she's staying in her natural aluminium state.  I think she's going to need a name!

This next area is really really really in-process (notice a theme for this part of the garden).  It will eventually be a fenced in pallet garden to house our daylily seedlings from our hybridizing until we can decide if they are worth keeping.  Our dogs love to run.  Really love to run.  They respect large plants and established gardens, but since these won't be big plants we decided to add a fence for insurance.

Finally we get to a part of the garden that is more completed, because really nothing is ever totally finished.  This is the Tropical Garden the surrounds our pool.  It really looks it's best from inside the pool and I promise if you ever come over when it's swimming weather, we will let you in for a looksie.

Our thought here is for it to look like everything was growing into everything else.  Very lush and full.  We have accomplished this to a fault and have to make some changes this fall to make sure there continues to be space for everything.

This garden features a lot of Alocasia and Colocasia, as well as banana and our tetraploid daylilies.  We have some other plants, like hardy hibiscus to add color, and some others, like our papaya, to add interest.

The Barrier Garden does not look it's best this time of year.  The daylilies are bloomed out, though we have a few rebloomers and it so hot that it takes on a sort of crispy brown look.  We have plans to add to this garden and restructure it a little so it doesn't look so sad in the heat of the summer.  The best part of it right now, it the grape we're training on the fence.  Once again, this garden is part of the Dog vs. Squirrel War and therefore has a fence.  It will be upgraded eventually.

Here is Petunia, our marginated tortoise's garden.  He (yes, Petunia is a he) lives outside fulltime and loves him some hibiscus flowers.  They figure heavily into his design.  He garden is all about what a marginated tortoise likes to eat.

Here is the last part of my vegetable garden.  I have failed a number of time at growing veggies, but I do okay with herbs.  So when we converted the vegetable containers this past fall, we left this as it was.  the red is starting to fade, so it may get a little re-fresh this winter with some spray paint.  Maybe more turquoise.

Our last stop is the working part of the garden.  You can see our pallet compost bin in the background.  We also keep some homeless container plantings here, but the best part is the greenhouse.  This time of year it's empty except for the carnivorous plants.  It will soon be full of daylily seeds germinating and some succulents cutting rooting.

Hope you enjoyed the little tour of what we have going on right now.  It's amazing how fast things change (and how slow projects get done in Texas in the summer).  How is your garden looking this summer?

Monday, July 24, 2017

How to Build a Simple Terrarium or Gardening with Cats

I probably don't need to argue with any of you about why indoor plants are great.  As gardeners, I feel pretty confident that we all have some type of "indoor garden".  We've had to get a little creative with ours.  See when I was in college I adopted a cat.  That's not exactly the end of that story.  He has one little quirk, he eats plants.  For instance, he used to climb up a dresser, onto a small wall shelf, tip-toe to the end and stretch himself another foot or two so he could nibble on a hanging plant I had in one of my apartments.  He even used to bite a cactus I had.  My cat didn't seem to miss a beat (and continued to bite it over time), the cactus died within days of the assault.  His vet says he's fine it's just part of who he is.

So needless to say we've had to get a little creative with our indoor plants.  When we moved into our current house, one of the things we like the most was how much light there was inside.  We had just sold our 100 year old farmhouse in the middle of the city that was very dark inside and wasn't really good for plants.  We were looking for a change, and the light filled living room of our current house was exactly right.  It even had a bay window that was begging for indoor plants.  Except that we had a cat.

For the first year and half the only thing we used the bay window for was displaying a small Christmas tree during the holidays and feeding the cat (ironic isn't it).  Finally we came up with a plan to add some additional greenery.  We came up with a little terrarium garden.

As it turns out terrariums aren't really hard to create or take care off.  All you need to get started is a glass container, potting soil, gravel, activated charcoal, some small plants, and any other decorations you want to add.  Some people like to make the whole process complicated with a lot of what I think are extra materials and steps.  My technique s pretty simple and streamlined.

So the fist thing you will want to do is add a layer of gravel to the bottom of the container.  More is better, but you also need to leave enough room so your plants will have space to grow.  It helps is you have an eager toddler who wants to add gravel for you, though she isn't necessary.  Once you have the gravel in, add a layer of activated charcoal.  This layer helps things from getting stinky inside the terrarium one its closed.  You don't need to add a lot, maybe and inch or so.  Then top off your layers with potting soil.  The key here is to make sure you have enough soil so your plant roots have a home, while not eliminating all the space for the actual plant.

Once you have the soil in you an start adding your plants.  Keep size in mind when you are buying plants.  Many nurseries have a selection of terrarium plants to pick from, so it makes it pretty easy.  Also remember that if you have a closed terrarium, it will be really humid in there.  Succulents will not like that, but you can use them if you have an open container.  You'll want to think about how everything  will look together and try to put the taller plants in the back, so you can see the smaller ones.  I like to try to have a variety of colors, textures, and plant sizes.  It's similar to planting a container garden outside or arranging flowers.  This is also where you could add any extra things, like decorative gravel mulch, or little fairy garden accessories.  We keep it simple here though.

Once it all planted, you will want to water everything.  The final step is to wipe the soil and any charcoal dust of the inside of the glass. If the opening of your container is big enough you an just use your hand and a paper towel.  If it's smaller, you may have to get creative.  I've had good luck with a skewer with paper towel wrapped on the end.  You don't want to skip this step.  Trust me, I have.  If you don't tidy things up, you will have dirt clods blocking your view of the plants and taunting you until you finally clean things up.

Terrariums don't really have a lot of ongoing maintenance.  If they are closed (have a lid) you won't even need to water them regularly.  Every few months I clean my terrariums up.  There really isn't a schedule, I just do it when I start to notice they need a little TLC.  This is when I trim off any dead leaves, pitch back any plants that are getting too tall, and remove anything that isn't working out.

So there you have it.  One cat proof indoor gardening idea, that looks pretty good.  Definitely better than a half eaten hanging plant, or a cactus dying due to cat bites.  How do you garden while still have furry four legged friends?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Best Tomatoes I've Ever Grown (in Texas)

I used to try and grow tomatoes.  Every year I would set out my plants and things would be going along, plants would grow, flowers would bloom, fruit would form and eventually ripen, and then every year without fail, my tomatoes would get a case of spider mites and decline to the point where it seemed more humane to yank them out of the planters and add them to the compost pile.

I tried lots of things to keep them going and some years I would manage to nurse a few along through the hot summer and into fall. (INSERT LINK)  After last summer’s tomato carnage, we re-purposed the vegetable garden planters.  Then this happened…a volunteer in my washing machine planter.  It has a few strawberry plants in it, and apparently last year a Supper Sweet 100 tomato ended up there.

The plan was to let it grow until the inevitable happened.  It hasn’t happened yet.  This volunteer is out growing my other attempts.

Now since it was a volunteer, it got kind of a late start.  The flowers and fruits are a little behind the normal schedule.  Maybe that’s been it’s saving grace.  I wasn’t a gigantic plant that rivaled Jack’s beanstalk when the true heat of summer arrived.  Or maybe it’s been all of the rain we’ve had the last few weeks.

Hopefully we will get to enjoy tomatoes for weeks to come, maybe well into July.  Eventually the heat will cause the tomato to stop fruiting.  If it’s still looking this good, I may try to nurse it along until it cools off in the fall.  

Regardless, it’s the best tomato plant we’ve grown in a l-o-n-g time.