Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Out the kitchen window

Here's my attempt to show what the wisteria looks like out the kitchen window. From the window, what I see is the wisteria showering down from the right, with the Old Blush rose behind it, covered in pink flowers. I'm not sure you can see the roses in the picture and I couldn't really give a sense of how the wisteria dominates the view at this time of year. If I was a foot taller (or willing to lie across the sink and hang out the window) I might be able to get a better shot but, between my short stature and the blocking effect of our casement windows that don't crank all the way open, this is the best I can do.

Wisteria, just past peak

I believe that this year's wisteria bloom was at its peak yesterday. Today more leaves are showing and, although there are still buds that haven't opened, the breeze and light rain we've been having on and off all day have knocked petals off the existing bloom stalks.

Here are some pictures of what it looks today, both overall and close-ups of some of the blooms (I had to use our old camera so the pictures may be slightly low resolution).

If it rains in the next few days most of the blooms will be knocked to the ground. I'm always sorry to see them go — and the heighth of the bloom is so fleeting — but the carpet of lavender is lovely in its own right.

I wish I could get a picture out our kitchen window, with the wisteria in the foreground and the Old Blush rose bush, covered in pink flowers, behind. I'll try it and if it works I'll post it later.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Forking foul-up

I was so excited to get out and start digging up the garden with my new garden fork that I didn't stop to think about where I was digging. I started in on the section of the far back bed where I'm planning to move the badly placed hypericum and immediately struck roots of the Ashe juniper that we cut down last year. I was pulling out giant sections of half-rotted root and turning over huge chunks of soil. I was accomplishing so much, so easily.

My husband had come out to admire my digging prowess when I hit something that felt really big. I assumed it was the mother of all roots and I pushed and pulled and levered and finally pulled up . . . the plastic drainage pipe from our new gutters!

Once I uncovered the whole section of the pipe (it's ridged black plastic about four inches in diameter) that I'd been attacking I found it riddled with holes. And at first we thought I'd cut it completely in half, since one end was poking up above ground and we couldn't even find the other end. We finally realized that I'd speared it just above a joint and had pulled one section out where it was shoved into the next section. We pondered the problem for a while and decided that if we could get the exposed end back into the continuing section and then covered up the various holes I'd made with the fork so that dirt wouldn't gradually fill in the pipe we'd be okay (we decided it didn't matter if the pipe leaked a little on its way to drain out into the alley; hopefully we haven't created the beginnings of a marsh back there). We made a trip to Home Depot to look for repair materials and finally decided that wrapping the wounded pipe with a plastic garbage sack and then backfilling with soil would solve everything for pennies.

I meant to take pictures to show the power of my new gardening tool but once I got started putting it back together I was too glad to get the embarrassing evidence covered up to remember the camera.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Belated birthday

Today I received not one, but two, belated birthday presents — and both were for the garden. First, when my husband went out to bring the papers in this morning he found a box from the Antique Rose Emporium on the front porch. Apparently it was delivered yesterday afternoon but the UPS person just dropped it off without ringing the doorbell and none of us happened to notice it. Inside was a robust, one-gallon Cecile Brunner rose from my lovely mom and dad in Dallas. When I called my mom, she said the Rose Emporium people told her Cecile Brunner was a small shrub, perfect for a pot, which is just where I intend to put her (as soon as I can find the perfect pot). According to the Rose Emporium's website, Cecile Brunner has light pink blooms and is nicknamed the Sweetheart Rose. It tolerates poor soils and even partial shade. I'm thinking that, for now at least, I'll put her in a pot, maybe up on a plinth of some kind, in the far back, providing a focal point back there while the hamelia, yellow bells and Pride of Barbados resprout and fill in this spring.

Then this afternoon my friend Alisa came by to take me out for a birthday lunch (we've been trying to find a time when our schedules meshed since my actual birthday in late February and we finally made it work today) and she brought me a present that I can already tell is in the category of "how did I ever garden without this." It's a garden fork and I've been out digging up various parts of the garden with it all afternoon. I mean really, I've been digging in this garden for nearly 13 years and at my other house for seven or eight years before that and I've never had a garden fork. It's been on my wish list for a while (clever Alisa for listening to me ramble about my travails in the garden) and I even thought about a trip earlier in the week to look for one but was put off by the rain. I can already see that the fork will make digging up and moving plants much easier and I've got my eye on several to experiment with. In the picture my new tool is next to the hypericum that really needs to be moved.

After lunch Alisa and I headed out to do some garden shopping. We didn't make it past the Natural Gardener (we meant to go to Barton Springs Nursery too, to make a dent in a birthday gift certificate I received earlier — do you sense a birthday theme? — but we ran out of time) but we made our time count. Alisa, who rarely sees a plant she doesn't want, a woman after my own heart, bought a lush orange tecoma stans and a leatherleaf mahonia (she loves the berries) as well as a bamboo muhly (Pam, I told her you had recommended it to me and that sealed the deal for her) and various other things. With the Barton Springs gift certificate in my pocket, I restrained myself (I even put a few things back after they'd made their way into the wagon!). I bought three 4-inch bat face cupheas, three 4-inch winecups and one extremely cool euphorbia rigida, also known, the tag says, as gopher plant (that's it in the picture). How could that be anything but cool? They had one in the ground in one of the display gardens; like most euphorbias I'm familiar with, it doesn't exactly flower but gets these interesting chartreuse and yellow bract-like things on the tips of each branch in the spring. I'm thinking of putting it into the spot where the hypericum now is (the hypericum gets too tall and wide for the Maggie rose next to it but I think the euphorbia will stay low and kind of sprawl under the rose).

And when I get finished in the garden I can come in and slather on some avocado butter, olive and basil body butter, another gift from the lovely Alisa.

March blogger bloom day

I noticed on Zanthan Gardens' site that today is March Garden Bloggers Bloom Day (an idea of Carol at May Dreams Gardens, a blog I've not looked at before, for garden bloggers to list everything blooming in their gardens on the 15th of each month). I admire Zanthan's meticulous garden recordkeeping and, while I'm not sure I'll ever manage to collect the depth of information about my garden that she does about hers, I think I can manage to compile a monthly list.

So here's my list for March (using Carol's rule that buds count, at least in March):

• Bush germander (Teucrium fruticans); the variety with the darker flowers
• Salvia greggii (raspberry), first blooms opened this week
• Old Blush rose, covered in buds and blooms (shown in picture at top)
• Salvia nemarosa "May Night", several buds
• Pansies and violas in a pot
• Orange bulbine (Bulbine frutescens)
• Wisteria, about half the buds are open (see yesterday's post for a picture)
• Potato vine (Solanum jasminoides), the white variety

And a few more I thought of later, on places I forget to look earlier:

• Texas mountain laurel, hidden away on the side of the house
• Mexican honeysuckle, which bloomed hidden away all winter in the front bed
• Yellow bulbine, hidden under the yaupon in the front bed

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Wisteria (and other) updates

I meant to take a picture of the wisteria blossoms each day so I could track the progression from bud to flower but the recent rain foiled that plan (not that I'm complaining about the rain!).

Here is a picture of some of the wisteria flowers as they look today and an overall shot of the whole vine in early stages of its bloom. The flowers are probably 1/3 to 1/2 open. It will probably be in full bloom by the weekend.

The rain has, in fact, been lovely. A deluge Sunday night, continuing all night, and then almost constant steady soaking rain on Tuesday. I wish we had a rain guage so I would know exactly how much we've gotten over the past few days. I estimate 2 to 3 inches.

As I poked around this afternoon I found the first sprouts from the stumps of the two hamelia plants and definite signs of life in the til-now lifeless clumps of Mexican flame vine. I even think I see the very first hints of new, red growth at the base of the Pride of Barbados in the far back. I had just about given it up for dead and was pondering its replacement.

The rain has bent the Old Blush rose almost to the ground, leading me to belive that I didn't prune it enough last week. I really don't know how much such a rose should be pruned. It's been in the ground about 4 years, I think, and has gotten quite large, about 5 feet tall and probably 7 or 8 feet wide. I pruned back some of the lower branches and some interior canes a week or so ago but, since it was already budded out I hate to chop it back too much (it was covered with buds before the last freeze and those buds were damaged, shriveled and not fully developed when they opened, but it's developed additional buds since then).

Oh and the first salvia greggi flowers have opened, on the plant to the left of the Old Blush. The other two haven't shown any signs of buds yet.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Wisteria watch

As I mentioned a few days ago, the wisteria has suddenly budded out. Every year it takes me by surprise and this year was no exception. From bare sticks the buds just seem to appear overnight (either that or I'm just not as observant as I'd like to believe). According to my somewhat random record keeping it usually is in full bloom by the third week of March, with the blooms lasting a week or two depending on wind and rain.

Here's a few not so great shots of the buds as they look today (I'm still attempting to master the close-up setting of the camera).

Right now they look like pale, elongated raspberries. I'll post again in a few days as the buds mature.

Every year, before the wisteria starts budding out, I stand underneath it and consider some kind of pruning. I read an article in a magazine a few years ago that described a systematic approach to pruning wisteria that, it claimed, would result in a massive increase in flower production. But as I stand underneath the arbor, all I can see it a twisty, confusing mass of vines. Nothing like the illustrations in the article. I don't know where to start.

We've had the wisteria dramatically pruned once, but that was more to save our electric service than it was to do anything for the plant (the vine had reached up and twined itself around the wire bringing the electricity to the house; eventually a solid curtain of wisteria hung between the electric wire and the top of the arbor. When the wind blew, the curtain whipped back and forth, pulling the wire perilously close to breaking). We had that pruning done in March 2002, right before the wisteria would have started setting buds. I was afraid that the whole plant would die but when I mentioned that to the tree guy, he laughed. And he was right. The plant roared back, bigger than ever, although not with noticeably more flowers.

Maybe when (if??) we replace the arbor we can address the whole plant (which has trunks six inches in diameter) and bring it back under control. Or at least get the dead wood out and pull it back into some kind of boundary.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Clean-up, continued

I've spent several more hours hacking through various portions of the upstairs bed. I've got everything cleared and then some.

First, can I just mention my lack of enthusiasm for Turk's cap. I actually love the little swirled flowers but, in my garden at least, Turk's cap runs rampant. When I'm at the garden store and see Turk's cap for sale I find myself rolling my eyes. When I moved into this house I was mildly excited to find the various outcroppings of the plant. Now, 13 years later, I'm considering Round Up. I've cut it back, tried to dig it up. Nothing works. It spreads, it doubles in size every year. It dies to the ground and comes back at twice the size. The flowers look good for a while and then the leaves go all crinkly and half dead and it quits blooming and all I'm left with are straggly, six foot tall stalks that lean every which a way. Okay, I'll stop babbling.

Today I chopped — and chopped and choppped — down the eight or so major clumps of Turk's cap in the upstairs yard. And found even more spots where it's doing its best to spring up. And then just for good measure I chopped down most of the misbegotten yucca from the corner of the long bed. I left a couple of pups in the far back but I opened up some serious space for something new. In the picture you can see the two trunks of yucca that I sawed off (as well as piles of various other debris waiting to be bundled up).

The space is backed by the wisteria (which is on the arbor in the downstairs yard but which tries its best to creep into the upstairs bed) so whatever I put in there needs to be able to fight that off or cohabitate politely. I have a Pride of Barbados volunteer seedling in the front yard that I may try to move. And then there's the question of the monster hamelia just to the right of the new bare spot (well, in three months it will be a monster; right now it's a few bare sticks poking up out of the ground).

On a happier — or at least less agressive note:

Here's the manfreda "Macho Mocha" that I bought late last summer. It's grown enormously and has now taken on its characteristic spotted coloration. And it's got at least three pups growing under the bottom fronds. The pot stayed out during the cold weather; we might have been able to move it but I decided to take the chance. I covered it during the ice storm and on a couple of other cold nights but the cold didn't seem to bother it at all. I'll give it a bit longer and then I'll try to remove the pups and repot them.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Treasure hunt

Gradually I've been whipping the upstairs garden into some sort of shape. I've gotten all of the perennials that died or nearly died to the ground cut back (although a mountain of debris now clutters the yard, waiting to be tied into bundles by my able assistant).

Today I cut back the Pride of Barbados in the far back, along with the tecoma stans and the red hamelia, all big woody plants, some stalks probably nine or ten feet tall. When I started on the tecoma stans I was worried that it was completely dead but a bit more hacking revealed the smallest sprigs of bright green down at ground level. The same job revealed the vine — why can I not remember what kind it is; not crossvine, not coral honeysuckle; oh well, it'll come to me — that I planted several years ago, hoping it would cover the back fence and climb up the utility pole. It's never done that but last summer it did have a few flowers — trumpet vine, that's it, Madame Galena, I belive is the variety — and although it mostly looks dead as a doornail I spied one sprig of new growth today.

The Pride of Barbados shows no signs of new growth. I'm a bit worried about it but the hamelia I'm sure will be back, despite its current pathetic look.

Also revealed in the far back are numerous pups of the agave that last fall I identified as agave lopantha. It's the plant that outgrew its spot in a big pot in the front yard a few years ago. I've already got several of its pups in other places. I think I'm going to have to find homes — homes beyond my yard — for these new ones.

I also found sprouts on a yellow brugmansia I have in a pot in the downstairs yard but the salvia guaranitica "Black and Blue" in a big pot that was already resprouting before the last freeze isn't looking so good.

I'm feeling better about the garden than I was a week or so ago although there's still much to be done. I'm pondering removing the yucca that has long anchored the corner of the long L-shaped bed in the upstairs yard. It's the sole plant remaining from the barren wasteland that was the yard when we bought this house nearly 13 years ago. But I think it has to go. I may have said before that we actually tried to get rid of it a few years ago when it started looking particularly raggedy but it sprang back from a stump. If it was gone, I'd probably also get rid of the orange hamelia beside it. I much prefer the red version, both for the color of the flowers (or are those bracts?) and for the reddish hue of the foliage. That would leave a huge gap, ripe for something new.

Oh and the wisteria (on the miserable arbor) has shot out buds virtually overnight (just like all the elm trees in the neighborhood; one day to the next and suddenly tiny leaves cover every branch). I'll take pictures when it blooms in a week or so. Ugly arbor or not, it's usually quite a sight.