Back to the future

desert willow

We are constantly being bombarded with the buzzwords “green” and “sustainable”. I can hardly imagine what our great grandmothers would think if they saw a list of ways to be “green”. For them it was a way of life. There was no thermostat to set. If they wanted to be cooler, they went outside on the porch or sat under a tree. Heating was automatically regulated – they just used less wood or coal in the stove. Hanging clothes out on the line was the only option (always a challenge up north – I can remember many times when a load of clothes on the line were frozen solid).

prickly pear

When it came time to the garden, they knew that choosing plants that were native or well adapted assured them of success, since they would be much more drought-tolerant. In north Texas, that meant plants had to handle drought and heavy rain, extremely hot temperatures, sudden dramatic changes in temperature and lousy soil.


Turk’s cap, ruellia, tawny daylily, salvia and oxeye daisy, oakleaf hydrangea, prickly pear and flowering quince, desert willow, vitex and eastern red cedar were just some of great-grandmother’s plants. These tried and true plants are still available and still recommended for the same reasons they were popular more than a 100 years ago – they will survive!



Habitat Landscapes

Last week at each of our stores, Nancy Payne gave a great talk about one of my favorite subjects (and obviously hers!) – creating habitat landscapes that support the songbirds, hummingbirds, bees and butterflies that we all love. If you attended I know this is redundant, but I wanted to share this with the many who could not make it.

What I liked most is Nancy’s list of her favorite native plants and trees Nancy’s List. To make it easy for you, she has grouped the nectar and host plants into spring, summer, fall, and winter bloomers. She has also included some berry producing shrubs and great groundcovers as well. Nancy also reminded us to remember to plant at least three of any host plant as the caterpillars will eat them quickly and you really want to have enough food for them!

As Nancy was teaching the morning class in Arlington she was showing participants one of our passion vine plants that was covered in gulf fritillary caterpillars. As she did so a butterfly descended and proceeded to lay an egg. Nature is so much fun!

The most important lesson of the day: Cut back your tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) at the end of September. According to Dale Clark, Dallas County Lepidopterist’s Society, the monarchs that are coming through your garden now are a combination of our resident monarchs and some filtering in pre-migration. They still need to feed. Those heading to Mexico to overwinter start arriving mid-October – these are the ones you do not want to encourage to stay.

P.S. Here is a link to the National Wildlife Federation’s Garden Certification Walk-through checklist so that your habitat landscape can be certified as a wildlife habitat – it is easier than you think!

As high as an elephant’s eye . . .

Never in all my years of gardening in Texas can I remember my garden being so lush at this time of year, so much so that I am really struggling to find spots to start planting cool season veggies.

I planted two, rather than my usual one African Blue basil – big mistake. This was my first time planting Holy basil; I discovered it gets as big as the African Blue. I love its fragrance. The Siam Queen basil has never been happier and its flowers so beautiful. Lemon verbena that is usually a bit rangy at this time of year is full and green.

What can I say about the Greek oregano other than it has taken over most of the rest of the space? I have cut it back several times so far this summer and it continues to spread such that I have taken to planting fennel, dill and parsley in the middle of it instead.
The winners by far are the asparagus and lemongrass. Both of them are as tall as me!
Unfortunately, the Berggarten sage is not happy. I have found that every few years I do have to replace my sage, and it is usually after we have had moister conditions. I am willing to pay that price.

Quotes worth quoting

Here’s something hopefully to bring a smile to your face – some quotes I had saved many years ago.

If you want to be happy for a short time, get drunk;
happy for a long time, fall in love;
happy forever, take up gardening.”…British comedian and playwright Arthur Smith

“If dandelions were rare and fragile, people would knock themselves out to pay $14.95 a plant, raise them by hand in greenhouses, and form dandelion societies and all that. But, they are everywhere and don’t need us and kind of do what they please. So we call them weeds and murder them at every opportunity”…. Robert Fulgham.

“You know you are a real gardener when you think compost is a fascinating subject.” …Author Unknown

“I have never had so many good ideas day after day as when I worked in the garden.”…John Erskine

My husband said if I buy any more perennials he would
leave me- – -gosh I’m going to miss that man! … Author Unknown

O Lord, grant that in some way it may rain every day, say from about midnight until three o’clock in the morning, but, you see, it must be gentle and warm so that it can soak in; grant that at the same time it would not rain on campion, alyssum, helianthemum, lavender, and the others which you in your infinite wisdom know are drought loving plants – I will write their names on a paper if you like – and grant that the sun may shine the whole day long, but not everywhere (not for instance, on spiraea, or on gentian, plantain lily, and rhododendron), and not too much; that there may be plenty of dew and little wind, enough worms, no plant-lice and snails, no mildew, and that once a week thin liquid manure and guano may fall from heaven.
Amen. …Karel Capek, The Gardener’s Year, 1929

God made rainy days, so gardeners could get the housework done.
…Author Unknown

Bee Balm and K9s


For those of us in the garden industry, this is trade show time for next year’s season. I know – it’s hard to believe! Last week I attended a large one in Chicago. I love travelling up north in the summer months as it reminds me of how differently plants can be from one part of the country to another. And the season is shorter and cooler, so some plants are blooming earlier up there than here. It is hard to fathom seeing here lush beds of sedums in full bloom attracting bees in mid-August. Bee balm is already going to seed and some grasses are already showing fall colors. As for heuchera and hostas – we all know they are not bigger in Texas.


Michigan Avenue has the most spectacular planters of all, but what captivated and delighted me much more were the large 54” German Shepherd Statues installed to memorialize Chicago’s fallen police officers killed in the line of duty. This fundraiser called K9s for Cops will also benefit PAWS Chicago. They have all been painted by local artists and just cannot help bring a smile to your face!

Fall is around the corner??

When you get as old as I am the seasons pass by so quickly. It takes some discipline sometimes to make myself aware. And this summer has not been “normal” – the June rains were so welcomed and the unpredictable showers of July and even this month have allowed many a garden (even those that depend solely on rainfall) to flourish. Rarely have I seen large mushrooms popping up in people’s yards at this time of year as I have this year.

So, it’s the beginning of August now. What do I notice? The hummingbirds are back in full force. They are fighting over our one feeder and our favorite hummingbird plants – flame acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var wrightii), cigar plant (Cuphea x David Verity), firecracker plant (Russelia equisetiformis) and Salvia greggii.

There are more butterflies. Fennel, dill, parsley and rue are being devoured in our store greenhouses and in my garden by the swallowtails. Monarch and queen butterflies are dancing around the Gregg’s mist eupatorium. Painted ladies are visiting the Penta.

The second brood of bluebirds has left the nest. Mother cardinals, mockingbirds, titmice, chickadees, blue jays and wrens are teaching their young to be independent. New families of hawks circle over the lake and kingfisher families swoop down trying to find prey. There are new young whistling ducks, herons, egrets and mallards.

Temperatures may still be in the 90’s (and this is way cool for this time of year!), but nature has its seasons and the sign of a new one not far away is there if we look for it.

Time for Rudbeckia

I love watching the summer progression of the garden. The July rains have resulted in lots and lots of growth and chaos that I must bring some order to very soon. One of the shining stars year after year is Rudbeckia or more commonly known as black-eyed Susan.


Every sunny perennial garden must include Rudbeckia goldsturm. It is easy to grow, flowering at least a month during the summer, and a nice manageable size. I first planted it in a sunny spot by the side of the yard and it continued to bloom for several years even as the spot became increasingly shady as the little oak trees became big specimens.


The slender long bluish green leaves, yellow drooping flowers and long dark brown cones of Rudbeckia maxima make this one my favorite. Five foot tall and erect down by the water, it is a great specimen plant. And birds eat the seeds of the flowers long after they finish blooming.


Now blooming away in all its glory is Rudbeckia herbestonne. It has been quite some time since we have been able to find this in the trade – wish I knew why because it is a beauty. It too is tall, close to 5 feet. The blooms are bright golden, and droop a little bit. The cone starts out almost a green color and turns to brown as it matures.

These are all great cut flowers and loved by the bees as well!

Trip Down Memory Lane

Just had a trip down memory lane last weekend…went back to the village I grew up in, the campus where I ventured off to college and the little chapel where Dick and I were married 50 years ago. And it was Canada’s 150th birthday as well!

Growing up this little town of 920 we had a bakery, a butcher shop, two grocery stores, a hardware store, a 5 and dime, a bank, a local newspaper, two shoe stores, two clothing stores, a Carnegie library, a creamery, four gas stations with mechanics, four churches, two elementary schools, a hotel and much more. It was so vibrant. We lived up on a hill. My parents had a huge vegetable garden, several fruit trees and raspberry bushes. Elementary school was next door – two rooms – 1st through 4th grade in one, and 5th through 8th in the other. I had two teachers in all that time, the same two teachers that both my brother and one of my sisters had.

The Back Yard

I walked the streets with my brother last week. Only one of the stores is operating. All of the others are either torn down or have been abandoned for years. The library, schools, three churches and creamery still exist. That’s it. Our family garden is gone. A lone rhubarb plant is alive behind the shed. Wild daisies still dot the back yard as I vividly remember them. There are four peony bushes and a wonderful old cherry tree thriving. Laundry is still being hung up on the lines – try to imagine doing this in an Ontario winter – I remember bringing in my father’s work clothes that were still stiff as a board from the cold.

The little University of Waterloo, just six years old when I enrolled, is now a huge campus. The little chapel we were married in no longer exists – it is now a large conference room. We drove by our first apartment and the hospital where Michael was born. We explored the towns and countryside that I still vividly remember – each farm with a home, a barn and a patch of land called the woods, largely of maple trees that each spring were used to produce maple syrup. I saw this again as I looked out the window of the plane as we were headed home to Texas. It was a wonderful trip.

Living Fences


Living fences have for centuries been used to identify boundaries, protect crops from both domestic and wild animals as well as provide a habitat for wildlife. There is a spot in our yard that we need one – narrow, long and tolerant of a lot of shade. Maybe, living fence sounds too grand – maybe hedge would be a better way of describing it. I cannot find yet what I am looking for, but in my search I started recalling the notes that I have made over the years of hedges in different countries. This has always captivated me.


I remember the drives down the back roads of Ireland. There were hedges taller than the car lining both sides of the road of fuchsia in full bloom. They were spectacular! There were wild roses in Quebec, opuntia in the southwest. My notes from Bhutan mention ferns (they were huge) and marijuana. I do remember cows wandering along the sides of the road eating – always wondered what the milk tasted like. Morocco’s fences of cholla, opuntia, agave, as well as red and pink hibiscus reminded me a bit of our southwest. Peru also used agave to define boundaries, as well as Scotch broom and senna. Costa Rica, the land of the lush, was amazing. Plants we use as houseplants, marginata, ficus, croton, aglaonema, dieffenbachia as well as bird of paradise and bougainvillea were their fences.

San Miguel

None of this helps me – I am open to suggestions!

The Changing Perennial Palette


I have always loved gardening with perennials. There is never that “all at once, everything in bloom” thing going on. What I like is how a plant can tell me what time of the year it is, sometimes whether it has just rained and sometimes when it is just too darn hot.

I love to watch how bits of foliage appearing from the soil in the early spring can be plants that are in full bloom and needing to be cut back by May because they cover the pathway already (e.g. zexmenia!). Sometimes a perennial when it is finished blooming is not so appealing, but so many are if you are able to appreciate the stark beauty of their seed heads and the bounty they provide to the birds.


Perennials are great plants for sharing and for memories. When the Chinese ground orchid blooms in spring I think of Michael Moore, a longtime friend, the beautiful crinum reminds me of a friend of Lorie’s and the orange daylily that is blooming right now also blooms in many of the gardens in our neighborhood because of a generous neighbor. And now, every time I look at the galphimia (which will bloom all summer), both my husband and I will think of his cousin who is about to embark on a new adventure in Portugal.