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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
From the archives and something we still deal with at the store on a very regular basis…
One of the important premises of gardening organically is planting the right plant in the right place. One of the more common complaints we hear is that the grass will not grow under trees. Just try to live one summer in north Texas without a tree in the yard!
So instead of complaining and instead of trimming trees so far up that they no longer resemble a tree, plant understory trees, shrubs, perennials and shade-loving groundcovers. The blossoms of a Mexican plum in the springtime will delight you as will the exquisite foliage of a Japanese maple in the fall. Oakleaf hydrangea and American beautyberry are easy-care native shrubs. Columbines provide color in the spring, the red “fez” of the Turk’s cap invites hummingbirds in the summer and the yellow bloom of ligularia adds color to the fall shade garden.
Fill in with autumn, holly and wood ferns, inland sea oats, cedar sage, salvia guaranitica, sweet violets and horseherb and you will no longer complain about “nothing” growing under your tree!
Last week my husband surprised me with a 5-day trip to Paris for our 50th wedding anniversary. What a treat it was! We walked and walked through neighborhoods on the left bank. My favorite spot of all was the Luxembourg Gardens. I did hear a whistle as I was trying to take a photo of the beds of tulips – apparently I was in a restricted area. The plant palette was quite different from what we have here and needless to say I am always looking at plants.
The weather was still in the 50’s and 60’s. What amazed me though was that no matter what time of day, the park was filled with people engaging in such a wide range of activities. As expected, there were lots of runners and walkers. This large park though offers so much more. People were playing tennis, petanque (the French version of bocce ball) and Ping-Pong and engaged in Tai-chi and yoga. Artists and aspiring artists were painting. People of all ages were reading. Lots and lots of conversations going on and then there were those who were just sitting there (in those comfortable Luxembourg chairs from Fermob!) with eyes closed just enjoying being outside.
These gardens are the outdoors for all of these people living in the apartments in the area. They really know how to use them each and every day.
Last month I got to do one of my favorite things – walk around a local market in a different city. This time it was Oaxaca, Mexico, and was it ever vibrant!
Stalls and stalls up and down the aisles filled with local artisans, bakers, cheese makers (I hope I can find their string cheese quesillo here), butchers and purveyors of all sorts of vegetables. There is mole (a long-cooking pepper-based sauce with many other different ingredients such as chocolate, nuts, onions, cinnamon and other spices), chocolate (Oaxacan hot chocolate is so good!), beans, handmade corn tortillas on every corner, squash blossoms galore (loved them in my new favorite dish called tlayuda), tamales wrapped in banana leaves and many varieties of peppers dried and fresh.
One must not forget that Oaxaca is the home of Mezcal, most of which is produced from the Agave angustifolia (Haw.) var.espadin. And the favorite snack – I never would have believed I would have enjoyed it – is chapulines – grasshoppers toasted and seasoned with lime, chiles and garlic. I loved the crunch on top of guacamole!
As Earth Day approaches this week, I am reminded of the work of an organization that started here in Fort Worth that is near and dear to Redenta’s. Our children worldwide are the hope for the future. If we can give them the proper tools they will make this a better world for all.
REAL School Gardens www.realschoolgardens.org brings children, teachers, parents and the entire community together to create learning gardens in low-income schools. Students, teachers, parents, businesses and volunteers come together to install a garden. Teachers are trained to use the garden as an outdoor classroom for science, math, reading, art, music, writing and social studies. Students are learning more and thriving.
In 2009, REAL was providing support for 57 schools in North Texas. Today there are many more, with schools also in the Washington DC and Charlotte NC areas also benefiting from this incredible organization. Redenta’s has for many years provided plants for the North Texas gardens.
Last Saturday there was an example of a “Big Dig” at Diamond Hill Elementary in Fort Worth. Can you not just tell how excited everyone is – especially the children!
Sometimes life gets so busy I forget what the date is, but if I just go out and take a walk in my garden I am reminded. This is what I love so much about a perennial garden – it is ever changing, day-by-day and month-by-month.
It is early April. The hardy amaryllis (Hippeastrum johnsonii) are spectacular and in full bloom. The Easter lily cactus (Echinopsis oxygona) right on cue has started to bloom.
I hate that each bloom lasts only a day or two, but I love watching the bees and moths on it. The first blooms of the tough cutleaf daisy (Engelmannia persistenia) have already started. I love taking some of these inside as cut flowers.
And then there is an unknown hardy gerbera daisy that I planted three or four years ago. The flower is small, but I (or actually my husband!) has cut many a bloom from it for vases all season long. Wish I could find more of them!