Texan in Portugal

Last year my husband’s cousin and her husband sold almost everything and moved to a small village in Portugal. We had to see what it was all about. There was so much to fall in love with, especially in the fall when flowers, fruits and vegetables are in such abundance. I was like a kid in a candy store.

On the wall outside their home were two kiwi vines full of fruit. Pear, apple, quince, persimmon and chestnut trees were loaded with fruit. The tomatoes were the best I have ever tasted. Potatoes had been harvested – Dick’s cousin had a root cellar full of them – there is no way they will ever be able to eat all of them! Garden plots everywhere had what I came to learn was Portuguese cabbage (couve tronchuda), the essential ingredient of their soup caldo verde. Having learned that it is somewhat heat tolerant, I am definitely going to try to find some seeds.

As always, the local daily market was a highlight. It was stall after stall of local produce – all of the above as well as squash, sweet potatoes (including their version of fast food, already baked sweet potatoes), all kinds of greens, citrus (it does not freeze there), onions, beans, carrots, leeks and so much more. There were local meats, homemade sausages and cheeses, and fresh breads. And then was the fish market! It was amazing.

The Portuguese people were so friendly. We stopped and talked to a mother, father and son who were cleaning out their goat pens. The young son was so amazed to be talking to someone from Texas! At the end of the conversation, he put in a plug for his mother – she makes incredible goat cheese. It was so good.

Back to the Future

In the fall of 1991, when I decided I was going to open up my first garden shop in Arlington, I went looking for inspiration and ideas. Locally, the shop that spoke to me the most was a small urban one on Skillman Street in Dallas called Mother Nature Garden Center. I liked the way it felt – lots of lush and interesting plants and a friendly staff offering a personal gardening experience. In the fall of 1995, it was up for sale and we bought it.

It has been quite a journey over the years, but here we are in 2018 and this store that inspired me the most is now my only store. And it still excites me every day that I visit it. Organic gardening, a wonderful assortment of plants, and a staff that truly cares about your needs – these things most important to me 26 years ago still are. What is even more amazing is that Bucky who was there back in 1991 is still here today!

It is Feeling like Spring!

It is so much fun to walk in the neighborhood on an early spring morning, and watch plants starting their new year. I love the way the early morning light shines and highlights the new leaves of the possumhaw as I pass by it in the front yard. The pink blooms of the loropetalums were stunning. The neighbor’s bluebonnets are looking great.

Carolina Jessamine is starting to bloom everywhere. The acanthus mollis, commonly known as Bear’s Breeches and the ligularia, are pushing through the ground. And one of my favorites, the Kerria is starting to bloom.

Last year was the first time I noticed one front lawn before the first mowing that was covered in violets. It brought back memories from my childhood. The lawns in our little village up in Ontario always had violets growing in them, and I loved going out and picking them. It is feeling like spring!

The Four Seasons

It looks like we are having a normal winter – some really cold weather and certainly none of the warm days we had in January and early February of last year. I much prefer having four seasons, so I am enjoying this cool respite. A warm day last weekend was all I needed to clean up the damage done to the vegetable garden by that 13-degree night last month. Surprisingly enough, the kales, Swiss chard and most of the lettuces survived with no covering at all. Newer seedlings of carrots, radishes and beets did not make it, so I just reseeded. Onions have been planted, and potatoes will go in hopefully in the next few days. And we savored the first asparagus of the season two days ago!

I know I have said this before, but I get more inspired by planting this cool season garden than any other during the year. Herbs and vegetables are intermingled in a small space. Curved edges are seeded with several varieties of carrots, radishes and lettuces. Hungarian Blue Bread seed poppies reseed each year, who knows where.

By the beginning of April, it is such a beautiful space and it lasts like that almost until our heat hits. I am savoring this possibility again – the rewards of gardening.

Giving Thanks . . .

… For the best customers in the world – it is so much fun spending time with you in the stores.

… For all of our incredible employees, many of you have been with us for a long time – Bucky had been at the Dallas store since the 80’s!

… To be able to garden, indoors and out – can there possibly be a better way to spend one’s time?

… To living in Texas and being able to pick lettuce, broccoli, spinach, cilantro and other greens almost all winter, except for when the Super Bowl comes to Dallas!

… For another year of trying to grow tomatoes and being somewhat successful – the biggest challenge I have had all these years in the veggie garden.

… For the beautiful trees, trusty perennials, reliable shrubs, hardy natives, pollinator plants and herbs that make a great Texas garden.

… For a wonderful family of two sons, two daughter-in-laws and four grandsons, all precious and unique in their own way.

… For a husband of 50 years, who still brings me flowers – my favorites are the ones he cuts from our own garden.

The Weather Outside is . . . Confusing

This weather has been crazy! It took everything I had to pull the pentas and most of the huge basil plants in my little vegetable garden over the weekend so that I could plant some cool season veggies and seeds. For heaven’s sake it is November and yet…the Thai basil (last one standing!) is still stunning and full of bees, several pipevine swallowtail caterpillars are still decimating the remaining hardy Dutchman’s pipevine plants, black swallowtail butterflies are landing on the fennel and tropical plumbago, peppers are producing better than ever…this is not supposed to be!

I did plant several broccoli, cauliflower and kale plants and sowed lots of lettuce, carrot, spinach, radish and arugula seeds. This is a classic example of knowing that our Veggie Planting Guide is only a guide. Gardening in Texas is not set in stone. We have had several complaints of spinach seed still not germinating, and that is because it is still not cold enough. So just sit back and enjoy whatever weather we do have and keep on planting!

It is Time to Plant Poppy Seeds

Mark your calendar. Sometime in October/November, sprinkle some poppy seeds in your garden. Poppies do not like to be transplanted, so seeding is the way to go. Find a spot with at least 6 hours of sun and well-drained soil, as excessive winter moisture will cause them to rot. When the flowers start to bloom in the spring, extend the bloom period by picking the spent blossoms.

Bread Seed Poppy

My favorite, that now reseeds each year, is the Bread Seed poppy. I love its crepe-like lavender petals and dried pods. I keep forgetting to use its seeds for baking – hopefully next spring. This year I will also sprinkle in some Lauren’s grape. The dark purple-violet blooms look very appealing to me.
The golden-orange flowers of the California poppy look great here in Texas as well. I will never forget how stunning they looked mixed in a bed of Homestead verbena at our old Colleyville store many years ago.

California Poppy

Growing up in Canada, it was a tradition to wear a “Remembrance” poppy in one’s lapel the last Friday of October until November 11 to commemorate fallen soldiers from past wars. So, this year I will find a spot to throw some Flanders Poppy or corn poppy seeds in remembrance. Everyone knows this one. Its bright red color is an international symbol. The story goes that during World War I (1914-1918), the battlefields in Flanders, Belgium were so compacted and devastated by the war, that the wild red poppies stopped growing. After the war was over, the fields began to bloom again. The flower was immortalized by John McCrae, a Canadian soldier and physician in his poem, ‘In Flanders Fields’.
I have lived in Texas for almost 40 years and just learned that Georgetown Texas is the “Red Poppy Capital of Texas” and celebrates with a festival each April. The story goes that a Henry Purl Compton who had served in the American Expeditionary Forces sent seeds to his mother right after World War 1. She planted them at her home, 507 East 7th Street. From there, they spread by birds, bees and people to have become part of Georgetown’s landscape.

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 http://www.dallasbutterflies.com, 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.