Pied Beauty

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Weed Catalog

Yesterday was one of those days Gulf Coast gardeners dream of:  cool but not too cool.  Low humidity.  Not a cloud in the deep blue sky.  I had such hopes of doing some higher-order gardening but when I looked around at the task at hand, I realized that it was all about the weeds.  It's practically the opposite of Garden Blogger's Bloom Day!

These are only the spring weeds -- I've just barely begun to see the summer rascals.  Here's a nutsedge, my ancient old enemy.  He's up early this year, trying to intimidate me.  My nutsedge grows in amongst the liriope, where I can't use sprays.

Far more common so far are the dandelions.  I can usually get to them before they flower and go to seed, but this year, I think they are winning.  They often get so much bigger before they flower, but I think they must be in a hurry this year.
This may not be a weed to you, but it is to me.  I called it Accursed Mistflower.  I planted these in a fit of perennial frenzy years ago, and they've reseeded and spread all over my yard ever since.  They look a whole lot like Mulberry seedlings, which I also have in great abundance.  The top one is Accursed Mistflower and the bottom one is Mulberry, planted by flocks of cedar waxwings that come to my neighbor's tree for the fruits.

Of course, I have my own tree seedlings to worry about.  My lovely Drummond Red Maple is a prolific seeder.  You can see even in the tiniest seedling the telltale red stem.  I think the baby pecan trees underneath are way too far advanced to be called seedlings!

Here's a weed we all love to hate.  This is Virginia Buttonweed, which likes to hide under all sorts of things, spreading its tendrils all over the flowerbeds.  It's hard to remove because the stems break so easily and it seems to root from even the tiniest piece.

I realized when I was taking pictures that I knew just where to look for the dollarweed.  It doesn't say much about my garden hygiene, does it?  Dollarweed has seized a corner of the bed and refuses to yield.

And the battle rages on with the white proso millet, which I planted myself, it seems, directly from the birdfeeder.  It grows so much like the lawn that I can only see it about 5 or 6 days after we mow.  Then I have to rush to pull it, before the lawn is mown again.

Bermudagrass is everywhere present, though not really a major problem anywhere.  It jumps up from time to time but seems relatively easy to take care of, as long as I stay on top of it.

I wish the same could be said for oxalis, which grows everywhere.  It's too plentiful for me to spray and if you've ever tried to pull it out, you know it just can't be done.  It separates so easily from the rootlets and corms, which sprout up again.  I'm trying to learn to like it for its pretty pink flowers, but it's not working.

And the prize for ugliest weed of the day goes to sow thistle!  Easy to remove but once it gets big it's disgraceful in the lawn.

This isn't even all of them!  I didn't put in pictures of the purplish mat-forming weed that likes to grow in the gravel paths, or the prickly shrub-like weed that sneaks up into the indigofera.  Or the little one that looks like it's halfway between a grassy and a broadleaf weed.  Oh well!  More for another day.

For more information about weeds, I like the Weed Alert site.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Winner!

Recently the gals at Garden Rant gave away a free copy of Emily Herring Wilson's book Becoming Elizabeth Lawrence.  I'm thrilled to report that I am the winner!  I can hardly believe it.  I love Elizabeth Lawrence, and I'm so excited to have my very own copy.  It's a collection of letters from Elizabeth Lawrence to her friend and mentor, Ann Preston Bridgers.  I can't recommend Elizabeth Lawrence's books enough -- start with A Southern Garden if you've never read her.  And stop by to peruse the Garden Rant website when you have time.  The writing is outstanding but it's their feisty attitude that I really like.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Lots of talk lately about locavorism -- eating food that's locally grown, typically within a 100-mile radius of the eater.  The Houston Chronicle today featured an article by Julie Trainer for Urban Harvest called "Why You Should Be A Locavore."  Ms. Trainer cites laudable health benefits as well as benefits to the local farming community.  Hey, I'm all for that!  I shop at farmer's markets and dabble in vegetable gardening.  But here's my question:  how do you reconcile locavorism with the growth of communities in areas that won't support food production?  I can just about guarantee that the agricultural area within a 100-mile radius of Houston won't support the dietary needs of the local citizens.  And subsistence farming hasn't been popular around here for decades. So what does locavorism really mean for our community at large -- not just those with the resources to pay top dollar for locally grown specialty produce?  I'm afraid the difficult answer may well be that for our society now -- industrialized, modernized and above all, populated -- large-scale farming has got to be part of the solution.  Right-thinking people with the best of intentions may do well to engage the agricultural industry as a whole, rather than try to quit cold-turkey.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Poncirus trifoliata 'Flying Dragon'

Recently I noticed new growth from below the graft of my satsuma 'Dwarf Brown Select.' This is what the rootstock, Poncirus trifoliata 'Flying Dragon' looks like. We grow most of our citrus in this area on trifoliate orange rootstock; it's much more cold-hardy, though not an orange in the truest sense of the word. The fruit produced on trifoliata is bitter and seedy. The 'Flying Dragon' variety is used to dwarf citrus to a more manageable size. That's important to homeowners with limited space for a garden, and also to growers, who want to keep fruit within arm's reach for harvesting.

I should really cut this growth off. It does nothing for my satsuma, and in fact, probably consumes resources that the tree could use for fruit. But I'm enjoying the contorted growth habit, and the forbidding look of the long, downward-pointing thorns. Maybe I'll let it go on just a bit longer...

Read more about trifoliate orange here.

Read more about satsumas and other citrus fruit here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ligustrum japonicum

Ligustrums are blooming right now.  The aroma brings to mind all the difficult questions associated with this notoriously well-adapted plant.  Evergreen ligustrum is hardy, easy to grow, and tolerates a wide range of soil and light conditions.  It is easy to root from cuttings and easy to graft; consequently, it's inexpensive to produce, making ligustrums a good bargain at the garden center.  Ligustrum hedges make a good screen and if planted in the right location, rarely need pruning.  They flower in spring, covering themselves with fragrant white flowers.  The blue-black berries form in late summer and persist through the winter, providing an abundant source of food for birds.
On the other hand, it is so well-adapted as to be considered invasive.  It quickly escapes cultivation, sprouting from seeds carried into wild areas by birds.  Because it grows so rapidly, it shades and out-competes native shrubs.  Most Southern lists of invasive plants include Ligustrum japonicum.  Moreover, some people find the fragrance offensive and some are allergic to its pollen.

What bothers me the most about ligustrum, though, is how people use it.  I hate to see ligustrum planted as if it will only be 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide.  Ligustrum can grow to 20 feet tall and 20 feet wide!  Planting them 18" apart in little tiny hedgerows is a recipe for disaster.  Someone (you?) will have to prune them regularly to maintain that unnatural size.  Even worse:  people who should know better include ligustrum in landscape designs, standards and guidelines.  Fort Bend County's West Fort Bend Management District specifically requires long, low hedges of them to be planted in every commercial development along our major corridors.  How low?  Four feet.  How close together?  Eighteen inches. 

I love plants too much to eliminate everything that isn't "native."  I wouldn't recommend ligustrums but I wouldn't ban them either.  Unless they were planted in little hedgerows!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Creepy Charm of Petting Zoos

If you've been there,  you know.  One the one hand, adorable baby animals cavort with your own adorable children.  On the other, well...  it's disturbing.  Parents, you know what I mean.

By the way, that's chocolate on her face, not chicken blood.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bloom Day, April 15, 2010

It's been so warm and lovely here since mid-March -- I have a garden full of blooms.  Here's a picture from the vegetable garden: lettuce gone to flower, and soon to seed.

The colder-than-normal winter we had also seems to have invigorated the roses.  My old rose 'Spice' has been blooming for a month, and it's been joined by new new rose 'Julia Child."

The Louisiana irises are blooming like mad, too.  They appreciate all the rain we got in January and February.  I like 'Clyde Redmond' and 'Black Gamecock' the best, although the latter isn't really as dark as you'd thing (or as dark as they make it out to be in the catalogs."

Finally, winner of the "Most Unexpected Survivor" award -- plain old dianthus, an unnamed variety.  They survived the winter all by themselves and responded to the freezing wet weather with an abundant crop of blooms.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Black Mulch

What's the deal with black mulch?  I don't want to get into that whole discussion of why people would want to put painted mulch on their flowerbeds.  I just want to understand what the attraction is.  What's the look you're going for?
PS:  I don't personally care one way or the other what color mulch you use.  I have a strong lobby here for pink or purple mulch...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

On My Knees, Weeding Not Praying

I've spent the past two days on my knees in the front yard, removing what I suspect is Proso Millet from the lawn.  I have to confess, the weeds are so thick and so uniform that I was on the point of accusing a certain 7-year-old person in my house of actually putting birdseed in the spreader and broadcasting it.  I couldn't understand why we had so many of them and why they were so regularly distributed.  We do feed the birds, spending our pocket change on birdseed of all sorts, but we always have, and never have we had such an infestation.

Then it occurred to me that the weed population must have something to do with the unusually severe winter we had here.  This has been a banner spring for weeds!  Proso millet in particular germinates and begins to grow when soil temperatures warm to 55 degrees.  That happened here about a month ago.  On the other hand, St. Augustinegrass doesn't really kick in until the soil temperatures are above 60 degrees, particularly after such a long dormancy.  Right now, soil temperatures are between 65 and 70 degrees so the lawns are greening up, but I'm having to overcome the weeds' head start.  In a normal spring, the soil temperatures must warm fast enough to allow the lawn to crowd out the millet.  Not this year!

So, two days on my knees was long enough to receive a tiny bit of enlightenment and keep my daughter out of the doghouse.

Here's a link to a soil temperature map I like.

You can access historical data about Texas soils here.

Monday, April 12, 2010

It's Not About The Money

It's been an incredible spring where I live, for everyone who works in the garden center business.  Continuing the trend from last year, gardeners are scrambling to put in edible gardens and retailers are fanning the flames with fruit tree sales, veggie promotions and herb seminars.  Which is great, really!  I think everyone should try edible landscaping.  I have fruit trees, vines, herbs and two small vegetable gardens myself.  I only really get worried about it when I hear phrases like "recession gardening."  For most people, home-grown veggies are decidedly not cheaper than veggies from the supermarket.  In my area in particular, it takes a lot of money to convert builder-grade landscapes to a garden suitable for growing vegetables.   It costs even more if you decide to follow the recipe provided by garden gurus like Mel Bartholomew and his Square Foot Gardening franchise.  And novice gardeners are especially unprepared for the relentless insect and disease pressure fostered by our hot, humid environment.  It's not easy to grow food here, not cheaply and not organically.  Farmers and crazy hobbyists like me do it, and we are at the mercy of the great outdoors.  I'm glad I don't have to feed my family from my garden.

This is not to say that people shouldn't dabble in edible landscaping.  I think everyone should have a little vegetable or herb plot.  I think dedicating 75% of your landscape to turfgrass is insane.  I chafe against the restrictions placed on us by homeowner's associations.  But don't get into it thinking you're going to save money.  You won't.  Not for a long time, maybe not ever.  But you will begin to connect yourself with the natural world.  You will build an opportunity to work with your children on something more meaningful than Wii.  You'll learn about what it takes to produce food, which in turn will inform your decisions at the grocery store.

Retailers -- stop selling the recession garden.  It's a bait-and-switch that will only leave new gardeners resentful, frustrated and hesitant to try again.  Sell the real benefit of gardening -- and be upfront about the costs and work involved.  It's worth it.