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.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Field Trip: Moody Gardens in Galveston

Visited Moody Gardens in Galveston on Saturday with the family.  As you may know, the pyramids suffered extensive damage two years ago as a result of flooding caused by Hurricane Ike.  Fourteen feet of water inundated the parking lot and forced its way into the basement.  Many of the animals that weren't evacuated prior to the storm perished in the aftermath and rebuilding the facility will be a multi-year project.

My favorite part of Moody Gardens is (of course) the Rainforest Pyramid, featuring plants of the African, Asian and American tropics.  A great many bromeliads were blooming and the calathea were particularly beautiful.  Orchids and parrots lit up the foliage and unusual palm trees towered above the paths in the 10-story pyramid.

Outside, I was interested to see which palm trees survived the floodwaters of Ike and the freezes of last winter.  It appeared like a great many plants have been replaced but some older specimens are still flourishing.  I didn't get a good picture, but the Natal plum, planted as a low hedge, was especially nice -- dark, rich green with a few white flowers.

I put the pictures, and what notes I managed to capture, in a Flickr set, which you can view here.  Warning:  the botanical names are my best guess only!  I'll have to check back next spring, when the final phase of the renovations is complete.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Bauhinia galpinii

This beautiful African bauhinia seemed to have survived our cold winter last year with no trouble at all.  I photographed them blooming just a few days ago at the Houston Garden Center, 1500 Hermann Drive, across from the Houston Museum of Natural Science.  Although native to southeastern Africa, it has naturalized in Texas and parts of Florida. 

This bauhinia doesn't form a true tree but has a rather vining, sprawling habit.  It's a large shrub, and can reach 8-10 feet high and 10-15 feet wide.  Allow plenty of room in an area that gets full or mostly full sun.  The blooms are a rich red-orange and the leaves have the characteristic hoof-print shape.  It will lose some of those leaves in the winter, but should recover nicely once well-established.  I'd protect a young plant for the first winter or two, just in case. 

You may also see this plant listed as Red Orchid Bush, Red Bauhinia, Nasturtium Bauhinia, African Plume, or Pride of de Kaap (the Cape).

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Followup: Disease Resistant Roses

We all love to visit rose gardens in the spring, when every bush is in its glory.  But a trip in the dog days of summer can be very enlightening.  Summertime in Houston is when roses really show us what they're made of.

June, July and August are hard times for roses.  It's so hot that it can be difficult to provide enough water.  Disease and insect pressure are peaking.  And even good roses often look a little ragged.  Flowers are smaller, leaves look a little burned on the tips and plants sometimes drop leaves from stress.  So a rose that looks presentable in the Houston summer is likely to be a good performer for your garden.

Recently I visited the  Hermann Park - Houston Garden Center at 1500 Hermann Boulevard, across from Miller Outdoor Theater.  Of course, the Knockout series of roses looked great.  They almost always do.  But three others caught me eye, too.  Here they are:

This is Easy Does It, the 2010 AARS Winner.  This beautiful floribunda appeared healthy and strong, and was covered with mango-colored flowers.  I saw these roses at about 10:00 in the morning and the fragrance was barely detectable, but they are likely much more fragrant on an early spring morning or evening.  Wonderful disease resistance and free-flowering habit make this one a keeper.

I was also taken with Crimson Bouquet, an AARS 2000 winner.  This is a grandiflora rose, featuring a rich rosy red color and great disease resistance.  Crimson Bouquet has more petals than Knockout, and I liked the color better.  (Although I like the Knockout's red foliage, too!)

And finally, a rose that I wasn't familiar with.  This is Eutin, another floribunda.  These little shrubs featured masses of cherry-red simple flowers that were thriving in our hot, humid summer.  This one gets about 4-5 feet tall, so may be more manageable than the larger Knockout red.

The downside to viewing roses in late June (aside from the sweating) is that it can be hard to find them in nurseries this time of year.  Write down the names of the ones you like and ask your nursery to get them for you in the spring.  The best selection for roses is usually February through April.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Black Spot: Live With It

This is black spot, a fungal disease particularly common to roses, caused by the organism Diplocarpon rosae.  It's a summer problem:  the fungus needs at least 7 hours of temperatures above 74° and moisture.  Does that sound like Houston or what?  I think we are in for another 3 months of temperatures above 74° and the humidity here is enough to cause fungal problems on inanimate objects.

Black spot is a problem for roses because eventually these leaves all turn yellow and drop.  A bad infection can cause defoliation of the entire plant.  The disease is most pronounced on new leaves, and young plants can be killed outright. 

Fighting black spot requires good cultural habits.  Try not to get water on the leaves of the roses, and space them far enough apart to ensure good air circulation. Remove diseased leaves from the plants and keep the fallen ones raked up and out of the compost pile.  The organism that causes black spot can overwinter in garden debris and jump right back up when temperatures warm up.  Select resistant varieties if you can -- more and more rose breeding is focused on disease resistance.

There are conventional fungicides that can be applied to control black spot:  Synthetic protectant-type fungicides can be used in small quantities and don't appear to contribute to the problem of resistant disease organisms.  Systemic fungicides tend to promote resistant diseases and often negatively affect soil micro-organisms.  The most frequently recommended organic solution is sulfur, which has problems of its own.  Yes, it's organic and yes, it's been used for thousands of years.  But it only works while a film of sulfur remains on the leaf and thus must be frequently reapplied.  Sulfur also tends to build up in the soil, and can burn plants if applied when the weather is hot (like it is when black spot is a problem).  It can also cause problems with non-pest and beneficial insects.  And sulfur mining's not the most environmentally friendly thing you can do either!

So we're left with disease-resistant roses.  Bear in mind that disease resistance doesn't necessarily mean disease-proof.  I've seen black spot on Knockout roses and every other kind of resistant rose.  The strong ones fight it off, but if you're looking for picture-perfect foliage, skip the roses.  In our climate, you'll be resorting to some pretty heavy chemical weaponry to maintain perfection.

Here are some great pictures of sulfur mining and here are the rose cultivars that have been awarded Earth-Kind status, in part because they are resistant (not immune) to black spot.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Eastern Cottontail

I can't help it.  I love these little bunnies.  I know they are the sworn enemies of gardeners everywhere.  But just look at them!

These are Eastern Cottontails, the most common rabbit species in Texas.  They are true rabbits, unlike the Jackrabbit, which is more properly a hare.  Wild cottontails feed at night, but suburban ones tend to look for food at all hours of the day.  This is a dangerous practice -- they are easy pickings for hawks, owls, snakes, coyotes, cats, dogs and many other predators.    They are rapid breeders because they have to be:  the lifespan of an Eastern Cottontail is one year or less. 

Cottontails eat all kinds of plants, including garden treasures (I know, I know!)  They are typically solitary, but you sometimes see little groups when the babies are young. 

These bunnies live at my in-laws' house in Pearland.  We don't have any in our yard this year, but we see them in the evenings in grassy areas that abut wooded zones.  One year, a litter was born and raised in the back yard.  Since that time, my dog has gotten a bit of self-respect and we haven't seen any around the garden.  But I wouldn't mind!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Should you compost your tomato plants?

Yes, compost everything -- you want to return all possible nutrients to your soil.  No, composting tomatoes spreads disease and weeds.

I'm ambivalent.  One the one hand, I don't usually have much trouble with diseased tomato plants.  I struggle mightily with insects, but haven't had much tomato blight or viral problems.  On the other hand, the old vines take forever to break down in my compost pile.  And I know for a fact that my compost doesn't get hot enough.

If I were trying to grow tomatoes from seeds, I'd never have any success.  But they are always popping up in the compost, after I've diligently spread it all around my garden.  Picture those huge, sprawling cherry tomato plants all over the garden!

Experts say you can safely compost tomato plants, even diseased ones, if you're confident that your compost pile reaches temperatures of 150 degrees, and you cure it long enough for all the plant material to completely die.  The worst of the tomato diseases, like late blight, cannot survive without a living host.  So in theory, if your compost-making process is perfect, disease won't be a problem.

If, like me, you don't have disease problems, go ahead and compost your old tomato plants.  My seedlings are as likely to come from kitchen waste as they are from garden debris.

Here's a good explanation of the tomato-composting issue.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Woodpeckers, Red-headed and Red-bellied

These beautiful woodpeckers are year-round residents of the Houston area and often come to bird feeders, looking for a little extra nutrition.  The Red-headed Woodpecker, a sporty bird with a red hood, black wings and white breast, is one of four woodpeckers known to store food.  It is omnivorous, eating insects, seeds, nuts, mice, plants, berries, fruit and bird eggs.  Because it prefers to nest in dead or dying trees, the Red-headed Woodpecker is approaching "Threatened" status.  Much of its habitat is being replaced by development.

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker is more common but no less beautiful.  Like all woodpeckers, its flight has a swooping pattern:  I often identify a woodpecker as soon as I notice its undulating flight.  The Red-bellied Woodpecker eats mainly insects, but will also visit backyard feeders, seek out fruit and occasionally hunt lizards.  These birds are fairly aggressive at feeders -- only blue jays seem to be able to chase them away.  Happily, Red-bellied Woodpecker populations are increasing throughout most of their range.

For more information on woodpeckers, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cold Noodles with Cucumbers and Peanut Sauce

Wondering what to do with the cucumber bounty from the garden?  Try this:  it reminds me of my college days, when only the most cutting-edge Chinese restaurants served cold sesame noodles.   Back then, we ate them topped with shredded chicken.  This is the tofu version.

Cook 12 ounces of noodles (lo mein, chow mein, thin spaghetti, or whatever you prefer).  Drain, reserving 1 cup of cooking water.  Plunge the cooked noodles into ice water to cool, then drain again.  Add the leaves only of 1 bunch of cilantro and 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced.

In a blender, mix 3/4 cup of peanut butter, 2 tablespoons mirin, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon sesame oil and as much chili-garlic paste as you like.  With the blender running, add as much of the cooking liquid as you need to make a sauce that is thin enough to flow but thick enough to coat the noodles.

Mix noodles, cilantro, cucumbers and sauce in a large bowl.  Top with cooked tofu, shredded chicken, roasted peanuts or bean sprouts.  Serve cold or cool.

Well, that's one cucumber down!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Nifty Fifty

Fifty posts!  I'm celebrating -- it's a little tiny milestone, to be sure, but I am happy to be here.

Here's a list of fifty plants in my garden -- and these are the true workhorses: the trees, shrubs, vines, ferns and gingers.  I was surprised at how easy it was to come up with 50 of them.  I have a small garden - less than 5,000 square feet, and yes, it does have flowers, grass, vegetables, herbs, bulbs and other plants.  I guess I'm a bit of a collector after all!

Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)
Drummond Red Maple (Acer rubrum var. drummondii)
Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum)
Crape Myrtle – Basham’s Party Pink, Catawba (Lagerstroemia indica)
Chinese Fringetree (Chionanthus retusus)
Mayhaw (Crataegus aestivalis)
Texas Persimmon (Diospyrus texana)
Savannah Holly (Ilex x. attenuata ‘Savannah’)
Weeping Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria ‘Pendula’)
Orange – Republic of Texas (Citrus sinensis ‘Republic of Texas’)
Lemon – Improved Meyer (Citrus limon ‘Improved Meyer’)
Satsuma – Dwarf Brown Select (Citrus unshui ‘Dwarf Brown Select’)
Holly – Nellie R. Stevens (Ilex x. ‘Nellie R. Stevens’)
Cherry – Hirome Dwarf (Prunus sp. ‘Hirome’)
Apple – Grafted Espalier - Anna, Dorsett Golden, Fuji (Malus domestica)

Tasmanian Tree Fern (Dicksonia antarctica)
Dwarf Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria ‘Nana’)
Pink Indigo (Indigofera kirilowii)
Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)
Boxwood (Buxus microphylla)
Azalea – Crimson Majesty (Rhododendron indica ‘Crimson Majesty’)
Azalea – Crimson Princess (Rhododendron indica ‘Crimson Princess’)
Azalea – Pink Gumpo (Rhododendron ‘Gumpo’)
Gardenia – Daisy (Gardenia radicans ‘Daisy’)
Spiderlily (Hemerocallis galvestonensis)
Crinum (Crinum x.)
Dwarf Barbados Cherry (Malphigia glabra)
Indian Hawthorn Dwarf Umbellata (Rhaphiolepis umbellata ‘Minor’)
Australian Rosemary (Westringia fruticosa)
Bouganvillea - Juanita Hatten and Barbara Karst (Bouganvillea spp.)
African Iris (Dietes bicolor)
Butterfly Iris (Moraea iridioides)
Roses - Cinco de Mayo, Julia Child, Valentine, Spice (Rosa floribunda, mostly)
Lantana (Lantana camara)

Shell Ginger (Alpinia zerumbet)
Butterfly Ginger (Hedychium coronarium)
Cardamom Ginger (Alpinia nutans)
Peacock Ginger (Kaempferia laotica)
Mauve Dancing Ladies Ginger (Globba winitii)

Passionflower (Passiflora spp.)
Fig Ivy (Ficus pumila)
Bengal Clock Vine (Thunbergia battiscombei)
Variegated Vinca (Vinca major)
Pitcher Clematis (Clematis pitcheri)
Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis ternifolia)
Coral Vine (Antigonon leptopus)
Pink Jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum)

Australian Sword Fern (Nephrolepis obliterata)
Holly Fern (Cyrtomium falcatum)
Southern Wood Fern (Dryopteris normalis)

Also celebrating: fathers everywhere.  Happy Father's Day to my dad, Mike Blocher and my husband, Tom Barrow.  You two are my heroes.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Field Trip: Urban Harvest Market and Wabash Antique & Feed Store

This morning we were up early (for us) and off to the Urban Harvest Eastside Farmer's Market to see what we could see.  It was already hot when we got there at 10:00 am.  This market has a good variety of produce and other items for sale, and it's all labeled either "conventional" or "organic."  We bought tomatoes and flowers from Cuts of Color (Weimer) and basil from Garden of Eden (Westbury area).

A cold cup of peach lemonade from Radical Eats refreshed us and we were off to our next stop, the Wabash Antique and Feed Store.  This part of town has changed so much -- we almost didn't recognize it.  Our visit here was part of the bribery campaign required to get a 7-year-old up and moving on Saturday morning.  You can always count on something cute and cuddly to see there: ducklings, chicks, rabbits, quail, pigeons and more.  I bought a pretty Sweet Aussie Basil; Abby and Tom petted what needed petting.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Galveston Spider Lily

Hymenocallis galvestonensis or H. occidentalis. Indestructible.  Beautiful.  Vigorous.  Southern.  Galveston Spider Lily is a traditional passalong plant, native to the Gulf Coast region of the US and performing well in almost any garden.  It is a member of the amaryllis family (the leaves are very similar) but the flower blooms later, once warm weather sets in.  Spider Lily forms large clumps and is difficult to subdivide -- the deep-rooted bulbs are large and bulky, rather like a crinum.

I have grown this plant in full shade, full sun and everything in between.  For me, it does best with morning sun and afternoon shade.  (The afternoon sun bleaches the foliage a bit in my garden.)  Frosts and freezes will damage the foliage in the winter, but it rapidly grows back from that large root system.  After this winter's freeze, I separated mine - it was much easier without all the leaves!  Even after reducing the size of the mother plant by two-thirds, I still have all the Spider Lily I'll ever need.

Mostly evergreen, perennial, native to Texas, 3-4' tall and as wide as you let it grow.  Tolerates boggy conditions, light shade, clay soil.  No disease problems.  Only insect problem I've observed: snails.  Available from grandmothers and garden clubs.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Milkweed Assassin Bug

or Zelus longipes.  A beneficial insect with a scary name.  The picture shows an immature bug:  later, the distinctive black and orange markings on his back will be much larger.  These insects eat all kinds of other insects, including milkweed aphids (aphis nerii). 

Lots of people are planting milkweed for the monarch butterflies -- their larvae feed exclusively on the leaves.  Often, a bit of panic ensues when gardeners spot other insects also making use of the milkweed.  No worries!  The Milkweed Assassin Bug usually takes care of the problem without any intervention at all.

Milkweed Assassin Bugs kill by impaling victims with a piercing mouthpart and injecting a toxin that both immobilizes and begins to dissolve them.  Luckily for me, they move slowly and are therefore easy to photograph.

Yes, it's true that they will sometimes eat Monarch larvae. 

Cue the Lion King music now and thanks to Alfred, Lord Tennyson...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bloom Day

Happy Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day and thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting.  Check out her site to see what's blooming all over the world today.

In my garden, it's a mix of fading spring flowers and summer blooms coming on strong.  The annual phlox is still hanging on, but the perennial phlox is wonderful too!  I think this winter's cold really improved some of my perennials.  This is 'John Fanick' and I never have mildew problems with it.  (Knock on wood...)

Two of my new daylilies are blooming:  the orange is 'Firepower,' which surprised me.  I thought the whole flower was supposed to be orangy-red but it has apricot petals too.  The spider form is 'Laughing Feather.'  I like it, but I think I'll move it to a place where it gets a bit of shade in the afternoon.  The sun washes out the burgundy color.

The roses are starting to flush again.  I only have four and only two are blooming and only one picture turned out -- 'Valentine,' a smallish, cherry-red floribunda.

The spring cosmos is on its last legs.  Very tall, but the flowers are starting to fade along with the phlox.  But the Pink Indigo has been very pretty this spring.  I think it's because I swore this was its last year to perform.  Now or never!  I feel the same way about these crape myrtles, which aren't as flowerful as I think they should be.  But it sure is hard for a Southern gardener to contemplate removing a crape myrtle!

The replacement bougainvillea is coming along nicely.  I lost two in the freezes this winter that we'd had for 20 years.  Once I got over moping about it, though, and replanted, I was happy to see how fast they grew.  My theory on bougainvillea:  feed them often and prune them hard.

My favorite little vine is Clematis pitcherii, a purple bell-shaped flower that is so reliable.  It's not showy and doesn't cover very well, so I have it planted in amongst the coral vine.  By the time the coral vine is up and all over the fence, the little clematis has retired for the season.  But it always comes back.

This little thug is Crocosmia 'George Davidson.'  Terribly aggressive but a wonderful gold color.  It sprawls, though and only blooms in the summer.  I have so many plants with long, sword-shaped leaves that I really ought to replace some of them, but I never do.  Another plant I can't seem to rid myself of is this yellow gladiolus.  I don't even remember where it came from but it has spread all over my garden and I've given away literally hundreds of bulblets.  I think I'm a carrier now!

My old faithful are blooming now too.  Here is turnera, or white alder flower.  I wrote about this one a while back.  And white lantana, which is trending toward yellow.  And African or bicolor iris.  I chopped these back down to the ground this spring, but they are back with a vengeance now.  I have them planted in a sort of pen, surrounded with steel edging, so they won't escape.

Speaking of escape, my passionflowers are now almost completely resident in my neighbor's yard.  I'm glad she's tolerant -- they are all over the place!  But they are reliable and the Gulf Fritillary butterflies love them.  Sometimes, late in the summer, there are so many butterflies out there that it's spooky.  We also grow milkweed, but this year we haven't seen many Monarchs.  Plenty of swallowtails on the parsley and dill, though!

Society garlic blooms all the time for me, with little or no care.  These sunflowers are volunteers from the bird feeder.  We let them grow up and the birds seem to enjoy these huge plants, too.  They are right in front of the kitchen window, so we get an up-close view of little baby cardinals, gaping and begging for their parents to feed them.

And finally, the 'Mercer Blue' thunbergia.  The picture doesn't do it justice: it is a rich, almost purple-blue.  It was supposed to be a vine, but is merely a sprawly shrub.  It came through the freeze with flying colors, and it too pretty to move.  So I let it flop all over the front walk all summer!

Happy Bloom Day, and thanks again to Carol for hosting!