A garden is the best alternative therapy.

Posts tagged ‘native plants’

Out of the Old Comes the New

It is hard to believe that it has been four months since my last post.  Life has been really busy.  The holidays, the loss of my grandfather, getting ready for the baby who’s scheduled to arrive at the end of May … so many things and very little time for gardening.  Good thing there’s not much to do over the winter in the garden!

The past two weekends I have spent a considerable amount of time in the yard straightening up after the winter, getting things ready for spring planting and installing a new garden bed.   We had such a dry fall and winter that the yard really was in poor shape.  I lost a crop of broccoli as well as lettuce due to the hard freezes.   I should have covered them and mulched better, but I really thought they’d do alright.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.  Luckily, the spinach fared alright through it all as did the carrots and we enjoyed the harvests.  The spinach is finishing up now – literally going to seed as I write this.

Bloomsdale spinach going to seed

This spring, I have Celebrity and Early Girl tomatoes in the ground, along with bell peppers, habaneros, cucumbers and zucchini.  My wife also wanted to try watermelon and cantaloupe, a first for us, but we’re going to give them a go.   Looking back at the garden’s performance last year, I made the decision to put together another garden box – this time on the north side of the house where it will be in full sun all day long.  The other boxes just didn’t allow for enough exposure to the sun because of how the shade falls in the afternoon.  They only received – at most – six hours of direct sun, but most vegetables need at least eight hours to be really productive.  The new garden box measures eight feet by four feet and is a lower profile (half the height of the others).  This may prove to be small for the watermelon and cantaloupe, but time will tell!

The dry fall and winter also made for a very disappointing wildflower bed.  As the year before, I sowed the seeds in October, but they just never came up.  I made sure to keep the ground moist, but stopped after about thirty days when it was apparent that they weren’t going to germinate.  Instead of letting it sit there completely bare and taunting me with weeds, I worked it over and bought some transplants as additions to the butterfly garden.   Those include:  two Texas Lantana, two Trailing Lantana, two Fern Leaf Lavender, two Mexican Mint Marigold (tarragon), two scarlet verbena, two Mexican Heather (cuphea), and two Euryops.  I also sowed Maximillian Sunflower seeds in the northeast corner of the yard (down at the very end of the photo immediately below).

What was once the wildflower bed is now a home for flowering natives

Scarlet verbena flowers

Euryops flowers - "African bush daisy" - part of the Plants for Texas program

Trailing lantana - these two new transplants makes a total of three in the garden - I love them!

Fern Leaf Lavender- a new addition this year and part of the Plants for Texas program

Fern Leaf lavender flower - BEAUTIFUL!

Tarragon - I think this is Mexican Mint Marigold

Spontaneous primrose almost ready to flower (reseeded all over the yard from last year's wildflower bed)

Despite the dry spring thus far (I think our last significant rain was back in September), the perennial flowering plants are coming back to life.  Out of the old, comes the new – as they say.   Already, I have about ten milkweed plants coming back to life.  There are still about twenty that haven’t come back yet.  I’ll give them more time and hopefully they will.  In the meantime, I’ve sown another twenty seeds as replacements if they don’t come back.  If they do, well – the more the merrier (at least for the Queen and Monarch butterflies!).

Milkweed is coming along already!

It seems I’ve lost one of the Texas Lantana.  It has yet to sprout any new growth, but the other plant just a few feet away is already rebounded.

Texas Lantana

The Black-Eyed Susans have come back up, and it seems they’ve also reseeded around the original plants.  I left enough room for them to fill in!

Black-Eyed Susans

One of the purple prairie verbena is starting to make its way back, but the other is still lifeless.   They bloomed all the way from March through winter until we received snow.  I sure hope they do so again this year – the butterflies loved them.  In preparation, I pruned them back several weeks ago.  I’ll give them a couple more weeks to see if they made it through the freeze.

Purple prairie verbena starting to come back on one side

The fall aster has also spread its growth outwards, creating a larger diameter of new growth.  It is such a pretty plant once it begins flowering, so I’m already anxious to see how big it will grow over the summer and how spectacular it’s fall show will be.

Fall aster

The Four Nerve Daisies are a wonderful part of the garden.  The foliage is evergreen, unlike most of the plants in the garden.  It was lonely in its little corner of the bed while everything else retreated for the winter, but it continued sending up yellow flowers through the fall and early winter.  Now that spring has arrived, it has grown considerably and has a multitude of new flower stalks ready to open up!

Four Nerve Daisies

The rosemary bushes are also evergreen and unscathed from the winter months.  Here you see both plants, the prostrate rosemary and the Tuscan Blue.  The prostrate put on a show of blue flowers late in the fall.  I prefer the flavor of the Tuscan Blue, though both are highly aromatic.  I love to run my hands through them and take a deep breath!  MMmmmm!

Prostrate rosemary (foreground) and Tuscan Blue

Another evergreen plant is the Double Knockout rose bush.  It is covered with new buds and soon will be adding some great red hues to the garden.  I can’t wait!

Double Knockout Rose Bush

Both Copper Canyon Daisy plants are sending up new growth, too.  In the fall they were absolutely covered with yellow blooms.

Copper Canyon Daisy

I was worried about the Zexmenia, but it has surprised me.  Just in the past few days alone, it has sent up a lot of green leaves…


Salvia greggii was also green throughout the winter, and with the onset of warmer weather, has really bushed out (these were taken after I pruned it back a bit).  I have two different colors: white (foreground) and red (behind).

Salvia greggii

One of my favorite plants in the garden is the Indigo Spires salvia.  It died back completely to the ground over the winter, but it is going strong now that spring has arrived.  It grew to over four feet tall by four feet wide last year, covered in eight inch long spires of purple flowers that were a favorite of bumble bees and honey bees.

Indigo Spires salvia (two plants)

The Autumn Joy sedum was a late addition last fall, but it turned out to be beautiful with pink flowers that darkened to red.  It died back to the ground over winter, but you couldn’t tell it by looking at it today.  Also, Turk’s Cap has just started popping up over the past few days.

Autumn Joy sedum


the other sedum plant, up close

Turk's Cap growth (all within the past three days)

Whirling Butterfly Gaura bushes also died back completely during the winter.  Judging from the growth they’ve put on the past couple of weeks, they could easily be twice the size that they were last year.  These were also a hit with the honey bees last year and added a whimsical feel to the southern side of the garden as the flower stalks twirled and whirled around in the breeze.

two Whirling Butterfly Gauras

new buds on the Gaura bush

this Gaura bud already shows signs of additional life ... not quite sure what these little guys are

The Spanish lavender is looking a little lean, but it is still managing to form flower buds.  These were very popular with the honey bees, too.  After it flowers, I will prune it back by a third and hope that it bushes out again.

Spanish lavender

Since I use so much thyme in cooking, I have a total of four plants now.  This one is easily a foot in diameter and is starting to flower.  My favorite chicken marinade uses a couple teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves, a tablespoon each of fresh rosemary and oregano leaves, 1/2 cup of olive oil, a teaspoon of sea salt and the juice of two lemons.  GREAT on the grill!

English thyme

thyme flowers

And, FINALLY, the herb garden.  In the pots, I have peppermint from two years ago.  Due to neglect, it mostly died (yes, you CAN kill mint!), but it’s coming back again.  In the bed below are chives (which should be flowering soon)(6 plants), oregano (3), thyme (2), and Italian parsley (3).  Two of the parsley plants almost succumbed to the freeze, but, with a little pruning and care, they have put on more leaves and soon will be huge bushes that will threaten to crowd out the other plants.   I plan to add a couple of basil plants as well to the garden, which I’ll probably pick up tomorrow.  They will have to go elsewhere in the garden as they won’t fit in here.  Also, in the bed behind the lantana, I have two fennel plants, two Italian parsley plants, and three dill plants (all of which are host plants for swallowtail butterflies – Yes, I love those big black beauties and will be raising a few more broods this year!).  They will all go to flower and be a good nectar source for all of those beneficial insects that are welcome guests in the garden.

Herb garden, 3.19.11

Oh, I almost forgot.  I put a new bed in the front yard, outside our bedroom window.  I have two Desperado sage bushes in there (planted last fall) and have just recently placed about fifteen blue lobelia plants and about twenty red pillar salvias.  They are remarkably colorful (like most salvias) and should attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.  Take a look at this striking, scarlet beauty!

Red Pillar Salvia



Look How They’ve Grown

The cup of Life is full and runneth over.  The Spirit of creation abounds at every level, constructing – in no small way – the world you see, the air you breathe, the soil beneath your feet, the beating of your heart.

You are intimately bound up in Creation, eternally connected to the unfolding of Life Itself, just as a new leaf extends in the embrace of the sun and sends its roots deep into the soil.   Look at the natural world around you.  There is no death, only change.  Spirit, like matter, is neither created nor destroyed.  It merely changes form.  There is peace in the whisperings of Spirit.  Quiet your soul and listen well.   The wellspring of Life cascades through you.  You are Its expression.

What started as a hobby has turned into a full-time fascination.  I enjoy looking at my plants on a daily basis, tending to them, assisting them in their growth.  Day-to-day, it’s difficult to notice the big changes, although I catch little details in photographs.  When I look back on pics taken months or even just weeks ago, I am amazed at how much they have grown.  I look forward with great anticipation to the coming months when many of these plants should be much larger and producing lots of flowers.

Take the Texas Lantana.  I bought them in small 1/2 gallon pots and planted them in mid-March.  Now they’ve established themselves and are beginning to spread out and bloom.  This variety can grow to be 4′ x 4′, so I should have a very large mound of lantana with two plants side by side.

Texas Lantana

The two Purple Moss Verbena plants were purchased in a similar size pot and transplanted at the same time as the lantana.  They have grown incredibly and delight the butterflies with their numerous purple blooms.   These plants should each get a couple feet tall and wide.

Purple moss verbena

The Fall Aster was purchased last year in a small 4″ pot.  I transplanted it, but it didn’t do much last fall but put out two or three blooms.  Over the winter, I cut it entirely back.  Then it started to produce more leaves as you see below.  I transplanted it again with the others in March and now it is three times as large and covered with flowers.  Shhh, don’t tell it that it is late Spring…

Fall aster

An amazingly fast grower, the Indigo Spires salvia is a truly gorgeous addition to the garden.  I bought in two plants in 1/2 gallon containers and transplanted with the others.  In just two months it has grown incredibly and is covered with those beautiful indigo spires.   These can get pretty large at 4′ x 4′.

Indigo spires salvia

The Trailing Lantana, like the others, was purchased in 1/2 gallon container and transplanted in March.  It has really begun to spread out now, and after a few weeks of not blooming, has really turned on the flowers the past week.  It should spread out 3-4′ in diameter.

Trailing lantana

And the wildflower bed is just a sea of yellow right now thanks to the Coreopsis and Mexican Hats.  Below you can see the beginning stages of the wildflower bed followed by a close-up of a section of Coreopsis and a long-view of the bed as of yesterday.   The dark coreopsis is the first I’ve seen in the bed, but may be the first of many more.

The Straight Eight cucumber vines are really starting to take off.  I’ve had to tie them a few times in the past couple of weeks as they stretch up.  I’ve included a close-up of the end of the cucumber vine, as well as one of a cucumber flower.

And, remember my landscaping project?  I installed some flagstones and planted some Mother of Thyme and Yellow Thyme between the stones.  They are filling in nicely, though I really think the Yellow Thyme is doing what I want it to.  The Mother of Thyme is growing taller than I expected.  The first image below is right after transplanting the thyme, followed by pictures taken yesterday.  They should start flowering in mid-summer.

The mammoth sunflowers have sprung up, growing inches everyday.  I can’t wait to see those dinner-sized plates of yellow happiness!  The flowers are forming already and soon will start unfolding!

Mammoth sunflowers in the morning shade

And, finally, the herb garden.  The first picture below was taken September of last year.  Eight months later, the garden scarcely has a bare spot.

September 9, 2009

What’s growing up in your garden?

Weeds, Spinach, Flowers and More

It was time to do some major clean-up of the yard this weekend.  We’ve only mowed the lawn once since last September, so it was starting to look pretty shaggy.  Unfortunately, our lawn mower is in disrepair and I had to hire a guy to come out and do the mowing for us.  First, however, we had the rather large task of pulling weeds …  I didn’t realize until we got started how much of the yard was actually weeds!  UGH!  THIS is why I don’t like grass …

After pulling several hundred weeds, I also decided to pull two of the spinach beds and switch them over to the summer crop.  I pulled up five heads of lettuce and I harvested a full grocery sack of spinach leaves from the second and third spinach beds – too much for us to consume by ourselves.  We had some family over on Saturday, so I sent my sister and sister-in-law home with a sack full of spinach and lettuce heads.   My sister wrote on her Facebook page yesterday, “I’m enjoying the best salad I’ve ever had!”  I’m glad she’s enjoying it!

While we’ve harvested the spinach a few times, we have only eaten it raw.  Sunday night, however, I heated some olive oil and fresh garlic in a skillet and then sauteed a couple huge handfuls of spinach.  When they were cooked, they still had a crispness to them, and their flavor was oh sooo sweet!   It tasted so much better than the organic baby spinach we usually get at H-E-B.  I could eat spinach everyday like this!

In place of the harvested spinach, I went ahead and transplanted cucumbers, zucchini and yellow squash.  The seedlings were getting quite large, and it was time to get them in the ground before they started going downhill.   I have four paper pots of seedlings for each veggie, and each one of those pots has two seedlings.  I ended up transplanting three pots of each and I’m waiting to see how these transplants develop before thinning them.  I want to keep the strongest seedlings, and I want to have a total of three plants per hill.

Meanwhile, the broccoli continues to produce sideshoots and there are a few main crowns still forming.  I’ll be pulling these up in the coming weeks as well, but would like to squeeze a few more harvests out of them.  It’s been nice having fresh broccoli twice a week now for the past few weeks – all from only nine plants.  I continue to be surprised at how quickly the sideshoots form.

broccoli's main crown

another crown, still getting started

sideshoots everywhere - these are incredibly tender and delicious

I sat in the corner of the yard to get a good feel for how things will look when all of the landscaping is finished.  Michelle joined me out there, too.  In fact, she sat out in a chair and enjoyed the sun most of the afternoon.   She’s loving it already.  I told her I can’t wait until later this summer when all the plants are bigger and producing flowers.   “You’ll love it all the more when butterflies come dancing by you as you sit.”

It appears that even the container plants are anxious to get blooming.   The plants I’ve chosen for the butterfly garden have offered up some pretty colors for us:

Four Nerve Daisies

Trailing lantana

Purple Moss Verbena

Texas lantana

Spanish lavender

The Copper Canyon Daisies are also blooming, although they are supposed to be a fall-bloomer.  Perhaps they’re confused?  I thought I got a couple of photos, but obviously I’m confused, too.  I really love the smell of this plant!

Lastly, as I was sitting by the mint bed, I snapped this photo.  I’m continually amazed that all of these were cuttings from one small plant…

Installing a gravel path and butterfly garden – WIP

***UPDATE** Please visit my new post for updated progress on this project

We have wanted to do something with the backyard now for quite some time.  The garden boxes are nice and all, but we really wanted to create a butterfly garden and a little place to sit and relax.  I’ve never done any landscaping before, but I thought I’d try a small landscaping project to make some of those dreams a reality.  The area right off the back stoop gets so much traffic from us coming in and out – and letting the dog in and out, it has become quite an eyesore, and a muddy one at times.  The same goes with the area in front of the garden boxes.

I started by drawing up the backyard then playing with a few ideas to see what worked.  I ended up deciding on a gravel path leading from the back stoop left towards the garden boxes and wildflowers.  I then thought of adding another path going the opposite way to the corner of the yard where the mint bed is.   That looked kinda funny all by itself, so I drew in flower beds on either side of that path and created a little corner of the yard surrounded by flowerbeds.  As I did some research, I learned that gravel paths are nice, but you don’t want to have them lead directly to your back door because you’ll end up tracking rocks into the house and driving yourself crazy.  So, I decided that I would transition the gravel paths to the back stoop with flagstones.

It started with a drawing...

Here are a few pictures of the yard before I started any actual work.

Off the back stoop (before)

This shows the corner of the yard (before)

The side of the house nearest the mint bed (before)

Here is the view of the yard from the herb garden - see all of the dead grass? (before)

Flagstones are kind of expensive!  Luckily, I found some flagstones on Craigslist for $1-$2 each, so I went and picked them up and put them in the back yard right off the back stoop.   After doing more research, I decided I wanted to allow room to plant creeping thyme between the flagstones to make the arrangement a little more attractive.  I have obtained about a dozen Mother of Thyme plants that will spread up to 3′ each.  I plan to lay a little more dirt between the stones and transplant the plugs in between the stones and let them do their thing.  The enticing part about having thyme between the stones is that every time we walk on the stones and brush against or step on the thyme, it will release its fragrance into the air!  How wonderful!

Flagstones as laid out.

The flagstones are mostly all the same level, but I do have a couple of them leading directly up to the stoop that I inset a little higher than the others.  This is to lessen the huge step from the stones to the back stoop.  I think the stones will look really nice once I lay more dirt and plant the thyme.

As you can see by the above picture, I also laid the gravel path.  I installed landscape edging around the path to contain the gravel, then purchased the gravel from a local landscaping supply for $14 for a half yard.  I went back and forth between types of gravel for some time.  I decided against the decomposed granite and smaller pea gravel because I didn’t want to track it anywhere.  I also edged the path with a quartz rock border.  The rocks I’ve had in a huge pile on the side of the house since pulling it out from around a few trees in the front.  This is a better use of the rock.

This is the gravel path after laying the gravel on one side

I’ve stripped the sod from half of the beds, and will have to buy some soil to put in, but this is the basic layout.  In the far corner, I put a few more flagstones around an area where I want to put a bench.  I will also get a couple of chairs and a birdbath to put in there somewhere.

I spent about $75 on plants here and there.  I got several from the Natural Gardener.  These are the varieties I chose:

Mexican mint marigold (2 plus the seedlings I sowed)

Indigo spires salvia (2 plants)

Four nerve daisies (1 plant)

Fall aster (1)

Salvia greggii (I chose two: one white and one orange.)

Zexmenia (1)

Texas Lantana (2)

Copper Canyon Daisies (2)

Purple moss verbena (2)

Butterfly weed (1)

Trailing lantana(1)

I also have a few rosemary plants, two Tuscan Blue and one Prostrate to add in the mix, as well as alyssum, dusty miller, black-eyed susans, parsley and fennel.  Oh, and I almost forgot the 10 milkweed plants.  I’m sure that butterflies will eventually find our backyard irresistible!   Most of these plants are Texas natives, require low water once established and should do quite well for us.

What do you think?

*****UPDATE***** Please visit my new post for updated progress on this project.