Night Blooming Jessamin Cestrum Nocturnum “Orange Peel” and a Garden Visitor

For those of you who have suffered through my below average photography skills, I am proud of today’s post.  I went to a plant sale at the Dallas Arboretum in 2007.  It was the last day of the sale and what was left were mostly annuals.  I don’t spend a lot of money on annuals because when building your garden, they are just not a good investment.  Perennials are the stable in any flower garden as they are mine.  I did find a tiny little plant labeled Cestrum Nocturnum “Orange Peel”.  The very informative lady at the table said it was part of the nightshade family, had small orange flowers, was frost tender, and liked a little shade.  So I grew it in my shade garden since this last season with disappointing results.  It did grow but did not flourish and never flowered.  This year I decided to move this plant (commonly known as a Night Blooming Jessamine, still a mouthful to say, to my cutting garden for more sun and hopefully it would survive winters without as much protection.  To my delight it has bloomed for the first time and seems very happy where she is.  I have not ventured out at night to experience what is described as an intoxicating scent but will soon enough.

This plant is a woody shrub with long sword like nearly evergreen leaves and small syringe type orange blossoms.  The bees seem to love them.  I took a picture of the first blossom (below) and didn’t notice the guest appearance until I saw it on my computer.

You have to look closely to see him but he is nevertheless there laying in wait, camaflouged and ready to pounce.  Now I don’t see a lot of insects except roly polys and the occasional mosquito.  You would think as an organic gardener I would have built an encyclopedic knowledge of garden pests and beneficial bugs.  I haven’t.  The truth is I don’t really care unless they are doing major, concentrated damage.  Then I look it up, figure out the best strategy (usually soap or insecticidal oil) and go with it.  So I can’t tell you what this guy is but he looks like a predator to me.  So welcome to my garden and bon appetite.

Tasty gardening and remember to “bee” positive!


I Will Grow Them, Sam I Am!

As I write this post, I am reminded of the treasured childrens’ book by Dr. Seuss, Green Eggs And Ham. If you are like most Americans, you will catch this reference immediately.  If you have never read this classic American literary work, take yourself forthwith to the nearest library and check it out as you have missed a critical rite of passage in growing up in America.  If you did not grow up in America, check it out anyway, it’s a good read.

The way this is relevant to this discussion is that I had previously posted an entry on growing Hollyhocks: in which I expressed a less-than-successful trial of growing these old fashioned beauties listing the pest and disease problems they are prone to during the three years I have tried to grow them.  As they were forming buds to finally flower, I predicted that the resulting blooms would not be spectacular enough to warrant the trouble to grow them.  Boy was I wrong!  Check out these babies:

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So I will grow them with the pests,

And I will grow them with the rust,

I will grow them here and there,

Heck, I will grow them anywhere!

I’m in love with them, I AM I AM

I do love Hollyhocks in the end.

Happy gardening and remember to “bee” positive!

Old-Fashioned Hollyhocks – Not Lovin’ Them

I have a beautiful cutting garden.  It runs about 100 feet long and about 3 feet deep next to a chain link fence in my alley.  It is the only place where I get enough sunshine and ready irrigation to plant the gorgeous mix of roses, old-fashioned perennials, and annual cutting flowers I love.  Spring 2 years ago I planted six old-fashioned hollyhocks.  I love the vision of tall stakes of flowers so classic from the days of yore. (Yore?)  This is what hollyhocks are supposed to look like:

These pics are not from my garden.  My stubborn hollyhocks sulked in their beds for an entire year and another year after that producing in year 2 some large leaves that immediately became host to leaf miners; a cowardly little larva of an evil moth that actually tunnels into the leaf thus resisting insecticides which I don’t use and hiding from natural predators which I do count on.  These nasty little worms eat away on the inside of the leaf leaving a crazy labyrinthine channel that look like this:

But the plants were otherwise pretty healthy and did grow to about 18″ tall so I left them over the winter to do what they were going to do.  This spring the plants sprang up to about 5′ tall as my attention-deficit dog, Buck, is attesting to and actually look like they will fulfill their promise this year.  The buds have yet to open but they are formed.




So I have been watching them very closely and now see a scabby reddish gunk on the bottom-most leaves that is either scale or rust or some fungal infection, I think.

Now I am scrupulous about mulch and watering practices in this bed because of my roses and further deter fungal attacks with a monthly spray of baking soda as a fungicide. Even so this is what my hollyhocks look like:

In addition they seem to be on the menu for every leaf eating varmint in this area.  I have yet to do anything about these problems until I have researched exactly what I am dealing with and until and if these wimps ever bloom.  I may be so enchanted with the actual blooms that these will be a must every year.

But I doubt it.  My garden is no place for shrinking violets.  I am as attentive as the next gardener but if a plant is not tough enough to withstand the annual hell-worthy hot Texas summers, the occasional ice storm in the winters, and be resistant to the bugs and thugs of the garden, out it goes to make room for a hardier, more robust replacement.  When I first started the gardens years ago, I was happy to have any cutting of anything from any generous gardener or any half-dead plant marked for clearance.  Anything to fill the sad empty spaces in my beds.  But not any more.  Space is at a premium now and I have gotten over my reticence to pull a plant out of the ground while it is still on its last leg. My “2+” rule is in full effect.

I have discussed my “2+” rating system before but in a nutshell, it means that in order to qualify for a trial in my gardens, a plant must have two of the qualities I am looking for: drought-tolerance + long blooming season, shade tolerant + large blooms, etc. In addition the plant must then have one additional attribute to qualify; like heavenly fragrance, stunning foliage, or something along those lines.   And finally, it must survive without a truckload or insecticides, artificial fertilizers, and rivers of irrigation (except for my hydrangeas, but that is another story)

So unless these wimpy little whey-faced princesses can rally and demonstrate something spectacular this season, their days are numbered.  I may sound bitter but have you seen the rust picture?  Eww and this after 3 years.  3 YEARS!  I’ll keep you posted.

Ruthless Gardening and remember to “bee” positive!

Tomato Controversy

So it seems that I have stumbled upon a very touchy subject – When is the best time to plant tomatoes in the fall in North Texas?  Experienced gardeners say that starting your fall plants in mid July and building a shelter over the baby plants protecting them from the harsh July-August sun especially from the west is the way to go.  Our first frost is mid November here and counting backwards, you need anywhere from 60-90 days growth to realize a decent tomato crop.  Generally I agree, growing plants from seed in your own soil and babying the plants through the dog days of summer is ideal.  It is my fault for not writing more clearly.  I am not planting little seedlings this late in the growing season and hoping for a marvelous return.  With regards to my fall tomato harvest, there are three factors I would like to point out:

  1. This summer here in North Texas has come second only to living on the surface of the sun.  Keeping my established plants alive has been hard enough let alone babying little sprouts.
  2. My cutting garden in the spring and summer is full of those things I like best: flowers for cutting.  With space at a premium, little seedlings would have been further stressed with competition from the real stars and I stop fertilizing around mid July to give my plants a break.  Not a good start for tomato plants.
  3. As I may have mentioned a time or two, it has been hell-weather hot!  I am usually a lazy gardener and even more so in hot weather.  I also have a full-time job as an artist.  Babying baby plants is not on my “can-do” or my “to-do” list.

With this  in mind, I am coming clean.  For the fall, I go to Lowe’s and purchase large determinate tomato plants and pop them in the ground about now when the weather is breaking and I start fertilizing again. I realize this confession makes master gardeners and home-grown heirloom tomato enthusiasts cringe but my roses are happy, my big new beefy tomato plants are happy, and most importantly, I am happy.  Is it cheating? Yeah, a little, but I can live with that.  I have come to realize that only God and Martha Stewart live perfect lives.  The rest of us do what we can.

Happy Gardening (Notice I did not say ‘Perfect Gardening’) and remember to “bee” positive!

Veggie Gardening in a Small Space

So as the weather starts to cooperate and summer (at last) is winding down, I have been looking for better ways to grow more produce in a small space.  Since I use empty spaces in my cutting garden for fall vegetable planting, I am very limited as to what I can grow.  I am making a concerted effort to increase produce because 1) Space in the cutting garden during the spring is at a premium since that is the prime flowering period for some of my favorite flowers and 2) the fall veggies: kale, spinach, lettuce, and tomatoes are my favorite produce.  So I am going to really make a concerted effort to increase my yield by using “Intensive Gardening”  principles.  An intensive garden minimizes wasted space. The practice of intensive gardening is not just for those with limited garden space; rather, an intensive garden concentrates your work efforts to create an ideal plant environment, giving better yields.

Here is an excellent article from Virginia Tech University that I am using as my guidebook this fall:

Productive Gardening and remember to “bee” positive!


Bulb Selections for The Fall

Every year at this time I take all my gardening catalogs out that have been collecting over the summer and begin to make decisions about what bulbs to order this fall to  plant for blooms in the spring.  I love planting bulbs because it’s like wrapping a present for yourself with your eyes closed.  You don’t know exactly what you’re getting but you know it’s gonna be good!  This is odd for me.  I generally hate surprises and yet I look forward to this time every year.

I have to be a little careful about what bulbs to plant here in Texas because, while I don’t have a mole problem, I have a colony of very busy squirrels that love to munch on the succulent bulbs I tend to plant and if they don’t find anything tasty, they dig up the bulbs and just leave them on the ground.   I tend to take it personally.  Like it’s a statement about my tastes.  I don’t know what more they want, I give them five trees that produce acorns, all the shelter they need, a major thoroughfare to travel, fresh water, and the occasional corn cob.  It’s like squirrel heaven out there.  Thankfully they haven’t taken up residence inside the attic or chewed through the eaves of the house so as long as they are good neighbors, I say the more the merrier.

But I am off track.  Bulbs for fall.  I tend to like bulbs that naturalize but I always buy a few dozen tulips because they are the quintessential harbinger of spring.  Here though it just doesn’t get cold enough in the winter to expect a respectable second season so I plant them as annuals.  Our winter was colder than usual so I’m hoping for a decent showing from last year – at least half might come up.  Even so, I plan to order a mixed selection of tall tulips for the annual beds in the front.  I have a very limited space next to the walk going to the front door for annuals and so I will plant them there.  I also like to throw a few in the planters around our gazebo.  Randy has a difficult time bending over and he likes to see them waist-high.

Of course I will be planting more daffodils.  To me they are the perfect bulb.  They usually bloom in February around here.  I like them because they will naturalize, they are not picky about sun or shade, they like dry summers, and they are poisoness, so my little furry neighbors leave them alone.  I began planting daffodil bulbs the first year I started to garden.  I put them in the shadiest part of my shade garden and for five years they performed well.  They have been declining however and since then I have found that even though they are billed as shade bulbs, daffodils love the sun.

Last year I planted three new types of bulbs: fritillary, a small checkered type of tulip that is more hardy, Spanish Bluebells for under my live oaks.  They tend to tolerate heat better than English Bluebells. And anemone or Grecian Windflowers.  The fritillary never bothered to show.  Whether it was a victim of squirrel dining or just Texas weather, I don’t know but you don’t see any in gardens around here.  But the Spanish Bluebells sprouted shyly in the early spring and were a welcome surprise.  The anemone bulbs were a free gift and so that means the bulbs were probably old but of the five or so I planted, one came up and it was so charming that I am going to plant more this year to see if I can start a colony in my “alpine” garden which is a term used for a shady rock garden, or your whole garden if you happen to live in Denver or the Alps.

So, daffodils, a few tulips, anemone, and Spanish bluebells.  I still haven’t picked a new bulb to try.  Any experience you readers have with a special bulb? I am open to suggestions…

Happy Gardening and remember to “bee” positive!

The Lay Of The Land

So today I went out to really look at what it all looks like after the tree cutters trimmed up and pruned the eight trees in our yard.  For those of you who have asked exactly how our yard is laid out, I made a drawing of our property so you can kind of understand where the cutting garden is, the shade garden, etc.  So here it is:

We live at the end of a cul de sac so we have yard on both sides of the house.  We have a large two story shed in the back and all those circles are trees.  Hopefully this will give you a point of reference.

So I loved what they did with the trees but they left the shade garden all moved around and they stacked all the limbs right over my bedding plants in the front.  At first I was annoyed but these three young men worked all day in the 104 deg heat and still planned to go out that night and go dancing.  You have to appreciate their stamina.  Here are some photos of the pile of limbs and the trees after they were pruned.

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Happy Gardening and remember to “bee” positive!