The Rain Dance Worked

The forecast did not indicate a gully-washer anytime this week and yet we had lots and lots of rain, some thunder and lightning and some flooding.  The flooding did not come from the rain, though, our water heater chose this week to poop out.  I am happy to say that my husband did not let any grass grow under his feet to get it replaced.  So all is well and as you who follow my blog or garden avidly know that after the rain is a great time to weed so that is what I will be doing this weekend.  In the meantime, here are a few pics as my garden transitions from spring blooms to heat-loving summer blossoms.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Happy weeding 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: https://gardenlifedesigns.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/old-fashioned-hollyhocks-not-lovin-them/ 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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

Oleander: The Plant You Hate To Love

Wikipedia defines Oleander as “an evergreen shrub or small tree in the dogbane family  toxic in all its parts. It is the only species currently classified in the genus Nerium. It is most commonly known as oleander. It is so widely cultivated that no precise region of origin has been identified, though southwest Asia has been suggested. Oleander is one of the most poisonous of commonly grown garden plants.”

So there you have it.  All parts of the plant are poisonous.  And not just a little.  My search on the web reveals that even a dose as small as one leaf ingested can stop the beating heart of a good-sized dog or toddler.  In fact it is named dogbane – can’t really be much clearer than that.

So why am I blogging about Oleander you might ask?  Well, the truth is I love this shrub.  It is definitely a plant for warmer climes hardy only to zone 8 and then with die-back in freezing temperatures.  But for all that it is one tough plant.  It is extremely drought tolerant, blooms all summer long with pink, magenta, or white blooms, doesn’t need pruning and will fill a large sunny to partly shady space of 10′ X 10′ with long graceful evergreen leaves and gorgeous tropical looking flowers.  It doesn’t sucker nor is it invasive here. Down on the Gulf of Mexico, it grows with abandon snubbing its pretty nose at hurricane winds and salty spray alike.

When I first started my gardens six years ago, it is the very first thing I planted on the back wall of our shed.  I choose a soft pink flower but it now blooms both pink and magenta flowers (don’t ask me – I just enjoy them) At that time it was a neglected area in the dog’s yard and never got watered.  Didn’t matter.  Our Oleander just grew and grew.  It is now about 10-12′ tall and I expect at least 4′ more in height and width in the next 2-3 years.  I have since added my cutting garden with plenty of water and fertilizer about 3′ away from the tips of this shrub so it now enjoys better treatment but you really would not know the difference.  It just blooms and grows.

And yes, it is in the dog’s yard.  In fact, I purposely planted it in the dog’s yard because I have lots of flowers and the neighborhood kids love to smell and pick them and even have helped me plant over the years and I didn’t want the kids to be able to reach this plant.  I trust my dogs’ judgement but kids are another story! Our four dogs run past the Oleander bush everyday chasing cars and whatever else dares too close to the back fence.  I have even seen Buck, our Australian Shepherd rolling around on his back under its branches.  Never, not once, has any dog I have ever had or known been even tempted taste the poisonous Oleander.  And my dogs love to eat plants.  They annihilated my Stevia the afternoon I planted it, love to munch on Lantana leaves, are merciless thieves with my tomatoes when they can get to them, and think nothing of grabbing a tasty snack of green grass when out with me in the garden.  So I am careful about what I plant in their side of the yard.  But Oleander was never a worry.  I am told that it smells noxious (I smell nothing) and tastes even worse.  I have trusted my dogs to be sensible (even our big dumb chocolate lab mix who is a legendary chow hound) and they have not let me down.  So I enjoy both my blooms and my babies.  Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?

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!

Encore Azaleas ‘Autumn Empress’

I love Encore Azaleas this time of year.  They re-bloom in the spring and then again in the fall and even sometimes in January.  This particular variety is ‘Autumn Empress’ and I have them growing by my pond.  ‘Autumn Empress’, has an upright, thick growth habit (4 feet tall and 3 feet wide) with large deep, green leaves. It produces semi-double, deep pink 2.25 inch to 2.75 inch in diameter blooms. It starts to bloom a little later in the spring than do most azaleas. These azaleas require full sun with afternoon shade or light shade and well drained, slightly acidic rich soil. It is supposed to have a fast growth rate and be drought tolerant.

In my experience, these azaleas are more forgiving of dry conditions than the other Encores but all Encores require babying especially for the first 2-3 years of planting.  I love the blooms though and the twice or three times a year they bloom makes it worth the extra trouble.  It is about now that I will fertilize all my azaleas, gardenias, and camelias and any other acid loving plants I have.  Azaleas aren’t heavy feeders per se but they do love acid soil and the soil in this area is alkaline.  So I planted them in almost pure peat moss and fertilize with a special mix twice a year.  When not in bloom these shrubs are evergreen.

Happy Gardening and remember to “bee” positive!