From the producer: January 9, 2009

If you’ve ever been to a progressive dinner, you know what pruning is like for the next six weeks or so. I started in late December and will finish by late February, as if “finish” is a word in garden vocabulary!  Like a progressive dinner, the good thing about our pruning tactics is that we don’t have to digest the whole garden in one sitting.

Already I’ve cut back some of the frozen woodies, like the flame acanthus (Anisacanthus wrightii)  With woodies like that, just chop them to stubs. They’ll return with new vigor before you’ve missed them too much.

Flame acanthus, Anisacanthus wrightii

And, the Hamelia patens (Firebush, Hummingbird bush).  Spiderworts liven things up in the meantime. This is where you could also fill in with winter annuals or sow seeds.  In many places, I “understory” with oxalis or bulbs. Just haven’t made it to that section yet!

hamelia patens, firebush, hummingbird bush pruned for winter, perennials

I cut the inland sea oats to the ground, but will leave the other grasses until February.  For one thing, I like the way they look.  Also, last winter Jane Tillman and Cathy Nordstrom from the National Wildlife Federation told CTG that they harbor overwintering butterflies.

This weekend or next, I’ll start on the woody Salvia greggiis, though I couldn’t resist doing a few.  At this time of year, they can stand up to harsh pruning that sponsors flowers on new growth. It’s painful to prune while they’re flowering, I know, but in the next four weeks or so, it’s now or never if you want a fluffy plant filled with flowers this spring, instead of an overly woody look. It’s a good time to pull out rotted wood, too.

Before

Salvia greggii before winter pruning

After

Salvia greggii after winter pruning

I cut the herbaceous Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’ to the ground a few weeks ago, and it’s already fluffed up.

Ditto some of the ‘Country Girl’ mums.  Many were still flowering, so I’ll do another pass to clip the rest of them. In the next few weeks, you can also divide these and other perennials. Just keep them watered, in case of freeze, but it’s a lot easier now than once it warms up for keeps.

'Country Girl' mums, pruning, perennial garden

Next up will be the Salvia guaraniticas and asters.  In beds I plan to revise this spring, I’ve left a few things so I remember how large a space they fill.

This is the time of year to shape up rosemary.  And if you need to move one, Madalene Hill (Southern Herb Growing) once told me to do it on the coldest day in January.

I pruned back some freeze-damaged plumbago to open things up for bulbs. So much of it is still green that I left the rest for now.

I gently trimmed the silver germanders (Teucrium fruticans) to address their unruly ways.

I’ve also been pruning back ‘Powis Castle’ artemesia.  I’m not doing it all at once, in case some horrible freeze is around the corner, but I wanted to clear away some of their floppiness. With the warm days, the cut stalks are already leafing out.  In a few weeks, I’ll give them all a good manicure. I know that a lot of people get disgusted with the germander and artemesias, but a little whacking is all they need.

There’s also a debate about when to prune lantanas and similar herbaceous plants. Some gardeners leave them longer for extra insulation; others want a pristine look right away.  In our temperatures, it usually doesn’t matter, unless we get the killer freeze after days of leaf-encouraging warmth. But in my case, they have to wait their turn in my weekend progression.  Also, many are still blooming.

purple trailing lantana

Last Saturday when we hit the 80s, butterflies zeroed in on them, as well as on the thistles I let bloom for that very purpose (a few bees showed up, too).  I temper my zealous clean-up inclinations with respect for winter wildlife dining.

Roses, the Mexican oregano, the shrimp plant, and many others get their chance in mid-February.

Spring bloomers wait, though I don’t mind sacrificing a few flowers if I need to tidy up exuberant growth.

The only thing that simply must be done now is to prune and paint oaks that are susceptible to oak wilt.   It’s also a good time to prune your other trees while you can clearly see the structure.

See how John Dromgoole and Lyda Guz from The Natural Gardener prune a few things for CTG’s camera.

This week on CTG, get your garden off to a good start in 2009 with tips from Dick Pierce from the Austin Permaculture Guild. His techniques promise a healthy, sustainable garden that stands up to Texas torture. Check them out, too, for classes, workshops, and special events. Once you “meet” Dick, you’ll want more, I promise!

On location, if you missed its first broadcast, I’m repeating the green garden renovation designed and installed by local Adams Kirkpatrick and Russell Womack for This Old House. Their ideas are well worth seeing again.

Until next week, Linda

From the producer: January 2, 2009

The goldfinches certainly made things merry and bright for us this holiday season.  Here are more pictures from Greg behind the camera.

When I got them another bag of nyjer seed for Christmas, I knew they wouldn’t exchange or return it!

Here’s one I took from inside the den window.  I also got them another sock to replace the one I taped when a squirrel snagged it.

To make it easier to fill the feeders, I use a big funnel from the auto store to pour the bag into a cat litter jug (or an old gallon water container).

The birds love their Christmas birdbath, too.

I swear, we get lots of birds in there at one time, but as soon as I quietly move the camera onto the patio, off they go.  Will keep trying, but National Geographic I am not.

To start the new year right, I turned the compost pile.  A few years ago I bought a pitchfork and was good about putting it to use every Sunday. This year I got lax, but as you know, compost happens whether you tend to it or not; it just takes longer. Still, I dug in and loaded a wheelbarrow to fill in Harvey’s playpen double digging this fall. I accidentally deleted his burrow pictures, but here’s one of them filled in with the compost, so we wouldn’t break a leg walking into it.

As the weather changed in October, he decided to burrow, much to our fascination as new bunny parents.  Ever practical, we put him to work by moving his playpen to spots that needed aeration. Since December, he hasn’t burrowed; perhaps he didn’t like the pay. In any case, I can’t wait to see the result of bunny double dig (fertilized along the way) and compost.

This is a good thing to do, even if you don’t have a bunny, to improve those trampled or low drainage areas in your lawn or gardens. Even aerating with a garden fork really helps. Top with compost, and if you’re in the mood, include dried molasses to supercharge it. Or crumble leaves into the spot. Or dig a trench and fill with your vegetable scraps and coffee grounds and cover with the soil.

As we turn the calendar over, I love this season of new birth.  Despite no rain, my new Liliums ‘Linda’ greeted the new year.

The Arum italicums are coming up. Gardening is like getting presents every day!

A special gift is the passalong pink poppy seeds from Joan Hilbig. I sowed them a few months ago among the emerging spuria irises. I’m glad they like their new address.

And, the leeks I planted from the cut-off grocery store roots are all going strong!

As I wondered and wandered, and did a lot of grubby labor, too, I noted my new stars of 2008.

Dicliptera suberecta
Their tops got nipped, but they handle freeze as well as drought.  Their repetitious flowers fed so many, including hummingbirds.  I like their velvety foliage any time.  Especially, I like that they fill my part sun/shade areas.  Swiss chard fills the gaps that cosmos held this summer.

Dianella
This has been the new wonder plant for me in part shade. In their first year, they didn’t whimper over drought and freeze. Here one is against a Dicliptera and ‘Powis Castle’ artemesia.

Salvia sinaloensis (Bicolor sage)
I’ll admit:  with my clay soil, I was wary about this one.  But with raves from CTG viewers, I went for it.  They haven’t bloomed all that much, but the foliar color and low-growing form was just what I wanted in the morning sun den bed. I plan to add some to the muted sun area in the crepe bed. They’re a bit freeze-worn, but not to the ground.

‘Huntington Carpet’ rosemary
Last winter I replaced the overgrown prostrates from the beds lining the front porch sidewalk. Constantly I was pruning them to expedite travel to the front door.  Also, they had become woody with frills on top.  Fortunately, I found these mini versions grown by local Gabriel Valley Farms.  The tag says they get to about 18″ high and 30″ wide. They’ve grown so well that by next year should frame the walk nicely. Might be a good choice for folks with “hell curbs.”  (Oh, the plastic tube is Greg’s sidewalk Christmas lighting).

Berlandiera lyrata (chocolate flower)
Beyond them, I planted this experiment. I never ever thought this native would last in my soil.  It gets morning shade and afternoon sun, but its intense blazes are brief and then tempered by the trees. You can see a bit of its old flower stalks.  And yes, the yellow flowers do smell like chocolate!  The scent would be more powerful with clusters of them, so I may add another two this year.

Foxtail fern
I’d admired this one in several gardens, but figured it would never live in mine.  Last year, though, I stuck one in a pot in the shady rental-side bed. It’s done so well that I may venture into the ground this year. The freeze didn’t hamper its fluffy performance a bit.

Shrimp plant
Actually, this one’s a long-term resident in sun/shade, but winter’s clutch simply enriched the bracts that held on after the freeze.

This week, CTG returns!  And if you miss segments, I put them online-check under Video.

Since blackberries and fruit trees are finding homes in more gardens every year, this week Texas AgriLife fruit specialist Jim Kamas gives us tips using organic techniques. In Resources and with This Week, you’ll find Jim’s list from this program.

Also check Resources for Drew Demler’s and Jim’s fruit tree lists and cultivation info.

By the way, this is the time of year to apply a dormant or horticultural oil to fruit trees to kill overwintering insects.

Meet Jim in person and find out more at a free seminar at 10 a.m. on January 10 at The Natural Gardener.

Until next week, Linda

From the producer: December 19, 2008

Since our Christmas present, the birdbath, is in active duty (large birds submerging for a total spa experience, while finches delicately bathe and drink on the upper levels), all that’s on my list for Santa is RAIN.

Aside from that, the best gift will be a few days off after Christmas, to tackle neglected garden chores and mainly, to refuel with mental and physical solace in their attendance. I’m really looking forward to cutting things back to see what’s underneath.  With luck, there will be bulbs, but there’s even satisfaction in the treasure hunt for hideaway hackberrys or ruellia and yanking them out. Since the leaves have finally given up their stronghold, they’ll go into beds and the compost pile. A few will go into Harvey.

I’ll clear the patio table of plant tags and enter them into my garden spreadsheet.  It will be a good way to analyze the “year in review.”

And what a mighty year it’s been! Last October/November, we got rid of the front foundation nandinas along with photinia-ville in the air conditioner side yard outside the fence.  New plants have joined old ones in a far more pleasing diversity. In December, we cut the primrose jasmines to the ground. Now they’re a fluffy fence corner instead of spindles with leaves. . .or barren earth.

We lost a few plants in the 2007 rains, mainly the grays/silvers. Last December, there were lots of blank spaces to fill.  Although there’s always work to be done, as sun turns into shade, and I refresh old areas with new discoveries, my “year in review” walk around the garden last weekend was very rewarding. Despite the drought and recent nips, many flowering plants are still flowering, foliar standouts have filled out, and creeping perennials have crept. Here are just a few.

Knock Out rose in the crepe bed

Abutilon ‘Tangerine Dream’ in the den bed (Patrick also still blooming)

One of the new coneflowers in the crepe bed

Another holiday task is sorting through the miscellaneous plant notes I’ve collected this year. Then I’ll let my imagination simmer a while to see what I can concoct this coming year.

Until then, I decided to simmer some potato leek soup one cold night.  Here’s Trisha’s recipe.  Also, recently on CTG, she told us that when we cut off the leek’s root end, we can plant it for more leeks!  So, I’m trying it, including one near a rose as a companion plant to help fight fungal disease.  Be sure to visit our web site for more Trisha recipes for the kitchen, insect control, and homemade spa treatments. And check out our Video section for segments you missed or want to see again.

Trisha Shirey’s Potato and Leek Soup

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, diced*
3 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 1/2 quarts low sodium chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup milk, optional
Chives, parsley, grated sharp cheddar cheese for garnish

Sauté the leeks in the oil and butter on medium-low heat until they are soft, about ten minutes. Do not brown them. Add the potatoes and stock and simmer until tender, about
20 minutes. Puree part of the soup to thicken it or puree all of it if you prefer a smooth soup. Add the milk if desired and seasoning and toppings of choice. This soup may be served hot or cold.
Vary the recipe by adding chopped fresh sorrel leaves to the leeks and sauté until they are wilted. The sorrel adds a tangy flavor, a lovely green color and many vitamins to the soup.
Makes 6 servings.

*Quarter the leek’s tops after cutting off the long leaves and wash thoroughly under running water to remove dirt that may have accumulated inside the leaves.

Next week, I’m taking a break from the blog.  I hope that you refuel, too, and take a relaxing “year in review” of your garden. In the daily grind and in our plans for the future, sometimes it’s hard to recognize and appreciate what we’ve accomplished. Revel in it!

Starting January 3, we’ve got lots of ideas for you, including our New Year’s kick-off with homegrown blackberries and organic tips for fruit trees. Thanks for sharing this year with me and with Tom, and see you in the new one, Linda

From the producer: December 12, 2008

I can’t believe it, I really can’t!  The flowering Christmas cactus our neighbor Amelia and her daughter gave us last Christmas Eve is blooming like crazy. Here’s the first flower to open this year.

I’d never grown one, and was just sure I’d kill it by Valentine’s. It was coincidental that I was reading Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac, and there was a section on their care.

I put it in the front room window, where it gets bright light and actually some late afternoon hot blasts if I don’t pull down the blinds.  I’ve made sure not to over-water it, but not let it go bone dry, either. Generally, I water it once a week after sticking in my finger. Every now and I then I turn it, but not often. I didn’t do anything special about its light conditions this fall, but the front room is dark after Harvey goes to bed. (It was the only room to install his cage). This is beginner’s luck at its best!

Outside, the lesser goldfinches are back.

Last year we bought a big bag of Nyjer thistle seeds for them, but hardly a handful arrived. This year, flocks started arriving a month ago. Now we’re back to filling the feeders every day, and glad to do it!

Over the years, we’ve gotten two feeders to hang in the crepe myrtle so we can watch them from the den. Every fall we get a few more socks, too, since they’re such a finch favorite, but they just don’t last that long, especially if a squirrel hops on.

Last weekend I finished off the bulbs and threw in a few more lettuce seeds, since the transplants already bolted. I watered the rest of them with a seaweed mixture, but need to pick up a formula with fish emulsion and molasses.

Water is what everything wants most.  I deep-watered new transplants and the ones I recently moved.  With a sigh, I turned on the sprinkler system one night.  I hated to do it during waste-water averaging, but drought, high winds, and up-and-down temperatures are terribly stressful on plants.

This weekend, I’m finally going to move a few spiderworts to under the turks caps and do a little weeding and freeze cleanup.  That’s about it until I have a few days off during Christmas.

Speaking of:  if you have a Christmas tree, I got a press release this week about using Epsom Salt.  “Add one cup of Epsom Salt per gallon of water as needed. Epsom Salt is highly soluble and is quickly absorbed. Magnesium and sulfur, the main components of Epsom Salt, help to restore essential nutrients to the tree. It can also help to extend needle retention and even boost the balsam evergreen scent.”

Here’s John Dromgoole’s recipe from Backyard Basics a few years ago.  Be cautious or omit the chelated iron since it will damage your floors if spilled.  You can also substitute a clear sugary soft drink for the corn syrup. Also, remember that we have many of John’s formulas online.  Click on his picture to see them all.

John Dromgoole’s
How to Make your Christmas Tree Last Longer

This recipe contains bleach, so be careful about getting it on a carpet or rug.
This recipe will NOT make your tree fire PROOF, but it will slow down the drying-out.

Ingredients:
* 2 cups Karo Syrup
* 2 oz. liquid bleach
* 2 pinches Epsom salt
* 1/2 t. borax
* 1 tsp. chelated iron
* hot water

Procedure:

* Mix fireproofing materials.  Fill a 2-gallon bucket with hot water to within an inch of the top and add the ingredients.  Stir thoroughly.
* With a saw, make a fresh cut at the base of the trunk.  Cut off at least an inch.
* Stand the tree in this solution for 24 hours.
* Put the tree in its tree-stand and fill the well with the solution.
* Keep the rest of the solution in a container to replenish the tree-stand well every day.

How it works:

The Karo syrup provides the necessary sugar to allow the base of the tree to take up water.   The tree may take up 1/5 gallons of water over a two-week period.  Boron in the borax allows the tree to move the water and sugar out to every branch and needle in the tree.  Magnesium compounds in the Epsom salt and iron from the chelated iron provide essential components for the production of chlorophyll that will keep the tree green.  The bleach keeps mold from forming in your solution.  This procedure will help prevent the needles from dropping and will increase the natural fragrance of the tree.

Linda notes: You can also spray your tree with an anti-desiccant like Cloud Cover.  I’ve used this before with great success. And, I always keep Epsom Salt in the shed to add to my rose and Satsuma fertilizers.

Until next week, Linda

From the producer: December 5, 2008

On the misty day after Thanksgiving, I set out to plant bulbs. Then, I stood there and tried to remember where I was going to put all these things. Every spring I take pictures and make notes, “more bulbs here next year,” but when the perennials are still fluffy in November, it’s hard to remember my plan.

And since I add a few every year, I’m always concerned that I’ll destroy the current residents in the process. Fortunately, as long as the basal plate (root) is intact, a slice off the side probably won’t make a difference.  I just stick ‘em back in, and they carry on.  With small and medium-sized bulbs, I use a dibber. If I run into something, no harm done.

I don’t fertilize (which used to be the practice).  I don’t worry about depth, except that in my soil, I really don’t want to plant too deeply. I get them secure and covered and then rely on their intelligence to find their own center of gravity.

A few old-timers are popping out already, which makes it easy to plant their companions.

One stand of Dutch iris in the front bed is in full force.  I value their sprightly form in winter as much as their blue flowers in spring. I started this stand with three bulbs a few years ago.  Last year I divided them to spread around and to move them away from the path to the hose.  Obviously, they didn’t mind.

Others are still hiding, and some are struggling to make it out of the jungle spurred by cooler weather. I need a chainsaw to deal with the Gomphrena ‘Grapes’ and the Eupatorium (Conoclinium) greggii.  I funnel some of the eupatorium into my five-pound chipper/shredder, Harvey.

Anyway, so first was a little clearing.  You well know what that led to:  pruning, deadheading, pulling out hackberries, running around like crazy from one bed to another in an overload of garden frenzy.  Instead of planting bulbs, I started pulling weeds, analyzing trees that need lopping, and making lists of things to do for the rest of my life.

Between fits, I thought about “designing with bulbs.”  Clustering is good, I know that.  Progressive blooming, got that.  Organizing them?  I wasn’t prepared to think this hard. When they’re merely squat pockets of promise, I lose track of what I’m doing.

But, like anything in gardening, at some point you just have to jump in.  In the crepe bed, I planted Lilium ‘Linda.’  I couldn’t resist something with my name on it, but mainly, I chose them for their vibrant orange and yellow flowers that should arrive in early summer.  I nabbed this photo from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.

Another experiment is the Arum italicum for a semi-shady spot under the mountain laurel in the crepe bed.  They hooked me with their caladium-like foliage in winter, yellowish-green spathes in spring, and spikes of berries in summer.  Another B&B image:

I planted some Ipheions (starflowers) in the cat cove. And by golly, I found that last year’s transplants have returned, along with the blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium). This is a good sign.

With the 10 I have left, I plan to divide them:  five each to asters in the den and crepe beds. I can just see them ornamenting aster rosettes in early spring. We’ll see who wins, since I’ll have them in three different conditions.

I put some Tinka tulips among the Mexican heather in the crepe bed. It would have been smarter to add winter annuals there first. With seeds and bulbs, in my garden that is never finished, I go through a lot of “whoops” like this. When I’m super organized or know exactly where I’m going to plant a perennial or shrub, I mark it with a nursery bucket and plant around it. But it’s not too late if I want to add violas.  They’re small and I can tuck them in.

For the rest of the bulb gang, I’m scattering them around evergreen perennials or crawling under those that will soon head out until spring. When they freeze back, and I haul their tops to the compost pile, the bulbs will manage the space just fine. In late spring, the emerging perennials will hide the bulbs’ ratty foliage until they’ve gotten their dose of nutrition and I can send their tops to the compost pile.

This week, many PBS stations are starting their winter fundraisers, so please check your schedules for November CTG programs you may have missed, or see them online in our Video section.

Until next week, Linda

From the producer: November 26, 2008

When it looked like we might dip into the mid-30s, I ran around to get ready.  The next day, I pulled up the lettuce rowcover so the plants wouldn’t melt!

garden lettuce rowcover for winter

Since we play this game a lot, a few years ago, I followed Trisha’s example and grommeted the rowcover. Now, I insert plant pins through the grommets on the back side, but don’t anchor the front except in extremely cold weather. I pull it up and away on warm days.  I got some office type clamps at Breed’s (no luck at office supply places!), but needed more.  Plus, they might be a tad small.  Greg found just the thing at Harbor Freight.  Plastic spring clamps, 22 for $3.99! I’ll install them if it ever gets cold again.

Before Greg’s delivery, I used the office clamps on the Satsuma’s bamboo teepee.  I left it open at the back bottom so the cats could go in, but I can quickly seal it if true danger approaches. As Skip tells us, the secret is to drape, not wrap like a lollipop. Although this looks like a lollipop, really, it’s draped!  I may not even do it next year, but since I recently moved the Satsuma, I don’t want to take a chance.

Satsuma orange rowcover

We also covered the patio with plastic.

patio greenhouse

For the door, we made a flap, inset with PVC at the bottom.  Last year we installed coat hooks at the top of the patio, so that we can roll up the flap and anchor it on warm days.

patio greenhouse door

Since we’d done all the hard work last year, and I’d put the small parts and plastic away in neat bags and shoved the PVC under the shed, it only took a few hours to install our mini-greenhouse and move around all the plants.  The dryer vents onto the patio, so we save laundry for cold nights!  That reminds me, if I move the basil into cover, it might last all winter.

patio greenhouse plants

I hauled out the patio dog bed for the days that elderly Spencer-cat and Chester want to hang out in their tropical sunroom.

patio dog bed

Outside, the roses are blooming.  They looked a bit scraggly by the time I got to the camera, but I applaud them for making it through such a tough summer.  Here’s Mutabilis on Amelia’s fence

mutabilis rose

Buff Beauty on the cat cove arbor

Buff Beauty rose
Cecile Brunner against the shed

Cecile Brunner rose

And, my new Valentine!

Valentine rose

Since this year has been hard on wildlife, too, for this week’s CTG, I asked Charles Stephens from Wild Birds Unlimited to give us tips to harbor them this winter.

He also told us about Keep Austin Wild, Austin’s initiative to support the wild creatures that are absolutely essential to our quality of life.

We didn’t have time to get to this, but here are a few pictures Charles gave us of screech owl houses.  If you haven’t had luck with them, the trick is to provide a natural branch or one you attach yourself as a safe “practice spot” for fledglings.

screech owl

screech owls

On our video tour, we celebrate thanks to have Green Corn Project’s hard-working volunteers who bring organic food to anyone who needs it.

This weekend, I also thank all of you for participating in my crazy blog and sharing my life, and mainly, letting me share yours. Tom and I both thank you for being a part of Central Texas Gardener.  By the way, I’m putting the shows online these days, so if you miss recent episodes, you can see them there. See Video on our menu bar.

Until next week, Linda

From the producer: November 21, 2008

First, thank you so much for your fabulous comments and valuable insight in our web survey!  We’ll be working on the web design in the next few months with you as consultants.  I am honored that you gave us your time and such thoughtful and helpful responses. I thank Libby Peterek, our web director, and especially, Brett Bowlin, KLRU intern extraordinaire, who put this all together.  Brett amazes me every week with his skill and sincere care in presenting and pulling together the web information.  He’s a talented guy, and after this, he could consider a career as a garden coach!

One thing that Brett can pick up as a coach is that every fall, I go crazy when I see folks gathering winter annuals too soon.  We get a little warning nip and off they go, forgetting that they’ll be back in shorts within hours.  We can rip off our clothes when heat and humidity assail us yet again, but for the plants, it usually means pill bugs and fungus and general despair.

But, I’m all for planting winter annuals if we wait until close to Thanksgiving.  Many of them, including pansies, violas, stock, and calendulas, offer nectar to overwintering butterflies that show up on those warm days, desperately seeking nutrition. This week I saw a butterfly on a snapdragon!  One of my favorite butterfly books, by the way, is Butterfly Gardening for the South by Geyata Ajilvsgi.

Butterfly Gardening for the South

For a wonderful story on butterflies, and how gardeners are making them welcome in diminishing habitats, check out this Docubloggers video from my friend and colleague, KLRU Docubloggers producer Domenique Bellavia.

Back to winter annuals, one idea is to fill a few gaps when the perennials get chomped by freeze, and you want to pretty things up before Grandma arrives. Mainly, it’s simply downright fun to frolic with color combinations that bloom all at the same time. Heck, if we don’t like our scheme, we don’t have to live with it forever. And if we do, on a cloudy cold day, it keeps our creative spirits on high at a time we can get bogged down in all the clean-up chores and lists of long-term projects. Especially, it’s charming when bulbs sneak out above carpets of gold and purple, hot pink, red, and baby blanket yellow. In fortunate years, they stick around to buddy up with spring perennials, wildflowers, and roses.  When that happens, I feel like I’ve stepped into one of my books on English gardens.

Anyway, that’s why I reserved annual winter color until this weekend’s CTG.  I lucked into a true find, Alexandra McBrearty, a real-life English gardener who now shovels soil in Texas.  She’s got guts, does Alex, and she’s got good ideas too, like pairing sweet ephemerals against yuccas and other stalwart Texans. In her evenings at home, she turns regular old pots into absolute works of art, in case you want some inspiration for those snowy nights by the fire. Well, okay, while you’re outside tending the grill with the white twinkle lights on.

While editing this week’s garden video, I couldn’t resist playing some of it over and over.  For one thing, the Clark family turned a plain old backyard into a garden of beauty that represents the contributions of four generations.  But I played back the footage, too, because it was the last rain in May before drought took over. Ed Fuentes, the artist behind the camera, couldn’t resist shooting a garden flecked by precious raindrops, with grip Joseph Brown protecting the camera with the family’s umbrellas.

The Clark’s friends, Earthscapes designers, Mike and Kay Lynch from Temple, launched the garden project with their introspective ideas.

I thank musician David Lutes, who took the trouble to provide CTG with his orchestration of Amazing Grace, a recording that Dawson Clark commissioned to support his work at The Children at Heart Foundation.

I’ve been so busy that I can’t say much about my garden, except that the recent nip didn’t do much harm. The only new thing to show you is my Albuca batteniana in bud. It’s in the crepe bed, and even though it hasn’t opened, it looks great against the white Salvia coccineas.

albuca batteniana

I did make a teepee of bamboo canes around the Satsuma orange.  As always, the wind was so fierce that it was a chore to get the rowcover attached to the stakes with clothespins (gotta get spring clamps). Later, when I checked it, I saw that it was all off.  Not due to wind.  Due to cat.  Sam Jr. had pulled it all down to make himself a little nest.  Back to the drawing board.

More next week, Linda

From the producer: November 14, 2008

One of the frequent questions we get at CTG is evergreen structure for sun or shade.  So, check out this week’s show for David Meeker’s fabulous suggestions from Gardens! His plant list will be online, with a few “web extras.”

On tour, meet my new friend, James Bays, in Elm Mott, near Waco. I met him through my earlier new friend, Judith Tye, a CTG fan in Waco, who recommended this amazing garden, mainly in shade. On taping day, fellow master gardeners Barbara Vance and Ila Jean Carothers joined us, so along with taping, we had a great plant yap-fest.  On top of that, they all contributed to a memorably delicious luncheon (James is a superb cook as well as gardener). James even built the intricate garden structures and furniture from wood he milled himself, sometimes from trees on his extensive property. Here’s one of his indoor tables.  You can see one of his outdoor benches in the background.

Have to show you this bougainvillea from a few doors down from me.  This convinces me that next spring I’m moving mine from the pot to sunny ground in former photinia-ville.

Tom and I always get questions about bougainvilleas not blooming.  I’ve had luck giving mine blood meal, but what they really want is unrelenting sun. I’ll let you know how my neighbor’s plant handles winter, but obviously it’s made it through a few.

Last weekend, I planted my new Abutilon ‘Patrick’ in the den bed at the opposite end of ‘Tangerine Dream.’   I figure it will hide the bald canes of the climbing Buff Beauty rose, and peek through our window.

abutilon Patrick

It’s named for Patrick Kirwin, who provided cuttings to Barton Springs Nursery. Along with my new thing for abutilons (and thanks to you, for your encouragement), it’s my personal brush with fame.  I met Patrick last spring on a garden shoot, where we set up the fern show.  I’ve met a lot of famous people at KLRU, but the biggest kick to me is a plant named for someone I know.  Well, okay, my signed James Michener and Susan Wittig Albert books count for a lot too, and I lent a bobby pin to Molly Ivins, I helped Barbara Jordan onto our set, I rode in the elevator with Paul Simon, and I have a personally signed letter from Lady Bird.  But that’s getting off track. . .

Also in the den bed, I planted two ‘Valentine’ roses. I don’t know the person who named them, but I do know the person who sold them to me at It’s a Jungle:  Juan Guerra.  And that counts, too.  Mentored by Dicke Patterson, one of my all-time favorite famous people and a supreme, kind gardener, I met Juan at a taping of his first garden design for John Woods (see it in Video). Juan is just as exceptional as Dicke, who I’m sad to hear has retired from active duty. But knowing Dicke, he’s not retired from helping every gardener he meets, and passing along his knowledge to young people like Juan.

I thank Pam Penick for her assurance about their durability and setting.  I’d seen them in person when we taped her garden (also in Video) and in her blog, but just needed some more hand-holding.  Gardeners do that so well!

On memorable people I’ve met, it was Colleen Belk at Barton Springs Nursery who sold me this perennial Gomphrena ‘Grapes’ a few years ago.

perennial globe amaranth

It’s a late summer and fall bloomer, with tiny little flowers that I can’t seem to get in focus, and dies back in winter.  In spring, it returns, fluffier and hardier than ever (now about 2′ tall). I have it in the crepe bed where it gets some sun, but shade a lot of the day.

On the crepe bed, here’s its latest rendition at the right side. I thank gardener Walt Krueger for telling me about the ‘Helen von Stein’ lambs ears.

Helen von Stein lambs ears

In the shady rental side, this year’s Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’ is blooming.  We’ll see if it fills in by next year.  I can say that when I stick a cutting in the ground, it roots in minutes. I bought these last spring on a day that I ran into fellow gardener, CTG feature in Video, and friend Brent Henry at the nursery.  To its left is the new Sparkler sedge.

Persicaria Red Dragon

My plants are all attached to people, in some way or other.  Even if I can’t remember the botanical name, I can remember the person who gave me the idea (or the plant!). For me, that’s the best thing about my garden.

Until next week, Linda

From the producer: November 7, 2008

For years, I’ve drooled over every abutilon I’ve seen in gardens. But, they look like something I could kill in a minute, so they never made it to the budgetary food chain. Then, this spring, a gardener gave me one of his ‘Tangerine Dream’ rooted cuttings. During this horrible summer, every morning I walked out expecting to find its sad little remains.  Instead, it said, “Howdy, don’t worry about me.” The day after Halloween, it gave me the best treat ever.

The trick may be that it likes its spot at the end of the den bed: morning sun, afternoon shade. The soil is fairly loose after years of compost and mulch. In that bed, ‘Country Girl’ mums also started to open against asters and daylilies.

With Pam Penick’s encouragement, I got a bamboo muhly for the front bed.  It looks a little weather worn from summering in a pot, but I gave it some Medina Hasta Gro after I watered it in. I bet it will fill that blank spot by next year.  To it’s direct left is a tiny Betonyleaf mistflower (Conoclinium betonicifolium) from the recent Wildflower Center sale that should fill in that space by next year.  Various bulbs accent in spring and fall.

In the foreground is the Tecoma stans I just moved.  By next summer, the two of them will softly cover the corner.  The plumbagos in the foreground are this year’s divisions, too, so they’re still on baby legs.  All of them are sure better than the nandinas that overwhelmed the house until their sudden “departure” last fall.  Here’s the front view.

To its left is the shrimp plant I divided in spring.  By next year, it will fluff out, too.  I like the contrast of the different leaf colors and foliage textures.   I haven’t decided whether I’m going to add more Aztec grass or keep dividing the setcresea. There’s also a zexmenia I moved in there, so I need to keep in mind that things will grow (at least, I hope so).

I’d been out to get an umbrella sedge for the rental fence bed, too, but when I saw this one, ‘Sparkler’ sedge (Carex phyllocephala), I changed my plan.

On chores, I tackled the lettuce beds, since the weeds figured the watering and fertilizer were meant for their seeds, too. With our first little nip that wilted the batface cuphea, I planned to check my rowcover situation. But the heat made me lazy, so I’ll do it this weekend.  That means, of course, that it will suddenly drop to 17º when I’m at work and I end up stumbling around in the dark with a flashlight. (Oh, while I was trimming off the cuphea, I planted a chervil that Trisha gave me, and some larkspur seeds to fill its blankness when it freezes for good.)

The only things I’ll protect this year are the tender container plants I don’t take under cover, the new Agave celsiis, the Satsuma orange, and the lettuce. A few years ago, we made lettuce hoops with flexible copper tubing (plumbing supply section) after seeing it in a garden. A luxury it was, but they’re so pretty all year, and we have just a small space to protect. For grand vegetable gardens, rebar or PVC is a better decision.

The main news!  Our Christmas present came early, thanks to Zac Zamora of Variance Vessels. His sleigh was in the shop, so he used his van instead.

Forever, I’ve wanted the perfect birdbath. Last fall, I saw an incredible one near KLRU, took a picture, and imagined how I could make it happen for me. About that time, I saw a blurb in Renee Studebakers’s Statesman garden section about Variance.

When I checked out Zac’s site, I found a potential vessel for my idea, and a great CTG guest!  Along with his vessels, Zac’s a nationally recognized creative artist for his natural habitat designs.  Faster than you can click “Contact,” we set a taping date for a January broadcast.

For the heck of it, I sent him my photo and explained that I wanted a cat-safe, bird-perfect birdbath. Along with Greg’s measurements for height and size in our garden, Zac did extensive research to design a basin that is layered like a natural pond.

Then he crafted the metal base with feet and supports to handle the basin’s 240-pound weight. Along the way, he sent me pictures of it in progress and asked about finishing details. I’m astounded that from my few vague notions, he captured my dream precisely! And, it’s a straight-shot view from our patio and our den. For years, the Afghan pine had this spot, but it’s been reborn as a birdbath!

On delivery day, Zac brought Erik O’Brian and Dean Hansen, friends and fellow gardeners, to place and level it to perfection.

Greg helps finesse, since we’re not going to be moving it!

I loved Zac’s idea of a solar fountain!  I had just the rocks for the fountain’s little well. When it’s going full steam, we can even hear it from the patio. Here, it was just warming up, so to speak.

We’re still working out the best position for the solar panel.  Most likely, we’ll install it on the nearby rose arbor.  For now, I’m protecting the cord from rabbit, dog, or gardener mangling with something I got during Harvey house proofing.

Thank you to Eric, Zac, and Dean!

On water, here’s a funny for you from Jerin, CTG editor and camera operator.  Twitter fans, alert:  now your plants can twitter you when they need water.

I hate to think what would happen if our plants organize a Twitter network.  We’re doomed.

Finally, to learn more about growing winter vegetables from the experts and just darned good people, head to Angel Valley Farms this Saturday, November 8, for Jo and John Dwyer’s annual Open Farm tour from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. You can also visit their farm stand for organic produce, which is open every weekend in the harvest seasons.

Until next week, Linda

From the producer: October 31, 2008

When I started gardening, I learned a lot of facts from books, but from Scott Ogden’s, I really fell in love with plants. I was so worried about doing the right thing, textbook style, that I was afraid to make mistakes. Turning the pages of his books, I started to see nuances of light, playfulness, and adventure. Along with fantasy, I absorbed the facts won by his hands-on experience. When I’m exploring new plants or bulbs, I always check his books before I dig any holes, since my latest love must get along with heavy clay soil. I can stand only so many garden heartbreaks. I’m sure the plants thank me, too.

Years later, I met a kindred spirit in his wife, Lauren Springer Ogden. On the national and international scene, Lauren’s known for her sensory garden designs and books, including Passionate Gardening: Good Advice for Challenging Climates, the first of my Lauren collection. In just a few pages, I felt connected to a gardener who loves plants, and writes as if she were penning her thoughts to her best friend.

In their first book together, Plant-Driven Design, they combine their experience and poetic writing in a resource that is rich in philosophy, inspiration, and facts.

This week on CTG, meet Lauren and Scott in Tom’s interview and through our video shoot at their Austin home last spring. You can also catch their garden video on the CTG site.  Like all others, we archive it under Video after its broadcast week.

In my garden, I moved my bamboo palm (Chameadora macrospadix), about 15 feet down the rental fence bed from its original site. Its first berries ever weren’t red yet, but I took this picture in case the move disturbed them.

I fell in love with this plant the minute I saw it a few years ago.  I moved it because its neighboring ‘Spring Bouquet’ viburnum and aromatic sumac had filled out so well that it was difficult to see its bamboo-like stems and floppy leaves. Now, it’s at the other end of the fence between the Texas pistache and the crepe we started from a cutting.  In summer, it gets lots of shade, with bits of filtered sun, and more sun in winter.  In its new location, you can see the tip of the cycad I moved earlier this year.  It doesn’t look great, so I’m thinking of replacing it with a dioon to keep the bamboo palm company.

Update: the Satsuma orange I moved a few weeks ago from container to ground is so healthy that it’s attracting swallowtails to birth their progeny. I didn’t photograph the eggs I’ve seen (tiny orange dots) but here’s some larvae from two weeks ago.

Here’s one guy a week later.

No longer is the plant chlorotic, and since it’s growing new leaves like crazy, I don’t mind sacrificing a few for future butterflies.  But once the sun comes out, these caterpillars move fast!  Just as I’d figure out the best angle and fight the sun, off they’d go.

Around the corner, here’s the Lindheimer muhly in the front bed.

I’m so glad it made it, since it’s one of our favorite fall show-offs. It’s the first thing we notice when we round the bend down our street. But it half-rotted after summer 2007′s rain. Late winter, when I cut it back, I pulled off the dead stuff, too, and dumped everything on the compost pile to feather a few nests. (The birds found it fast!).  Its back half looks like a chain saw got it, but it hung in there, not as glorious as in past days, but still determined to gather our admiration.

By the way, I’m thinking of putting a bamboo muhly in that blank space against the brick corner.  Any ideas?  Every week I change candidates. . .it’s time to make a decision!

In back, I couldn’t resist another shot of the Salvia regla and plumbago under the Chinese pistache. It’s such a big deal to me because I thought they’d NEVER fill out. It won’t be bare, either, when they freeze back; various bulbs are already jumping out to take over in a few months.

In the crepe bed, here’s the Mexican mint marigold against the artemesia and Dicliptera suberecta.  Probably needs to move to a sunnier spot this spring.

On Amelia’s fence, the mutabilis rose bloomed again.  This guy needs a lot of shaping this February.

On the shed, the climbing Cecile Brunner is popping a few flowers.

Over the years, I’ve seen this garden through every possible weather situation, and somehow, it keeps on going. Mainly, I’m in love with my plants, even when they’re scruffy, and I thank people like Scott and Lauren who remind me that that’s okay.

Finally, if you haven’t had a chance yet to take our survey (click on the button on the sidebar) on how to improve our web site to serve you, we’d sure love your input! Until next week, Linda