Tuesday, March 31, 2015

End of Month View - March 2015

So much has happened in the garden in the last month.  With the last freezes behind us, decent rains throughout the month, and warm and sunny days now, it seems there is something new popping up in the garden every day.

Veggie Beds

The vegetable beds got a big springtime planing overhaul over the last week or so.  I tore up most of the beds, pulled out all but a few wintertime greens (chard, spinach and lettuce remain), turned in compost and manure into the soil, weeded out as many Bermuda grass rhizomes as possible, and planted spring and summer veggies.  The first bed (from the left) still has Swiss chard and also has watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumbers, green beans, and edamame added.  The second bed is full of tomatoes, the third has a few tomatoes, lots of eggplants and peppers and one tomatillo.  The fourth bed remains a "greens" bed.  It gets the least amount of sun, so it is best that I plant veggies that prefer a bit of shade in the summertime heat (I have kale, collards, spinach, lettuce, green onions and leeks planted here).

Shade Tree

The shade tree bed is littered with tree debris (fallen fuzzy blossoms) right now and doesn't look nearly as tidy as last month when I placed new mulch down.  There are a handful of narcissus still blooming, which were newly planted last fall.  I'm hoping they naturalize quickly and fill up the space in years to come.  I still have a mission to add more evergreens to this space so that it is not nearly as bare next winter.


The deck border is lush and green - full of leafy parsley, poppies, and springtime bulbs like hyacinths and irises.  Today, the border is in between blooms.  I had a couple weeks of beautiful pink and purple hyacinths earlier this month, and I see the irises and some of the herbs starting to bud out, but no big bloomers at the moment.


The pomegranate has not yet started blooming.  I hope it is still sleeping and not dead.  I guess I should find out in the next month or so.  But all the spring bulbs are doing well.  I'm especially looking forward to the irises blooming.  They were a pass-along from a neighbor who couldn't remember what color they were, so I have a surprise waiting for me in the next week or so.

Neighbor Fenceline

The bed that has changed the most in the last month (besides the veggie beds) was definitely the neighbor fenceline, or the rose shrub border.  I got six new antique roses planted here in the last month.  Mrs. B. R. Cant rose (second from the left) is already putting out a few blooms, and I see buds appearing on the others.  Between each rose plant, I planted a lavender plant.  I'm also planning to plant sections of sunflowers at the back of the border every few weeks so that I have sunflowers all summer long.  This is the bed I'm most looking forward to seeing transform over the next year or so.

Bulb Bed

The bulb bed is full of the beauty of the dusty pink-peachy bearded irises that I got as pass along plants from my neighbor.  These are arguably the most striking flowers in the garden at the moment.

Front Fenceline

While this bed is still lacking any blossoms at the moment, I see a lot of new growth emerging.  The blackfoot daisies are spreading out, the sages show new foliage and the butterfly bush is multiplying its size.  I look forward to the color and wildlife this bed will attract this year.

Front of House

The front beds aren't showing anything spectacular at the moment.  However, I do notice the general size increase of the plants since they were planted last spring.  More mature plants are sure to give a more fantastic showing later this year.

The very front bed is definitely in need of a few more succulents this year.  I look forward to adding some variety here.

Still too much lawn, but I guess I need to be patient.  I'll work on chipping away at this little by little and try to add at least one more garden bed each year.

Please stop by The Patient Gardener, where Helen hosts this meme each month and where other gardeners showcase the monthly transformations in their gardens.

Monday, March 30, 2015

In a Vase on Monday - Stereotypical Spring

Tulips and daffodils.  Those were the key flowers associated with spring, at least where I grew up in Southeastern Wisconsin.  They still represent springtime to me, and make great cut flowers.

So, I've been adding a variety of daffodils and other narcissus to my garden over the last year or two and they do really well and naturalize.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for tulips, at least down here in Zone 8b.  Most tulips need to be treated as annuals in Texas.  If you want to have the bulbs for more than one season, you need to dig them up after the foliage fades, store them in peat moss, and then refrigerate them for about six weeks in the fall/early winter so that they get enough chill hours before placing them back out in the garden.

I stayed away from tulips over the last few years because of the extra work required.  But I just couldn't help myself this year.  I was nostalgic for some northern tulips, so I bought the bulbs and refrigerated them for several weeks in December and January before placing them in the garden.

I love the look of these dark burgundy tulips so much, that I think I'm willing to go through the hassle of digging them up and storing them - at least this year.

I collected several of the tulips, along with a variety of daffodils and a few remaining Erlicheer narcissus (for fragrance) for this week's vase.

I brought this vase into work and I've already received several compliments on my beautiful flowers.  People are even more shocked when I tell them that they come from my garden.  I guess it has become a bit of a novelty for people to be able to make their own beautiful arrangements from homegrown flowers.

That's why I love this meme, hosted by Cathy over at Rambling in the Garden.  The art of garden-fresh flower arrangements is kept alive and well.  Be sure to check out the other beautiful vases from gardens around the world on her blog.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Texas State Flower

The bluebonnet.  Lupinus subcarnosus.  The most iconic flower of the great state of Texas.

And it is no wonder why.  After wet winters like the one we just had, Texas roadsides and countrysides are covered in shades of blue this time of year.

I unfortunately did not get around to planting my own bluebonnet wildflower seeds last fall, but still ended up with a garden full of bluebonnets this year.

How, you may ask?  Well, turns out that the soil we had delivered from The Natural Gardener last year to fill the new backyard garden beds had a nice little surprise added.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the bluebonnet rosettes appear over the winter, and now I'm enjoying their sprinkling of royal blue throughout the garden.

I'm hoping next year there is an even bigger showing after this first round of flowers drops their seeds (assuming we get a decent rain next winter).

Monday, March 23, 2015

In a Vase on Monday: Spring Delights

This is my first time joining in on In a Vase on Monday, hosted by Cathy over at Rambling in the Garden.  Last year, I was able to bring in a few bouquets from the garden, but I didn't have much variety to choose from, and not a very long season of good cut flowers and foliage.  This year, I'm hoping that will change, considering all of the plants I've planted and seeds I've sown over the last year.  It would be wonderful to be able to have a new bouquet of flowers every week, fresh from the garden.  I'm certainly willing to give it a try, and I think this blog meme will help me stick to give it a good shot.

This week's arrangement shouts spring-time with the multiple Erlicheer narcissus blooms, unknown yellow narcissus, and amaryllis leaves.

The primary reason this bouquet came to be was because heavy rains at the end of last week weighed down on these blooms can caused them to bend over to the ground.  Since I knew they wouldn't last long in the garden like that, I decided to bring them in to enjoy their blooms a bit longer.  And the amaryllis leaves are left-overs that are part of the bulbs that I forced indoors over the winter.  There leaves make excellent foliage additions to the bouquet - and are quite long-lasting!

The multiple blooms of the Erlicheers are busting with fragrance.  Every time I pass by the bouquet, I get a whiff of their strong, but delightful fragrance.

And the yellow narcissus adds a nice cheery focal point to this piece.  It is obviously a spring-time bouquet with the daffodil.

This vase was too lovely for me to leave at home while I headed to work, so I decided to take it with me and place it in my cubicle to get more enjoyment out of the flowers.  I actually get more enjoyment out of work too, getting to look at these pretty guys all day and smell their wonderful fragrance.

I also made a secondary, smaller bouquet this week to showcase another delightful springtime bulb bloom in the garden right now - hyacinths.  These blooms are also very pungent, so just one little flower can fill a whole room (or cubicle) with its fragrance.

The pink hyacinth is accompanied by the familiar blooms of the Erlicheer again, as well as another amaryllis leaf (I have a feeling I'll be using these frequently to anchor my arrangements in the coming weeks).

Thanks again to Cathy for hosting this meme.  I look forward to the challenge of creating garden fresh bouquets for my home on a weekly basis!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Collard and Kale Preservation

The greens that were planted last fall have started to bolt, so it was time to bid adieu to them and get ready for the spring and summer beds.

But first, I harvested a bunch of the collard and kale leaves that remained on the plants (at least the ones that had not yet been infested with aphids).

I ended up harvesting 3 pounds and 13.5 ounces of the Flash collards and 2 pounds and 0.2 ounces of several kale varieties.

I was certainly not going to be able to eat this many fresh greens in the next few days, so I had to think about longer-term food preservation.  I have never done any canning, and very little freezing (usually just of soups or ratatouille), so I had to do some investigating to see what made sense.

I determined it would be best for me to freeze the greens, but first, I had to blanch them to get rid of the enzymes that break down food so that the veggies will last longer and retain more of their nutritional value.

STEP 1 - First, I had to thoroughly wash the collards and kale

STEP 2 - Next, I de-ribbed the leaves by removing the tough stem

STEP 3 - Give the greens a rough chop

STEP 4 - Bring a pot of water to boil (about 2/3 full) and cook the greens in the pot for 2-3 minutes (3 minutes for collards and 2 minutes for other greens).

STEP 5 - Remove leaves from boiling water and submerge in ice water (in a large pot) for 2-3 minutes (I had a lot more ice in the pot to begin with, but most melted once I was on my third batch of blanching).

STEP 6 - Thoroughly drain the greens to remove excess water

STEP 7 - Put the greens in Ziplock freezer bags or seal with a vacuum sealer

It's kind of crazy how much greens cook down to.  Almost six pounds of leaves made about nine cups of blanched greens.  But, if I did everything correctly, these should last in the freezer for up to a year...much better than making myself sick of collards and kale in the next day or two.

If you have any great recipes that call for frozen collards/kale, let me know.  I will likely find myself in need of a new recipe, or two!

My harvest totals so far this year include:
  • 7.5 oz Cherry Bell radish
  • 3 lb 13.9 oz kale (several varieties)
  • 6 lb 10.3  oz Flash collards
  • 1 lb 7.7 oz Ruby Red chard
  • 14.2 oz Fordhook Giant chard
  • 7 colanders salad greens (lettuce, spinach, arugula) 
  • 1 lb 2.9 oz Meyer Lemons (5)
  • 1 lb 1.2 oz Broccoli (5)
  • 7.1 oz cilantro
  • 6.5 oz parsley
  • 4.0 oz spinach

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Antique Rose Additions

For years I have been dreaming about having a rose hedge, where I envision myself going out to cut weekly bouquets for the house.  After last year's new garden bed project, I had the perfect spot for my rose hedge - along the neighbor fence line.  

It took me forever to figure out what rose varieties that I wanted.  I knew for sure that I needed to include Texas Superstar Belinda's Dream, which can easily be found in local nurseries.  So, I added that one last fall.

Over the winter, I did a lot of online searching for the right roses for me.  I knew I wanted antique roses - for their durability in the Texas weather, abundance of blooms and reflowering qualities, as well as their bushy-hedge shape.  I wanted to feel like I was walking through and English garden. 

There were two main sources that I used - The Antique Rose Emporium and David Austin Roses.  I ended up finding The Antique Rose Emporium's site more helpful - the searching capability was more helpful - getting to put in all the different qualities that I was looking for.  Being based in Texas, I also knew that the varieties they carried would be better suited for our hot and dry weather.  They carry a variety of brands/breeders - from David Austin to Earthkind and others.   Additionally, they ship their roses in 2-gallon containers, making it easier for the gardener to wait to the right time to plant the rose, without concern of it drying out or starting to grow funny (David Austin Roses are shipped bare-root, so you need to make sure you get it in the ground ASAP after it arrives).  Plus, The Antique Rose Emporium was cheaper - so they got most of my business.

From The Antique Rose Emporium, in early February, I ended up ordering:
  • Heritage (David Austin - light pink)
  • Mrs. B. R. Cant (Benjamin R. Cant & Sons - bright pink)
  • Madame Joseph Schwartz (Earthkind - white)
  • Abraham Darby (David Austin - apricot)
  • Graham Thomas (David Austin - yellow)
Additionally, I purchased one rose directly from David Austin, since it was not available through The Antique Rose Emporium, and I just couldn't say no:
  • Huntington (David Austin - lavender pink)
All of the roses I ordered are own root, meaning the flowering stalk is on its own roots and not grafted onto a rose of a different variety.  I got these types so that when we do have hard freezes, the roses will come back true to the plant that I ordered, and not the different type of the root.

The Antique Rose Emporium shipment came first (I got to select when I wanted them delivered).  I was so excited to see them on my doorstep.

And here is my "unboxing," if you will...

The plants arrived looking very healthy and secured in their little separator containers.

It was a little bit of a chore to pull the plants out without getting scratched by too many thorns (in hind-sight, I probably should have put on gloves, but I was to excited to run and grab them).

I really wanted to get the plants in the ground right away, but I was informed at a rose-care seminar that I should wait until after the last freeze.  That was good advice, since we had some pretty cold temperatures in February and early March.  I ended up spending my waiting time prepping the rose bed soil with more compost so that they would thrive once I did get them in the ground.

I tried to keep the pots out in the sun as much as possible, but there were a few cold snaps of several days in a row where I needed to keep them inside.  The Madame Joseph Schwartz white rose ended up blooming a couple of times while indoors.

In early March, my Huntington rose from David Austin arrived.

Unfortunately we were having a bit of a cold snap, so I wasn't able to get him in the ground as soon as I would have liked.  As you can see, the shoots all started growing sideways since it was left in the box a bit too long.  I'm hoping they will self-correct once in the ground, otherwise I'll just have to do some pruning later to correct the misshapen form.

While I was waiting on getting my plants in the ground, I played around with different positions and orders for them in the garden so that the color scheme would be pleasing to the eye.  I ended up with the following order (from left to right along the fence):
  • Heritage (David Austin - light pink)
  • Mrs. B. R. Cant (Benjamin R. Cant & Sons - bright pink)
  • Madame Joseph Schwartz (Earthkind - white)
  • Abraham Darby (David Austin - apricot)
  • Graham Thomas (David Austin - yellow)
  • Belinda's Dream (Earthkind - medium pink)
  • Huntington (David Austin - lavender pink)
Using photos from The Antique Rose Emporium and David Austin websites, the roses will look something like the below:

I was finally able to get them all in the ground last week.  I know that air circulation is a big factor for roses, so I made sure they each had ample space to not get crowded (about 5-6 feet between roses).

I really can't wait to see what these guys will look like in the coming months and years - full of flowers from spring until frost.  Mrs. B. R. Cant even has some some buds getting ready for an early spring showing.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Happy First Day of Spring!

Today is the spring equinox, and the flowers and wildlife seem to know that it is time to wake up from their wintertime slumber.

It is so invigorating to see all the life spring forth, helped along with the late winter rains.

Like the daffodils (complete with a tiny spider) and other narcissus,

the sugar pea blooms,

the Mexican Plums,

or even the little blossoms on weeds (like this clover/oxalis).

While the bluebonnets,

bearded irises,

antique roses,

and poppies are all on the verge of blooming.

Even the Florida Prince peaches (which I thought I had lost in the late freezes) are starting to swell.

And the purple martins have returned, officially heralding the start to the new season.