Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Goodbye to My Garden

Spring in the backyard, 2019

It’s time to say goodbye to my garden. My husband and I are moving to Houston for a job and family. My husband moved to Ruston, Louisiana, for a university job almost 15 years ago and I followed about 4 months later after selling our house in Austin. 

House and front yard, April 2005

We found this old 1930 house close to the university that had pretty much a blank slate for a yard. It was close to campus and several professors lived in the neighborhood, so it seemed like a good thing to take on. 

Backyard April 2005

Backyard April 2005

Backyard April 2005

Less than a year later with the help and design skills of friend Alexis Wreden, we took on a major renovation of the backyard. Soil was moved, decking and brick walkways were ripped up and replaced with smaller decking and a wider bluestone path. An old wooden wall was replaced with a curved rock wall and steps were built up to the concrete patio. Four 8- by 8-foot boxes were filled with yummy soil. And that was that. Or so I thought.

Work in progress March 2006

My garden took me into a world I never anticipated. I learned what it was like to have real soil instead of rocks. I experienced twice as much rainfall as I’d been used to. I learned about “southern” plants, many of which were actually Asian in origin. I found that the butterflies and bees I had been used to seeing were strangely absent.

So I decided that my first priority was to build a garden that was beneficial to pollinators. I think I achieved that. It took a while but they came. I started layering in new habitats with native shrubs and smaller trees. I fell hard for daylilies and tried to limit myself to one or two new ones a year. I also fell for cottage gardening until I realized how much work it was to keep annual seedlings from taking over. As funds permitted we gradually added new features such as a nice fence, some large beds both inside and outside the fence, a pergola, and a gravel and timber walkway. 

Hummingbird and Mexican bush salvia

Monarch on Mexican mint marigold (Tagetes lucida)

Through the garden gate, April 2018

November 2018

In the process of gardening I found serenity and a creative outlet. I also found my voice and started blogging about my garden, meeting new soon-to-be friends at Garden Blogger Flings where I got great design ideas. I started speaking at Master Gardener events around the state and to garden clubs. I coached people who wanted a little extra help figuring out what to do in their yard. I wrote articles for gardening magazines and even edited them for a while.

Flinger friends at the Toronto Fling, 2015

I foresaw none of this when we moved here. I could say more about what Ruston has given me but I’ll probably save that for Facebook posts. Suffice it to say that my garden has been my refuge, my outlet, my inspiration, my exercise, a source of frustration, and a source of peace. I will miss it. My plans are to garden in containers for a while. We’ll see if that will satisfy my gardening itch for long. If I get a real garden going I’ll return to this blog. Or maybe I’ll blog about my containers. Meanwhile you can follow me on Instagram @jean_mcweeney. Au revoir, sweet garden!

Monsieur Jules Elie peony

This post was written by Jean McWeeney for my blog Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog. Copyright 2019. Please contact me for permission to copy, reproduce, scrape, etc.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Intro to My February Bulbs

Lent lily aka wild daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus)

It's been a long, rainy and dismal winter but then February happened. It's still rainy and sometimes dismal but Mother Nature decided it was time for spring. I'm all for it.

I thought I'd show you a few of the bulbs that started popping this month plus a video of my backyard. By the way, you can see these photos and more on my Instagram feed, where I'm spending more time these days.

First up in the first photo above is always my first daffodil (as opposed to the paperwhites that bloom earlier) - Lent lily. This is as reliable as it gets. After 14 years of living in north Louisiana I'm still in awe of these daffodils and others that grow wild around here. Most of the bulbs that I grow in my yard are considered heirloom bulbs. Some I've gotten from friends, some from old homesteads (with permission!!), some from Old House Gardens, and some from Colorblends.

'February Gold'

Although Lent lily is usually the first daff bloom, 'February Gold' is becoming a contender for that title. I truly wish I had more of these. The blooms last forever and they're quite cheerful looking, aren't they?

N. x incomparablis

The next reliable and extremely floriferous daffodil in my yard is N. x incomparablis. I used to call this one 'Stella' but I'm fortunate to have a true daffodil expert as a friend (Celia Jones), and she has set me straight on this one. Many people confuse it as I did but the true 'Stella' has white petals.

'Ice Follies'

'Ice Follies' does very well in the South. I have a patch of them in the front corner of my yard that I won from a raffle at the Gibsland "Jonquil Jubilee." Lucky me! But they're also the ones that survive best from mixed bags of daffs that I've planted in the past.

Unknown type of Muscari armeniacum aka grape hyacinth

My friend Travis gave me one bulb of an unknown type of grape hyacinth that he got from a friend. It's much shorter and fatter than other grape hyacinths I've grown. Case in point is the next one.

M. armeniacum 'Alida'

My 'Alida' grape hyacinths are more like others I've seen. This is my second year for growing this variety in both pots and in the ground and I'm very impressed. You also can't beat the fragrance.

Unknown type of hellebore (aka Lenten rose)

Where would we be without hellebores this time of year? Last year my hellebores didn't do so well. Come to think of it, last year was not that great a year for my daffodils either. But this year they're all doing better.

Another unknown variety of hellebore

I've been rather lazy lately when it comes to taking photos of the garden. In fact, most of my photos these days (including all of the ones in this post) are taken with my iPhone. I've also been trying to take more videos because I think that really tells a better story of the garden. So here's my first attempt at embedding one in a blog post. You'll see a panorama starting with the rock wall garden and the patio up top, then the woodland garden in the back corner, then the square beds and the pergola on the side, and then the bed under the giant shortleaf pine tree. The video is taken from our back porch after I did some garden cleanup. Hope you enjoy!

This post was written by Jean McWeeney for my blog Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog. Copyright 2019. Please contact me for permission to copy, reproduce, scrape, etc.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

All These January Blooms

Prunus mume 'Peggy Clark' flowering apricot blooms

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day is the 15th of every month but January is usually a challenge for those of us in the northern hemisphere. How do we show off our blooming plants when it's snowing, raining, or everything is dormant? I certainly didn't expect to find many blooms when I scouted the yard. But that's because I forgot about my 'Peggy Clark' flowering apricot.

Long shot of the 'Peggy Clark' flowering apricot tree

'Peggy Clark' blooms every January and sometimes starts as early as late December. Last year it started a bit late because of some hard freezes. It's called a "flowering apricot" because it doesn't really make edible apricots. I bought it for the blooms and because it doesn't get too big (15-20 feet). For many years (10?) it never made apricots but then last year... ugh, it dropped a TON of them! They're very sour but supposedly you can pickle them. No thanks.

Native witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana

A few years ago I planted a native witch hazel for wildlife. I had no idea that the blooms would be SO tiny. I can't see the blooms from my house and in fact, I have to really stick my nose in the plant to find them. They are pretty though, especially this time of year.

Muscari armeniacum 'Alida', aka grape hyacinth

There are a few early bulbs starting to bloom. The grape hyacinth are butting on buds. Their leaves come up in the fall, long straggly leaves. These 'Alida' grape hyacinths are from a batch I bought last year, most of which I potted up, so I'm happy to see them again.

Unknown paperwhite, probably Narcissus x italicus.

This narcissus popped up unexpectedly on the side of the carport. I don't remember planting it so I'm not sure what it is though I'm guessing it's an italicus type of narcissus.

Unknown but it might be 'Grand Soleil d'Or' paperwhite

Another unknown narcissus is this lovely golden one. I believe this came from a blend of bulbs I planted last year. You never know for sure what bulbs are in blends!

Matthiola incana, aka stock

I purchased a six-pack of stock a few months ago. I thought they were all white but it turned out only one was. But all of them were double blooms until this single showed up. I really like the color on this one.

'Little Women' rose

I was surprised to see a number of little blooms on my 'Little Women' rose. I love this rose bush. It reblooms all summer long and the blooms are fragrant. In spring and summer the blooms are light pink but now they are this lovely, dark rosy pink.

Sugar snap pea

Last but not least is this tail-end of a bloom from my sugar snap peas. I planted the peas in September but it was so hot then. Then came the deluge of rains from October through December. So they're just now putting on peas!

Be sure to check out Carol's blog May Dreams Gardens to see what other gardeners/bloggers have blooming around the world!

This post was written by Jean McWeeney for my blog Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog. Copyright 2019. Please contact me for permission to copy, reproduce, scrape, etc.

Monday, May 28, 2018

What Is It About Austin Gardens?

Portal to one of Jenny Stocker's garden areas

The Austin Garden Bloggers Fling 2018 has flung. And what a time it was. I had such mixed emotions on this Fling. Austin is my former home and where I left my heart. I loved trying to see it through a first-timer's eyes. And I wept silently for the loss of so many soulful and unique aspects to Austin.

For a while I pondered what to write about the experience and finally settled on what I think defines the gardens we saw - they evoke a very confident sense of place and individualism. I hope to show you examples of both in this blog post.

A unique bottle tree in Donna Fowler's garden

Each garden, both public and private, was unique in its own way but one garden that strongly showcased the individual was Lucinda Hutson's garden. Lucinda's home and garden reflect her abiding love for Mexico.

Lucinda Hutson's home in the Rosedale neighborhood

She LOVES color and although her flowers are colorful, it's her use of color on objects that keeps her homestead lively through all seasons.

Part of the vegetable garden in Lucinda's yard

Near the entrance to Lucinda's tequila cantina

Lucinda's garden makes me want to sit down, put my feet up, sip a tequila drink (a traditional margarita would be my favorite), and while away the time asking Lucinda about her travels to Mexico.

A vignette in Pam Penick's garden

Pam Penick's blog Digging was one of the first blogs I ever read and probably what inspired me to start blogging (that and having the time after getting laid off in 2008!). I've visited her garden multiple times and each time I find it so reflective of Pam. Her design sense is strong and she smartly contains her plantings to what will do well in her growing conditions. And she loves a little whimsy as well.

B. Jane's front yard with prickly pear (Opuntia sp.), whale's tongue agave (A. ovatifolia), and silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea)

Austin gardeners embraced the xeriscape garden movement many years ago and it's wonderful to see the great variety of plants that are now available in the nurseries there (envious!). Though some of the nursery plants are ones that have adapted readily to the heat and occasional (frequent?) droughts in the area, others are natives that can be found by simply driving into the Hill Country or farther west.

Mexican feather grass (Nasella tenuissima) and wildflowers in Tait Mooring's garden

The native and adapted plants evoke that sense of place I mentioned in the beginning. There were few fussy plants here. I know from experience that most of them are hard-working, sink-or-swim ones.

Jenny Stocker's English-style garden

Case in point is Jenny Stocker's exuberant garden (only a little bedraggled from a Texas-sized gullywasher!). Her plants, such as Indian blanket, cacti, and ornamental grasses, evoke the cottage garden exuberance of her native England but with sensible plants for Austin.

The deer-prone exterior of Jenny's garden

Southern maidenhair fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris) in Zilker Park. This fern is common on the limestone cliffs of the Texas Hill Country. I try to grow some each year in homage to the area.

For me, the plant that spoke Austin was the escarpment live oak, Quercus fusiformis. This is one of those plants that I took for granted when I lived there. Yet this time I was seeing it with fresh eyes.

View of the Austin skyline from Ruthie Burris' garden, framed by the ubiquitous live oaks

Live oak in a field outside Johnson City

You've got to be one tough plant to make it and thrive in Austin. The aloes, agaves, and other drought-tolerant plants that dot the Austin landscape are great but relative newcomers. The escarpment live oak is the one that's been there for a while. There's nothing like driving country roads and seeing a majestic live oak in a field. What kind of stories could it tell?

I had a wonderful time at the Austin Fling and feel so lucky to have attended nine (nine!) Flings so far. I've made some great friends whom I wish I could see more frequently. I hope to see you next year when the Fling goes to Denver!

This post was written by Jean McWeeney for my blog Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog. Copyright 2018. Please contact me for permission to copy, reproduce, scrape, etc.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day for January

Muscari armeniacum 'Alida' 

On this Garden Bloggers Bloom Day there is zip, nada, not a thing blooming outdoors in my garden. That's fairly unusual for this southern garden but we've had some pretty severe freezes in the first part of January. And we're on the precipice of some more temps in the teens preceded by SNOW!! That is a major event down here, lol! But back to the topic of blooms... I managed to squeeze out a bloom plus an almost bloom today indoors.

'Lizard Lips' aloe

From the succulents that are indoors, the 'Lizard Lips' aloe is still blooming. In fact, it's almost always in bloom. It's quite a hit with the hummingbirds when it's outdoors. The blooms are pretty small as is the plant.

Muscari armeniacum 'Alida'

This past fall I sprang for some pre-chilled muscari bulbs from Brent and Becky's Bulbs. They arrived in mid December and are just putting on buds. I have two pots of them and can't wait to see them all in bloom. They should get darker than this photo. Even though I planted both pots at the same time, one pot is just about to burst into bloom and the other is taking it's time. That's okay. The show will last longer that way.

Be sure to visit Carol's blog, May Dreams Gardens, where she compiles all the GBBD posts from around the world. I'm sure something is blooming in the southern hemisphere at least!

This post was written by Jean McWeeney for my blog Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog. Copyright 2018. Please contact me for permission to copy, reproduce, scrape, etc.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

A Big Experiment in My Garden

Willow oak (Quercus phellos) in early December

This year I've tried to lighten up my gardening load. The years just keep on coming but the body can't do what it used to, know what I mean? So, among other things, I have been rethinking my goals around the relatively new "woodland" garden. I installed this area in 2015. It had been a shady area with plants along its back edges and a motley look of St. Augustine grass and weeds. Here's what it looks like today:

View of the woodland garden from the pathway near the deck

From this view you can get an idea of the size. It's bounded on two sides by the fence, on the left by a concrete patio, and an S-shaped edging barrier in front. My idea originally was to plant shade-loving perennials and spring ephemerals. Sounds like a nice idea, right? But then I got to thinking about how much work it would take to find the right plants and keep them alive, and all the money I would spend.

Long view of the woodland area from the back corner. The small yellow plant to the right is a native witch hazel.

For a while I was happy with just letting the fall leaves build up. But alas, some very undesirable weeds also showed up. And since there is a bird bath and lots of trees, the birds dropping invasive Chinese privet seeds didn't help. Who wants to spend time weeding and not planting fun things?

Close up view of woodland area

I continued to plant the edges as I expanded the old alleyway garden. The alleyway garden really was an alley at one time many years ago. That means it's full of gravel, broken asphalt, and assorted weird things that escaped the old garbage cans that used to live there. We tackled the area in the back corner when we first moved here. After being an alley it had become a dog pen. So we had to remove mounds of torn up dog cushions and other gross things.

Latest alleyway plantings and self-sowings - 'Goldsturm' rudbeckia on the left, Nasella tenuissima (Mexican feather grass) on top center left, a couple of varieties of columbine at top, and various Carex species that planted themselves as well as "weeds"

The alleyway is both a challenge and a delight to plant. The challenge is finding small enough specimens that can be planted in a couple inches of soil amongst rocks. The delight is watching what does well. Mostly it's been ferns, columbines, small phlox varieties, and daffodils. But while I've been very slowly expanding this area, I noticed what started to happen in the other half of the alleyway.

Looking west from the compost pile down the unplanted alleyway

The western, unplanted half of the alleyway started to do its own thing with respect to plants. First, up popped loads of spiderwort, Tradescantia sp. Yes, it can be a pest here! Then some of my white iris migrated up the hill to the alleyway. Then various Carex species appeared. And of course, an assortment of more "traditional" weeds including sweet autumn clematis. And my ever-present, ever-cursed Liriope spicata. Some escapees from the compost pile also took up residence - rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm'). So I figured I oughta help out and this fall I scattered more black-eyed Susan seeds as well as purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).

View looking east down the alleyway of the more planted side (and my compost pile)

This led me to decide to start letting the larger part of the woodland garden do its own thing, too. I've planted a few native shrubs like witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) and smooth withe-rod viburnum (V. nudum). There are some daffodils that I didn't have any other place to plant. I moved lots of Southern wood fern under the oak tree since I didn't care if it went wild. There have been some interesting and different species of carex showing up. I haven't identified them all with any level of confidence yet so will hold off on naming them. But there are ones that are bluish with wide leaves and others that have skinny, green leaves.

Unidentified Carex species with skinny leaves

I'm really liking the clumping varieties but have found one kind (that I think is a carex) that is a runner and looks pretty invasive. So I'm removing that. I've also found some small grasses. You might ask why I would leave a random collection of grasses and carex about. I will grant you that it doesn't look that tidy. But I've been very influenced by Doug Tallamy's book 'Bringing Nature Home', and Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher's book 'Garden Revolution, How Our Landscapes Can be a Source of Environmental Change'. The 'Garden Revolution' book especially argues for leaving in place (or planting) small grasses and other plants that will feed the early spring pollinators and foraging birds. I hope I'm doing our planet at least a little bit of good. I do know that it can use all the help it can get these days.

Now if I can just identify all these new plants that are growing without my help, that'll make my year!

This post was written by Jean McWeeney for my blog Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog. Copyright 2017. Please contact me for permission to copy, reproduce, scrape, etc.