Saturday, January 18, 2020

New Year, New Garden, New Challenges

Part of my succulent collection

Well! It's a new year and I've clearly been absent from my blog. That's because (in case you haven't been keeping up with me on my Instagram account) we moved from Ruston, Louisiana to Houston, Texas in mid June. I left my Zone 8a garden that was 14 years in the making and moved into a rental home in Zone 9a with a yard that is pretty barren except for some trees and a St. Augustine lawn. And a renter (me) who is reluctant to start digging up the yard, adding more value for the landlord.

Start of the Christmas cactus blooms

So this post is not filled with pretty pics of my garden or pics of its transformation. It's instead musings about the challenges I'm facing as a gardener and what I'm trying to do to keep myself sane without a bonafide garden. As you can see in the photo of my Christmas cactus, one thing I'm doing is resorting to container gardening. I did lots of container gardening before our move but I had a big yard to also play in. So how do I take what I enjoyed about having a yard/garden and translate that to containers?

Monarch on 'Indigo Spires' salvia

I guess the answer is slowly. Unfortunately I had to leave behind a lot of the large containers I had when we moved (the movers wouldn't take them and we schlepped only as many as we could in two trips). In Ruston I planted mainly for the pollinators, butterflies, and birds. So one thing I did here is fill my biggest pot with a few pollinator-friendly plants such as Salvia 'Indigo Spires', rose milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), and bronze fennel. The bronze fennel promptly died and the milkweed did nothing more than attract milkweed bugs. But the reliable old salvia attracted many bees and the occasional monarch that passed by. One of my biggest challenges is the fact that right behind the backyard is a school playground that doesn't have a lick of live plants in it, just playground equipment and rubber mulch. So attracting any critters is quite a challenge. Plus the fence is simply an 8-foot tall chainlink one with "privacy" slats. So I hear and see many kids during the week. Along the fence I've planted passion vine (Passiflora incarnata x cincinnata 'Incense'), yellow trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans ‘Flava’), butterfly vine (Mascagnia macropetala), and 'Early Multiflora Blend' sweet peas. This is my one concession to not putting plants in the ground. We'll see how the vines will turn out in 2020.

Red spider lily

To my delight, a few red spider lilies (Lycoris radiata) popped up in the back lawn in September. I hope to encourage more of them this coming year.

Birding in the Texas Hill Country with my friend, Dee

Because there is no understory beneath the few pine trees, live oaks, and water oaks that dot the front and back yards, and because of that barren playground behind us, birds are almost nonexistent. I've got the feeders up and the bird seed just sits there. Occasionally I'll see a white-wing dove or a cardinal but otherwise it's pretty quiet. So that means I must venture afar to not only see a few birds but to get my fix of Mother Nature. I've been attending the bird walks at a local nature center, went on a Christmas Bird Count at Brazos Bend State Park, and have birded with friends in the Texas Hill Country (one of my favorite places).

A short video of a creek heading to the Sabinal River in Lost Maples State Natural Area.

I'm also still touring gardens, roaming nurseries, and attending talks when I can. Gotta keep my chops up! And I gotta keep my sanity. Yes, I'm finding it difficult to survive without my very own garden but I'm working on making an inviting patio, keeping my toe dipped in the geeky garden world, and communing with nature as often as I can.

I visited Fern Plantation Nursery in Magnolia, TX, with fellow bloggers Cindy, Laurin, Andrea, and Misti.

This post was written by Jean McWeeney for my blog Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog. Copyright 2020. Please contact me for permission to copy, reproduce, scrape, etc.

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.