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.


  1. You must feel like you are in a barren wasteland with that backyard. Not seeing many birds would also be hard. I will have to look up a couple of the vines- the variety of Passion vine and the butterfly vine- new to me.

  2. I love your good spirit in making such a dramatic transition but glad that you're finding solace in other nature (and container) outlets until you can dig your own garden again. Actually, wherever you are, you will find beauty all around you!

  3. I am glad you are getting out and about and keeping yourself involved in the gardening world. I know it's hard~especially the absence of birds. That would be very hard. Annuals may be your friend this spring and summer... and hanging out with other gardeners. I like what Linda Lehmusvirta said about wherever you are, you'll find beauty. xoxo

  4. So glad that you’re gettiing out in nature farther afield. It’s hard to be in the city. I so missed our garden when we were traveling on HomeExchanges over the last few years. It’s challenging to be without a garden as a gardener. Embrace what nature you find in your surroundings.

  5. Hi! glad to see your post! I container gardened for years---it was rough and I miss many of those plants now. Hope you are able to figure out where your garden will take you in the next few years!

  6. Jean, I’m really appreciating reading your thoughts on this topic. I’m sure you’re right about the reason behind the absence of birds (lack of understory or neighboring habitat). Hopefully the vines along the fence will be a success, and maybe that will have an influence. In any case, your observations are helpful! Keep at it — you are a gardener no matter what.

  7. I know those people! Lots to look forward to, even though as you say it will take some time. I'm finding container gardening an increasingly fun and satisfying activity. I'll look forward to seeing your progress with your new garden location.

  8. I know you'll be glad to have your hands in the soil again! Not having a garden would drive me nuts but at least you have your containers. You can create a temporary garden there and it will be exciting to create a new garden when you move again.

  9. Jean - Big changes for you. If we ever get to visit our Texas daughter again, maybe we can meet. And you can tell us where all the good gardens are for visiting. I hope you are managing the pandemic. Being able to get out into our garden as spring creeps into massachusetts makes life a lot more fun. Onward!


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