It's been a while since my last post. It must be late spring / early summer, the time when gardeners and landscape designers like myself find little time for anything outside of the garden. I'm happy to report that my little vegetable plot is indeed a jungle and although I've only plucked one blushing tomato for a friend and another after a bug had eaten the other half, I have an abundant crop of very green tomatoes!
The first time I spotted the swollen green fruits on my 'Better Boy' tomato plant last week, I began to understand the yearly addiction that many hobby tomato growers must surely succumb. I'm one of them now. I gushed to my husband, my dogs, the chickens, "Look! Baby tomatoes!" as if it were me that somehow brought this miracle to life. Yes, I grew this now pregnant plant from seed, I'm thinking. Each day I go and check the progress of these little green wonders, finding more and more fleshy orbs to my amazement.
Now if I can just keep them unharmed from bugs, blight, predators, fence-jumping chickens... Okay, this is a bit like parenting isn't it? Of course they have their own agenda as they grow every which way and although I planted the seeds myself and fed them, well, I can't take credit for much else. Although I do spray them with organic fungicide and bug repellant (from Gardens Alive) about once a week. And I do water them deeply every 2 or 3 days from a drip hose. Also, I made sure they were planted where they'll receive at least 8 hours of sun each day. And, lastly, I have tied them to bamboo teepee stakes so their fruits won't ripen on the ground. Beyond that they're on their own. I figure that it's not "hands-off" gardening, growing these most heralded of fruiting vegetables. But it's not difficult if you give them an environment in which they'll thrive:
sun, deep soaks, healthy soil and a bit of guiding along their climb. I can learn from these tomatoes, I believe. I mean my kids do very well with the same philosophy.
There are more things fruiting and thriving in the garden beyond my teenaged tomatoes. The new blackberry plant is setting it's first berry, as is the young raspberry. Yes, I announced that arrival to anyone within earshot as well. My cat, Lucky, is making her name an honest one as she pretends she's Wilderness Kitty in the giant swaths of Mexican Feather Grass. And the four goldfish have really outdone themselves. Who knows who's the mother or father, but they have a dozen babies between them and they certainly drum up the most excitement among my family easily out-shining my tomatoes for the wow factor.
True, the baby goldfish are fascinating to watch as they compete with the four big guys for food and for their lives as not to get eaten by, gasp, it's own mother! I guess once my little green tomatoes turn red, I'll be doing the same thing.
Where's Wilderness Kitty?
The views outside my house windows have turned green. And yellow. Lots of yellow, in fact.
If there ever was a perfect mixing color in the ornamental garden other than green, it is yellow.
Tell me a color that clashes with it? It's like the sun. It brightens every landscape and gives the garden energy.
Well, spring has a thing for yellow which can easily be spotted peering over at the nodding Texas Gold Columbine, Aquilegia chrysantha hinckleyana 'Texas Gold', which dances in the light breezes beneath my kitchen window. My one year old Jerusalem Sage, Phlomis fruticosa, is starting to look like a real little shrub as it fills out into it's velvet oval shape producing golden clusters of flowers along its upward reaching stems.
The Bulbines, bulbine frutescens, are blooming as well. I happen to have the orange variety, so no pictures to go along with the amarillo rant. But the yellows are so soothing with their soft clear yellow wands reaching up to the flittering butterflies.
And then there's green exploding from every leaf in the garden, whether ornamental or vegetable. All of the shrubs have a new coat of tender shoots like a happy Chia Pet. I wanted to feature one of my favorite shrubs, the Yaupon Holly 'Will Fleming' that is a cultivar of the native yaupon holly, only this one is tall and thin and can be used like an exclamation point in the garden and in those narrow spaces where nothing else quite works. It grows to 12-15' in time and only about 2+ feet wide, although my one-year-old is only about 6' tall.
The vegetable garden grows while you watch. Those tomatoes are going to town! They seem to be doing really well with the "Tomatoes Alive" (from Gardens Alive) tomato booster organic feed that I planted in each hole. We're still harvesting salad although it's days are numbered with the climbing temperatures turning the greens bitter and speeding up the bolting process. But then we'll move on to the beans, tomatoes, okra and corn. Yes, I planted corn in this tiny garden. It should make a comical photograph, this 6 foot tall grass busting out between too many tomatoes and beans. I just wanted to have it all! Well, it'll be an experiment to be sure.
Have you seen those red amaryllis flowers in bloom all over town? They're usually in the yards of older homes in town, sometimes tucked next to an old shed like in our yard. Well, they're gorgeous aren't they? Hippeastrum x johnsonii (formerly Amaryllis johnsonii) is commonly referred to as Hardy Amaryllis, Johnson's Amaryllis or the St. Joseph's Lily. There are some specialty bulb nurseries that offer this plant or ask your local nursery to carry it. It should definitely be more widely used in the landscape.
I am going to show you the world's smallest vegetable garden filled with the most stuff. It's my temporary vegetable garden. Temporary being until I can convince my 14-year-old daughter to relinquish "her soccer field" portion of the yard for a larger and permanent vegetable plot. Well, for now this one is quite simplistic and really small (13' x 14', I measured it). I'm showing this photo not to showcase some great vegetable garden design, which it is not, but to say, "Hey, anyone can stick in a vegetable garden somewhere in your yard." Unless you have solid dense shade or have no yard. Most of us have some sort of sunny corner to grow some salad and vegetables.
I got to tell you, I'm really having fun with this tiny, rather sad looking little garden. It is so jam packed full of stuff it will be a veritable jungle farm this summer. I forgot how fun it is to cut fresh salad greens each night for dinner while spying on the seedlings springing from the earth. I planted dozens of seed packets this weekend, from soy beans, hutterite soup beans, Mitla black tepary beans, Tendergreen bush beans, Bull's Blood beets, Brune d'Hiver lettuce, Kurota Chantenay Carrots, True Platinum sweet corn to name a few. These were all organic heirloom seeds from Seeds of Change. I love their seeds! Heirloom seeds mean that these seeds can be used again from this year's crop and really need to be to keep the strains going. The black beans were used by native Americans and the Hutterite beans were brought over with scandinavian settlers.
When you see a "hybrid" seed, that seed has been bred to produce that particular type of plant one time. The following years' seeds will be offshoots from the different parents of that hybrid and won't be true to the original hybrid plalnt. It's really fun to use heirloom seeds because there is a sense of history (and there is a history to each seed) in each plant. Plus, if you're thrifty you can collect seed from this years' crop and replant them again next year.
Mark your calendars. May 15th Fredericksburg will finally have a Farmer's Market again after a several year farmer's market drought. This is really exciting as several Fredericksburgers have been working hard to organize a truly great venue which will be weekly on Thursdays, from 4 - 7 pm through September.
Here's the poster fresh off the press. Candace Morgan designed the new FFM logo (Fredericksburg Farmer's Market) and I've been helping with the posters. Woo-hoo! Now if I kill my tomatoes in a late frost I can count on these local veggie pros to supply loads of ripe ones and much more.
Meanwhile, I am actively working on my vegetable garden. We've eaten mesclun mix twice out of the garden. I love it! I am patiently waiting to directly sow many warm-season crops into the ground, like beans, corn and squash. But the seedlings I planted indoors under grow lights are really getting to be like lanky teenagers. They want to be in the outside dirt! I'm just being a bit protective because we still could get a late freeze. I'll wait another 2 weeks max. Then I'll just have to take my chances because some of these tomato plants will be sending out flowers soon.
And then there's the final photo below of those gorgeous succulents which are not edible. This is serious eye candy, right? Even though three of them aren't cold hardy they still deserve a place either in a container or the garden bed as an annual. (Hens & chicks, echeveria shaviana, 'Black Tree' Aeonium arboreum atropurpureum 'Zwartskop', and Dudleya caespitosa. Yes, that's a mouthful.)
With one week left of winter, as the calendar says, I've been reflecting a bit more on the winter garden. Yes, there are many blooms popping up and new shoots springing forth so I know that Spring is almost here.
However, as a garden is in constant flux, I also am continuously tweaking and adding layers to my young town garden. This garden is between one and two years old and it is one that I am slowly installing over time.
There is a certain luxury to installing a garden all at once and, viola!, instant lushness! I sort of did that last summer with the raised concrete garden in the backyard last May. I literally planted the whole thing one stormy afternoon from a trailer load of goodies I hauled from one of my favorite nurseries. That was luxury. I rationalized the whole extravagance by telling myself that our home exchange family from Sweden that was coming for a month that July really needed to have this as a backdrop. But who was I kidding? There's nothing like a deadline to get things done.
So, a year has gone by and I'm looking at more things I'd like to add or change around. I know I would like to have a few more bold evergreens in the garden by the driveway, which we also use as our front door entrance. I am thinking of adding Texas mountain laurel, Sophora secundiflora, as well as perhaps another Will Fleming yaupon holly, Ilex vomitoria 'Will Fleming'. Both would compliment each other in form, the first with it's full oval shape and the latter with its very columnar profile. And they would give the winter garden more structure.
A great way to see what your garden is lacking is to photograph the garden in the winter. Take the picture and look for the bold shapes which should be the evergreen plants. Is it hodge-podge or is the composition pleasing? Now is the time to move things and make changes so the roots have a chance to get re-established before the hot summer season. Better yet, draw simple composition shapes right on to a print out of your photo like I did in the example below of my side garden.
Do you have anything blooming in your garden today? If not, then think about adding some of these to remind you that Spring really is around the corner.
The redbud trees, cercis canadensis, are now blooming and I have a very old multi-trunked redbud in my backyard that lights up in deep pink-purple seemingly shaking up the sleeping beds. Mine is an old eastern redbud tree probably planted by the original owner of this German homestead. We are very close to a river, so the soil is deep and rich, thus this variety has done very well.
There are two other varieties that I like to use in the hill country that tolerate drought much better than the eastern redbud: the Texas redbud, Cercis canadensis var. texensis, and the Mexican redbud, Cercis canadensis var. mexicana. The Texas redbuds are smaller and more drought tolerant than the eastern redbuds and they have much smaller leaves that have wavy margins. The Mexican redbud is even more drought tolerant than the Texas redbud and usually tops out at only 15 feet tall, versus the Texas variety's max height of 20'. The eastern redbud is the tallest, attaining anywhere from 20' to 30'. All of them have heart shaped leaves and make wonderful accents to a garden.
Now look down. Blooms on the garden floor! I spotted the first chartruese blooms of my favorite plant that almost no one else has but everyone should, the Gopher plant (euphorbia biglandulosa). (The Natural Gardener in Austin carries them.) Notice that it is also evergreen although it is a groundcover only reaching about 12" tall. Next to the bright green blooms are the deep blue upright spikes of Salvia sylvestris 'May Night' which has been blooming all winter long! The catmint is waking up with its soft blue blossoms and the Sedum 'Neon' is morphing into succulent orbs which will eventually rise and unfurl neon pink blooms this late summer.