LemonBalmSouthernwoodAs many of you know, Texas has been reeling from an amazingly wet May. The total rainfall for the month was one for the record books. We had so much rain, thunder, and lightning that it came to be the norm rather than the exception for the daily weather. Having spent most of my life in the Southwest I am always grateful for rain on my gardens. I generally view storm clouds – despite the damage they sometimes bring – as a very good thing. But this time, I have to admit this time we’ve received too much of a good thing.

 

SageBeforeRain

 Observe please the photo above of my ‘Silver’ sage. Sage is touted as one of the prime drought tolerant herbs, a good thing for my Texas garden. I’ve had this sage growing here for several years. This photo was taken in mid-April when the thriving plant was in full bloom and the very picture of health.

 

 Now take a look at the same plant barely two months later after the heavy rains had taken their toll. It is dead. As a doornail. The drought tolerant sage suffered root damage from which it could not recover.
What happened? As the rain fell, the soil slowly became saturated with water, filling in all the tiny spaces where air should have been. This put the roots in a permanently water-logged condition. Slowly the roots rotted as the saturation continued. Oddly enough during this time when damage was taking place below ground, above ground the sage  looked fine. What few roots were still alive were able to transfer water to the stems and leaves. It wasn’t until after the rains stopped and the high heat of summer resumed that the damage became evident above ground. Then the over-stressed roots were unable to keep up with the water demands. The drought tolerant sage was unable to cope with too much of a good thing and died.
If you too live in a region that experienced excessive rains this spring, you may also discover that your wonderfully drought tolerant herbs have been damaged beyond repair. It can be heartbreaking but unfortunately the only thing to do is dig up the plant and buy a replacement. It’s sad but true that too much of a good thing is…too much!
Published: June 15, 2015 

The Sun is Out!

EchinaceaGreetings from a  very wet Fort Worth. Last month was the wettest May on record for this area, something I can certainly verify from experience. Today when I was out walking the dogs I saw that the streets have been so wet that moss had begun to grow in the gutters. Getting the paper off the front lawn has meant slogging through the too-wet grass.

Now the sun has finally come out and the forecast shows almost no rain for the foreseeable future. The soggy soil still makes serious gardening a problem but I nevertheless got out this morning to trim what I could reach without stepping in the garden beds. The abundance of rain has meant my herbs have grown beyond expectation. My lemon balm tripled in height. The southernwood is threatening to choke out some Jerusalem sage I planted back in April – just six weeks ago! And of course the weeds have exploded. I have my work cut out for me.

The garden isn’t the only place where I need to work. This last month I have converted my web page to a new look. There were moments of high anxiety involved in this transformation. Not everything is where I want it but I’m far enough along to resume posting. Over the next week or two I also hope to improve my blog email delivery. This may involve an unexpected email showing up in your in-box (as one did yesterday) but I hope you will be patient with me as I get things reorganized.

In the meantime, I wish you bright days and languid nights as summer progresses.

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The Kiss of An Admiral

Red-Admiral-ButterflyNot long ago I was outside enjoying the warm spring air when I was joined by an unexpected visitor – a red admiral butterfly much like the photo shown here. It was flitting lazily in the breeze. I was holding my hands in the sunshine and, to my utter astonishment, it landed on the back of my left hand.

I held perfectly still, expecting it to quickly realize I was not a nectar laden flower. That’s when I got my second surprise. The admiral butterfly extended its proboscis (a really long, flexible tongue) and  touched my skin. Then it took a small step back and out came the proboscis again – and again and again. As its tongue and feet moved I could feel the ever so gently sensation on my skin. I was surprised to discover I could sense the tiny claws on the tips of the legs as they caught my skin. And the feel of the tongue – well, it was almost but not quite a faint stinging sensation.

Why was this red admiral lingering on my hand? My best guess is the salts available on my skin from sweat. Butterflies, like all other creatures, need salt and sweat is one way to get it. Whatever its reason I was glad to have it in my spring garden. Moments like this are part of the spontaneous joy of gardening and spending time outdoors. There’s nothing like it.

Housekeeping Note: After I publish this post, I will be upgrading my blogging software for the first time in 5-6 years. This will probably mean the website will look a little funky until I get everything back in place. My goal is to be back in business by my next regular post for mid-May. Wish me luck!

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What’s Going On In My Garden

HouseInSpring

 

The last several weeks have been rather busy in my garden. The cold weather is a fading memory and the spring rains have appeared with a vengeance. In between storm fronts I have been out there rooting up weeds, pruning perennials, and adding some new herbs.

Alas, I’ve been paying for this frenzy of activity with a sore back. That’s the price I pay for getting things done in spring that will pay off all year long. As I dug and planted there were a few things that I thought you might find of interest. Instead of describing what has been going on I thought this time I’d show you.

 

 Spring01This is lemon balm, planted under a large tree in shallow soil that dries out quickly in summer, even though it is in the shade. Some gardeners would hesitate to plant lemon balm here because it can be invasive, but sometimes a tough spot needs a tough plant.  Spring02On the other side of that same tree I’ve planted this Jerusalem sage, nestled in between southernwood. Both plants can handle dry conditions but on this side of the tree they will getnearly full sun. The Jerusalem sage will reach three feet by July and make a nice textural contrast with the lower growing southernwood.
 Spring04Here’s a young fennel plant tucked in a corner next to oregano. This perennial herb will help to hold the soil in place (it’s on a slope) and visually soften the corner of the house. Spring03And finally, here is a Goodwin Creek lavender plant in my morning sun garden. Deciding to plant this here required the installation of wire fencing due to our dogs, Ferriz and Ginger.
 FerrizMeet Ferriz, the neighborhood watch dog and the one who buries biscuits in my garden. This is not a big problem except that…  GingerDog…our other dog Ginger, loves to sneak in and dig them up and often celebrates her victory by digging up herbs in my garden and chewing on the roots – hence the need for fencing.
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How Not to Grow Herbs Indoors

HerbsInPotsI am not generally a fan of sites that do their best to say uncomplimentary things about other sites. There’s enough sour attitudes and bad feelings in this world without me adding to them. I am now about to break my rule. What prompted this? I recently received a link to a blog post about problems growing herbs indoors. Somehow the authors had managed to do everything possible to make life difficult, if not impossible, for a half dozen hapless herbs. So without revealing the source of this outrage, I have decided to tell you how not to grow herbs indoors.

Where to begin? That is easy because by the second paragraph these gardeners had revealed a fundamental lack of understanding about roots and soil. They made a point of saying how clever they had been by creating a tamping device (a wine cork on a bamboo skewer) to press down the soil in the pot after transplanting the herbs. The logic here was to eliminate air pockets that would harm the roots. What they did instead was rob the roots of space to grow while dangerously minimizing the oxygen available to the roots. All soil (whether in the ground or in the pot) needs a certain amount of air space.

The next thing they did wrong could be seen in the photos they posted. The plants were lined up in the window of a multi-story building surrounded by other multi-story buildings in a major metropolis (name withheld to protect the innocent herbs). Those herbs were growing in low light conditions that would be fine for tropical plants that naturally grow in a forest understory but not at all fine for herbs from the Mediterranean where they would be exposed to full, bright sun. It was clear by looking at the photos taken later that the herbs were desperately reaching to find stronger light – well, those that weren’t being drowned by overwatering.

Which leads me to the next problem – constantly moist soil. They were watering these herbs as soon as the soil surface was dry to the touch. In winter, with the heat going, the soil surface will dry quickly but the soil beneath would still be wet. This was further confirmed when the gardeners posted pictures of the oregano and dill, clearly stressed and limp, being watered even though I’m sure the soil was still soggy. It is a sad fact that water-starved and water-logged plants can sometimes exhibit the same symptoms of limp stems and leaves. This is because in both cases water is not being delivered by the roots to the plants; in the first instance because there is no water and in the second instance because the roots have rotted and are unable to transfer water from the soggy soil.

I could go on about how the pots were too small (even after the herbs had been transplanted from even smaller pots), the herbs selected were very bad choices for indoor growing (dill?!?), the lighting was clearly inadequate, and the plants were probably suffering from too much attention. Instead I will just conclude by saying herbs do not belong indoors. Unless you are an experienced gardener and know – really know, not just guess – what plants need and how they look when they are stressed please do not do it. Resist the lure of those cute herb garden kits that make it look like anyone can grow healthy, productive herbs in the kitchen (or in this case office) window.

Or, if you must, don’t let me catch you doing it.

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Signs of Spring

Despite the unexpected freezing weather we’ve had here in Fort Worth over the last six weeks, spring has finally and truly arrived. The birds have returned and are staking out nesting territories. Each morning as I go out to get the paper I hear the cardinals, mourning doves, and mockingbirds making their presence known. As I reach for the paper I notice how positively ragged the lawn has become.  And of course the inevitable crop of spring weeds have popped up everywhere.

I celebrated spring yesterday with my first serious bout of gardening of the season. My target was the tree circle in the front of our home. In that circle I have planted, southernwood, rosemary, oregano, lemon balm, ajuga, and some snow bells. Everything needed a serious trimming. In the picture below you can see the southernwood and rosemary as they will look this summer. Now that I’ve completed my trimming the southernwood is about three inches high with tiny green sprouts here and there. The rosemary is about half the size you see in the picture below. It needed a serious pruning to avoid becoming out of control. Everything else just needed a haircut to remove the frostbitten parts and uncover the new spring growth.

The end result was a mass of clippings, a rather ragged looking circle garden, and a mass of sore muscles on parts of my body I don’t care to discuss right now. But soon the herbs will leaf out, my muscles will heal, and all will be well with the world. Such are the joys of spring.

 

RosemarySouthernwood

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