Total Pageviews

Saturday, January 23, 2010

So Here's the Plan...

Over the last few weeks, I've spent a lot of time dreaming about how I want our garden to look. I started scratching around sketching things out on paper, but then, being me, I decided to digitize it in Photoshop :-)

Here's what we have right now. I'm concentrating on the back yard here, so I haven't filled in any detail in the front yard yet.

Figure 1 - What we have now

Our problems include drainage issues and utility boxes that need to be hidden. In addition, I decided, right after my husband laid the stones, that the border that we put in last year is just too shallow to accomodate the plants I want in there.

Another problem is shade. The patio faces north and so only gets sun in the late afternoon. That makes it a wonderful and shady place to sit most of the day, even in the heat of summer, but the lawn along the back of the house has really been struggling.

I think that shade, combined with a downspout that dumps gallons of water in the area every time it rains, are probably the cause of the poor lawn performance.

Figure 2 - The plan for expanding the border

The first thing on the agenda (much to my husband's chagrin) is to expand the border. There's a utility easement containing the telephone and cable lines (electricity comes in overhead)  We have a pretty good idea where the cables are because there is a trench across the yard where the soil has sunk and it lines up neatly with the telephone utility box. However, a reader who read my blog on suggested I call 811 and have the utilities come out a mark their lines, so I did that at the weekend and they should be out this week.

Since we're also dealing with fence-to-fence sod, courtesy of our builder, I discovered the easiest way to create beds and borders was to outline them with whatever material we're using (stone left over from the builder in this case), dig planting holes if we have anything to go in the ground when we're at this stage and then lay down landscape fabric (or sheets of newspaper) and a hefty layer of mulch over the whole thing.

Over time, this kills off the sod underneath and next year we'll be able to dig, add soil amendments and add plantings.

To solve the problem of the area that doesn't get much sun, we're going to put in another border on the back of the house. Again, we'll edge it and cover the sod with landscape fabric and mulch to kill off the grass. Eventually the area can be planted with some low-growing plants and groundcovers that can handle a combination of shade for most of the day with late afternoon sunlight - hostas perhaps. We also want to put a rainbarrel under the downspout that dumps into this area, with an overflow pipe to run any excess water to the shallow swale that is supposed to drain water off the property. we'll be able to get fresh rain water from the barrel to water the plants on the patio.

Figure 3 - Placement of the Rainbarrel and Arbor/Bench

I've added the rainbarrel in the above image, as well as my solution for the utility box eyesore. The builder put in some bushes to hide the boxes, but they're just not doing a great job. I thought we could add a bench and arbor on a small paved area. The bench will hide the boxes from view when we're sitting on the back patio, and when we're sitting on the bench, we'll be facing the other way - problem solved!

This is the sort of thing I have in mind -- photo courtesy of

The expanded border there will allow us to surround the area with flowers - perennials, annuals, maybe a flowering shrub or two. I can just imagine sittng there watching the butterflies!

Figure 4 - The Final Plan for the Back Garden

So here's the final plan. Please excuse my very vague representations of the actual plants! I'm holding off on making any plant purchases until we have the border ready for them.

I'm hoping that this plan will give us the Green and Serene retreat that we have been looking for. My husband freely admits to being a "Non-Gardener" and has given me full rein to go ahead with the planning process. Although I've noticed recently he's started to roll his eyes when I suddenly jump up from my computer and say "You know what else we could do?"


Friday, January 22, 2010

Quotations for Winter Gardens

Originally posted on my Green and Serene blog at HoustonGrows

One of my hobbies, other than gardening, is collecting quotations. It seems that others can often say things so much more eloquently than I can. Here are some poems and quotations about winter and the garden. I hope you enjoy them.


"The color of springtime is in the flowers, the color of winter is in the imagination." ~Ward Elliot Hour

"The shortest day has passed, and whatever nastiness of weather we may look forward to in January and February, at least we notice that the days are getting longer. Minute by minute they lengthen out. It takes some weeks before we become aware of the change. It is imperceptible even as the growth of a child, as you watch it day by day, until the moment comes when with a start of delighted surprise we realize that we can stay out of doors in a twilight lasting for another quarter of a precious hour." ~Vita Sackville-West

"I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape - the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show." ~Andrew Wyeth

"Bare branches of each tree
on this chilly January morn
look so cold so forlorn.
Gray skies dip ever so low
left from yesterday's dusting of snow.
Yet in the heart of each tree
waiting for each who wait to see
new life as warm sun and breeze will blow,
like magic, unlock springs sap to flow,
buds, new leaves, then blooms will grow."
- Nelda Hartmann, January Morn

"Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius." ~Pietro Aretino

"Every winter,
When the great sun has turned his face away,
The earth goes down into a vale of grief,
And fasts, and weeps, and shrouds herself in sables,
Leaving her wedding-garlands to decay -
Then leaps in spring to his returning kisses."
~Charles Kingsley

"Winter came down to our home one night
Quietly pirouetting in on silvery-toed slippers of snow,
And we, we were children once again."
~Bill Morgan, Jr.

"In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy." ~William Blake

"Of winter's lifeless world each tree
Now seems a perfect part;
Yet each one holds summer's secret
Deep down within its heart."
~Charles G. Stater

"Nature has undoubtedly mastered the art of winter gardening and even the most experienced gardener can learn from the unrestrained beauty around them."

~Vincent A. Simeone

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I tawt I taw a puddy tat!



I thought everyone might enjoy this scene I caught this past weekend.  After I put out a new sock feeder, the finches found it very quickly, and before I knew it they were lined up.

Pippin, one of my seven indoor cats thought it was great.  There were about 5 finches out there, and I eventually went to the store and got a two armed hanger and two more sock feeders.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Foliage Follow-Up - January 16, 2010

Yesterday, I took part in Garden Blogger's Bloom Day for the first time.  And as I was browsing through some of the other blogs participating, I read about Foliage Follow-Up, hosted by Pam at Digging.

So this morning I had to get out with the camera and see what we have. I was in for a surprise!

Just outside the back door we have a Star Jasmine. My husband used to have one when he lived in California and he says it had a very lovely scent. But we've dubbed this one the Star Scentless because, although it had a profusion of blooms last year, try as we might, we could not discern any kind of scent. Still, it held up well through the freeze and the birds like hopping from it to the nearby feeder, so I guess we'll keep it :-)

Along the back wall, the Nandina domestica, 'Firecracker', is glowing.  It's looking a little lonely though, there's just a bare expanse of wall either side of it, that I lamented in my Planning a Garden for Winter Interest post.  Still, spring is not too far away and I'm starting to get an idea of how the back border will be laid out.

In the small bed next to the garage is a little hollyhock, Alcea rosea 'Chater's Double', that I planted last year.  It came through the freeze very well, with no protection at all - just a couple of yellow leaves.  I'm hopeful that I'll see blooms on it this year.

The Indian Hawthorn, Rhaphiolepis indica, at the front of the house, is doing very well. The bush seems to offer something in every season.  I love how the new leaves have a tinge of red on the undersides. In spring it's absolutely covered in blooms and after the flowers have faded, it's covered in blue/purple berries.

And here's the surprise I mentioned :-)

Over in the back corner of the back garden, by the utility boxes, I was very pleasantly surprised to see that the Butterfly Bush, Buddleia davidii, is covered in new little leaves. I'm thrilled to see signs of new life so early in the year! The gray-green color is a nice contrast to the nearby holly bushes and the rest of the (dead) foliage.

Not bad, I think, for my first Foliage Follow-Up.

I'm looking forward to getting started on the garden this year. Let's just hope it's not as brutal as last year was!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - A Light at the End of the Tunnel

OK - I'm about all done with winter. I've had enough.

Of course, down here in Texas, we don't get it as bad as the rest of the country. But this year saw a record-setting early snow and several nights of hard freeze which played havoc with our gardens which usually only have to deal with mild winters.

I was checking my "to-do" list for the garden in January, and one of the items was "Plant cool season color, such as pansies, allysum, petunias and snapdragons.

I'm happy to say, I'm one step ahead of the game :-)  I already have pansies in the ground and I'm happy to say, they weathered the freeze pretty well. I don't remember exactly when I planted them -- I think, just before Thanksgiving, but I can't be sure.

(Note to self: USE that new garden journal this year and make note of when you plant things!) 

This little gem has bloomed consistently, with more reliability than the post office (Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night... you know the rest...) since before Christmas.

This is Matrix© Yellow Blotch pansy and I literally planted it and a few others like it and forgot them, as it were.

They're mulched, as you can see, but I didn't cover them during the freeze.  They did fine after the first night of sub-zero temps, but were looking a little ragged after the second night but they seem to have perked up a bit since then.  (Yes, I know we're lucky, we only had a couple of nights below zero)

I'm off work today (also due to the freeze in a round about way -- a broken water main was being worked on and we had no water so it seemed as good an excuse as any to take a personal day) and after getting my hair cut I wandered in to WalMart where they were moving the Christmas stuff out and starting to get some gardening stuff in.

They had a few bedding plants in already and when I saw they had Allysum at $1 each, I splurged and got six! (I know, last of the big spenders, that's me)

This one is still in it's pot, but, even though it was drizzling a bit this morning, I got them all planted and watered in.  They're such sweet little plants, with a lovely scent, I hope they do well.

They certainly brightened a dreary day and reminded me that spring is, indeed, just around the corner and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

I recently found out about Garden Blogger's Bloom Day, hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens, where garden bloggers post photos of blooms in their gardens on the 15th of each month. 

I know this is a day early, but I'll be at work tomorrow, so this is going to be my first official entry in the Garden Blogger's Bloom Day !

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Starting a Garden Journal

Originally posted on Green & Serene at, December 16th, 2009.

Well, the snow and frost were pretty while they lasted. But the following week got me down. The dark days... the drizzle ... makes me glad I didn't move to Seattle as I had wanted to do at one time. And then the garden... it didn't help. Brown mushy leaves everywhere - ugh!

However, I'm starting to think about next year and how I will do things differently than I did this year.

I'm going to start by maintaining a journal. I started one this year, wrote in it for a couple of months and then got side tracked and it sat un-used.

I'm going to try harder in 2010. Journals help you keep a record of what you plant and when, the soil and weather conditions, any pest problems you encounter, as well as how the plants do.

The journal I had this year was lovely, with places to keep track of plant details and also a week by week garden log - what's happening with the flowerbeds, the herb garden, wildlife etc. It was an attractive book with gardening tips and things to do noted each week.

The only problem was that that it's a bound book, not a binder that you can add to. I only filled a couple of months of it, and I can't use it again without whiting-out what I put in there this year.

So I started looking online at Amazon etc. for a replacement garden journal. There seem to be quite a few different ones available and I was tempted to part with my money.

But while I was browsing around online, I found some nice looking garden journal templates that you can download and print out at no charge. Then all you need to do is three-hole punch them and keep them in a three ring binder. Plastic sheet protectors can be used to hold seed packets or plant tags, as well as photos of your garden.

You can add pages to your journal as you need them.

Below are some links where you can download free garden journal templates:

I hope you find them useful.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Buffet for the Birds

I had to work last weekend, uploading some content to a website I help produce, and as I was sitting a my desk, the birds outside kept me entertained with their antics.

I couldn't resist grabbing the camera and taking some photos out the window.  Not the best quality ( I really need to follow the Backyard Bird Photography Tips I found at Robin's Nesting Place) but I wanted to share them anyway.

blog post photo

This red-bellied woodpecker got me out of bed this morning!  I woke up when I heard him outside and realized there were probably a lot of cold and hungry birds out there.

blog post photo

This Northern Cardinal was quite happy to share breakfast with the Chipping Sparrows.

blog post photo

I didn't count as many Chipping Sparrows today as I did yesterday, but there were still plenty of them.

blog post photo

This Mourning Dove was grateful that I had melted the solid block of ice that had been in the birdbath.

blog post photo

Every now and then, among all the Chipping Sparrows, I caught sight of other birds -- Carolina Chickadees, that I can never get a photo of, House Wrens, etc.  I thought this little guy, that I hadn't seen before, might be a goldfinch in winter plumage, but my fellow garden bloggers on HoustonGrows told me it's a Pine Warbler.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Planning for Year Round Interest in the Garden

As I strolled around my garden last week, I realized that, while I do have some bright spots in the garden, there is so much more I can do to create some winter interest in the garden.  And I have a feeling that whatever I do to improve the garden in winter will also benefit the garden in summer.

There's not much I can do right now, of course, about the St. Augustine grass going dormant and creating a yellow blanket on the ground, but in the borders and (future) beds, there's a lot I can do to create some winter interest in the garden.

For example, right now, we have a vast expanse of (dormant) lawn, with a backdrop of beige wall, flanked on either side by bland fence.

Last year, we started work on the garden by creating a border along the back wall with stone left over by our home builder, but shortly after my husband moved what he swears was 27,000 tons of stone into position, I realized it wasn't deep enough to accomodate a multi-level shrubbery as I would like. All I had room for was a single row of (dwarf) bushes -- not exactly the effect I was looking for.

I hesitated to mention this to my husband... but after a few pointed comments he got the hint ;-) 

So at some point this spring, we're going to move the stone further out from the wall which will give me more room to have taller bushes in the back, and shorter plants in the front.

I've already got a few things planted. Among them:

Now I'm starting to think about what else can go in there. What I want are plants that will be as pleasant to look at in the winter as they are in the summer.  I especially love evergreens, but as I've been researching tonight, I've come across some that change color in the winter.  Others have berries etc., which of course the birds will enjoy eating as much as I enjoy looking at them.

Anyway, I'm not sure yet, but here are some possibilities for larger evergreen shrubs for the back of the border:

For the front of the border, I could choose:

And then, of course, I want to include flowers (annuals and perennials) to attract butterflies etc.

So now, as I enter these items on the Wishlist in my Garden Journal I can start some serious planning to get some interest in the garden that will last all the way from spring to winter!

Further information:
Texas A & M - Outstanding Shrubs for Texas
Texas A & M - Top Ten Landscape Perennials

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Starting Over

The title of this post has a double meaning.  First, it refers to the fact that, although I have been maintaining a blog, Green and Serene, on, the Houston Chronicle gardening community, I'm starting it up here on as well. 

Secondly, it refers to the fact that I am, once again, starting a new garden from scratch.

My husband and I moved to a new home in a new subdivision last summer. I knew the one thing I was going to miss most was the lovely cottage garden I had created at my previous house.  I really got emotional about leaving it behind but tried to look on the positive side.  

Our new home offers new opportunities to create a peaceful retreat for the two of us, where we can relax and I can enjoy my gardening. We selected the lot carefully, and chose this one because of the tree in the back garden.  I've never had a mature tree in my garden before!

When we moved in during the summer of 2008, there wasn't much there but a vast expanse of lawn, but eventually, I want to plant a multi-level shrubbery across the back wall and some island beds, to create a habitat for the many birds we get here.

Even though we've barely started, one of our favorite weekend pastimes is to sit in the shade on the patio and watch the birds, squirrels and butterflies as they go about their business.

My blog will document our progress, and also show you some of our regular feathered and furry visitors.