Total Pageviews

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Native Plants Versus Invasive Plants

I read in an article not so long ago that a good way to tell what sort of plants would be likely to grow well in your garden was to head out to a natural area and see what was growing there.

Sounds reasonable, doesn't it?  Well, yes, as long as the natural area you choose to view hasn't been overrun by invasive plants.

We happen to live in a new neighborhood, most of which is still undeveloped, including the lots on either side of us. One one side of us stands a grand liquidambar, or sweet gum, tree and some smaller oaks. It's a natural thicket, with its own understory of large shrubs and vines and it's home to all sorts of birds and other wildlife.

I love it and it will break my heart when they finally get around to building on the lot, but I digress.

You'd think it would make sense that, since I want the kind of garden that attracts wildlife of all sorts, all I would need to do would be to look and see what is growing over there and either dig some up to plant in my yard, or purchase it somewhere...


I had already smelled the delicious aroma of the japanese honeysuckle Lonicera japonica, which is on the top ten list of Invasives to Avoid  at Houston Grows, and I'm already well aware of how invasive that is, no matter how lovely it smells.

Recently there's been a large shrub blooming that I couldn't identify. I've been seeing it literally everywhere for the past week or two and I had done all kinds of Google searches trying to find it, but couldn't nail it down.

Well, I finally found out what it was.... on that same top ten list of Invasives to Avoid :-(

The photo in that article wasn't very clear, but something made me Google on that particular plant to see if I could find any closer, clearer photos. I found this photo at Dave's Garden.

Am I correct in thinking it's a Chinese Privet (Ligustrum sinense)? Such a pity, because it's rather attractive.

So where does a novice gardener like myself find the information she needs to keep from making big mistakes?  

First, I have to say that garden bloggers are a great source of information!  Many are Master Gardeners and everyone is so helpful and willing to share their knowledge with newbies like me, I have learned so much (and I know I still have a lot to learn!)

Local nurseries are a great resource too.  I happen to live close to The Arbor Gate in Tomball, which has a great native plants section, and some very knowledgeable employees, Master Gardeners among them.

In addition, there is some great information online.  As I mentioned earlier, there's a list on Houston Grows of Invasives to Avoid.
Also on Houston Grows - Kathy Huber has a list of Texas Superstars, plants that tolerate our extremes with minimal soil preparation and watering and no pesticides.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has a native plant database and lists of recommended species by location.

Texas A&M has a listing of Texas native trees with details and photos of each tree listed.

And that's just a couple of the online resources I saw.

So, using a combination of these resources, I hope that I'll be able to create a beautiful garden and avoid the invasive species.

Having said that, I probably shouldn't mention my St. Augustine lawn, should I?

Nah.... thought not....

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Star Scentless Jasmine and Other Garden Wonders

I apologize for not being very active this week.  I have a part time job on a large equestrian website in addition to my daytime job and this past weekend was a big one for us - the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event.  I didn't actually get to go to Lexington for the event (darn it!!), but I was posting reports and photos online most of the weekend.  And when I wasn't posting to our website, I was either out gardening or over at the barn, seeing my own horses.  It was too nice at the weekend to spend any more time than necessary indoors, so I didn't do any blogging.

But hopefully things can calm down a bit now and I can find time for gardening and blogging, as well as visiting all of your blogs, which I'm sure will inspire me to garden even more!

On to my blog for today: My husband is originally from California.  I think I've mentioned before that he's a self-confessed non-gardener, but he has made two specific plant choices in our garden.  One is a grapevine - and it's a table grape, not a wine grape, so there won't be a Wilson Winery (this year, at least).  The other plant he selected was a Star Jasmine, which he used to have on the patio of his townhome in California.

We installed some lattice on the fence for it, close to the patio so that we could enjoy its scent while we sat out there.  It grew very well, quickly covering the lattice and it's covered in blooms.

There's just one problem.... it has absolutely NO SCENT!

Now understandably, we were both disappointed and my husband toyed with the idea of ripping it out of the ground. But instead we opted to purchase another one (preferably already in bloom so we can be sure it has a scent) and plant it next to our Star Scentless. as we call it.

Even before it was in the ground, it filled the whole area with the most wonderful scent! (Perhaps the Star Scentless will take the hint!)

We still need to put a lattice up for it, but in the meantime, it's happily twining around the canes in its pot, so it will be okay till the weekend.

On to other garden wonders.  At the beginning of March I planted some lilium bulbs in the back border -- Dolly Madisons and Stargazers. 

While most of them seem to be taking their time and are just now appearing above ground, one of the Dolly Madisons is blooming already!

I'm not sure if the daylilies that I planted the same weekend will bloom this year, but the one I planted last year are starting to bud.  Finally, I may be able to identify the varieties!
When I posted a photo of our new rain barrel last week, someone mentioned we may have to raise it up and, sure enough, we did have to.  With it sitting directly on the paving stones, it was impossible to attach a hose to the spigot at the bottom.  

Since our builder had kindly left us with a pile of leftover bricks in the garage, we were able to use a double layer of brick to raise the barrel up enough to allow the hose to be hooked up easily.  It works like a charm.  I can use the hose to water plants on the patio directly, or I can use it to fill up my watering can to water plants in the hangers, or in the far reaches of the garden.

I've already got quite a bit of use out of it, watering-in new plants at the weekend, in between posting photos and stories from the Rolex.

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Charlotte's Web

In the summer of 2007, before my husband and I got married and bought the house we're in now, I walked out to the patio of my previous house one day and nearly had a heart attack when I saw this right outside the bedroom window.

I'm not what you would call a spider lover (in fact, I border on arachnophobic) but this spider had me fascinated. It had spun its web between the window and the large palm I had in the corner of the patio.

A quick bit of investigation and I had it identified as a Black and Yellow Argiope (Argiope aurantia). They are also known as Garden spiders and Writing spiders (named for that zig zig pattern you can see in the web.)

Because of it's size -- the body was over an inch long and it's total span was three inches or more -- I believe it was female. I called her, naturally, Charlotte.

Charlotte was in residence for a couple of weeks, during which time she took up pest control duties on the patio. 
 Even a large cricket like this was no match for her.

Even more impressive seen through the window screen!

If I hadn't have witnessed this with my own eyes and camera, I never would have believed it possible!

Sadly, I came home from work one day to see a little flag in the front yard, indicating my pest control service had been by.  My heart sunk as I went out to the patio, knowing what I would find. 

Charlotte and her web were gone.

While I appreciate that pest control is necessary if you don't want your house overrun with roaches, or eaten from the inside by termites, but I do wish they had left Charlotte and her web alone.

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Going Green

As I was taking photos today, I noticed that all the blooms are in the front garden right now.  I'm not posting photos of them because they'd be repeats -- the pansies, allysum and gazania that I have shared with you before are still the only things in bloom.  Well that's not quite true -- the African lilies are blooming, but I have the hardest time getting a photo of those pretty little yellow flowers.

But in the back, it's all going green.

The Rose of Sharon is growing like wildfire.  It's about 4 feet tall now and getting nice and bushy.  And at its feet....

...tons of little seedlings.  At first, I kept thinking they must be something else (while all the time knowing they could only be Rose of Sharon). The cotyledons they put out were nothing like the leaves of the parent, which is nothing unusual, but they were also nothing like the little weeds, sorry, seedlings that I spent hours pulling out from between the paving stones of the patio at my previous house. It's only now they're getting their true leaves that they actually look like the parent.

The Vitex is leafing out beautifully. I love this plant, and the butterflies, bees and hummingbirds love it too.

My only concern is....

...Now it's getting to be taller than the wall, do we need to be worried about getting a visit from the local sheriff?  It does seem to bear a striking resemblance to a certain plant of the Cannabaceae family. Perhaps we need to be more concerned about Cheech and Chong ripping it out of ground and smoking it?

Ok - now I've aged myself...

Here's a closer look at the little lattice fence I picked up at Lowe's recently.

Even this close, you really can't see the utilities behind it.  (Can't see the flowers I have back there either, but that's beside the point)  

In front of it the Tropical Milkweed I planted last year is coming back and there's also a Lantana White Gold, which is a small, mounding Lantana which really attracts butterflies.  And there's an Achillea Debutante, which hopefully will only grown to the 18 inches promised - there's not a lot of room there, as you can see. One more thing I want to get is a vine of some type to grow on the lattice, but I'm not sure what to get.  Suggestions will be appreciated :-)

And finally, this little passalong from my new gardening friend, Ursula, is settling in to his new home.

We've had a couple of gentle rains here in the Houston area this week, and the garden is really showing its appreciation. Supposed to be getting more rain this weekend, but hopefully it won't stop me from getting a bit of gardening in.

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Slowly, but surely, I'm making some progress on the garden plan that I envisioned for our back garden in my January post, So Here's the Plan

One of the features I wanted to add was a rainbarrel, to help with a drainage problem we have and also to give me some good water with which to water the patio plants and any other plants in times of drought.

Rainbarrel - check.

You might notice that the rainbarrel is not centered on the little pad we built for it and also that it overhangs the edge of the house wall.

For some reason, it seems like everything we try and do in this garden is a challenge. Every project seems to involve a lot of problem solving before it can go into effect. The rain barrel was no different.

In this case, we couldn't line the barrel up with the corner on the wall because the downspout is right on the corner and, as you can see, in order for it to drain into the barrel, we had to move it further right that we would have liked to.  And we couldn't center the rainbarrel on it's pad because there's a sprinkler head just to the left of the pad so we had to move the pad over to the right even more.

On a more cheerful note, remember those utility boxes in the corner that I wanted to hide?  (Ignore the really lousy grass, that will have to be the subject of a separate post, when I have the heart for it)

Anyway, back to the subject, I had originally planned to put an arbor and bench there to hide the boxes.  But we started thinking about it and came to the decision that  because the area is in full sun, we realized we wouldn't actually sit there, so I started thinking about alternatives.

Last weekend, we were in Lowe's and I happened to catch sight of something I thought would be ideal for hiding the utility boxes.  I had actually wanted something like it before but didn't know such a thing existed. I was really excited when I saw it and, since it was reasonably priced, I grabbed it right there and put it in our cart.

It's a little vinyl lattice fence, four feet wide and three feet tall. It has stakes on the bottom, so I was able to stake it directly into the ground in front of the boxes. It hides the utility boxes from most angles. There's a holly bush on either side and a couple of plants in front of it, but I'm going plant behind it also and add some containers in front, including a vine, and create a butterfly garden. I moved the stones out a little bit to make room.

Continuing the good news -- the Mars grape vine my husband chose is doing very well and appears to be covered in bunches of grapes! 

And now for the project that is giving me sleepless nights -- the shady area on the north side of the house, by the patio.

 As you can see, it gets deep shade most of the day (but not all of the day, it does get sun in the late afternoon.) In addition, a lot of the grass died from root rot at the end of last year.  So now it's basically a mass of weeds - very depressing to look out at.

So next on my list of projects is to do something with this area.  On my original plan,  I drew a curved border along the back of the house, but left the details "to be determined."  

I thought vaguely about a mulched area with "low growing plants."  They would have to be low-growing because of one of those challenges I mentioned earlier -- there's a row of sprinkler heads across the back and I don't want to block them by planting shrubs right in front of them. And then there's the choice of plant -- the area is in deep shade most of the day, but in summer, with the sun more or less directly overhead, part of the area would be in blazing sunlight, and it would also get direct sun in the afternoon.

I've been reading up on possibles but really am clueless at this point.  I had considered dwarf lily turf as a ground cover, also known as mondo grass, because I saw an area at Mercer Arboretum like that and thought it looked really nice.  But then I learned that real gardeners frown on mondo grass. 

We may just go ahead and create the mulched border (so I don't have to look at the weeds) and wait for a while before putting anything in it. Or heck, maybe we should haul in some river rock in and dump it there.  

To be honest, the damaged lawn and this shady area have me pretty depressed, even overshadowing the pleasant weekend I had, planting some flowers in the front flowerbed.

If we had money to burn, I'd have a professional come in and give us some ideas, but we don't so we have to figure it out ourselves. 

Or should I say, I have to figure it out myself (with a little help from my friends - that's you!), since my husband is willing to provide the muscle, but admits he doesn't know anything about landscaping or gardening.

Okay, so now it's late and I'm bummed out, let me try and cheer myself up by showing you some bluebonnets we saw last weekend.

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Finally, something blooming that isn't a pansy!

I planted these gazanias, Gazania splendens, also known as Treasure Flower, last summer.  They provided me some nice late summer and fall color and I was rather expecting to have to wait for them to bloom much later in the season.

I'm pleasantly surprised that they made it through the winter unscathed by the freeze and that they have bloomed so early. According to the plant profile on Dave's Garden they bloom repeatedly, so I'm looking forward to enjoying them throughout the summer. I didn't know until today that they are called "Treasure Flower." But how appropriate - what a treasure they are.

Elsewhere in the garden, I seem to have more "almost flowers" than I do "actual flowers".

Here's Lilium "Dolly Madison" growing next to the utility boxes.

And here's the Hollyhock on the other side of the utility boxes. Unfortunately the one in the front garden got covered in rust and I had to pull it up, bag it and put it in the trash before it affected this one.

And finally, I picked up three Tropical Milkweeds over the weekend.  Two are this color, one is yellow.  So I'm ready, should the Monarchs choose to stop by this year.

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Share and Share Alike

Quite often, when I look outside, I'll see a squirrel on the wall or fence, sitting on his haunches, chowing down on the seeds I put out for the birds.  My husband jokes that they are just ignoring the "No Squirrels Allowed" sign.

I really don't mind, I find them quite entertaining.  I could sit and watch them for hours -- well, I do, sometimes.

I was even more amused yesterday, when I happened to see something I hadn't seen before --  a Mourning Dove standing on the squirrel feeder, helping himself.

A little while later, there was a Blue Jay out there, also pecking over the remains of the morning's squirrel breakfast.

But the squirrels had the last laugh. I couldn't believe my eyes when I was heading outdoors with my coffee and saw this young lady IN the birdfeeder!

Life is never dull around here.  I hope that doesn't change when our subdivision, as yet less than one quarter built out, gets filled in.

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.