Friday, April 8, 2016


In a guest lecture I recently presented for a plant propagation class, I was explaining the importance of provenance in graft compatibility within certain species like red buds. Sometimes, even though the plant is the same, it's origin makes all the difference in the world. There are issues that arise when trying to graft a red bud from the southeastern U.S. with a red bud from Oklahoma. It makes sense when you look at the climate and soil in either of those locations: they are remarkably distinct, and it makes sense that the red bud would adapt and evolve to the conditions it's been dealt.

In trying to explain provenance to the class, I looked over and saw one of the students that works for me. Adelle is from the island of Granada. She has a beautiful smile and the most mellifluous speaking voice. In the months from October through May, she is bundled in long pants and sweaters. Now being a good, southern garden girl, I don't exactly sport the shorts and flip flops until it's at least 75F, but Adelle will be in full-on winter layers until it's at least 72F. The high temperatures in Granada hover around 84F and the lows at 75F. Year. Round. Adelle's provenance makes her a little sensitive to a climate outside of that zone of paradise. Welcome to Texas. 

Adelle sowing seeds from peppers her mom sent.
Adelle is generous in sharing her provenance with us. She shares delicacies that her mother makes, seeds from trees that would want to layer up in sweaters here too, and gifts that reflect the culture of her home. And then there's the rum punch. I'm entirely convinced that rum punch is served for breakfast, lunch and dinner on Granada. I just might have to go check that out.

Today, Adelle's surprise mailed from home, was a bag of peppers that looked like habaƱeros. Um...thanks, I think. In reality they are Granada seasoning peppers. A mild-mannered version of the scotch bonnet, these peppers have an intense, fruity flavor with hints of citrus and pineapple. They are infused throughout  Granadian cuisine, and just happen to represent the colors of their flag when in varying stages of maturity. She cleaned and then sowed the seeds; I can't wait to grow them here!

Mild-mannered Granadian Seasoning Peppers
That's the thing about gardeners. Regardless of your own provenance, you still maintain a remarkable passion for the plants you may only visit or be introduced to from a friend from a foreign land. Native plants should remain the staples in our gardens, but isn't it fun to try something that comes straight from paradise?

Sure you can find these seeds for sale on the internet, but the plants I grow in the future will have a story. And they will have a connection to a young lady, who just briefly, layered on a few sweaters, braved our Gulf Coast winters and put the island of Granada on my bucket list.

Real Estate in the Garden

As much as I love plants, I do descriminate.  It's not that my biophilia is lacking, it's that my real estate is.  By today's neighborhood standards, our just over half-acre lot could be considered expansive - I'm so grateful that we don't butt up to our neighbors - but for the Southern Garden Girl, every inch counts!  And even though we intend to take out nearly every bit of lawn, I really want the garden space we create to work hard.

I wish I could be satisfied with big sweeps of the same plant; I truly do value repetition in the scope of garden design.  It's just that there are too many cool plants to invest a lot of space in only a few.  And mind you I don't expect plants to bloom 12 months out of the year; I simply think they should earn their space in my real estate.  

THE GOOD: I sit in my backyard writing this and looking at many of the good guys.  Alternanthera dentata 'Little Ruby' is a perennially favorite annual of mine with compact, plum-purple foliage.  It echoes the velvety purple flowers on my Salvia splendens 'Ablazin' Purple.'  The latter of which is a much improved selection that has bloomed since I planted it in early spring.  Salvia splendens usually gives up around the first of July.  November happens in 3 days.  

I'm watching a delicate bumble bee ballet on the Agastache 'Blue Fortune' and enjoying how the Brazilian button bush (Centratherum rubrum) pulls my eye to an excalmation of 'Senorita Rosalita' cleome both of which have bloomed non-stop since spring.  

I did say that I don't require blooms lasting all 12 months.  I love my giant 'Super Nova' angel's trumpet that only flushes it's fragrant flowers when I go out of town - without fail.  I can't do without the night blooming jasmine that erupts into fragrant blossom just when I need it.  I will always love coneflowers even though I don't seem to have the right touch with them.  And that crazy-giant milkweed, Calotropis gigantea, who is quite a grinch when it comes to flowers, but more than makes up for it in architectural awesomeness.  

THE BAD: Ugh. I really don't like bad-mouthing anyone, but what do you do when a plant takes up a good portion of your valuable real estate, and you wait for it... and wait for it... and wait for it.. and... is that all??!!??  Here is what I'm giving up on this year.  Iochroma.  They are spectacularly photographed in close-ups, but what no one wants to tell you is that the blooms are entirely lost in the foliage.  I was hoping that the short days of fall would rectify this, but I'm still under-impressed.

Next is Solanum wendlandii.  I will give this beauty another chance in an assuredly more sunny location, because everything I read indicates five solid months of bloom.  This robust vine has decent foliage texture, but it's nothing to write home about.  The HUGE clusters of light purple flowers would be amazing if I didn't have to beat back the foliage to see them.  Did I mention the spines?  Ouch.  I will try this vine one more time in a full-sun-blazing, no-shade-around situation because I am dying to see what it looks like covered in those lovely flowers.  

Lastly, and perhaps this one is due for a move as well, is the Callicarpa longissima.  This beautyberry's flowers are beyond cool, but are on the small size when the overall size of the shrub is taken into account.  I planted this too close to a Muskogee crape myrtle, and the Callicarpa is giving it a run for it's money!  I'm still a little enamored with this unusual beautyberry, and am grateful that there is a specimen at my work, that has plenty of room, so I can continue to admire and evaluate should I decide to actually give it the axe.  Which I'm leaning towards. 

I always joke that my job is to "kill plants," but in all reality I evaluate them for beauty, usefullness and overall performance.  When real estate is valuable, choose plants that really work for you - in one way or another.  Life is short, and we should enoy every bit of it, AND every inch of it.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Am I blue? You'd be too...

     It's been too long since my last post.  Life can get in the way sometimes, but I've been feeling that itch to write for a few weeks now. After an amazing day with the Texas Longleaf Pine Implementation Team on our forestland, I knew it was time to get back in the game. I left the meeting inspired; dreaming of longleaf pine, wild game habitat, prescribed burns and terrestrial orchids.
     My drive home was accompanied by a host of roadside wildflowers including stunning white fleabane, cheerful yellow tickseed, new-to-me 'old plantation,' pretty pink evening primrose, umbelicious Queen Anne's lace, and an amazingly dark-pink prairie phlox.

     Well who in their right mind would pay attention to speed limits with that botanical fracas in process?  Not this 74 mph in a 55 mph zone kind of gal!  Talk about blue as well as red!  (Note that the speed limit in rural Texas is often 75 or 80 mph, so I'm not really a speed demon given my clocked speed of 74 mph) Looking into the eyes of a $298 moving traffic violation is enough to make anyone blue, and you can imagine that dampened the spirit of the rest of my journey home. 
If the cuttings of this Phlox root, I'm calling it 'Speed Trap'

     Luckily, I had plenty of things waiting to cheer me up at home. My 9 year-old son is learning to mow the grass, and had mowed both the front and back yards.  My husband cleaned up the fence line by our driveway and had managed not to destroy my Byzantine gladiolus that perfectly complement the also still intact Pam's Pink honeysuckle. And despite the blue state of my mood, blue is my favorite color and we had a good many blue clematis blooming in our landscape waiting to turn my bad mood around.

What a great kid! Now if he'll just do the dishes too!
     I am completely baffled by clematis, but have managed to grow three varieties quite successfully with ignorance and neglect.  The prettiest right now is a variety called 'Cezanne.'  I meant to train it on the mailbox post, but neglected to do so when early spring got so busy.  It has since made a beautiful mound at the base of our mailbox, and is blooming it's head off!  I did not originally have it's name, so I texted my friend Felicia who works at the nursery where I acquired it.  Felicia kindly responded to my text in detail at 5:30 a.m. this morning!  :-0  

Clematis 'Cezanne'
The next treasure I found was the very first blossom on the Sapphire Indigo clematis from Conard-Pyle.  This one is actually meant to be a ground cover, but I haven't had it long enough to evaluate it for that purpose. I can say that the color is a phenomenal shade of iridescent indigo, and I can't wait for the rest of the buds to open!

Clematis 'Sapphire Indigo'
     And backtracking a bit, I fondly recall the delicate fragrance of 'Sugar-Sweet Blue' that I received from a Facebook friend that I met in one of the professional horticulture groups.  This group had a gathering at a conference, and Dan Long of Brushwood Nursery in Athens, Georgia gave us all a clematis to take home.  This is the second spring for my 'Sugar-Sweet Blue' and I was knocked off my feet with the abundance of wonderfully sweet, fragrant blooms at the first of April.  The only negative I can relate about this healthy vine is that the petals go straight up your nose when you bend in too close to experience the sweet scent.  

Clematis 'Sugar-Sweet Blue'

     Suddenly, blue doesn't seem such a forlorn color to feel. It's soft, and cool, and pleasant smelling. It greets you quietly, and calmly, and perfectly after a $298 moment of angst. And so far, I haven't managed to kill the three clematis in my garden - I'd call that a victory any day.  

To purchase:

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Butterflies in the Summer Garden

Butterflies may be one of the least effective pollinators, but they sure are the prettiest.  Within the last two weeks, the gaudiest members of the butterfly family have been active in my little neck of the woods.  The swallowtails have been out in force, reminding me of God's generosity - a gift to be treasured.  There's an area where I work that is planted with masses of garden phlox and mealy cup sage, and it's simply alive with butterflies, especially swallowtails, and a host of other happy pollinators. This area is known as the healing garden and was created in memory of a little girl who tragically left this earth too soon.  Could there be a more fitting symbol of transformation, rebirth and resurrection than a butterfly?  What a gentle reminder of God's amazing grace.

Black form of a female eastern tiger swallowtail

  Obviously swallowtails are my favorite as I continually mention them, but who would disagree?  I love trying to photograph them and watching their unique personalities emerge.  The eastern tiger swallowtail nectars deliberately, opening it's wings slowly and keeping them wide as it investigates each individual flower.  The spicebush and pipevine swallowtails move at a faster pace making it somewhat hard to get a good photo and even harder to tell them apart.  My colleague Greg gave me a great clue the other day: spicebush are extra spicy and therefore have two rows of orange spots underneath their lower wings while pipevine swallowtail only have one row of spots.  The giant swallowtail greedily gulps nectar, fluttering its wings so rapidly as it flits from one flower to the next it hardly sits still long enough for a decent picture.  The zebra swallowtail is so elusive that I'm not sure if it nectars at all as I seem to only find them hovering over flowers almost if they are absorbing nectar rather than sipping it.

Eastern tiger swallowtail nectaring on garden phlox
Attracting butterflies is a snap.  Plant nectar plants in large groups or sweeps, in plenty of sunshine, to catch the eye of a fluttering butterfly.  Nix the pesticides - including organic ones - as butterflies and caterpillars are quite sensitive.  Provide puddling areas with dampened sand, and provide shallow dishes of rotten fruit.  And by golly, provide host plants for larvae - caterpillars prove to be picky little creatures who host on quite specific plant species.  Swallowtail larvae are no different, and each of the different species has it's own particular diet.

Eastern black swallowtail caterpillar munching on fennel
Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.
~Nathaniel Hawthorn
The rapid fluttering of a giant swallotail
Pipevine swallowtail on Peter's Purple bee balm
The zebra swallowtail seems to say "Catch me if you can!"
Zebra swallowtail puddling on sand at an east Texas lake

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Cowboy Crack - aka Cowboy Candy

     We can sure grow some jalapenos here in the South.  Some peppers like Italian frying and poblanos give us fits in our climate, but jalapenos are a piece of cake.  And when you have a husband that looooves spicy food, you tend to grow more than a few spicy peppers and subsequently have more peppers than you know what to do with!  
     So you get a little creative with what you do with peppers.  There are the obvious things like salsa and grilled stuffed jalapenos, but then there are things that are a bit more involved like pepper jelly or candied jalapenos.  I learned how to can because of a bumper crop of hot jalapeno peppers.  And I can't begin to tell you how ADDICTIVE hearing the first "POP" of successfull canning can be!  I now have a canning addiction and peppers are soooo easy to work with.  Well, except for the intense burning sensation left behind from working with capsicum-charged fruits.  (Yes, peppers are fruits.)  Oh, and we shouldn't forget the wonderful nasal and occipital burn that occurs with cooking vast amounts of capsicum filled pods!  Oh.  And the sensation that occurs when you forget to wear gloves and forget to wash your hands before touching things like yours eyes or your....
     One of the drawbacks to making Cowboy Candy is that it takes a mountain of sliced jalapenos to make a scant 4-6 half pint jars.   And, there's always leftover syrup that seems like such a waste - except that when you are in the throws of cooking the jalapenos in the syrup, it never seems like it'll all fit together.  I can the extra syrup to use as a meat marinade, but I've yet been brave enough to try it.  I suspect that it's just the thing a pork tenderloin needs to be fabulous.  
     I'm always looking for an easier way to accomplish tedious tasks - like slicing 3 1/2 pounds of skin burning jalapenos.  So I cheat and used a good quality food processor and make 7 pounds of (nearly) perfect jalapeno slices in no time at all.  I made a double batch of Cowboy Candy which fit perfectly in my canner.  I actually slice more than the recipe calls for and still had enough syrup for 4 half pints.  I'm just going with it and calling it Sassy Sauce.  
     I'll share the recipe, but I won't drag it out step by step - something I loathe with some bloggers.  If you are not an experienced canner, PLEASE invest some time researching canning and food saftey.  Ball offers some wonderful online resources at - be safe with your canning and do your homework!

Cowboy Candy
Yields: 4 half pins 
Prepare canner and jars
3 pounds firm, fresh jalapenos, washed and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
2 c cider vinegar
6 cups white granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
3 teaspoons granulatd garlic
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

In a large saucepan, bring all ingredients except peppers to a boil over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat and simmer roughly 5 minutes.  Add peppers and simmer exactly 4 minutes.  Using a sloted spoon, ladle peppers into hot jars leaving 1/4" headspace.  Turn heat up on syrup and bring to a rolling boil.  Boil hard for 6 minutes, then ladle into jars leaving 1/4" headspace.  Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if necessary.  Wipe rims down with a paper towel moistened with white vinegar.  (I use a paper towel wetted with hot water and then dry rims with a clean paper towel.)  Center lids and tighten bands to fingertip tight.  Place jars in canner and process in boiling water for 10 minutes for half pints.  Turn off heat, remove lid from canner and let jars sit another 5 minutes.  Remove jars to a quiet resting place. Refrigerate any jars that don't seal.  Let jars mellow at least a month for the best flavor.  This is a great idea for late summer canning to save for Christmas gifts - if you can stand to let them go!  

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rules of Attraction - Heat Tolerant Perennials

     Let's talk movie stars and plants.  There are some movie stars that just smolder.  Those that are so easy to look at, it's hard to take your eyes away.  Sometimes, OK most times, it doesn't always matter if they have talent; although talent is almost always present as looks only go so far.  But then there are those whose looks aren't in the Ryan Reynolds/Bradley Cooper realm.  Nonetheless they are well in the realm of handsome, perhaps enhanced by talent and personality enough to catapult "quirky and handsome" to "prince charming."  Sure we like those movies with the smoldering hunks, but when it comes down to it on a Saturday night Netflix search, don't we seek out the talents of Cary Grant or Colin Firth?  (Ugh, you caught me.  Their accents really get me, and of course I'm speaking to the fairer sexes with little regard to those interested in femme fatales - please feel free to insert your own examples.)

     Lesser calamint is the Colin Firth of the perennial plant world for me.  I fell in-like with it at Saul's Nursery during the Perennial Plant Association meeting of 2012 in Georgia.  I had many doubts that it would survive the heat and humidity a mere zone south of Atlanta, but I have slowly and steadily fallen in love with this plant.  I've situated it here and there at the SFA Gardens, in addition to my own landscape where garden space is limited, yet lesser calamint demands two locations.
      The tiny flowers are born on fairly long racemes and are mostly white with hints of blue.  Despite their size, the flowers are present in great numbers.  The foliage when brushed is mostly minty, and otherwise pleasant.  I can't begin to tell you how busy the pollinators are on these flowers.  It's definitely a plant that dances under the weight of it's many visitors.  The honey bees that have taken residence (for the second time) in our chimney are thrilled that this is in our landscape.  The native bumble bees are happy too.  I love finding them asleep on the flowers in early morning.  At first I thought they were drunk on nectar, but they are actually male bees who don't have a nest to go home to. 
     Plants are happiest when grown in a sunny spot with well-drained soil.  I have actually had great results in sand, clay as well as amended soils.  Cut plants back by about 2/3 when flowers begin to look tired.  This will encourage the foliage to flush and will entice more blooms to appear. 
     Lesser calamint is an attractive enough plant that grows on you with every passing attribute, much like certain movie stars who don't hit you upside the head with devastatingly good looks, but reel you in with the "whole package."  I'm eager to hear what my Bayou City AND my Hill Country friends in Texas have to say.  That's a real stamp of approval if we can all grow it....and I suspect we can!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Perennials for Hot Gardens and Hot Gardeners!

      At a recent horticulture trade show, I was on a mission to find starts of Salvia 'Amistad' - a gorgeous guarantica hybrid with fluid, dark purple flowers.  My colleague and I approached a liner farm with an excellent reputation and an equally excellent repertoire of plant varieties, and we asked about the salvia on our wishlist.  After we explained the genetics, noting that it would probably not be hardy north of zone 7, we were told "We only grow REAL perennials."  Well how about that?!  According to the Royal Horticulture Society, the definition of an herbaceous perennial is: a non-woody plant that dies back to a rootstock each autumn and regrows in the following spring.  Ummm...'Amistad' does exactly that for me - square in my zone 8b garden - and it's not a REAL perennial?!?  Harrumph!
     So here it is: Southern Gardeners are DONE with the zone 6 perennial mafia pushing us around.  I personally promise to dedicate my work, trials, blogs and posts to HEAT and HUMIDITY tolerant perennials that are reliably hardy in zones 8, 9 and 10, with strong recognition for those hardy in zone 7 as well.  It's our time Southern Gardeners!  Let's grow what works for us, share new perennials that fit our criteria, and be darn proud of our southern roots - pun intended!
     I encourage you all to tag photos and posts about perennials that work in the southeastern United States with #zone8mafia so our voices begin to unify and those silly Yankees heed our call and take notice!