Welcome to my zone 9a habitat garden near Houston, Texas.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Bittersweet September

My wish that the rains of autumn would begin a bit early this year seems to have been granted, at least for the moment. We got a bit of rain yesterday afternoon and it started again at mid-morning today and is continuing this afternoon. All I can say to that is, "Welcome, welcome rain!" No watering chores for yours truly for a few days!

But there are plenty of other chores to keep the gardener busy this month. September finds us here in Southeast Texas somewhat betwixt and between. Summer is ending and fall is just on the horizon but not quite here yet. We're still going to have to endure lot of hot, humid days before the weather turns more dependably cool. Still, this is a good time of year to pause, take a breath and look around to see what has worked this year in the garden and what hasn't. Moreover, it is a time to make plans to correct those things that didn't work.

Like most gardeners, I think, when I look at my garden, I tend to focus more on the failures than the successes. I tend to see the browning leaves of the Viburnum tinus plants that I planted in the spring, rathering than the flourishing green of Viburnum obovatum (Walter's viburnum) and the constantly wilting and having-to-be-babied Hydrangea macrophylla rather than the sturdy and uncomplaining oak-leaf hydrangea. (Well, those plants that aren't doing well may not be failures exactly. They may just be in the wrong spot - not an uncommon occurrence in my garden.)

Looking back over the year so far, I will grudgingly admit that some things did do well for me. The vegetable garden for the most part was a big success. The only things that really didn't do at all well were the tomatoes, mostly, I think, because I got them planted too late and they just didn't have time to grow sufficiently before they got hit by summer's heat. I also had an abundance of blueberries, a couple of quarts of which are still in my freezer waiting to be made into blueberry muffins, and the strawberries produced well for me, too.

In the backyard, where most of my shrubs and perennials are well established, things have done well. Some of the plants that I had given up for dead after winter, like the 'Pride of Barbados', the bauhinia, and the dwarf jatropha, did come back eventually. Even my old split-leaf philodendron that looked deader than a doornail in late spring eventually woke up and has grown to about two-thirds of its former size. The backyard needs some clean-up and maybe a couple of new planting beds, but it doesn't really concern me so much. No, it's that pesky front yard that gives me heartburn and keeps me awake at night.

The front yard, of course, was my big project last year, and a year ago I was pretty happy with it. It was lush and full of blooms and gave the effect that I had been hoping for. But then winter came along and I realized my big mistake - I hadn't planned for four-season interest, and, when you are talking about the garden that people see from the road as they pass by, you really need four-season interest. The plants I had planted were beautiful in summer and fall, but almost none of them were evergreen, so the beds looked bare and dead in winter.

Back to the drawing board.

In the spring, I moved a lot of the plants that had been in the front yard to the back, and I evaluated what was left. I planted a few new things like the viburnums and some temporary things just to provide color, but I decided to wait until the fall to do any major work. Well, fall is almost here. What now?

On days like today, I spend a lot of time looking over my gardening books. The one I'm studying today is Howard Garrett's Plants for Houston and the Gulf Coast. (Howard wouldn't steer me wrong, would he?)

And next week, I'll be in College Station attending a landscape design course. I hope to come home brimming with new ideas about how to proceed.

September is the time for all this. There are regrets for past mistakes, but also realization that I have learned from them. And there is hope that my gardening efforts will be more successful in the future. Bittersweet September gives me that hope.


  1. Dorothy,
    Where is the landscape design class going to be at? I've been on the lookout for design courses.

  2. It is a four-part course sponsored by Dr. Willaim Welch of Texas A&M. It happens four times a year and the courses can be taken in any order. Here's a link for more information, HGG: