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

Friday, July 29, 2011

"There ain't a tomato worth it!"

Did you see the recent story about country music legend Loretta Lynn's heat exhaustion?  It seems she was working in her garden when she was overcome by the heat and had to receive treatment.  Ultimately, she had to cancel a couple of her scheduled concerts because of the incident.  When she was asked for a comment about what had happened, she said she was going to have to stay out of her garden in the stifling heat because "there ain't a tomato worth it!"

It's very hard to keep a real gardener out of the garden, regardless of the weather conditions.  The pull to get out there and get doing what needs to be done - and there is always something that needs to be done - is almost irresistible, but we do have to practice a little common sense if we want to be available to garden on another day.  Part of that common sense is to stay out of the mid-day sun and heat.

Easier said than done sometimes.  My schedule is such that I sometimes do find myself outside at mid-day.  When that happens, though, I am very careful. Whatever work I do is done is brief increments of time, maybe 15-20 minutes.  I rest frequently and I drink gallons of water.  Also, the layout of my garden is such that I can do quite a lot of my work in the shade if I time it right.  It is amazing the difference that the shade from a big tree can make in the temperature on the ground.  It could well mean the difference between being able to function and being laid low by heat exhaustion.

As we continue to experience triple digit temperatures, we would do well to remember Loretta Lynn's words: "There ain't a tomato worth it!"  Don't overdo it and make yourself sick. Take care of yourself so that you can continue to take care of your garden.  Use a little caution and common sense and you'll still be around to garden another day.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Gray Hairstreak on almond verbena blossom

Hope is in the air

Late yesterday, my garden was the grateful recipient of one of the afternoon showers that have been teasing our drought-stricken area recently.  There was a lot of sound and bluster associated with the raindrops, but, in the end, we got only three-tenths of an inch of measurable precipitation.

Still, with just that little bit of rain, everything looks remarkably refreshed and green today.  The surface of the soil is still damp.  Today is one of my designated days for watering, but I'll leave the hoses coiled this time.

Almost daily now, we find that some places in Southeast Texas are receiving these very welcome showers.  They haven't been enough to make a significant difference yet, but they do give promise that this long drought may finally be ending.  Hope, along with high humidity, is in the air.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Flowery Friday

Gardening has been a real struggle this year, with one weather challenge after another, but looking around my yard yesterday, it occurred to me that, in spite of all my whining, the garden really isn't doing all that badly.  Here is a sample of some of the blooms brightening my life this Friday.

Summer phlox and salvia are hard to beat for all-summer blooms.

And of course there are the obvious summer stalwarts such as this crape myrtle.

The 'Otahal' salvia continues to attract native bees.

This white crinums, as well as the pink 'Ellen Bosanquet', have been in constant bloom for weeks.

The crocosmias, too, have a long bloom cycle and are favored by the migratory Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that are now passing through my yard.

The white 'Texas Star' hibiscus has been a winner in my garden this summer.

As has the red star.

The old-fashioned 4 o'clocks bring color and scent to the late afternoon and nighttime garden, enticing pollinators that fly at night.

Well, my little toad friend doesn't fly at night but he does make his home under the 4 o'clocks, perhaps to prey on the night's flying insects.

My favorite yellow rose, David Austin's 'Graham Thomas' glows in the late afternoon sun.

No blossom is more iconic of my summer garden than the tithonia or Mexican sunflower, beloved by hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and me.

With such colorful blossoms from all these tough plants, what have I really got to complain about?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A "misty, moisty morning"

Looking out my study window this morning brings to mind an old Mother Goose rhyme about a "misty, moisty morning when cloudy was the weather."  And how long has it been since I've been able to write words like that!

Yes, there is actually moisture falling from the sky here today.  It has been falling since about 10:15 this morning.  It is very light.  Looking out at the street, it doesn't even appear very wet yet, but this slow, light rain is just the ticket for my thirsty plants.  They are able to soak up every drop.

There's no telling how long it might last, of course.  Maybe another five minutes, maybe another five hours.  (Five hours would really do us some good.)  For however long it lasts though, for now it is a "misty, moisty morning" and cloudy is the weather.  And that makes me happy.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - July 2011

The exceptional drought which has plagued Texas for months drags on, discouraging both gardens and gardeners.  There is no end in sight.  Perhaps this is our new norm in this time of climate change.  If so, it is good to know there are a few bloomers we can still depend upon.

"Heat?  What heat?  Drought? What drought?"  The old 'Caldwell Pink' polyantha blooms from April to December, regardless of the weather.

The crape myrtles have never been so floriferous as they are this year.  This ancient tree stands near the back of our property.

The stand of butterfly weed has bloomed beautifully all summer but has had few butterflies to enjoy it.

 The native bees, like this large carpenter bee, have not been shy about utilizing it.  Maybe they think it is "bee weed."

The flame acanthus still burns.

Jatropha has bloomed profusely for several weeks now and seems just about ready to take a rest.

This brilliant-hued morning glory graces the trellis at the corner of the house.

'Mystic Spires' salvia blooms on, undaunted by the brutal weather.

Of course, peppers positively like it hot, including this ornamental next to the lemon grass in the herb garden.  It is full of tiny blossoms and fruit.

This crocosmia, a passalong from a neighbor, is also unconcerned with the heat.

I planted the 'African Blue' basil because it is such a favorite with bees, but it has so far had few visitors in this dry season.

The spider lilies bloom on.

And the 'Texas Star' hibiscus shines on.

'Belinda's Dream' has not bloomed as much as in a normal year, but now and then she sends out a few of these beauties just to keep our spirits up.

The several Hamelia patens shrubs around the backyard are in full bloom now, and a good thing, too, for their main customers, the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, are already beginning to show up on their fall migration.


'Big Momma' Turk's cap lives up to her name, filling the beds along the south side of the house.

And what is this, hiding among the leaves and sipping from one of 'Big Momma's' blossoms?  Why, it is a Gulf Fritillary butterfly, the first one I have seen in my garden for weeks!  Gulf Fritillaries are normally numerous in my garden at this time of year, but in this year of drought, they and most other butterflies have been mostly absent.

The pretty little blooms of pink lythrum peek out from a bed of summer phlox.

The variegated potato vine has been in bloom constantly since early spring.

Regular readers of the blog might possibly remember that I mentioned here that I was going to plant a few cotton seeds in one of my beds in honor of my father who was a cotton farmer.  Well, my cotton crop has done poorly.  I'll never be the farmer that my father was, but the few surviving stalks of cotton that I have are blooming now and here is one of the blooms to prove it.

I hope the weather where you are on this Bloom Day is more benevolent, and by the time we meet here again next month, I hope I'll be complaining about too much rain!

Happy Bloom Day and don't forget to visit our wonderful hostess Carol at May Dreams Gardens and see a list of all of this month's participants.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Will genetically modified crops be the death of the Monarch butterfly?

I came across a very worrying article in the science section of The New York Times this week.  It was about the effect upon Monarch butterflies of genetically modified crops grown in the Midwest.   Some scientists think it may be the final nail in the beautiful butterfly's coffin.

I admit I haven't followed the debate over genetically modified crops all that closely, but in reading this story I learned that, according to the Department of Agriculture, 94 percent of soybeans and 72 percent of corn being grown in the United States today are genetically modified to be herbicide-tolerant. Roundup won't hurt them.  Farmers can spray as much Roundup or its generic form, glyphosate, as they want on their crops to control weeds and it will not harm their soybeans or corn.

But, as it happens, one of the most widespread weeds across the entire area of the Midwest where corn and soybeans are grown is milkweed, the butterfly weed that Monarch and Queen butterflies depend upon for their reproduction.  At least it used to be one of the most widespread weeds.  Now that Roundup is liberally sprayed all over the area, it has virtually disappeared with the result that many migrating Monarchs find no safe place to lay their eggs.

A group of scientists has completed a study of the herbicide's effect on the butterfly population and they've recently published their paper online in the journal Insect Conservation and Diversity.  Lincoln Brower, an entomologist at Sweet Briar College, who has done studies of the decline of Monarch populations on their wintering grounds in Mexico, is quoted in the Times article as saying about Roundup/glyphosate, "It kills everything. It is like absolute Armageddon for biodiversity over a huge area."

There are many factors that are conspiring against the continued existence of the Monarch.  The increasing prevalence of extreme weather conditions in Mexico in winter as well as extremes of weather on their migration routes; urban development across North America that has removed much of the butterfly weed that they formerly depended upon; the widespread use of pesticides and herbicides in suburban and urban gardens; and now this.  They are such fragile creatures.  How much more can they stand?

And we might well consider Mr. Brower's statement about the herbicide killing everything.  There are other "weeds" in the habitat that are depended on by other creatures.  The herbicides kill them, too, and in so doing may doom the other creatures that utilize them.

It is clear to me that the chemicals used in modern farming and, all too often, in suburban gardens are a very mixed bag.  Certainly they do make the farmer's difficult job of weeding his crops easier, but at what cost?  And do we really want to pay that price?   DDT was a very effective chemical, too.  It did destroy populations of mosquitoes.  It also almost got rid of the Bald Eagle, the Osprey, the Peregrine Falcon, and the Brown Pelican, to name just a few of the affected species.

Is there anything that we as individual gardeners can do to help the Monarch?  We can pay attention to the debate about genetically modified crops and make our views known to our elected representatives.  Just be aware that Monsanto and other chemical companies are also busy making their views known to those same representatives, and they are throwing millions of dollars at them to make sure that their voices are heard.

Beyond that, we can do as the organization Monarch Watch suggests and plant more butterfly weed in our own yards, and, of course, refrain from using any of those chemicals that may be detrimental to butterflies.  I've done all that and yet I've seen very few Monarchs in my garden all year and none since the middle of spring.  Something is happening here.  What it is may not be exactly clear, but I don't think it's good news for the Monarch.  

Saturday, July 9, 2011

How dare they grow veggies!

These stories pop up in the news every so often.  Some scofflaw homeowner decides that he/she should be able to grow what they want on their own property and the keepers of conformity say, "No, you can't!"  It's happened again.  This time in Michigan.

In Oak Park, Michigan, the Bass family's front lawn got torn up when some sewer work had to be done.  After the necessary repairs were completed, the Basses decided that, rather than replacing the grass, they would put in some raised beds and grow vegetables.  They consequently installed five large planter boxes in their small front yard, filled them with garden soil and planted tomatoes, peppers, herbs and other vegetables.

 Here's the Bass front yard with its five raised beds.

The city code of Oak Park says that yards should be planted with "suitable live plant" material.  The Basses thought that vegetables met the definition of suitable.  Apparently, at least one neighbor disagreed and contacted the city.  Soon the enforcers came out and wrote the Basses a ticket for using inappropriate plants in their front yard.  The ticket is for a misdemeanor offense which carries a punishment of up to 93 days in jail.

In the picture of the Bass property that was posted online, their front yard looks neat and well-kept.  It is really hard for me to see how anyone could object to it, but the city's Director of Planning and Technology says that the code's "suitable" plants mean plants that are "common" to the area and that includes "grass, trees, bushes, and flowers."  Not vegetables.

Now, I'm certainly not a lawyer, but it seems to me that a code that provides for "suitable" plants is plenty broad enough to include vegetables.  What could be more suitable than a family using their own property to grow food for their own consumption?  I understand HOAs and cities wanting to uphold standards, but why should standards mean conformity and monotony?  Shouldn't there be space allowed for individual taste and freedom of choice as long as things are kept neat and are within public health codes? 

The Basses vow to fight the city's citation.  More power to them, I say!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hot blossoms

Most of the blooms that brighten my sad, drought-stricken garden these days are just as hot as the weather.

Like the blazing orange of the 'Tropicanna's' bloom.

Or the hot pink/lavender of the summer phlox.

The Hamelia patens shrubs have begun to open their orange tubular-shaped blooms.

As have the cigar plant Cupheas.

The flaming stars of the red 'Texas Star' hibiscus continue to shine in my backyard.

The 'Pride of Barbados' died back to its roots during the winter.  I wondered if it would grow back sufficiently to bloom this year.  It took a while, but here in July I have my answer.

  The dark purple of the verbena gives a little relief to all that heat.

My favorite old-fashioned cannas have not bloomed as profusely as they normally do this summer but they continue to send out the bright flames of their blossoms.  On the plus side, they have not been bothered by leaf-roller caterpillars this summer so far.

The Texas sage is in almost full bloom and the bees are loving it!  Was it the rain that we had a couple of weeks ago that triggered this spate of blooms, or perhaps the fact that I had watered the bed a couple of times recently?  For whatever reason, I am happy to see these blooms.

The flame acanthus continues to burn its way through summer.

My butterfly weed has been in constant bloom but has found few butterflies to enjoy its blossoms or leaves.

This little pink hibiscus has been a surprising winner in my garden this year.  It just blooms and blooms and laughs at the heat.

'Katie' ruellia offers a cooler note.  Many gardeners hate it, but I actually quite like it.  It does reseed but unwanted plants are easily pulled up.  It isn't nearly as obnoxious as some of the taller ruellias.

The bright yellow blooms of the cestrum have been going non-stop since April.

And autumn sage plants have bloomed all over my garden all spring and summer.  The blossoms are much-loved by hummingbirds and bees.


The 'Lucifer' canna blooms in front of the red-orange 'Big Momma' Turk's cap.


Purple porterweed blooms by the vegetable garden gate. 


And, of course, no survey of the garden in summer would be complete without mentioning the "yellow bells" of Esperanza.

There's no relief from the hot summer temperatures in sight for my garden, either from the weather or from the predominate color of the blooms.  The heat goes on.