Category Archives: Garden

Orange blossom special


It was a perfect evening for dinner on the deck. Birds chirping, more types than we could count. Divine early spring temperature with no breeze, yet the scent of something sweet wafted towards us.


OMG, it was the Seville orange! Buds! Flowers! And the top half of this year’s bumper crop still on the tree. It looks like I will have to go into the marmalade business next winter.

Pint-size spring

'Grand Primo' Narcissus

‘Grand Primo’ Narcissus

First out of the ground this spring, from the variety of bulbs I planted in the fall in the new beds out front: the heirloom ‘Grand Primo’ narcissus from Southern Bulb Company. What they lack in flower size they more than compensate for in personality – absolutely luscious little cups erect above the creamy white petals. Each one reminds me of a tiny bird with its mouth gaping open, waiting to be fed – except in this case they’re just drinking in the pleasures of the season.


Mrs. Schillers Dwarf Viburnum obovatum

In the back, we’re getting a start on the white garden with Mrs. Schillers Dwarf Viburnum obovatum, a small shrub – still only about two feet tall – I happened upon last fall at the Arbor Gate. It has exploded in the last week with small white flowers. Note to self: Buy more!

Separation anxiety


Here’s the thing about poppy seeds, or any other tiny seeds for that matter, if you are lazyish like me and sprinkle them into the soil to fend for themselves: They grow. And then, like a roomful of bickering children, they must be separated.

I have trouble throwing out bubble wrap and used tissue paper. You think I can toss dozens – hundreds – of living, green things with healthy roots?


You must, my neighbor Judy said, watching me today as I tried to perform surgery on the poppies that have sprouted in the ‘Martha Gonzales’ beds out front. I’m blaming my other neighbor, Betty, who presented me last fall with a harmless-looking little vial of seeds from Wildseed Farms out near Fredricksburg.

A week or two ago I painstakingly separated two flats’ worth for my friend Suzanne. But it looks like I have enough to cover a small field. I know, I know – keep the strong ones, toss the rest. I went on the attack again today and spread out several dozen in front of the roses.

This was probably not a good idea. I just hope they’re the orange ones.

Goodbye, little seedlings.

Goodbye, little seedlings.

Bitter orange pills

The bitter orange trees are almost ready to harvest.

When we bought our little house last year, the two trees near the end of the driveway were welcome mostly because they block the view of a metal building next door. At the time, the fruit on them looked petrified, thanks to drought, wretched heat and no attention.

This summer, with decent rains, they looked edible. We thought they were big, fat limes. They had that elongated shape and tasted vaguely like limes, only with a lot of seed. Then our friend Jean Shoup came for a visit. Not limes, she said. Lime trees freeze here. Those are bitter oranges. She said they’d make good marmalade.

A few days later, a young painter from Nicaragua was here to do some work on our walls. He noticed the trees and asked if he could come back when he wasn’t feeling well. He said his family uses the leaves to help alleviate headaches and indigestion. That gives some meaning to the idea of a “bitter pill,” doesn’t it?

Almost ripe; just a hint of green still in them.

Citrus aurantium, also known as the bigarade, sour or Seville orange, is native to southeastern Asia but it’s been distributed around the world since at least the 9th century, when it found its way to the Middle East. By the end of the 12th century, it was being cultivated in Seville, Spain, and it was reportedly the only orange grown in Europe for about 500 years. Spaniards brought it to Florida, and by the late 18th century, sour oranges were exported from there to England – where, indeed, they were used to make marmalade.

Known for their survival abilities, some bitter orange trees have been known to live for centuries. There are more than 20 forms, and sour oranges have naturalized from Florida to Mexico, among other places. I have no idea which one ours is.

The neighbor we share them with thought it was odd that the gentleman who planted them put them right on the property line. They do make a fine screen.

Bitter orange has various culinary uses and apparently makes a good vinegar. Oil from the peel is used to make flavorings, and the flowers (whose fragrance we inhaled ast spring) yield neroli oil, another raw material for flavoring that’s also used in fragrances. Sour orange is also a medicinal plant in several cultures – as our painting friend suggested – but it can have very serious side effects, speeding the heart rate and raising blood pressure, so we won’t be doing any health science experiments here.

But stay tuned for the great 2012 marmalade experiment.

Enter the trees

Trees in 30-gallon buckets, awaiting planting.

There used to be a joke about things being so slow you could see the grass grow. It doesn’t really apply in Texas, where during the summer we have to mow about once every two minutes to keep the St. Augustine from enveloping the house.

I don’t really have quite that problem, given that about 80 percent of our front yard has been covered in weeds. But now we have something that truly will take some patience and time to grow: new trees. I came home the other day from the city to find a dream delivered, thanks to my husband and my dear friend, tree wholesaler Suzanne Longley:

2 Arizona cypress, 1 olive, 1 Mexican buckeye, 1 Texas persimmon – gorgeous shape!, 1 roughleaf dogwood, 1 yaupon holly, 1 fig, 2 ‘Crepuscule’ roses and 18 ‘Martha Gonzales’ roses. The next day, her crew planted them. She helped us place them and thought we needed one more cypress – so it came a day or two later.

Almost immediately, I could see the need to move some plants and small beds I’d thrown into the landscape earlier this fall because I just had to get something into the ground.

Arizona cypress is like a small blue spruce. I believe this gorgeous, weepy-limbed variety is “Carolina sapphire,’ and they should be about twice this large in five years or so. Given the color of the house, how could we NOT have them? In this corner of the front yard, they will also help block the view of a busy street at the end of our block.

The trees turned out to be the easy part.

About a ton and a half of stone, ready to line a new bed.

When a palette of stone has your name on it, better get the epsom salts ready.

2,268 pounds of 6-inch thick Lueders Caramel Tan Wet-Sawn Limestone.

I pride myself on being quite the stone slinger, but Don had to do most of these. Very heavy.

‘Marthas’ in place, lined up like chorus girls.

Ah, the satisfaction when you’re done, of putting plants into well-prepped soil. Underneath all the weeds in our lawn is the most lovely sandy loam you can imagine. We plumped it up for this bed with 10 bags of Lady Bug Rose Magic Mix, then topped it off with five bags of native hardwood mulch.

Bring on the next project.

If you have been paying attention, you may notice some things missing now: New Plough & Hearth arbor, removed to the back yard for some other use; the stakes on it were too short to secure properly out here, given the downward slope of the yard – not from front to back but south to north – and the conundrum we created with the limestone edge of the rose bed.

Also gone: Those beautifully blooming Lindheimer muhly grasses, moved to a spot at the left back corner of the front yard. Soon to go: A silly round bed featuring the David Austin rose ‘Jude the Obscure,’ bought on impulse because a single bloom seduced me.

Soon to come: Daffodils and spring annuals to spill over the limestone edging, which looks a little too formal right now – like it’s in need of a Tuscan McMansion.

Gardens vs. Landscapes

Now the real fun begins.

Only about five bags’ worth of gravel still left on the driveway, with several mud-prone areas now looking much neater and the front walk ready for the next phase: more digging, garden prep and planting. Oh, and if we must, planning.

Rough sketch of backyard paths.

We’ve dutifully measured every aspect of the yard – distances between fences, between house and fence, between house and street, between house and Parthadon (more on that later) and applied it to graph paper. I spent a good part of a Saturday toying with the way the front might look using the garden planning tool at Better Homes & Gardens website, They’re just approximations because the plants on their list aren’t the plants I have on my list, or even right for Brenham’s climate, but I just chose things that looked similar to what I have in mind to create a picture. It’s a fun exercise.

The real problem with formal planning? Unless you hire a professional designer or use the most common plants, you’re going to go to the nursery with a list, find maybe a third of what you’re seeking and a half-dozen plants you hadn’t considered yet and, well, it just goes where it goes from there.

Gardens have to evolve over years, anyway. Otherwise they’re just landscapes.

I am, however, trying to be disciplined this time with a palette: I have made plant lists all summer with the idea of keeping the front yard to three tones: silver/blue gray, burgundy and apricot.

So… We stopped Sunday on the way back from Houston – a particularly long, roundabout way – at one of my favorite nurseries, The Arbor Gate, to see if we could find the perfect arbor for that new front walk.  We had the small car already crammed with the dog and some citified groceries and whatnot. It was unusually cold and blustery, on the heels of a front, but it didn’t take long to spot a few discoveries I will now have to go back for — plans be damned.

Barbados cherry was one of my all-time favorite shrubs at our last garden, both for its carefree nature and its pretty little pink flowers. I was pruning them into small trees. Until Sunday I’d never seen them any larger than a gallon pot at a nursery.

Swoon. ‘Rio Bravo’ sage alongside salvia leucantha.

And how could you not love this? Westringia rosmarinifolius – as the name suggests, a little like rosemary but delicate-looking.

Lavender is trying to creep into my scheme. Good thing the car was full and we weren’t dressed for the chill.

We had room for exactly two plants, which I scored in about five minutes:  Artemesia ‘Colchester White,’ which apparently doesn’t sucker; and David Austin’s “Jude the Obscure” rose, which seduced me with one gorgeous, peachy-cream blossom.

Walk this way

All my gardening life Ii have wanted a curved front walk. It just seems friendlier, like starting a conversation off with a little small talk instead of jumping right into business.

I’m finally getting one – the first step to making the front yard ours.

It’s been a long time since we worked with metal edging, and we HATED! the stuff at Lowe’s and Home Depot, which has the spikes stamped/embedded in the ends of each piece so they have to be hammered out to be used. No doubt this saves somebody money somewhere along the production line.

We bought a few and took them back. Then we found a local landscaping company and begged them to please please please sell us a few “real” lengths of edging. People are nice here, thank goodness.

I grew nasturtiums here last winter, zinnias this summer — annuals — anticipating this day would come. Shortly after this photo was made, a guy named Kenneth came with a friend and a jackhammer.

Down and dirty.

Curves ahead!

A step up, in place.

Driveway about to be tested.

Three yards of black star granite, some of which is going around the sides of the house.

The foreman, who appeared in my last blog (much to his dismay) as “the Slicer,” still smiling at 6 p.m.