Poppies as big as the house!

Papaver somniferum var. paeoniflorum

Papaver somniferum var. paeoniflorum

Thank god they were not red.

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The poppies I thinned in February surprised me by exploding like pink fireworks, towering over the poor ‘Martha Gonzales’ chorus line like Ziegfield showgirls. They have been stopping traffic for weeks.

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Betty across the street, who gave me the seeds in a small vial last fall, now tells me I must plant them there every year. I suspect they will reseed, if I leave a few before collecting the gorgeously graphic, illegal-looking seedheads; but of course, they will never perform quite the same. It would rain less or more, or be warmer or colder, or cloudier or sunnier. Gardening is not a predictable sport, even when the gardener practices consistency.

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But my, what a spectacular spring it has been.

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After scrambling to Google, I have determined that they are Papaver somniferum var. paeoniflorum, commonly called peony or pompom poppies. Indeed, while they aren’t fragrant, they are probably the closest we will ever get in this climate to a flower that rivals a poppy.

What Remy thought of them, far left.

What Remy thought of them, far left.

I’ve brought some indoors. They pair nicely with the shoots from the artemesias that are smothering the roses along the fence.

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One online source, One Stop Poppy Shop, offers them in range of colors, including a gorgeous, deep burgundy.

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Home Sweet Farm comes to town

The entrance to Home Sweet Farm Market on Baylor Street in Downtown Brenham.

The entrance to Home Sweet Farm Market on Baylor Street in Downtown Brenham.

As if I needed another reason to love Brenham!

Home Sweet Farm has opened a fantastic fresh market downtown, featuring gorgeous produce and other goods made within 50 miles of here. It’s open on Wednesdays and Sundays. I visited last Sunday (and again today), and was thrilled to see customers streaming in.

Last weekend, cool weather crops still prevailed. Sweetest cauliflower I've ever tasted. I roasted it and made curried cauliflower soup.

Last weekend, cool weather crops still prevailed. Sweetest cauliflower I’ve ever tasted. I roasted it and made curried cauliflower soup.

Nine years ago Farmer Brad, as Brad Shufflebeam is widely known, and his wife Jenny founded the Houston area’s first CSA cooperative. They’ve been quite successful, trucking their beautiful bounty 70 miles southeast to Houston.

The darling Shufflebeam family: Corena, Brad, Jenny and Brook.

The Shufflebeam family: Corena, Brad, Jenny and Brook.

The great irony has been that here in Brenham, about 7 miles from the Shufflebeam’s 22 verdant acres, the only farmers market for years didn’t offer much in the way of fresh fruits and vegetables. It was charming and well-meaning, but unfortunately it disappeared this winter. Word was they were offering too many homemade products – including a lot of home canned goods and pastries – without proper licenses to sell commercially.

The Home Sweet Farm Market has all the legal i’s dotted and t’s crossed. One of the last elements to be approved, Jenny said, was the bathroom – of all things! (They had to prove it existed in the space already; otherwise they’d have been forced to upgrade it to make it ADA compliant.)

Bee Good, a Navasota-based company, offers beautifully packaged honey as wekk as these pretty beeswax candles.

Bee Good, a Navasota-based company, offers beautifully packaged honey as well as these pretty beeswax candles.

The market opened April 7 and very quickly its Facebook page had 1,000 likes. I’m hoping this is a sign of things to come. This town has so much potential, and it feels like it’s really starting to gel.

Our fridge is full of fresh bounty, including strawberries, beets, carrots, cauliflower, kale, potatoes and broccoli. Tonight I roasted the farm-raised chicken we bought there. Wow. I had almost forgotten that chicken could actually taste like, uh, chicken.

Still eating the bounty I brought home.

Still eating the bounty I brought home.

Artisan cheeses are coming soon.

A palette emerges

It’s one thing to adhere to a “live with less” philosophy in the house. I don’t miss having cabinets full of dishes we never use, and nine months into this gig I’ve forgotten some of the possessions that are stowed in the Abominable Storage Unit because I JUST COULDN’T BEAR to part with them.

But limiting the palette in the garden – now, that takes some serious restraint. One of the things we love about the little house in Brenham is the color it’s painted – a soft gray-blue that also happens to be one of my favorite plant colors. So from the beginning, I had in mind to keep the front beds, at least, to a very strict color scheme using silver-blue, peachy-apricot and burgundy.

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‘Frances Dubreuil’ close-up.

With the exception of a few ‘Grand Primo’ narcissus (creamy white with butter yellow cups), ‘Ice Follies’ daffodils (also white and yellow), orange calendulas (because I was desperate and couldn’t find the apricot ones) and the mystery poppies grown from seed a neighbor gave me, I was more disciplined than usual through the fall planting season. Even the trees fit the scheme, with three Arizona cypress and an olive. (My friend Suzanne did talk me into including a Mexican buckeye, which may fall more into the pink category. It’s just beginning to bud.)

A little bit of a cheat: a pot of dianthus and marigolds.

A little bit of a cheat: a pot of dianthus and marigolds.

The roses – typically my foundation plants – were easy choices, including ‘Frances Dubreuil’ (burgundy), ‘Adam’ (creamy peach), ‘Winter Sunset’ (another peach),  and ‘Star of the Republic’ (another peach!) along the picket fence; ‘Crepuscule (golden apricot) on the arbor, ‘Maggie’ (deep cerise) on a tutor and ‘Jude the Obscure’ (cabbagey peach) who required yet another bed to be dug. ‘Abraham Darby’ may yet be moved from the back yard to join them.

'Maggie'

‘Maggie’

The scheme is finally starting to show along the fence, with ‘Adam’ and ‘Frances Dubreuil’ putting on their first blossoms above growing tufts of Artemesia ‘Colchester White.’

'Frances Dubreuil' above Artemesia 'Colchester White'

‘Frances Dubreuil’ above Artemesia ‘Colchester White’

Plays nice with salmon-colored Salvia Gregii, too.

Plays nice with salmon-colored Salvia Gregii, too.

I love ‘Frances Dubreuil’ so much I’ve turned up the burgundy a notch with two new finds: ‘Ruby Port’ Columbine – amazingly rich little flowers dancing on skinny stalks, with buds that look as exotic as ancient, elongated tulips – and Indian Feather ‘Passionate Rainbow’, a guara that at least for now has burgundy leaves.

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‘Ruby Port’ Columbine

You want just enough of this color to add depth but not so much it looks like a goth party. This isn’t The Addams Family garden!

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‘Ruby Port’ Columbine (aquilegia) before planting.

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Not sure it will thrive in our climate, but how could I resist? And if I want to build on the palette, the lime green and soft yellow are good candidates.

‘Lilac Wonder’ Tulips

We can’t grow lilacs in these parts, and tulips are often iffy. But these little ‘Lilac Wonder’ tulips (Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’) look promising in their first season.

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I planted the bulbs last fall, and was thrilled when the first blossoms peeked above the ground a few weeks ago.

TulipBud

I was surprised to see the blossoms hugging the ground when they opened. They’re demure –  nothing like a big Holland tulip – but they’re cheerful and they are hopefully not one-shot wonders. Becky at the Arbor Gate says hers naturalized.

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This week, they grew legs.

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A first-year garden is kind of a pitiful thing, all that mulch still visible; but this is a good start.

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Leafing out

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Everywhere we look, spring is springing.  From the first leaves of the newly-planted fig tree, discovered first by a small spider who’s already using it for a web, to the buds on “Lady Banks,” an old rose treasure that came with the property. (She will be moved slightly closer to the Parthadon after she blooms so that she can be properly wrapped around the porch post and scramble up to the roof.)

The trees are looking especially glorious in the glow of early morning and late evening, their barely-there new leaves aglow amid the sculptural outlines of twigs and branches that will soon be obscured. It’s their lacy moment.

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“Lady Banks” rose is named for Dorothea Huggesen Banks (1758-1828), the wife of Sir Joseph Banks. They were patrons of plant hunter Robert Brown, who brought them the rose from China.buddingThe Texas persimmon coming on.SycamoreSunsetA neighbor’s sycamore, viewed from our back yard, lights up just before sunset.

Orange blossom special

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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.

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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.

MrsWVibernum

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!