Tag Archives: garden

Monster beets

Beets as big as your head!

Beets fit for Goliath.

You don’t always know what you’re going to get when you pull up greens from winter root vegetables like beets and turnips. Even a master gardener like our friend Suzanne can be surprised – kind of like feeling something ominous suddenly tugging the end of your fishing line.

A cooler-than-normal spring has given us a prolonged season for winter vegetables, and Suzanne is still harvesting a few. She brought some fresh-from-the-earth goodness for dinner one night recently.


But, my, what beets you have! What to do with a 4.5 pounder? She had two of them, gargantuan roots that could have been used in one of those kettle bell exercise classes.

They were easier to chop than we expected and surprisingly edible. We juiced them with a little fresh mint, apples and a stray clementine or two. It made a rather large mess with all the greens in our small kitchen.

So, a little lesson: Don’t leave the root veggies to fend too long for themselves. Or the summer veggies, either, for that matter. Beware, the season of squash is fast approaching.

Poppies as big as the house!

Papaver somniferum var. paeoniflorum

Papaver somniferum var. paeoniflorum

Thank god they were not red.


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.


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.


But my, what a spectacular spring it has been.


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.


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


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.

Gravelly times

That pile of gravel has officially been cleaned from the driveway. The last of it went to creating a path from the south-side gate to the deck. Now, if those weeds could become a garden as quickly.

Moved a variegated gardenia from a pot to the ground just to make it look like we’ve started something. What I know right now: Everything in this area of the yard will have white blossoms so it can be enjoyed from the deck in the evenings.

We are so anxious just to get things in the ground we have begun a very bad habit of not properly prepping beds before we plant. Biggest problem: I keep picking up this and that at nurseries, then need to get it out of the plastic and into the soil.

The current philosophy: Dig out all the weeds and what little St. Augustine might still be alive there; throw in some Lady Bug Revitalizer Compost or similar product, plant high and mulch like hell. Borders, if we ever figure out what they will be, will come later.

The little bricks holding the gravel in place were about 40 cents each at Lowe’s – a Sunday morning score.


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, www.bhg.com. 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.

At the entrance, zinnias exit

Zinnias flourished this summer along the front walk.

It’s officially fall, and the zinnias I planted along the front walk right after we moved in are looking a more colorful again after the furnace blast of August and early September. Too bad it’s time for them to go; tomorrow the concrete walk comes out to make way for a curvier path of gray gravel.

They’ve been cheerful and welcoming.

I’ve saved the bulbine that waved above zinnias. A pair of Mexican feather grasses will also be transplanted to the new garden.

Buckets of bulbine awaiting a new spot in the garden.

Excited to get things underway, but it’s hard to say goodbye. This is where Pops’ pitchers come in handy. Boxes of other knick-knacks are still stowed away but this small collection that once belonged to Don’s dad are a fixture on our kitchen windowsill.

The last of the zinnias, saved for the table.

It faces east

The little house in Brenham, early summer 2012.

The first time we stepped into the little house in Brenham with a real estate agent, our reaction was quick: cute but way too small. Tiny kitchen. No dishwasher, and nowhere to add one. One long narrow room in the front that would have to suffice for living and dining. Two bedrooms, both about 10 x 12 feet. Two baths, not unusably tiny but not up to our citified standards in the tile, fixtures and finishes dept. It was under contract, anyway.

The next time we visited, that contract had fallen through, and our agent, whose name was Boo (no kidding) persisted. “Let’s just take a quick look,” he coaxed. We liked the big yard — about 8,000 square feet –almost twice as big as our Houston lot. It gave us a nearly blank slate for a new garden, with a big ol’ pecan tree out back, some gargantuan shrubs that turned out to be winter jasmine and two trees we thought were big limes along the driveway, and some ill-placed boxwoods, hawthorns and nandinas in the front yard, where the 2011 drought had pretty much decimated the grass. The big deck and the view out the kitchen window also appealed. So did the shed out back, which could be converted into a studio for Don.

View out the kitchen window shortly after move-in.

The kitchen was kind of darling, with a few craftsman details in the woodwork and glass front cabinets, plush niches up top where I could display our heirloom teacups and pots.  Did we really need a dishwasher?

The floor plan wasn’t bad, actually – the two bedrooms and baths were at opposite ends of the house. There was a nice breakfast room. The place had a gazillion windows, so it could be bathed in natural light. The laundry ‘room’ conveniently occupied a long, narrow hall closet. The front bedroom, which we began to envision as my office and a guest room, had a big walk-in closet.

The biggest plus: We could pay cash for it, which meant freedom from a house payment and property taxes that had become a big burden. Flash forward a year and a few weeks… We bought the little place last September – right around Labor Day – sold the Houston home we’d lovingly tended for 15 years and moved to the country on Memorial Day.

We are adjusting to a new life in a small town midway between Houston and Austin, living in half the house with twice the yard we once had. There are days when I think we’re in heaven and days I want to bust out walls with my elbows. Come back often and share your thoughts with me as we explore the pains, the pleasures and the process of learning to exist with less.

Less stuff, less stress. Did I mention the other great thing? Our front door faces east, an optimistic direction.