Tag Archives: gardening

New garden installation in Galveston

For the first time in my life, I got to plan and plant a garden in a “sub-tropical” zone.  Christie’s parents have built a house in Galveston, Texas and we got to install the garden out front.  We live in zone 7a and Galveston is zone 9b!  What does that mean exactly?  That I get to grow plants that thrive in an environment where the temperature never dips below 25 Fahrenheit.  My zone dips down to zero Fahrenheit. In October, Christie and I headed down to Galveston to help her parents finish the house and have a little leisure time.

Laying the retaining wall blocks
Laying the retaining wall blocks

It was fun visiting the garden centers in this part of the country and seeing all of the plants that can be grown there that can’t be grown here.  I didn’t really have any rules about the landscaping, but I wanted to get items that can’t be grown here.  Here’s the full listing of what we planted: black Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia), Canna ‘Pink Sunburst’, pink Bougainvillea, Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia), Zamia vazquezii, Dietes iridioides, Alocasia ‘Frydek’, Indian Hawthorne, Natal Plum (Carissa macrocarpa), Gardenia,  Banana Tree, Duranta, Bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus ‘Little John’), spicy Jatropha (Jatropha integerrima), Plumbago auriculata, Blue Ginger (Dichorisandra thyrsifolia), Red Shrimp Plant (Justicia brandegeana), pink Oleanders (Nerium oleander), dwarf coral Ixora, Yucca, yellow Allamanda bush, Brugmansia.

Plants eagerly awaiting their new homes
Plants eagerly awaiting their new homes

We did more soil preparation for this garden than I have ever done before.  We purchased more than 30 bags of soil, manure and other amendments to mix with the sandy soil that is filled with shells.  We wanted to build the flowerbeds up about 8 inches in some areas and about 16 inches in other areas.  There was a lot of shovel work, but once the ingredients were mixed and spread, and the retaining wall was in place, the planting was very easy.

Bird's eye view of left side garden finished
Bird's eye view of left side garden finished

I look forward to seeing how the garden matures over the next several years.  Hopefully the plants will be happy enough without someone there full-time to tend to them.

Finished garden on the right side
Finished garden on the right side

2011 Edition of “corner garden additions”

Each year we plant new stuff in our corner garden.  It’s always a bit of a test to see what can become established, what we will remember to water, etc.  We always start with good intentions, but somewhere along the way it gets really hot and dry in the middle of the summer and we forget to water for a week or two and before you know it, we’ve lost some of our new plants.

This year we have started off with really good habits.  During this time of year we are normally allowing nature to water our garden, but this spring has been particularly dry.  To top it off, we laid out some Fescue grass sod about a month ago, so we were forced to be vigilant with our watering efforts.  Since we have been watering our sod and our new garden around the greenhouse, we have also been dragging the hose out to the corner garden and watering those new and established plants – to give them the water they are expecting at this time of year.

Indian Hawthorn
Indian Hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica)

A plant that I have admired in some flowerbeds around town is the Indian Hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica).  After first seeing it blooming and subsequently producing blue berries in the flowerbeds in front of my office building, I searched online to find out what it was.  I read that it was sometimes a challenging plant to grow, but I observed that no one was giving it special care in the flowerbeds at the office.  In fact, I saw it growing in several other flowerbeds that receive irregular attention through the year.  When I saw this plant being offered pretty cheap at Lowe’s, I snatched one up to try in the corner garden – saving my receipt, in case it doesn’t work out.  (I hope you know that Lowe’s has a 1 year guarantee on their plants…)

One of the new Gauras, in bud but not yet opened.
One of the new Gauras, in bud but not yet opened. Sorry for the fuzzy picture.

We have planted Gauras (Oenothera sp., sometimes called “Butterfly Weed”) in the corner garden before and lost them.  They are mildly drought tolerant, but need to become established first.  In other words, if you toss them in the ground, squirt them with the hose and then let them sit in the baking sun for the rest of the summer, they probably won’t make it.  But if you give them some TLC for a year and then leave them to nature, they should be much more successful.  We got two beautiful mature Gauras this year and planted them in our brick garden around the greenhouse.  They have been growing steadily and blooming up a storm, since we have been watering them regularly.  So then I saw some smaller Gauras for a really good price ($2.49) and I snatched up two of them for the corner garden.

Kniphofia
New Kniphofia, which is still quite small. Again, sorry for the fuzzy picture.

One of the really cool plants native to Ethiopia that we can actually grow outdoors in zone 7 is the Kniphofia.  My granddad actually had one of these growing in his front flowerbed a couple of years ago.  I saw a large one up in Seattle last year and it is really a cool plant.  My plant is tiny for the time being, but I’m hoping it will grow enough to produce the really neat red, orange and yellow blooms this summer.

New light pink Salvia
New light pink Salvia

We also added some of the purple/blue creeping Phlox, Christie’s favorite spring bloomer.  We have had a couple of them in the corner garden, but a couple didn’t come back this year.

Salvia which we planted last year and is getting bigger this year
Salvia greggii which we planted last year. It's getting bigger this year and has been blooming constantly.

I’m really happy to see that a couple of our additions from the last two years are thriving again this year – the Pink Preference Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii ‘Pink Preference’) and Elaeagnus.  The Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis v. minor) from two years ago is still just a tiny plant.  I really home this is the year that it takes off and blooms!

Accidental sweet potato crop

Well, I’ve learned that I am better at growing ornamental sweet potatoes by mistake than I am at growing regular potatoes intentionally.

A large sweet potato that formed underneath my ornamental sweet potato plants (Ipomoea batatas Blackie)
A large sweet potato that formed underneath my ornamental sweet potato plants (Ipomoea batatas 'Blackie')

My regular potato crop this year netted me a small bowl full of potatoes. On the other hand, my ornamental Sweet Potato vines that fill the tulip bed after the tulips are out of season produced a large crop of some pretty big potatoes!

My crop of ornamental sweet potatoes
My crop of ornamental sweet potatoes

I have read that these potatoes are actually edible, though they’re not very tasty. Rather than suffer through a bunch of bland potatoes, I plan to save these potatoes and plant them next Spring to fill the tulip bed once again. It will save us some money. In fact, the reason I found these large potatoes, is because I was digging up a couple of the sweet potato plants (Ipomoea batatas ‘Blackie’) to keep in the greenhouse over the winter and replant it next Spring.

I put a couple of plants in a hanging basket in the greenhouse and will try to keep them happy over the winter. But now I have a large group of backups that will probably produce even better for me next year.


 

You say Potato, I say Solanum tuberosum

I just hauled in my first crop of potatoes.  I didn’t get them in the ground as early in the Spring as I had meant, but they grew anyway.  I was surprised to see the nice, little purple blooms they produced in mid-Summer.

Purple blooms on my potato plants
Purple blooms on my potato plants

The plants died about a month ago, so I decided to go ahead and try sticking my fingers in the soil to see what was there.  I was happy to find about 10 potatoes, ranging from small pebble to fist size.

My first potato crop, washed and ready for cooking
My first potato crop, washed and ready for cooking

Since my first crop isn’t all that plentiful, I cooked them all together in the crock pot with a pork loin and some other veggies.

Crock pot dinner: pork loin, carrots, onions and potatoes
Crock pot dinner: pork loin, carrots, onions and potatoes

They were great!

In the next month, I’m going to work some compost into the veggie garden soil, so that the dirt is a little looser for next year.  Next Spring, I’ll be trying to get them in the ground as soon as the freezes are over – mid March – and keeping them watered so the plants stick around a little longer and the potatoes can get larger.

Maybe after one more successful crop of cheap seed potatoes, I’ll order some different fun varieties to experiment with, like “All-Blue” or “Fingerlings.”


 

Gardening preparation

This weekend the weather was beautiful.  Christie and I spent several hours outside, cleaning up our yard and preparing our side flowerbed to be a vegetable garden.  The flowerbed runs the length of the side of our house – about 2′ by 20′.  It has been filled with daylilies for years, and since the flowerbed is not full sun, the daylilies have not been blooming, only multiplying.  We dug up about a third of the daylilies last year and tackled about half this time around.  So now there is just a small remnant of daylilies on the other side of the Nandina bush.

The side flower (soon-to-be-vegetable) bed after having the daylilies removed
The side flower (soon-to-be-vegetable) bed after having the daylilies removed

We have been transplanting the daylilies to a very sunny location at my wife’s parents’ business – the Thunderbird wedding chapel.

The Daylilies ready to be transplanted
The Daylilies ready to be transplanted

Our vegetable gardening plans for this year consist of potatoes in this side bed with a self-pollinating kiwi vine growing up trellis mounted on the wall.  We are also going to plant tomatoes in pots so they can be moved to the sunniest locations.  And I think I will try growing broccoli in pots this year, too.  I might try making the plantings ornamental, with some flowers around the broccoli plants.

We bought our first seed potatoes, but decided not to plant them yet since there are more freezing nights in this week’s forecast.  The two potatoes I bought are Red La Soda and Red Norland.  I think I would like to buy a large white potato variety as well, but there weren’t any available this weekend.  I had planned on ordering my seed potatoes, but when I saw these in the store, I realized I could save a heck of a lot of money by buying them here.  I spent 93 cents on my two seed potatoes.

Red Morland and Red La Soda seed potatoes
Red Morland and Red La Soda seed potatoes

I’ve got lots of cooking plans for my potatoes, so I hope they produce well for me.