In the Good Old Summertime

“In the good old summertime, in the good old summertime.
Strolling through the shady lanes with your baby mine.
You hold her hand, and she holds yours,
and that’s a very good sign.
That she’s your tootsie-wootsie,
in the good old summertime.”

This song comes from the Tin Pan Alley group of New York City music publishers and songwriters that started in 1885 and went through the early 1900’s.  It was originally the name for a specific area in the Flower District of Manhattan.

To me, the good old summertime means what’s happening in my yard because of the heat and lack of rain.

These are the small palm tree looking stalks that forecast the blooming of Swamp Sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius).  In spite of the name, they are drought tolerant.  The stalks will reach 7 feet with small sunflowers by the end of August.

Reliable Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus drummondii), a Texas native, continues to flower with their cute little turbans.  It grows well in most parts of the state in sun or shade.

A great plant for our super hot summers.

There are two birds that we can count on every summer:  Hummingbirds and Barn Swallows.  The creation on top of this Hummingbird feeder is the work of Barn Swallows.

Barn Swallows are pretty birds that look for a ledge where they build a nest of mud, grasses, twigs, etc.  The birds stand on these ledges and poop all over whatever is beneath that ledge.  They also return to the same nesting area each year.  This includes their young as adults.  Swooping in low, they almost run into your head.

Because the population had increased so much and nested under our covered front and back patios, there was always a mess on the floor.  So, we hired a carpenter to eliminate the ledges.

Although they are fewer in number this year, they now build nests on the brick walls and anything up high like where this feeder was hanging.

What a mess to clean up.

Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) is a perennial bush that stands up to the heat.  It’s pale color isn’t too showy, but the scent of its foliage is wonderful.  The bees also love it.

The perennial Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana) does well in the heat if it’s watered.

Bees flock to its small flowers.

“There is nothing I like better at the end of a hot summer’s day than taking a short walk around the garden. You can smell the heat coming up from the earth to meet the cooler night air.”  Peter Mayle

Something Different

Gardeners are attracted to the beauty of nature.  Sometimes, unique plants bring fascination.  For me, often, that translates to tropical plants that cannot live through our winters.

But some plants with unusual forms do very well here.  Like this Ornamental Onion that has not only survived but spread.

Can’t even remember where I got this.

These zany looking flowers are actually their reproduction method.  Each cluster is made up of tiny bulblets that fall to the ground and become new plants.

I really don’t know if these are edible or not.  A speaker talking about foraying for wild plants said that a person can eat anything once.  But, that sounds like dangerous advice to me.

This Rainbow’s End (cv. SAValife) own root miniature is different because its roses are all different colors all at the same time.

Black Diamond Crape Myrtles came on the market a few years ago.  Even Walmart carries them.

The ones I’ve seen in bloom have white blossoms.  This one is Black Diamond Red Hot, which is supposed to have hot red flowers.

A local nursery was selling tropical Popcorn Cassia (Cassia didymobotrya), which is supposed to smell like popcorn.

The leaves look like a plant that would do well here, but it is zoned for 14 to 15.  This means that it will freeze below 40 or 50 degrees.  I should have researched before buying it.

One of my biases is that nurseries sell plants that will not last in their area so customers will buy something else next year.  Can’t believe that I fall into that trap over and over.

“Oh no.  You did it again.”

Swamp Sunflower is a misnomer for this plant.  It grows very well in our drier soil.  The tiny forest is about 15 inches tall now.

They grow tall – about 8 to 9 ft. before flowering with small sunflowers that bloom in late summer.

“Forget trying to walk a mile in my shoes.  Try spending a day wandering around in my mind.  Now, that will give you something to worry about.”  unknown

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Preview of Spring

There are small signs of spring in spite of the fact that weather forecasts indicate more freezes coming up.  Several trees have already budded out and those buds have turned black from a freeze.

daffodilA few daffodils have already bloomed and grown ragged from the wind.  But there still more buds.

swampsunflowersSometimes it hard to determine from the first shoot of a plant what it is.  So it helps if you can remember where something is planted rather pulling up little greenery as weeds.  Spoken from experience.  These are Swamp Sunflowers, which go through some pretty stages.  After this, it will become thin, frilly leaves that drop over like a circular waterfall.

violetsJust plain old common violets that have a nice low growth with lovely whitish, purple flowers that rise above the leaves.

dayliliesOne of my favorites – orange daylilies.  Not only are they pretty but so dependable and easy.  Emphasis on the easy.

dandelionOf course, weeds are here with more on the horizon.  The dandelion has a soft inviting shape.

dandelion2Beauty comes in all forms.

henpitThe prolific henbit will always be with us.

cherrylaurelCherry Laurel in full bloom promises new leaves.

cherrylaurel2The entire tree hummed like a bee hive.

Our first evidence of spring is weeds.  That brings a somber reminder that I need to be outside with a hoe or a spray.

“What a man needs in gardening is a cast-iron back, with a hinge in it.”  Charles Dudley Warner, My Summer in a Garden, 1871

Swamp Sunflower

Every spring our Garden Club has a plant sale fundraiser.  Much of the money raised is a result of members buying each others’ plants.  Each year I buy plants that I have not heard of or seen before.  In 2011 I bought a small swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustiflolius).  Aangustus means narrow, as in narrow leaves.  It is sometimes called willow-leaf or narrow-leaf sunflower.

By late spring this year it had spread to six plants.  They are about 2 1/2′ tall here in April and continue to grow slowly but steadily until midsummer.

Then it begins to branch out and the sunflower buds appear.

By late August, the growth speeds up with leaps in a few days.

Finally, they grow to 7 or 8 feet before all the buds burst open.

This picture and the following ones are the middle of September.

Although this is called a Swamp Sunflower, these pictures testify to the fact that they grow in clay with very little water.  They would probably be happier in a rich, moist soil by the edge of a stream. But I don’t know how they would perform differently.  There might be greater spreading and more blooms.

This sunflower is native to the US and grows in zones 6-9.  To produce bushier, more compact plants, they should be cut back by a third in June.  I’m going to try that next year.

It dies down to the ground after a good freeze.  There are no serious pest or disease problems but can be susceptible to powdery mildew and spittle bugs.  I have not had that problem.

  Swamp Sunflower attracts native butterflies, bees and birds, and is deer resistant, to boot. This is one of those plants that looks better in a larger yard or against the fence behind other plants.

If you have room and like the look of native flowers in the field, you would enjoy this plant.  It’s fun to watch it grow.

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.  Marcel Proust