What’s Normal?

Quick.  Name 5 or 10 ways your life was not normal during 2020.  Here’s my list:  School closings, Masks, Isolation, Restaurant and store closings, Stand six feet apart, No travel, Quarantine, Nasal Swabs testing, Social distancing, Events canceled, No hospital visits, Virtual school and everything else.  I could also add limited supplies, especially paper goods.

Here we are in 2021 and things have continued to be unusual for some of us.  The first half of the year had some of the same restrictions listed above.  Add to that covid vaccinations and strange weather patterns, especially for us in Texas.  The epic freeze that lasted for days will always remain in our minds and in the records.

During July, we’re usually melting under three digit temperatures and piercing sunlight.  Instead, we’re having mild temperatures (in mid to high 80’s and a few 90’s) and humidity.  The areas around us have received heavy rains.  We’ve managed a couple of inches in two weeks, which is still unusual.

So plants, like this Gladiola are blooming way past their normal time.

Many container plants were lost during the unheard of below freezing days. So I replaced the yellow Cannas.  Still like them slightly elevated in the trough.  

Also lost Dusty Miller, but it’s an inexpensive plant that grows quickly.  It’s already grown tall from a small bedding plant.  During most winters here, it survives in a pot.

After the dead branches and trunks were cut off, Basham’s Party Pink Crapemyrtle (Lagerstroemia indica x fauriei ‘Basham’s Party Pink’) is showing off.

We’ve had to cut away dead wood from many trees and woody shrubs and lost one large Texas Ash.

Big puffs of soft pink clusters draw one’s eyes up high.

One plant that did not suffer at all was White Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri).  In fact, it’s multiplying so fast that I’m finding clumps all over this flowerbed that need to be dug up.

Not sure if Gaura’s nickname Whirling Butterflies refers to the flowers that twirl around in the wind or the many butterflies that land on it.  It feeds lots of pollinators.

‘Ellen Bosanquet’ Crinum Lilies are bold in their leaf size and flowers.  I like both their buds and unopened flowers.  A good old southern standby, it’s tough as nails.  It really thrives on the east side of the house.

Their opened flowers only last a day or two, but others are opening soon.

The return of this unknown plant surprised me.  I’ve had it about three years and don’t know what it is.  I thought it was a sage, but it doesn’t get tall or woody.  The taller stems reach a little over a foot tall.  It dies down to the ground and returns in early summer, even this past winter.

Two hardy plants:  Blue Fortune Agastache and Marjorie Fair Polyantha shrub rose.  Marjorie Fair rose has clusters of roses on long stems that tend to bend low to the ground.  Both of these plants are great performers.

So, whatever you consider to be normal, I hope you’re having a great summer.

“Life is infinitely stranger than anything the mind of man could invent.”                    Arthur Conan Doyle

Inhale Deeply and Relax

Now that the sun is shining and the days are warmer here, people want to rush outside and chop off all the dead limbs and leaves frozen by the extreme cold from two weeks ago.

But horticulturists are urging that it’s too early to do that.  It’s possible that another freeze will come later this month.  Leaving the dead parts could help protect the plants if that happens.  So, we should all just chill and not get frantic about what it looks like in our yards.

So all those plants, like this miniature Indian Hawthorne, that looks dead as a door nail might have viable branches and roots.  In a couple of weeks, use the thumbnail test to see if the branches are okay.  Scratch into a limb to see if the wood is soft and alive.

That same Indian Hawthorne last spring.

We have four of these Hawthorne and would be sad to lose them, but sometimes, we just have to accept something and move on.

Native plants, like these Oxeye Daises, fared well and are ready for spring.

It has surprised me how hardy these Gulf Coast Penstemon have been.  They spread fast and now look good after the sub zero weather.

Plants in pots naturally took a bigger hit.  Pretty sure that this Rosemary will need to be replaced.

Greenery from many bulbs were already above ground.  These Dutch Irises may actually still be able to produce blooms this spring because not all of the foliage froze.

Most Iris leaves or fans look healthy.

Nice surprise – a little Hyacinth is already blooming.  Yeah.

Even in a pot, Dianthus proves to be a winner.  Really have come to appreciate these plants.  Their colors are bright and cheery.

Ditch Daylilies looking good.

Pincushion plants have proved to be incredibly hardy.

Wild Foxglove looking good.

Artemesia looks a little sad but should recover.

I was concerned about bulbs that were planted in the fall.  But these Alliums look fine.

A native evergreen Yarrow that will have white flowers looks good as new.

Some trees, on the other hand, look dead.  This Yaupon Holly looks bad.  Time will tell how damaged the roots and trunks were.

Another casualty of being in a container is this Pittsporoum.  It didn’t seem to matter how old the plant was.

Afghan Pines (Pinus eldarica) don’t look so bad.  When we plant for our zone, and the weather suddenly turns much colder than that zone, then plants are at risk.  We consider heat and drought to be the biggest factor of a plant’s survival.

The Live Oak in the background looks bad, but we need to remember that Live Oaks naturally lose their leaves in the spring and new ones appear.

We planted these Oleanders last fall. Poor things.

One of my favorite trees because it is evergreen is Cherry Laurel.  Now the experts say that deciduous trees do better in a deep, deep freeze.  The leaves on the ends of branches died, but the leaves on the inside of the tree are green.  We’ll see if it’s system was weakened.

Rejoice that spring is almost here.

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.” -Helen Keller

Gray with a Hint of Silver

One landscaping trend is to use very few colors.  Some people prefer a very muted palette and consider it calming.  My preference is for lots of color.  But I do like some neutral plants in the mix.

Prairie Sage is a perennial that doesn’t bloom.

The color is an even gray.  The branches are a little brittle but don’t break in the wind.

But even when I used grays, I like to have a little punch near it.

Dusty Miller is an old faithful that has been used for years by our ancestors.

The softness of the foliage makes it a very touchable plant.  It needs full sun but can take some shade part of the day.  Here in Zone 8 it is a perennial, but in lower zones the winter cold kills it.

This Artemisia Powis Castle (Artemisia arborescens ‘Powis Castle’) has been in this container for years.  They tend to be evergreen.

As soft as soft can be and a slight soothing scent.

Planted in the ground, Artemisia just goes crazy.  It has pretty much taken over this flower.  I have to keep trimming it back because part of the bed is planted with roses and other flowering plants.  Growing low to the ground, the branches root and spread.

Texas Purple Sage or  “cenizo” (Leucophyllum frutescens)  is very popular in Central Texas.  It is beautiful when purple blooms appear.  However, that’s only after a rain, which happens seldom here.  It can get thin without enough water.

It is not a sage or a salvia, but is in the figwort family.  A nature to Texas and northern Mexico, it is drought tolerant.  Not my favorite, but somehow I feel obligated to have this native.

Of course, there are other choices for gray in the yard, such as Globe Mallow and Gray Santolina.  Aren’t you glad you get to pick the colors or lack of for your own space?

“Gray hair is a blessing.  Ask any bald man.”  unknown

Chandor Gardens

A visit to a cool garden was just what the doctor ordered.  Weatherford, Texas, possesses an old private garden that is now owned by the city.  During this time of isolation, most of us need a little distraction.

We expected it to be mostly unoccupied on a weekday.  And it was.  We saw another couple and some workers off in another part of the garden.

Chandor Gardens was owned and created by an Englishman, Douglas Chandor.  He and a hired hand toiled for years to achieve this diverse, spectacular space.  In 1939, a newspaper article featured his garden.   He hoped to encourage other gardeners to dream big.

A favorite theme for Mr. Chandor was Chinese art, so it’s displayed all over the garden.

He created this fountain with many found objects.  In recent years, renovation was required because some parts were crumbling.

Two rows of coke bottles encircle the fountain.  A bottom row is made from glass construction blocks or glass bricks.  Very creative.  He was an artist, after all.

Walls were created from stones and bricks.  Not sure if this was done because there were different levels naturally or if soil was brought in to create different levels.

Boxwood hedges provided small secluded areas.

A brick wall at the back of the property separates it from another property, creates privacy and provides a backdrop for some features.

Because most of the garden is in shade or partial shade, annual plantings provide color and interest along the pathways.  Here, two different types of Coleus draw ones eyes down at this spot.

The gnarled branches of this old Cedar has become a sculpture to be seen from a lower path and an upper one.

Just as I stepped onto the first stepping stone, one of the carp or gold fish executed a flop, splashing water up.  Don’t know who was more startled:  me or the fish.

This pond is shallow with the stepping stones attached to the bottom.  They’re sturdy but disconcerting because it looks deeper than it is.

The pink Pentas or Egyptian Stars (Pentas lanceolata) contrast with the greenery for an attractive display in a stone urn.  Pentas are tropical flowers from Africa and the Arabian peninsular and are thus, annuals.

Several fountains throughout the gardens are calming with their sounds.  Water also just visually has a cooling effect.

Several shady areas have benches and seats to allow for rest and contemplation.  Tall Magnolias in this area are stunning.

Just being outside, especially in a pretty garden, is relaxing and calming for one’s soul.

“May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.”  Peter Marshall

Plantation House

No matter how much we abhor the idea of plantations and slaves, it is a fact of history.  There is no justification for the slave system.  So visiting a plantation in no way condones what happened.

Around the main house is shady.  Considering the heat and humility and no air-conditioning, shade was necessary.

The entry way shows the opulence of the house.  The floors looked like linoleum, but the guide assured us that everything is either original or time specific.

Interest in Greek and Roman decor during the 1800’s in Europe and the U.S. seems strange.  But it was considered classy.

Plantation houses provided upscale living for its time period.

No running water, so this was the method of taking a bath – a metal sitting tub.  Is this where “sitz bath” comes from?  The upstairs window was opened and buckets of water were pulled up by servants using a pulley system.

Look at those thin little towels.  They look like cup towels.

The nursery was used for the youngest children.

The area close to the house had walking paths and some water features and shrubs.

Boxwood hedges edged the paths leading to the fountain and the house.  The flower garden was away from the house where it was sunny.  The small building left of center was for garden supplies.

In the sunlight, many different flowers could be grown.  Some Marigolds remain.

At first, I questioned the use of the rebar stand but learned that it was used way back in the 15th century.  They used high quality cast iron that did not corrode.

Not sure if these are Foxglove, Plumbago, or something else.

The deep color of these Globe Amaranth, also known as Gomphrenas or Bachelor Buttons, are stunning.

Life today with our conveniences is easier and hopefully, our respect for all peoples has improved.  But the daily news proves otherwise.

“Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves” ― Abraham Lincoln

Rosedown Plantation

Across the South, there are several plantation houses still standing.  One of the most intact ones left is the 8,000 square foot house at Rosedown Plantation. It was built in 1835 outside of Saint Francisville, Louisiana.

From the front gate, seen here, a long driveway under a canopy of overhanging trees and drooping Spanish moss leads to the stately house.

Can’t you just see Scarlett O’Hara with her parasol and hooped skirt waiting at the front portico to welcome guests that step down from their carriages.

The house and expansive grounds around it are in exceptional condition.  The cotton fields and slaves’ quarters have disappeared, but about 50 acres remain that show the grand scale of this place.

This plantation is well known for its formal gardens.

Couldn’t figure out what kind of small tree this is.  The flowers look like roses, so maybe it’s a small bush beside the tree.

Don’t ya love the modern fire hydrant in that strategic location?

Each section of this large formal garden was surrounded by Boxwood shrubs.  It all seemed rather neglected.  However, it was October.

No indoor plumbing but water to fountains.  How does that work?

At one time, the area probably wasn’t as overgrown and scrubby looking.

Total mystery what this is.  The leaves and flowers look like Begonias.

Love Spider Lilies.

Although it’s difficult to admit and way harder to understand, plantations are a part of the South’s history.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana

Garvan Woodland Gardens

Garvan Woodland Gardens, outside of Hot Springs, is a 210 acre botanical garden.  The University of Arkansas owns the gardens for the purpose of education and research.

We visited in October, so chrysanthemums were prominent.   Yellow Cannas behind them are blooming, also.

At first, this bench tricks the eyes, but the back of the bench is actually a photograph.

Love how the sunlight makes the tops of this grass sparkle.

I think these are Azaleas, although it seems the wrong time of the year for the blooms.  It was still warm but shady in most parts of the gardens.

The peaceful, quiet spots are one of the attractions of these gardens.

More Azaleas?

On a weekday, we encountered very few people.  Except for all the paved paths, there is an allusion of being alone in remote woods.

American Beauty Berry has a few berries with a lone purple Plumbago flower.

Preparation for a Halloween event included several clusters of pumpkins and gourds.

Most of gardens consist of wooded areas.  There are a few open glades where sunlight  allows displays of shrubs and flowers.  A circle of Boxwood has a pot in the center to highlight purple and lime green potato vines.

Behind this grouping, metal butterflies look like they’re flying.  This was part of a partially set up exhibit.

One section shows off fairy or gnome houses.

Sorry for the bad photography conditions.  Strong sunlight shining into a shady area makes it difficult to get good pictures because the lighting is not the same in all of the picture.

Two workers in the background stopped to watch me take pictures.  Not sure if they were curious to see what I was photographing or just wanted a break.  We actually saw more workmen than visitors that day.

Garvan Gardens is a lovely place to take a slow walk and just enjoy a beautiful day.

“There are times in everyone’s life when something constructive is born out of adversity, when things seem so bad that you’ve got to grab your fate by the shoulders and shake it.”  Lee Iacocca

Crystal Bridges

Alice Walton grew up in Bentonville, sort of an art wasteland.  Her exposure to art came from library books.  She and her mother painted watercolors together.  Her first purchase of a major work by Picasso came from money she earned working at her father’s store.

Now, a wealthy woman from her father, Sam Walton’s estate, she decided to have an art museum in Bentonville, which is free to the public.

A lake was dug and the buildings placed across it, like covered bridges.

The crystal part of the name came from all the glass walls.

The art is protected from the light because it hangs in rooms in the center of the buildings.  The collection is American art with some very notable artists included.  The art begins with artists from the revolutionary time and continues into the modern time.

One temporary exhibit was in a small dark room with a curving pathway through it.  Two people were allowed inside at a time.

Mirrors, lights, and hanging Japanese lanterns created an other worldly experience.

Outside, a well kept area invites people to stroll through the grounds.  Now that’s what an American Beauty Berry bush should look like – full of clusters of magenta colored berries.

Behind the museum is a native forest that has walking trails and art displayed.  This Chiuily art in a boat looks like it’s on a sea of grass.  The early morning dew, paired with spots of sunlight, emphasized the bright colors of the glass.

Pieces of art by what looks like amateurs to me were mystifying.

Some sculptures were huge, like this canoe one.

Guess they are encouraging modern art.

Dale Chihuly’s glass masterpieces are amazing.  I’m blown away every time I see them.

Still wonder how on earth these individually blown glasses are connected together.

So impressive.

“Flowers in Bloom Now” by Yayir Kusama is constructed from steel and urethane paint.  One of her trademarks is Polka dots.

This deer stands about 11 feet tall.  Strange.

Most of the woods is too shady for many flowers.  These Toad Lilies, with their tiny flowers, caught my eye.

If you’re ever in Bentonville, love art and nature, impressive Crystal Bridges is a must visit.

“To me, people everywhere need access to art and that’s what we didn’t have here, and that’s why Crystal Bridges is so important.  It’s important that it be located here.”      Alice Walton

Crazy Heat Continues

Even though it’s difficult to fathom, there are many plants that not only survive the heat, but are at their peak during the dog days of August.

Texas Rock Rose  (Pavonia lasiopetala) blooms on and on throughout the summer.  Can’t beat it for performance when temperatures are 100 plus.

Desert Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia gilliesii) is a haven for bees and other pollinators in the summertime.  If it’s planted in a tight place, like this one is, it’s necessary to tie the branches upright so they don’t sprawl out.  This rope is tied to a metal stake.Henry Duelberg Sage (Salvia farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’) is the blue-purple blooms while the white ones are named after his wife Augusta.  Found in a Texas cemetery growing on their graves, they are also sold as Mealy Cup Sage.

In my opinion, it’s one of the best salvias around and should be a staple in gardens where the summers are hot and dry.

Mint also pays no attention to the heat.  It’s so aggressive that the word “aggressive” doesn’t even describe it.  I first planted it in a flower bed.  It spread so quickly by underground runners that pulling it out was a chore.  In fact, it will take a concerted effort to monitor new shoots coming up and totally removing all of the underground parts from that bed.

Obedient Plant or False Dragonhead (Physostegia virginiana) is in the mint family, so it too can be aggressive.  However, it spreads much slower than mint does.  The lovely foxglove like flowers bloom during the hottest part of the summer.

Another take-over-the-world plant is Mexican Petunia (Ruellia brittoniana).  If there’s a theme here, it’s that plants with underground runners that root and produce a new plant must have space and diligent watchfulness to keep it controlled.

However, if you live where the summers heat up with no moisture and have hard rocky clay soils, these are be beautiful, reliable plants.

Old fashioned Dusty Miller has survived winters and summers in this pot.  When planted, it was to be a temporary solution until I found the right spot for it.  But now, it looks perfect in this pot.Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) and Hardy Hibiscus give the garden a wow factor.  Although the blossoms only last one day, their flowers are so large and stunning and the blooming is so prolific that they are both super stars.

“My garden, like my life, seems to me every year to want correction and require alteration.”  Alexander Pope

Gardens in Victoria

This is the last post about the Master Gardener demonstration garden in Victoria near the coast in southeast Texas.

Mexican Flame Vine (Senecio confusus) blazes that bright orange color that screams hot climate.  Information indicates that it can grow in zones 8 and 9.

However, I have one in a pot that must be carried into a shed for the winter.  It takes it a long time to recover each summer.  So I think zone 8 is stretching it.

But what a fabulous flower color.

Bamboo Muhly (Muhlenvergia dumosa) is an interesting shrub with loose, draping branches.  It also requires a mild winter.

Crimson Pirate Daylily is one of my favorites.  Pretty spider shape, not too tall and brilliant color.

This garden is impressive in so many ways.  First, there are hundreds of different kinds of plants.  It is well organized and neat.  These gardeners also have so much creativity.

The queen butterfly is one of our most prominent butterflies.  This clever one is made from a section of heating vent.

There are also lots of structures that draw one into the garden.  The mesh building in the far right upper corner of this picture is an enclosed butterfly walk-in area.

Many Texans consider the welfare of Monarch Butterflies to be part of their responsibility since their migration path comes straight from Mexico through Texas.  Milkweed plants are vital for their survival because it’s the only plant where they lay their eggs and the only food source for their caterpillars. Milkweed mostly grows in uncultivated land areas.  But now, many homeowners grow it in their yards.

Dill (Anethum graveolens) is one food source for Swallowtail butterflies.

This looks like it could be in the Scabosia family.  But I don’t know what it is and would love to find out.

Absolutely stunning.

There is an area that has small gardens donated by individuals or with specific themes.

While in Victoria, we also visited the city’s rose garden.  The layout is wonderful with paved pathways and excellent structures.  Since I’ve seen pictures of this online with mature bushes, I’m guessing that it was wiped out by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and has recently rebuilt.

A few large bushes survived.

Also read that the city accepted rose bush donations to plant.  My only complaint about this garden is that there were no ID tags to name the roses.

“God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.”  J.M. Barrie