Plan for the spring.

January 19, 2013

Spring is such a wonderful part of the year. Nature is exploding with new growth, buds, flowers… Gardens come to life again. Birds are in love and ready to start a family. Landscapes become abuzz with life and related activity. It’s also the time of year when things get out of hand pretty quickly. Weeds seek their opportunity to take over the world. Plants hurry to grow and multiply – often ending up in the wrong places, overgrown, reseeding everywhere, out of place. It also means our gardens are hungry – they Winter garden (6)need energy to grow, bloom and produce. Winter takes its toll on our landscapes, and spring is the time to make it right again.
The best way to maintain a landscape is to do it regularly, and not wait until things are out of control. Proper trimming and pruning, weed control, amending, feeding, mulching, insect and disease control go a long way when done right and on time. It is easier to prevent problems or nip them in the bud when they arise, then to put out fires.

When thinking about your garden, think about its foundations– soil and balance. If you nurture the soil, it will repay you with happy plants. And happy, strong plants are more resilient, more beautiful, more drought tolerant and better adapted to the Texas heat. Healthy soil means healthy turf. And happy plants mean less disease and insect problems. Creating a balanced eco system in your garden is a key to success. Nature has a way of taking care of its own problems. Plus, a garden alive with plants and wildlife is such a beautiful place to be and enjoy. It is also a great way for the children to reconnect with the outdoors. Provide butterfly food and host source and let them observe a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis. Add plants that attract hummingbirds and watch them come back year after year. Start an herb garden and let the kids to be hands on. They can pick their own favorite herbs or veggies to grow. Hummingbird (12)Provide shelter for lizards, geckos and other garden creatures and teach your kids that variety and balance is very important in nature. And in return they will help you keep your insect (including mosquito!) population in check.

There are so many ways to you enjoy your garden. The same outdoor space can provide the perfect entertaining area for the adults and a secret garden, full of wonder and life lessons for the kids. No matter how small or big your piece of land is, you can make it work for everyone.

Design with character.

January 13, 2013

Every house has each own character, and tells us something about the people that live in it. Same applies to landscaping. Every front garden represents us in spirit and style, whether on purpose or by neglect.

2112 pembrokeA mature, nicely shaped pomegranate tree needs space , but can serve as an alternative to the more traditional yaupon holly and the bright pomegranate fruit serves as Christmas ornaments. The tree is semi evergreen and looks quite festive at this time of year. Not to mention the delicious pomegranate fruit that you can pick right in your own garden.

When landscaping your garden, take your house into account. If you have a light painted brick house, think of darker, contrasting colors. Purples and reds stand out nicely and help to define the landscape and add a multidimensional element to the space. If your house is dark colored, pair different shades of green with it, and think texture and layers. Fig ivy can be trained to accentuate architectural features of the house. It is both very graceful and lush look.

We are so used to having most shrubs hedged or conformed to the allotted space. Unfortunately by doing so we often create rigid straight lines and add a ‘boxy’ feeling to the space that is usually already full of straight lines and hard angles. By allowing shrubs to grow more naturally, while still contained and well behaved, we can achieve the more formal look that belongs in the front garden, without the harshness of conventional hedge.

Ornamental trees, such as Japanese maples, yaupon hollies, redbuds and many more, add the height to counter balance the height of the house and create a focal point. If Landscape (14)you have large mature tree on your property, especially multi trunked, consider softening and accentuating it with ferns to create luscious, almost tropical look.

And finally, take a look at your front garden from afar – it allows us to gain a new perspective and look at something familiar with a fresh eye.

Is it spring yet?

February 3, 2012

This morning I walked to the front yard and was amazed to see about 30 to 40 North American Robins. I have seen several robins in close proximity before, but never so many of them and I have to admit I felt like the scene was a little out of this world. They seemed to have been everywhere – on the lawn, the driveway, the trees… Robins are here! Is it spring yet?

Nature seems to think that the spring is around the corner. Roses are flushing with new growth, trees and shrubs have buds ready to explode with color, foliage and scent and I’ve just noticed this morning that our quince is blooming.

And if the weather will continue to be mild we might actually get some loquats this year. Usually fruit does not develop due to low winter temperatures, but this winter has been exceptionally warm and I’ve noticed the fruit forming on the loquat tree.

It is fascinating to observe nature changing. Both exciting and addictive.  Sharing it with our readers is equally rewarding.

It is time we stopped and listened to Mother Nature is telling us. We don’t have unlimited resources and the weather patterns are changing. And so we need to change our way of thinking and doing things. The drought that has started in 2011 continues, and we need to adjust accordingly. We need to learn how to deal with extreme weather.

 Re-evaluate your landscaping. It is important to take the following things into account when designing or re-evaluating your   landscaping:

Purple coneflower

Purple coneflower

– check if the existing plants are native or well adapted to your area,

– prepare your soil right,

– always mulch,

– go organic and don’t forget to feed your plants to help them survive stress,

– use drip irrigation or hand water if feasible,

– create pockets in the garden that serve different roles, both visually and practically,

– don’t forget about wildlife (and don’t forget that wildlife means more than just birds),

– capture rain water,

Butterfly milkweed

Butterfly milkweed

– and lastly, don’t forget about your trees – they are extremely valuable and they are suffering! We tend to let trees take care of themselves. Because of their size we think that they can survive just about anything and need not our help. This is far from the truth. Trees are our great resource in so many ways – the clean the air, the add value to landscapes, they provide habitats for wildlife, act as sound barriers, produce oxygen, and help us save energy.

 

There are many plants that do well in north Texas. And then there are a few that do fantastic. Texas rock rose (pavonia lasiopetala) is one of them. I have one in my front yard. It is, to be perfectly honest, neglected and left to its own devices.  It is in full sun and in poor soil. I watered it only once in the last 4 months.  Since we’re experiencing a prolonged drought, and have hardly had any rain this summer, I expected it to decline. Not die – I knew it would survive – but decline. Apparently I have underestimated it. Every morning it is covered in blooms. It satisfies my appetite for color this summer, while most things look like they are about to wither and die. This is a tough little native. Give it room as it tends to spread and make it a showpiece. It deserves it.

Texas rock rose

Texas rock rose

A container garden is exactly what the name implies, a garden that exists inside of a container. It can be a bunch of plants or just one, herbs, annuals, veggies, or perennials in a bucket, clay pot, or even an old wheelbarrow, depending on your style…

Container gardening is an easy way to venture into gardening world without making a commitment to a full-fledged garden. It is a fun activity for kids, who can adopt a planter the same way they adopt and take responsibility for a pet.

Containers can play a prominent role in urban landscapes. They provide flexibility and allow us to grow plants while being less dependent on sun exposure and available space. And if you have a shady garden, but love sun-loving plants, consider moving your planter as the sun moves throughout the year.

Utilize containers to create accents throughout the garden and add interest and structure to a landscape. Add a splash of color to otherwise monotonous landscaping or a bit of fun and whimsy to a formal garden. Creating a container garden for your space is simple but there are a few things you should consider

There is plenty to choose from when it comes to material and size. Common terra-cotta pot is beautiful and versatile but has a tendency to dry out quickly. Plastic pots retain water slightly better  but  don’t have the classic look of terra-cotta or concrete and they are not sustainable. Concrete pots retain water well and can range in style from simple to complex, with variety of sizes to choose from, but they are relatively expensive and definitely heavy.   Consider using a plant caddy to make it easier to move it around. And of course there are many less conventional pots – an old watering can, a used wheelbarrow or a barrel, all sorts of baskets and boxes. You are only limited by your imagination.

After you have collected your container or containers, your next thought should be soil. Potted plants need soil that can drain easily and hold moisture at the same time because plant roots need both water and air. Try good quality organic potting soil or create your own potting soil recipe. Use organic compost and add coconut coir, touch of humate, greensand, dry molasses, and earthworm castings for an excellent potting soil. Coconut coir is a natural fiber obtained from the husk of coconut. It is most commonly seen in floor mats, or as flower basket lining  but can be effectively used in as soil additive as well. Its course fibers hold moisture for longer amounts of time allowing your plant to absorb more water, instead of it only washing through. 

Naturally certain plants are more suitable for container gardening than others. Generally plants with shallow root system do well in pots. Annuals, herbs and some vegetables are great candidates for containers. Lavender does very well in containers when allowed good drainage. Patchouli is another favorite that is great for making soaps and candles. Curry plant, another winner, is very fragrant and a grayish color that adds contrast when combined with other plants. Basil is not only attractive, but provides wonderful scent and is a versatile cooking herb. Oregano can be planted on the edges of a planter to drape over it as it cascades down. Peppers do great in containers, while tomatoes tend to do better in the ground. Annuals add variety and allow for frequent changes in colors and textures. Many perennials, shrubs or even small trees do well in large containers.

Remember, container gardening is fun and can take any landscape to the next level, making it more colorful and diverse. For all of us that like to putter in the garden and make small changes to the landscape, container gardening allows us to explore different options, be playful and adventurous.

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