The Fall and Winter Potager

Lately, several people have been visiting my site from and “pinning” shots of my garden on their pinboards.  I am very flattered when this happens.  If you are not yet familiar with Pintrest you should check it out.  It is a collaborative site where you create “pin boards” of your favorite topics and then post images that you find on the web in them.  Then, everyone on the internet can come to your site and see the things that you have found.  It is really cool and you can quickly burn several hours if you are not careful. 

Right now, my little garden has never been prettier.  The folks from the Central Texas Gardener television program came to film it back in December.  It was pretty then, but it is a lot prettier now.  The veggies are doing great, but the flowers have really matured and look beautiful.  Eventhough the potager is mostly about the vegetables, it is the flowers that make it interesting.  So, for all of you Pinterest users that are fans of small, raised bed kitchen gardens, and my regular readers, here are a few pics of what is currently blooming in my little potager.

Panseys are always a great choice for Texans in the fall.  I planted these around the first of Decemeber.  If you look closely you will notice carrot foliage in the back.  I do companion plantings in all of my beds.  I have a mix of pink and purple panseys that share the center bed with a mix of carrots and vilolas (Johnny Jump Ups).  They are all thriving and look very good mixed together.

My purple panseys.

Violas are one of my favorite winter flowers.  The work great in pots where their pretty little flowers grow rapidly and spill over the side.

Calendula is often called pot marigolds.  Not only is it pretty and a prolific bloomer, the petals are edible.

I love dianthus.  They bloom well into the summer.  Their common name is “pinks”.  People think this is because they are mostly pink, but it is really because their petals look like they were cut with pinking shears.  They come in all colors and all sizes now but I still prefer this old fashioned variety.

This year’s winner in the vegetable department is Comet Broccoli.  This variety is incredible at putting on side shoots.  I have two dozen of these scattered throughout the potager.  Last Sunday, my wife and I harvested 8 produce bags full of side shoots.

Here is a picture of me with a lettuce harvest.  Our lettuce has been outstanding this year. 

One of my favorite things in the potager is not a plant at all.  It is our bottle tree.  While not technically in the potager (it is in the outside border), I still think of it as one of the main things that adds interest and charm to my little garden.

In addition to the flowers pictured above,  I have byzantine gladiolous, crinums, daylilies, two varities of roses, lots of salvia, red poppies, holley hocks, crysanthimums, zinnias and larkspur.  This ever changing pallette of colors and textures is what keeps me excited and watchful throughout the year.


Something I haven't seen in a long time; 3.5" of rain in the gauge!

Well, it finally happened.  After previous rain storms passed us by, we finally got one of our own.  In the past 24 hours it has rained about 3 1/2 inches at my house.  That is very exciting on its own.  However, this rain came in with a storm that spun confirmed tornadoes in Brenham and the Lake Sommerville area.  This storm was also accompanied by lots of thunder and lightening.  If you believe old wives tales, thunder in January means a freeze in March.  We will see.  This year has been so strange I would not be surprised at all if a late freeze comes as soon as the spring plantings are up.

Something else that I haven't see in a long time; a puddle of standing water in my yard.

Speaking of weird things that have happened this year, here are a few that I have noticed on my own little piece of heaven.  First, my peach trees are in bloom!  And the funny thing is, this is the second time they have bloomed.  Not sure what this will mean for our summer peaches but I can’t imagine it is good.  Also, my Cherokee rose has bloomed twice.  This rose doesn’t usually bloom until March.  I also have a “found” crinum that is about to bloom.  This variety usually blooms in May.

The "found" crinum that is blooming about four months too early

In spite of the bad storms that that brought it, I am so thankful for the rain.  The tornadoes were a little scarey but at least no one was hurt.  This rain was substantial enough that most people’s stock tanks caught water.  This is very good news for all of the people that are trying to keep their livestock.  Plus, with just a couple of more rains in the next few weeks, they should be assured of a pretty good early hay crop.

Mushrooms that have popped up in all of my freshly mulched beds

Yes, this is a very strange year so far.  Everyone seems to have a theory as to why; climate change, La Ninya, the Mayans.  I am not sure what is going on, but I am certain I will be able to find some things that will grow for me in spite of it all.

Ellen Bosanquet and the CobraHead Hoe

Yesterday, while returning from lunch, I found what I believe to be an Ellen Bosanquet crinum bulb laying on top of the ground.  Now I am not certain it is an Ellen Bosanquet but it was laying in a place where a large clump of them had once stood. 

Ellen Bosanquet from

I found this bulb while walking through a garden that I go through quite regularly.  While strolling through it, I discovered that a large bed had been dug up and all of the plant material had been removed.  While surveying this, I noticed the bulb.  It was laying on top of the soil and had just a few roots still in the ground.  I decided that it had been left there to die so I rescued it.

I love crinums and I have several varieties in my beds.  Since Ellen Bosanquet is one I do not have, I was very glad to find this bulb.  In my opinion, Ellen Bosanquet is one of the prettiest.  It rosey pink flowers and slightly rippled foliage makes it an attractive plant whether it is blooming or not.

What I hope is a healthy Ellen Bosanquet bulb

Since I didn’t know how long the bulb had been out of the soil, I planted it as quickly as possible.  This gave me the opportunity to try out a new garden gadget that my wife gave me for Christmas.  The CobraHead Hand Hoe is a marvelous little garden tool that is produced right here in the USA by a small family owned business.  My wife ordered it for me from another family owned business that we often shop with; Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

  I am not a big buyer of garden gadgets.  However, when I saw the CobraHead in the Baker Creek magazine I knew it was something worth having.  The CobraHead is a 13″ long, curved weeder, cultivator, planter, etc.  It has a thin, curved, football shaped head that allows it to work in even the heaviest clays.  In my own garden, the tools I most often use are an old 12′ long Craftsman screwdriver and the claws of an old 20 ounce framing hammer.  The thin and gracefully curving shape of this tool, combined with the overall length and large handle made me realize that I could finally put my hammer and screwdriver back in the tool box.

After using it to plant my new crinum in a fairly heavy clay, I give the tool two big green thumbs up!  The tool performed just as advertised.  I was able to quickly dig a hole with out wearing myself out.  I was very pleased.  (I make this next statement in a very light hearted manner)  Thanks to my new CobraHead, I am actually looking forward to all of those weeds that will soon be popping up in my beds!

Grand Primo Narcissus- Harbingers of Spring

I like to think of my Grand Primo narcissus (Narcissus tazette ‘Grand Primo’) as  “harbingers of spring”.  They are always one of the first thing to bloom in the new year .  Their white, star shaped petals topped with the bright yellow center cup, always reminds me that spring is on its way.  I have hundreds of these lovely and reliable harbingers scattered across my property.  Some were left for me by the last home owner but the bulk of my collection was passed to me by a very generous friend.

The first Grand Primo of the year is beginning to open

There are many varieties of narcissus that do very well in all parts of Texas.  However, Grand Primo is the most hardy and prolific in our part of Central Texas.  Grand Primo readily naturalize here.  Not only do they come back year after year, they divide.  And because of this, you can turn a few bulbs into a whole bunch in just a few years.

Grand Primo beginning to open

Narcissus are incredibly easy plants to grow.  Their bulbs love a nice, loamy soil but they will grow in most Texas soil types.  Many of mine are in unimproved black gumbo and they do just fine.  However, the ones that bloom first and divide most readily are the ones in my well worked flower beds.

The first bud of January is fully open

Since Narcissus bloom in January, it is best to plant them in the late summer or early fall.  Realistically, you can plant them just about any time.  However, if they are planted to late in the fall they may not bloom the first season after planting.  Don’t worry about this, it is normal and they will do fine in the second season.

Since these bulbs divide so well, you can easily divide them to get more plants.  All bulb plants have a similar growth cycle.  They flower and then put out additional foliage.  This foliage does the photosynthesis for the plant.  All of those green leaves are capturing the sunlight that the plant then converts to food that it stores in the bulb.  This foliage is usually present for about six months after the bloom.  Once the foliage fades the bulb goes dormant until the conditions are right for it to sprout.  Because Grand Primos bloom in January, you should divide them late June or July (For more information on harvesting bulbs, check out my “Bulb Hunting” post from last February).

A bunch of Grand Primos that I harvested last year.

Whether you buy your bulbs or harvest them, you should plant them around early September.  To plant your Grand Primo bulbs, dig a hole about two to three bulb lengths deep.  Place the bulb in the hole with the wide end down.  If you are not sure which end to put down, simply lay the bulb on its side.  Cover the bulb with soil, water in and wait.  That is all there is to it.  These bulbs have an almost 100% success rate when planted in this manner.

As you drive around town on these cold, gray January days, look for the bright white and yellow Grand Primos.  They are everywhere!  These beautiful “harbingers” will brighten your day and remind you that spring really is just around the corner again.

Succession Planting of Fava (Broad Beans) in the Potager

The only way to get your small garden to continuosly produce is to practice succession planting.  Succession planting is nothing more than putting something in the ground as soon as something else comes out.  Since my potager is so small, and I love a steady supply of fresh veggies, I have to be fairly deligent in the way I manage my plantings. 

This past weekend, I harvested all but one of my cauliflower plants.  This freed up the middle of my four triangular beds for something else.  I decided to replace the cauliflower with fava beans (or Broad Beans for my English readers).  I also took this opportunity to plant a few more radishes, some round Paris Market carrots and Green Arrow English Peas.

I have never eaten or grown fava beans before.  However, the seeds were a gift from my dear friend and gardening mentor, Cythia Mueller.  So, in honor of my friend, and in keeping with my tradition of trying new things, I decided to plant them where my cauliflower had been. 

Fava beans (Vicia Fava) are a cool season crop that have been grown for millenia.    While native to North Africa and Southwest Asia, they are widely cultivated around the world.  It is believed that along with lentils, peas and chickpeas, fava has been in production for over 6000 years.  It is also interesting to note that they are not true beans.  Fava beens are legumes; but they are more closely related to vetch than they are to green or lima beans.

Fava beans are a great choice for the fall Texas garden.  They love a nice loamy soil, but will grow well in less perfect soils.  They will also tolerate soils with high salinity so that makes them a great choice for the Bryan-College Station area.  Fava are a true cold weather crop and they can take just about anything our winter can throw at them.  They will survive freezes into the the twenties.  Even though I planted mine on December 31, most people in our area plant them around Thanksgiving.  They grow best at temperatures between 40 and 70 degrees F and they will not set beans once the night time temps go above 75 degrees.

Here you can see how I use the end of my hand rake to make holes for large sized seeds

Fava beans produce a thick, square stalk and can grow to heights of three feet or more.  The leaves of these tall plants can be harvested and used like spinach.  Their white flowers are streaked with black.  Since black is a very unusual color in the plant world I can’t wiat for these plants to bloom so I can see it for myself.   Also, those lovely white and black flowers are edible.

Here you can see me placing the beans in their holes. And yes, that is a Baylor hat on my head. I did my undergraduate in Waco so I can wear that hat with as much pride as I have when I wear my maroon hats. BTW, did you see the Alamo Bowl? Awesome! Sic 'em Bears!

Fava beans should be planted about an inch deep.  You can plant them every four inches or so but they need to be thinned to about 8″ apart.  I used the end of a hand rake to make holes in my soil about 1″ deep and about 9″ apart.  Next, I placed the beans in the hole, covered them with soil and watered them in.   Now, if eveything goes right, I should be picking my favas by mid-March.  What do you think the odds are that the temps will stay below 75 until then?