Many Thanks From MOH!!!

Today marks a huge personal milestone for me;  100 posts on “The Masters of Horticulture”!  If someone would have told me two years ago that I would be a rabid garden blogger today, I would have thought they were nuts.  Back then I barely knew what a blog was.  Oh I read the occasional blog, but I never dreamed that I had what it took to have one of my own.

About two years ago a whole bunch of things came together all at once that led me on this adventure in writing.  First, I started work on my Masters of Horticulture at Texas A&M.  Whoop!  That act in itself gave me a new focus on my love of growing things and the title of the blog.  Next, I met and began to work with, a ton of truly wonderful horticulturists (folks I now call “Masters of Horticulture”).  One of those was an extraordinary woman named Cynthia Mueller.  Cynthia is the editor of A&M Extension’s on-line magazine Hort Update (along with Dr. Bill Welch and Dr Doug Welch).  Cynthia is one of the most knowledgeable plant people I have ever met and we quickly became fast friends.  Cynthia convinced me that since I was doing so much writing for my degree, I could fit in an occasional article for Hort Update as well.  My first article for her was about the construction of my potager.  It also turned out to be the first blog post ever on MOH.  My potager has now been featured in two magazines and on television.  It is truly amazing to me how a little encouragement from a much respected person can change a life.

There are so many that I want to thank for taking the time to provide help and encouragement along the way.  Dr. Bill Welch has been a great friend and encourager.  Dr. Doug Welsh always takes time to listen and provides excellent ideas and advice.   Chris Corby of Texas Gardener was the first to take a chance on me and my writing.  Publication in his magazine has been one of the most rewarding and enjoyable things I have ever done.  Also, a special thanks to all of the instructors and staff that I have worked with at A&M.  Each and every one of them provided me with the tools and knowledge that I need to write and maintain this blog.

There are two women that deserve special recognition.  Cynthia Mueller has become a great friend, mentor and encourager.  She has been so generous with her time, knowledge and plants.  Her depth and breadth of horticultural knowledge never ceases to amaze me.  I cannot thank her enough for always being there for me.

 

An IPhone shot of my very beautiful and supportive wife at the 2011 Gourd Festival

I could not end without a VERY SPECIAL THANK YOU to my lovely wife and soul mate, Sally.  It was her encouragement that led me to A&M in the first place.  Without her pushing me out of my comfort zone, none of this would have happened.  She has been there beside me 100% of the way.  She follows me all over Texas as I search for stories and she allows me to spend way too much on plants, garden supplies and cameras.   She also reads everything I write and listens as I talk on and on about my blog stats.  The last two years have truly been some of the happiest times of my life.  Thank you Sally for taking my hand and leading me down this path!

And finally, thanks to all of you that take time out of your busy day to read my ramblings.  In spite of all of the help and encouragement I have received from the folks mentioned above, I would not continue to blog if there were no readers!  Thanks again.  Please keep reading and sending in those questions and comments.  Happy gardening y’all!!!

Garden Art

In my opinion, no garden is complete without garden art.  While it is true that a well designed garden needs no artificial elements to be beautiful, the addition of art allows the garden to become truly represenative of the gardener.

The Clio Garden at Bayou Bend after a heavy spring rain. Note the Italian marble statue of Clio, the muse of history

All of my gardening experience has happened in the South.  And one thing that I have learned about Southern gardeners is they love their garden art.  Garden art in the south ranges from the truly tacky (tire and toilet planters) to the truly elegant (the Greek Muses at Bayou Bend), but it all says something about the garden and the gardener. 

Garden art in Dr. Bill Welch's Louisiana garden cosists of an antique iron headboard, a whirlygig and a tire planter from his friend, Felder Rushing

Felder Rushing is a true Master of Horticulture who has done more to promote rural Southern garden art than anyone I know.  He is extremely found of bottle trees.  His website has a whole section devoted to them.  He also has a ton of pictures of the tire planters that he uses in his own gardens.  He even has a picture in one of his speaking presentations of a large stand of elephant ears with big black numbers spray painted on them.  When he saw this he pulled over and the owner what the numbers represented.  She quickly informed him that they were the numbers of the NASCAR drivers that she loved.  Now that is creative self expression in the garden!

My bust of St. Francis from Jim Jeffries of Crockett, Texas

I myself have a lot of this art scattered throughout my property.  One of my favorite pieces is a fairly large bust of St. Francis from Jim Jeffries of Crockett, Texas.   He was very good friends with my mother-in-law Pat Krischke.  The bust is a head cast of a large sculpture that he did of St. Francis playing with a deer and a wolf for St. Francis Catholic Church in Crockett.  Jim has now gone on to his heavenly reward and my mother-in-law is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s.  I miss them both dearly but this sculpture allows me to think of them every day.  Plus, it looks great behind my lantana.

The bottle tree in my potager

Bottle trees are probably the most common form of garden art in the South.  These trees take on a myriad of shapes and forms.  The tradition of the bottle tree was adapted from the African slaves of long ago.  In their native lands they believed that they could ward off evil spirits by hanging pieces of brightly colored glass in the trees around their homes.  They continued to do this once they were here.  This tradition evolved from hanging pieces of glass to placing whole bottle in the limbs of trees.  It was believed that the evil spirits would become trapped in the bottles.  It is also believed that the haunting “woooo” sounds that come from the wind blowing over the bottles are the cries of the trapped spirits.  I don’t know about you, but I can always use some help keeping evil spirits at bay. 

A whimsical piece of garden art at the Antique Rose Emporium. I love the addition of the rubber ducky in the "water"

I recently bought a new camera.  In order to learn how to use it I headed out to the Antique Rose Emporium (ARE).  While the plants were beautiful (and they always are, even in July and August), my best shots were of the art that Mike Shoup and his designers have incorporated into their display gardens.  As you can see, some of the art was elegant, some whimsical and some of it was just down right “cute”.  But you know what, it all worked.  Each of these things represents the spirit of the owners and staff of this incredible place.

A fountain made from an old watering can at the ARE in Independence

There is no doubt that Spring is the best and most beloved time of the year of most gardeners.  So this year, while you are out there digging and planting, why not showcase your personality by adding some art to your yard, beds and borders.

Planting the 2012 Spring Potager

March 15 is the ultimate go date in the Zone 9 garden.  At this point there is an almost 0% chance of a freeze.  Because of this you can now plant just about everything.  I have to admit, I am a little behind the curve this year.  The rain, while much needed and much appreciated, has seemed to come at times that have interfered with my time off.  Who would believe that after last’s year’s drought, I would be delayed in my planting by rain?

A "found" Cherokee rose that I propogated from cuttings now spills over the fence of my potager

As soon as it dries up a little, I am going to plant the potager.  I love selecting and designing with the plants that are going to go into the potager.  Each year I replant it gets a little easier.  I learn which plants do well and I also figure out their size and scale when mature.

A lot of my outside beds are now filled with perennials.  I have lots of salvia, roses and dianthus.  I also have lots of herbs like rosemary and Mexican Mint Marigold (Tagetes lucida).  There are also Egyptian Walking Onions, larkspur and hollyhocks.  The only thing that will need to be pulled this spring is the garlic.  In the open spaces in these outside beds I am going to plant several herbs.  On a recent visit to Texas Specialty Cut Flowers, my wife bought several varieties of peppers.  I have also grown some pimento peppers and Napoleon Sweet Bell peppers from seed.  These will go toward the back of the beds with a few varieties of basil that we have saved from seed.  Along the front, we will be planting parsley, oregano, lavender and thyme.

Salvia and daiseys in last years potager

The center beds are going to be all for vegetables.  The look of the triangular beds will not change dramatically.  As a “spiller”, I will replace the spinach and lettuce with Contender Bush beans.  Beans are a pretty quick crop so when they fade around June 1, I will pull them up and replant with purple hulled black-eyed peas. For my “filler” I will divide the shallots that are there now and leave a few behind the beans so they can divide for replanting in the fall.  Finally, I will plant Black From Tula heirloom tomatoes that I have grown from seed as my “thriller” on the trellises in the center of the beds.

The last bed in the potager is the center diamond shaped bed.  Right now it is full of byzantine gladiolus.  Once these bloom and fade I will plant a lovely red okra.  The okra needs to be planted in June anyway so this work out well for me.  I selected okra for this bed because it grows a pretty, nice, tall and structural plant.  Okra is in the hibiscus family.  Because of this, it produces very large and lovely flowers that look just like hibiscus.

The hibiscus like flowers of okra

Right now is a great time to be outside.  The martins have returned, the bluebonnets are in full bloom and the fruit trees are in bud.  Why not get outside this week and plant your garden?  Below is a list of some of the veggies that you can plant now.

Five Must Grow Tomatoes by William D. Adams

I am truly blessed to be able to call many of the top horticulturists in the country friend.  My work at A&M has exposed me to so many people that are truly experts in their fields of study.  I call these people “Masters of Horticulture”.  I started this blog because I was so inspired by these experts and all they were teaching me that I wanted to be able to document it and share it with others.

Today’s guest author, William (Bill) D. Adams, is one of these Masters of Horticulture.  He and I became aquainted through a theater group we both support.  Soon after we met, Bill read a little article that I had written for Hort Update.  He encouraged me to write more and even acted as my sponsor for the Garden Writer’s Association.  The rest as they say is history.

Bill spent 31 years honing his craft as an extension specialist in Harris County.  Upon retirement he set out to learn everything there was to know about the tomato.  His efforts have resulted in the publication of the “Texas Tomato Lover’s Handbook“.  This best selling, comprehensive work tells you everything you need to know so you can grow the best tomatoes possible in the difficult and unpredictable Texas climate.  As you will see when you read his book, Bill’s extensive research (which means growing EVERY tomato he mentions) has made him the UNDISPUTED tomato king of Texas.  Because of this, I am thrilled to share this article about the best tomatoes for your Texas garden from the King himself.  Enjoy!

Five Must Grow Tomatoes by William D. Adams

Tomato varieties come and go but the ones with great flavor, a juicy, melting flesh and healthy, easy-to-grow vines are the ones we treasure.  Narrowing the list to five is almost impossible for a true tomato lover so forgive me if I throw in a few alternates.

Medium to medium-large slicer—a tomato that will make you burger zing, your BLT complete and your neighbors envious.  Champion Hybrid is still at the top in this category but you could make do with Celebrity, Talladega or Tycoon.  Any of these tomato varieties makes the grade when it comes to nice acidity (though not just sour), complex sweet tomato flavors and a melting to firm flesh (no grainy or brick hard tomatoes in this bunch).

Here is a pic of Bill in his 2010 trial garden. He grew, tested, compared and documented 89 varieties that year!

Medium size and so scrumptious you will lick the juice from the plate.  Momotaro, a Japanese pink tomato was the hit of the tomato patch in 2010 (one of eighty nine varieties in the authors test garden-only tried about 50 varieties in 2011).  This tomato had acidity, sweet tomato flavor and a wonderful melting texture.  It’s as good as any heirloom with less cracking and more production.

Persimmon is an heirloom that my wife Debbi insists I grow every year.  It is a big, orangery-red, persimmon colored tomato that will lap over a burger.  Total yield isn’t that great but we don’t care.  This year we are growing it grafted on hybrid rootstock to see if we can produce more of these delicious beauties.

Plant one of the Black tomatoes or a yellow, green or white one just to be different.  The black tomatoes—often referred to Black Russian tomatoes are very tasty—they are often described as “having Smokey undertones”.  They also have some acid zip and a depth of flavor that the most accomplished wine connoisseur will be challenged to describe.  Recent favorites include Cherokee Purple, Black from Tula and Black Sea Man.  The plum-shaped Nyagous has been a hit in previous years.  Green Zebra is refreshing, Flamme is an orange “golf ball” with lip smacking flavor and Snow White cherry is sweet and mild (best when pale yellow).

Cherry tomatoes are typically delicious but one of the best is Sweet Chelsea.  Sweet 100, Sweet Million, Rite Bite, BHN 624, Sun Cherry and Sungold will also wake up your taste buds.  Don’t set out too many cherries or you’ll be picking fruit every night until dark.

Watering in several “Black From Tula” seedlings that I started from seed.

2012 Bluebonnet Season is Here!

Once again, I am pleased to announce that bluebonnet season is here.  Below is a pic of the first one to bloom in our yard.  It will be interesting to see how well they do this year.  Because of last years drought, I was initially afraid that it was going to be a bad year.  However, the January and February rains may have come just in time. 

Photo by Sally White

In my own yard, we have knee high foliage around the trees.  That is because we were pouring the water to those trees to keep them alive last summer and fall.  Until about a month ago I thought the bluebonnets under the trees were going to be all we got at the White House.  However, with the help of the winter rain, the rest of my yard is now covered in foliage that is about 6″ tall. 

If you live more than 100 miles north of Houston, your bluebonnets probably look like this now. Photo by Sally White

Like everything else, bluebonnets bloom at different times based on their latitude.  If you live within 50 miles of Houston, you are already seeing the highways show color.  If you live further north than that, your blooms will come in a week or two.  BTW, you want to hear an interesting horticultural fact about why bluebonnets in particular, and wildflowers in general, bloom along the highways before they do in your yard?  It’s because of the pollution produced by the cars.  One of the major components of car exhaust is ozone (chemical symbol O3).  Ozone is a colorless, odorless gas that causes plants to grow faster and bloom sooner.  That’s why blueboonets always bloom first along the road.  Now before you get too excited thinking “WOW!  This is a cool side effect of pollution”, remember ozone works on ALL plants.  Things like dandelions and ragweed will also grow faster and bloom sooner under its effects.

So, based on the bluebonnets in my yard, I am happy to announce that once again it is time to load up the family and the camera and head out into the country for some more bluebonnet pictures.  In spite of last year’s drought, the recent rains make me confident that this will be another great year for you take hundreds of pictures of your kids nestled among the big, beautiful mounds of blue that are supplied to us by the best state flower in the country!

If you want to learn more about the history and botany of bluebonnets, check out last years post at http://masterofhort.com/2011/03/bluebonnet-season-is-here/

“A Year in Flowers” by Debra Prinzing

This is the second post on MOH by a guest blogger.  This one is by another of my incredibly smart, talented and beautiful daughters.  Whitney White is an incredibly talented floral designer in Dallas, Texas.  She is currently employed by “Bows and Arrows”. Bows and Arrows is a truly awesome design shop in downtown Dallas.  Their awesomeness was recently recognized when they were named the Best Florist in Dallas.  Their work is often featured in Martha Stewart and Style Me Pretty as well as in countless other local, state and national blogs and publications.

Whitney recently spent a Saturday with best selling author Debra Prinzing.  Debra is a true Master of Horticulture.  Not only is she a very accomplished author, she finds time to support other garden writers by serving as the current President of the Garden Writer’s Association.  Below is my daughter’s account of a day that was truly life changing to her.

Debra Prinzing with her team in Dallas. On the left is Joy Ijams, Education Director at the Dallas Arboretum. Debra Prinzing holds the bucket. Next to Debra is Cynthia Alexander of Quarry Farms. She grew and provided most of the floral material we used in the class. And finally there is me!

This past weekend I got to meet one of my heroes.  Debra Prinzing (http://www.debraprinzing.com/) is a pioneer and advocate for the “locally grown and sustainable fresh flower market”.  As a floral designer that dreams of one day owning my own business that creates the finest floral designs using locally grown fresh cut flowers, hearing Debra speak about this movement was truly a rewarding experience.  Debra is highly respected author and expert in the locally and sustainably grown fresh cut flower movement.  Her latest book, “The 50 Mile Bouquet: Seasonal, Local and Sustainable Flowers” visits with many of the pioneers that are redefining the way the American public buys flowers.  By growing seasonal crops that are appropriate for the region in an ecologically sustainable way and then selling them locally (often the same day they are harvested), these pioneers are reinventing an industry that has traditionally relied on homogenous product grown overseas at great cost to the environment.

A slightly fuzzy pic of an arrangement I made for my Dad with only things from his yard. How local is that?

I attended Debra’s lecture entitled “A Year in Flowers” at the Dallas Arboretum.  During this talk, she encouraged people to rethink the way they look at floral bouquets.  Her lecture encouraged us to ask the following questions when buying or making a fresh bouquet for our home, office or event.

1.  Must a bouquet always contain flowers?

2.  Why not use many stems of one kind of flower?

3.  Is the arrangement full of life?

4. Does it shine at the end of its blooming season?

5. Is it fleeting?

6. Does it borrow from the orchard?

Debra’s mantra is “Buy flowers in season, locally and often”.  This was a common thread throughout her lecture.  “A Year in Flowers” educates participants on what she calls the “field to vase movement”. The “field to vase” philosophy states that environmentalism and ethical buying choices should apply as much to the floral world as it does to the food movement.  Just because we are not eating the flowers (at least I hope not) we should still be concerned with the chemicals we are bringing into our homes and dispensing to our loved ones.  Besides, buying from your local flower farmer is not just good for you; it is also good for the environment.  Local growers care about more than producing the highest quality flowers at the lowest possible cost.  They want to do this while still caring for the earth.  Because of these, the flowers they grow have been produced with a lot of love and very few, if any, chemicals.  Their organic methods ensure that when the time comes for them to allow the next generation to produce flowers, the earth will actually be in better shape than when they started.

Another local arrangement I made for my Dad

After the lecture, Debra gave a demonstration on how to build beautiful bouquets using locally grown floral products.  You cannot imagine how thrilled I was when Debra asked me to stay and be her assistant in this demonstration.

Debra discussed many of the benefits that come from buying your flowers from local producers.  First, you can develop a relationship with the grower.  This relationship allows you to see the face of the farmer you are supporting in every daffodil.  You can smell the generations of care in every garden rose and you can appreciate the bounty of the seasons when you see blooming branches at the first of spring.  On more than one occasion an elderly man or woman has wandered into my work place to ask me why roses don’t smell any more. This is depressing. Most flowers don’t smell good anymore because they are grown by people in lands far away that don’t care how they smell.  They only care about how well they ship from where they are to the U.S.  While it may sound simple, the ability to actually stick your nose in a flower and smell it the way it is supposed is a huge reason to buy local!

You can order Debra's new book by clicking on the link in the sidebar of this blog

What is a florist anyway?

One point that Debra made during the presentation is that a florist used to be someone who raised their own plants and flowers for the arranging. Wouldn’t it be nice if that were a rule for being a florist now? If the floral designers and florists of today acted like they did in the past, we would live in a much prettier place and takes much less of a toll on mother earth. This is why I am now completely enamored with “My Luscious Backyard”, a Toronto based florist (in every sense of the word) who plants and maintains urban flower gardens in other people’s back yards. It doesn’t get any better than that folks. This lady even bicycles her deliveries (Learn more about “My Lucious Backyard” at  http://www.mylusciousbackyard.ca/about.php ).

Another thing I learned in Debra’s lecture was how bad Oasis flower foam is for the environment.  I had no idea up until this lecture that Oasis (floral foam) is plastic based.  Because of this, it never completely decomposes in a landfill. This is big news since I use it almost every day and have been using it for almost a decade. Great…..

But lucky for all of us, Debra has gathered tips of the trade from all over to use in place of Oasis. This video shows most of the techniques she demonstrated to us in the class this weekend (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLKacMtjJUY). I was happy to be sent home with the left over wood fibers to play with in my own designs.

The 50 Mile Bouquet

“My Luscious Back Yard” is one of the many talented and forward thinking florists Debra highlights in her newest book, “The 50 Mile Bouquet: Discovering the World of Local, Seasonal, Sustainable Flowers”.  Debra teamed up with photographer David Perry to showcase some of the nation’s hard working ladies and gents in the flower farm industry that are dedicated to producing the most gorgeous hand grown, handpicked, flowers you have ever seen. The book comes out April 1st.  I haven’t been this excited for a book release since the last Harry Potter novel had its midnight debut.

I truly love Debra Prinzing.  She is so sweet and so very, very talented.  It was a huge thrill for me when she called me “friend” when introducing me to the class.  I will always treasure that moment. Even though we had just met, her open and gracious personality allowed us to become fast friends. This simple act sums up my entire impression of Debra: utterly genuine and full of gumption.  Debra is a woman with a passion for farmers, the environment and an eye for design.  She is destined to be the face of the field to vase movement just like she is already the face of smart garden design. Even with her vast repertoire of knowledge and publications, she is so down to earth.  I truly look forward to working with Debra again and hope that you will use your voice to demand locally grown flowers. Go local!

TEXAS LIVE Magazine

I am very proud to announce that I have joined the team of the very talented writers, photographers and editors that bring you TEXAS LIVE magazine.   I will be doing a regular garden column that focuses on the organic growing tips that will allow you to grow the best plants possible in the very tough and unpredictable Texas climate.  My first article explains the “hows” and “whys” of soil preparation.  It also includes suggested planting times for the most commonly grown flowers, veggies, perennials, fruit trees and berries in the state.

TEXAS LIVE is an incredibly beautiful and informative magazine that covers the very best of “All Things Texan.”   My wife and I devour every issue.  We particularly love the Home and Garden section (no surprise there).  Each month, this section allows us to peek inside some truly amazing “country homes” that have been decorated by some very talented Texas designers.  Since Sally and I have been remodeling our own “country house” for the past five years each of these featured homes are an invaluable source of ideas and inspiration.

This month's issue of TEXAS LIVE features "Farmhouse Round Top". This is one of the beautiful guest rooms remodeled and styled by Beverly and Mike Corte.

When we are not gardening, remodeling or decorating we love to travel.  If we get the chance to run away for a few days we can count on TEXAS LIVE to tell us where to go, what to see, where to shop, where to stay and what to eat once we get there. 

The “LIVE” part of the TEXAS LIVE name is actually an acronym that stands for Luxurious, Informative, Vibrant, and Entertaining.   Those four words perfectly capture the essence of this beautiful and entertaining magazine.   You can find TEXAS LIVE in many of the businesses that are featured in its pages.  You can also buy it at your local HEB, Super WalMart, Books a Million, Barnes and Noble, and the Austin airport. The magazine usually sells out on newsstands, so go ahead and subscribe to ensure that you don’t miss a single issue.   

The writers at TEXAS LIVE are dedicated to finding the best of everything that Texas has to offer.  However, since Texas is a really big place it is impossible to for this small group of dedicated reporters to find and report on all that is wonderful in the greatest state in the America.  So, if you have an idea for a story, or you would like to contribute, feel free to drop them a line.  They are always looking for new story ideas, writers, and photographers.