Growing Beans

Right now I am eating green beans just about every night.  Which is fine by me because I love them.  Plus, my wife is a really good cook and she knows about 100 different ways to prepare them.  The beans I am eating now are a bush variety called “Contender”.   I grow Contender every year because it is a reliable bush that produces tons of flavorful, firm podded beans that are three to four inches long.

Contender Bush Beans are very productive and tasty green beans for your spring garden

Beans are a staple all over the world.  In places where meat is scarce or expensive, beans provide the protein needed for healthy bodies.  Because of their high nutritive value, people have been growing them for about as long as there have been people.  According to the National Gardening Association almost 40% of all gardeners in the U.S. grow beans.  There is good reason for that; they taste good and they are good for you.  Plus, they are good for your garden too.  All beans are legumes which means they have the ability (with the help of the bacteria rhizobia) to turn atmospheric nitrogen into a soil based plant soluble nitrogen that will improve your soil.  Because of this, beans are often grown as a rotational crop to replenish the nitrogen taken up by plants that are heavy nitrogen feeders.

I space my beans about 4" apart in a single trench

There are basically two kinds of “green beans” that we grow in our gardens; pole beans and bush beans.  Pole beans grow long vines and do best if supported on a fence or trellis.  They are very prolific and usually take the heat better than bush beans.  It is not uncommon for some varieties to continue producing in the Texas heat well into July.  Generally, pole beans are grown as “snap’ beans or dried beans.  While you can pick them young and use them as a green bean, many varieties must be “snapped” and have the “string” that holds the pod together removed before eating in this manner.  Bush beans on the other hand, are designed to be eaten pod and all.  Bush beans are generally planted a little earlier than pole beans and they stop producing once daytime temps are in the 90s and night time temps stay above 75.

The simple little flowers forming on your bush mean that you will have beans in about a week.

To grow bush beans simply place the seeds in well worked soil once it has warmed up to around 70 degrees.  I planted mine on March 31 and picked my first “mess” on May 20.  Beans should be spaced at about 4” to 6” and planted 1” deep.  Since my rows are 33′ long I dig a trench with my Cobrahead hand hoe, scatter and cover.  If you are planting smaller quantities you can quickly plant an area by scattering the seeds and then using your finger to  push them into the soil past the first joint on your index finger.  If conditions are right they should sprout in 3 to 4 days and grow into small bushes that are about 18″ tall.

Beans develop quickly and it is not uncommon to harvest your first beans 45 to 50 days after planting.  Since most bush beans are designed to be eaten pod and all it is best to harvest them before the beans begin to fill out.  The longer they stay on the vine the tougher the pod gets.  Also, many of the beans from bush varieties do not taste all that great.  So, to get the best green bean experience possible pick your beans when they are young.

My raised beds are 3' feet wide and 33' feet long. I plant tomatoes on the cattle panels in the back and bush beans in the front. The nitrogen fixing quality of the beans ensure that my tomatoes have plenty N available

Very few vegetables are as easy to grow as beans.  They do have a few pest issues that you need to watch for.  There are several beetles that love the foliage and a few more that will even drill into the pod and eat the beans.  A regular, weekly application of BT or neem oil will repel many of them.

Beans are an important source of protein all over the world.  They may have also been the reason you became a gardener.  Do you remember your first horticultural experiment?  I am willing to bet that it involved a bean, a paper towel and a Dixie cup.  Watching that little bean sprout was our first introduction to the mystery and miracle of life.  So, if you love growing things from seed, be sure and thank your first or second teacher and beans.  Both of them are probably more responsible for your love of growing things than you realize!

TLC for Your BLTs (Big Luscious Tomatoes!) By Patty Leander

I came in from working in the garden the other day and declared to anyone that would listen that my vegetable garden was looking AWESOME, and my dear husband hardly looked up from his work as he replied, “EVERYBODY’S vegetable garden is looking awesome this spring”. True enough, the rain and mild temperatures have been just what we needed here in Central Texas to shake off the drought doldrums, but I can still revel in the beauty and bounty of my own little piece of earth. It is my sincere hope that you are experiencing the same success.  One reason our vegetable gardens are so splendid is because tomato time is finally here, and for tomato lovers, especially those who try to eat local and in season, it has been a long and mostly tomato-less winter.

Hopefully by now your tomatoes are growing strong and you may have already savored that first juicy bite of your home-grown and sun-ripened treats.  But just when tomatoes are in the home stretch it seems a plethora of plague and pestilence begin a full assault, and that is when our plants will benefit from a steady diet of attention, inspection and TLC.

As we move toward summer make sure your plants receive at least 1½” of water each week, preferably from drip or soaker irrigation that places water at the root zone and avoids wetting the leaves. A 2-4 inch layer of mulch is essential to moderate soil temperature, to keep water from splashing soil onto the leaves (fungal spores are often lurking in the soil underneath plants), and to conserve moisture in the soil.  Dried leaves or grass, alfalfa hay, pine straw, or even partially decomposed compost are suitable mulches. Side-dress your plants with fertilizer as soon as the first fruit set, and then continue to dole out small servings of fertilizer every 4 weeks. One way to side-dress a tomato plant is to pull the mulch back and apply 2-3 tablespoons of fertilizer (feather meal, blood meal, ammonium sulfate or other packaged fertilizer) around the diameter of each tomato plant, scratch it into the soil, water lightly and then replace the mulch. Some gardeners prefer to spray their tomato foliage with a water soluble fertilizer every week (using a product like Miracle Grow or liquid fish emulsion) and that seems to work well, but remember that plants are not designed to take in nutrients from their leaves, so it’s important to also get fertilizer into the root zone. A hybrid approach may be best – side-dressing at the root zone every 4 weeks and applying a foliar spray every 7-10 days.

Tomatoes generally stop setting fruit when the daytime temperature hits 90º and nighttime temps reach the mid 70s, though cherry varieties may often produce through the heat. If your tomato plants are healthy and you can keep them that way you might be able to carry them through the summer for a fall crop. If you would rather start with fresh tomato plants for the fall garden most local nurseries will have transplants available in late summer or you can grow your own. It takes 6-8 weeks to grow a good size tomato transplant so plant those little tomato seeds in early June so you’ll have decent size transplants by late July or early August.

Inspect your tomatoes every few days for signs of insect damage or disease, and as the plants grow gently guide the stems so they stay within the cage. Eventually those stems will be laden with fruit and they will need the support that the cage provides. Below is a rundown of some of the most common problems associated with tomato cultivation:


Leaf Footed Bug. Photo By Bruce Leander

Leaf-footed Bugs: these grayish brown bugs with the flattened hind legs are a common pest of tomatoes. They have what entomologists call “piercing-sucking” mouthparts, and that is exactly what they do to tomatoes. They pierce the skin, inject an enzyme to dissolve the juices, and then suck the juice out, leaving small, hard, white spots or lesions on the surface of the tomato.

Leaf Footed nymphs and eggs. Here you can clearly see how they are laid in "a chain". Photo By Bruce Leander

Their eggs are laid in long chains along the stems or leaf midrib; after hatching the nymphs, with their orange bodies and black legs, congregate together making them easy to spot. Do not be deceived – the nymphs may not look like adult leaf-footed bugs, but they will in approximately 30 days after morphing through five instar stages.

Adult and nymph Leaf Footed Bugs on a tomato leaf. Photo By Bruce Leander

These soft-bodied orange nymphs cannot fly, they can only scatter, so this is the preferred stage to treat them with insecticide, squish them or drop them into a bucket of soapy water. Also destroy any egg cases that you find. Spinosad and insecticidal soap may be effective against the nymphs, but nothing seems to bother the adults – they just glare at you and fly away. Handpicking is the best way to get the adults, but beware – they are a type of stink bug and when you squish them it is not pleasant.


The first sign of early blight. Photo By Bruce Leander

Early Blight: Alternaria solani, a common fungal disease that attacks tomatoes, especially during rainy periods. Foliage starts to yellow at the base of the plant and then gradually moves upward. Ideally we should prevent this disease by providing adequate spacing and air circulation, mulching below the plants and avoiding overhead watering that wets the leaves.

Early Blight can decimate your tomatoes. Photo By Bruce Leander

Once the disease takes hold it can be treated with an approved fungicide; if early blight is a perennial problem it’s best to start treatment early in the season, to prevent spreading of the disease. Serenade and neem oil are organic controls and Daconil (active ingredient chlorothalonil) is a conventional fungicide that is effective in combating early blight. Using these products on an alternating schedule may give better results. Even though Daconil is not organic, it requires approximately ½ teaspoon per quart of water and the solution can be judiciously directed at foliage, not fruit.


Spider mites can cause a strippling effect on leaves. Photo By Bruce Leander

Spider Mites: a nuisance in most spring and summer gardens, this tiny pest inhabits and feeds on the underside of leaves, causing a stippled effect on the surface of the leaf. If left untreated spider mites can quickly destroy a crop. It is amazing how many teeny tiny mites can be on the back of a leaf, they are just near impossible to see without magnification. Their numbers usually increase in hot and dry conditions, but I am already seeing huge numbers of spider mites on my tomatoes even though we’ve had more rain than usual this spring and the temperatures have been mild.

Patty is blasting away her mites with the MiteyFine mister created for her by her brother. Photo By Bruce Leander

Spider mites are difficult to control, but my first line of defense is to wash the mites off using a strong spray of water directed at the underside of the leaves every 3-5 days. My favorite tool for this purpose is the Mite-Y-Fine Sprayer™ – a tool that my engineer brother built for me. It is a long-handled tool with a high pressure nozzle that allows me to wash mites off of leaves efficiently and without stooping – it’s such a useful tool I told my brother he should make more and sell them – and he is! They are made of quality materials, hand built by him, his wife and their son. I use mine almost every week during the spring and summer growing season. See for more information.

Insecticidal soap, neem oil and wettable sulfur are labeled as miticides and can be sprayed on leaves to help control mites. Many gardeners swear by a weekly seaweed spray to keep them at bay though I prefer to use the Mite-Y-Fine because I like to eat tomatoes off the vine while standing in the garden, and I’d rather not spray them with anything.


A great shot of a serious tomato predator - the hornworm. Photo By Bruce Leander

Tomato Hornworm: prevention is the best control here. A single tomato hornworm can defoliate a tomato plant in short order if left unchecked, so it’s best to scout the plants for signs of damage (large chunks of missing leaves and moist, dark green worm poop on the soil or in the branches. These large caterpillars usually show up as an army of one, rarely do I see more than two on a plant. When there’s only one or two it’s easy to pull them off and toss them into your neighbor’s yard, or do as one lady told me – she just goes after them with a pair of scissors (ugh).


Nematodes can decimate a tomato's root system. Photo By Bruce Leander

Nematodes: if your healthy tomato plant begins to gradually decline, turning yellow, drooping, losing vigor and/or wilting without reviving by the next morning then you may have nematodes. Nematodes are microscopic worms that get into the roots and form small galls or knots in the root, blocking the uptake of water and nutrients and causing the plant to gradually decline. Once a plant has nematodes you might as well pull it up as there is no treatment and leaving it in the ground will only allow the nematodes to increase in numbers. When pulling an infected plant be careful not to fling nematode-infested soil to other parts of the garden.

Below are two of my family’s favorite recipes for utilizing the season’s tomato harvest:


Patty's salsa is made with only fresh veggies from her garden. Photo By Bruce Leander

4 fresh tomatoes, chopped (peeled and seeded if desired, but I usually don’t)
2-3 jalapenos, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 cup cilantro
1-2  tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp cumin
2-4 Tbsp lime juice
1/2 tsp sugar

Chop the onion, jalapenos, garlic and one tomato in a blender or food processor. Then add the seasonings and the remaining tomatoes, and blend till it seems right. This is personal taste. You can leave it chunky but I usually blend out most of the chunks. Then I taste and usually end up adding more tomatoes, lime juice and sometimes another jalapeno. I let it sit a bit and then go back and taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. It gets a little redder and a little spicier as it sits.

** You do not have to use a blender/food processor. If you prefer, finely chop the first five ingredients by hand, then stir in the seasonings and adjust to your taste.

Roasted Tomatoes

Roasted tomatos - Yum! Photo By Bruce Leander

Roasting tomatoes brings out an amazing, concentrated flavor – they can be used in sauces, pasta, sandwiches or simply as a savory snack. They don’t last long around my house, but they can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks or frozen for up to three months without compromising the flavor. ‘Juliet’ tomatoes and small roma varieties are perfect for this recipe.

Wash, dry and slice tomatoes in half vertically. Remove seeds and juice (don’t worry about removing every single seed, you just want to scoop out most of the wet pulp). Arrange on a foil-lined pan, cut side up. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in a 325º oven for 1½ -2 hours. Watch carefully to be sure they don’t burn and adjust temperature or time, depending on size of tomatoes.

A Visit With Greg Grant

This past weekend Sally and I went to deep East Texas to spend a day with the noted horticulturist, historian, speaker and all around good guy, Greg Grant.  Greg and I share several friends and we both write for Texas Gardener.  However, because of our crazy schedules, we have never had the opportunity to just hang out.

My wife with Greg in front of Camellia sinensis. If you are not familiar with the Latin, this is the bush that gives us tea! This is one of many rare and interesting plants you can see at the SFA Mast Arboretum.

I was very excited to get this opportunity because I have so much respect for Greg.  In my opinion, he is the best horticulturist anywhere.  In fact, if my website gave awards he would be in the Hall of Fame and he would hold the honor of Master of Horticulture of the Century!  No kidding, Greg really is that awesome.  Here is an excerpt from his speaker’s bio:

To me, nothing says "Southern Garden" better than a tire garden. Here, Dawn Stover's students in the SFA School of Agriculture have made a very productive and attractive vegetable and herb garden out of discarded tires

“In addition to horticulturist, Greg is a conservationist, writer, and seventh generation Texan from Arcadia, Texas.  He is the author of Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, In Greg’s Garden-A Pineywoods Perspective on Gardening, Nature, and Family (2010-Kindle), and  co-author of Heirloom Gardening in the South-Yesterday’s Plants for Today’s Gardens, Texas Home Landscaping  and The Southern Heirloom Garden.  He also writes the popular “In Greg’s Garden” column for Texas Gardener magazine and contributes regularly to Neil Sperry’s Gardens magazine.  He also writes a monthly gardening blog for Arbor Gate Nursery ( In addition to all of this, he still finds time to serves as a part time research associate for garden outreach at Stephen F. Austin State University’s SFA Gardens in Nacogdoches, Texas.

Greg has degrees in floriculture and horticulture from Texas A&M University and has attended post graduate classes at Louisiana State University, North Carolina State University, and Stephen F. Austin State University.  He has past experience as a horticulturist with the Pineywoods Native Plant Center, Mercer Arboretum, and San Antonio Botanical Gardens, an instructor at Stephen F. Austin and Louisiana State Universities, an award winning horticulturist with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, director of research and development at Lone Star Growers, and on the staff of Naconiche Gardens and The Antique Rose Emporium.

Greg with a mass of John Fanick Phlox. This is one of many plants Greg has introduced to the nursery trade

Greg has introduced a number of successful plants to the Texas nursery industry including: Blue Princess verbena, dwarf pink Mexican petunia, Gold Star esperanza, Laura Bush and VIP petunias, John Fanick phlox, Stars and Stripes pentas, Pam’s Pink honeysuckle, Lecompte vitex, Henry and Augusta Duelberg sages, Big Momma and Pam Puryear Turk’s Cap, Peppermint Flare Hibiscus, and the Marie Daly and Nacogdoches (Grandma’s Yellow) roses.  He was presented the Superior Service Award by the Texas Agricultural Extension Service and the Lynn Lowery Memorial Award by the Native Plant Society of Texas for horticultural achievement in the field of Texas native plants.

He has traveled extensively to hundreds of botanical gardens throughout the United States and Europe and has given over one thousand entertaining lectures.  He is a graduate of the Benz School of Floral Design, a member of the Garden Writers Association of America, and a lifetime member of the Native Plant Society of Texas, the Southern Garden History Society, the Texas Bluebird Society, and the Big Thicket Association.  His garden, farm, and plant introductions have been featured in a number of magazines and newspapers including Texas Gardener, Texas Live, Texas Co-op Power, Woman’s Day, Farm and Ranch News, The Dallas Morning News, The San Antonio Express News, and The Houston Chronicle

Sally explores quilts made by Greg's grand mothers. Greg has not only loving restored both of his grandparent's homes, he has preserved and still uses, many of their furnishings.

Greg lives and writes in deep East Texas in his grandparent’s dogtrot farmhouse that he has lovingly restored.  He tends a small cottage garden, a vegetable garden, a patch of sugar cane, a flock of laying hens, and over one hundred bluebird houses.”

As you can tell, Greg is the kind of guy that anyone would love to spend a day with.  As his bio shows, he is VERY accomplished.  However, the bio doesn’t tell the whole story.  Greg is as open, friendly, and funny as he is accomplished.  Even though we had only met in passing, Sally and I both felt we had known him our lives.  He was such a great host and he never seemed to tire of endless questions. 

Greg showed us so much during our visit that there is no way to cover it in one post.  So, check back over the next few days to hear all of the amazing things that Greg shared with in Nacogdoches, at Stephen F. Austin University and in the thriving metropolis of Arcadia, Texas.

If you want to learn more about how to grow just about everything  or explore how our Southern history and culture is reflected in, and shaped by, the plants from the past, buy one or more of Greg’s books.  With six in print and one on kindle, this Master of Horticulture is sure to have something that is perfect for you.  Two of my favorites are featured in my sidebar!

Incredible New Live Oak from Tree Town USA

The Empire Live Oak from Tree Town USA is a beautifully shaped, fast growing, and pest resistant tree that is perfect for the landscape.

Necessity is frequently the mother of invention.  When Tree Town USA, the country’s largest tree farm based in Texas, couldn’t get a sufficient yield of high quality Live Oak seedlings from the acorns they were receiving from their seed sources they needed to make changes.  They would regularly end up with many genetically inferior trees that did not meet the quality standards of their most discriminating landscape contractors and landscape architects.  Changes needed to be made to keep their customers happy with a consistent supply of high quality trees.  They developed an area where they could harvest their own acorns from parent trees that exhibited the genetic traits they were looking for to produce high quality trees consistently.  Their experienced team of growers selected parent trees with good branching angles, faster rates of growth, good foliage, and overall appeal from their large inventory of Live Oaks.  They planted them near one another in an isolated area of their 1,200 acre tree farm near Glen Flora, Texas segregated from other Live Oaks on the farm.  They began harvesting acorns produced by the selected trees to produce a large portion of their crop of seedlings.  After watching the seedlings for several years, the growers determined they were getting a much higher percentage of high quality trees than any other seed source they were using.  They noticed consistency between the trees, faster growth and overall higher quality resulting in many more trees meeting the quality requirements of their most discriminating customers. 

Tree Town has thousands of these remarkable trees available to the trade

The good genetics, seedling quality, combined with their growing and pruning practices have produced the first crop of these high quality trees for sale in 2012 in sizes from 10 gal to 45 gal.  Tree Town USA trademarked the name Empire Live Oak to identify the trees produced from these superior genetics and growing practices. 

Compared to other live oaks, these trees grow quickly and have been breed to produce a lovely, upright canopy

The seedlings are produced in special seedling pots to prevent circling roots and each subsequent step up to a larger size occurs when the trees are at a young age to ensure proper root structure.  Trees with root issues or other quality issues are removed at each stage of the shift up process.  The trees are staked for straight trunks, good leaders and good branching.  Any tree that does not meet the genetic or quality requirements along the way to a finished tree is segregated and dealt with.  The end result is a crop of high quality Live Oaks that will have a similar appearance, good branching, faster growth rate, good foliage, and overall appeal when planted in the landscape. 

Tree Land USA offers this tree to professionals in all sizes from 10 to 45 gallons. A 670 gallon version will be available soon.

The great lengths that Tree Town USA has gone through will insure that landscape contractors, landscape architects, business owners and home owners will have a source of consistently high quality trees for their landscapes.  The trees will be offered in sizes up to 670 gal over the next few years.  The company is accepting contract grows for special large landscape construction projects in the future as well as future orders for companies wanting to offer the finest Live Oaks to their customers.  They have more than 70,000 trees in inventory to support the anticipated demand for this popular tree.  The Empire Live Oaks will be offered through retail garden centers, wholesale landscape suppliers, landscape contractors and other retail garden outlets in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Mississippi.

Rainy Day Blooms

This morning I awoke to the soft sounds of rain falling on our tin roof.  There is something so calming, refreshing and nostalgic about that sound.  A cool May morning in Texas is something to savor and celebrate.  So, after breakfast, I put on some clothes, grabbed the camera and headed outside.  The rain had stopped but the sun had not yet broken through the clouds.  The air was heavy and cool and the light was filtered and soft.  I love mornings like this because they are so rare in the South. 

As I wandered through my yard I snapped tons of pictures.  Despite the heat and weeds that are again trying to take over, May is my favorite month for gardening.  Flowers are blooming and the vegetables are beginning to share their fruits. This morning was a perfect start to what promises to be a spectacular day.  Here are several pictures of some of the things that helped to make my morning so special.


One thing that I truly love about my little garden is the fact that almost everyone of my plants came from someone I know.  All of my daylillies, and I have hundreds, came from either my wife’s grandmother or a promising young horticulturist named Chris Von Kohn.  Daylillies and May are synonymous in my mind.  I am always incredibly excited when the first one opens at the beginning of the month and then equally sad when the bloom falls toward the end of the month.  Here are some shots of the one’s that were in bloom this morning.

Here is a very lovely daylily that was bred by Chris Von Kohn.
Here is another one of Chris’s lovely creations.
Here is one of my borders filled with Hyperion daylilies that we got from my wife’s grandmother.  Over the years we have turned our original clump into literally hundreds of plants.
Miscellaneous Blooms
I absolutely love cleome or Spider Flower.  I was very pleased to see that the first one of the season has decided to open up.
Our easter lilies finally opened.  Very lovely and they last so long in a vase.
I absolutely love Powis Castle artemsia.  Here it pairs nicely with old fashioned petunias.
Daylilies aren’t they only thing blooming in my beds.  A no fail stunner for me is always my Victoria salvia.
 My native Datura is beginning to bloom
I love the combination of the old fashioned petunias with the Ruellia or Mexican petunias. 
Here is a very lovely pink yarrow shared with me by my friend Cynthia Mueller.
I love the color and texture of coleus.  These are in an old washstand with portulaca and calibrachoa
Vegetables and Herbs
This year I finally got arounf to building raised beds for my vegetables.  I have three 33′ rows that I filled with a mix of 60% river sand and 40% mushroom compost.  My building was delayed by all of the rain so I got my garden in a little late.  However, it is really beggining to take off.
One of my favorite herbs is borage.  Even though it has a nice, mild cucmber flavor, I don’t really like to eat it.  The leaves are too fuzzy for me.  However, it makes a lovely plant.  Plus, it has beautiful little blue flowers that look great frozen in a ice cube.
I have 18 tomato plants growing.  Because of that we will be making lots of salsa.  I planted cilantro in a buried 2.5 gallon pot to try and keep it in check.  I use this same trick with my mint.
Summer isn’t complete with out squash.  My yellow crook neck it beginning to produce.
I love peppers.  Because of this I have several varieties currently growning.  Last Saturday we picked our first bell.  It was perfectly shaped and a perfect size so we took it in and immediately ate it.  We cut it into two thick slices that we sauteed in bacon grease.  Once it softened up a bit we cracked an egg to the center.  We topped it off with grilled onions, bell pepper and and shreaded American cheese.  People that don’t garden will never know how truly wonderful a dish like this is.

Growing Poppies

(WARNING!  An extremely long and nostalgic post lies ahead.  If you don’t want to hear why poppies, and the British, really matter to this veteran then skip ahead to the growing section)

Air Intelligence Agency Logo

I am very proud to be a veteran of the United States Air Force (Air Intelligence Agency).  The Air Force paid for my education and taught me the skills that I still use to make a living today.  It also taught me that duty, honor and country are a whole lot more than just three words.  In short, the military is largely responsible for turning me into the man I am today.

In addition to shaping my character, the Air Force let me see the world.  I literally went around the world in my ten years of service.  I saw wonderful and amazing things and I met incredible people.  But of all the things I saw, the thing I most remember and treasure is the November I spent in London.

What we call Veteran’s Day, the British call Remembrance Day.  When it comes to appreciating and celebrating their veterans, the British beat us hands down.  Veteran’s Day is huge to them.  I realize this is because war is so personal for them.  Not only did they sacrifice their loved ones to the cause, the world wars literally destroyed their country.  Because of this, each November, the British host a series of events that elegantly and appropriately recognize the service of those that were willing to give the last full measure to the defense of freedom


Crosses with poppies on "graves" in front of Westminster Abbey. There is a grave on the lawn for every unit that served in the defense of Britian in the two world wars. Photo from

One thing that stuck with me while attending the various Remembrance Day celebrations were the poppies.  They were everywhere.  On lapels, in wreaths and on tiny crosses that were placed on “graves” outside Westminster Abbey that represented the dead from every military unit (including foreign) that served in the defense of Britain.  The poppy was adopted as a symbol of Remembrance Day for several reasons.  However, most agree the poppy was selected primarily because of a poem written by Lt Col John McCrae.  Colonel McCrae was a Canadian doctor that wrote “In Flanders Fields” after losing his close friend and student during the Battle of the Ypres Salient in Belgian Flanders.  His poem is a poignant reminder that even though war is slaughter and sacrifice the healing begins when the gunfire ends.  In case you have never seen it before, here is this beautiful work:

Growing Poppies


This lovely poppy is very similar to those that grow in Flanders Fields. I took this shot in front of Texas Specialty Cut Flowers big blue barn in Blanco

Even though I love growing all of my plants, none of them fill me with so much emotion as do my poppies.  Each Spring they remind me of the millions of soldiers, seaman and airmen that have died in defense of their countries.  They also take me back to a magical few weeks spent in London with my British cousins.   The poppies I grow are deep red singles with black throats and bright yellow centers.  However, if red or single is not your style, I promise there is a color and style out there for you.  Poppies are like roses; they come in every color but blue.

Here is a shot of the bright red variety I grow. Thanks to Carol Ann Sayles of Boggy Creek Farms for sharing them with me

Poppies are so easy to grow.  If you don’t have any, simply order or buy seeds from your favorite source.  They are so adaptable that even if you order from a reseller on the East coast, there is very good chance they will do well for you in Texas.  However, in my opinion, the best way to get your poppies is from a local gardener.  I got my poppies from Carol Ann Sayles at Boggy Creek Farms in Austin.   Since poppies are such great reseeders, everyone that grows them always has plenty of seeds to share.  If you live in Texas, now is the time to stop and mooch those seeds from your poppy growing friends.

A lovely double pink variety grown by Patty Leander

Since poppies reseed so freely, once you get them established you will always have them.  Poppy seeds are tiny.  Because of this, I put them out in a broadcast manner.  Instead of trying to plant in rows I simply scatter them in the area that I want them in.  Before I scatter them, I run a rake over the area I am going to place them.  Then, once the seeds are down, I run the rake the other way.  Then I water in and wait.  If you want poppies next spring, you need to plant them anytime between now and October.

My poppies start to bloom in early March and they continue blooming well into April.  By mid April the flowers have gone and the “heads” that are filled with all of those tiny little seeds are beginning to dry.  The heads that are left after the flower fades are actually what’s left of the plant’s pistil.  As the pistil dries, little holes open up around the top where the stamen were once attached.  These little holes turn each head into a little “salt shaker” that dispenses the seeds whenever the wind blows or the plant falls over.

A great shot of dry poppy head. Notice the little holes in the top that allow the plant to "shake" its seeds all over your garden

If you want to gather and save seeds, simply cut these heads as soon as the holes open.  Shake the seeds into a bag and store for later use.  I have been doing this for several years and I have now been able to spread poppies all over my property.

All of these seeds came from this head

While many flowers are used as symbols for something, poppies represent the things I value most; sacrifice and service.  Poppies are easy, reliable, carefree and oh so beautiful.  Plant some now and you will be rewarded with a spring time show of beautiful flowers for years to come!