Farm to Market Flowers

Debbie-Thornton

Debbie Thornton is one of a growing number of people in this country that are doing something I think is very important.  Debbie is the owner of Farm to Market Flowers (FM Flowers) and she is sustainably growing fresh cut … Continue reading

Vitex-TheTexas Lilac (Vitex agnus-castus)

It has now been a whole month since I finished my horticulture degree at A&M.  In that time I have had three people approach me to do landscapes for them (it is interesting to me that people think all horticulturists are landscapers).  One horseman wants me to landscape his two entry gates, my family cemetery wants me to landscape their entrance and another person wants an “LSU Garden” in their yard.  While all three of these projects are very different, all three will feature a very lovely and durable plant – Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus).

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The 12″ flower spike of the Vitex are beautiful and irresistible to butterflies and hummingbirds

Vitex is a small flowering tree that is, in my opinion, one of the best ornamental trees you can own. Its long, curvy, purple-blue flower spikes have earned the vitex the nickname of “The Texas Lilac”.    In addition to its beautiful flower spikes, this little tree can take the heat, endure the drought and is resistant to most pests.  It attracts butterflies and hummingbirds and deer do not like it.  With all it has going for it, this drought resistant tree really is a perfect choice for the Texas homeowner.

Vitex are typically grown as a multi trunked tree.  The multi-trunk look is achieved through pruning.  When grown as a tree they  grow to about 15 feet.  However, some varieties can get as tall as 35 feet.   If left alone from seed, the Vitex will grow into a lovely shrub that makes a stunning hedge that can, with regular deadheading, produce those long, lovely flower spikes throughout the summer.

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My Hyperion daylilies pair nicely with a Vitex I have left in a shrub form

You can find Vitex with pink flowers, mauve flowers and white flowers.  However, most of the Vitex sold in the trade have a purple-blue colored flower that is often called lilac.  The three most common varieties sold here in Texas include Shoal Creek, Montrose and Le Compte.  My friends at Tree Town USA are about to release a new, and as of yet unnamed, dark blue flowering variety.  Look for them this fall at all of the major nurseries or your local big box.

If you want to grow your own Vitex, plant it in the fall.  Like most trees, the cooler weather of fall will allow the plant to establish itself with much less water.  You can also plant it in the winter when it is dormant.  If you miss both of those opportunities you can still plant it in early spring.  Just remember though, the longer you wait, the more effort and water it will take to fully root.

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Since all of these lovely little flowers produce seeds, Vitex can be a bit invasive

While I do love this tree, it does have a couple of small problems.  First, each of those little flowers on those 12” flower stalks will produce a little seed.  Because of this it can be a bit invasive.  This is not a huge problem for the homeowner.  The weed eater and mower can easily control all of the volunteers that sprout in the yard.  However, if planted near a creek or tank, the plant can easily escape and create enough of a problem that it is currently listed as an invasive species on the Texas Invasives website (http://www.texasinvasives.org/plant_database/detail.php?symbol=VIAG).  You can control the spread of this plant by diligently deadheading each spent flower spike before the seeds develop.   The other little problem is allergies.  If you have a sensitivity to tree pollen you may want to avoid this tree.  All of those flowers produce pollen and many people claim to be allergic to it.

vitex-flowers-4 As I drive around I notice more and more Vitex in yards, commercial landscapes and along the roads and highways of our great state.  I think this is great.  Vitex is a beautiful and versatile plant that blooms throughout the summer and thrives on average annual rainfall.  It is no wonder that the Texas Highway Department has added them to their list of preferred plants.  If this plant thrives along the hot and dry roadsides and medians of our great state, imagine how well it will perform for you in your yard!

Five Tips for Fabulous Homemade Bouquets

Those of you that read on a regular basis know that I love growing flowers just as much as I enjoy growing vegetables.  In fact, I don’t really separate the two in my mind.  Each year my gardens contain both edibles and ornamentals.  While I love watching my flowers grow and bloom, the thing that really excites me is cutting those flowers and turning them into homemade bouquets that I can share with my family and friends.

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This lovely arrangement is comprised of roses, yarrow, dill, mint and salvia — all from my garden

Now I will be the first to admit that I am NOT a talented floral designer.  However, my youngest daughter Whitney is and she loves sharing her tips for creating beautiful homemade floral arrangements with me.  Below are what I believe are her best tips to date.

Tip 1 – Floral arrangements don’t have to be made up of just flowers.  In fact, some of her favorite arrangements have no flowers in them at all in them.  Whitney loves to make homemade bouquets that incorporate branches, grasses and even vegetables.  She also loves using herbs as fillers.  Things like rosemary, thyme and basil add structure and scent to your arrangements.  Plus they last forever in the vase.  In fact, if you leave these herbs in the water long enough many of them will root!  In season, don’t forget to incorporate things from the garden like honeysuckle and fresh fruits and vegetables.

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This late season arrangement uses zinnias, love lies bleeding, wax myrtle foliage and a tatume’ squash!

Tip 2 – Forget the rules.  Don’t worry if the height of your arrangement is not one and a half times as tall as your vase.  In fact, you don’t even have to use a vase.  Don’t worry too much about color either.  While complimentary color schemes are nice, they are not necessary.  Just look around nature, you will see that just about every color is used and they all look fabulous together.  Also, do not be afraid to use just a single variety and color of flower in your arrangements.  Also, vases don’t have to be vases.  A cute container like an old tin can, teacup or sugar bowl can make a good arrangement great.  Whitney also likes to cut the top out of gourds, squash and pumpkins in season.

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I threw this together last month. Notice the weeds? The purple globes are thistle heads from our wildflower meadow.

Tip 3 – Add more flowers.  Your arrangements should be pleasing to the eye.  According to Whitney, most DIYers use too few flowers and not enough fillers in their arrangements.  As you build your arrangement step back several steps and look at it from every angle.  If you see spots that need a little something, add it!  Since you grew the flowers and fillers at home they are free – use them with abandon!

homemade-arrangement-5 Tip 4 – If you want your fresh cut floral products to last as long as possible, cut them early in the morning and get them into cool, clean water ASAP.  When you cut, use sharp clippers and cut the stems on an angle and then drop them into a plastic or glass container.  Metal containers and fresh cut flowers do not play well together.  Also, change the water in your vase daily.

Tip 5 – Probably the best tip Whitney ever gave me was “If you can’t create –copy!”  Like I said, I am just not a talented designer.  However, I am a pretty good copier.  Pinterest and Google give us access to thousands of pictures of beautiful floral arrangements every day.  Look at these pictures.  Find things you like and then copy them!

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Cut flowers early in the morning to extend their vase life. Also change your water daily once they are arranged

I hope these tips give you the encouragement you need to get busy cutting and arranging your homegrown flowers!  Even though I don’t feel like I have a gift in this area I have learned that when using beautiful things it is hard to create something unattractive!