Amazing Aloe Vera Collection at Hilltop Gardens

When I was young, my mother (and all the other mothers on our block) kept a pot of aloe vera on the back porch.  Every time I got a sun burn, my mom would go outside and snap a couple of leaves off of her plant and use the cool, viscous fluid that oozed out of the leaves to sooth the burn.  I think that since she used aloe vera as a medicine, I never really learned to think of it as an ornamental.

aloe_vera_water_drops

Water droplets on one of the over 200 aloes at Hilltop Gardens

This past Spring Break, I discovered (in a very big way) that aloe vera is as pretty as it is “useful”.  Sally and I spent her time off exploring Hilltop Gardens in Lyford, Texas.  Hilltop Gardens is the only Botanical Garden in the Texas Valley.  It is also home to the largest public collection of species aloes in the U.S.  Hilltop Gardens sits on the oldest commercial aloe vera farm in the U.S.  The company that owns the farm is the market leader in aloe production.  Because of their success growing and transforming the aloe vera plant into a variety of health and beauty products, they wanted to build a beautiful place to showcase the beauty and variety of the plant family that has been so good to them.

hilltop_garden_aloe_collection_1

The farm and botanical garden at Hilltop Gardens is a certified organic operation.

The garden is under the direction of Paul Thornton.  In addition to maintaining this beautiful space, Paul also had a hand in designing it.  According to Paul, Hilltop Gardens has become “his dream job”.  Paul was an excellent host and tour guide and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay.  He is a walking encyclopedia of aloe knowledge.  One of the most interesting things that he shared with us was the fact that aloe vera is mentioned several times in the Bible. He also said that there are carvings of aloe in the Egyptian pyramids.  According to Paul, “Aloe’s health benefits have been known and used for thousands of years.  The ancient Egyptians called it “the immortal plant” and they offered it as a gift to their deceased pharaohs over 6000 years ago”.  Another thing that I found interesting was the fact that even though humans have been growing it and using it for 6000 years, there are no known wild populations of the plant.   What we all know as aloe vera only lives in cultivation.

Paul_Thornton

Paul Thornton is the head horticulturist at Hilltop Gardens. He is a great host and posses an incredible knowledge of the aloe family.

Aloe vera is a succulent.  Because of this it thrives in environments like ours (Zones 8-11) that have limited or unpredictable water supplies.  Aloe vera is a very tough plant that can adapt to a lot of soil types (as long as they are well draining).  It is also fairly resistant to most pests.  Aphids can attack it but that usually only happens when the plants are grown too close together.  If grown properly, aloe vera will produce beautiful, tall flower spikes.

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I was amazed at the variety of shapes, forms , and flower types of their 200+ aloe plants

When growing succulents in pots, you should allow the soil to dry out between each watering.  This makes aloe an easy choice for those of us that live in places where high summer temperatures make it almost impossible to keep the soil in our outdoor pots moist.  Aloe reproduces readily.  This is another great reason to try some this year.  Aloe vera will quickly produce lots of “pups” or off-shoots.  These pups can be used to make more potted plants or you can transplant them directly into your flower beds.  They will quickly grow into a large, showy, upright mass of thick, spikey leaves.

hilltop_healing_garden_gate

This lovely gate welcomes you into the “healing garden”.  The healing garden recently received an Award of Merit from the Texas Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

If you are looking for something to do that is a little out of the ordinary, go to their website and plan a visit.  As part of the gardens, Hilltop offers onsite bed and breakfast accommodations in a Spanish style mansion.  Sally and I stayed there and we were very impressed with the lovely décor, the heated pool and the excellent service.  If you have ever thought of spending a few days exploring the Texas/Mexico border, then Hilltop Gardens is the perfect place to settle while you enjoy all of the vibrant cultural offerings of the Rio Grande valley.

The heated pool is one of many features that you will enjoy if you stay ion the bed and breakfast accommodations at Hilltop Gardens

The heated pool is one of many features that you will enjoy if you stay in the bed and breakfast accommodations at Hilltop Gardens

The Pumpkinator!

I had no idea how much fun there was in a box of pumpkins

I had no idea how much fun there was in a box of pumpkins

This past weekend Sally, Jessie and I were invited to take part in an annual fall activity called “Punkin Chunkin”.  If you are not familiar with “Punkin Chunkin’” don’t feel bad.  Neither was I.    Evidently this is a pretty big deal in the North East.  Punkin Chunkin is the art (and competition) of creating machines to hurl  pumpkins as far as possible.  This sounds amazing!  I cannot believe it has not caught on down here.

Staring dowm the barrel of "The Pumpkinator"

Staring dowm the barrel of “The Pumpkinator”

Luckily Sally is friends with a true visionary.  Kathyrn Boyd is, as far as I know, the first “Punkin Chunker” in Texas.  She has created her very own Punkin Chunker that her daughter Emmy Kate has dubbed “The Pumpkinator”.  They invited my family to join their family for an afternoon of good natured vegetable destruction.

Emmy Kate (in white) instructs my daughter Jessie in the proper way to load the catapult

Emmy Kate (in white) instructs my daughter Jessie in the proper way to load the catapult

“The Pumpkinator” is an ingeniously simple catapult that Kathryn designed for the sole purpose of propelling pumpkins hard enough to explode on impact.  Katherine’s Pumpkinator is built on a 2” drill stem frame that looks a lot like an old swing set.  Pointing down from the top bar are two arms that hold long rubber lines made from surgical hose.  The rubber lines are attached to a funnel that has been modified to include a handle.  The pumpkins are placed in the funnel which the shooter pulls back as far as possible.  Then, it is just a matter of point and release.

There is nothing like exploding pumpkins to bring out the kid in all of us!

There is nothing like exploding pumpkins to bring out the kid in all of us!

I cannot describe the shear bliss that burst out across those kid’s faces when those bright orange orbs exploded against the plywood wall!  It looked like so much fun that Sally and I gladly lined up for our turn.   After firing “The Pumpkinator” I can tell you that you have not really lived until you have used a catapult to fire a pumpkin into a wall!

The end result of a very enjoyable afternoon

The end result of a very enjoyable afternoon

Even though chunking pumpkins is new to me, the feelings I felt while doing it are not.   I miss the days when families actually got together and participated in good, old fashioned, wholesome activities.  I know I sound like an old man here, but I truly believe we would all be better off if we got up, turned off the TV, the computer, the Ipad and the  Playstation and went outside and chunked pumpkins with our friends and family.  I want to say a big Thank You to Kathyrn for creating “The Pumpkinator”.  People like you remind us all that life is best when lived unplugged!

Fabulous Fall Decorations

On Monday, my wife went to Bayou Bend to attend the memorial service for Michael Brown.  Michael was the curator there for many years and she was very fond of him.  Michael was a great researcher and curator.  In fact, he literally wrote the book on Duncan Phyfe furniture.  He was the epitome of a gentleman and scholar.  He left this world too soon and his passing leaves a big hole in the world of American Decorative Arts. 

Michaels memorial service was held at Bayou Bend.

Michael’s memorial service was held at Bayou Bend.

After I got off work I rode around while waiting for the service to let out.  I love riding around in River Oaks.  According to Forbes magazine, River Oaks is home to several of the richest people in America.  Because of this, I got to enjoy some of the most impressive homes and landscapes in the entire United States. 

This is the proper way to decorate the enterance to a home

This is the proper way to decorate the enterance to a home

In my wanderings I happened upon what I think is my favorite fall landscape ever.  If I had the money, this is how I would decorate the outside of my house every fall.  As you look at these beds notice that, besides the shrubs, nothing is permanent. Each season, the owner replaces every thing between the boxwoods with seasonal plants.

Not only do I admire these decorations I admire the owners for creating these botanically beatuiful scenes for the public

Not only do I admire these decorations I admire the owners for creating these botanically beatuiful scenes for the public

 I don’t know the landscape company that installs these decorations or the man that pays to have it done.  However, I admire them both.  Much like Michael Brown, they are enhancing peoples lives by sharing beautiful things with them. 

 I am not particularly fond of crotons.  However, I have to admit that they were the perfect filler between the mums, marigolds, squash and pumpkins.

I am not particularly fond of crotons. However, I have to admit that they were the perfect filler between the mums, marigolds, squash and pumpkins.

Gruene Days

This past weekend I tagged along with my son Chris and my son in law Cameron when they went to meet an old high school buddy at Gruene Hall.  It had been about 30 years since I last walked through the doors of the oldest continuously operating dancehall in Texas and I wanted to see how much things had changed. 

blog-gruene Thirty years ago, Gruene Hall was the main reason that folks came to the town of Gruene.  Gruene Hall has been hosting the stars and future stars of country music since 1877.  When my wife was a student at the university formerly known as Southwest Texas State (now Texas State—Go Bobcats!!!), she and her friends would drive over from San Marcos to dance and listen to a tall, skinny kid named George Strait.   King George is not the only country star to get his start there.  Gruene Hall has been providing the best in country music to two-stepping cowboys and cowgirls for the past 135 years. 

No plant says Texas better than cactus and no building says dancehall better than Gruene Hall

No plant says Texas better than cactus and no building says dancehall better than Gruene Hall

Dancing is no longer the main reason to come to Gruene.  The town is now a bustling spot for tourists, shoppers, foodies and wine aficionados (with a great dancehall).  Someone has done an excellent job of preserving the charm of the old parts of the town and then enhancing them with very attractive landscapes and plantings.  All of the common areas are dotted with trimmed native trees and lined with neat decomposed granite or brick pathways.  The unpainted board and batten shops are the perfect backdrop for a host of Texas tough plants like purple sage and southern wax myrtles.  There are also tons of beautiful borders scattered around as well.

If you want to make a plant "pop" plant it in front of a gray background

If you want to make a plant “pop” plant it in front of a gray background

The thing that got me the most fired up were the impressive container plantings that are scattered around the town.  The massed whiskey barrels that combined lush flowers, cacti and succulents were beautiful.  By using containers of different heights and plants of different textures, the designer created lush gardens that seemed to “tumble” down a hill and spill onto the sidewalk.

The container gardens in front of Gruene Hall are stunning

The container gardens in front of Gruene Hall are stunning

I love container gardens.  I wish I were better at creating them.  The rule for creating beautiful container arrangements is the “Thriller, Filler, Spiller” method.  The container arrangements at Gruene take that concept a step further.  Instead of having a thriller, filler and spiller in each pot, they take a large, tall pot and put a single large scale plant (see the thornless prickly pear) in it to create the thriller part of the arrangement.  Then they arrange pots of different heights that contain plants of different textures to create the fillers and spillers.  The effect was very attractive and as you can tell, I was pretty impressed with it.

This thornless prickly pear makes a great "thriller in the container arrangement

This thornless prickly pear makes a great “thriller in the container arrangement

My wife and I love to dance and there is still no place in all of Texas that is better to do a little belly rubbin’ than Gruene Hall.  However, as I discovered this weekend, dancing is no longer the only reason to go there.  While you can still hear some great music you can also shop, eat at some very nice restaurants and enjoy some really great people watching while sipping a glass of artisanal Texas wine. The Gruene Music and Wine Festival runs from October 10 through the 13th.   If you have never been to Gruene this is a great time to go. Fall in Gruene is a great time to appreciate all of the charm of days gone by while enjoying the best that modern Texas has to offer.

Whisky barrels make great containers

Whisky barrels make great containers

Summer Vacation

A view of Mt. Baker from the ferry that shuttled us between the San Juan Islands

A view of Mt. Baker from the ferry that shuttled us between the San Juan Islands

Sally and I just got back from a much needed vacation to the Pacific Northwest.  This post is not a back handed attempt to make you look at my vacation photos.  However, I saw so many amazing horticultural things while I was there, I didn’t think you would mind. Since most of us grow in a place with too much heat and not enough water, I thought you would enjoy seeing what happens to plants when they get plenty of water and just the right amount of heat. 

These flowers were organically grown in the field on San Juan Island.  This picture was taken on July 29.  I promise, there is nothing like this blooming in "field" on July 29.

These flowers were organically grown in the field on San Juan Island. This picture was taken on July 29. I promise, there is nothing like this blooming in “my fields” on July 29.

Our youngest daughter Whitney recently moved to Seattle to build a floral design firm that specializes in organic, field grown, fresh cut flowers.  Because of all of her contacts, she was a great little tour guide.

 

The Madrone is a native tree to the area.  It has red bark and lime green skin.  While photographing this, an attractive, sharply dressed 60ish woman told me the first time she "dropped acid" she saw one of htese and thought it was the drugs that made it turn such crazy colors.  I assure you, I have never heard a story like that in Brenham!

The Madrone is a native tree to the area. It has red bark and lime green skin. While photographing this, an attractive, sharply dressed 60ish woman told me the first time she “dropped acid” she saw one of these and thought it was the drugs that made it turn such crazy colors. I assure you, I have never heard a story like that in Brenham!

Our first stop was The Good Earth Centre.  This organic vegetable farm is the brain child and passion of Gary Miller and Amy Plant.  Gary and Amy are two people that are truly committed to leaving the earth better than they found it.  This farm is much more than a business.  They practice no till, 100% organic and sustainable methods to provide the highest quality produce possible to the local restaurants that serve a clientele that cares very strongly about how their food was produced.   By serving as a host farm for interns from the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms and hosting self-sufficiency workshops and seminars, they are influencing the way the next generation of farmers grow and care for the earth. Whitney met this couple when she was WOOFing on their farm.  It was indeed a pleasure for me to meet the two dedicated and visionary people that made a big impact on my daughter’s future in the world of sustainable agriculture.

The fields of the Good Earth Center.  If you are going to farm, you might as farm in a place that looks like this!

The fields of the Good Earth Centre. If you are going to farm, you might as farm in a place that looks like this!

After leaving the Good Earth Centre we made our way to Lopez Village.  We spent the next three days exploring all that the San Juan’s had to offer.  Even though the natural beauty was over whelming,  the ornamental plantings are what really captured my attention.  I was surprised to see the same flowers growing up there as we grow down here.  However, their flowers were bigger, brighter and healthier.  One of the first things that stopped me in my tracks was a bed of FIVE FEET TALL DAISIES!   Evidently, if you are a flower grower that wants to grow the best possible daisies, lavender, snapdragons,  buddleia or anything else, the the Pacific Northwest is the place to be.  Everywhere we went I kept thinking “This must be what the Garden of Eden was like and I live in the place that God sent them to after the unfortunate incident with the apple”.

My lovely wife in front of a bunch of gerber daiseys that are almost as tall as her!

My lovely wife in front of a bunch of gerber daisies that are almost as tall as her!

 Now before I carry on too much about how horticulturally wonderful things are up there, let me assure you that I did find at least one thing that they can never do as well as we do here in Texas  —  grow a tomato!  Since tomatoes need high temps with hot nights to properly develop their sugars, the Northwest will never ever be able to grow a tomato that tastes any better than those pale and pasty things offered by the chain grocers.

I found these lovely hierloom tomatoes at the Friday Harbor Farmers Market on San Juan Island.  They sure were pretty and I paid $1 a piece for some.  They were sweet and watery.  They may grow pretty flowers but they need to leave the tomato growing to us!

I found these lovely hierloom tomatoes at the Friday Harbor Farmers Market on San Juan Island. They sure were pretty and I paid $1 a piece for some. They were sweet and watery. They may grow pretty flowers but they need to leave the tomato growing to us!

Trowel and Error Symposium at Mayfield Park

This past week should have been one of the busiest weeks of the whole year in the garden.  However, instead of setting out plants, weeding, mulching and making blog posts about it all, I was laid up fighting/recovering from the flu.  If you have never had the flu, I don’t recommend you try it.  This one bout has been enough to make sure that I never ever miss a flu shot ever again.

The water gardens at Mayfield are lovely

The water gardens at Mayfield are lovely

At least something good happened “garden wise” this past week.  Last Saturday, Sally and I got to go Austin to give a presentation on organic weed control at the Mayfiled Park Trowel and Error symposium.  Mayfield Park (http://mayfieldpark.org/page1.php) is a 23 acre nature preserve deep in the heart of Austin.  However, what makes it outstanding (as far as I am concerned) are the two beautiful acres nestled behind rustic stone walls.

All of the beds at Mayfield are paid for and maintained by volunteers

All of the beds at Mayfield are paid for and maintained by volunteers

These two acres were once the pride and passion of two remarkable Texans.  Dr. Milton Gutsch (Chairman for the History Department at UT for many years) married Mary Mayfield in 1918.  In 1922, the young couple moved into the tiny board and batten cottage that had served as a weekend/summer home for the Mayfield family (Mr. Mayfield served as the Chairman of the Railroad Commission and Secretary of State of Texas).  Over the next 50 years, the Gutsch’s worked to turn two acres into a beautiful and restful garden dotted with beautiful water features, paved limestone patios and pigeonnier.

A white Banksia is stunning over a limestone archway that leads to a private seating area

A white Banksia is stunning over a limestone archway that leads to a private seating area

After the death of her husband, Mrs. Gutsch gave the property to the city to be used a park.  Unfortunately, there was no endowment.  So for the next several years the park began to suffer from neglect.  Then, in 1986, a group called the Mayfield Park/Community Project came together to return the Mayfield cottage and gardens back to their former glory. This group, headed by Karen Camannati has been at it ever since.  This group receives no money from the city of Austin.  All of the money for the upkeep of this beautiful and historic place comes from an occasional grant, an annual newsletter and the annual Trowel & Error Symposium.

The flock of peafowl that roam the grounds are all descendants from the first peacocks that came to the property in 1935

The flock of peafowl that roam the grounds are all descendants from the first peacocks that came to the property in 1935

I attend a lot of gardening presentations each year.  While I usually enjoy all of them, this year’s Trial and Error was one of the most special events that I have ever attended.  The welcoming and dedicated spirit of Karen, the generosity of the volunteers and the sheer beauty and history of the place made it the perfect place for a spring gardening event. If you did not make it out to this year’s Trial and Error, please make a point to attend next year.  For the past several years Karen and the other members of the board have brought together an impressive array of horticultural speakers.  For a $5 donation, you can support an historic Austin gem, learn from talented and passionate gardeners and buy starts from some of the hundreds of antique plants that bloom in the Mayfield gardens.  And, if growing plants is not your thing, you can still come. The gardens and the flock of peacocks (that have descended from the original birds gifted to the Gutsch’s in 1935) provide a great opportunity and backdrop for all of you shutterbugs out there.

Pigeonneirs were once common throughout the rural south.  today, they are harder and harder to find.  The one at Mayfield is outstanding

Pigeonneirs were once common throughout the rural south. Today, they are harder and harder to find. The one at Mayfield is outstanding

I seldom do personal stuff on the blog, but today I am making an exception.  Our oldest daughter Kate, is in the hospital.  She is suffering from an autoimmune disease called polymyositis.  If you are the praying kind, I ask that you remember her and her husband in your prayers.  She is in constant pain and there is no quick fix.  If you are Catholic and you are participating in the Chaplet of Divine Mercy (http://www.praydivinemercy.com/) right now, please offer one up for her!

2013 THERESA AND LES REEVES LECTURE SERIES at SFA

A beautiful hydrangea in the Mize Garden at Stepen F. AUstin State University in Nacogdoches

A beautiful hydrangea in the Mize Garden at Stepen F. AUstin State University in Nacogdoches

As far as I am concerned, the only thing better than gardening is learning about gardening.  For those of you in East Texas (or those that would like to visit), your friends at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches have put together another amazing line up of horticulturists to inform you on the latest and greatest in the horticulture world.  If you have never visited Stephen F. Austin State University, use these lectures as a chance to gather some useful information and see some truly beautiful gardens.  SFA hosts an arboretum, an azelia garden and the Gayla Mize Garden.  The gardens are incredibly beautiful, accessible and incredibly well maintained.  These gardens are always lovely, but spring is an extra treat.  If you can catch the February lecture, you will still see some blooms on their amazing camelia collection.  The March lecture is around the time the azelias kick in and they are spectacular.  Hope to see you there!

My wife enjoys a hug from noted horticulturist Greg Grant in front of one of the many camelias in the SFA arboretum's collection

My wife enjoys a hug from noted horticulturist Greg Grant in front of one of the many camelias in the SFA arboretum’s collection

2013 THERESA AND LES REEVES

LECTURE SERIES

The SFA Gardens and Theresa and Les Reeves Lecture Series is generally held the third Thursday of each month from 7:00 to 8:30 pm in room 110 of the Stephen F. Austin State University Agriculture Building at 1924 Wilson Drive (between the Art Building and the Intramural Fields) in Nacogdoches.

Refreshments are served by the SFA Gardens Volunteers before the lecture with a rare plant raffle being held afterward.  The lectures are free and open to the public.  For more information, contact Greg Grant at 936.468.1863 or grantdamon@sfasu.edu.

Feb 14  MengMeng Gu, TAMU, College Station, TX – Urban Landscape Philosophy and strategies in China.

Mar 21 Ed Bush, LSU, Baton Rouge, LA – Grow your garden and enjoy a sip of tea!

April 18 Leo Lombardini, TAMU, College Station, TX –Everything you wanted to know about pecans but we’re afraid to ask.

May 16  Todd Lasseigne, Director, Oklahoma Centennial Botanical Garden, Tulsa, OK – The OCBG, proving that there’s plant life here.

Jun 20 Darren Duling, Mercer Arboretum, Houston, TX –Making Mercer Magnificent – Opportunities and Challenges.

Jul 18  Julie Shackleford, Texas Programs Director, the Conservation Fund, Nacogdoches, TX – Backyard Gardening for Dummies and wildlife

Aug 15  Paul Cox, retired Director, San Antonio Botanical Gardens, San Antonio, TX – Lessons in Nature: Reflections on the meaning of life from a plantsman’s point of view –

Sept 19 Wayne Pianta, Ball Horticultural Company, Fort Worth, TX – Plant Breeding, Garden Performance and New Product Development: What Makes the Cut and Why? A Survey of Recent Introductions

Oct 17  Matthew Kwiatkowski, Biology, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches TX – The Critters that Slither and Hop in Your Garden: The Reptiles and Amphibians of East Texas –            

Nov 21 Jackie Carlisii, The Grass and Rock Shoppe, Lafayette, LA – Making Organic Gardening Easy

Dec 19  Dave Creech, SFA Gardens, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, TX – Why raising a garden and raising kiddos is about the same thing; it’s all about breaking rules

A native fern grows on one of the structure in the Mast Arboretum

A native fern grows on one of the structure in the Mast Arboretum

Designing Perfect Pots with CoCo2

I recently had the pleasure of visiting with Sharon Smith of Thompson + Hanson nursery in Houston.  Thompson + Hanson is one of the leading nurseries in Houston.  They have a wonderful retail space and an outstanding landscape design business.  Sharon works at the retail location and, until very recently, was the sole designer of all of the lovely potted arrangements that you see when you walk around the nursery.

Sharon Smith in front of a lovely succulent arranged made with her CoCo2 product

Sharon Smith in front of a lovely succulent arranged made with her CoCo2 product

Creating perfect pots requires more than skill; it also requires the proper tools.  Sharon learned long ago that there were very few tools out there that were designed for her trade.  So she took it upon herself to invent some.  One of her potting ideas has now led her down the path of entrepreneurism. 

Sharon's product is an easy to use and practical solution to draining pots

Sharon’s product is an easy to use and practical solution to draining pots

Just like most of us, the first thing Sharon does before filling her pots is cover the drain hole.  For a long time, she would spend way too much time looking for the perfect pot shard or rock to cover the hole.  Then, once she found it, she still had had to worry about water and soil coming out of the bottom of her pot if she overwatered.  Now for us homeowners, this is a minor inconvenience.  But for Sharon, this was a major problem.  Sharon’s arrangements are displayed and sold off of zinc topped tables.  All of that leaking water/soil mixture created a very unattractive mess that took away from the display and required constant cleaning.  She decided to find a solution.

Coco2 allows pots to drain while trapping the sol and fertilize that can stain decks and patios

Coco2 allows pots to drain while trapping the sol and fertilize that can stain decks and patios

Sharon’s solution is a product called CoCo2.  CoCo2 is a bag full of square cocoa fiber (coir) mats that are designed to cover the drain holes in most pots.  CoCo2 is a simple as it is practical, plus it is ecologically friendly and 100% renewable.  It is also made by people with special needs that prevent them from working in more traditional environments.

Sharon shows me some of the tricks she uses to create stunning arrangements

Sharon shows me some of the tricks she uses to create stunning arrangements

Sharon’s coir mats allow pots to drain while trapping most of the dirt that wants to escape with the water.  All of that escaping dirt can create air pockets that dry sensitive roots or water channels that drain water away from the rest of the pot.  Plus, it helps maintain an even surface on the top of the pot which is very important when creating truly stunning potted “sculptures” like Sharon.

Sahron7 Since it is Christmas, Sharon is doing a lot of work with Paperwhites (Narcissus ziva).  Her CoCo2 product has improved her work life in two ways.  Since paperwhites are often planted in shallow containers that don’t use a lot of soil, it is important for the bulbs to have a uniform depth across the pot.  Rocks and pot shards make this impossible because of their size.  By simply placing a piece of her product over the hole, Sharon is able to provide the uniform planting depth that will allow each and every bulb to thrive. 

Some of the 4000 bulbs that Sharon forced this year with the help of CoCo2

Some of the 4000 bulbs that Sharon forced this year with the help of CoCo2

Part of the beauty of any paperwhite arrangement is the bulb itself.  Sharon has learned that bulbs that are forced in soil tend to become discolored.  Because of this, she now uses her product to keep the bulbs used in her arrangements as attractive as the flowers they produce.  By placing the 2” size her product in the bottom of a 2” cell, she can add just enough potting mix in the cell to supply the moisture the bulb needs without discoloring it.  The bulbs root in the coir (which gives them support) and keeps the small amount of soil that she uses in place during watering.  This method provides her with the 4,000 plus beautiful paperwhite bulbs that she uses in her holiday arrangements.

  Sahron3 Sharon is a master of horticulture in every sense of the word.  She can grow anything.  However, it is her design skills that set her apart from other horticulturists.  Her skills have earned her a dedicated following of customers that use her creations in some of the finest and most expensive homes in Houston.  If you would like to create beautiful potted arrangements like Sharon, visit her website and purchase some CoCo2.  (http://gardendivaproducts.com/).

Edible Landscape Tour

Currently, one of the hottest trends in landscape design is called “Edible Landscapes”.  Edible landscapes seek to incorporate vegetable, herbs, berries and fruit trees into urban and suburban landscapes. 

The backyard of one of the homes on the tour. Photo by Bruce Leander

I can attest that it is pretty easy to create an attractive outdoor space using a mix of fruiting plants and ornamentals.  Each season my little potager contains lots of vegetables mixed in with daylilies, salvias, justicias and dianthus.  The structure and color that these ornamentals add make the less showy vegetables much more attractive to look at.

I strive to make my spring and fall potager as attractive as possible.  While the aesthetics are important, there are a couple of side benefits to this combination of plants that make the garden much more efficient and productive.

Pansy, viola, carrots and shallots in my 2011 fall garden

First, since this is a vegetable garden, I mulch everything fairly well.  This mulch moderates soil temperatures and reduces water lost to evaporation.  Because of this, I am able to keep a fairly large amount of plants alive on MUCH less water than would be required to keep up a lush lawn of the same size.

Increased pollination is another side benefit of mixing vegetables and ornamentals.  Since I have a wide range of flowers that bloom throughout the year, my potager is always full of bees and other pollinators.  In addition to giving me something else to watch while I am in the garden, these pollinators make sure that I get lots tomatoes, squash and cucumbers every season.

Another yard on the edible landscape tour. Photo by Bruce Leander

If you would like to learn more about edible landscapes, you can join my wife and I at the Travis County “Edible Gardens Tour” In Austin.  My friend (and fellow MOH blogger and Texas Gardener writer) Patty Leander will be giving a presentation on the healthy aspects of vegetable gardening at the Agrilife Extension Center.  If you don’t want to start your tour at the Extension office, feel free to start at any of seven houses that are on the tour.  You can get your tickets, schedule and map to the houses online.  The tour kicks off at 9:00 and there will be short presentations at each one.  This is a great opportunity to see and learn from some very good gardeners that are doing great things by combining edibles and ornamentals in their yards and gardens.  As an added bonus, some of houses on the tour also use water wise gardening practices.  With the constant threat of water restricitions, this will be a great opportunity to pick up some of the tips and tricks you need to continue growing food when the rains don’t come.

The tour costs $15 per person in advance and you can reserve your tickets on the event website (Click Here).  The tour will start at the Travis County Agrilife Extension Center located at 1600-B Smith Road in Austin.  Hope to see you there!

P.S.  If you can’t make the tour in person be sure to watch KLRU’s “Central Texas Gardener”.   Their October 13 show will feature many of the gardens and the gardeners that are featured on the tour.  Their schedule is below.

Channel Day Date Time
KLRU    SaturdaySunday

Monday

Oct. 13Oct. 14

Oct. 15

Noon & 49 a.m.

5:30 a.m.

KLRU Q (18/3) TuesdayWednesday

Friday

Oct. 16Oct. 17

Oct. 19

6:30 p.m.7:00 a.m.

9:30 a.m.

KLRN (San Antonio) Saturday Oct. 13 11 a.m.
KNCT (Killeen & Waco) Saturday  Oct. 13  1:30 p.m.
KBDI (Denver, CO) SundayTuesday Oct. 14Oct. 16 2 p.m.2:30 p.m.
KPBT Midland (Permian Basin) Monday Oct. 15  12:30 p.m.
KAMU (College Station) Saturday Oct. 13 5:00 p.m.
KRSC (Claremore, OK) SaturdayTuesday Oct. 13Oct. 16

 

10:30 a.m.1:30 p.m.
KTWU (Topeka, KS) multiple days & times    

also on UNCMX Raleigh-Durham and K32EO Colorado Springs

     
       

 

Chainsaw ART-IS-TREE by Clayton Coss

Losing a beloved tree is a heartbreaking experience.  Because of last year’s drought many homeowners have experienced the feeling of loss, and the very big cost, that usually accompanies the death of a mature tree. Until my recent vacation to Tulsa, I thought the only option available to people with a dead tree in their yard was to call in the pros and watch sadly as they turned it into wood chips.  However, thanks to a good friend, I now know that if you live in Tulsa, you have another option when it comes to dealing with your dead trees.

Clayton Coss is a sculptor whose skills with a chainsaw have made him a bit of a celebrity in the Tulsa area.

Clayton Coss is a sculptor from Tulsa.  For the past 26 years he has made a living turning tree tragedies into works of art.  Clayton is a skilled carver that can convert your dead tree into a portrait of your kids, Mickey Mantle, Ben Franklin or anything else you can dream up.  While there are many sculptors out there that can carve figures out of a piece of wood, there are very few that can do it with a chainsaw.  That’s right, I said chainsaw.  Now I know what you are thinking but trust me; Clayton is not your run of the mill, road side sculptor of bears and totem poles.  No, Clayton is a very talented artist that has been able to turn American kitsch into his own brand of fine art.

 

I would have never believed a bust this realistic could be carved with a chainsaw

I met Clayton while visiting with our friends Mark and Margaret Hartley.  The Hartley’s recently moved into an absolutely adorable Tulsa neighborhood and Clayton was in the process of finishing two sculptures in their new neighborhood.  Bobby and Jonas Woolslayer commissioned Clayton to carve a large bust of Ben Franklin and another of our lord and savior, Jesus Christ in their front yard.

Margaret knew I would be interested in Clayton’s work so we walked over to the Woolslayer’s almost as soon as we arrived.  When I turned the corner and saw Ben I was literally speechless.  Never in my wildest dreams would I have believed that someone could have carved such a striking likeness of a human head with just a chainsaw.  I truly thought the bust was outstanding.

This lovely lady is one of four Coss originals you can find in Uttica Square

Clayton is a quiet and humble man and I enjoyed visiting with him immensely.  Since chainsaw artistry is kind of an obscure art form I had to ask how he got started.  He told me that several years ago a friend showed him a few tricks.  Since he enjoyed it, he just stuck with it.  His practice and perseverance has paid off.  His talents are in high demand and have now made him a bit of a local celebrity.

Clayton’s work can be seen all over Tulsa.

If you want to see more of Clayton’s work, just drive around Tulsa.  You can find his work in neighborhoods, local businesses, public places and even the upscale and very swanky Uttica Square.  I spent a very enjoyable afternoon exploring Tulsa while conducting a scavenger hunt for his many sculptures.  If you would like Clayton to turn one of your dead trees into a Coss original contact him through is website “Chainsaw Artistry”.

A whimsical Coss creation in Uttica Square

P.S.  If you don’t live in Tulsa, please remove dead trees from your property as soon as you notice they have died.  Yesterday I read a very sad story out of Houston.  During a backyard family gathering, a pine tree that died in last year’s drought fell and killed a mom and seriously injured her 13 year old daughter.    This would not have happened if the neighbor with the dead tree had done the right thing.  Sorry to sound a little preachy but it really is important to remove dead trees.  If you don’t and your tree falls on someone else or their property you will be held responsible.