Harvesting Wildflowers

While many fields and roadsides are still covered in cheerful, yellow Brown Eyed Susan’s, Mexican Hats and warm orange blanket flowers, the 2017 wildflower season is beginning to come to an end.  The bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes have been gone for about a month now and most of the spring flowers are literally going to seed.  I really hate to see the fading of these flowers because I know that as soon as they are gone our long hot summer begins.


Bluebonnets may get all the press, but they are definitely not the only beautiful wildflowers that we have in Texas!

If you love wildflowers, and you would like to have more of them at your house, now is a great time to get out and harvest their seeds.  Seed harvesting is very easy and requires only three things-a sharp pair of garden shears, a paper bag and patience.   While it is easy to clip seed heads or seed pods and drop them in your paper bag, they will not germinate if you cut them at the wrong time.  The absolute key to success in gathering wildflower seeds is having the patience to wait until the seed heads, or seed pods, are completely dried out.

Bluebonnets are definitely the most loved wildflower in the state.  Luckily, their seeds are about the easiest to harvest.  Since bluebonnet seeds form in little pods, all you have to do is find pods that have not yet split open.  Clip the pods with your shears and drop them into a paper sack.  Nature will eventually force the pods to burst open (or “shatter”) releasing your seeds into the bag.


You are not really a gardener until you have more plants than you can care for or until you start stopping on the side of the highway to gather wildflower seeds!!!

Mexican Hat, Brown Eyed Susan, Blanket Flowers and Echinacea are all what we generically call “cone flowers”.  Cone flowers layer their seeds in flat rows around a central conically shaped structure at the top of the stem.  This creates a semi-circular mass of seeds.  Cone flowers are ready to pick when all flower petals and pollen are gone and the seeds and top part of the stem are dry and brittle.  When the seed head is in this condition simply stick your thumb nail into the seeds and make a “split”.  Then use your thumb or fingers to separate the seeds from the cone.

Antelope Horn Milkweed are beautiful and a host for Monarch butterflies.

Antelope Horn Milkweed are beautiful and a host for Monarch butterflies.

One of my favorite wildflowers is Antelope Horn Milkweed.  This plant is a part of the genus Asclepias.  Asclepias are milkweeds and milkweeds host Monarch butterflies.  Like the bees, Monarch butterfly number are declining.  Since I like Monarchs and I love milkweed flowers I have two reasons to collect the downy seeds of this plant.  Asclepias seeds are stored in pods.  When the pod breaks open long, downy wings that are attached to the seed catch a breeze and spread the seeds far and wide.  If you want to gather the seed, watch closely and pick the dried pods (which look like antelope horns) right before, or just as soon as the pod opens.


The Brown Eyed Susan seed head on the left is not quite ready for harvest

After gathering your wildflower seeds, place them in a cool place in the house and wait until fall.   Texas wild flower seeds should be put out in early October.  You can put them out as late as early November but the plants really benefit if planted early.  Many people recommend simply scattering wild flower seeds on top of the soil and then watering them in.  This will work, but not very well.  Most wild flowers have fairly low germination rates.  In addition, flower seeds on top of the soil are eaten by many birds and mammals and rain washes away a bunch of them.  Due to all of these factors, the best way to ensure that you get the most flowers for your money is to lightly till the area in which you are going to scatter the seed.  Then scatter the seed and rake soil or mowed vegetation over the seeds.  In my experience, lightly covered seed germinate at a much higher rate that those that were scattered on top of the ground.

This shot from Bruce Leander shows bluebonnet pods that are mature enough for harvest

This shot from Bruce Leander shows bluebonnet pods that are mature enough for harvest

Texas has incredibly beautiful wildflowers that bloom over a long season and require no maintenance.  That’s why I collect their seeds and replant them on my property.  In addition to making our little “native pasture” beautiful from March through June, the wild flower seeds that we collect and grow attract a wide variety of birds, butterflies, pollinators and mammals that we love to watch.  If you want to get some wildflowers started on your place, now is harvest time.  Keep your clippers and some bags in the car so you will be ready when you find some fading flowers on the side of the road.

I share my posts on The Simple Homestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by and check out all the amazing things these gardeners and homesteaders are doing!

2015 Bluebonnet Report

This weekend the kids all came for Easter.  Sally and I absolutely love it when the kids come for a whole bunch of reasons.  However, one of my favorites is my son in law Ramez Antoun’s camera.  Ramez is a dang fine amateur photographer.  Each time he comes he leaves me with a ton of outstanding photographs.  This weekend the bluebonnets of Washington County were at their peak.  He took tons of great shots of the bluebonnets and all of the other wildflowers in our yard.  I was so impressed with them that I thought I would share.


Our little house sits on a long, narrow two acre lot.  We have a ranch in front of us and one behind us.  One of the ranches has a 56 acre lake on it.  This shot is from our yard looking toward the lake.  I love the way this picture captures the swaths of bluebonnets that lead down to the lake.


All of our kids are dog lovers.  Kate and Ramez are the owners of the Yorkie in the picture above (my apologies for the ugly sweater they forced her to wear) .  Our daughter Jessie and her husband own the three labs below. The two black labs are retired guide dogs.  While Jessie was in college she and Cameron worked with a group of people that socialized and trained dogs for the seeing impaired.   They got these dogs when they were six weeks old and kept them for the first year of their lives.  They then turned them over for further training.  Finally, the wound up with a seeing impaired person who loved and depended on them for several years.  When it was time for them to retire, the foundation offered them back Jessie and her husband.  How could they refuse?


Here is a great shot of our little guest house/bed and breakfast.  I love the mural that my wife had done last year.  If you are planning a trip to Washington County, Sally and I would love to be your hosts.  Click on the link below to tour “The Nest” and/or book your stay.



Finally, bluebonnets aren’t the only wildflowers that are blooming now in Washington County.  I leave you with this great shot of an Indian Paintbrush.

This post has been shared on the HomeAcre Hop!  Stop by the hop and see what gardeners and homesteaders across the country are doing.


Purple Bindweed – The Thorn in My Side

In II Corinthians, Paul talks about enduring a “thorn in his side”.  While no one knows exactly what the thorn was, most agree that God gave it to Paul so that, despite his many blessings, he would not become too prideful in his faith.  That story comforts me because each year the Lord “blesses” me with some new gardening “thorn” that keeps me humble about my garden and my gardening abilities.  This year, my thorn came in the form of a beautiful (but noxious) vining plant called purple bindweed!  While the flowers of this noxious weed are truly beautiful, that beauty does not make up for the overall nastiness of this weed.


The flowers of purple bindweed are definitely beautiful

Purple bindweed is a native Texas morning glory.  It is also an aggressive vining plant that will literally grow over anything in its path.  One plant can send out trailing, twisting vines that stretch out over 15 feet.  While I have to admit, when those vines cover a fence and explode with flowers, the effect is very beautiful.  However, when they creep up your sugar cane or get twisted in with cucumbers and cantaloupes, the effect is not so nice.


Purple bindweed is a native Texas morning glory.

Even though this plant is literally driving me crazy, I have to admire its shear survivability.  Each plant can produce 500 or more seeds.  The seeds have a very thick seed coat that can lay dormant in the soil for 20 years (some say 50 years or more).  The plant develops an extensive root system that can grow 10 feet or more into the soil.  Because of this, you can pull it, dig it or plow it and it will still come back.  In fact, research shows that a 2” piece of root can produce a new plant.  In addition, all of those deep roots make this plant very drought resistant.


The twisting vines of purple bindweed will be covered in its lovely, lavender blooms.

All of the survival traits that the plant has developed make it very hard to control organically.  The only real option you have is frequent pulling or smothering.  If you decide to pull, realize that you will need to pull every shoot that pops up every three weeks or so for the next three years!  If you want to try and smother it you are going to need to use something like a large sheet of plywood or hardi-plank and you are going to have to leave it in place for years.  However, since the seeds can remain dormant for years, smothering and pulling is really only going to slow down the spread of this weed.


The vines of bindweed will wrap around anything-even its own vines!

The only way to effectively kill bindweed is with an herbicide.  Even though I do not personally like chemicals, the reality is that some weeds will never be fully contained with organic methods.  If you don’t mind spraying chemicals try Glyphosate (Round Up) or Tripcloyr (Remedy).  Both work well against bindweed.  For the best effect, many recommend mixing up a combination of both Glyphosate (2-3%) and Remedy / Triclopyr (0.25%).   These chemicals will definitely kill the bindweed if you spray it while the plant is actively growing.  For bindweed, the absolute best time to spray is when it is blooming.  NOTE:  These chemicals will definitely kill the bindweed.  Unfortunately they will also kill just about everything else that is actively growing.  Be careful to avoid overspray when applying this (or any) herbicide.  Also, apply just enough herbicide to wet the leaves.  There is no need to soak the plant. There is also no benefit to mixing them in higher concentrations than are listed on the label.


Even though this plant is driving me crazy, it does attract hummingbirds and other pollinators

The purple bindweed is beginning to bloom at my house.  This means that despite my best organic control efforts, it has beaten me.  This “thorn in my side” is one of just a few plants that have made me question my commitment to organic control methods.  Thank goodness I have St. Paul for inspiration.  Although his “thorn” tormented him his whole life he persevered; and so will I.  However, I have to admit, when I am out there pulling this weed in the Texas heat the thought of spraying it with an herbicide is very tempting!

Rain Lilies (Zephyranthes, Habranthus and Cooperia spp.)

This has been a most unusual July at the White House. Early on, we had a week where the high temperatures for the days stayed in the 80’s and the night time temps were in the 60s. These amazingly pleasant temps were brought to us by an unusual cold front that dipped down from Canada. Along with the cooler weather, the front brought rain! Twice during that blessed cool spell our rain gauge captured a ½ inch of rain. If an inch of rain and nights in the 60’s weren’t enough to make us forget that this really was Texas in July, this past Sunday lightening crashed, thunder rolled and the heavens opened up and delivered us another inch and a half of rain!

Zephranthes grandiflora in Cynthia Mueller's College Station garden

Zephranthes grandiflora in Cynthia Mueller’s College Station garden

While all of this rain has been much appreciated by all the plants in our yard, the ones that have shown their appreciation the most are the rain lilies. Sally and I recently visited my dear friend Cynthia Mueller in College Station. As I have mentioned before, Cynthia is one of the most knowledgeable and generous plant people I have ever met. She is also a lover of these amazingly tough and beautiful flowers.

This lovely white Rain Lily in Cynthia;s garden is a cross between the Giant Rain Lily Cooperia, and a Habranthus.

This lovely white Rain Lily in Cynthia’s garden is a cross between the Giant Rain Lily Cooperia, and a Habranthus.

Thanks to these summer showers, Cynthia’s gardens were bursting with the color and smells of these utterly reliable plants. Even though these flowers are called lilies, they actually belong to the Amaryllis family. Rain lily is really a generic term that applies to approximately 70 species of plants that belong in three different genus: Zephyranthes, Habranthus and Cooperia.

The lovely pink Habranthus brachyandrus in Cynthia's garden

The lovely pink Habranthus brachyandrus in Cynthia’s garden

While rain lilies come from many families, they all share a few traits that make them great plants for the Texas gardener. First, they are all native to the Americas so they do extremely well in zones 8 through 10. Another thing that I like about them is the fact that they are bulbs. Bulbing plants are hardy plants. However, the absolute best thing about rain lilies is their durability. They truly are a plant that you can plant, forget and enjoy more and more with each passing year.

Zaphranthes drummondi in my yard.  I grew these from seeds shared with me by Cynthia Mueller of College Station

Zaphranthes drummondi in my yard. I grew these from seeds shared with me by Cynthia Mueller of College Station

Rainlilies are becoming a little more popular in the nursery trade. Since they are small, durable and adaptable they are great for people that have limited space. Because of their reliability, they are also great choices for people that don’t have the time or desire to deal with “fussy” plants.

If you want to grow your own rain lilies you should either grow them yourself from seed (read Cynthia’s article on how to do this here) or buy established plants. While it is possible to grow them from bulbs you need to be a little wary of buying these. If rain lilies have any drawbacks, it is the fact that their bulbs do not like to be out of the ground for very long. However, this does not mean that you cannot transplant the bulbs. Since many of these plants naturalize so readily here, you can quickly find yourself with big, thick drifts of flowers. If this happens, thin your stand by digging and moving the bulbs to other locations on your property.

Rain lilies produce lots of little seeds that are easy to gather and propogate

Rain lilies produce lots of little seeds that are easy to gather and propogate

Whether moving established bulbs or planting established plants from nurseries, it is best to place them in an area that receives a little shade. Since most of their flowers only last a day or two, a little shade can help your plants produce their most vibrant blooms and extend their bloom time. Because of this, many people plant their rain lilies around the base of the trees in their yards.

a-rain-lily3 This past week I have noticed more and more rain lilies under the trees and in the ditches of the rural roads of Washington county. I smile every time I see one. You see, I absolutely love reliable and carefree plants and no plant that I know of is as beautiful, reliable and care free as the group of plants we call rain lilies. If you are looking for something that will thrive in our climate with absolutely no help from you, then rain lilies are are a group of plants that you really need to add to your garden collection.

Celebrating the Cedar Elm (Ulmus crassifolia)

IMG_0043a Sally and I celebrated the Fourth of July with our daughter and son-in-law in Oklahoma City.  While there, we visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum.  What a lovely and moving place.  Things like this make me so proud to be an American.  I truly believe that there has never been another group of people that can better come together after a tragedy and turn it into a silver lining.  While there is no doubt that what Timothy McVeigh did on that April day was horrible, the people of Oklahoma rose above it and created a lovely and peaceful place that memorializes those lost and celebrates the sacrifice of the volunteers that turned the horror of that day into a place where all can celebrate the indomitable American Spirit.

Each of these beautiful chairs memorialize on of the victims of this senseless tragedy

Each of these beautiful chairs memorialize one of the victims of this senseless tragedy

Two minutes after Timothy McVeigh lit the fuse of his bomb, 168 men, women and small children were gone; so was the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.  An additional 300 buildings in the downtown area were damaged.  About the only thing left standing at the blast site was a large American Elm tree that is now called “The Survivor’s Tree”.  This tree is now the center piece of a horticultural tribute to resilience of the American people.

This Elm tree was about the only thing to survive the blast. The "Survivor Tree" is a testamnet to the reseliance of the human spirit.

This Elm tree was about the only thing to survive the blast. The “Survivor Tree” is a testamnet to the reseliance of the human spirit.

Elm trees in general are incredibly hardy trees.  One example in Ontario, Canada grew to 140’ tall. Elms can take extreme cold, extreme heat and endure extreme drought.  At the beginning of the last century they were the most commonly planted tree in America.  However, around 1928, disaster struck in the form of a small black beetle that spread a fungus called “Dutch Elm” disease.  This disease decimated elm populations that had no resistance to this Asian invader.  Dutch Elm Disease is still a serious problem.  However, if you have the money, there are now treatments that can save an infected elm if the infection is caught soon enough.

If you are a Texan and you have an affinity for these hardy trees, you are in luck.  Texas has a native elm that is very resistant to Dutch Elm  Disease.  In fact, the Cedar Elm (Ulmus crassifolia) is resistant to most pests.  While its leaves are sometimes nibbled by the Elm Leaf Beetles, there is not much else that bothers it.  This cedar elm makes a great shade tree and it is extremely drought tolerant.

This lovely print is courtesy of the Texas A&M Forsetry Service Tree Planting Guide at: http://texastreeplanting.tamu.edu/Display_Onetree.aspx?tid=100

This lovely print is courtesy of the Texas A&M Forsetry Service Tree Planting Guide at:

According to my friend Morgan McBride of Tree Town USA, cedar elms are a great choice for most Texas landscapes.  These lovely trees are covered in small, oval, serrated leaves that are rough to the touch and turn yellow in the fall.  They can grow in sandy soils and in thick clay soils.  In fact they can even grow in the highly compacted soils that are common in urban areas.  These adaptable trees have a moderate growth rate and only require a moderate amount of water to thrive.  They can grow to 60’ tall and develop a spread of over 40’.

Cedar elms develop a deep root system that allows them to withstand drought and most windstorms.  If you go to a nursery and ask for an elm for your yard, you need to insist on the cedar elm.  Many nurseries stock the Chinese Lacebark Elm and will often offer it as a substitute.  While the tree does have a lovely rough bark, it develops a shallow root system that makes it easy prey for windstorms.  Also, the Chinese Lacebark is susceptible to cotton root rot.  Because of this, you are taking a risk if you plant it anywhere in our state that once grew cotton (and since most of our state once grew cotton, you really need to think about this when you make your elm choice).

My buddy Morgan is selecting a Cedar Elm for a client.  Notice that he really is touching it with a 10' pole.  Don't know why that is so funny to me but he really does travel around with a 10' pole in his car at all times.

My buddy Morgan is selecting a Cedar Elm for a client. Notice that he really is touching it with a 10′ pole. Don’t know why that is so funny to me but he really does travel around with a 10′ pole in his car at all times.

Like the people of Oklahoma, elm trees were attacked and decimated by an unexpected enemy.  However, they survived.  Now this American classic is making a comeback.  I love elm trees and I am so glad that the people of Oklahoma saved their “The Survivor Tree”.  This deep rooted, dependable and resilient tree is the perfect centerpiece for a memorial that is dedicated to faith, healing and the resilience of the American spirit.

This post has been shared on the HomeAcre Hop and the Homestead Barn Hop.  These hops are great way to gather information from some of the best bloggers on the web.  Be sure to check it out!

This is a detail of a large statue that stands on the site of the old rectory of St. Joseph Catholic Church.  the rectory was destroyed in the blast.  This statue is called "Jesus Wept" and it based on the shortest verse in the bible; John 11:35

This is a detail of a large statue that stands on the site of the old rectory of St. Joseph Catholic Church in OKC. The rectory was destroyed by the April 19 bombing. This statue is called “Jesus Wept” and it is based on the shortest verse in the bible; John 11:35

The Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)


Image from the Texas A&M Tree Selector website at http://texastreeplanting.tamu.edu/Display_Onetree.aspx?tid=80

Image from the Texas A&M Tree Selector website at

I am often asked “What is the fastest growing shade tree for my yard?”  When I recommend the bur oak I am often met with skepticism.  A lot of people initially argue with me about my suggestion (which always makes me wonder why they asked for my opinion if they didn’t want it).  They are quick to bring up all of the common issues associated with oaks (in general).  We’ve all heard them.  Oaks are slow growing.  Their roots grow on top of the soil and damage your slab or your sidewalks.  They get oak wilt.  While each of those statements are true in some measure in certain oak species, none of them apply to the bur oak.

The bur oak is one of the fastest growing and the largest of all of the oaks in Texas.  With normal water, you can expect the tree to grow a minimum of one foot per year.  With ample water and a little fertilizer it is not uncommon to get two or three feet of growth per year out of your bur oak. 

This 95 gallon Bur oak is about 5 years old and is already 14' tall.  Photo by Morgan McBride

This 95 gallon Bur oak is about 5 years old and is already 14′ tall. Photo by Morgan McBride

Bur oaks are truly impressive specimens. Besides cottonwoods, they are the only deciduous tree in Texas that can get over 100’ tall.  Plus, they can develop a canopy that spreads to 80’.  There are not many trees that can support a canopy that is 80’.  The bur oak can do this because it is an amazingly well built tree.  It develops a thick trunk and an intertwining mass of heavy branches that are seldom affected by winds or ice storms.  This structure is very pretty and can be appreciated when it drops its yellow leaves in the fall.

The bur oak has lovely, deeply lobed leaves that turn yellow in the fall

The bur oak has lovely, deeply lobed leaves that turn yellow in the fall

Another reason I love the bur oak is the fact that it is native to most of Texas.  This tree has been adapting to our soils and our climate for thousands and thousands of years.  Because of its adaptability, you can be pretty certain that the bur oak will thrive for you whether you live in the deep, rich alluvial bottom lands of Texas’ river basins or if you live in the Hill Country that is famous for its the thin, alkaline  soils that cover a limestone pan. 

Because it is native, the bur oak also takes the extremes of our climate in stride.  The drought of 2011 killed many, many live oaks.  The live oaks died because they have a shallow root system that grows right at the soil line (and breaks slabs and sidewalks).  The bur oak survived the worst drought in our history because it develops a deep tap root that can find the underground moisture needed to sustain it when the rains fail us.  This deep rooting structure not only keeps it alive in low water situations but also makes it a great choice for the landscape.  Deep roots do not break slab and sidewalks.

buroak3As much as I love this tree, it does have one little problem – it produces golf ball sized acorns.  I have to admit, that since the acorns are large enough to interfere with mowing or heavy enough to ding a new car, you should think long and hard about where you plant it.  The good news is, it doesn’t produce a ton of acorns.  And, since they don’t fall but once a year in autumn, they can be managed by setting your mower a little higher or picking them up (they look great in a bowl on a table) before you mow.  Besides, since the squirrels and the deer love them you will have a little help getting them out of your yard.

I truly believe the bur oak is the best choice for a fast growing Texas shade tree.  Even though my friends are often skeptical, my buddy Morgan McBride is not.  Morgan is a salesman for Tree Town USA and a bona fide tree expert.  Tree Town produces many varieties of trees that Morgan can recommend to his many customers.  However he always recommends the bur oak first.  Despite the large acorns, this Texas native is almost entirely pest free and its roots grow down instead of out.  With its beautiful foliage and growth rate of 1 to 2 feet per year, the bur oak really is hard to beat.

A Wounded Hummingbird

Every once in a while, something amazing happens.  For my wife and I, this Sunday brought us one of those amazing surprises.  While outside mowing the yard, our carpentar stopped her and showed her what appeared to be a half grown, wounded, ruby throated hummingbird laying in the grass.  She was surprised when the she bent down to pick it up that he offered no resistance.  She brought it to our son who took it inside and put it in a box that we had been using as a chicken brooder.  The bird was absolutely alert and alive, but he offered no resistance to our handling. 

Our tiny little friend was barely longer than two joints of Chris's finger

Our tiny little friend was barely longer than two joints of Chris’s finger

Chris brought him a drink in coke bottle lid a helped him get a small sip.  After a few minutes we checked on him and were surprised to find he had flown out of the box.  We decided this must mean he had been healed of whatever ailed him so he took him out and placed him on our deck.  Again, he just sat there motionless.  So, since it not every day you can get this close to a hummingbird, I went in and grabbed the camera.  I was lucky enough to get this truly beautiful shot of this truly amzing little creature.

Pictures like this make me truly appreciate my Canon Rebel

Pictures like this make me truly appreciate my Canon Rebel

After I took these pictures, I felt the little guy would be safer in the Chinese Privet that lines our deck.  So, I picked him up and gently started carrying him to the bush.  Before I got there, he bolted out of my hand and flew directly to the redbud tree that sits at the southeast corner of the potager.  If you think full grown hummingbirds are amazing, you should see one when it is “small”.  He was so tiny.  I cannot believe that God can make something so perfect and beautiful in such a small scale.  Everything from his tiny little feet, to his tiny little irridescent feathers was beautiful and perfectly formed.  It truly was a joy to be able to share a few moments with this amzing creature. 

The irridescent feathers of the Hummingbird are so lovely

The irridescent feathers of the Hummingbird are so lovely

I have seen countless hummers leave our feeders and go directly to that same spot in the redbud that our little friend escaped to. I hope there is something safe and nurturing in that tree that will heal our new little friend so he can join the others of his species around our feeders this summer.

Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus drummondii)

This past weekend, the weather was so nice that my wife and I decided to take a ride in the country.  We went down a long gravel road that had a “No Exit” sign posted just to see where it would go.  The road was lovely.  It slowly snaked uphill through pastures divided by creeks that were crossed on old-fashioned wooden bridges.  As the road worked its way through this rough country, we were taken by two things; the views of Washington County from the top of the hill and the ditches full of Turk’s Cap.

With it’s whorled petals and long stamens, the flowers of the Turk’s Cap are are irristible to hummingbirds

In my opinion, Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus drummondii) is the most attractive and useful ornamental of all of the Texas natives.  This plant produces a large, woody bush that is literally covered in its characteristic red “whorled” blooms from late spring through first frost.  It is a joy to look at and a magnet for wildlife

My first Turk’s Cap plants came from the mark down rack at a local big box. When I bought them (in late July), they looked so bad that my wife thought that the $1 I paid for them was way too much.  I took those sad looking plants home and planted them along the outside fence of my potager.  Since it was July, and they were in such poor shape, I made sure that they got ample water through August.  While I lost one, the other four are still doing well three years later.

This year, my wife pointed out that fewer and fewer hummingbirds were coming to our feeders.  Our neighbors had them, but we were just not seeing them.  The missing hummingbirds bothered us both since we enjoy watching them.  One morning while weeding in the potager, I was startled by the unmistakable sound of hummingbird wings all around me.  I stopped what I was doing and was amazed to see a dozen or more hummingbirds feeding on the bright red flowers of my Turk’s Cap.  In that moment I knew why we had no hummers at our feeders; they prefer the taste of Turk’s Cap nectar to the taste of watered down sugar.  

Hummers aren’t the only thing that feed on Turk’s Cap.  My plants always have a wide variety of moths, butterflies and bumblebees flitting around them.  Plus, all of those lovely little flowers make a lot of “pulpy” seed pods that birds (especially mockingbirds) love.

The fruits and the seeds of Turk’s Cap are irresitable to a variety of wildlife

Two legged creatures can also enjoy Turk’s Cap fruits and flowers.  The raw fruit tastes a little like an apple or watermelon. You can also cook down the fruit to create a very tasty syrup that can be used to make a nice jelly.   Both the fruits and flowers can be boiled to make a good herbal tea.

If you want to try Turk’s Cap in your garden, you are no longer limited to plants with red flowers.  There is a native white variety that is available at several retailers in out area.  While pretty, the white one has not proven to be as durable or prolific for me as the red varieties.  If you like pink, then you have two great choices that have both been developed by my buddy Greg Grant. 


A tangle of Turk’s Cap (on the left), Cassia and Salvia coccinea in and around my potager

Greg was encouraged to create an improved variety of Turk’s Cap by one of the first female graduates of A&M (and fellow Rose Rustler), Pam Puryear.  He crossed one of our native reds with a tropical pink.  His first try yielded a large shrub with flowers that were twice as big as those of our native varieties.  Greg called this cross “Big Momma”.  “Big Momma” is a stunning plant but for me it has been hard to find.  If you find it, take cuttings (and call me) since Turk’s Cap is fairly easy to propagate. 

Greg’s second attempt produced a lovely pink flowered plant that was very similar in size and structure to our Texas native.  He named this plant in honor of the woman that encouraged him to develop it.  Pam Puryear’s Turk’s Cap has been very popular in the nursery trade.  It was also honored in 2011 with its inclusion on the list of Texas Superstars. 

If you can beat the mockingbirds to the seeds you can easily use them to grow more plants. Turk’s Cap is also easy to propagate through cuttings.

In my mind, Turk’s Cap is the ultimate bedding plant.  It is perennial south of the Red River and can be grown as annual further north.  I know of no other plant that is as adaptable or durable as this plant.  It is tolerant of a wide variety of growing conditions and even has a natural resistance to Roundup.  Turk’s Cap is that rare plant that does almost as well in the shade as it does in full sun.   It grows as well in the dense clay of the Central Texas river bottoms as it does in the thin, rocky, limestone rich soils of the Texas Hill Country or the acidic sandy soils of East Texas.  It thrives in average rainfall and it easily survives the worst droughts Texas has to offer.  Basically, all you have to do is get Turk’s Cap in the ground and it will grow for you.

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


Oct. 13Oct. 14

Oct. 15

Noon & 49 a.m.

5:30 a.m.

KLRU Q (18/3) TuesdayWednesday


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



Stephen F. Austin Plant Sale in Nacogdoches

A lovely hydrangea in the Mize Arboretum

If you are going to be anywhere close to East Texas  on October 6, you really need to take time to swing by the gardens at Stephen F. Austin University.   The SFA Gardens at Stephen F. Austin State University will host its annual Fabulous Fall Festival Plant Sale from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Saturday, October 6, 2012 at the SFA Pineywoods Native Plant Center, 2900 Raguet St.

A wide variety of hard-to-find, “Texas tough” plants will be available, including Texas natives, heirlooms, tropicals, perennials, shrubs, trees, and exclusive SFA introductions.  Most of the plants are extensively trialed in the gardens before being offered to the public and most are produced by the SFA Gardens staff and volunteers.

A lovely double pink althea at SFA

This popular event benefis the SFA Mast Arboretum, Pineywoods Native Plant Center, Ruby M. Mize Azalea Garden, Gayla Mize Garden, and educational programs hosted at the gardens.  Combine your plant buying with a tour.  The arboretum and gardens are absolutely beautiful and the weather should be wonderful.

Since I have several plants in my yard that came from this sale I can attest to the fact that you will be buying incredibly healthy and hearty plants that are sure to thrive for you.  Your support will ensure that the team at SFA will be able to continue providing educational programs that reach over 15,000 students (ages 1 to 100) on a yearly basis.

Come early and bring three things; a wagon, a camera and your questions.  There will be staff on hand to provide you all of the tips and tricks you need to make your plants thrive and answer any other gardening questions you may have. For more information, call (936) 468-4404, or visit www.sfagardens.sfasu.edu for a list of available plants.

My wife with Greg Grant in front of one of the many camellia’s at SFA