2016 Holiday Gifts for the Gardener by Patty G. Leander

broccoli-transpalnts

Now is a good time to plant seeds of your favorite brassicas indoors under grow lights; in 5 or 6 weeks you will have transplants for a new season of vegetable gardening.

Baby, it’s cold outside! The weather forecasters have been talking about “plunging temperatures” – a sure sign that winter has arrived in Central Texas. We have already had a few light freezes here in Austin but at this point in the season I have to finally admit that winter is here and these colder temperatures will come more frequently and stick around a little longer. Broccoli, carrots, kale, collards and other cold hardy vegetables that are established in the garden generally make it through these “plunging temperatures”, but recently transplanted vegetables that haven’t had a chance to acclimate may suffer cold damage. Though I have harvested the last of the peppers, tomatoes, butter beans and eggplant my garden has taken a back seat to other obligations in my life recently so the cool-season vegetables I planted in fall will have to fend for themselves through the cold. Hopefully they will make it unscathed but if not I am prepared to start again in January.

As Christmas approaches you may still be thinking of a little something for the gardener in your life. Below are a few last minute ideas:

Trisha Shirey’s Vegetable Gardening in the Southwest and Skip Richter’s Texas Month-by-Month Gardening are great gist ideas for organic-minded gardeners in Texas

Trisha Shirey’s Vegetable Gardening in the Southwest and Skip Richter’s Texas Month-by-Month Gardening are great gist ideas for organic-minded gardeners in Texas

Garden Related Books – two recent publications include Trisha Shirey’s Vegetable Gardening in the Southwest and Skip Richter’s Texas Month-by-Month Gardening. Both Skip and Trisha are organic-minded gardeners with Texas roots and they share plenty of wisdom for gardening in the Lone Star State.

 

Dr. (Bill) William C.Welch, Greg Grant and Felder Rushing are all some of the most beloved horticulturists in working in the South. Books by this trio are perfect gifts for those of us that garden south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Dr. (Bill) William C.Welch, Greg Grant and Felder Rushing are some of the most beloved horticulturists working in the South. Books by this trio are perfect gifts for those of us that garden south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Heirloom Gardening in the South by William C. Welch and Greg Grant reminds us of the plants, customs and cultures that have contributed to our Southern heritage; the book includes numerous colorful photographs for inspiration. In Slow Gardening, fun-loving Felder Rushing shares his stress-free approach to gardening, encouraging us all to slow down, break a few horticultural rules and add some whimsy to the garden. A quote from his book: “Life has lots of pressures – why include them in the garden?”

 

This metal sign was purchased at Callahan’s General Store in Austin – it makes me smile and hum every time I see it.

Garden Bling – speaking of whimsy, how about a sculpture, a birdbath, a sign, metal artwork, sun catchers or other decorations that match the gardener’s personality?

coir-pots

A coconut coir block and transplantable coco pots

Coconut Coir Blocks – coconut coir is a by-product of the coconut industry. Marketed as a natural, renewable and disease-free planting medium, it is created from the coarse fibers of the outer husk of coconuts. The lightweight blocks or bricks of compressed coir fiber expand to several times their size when mixed with water.

coconut-coir-blocks

A block of coconut coir fiber the size of a brick expands to approximately 10 liters of planting medium when mixed with water.

Once hydrated, coir fiber can be used as an alternative to peat moss in seed starting or container mixes. A Master Gardener friend recently introduced me to coir fiber pots that can be used for growing transplants. Once seedlings have reached transplant size the entire pot can be planted directly into the garden. The coir pot will gradually decompose allowing the roots to grow unimpeded into the soil. A really cool idea!

garden-tools

All gardeners appreciate the tools that make their tasks easier!

Garden Tools– these tools make garden tasks easier and more efficient: a good pair of pruners, a CobraHead weeder, a moisture meter and a small, inexpensive knife to keep outside for harvesting (I like the white-handled brand called Dexter – it’s cheap, it’s sharp and it can be found at most restaurant supply stores). I recently acquired a weed-puller called Lawn Jaws. Like a pair of needle-nose pliers with back-slanted teeth, the Lawn Jaws grips weeds securely and pulls them out by the roots – works like a charm on tough weeds that invade my backyard. They run about $16; I bought mine at the Zilker Botanical Garden gift shop in Austin.

Laminated Field Guides – these foldout pamphlets offer quick and easy identification of snakes, birds, spiders, butterflies and more. Available at most bookstores, garden centers and gift shops at botanical gardens or nature centers.

 

Field guides make are incredibly useful in the garden and they are so easy to slip into a stocking.

A gift of seeds or books about growing and preparing vegetables is always appreciated by food gardeners.

Miscellaneous Ideas – any gardener would appreciate the gift of seeds, whether the latest tomato introduction or seed saved from your own garden. In addition, books about seed starting, seed saving or vegetable preparation are useful resources for anyone interested in growing their own food. And for the gardener who just wants to start small, how about a portable fabric planter called a Dirt Pot or Smart Pot? Filled with commercial planting mix these reusable containers can be planted with root crops, herbs or compact vegetable varieties. Look for the 7 or 10 gallon size for best results.

Cheers and warm wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Healthy, Happy New Year!

fiber-pot

Fiber pots are great gifts for beginners or for experienced gardeners looking to expand their potting area.

Combating Chlorosis

Chlorosis abnormal reduction or loss of the normal green coloration of leaves of plants, typically caused by iron deficiency in lime-rich soils, or by disease or lack of light

I love black eyed peas.  Each year I dedicate more space in my garden to black eyed peas than any other vegetable.  This year is no exception.  I currently have two 33 foot long rows of pink eyed purple hulls growing.  Of those 66 feet of peas about 55 feet of them are doing fine.  The vines are big, dark green and producing lots of purple hulled peas.  However, a group of plants right in the middle of one of the rows is not doing very well.  They are bright chartreuse in color and they are not producing peas.

chlorosis-black-eyed-peas-1

Notice the chartreuse pea plants mixed in with the healthy plants. This coloration is good indicator of chlorosis

My chartreuse peas are suffering from a condition called chlorosis.   Chlorosis is a condition where plants do not produce enough chlorophyll to properly support their growth. Because of this lack of chlorophyll, chloratic plants produce foliage that is yellow to yellow green (or even white in extreme cases).   Chlorosis happens when something in the soil prevents the plant from taking up enough iron (or magnesium).  Both iron and magnesium are necessary for proper chlorophyll production

chlorosis-black-eyed-pea-leaves-2

The deep green veins and the light green foliage of chloratic purple hull peas

I have grown peas for years and I have had absolutely no problems.  However, I grew them in raised beds that I had amended with lots of river sand and compost.  These peas are growing in ground in a “new” garden that I started last fall.  The fall garden did fine– no problems with chlorosis.  Because of the early success in the new garden, the unmistakable signs of chlorosis on my peas really surprised me.

chlorosis-black-eyed-pea-leaves

These leaves are so chloratic they are beginning to die.

Cause – Even though I knew what was wrong with my peas, I did not know what to do for them.  So, I did the only thing I knew to do; I contacted my friends in extension horticulture.  I am very lucky to be friends with some truly talented horticulturists.  Whenever I have a problem I send them pictures and a description of the problem.  You can do the same thing.  Most extension offices have people that can answer your plant questions.  Do not be afraid to contact them.  It is their job to answer your questions and they love to hear from.

My first response came from Cynthia Mueller.   Cynthia is a volunteer with extension and one of the most knowledgeable plant people I have ever known.  Like me, she was interested in the fact that the problem was isolated to a certain part of the garden.  Our discussion reminded me that I once had a burn pile in the exact same place that was now experiencing the problem.  Next, I heard from Greg Grant.  Greg is definitely one of the top horticulturists in Texas and also the most successful plant breeder around.  When I told him what Cynthia and I were discussing he became convinced the burn pile was exactly what had caused the problem.  I grow in the alkaline black clay that is common in the central part of Texas.  Greg reminded me that since black eyed peas prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.5 my alkaline black clay (high pH binds up iron) was not the best environment for this variety.  In addition, the burn pile added a lot of phosphorous and lime (both of these also bind up iron) to a soil that type that is already known to tie up iron. So, I am trying to grow these acid loving peas in an environment that is just not suited to them.

pink-eye-purple-hull

Note the deep green foliage. this what healthy purple hulls look like

Treatment – There are two ways for me to correct the chlorosis in my peas.  One is a quick fix and the other involves making changes to the soil.  My buddy Tim Hartman (who is an extension agent) sent me some very detailed instruction on how to do both.  Here is Tim’s response:

“Different cultivars can vary some in their efficiency at extracting iron from the soil. Iron availability can also vary a lot from one part of the row to the other depending on factors like watering (water with high calcium would raise the pH) or whether you’ve applied a lot of phosphorous fertilizer (organic or inorganic) to that soil (ties up the iron). You could apply chelated iron as a foliar or drench if you have some, or try to lower the pH with some sulfur. Of these, the foliar iron chelate would give you the quickest response and the sulfur the slowest. “

pink-eye-purple-hull-flower

A lovely, and healthy, pink eyed purple hull pea flower.

So there you have it.  I have chloratic peas because I am attempting to grow them in an area that is just not suited for them.  I will be taking advantage of both of Tim’s suggestions.  I am going to use a watering can to do an iron chelate drench.  This should get the chloratic plants producing.  However, that will not solve my problem long term.  When I re-till for the fall garden, I will begin to add sulphur.  I realize this is critical.  Since most vegetables prefer a pH that is in the range of 6.0 to 7.0, I will always have problems with chlorosis if I don’t fix my alkaline, lime enriched soil.

P.S. This post has been shared on the Homestead Barn Hop.  Barn Hops are a great place to go to get more information like this from a great group of bloggers.  Be sure to check it out!

Nacogdoches Named the Garden Capital of Texas – By Greg Grant

The following post was written by Greg Grant and is used with his permission.  It has been previously published in “Shelby County Today”.

It’s official.  The oldest town in Texas, is now the garden capital of Texas.  

A bill authored by District 11 State Representative Travis Clardy was signed by Texas Governor Rick Perry on May 2, 2013 designating Nacogdoches as the Garden Capital of Texas.

This is why Nacogdoches was given this honor.  This a picture in the Ruby M. Mize azelia garden on the grounds of Stephen F. Austin Universtiy,

This is why Nacogdoches was given this honor. This a picture in the Ruby M. Mize azelia garden on the grounds of Stephen F. Austin Universtiy.

At a ribbon cutting and dedication held at the Stephen F. Austin State University Pineywoods Native Plant Center, author, historian, and father of the LaNana Creek trail, Professor Ab Abernathy made the following speech.

Nacogdoches is a garden city.  It was named after its first gardeners, the Nacogdoches tribe of the Caddo Indians.  Thirteen hundred years ago the Nacogdoches Indians lived on the high ground between the two full- flowing, spring-fed creeks.  Their name, Nacogdoches, meant “from the place of the high ground” (some sources say “persimmon eaters”).  The Spanish came to the place on the high ground between the two creeks in 1716.  They named the creek on the east La Nana, meaning “the Nurse,” and the one on the west La Banita, “The Little Bath.”  The first gardeners–the first agrarian culture in Texas–were these Caddos, who brought gardening with them from their eastern homes.  They raised corn, squash, and pumpkins.  They cultivated a variety of beans, sunflowers, and tobacco; and they created the strongest and most advanced Indian culture in Texas.

The Nacogdoches Caddos gardened on the high ground between the two creeks for well over a thousand years.  The Spanish learned the Caddo’s gardening ways, and added a dimension of herbs and spices to the garden plots.

A lovely perrenial border on the grounds of Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches

A lovely perrenial border on the grounds of Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches

Anglo settlers began coming to and through the Gateway to Texas in the early 1800s.  In 1832 at the Battle of Nacogdoches they ended Spanish military control in all of East Texas.  In 1836, after the Battle of San Jacinto, Nacogdoches became a settlement in the Republic of Texas, and after 1846 Nacogdoches became a city in the Lone Star State in the United States.

In the 1830s, during the troublesome, birthing times of Texas, Nacogdoches gardened.  C.A. Sterne describes Adolphus Sterne’s home:

“My father took great pride and interest in his gardens and orchard.  There were three gardens on the place.  The one on the north was devoted to flowers, with a great variety of roses and rare shrubs and plants, which he had brought from Louisiana, and which had been imported from France.”

“In the center of the garden was a summer house, which was covered with morning glories and multiflora roses.  The fence was covered with woodbine and yellow jasmine.  The south garden had vegetables of every variety.  The west garden was the orchard with a variety of fruit trees and a butter bean arbor running the entire width of the garden.  My father often resorted to the butter bean arbor to read and study.”

When Frederick Law Olmsted (designer of Central Park, the Biltmore estate landscape, etc.) came to Nacogdoches in 1853, he said of the town:  “The houses along the road…stand in gardens, and are neatly painted–the first exterior sign of cultivation of mind since the Red River.”

Nacogdoches became a modern town in the 20th century with parks and landscaping.  It became a city of prosperous houses and ornamental gardens along the Camino Real.  Its grandest show of flowers and foliage, however, developed around the campus of Stephen F. Austin State University (founded in 1923 as Stephen F. Austin State Teacher’s College).  The SFA campus was from its beginning a flourishing garden of blooming plants and flowering trees and shrubs.  SFA now is the center of the most prosperous and prominent set of flowering gardens in the State of Texas.  SFA hosts the largest azalea garden in the state and Nacogdoches was named the first Azalea City in America.

Hydrangeas thrive in the acidic soil of Nacadoches,

Hydrangeas thrive in the acidic soil of Nacadoches,

The university is home to the Pineywoods Native Plant Center, the Mast Arboretum, the Gayla Mize Garden, the Kingham Children’s Garden, and the SFA Recreational Trails and Gardens.  Collectively these gardens contain the state’s largest botanical collections of azaleas, baldcypress, boxwood, camellias, gardenias, hollies, hydrangeas, magnolias, and maples.  For more information on these gardens visit sfagardens.sfasu.edu.

In addition to a number of public parks and walking trails, Nacogdoches is also home to the Durst-Taylor Historic House and Gardens, the Adolphus Sterne Museum and Gardens, and the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden.

In concluding his speech Dr. Abernathy went on to say:

The development of the beauty of gardens, parks, and trails is not for the purpose of luring tourists or improving business, although both areas will profit from such ventures.  Natural beauty is encouraged for its own sake and for the fact that life among gardens, trees, flowers, and flowing water is richer and kinder than life among strip malls and parking lots.  The Garden Capital of our beautiful and beloved Nacogdoches deserves no less than to be a setting for such a life.

Red & Green – The Colors of Fall

This weekend was undoubtedly one of my top weekends of the year.  The weather was unbelievable.  My wife and I took advantage of this weather to go and help my buddy Greg Grant harvest sugar cane. Then, on the way home we stopped at the Sale Barn in Crockett and shared steaks with old friends and watched the end of the best game of the year.  Yes, I am talking about the Aggies and their totally awesome victory over the Number 1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.  Whoop!!!!

Sally and Greg cutting sugar cane

After church on Sunday, Sally made us a fabulous pot of peas that we had frozen back in the summer.  She also made a pot of pinto beans straight off the vine.  To me, there is nothing better than fresh beans and peas from the garden.

Fresh picked pinto beans

After lunch we headed out to the garden to harvest.  Since it is supposed to be in the thirties this week I wanted to get as much in as I could just in case.  I picked pinto beans, acorn squash, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, cayenne peppers, pimento peppers and tons of tomatoes.  I am so glad that I nursed those tomato plants through the summer.  They have been so productive in the past couple of weeks.  As I put all of these peppers, tomatoes and squash in an old bread bowl, I was taken by how beautiful all of the reds and greens were.  I know that to tree watchers, the colors of fall are reds, yellows and oranges.  However, to us that garden, I am convinced that red and green are the real colors of fall.

The colors of the fall garden

After our harvest we planted three short rows of Louisiana Blue Ribbon sugar cane that I got from Greg.  While planting the sugar cane my wife discovered the biggest horn worm I have ever seen.   This thing was as wide as my hand and as thick as my thumb.  He was happily stripping what was left of the foliage on one of my vitex.  After a few pictures, he became part of my garden forever.  We also planted a ton of spider lily bulbs that he gave us as well.  I put them all in a single small bed by my backdoor.  I now cannot wait for next fall.  This bed is going to be spectacular.  Thanks Greg!

The biggest horn worm I have ever seen. Since it is deer season and the taxidermists are working overtime, I thought about getting this guy mounted!

Yes this weekend had everything that makes life worth living and celebrating; great friends, great food and great weather that allowed for great gardening.

The corn crib at Greg’s parents house

Remembering our Veterans with Poppies

Happy Election Day!  As you watch the results of tonight’s election unfold, take a minute or two to remember all of those amongst us who have worn our nation’s uniforms.  These men and women serve (or served) honorably regardless of who was in the whitehouse.  Take time to say “Thanks” to those whose sacrifice gave you the opportunity and ability to live and vote in the land of the free.  May God bless these men and women and may he continue to bless the the United States of America!

Air Intelligence Agency Logo

***This is a slighly modified re-post of an article I did in May.

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 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. Their is a grave on the lawn for every unit that served in the defense of Britian in the two world wars. Photo from http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-photo/elyssa_and_dave/europe2006/1163362140/img_3306.jpg/tpod.html

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 that 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 of the pain and sacrifice that man brings on himself each and every time he takes up arms against his brother.  In case you have never seen it before, here is his beautiful work:

Growing Poppies

 

This poppy is very similar to those that grow in Flander’s Fields. I took this picture in front of Texas Specialty Cut Flowers big blu barn

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 the poppies featured here from Carol Ann Sayles at Boggy Creek Farms in Austin.   I also have some red doubles from my buddy Greg Grant.  Since poppies are such great reseeders, everyone that grows them always has plenty of seeds to share. 

A lovely double pink variety grown by my friend and MOH contributor Patty Leander

Since poppies reseed so freely, once you get them established you will always have them.  For best results, plant your poppy seeds in Septmeber, October or early November.  Since poppy seeds are tiny, 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 get them in the ground soon.

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.

 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!

All of these seeds came from this head

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.

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

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 (aborgate.com). 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!

Heirloom Gardening in the South – Yesterday’s Plants for Today’s Gardens


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Bill Welch and Greg Grant are the premier “Masters of Horticulture” in the country.  Both of them have ample credentials to back up my claim.  However, what really sets them apart is their deep knowledge and sincere love of the plants and gardening traditions of the South.  They have worked for years to document, preserve and re-introduce “time tested plants” that have helped to color the fabric of the southern landscape tradition.  These true southern gentlemen share a common, and almost evangelical zeal to share that knowledge (which is another southern tradition). 

Heirlooms, a whirligig and a tire planter in a Louisiana garden. You can learn all about the origins of these southern garden accesories in this book.

Their latest book, “Heirloom Gardening in the South – Yesterday’s Plants for Today’s Gardens” is a masterful compilation of their many years of saving, growing and educating others on the value of heirloom plants.  Combining equal parts history, plant catalogue and how to information, this book is the perfect resource for all of us that garden in the South. 

The book is easy to read and full of eye catching photographs that document everything from stunning gardens to geranium cuttings.  The book is divided into five sections that tell you the history of the southern garden tradition, how to find and propagate these living antiques, where to plant them, and how to use them.  It also includes an exhaustive inventory of the heirloom plants that grow here.  Each plant in the inventory includes an in depth discussion of its history and habits.  This section alone would be worth far more than the cover price.

Byzantine gladiolus and a bottle tree in an East Texas garden

As an avid reader of gardening books, I have come to realize that most of them fall into two distinct categories: picture books and books that tell you how to grow things.  Rare is this book that combines these two elements.  “Heirloom Gardening in the South – Yesterday’s Plants for Today’s Gardens” is just such a book.  If you are serious about growing heirlooms in the south, then this book has to find its way to your bookshelf!