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.

English Cottage Garden Deep in the Heart of Texas

Did you see Downton Abbey this past Sunday?  OMG!!!!  I did not see that coming!!!!  I am not going to spoil anything for any of you that missed it but OMG!  Killing Matthew – yep saw that one coming, but this past episode truly blew my mind!

Downton Since Downton Abbey is such a hit, our friends at KLRU’s Central Texas Gardener decided to do a tie in on their program for the season opener.  I must say, they did “a jolly good job!”  The clip below feature’s a Texas interpretation of an English Cottage garden in Austin.  Click below to see how David and Jennifer Stocker utilized their English heritage to build their beautiful and water wise “English Garden” deep in the heart of Texas.

If you garden in the US, there is a very good chance that a lot of the design principles you use and the plants you choose came to you from the English.   The English are great gardeners and have been for centuries.  Dr. William C. (Bill) Welch from Texas A&M talks with Tom about the many ways that the English horticultural traditions have shaped our views about landscaping, especially in the south.  If you have not heard Dr. Welch speak before, or read one of his many books, you are in for a treat.  Dr. Welch is one of the most knowledgeable horticultural historians in the entire United States.  Enjoy!

Garden Art

In my opinion, no garden is complete without garden art.  While it is true that a well designed garden needs no artificial elements to be beautiful, the addition of art allows the garden to become truly represenative of the gardener.

The Clio Garden at Bayou Bend after a heavy spring rain. Note the Italian marble statue of Clio, the muse of history

All of my gardening experience has happened in the South.  And one thing that I have learned about Southern gardeners is they love their garden art.  Garden art in the south ranges from the truly tacky (tire and toilet planters) to the truly elegant (the Greek Muses at Bayou Bend), but it all says something about the garden and the gardener. 

Garden art in Dr. Bill Welch's Louisiana garden cosists of an antique iron headboard, a whirlygig and a tire planter from his friend, Felder Rushing

Felder Rushing is a true Master of Horticulture who has done more to promote rural Southern garden art than anyone I know.  He is extremely found of bottle trees.  His website has a whole section devoted to them.  He also has a ton of pictures of the tire planters that he uses in his own gardens.  He even has a picture in one of his speaking presentations of a large stand of elephant ears with big black numbers spray painted on them.  When he saw this he pulled over and the owner what the numbers represented.  She quickly informed him that they were the numbers of the NASCAR drivers that she loved.  Now that is creative self expression in the garden!

My bust of St. Francis from Jim Jeffries of Crockett, Texas

I myself have a lot of this art scattered throughout my property.  One of my favorite pieces is a fairly large bust of St. Francis from Jim Jeffries of Crockett, Texas.   He was very good friends with my mother-in-law Pat Krischke.  The bust is a head cast of a large sculpture that he did of St. Francis playing with a deer and a wolf for St. Francis Catholic Church in Crockett.  Jim has now gone on to his heavenly reward and my mother-in-law is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s.  I miss them both dearly but this sculpture allows me to think of them every day.  Plus, it looks great behind my lantana.

The bottle tree in my potager

Bottle trees are probably the most common form of garden art in the South.  These trees take on a myriad of shapes and forms.  The tradition of the bottle tree was adapted from the African slaves of long ago.  In their native lands they believed that they could ward off evil spirits by hanging pieces of brightly colored glass in the trees around their homes.  They continued to do this once they were here.  This tradition evolved from hanging pieces of glass to placing whole bottle in the limbs of trees.  It was believed that the evil spirits would become trapped in the bottles.  It is also believed that the haunting “woooo” sounds that come from the wind blowing over the bottles are the cries of the trapped spirits.  I don’t know about you, but I can always use some help keeping evil spirits at bay. 

A whimsical piece of garden art at the Antique Rose Emporium. I love the addition of the rubber ducky in the "water"

I recently bought a new camera.  In order to learn how to use it I headed out to the Antique Rose Emporium (ARE).  While the plants were beautiful (and they always are, even in July and August), my best shots were of the art that Mike Shoup and his designers have incorporated into their display gardens.  As you can see, some of the art was elegant, some whimsical and some of it was just down right “cute”.  But you know what, it all worked.  Each of these things represents the spirit of the owners and staff of this incredible place.

A fountain made from an old watering can at the ARE in Independence

There is no doubt that Spring is the best and most beloved time of the year of most gardeners.  So this year, while you are out there digging and planting, why not showcase your personality by adding some art to your yard, beds and borders.

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!