In Texas, the dog days of summer are not kind to the roses. Fewer, faded blooms that shrivel in the noonday sun are the most we can hope for. So what’s a gardener with a penchant for cut flowers and an abundance of heat and sun to do? Plant Zinnias.
Unlike most flowers that wilt in the heat of our Texas summers, zinnias seem to thrive on heat. In fact they prefer a sunny location. These beauties are in all day sun in my community garden plot. I planted them by seed in June and within 3 weeks I was cutting my own blooms. I have found through trial and error that zinnias do much better by seed than from nursery starts.
I planted a variety called “Cut and Come Again”. They aren’t lying. These pretty flowers reward my need to fill my house with cut blooms by blooming even more prolifically. What’s not to like about that?
Here’s a pretty bouquet of zinnias I cut this morning. I love all the flower forms and the rainbow of cheerful colors. They also look really pretty with the Ichiban eggplant I harvested (zinnias vegetable counterpart in terms of heat loving and easy care).
If beautiful blooms and low maintenance growing needs aren’t enough to convince you to plant zinnias, they are also a fantastic attractor of pollinators.
This little carnelian honeybee is just one of the few pollinators I have seen on these plants. The native bees and butterflies are just as attracted to these bright blooms. If you have a vegetable plot dependent upon pollinators, planting zinnias is a genius idea since most heat loving vegetables share the same needs. You may think it a waste of space in the vegetable garden but a gardener with a plot bordering mine was commenting on how there were no bees pollinating the squash in her garden. At this point in the season, my garden is producing more squash than I can eat. And I owe it all to the zinnias.
I think the roses in my yard were jealous of all the attention the wildflowers were getting. Usually, the wildflowers bloom first and the roses start after. This year, the winter was so mild that the roses have joined the party early. Seemingly, every single plant in my garden has burst into bloom at the same time.
Above you can see the bluebonnets flanked by monster roses Perle D’or on the left and Rosette Delizy on the right.
And here’s a closer view of Perle D’or.
Because Rosette Delizy is under two big trees, she’s really a once blooming rose for me. Even so, I put up with her ungainly lopsided growth the rest of the year just so I can see her glorious spring blooms. I adore her multi colored flowers.
I like the contrast of the Bamboo Muhly with this rose.
The cooler spring weather brings out the velvety rich blooms of Francis Dubreuil.
This is the most fragrant rose in my garden. The mild winter weather has yielded the largest blooms I have ever seen on this rose.
Marie Pavie is another fragrant rose that has burst into bloom. Her scent wafts enticingly through the yard, especially in the mornings.
Nothing illustrates how ardently the roses wanted to join in on the action more than this last picture. This is the bed that I used to have Hermosa in. I removed her in the fall because she really wasn’t doing well in that spot. Clearly, Hermosa had other ideas.
Flowers aren’t the only thing in bloom in Cental Texas right now. Spring is when some of our most beautiful trees burst into bloom. My favorite is the Dogwood. The blooms really only last for a few weeks, but I think the short bloom period only heightens this tree’s beauty. One of the most beautiful specimens I’ve seen in Austin is right across the street from the Sunshine Community Gardens where I have a vegetable plot. I’ve never noticed it before because when they aren’t in bloom a Dogwood blends in with the other oak and pecan trees. But in spring the Dogwood is hard to miss.
From far away, the Dogwood tree has such a beautiful shape, it’s not just the abundant ethereal white flowers that draw you in. I caught this tree a few days after it’s peak but it doesn’t even matter. Here’s a closer view of the beautiful canopy.
And an even closer view of the flowers, with the leaves just starting to come in.
I don’t see any in this picture, but I bet the bees just love this tree. I know I do.
It’s been too long since I last posted. Though I have been lazy and and unproductive in the last few months, the same can’t be said for the garden.
The California Poppies have just unfurled their petals in the past week.
Here’s a wider shot so you can see the larkspur that are in the background. I love how the purple of the larkspur contrasts with the gold of the poppies.
These aren’t the only wildflowers in my garden.
With the drought we’ve been having this winter, the bluebonnets haven’t been blooming along the roadsides like they generally do at this time of year. Lucky for me, I have them in the garden.
I’ve let them take over the whole front yard. Literally.
You can smell their deep sweet fragrance from the front porch. In a couple of weeks the roses will start to bloom as well. Here’s a preview from Rosette Delizy. She always looks her best in the cooler weather of spring, when you can really see the color variations of her petals.
Things are really taking off in Central Texas right now so stay tuned for more blooms.
Christmas is a time for snow, Santa, eggnog and, if you garden in Central Texas, beets. I know, beets don’t sound very Christmassy, do they? How about Chioggia beets then?
Still don’t see it? Try cutting them open.
Inside is a glorious red and white peppermint root vegetable perfect for the holiday season. I planted these beauties in mid September and they were ready for harvest by the end of November. Not only are they beautiful, but they really don’t stain like the common red variety. See how happy my chopper-in-chief is to be slicing them.
One of my favorite ways to prepare beets is to make refrigerator pickles with them. The best recipe I’ve tried comes from Martha Stewart. The beets retain their crunch and a spicy vinegar broth balances their sweet flavor.
All you need to do is pack a few jars with thinly sliced beets which have first been scrubbed and peeled. I find that a pint jar holds one large beet. After you have packed the jars, then you make a spicy vinegar broth with sugar, rice wine vinegar, thai chilis, pepper corns and bay leaf.
Bring the mixture to a boil over the stove top.
Then divide the liquid and the spices evenly amongst the pre-packed jars. Share them with friends and enjoy them in salads and sandwiches. They should last about a month in the refrigerator. I haven’t personally tested this because ours have never lasted that long.
In September, we planted a lot of vegetables in our new Community Garden plot from a mixture of starts, seeds and bulbs. It’s now November and the vegetables are thriving.
In the bulb family we have garlic and shallots.
The shallots, which are smaller and on the right, seem to be doing better than the garlic. It could be the warmer than usual winter that is making the garlic leaves turn brown.
Here are the carrots after a judicious thinning. We planted an heirloom variety called Scarlet Nantes, which is supposed to be fairly consistent and takes 65 days to produce.
We also planted parsnips from seed. Despite the similarity in appearance, carrots and parsnips act quite differently in the garden. Parsnips take about two weeks longer for the seeds to germinate. We planted All American and the packet says they take 95-105 days to germinate. Looking at the pictures, you can definitely tell they take a lot longer to germinate than carrots. The parsnip leaves are also very different from carrots. I don’t know why I thought they would be the same.
Some of the vegetables we planted would not look out of place in an ornamental garden. The rainbow chard we planted from seed looks like stained glass when it is backlit.
The fennel bulbs we planted from starts add a nice feathery texture.
Even the brussels sprouts provide structure as the tiny sprouts grow larger.
But the best thing about winter vegetable gardening in Texas is that it can be done fairly easily even in a drought. Right now, Austin is experiencing drought conditions since it hasn’t rained since September and usually our winters are wet. Still, we manage to grow this garden with only once a week watering (daylight savings and full time jobs prevent more). I’m definitely hooked on a winter vegetable garden.
Gardeners mostly come in two varieties, ornamental and edible. For most of my gardening life, I’ve mostly been the ornamental variety. The occasional foray into vegetable gardening has had mixed results. My current house is on a tiny urban lot and is dominated by two large oak trees. The trees house lots of squirrels. The squirrels dig in newly planted seedlings and run off with unripened fruit. Also, the prime sunny locations are taken up by giant antique roses. And so I’ve been content with planting herbs and the odd cherry tomato. Until now. In March, Karl started a hive in the Sunshine Community Gardens. Since we spent every week or two at the gardens checking the hives, we decided to put our name on the waiting list for a plot. In September, we were notified that a 20′ x 20′ plot was ours if we wanted it. We did.
Here’s the plot we were given.
And here’s another view.
The previous owner left the plot in good condition. We even got a bonus row of okra plants. Sadly, okra is the only vegetable neither Karl nor I will eat. Luckily, we have many okra loving friends.
The aptly named community garden is blessed with an abundance of sunshine. It has few trees and no squirrels that I can see. The soil is also the lovely loamy type I have always read about but had never seen in person. The only negative thing about the gardens is the presence of bermuda grass. It borders each plot and, as anyone who gardens in Texas knows, nothing short of nuclear warfare keeps bermuda grass out of your garden. We found quite a lot of bermuda in our plot as we turned the soil after adding a half yard of turkey compost to our plot. We also added two wood chip paths down the center so that we could easily move amongst the rows without trampling emerging plants. This is what it looked like in September.
From seed we planted golden beets, chioggia beets, carrots, parsnips, rainbow chard, fava beans, rapini, arugula and cilantro. We also planted garlic and shallots from small cloves. Just in case none of these things came up we planted brussel sprouts, toscano kale, and fennel from small starts. We needn’t have worried.
This is the garden two months later. Stay tuned for a post chock full of luscious and pornographic photos of vegetables.