It’s Alive!!! Back from the Dead in a Fool’s Garden

A bougainvillea bouquet, 2013

A bougainvillea bouquet, 2013

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I was thrilled when I moved into this house and found a bougainvillea near the front walkway. I love bougies– besides their unique look and vivid colors, they spark intense memories from my youth. My grandmother lived in San Diego, CA, and had an amazing arbor covered with bougainvillea along her entire side yard. Her bougainvillea were a gorgeous orange-pink variety, and I loved spending time in her beautiful yard.

I now live in Central Texas, Zone 8, which is definitely NOT bougie territory. It’s usually the harsh summers that prevent bougainvillea from surviving, but 2013-2014 was the worst winter we’ve had in a long time. However, Spring hits early here, and I’ve been sure that my beloved bougie was gone since March.

But I was wrong! In addition to the multiple freezes and an aggressive weed-vine choking out the plant, the bougainvillea has survived. Severely damaged, but fighting its way back.

Some gardeners are quick to remove a dead plant. Me– never!! I will absolutely admit that it’s some part laziness, but it’s mostly HOPE. It’s a core gardening principle of mine that gardening is not to seek perfection in design, but to watch Nature take its course. This is not the first plant I’ve had come back from the grave, and I love the lesson in patience that it teaches me.

Despite my overall laissez-faire style, I think I’ll be giving that bougainvillea a little extra attention over the next few weeks…



Summer Safety Update: It’s Biting Bug Season Again…!

The first rule of safe gardening is

Be Aware & Educated About the Dangers Around You.

Is there a gardener in the world who hasn’t been eaten alive by mosquitoes and other annoying bugs out there in the planting bed? While it’s easy to accept mosquitoes, fleas, or ticks as a fact of outdoor life, the increased danger of serious diseases means every gardener should take these pests seriously.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Division of Vector-Borne Diseases (DVBD) focuses on existing and new diseases carried by these bugs. A partial list of mosquito-borne illnesses is available at the website, and includes diseases that have killed millions over the centuries (malaria, dengue, etc.) as well as newer threats. According to the CDC:

On average, 2 new mosquito-transmitted viruses infective to humans are found each year.

The West Nile virus has been in the U.S. for almost a decade, and has caused over 12,700 cases of severe disease. Newer viruses have been confirmed, including the Heartland virus, which was first reported in 2012. However, only eight cases of infection have been confirmed since 2012. The Chikungunya virus, which has existed in Africa for years, has spread significantly to the Caribbean, and the CDC announced recently that travelers from abroad have brought the virus to the U.S. The disease is painful, but rarely fatal, and 28 cases have been documented in the U.S.

I think it is always important to stress: go to reputable sources for information, not sensationalist websites or news outlets. The CDC website has maps showing locations where viruses have been identified and are being monitored. The website also describes symptoms and possible long term effects. Don’t be drawn in by alarmist headlines!

Happy and Safe Gardening to You!

CDC Website:

Art of the Garden #5 (Plus Shakespeare!)

Public domain artwork, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Spring, by Abel Grimmer. 

Public domain artwork, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Gardener. Go, bind thou up yon dangling apricocks,
Which, like unruly children, make their sire
Stoop with oppression of their prodigal weight:
Give some supportance to the bending twigs.
Go thou, and like an executioner,
Cut off the heads of too fast growing sprays,
That look too lofty in our commonwealth:
All must be even in our government.
You thus employ’d, I will go root away
The noisome weeds, which without profit suck
The soil’s fertility from wholesome flowers.

Servant. Why should we in the compass of a pale

Keep law and form and due proportion,
Showing, as in a model, our firm estate,
When our sea-walled garden, the whole land,
Is full of weeds, her fairest flowers choked up,
Her fruit-trees all upturned, her hedges ruin’d,
Her knots disorder’d and her wholesome herbs
Swarming with caterpillars?

Gardener. Hold thy peace:
He that hath suffer’d this disorder’d spring
Hath now himself met with the fall of leaf:
The weeds which his broad-spreading leaves did shelter,
That seem’d in eating him to hold him up,
Are pluck’d up root and all by Bolingbroke,
I mean the Earl of Wiltshire, Bushy, Green.

Servant. What, are they dead?

Gardener. They are; and Bolingbroke
Hath seized the wasteful king. O, what pity is it
That he had not so trimm’d and dress’d his land
As we this garden! We at time of year
Do wound the bark, the skin of our fruit-trees,
Lest, being over-proud in sap and blood,
With too much riches it confound itself:
Had he done so to great and growing men,
They might have lived to bear and he to taste
Their fruits of duty: superfluous branches
We lop away, that bearing boughs may live:
Had he done so, himself had borne the crown,
Which waste of idle hours hath quite thrown down.

The Gardener’s Speech-  gifAct III, Scene 4 from Richard II by William Shakespeare (1597)clr gif

“Seeds of Hope” – IN THE NEWS

Inspiration and wisdom from one of the most influential naturalists of our lifetimes, Jane Goodall.

April 2014 brings a brand new book from the amazing Jane Goodall, Seeds of Hope (Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group, ISBN# 13: 9781455554485).

Goodall describes her life’s journey and how her beginnings in England led to her a life exploring nature– in Africa and elsewhere. Goodall is more than a primate expert– she is a devoted naturalist concerned with sustainable foods, botany, seed banking, and many more global concerns. Her unique experiences with primates in Tanzania, Africa are just one resource that she taps in the book– she also provides information from experts that share her concerns and hope for the future.

I’ve always admired Jane Goodall, and also love East Africa dearly. I also believe gardeners should see their spot of dirt as part of the whole system that keeps us all alive. And I think this book could be a great gift for the gardener on your shopping list! Available in most formats, audio, e-book, hardcover…


A *Real* Secret Garden – IN THE NEWS

How many of us grew up reading Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden? She created a world where a walled garden in ruin could be reborn into a thing of beauty, an inspiration to any gardener. The popular news & opinion website featured an article this week with amazing photos & a profile of a REAL secret garden with its own inspirational lessons.

The garden is located in Chandigarh, northern India. Nek Chand, a government road inspector, began collecting rocks and construction debris in the late 1950s and, by the mid-1960s, he had begun building an expansive rock and sculpture garden. Of course, he chose to build the garden, complete with statues, waterfalls, pathways, etc., on government owned land designated as a no-build conservation area. By the time government officials learned of the rock garden, it was 12 acres in size.

Luckily, the garden continued to grow, and is now more than 30 acres in size. It is a mix of nature and sculpture, and the photos that accompany the article are wonderful.

Although Chand kept the garden secret for many years, he finally shared it with the world. Although there were conflicts, this is a story with happy endings for Nek Chand and his garden– just like in Burnett’s classic book. (Yes, this is a teaser– ya gotta keep looking to find out what happened!)

Get Paid to Garden!! (No, Seriously!)

It’s that time of year again in Central Texas, where temperatures fluctuate 40 degrees in a day, from icy to sunny and back. Tuesday: Ice Day, schools and offices closed; Friday: 79 degrees Fahrenheit and SUNBURNED. Unbelievable!

What else does January mean for gardeners? Planning and preparation. Something I stress often in this blog is DON’T OVERREACH. This basically means: don’t bite off more than you can chew in terms of scope, scale, complexity, time, money, etc. etc.

One way to help manage costs AND be a responsible gardener is to take advantage of the numerous subsidy and reimbursement programs available that promote environmentally responsible landscaping.

What are these programs promoting, exactly? They support gardeners who make choices in design, plant and other materials that use less water than the traditional lawn grasses (Bermuda, St. Augustine, etc.) for your region. Usually these programs offer a reimbursement for $$ spent to change a lawn area to a low water use landscape area. Some programs focus on storm water drainage or water supply, offering incentives for rain barrels, rain gardens, and reduced impervious cover.

I took great advantage of one of these programs MANY years ago at my first house. I removed about 70% of the St. Augustine lawn and completely re-landscaped and re planted significant portions of my yard. To be honest, the program was simpler than the one offered in 2014, but the benefits are still great. And of course, you have the beautiful new landscape and your reduced water bill. These programs are just a wonderful icing on the cake.

This is especially a great opportunity for new homeowners facing a blank slate, a sea of green lawn. Do your local research. Below are just a few programs out there– and please share your experience, if you’ve taken advantage of a similar program!

Los Angeles, CA:  The LA Dept. of Water & Power launched the Landscape Incentive Program in 2009, which reimburses residential & commercial replacement of turf grass with California Friendly® plants, mulch, and permeable pathways. At $2/sq. ft. for lawn converted to drought tolerant landscaping, this could mean Big Bucks!

Austin, TX: My hometown.  Residential properties may receive $25 for every 100 sq.ft. converted from healthy turf grass to native plant beds with a maximum rebate amount of $1,250.

Bellingham, WA: An impressive example of a storm water focused program. Includes rain barrels, filter strips, rain gardens– many options that can earn up to $6,000 in reimbursement.