Thursday, July 20, 2017


I learned how to trim hedges long ago when I was only 10 years old. We lived on a ranch and one of the gardeners took a special interest in teaching me his secrets. Now, 50 years later, I keep those secrets alive each time I work in the garden. 

I love to keep my hedges very neat and tidy. That's because the rest of my natural garden appears a bit too wild & crazy for most of the neighborhood.  In the above photo, you can see a typical garden across the street. 

A few years ago I met a gardener on one of my bike rides. He had trained a bunch of his young, wild Carolina laurel trees into beautiful hedges. Discovering his garden was one of the most wonderful moments in my entire gardening life. From his example, I learned what to do with all the myriads volunteer laurel cherry trees  found growing in my flower beds. I would transform them into beautiful additions to the garden instead of pulling them up and putting them on the compost heap!

During our conversation, I dreaded asking him how LONG it would take to get a nice looking hedge. I was shocked; he said things really start to look good by year 3!  I was expecting him to say 10 years!
The hedge shown above is now starting its third year of trimmed growth on the bottom. I'm starting a second portion at the top. It will be ready for its first shaping soon.

Most gardeners seem to have a number of traits in common; they love cats (or dogs), they love reading, they love gardening, and they love being creative (artistically or otherwise).
I have a large dose of art in me as well as gardening.
As you can see, I'm working on a much more complicated project with this set of three trees.
This project will take another good year to start looking like the multi-level lines I've outlined above. I'm excited each time I think about it.

Here's one of our beautiful native holly trees. I'm going to gently shape it since my neighbors are fretting about the berries dropping across the fence. According to everything I've read, the berries only cause a mild stomach ache to pets. It will be a big challenge, but I'm up for it and both of us will be happy!

 I'll end with a nice view of our dwarf yaupon coupled with some other garden plants.

Happy Gardening! Find a great reason to get outside today!

Saturday, July 15, 2017


If you REALLY want to grow lavender plants (Lavendula) in Houston, you will need a therapist to help you through this difficult decision.
Besides that, you will need to accept the fact that you will lose a number of your plants even under PERFECT growing conditions. You may give them all they need, but you cannot wish away our boatloads of HUMIDITY which this species strongly dislikes. (Hey, let's all move to southern France and grow lavender! LOL)

Lavendula is worth the effort.  Its alluring fragrance, its charming growth habit, its irresistible blue flowers, and most of all, its silvery gray foliage are all reasons to love this plant. 

So, if you MUST attempt this insane gardening challenge, here are some vital facts.
#1...Use almost pure sand in clay pots if you want to grow them in containers. Add a generous handful of compost or leaf mold for nutrients. Add a tablespoon of dolomitic limestone to make the soil a bit alkaline (not entirely necessary, but lavender will love you for it).   
#2...Do NOT over fertilize lavender. They like a lean soil.
#3...Water at the base of the plant and leave the foliage dry whenever possible.
#4...Give it a half day of morning sun and some afternoon shade. 
#5...Use raised beds if you are planting it in your garden.
#6...Leave a generous space between plants for air circulation.
#7...MOST IMPORTANTLY, choose the right variety!
If you find these conditions too overwhelming, I can boil them down to one simple rule:
PRETEND THIS PLANT IS A CACTUS! (except that it needs a bit of water every other day)

If you want some inspiration, get this book! It's out of print, so enjoy the hunt!
Amazon used books is your best bet. I stumbled upon this rare copy at Half Price Books in Rice Village.
back cover

The most reliable lavender for the Houston area would be Sweet Lavender. You can find it at Whole Foods Market, Buchanan's Native Plants, and from a few other sources.

My second favorite would be Lavender 'Fred Boutin'. It has by far the most beautiful foliage. However, poor Fred is falling apart on me after 3 short years. Also, it never seems to bloom, which means I will not be growing Fred in the future.

On the other hand, if blooms are all you want, try 'Ellagance Purple'. Since I'm a retired school teacher, the misspelling of the name drives me crazy. Here in Houston, the foliage turns an ugly gray after you cut the blooms, then regenerates to a lovely shade of green afterwards. 

Here's one last homage to Fred before he passes away to that great Lavender Garden in the Sky.
The smaller Sweet Lavender is off to the left and will take over as Queen of the Lavender next year.

I could also recommend Lavender "Provence", but 5 out of the 6 plants I purchased have died. That's not very good odds. If you find 'Provence' and 'Sweet' side by side at a local nursery, do yourself a favor and choose 'Sweet'. You'll be glad you did.

All for now! Happy Gardening!
The Front Garden ~ July 2017

Pictured in the front is a 'fake' lavender. More on that in a future post. 

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