January 10, 2007

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  Resources and elements of design

Michael Bettler
Lucia's Garden

Dreaming up your garden is the beginning. Planting and managing is both the labor and the joy.

Long before we put pencil to yellow pad to plan the changes in the garden, there are some basic considerations to think about. These are the elements of design. Some consideration at this point will make your planning a lot cleaner and your actual garden bed development a lot simpler.

These are simple considerations, such as general garden recourses, appropriate plant materials, topography and geography, soil, sun/shade balances, and water sources. There are also the finishing touches such as paths and garden rooms, benches, fountains and bird feeders and statuary. Each of these we can touch on in future issues.

Some of the best resources for your garden are your local County Agricultural Extension Service (Master Gardener Association and the Master Naturalist Association), Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (www.tpwd.state.tx.us), and the many local, regional or state arboretums, botanical gardens, nature discovery centers, as well as the local chapters of the Native Plant Society of Texas. Many state colleges and universities have programs designed to help the home gardener. These are the folks who will help you understand your garden, from the bio-dynamics of your garden to the plants you put in them. Their services are usually free and they will recommend plants that have the best chance of surviving and thriving in your area. Texas is rich in these various agencies, associations and services. And don't forget your local nurseries, especially ones that have a "Texas State Certified Nurserymen" license on display.

My wife Lucia and I garden predominantly with herbs. We love to cook and we love to have flowers year-round. (For garden fresh vegetables we visit local pocket "farmers markets" usually set up on Saturday mornings in large business parking lots.) We practice organic methods in all our gardening. We are not big enough to produce marketable quantities, but all our gardens are maintained "organically." The produce is local, tasty, healthful and fresh, and the money goes directly back to the farmer. We are not "certified organic" by the State of Texas, but call ourselves "Least Toxic," using organic-based products to feed our plants and to control our garden environment. "Herbs" are a small category of plants associated with "direct use by people," either for food, for flavoring food, for health, or for home purposes. Herbaceous plants are generally considered as "seed-producing" plants with soft, green stems and with little woody tissue. They may be annuals, biennials or perennials. They actually range from full sized trees to lichen. (Even your "Chia Pet" is a variety of oregano.)

Herbs have bright and showy flower clusters, and their unique scent in the garden in the summer is only a hint of what they bring to the table in flavoring food. Their scent comes from oils that are on their skin in tiny sacks not visible to the unaided eye. These oils are called "essential oils" and are "essence" of the plant, the basis of flavoring food, making potpourri and the source of scent for "aromatherapy." The sacks of oils burst naturally at about 85 degrees or warmer, and scent the garden. A garden without herbs has only half its potential gifts to give back to the gardener. Put herbs in your plan and receive their bounty.

Other elements of your garden design are topography, sun and shade balances, water sources and soil, each one fascinating and worth the time to know a little bit about. With TOPOGRAPHY, either you have a hill or you don't. In Houston, along the flat salt-grass coast of Texas, we have very few hills except those that are washed out bayou beds or old slough areas. But with topography, whether with or without a hill or berm, you can shape your garden in soft curves and select plants of different heights to form shapes that hint at embankments, magical glades, tall grasslands or wild habitats, which at the same time hide utility poles, air conditioning units or car park areas. Even a container garden on a patio can have depth and breadth with several sizes of containers arranged to create motion for the eyes. Good design at this time lends itself to simple maintenance later on.

The element of GEOGRAPHY is more a consideration of what can be grown in your agricultural zone. This includes variances in soil composition, annual rainfall and maximum chill and heat temperatures. There are lots of plants that you can buy at commercial home improvement centers that one would want in the landscape but Mother Nature designed them for other parts of Texas or outside Texas. Some may require more fertilizers as they are hybrids; some languish in the summer sun but thrive in winter; some are summer bloomers; some may or may not like the relative seasonal humidity. This is where the resources listed above come in handy. Their experience can save you a lot of money, and where possible, they have display gardens that can be inspirational.

Along with geography is the element of SOIL TYPE and COMPOSITION: sandy or gumbo, rocky or marshy, hard-packed or loamy. If your garden area is a "problem" area, take a pencil drawing to one of your resources and talk about soil. They will probably ask you about the composition of your soil. Be prepared: Take a garden spatula full of what you believe to be the "average soil mix" in your garden area, put it in a one quart glass jar. Fill it with water, put a lid on it and shake it for about 2 minutes to make certain all the materials are separated and suspended, and then let it sit for about an hour. Make notes using a ruler to record the different levels of sediment. The heavier materials will settle out first, followed by sands, clays, good soils, decaying or composting materials and then finer silts. (This is also a good "science project" for children in school, to help them learn about the makeup of the earth.)

The best way to amend soil is with compost. Composted plant material serves as a food bank for hungry roots, insulation against seasonal heat and cold, and offers a friable garden base for a healthy root system. Compost is only one element. There is no "one perfect garden mix," but a good working mixture to begin with is 1/3 composted soil (to eliminate weed seeds), 1/3 playground (or contractor's) sand, and 1/3 compost. Every nursery has their own blend favorites and nurseries have specialized blends for roses, gardenias, house plants, and on and on. Start with the "1/3 blend" and watch what happens in your garden. Amend as necessary.

It is also a good idea to visit your local soil yards and talk to them. There are horror stories and great success stories that come in the "yards" of soil from soil yards. Look for the reputable yards, those recommended by friends or those who advertise on the Saturday morning talk-radio shows. They are putting their money where their product will be most noticed. A bad reputation is not affordable. Small soil yards may not want or can't afford to pay for talk-radio air time and have very fine products. Ask them all questions about the relative composition of their "general garden mix for vegetables." Ask about how long they compost manures in the soil before selling the soil (the longer the better), and what kinds of manures they use. Ask about bag, half-yard, full-yard and multiple-yard delivery prices. (Half-yard is a utility pickup truck bed; a full-yard is about a standard pickup truck bed in size.) Take the measurements of your garden and tell them how deep you want it (3 inches to 6 inches), and take notes. They'll do the math and won't over-sell you — they want your recommendations and your repeat business.

The element of the SUN is most important. We have long, hot days in summer that are devastating to certain plants. In winter, we have to worry about cold, dry air blowing down on unprotected plants. We have to worry about too much direct sun in certain areas and not enough in other areas. Find the sun and make a "sun map" of your garden area. Note the amount of shade afforded by tree lines, garages, fences and walls at the different times of the year. Be sure you recognize the four polar directions as well, as the shade line will change greatly with the changing seasons. Again, begin with your resources. Some plants may be better off planted in containers that can take full advantage of winter sun but may suffer with summer sun. Some of our garden herbs are "winter herbs" but not "summer herbs" and getting to know the difference saves a lot of money, time and frustration. ("For everything there is a season...")

The last element is WATER. The three elements that support plant life are soil, air and water. The nice thing about herbs is that they are "glorified weeds," native or naturalized plants, generally not hybridized (except for flowers), and they like their feet a bit on the dry side. However, you have to also know which herbs to plant next to which others. If you plant rosemary next to basil, in watering basil (loves water) you can drown the rosemary; if you water the rosemary, you can dry out the basil. (The watering needs of various herbs will come in a future issue.)

It's winter. Time for a nap...there is always the garden...

  The lighter side of gardening
Gardening for golfers

By Hugh Neeld
Freelance Writer

If you live on a golf course, as I do, the number of stray golf balls you can harvest is in direct proportion to the type of landscaping you have. The kind of plants you put out is of particular importance.

Indian Hawthorn, for example, is a good one. It has thick branches and grows close to the ground. If a golf ball goes into one of these babies, it's invisible. It's a pretty shrub, too, with beautiful white blossoms in the spring.

Under my wife's supervision, I've done some horticultural experimentation. One thing I learned early on is that you can't sacrifice aesthetics just to capture golf balls. You need a little variety — otherwise everyone will know what you're up to.

Try to supplement the Indian Hawthorne with a variety of other plants. Any species with thorns or sharp-edged leaves is good — Holly, for instance, or Pampass Grass. Even a couple of Pyracantha, whose bright red berries, by the way, make good-looking Christmas decorations.

Although painful, the wounds they produce to a bare hand are hardly ever fatal. A golfer might try once to retrieve a ball, but rarely twice.

You'll need some heavy-duty work gloves (Stevedore or Mule are good brands) to harvest balls, along with a regular ball retriever.

It's always tempting to an errant golfer who has hooked his fairway shot right into the middle of your backyard to take the few steps necessary to reclaim his ball.

The way to discourage this is to make sure the plants, shrubs and hedges in your flower bed are planted so close together as to be absolutely impenetrable.

If your flower bed extends to the boundary lines of your property, the only recourse the golfer has in getting his ball back is to try an end-run through your neighbor's yard.

Now (and this is of utmost importance), if you want a fool-proof way to claim all the stray golf balls that come your way, convince your neighbors to adopt the same landscaping strategy as you.

Before you start to think I'm giving this subject undue importance, consider this: If you lose 12 golf balls a week when you play (certainly not an unusual number for some golfers I know), but harvest nine golf balls through proper landscaping, you have reduced your net loss by 75 percent.

Anybody who knows anything about business will be quick to tell you how important minimizing net loss can be.

  Gardening tips

"Have you ever noticed how the handles of most garden tools seem to wear out faster than the tools themselves?" writes B. Lily. "To increase the life span of wooden handles, wipe them thoroughly with linseed oil several times a year and always store them out of the weather."

Have a favorite gardening tip you'd like to share? Texas Gardener's Seeds is seeking brief gardening tips from Texas gardeners to use in future issues. If we publish your tip in Seeds, we will seed you a free Texas Gardener T-shirt. Here's a chance to get published and be a garden stylist as well! Please send your tips of 50 words or less to the editor at: Gardening Tips.

  Did you know...

Dandelion leaves can be very bitter. However, they are quite tasty if harvested in cool weather before they flower. Use the young, tender leaves in salads. The more mature leaves can be steamed or boiled much like spinach or other greens.


  Upcoming garden events

San Antonio: The San Antonio Botanical Garden, 555 Funston, will host "Coffee Day," Saturday, January 13, 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Just in time for the crisp wintry air, this annual family day event features coffee tastings and other exotic treats. Coffee Day is a celebration of tropical plants for edible pleasure and medicinal purposes, derived from the jungle. Admission to the garden: $6 adults, $3 children 3-13, $4 students, military and senior citizens. Admission to the event is included with admission to the garden. For more information, contact (210) 829-5100 or visit www.sabot.org.

Houston: Harris County Master Gardener Fruit Tree Sale & Symposium will be held Saturday, January 13, at the Harris County Extension Office, 3033 Bear Creek Dr. Houston. Preview 8 a.m.; workshops 8 a.m. until 2 p.m.; sale 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.; lecture and demonstration topics and times TBA. For more information, call (281) 855-5600 or visit harris-tx.tamu.edu/hort.

Waco: The Texas Cooperative Extension will host the 45th annual Blackland income Growth Conference January 16 and 17, at the Waco Convention Center, Waco. Among the sessions of interest to gardeners are "Rainwater Harvesting for the Homeowner" led by Billy Kniffen, county extension agent, and "Controlling Weeds in Lawns, Flower Beds, and Vegetable Gardens" led by Dr. Paul Bauman, extension weed specialist. Registration begins at 8 a.m. Admission fees vary. For addition information, see http://stephenville.tamu.edu/BIG/.

Houston: Urban Harvest will host its annual fruit tree sale Saturday, January 20, 9:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. at Emerson Unitarian Church, 1900 Bering Drive, Houston (West of Loop 610 between San Felipe and Westheimer). A pre-sale talk discussing the fruit trees available at the sale begins at 8:00 a.m. and continues until 9:20 a.m. There will be a large selection of citrus trees, as well as trees that produce peaches, plums, apples, pears, figs, pecans, grapes, blackberries, persimmons, and more. For more information on fruit varieties and directions to the sale, check the Urban Harvest website www.urbanharvest.org beginning in December.

Mesquite: The Texas Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association will present the 6th annual Texas Conference on Organic Production Systems, "The Local Food Revolution: Bringing Texas Home" January 24 through 27, in Mesquite. Speakers include Fred Kirschenmann, Distinguished Fellow from the Leopold Center and Jessica Prentice, chef, educator and author of Full Moon Feast. Included among the activities will be farm tours, a new farmers workshop, and an organic home gardening workshop. For additional information, call (877) 326-5175 or visit www.tofga.org.

Canyon: Vegetable growers, processors and gardeners can renew their production and marketing skills at the fifth annual High Plains Vegetable Conference in Canyon. The January 25 conference will feature information relevant to marketing, pest management, food safety, biosecurity and agriculture. Registration begins at 7:45 a.m. at the West Texas A&M University Alumni Banquet Facility at the corner of North Third and 25th streets in Canyon. The cost is $25 per person before Jan. 15, and $30 per person at the door. This fee covers all materials and lunch. Door prizes donated by agribusiness exhibitors will be awarded. The morning session will focus on marketing strategies, potato breeding, head and moisture stress, and integrated disease management. The afternoon session will address weed and insect control, a Texas Department of Agriculture pesticide update, biosecurity and agriculture, foodborne diseases and food safety. For registration or exhibit information contact Russ Wallace or Wendy Durrett at (806) 746-6101.

Conroe: Montgomery County Master Gardener Association Annual Fruit and Nut Tree Sale, Saturday, January 27. Lecture 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. featuring varieties available in the sale. Sale 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Montgomery County Extension Office 9020 FM 1484 Conroe. For more information, call (936) 539-7824.

Marble Falls: Highland Lakes Master Gardeners and Texas Cooperative Extension will offer classes to become a Master Gardener starting February 1, on Thursdays from 1 to 5 p.m. for 11 weeks in Marble Falls. Class size is limited so call the extension office at (512) 756-5463 or go to http://hillcountrylgshow.com to get additional information on the classes and the Master Gardener program. Answers to additional may be obtained by calling Robert Yantis at (325) 388-8849 or Carol Kowing (830) 693-5377.

San Antonio: The San Antonio Botanical Garden, 555 Funston, will host "Chocolate Day," Saturday, February 10, 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Activities include chocolate tastings, chocolate mint plant giveaway, exotic fruits tastings, and children's crafts. Admission to the garden: $6 adults, $3 children 3-13, $4 students, military and senior citizens. Admission to the event is included with admission to the garden. For more information, contact (210) 829-5100 or visit www.sabot.org.

Longview: Gregg County Master Gardeners are hosting their Spring Garden and Landscape Seminar, Saturday, February 24, from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at First Methodist Church Faith Center, 400 N. Fredonia St., Longview. Garry McDonald, Horticultural Research Associate, Texas A&M University will present "Beautiful Plants for Hot, Humid Summers" and "Future Texas Superstars-Maybe." Daniel Duncum, District Forrester with Texas Forest Service, will address "What's Killing My Trees and What Can I Do About It?" Garden related vendors, door prizes and refreshments are offered. Advance tickets $10 and $12 at the door. Call 903 236 8429 for more information or visit www.greggmastergardeners.org/.

Houston: Volunteers with Texas Cooperative Extension in Harris County will present a gardening workshop 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. February 27 in the Extension auditorium, 3033 Bear Creek Drive, Houston. Members of Master Naturalists' Gulf Coast chapter will present "Green Home and Garden Workshop." The volunteers will give presentations that will include selecting low-cost plants, planning neighborhood beautification projects, identifying invasive plants and designing landscapes using plants that require less water to thrive. "The Master Naturalists have developed this program to help any homeowner make his home an oasis," said Wayne Thompson, Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources in Harris County and the coordinator of the Master Naturalist program. "However, they are also inviting housing developers, builders and boards of directors from homeowners associations. Many individuals in these groups are not only homeowners, but they also are responsible for planning and landscaping public areas in subdivisions, so the information will benefit many." The $20 registration fee will cover the program and lunch. For registration information, call Diana Todd, (281) 855-5600. A registration form can be downloaded from the Harris County Extension agriculture and natural resources events calendar at http://harris-tx.tamu.edu/anr/events.htm.

Bonham: The Fannin County Master Gardeners are hosting their 3rd Annual Garden, Lawn and Home Expo on March 31, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Multiple Purpose Complex in Bonham. One of the speakers, Mark Chamblee of Tyler's Chamblee's Rose Nursery, will talk about Earthkind Roses. The educational event also features varied vendors for plants, garden crafts, and more. For more information, call (903) 583-7453 or visit www.fannincountymastergardeners.org.

Marble Falls: The Highland Lakes Master Gardener Association will sponsor the Ninth Annual Hill Country Lawn & Garden Show March 31, at the Lakeside Pavilion in Marble Falls. It is open 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free Admission and seminars. It features garden related vendors, demonstrations, a children's booth, raffle and seminars by Malcolm Beck, Bill Luedecke and the Antique Rose Emporium. For more information go to hillcountrylgshow.com or call (325) 388-8849.

San Antonio: The San Antonio Botanical Garden, 555 Funston, will host a Spring Plant Sale, Saturday, March 31, 9 a.m. until sold out. Purchase healthy, hardy plants suitable for the San Antonio environment and get expert advice from SABG volunteers, many of whom are Master Gardeners. Admission to the garden: $6 adults, $3 children 3-13, $4 students, military and senior citizens. Admission to the event is included with admission to the garden. For more information, contact (210) 829-5100 or visit www.sabot.org.

Rockport: The Rockport Herb & Rose Study Group will present the Third Annual Rockport Herb Festival Saturday, at the Rockport-Fulton High School Commons, 1801 Omohundro, Rockport, April 7, from 8:30 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. The festival will include a variety of herb programs, herb cooking demonstrations, herb booths with lots of information and products for sale, and a plant sale that will include herbs, roses, heirlooms, orchids, bromeliads, tropicals, palms, garden art and pottery. There is no admission fee. For additional information, contact Linda T. Collins at ltcollins_1@charter.net or visit www.rockportherbs.com.

Nacogdoches: The annual Spring Garden Gala plant sale at Stephen F. Austin State University’s Mast Arboretum will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 14, at the intramural field on Wilson Drive, Nacogdoches. “We will offer a great selection of rare, unusual, and Texas-tough trees, shrubs, succulents, and herbaceous perennials, as well as many heat loving tropicals,” said Dawn Stover, Mast Arboretum research associate. “All of the plants are produced at SFA by the staff, students and volunteers.” Greg Grant, Pineywoods Native Plant Center research associate, will have a number of his introductions available as well, including the pink flowered ‘Pam Puryear’ and large flowered ‘Big Momma’ Turk’s cap. “Many of the rare Aromi hybrid deciduous azaleas will be offered, as will a good number of the rarely available native East Texas red buckeye,” Stover said. Proceeds from the plant sale help support the SFA Mast Arboretum, the Ruby Mize Azalea Garden, the Pineywoods Native Plant Center and educational programs. For more information, call (936) 468-4404 or visit http://arboretum.sfasu.edu/.

Waco: "Easy-Care Roses for Busy People," an EarthKind Rose Symposium hosted by McLennan County Master Gardeners and Texas Cooperative Extension, will take place in Waco, Saturday, April 21, 9 a.m. until 6 p.m., at Texas State Technical College, 3801 Campus Drive. Among the speakers will be Dr. Steve George, Professor and Landscape Horticulture Specialist, Texas Cooperative Extension, Dallas; Mark Chamblee, owner Chamblee Rose Nursery, Tyler; Gaye Hammond, President, Houston Rose Society; Steve Huddleston, Senior Horticulturalist, Fort Worth Botanic Garden; and Rachelle Kemp, Landscape Design Instructor, Texas State Technical College, Waco. Registration is $56 per person and pre-registration is required. Registration includes snacks, beverages, all course materials, and a two-gallon rose. For more information, call (254) 757-5180 or visit www.mclennanmastergardeners.org.

Tyler: The 6th annual Spring Home Garden Tour, sponsored by the Smith County Master Gardeners, will be held Saturday, May 5. Area gardens will be showcased and will afford visitors ideas an inspiration for their own garden, large or small. Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer questions or discuss planting ideas.

Ft. Worth: The Greater Fort Worth Herb Society presents its 21st Annual Herb Festival May 19, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens in Fort Worth. The Festival will feature the sale of herb plants and herb-related products. There will also be a silent auction, crafts, music, demos, food and much more. Special event speakers will be Randy Weston of Weston Gardens and Mary Doebelling of Our Thyme Garden. Admission is $5 for adults. The Botanic Gardens are located at 3220 Botanic Garden Blvd Dr., Fort Worth. For more information, please visit www.greaterfortworthherbsociety.org or call (817) 966-7126.

San Antonio: The San Antonio Botanical Garden is sponsoring a trip to Italy September 4 through 15, featuring Italy's villas and gardens. Escorted by Bob Brackman, the Director of the Garden, an exceptional itinerary has been designed for lovers of leisurely travel and beautiful homes and gardens. Famous for their gardens, Italians still build on their ancestors' legacy with the creation of exquisite country villas surrounded by terraced, fountain-filled gardens that have become symbolic of Italian style. Experience the rich cultural heritage of Italy. Visit special gardens, famous museums, the important cities of Florence and Rome, plus the Lake District, and the small villages which make Italy so charming, such as Cinque Terre, Santa Margherita and Tuscan villages. Feast on fabulous Italian cuisine and enjoy la dolce vita. Land cost per person sharing is $3550 plus air, which includes a $100 tax deductible donation, most meals and gratuities. For more information, contact Marianne Martz of Fuller Travel at (210) 828-6311 or marianne@fullertvl.com.

Garland: The Garland Organic Club meets the first Sunday of each month in the little red school house at 1651 Wall St., Garland. All interested gardeners are invited to attend. For more information, call (972) 864-1934 or (800) 864-4445.

Austin: Austin Organic Gardeners meet at 7:00 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at the Zilker Botanical Gardens in Austin. For more information, visit www.main.org/aog.

San Antonio: The San Antonio Herb Society meets at 7:00 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month at the San Antonio Garden Center, 3310 N. New Braunfels (corner of Funston & N. New Braunfels). For more information on programs, visit www.sanantonioherbs.org.

Dallas: The Dallas Organic Garden Club meets at 6:45 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of each month at the Fretz Park Recreation Center, located at the corner of Hillcrest and Beltline Road in Dallas. For more information, call (214) 824-2448 or visit www.dogc.org.

Arlington: The Arlington Organic Garden Club meets from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. on the last Thursday of each month (except November and December) at the Bob Duncan Center, 2800 S. Center Street, Arlington. For more information, contact David at (817) 483-7746.

If you would like your organization's events included in "Upcoming Garden Events," please contact us at Garden Events.

  Plagued by pests?  

Prepared by the American Horticultural Society and including more than 300 close-up photographs, Pests & Diseases provides all the information you need to identify and treat most garden pest problems.

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  Fiber row cover valuable year-roundnt face="Arial" size="2">Order by calling 1-800-727-9020 or order on-line.

 *Mention Texas Gardener's Seeds when ordering by phone during the month of January and we'll waive shipping charges. (Discover, MasterCard and Visa accepted.)


Texas Gardener's Seedsds, diseases and frosts. It is also air and water permeable and allows for ventilation. Grow-Web provides excellent protection to seedlings when applied directly to the seedbed.

 $30.64 per 12.3' x 32.8' roll (includes shipping!)

Order by calling 1-800-727-9020. Not available through on-line bookstore.

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Texas Gardener's Seeds0" bgcolor="#FFFF00">

Texas Gardener's Seedsds, diseases and frosts. It is also air and water permeable and allows for ventilation. Grow-Web provides excellent protection to seedlings when applied directly to the seedbed.

 $30.64 per 12.3' x 32.8' roll (includes shipping!)

Order by calling 1-800-727-9020. Not available through on-line bookstore.

(Discover, MasterCard and Visa accepted.)


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