December 2, 2009

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The garden reader:
Potted, vertical and virtual gardens

By William Scheick
University of Texas at Austin

Over the course of each year, gardening-related materials mound up on my desk like fallen autumn leaves. Now that it's early December with time away from the garden, I'm raking through my annual desktop mound.

Container cards

P. Allen Smith's Container Gardens: 60 Container Recipes to Accent Your Garden (2005) has sprouted up again, this time as a boxed deck of "recipe" cards packaged as P. Allen Smith's Container Gardens: 50 Recipes for Year-Round Gardening (Potter Style, 2009, $14.99). The handsome deck is arranged by season, and each tabbed card includes an attractive bright photo on one side and detailed identifications and instructions on the reverse side.

I particularly appreciate that there is very little 'cheating' in the achieved effects. First, the containers used in most of the designs are typical of what you and I would likely have on hand or would easily find at a local store. Second, the plants used are commonly available and not pricey.

Since the cards are arranged by season, it probably shouldn't be surprising that these container "recipes" will not produce long-term designs. Most of the plants could last, with care, but the combinations represented on the cards depend on small, young and recent transplants.

Within a short time, cordyline, elephant ears, fountain grass and other included plants will outgrow their place in the original container design. Even determined pruning won't restore that design.

So these cards offer plenty of ideas for short-term seasonal beauty, which is certainly better than none. And they might make a perfect stocking-stuffer for the right person.

Vertical farming

The mound on my desktop includes uplifting, seemingly science-fictional stories about vertical farming projects. Vertical farming doesn't refer to trying to grow upside-down tomatoes in cloth tubes ó an exercise in futility for most of us in Texas, where blasting heat and marauding beasts wreak havoc on a gardener's best laid plans.

Nor does vertical farming refer to growing vines or other climbers on trellises, fences, poles and the like. Not that a cucumber tower, for example, isnít both fun and functional.

Vertical farming refers to multi-level buildings, located just about anywhere, specifically designed to house soilless plants. These plants grow in nutrient-rich water (hydroponics) and in nutrient-rich mist (aeroponics).

If you own an AeroGarden, you already have a good idea of how such an approach works. I enjoyed my gifted AeroGarden, which unfortunately worked for only a year and has so far remained unfixable.

Since all excess moisture is recycled, vertical farming uses much less water than conventional in-ground agriculture. Also: no chemicals, no runoff, no soil depletion.

Vertical farming is not fantasy. If you want a futuristic glimpse at large-scale, multi-level gardening that is already making its way onto the fringe of our world, check out the amazing actual projects described and illustrated at

Virtual farming

Digging deeper into my desktop mound, I unearth several well-buried items about MyFarm, FarmTown and FarmVille. These are Facebook games that have apparently taken over the lives of countless unwary people.

According the New York Times, FarmVille has more than 62 million participants, 22 million of whom log on at least once a day.

I have shrugged off invitations to join. Actual gardening, reading about gardening and writing about gardening are enough for me.

Then, too, there have been loud warnings not to risk my sanity by succumbing to any virtual farming game.

"The game starts off simply: You are given land and seeds that can be planted, harvested and sold," Douglas Quenqua has reported. But "Farmville soon becomes less of a game than a Sisyphean baby-sitting assignment" that may even require trading sleep time to save face by preventing crop failure or animal loss.

Less sleep? Not good. Not good at all.

I have read of professors complaining about students addicted to virtual farming. These students' sleep-trades have resulted in their class work taking a nosedive.

As a professor this is not something I want to hear, and when it comes to virtual farming and my own many students, I am practicing a firm policy of "don't ask; don't tell."

I can't help but wonder whether such a fixation might not be sadly elegiac, a form of romanticized nostalgia in a post-agrarian culture increasingly detached from nature.

Who knows? Still, in an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times Meghan Daum hammered home a sobering worry nail. There she bluntly wrote: "FarmVille is roughly as enslaving as heroin."

All right, then, forewarned is forearmed. I'm remaining virtuous about virtual farming. No risky peeks at any of the virtual farm Web sites.

At worst, then, I'll only have to deal with a potential addiction to reading about the perils of virtual farming.



Giant leafy lessons: Colossal cabbage contest reaps huge yields!

The national Bonnie Plants cabbage-growing program illustrates the best form of teaching ó making learning fun and engaging. It provides third grade students enjoyable lessons on plants, patience and perseverance as they attempt to grow the biggest cabbage in their state.

Students across the country, participating in the Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program, receive a free Bonnie O.S. Cross- an "oversized" cabbage plant- to cultivate, nurture and grow. The cabbages often grow bigger than a basketball and can weigh up to 50 pounds.

At the end of the season, teachers from each class select the student who has grown the best cabbage, based on size and appearance. A picture of the cabbage and the student entry is submitted to Bonnie Plants by mail or online. That student's name is then included in a statewide drawing to receive a $1,000 scholarship towards education. The winner of each statewide drawing is chosen by the Commission of Agriculture, state to state, in a random drawing.

Last year, 1.5 million students participated in 45 states.

"The cabbage program is our way of sharing our love of gardening with children," said Dennis Thomas, Bonnie Plants. "Because we believe so deeply in the joy and peace gardening can bring to the soul, we want to afford the opportunity to children to experience this same joy and sense of accomplishment. We also want to do our part in supporting education."

Getting It Growing: Growing a colossal cabbage may seem like a giant undertaking for little kids, but it's easier than you think.

All you need is:

  • Sunshine: Cabbages need at least 6 hours of full sunlight per day, more if possible.
  • Space: The Bonnie OS Cabbages need at least three feet on each side to spread out.
  • Soil: Some compost should be worked into the soil. Cabbages love nutrient rich soil.
  • Food: An all-purpose vegetable plant food will provide a good start for the cabbage. Then feed every 10 days to keep it growing strong and healthy.
  • Water: Cabbage needs at least an inch of rainfall each week. No rain? A watering can or garden hose will give the plant the water it needs.
  • TLC: Weeds must be kept out of the cabbage patch. They compete for food and water the cabbage needs to grow. Brown or white moths are also unwanted guests; they come from worms that love to munch on cabbage.
  • Time: In 10-12 weeks, children should have a huge head of cabbage.

Green thumbs can pay off, providing participating children with pride, a humongous cabbage, and, for the lucky state winner, the beginning of an educational fund for college. To see the 2009 winners and learn more about the 2010 contest, visit

  The compost heap

"We tried to keep the gophers out of our raised beds the same way Donna is doing ("Gardening tips," November 18, 2009)," writes Jim W. Mitchell. "It worked for about 3 years and then the wire rusted out and we were back to square one. My suggestion would be to use the heaviest wire you can find. I don't think we used the best. If we had it to over again we would look for a very heavy wire and pray. Gophers are tough critters to deal with."


Gardening tips

When you are shopping for flowering plants at your favorite nursery or garden center, look for plants that are in bud but not blooming yet. They will have a longer bloom period once planted in the garden.

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 send you a free copy of Texas Gardener's 2010 Planning Guide & Calendar. Please send your tips of 50 words or less to the editor at: Gardening Tips.

Did You Know...

Gardeners often plant container-grown trees and shrubs because they can be planted any time of year. Unfortunately, the root systems of container-grown plants can be girdled by the containers. Before planting, check to see if that is the case with your plants. If so, either spread the roots out or prune them with a knife. The goal should be to get them growing in a normal manner rather than in a circle.

Upcoming garden events

San Antonio: Join Green Spaces Alliance of South Texas for Hiking the Creekway: Tobin Park and Beyond, 2:00 -4:00 p.m., December 5, Tobin Park, 100 Ira Lee Lane, San Antonio. Connect with other conservation-minded individuals and explore ancient trees that rise to 100 feet, lively birds that cavort from branch to branch and many other beautiful parts of nature in San Antonio. Ecologists, naturalists and others will guide guests from Tobin Park along the Salado Creek using the new hike and bike trail to explore the beauty of San Antonio that often goes unnoticed. Families welcome. The event is free for members of Green Spaces Alliance and $10 for non-members. For more information or to RSVP, contact

Schertz: The Guadalupe County (Schertz/Seguin) Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas (NPSOT) will celebrate Christmas on Tuesday, December 8, with a pot-luck supper and an evening of fellowship. Come join us at 6.30pm at The Library, 798 Schertz Parkway, Schertz, and meet our members. Bring your favorite dish!  Visitors are always most welcome. For more information or an application to join NPSOT contact:

Houston: Urban Harvest will host "Food for Thought," a new, thought-provoking series of panel discussions on today's hot topics that support growing and eating locally. The panels will be lead by local and regional experts, are scheduled for the third Wednesday of each month, and began November 18. Each evening will begin at 7 p.m. with a brief period to socialize, then a panel discussion from 7:15 until 8:15 followed by a Q&A session until 8:45. Upcoming dates and topics are: December 16, "Fresh Fruit Year-Round"; January 20, "Living the Locavore Life"; February 17, "Tools of the Trade." The November 18 lecture will be held in the Multipurpose Room of the Oberholzer Residence Hall, 108 Oberholtzer Hall, University of Houston. The location(s) for the subsequent events will be announced later. For additional information, call (713) 520-7111.

Houston: Urban Harvest's annual fruit tree sale will take place from 8 a.m. until noon, January 9, at the Rice University Football Station Concourse, Houston. The 2009 sale featured almost 6,000 trees and berries and the organizers except even more tree for this sale. For additional information, visit

New Braunfels: Comal Master Gardeners are now accepting applications for their Spring 2010 Training Class beginning January 27 and ending May 12. Applications are currently on the Comal Master Gardener Web site at: Applications will be accepted until December 15; however, the class is limited to 30 people and applications are accepted in the order they are received. The class usually fills to capacity, so early registration is important. The class meets each Wednesday afternoon from 1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. beginning January 27. The cost of the 16-week course is $150 and includes the Master Gardener Handbook published by Texas A&M, propagation supplies, and all other materials. The $150 is payable on the first class day in January. Topics covered in the class include Plant Growth and Development; Compost, Soils, Irrigation, and Fertilizers; Roses; Annuals, Perennials, and Bulbs; Organic Vegetable Gardening; Landscape Trees; Propagation; Fruit and Nut Production; Wildscapes and Native Plants; Pests and Diseases; Xeriscapes; Turf Grass; Home Landscapes and more. Speakers include professors from the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Texas A&M System; Texas State University faculty and retired professors, specialists in the gardening field, and Master Gardener specialists. For additional information, call (830) 620-3440 or email Classes are held at the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, 325 Resource Drive, New Braunfels.

Houston: The River Oaks Garden Club will host the 75th Anniversary Azalea Trail. March 5, 6, and 7. Azalea Trail features tours of four private homes and three well-known historic sites: Bayou Bend, Rienzi and River Oaks Garden Club Forum of Civics Building and Gardens. Tickets for seven admissions: $15 before March 1, $20 during the event, or $5 per location. For additional information, visit or call (713) 523-2483.


Rockport: The Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardeners meets at 9 a.m. the first Tuesday of each month at the AgriLife Extension Office - Aransas County, 611 E. Mimosa, Rockport. For additional information, e-mail or call (361) 790-0103.

Kilgore: Northeast Texas Organic Gardeners meets at 10 a.m. on the first Wednesday of each month at Wildwood Eco-Farm in Kilgore. For more information, call Carole Ramke at (903) 986-9475.

Allen: The Allen Garden Club meets at 7 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month, February through December, at the Allen Heritage Center, 100 E. Main St., Allen. For more information, visit

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

Pearland: The second Tuesday of each month the Harris County Precinct 2 Master Gardeners hold a free evening educational program for the public, called the Green Thumb Series, at Bass Pro Shop, Highway 288 at Sam Houston Tollway, Pearland. For more information visit or call (281) 991-8437.

Schertz: The Guadalupe County (Schertz/Seguin) Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas (NPSOT) meets the second Tuesday of each month except July and August at the library, 798 Schertz Parkway, Shertz. A plant exchange and meet-and-greet begins at 6:30 p.m. followed by a program at 7 p.m. For additional information or an application to join NPSOT, contact

Rockport: The Rockport Herb & Rose Study Group, founded in March 2003, meets the second Wednesday of each month, with the exceptions of June and July, to discuss all aspects of using and growing herbs, including historical uses and tips for successful propagation and cultivation, meets at 619 N. Live Oak Street, Room 14, Rockport at 10 a.m. Sometimes they take field trips and have cooking demonstrations in different locations. For more information, contact Linda (361) 729-6037, Ruth (361) 729-8923 or Cindy (979) 562-2153 or visit

Beaumont: The Jefferson County Master Gardeners meet at 7 p.m. the second Thursday of each month at the AgriLife Extension Office, 1225 Pearl Street, Suite 200, Beaumont. For more information, call (409) 835-8461.

Brownwood: Brown County Master Gardeners Association meets the second Thursday of each month, from Noon to 1 p.m., at the Brown County AgriLife Extension Office, 605 Fisk, Brownwood. For additional information, call Freda Day (325) 643-1077, or Mary Engle (325) 784-8453.

Georgetown: The Williamson County Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas meets from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. the second Thursday of each month at the Georgetown Public Library, 402 W. 8th Street. Georgetown. For additional information, contract Billye Adams at (512) 863-9636 or visit

Orange: The Orange County Master Gardeners meet at the Salvation Army in Orange on the second Thursday of each month. A covered-dish dinner at 6:30 p.m. is followed by a speaker and business meeting at 7 p.m.

San Antonio: The San Antonio Herb Society meets at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday 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

College Station: The A&M Garden Club meets on the second Friday of each month during the school year at 9:30 a.m. at the Senior Circle Rooms, College Station Professional Building II, 1651 Rock Prairie Road, College Station. Expert speakers, plant sharing, and federated club projects help members learn about gardening in the Brazos Valley, floral design, conservation topics, and more. For more information, visit

Dallas: The Rainbow Garden Club of North Texas meets the second Sunday of each month at 2 p.m. Everyone is welcome. Meetings are held at member’s homes and garden centers around the area. For more information, visit

Cleburne: The Johnson County Master Gardener Association meets at 6 p.m. on the third Monday of each month. The public is invited to attend. There is an educational program each month preceding the business meeting. For information on topics call (817) 556-6370 or visit

Sugar Land: The Sugar Land Garden Club meets on the third Tuesday of each month, September through November and January through April at 10 a.m. at the Sugar Land Community Center, 226 Matlage Way, Sugar Land. The club hosts a different speaker each month. For more information, visit

Denton: The Denton Organic Society, a group devoted to sharing information and educating the public regarding organic principles, meets the third Wednesday of each month (except July, August and December) at the Denton Senior Center, 509 N. Bell Avenue. Meetings are free and open to the public. Meetings begin at 7 p.m. and are preceded by a social at 6:30. For more information, call (940) 382-8551.

Glen Rose: The Somervell County Master Gardeners meet at 10 a.m., the third Wednesday of each month at the Somervell County AgriLife Extension office, 1405 Texas Drive, Glen Rose. Visitors are welcome. For more information, call (254) 897-2809 or visit

Granbury: The Lake Granbury Master Gardeners meet at 1 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month at the Hood County Annex 1, 1410 West Pearl Street, Granbury. The public is invited to attend. There is an educational program each month preceding the business meeting. For information on topics call (817) 579-3280 or visit

Seabrook: The Harris County Precinct 2 Master Gardeners hold an educational program at 10 a.m. on the third Wednesday of each month at The Meeting Room at Clear Lake Park (on the Lakeside), 5001 NASA Road 1, Seabrook. The programs are free and open to the public. For more information, visit

Houston: The Native Plant Society of Texas — Houston (NPSOT-H) meets at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month except for October (4th Thursday) and December (2nd Thursday). Location varies. For locations, for more information on programs, and for information about native plants for Houston, visit

Rosenberg: The Fort Bend Master Gardeners meet at 7:15 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month except December at the Bud O’Shieles Community Center located at 1330 Band Road, Rosenberg. For more information, call (281) 341-7068 or visit

Seguin: The Guadalupe County Master Gardeners meets at 7 p.m. the third Thursday of each month,  except December, at the Texas AgriLife Extension Bldg. at 210 E. Live Oak, Seguin. An educational program preceeds the business meeting. The public is invited to attend. For topic or other information, call (830) 379-1972 or visit

Edna: The Jackson County Master Gardeners present their "Come Grown With Us" seminars on the fourth Tuesday of each month, January through October, beginning at 7 p.m. at 411 N. Wells, Edna. The seminars are free, open to the public and offer 2 CEU hours to Master Gardeners or others requiring them. For additional information, contact the Jackson County Extension Office at (361) 782-3312.

Fort Worth: The Organic Garden Club of Forth Worth meets at 7 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month except July and December at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens main building. Refreshments are served. For more information, call (817) 274-8460.

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

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. To ensure inclusion in this column, please provide complete details at least three weeks prior to the event.

Texas Wildscapes:
Gardening for Wildlife

By Kelly Conrad Bender

NEW EDITION of the popular Texas Parks & Wildlife book, now with fully searchable DVD containing all the plant and animal information you need to customize your backyard habitat.

Whether you have an apartment balcony or a multi-acre ranch, the Texas Wildscapes program provides the tools you need to make a home for all the animals that will thrive in the native habitat you create.

In Texas Wildscapes, Kelly Conrad Bender identifies the kinds of animals you can expect when you give them their three basic needs: food, water, and shelter. She then provides guidelines for designing and planting your yard or garden to best provide these requirements for the many birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates the environment will attract.

$31.88 includes tax and shipping

Order online with credit card at or call toll-free 1-800-727-9020.

Visa, MasterCard and Discover accepted.

Wish you'd saved them?

Are you missing an important issue of Texas Gardener? Or, perhaps, just tired of thumbing through stacks of back issues looking for the tips and techniques you need to make your garden grow? These new CDs provide easy access to all six issues of
volume 20 (November/December 2000 through September/October 2001),
volume 21
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volume 22
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volume 23
(November/December 2003 through September/October 2004),
volume 24 (November/December 2004 through September/October 2005),
volume 25 (November/December 2005 through September/October 2006),
volume 26 (November/December 2006 through September/October 2007),
volume 27 (November/December 2007 through September/October 2008) and
volume 28 (November/December 2008 through September/October 2009)*.

$16.99 per CD includes tax and shipping

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*Other volumes will be available soon.

Doug Welsh's Texas Garden Almanac

Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac is a giant monthly calendar for the entire state — a practical, information-packed, month-by-month guide for gardeners and "yardeners." This book provides everything you need to know about flowers and garden design; trees, shrubs, and vines; lawns; vegetable, herb, and fruit gardening; and soil, mulch, water, pests, and plant care. It will help you to create beautiful, productive, healthy gardens and have fun doing it.

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Fiber row cover valuable year-round

Grow-Web encourages plant growth and development, and also provides protection from insects, birds, 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!)

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Texas Gardener’s Seeds
is published weekly. © Suntex Communications, Inc. 2009. All rights reserved. You may forward this publication to your friends and colleagues if it is sent in its entirety. No individual part of this newsletter may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher.

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