Sunday, January 31, 2016

A plant that makes Winter worth it

It's no secret that I loathe being cold. Snow is a photograph. I even get fussy when the AC is cranked up in the summertime. Before I found gardening and specifically this plant, the only redeeming quality of Winter was that it killed mosquitoes and weeds. (Both of which suck, to be clear.)

Teucrium fruticans 'Azureum', aka Bush Germander 'Azure', makes the cold weather worth it.

I first posted about it back in 2010 when my plant was about 2 years old, and my love for it is still as strong as it's ever been.

Now I feel like a proud parent, too: back in 2009 I had some friends who admired them in my old garden and were looking for xeric plantings. (David referred to it as "the boxy plant". No idea why, but that's what we call it to this day.)

It's a little dicey to recommend plants to people, because you can't control anything about how they execute the planting, watering, etc. I gave them 3 as a gift, figuring no one had anything to lose. Not surprisingly, the Bush Germander 'Azure' have fulfilled every promise I made:

Teucrium fruticans 'Azureum', with 3' tall outdoor torch in the foreground for scale.

Blooms! Crazy numbers of blooms!

It starts to bloom intensely blue flowers in mid-to-late December, and continues until early February. It's evergreen and silver/gray, NEEDS full sun, and once established it takes complete neglect in stride. (For reference, my friends have zero irrigation.) It gets to be 5-6 ft wide, about 4-5 ft tall, in a semi-fountain form. Bees love it, deer don't seem to care about it, and it doesn't seem to have any disease problems.

I planted some in our new yard when we moved in (Feb 2014), and while this is a lousy shot you can see the size this past August as compared with now:

(Opposite side, same plant)

They always seem to get a growth spurt just as Winter hits. The new growth gets a little gangly, so I shape them lightly after they're done blooming. It isn't particular about about that either: I usually pull the new growth up into a "ponytail", and cut. It flops back and retains that rounded shape until the next Winter growth spurt.

They do require watering (weekly for the first month) to get established if you plant in the Spring, but once they're established they're pretty drought-tolerant. (In a related story, if you dig one up and try to transplant it...good luck. I've done it successfully, but I can't recommend it for your back health or the plant health. I seem to recall it had an extensive spider web-y root system, a *#$%! to dig out. It was touch-and-go for about a month in its new location, and then it went back to being impervious to sun and heat.)

I've never understood why anyone uses Russian Sage, Texas Sage, or even the more common variety of Bush Germander when this is a much more attractive option. It's harder to find at local nurseries but not impossible: last year I found lots at Hill Country Water Gardens. It's always available online at Digging Dog Nursery.

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 in Review, or "Let's list all the plants I've killed and other poor decisions"

Let's cut right to the chase: I made some excellent decisions this past year, and there are some I'd like a mulligan on.

The biggest one, and the one that falls into both categories, is painting the kitchen cabinets. I love the colors and have zero regrets about doing it, but I regret two things in the doing:
  1. I should have gone with Sherwin Williams Pro Classic. If you weren't witness to the angst real-time, here's a recap. Benjamin Moore Advance is just thin/brittle, and chips too easily. I saw it in my old house when I painted the door frames, but I assumed it was due to the paint underneath it. Nope. I have 2 extra cans of both gray and white that I won't be using, and that ain't cheap.
  2. A liquid deglosser is not as good as sanding the surface. I needed to believe that it was because I wanted to save time and I didn't want a house full of dust, but it's simply not comparable. There are a few small chips in the paint where something struck the surface, and the wood shows right though, telling me that the primer really didn't adhere.

And now for the longer list: plants I've killed. I took some risks this year: there were bound to be casualties. There were also a few mercy killings. And maybe a few "this bores me" killings. R.I.P. to:
  • Salvia leucantha 'Santa Barbara' (they were in the front, and just stayed spindly and stupid)
  • 'Lafter' roses (ditto)
  • Yucca rostrata (technically two of them, mentioned at the end of this post)
  • Lamb's ear 'Helen von Stein'
  • Aralia cordata 'Sun King
  • Salvia x 'Elk Phoenician Purple'
  • Apostle Walking iris
  • Melianthus major 'Honey Bush'
  • Tasmanian Tree Ferns
  • Hydrangea 'Ruby Falls'
  • Hibiscus 'Midnight Marvel' (just the one that I stupidly put in a pot, the other is fine in the ground)
  • 'Regal Shields' Elephant ears
  • Smoke Bush tree (it bores me)
And now for a list of surprising successes:
  • Giant Spider Lily: despite the worm incident, they're tough and tropical looking
  • Hibiscus 'Midnight Marvel': I don't think it's well-sited, but I can fix that
  • Brugmansia 'Double White': this thing is a rock star, producing blooms even now
  • Canna 'Flambe': my love for these is no secret
  • Justicia fulvicoma: I didn't post about these because I only bought 2 as an experiment back in October, but so far so good
  • Variegated Flax Lily: I grew to love the variegation, and I'm now re-evaluating my overall stance on this topic
  • My Japanese maple: a qualified success because it didn't thrive but it didn't die either!
Plans for 2016:
  • Bananas trees! I inherited 2 from a neighbor after the Halloween storms, am optimistic they'll take over that spot in the Spring.
  • Two big-as-I-can-afford Texas Mountain Laurel. It's criminal this property has zero.
  • Finish the DG install in the backyard
  • Overhaul the side yard/address the drainage issue (see Pinterest ideas here)
  • Tetrapanax in a planter! I reeeeeaaally want one but can't risk it spreading uncontrollably, so I got a Cor-ten steel planter for against the far back fence, and I'm going to let it go crazy there.
  • More Yucca 'Lonestar', Brugmansia, Oakleaf Hydrangea, 'Berggarten' Sage, and Giant Spider Lily!
  • Tiered planters: I haven't fully fleshed this out yet, but I've always wanted something tiered in my garden, and it's also an opportunity to create optimal drainage situations for agaves, cacti, and other plants intolerant of my backyard's clay/mud.
  • Expand the beds in the front yard. Nothing radical, I just noticed one day that they're a little skinny and should be fuller/rounder.
  • Maybe a tree swing for the back?
  • Paint the front door, replace the lock
  • Gutters and rainbarrels
What are your plans for 2016?