Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Solar Lights

I have been experimenting with solar lights and I like how they perform, but they must be in direct light to work properly. Sometimes, plant leaves get in the way and the light doesn't last very long. I moved them around and have found excellent results. However, I am also experimenting with string lights. They look great when they are on....but one of my sets went out and I went to replace them with another set....tonight they didn't go on right away....so we'll see how those kinds of light will do.
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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What's that buzzing in my garden?


During this time of year, you may hear the high buzzing sounds of a creature. A loud cresceding sound that as quickly as it begins....it ends. Welcome to the month of June!! In May, the mockingbird visits us and in June, the cicada shows its' face and some consider it not the prettiest of faces:) However, it is a welcome sight and sound to the garden....here is an excerpt on the description on this little guy.
"Cicadas arise through 1/2 diameter holes in the ground in May to late June as odd-looking nymphs that have been feeding on the roots of trees and shrubs. The nymphs climb up walls or trees and emerge as adults, leaving the cask skins of the nymphs clinging to the base of the walls or tree trunks. The adults are approximately two inches long, with large wings that fold over their backs. Cicadas have chunky bodies and bulging eyes. They fill the air with a cacophony of vibrating ribbed plates through August. The male cicada may be the loudest insect known, the mating sound can be heard as far as 440 yards."

From my travels to France, I discovered that this critter is revered by many in the southern provinces around Avignon and Nime. It is considered to be good luck and many times you will see this insect in people's homes or on fabric like curtains or table clothes. It's what I call the "Provincial Look"(from Provence:). Our gardens attract many things...sometimes unwanted, sometimes unexpected.....but they will always attract our local residents. In June and during the monsoon season, this is one of the sounds that makes me smile:) Happy gardening!!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sweat




Today, like everyday in June, is hot. This month for gardeners is fairly easy, BUT we need to make sure our plants are getting enough water and sometimes protection from the sun. It is quite common to see leaf scald on many plants and it can be frustrating to watch happen, but the leaves on the older plants always come back again by the end of the summer or beginning of fall. I hate losing plants....this is the month that tells you what needs more water, less water....and what just won't grow. My surprise this year has been the caladiums. They have done super well and I am definitely going to purchase more of them for next year. However, with every success comes failure....here are my latest failures and why.....

At the ramada, I planted several Algerian Ivies. However they are in an area that is regularly watered and placed with tropicals that are doing very well. Verdict. It is a vine that cannot be overwatered nor placed in bright sun. While it didn't get the bright sun and did well in the shade; the water for the tropicals is what has made this vine collapse. The Algerian Ivy will be replaced with a Confederate Jasmin or Carolina Jasmin....vines which can take a bit more water.

The planting wells. I have noticed that again because of watering and in this case...lack of sunlight....the following will be replaced with more shade resistant plants that can tolerate wet soil. Colocasia esculenta, the greek urn plant, and fatsia needed more light. They were taken out of the planters and put into pots in hopes of saving them. I have several of the same specimens around on the grounds and they are doing well, but I have realized that they need more light and drier soil. I have transferred the hostas to the planter soil in hopes that perhaps they will do better in the wet and shady spot. They haven't bushed out into a healthy plant. Another planter has the same issue and the castor, elephant ears and canna plants are not doing well due to the sunlight factor. Finally, a boxwood was moved into a pot after not receiving enough sunlight due to tropicals blocking the light.

As with all things, I have taken several of the same plant and moved them around the property to see if they would do better in one spot or the other. While I am disappointed with several of the areas, I am encouraged that they grow in the other places. Again, this just means one thing...."The right plant for the right spot."

During these hot days, we begin to see the moisture creep in and everyone starts to feel the humidity. The plants will perk up again once the summer rains or monsoon begin. It appears to be about 2 weeks away. During these next several months, Mother Nature will provide our thirsty desert with the water needed to keep our Sonoran desert green and beautiful. While June is hot and the gardner must water, July and August will provide dangerous weather conditions that challenge us in different ways.....wind, torrential downpour, and lightening cause trees to lose their limbs, catch fire, or tip over which can be very dangerous causing hundreds to thousands of dollars worth of damage. That is why pruning in early Spring is so important....and why proper pruning is a must....there is nothing worse than a beautiful tree blown down to the ground.

For now, I go out at night or the early morning to water. And I currently am putting in more palms and catsclaw vine....but that's it. It takes a lot to establish a tree....and dig a hole:) Until next time....happy gardening from Tucson.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Crape Murder!!!


Here is an article I found on Crape Myrtle. It is one of the most beautiful bushes/trees we have. It's called lilac of the south and it really is a low maintenance shrub. When I first began taking care of the grounds, I chopped these bushes and created what people call Crape Murder. I am not happy with the form and I have an area now that doesn't get the sun like it used to and one of the crape myrtles looks terrible. I'm not happy with the form of the tree and I've read that I may have to chop it to the ground...ugh....here is an article for this weekend that I thought was amusing:)

Each Saturday morning after football season ends, legions of bored men armed with saws and loppers emerge from their garages to commit "crepe murder." They needlessly reduce majestic crepe myrtles to ugly stumps--in many cases, ruining them forever.

In South Carolina, the Spartanburg Men's Garden Club is working to end the slaughter. Last year, one of its members, Henry Pittman, sent me a copy of the club's excellent brochure, "Crape Myrtles: Four Seasons of Beauty" (yes, I know--they spell it with an "a"). It covers all aspects of selecting, growing, and pruning crepe myrtles. We thought so highly of its advice that we visited Spartanburg to see firsthand what they were talking about so we could tell you.

Lofty Goals
The objectives of pruning a crepe myrtle are to maintain its natural sculptural form, produce strong branches that hold flowers upright, and open up its center to reveal the smooth, multi-toned bark that forms on mature trunks and branches.

Cutting it back to thick stubs each year makes these goals impossible. A graceful tree quickly becomes a fencepost or hat rack. Pretty bark never appears. Each beheaded trunk grows a Medusa-like tangle of spindly whips too weak to hold up flowers.

The Right Way To Prune
For a beautiful plant, follow these guidelines.

Prune in late winter. February is ideal.
Remove suckers at the base, crossing or rubbing branches, and branches growing inward toward the center of the plant.
As the tree grows, gradually remove all side branches from the main trunks up to a height of 5 feet or so.
Cut back to another branch, to just above an outward-facing bud on a branch, or to the branch collar (a swollen area where the branch joins the trunk). Never leave lone or clustered stubs.
Try to remove unwanted branches before they get thicker than a pencil.
It's okay but unnecessary to cut off old seedheads.


Restoring a Butchered Plant
If you've beheaded a big crepe myrtle to within a few feet of the ground (see photo below right), there's only one solution. Punish yourself severely by watching Nancy Grace on TV, and then cut the sorry plant completely to the ground. It will grow back very quickly. The next winter, select three to five well-spaced trunks, and cut off any others at ground level. Follow the instructions from "The Right Way To Prune" above, and you'll have an attractive tree within five years.

But maybe your sin wasn't so acute. You've only rounded off, or "hat-racked," your crepe myrtle, cutting back all of its main branches to about the same height. n this case, follow our four-step process to get beautiful plants.

Finally, a word to you ladies. The minute football season ends next year, treat the man of the house to a tractor pull, a paintball tournament, or a game of X-treme welding. Don't let him near the saws and loppers.

Excuses for Crepe Murder

Excuse: My neighbors all do it.
Rebuttal: So if the neighbors start keeping Nile crocodiles in their pools, you'll be on the next plane to Africa?

Excuse: The landscapers do it every winter.
Rebuttal: They do it only because they need a paycheck.

Excuse: The dang thing gets too big.
Rebuttal: You planted the wrong crepe myrtle. Selections such as 'Victor,' 'Acoma,' 'Hopi,' 'Tonto,' 'Zuni,' and the Petite Series grow to 12 feet tall or less.

"Stop! Don't Chop!" is from the February 2007 issue of Southern Living.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Mt. Lemmon

Mt. Lemmon....one of Tucson's gems. One of the parts of this blog that others may find helpful are the places around and near to Tucson that make Tucson such a special place to live. During my course of blogging, I will also snap pics from local areas to give you an idea of what kind of area we have around here. Most people think we are desert and the answer is absolutely....we are the Sonoran Desert to be specific and it is one of the most beautiful desert climates to have around you. But we also have these "sky islands" such as Mt. Lemmon(a 45 minute ride from Tucson) that offers people a break from the hot summer weather. And if you're lucky like I am to have two friends who happen to own a cabin on top....well....instead of roughing it in a tent....you get to sleep on a cushy bed and hang out with some great people:) These past two days I took a break for some inspiration up on Mt. Lemmon. Sometimes when nothing seems to be working....the battle in the garden with plants and money spent on each of the "art pieces" you hope will make it and create a special space....well....sometimes you need to take a break and aborb in Mother Nature and how she did it all....in the Amazon, she is called Pacha Mama. So that is exactly what I did.....the thing that I took from Mt. Lemmon this time was the balance between pockets of trees and empty spaces. Back in 2005, we had a huge fire on top of the mountain that wiped out cabins and lots of trees.....and today, it is quite the view. Fire is a nature's way of cleaning house.....so while it is very sad that about half of our forest was lost....it was also good for the mountain. Today there is new growth all around and it will take time for all the trees and land to recover to what it was in the past. But it is recovering and that is good to see....slow by our human standards....but it is there. This year was the year of the wind and it knocked down a lot of those dead and tall standing trees....leaving hillsides naked.....which brings me to my observation..... Our gardens begin as empty spaces.....there is nothing there but ground...maybe a solitary tree....but we are left to visualize in our minds what that space should look like. On top of Mt. Lemmon in the village of Summerhaven, you can see full spaces(those not touched by fire) and those bare, naked spaces that have nothing....it is interesting to walk from section to section between forest and grassy hillside....once being all forest, now a broken line of landscape....in many ways representing our city block of backyards. It gave me some perspective on what it is to have shade, wildlife, wind blowing through leaves, etc.....and why it is important to fight for and create these spaces that we make special around us. It is worth every penny spent and...oh yeah...our time:) I also remember my friends buying their cabin with two baby apple trees on a steep hillside and thought....impossible....these trees aren't going to last.....and they did. 6 years later they are taller than I am....so things can work if we try it out....it was relaxing, but it also got me more excited about returning back to the garden and getting things going again....sometimes a break is good:)
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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Backbreaking Work!


The 922 Side
Today was a great day to be outdoors. I hate holes and digging them. There are always the inevitable issues that go along with them....the caliche is there, there is concrete below, electric wire, rock, roots, toys from 1975, and the list goes on and on. It's a great way to take out your frustration but it sucks. It's not fun and I usually have to separate my days for each project because I start becoming impatient at how slow digging a hole can be. I started this morning and figured out where the mulberry tree would go. I planted the orange tree and followed up with the palms. The palms....
On the property there is one large California palm...it's big and beautiful but it's the only one. The rule in gardening is that you go with 3's....why that number I don't know, but it works. So I purchased 3 Mexican palms which have a skinnier trunk....but in the process of planting them, I tore my big toe and hurt my foot as it slipped on the shovel. Like I said, digging holes suck, but I am in a better spot than yesterday when I didn't know where to put my mulberry tree. 60 dollars and I couldn't get the damn hole deep enough to put the tree....the solution was to move it to another bright and sunny spot and it worked. However spaces on the property are becoming few and I have to be very careful with my selections. I have so many favorites I would like to put on the property....the chocolate mimosa or the catalpa, or the chinese pistache, or the loquat.....the list goes on and on....so adding a palm doesn't take a lot of room. Back to the "rule of 3".

I planted 3 palms in the different areas of the courtyard to balance and tie the other palm into the courtyard. They are fast growers so it should be interesting to see the results. I left several spaces untouched as I have very specific plants for those areas. Needless to say, I took a break after killing my feet with the shovel and tripping over a metal something or other sticking out of the ground....

At the end of the day, you sit back and wonder......in 10 years what will this all look like? What will survive and what won't? That's all for now:)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Growth and more Growth

The Satsuma Plum Tree The Caladium Garden inspired by the Amazon caladiums in Peru along the Tambobata River Mulberry Tree pics above

The beginning of summer and the heat of over 100 degrees with burning sun can be challenging. However, with a bit of planning, anyone can take nothing and make it into something. My patience is being rewarded by some really beautiful plants growing around the property. I am slowly adding a plant here or there and filling in smaller areas(and the large ones). The problem is that it is hot and I need to dig holes. Quite simply....desert ground is difficult to dig...it is sun baked and has the ability to break shovels and other garden tools. This weekend promises to be a cool one for us and so I will make my trek outside and get several more holes into the ground. I don't have many more tree spaces available so I am being really picky about what goes in the last 4 or 5 spots as they will create my canopy around the property. I have several trees in mind...one being the mulberry tree. A difficult decision. This short lived tree(25 years)is illegal in the city of Tucson as an ornamental, but the berry providing tree is not illegal. The leaves are beautiful and the fruit delicious....but the fruit can also stain sidewalks. I am planning on putting it further back from the sidewalk so we won't have the mess. I didn't know at first if I should plant this tree, but like everything, it has a cycle and will be enjoyed for years.....so why not? I found this article on why the ornamental is banned.... ABSTRACT: U.S. JOURNAL: TUCSON, ARIZ. about efforts to ban further planting of the fruitless mulberry tree in Tucson. The problem is that the tree gives off pollen, which is what a lot of people move to Arizona to avoid. People with allergies make up a sizable minority in Tucson, but people who don't suffer from them tend to take a humorous view of the subject. Ted Craig, editorial-page editor of the Tucson Citizen, began an editorial called "Mulberry Silliness" with the word "Ah-choo!" and ended it with the word "Gesundheit!"The argument against making any changes in the desert such as introducing non-native greenery, Craig wrote, "is just great if you happen to be a horned toad...and you like to breathe dust." Craig made a lot of people angry with his editorial, but that is not a new experience for him. While talking to Craig writer realized that the mulberry controversy had some elements of a class issue. The expensive houses have lawns landscaped in "desert style" but the poorer people haven't the money, or the taste or the natural setting to make that kind of landscaping possible. Craig's answer to people who object to introducing non-native plants into the area is simple: Tell them they're "non-native" themselves. End of abstract.

The plant itself is a beautiful tree that attracts native butterflies and produces a delicious dark berry off the tree. Above are some pics of the tropical looking tree but xeriscape friendly to the desert.

The citrus trees are performing well. The kumquat, lime, and lemon are all growing. However, the orange tree is being attacked by catepillars. The plant seems to be doing alright for now.

I also put in another plant well on the 922 side of the building in the courtyard. It looks great and I can't wait to put in the last two wells for that section. It will look really nice. Work continues slowly but steadily. As one section is finished, another one begins and it is constantly like this. I will say that I am seeing the changes and it is encouraging. It is beginning to feel like a woodsy, yet sunny, retreat with birds, crickets, and butterflies all around. When the final product is finished, it should be quite the show for all involved. Until next week.....I have holes to dig during this unexpected beautiful sunny and in the 80's weekend.
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