April Highs and LowsPosted on : May 2, 2013
Spring is officially here, and like any month, April had its ups and downs. I’ll start with the highs, as there were plenty of them.
A number of my time-tested heirloom flowers made their usual gaudy displays in April. The one that always grabs the most attention is my plethora of Byzantine gladiolus. I started with five corms that I collected as a kid at the old Ezra Wheeler place my dad owns in Arcadia. Ezra’s wife Thelma inadvertently shared a number of her flowers with me which I have propagated and featured at my farm. It’s the least I can do after one of my Uncle Noel’s numerous wives purportedly burned her house down! I also grow her stalwart lilac-purple crapemyrtle down my drive and her precious blue Roman hyacinths. Unfortunately a number of folks passing by can’t resist pulling down my driveway to see what the screaming magenta gladiolus spikes are saying to them. It’s a fascinating color that combines pink, purple, red, orange, and white all in the same flowers. After I sold my patch to friend Chris Wiesinger for his new Southern Bulb Company I literally cried at their departure and immediately dug those along my front fence to replace the ones I’d peddled off. It’s very difficult to part with hoards of children that you’ve raised from a few babies
Another loud mouthed old fashioned flower that catches people’s attention in my yard is my stand of deep red peony poppies. I got them from a neighbor of Lady Bird Johnson’s when I was living in San Antonio. Part of my job at Lone Star Growers was to help Lady Bird with her flowers and show her around the nursery when she visited. My late boss Joe Bradberry was on the board of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center with her. This very double poppy is a cool season annual that I seed each fall and pull up after they’ve finished in late spring. I avoid growing any singles or other colors so they don’t adulterate my passalong strain. When I adopt a plant, it’s often for life.
One of my old favorites that made its appearance on schedule was my hodgepodge of reseeding old fashioned petunias. The first I ever witnessed in my life was in my grandmother’s yard so I feel like they belong here. The fragrance certainly does. And I’ve always been in love with the pleasing combination of pastel colors with the occasional bright pinks and purples.
And just as I’ve finished reading the late Caroline Dormon’s 1945 article on her beloved Louisiana iris from Home Gardening for the South, I have to mention my love affair with my own. Like most folks I haven’t kept up with what cultivars I have, or which ones have self seeded, but I sure do love them along the edge of my little cypress swamp. It serves as a rain garden to catch all the runoff water from my house and garden. Manmade and natural swamps and marshes do a fine job of purifying water before it enters into local streams and groundwater. It doesn’t hurt that I dearly love my baldcypress, white spider lilies, and Louisiana iris that are doing the job for me either.
My little backyard kitchen parterre cranked out some of my favorite produce during April including delectable asparagus and red ripe strawberries. The asparagus was collected many years ago from the old Darnell homeplace where my parents built their home in Arcadia, while the strawberries are ‘Sweet Charlie’s that I transplanted last fall.
Our annual SFA Gardens spring plant sale took place Saturday April 20th and was our best ever. Thank goodness, as our two annual sales are our main source of funding for the Pineywoods Native Plant Center where I work.
All my bird friends were active starting families in April with my place sporting nests of bluebirds, tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees, Carolina wrens, Eastern phoebes, and my first ever box of brown headed nuthatches. I LOVE their squeaking!
Of course with the highs come the lows. It turns out my “special” Jack Russell Ilex catches and eats birds like a darned feral cat. In the last week alone she’s managed to nab a mourning dove, an Inca dove, a bluejay, and a Carolina wren. She’s supposed to be catching mice! She knows not to hurt chickens but we’ll have to work on the smaller birds.
April weather was also a source of consternation with repeated late frosts that damaged my figs, pomegranates, sweet corn, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Let’s hope I’ve seen the last of freezing weather. I live in a darned “deep freeze” out in the country with temperatures generally 6-8 degrees lower than those in the surrounding towns.
And on the subject of disfiguring events, it seems that crape murder has reached epidemic proportions with the majority of once or potentially beautiful crapemyrtles horribly abused with ill advised topping and time wasted pruning. I love the shape of naturally grown crapemyrtles but cringe at the site of what most folks have done to them. It’s unbelievable to me that there’s not a single expert or instruction document in the entire world that recommends this type of pruning yet the majority of folks now engage in this unfortunate copycat folly.
And finally, after visiting the orthopedic surgeon in Houston it turns out I’m having a hip replacement on June 3. This will be my fifth surgery in the last ten years. I don’t mind the actually surgery. Heck, I’m not the least bit afraid of dying. I just can’t stand all the appointments, pills, tests, bills, insurance, etc. Unfortunately the other hip feels the same way so I better take notes and be prepared for another round. Though my yard and garden may become a temporary weedy mess I promise it won’t keep me from gardening. None of the others have. I guess I’m not going to stop until I’m completely bionic! Besides, the indigo buntings and blue grosbeaks love weeds.
Until next month, -Greg
Written by Greg Grant
Greg Grant is an award-winning horticulturist, conservationist, and writer from Tyler, Texas. Each month he writes an article for the Arbor Gate Blog where he is given free range to write about any topic that interests him. During the week, he is the Smith County horticulturist in Tyler for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and on the weekends, he tends his grandparent’s restored dogtrot farmhouse, his Rebel Eloy Emanis Pine Savanna and Bird Sanctuary, and terriers Acer, Lizzie, Mollie, and Sonny Boy Desalvo Fontenot.