Saturday, June 6, 2009

A New Frontier

A dear friend recently asked why I wasn't blogging more regularly. Besides the obvious reason (laziness), the primary reason is that I'm not finding my garden all that pretty right now. We're quickly moving into Austin's worst gardening season, and I'm already not excited at the prospect of keeping my garden alive during the next few months.

But the people's (okay, so one person's) will must be obeyed so here I go. From the right angle and with the right amount of cropping, my garden looks good. I've fallen in love with the horsemint/bee balm pictured at the top of the post. It showed up uninvited but has managed to make itself a star due to its pretty bloom and its lack of needed maintenance.
I grew this snail-topped mullein from seed Link Davidson gave me after I told him how much I liked the patch of them he had.This nearby lambs-ear is trying to bloom. I don't really care if it blooms. I just like to rub its leaves. I find it soothing.
Elsewhere in the garden the squash are blooming.

And I guess this as good an opportunity to segue into the less pretty part of the garden right now. Yes, the squash is blooming, and I think I at least temporarily thwarted the squash vine borer, and yet I have no squash growing. None. Well, there was that one that stopped growing once it was the size and shape of my pinky toe, but I'm not counting that one.

And then there are the tomatoes.It's too early for me to assess whether the fish heads et al have helped with my yield, but I do know that I had a lot of sizable green tomatoes that I watched over daily. Until the squirrels and birds stole them all. Fortunately, Renee of Renee's Roots had just written about her struggles with the squirrels and her solution: bird netting.
I love to have a solution but setting up bird netting sucks. It catches on everything. Installing netting is definitely an Advanced Relationship Activity. I would not try this if you are newly coupled or married. You need at least one or two failed home improvement projects under your belt before you tackle this one, unless you want one of you to end up wrapped in netting and tossed in the alleyway.At the very least, ensure that both you and your spouse did not miss lunch and weren't an hour late for dinner. Unfortunately, the way we installed the netting is making it difficult for me to harvest tomatoes and to squish leaf-footed bugs.

So I am thinking of redraping the netting today. If you hear some lots of loud cursing, don't worry. It's just me. Maybe my husband. Maybe both of us.

And now I move to the saddest area of my garden: my newest garden bed. I had the highest of hopes for this bed. It's the only one where I actually bought soil.

A few weeks ago my black-and-blue salvia looked this:Now it looks like this:I have no idea what's wrong with it, but seeing how unhappy so many plants in that bed are, I'm blaming the soil.

My beautyberry emerged from dormancy only to die in the last few days.
And now my back-up beautyberry, which I got just in case I killed the first one (did I force the issue?), looks to be on its last legs. The chile pequin is really not thriving either. Just this morning I noticed that the pineapple sage has bit the dust.

I am beginning to wonder if growing perennials is worth the emotional toll. Maybe I should have just stuck with vegetables. If you manage to keep a vegetable plant alive for three or four months, you're a genius! (or at the very least, a master gardener).

With perennials, the expectations are just so much higher. You're supposed to keep the plants alive, like perennially. And that just seems a wee bit unreasonable to me.

Vegetables and bugs seem like a better fit for me.


  1. That top photo is beautiful! It IS a little depressing to be dragging the hose around watering drought-tolerant stuff like salvias the first week of June.

    Glad that the bird netting, despite its inconvenience, is deterring your squirrels. It's working for me, too.

  2. I'm so glad you wrote this post because now I don't have to. Ditto on about everything you said. Austin's terrible summer season. The plants just curling and dying before our eyes. The rapacious squirrels. The struggles with bird netting and how inconvenient it is to any maintenance. (It did save our tomatoes while we were away but the two out front not covered were goners. I had 20 tomatoes set on Arkansas Traveller and didn't get to see one get past the green stage.

    And today, we tied the record high for the day set in 1923. Bleah all around.

  3. Vert, the way you feel about perennials, I feel about vegetables. Mine are just never very productive, and usually succumb to bugs. But I won't give up on veggies, if you won't give up on perennials! :o)

  4. Oh no! Not te Black 'n' Blue! That thing is practically indestructable. Do you think you got some 'hot' soil? Anyway, I have plenty of Black 'n' Blue if you want to try some more. It grows VERY fast.

  5. I just lost a healthy beautyberry too, which I'd moved last fall from my old garden. Not sure why it failed, but that happens. However, when you're seeing a bunch of generally tough plants fail in one bed all it once, it does sound like there's a problem. If it's not due to lack of watering, could it be a late planting during our hot weather? Or maybe you did get "hot" soil, as Hibiscus suggested.

    I hope you don't give up on perennials though. They're so rewarding, coming back year after year and asking very little besides a good trim every now and then. Maybe you'll feel like trying again in the fall?

  6. Thanks, Vertie, for posting again, although I am sorry that things in the garden are not going as well you'd hoped. That first photo was really beautiful! Out here in NorCal, where it's generally easy to grow anything, it's hard to get *enough* heat/sun for my tomatoes. Please box up some of that and mail it to me; I'll send you some foggy mornings. -- Your dear friend in Oakland

  7. @Hibiscus and Pam: What do y'all mean by "hot" soil? It's Hill Country blend from Nat Gardener.

    I'm actually wondering if that bed has adequate drainage. That salvia started looking particularly bad when we had a lot of rain. It's under the roof line of my shed.

    The "soil" underneath the bought soil is all rock.

    I may need to get another from you, Hibiscus.

  8. Poor baby! I don't know what's going on either, but since your post says you made and planted the bed last November neither late planting nor soil with fresh & 'hot' manure components would seem to be the reason.

    Maybe your instinct that the soil isn't draining fast enough after a heavy rain is right, Vertie.

    We're using the bird-netting, too and hope it works. It's just one huge piece draped over the tomato frame. I've been flipping it back along one side at a time to reach in and pinch those dang stinkernymphs.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  9. I'm like Cheryl -- I seem to be having decent luck with perennials, but I have a feeling that vegetables are going to be a challenge for me.

    Does "hot soil" have something to do with the state of the compost blended into the soil? As in too fresh and strong?

  10. Oh, PLEASE post more. Please. Especially now that it's summer. I can't really garden so, I must read funny gardener stories.

  11. hey Vertie...Glad to read you. I get very discouraged when my plants die....Which happens here when those sharp drainage plants get planted in clay soil on top of the limestone bedrock. Sighing for you~~gail

  12. Like Annie, my first thought was not enough drainage. Or living in Texas!

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