Wednesday, May 27, 2015


It has rained a lot this spring. Almost every day. The soil is saturated. Most area lakes are full again and many are even flowing over their spillways. Flooding is a problem in some areas. We have had more rain in the first five months of this year as we had in all of last year. Plano even relaxed its outdoor watering restrictions and we can now run sprinklers twice a week! And, believe it or not, people are running their sprinklers!

All of this water (Rain only. No outdoor watering around here.) has caused plants to grow like crazy. Since there has not been much sun, the growth is rather weak and floppy.

This pathway in the backyard is barely navigable because the plants have grown into it and there has not been enough dry weather to do any pruning. 

Around in the front yard, the horsetail reed in the stock tank is over six feet high. 

I have been a little worried that the plants that prefer good drainage and drier soil would suffer in the waterlogged black clay, but, so far, it looks like everything seems to be doing OK.

In the seven years the rain garden has been in place, it has never seen so much rain.

Water stands in it for hours at a time after a rain, but never long enough to allow mosquitoes to breed. Since I have not been able to do much gardening outside because of the rain, I started water gardening indoors.

Long before I had a gardening obsession, I had an obsession with fish and aquariums. It started back in elementary school with a fish bowl and a couple of guppies and I thought it ended about 15 years ago when I sold my 75 gallon saltwater reef aquarium. 

That was until I started looking at used aquariums on craigslist last fall. I thought I would just get a small tank and a few fish. I ended up buying seven aquariums since then. Once I started looking, it was hard to pass up a good deal. I never had all of those aquariums set up at one time. Three was the most. Now I am down to two set up and two left to sell. All of these photos are of my 45 gallon aquarium (36x12x24 inches).

I started out with plastic plants and bought a couple of live aquatic plants to see if I could grow them. I was not expecting them to live since I never had much luck with live plants in my younger days, but, to my surprise, the plants lived and grew. So I started acquiring more plants and most of them grew too. Now the plastic plants are gone and I only have live plants.

Through my online research, I learned the pros and cons of the many techniques for growing aquatic plants. Just like gardening outdoors, everybody has their own way of doing things. 

In March, I tore down this tank and set it up again using a mixture of garden soil and Safe-T-Sorb (a fired clay used as an oil absorbent in garages) topped with a layer of small grained gravel for the aquarium substrate. When I first heard of this technique, I could not imagine how you could have anything other than a muddy mess, but the water is actually clearer than it was with just gravel in the bottom and the plants seem to love it.

Some aquarists push their plant growth by injecting carbon dioxide into the aquarium water. My plants are growing well enough, so I don't plan on going that route. I want to keep it as simple as possible. I do add some chemical fertilizers to the water to feed the plants. Being an organic gardener outside, I am not thrilled with adding chemicals to a tank of water the that sits in my living room and often has my arm inserted. Now that I know I can grow plants, I am experimenting with lower levels of fertilizers and researching possible organic alternatives.

It is not all about the plants. I do have some fish in the aquarium. Mostly catfish and angelfish.

This is my largest angelfish. It has an interesting blue tint where the others are silver.

This is a panorama of the above photos that Google automatically created. I think the overall effect looks pretty nice, but it is amateurish. People with a lot more time on their hands than I have compete in aquascape contests. The results are often amazing. They create underwater landscapes that look like terrestrial landscapes, even desert scenes. Click the link for a few photos and more information. In the meantime, I will continue water gardening indoors until I can water-wise garden outdoors or I have to start water gardening outdoors because the rain does not let up.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Rest of the Tour

On the second day of the Plano Garden Club Garden Tour, I took a little bit of time away from my garden to get a look at the other gardens. I have to apologize up front that it was a quick look and the photos are not that great because I wanted to get back to my garden and, as I realized after my first photo, my camera batteries were about to run out of power.

The first stop was at the Joslin garden. 

They have a large flowerbed in front of the house that is planted with a variety of plants, including a few vegetables scattered here and there.

A table for morning coffee sits on flagstone near the house.

I thought the gate leading to the side yard and driveway was interesting. It looks kind of like a screen door. I did not get a closer look because I looked down and was temporarily distracted by a leaf or root imprint on a flagstone.

I assume it is painted or stamped on and not natural. This is a natural formation called dentrite. (Thanks Rock rose and Bonnie.)

A vegetable garden and potting shed are next to the driveway. The potting shed backs up to the alley.

A disappearing water feature in the backyard.

Also in the backyard.

The narrow flagstone pathway leads to the other side yard. I always thought I had a small backyard, but I believe all of other gardens had smaller backyards than mine. I probably have the oldest house of the five on the tour, so that may be the reason.

This side of the house has a small covered bar with bar stools and a TV mounted to the outside wall of the house. All of this is sitting on a small deck. It is creative use of a small space. I wonder how much water runs off the roof and into the neighbor's yard when it rains?

This is the only one I took under the cover. 

The next stop was down the street at the Pai garden. I ended up with just two pictures of this garden. The front garden featured lawn and a large flowerbed near the house. Just as my garden featured educational displays of four line plant bug damage, this garden featured an example of rose rosette disease. The garden club volunteers made a point of educating people about the disease and showing visitors how to recognize it on rose bushes.

This is the backyard of the Pai garden. As I recall, there was no grass back here. Several native plants were on display.

The next stop was the Stierlen garden. This garden is probably the newest of the gardens on the tour. It is planted primarily with native plants, although there is a raised vegetable garden near the house. I started my front garden with an edge of lawn like this garden. That did not last long. It was too much work edging and mowing that small space. I found it interesting that the homeowners placed plants on the outside of the edging around their garden. It is going to be hard keeping the lawn from creeping into that space.

Less lawn on this side of the garden. It will be interesting to see how this garden fills in over the next couple of years.

This was also interesting. There were several of these wire mesh enclosures around the garden. What are they for? Testing plant varieties on each side of the short center divider or tennis courts for the lizards?

The homeowners had several solitary bee houses around the garden. Here are a couple of examples.

I keep planning to add one to my garden and I still have not.

The last stop before returning to the crowds at my garden was at the Eck garden. The front yard was typical Plano and nobody was even out there. Visitors were directed to the back of the house where volunteers were set up in the driveway. Upon entering the backyard, a large koi pond was the first thing you saw.

This garden has an Asian feel with several Japanese maples. Pathways of various materials lead visitors around the garden.

One of the teen aged volunteers said everyone that came into the garden took pictures of the lemon trees. I had to do the same.

This weekend is the city organized Plano Water-Wise Landscape Tour. It is on Saturday, May 16 from 9-3. My garden is not on the Water-Wise Tour this year. This gives me a chance to see some of the gardens I missed last year and a couple of new ones. Click here for more info.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Sharing My Garden and My Experience

On April 25 and 26, I shared my garden with the Plano Garden Club for their garden tour. 

I intended to take a few pictures of the tourists in the garden, but I was so busy answering questions and talking about the garden that I never had a chance. This is an image from one of my security cameras showing a backyard full of visitors and me answering questions about my homemade cattle panel tomato cages and arch. There was a constant flow of visitors almost the entire time.

I don't know how many people passed through the garden on those two days. I was told they sold about 350 advance tickets and then sold more on the days of the tour. 

I was very happy that the bluebonnets were still in bloom. There were several questions about the bluebonnets. I explained several times that bluebonnets are annual plants and that it is necessary to let them go to seed in order to have plants for next year. I also explained that I harvest the seeds after the seed pods turn brown and keep them in the garage September when I throw the seeds in the garden where I would like them to grow. 

Surprisingly, there were a few people that asked for the name of the blue flowers. I was caught off guard because I thought everyone knew what a bluebonnet was. Two visitors explained that they were visiting from a northern state (either Michigan or Wisconsin) and another woman was originally from another country. 

Several people were interested in the Gulf Coast Penstemon. Some lost interest when they found out that the plants have a short bloom period and that all of my patches of the flowers in the front yard and backyard started from a single plant. Yes, it reseeds freely.

On the right side of this picture is a Hercules Club tree. It was in full bloom for the tour. The flowers are not much to look at, but they are extremely fragrant and very attractive to bees.

Here is a closer look at the Hercules Club flowers. Watch out for the rose-like thorns on the trunk, twigs, and leaves! I saw a couple of people grab a branch to get a better whiff of the flowers and get stuck in the process. 

Interesting information about the Hercules Club and the closely related Toothache Tree is that it chewing on the leaves or stems will numb your mouth, the trees are a host plant for Giant Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars, and the caterpillars look like bird poop. Unfortunately, I could not find any caterpillars to prove my point. 

A number of people were interested in my decomposed granite pathways. I estimated that it took about 20 pickup loads. I don't know how many loads it actually took. I just remember it was a back breaking job unloading it from the truck and hauling it around in the garden. Of course, I always did it in the heat of summer.

Most visitors were not familiar with Penstemons and I have several in my garden. The red leaves of the Husker Red Penstemons were attracting attention. A few flowers were blooming on Saturday and even more on Sunday. The Hill Country Penstemon (not pictured) was also in bloom. The Prairie Penstemon just lost its last flower and the Rock Penstemon has yet to bloom this year.

As with last year's Plano Water-Wise Landscape Tour, the Horsetail Reed in the stock tank was a favorite topic for discussion. 

Gulf Coast Penstemon and Autumn Sage. Several of my Autumn Sage plants are infested with Four Line Plant Bugs. A few visitors noticed the mottled spots on the leaves and asked what was caused them because they had the same problem on their plants.

I was able to point out this nasty little bug with the red belly so they would recognize the culprit on their own plants.
Fortunately, the damage caused by this pest is temporary, but it sure has become a growing annoyance over the last couple of years. It favors plants in the mint family, like Salvias. It is also going after my Chocolate Daisies, Skeleton-leaf Goldeneye, and Liatris.

Calling an insect "bad" because it eats plants is easy for most people to understand. The fact that I grow several plants just so they can be eaten by butterfly caterpillars is not as easy for some to understand. One example is the Wooly Pipevine. Some people lost interest in the plant after I turned over a leaf to reveal several little Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars like the one above. Still, there were several people interested in my butterfly host plants, such as my several varieties of Milkweed, Passionvine, and Bronze Fennel. 
For anyone interested in making copper pipe trellises like the one my Pipevine grows on, you can find plans on this website.

Speaking of Milkweed. Here is a Green Milkweed. A common question about Milkweed was "Where can I get some?" This is encouraging. Maybe more people will begin planting native Milkweeds to help the Monarch butterfly population. I recommended local Native Plant Society of Texas plant sales, the plant sales at the Texas Discovery Gardens, and mail order seeds from Native American Seed.

The Bottle Bluebonnet was very popular. Some called it a work of art. Somebody said they thought it was a Chihuly sculpture until they looked closer and realized it was actually a poor man's Chihuly made with wine bottles.

There may be more bottle trees growing in Plano soon. I did several demonstrations of how I bent the rebar with a pipe bender. I probably could have taken orders to make some too.

And look at the bluebonnets growing in the middle of the pathway. I debated whether or not to pull them up because I was sure they would get stepped on. There were a couple of broken stems, but there was not too much damage. 

One plant people really wanted to see in bloom was the Mexican Bird of Paradise. The Garden Club volunteers were particularly interested in seeing the flowers, unfortunately the timing was just a couple of days off. One flower did open Saturday night and fell off by 2:00 on Sunday. I ended up printing a picture of the flowers and a volunteer hung it on a branch so visitors could see what the flowers look like.

Finally, I created this waterless water feature last year because I had a pile of rocks that I needed to hide. They still remain here, hidden in plain sight. Several people asked if I made the metal cattails. Unfortunately, I could not say that I did. I found them online at a reduced price. If you search the internet for metal cattails, you can find these (I did not pay that much for them.) and other metal cattails for sale.

That concludes my wrap up of my garden on the Plano Garden Club Garden Tour. I made a quick run through the other four gardens on the tour and I will share photos soon.

I think this will be the last public tour of my garden for a while because it is a lot of work getting ready for a tour and knowing this one was coming up kept me from making any major changes in the garden over the last year. I am ready to tear something up and make some changes and I can't do that knowing that the garden will be on display because my projects usually take too long. This year, it may be the constant rain that keeps me from any projects.