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.


  1. Your photos are so lovely, I can -just- imagine what it is like to be there in person. That is a droll story about having to hang the flower photo on the tree. Some plants simply never seem to cooperate with our plans!

    If folk are interested in how to keep Gulf Coast Penstemon from spreading widely I have the answer: White-tailed deer. They love the flowers and their constant clipping back of bloom stems can prolong the bloom period (plants can be stubborn about retrying!) but also keeps their spread in close check. If anybody would like their own white-tailed deer, we have "extra" in our area and I'd be happy to work something out to share a few...

    The whole "attracts insects" bit about native plants can be a tough sell. Sure, if you plant non-natives at times you end up with a plant that remains untouched. But you also end up with a plant that does not draw in pollinators or support birds or other very pleasant garden companions. I can't imagine that being more pleasant, even if it means putting up with spotty leaves.

    It is good you shared your experiences and stories with so many people but now you completely deserve your garden spaces back as your own private realm, with projects and the timing of changes left up to you. Well done, take a bow, and get back to work!

  2. Thanks for this tour of your garden's tour. I hear you on the prep time before a tour, though the best for me was hearing how you fielded the usual questions, saw the disappointment that it isn't perfect and flowering most of the year, and all the other lies some imply! I think even the disappointment will help the same folks in time...

    The security camera image is great! I wished I took photos of all the people at mine, not to mention recorded some things they said to me or my ex...mostly good, insightful things...some dismissive or ungrateful comments, too.

    I never knew my old, tiny property could hold so many at one time!

  3. Your garden just gets more and more lovely every year. Wow. My dad visited Texas for the first time this year and was fascinated by the bluebonnets and other wild flowers. He couldn't believe just how abundant they all were. I wish I could have taken him to see your garden. He would have really appreciated it. You have created something truly beautiful.

  4. I could send you some "looks like bird poop" photos to hang on your Toothache Tree! Thank you for sharing your garden again.

  5. Sadly Aesclepis Tuberosa doesn't do well in Houston...or so I'm told....and apparently no one here stocks it.

  6. You garden takes my breath away. My favorite shot is the one with the granite pathway, number 4 I think. I adore the way the wildflowers are so well placed to make a perfect bed. And your mexican bird of paradise. How do you manage to grow that so well. I have failed miserably. And yes, we have that nasty bug too and he has left his mark in many places. I'm glad you had a wonderful day.

    1. I got that Mexican Bird of Paradise (rather, its mother) around 25 years ago. It has followed me from a couple of houses, being dug up an moved, cut to the ground and lots of other horrible things. It just keeps chugging along.

  7. Wow, your garden looks amazing! Your very different approach to gardening in Plano was sure to be a hit with visitors. I can only imagine how perplexing it could be to learn that some gardeners purposely leave bugs on plants. It's sad to think someone was put off by the caterpillars since the swallowtails are my favorite garden visitors. I'm glad to see your report on how so many plants peaked at the right time for the tour.

    1. Shirley, even my own mother sprays her passionvine when it gets gulf fritillary caterpillars. She would rather have the flowers than the butterflies.

      I was really concerned about how the garden would look for the tour. Fortunately, it looked just fine.

  8. The other gardens can not compare to yours. You have the most beautiful garden I have ever seen! By the way the rock that you though may be painted is completely natural. It is a dendrite crystal (not a fossil, not painted, etc).

  9. Great pictures, Michael. I can imagine that your garden must have been a huge hit with all those wildflowers abloom. It's interesting to hear what people ask about the most when they tour. I'll have to pay attention to that when my garden is on tour this fall.

  10. Lovely tour for your online friends, too. Your water-wise native wildlife yard is so cheerful. I am a big penstemon fan so it was nice to see the variety that you have. Thank you for sharing.


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