Gardening Tips


From A Cottage Garden

A Cottage Garden | Tips on Gardening | Notes - 2003-2005

Where I learned about gardening

  • Reading Park's catalogs & assorted books (to me, Park's is the best catalog & print still better than net).
  • Looking at other people's gardens (not arboretum-type extravaganzas), & over the years, with ever more understanding of what I am seeing. Awhile ago was in Washington DC, where there are some great and old gardens.
  • Talking with people - as often in neighborhoods as at nurseries (but see Nicholson-Hardie and North Haven above for knowledgeable people @ nurseries). Learned a ton from Don Lambert at Gardeners in Community Development. What great help Nicholson-Hardie gave me with my first roses.
  • From experience - sometimes failing, sometimes not. Realizing again & again, its pretty much all in the soil preparation.

Preparation & mulch are critical: Never, not once, have I thought that I did too much in preparing the soil. Add coarse material such as leaves, mulch, "growers mix," etc. extravagantly. In most of Dallas, forget about adding peat moss, sand, or bagged "topsoil." Grass cuttings are too nitrogenous. The clay needs coarse amendment. I have dug out & discarded vast quantities of the native clay gumbo from my garden. It's all in the soil preparation.

There is a place on Community Drive near Harry Hines (Cheshire Rocks) that sells mulch, etc. by the yard. 1/2 yard ($15) partially composted mulch is all my Nissan P/U can carry. I also get "azalea mix" for $45 1/2 yard - good for planting & potting soil. The wood seller on Garland Road sells newly chopped "mulch" (really, its just wood chips & debris) for $15 any truckload, but you have to shovel it into the truck (and out of course) and it is too green to dig into the soil. Heidi, up the street had a tree service dump a huge load of wood chips & debris on her driveway for $25 or $30.

After planting or when soil warms, apply mulch 2-6 inches deep. Water deeply vs. frequently - though in August I'm having to water twice weekly. Need 5 or more hours of sun to grow most vegetables & sun-loving flowers in Dallas area. All day summer sun is too much for some.

What are some good flowers & vegetables for beginning gardeners in North Texas?

  • Tubers or bulbs: Iris, day lilies (Stella de oro is small, gold, & unlike other day lilies, repeats), snowflake, iberis, trandescantia, yarrow, oxalis (tend to spread & will crowd some other plants out). Daffodils, tulips, etc. are fine, but except for small daffs, i.e., jonquils (which are wonderful), have to replace every year. Elephant ears & caladiums require a lot of water & care. Big elephant eras are like having a dog - have to be watered at least once/day.
  • Seed (flowers & vegetables, herbs): Zinnias, cosmos, marigold, delphinium (a perennial with about 4 weeks of flowering, but reseeds and a patch will last for long time); beans (climbing are fun), lettuce (but you must start very early with lettuce). Start basil when weather is warm - good pot plant, try lemon basil, too.
  • Plants (perennials, herbs & vegetables): Columbine, coneflower (Echinacea), Confederate violets (except small flowers & short season - but they are violets, hence wonderful), phlox; rosemary (lives for many years), thyme (sometimes lasts only a few years), hot peppers (not bell), tomatoes.
  • Plants (annuals): Marigolds, vinca minor, sweet William. Begonias seem to do well for many people, but really, are not that pretty. Pansies better in pots in hot summers. Snapdragons are more difficult than preceding. Most annuals sold at nurseries do at least fairly well.
  • Start in late winter: Pansies, onions.
  • Roses: I grow old garden roses & hybrid teas & love them all. Among OGRs, I have had good results with Felicia, Old Blush, Maggie, Katy Road Pink, Buff Beauty, Marie Pavié, Zepherine Drouhin, Belinda's Dream, & Perle d' Oro. "Earth Kind" roses are those shown by Texas A&M to do very well here in Texas. All that I have planted have done very well, indeed. Hybrid teas that have done especially well for me include Chrysler Imperial, Peace, Tiffany, Fragrant Cloud, Climbing America, & Graham Thomas. The Fairy is a great pot plant. Roses are always a compromise among characteristics such as reblooming, color, fragrance, size of plant, climbing yes or no, size of bloom, disease resistance, heat (or cold) tolerance, historical factors (e.g., I want to grow a Red Rose of Lancaster), thorniness, & stem length. My advice is (1) focus first on survival issues, color, & fragrance & (2) buy from a place that really can help you (see my Dallas suggestions). One of my favorite books on roses is the Ortho book. The most common problem I have had is thrips - which require spraying. In all cases, roses do better in the 2nd & 3rd years than the 1st.

Ask your gardening neighbor if he or she has any perennials to divide or share - many will say yes.

Climbing roses (5/13/03): I'm writing this because I could find nothing specific in print or on the internet re how to grow climbing roses up the side of the house. I think I'm close to getting it. First, lag bolts long enough to project the required 2-3" would require big holes and significant effort in drilling. Instead, I'm using 3.5" Tapcon screws (come in blue only - I've sprayed them brown) from Home Depot. They come with the right size masonry bit. Drilling into the brick (which is 70+ years old) is difficult & screwing the screws into the brick is also difficult. Glad I got an extra bit. My neighbor, Jay says drill into the mortar - which drills with incredible ease. And that makes me wonder if the screws will hold well in the mortar (8/8/03 - holding well). I'm going to put key screws into the brick and others into the mortar. As for the wire, I tried thick fencing wire, but could not get it to go straight without exerting more pressure than the screws would bear. Now I have some far more flexible twisted wire (15¢/foot - not in electrical section @ Home Depot). I'm also using some electrical connectors to attach the wire.

Cut flowers* (8/8/03): In 2003 we had fresh flowers in the house every day from March-November. Best time to cut in terms of strongest scent is morning; evening 2nd best. To extend life of cut flowers, carry deep glass of cold (not ice) water to the garden and put flowers straight away into the water up to beginning of bloom. Next, place in refrigerator for at least six hours & then arrange. The 6 - 8 hours in the refrigerator alone doubles or triples bloom life. After removing from refrigerator no need to be in water up to necks as stems absorb little water. Trim leaves from under-water section as having leaves under water hastens rotting. In general, the longer the stem, the shorter the life. Cutting stems back an inch or so every few days extends life. Cut rose stems under water. Change water every few days. Preservatives like Floralife help extend life most flowers. Exceptions to placing in cold water:

  • Use hot water to revive wilted or woody; then move to refrigerator.
  • Astilbe does best if placed in hot water & after cool-down, moved to refrigerator as above.

*From Bales, S. (2003). Keeping cut flowers looking their best. NYT.