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Brenda's Garden
by Brenda Beust Smith

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Lion's tail (Leonotis)We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched.  Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives... not looking for flaws, but for potential.  ~Ellen Goodman

January's thinkin' time in Brenda's Garden

A reader sent me a picture of lion's tail (pictured right) asking what it was.  Boy, did that bring back memories.

The first time I ever saw that eye-catching plant was at Madeline Hill and Gwen Barclay's Hilltop Herb Farm in Cleveland. These herb gurus since moved on to
Festival Hill at Round Top and we lost Madeline, one of the true horticulture treasures of our community.

But this was years ago. I was visiting, interviewing them, and spied this incredible orange flower atop tall stalks in their garden.  Madeline, being Madeline, immediately grabbed her shovel, dug up a couple of plants and put them in a pot for me to take home.

I nurtured those plants and they were beautiful.  Then they died.  I replaced them and they lived several more years.  Then they died.  I think it's just too wet in this area and I didn't have them in a high enough spot.

But, January is the month for thinkin' and I'm thinkin' I'll try again. This time I'm putting them in a container and setting the container in the garden.  That's the way to provide good drainage for plants that simple cannot take our spring and fall monsoons.

Louisiana iris

Now, if you're looking for something that will love those wet spots where water stands after a rain, here are a couple of other good choices. 

Louisiana iris are native to Louisiana, an area that's a lot closer to us in ecology than is the rest of Texas. The upright sword-like foliage is usually evergreen, and beautiful even when no flowers are present.  The iris blooms come in almost every color in the rainbow.

Crinum lily

Crinum lilies also have usually evergreen foliage.  Lush arching leaves can reach up to four feet or better, creating lovely shrub-like growth even when not in bloom.  Flowers tend to be pink, white or combinations of the two.

Hyacinth bean vineDEAR BRENDA: Do you think my hyacinth bean vine will come back?  I meant to save some seeds but I forgot. S.M.

DEAR S.M.:  You won't really know until spring.  If it has an extremely well-established root system, it probably will.  If the root system is compromised in any way, then it might not.  Two things you can do for this, and any plant you'll like to help make it through the winter:

1. Mulch well.  Rake all those falling leaves up around and over the dead branches.  The more the better.  Mulch will keep the soil warmer and more moist, which is what the roots need.

2. Water well if freezing temperatures are forecast.  Well-hydrated roots will survive far lower temperatures than will dehydrated roots.

Paperwhite narcissusDEAR BRENDA:  I received some white daffodils for Christmas. Someone told me they're not daffodils, but narcissus.  They are smaller than what I think of as daffodils.  I was also told I could plant them outside here.  Is that true?  They've all stopped blooming now.  What do I do?  JO

DEAR JO:  Are these pictured what you have?  These are paperwhite narcissus.  All daffodils are narcissus.  These are just another type of narcissus. 

Yes, you can plant these outside. They won't bloom again this year, but they will, about this season, for years and years to come.  Can't beat that!

They like a shady, well drained spot.  I'd put them near where you walk in and out of the house in winter.  This is because they may well be your only spot of color.  Mine have even bloomed in the snow.  The fragrance is wonderful if you want to pick some and bring them inside.

Don't remove the foliage . . .  on these or any fading, reblooming bulbs.  Bulbs use their dying foliage to replenish themselves for future blooms.  Just let it die back naturally.

PansyDEAR BRENDA:  Help!  Something ate every one of my pansies. Right down to the ground.  Nothing left but a tiny stalk.  What was it?  Should I replant?  Is there time?  JOE

DEAR JOE:  Welcome to my world!  In my case, it's rabbits.  Do you live near woods?  Could be squirrels.  Did you feed with bonemeal?  Or bloodmeal?  Either might attract squirrels or other critters.  I've given up on pansies for this reason. 

Yes, there's time but hurry.  The longer you wait, the less time they have to set strong root systems before the ground starts warming up.  When the ground gets hot (and it does very quickly in spring), they'll die anyway.

If it's rabbits, you might try dropping off a wastebasket at your neighborhood beauty salon.  Ask the hairdressers to dump all their cut hair in there for a while.  Sprinkle this around the plants.  Human hair is said to repel rabbits.  And it's a great compost element for the soil.

Anyone else have any suggestions?

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