Wednesday, March 22, 2000

December 26, 2000


This is the garden journal of Keith and Celeste Thibodeaux and our adventures into gardening. The detail of our gardening experiences, and some other assorted memories. We are a young middle-aged couple (she a little younger than I, ok a lot but let’s talk about gardening) who are really getting into gardening. I go overboard with everything and am a research-aholic that loves to assemble and publish information so get ready to be bombarded with more information that you want or probably need, but if you want to enjoy our successes and endure the lows of our failures read on. I have always wanted to make a gardening journal but always found a reason not to get started. Well this is as good a time as any to start. One thing about our plants, almost everyone has a story.

First some background. We have just moved from Gonzales, LA (zone 8b) to Jeanerette, LA (zone 9a). Louisiana is a neat place to garden with a 9 to 10-month warm weather growing season. With that much warm weather two things happen. One is that bugs, or all kinds, are a problem. Most folks down here laugh at organic pest control, but I am going to try what I call the moderate approach, which is to attempt to be fully organic but when it really gets bad break out the right chemical and use in moderation. The second issue with that growing season is that some plants just simply get out of hand. What needs a little trimming somewhere else needs a chainsaw down here. Jeanerette is in a unique niche area even within that. Being just east of Vermillion Bay, we have a unusual trait even within this area. We are in Hardiness Zone 9A, but only Heat Zone 8. In other words we are a little warmer in the winter and a little cooler in the summer than the rest of south Louisiana, but killer summer heat and humidity is a big problem here as in the rest of Southern Louisiana. In other words I am in a plant growers heaven. Here we can go a year or two without frost as we have the last two. Most winters have two or three mild frosts that are easy to protect against. Many folks here grow tropical plants like Bougainvillea and other houseplants right in the ground outside. But then again, every 10 years of more we have the killer freeze that cleans out the tropicals. It is really painful to look at when this happens, especially the loss of many of the palm trees. Nonetheless, my tastes lean towards tropical so I intend to perfect freeze protection and make the most of microclimates.

Next thing here is the soil, oh that soil. I have dug down almost to 18 inches here planting in my new yard and haven’t hit the subsoil yet. In my old yard the topsoil was clay and at 8 inches deep (in the good spots) you hit hardpan. Here the topsoil is on the clay side, but is dark, rich, and crumbly excepting in the wettest conditions. I have always noticed that things grow here like nowhere else. Looking at the huge and beautiful plants around here a gardeners first question to a local here is, “What are your secrets?” to which the answer almost always is the same. “I just put it in the ground.” The vigorousness of the local sugar cane fields and their growth tells you something is different. Shortly after moving here I began to discover the differences noted above.

Now that you have some background, let’s get down to the journal. I bought four Citrus trees today, one tangerine, one Owari Satsuma, one red grapefruit, and one Meyer lemon. My heliconia bought from ebay came in today along with some seeds for a Red Datura Brugmansia (Angel’s trumpet) and Royal Poinciana. The Royal Poinciana is one of those plants that will go in a bad freeze but I hope to get a few good years and blooms out of it. On my vacation to the Florida Keys last year I saw them in magnificent bloom everywhere in Miami. At that point I knew I had to try one. If it’s killed every 10 years by a bad freeze, I’ll just replace it with a new one and start over if I can get that bloom. I boiled the Poinciana seeds as instructed and planted. Planted the Brugmansia seeds as well. They are all on the heating mat in the greenhouse. Yes, I am doing in the middle of the coldest winter in years, but that’s me.

Last week just before a frost down in the mid twenties, the first in two years, we dug a dozen hydrangeas that had naturalized in front of a house scheduled for demolition. We have many such heirloom plants rescued from all over. I have seen Roundup and bulldozers claim far too many wonderful heirloom plants.

This recent freeze may have gotten my Gillology avocado that was recently planted. I thought that an avocado plant would be really cool and this variety is supposed to be hardy down to the upper 20’s. It was extremely well protected. This one never quite seemed healthy since I got it though. The nice folks at Gillology agreed to arrange a replacement. I also have an Avocado that I planted from a grocery store bought fruit. It’s 5 feel tall and grows like a weeds although the cold weather and greenhouse temp quarters have caused the upper leaves to get a red rust appearance. Not sure if it’s a fungus or natural. It’ll go in the ground in the spring along with my new Gillolgy. They are a little tropical for this location, but there I go again.

My newly planted variegated shell ginger took quite a hit also and it now totally brown. I’ll just pray it comes back from the roots. I dug up my two Angel trumpets (white and purple/white) and put them back in the greenhouse. We brought our small 8x6 greenhouse with us when we came, but think God this place also had a 6x12 lean-to greenhouse, as they are both totally full. We may have set a record for the number of plants we dug from our old house to take to our new one. In daylilies alone, we dug up and brought with us, over 160.

I dug up my recently planted (small philodendron) as well and should have dug up my large split leaf philodendrons as well. I planted them when we got here counting on another mild winter, oops.

We found another abandoned home site scheduled for cleanup. On this one we found a great elephant ear (new variety to us), which was about 5 feet tall. It had been discarded, thrown on the ground without the pot laying on its side. The roots grew into the soil and the plant turned 90 degrees to grow upright again. Got to love growing plants in the place, abuse and try to kill them and they still grow. There were several 10 foot tall plus Camellia (3 varieties) with seedlings beneath. We gathered 5 of those along with some Aspidistra. Narcissus, probably Paperwhites, had naturalized in massed quantities so we gathered a couple 12-inch pots full of those also.

December 27, 2000

Another cold front arrives. It’s rainy, cold, and dreary which means yuk with a capital “Y” to me. Plants that were gathering sun went back in the greenhouse. Found some Lycoris Radiata bulbs today, but at $4 a bulb I left them in the nursery. Maybe I’ll find those bulbs on the Internet at a price I’m willing to pay. Maybe someone can afford to naturalize bulbs at that price but surely I can’t right now. They did have a Persian Lime, which would have helped to fill out my mini orchard, but I was so discouraged over the price of the bulbs I left it there also. I do hope to add a Key Lime to my mini orchard this year as a conversation piece. It’s that tropical itch I just can’t seem to scratch.

The front yard is quite small, but near the house it appears that I may have a microclimate lending just a bit more tropical than the rest of the yard, so I’m thinking really tropical and lush there. I will begin initial preparations at the first glint of good weather.

I took my first good look at the fig trees since transplanting last month. The buds on the tip of the plants look good. Can’t wait to see them bud out this spring. The left rear tree is a Celeste Fig and the right rear is a Texas Everbearing Fig, which produced a decent little crop it’s first year. After being transplanted two years in a row we’ll really get to see how tough it is this year. My money is on another full crop.

December 30, 2000

Lows dipped in the 20s twice last week and will be there for 4 nights this week. Who would have thunk it here in zone 9a. Keeping my tropicals alive is taking its toll. The split leaf philodendrons in spite of being covered have just about had it. Maybe they’ll come back from the roots. The large elephant ears (uppies) that were on the property have all turned to mush. My agapanthas that were moved from my old house are pretty sad, but are alive. This week may finish them. Good news is that Lowes just got in some spring plants. Got Cel some daylilys pack, 2 twelve packs of Stella D’Oro, and 1 twelve pack each of Apricot, Bali Hai, Autumn Red, and Catherine Woodbury. Packs 12 or 15 fans for 7.96 were too good of a deal to pass up when you are married to a Daylily lover. We brought over 160 with us from our old house when we moved. Also got a pack of 72 Gladiolus bulbs and 15 Asiatic lilies. Those will nicely complement the 20 to 30 Gladiolus Bizantinus bulb that we have collected from a cow pasture where they had naturalized. The Asiatic lilies will be added to my 5 from last year. I purchased them as blooming houseplants and then planted them in the flowerbeds. They grew well before eventually going dormant. The bulbs were really healthy when we dug them to take along to our new home. Can’t wait to see what they will do this year. We also tried moving out bloomed out Amaryllis in the garden, but the didn’t fair as well. Squirrels got a few, rot or drought got most of the others, we aren’t sure. We did find a few, but they look poorly. We also found many of the St. Joseph’s lilies that we had found in pastures as well. Being moved two years in a row won’t do them much good. I did find one remaining on our new property at the base of a pecan tree. The other side of the tree has a healthy stand of paperwhites (I think) or either they are Lycoris Radiata (naked ladies) that had already bloomed. I hope it is the Lycoris. Both have naturalized through out southern Louisiana.

Thoughts back to my Key West vacation last year and its wonderful tropical flora keep me looking forward to spring. I loved the way Bougainvillea were used as border shrubs, like we use boxwood. Here we grow them in pots mostly. I have seen some outside that come back from the roots after most winters. I might try to put some in early this year along the chain link fence in the front as a border shrub. If it’s dry enough maybe they’ll bloom. I put one in the ground last year at our old home. It achieved phenomenal growth in that drier than normal summer, but never bloomed again. One branch that dropped into the pond actually rooted. Next year I’ll try propagating them like blackberries, burying the end of a vine in a pot till it roots and then cutting it off. That reminds me, I brought the Ebony king thorn less blackberry with us when we moved also. If it survives the transplant and the winter, I might get a small crop this year. I tried 3 raspberry bushes also, but they really don’t do well this far south. 2 of the 3 died, one hung on after being transplanted twice. If I can find it on my last trip home I did it and bring. I am hopeless for trying things that aren’t supposed to work and I never give up on a plant. Kinda like me Gillology Avocado. Kept it covered but the cold got it anyway. It was never really healthy. The nice Gillology folks are giving me a refund, which I will use to purchase a replacement from Wayside Gardens who now does their shipping. In spite of that I dug up the poor plant devoid of all signs of life and put it in the greenhouse to see if any life springs from it.

If you don’t have a little greenhouse you can’t imagine the fun you are missing out on. It is the critical care unit of the plant world. I have achieved several miracle recoveries in there. Most of the plants moved from our old house would already be dead, but are comfortably wintering over in their waiting for their spring planting which is only 60 days away. Last frost date here is very early March, although this winter is anything but normal. Last month as we were moving, I found two 3-inch tomato plants that had volunteered in the garden. We dug them up and took them with us. They are in 6-inch pots in the greenhouse. After a month of very cool weather they about 9 inches tall. One has two flowers on it already. Guess I’ll have to fertilize them and try for a winter tomato. Now that would be cool.

One of the heartbreaks of last year was my attempt to move a large heirloom rose from the front of the very house we have just moved into. In spite of doing everything by the book, the rose didn’t make it. A very dim glimmer of light is one cane stub that was left here had two small leaves on it. If it makes the winter, this thing will get incredible attention as I try to bring it back to it’s former glory. We have a few other surprises awaiting us in the front yard here. The right corner has one of those Elephant Ear uppies that had reach 8 feet tall and flowered in early December. Can’t wait to watch it come back this spring. We have a great dogwood that needs a little cleanup and a very old trumpet vine as well. Can’t wait to see them reach bloom this year. I am going to move the fence 8 feet closer to the road and plant with those bougainvilleas. I’d like a nice iron garden arch with gate and some flowering vines growing on it, or maybe a rose or two, but am having trouble talking the wife into it.

Since I feel like writing lets cover the rest of the existing yard. There is a nook garden maybe 3 x 6 tucked under the kitchen window. It has two big uppies that are 6 and 8 feet tall respectively. It was also home to a 5-foot high stump from and old pear tree that I removed. We had a little airplane plant looking foliage plant that grows like a weed. We put it and one of it’s babies in there and they are quite happy. I also moved a Tasmanian tree fern from our old house that was just about dead and placed it there. It seemed to be happy and actually opened a new frond before the winter from hell hit. If it lives through the winter I think it will prosper there.

We had a promising looking raised bed behind the sunroom that looked promising. I put my collection of about 30 Louisiana Iris’ there, but realized after a couple of weeks that they wouldn’t get enough sun and moved them again to a 15’ long bed that I made parallel to the fence along the back left fence. That bed also turned out to be quite wet, which would have been fine for the Iris if they had had more sun. Now, I am trying to figure out what to put there. I am eyeing it for some calla lilies that I have inside in a pot. Just planted them. One of that 3 dollar Wal-Mart purchases. That entire bed will be eliminated at some point in the future with a sunroom/patio redesign. Ah, but the fantasies I have. Where there is a will, there is a way. Can’t wait to fill that sunroom with house plants also, but there is work to be done first back there as well. Unexplainably, this bed also continues in a separated 4 foot by foot bed right in the middle of the concrete patio outside of the sunroom. That also will go, but temporarily in there are 6 Siberian iris waiting for a final destination along with about 20 bulbs of some kind rescues for a construction site, paper whites I think, but definitely two different species. Maybe some are Lycoris, which I desperately want. Found some bulbs at a local nursery, but I thought 4.00 a bulb ridiculously high for something I wanted to naturalize. I have since found them on the Internet for as low as 1.80 each in quantities of 50. Still higher than I want to pay but I’m thinking about it. Last thing in that bed is one poor Asparagus fern (brought from the old house), which I will probably dig up and repot in the greenhouse before the projected hard freeze tomorrow night of 22. That’s cold down here.

I already mentioned the Iris bed. I have a Peach tree, yes brought from the old house near that bed and that now dead Avocado was near there as well. One suffering, but still producing Pecan tree is along the left side of the property as well. The back left is anchored by the Celeste Fig given to me by my neighbor as a moving in present. A nectarine tree is next with my Apple tree in the center and then anchored on the back right of the property by a Texas Everbearing fig, brought from the old property. All of these trees are young. The nectarine, peach, and apple are dwarf stock and will peak at about 10 feet tall. Coming along the right side of the property are too producing Loquats. One is 10 feet tall, about 8 feet in diameter and shaped perfectly. The other is about 12 feet tall but is not shaped as attractively due to a nearby ornamental tree nearly 20 feet tall. Cel and I are in disagreement on which should be removed. I favor keeping the Loquat, she the other. We’ll see that we do with some smart pruning first. This area was kind of a deposit area for plants. 12 mums were planted there and still flowering in December. I potted them and they are still flowering in the greenhouse. The 20-foot long, one-foot high berm, built garden row style supplied dirt for the raised beds we’ll take about in a minute. Still left is an Azalea, fairly small at about 4 feet and a red stemmed ornamental shrub that I have yet to identify. Last are two Bridal Wreath plants that are 6 to 7 feet tall and overgrown. After they flower this spring, they’ll get a severe haircut. Now for the center of the yard, I brought 4 each 4 x 8 raised beds from me vegetable garden that form a cross shape with our old fountain from the old house as well forming a centerpiece. The beds are full of daylilies. They should be magnificent this spring and summer if they recover from the winter. I mowed he pecan leaves on the ground with my mulching mower and then used the as cover for the daylily beds.

Last is the large raised bed 20x20 next to the patio. It has a combination, or should I say conglomeration, of things. He also gave me some Louisiana Iris and a plant he called a mock orange, but turned out to be something else. It was rooted from a twig. I planted it in the backyard of the old house last year where it flowered in late summer with purplish flowers. It’s in the greenhouse waiting for spring. Another co-worker, Jim gave us some purple Louisiana Iris as well. I got them after flowering so I’ll get to see them later this year for the first time. Back to the bed, we have about 60 daylilies that wouldn’t fit in the old bed wintering over there. Several types of paper white bulbs. The poor split leaf philodendrons mentioned earlier.

Vegetables. We’ve got two types of green onions, which were brought from the old house. They were grown last year, then dug and stored. Some are very small and fine. They were dropped off for Cel’s grandfather who was too ill to plant them. I planted half on this property for him and brought the other half home for my garden. Never knew the fate of his half, but mine did fine. The larger variety was given to me last year by a co-worker Gil. My father-in-law asked me last week if I wanted some cabbage plants. A friend of his offered to give them to him. I planted 18. I planted some carrot seeds but a heavy rain a couple days later sent them everywhere. We bought a couple garlic pods that were growing so I planted the cloves in there also for about a dozen garlic plants. Probably something else in there too that I forget. Oh yeah, I bought a pack of 80 red onion sets at Lowes that need to be planted. I found all kinds of seeds in the cabinet and greenhouse here, some up to 10 years old. Can’t wait to put them in seed starter trays to see if they’ll grow.

We dug a couple samples from some Iris growing in the woods next to a graveyard last week and planted them in the Iris beds. That’s an hour of writing tonight and it’s after midnight, so I’ll quit lest I bore you to death, if you’re still awake that is. Maybe next time I go into what’s in the greenhouses and we’ll be caught up.

December 31, 2000

Cel and I made a little road trip today. We passed through the Franklin, LA graveyard and noticed that they had thrown the dying mums in the trash. Cool, free plants. We gather about a half dozen 6-inch pots worth to see if we could recover them. Also spotted a new variety of Daffodil (new to us) that had naturalized next to a cow pasture. Surely they are in need of some thinning, humm.