Friday, January 28, 2005

Monday: Well, another weekend is over and another week begins in my garden journey of 2005. Last night made it to 28. I hope that is it for the really cold weather this winter. I am getting tired of going over to New Dawn, shutting off water and draining lines, usually while freezing my b*## off. :-)

Finally finished eating the Oranges from the garden this year. I used the juicer and had fresh squeezed juice from the last six oranges. As for Grapefruit, lets just say I will be sick of them before they are all gone. I estimate we had 200-300 on the tree. There are still about 75 hanging. I am eating them and juicing them. Now that the Ruby Red is mature, temps of 28 degrees doesn't seem to faze it. I remember when it was young, I thought I had lost it to the same temp. Bark splitting everywhere. Let's just say you should see it now. I have been waiting for years to get good healthy Citrus trees. The Grapefruit is the oldest at 5 years old, having spent is first year in Gonzales before we moved here. All of the other Citrus were moved to New Dawn year before last so this will be their third full summer. They should take off. I have a theory about gardening the humid subtropical south with it stifling summer heat. The first year plants just survive, maybe. The second year they establish. The third year they begin to thrive. We will see if that hold true for the Citrus.

Thursday: Back to spring weather again. High in the low 60's today and tomorrow, then up to 68-70 for the weekend and early next week. We do have some touches of color outside as seen at left and inside the greenhouse as seen to the right. All of the tender green foliage is dead back to the stem after that hard freeze. Some of the roses are unbothered and will soon be opening a few roses. Rain is in the forecast for the next few days along with those higher temps. Maybe I'll get to squeeze in a little gardening, I hope. Until then I can read. A website visitor from Canada couldn't believe I am planting while they are enduring -4 degree temps. Here in the deep humid subtropical south, fall is optimum planting time as compared to spring in the rest of the country. Everywhere else the concern is the plant getting well established for next year's cold. Here we are concerned with the plant being established to survive next year's heat. A plant put into the ground here in April, particularly a bare root plant, will have one heck of a struggle to survive the heat of July and August. November would be the optimum time to get it in the ground down here. As a matter of fact while northern gardeners take the winter off, many times southern gardeners take the dog days of summer off. As you can see by the picture of Bayou Teche framing the back of New Dawn, many things go dormant here in the winter, but there is still a good bit of green left as well.

Saturday: On this 29th day of January, spring marches closer by the day. One year out of 10 next week would be our last frost date. 50% chance of last frost date comes at the end of the month. Regardless, all hardy plant transplanting needs to be completed this week to allow the plants to become established before the heat arrives. There are still quite a few transplanted to get done.

I finally picked up some Landscape Marking Paint at Lowes and laid out the carport, driveway, and turnarounds. In addition to the Bay Tree, Ginger, and Queen Palm which were obviously needing to be moved, it was revealed that the Mock Orange and a patch of Rain Lilies must move also. I moved the Bay Tree to its new spot, and will get to the Mock Orange tomorrow. The Gingers and Queen Palm need to wait for warmer soils before moving them as the heat will not be an issue for these tropically oriented plants. I also laid out the locations at the top of the cross bed for the arbor and dug out the locations for the last two driveway roses. Well, one rose will be left to move, the Seven Sisters, but I don't know where it is going yet, so it might go into a pot in the interim just to see the driveway clean again. In the Cross Bed I got a clean mark out on the pond, so tomorrow I will lay out the edging blocks to frame it. While I was busy marking with the paint, I also marked out the arch at the top of the Cross Bed. With the soil being so wet, today was mostly a prep day. Tomorrow we do more plant moves. It is so nice the have the layout done for the house, carport and drive so that I can now visualize the beds. I am truly excited about the final vision and can finally see it in my head. I also did some work on the raised veggie beds getting them ready for spring. Can't wait for fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. I'll start the seeds in the greenhouse this week.

Sunday: It was another cool damp day. Highs in the mid 50s and damp. I could feel the droplets of water in the air hitting my skin, until noon when it finally brightened up a bit, but the sun never shone. Today, I moved the last of the driveway roses and that failed project is now officially no more. I did find the label on both Climbing White Dawn and Climbing Old Blush so those two are now positively identified. It is a wonder the Climbing Old Blush was still alive. The Wiregrass (wild bermuda) was so thick around and through the roots I had to essentially bare root it just to get it moved. I fear for it this summer. The same was true of the Seven Sisters rose which I moved to the front of the old horse trailer. As a surprise a limb of the Seven Sisters had rooted. I now have a baby planted. Another surprise was the Climbing Peace Rose which was mowed over when young. It came back this fall. When I dug it up to pot it, I discovered they were actually two plants so both of them are potted as well. So in the midst of destruction, New Dawn gave birth to three new rose plants. I spread a cubic yard of dirt today, in planting holes around recently planted plants and in the rose beds. By best estimates I will need at least 10 cubic yards of dirt to complete this springs work. I have at least 5 cubic yards of dirt on site, but rains are preventing my turning it from dirt into top soil. That means tilling in compost, manure, and peat moss. Almost forgot, I moved the Wisteria today to St. Joseph's Tower. I also came up essentially bare root. Never realize what a substantial root structure Wisteria develop. This was a real wrestling match. I removed over half of the vine and will say a prayer for it.

I also spread some SuperBloom fertilizer around the Redbud, the Mimosa., the recently moved Hardy Glads, the smaller of the two Acanthus, the roses on the barn arbor, and the Cherry Parfait rose, next to the arbor. I also top dress the soil on the last three roses mentioned. I finished out the day by putting the garden edge block that will outline the pond within the cross bed and marked out locations for 4 new fruit trees. Well, that is a wrap for this weekend and for Week 4 of 2005. February is a day away. There is still a lot to do, I feel the pressure of spring approaching.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Monday: Had the day off for Martin Luther King Day, but no gardening today. A leisurely morning, followed by a drive and afternoon visit to see Mom. Got in just before dark. This evening I did some reading, mostly picture gazing in a few gardening books looking for inspiration. My minds eye continues to focus along a path for the gardens now that I have a good feel for what the eventual house and garage will look like and where the will be sited. I also have a single Crape Myrtle that has been dogging me on what I should do with it. It is the old purple style. I am thinking of putting it as the center plant in an arch at the head of the crucifix bed with two white Crape Myrtles on each side. It would look to be a halo at the top of the crucifix bed. That bed, approx. 6 feet wide, 45 feet long, and and 30 feet wide will have a fountain at the intersection. The new bed seen above will be a sitting area at the base. This crucifix bed will have low growing annuals this year. Sitting at the base looking over the annuals with the fountain running and the Crape Myrtle arch at the top should make a great vista. Due to the sloping land these plants will need to be placed on a berm. There should be a base planting as well. Might be a bit too hot for Azaleas which would look great. Maybe Indian Hawthorn, but surely I can get something a little less ordinary. Two to three feet tall, evergreen, spring/early summer bloom cycle to complement the late summer/fall bloom cycle of the Crape Myrtles. Come on, think! Just went to the Recommended Plants List at for some ideas. A few things stood out, but nothing that quite hit my fancy. Loropetalum would be great, but the purple might make me want to limit my color choices in the large foreground crucifix bed. My mind keeps wanted to think of something with a sword type of leaf. Agapanthus look a bit too ugly in winter when a hard freeze burns them down. Most trouble free would likely be a Dwarf Chinese Holly or Japanese Holly. I'll figure it out eventually. Lets close this out with a shot of some of those bulbs going to New Dawn for naturalization. I have at least two more truck loads to dig, carry over in the truck, and plant. Yep, it is back breaking work. It is a lot harder to re-plant them properly than it is to dig them up.

Thursday: Back at home, I dug up 3 Camellias, 3 Loquats, and a small patch of Alstromeria and potted them up for eventual transplanting at New Dawn. The amount of plants to go is mind boggling. Unfortunately, it looks like the digging and potting killed the Bottlebrush. If I had read how poorly these things transplant and the high failure rate I would have just left it in place.

Saturday: Hey, its only Friday night, but I am already thinking about the busy day planned for tomorrow. The cold front is coming in on Saturday night this week.

Ok, now it is Saturday. Cold front coming through as I write. Today peaked out around 70, by 7:00AM the projected low is 29. There is tender new growth on many plants that will be zapped tonight. Tomorrow's project low is 28 and by Wednesday we will be back to highs in the 70s. Oh well, the plants will suffer, but we can't let that stop us, now can we. I moved the New Dawn rose from the failed driveway project to the new rose pavilion. Another New Dawn which was in a pot was planted on the other corner. The plantings are now complete. I pruned the remaining roses today and the fruit trees. I went ahead and watered everything in anticipation of the freeze, both outside and in the greenhouse. The new temperature monitor is giving me a much better feel for temps in the greenhouse with the new heater. This will be the first hard freeze where I get to monitor the temps. It sure is nice not to guess how the heater is performing

I moved the Crape Myrtle today to the top of the cross bed as I had envisioned last week. Now I just need to find 4 Natchez Crape Myrtles and move the two remaining driveway roses to complete the scene. In the picture on the right is sits, all alone. The bed that it will be a part exist only in my head. Just in front of that bed will be a pair o columns to match the 4 columns at the bed of the cross bed. Rose 1 will be Old Blush and rose 2 will be Seven Sisters. I will still have one last rose, White Dawn, which needs a home. This two only exist in my head as this spring I focus on the base plantings. By fall these beds and the accompanying hardscape will be finished. Can't wait to get them out of my head and onto the grounds. With each of these planting I am digging out the location for the new fountain pond, which will form the center intersection of the cross bed. This soil is amended to provide the soil for the new plantings. The liner for the fountain pond is my Christmas present, but I vowed not to order it until the hole was completely prepared.

Walmart got in the first shipment of plants this week. Lots of citrus, fruit trees, and some ornamentals. No annuals or bedding plants yet. The first ants are already in high gear for the spring so I picked up some. We got back from Walmart about 8PM and it was still nice and balmy around 66 degrees. Just now, 10PM, I let the dogs out for their evening ritual and the cold front had arrived with brisk winds and the low already down to 56. I don't think we will see the projected low of 29, but I do think it will drop below 32.

Last, but not least we have a new gardener in the house. TaiTai even promised to help with the website, but fell asleep on the job.

Sunday: This is such a contradictory time of year. A great time to take a look at the bones of the garden with most trees being leafless, to move things around with a little transplanting, look at catalogs with cool things that could be planted, do a little pruning, all on mostly sunny and mild days. At the same time, those artic blasts come rolling through every couple of weeks with gloomy weather, the threat of killing cold, and a worry of death for plants held dear if it dips just a few more degrees. And while worrying over those marginal plants, here come the winter weeds that keep everything green. While some folks say we have a 12 month gardening season here, one thing I can assure you is that we have a 12 month weed season. The only good thing about winter weeds is that they tend to be low growing and won't swallow your entire garden in 2 or 3 weeks as will our summer weeds. If you are reading this from afar I am not kidding nor exaggerating. Three weeks of continuous rain, which is not unusual, in mid to late summer brings on a little plant (grass) we have here called Johnson Grass. From nowhere to 3 feet before you know it. Gardening here is a constant vigil. Add a couple of things called Coco Grass and Wiregrass. Whoa, stop, where am I going with this? Those problems will be here soon enough. Tonight I have to worry about the cold. As I thought, it did not get to 29 last night, 31 maybe, but tonight looks more like 27. Looks like I need to water everything again today just to be safe.

Well, it is 7:15PM and already 35. Tonight will definitely be a hard freeze with a least 8 hours below freezing. Today, I tended to minor things at New Dawn, watered a few things then shut down the water, picked up hoses and mostly clean up. Found another tropical in a pot in a flower bed that we still alive, barely. Back at home, I dug and potted more plants. Today I potted up 4 Acanthus, 2 regular Shrimp Plants and 2 Variegated Shrimp Plants, 3 Hollyhocks (volunteers), 1 Jatropha and 1 Rangoon Creeper which were frozen back to the roots, although there was already a green tip emerging from the Rangoon Creeper, 1 English Ivy split into two plants, 1 Tai Plant which had died and was sending a shoot from the root whose tip had frozen back last night, and 1 Japanese Maple. I laughed with Cel telling her it was like I had just gotten back from a shopping trip at the nursery. Still lots to dig and replant though. At least a truck bed full of paperwhites and naked ladies. Several truck beds full of gingers. Hundreds of other bulbs, Crinums, Amaryllis, etc. Man, I get tired just thinking about it. It is gonna be a busy spring and summer.

Just checked the Chill Hours for the year. We have accumulated 311 chill hours to date, which means we should top out at over 400 for the year.

Getting an Early Start on Spring

Monday: No stress on the new fruit trees today. Today started out with a heavy fog. The roofs dripped as if there were a light rain falling. This is not uncommon here in the spring and fall. The picture at right was taken this morning. It looks a little eerie, but when you are there it is actually very peaceful, even a bit surreal. It was the same on Saturday and Sunday while I was planting and transplanting. Moist cool evenings and mornings. It actually makes for ideal great planting and transplanting weather. Temperatures have been running in the mid to upper 70s. However, winter is due to return in the next 4 or 5 days with lows in the mid 30s and high in the 50s. We need a few chilling hours you know even those super low chilling hour varieties like I just planted, otherwise we won't have any fruit. I passed by Walmart today to see if any spring plants were coming in yet. They were busy getting ready in the garden center but no plants quite yet. I did pick up some Jiffy 7s and a bag of seed starting mix. It is time to start some tomatoes and a few other early things. Grabbed some good looking Dahlias as a surprise for Cel. They are not good as perennials here because of the intense heat of summer, but they make dandy annuals. Maybe we will try these in a container to see what happens. As I was driving today I started making list of some border plants that I could use, both heirloom and modern. I need to id some natives as well. Now that I have a good idea in my head as to where the paths should go I am increasingly thinking of the 1000' of border and the money I don't have to plant it, or the time to keep it up till it gets going. Oh, well I can dream for free. I have tons of new great links to add to the website, but I am just not motivated. Winter doldrums I guess.

I did find the neatest old greenhouse pictured above in North Lafayette. There is some evidence that the 2nd floor has something going on. There is a modern looking window air conditioning unit and a table visible through the window, but for the most part it looks disserted. What a wonderful structure. It is obviously going into disrepair and should be saved.

Saturday: It was a busy week at work, not much time to even think about gardening. At this time of year, due to daylight savings time and my commute, I leave just after sunrise and get home after dark, so there is not much time to garden even when I wanted to. Today, would be a different matter, but like last week, cooler weather with its fronting rain came late in the week. It is a beautiful sunshiny day, but with fully waterlogged soils so it is a day for piddling at best. I'll head to New Dawn in a few minutes to check out the fruit trees after the winds of the arriving cold front. We'll see how the new staking system performed. Poor staking was a primary reason for my dismal tree performance first go around. Hey, its time to plant some tomato seeds in flats in the greenhouse. That is something fun I can do today.

Sure enough, didn't do squat today. Walked around the gardens envisioning things to come. Took a look at plants here and there. Watered plants in the greenhouse. Picked out some tomato seeds to plant, gathered up the pots, and seed starting mix. And there it still sits. Read a couple of seed catalogs. The fruit trees seems to be doing well in their new locations with their new stakes. Maybe this will be a good year for them. I did notice that the Flowering Quince started to bloom this week.

Sunday: Moved 3 big climbing old garden roses. The largest went into the middle of the old horse trailer as planned. I have been trying to dream up a structure for the other old roses. I think I have it. Last year someone removed the old wrought iron, or faux wrought iron porch post popular in the 40s and tossed them to the road. Being the unashamed scrounge that I am, I threw them in the back of the truck. What my friends must really think, but keep unsaid. I get a big grin when I think about it. I knew I would eventually think of something to do with them. Now I have it. Here it is, under construction, ugly would be a good way to describe it at this point. But this will be a good picture to do a before and after later this summer. I think the roses I moved today were climbing Souvenir de la Malmaison which went to the horse trailer with Climbing Cecile Bruner and Tausendschon going to the new arbor complex. I went though the old jounals and am pretty sure, but spring blooms, which will be sub-optimal with the transplanting, should still be enough for a positive ID.

Monday, January 3, 2005

Back on the Home Front

Back in our gardens: In our gardens, I finally moved the LSU Purple Fig to its new home. The first location was an error in judgement. Being somewhat visualization challenged I tend to plant things and then move them a few times, till I get them where I want them. I also moved a couple of hundred (or more) Tazetta Narcissus, and other assorted related bulbs to their new naturalization spot. The Tazetta naturalize readily here. Most others are spotty, but some occasionally do well.

Saturday: Today, I laid out a new plan for the Orchard based on the two remaining plants that survived in the original area, one Peach and one Plum. I lost a Peach and a Nectarine to who knows what. Two apples and a Mulberry were outside of this area and will be moved. The surviving Plum is a Santa Rosa Plum or Ciruela de Santa Rosa (Prunus salicina 'Santa Rosa'), which came from Lowe's in the spring of 04. The new Plum is Methley Plum (Prunus salicina 'Methley') which originated from Bracy's Nursery, but was picked up on sale at a local nursery. I fixed up the remaining peach with a new partner La Festival Peach (Prunus persica 'La Festival') which also originated from Bracy's Nursery, but was picked up on sale at a local nursery.

Sunday: A tough day in the garden today. I am worn out Today, I started out by digging up the Apple I had planted late last spring in the back yard, to move it to the orchard at New Dawn. I also dug up a hundred or more of the hardy glads, Gladiolus byzantinus , for naturalization at New Dawn. To preserve them as much as possible, and maybe this years blooms, I dug up large clumps of earth along with them. This had the added benefit of bringing the Saint Augustine grass growing in clumps. I also dug up a clump of Snowdrops, and another of Naked Ladies, aka Lycoris radiata - Red Spider Lily, Red Hurricane Lily. After starting the morning by digging a few hundred pounds of dirt, twice, one to dig them up and a second time to dig the hole in which to place them. But my digging was not over for the day. From this chore came the finishing up of the orchard. Two trees remained to planted and 3 trees to be moved. Oh, and the apple from the backyard needed to be planted. And stakes drive and trees tied. I used most of the dirt that came from digging the whole for the glads. This was a 300 foot trek with the wheelbarrow, four times. So, the apple (Anna) from the old backyard was planted, two apples Malus pumila 'Ein Shemer' procured from Lowes and Golden Delicious Malus pumila 'Gilbert' acquired from Starks, and the Mulberry was moved. These are low chilling hour Apples supposedly good in Zone 9. Yes, I am a crazy cajun trying to grow apples. Hey, what is the fun in being common. The Mulberry was given two me as a rooted cutting from my neighbors tree in late 2003. It was planted in spring 04 and reached 3 feet tall last year, its first year in the ground. I used to laugh at Mr. Picard with his cut-off milk carton at his waist hanging from a strap around his neck as he climbed the Mulberry Tree to harvest fruit. The momma of my tree was a good 30 feet tall and 20 feet in girth. It has a good pedigree. And the two new trees, a Keiffer Pear (Pyrus communis 'Kieffer') and an Ayers Pear (Pyrus communis 'Ayers'), were planted. And the stakes were driven, and all were tied off with strips cut from a bicycle inner tube. And they were watered in with a bit of root stimulator. And I am one tired puppy, but a highly satisfied tired puppy. :-)

Sunday, January 2, 2005

The Return Visit to Rip Van Winkle Gardens

Cel and I started the year great with a New Year's Eve night stay at the Cooks Cottage in Rip Van Winkle Gardens. That evening and the next morning we had the entire 25 acre subtropical gardens to ourselves. Bear in mind that this is mostly a subtropical garden and these picture were after several freezes and an extremely rare snowfall. Still I think you will see the beauty. Cel and I are in a lot of these picture to give things a sense of scale. Take the picture at left, perhaps you have a Duranta Repens in your garden. Mine is about 6 feet tall and maybe 2 feet wide.

Check out the jungle of Duranta under the oak at left. Guess I will be moving mine from its open full sun location where the frost nails it every year to a location similar toe the above spot. I learn so much at these gardens about placement and combinations of plants. Take look on the right. Now that is what I call Timber Bamboo. Perhaps one day I can talk the owners out of a few bamboo culms.

Here on the left under the 350 year old Live Oak, Cel is pretending to take a nap, as Grover Cleveland once did according to the plaque. On the right is a great Jelly Palm. It was very beautiful and has obviously survived many freezes including the 89 freeze. The gardens have many bamboos, gingers, palms, and other subtropical specialties. There were not many Azaleas, which is the norm in gardens here. It is a nice change, but I imagine these gardens are at their prime in the October/November time frame and not the usual springtime blast of traditional gardens. Jungle gardens on the next salt dome down the road share the bamboo, but are quite different. Catching both gardens would make a great weekend trip. We'll review Avery Island's Jungle Gardens soon.

Here are some more pictures of Rip Van Winkle Gardens to leave you with and some trivia on the gardens and more pictures.

Jefferson Island was originally named Orange Island after the groves of citrus trees which thrived here.  In 1865, actor Joseph Jefferson, who was famous for his portrayal of Rip Van Winkle, purchased the site to be his winter retreat.  He bought the 3,600-acre property for $7.81 an acre ($28,000.)  Jefferson gained his fame in his 4,500 performances on stage as Rip Van Winkle.  After Jefferson's death, the property was sold John Lyle Bayless, Sr. of Louisville, Kentucky in 1917.   His son, J. Lyle Bayless, Jr. began developing formal gardens surrounding the Joseph Jefferson home in the late 1950's, establishing "Rip Van Winkle Gardens," named for its former actor-owner.  Bayless, Jr. donated the home in 1978 to Live Oak Gardens Foundation, Inc., a non-profit foundation.

In November 1980, workers drilling for oil beneath nearby Lake Peigneur drilled too deeply and punctured the Jefferson Island salt dome. The lake began draining into the cavity, causing a powerful whirlpool that swallowed 65 acres of the gardens. This is still one of the worst disasters and strangest phenomena to occur in Louisiana.

The following text, continuing the history to present day, is from the Rip Van Winkle Gardens Website (link)

"Bayless died in 1985, the foundation that he had endowed and entrusted sold the property in late 1996 to Carolyn Doerle and her husband, Dr. Ron Ray. They set out to revitalize the site by offering many ways for the public to enjoy the tradition that Bayless and the Foundation started years ago.

Doerle ran the property from late 1996 until it closed to the public in July of 2001.

In October 2003 the gardens were sold to Live Oak Gardens, LTD which operates the nursery next door. Gardens' restoration began with the removal of debris and restoration of many buildings. Some of these include the Bayless Conference Center, Café Jefferson, the Caretaker's house, the Joseph Jefferson Mansion, Servant's Quarters and other buildings that were badly neglected for several years.

Mike Richard and Edward Fremin have many new ideas of what can be done here on Jefferson Island. One is to allow the public to enjoy the grounds and buildings again. The Bayless Conference Center, Café Jefferson, and the Bed and Breakfast facilities are all open and are being rented out at this time. Plans for expansion of the Bed and Breakfast facilities are underway at this time also."

OK, still don't have enough? Here is one last article on the fantastic history of Live Oak Gardens.

And our original pictures taken 5 years ago in February of 1999 on our first trip to Live Oak Gardens compared with pictures from last week with pictures taken in the same spots. The bamboo filled out a bit around the well (as has my stomach), but the bamboo seems a bit thinner where Cel is standing. By the way, don't make fun of me, but I am wearing the same shirt that I wore 5 years ago. It was not intentional. Hey, its one of my favorite shirts. What can I say? :-)