A Few of My Favorite Greens

“Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.”

– Pedro Calderon de la Barca

 

The end of February is upon us, and J. and I have officially made it through our first full year of pollinator gardening. Having lived and breathed the garden’s dynamic kaleidoscope of color and movement, I can honestly say that the emergence of buds cannot come fast enough at the Schulz house.

For many of us, gazing out the window at winter landscapes dotted with scraggly drab twigs and crumpled up leaves can seem a bit overwhelmingly depressing. It’s not surprising, then, that the urge often exists to “cut it all back” and get rid of the brown. I get it. I truly do. But for pollinator gardeners like us, the lanky brown-ness must subsist, for beneath all of that misshapen debris lies a dormitory of snoozing insects just waiting for the alarm clock of spring to buzz (no pun intended). Dead vegetation is also a corner store for winter birds, providing left-over seed pods for consumption and material for nest construction. This is one example in life where garden function must supersede form. So what do we do with all of this brown? I say interject some green.

We’ve had some pretty cold temps in North Texas this winter, so cold that even our Frostweed iced, so I was surprised to see some of our plant varieties in the pollinator garden actually maintaining their green. If you are beginning to think about planting for the spring, I would highly suggest incorporating the following selections into your design, as they will continue “going green” throughout the winter and, thus, inject a little life into your deceased landscape, so to speak. They also might be the one saving grace that keeps those hand pruners and shears tucked neatly away, as they should be, for the winter.

So, try a few of these specimens out and see what you think. I snapped all of the primary photos of the plant while temps were still in the 30’s outside.  These are a few of MY favorite greens!

 

Curley-Leaf Parsley

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This was truly our winter showstopper!  We had temps down close to 10° F, and our parsley just kept on trucking.  I can’t attest to flat-leaf varieties and their ability to sustain the cold, my guess would be that many wouldn’t be as hardy, but the curley-leaf was a winner. Throughout this blog I will try to give the specific scientific name on anything, so that if you look to make a purchase you will know exactly what you are buying, BUT that will also require committed organization on my part, which means not discarding the original packaging. Sadly, I can’t provide the exact Genus and Species for this variety, BUT I will be hosting a plant share this spring to promote #plantsharenow and will have a few potted starts to share.  In addition to its continuous greening abilities, parsley is an excellent host plant for the Eastern Black Swallowtail. I should mention, however, that if you happen to plant fennel next to your parsley, the Swallowtail will eye your fennel as a slice of chocolate cake and your parsley as an apple. We’re all fine with eating apples, but, given the choice, most of us will choose the cake. Planted side by side, our fennel WAY out-performed the parsley in Swallowtail attraction.

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Female Eastern Black Swallowtail release, post-hatch.

 

Spanish Lavender

We bought this species (Lavandula stoechas ‘Otto Quast’) as a plant start from a local nursery. The purpose in our purchase was for its blossoming fragrance and ability to attract bees, butterflies and even hummingbirds, and we really didn’t even think about its evergreening capabilities. I like this addition because it easily grows from 1 to 3 feet tall, creating some nice wintry green height to any bed.  We have two clumps flanking each end of our pollinator garden for balance. With the other nectar choices that we had in our garden, again chocolate cake versus an apple, I found that butterflies and hummingbirds landed elsewhere, but the bees absolutely loved this plant.

 

Pink Primrose

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A third favorite, and kind-of a bonus surprise, was this variety of Primrose. Apologies here for sure. I have no idea about the specific scientific name. This came in a wildflower mix packet in one of those, “Let’s see what happens if we just scatter this,” moments. I will have some starts of this available at the #plantsharenow event this spring as well. Primrose is a clumping plant that easily spreads in colonies, so to speak, so it can make for an excellent ground cover. Some of the leaves will turn a lovely crimson in fall and winter, speckled among the green, so it also provides additional color interest. You can see in the photo above that a few of our clumps seem to exhibit the possible beginnings of Botrytis Blight, by the brown spots appearing on the leaves. This wouldn’t be surprising, considering all of the moisture we have had lately, coupled with the lack of air flow that often happens in clumping plants. We’ll have to get on this soon so that it doesn’t spread!

 

Dwarf Mondo Grass

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I cannot compliment this Dwarf Mondo Grass enough! We purchased this variety in flats from a local nursery. Unfortunately I did not keep a tag, but I will also have volunteers for the taking, that have begun spreading into unwanted territory, at #plantsharenow. We planted our pollinator garden on a pretty steep slope, so we used this mondo grass as a bottom border between the bed and the concrete sidewalk to help deter runoff and soil erosion. We planted the initial plants (across a 40+ foot span) about 6 inches apart, from center to center, and a year later the entire border is completely full, with no visible space between plants. This border remained green and full throughout the entire winter season, which helped consistently define our garden as “a garden” to passers-by on walks with children and dogs.

I know it seems a bit strange, as spring is upon us here in North Texas, to be discussing winter…but if you think ahead with some of your plantings this spring, you just might find yourself a little happier on the tail-end of the 2018 brown dog. 😉

All the best,

A. J.

– All content images by Amanda J. Schulz

 

Do you have a favorite winter green? Tell us about it below!

Why They Call It “Frost”weed

”Things do not pass for what they are, but for what they seem.

Most things are judged by their jackets.”

– Baltasar Gracian

 

I have to say that mid-January in North Texas was pretty painful.  Temperatures in the Dallas area dropped into the low teens but with no snow, no school closings (at least for us) and no hanging out in pajamas with popcorn and hot chocolate watching mindless television all day. It was simply bitter, frigid, cold, with absolutely nothing to show for it…that is, except for the Frostweed.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I have mentioned this favorite of pollinator plants in several articles. It’s a wild specimen that everyone should domesticate as an absolute must for attracting loads of bees and butterflies, especially nectaring Monarchs. Early in my pollination obsession, I grew Frostweed in a school garden. I assumed, being the novice that I was during that first autumn, that the name “Frost”weed must have originated from the delicately clustered milky, white flowers towering above me.  That couldn’t have been further from the truth.

I didn’t realize, until I happened to come across an article by Monika Maeckle, with Texas Butterfly Ranch, that Frostweed gets its name, not from any normal blooming adornment, but rather from a process that happens within the plant under extreme weather conditions. As Monika writes, “Upon first frost, the stem splits, the sap oozes out and freezes to form fascinating curled ice ribbons and intriguing sculptures. That’s why it’s called Frostweed, or sometimes, Iceweed.” I was absoLUTEly intrigued. From what I had personally witnessed in the school garden, though, it was a bit of a stretch to say that the process would occur at first frost.  I had watched our garden several times, as temperatures dipped below the freezing mark, and nothing happened. Again, kind-of like no snow, school’s still on and you’re wearing a suit and heels instead of your PJs. I just wasn’t sure when I would get to witness this phenomenon in Dallas. Then, mid-January of 2018 hit, and, as crazy as it sounds, sixteen degrees gets you exACTly where you need to be.

I have to give big kudos to my husband J. He had taken our trash cans around from the street to the garage and noticed, what he thought, were plastic bags caught at the base of our Frostweed plants. When he went to grab them, though, he realized something far more amazing had happened. He sashayed through the back door and calmly said, “You’d better check your Frostweed.” He didn’t have to elaborate. I knew exactly what that meant. I was SO excited to FINALLY have stands of this amazing plant dressed in wintry dazzle. I skipped outside, still in my robe, no less, and there they were…lovely ribbons of ice, curled around the stalks. Absolute perfection. I had to tip my hat to Old Man Winter on this one.

I was so bummed, though, because I had to dress to go show houses to a client (real estate in the Dallas market waits for no one and no thing). I told J. it would be up to him to take my camera and photograph what he could before it warmed up to thirty-six that day. This would be the kiss of death. The Cinderella Frostweed would not leave even a glass slipper behind at this ball. So, while I was working that morning, J. grabbed the camera and headed to the pollinator garden for a photo shoot. He laughed later and said, “I felt like I had NO idea what I was doing.” I have to say, though, his shots are lovely. That’s the great thing about having a stellar partner in this life. A stellar partner happily picks up the slack to propel your dreams to fruition.

So, here’s to J., Old Man Winter and the beauty of Frostweed. Enjoy this phenomenon in the photos below and impress your friends at parties with your newfound knowledge. I should enter a disclaimer here, though, that this kind of party talk can go one of two ways. Either you will enhance your persona, as someone brimming with a vast amount of worldly knowledge, or the person across from you will frantically begin patting her head in the signature Elaine move to escape the conversation drag of whether a peanut is a nut or a legume. Here’s hoping you don’t get the head pat. 😉

All the best,

A. J.

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– All content images by N. Jon Schulz

 

Have an interesting plant and weather story? Leave a reply below!

Much ‘shrooms

“Nature alone is antique, and the oldest art a mushroom.”

– Thomas Carlyle

 

Just over a week ago I traveled to Napa with J. for my birthday and took a little break from weekly writing (actually, I took a little break from pretty much everything). I had already chosen the subject matter for this post, though, before we left, so I found our stroll through downtown Yountville on Saturday evening to be nothing short of serendipitous. We had a relaxing late night dinner at Ad Hoc, and as we wandered back to the car, arm in arm in the crisp night air, we came upon a collection of stone toadstools casting intricate shadows onto the ground below. The display, by artist Richard Botto, bore the name “Rock Mushrooms,” and, in that moment, my evening was complete.

You see, I have a mild, let’s be honest, moderate to extreme obsession with mushrooms. I’m not sure where it started. When I search my memory files as far back as they will go, I think my first love came from the daily image of my mother’s Sears and Roebuck Merry Mushroom Canister Set that sat on our kitchen counter, holding flour, sugar, and other dry goods. If you lived at all in the 70s, you know someone who had this set. Then I remember those vintage mushroom Christmas ornaments that everyone’s grandparents had hanging on their trees during the holidays. I always loved those. Not long ago I got a hankering to find out why Christmas trees have mushroom ornaments. That’s a crazy story (you should definitely read that after you read this). It will make you question your entire existence. And then, of course, there’s children’s literature. My mother read the Babar the Elephant series to me and my little brother. In one scene Babar the King eats a poisonous mushroom and becomes very ill. I remember thinking, “That guy looks just like how I feel when I’m car sick.” Abhorring car sickness as I did, that sickly green elephant laid out on the ground kind-of made me want to steer clear of eating mushrooms (although I did covet them on our Sunday supper roast). I thought I had the lesson down pat, but then, invariably at bedtime on another night, we might be offered up Lewis Carroll and a hookah-smoking caterpillar convincing a pretty, tow-headed little girl that eating a mushroom to alter height was a perfectly acceptable idea. You can see how this complicates reason within a child’s brain (but hey, it was now the 80s). Mushrooms were comforting and whimsical and dangerous and perplexingly magical all at the same time. I was hooked.

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Illustration from Jean de Brunhoff’s Babar the Elephant.

 

About the time that J. and I were beginning to sketch out ideas for our pollinator garden in January, my friend R. G. posted an absolutely delicious photo on Facebook®. There they were, the most perfectly presented rust-hued mushrooms nestled among decaying wood, draped in velvety green moss, basking in exquisite sunlight. I melted and confessed to him my mushroom addiction and sunlit moss romance (yes…that’s a real thing too…I have dozens of photos of sunlit moss that I have taken over the years). Not long after that, I also began reading “Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life,” by Marta McDowell, given to me by my very special friend N. DW. This was a woman who was so much more than just the inventor of a rabbit in a blue jacket with brass buttons. One of her many projects, over almost thirteen years of her life, was actually growing and studying fungi. She sketched and painted the various stages of growth, and even submitted an extensive paper for review to the Linnean Society of London, a note-worthy botanical organization. Sadly, it was quickly rejected…less likely due to its content and more likely due to her gender. So now with R. G. and Bea converging on me at the same time, I became inspired to begin the hunt on my own grounds.

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Toadstools at 11th Street Park (Houston, Texas) (photo: Rich Goen)

 

As early spring started to grab hold in our vegetable garden and the first signs of life began to take shape in the newly planned pollinator garden, I found myself noticing them and grabbing my camera. I once commented that it is as if an empty plot of land exists one day and then the next is suddenly inhabited by tiny villagers, demanding to be heard. That’s how I see the mushrooms. They seem to appear out of nowhere in masses. In fact, the American Journal of Botany notes that there are over five million species of fungi, outnumbering plants by six to one. That’s a lot of little villages. But not all of the villages are small. There are mushroom rings, for instance, growing near Stonehenge that are so large you can see them from an airplane.

If you are wondering about fungi in your own garden, they are perfectly harmless. In fact they actually assist in the decomposition process within the soil, helping to break down decaying matter into nutrients that plants can absorb through water entering the root system. So when you see mushrooms, something good and right and holy is happening within your soil. The only caveat would be if you see them growing on the actual structure of a tree or plant. Since fungi prefer decaying matter, this could be a sign that the tree or plant is already dying on the inside. If you live in the United States and are looking for an easy resource for identifying mushrooms, David Fischer’s American Mushrooms site has a pretty good index with over 1,000 photos. I’ve started using it as a quick guide when I see new specimens pop up. Here is just a sampling of what I’ve uncovered in my own garden this year…

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Agaric species under Sweet Potato Vine (photo: Amanda J. Schulz)
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Agaric species under Black-eyed Peas (photo: Amanda J. Schulz)
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Puffball species under Boxwood (photo: Amanda J. Schulz)
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Bird’s-Nest species under Peanuts (photo: Amanda J. Schulz)
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Stinkhorn species under Boxwood (photo: Amanda J. Schulz)
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Agaric species in mulch and grass pile (photo: Amanda J. Schulz)

 

So the next time you dig in your flower bed or take a walk through the park, be on the look-out for the fungi around you. They’ll be there, raising their little hands and demanding to be heard. You might not find yourself as oddly consumed as I am, but at least give them a slight nod of appreciation when you cross paths. After all, they take on death daily to give your world life!

All the best,

A. J.

Do you have a favorite mushroom photo to share? Leave a reply below!

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