Gardening in El Lago

Trowels & Tribulations in a Suburban Garden - June Issue

By: Donna J. Ward, Certified Texas Master Gardener (Note: This is a reprint of Donna’s article that appears in the La Ventana del Lago.

The February Freeezeamageddeon had some interesting results – some good, some not so good. A few admired plants that I thought were history were tenacious enough to put up new growth from below the soil line. The ming fern that had turned totally brown now exhibits a fine feathery growth that complements my cut flower arrangements. The carnation of India that was six feet high and covered with fragrant gardenia–like white blossoms each summer appeared as brown upright branches just begging to be cut to ground level, which I did. But around the first of May sprouts began to appear at the soil line, and now that it’s June, I can tell it’s going to be a broader specimen than it was originally. And who would have thought that the azaleas that were just hinting at a bloom when the disaster struck would have survived much less put on a performance – although sparse? Talk about determination! One of my favorite shrubs is the natal plum whose close, oval, glossy, dark green leaves make a nice back-drop for colorful perennials. They succumbed to the freeze and were cut back to about six inches, but signs of life appeared and they are growing again. The downside is they are slow growers, so it will be a while before they add to the landscape. When mature they do get a five petaled white flower, and plums will form which turn wine red when ripe. The pittosporum that grew to tree form with a trunk diameter of approximately eight inches now looks like a background skeletal player in an after dark horror movie. It’s about 30 years old and has provided much shade to the garden. I’m going to miss the almost overpowering sweet scent it spread all over the back yard each spring. The honey bees were disappointed also. There were so many I could sit on the deck with my morning toast and coffee and hear the hum of a gazillion tiny wings vibrating. But determination strikes again…..a small green sprout appeared at the base of the trunk and is showing signs of becoming again an attractive resident of the back yard. The bay laurel shadowed by yearly increasing shade under the pittosporum now shows its appreciation for some sunshine. The wildflowers in a half barrel took a hit, but coreopsis and gaillardia persevered. The tropical milkweed didn’t make it, but that’s a good thing, they have been replaced with native milkweed. The tropical milkweed old growth harbors a parasite fatal to butterfly larvae if not cut back in the fall. The host of a local radio gardening program stated that if you had mint of any type – he guaranteed it to be gone. He apparently was clueless about my grandmother’s mint that froze each year in rural Missouri and always reappeared in spring. My bucket of mint is doing just fine and enhances my iced tea on a regular basis. As a matter of fact, it was the first plant to show new growth after the freeze. Mother Nature scared the bejabbers out of the magnolia grandiflora, and it outdid every blooming exhibition it has performed for the past thirty-six years. Now you may wonder why that happened, and why so many plants were not terminated by the freeze. A plant has one goal and one goal only – that’s to procreate. Plants bloom and form seeds, even the lowly mushroom that pops up in our lawn produce spores. The yellow dust that settles on our cars in spring is the pollen from the blossoms of our oaks. Those flowers can’t compare to the magnolia, but they have the same purpose. Mother Nature programs our landscape plants to procreate, but sometimes she just makes it a bit more difficult.

A “not so good result” is the unbelievable number of camphor seeds that sprouted in the azalea bed – trying to reach that reproductive goal. I know, I know – camphor is a trash tree, but this one was here when the home was purchased and shades the west windows from the summer sun. I was hoping the freeze would have taken out some of the nandina. Fresh out of the Midwest I had never heard of nandina and had no idea how easily it spreads, but I thought it attractive, so I planted it. But the most unwanted result of the freeze is the proliferation of poison ivy in both the back and front yards; it’s often mistaken for Virginia creeper. But believe me I lived in a very wooded area of Missouri for a good portion of my life and I’m well acquainted with poison ivy and how to eradicate it. I’m not big into chemical herbicides, but there are some plants that are deserving!

I’m probably preaching to the choir in regard to what has suffered and what has thrived, but as time goes on our memories of the freeze and its effect will fade. Next spring we may be talking about the mild winter we experienced, and we’ll be down on our knees, trowel in hand doing what gardeners do best.

Did you know that Trowels & Tribulations is published on the city site on the first of the month? Under Our Community you will find Trowels & Tribulations listed.

Magnolia flower