Monday, September 24, 2007

Fall fragrance

Yesterday morning was the first day of fall and when I stepped outside to feed Isabella and get the newspaper I was overcome with the intense fragrance of sweet olive (osmanthus fragrans). I have officially declared it as my favorite scent in the garden. I've only had sweet olive for two or three years now and I remember last year running around trying to pinpoint the origin of that heavy perfume. Many people associate the fragrance with New Orleans but I first remember it from Bellingrath Gardens. Michael and I visited there over ten years ago and the shrub was everywhere. Actually it only takes one plant to scent a fairly large garden. The shrub that I detected yesterday morning is about 50 feet away on the south side of the house and my back drive-way area was permeated with the exquisite aroma.

The amazing thing about the sweet olive is how tiny and inconspicuous the flowers are. They are borne in tiny clusters of tubular shaped flowers and appear in fall, winter and early spring. The plant originates from China, Japan, and the Himalayas. It is an evergreen shrub that generally grows anywhere from 6 to 12 feet in gardens but can get much larger in the wild. The glossy leaves are very attractive so it is interesting even when out of flower. It is also very easy to grow and not particular to any type of soil conditions. It is not super hardy, however, but our winters have been rather mild lately. Even if it is killed to the ground by a severe freeze, I've read that it can recover.

Sweet olive is not the only fragrant plant for the fall. My Angel's Trumpet (brugmansia suaveolens) really goes to town in September and starts blooming like gangbusters. My largest one is located in my vegetable garden area and towers about my clipped hedge and always gets ooohs and aaaahs from passersby who see it from the street. Sources dictate that this tropical show-off is only hardy to zone 8. I used to prune mine down and dig it up every fall and store it in the basement during the winter. A few years ago, I decided to take a chance with leaving it outside because I heard quite a number of folks who do that. I mulched it heavily and it survived! And I should note that this is planted in a raised bed on the north side of my house. So I think it is tougher than some might think. Of course, a severe prolonged freeze could do it in but like I've said, our winters have been mild for a long time now.

The fragrance of the Angel's Trumpet is very strong and sweet but is only noticeable (to me at least) in the early evening and night hours.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Top Chef

Allow me to digress from the subject of gardening briefly to talk about one of my favorite tv shows. I'm not a frequent television viewer and there are only a handful of shows that I faithfully tune in to every week. The most entertaining for me at the moment is Top Chef which airs on the Bravo channel. Here is a reality competition show that manages to entertain not by the personal dramatics of the contestants (although there is some of that!) but by the sheer creativity of the competition itself. Here is a group of truly talented chefs who go through some pretty grueling challenges every week. They are judged by some of the most respected names in the food industry. And their dishes look like works of art!

Season 3, which takes place in Miami, has been a particularly good one with some surprising revelations and outcomes. Dramatic departures - such as Tre and CJ (both of whom I thought would probably be in the final four) have infuriated many fans of the show and keep the message boards on the Bravo website hopping. Whether or not you agree with the judges decisions, I'm usually placated by reading their individual blogs (also on the Bravo website) which explains how they reached their decisions and provide some insight into considerations that may not have made it to the final edit.

So here we are, down to the final 4:

Brian - The San Diego seafood chef made to the top 4 by sheer luck in my opinion. For me, he is the least impressive. I would have rather seen CJ or Tre in his spot.

Dale - The Mohawk sheared gay chef from Chicago. I like him but I don't think he will win because of his inconsistencies in the past. And he'd be much cuter with a different haircut. At least he isn't saddled with the name of "Hung"! Can you imagine the jokes that would create?

Casey - The Jennifer Aniston look-alike chef hails from Dallas and she continues to impress me more every week. The judges are also applauding her work and her decisions to take creative risks. I think she and Hung will be in the top 2 and she is my favorite. If she wins, she will be the first female winner on the show.

Hung - He won't be winning any popularity contests but I believe he is the one to beat. He's cocky and isn't a team player but his talents with a knife are undeniable.

So who is your choice? Vote in the poll on the top of the page at the right!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

September blooms

A stroll through the mid-September garden -

Hyacinth Bean vine
Another vine, Sweet Autumn Clematis. This one pops up all over the place. This particular one is growing through a juniper. I'm always amused when I see it in catalogs at high prices. If you need some of this, let me know!

Yet another vine, Morning Glory. They really like September.

Dragon Wing Begonia - one of my favorite annuals

The only rose I found blooming today (unknown variety)

Lespedeza (Bush Clover)

Hardy Orange (Poncirus Trifoliata)

Northern Sea Oats

And the award for Hostess with the Mostess is Lantana "Miss Huff" - she is a blooming machine!

Angel Trumpet (Brugmansia)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Fall projects

Fall is just around the corner – I can feel it in my bones. The cruel month of August is behind us and although September can be just as miserable, I sense a change in the air. More rain came yesterday – a long, slow one that lasted all morning – where was it when it was needed the most??? And while it is still pretty hot out, the nights are beginning to get a little cooler and the days are noticeably shorter. The light too is changing – what is it about this time of year that makes you want to just take a nap?

This has been a tough year for gardening and I’m a tad nervous about the fate of some plants in my garden. Even though they have weathered the late freeze, the drought and the heat, who knows if they will hold on through the winter? Time will tell.

My enthusiasm for gardening wanes considerably in late summer but it only takes that first bite in the air to get my batteries recharged. I have several projects on my plate for this fall and winter.

First I plan to do something about my long neglected front lawn. The grass is a pitiful hodgepodge of various types plus an assortment of weeds and bare spots. I want to reseed the entire area and I’ve settled on fescue, a grass that will stay green during the winter. It is used at the college where I work and it is very beautiful.

Next, this walkway in front of my patio has to be reworked! The stones used here are uneven and uncomfortable to walk on. I’m pulling these out and replacing them with larger, flatter stones and will once again attempt to kill the weeds growing between them. Pam, from Digging!, gave me some great ideas on this.

If that is not enough, I want a picket fence installed around my front yard, the foundation plantings in front of my house reworked and some type of pebble mosaic floor put down in my secret garden area (my creative juices are still brewing on this).

It never ends!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

What to do with all those bricks

A lady in town who is doing a major renovation of her house and garden contacted me through a friend (who is her neighbor) and asked if I would like to have some bricks. I rarely turn down such an offer and she told me that I could have them if I would pick them up. My friend told that there weren't too many so I headed out one morning thinking I might possibly get them all in one load, maybe two. Ha! I think there were enough bricks there to cover a small house. A few weeks later and about five or six trips, I had a good supply of brick - now, what to do with them?

My first plan was to redo my vegetable/herb garden area. This tiny area is enclosed in hedges and I have raised beds along the perimeter. A dogwood sits in the middle and I know, I know - who grows vegetables under a tree? Well, me - I will not cut down that tree - it was one of the few trees on the property when we moved here and despite limited sunlight, I am able to grow a few tomatoes, peppers and herbs.

The floor area had been covered with pine straw and a narrow circular brick path around the dogwood that had become overgrown and weedy. I decided to use the bricks and create a floor over the entire area. I also needed more space for herbs and I ended up creating a raised bed around the trunk of the dogwood in a wheel design.

I added a layer of gravel and used a rubber mallet to place the bricks, then added a layer of sand and brushed it down the cracks to fill in. The following photos were taken shortly after I completed the project (about 6 weeks ago) so the sand was not settled by then.

I'm pleased with the results and I still have more bricks left!