Living Fireworks!

Living explosions!

Living explosions!

Chinese Lunar New Year’s Eve is the start of the two week long Spring Lantern Festival, and my favorite holiday. Celebrated all over the world, this holiday is marked by three of my most enjoyed things, Fireworks, the color Red, and celebrating with friends and family. Leading up to that night, you clean your home, cut your hair, pay your bills, and prepare for a big party. Because at midnight, it is a non stop cavalcade of “Firework, Firework, boom, boom, Boom!”

In Ancient China, according to legend, a fierce-some dragon named Nian tormented villages, destroying homes and crops, and terrifying the people. It wasn’t until they discovered that this terrible beast had two weaknesses, the color Red, and loud noises, that our story had it’s arch, and the villagers began to have the upper hand. Implementing their newfound intelligence, a holiday from legend was born. So every time the night of the Lunar New Year falls, people around the world decorating their homes and selves with the color red, and precisely at midnight, fire off enough fireworks for an armada.

But shooting off fireworks in the city is illegal, and due to State Law, we Texans can only buy fireworks two times a year, the week preceding Fourth of July, and western New Year’s Eve. So how does a gardening firebug and Lunar New Year lover like myself keep that festive spirit all year round? By festooning my garden beds and porch with flowering shrubs, bushes, and various plants whose blooms resemble fireworks!

But as gardeners in zone 8 and 9, we must find blooms able to withstand our changeable climes. Luckily, a few promising plants emerge.

  • Monarda, otherwise known as Bee Balm, or bergamot, is a member of the Mint family, with pink, red, and lavender blooms that burst forth is such an explosive display, they fit our bill. And as an herb and a 3 foot perennial, they create a great presence in any garden.
  • Fall Asters can be relied upon to shower a colorful presence in our cooler late summer moments.
  • Where would we be without the Alliums, our Garlic friends? Their flowering heads produce a globe of bright brilliance, and their bulb roots important places on our plates.
  • Fireworks Fountain Grass with it’s majestic purple-red persona stand tall in any landscape, and quietly in the shade- loving corner, the Hosta Fireworks plant is glory its understated self.
  • The Fireworks Plant, or Crossanda infumdibuliformis, with it’s coral-orange, and yellow blooms is a tropical, warm-weather lover, perfect for containers, and a sheltered porch.
  • But my personal favorite is the classic landscaper’s dream, Loropetulem, or Chinese Firecracker plant, a full sun, shade and drought tolerant show stopper, acid soil-adoring beauty. Purple to green leaves, with it’s celebratory hot pink fringe, it brings stability and glamour to any garden, with it’s carefree elegance.

These are but a handful of the brilliant options that await any gardener with an adventurous spirit, and an excited eye. With these explosive, bright beauties, you can take a garden from all right to extraordinary!

Gung Hai Phat Choi, Gardeners, Happy New Year!

Boy Scout Day

I'ts national boy scout day!

I’ts national boy scout day!

Today we celebrate the institution and conservation based collective known to the world as The Boy Scouts.

Many of you may know the pledge: “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. This is Scout Law.” Then lifting his three middle fingers of his right hand in the Scout sign, he recites,”On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty, to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law, and to help people at all times, and to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”

There is also another code, the Outdoor Code, “As an American, I will do my best to be clean in my outdoor manner, to be careful with fire, to be considerate outdoors, and to be conservation-minded.” This is where we come in.

The Boy Scouts Of America, is one of the largest youth organizations in the United States, with over 2.7 million youth members, and over 1 million adult volunteers, has a fascinating start. Based on the writings of Lord Robert Baden-Powell, and influenced by the work and Woodcraft Indians of Ernest Thompson Seton, a Chicago publisher by the name of W.D. Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts from a world Scout Movement, after receiving the aid of a Scout on the streets of London. Lost on a foggy night, the Scout helped Boyce find his destination, and refused Boyce’s tip, putting it down to, “Doing his Daily Scout Good Turn.”

Boyce immediately brought it to America, and after some false starts, it was finally incorporated on February 8th, 1910, since then known as National Boy Scouts Of America Day. President Theodore Roosevelt was an ardent supporter and a conservationist himself.

But what Boy Scouts are known for, besides the camping, and iconic outfits, are their merit badges. While there are a few hundred, it takes only 21 to advance in ranks and approach the apex of Eagle Scout. After interviewing an Order Of The Arrow Eagle Scout, I discovered that merit badges are handed out at an Awards ceremony, where the Scouts shake the Scout Master’s hand, and receive their hard-earned price. Merit badges for crafts and other disciplines demonstrate proficiency in a spectrum of skills, from first aid to Citizenship in the Community, the Nation, and the World. Everything from a cooking merit, to sailing, to even a Nuclear Energy Merit.

But one of the most important merits, and skill sets is Land Management, and it’s tie-ins with Conservation. The Eagle Scout interviewed discussed a hike and lesson in forestry by building a fire wall through cutting down certain scrub trees. Recycling, ecology, and even taxonomy are stressed in the cavalcade of Conservationist esthetics key to the Boy Scout heuristic, with a large emphasis on walking on trails in the woods.

We at Seedlings Gardening embrace many of these same environmental approaches when dealing with out properties and partnerships. Cutting back old growth for the health of the whole, recycling our waste and creating ecosystems are fundamental cores to how we design and maintain the gardens and landscapes we create.

We are even expanding our community outreach to classes on foraging and utilizing the wild world around us. While we may not be Boy Scouts, ourselves, we appreciate any program that encourages the appreciation of the world around us and a respect for nature.

So if you are, or know a fellow between the ages of 11-18, and have an ethos of conservation, much like us here at Seedlings Gardening, perhaps The Boy Scouts of America is for you.

Good luck, Gardeners!

Punxsutawney’s Plight and Your Garden

What it really means for early Spring.

What it really means for early Spring.

It’s not easy for Punxsutawney Phil, or groundhogs in general. Also known as woodchucks, their name coming from the Algonquin (or possibly Narragansett) Indian word for the animal “Wuchak”. They have a heavy load; forecasting the entire coming of Spring without the aid of a meteorology degree or Doppler Radar. In fact, they only have one moment to do this monumental task, every February 2nd, also known as Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day began as a Pennsylvania German custom in the southwestern and central areas of Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, though it has it’s roots in ancient European weather lore (where it was a badger or sacred bear in the lead role). It is possible that this legend began as a folk embodiment of the confusion at the collision of two calendars. Some ancient traditions mark the change of season when holidays such as Imbolc, the Celtic celebration of the first annual experience that daylight makes a significant progress to the night. Other traditions held Spring’s start at the Vernal Equinox. So to settle the dispute, the Groundhog was thrust between these two factions, it’s Shadow Determination held forth to bring end to the crisis. He or she may use code words such as “shadow” or “clear, sunny day”, but what the Groundhog really is saying is “Danger”. And “chill out.”

But what does this all mean for us, the Central Texas Gardener? Early Spring temperatures can have an effect on not only your precious plot, but also your very health.

There are many factors to a plant deciding to bloom, soil nutrients, water, sun exposure, but day length and ambient temperature are key factors. Plants have proteins that sense the length of darkness, some plants require a certain length of this dark period to bloom at all,  and this can mean warmer weather will have no affect on them at all.

However some herbaceous plants quickly die back after blooming, ie. daffodils, and an early spring can lead to an early dormancy. One warm day will not be enough to trick plants into bloom, but quite a few can do the trick. Many warm days can raise the temperature of the soil, changing not only seed germination and planting dates, but also the length of not only blooms, but a plant’s harvest length and growing season. Spinach, best planted in colder temperatures, will not last as long in our Texas summers.

Also, warmer temperatures can signal plant dangers. Insect emergence is triggered by temperature. Therefore, in years with an early bloom, there is an earlier insect emergence as well.

If you are an allergy sufferer, here is a caveat: Folks with limited pollen allergies, oak pollen for example, may not be as affected, but broad pollen sufferers, oak, grass, and rag weed, may be in for a rough summer.

So if an Early Spring possibly leads to shorter flowering periods, less of certain plant growth times, faster insects, and allergies, can you imagine the weight groundhogs must feel? And all the publicity, not to mention a bunch of suited-up Pennsylvanian men in top-hats pulling them from their warm burrows without warning, to bring possible terrible news to their fellow Americans everywhere?

The next time you see a groundhog, give him/her a smile and maybe a hug. They’ve earned it.

Squirrel Appreciation

Show the squirrels a little love.

Show the squirrels a little love.

In theory, everyone likes Squirrels. And why not, they are bushy-tailed, good-looking, little chaotic tricksters that have co-existed around most of us all our lives. Their antics are ridiculous, their offspring are adorable, they are a constant source of nature’s entertainment at your window, or front porch. But for a gardener planting their Spring beds, these furballs are Enemy Number One. Following are some of the reasons why, and steps for prevention naturally, and with out causing your furry buddy any harm.

We all know of their affinity to cache, or bury their nuts and seeds in the garden for future consumption, disrupting your careful laid bed, accidentally tearing at newly-planted stems. But they also enjoy eating bulbs, stems, roots, and seeds too, leaving your entirely new arrangement in danger of being dug up, and snacked upon. Two ways to avoid this reality are to plant non-edible bulbs, such as Daffodils, that Squirrels have no taste for, there by keeping them from spending much time in an unwanted area. But until these bulbs have grown, and established, thereby becoming uninteresting to said Squirrels, placing a layer of wire mesh over the soil is helpful. The spaces in the mesh must allow growth of the bulbs, but no room to dig underneath. Weigh it down with bricks, and remove it when the plants have begun to grow substantially.

Squirrels also enjoy the woodsy, fibrous flavor of tree bark, and can do much damage to the shade-providing giants that you have carefully planted around. Since damage to that tree can have long-term significant impact on your garden and your environment, prevention of the destruction is crucial. Wrapping your trees lower layer of bark with a 24″(60cm) wide layer of aluminum flashing around the base of your tree trunks. Use aluminum, or stain-less steel nails or screws to attach the metal to your trunk, and don’t worry. A nail of this size, inserted 1″ into the bark won’t hurt it. The tree should compartmentalize, and heal around the wound just fine.

Bird Feeders are a prime target of our furry marauders, the seeds and nuts provided are definite bounty. But their theft can keep out the very visitors you are trying to feed. You can set up a Squirrel-proof feeder with a cone-shaped cover that Squirrels can’t break into, some of these also spin, shaking them off, and providing you with some much-needed giggles. If your bird feeder is on a pole, however, I cannot emphasize how amazing Vaseline is, as you can see in the following video. Hi-Jinks for hours.

With a little careful ingenuity, and compassion, you, your garden, and these little furballs can live peacefully for years. Patience and resourcefulness almost always win the day. Good Luck, Gardeners!

-Heather Coffey

National Bird Day, Everyday.


Our native Texas Birds come in a rainbow of awesome!

Our native Texas Birds come in a rainbow of awesome!

National Bird Day was January 5th. A holiday dedicated to bird watching, bird adoptions, and protecting threatened bird species.  We may be a couple days late but we here at Seedlings Gardenings wanted to discuss a few reasons why Birds play an elemental and positive role in your garden and your life, year round.

  • Birds are a better source of pest control than most companies I have seen, and they won’t involve harmful pesticides. Many insects from aphids, spiders and mosquitoes, to caterpillars and snails are on the menu for our avian friends.
  • They are efficient pollinators. Nectar-sippers such as Hummingbirds and Orioles flock to vibrant flower garden blooms, helping give an extra boost to your blossoms, which in turn creates more blossoms which equates to more bird visits.
  •  Our avian friends are weed fighters. Finches, towhees, and sparrows consume mass quantities of seeds, mostly those of weeds, helping prevent germination of unwanted plants. In turn, planting seed-producing flowers for your feathered friends gives them a natural food source that encourages visits, without extra visits to the grocery or pet stores.
  • They are also helpful decorators. producing bird-friendly landscapes typically make use of native plants that are drought tolerant, therefore cutting costs on both your wallet, and our water table. These plants are also more capable of withstanding our zone’s harsher weather, such as freezes, and rain-less months. This landscape in turn can mean higher property values for the homeowner. Well-maintained, native appropriate landscaping that attracts birds and butterflies has typically a better curb appeal, and shows a good investment in home sales.
  • But most importantly, and in keeping with National Bird Day, observing backyard birds can give the homeowner and their family a unique opportunity to study their local wildlife, with events such as migration, seasonal plumage changes, courtship behaviour, nesting, and parental roles. In our continually diminishing wildlife habitats, introducing private backyard sanctuaries provides a critical preserve for local species, and migrating visitors.
From pest and weed control, to prettier environments and higher valued homes, Birds are a heavy-weight contributor to an all around healthier home.
-Heather Coffey