March 7, 2011

What Kind of Gardener Are You?

Central Texas has been home my entire adult life; I've never gardened anywhere else.  Being a gardener in northwest Austin is not the easiest of lives...the soil is either heavy clay or you'll find a shelf of limestone 3" below the clay soil.  Sometimes it might be a mix of both.  Add to this the fact that temperatures frequently reach well into the 100's and dip well below freezing a couple times a year.  It is an extreme gardening zone with two brief growing seasons that lead you to think that you really can grow anything because the weather is so dang perfect.  Like these past couple of weeks...highs in the 70's, lows in the 40's.

Oxalis in bloom.  It is responding to the warm, sunny days with gorgeous, dark purple foliage and delicate flowers.  Oxalis grows in the shade of Live Oaks in my yard and will hang in there through the summer and once again put on a nice bloom display in the fall. 

My neighbor's fruit tree (peach, I think).  Its blossoms glow pink amidst the faded grasses and brush behind our houses.

These sweet blooms are short lived and they were captured in such beautiful light, I had to include more than one shot of them.

So in my title I asked what kind of gardener are you.  How has your climate and the growing conditions where you live affected the type of gardener you've become? 

Redbud tree blooms.  The Redbud trees have started to bloom this week and the bees have greedily been feeding from these flowers.

So as I've started on my spring clean up and planting, I've been thinking about the way I've adapted to gardening here...

Japanese holly fern.  Although not native, this fern thrives in the shade of Oak trees.  It is listed as being invasive but I haven't observed this in my garden.  It's not tender and provides a nice, lush, green ground cover throughout the seasons.  It's fronds are mysterious and captivating when observed at close range.

Gardenia bush in bloom.  This is one of those "pushing the limits of your conditions" plants.  I'll need to amend the soil as we aren't acidic here but I'm optimistic.  My friend has a gardenia bush and she assures me that she doesn't do anything special for it...we'll see.  (It blooms later in the spring but probably just came out of a green house and so is blooming a bit now). 

Coral honeysuckle showing signs of life.  These were the first leaves to appear on the winter worn vine.

This climate requires compromise, tenacity, resilience and whimsy.  I could use any number of the synonyms of whimsical to describe my gardening style that wouldn't be as charming...erratic, peculiar, impulsive, careless, every which way to name a few.  An optimist by nature, I have chosen to embrace the challenge that is gardening here and prefer the more endearing synonyms of whimsical:  merry, cheerful, light-hearted, playful, fanciful, graceful, high-spirited...

Columbine bud cloaked in water droplets just reaching out to the warmth of spring.

To remain light-hearted in this climate is to preserve sanity as it would be easy to be overcome by late spring with dread at the upcoming blistering months...

Another columbine looking very much like a periscope; possibly scoping out if it's safe to emerge?

This season I have vowed to plant only natives and adapted plants, (you can see from the above Gardenia that I've already breached this vow) so that the summer months won't be such drudgery but instead I can look forward to the heat loving blooms that thrive here.

Pansy soaking up brilliant, morning sunshine.

But, for right now, late winter and early spring fill me with that wonderful feeling of optimism and possibility that anything can grow here.  Yes, it's a delusion and I will be violently yanked back to reality by the first fiery blast of heat, but for now a whimsical girl can dream.


  1. I'm so jealous that you've begun your spring clean up! The only thing blooming in south central PA right now is snowdrops and crocus. Coming from New England where I was more of a woodland gardener, I've had to make a lot (and still do) of adaptations. Clay soil, but fertile, full southern exposure with very hot sun in the back yard have made me more inclined to stick with tried and true, drought tolerant perennials. I've been playing around more with succulents, too, which is fun.

  2. You have fully described Central Texas gardening with both accuracy and optimism, Cat -- here in our area it ain't easy bein' green, that's for sure, but native and adapted are certainly your best bet for the extremes our environment has to offer. Great pictures as always, Cat!

  3. I guess every gardener has what they think is their own obstacles when it comes to gardening. Here it is also the clay soil and we have rocks upon rocks. I guess it goes with living in a state park area where caves and boulders are everywhere. LOL! Where I have the cold extremes to deal with you have the heat.
    I was drooling over your beautiful bloom shots. I love the foliage on the oxalis plants and I love seeing the Redbud trees in bloom in the spring. Maybe I will be seeing some here soon.

  4. You are correct in saying our gardening seasons are divided. Northern gardens get one long dormant season; our is more like a little in winter and a little in the high heat of summer. But I've begun trying to defy the odds and have a goal of blooms year round. We shall see if I will be able to fulfill this dream. As you imply, I must have thought of this during one of those seasons that deludes one into thinking anything will grow here!

  5. wow, gorgeous pictures, as always.

  6. I'm eclectic in all things...and a collector...I find a plant I like and I have to have all the hybrids as long a I have the native...and then a naturalist given my ongoing drive to include more Native plants....

  7. I guess I'd call myself a patient gardener. One has to be up north; the long slog of winter is so interminable (where you show wonderful blooms coming up I still have snow, as well as mud up to my ankles in some places.)

    Your pictures are always whimsical, but my favorite is the periscope peering columbine! Ha! Love it.

  8. I suppose I'm an evolving gardener. After years of moving around the country, and never really putting down roots, I'm now the owner of a tiny neglected property in Northern California. I've got a lot to do, and a lot to learn.

  9. Looks like your plants are further along than mine in recovering from winter. My Purple Oxalis is just now starting to peak out from the ground. You might also investigate the dwarf variety of Gardenia (not entirely sure about species name, but may be Gardenia jasminoides 'Radicans') - mine appreciate minor acid help, but don't seem as bad as other varieties (and the winter's cold didn't phase it at all).

  10. Loving the textures and black background. They really enhance and show off the beauty and details of the plants, respectively.

    For decades, our area has had problems with the water supply. We had to purchase our water and have it delivered! Because of this and hence the difficulty maintaining a garden, the land where our home sits has been cemented by the previous owner. Although the house has been rebuilt, the cement remains.

    I'm an adaptive gardener because:
    1. my tillandsias don't require soil
    2. majority of my plants are drought tolerant (tropical heat easily dries up the soil and sometimes watering is required more than once a day especially in summer)
    3. majority of my plants are in pots/containers and readily brought indoors when there is a threat of a typhoon during the rainy season.

  11. I love your photos! I think the columbine is my favorite. I enjoyed reading your thoughts about gardening, too. I try to call myself a cottage gardener, but really, I just like to plant flowers and herbs that catch my attention, and don't do a great job planning ahead where I want to put things. I am not a landscaper, that's for sure. I do like to have some native plants, and grow plants I know will attract butterflies and bees. I even grow some plants, like rue and parsley for the caterpillars.

    As far as the climate goes, I try to stick with plants for my zone, but will sometimes stretch my 5b to try zone 6 plants. I need to do a better job grouping plants with similar needs for water.

    Thanks for your comment on my last post. I love setting up those train tracks! Who knew that I had a knack for that? I don't put in as many bridges as I'd like to, because KJ knocks them down on purpose as part of his play. Silly boy!

    Oh, speaking of different plants for different climates, our son is in Florida for job meetings of some kind, and is amazed at all the different kinds of plants he is seeing. He said he knows many of them as root bound house plants.

  12. Hi Tracey, thanks for visiting. Pam over at Digging has quite a few succulents and has inspired me to try my hand at them this spring. Best of luck with yours!

    Thanks Meredith, Oh so true, it ain't easy being green!

    @HHG, thanks for your comment. I love the foliage on the oxalis too. It sometimes dies completely back in the heat of summer only to revive itself in the fall. Spring is on its way to you!

    @HolleyGarden! Ha yes, those times when we feel invincible has probably cost me a pretty penny in plants. Looking forward to seeing how your blooms for all seasons project works out!

    Thank you Katina!

    Hi Donna...I'm a bit eclectic too. I think this will show up (for better or worse) in my sunny bed this summer - I only have a small bit of full sun and have crammed it full! I look forward to seeing all the variety in your gardens this season!

    Hi Laurrie, yes I would definitely say you are patient...hang in there. I hope you're not flooding - I heard on the radio that there was severe flooding in CT today...

    @Lisa and Robb, Thanks for visiting - welcome! Congrats on having your own plot to garden! I look forward to seeing your progress.

    @RBell, thanks for the info on the gardenias...I really don't know what to expect with this variety I bought at HD. All I can say is that bloom is amazing - it scents the whole patio! I found a freebie oxalis today on my rounds through the garden. I've had these for 5+ years and never had a volunteer so woohoo!

    Bom, You've put together an amazing garden under such restrictive conditions. Your tillandsias fascinate me and you photograph them beautifully! I would say you've adapted beautifully.

    Sue, I can relate to the just loving flowers and herbs and stashing them just anywhere to have them! I have a very limited amount of full sun and have crammed that bed full...I'm wondering how it will look this summer...maybe not so well designed but I have a feeling it will bring me a great deal of joy! That's what gardening is all about right? Bringing joy?!

  13. Cat,
    Just gorgeous photography. Inspiring. Love your blog name too.

    I happen to have many friends from TX, though I have lived in western PA all my life. They all speak with such warmth about their homeland.

    I feel torn about living in Zone 5... no visual growth for over 3 months is hard to deal with, and yet I know that I would miss (just a little) the snow and the dramatic change of season. There is so much poetry in the death and rebirth that happens each year. And anticipation grows sweeter in the waiting.

    Thanks for asking!

  14. Cat,

    You have so many beautiful photos that I got carried away and forgot your original question.

    I have clay soil here too. Quite impossible to dig as there are also many rocks. I prefer to grow trees since maintenance are quite low. I think you call that a lazy gardener. :) Anyway, I do grow veggie, herbs and flowers as well.

  15. Cat - your post title pulled me in (I was just going to log off and saw your post on my RSS feed.) but your photos held me in place. Promise me you frame them and have an art gallery opening!!

    As for 'what type of gardener' am I? Midwest topography lends itself to 5" of topsoil over clay...greasy in Spring - like concrete in Summer. After amending soil like crazy - I'm working on 'negative' (grassy) and 'positive' (garden beds) spaces... we'll see how it goes? :)

  16. First off - great shots of what's already happening in your garden. I especially liked that one of the Japanese holly fern - reminds me of a green mamba !

    My most challenging gardening had to be out in Calgary where snow could be expected in any and every month of the year !! No planting of any frost-sensitive plants before the end of the 1st week in June ! Some years annuals would have to be planted a 2nd time after frost killed everything the first time ! And as soon as tender annuals were planted, count on steady winds of up to 50 mph ! BUT - in the veggie garden, root crops did extremely well.

    In Florida - a gardener's delight. We're getting our first taste of gardening in the WINTER ! I just fertilized our 20 palm trees - in MARCH (see - still hard for me to believe ;-) Looking forward to seeing the first signs of spring when we get back to Canada in April.

  17. hello Cat, interesting post and I can understand your feelings, I've just started to think about Ericas and Conifers ~ not my favourites ~ but more suited to my weather conditions, what irritates me about the zoneing is it only seems to account for cold, not salt laden gales that I get or very hot tempertures that you get, being surrounded by sea water warmed by the Mexican gulf stream I don't get the extremmes inland gardeners get and my climate would be wonderful if I could only turn the salt gales off, there is one blowing as I write this and my beautiful crocuses have been flattened, I'd never even heard of wind burn until I moved here, I love your Gardenia and with my acid soil would be able to grow them but for the wind, I have a Camillia that is in a pot in the shed by the window for winter I daren't plant it out, I think you have to be an optimist to be a gardener, Frances

  18. I agree lovely photos. I am so getting a gardenia this year. My Central Texas gardener friends tell me it does well with just a little more water. So I figure a spot that does not dry as quickly and I will add some coffee grounds.

  19. Another wonderful life lesson from the garden - to be realistic about our limitations, embrace our gifts, and joyously celebrate the good times! Your photos are so beautiful!

  20. Beautiful bloom photos! That gardenia is so lush. And the redbuds in flower around town might be my favorite right now, with their clouds of pinkish lavender. I've similarly come to appreciate the native and low-maintenance plants and try to avoid anything that has to be carefully tended. I'm excited to see which ones you work with this year.

  21. Welcome Wife, Mother, Gardener! Thank you for your kind words! I couldn't agree more about the sweet anticipation...we have the same feelings here only reverse of seasons...substitute your word snow for heat here! Thanks again for stopping by.

    Hello One! I would never call you lazy based on your blog! It's filled with love, imagination and joy.

    Shyrlene, your generous words are so sweet - thank you ;) Maybe someday I will frame some of them...right now just enjoying the gardening season. It could be a good project for the heat of the summer though. I've been following your blog and am looking forward to your posts this spring - sounds like you've got big plans!

    Rick it's almost impossible for me to comprehend so much winter! I read a few gardening blogs from Florida and it does look they can grow just about anything!

    Frances, Yes, you've definitely got the quality of optimism. Salt laden gales I can imagine would kill just about anything. Isn't it funny how we would all have the perfect weather if only...the gales would go away, the heat, or the's always a juggle to work with the climate and the unexpected.

    TG, Yes, get a gardenia and we can compare notes!

    Thank you Ginny! Life lessons abound in the garden!

  22. An optimist, taking a reality check, as some plants tell me goodbye. The new plants to fill those gaps, are going to be more of the good ones. Probably Cuttings of the Good Ones ;~)

  23. Cat, your photos are as beautiful as your words are eloquent. I always *love* visiting your blog. I'm always fascinated and humbled by your posts. Yes, the hot Texas summer will be here very soon, but we can enjoy this wonderful interlude we call spring :)

  24. Yes Diana, always the optimist as a gardener! I've been feverishly transplanting cuttings of the "good" ones this spring, hoping to spread the love!

    Thank you Diane, your kind words humble me ;) You're a sweet spirit.

  25. Your photographs are by no means amateur. They are magnificient and I enjoy seeing each new addition. What type of gardener am I? A happy one. Our growing conditions here on Long Island are pretty good and I can grow a great variety of plants-color, color and more color!!!

  26. What kind of gardener am I? I would have to say that I'm an impulsive, passionate, nature-loving dreamer! I could spend hours dreaming up beautiful garden designs, but reality hits home when it's time to face the tough questions. Will this plant be hardy in my zone 5, arid, temperature extreme, harsh climate? Yes, you might say that I have had to adjust as a gardener. I grew up a southern Louisiana girl in a hot, humid, luscious green, clay-soiled, zone 8climate. Now I live in Utah in a harsh, dry, windy, alkaline, clay, and silt soiled area. I consider it an exteme gardening zone as well. I tell myself that I will only grow native hardy plants here too, but when I see those beautiful mophead hydrangeas, camellias, southern magnolias, dogwood, gardenias, and the list goes on and on, I long for those beautiful plants in my garden. They remind me of home. Beautiful photos Cat. Enjoy your spring season before the fiery furnace of summer comes!

  27. I grew up in north Florida and it is my home today. My parents farmed this land over 40 years ago. My husband and I farm on the land in our back yard. We usually have a good turn out with most of the vegetables and fruits we enjoy.

    Thanks for sharing,

  28. Thank you Lee, I really am humbled by your words. There is so much to learn about photography and I've only begun to scratch the surface. I look forward to seeing your happy gardening style come into bloom this summer!

    Ramona, so true...the question "will this plant be hardy in my zone" brings us all back to reality doesn't it? I long to have a dogwood from my childhood but it's not going to happen here!

    Thanks for visiting Loretta. That is so cool that you have such a history with the land you tend.

  29. I am hopeful each spring too. But I plant a lot of agaves and yuccas to be sure of getting through the blistering summer.

  30. I have had little garden only 5 years. I live in southern Finland which means the spring starts in April if we are lucky. First crocus will bloom in april. End of May you can buy flowers outside to the bots and hope that all the frost is over. The season ends about in September.
    We have quite good soil but season is so short that I won't get english cottage garden ever (which is my dream). I love everything beautiful so I bye and but to the ground and hope for the best. I don't know any names of the plants (maybe few) I don't think it is so important I just want watch:)

  31. Hi Cat, sorry I've been away travelling and busy building a travel blog. Now I"m back. Missed your blog! You have become an even better photographer since I last visited. Love that columbine shot.

  32. Cat, your images are so stunning I had to go back and re-read to give the text some attention. I particularly love the light you captured so beautifully with the blossom photos, the fern and the presiscope columbine.

    As to the rest, your climate is certainly challenging! Going for natives and other plants well adapted to the conditions sounds like a recipe for a less stressful gardening year, I wish you well with it - and with the occasional "lapses" into possibly misplaced optimism. May your Gardenia thrive. I am tending more and more towards gardening with what I have rather than pushing the limits because I fall in love with something not suited to the conditions I can offer. But I would never want to stomp on the playfulness or occasionaly bout of "oh well, I'll just try it and see" because so often plants surprise you, in good ways and bad.

  33. Optimism will take you to warm weather and more flowers. I'm pulling back mulch, looking for new sprouts.

    I believe in planting where you can bloom, whatever the climate.

    That doesn't always mean the same old plants your neighbors have. I discovered that most Texas Gold Stars and other recommended-for- all-of-Texas plants will grow for me in SouthWest Georgia. That's how I discovered Experanza, Duranta, Pride of Barbados and Belinda's Dream rose. Everything that doesn't like my sandy acid soil gets extra lime, wood ashes and humus.

  34. Cat, great question. Climate has definitely affected how I garden. I used to live on the west coast of Canada in zone 8 so I had lots of available plants to use but my lot was completely shaded and I had to learn how to work around that. Now I'm on the east coast in zone 5 so less plants to work with but my lot is incredibly sunny so it actually feels like I have more options than I did before!

  35. Phenomenal picture!!! I thought the fern was a snake at first! I am a tough-love gardener. I'm not interested in divas or whiners. If I give the plant everything it needs to survive and it does poorly, I'll move it a few times assuming I've made a mistake, and if it continues to whine, I yank it. I need plants that are resiliant and adaptable. This ain't Hollywood, honey!!


Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
"Pooh!" he whispered.
"Yes, Piglet?"
"Nothing," said Piglet, taking Pooh's paw. "I just wanted to be sure of you."
~A.A. Milne

Thanks for taking the time to visit!