Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Keukenhof Gardens

We had some amazing luck with the weather during our visit to The Netherlands.
The sun smiled on us during our morning at the Keukenhof Gardens.

Leaden skies suddenly parted, the sun came out, and there were ribbons of color everywhere!

It's hard not to gush.
The Keukenhof Gardens are a springtime dream of color.

Last year during this same week, there were no flowers.
A long and cold winter delayed the spring.

This year a mild winter gave way to an early spring, and so, lucky us (!), 
we saw these glorious gardens in full bloom.

Seven million bulbs are planted each fall for the gardens short, eight week open season.

The Kuekenhof was originally cultivated in the 1400's
 as a kitchen garden for Jacqueline, Countess of Hainaut.

(Wikimedia Commons)

In the mid 1800's landscape designer Jan David Zucher developed a comprehensive plan for the 79 acres of gardens around Castle Keukenhof.

Today the gardens are a showplace for growers and their hybrid bulbs.

The variety of color and form seems infinite!
I found it impossible to pick a favorite.

Around every curve in the path was a new delight.

I usually choose daffodils bulbs to spite the squirrels.

But after visiting the Keukenhof it's going to be even harder to resist those Dutch Bulb catalogs.

The growers planted classical combinations of color in some garden areas,

and more unusual combinations in other areas.

These dusky, grape colored tulips against the bright blue of the hyacinths caught my eye.

I might not have noted these lavender tulips in a catalog, but in combination with these other shades, thet suddenly have quite an impact.

If I lived in the Netherlands, I think I'd need a daily ticket for the Keukenhof Garden season!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Signs of Spring

It's blustery and nippy and wet, but we have Daffodils!
Amazingly, those papery brown bulbs planted last fall
  did manage to push their way out of that sticky clay. 

And there were other signs of plant satisfaction this weekend.
The Magnolia trees, undaunted by that late frost, have sent up large purple buds.

The Lady Banks rose is putting on an impressive show its first year on the back terrace.

The Jasmine vine around the corner was frost burnt.
But the leaves that browned out are being replaced by a flush of new growth.

The Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) plants survived under a blanket of fall leaves, and are sending out runners.

The Guara lindheimeri are bushy with new growth.

I love the rich red of  the new leaves.

The biggest disappointment in our plantings is the boxwood.
We have two types (Japanese and Winter Gem) in various locations. 
All of them failed miserably to deal with the cold and wind.
The bush below was 24" high before I cut it back to ground level to find green wood.

Nematodes might be contributing to the problem, 
but they can't be seen with the naked eye.
Either way, I suspect the ultimate answer is to rip the boxwood out and use a different type of evergreen.

The additional pallets of stone arrived, so our in-house Master of Paths and Patios
 was able to complete this beautiful stone circle.  
This is where our fire-pit will be located.
The courtyard drainage runs underneath the dry creek bed and the new patio,
 before continuing all the way to the lot line.

We centered this stone circle with the dogtrot 
(a screened porch which runs between the main house and the guest house).
A path connecting the patio to the porch entrance is the next step in the project.

While stone was being laid out front, I was planting tomatoes and herbs out back.

I remembered the marigolds this year.
Marigold roots release a chemical that kills the type of nematodes known to attack tomatoes.
(Maybe I should plant some around the boxwood!)
They are also thought to deter some nasty garden pests like tomato hornworm.

It rained and it rained, all Saturday night and all day Sunday, but the lake is still down eight feet.
I guess it needs to rain for a month!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Early Wildflowers

Texas wildflowers are starting their show.

Drifts of delicate, white Crow-poison are springing up in the common ground across from our house.

The March winds (gales) have been making everything difficult to photograph!

This yellow, ruffle edged wildflower is new to me.
I found only one plant, and I'm tempted to go back and rescue it before the mowers attack.

It's a native deciduous perennial called Puccoon (Lithospermum incisum),
and apparently will grow into a small bush.

These pretty little pinky-white flowers with the lavender stripes are called Springbeauty (Claytonia virginica).
They are quite prolific in the shadier places.
Sometimes called Fairy-spud, it has small edible tubers.

This gorgeous Milk Thistle doesn't have a flower yet, 
but the leaves were so beautiful I had to take a picture.

It's very prickly (very, very), but people do pick the leaves, trim off the prickles off and saute!

Black Swallowtails have bee darting about,

and rafts of inky black American Coots are starting to nest in the canals.

In our garden, we've been raking and bagging leaves.

The Hellebore are in full bloom. 
 I really like their tough, leathery leaves and their indifference to late freezes.

This camellia bush was amazing - a pink cloud - until that last cold snap turned both blossoms and buds brown.
The wind is too strong to capture pictures of the daffodils or magnolia blossoms,
 but spring does seem to be coming!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Blue Heron

The lake where we've settled is also year-round  home to a large number of Great Blue Heron.

(Ardea herodias )
Standing three or four feet tall, they weigh less than 8 pounds,
 but have a wingspan of five or six feet.
It's an impressive site when they unfold those huge wings!

They seem to prefer to hunt alone, noisily chasing off encroaching members of their own species.
This heron has adopted our stretch of beach, 
and commandeered a perch on the corner of the boathouse deck.

He is quite resentful about any disturbance. 
I wore my slippers and left the dog inside to get this photo.
He (or she?) sits out there in even the coldest weather, all hunched up on one spindly leg.

This is a new lake, damned in the mid 1980's.

The drowned trees (that can be seen sticking up out of the water below),
 offer ideal heron homes - safe from most predators and surrounded by good fishing.

We do have the most amazing sunsets out here.
It's a different show every night, changing minute by minute.

The sky and water were even more saturated with color and light than I could capture with my camera.

I haven't altered the color on the photos.
These sunsets really are just like Fauvist paintings!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Sky Blue Seed Cones

The Redcedar trees that have abundantly naturalized in this part of Texas
 are simply loaded with beautiful blue seed cones this year.

This is Juniperus virginiana var. virginiana, also called Eastern Cedar.

They are dioecious,
 meaning some trees produce pollen and others produce seed cones.

They are everywhere along this peninsula except on our property.
Unfortunately, we had to remove ours to make way for the house.
I wonder, if I scatter some of these waxy seed cones around,
if I might start a small grove?

Another tree I'd like to have is Hercules' Club.
(Zanthoxylum clava-herculis)
The bark on this Texas native is amazing!

Each of these cork-like "alligator teeth" is topped by a thorn.
Not friendly to lean against, but such a great texture.
It's also called tooth-ache tree!
 The twigs and inner bark were prized by Native Americans and early European settlers for it's numbing qualities when chewed.

Sadly this one across the street broke during a storm.
 Zanthoxylum clava-herculis are also a larval and nectar host for Giant Swallowtail butterflies.

The name Hercules' Club is sometimes applied to less interesting type of tree: 
Aralia spinosaor Devil's Walking stick.  
Instead of "alligator teeth", Aralia spinosa just has simple thorns on its trunk.

Kye and I explored the beach, walking under piers.
It's amazing how thick the undergrowth is after one summer of low water!

 Kye collected lots of burrs, while I collected images.

And then we followed the sunset home!