>Sure my tomatoes may suck but…

>My helpers came with me to check out our veggie garden today and lo and behold, two patty pan squash bigger than my hand. Must be the awesome radioactive nuclear waste I use as fertilizer. Man, that grows some yummy veggies. Sure, they have a slightly metallic taste to them and my kids seem to glow at night, but hey, they don’t need a nightlight to read either!

We also picked our first Rosa Bianca eggplant, an Ichiban eggplant (not pictured below) and another soyu cucumber. Can’t wait to use the Rosa Bianca in a dish. I picked 7 soyu cukes the other day and sent them to the jobsite with my husband who handed them out to his subs. Some of the guys just sat down and started munching on their right away. That’s my kind of veggie-lover!

>As the Veggies Ripen-Episode 3

>On this episode of As the Veggies Ripen, experience my veggie garden arising from the dead of drought and summer because of a few showers. Suddenly, life springs back, and please god, let the bees come and pollinate or I’ll be out there shaking everything down to get it going.

When we last saw the garden, the heat and drought had squeezed most of the plants to within an inch of their life. Squash vine borers moved in and decimated many others. I won’t hide the ugly truth, we lost some good ones out there. And it can only become ugly when you have to approach your veggie garden with a bucket of soapy water and a knife. Oh, the humanity!

But here we are having enjoyed a few chance showers and I have gotten a second chance. Today I cut back all of the tomatoes by half, hoping to revive them for the fall growing season and the cooler temps that might allow them to fulfill their fruiting obligations to me as their veggie master.

Here’s my report on the winners, losers, and the downright duds! I have retained the beautifully versed marketing descriptions (in italics) of the plantings so you can see fantasy vs. reality.

Azoychka Tomato: Dead, dead, dead. After making a comeback from being chopped off at the base, the top of this plant was yet again chopped off. Interestingly, neither time was the plant anywhere to be found. It was too much to hope that it would spring back.
One of the first to ripen in your garden, this lovely lemon yellow 7 to 8 ounce tomato has a delightful sweetness with just a touch of acidity. Ripening in only 70 days from planting out, it has a delightful yet subtle hint of citrus with a rich lingering flavor. This beguiling Russian heirloom has become a favorite of chefs and tomato lovers world wide.

Jetsetter Tomato: The only one of my tomato plants to produce any fruit aside from the cherry tomato. It yielded 4 good size tomatoes, all with cracks in them. I let the first one ripen on the vine and paid for it with a nice hole in the bottom. From then on, I picked them the moment they had a hint of redness, letting them finish up ripening on the counter.
Produces good yields of very flavorful 8 oz tomatoes. Tomatoes turn red when mature and have a very rich tomato taste. This variety matures very early offering those in the South a great early harvest. Excellent in salads or sandwiches. Disease Resistant: VFFNTA. Indeterminate.

Cupid Tomato:Has flowered almost constantly but really diminished fruit set withe the heat. I get a few here and there. Taste is OK, but I wasn’t bowled over. The tomatoes are so small, much smaller than I am used to with grape tomatoes.
Grape Tomato plant, will make you fall in love with its rich flavor, huge yields, and ease of growth! ‘Cupid’ is a very lucky find, and without a doubt the most flavorful grape tomato ever grown!
Huge clusters of bright red fruit that resists cracking and is disease resistant. Natural sugars make Cupid a sweet nutritious snack.

Brandywine Tomato: Nothing, nada, zilch, zero. Lame.
Indeterminate, pink fruited, large fruit, oblate shape, some green shoulders, some ribbed shoulders, some cracking, yield can range from how to relatively high, potato leaf, meaty, flavor from insipid to superb.

Yellow Boy Tomato: I have not seen one tomato from this plant. A big disappointment.
(VFN)The first lemon yellow, not golden, tomato variety, and still one of the best. Extremely vigorous plants produce large harvests of attractive fruit that weighs 8 ozs. or more. Flavor is outstanding, mild and sweet yet tangy and definitely not bland. Indeterminate.

Japanese Soyu Cucumber: All I can say is wow! Vines are going nuts up the trellis and the cucumbers are all over it and huge-as big as my arm! You can see some hanging in the picture below. We are eating them every night and I still have plenty to give away. Flavor is nice and clean, not sure I would call it “sweet” but it has had no problem with the heat.
This sweet Asian cucumber can be eaten like any traditional Western variety but also popular in soups, raitas and stir-fries. Long-ridged, sweet fruit, 18″ or longer. Can be trellised for longer, straighter fruit.

Homemade Pickles Cucumber: These vines just stayed puny and I was ready to give up on them. But suddenly, with a few showers, they sprung back to life and got their second wind. Now they are spilling out into the aisles beside the raised beds and trying to twine around the tomato cages. Flowers all over but no fruit yet. I’m hoping the buzzing I hear when I walk by will remedy that situation. I’m just starting to see some aphids on the leaves-will need to get out there and spray them off.
Arguably the best cucumber available for pickles. Solid and crisp interior-perfect for 1-5″ pickles. Also great for salads.

Scallop (Patty Pan) Blend Squash:I love these. Absolutely my favorite tasting squash. Just a tad sweeter than the yellow squash. And they grow fast. The two plants I have left after the Squash Vine Borer Massacre of 2008 have just kept on going, even with gaping wounds from the borers and my knife. I have picked two this week that are bigger than my open hand. I continue to pick off and squish squash vine borer eggs constantly.
Mix contains Early White Bush, Golden Scallop and Bennings Green Tint, all heirloom varieties. Having a slightly spicier, nuttier flavor than other summer squashes, this is a must-have blend for squash lovers.

Early Prolific Straightneck Squash: Thank god these are prolific producers because the squash vine borers destroyed 75% of my crop. I have two left and I have a lot of fruit on them. I have to check this every few days or I pick squash bigger than my arm. This is cone case of the marketing description not being exaggerated. Again, squash vine borer eggs are constantly a danger and I keep busy hunting them down. I have sprayed all of my squash with BT to get these guys when they hatch.
This old favorite open-pollinated squash is still a favorite- best tasting when harvested at 4-7″, the flesh is fine-grained, thick and firm. If left on the vine, will grow so big that it will affect the orbital spin of the earth.

Rosa Bianca Eggplant: Plant has grown nice and big , with flowers even. But so far, no fruit. But this was a late starter so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.
A gorgeous Italian variety with a delicate, mild flavor, creamy consistency, and no bitterness. Considered one of the best by gourmets and gardeners alike. 4-6 in. long, 4-5 in. diameter.

Ichiban Eggplant: Fair yield so far- probably 6 off the vine. Fruit grows fairly fast. Long and slender fruits, mild flavor.

Random Squash#1 and #2: I found these guys growing in my front lawn. So I hoisted them out and plopped them down into the veggie patch. Flowers all over but no idea yet what they are.

Bell Pepper: Small yield- only two peppers so far. Not that impressed.

Artichoke-I see my first artichoke producing in the center of the plant. Looks like it’s having a rough time with the heat. But I’ll let it go and see what happens.

>July Bloom Day

>Glad to be back for July Bloom Day. Something kept me from posting last month, but I have no memory whether it was dehydration, hangover or amnesia. Pick your favorite. Anyway, July has things looking, well, tired. We just haven’t had much rain, although a few recent showers have helped. But we’ll be in the 100s all this week with no rain. It was a record 105 degrees on Monday.

I’ve been trying to help plants along with a mid-summer pruning which means a lot of them are recovering and not blooming- like my roses, some salvias and mexican oregano. But here are my July greatest hits.

Upon returning home from a business trip, I was happy to be greeted for the first tme by a blooming white spider lily, a passalong from my father. They smell great and are so dramatic.

Here they are with canna in the back and zinnias around

Purple coneflower has sprung up under my palm.

My coleus seem to have held on and continue to add color to my shade area around the bird bath. I mixed up three of four and love the textures.

Those of you who have visited Kiss of Sun recently probably already saw my moonflower in bloom at night. Here is the vine during the day- quite the grower. Flowers are hiding all underneath the foliage, wound up tight during the heat of the day

Lamb’s ear and Dallas Red lantana are getting cozy in my drought-tolerant bed.

Across the path from those lovebirds is society garlic, with her violet crown

I know many folks don’t like lantana, and I myself do not like the gold variety. But I do like two varieties I have out at the end of my driveway. First, I have white lantana along a black metal fence

and I have buttercream lantana near the mailbox

One of my favorites during the summer is portulaca. You just can’t go wrong with this plant. Completely drought tolerant-not even a hint of wilting. And blooms like you wouldn’t believe. I have it in containers

and along the pathway

This is the time in Texas for crape myrtles. Mine are in full bloom-talk about adding color!

My Texas Sage I blogged about last week is fading, but my Silverado variety is blooming this week, offering cool greys and purples

I love this little zinnia because my son brought it home from school for me as a mother’s day present. One bloom on it then and look at it now. We go and check it out every time we are in the backyard.

Main attraction in the wildflower meadow right now is (I hope I identify this correctly) Mealy Blue Sage.

And finally Salvia Greggii, recovered from her haircut last month to encourage more blooming, is giving it her all

Hope your gardens are giving you lots of color and summer joy.

>Mystery Plant ID


Who can help me solve the mystery of this plant coming up in my front bed? At first I thought maybe a stray hydrangea…but who ever heard of that. It has small green berry-like structures along the stem. Single-leaf stems with serrated edges on the leaves. I’m just biding time to see what the fruiting structures do, but so far it’s kind of a cool looking plant. I have a thought that it might be a beautyberry but am unfamiliar with them so I’d love confirmation.

>Leucophyllums- shockingly strong and beautiful!

>I love Texas sage. Ever since I moved down to Austin I have been drawn in by it’s silver-blue foliage and sudden flowering triggered by rain. My first house here had Silverado Sages along the sides and they grew beautifully tall, even keeping their bushiness thanks to more natural-shaped pruning. The more heat they get, the better they look. And they are beautifully drought-tolerant. They bloom in repeated cycles, summer to fall, usually triggered by some rain showers. And it prefers full sun and alkaline soils. What more could an Austinite ask for?

My current house has Texas sages in the front, back and, my favorite, out on the corner of the lot. But the ones on the corner of the lot are a bit greener than “Silverado ” and have a more vivid purple flower. Not the lavender you see on others. And ever since I moved in, my sages have always lagged behind on blooming compared to others in the neighborhood. Everyone else’s blooms and mine don’t Then about a 2 weeks later, literally overnight, my corner sages light up in purple.

Here they are the first day of blooming.

And that brings up something I have not liked about leucophyllums-legginess. I have never really liked the look of leucophyllums when they are formally trimmed as a hedge. The bottom becomes very bare and the blooming seems to get sacrificed as you see blooms only right along the top. I like to prune them retaining a very natural shape.

Texas Sage is also knows as Texas Ranger, Texas Rain Sage, Cenizo, Texas Silverleaf, Ash-bush, Wild Lilac, Purple Sage, Senisa, Cenicilla, Palo Cenizo, Hierba del Cenizo and Leucophyllum frutescens Scrophulariaceae

I highly recommend these plants for your landscape in Central Texas and encourage you to let them stay a bit more natural. Look for varieties that will stay fuller rather than getting leggy along the bottom. You can get a variety of sizes, leaf colors, and bloom colors depending on your selection so research your variety before you buy it to make sure it meets with your space and aesthetic needs.

Here’s more about Texas Sage from Texas A&M:
Cenizo is one our most outstanding native plants, a medium-sized shrub with a compact form, delicate silvery to gray-green leaves, and stunning displays of prolific purple blooms from summer into fall. It is sometimes called “barometer bush” because flowering is triggered by humidity or high soil moisture after rains. Cenizo’s native range is from Northern Mexico through the Rio Grande Plains and Trans-Pecos, sparingly in the Western Edwards Plateau, into New Mexico. It grows on rocky caliche slopes and stony, calcareous soils. It is extremely drought and heat tolerant and maintenance-free once established. Cenizo is often used along highways and in commercial landscapes because of these qualities. However, to thrive in a landscape, it must have full sun and very well-drained alkaline soil. Although watering in dry summer months will make it grow faster, overwatering or poor drainage will quickly kill it, and shade will promote leggy growth and less flowering. In areas of high rainfall or poorly drained soil, cenizos should be planted in raised beds. If they are planted in acid soils, dolomitic limestone should be added. Fertilizing is unnecessary. Cenizos are not susceptible to pests or diseases other than cotton root rot, which well-drained soil will discourage. Sheared cenizo hedges are a common sight, especially in municipal plantings, but maintaining its natural shape with only light pruning produces a healthier and more aesthetically pleasing shape. This can be done in late winter or early spring before buds form, and possibly again in early summer. Cenizos are hardy to 5 degrees F. Leaves may become sparse in winter but will reappear with warmer weather. In 1982 Benny Simpson released two unusual selections: ‘White Cloud’, with white flowers, and ‘Green Cloud’, with green instead of silver leaves.

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>The Long Heat of Summer

>These long days of summer with the endless heat and very few showers just seem to drag on. I spent the other day giving many of my perennials a haircut. They were doing fine, but had started looking tired and needed the trim to liven them back up. So my salvias and Mexican Oreganos all got cut back by about a third. I was waiting for my Texas Sage to bloom. Many in our neighborhood did after the rare shower that we had last week, but none of mine did. I drove with envy past all the other beautiful purples on the blue-green fliage all near our house. I can only hope that mine are holding out for a real show-stopper bloom later in the summer.

The crape myrtles are really in gorgeous form right now. Purples and hot pinks just lighting up the landscape. That last shower really helped our lawn recover from it’s dry and crunchy condition-that and having our irrigation guy come by to make adjustments. The system we have has always been so patchwork- different heads, bad spacing, overtaxed on some zones, not enough on others . We’ve finally gotten it to where it should be and replaced the bad heads with much more efficient rotors and taken care of spots that simply got no water. Our irrigation guru said it takes a year like this year to expose all of the faults with your zone layout that might otherwise not show up. Suddenly, everyone can see what’s lacking in their system.

I’m glad I’ve removed so much lawn and converted to beds, but we still do have a fair amount and I like it to stay healthy. To help, I always leave clippings on the lawn when I mow. And lately, I’ve raised the height on the mower to 4 inches. Only one fertilization with an organic fertilizer in the spring and we seem to be in good shape. Funny how I always had brown patch in past years when I had a lawn service on the payroll but now that I am doing it myself, we seem to be in good shape.

But boy, does this heat make it hard to enjoy the outdoors for very long during the day.

>Moonflowers at Night

Much like Carol, I can’t resist showing off my moonflowers. It’s hard to show them off since they only open up at night. Their fragrance is heavenly and I wish Blogger had a scratch n’ sniff feature. But I went out tonight to snap some pictures in the pitch dark to give you an idea of what they look like.

Of course, it’s hard to get a good shot of them using the flash because they are so blindingly white against the green foliage. And when they close up during the day, it’s like a large pinwheel that slowly twists close. If you have the patience, you can actually see them closing and opening slowly. I encourage you, grow moonflowers. They are very easy to grow from seed, just nick the seed before planting. Plant them close to a window you can open so the scent will flow inside. I’ve grown them ever since I lived in Chicago and love to see their flowers hiding in the day and showing off at night.