I inherited my love of gardening (and porches) from my mother. I recently visited my parents at their home near Livingston, Texas, and my mother’s garden was in full-bloom. I thought you might enjoy a tour, seeing some new plants, and learning a few stories behind her decorations.
My mother describes her garden style as “Southern Victorian Cottage.” She likes cottage gardening because she can buy anything she wants that fits into her garden’s zone 8b climate. Also, any gift or donation fits in, regardless of color or size.
My parents’ home is yellow and white, so my mom repeated those colors in her garden, especially with Shasta Daisies that appear repeatedly in their large yard. Mature trees provide a lot of dappled shade throughout the day.
When people comment, “It looks like a lot of work,” Mom replies, “not if you love gardening. It’s a challenge, and you share yourself and meet people through it.” She never thought she’d have such an extensive garden, but the space allowed for it, and living in the same place for a longer length of time helped, too.
My parents’ home has a wrap-around porch which was a key selling point. They enjoy starting their days with coffee on it. During my visit, I was happy to join them in that ritual. As soon as my eyes opened in the morning, my first thought was, “Coffee on the porch!” We also played a game of Scrabble and got caught up on all of our news while sitting out there. I often caught the peachy scent of Mimosa trees which were flowering nearby. Porch-sitting runs in my family. (Oh, and I also wrote this blog post while sitting there at the table.)
My mother loves ferns and has them hanging all around her porches. She moves them into her garage during the winter months and carefully tends them until she can return them to their home on the porch in spring.
As if the wrap-around porch wasn’t enough, my mother had another little porch added to the back of the garage near her gardening area where she could sit and enjoy the view of the back yard.
Mom had a unique idea. She studied their large back yard for over a year and finally had the idea of designing a drive-thru garden. They live in a small neighborhood where many of the neighbors zip around in golf carts and she wanted them to be able to take a drive-thru tour of her garden.
She made five flower beds in a circle and then used their golf cart to drive around and around among them to create the paths.
She then started looking for ceramic animals to add, which she tucked in among the plants. She wanted her grandchildren to have fun finding them. As they got older they rearranged them to play hide and seek.
Mom told me a funny story: Years ago she had left some of the nursery tags on her plants so that she could remember what they were. During one of their visits, the granddaughters collected all of those tags for her. Mom graciously thanked them for their labor of love, and the tags never made it back out to the plants.
Once, after establishing the drive-thru garden, my parents hired a man to mow the yard for them. Afterwards, he said that he didn’t want to come back because she had too many flowers. We laughingly agreed that we didn’t want someone like that in our yards anyway!
Once, many years ago, mom admired a neighbor’s flowers. The neighbor offered to give her some, but mom said she didn’t want to take her plants. The neighbor insisted, saying that her plants did better when she shared them. Mom said that she’s always remembered that and tried to share hers as well.
Mom has received several plants from neighbors. She used to work at a church where they had a tradition of “flowering the cross” where they removed the blossoms of Easter Lilies and attached them to a cross, but then planned to discard the plants. She asked if she might have them and they were given to her so she added them to her garden.
She has some rose bushes that began as a cutting from another gardener. Mom admired her rose bushes so she stopped one day to ask about them. The woman gave her some cuttings and Mom was able to start some plants for her own garden. She said the woman called them “Seven Sisters.”
In addition to acquiring plants from friends and neighbors, Mom tries to save money by regularly scouring the clearance racks at garden centers for bargains. She’s not afraid to nurse leggy and droopy plants back to health.
The Shasta Daisies multiplied quickly, so she has been able to spread them around her yard by dividing them. Not only did they help to fill her beds, but they gave her garden some continuity. I envied how healthy and beautiful her daisies were. They don’t grow that well for me.
Mom focuses on buying perennials for the long-term so that she doesn’t have to keep rebuying plants, and fills in with bedding plants (annuals) to add some immediate color while the perennials mature.
Like me, Mom likes to repurpose. She found these discarded bi-fold doors and asked my dad to hang them at one end of her porch. She has all sorts of found treasures that she has used to decorate her gardens and porches.
Mom has a plant addiction. She visits garden centers and nurseries often and just can’t help herself if she finds something new. This yellow Spray of Gold (Galphimia Gracillis) is one example. She came across it one day while shopping and had to add it to her collection. It looks lovely among the daisies, doesn’t it?!
For years Mom had been pulling up a “weed.” This year she finally decided she liked it and let it stay. After an unusual two-night freeze, it became a filler, filling in while her other plants revived. Dad did some research and found out that it’s called “Jewels of Opar,” is a member of the Purslane family, and that it’s edible. Most of the day it’s closed, but late in the afternoon the flowers open, similar to Four O’Clocks. Here are two photos, showing them closed, and then open. The buds and flowers are so small and dainty that it was challenging to get a good picture of them.
She didn’t know what a pretty blue wildflower in her yard was so she took a picture of it and used a garden app to identify it as Spider Wort. She decided she liked it, so she started digging it up and adding it to her flower beds, where it has multiplied.
Caterpillars decimated Mom’s Knock-out roses earlier this spring. A certified Rosarian from her garden club advised not to cut roses back like a hedge, that it was preferable to remove individual stalks to thin out, and not to cut out more than a third. Mom noted that it took them about six weeks to come back out. They were blooming beautifully when I was there.
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My mother’s favorite gardening tool, the one that she uses most often, is a weeder hoe. She says that it goes under the weed and cuts it off, and is easy to use.
Mom’s favorite gardening book is Trowel and Error.
Other tips that she shares are:
- Do a little bit of maintenance every day. Then it’s not so overwhelming.
- Walk the garden every day and talk to your plants. You’ll see if a squirrel has dug up your newly planted plant. You’ll see something new and different. Carry a pair of scissors or pruners with you to do a little deadheading as you go.
- Learn when to transplant and share, don’t move plants at the wrong time. For example, if you try to transplant a blooming Shasta Daisy, it’ll be gone from your garden and might not survive the move to the new garden. Wait until it’s done blooming, and transplant young (small) specimens.
- Know how much water plants need. Soaker and irrigation systems don’t account for different needs. Hand watering allows a closer look at plants.
- Use “anchor plants” – have shrubs or trees in each bed so that when annuals die or perennials go dormant, you still have something in the bed.
- Take pictures of your plants so that later on you can remember where they are.
Thank You for Coming!
I hope you enjoyed touring my parents’ yard as much as they enjoyed sharing it. I think it’s fun to talk with other gardeners and learn about their style. Somewhere, I saw gardening referred to as the slowest of the performing arts, and it truly is an art form and a labor of love.