Sometimes it’s a Nut, but Most Times it’s Not!


This post, although timely as we enter the holiday cooking season, was prompted by a colossal fever blister outbreak I experienced last week.  Statistics state 50 – 80% of US citizens have had outbreaks of these blisters caused by one of the eight forms of the herpes virus.  I promise this isn’t going to be a medical article, but bear with me another paragraph or so!  Chicken pox, shingles, roseola, as well as what we know as “herpes” are conditions caused by this type of virus.  For some of us, this virus is always looming in our nervous system waiting for us to become ill or run down, or, as in my case last week, to eat too many nuts in one sitting.

You may already know that nuts are good for us nutritionally as they provide omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and protein to our diets.  However, one component of the protein found in nuts is the amino acid l-arginine.  Without getting into medical jargon, I’ll just state that the majority of professionals tend to think l-arginine promotes the herpes virus.  After I ate two “heavily-pecaned” pecan pie slices last week and awoke the day after with a major outbreak on my lower lip, I have to say I believe in this theory.  Another proponent to this theory is most physicians recommend a daily dose of l-lysine for those of us that are prone to fever blisters, shingles, etc.   L-lysine is an amino acid that appears to counter l-arginine in our diet.  Thus, eating more l-lysine-rich foods or supplementing with l-lysine tablets may help keep the body from becoming out of balance.

Whew!  Now on to my relevant “gardening” post!

When researching pecans, learning about the high levels of l-arginine within them, and attempting to figure out what other nuts I need to avoid this season, I came across some very interesting information about how we popularly categorize fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds versus how scientists actually categorize them.   An acceptable label for those hard seed items we use in cooking and snacking is “culinary nuts”.  However, for botanists, the scientific categories they use, and reasons for them, are extremely diverse, detailed and technical so I will simply list a few surprise classifications I discovered, beginning with one you may already know –

Peanut – is not a true nut, but a legume.  Most gardeners may already know this as peanuts develop underground versus on trees.   Legumes in general produce pods that house more than one seed.  Beans are legumes as well as are peas.  Since the peanut has the flavor of a nut but is a legume, I can only guess these two facts were combined to form the peanut’s name.

Peanuts are Legumes

Peanuts are Legumes

Pecans, Walnuts, Almonds – are not true nuts, either!  They are botanically considered drupes.  A drupe is a type of fruit that has ample flesh surrounding a flexible shell (pit) with a seed inside.  We typically think of peaches and plums in this category for they are obviously fleshy fruits with pits/seeds inside.  However, if you take a look at how pecans, walnuts and almonds form and mature on the tree, you’ll see that they, too, begin with a fleshy outer part just as do peaches and plums.  The difference is we discard the flesh, remove the outer shell (pit) and eat the inner seeds of pecans, walnuts and almonds.  To differentiate between the fleshy and non-fleshy drupes, some call those in which we eat the seed, “dry drupes”.



Pecans on the Tree w/Fleshy Green Exterior

Pecans on the Tree
w/Fleshy Green Exterior

Almonds w/Fleshy Exterior

Almonds w/Fleshy Exterior

Cashew & Pistachios – are drupes as well.  An interesting aside about these culinary nuts is they are actually related to the poison ivy plant.  While peanuts are the most allergenic of culinary nuts, those who are particularly affected by poison ivy may experience an issue with these two.

Coconuts – are also drupes.  I placed the coconut in a different paragraph because what we typically consider the flesh of the coconut is actually the seed.  Take a look at the green flesh of the immature coconuts below.  Once mature, we crack the shell and indulge on the white seed.  Thus, a coconut is categorized as a dry drupe.

Immature Coconuts w/Fleshy Green Exterior

Immature Coconuts
w/Fleshy Green Exterior


Hazelnut – is a true nut, finally!  As are chestnuts and acorns.  A true nut has both the (thin) “flesh” and seed enclosed in a hard pod and the seed is not automatically expelled from the pod as are the seeds of legumes and drupes.  Legume pods split at maturity to release their seed and drupe pods split or rot to release their pit/seed.  Thus, to get to the seed of a true nut you’ll need a nutcracker or other device to do so – no paper shells in this category!

Hazelnuts are Without a Fleshy Exterior

Hazelnuts are Without
a Fleshy Exterior

Lastly, probably the biggest surprise to me . . .

Avocado – is a berry.  Yes, you read this correctly!  It is a berry.  I only bring this into the mix because as I was reading about drupes I thought it described the avocado to a tee. I thought I had this scientific classification stuff figured out.  Wrong!  Basically, as I mentioned far above, you have to know a lot about how a plant’s fruit is formed (from the very beginning through maturity) to be able to accurately categorize it.  For example, the seed of the avocado is actually surrounded by a very thin, hardly detectable, fleshy shell (which is a flexible but harder shell in a peach, plum, pecan, walnut etc.)  The other, thick layer of flesh of the avocado is comparable to the flesh of, say, the peach, but again, we are eating both the outer flesh and the inner “shell” of the avocado.  The seed, we toss.  Thus, having both an edible fleshy interior and edible fleshy (very thin) shell, makes the avocado a berry. 



Of course, berries are typically multi-seeded and the avocado has but one seed.  Technically, the avocado is a single seed berry.  I could go on about berries, which gets even more complicated as a strawberry is considered an aggregate of drupes (drupelets) and not a berry, but I think I’ll just stop for now as I’m veering far off the topic of nuts –

In closing, and back to nuts, I am providing the link below to an l-arginine/l-lysine ratio chart so that no matter how many pieces of pecan pie or other nut, legume, drupe or berry goodies you eat on Thanksgiving, you’ll have information to balance (or supplement) your diet and hopefully avoid any ill consequences of overindulging!


Happy Thanksgiving!



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Pansies and Ornamental Cabbages

Pansies, Ornamental Cabbages, Alyssum and Wandering Traveler

Pansies, Ornamental Cabbages, Alyssum and Wandering Traveler

If you reside in a warm temperate climate, such as the southern US, it is prime time to transition your outdoor landscapes and pots to their winter adornment. Among a very few other ornamentals, pansies and cabbages are the perfect complementary accessories you can add to your yard and planters at this time of year.

Pansies are among the most favored of flowers worldwide and have a history of admiration going back to their ancestral relative, the tiny viola, written about as long ago as 4th century BC in Greece. A classic wintertime flower in most areas of the US, the beautiful hues and varied faces of the pansy adorn many a bare lawn during the festive holiday months and throughout January and February.


In addition to pansies, the popularity of planting cabbages for ornamental effect has increased in recent years. Cabbages enjoy the same basic light, soil and temperature requirements as pansies, and their coloration – predominately in variations of green tinged with pinks and purples – looks stunning when complimenting the deep purples and magenta of some pansies and when contrasting with the yellows and orange-golds of others.

So – if you haven’t already taken advantage of the moderate fall temperatures these days and planted a few pansies and ornamental cabbages, it isn’t too late! With the first day of winter not arriving until December 21st, there are indeed a few weeks of fall left to allow these beautiful winter hardy plants to take root.

Speaking of winter hardiness, both pansies and ornamental cabbages can survive low temperatures to 5 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, I have witnessed a bed of pansies emerge more full and vibrant after enduring a two-day snowfall here in the North Texas area. And, although I don’t intend to eat my ornamental cabbage, I understand heavy frost causes a sugar surge within the plant that results in its leaves tasting sweeter. (Both pansies and ornamental cabbage can be eaten if your palate approves!) Even though these plant varieties do well in the cold, it is highly recommended after planting them that you heavily mulch to improve their chance of survival during bitter and/or unusually lengthy cold snaps.

In addition, pansies and cabbages should be planted where they will receive at least 5 hours of full sun, whether planted as winter ornamentals in the south or during the early springtime in the northern temperate and polar zones. They should be watered moderately, about 1 inch per week, if rainfall is sparse in your area.

With regard to pests, pansies, being low growing flowers, are most susceptible to snails and slugs. Other soft bodied insects can be troublesome, such as aphids, but they aren’t usually as much of a problem during the cooler winter months. Same with spider mites – there is a slight chance they can be bothersome but not usually until it has become so warm the pansies need to be pulled up anyway.

Ornamental cabbages are prone to the identical pests you’d find with other plants of the Brassicaceae family – broccoli, cauliflower, kale and brussels sprouts. These pests are cabbage loopers/worms, harlequin bugs and white flies. Fortunately, like with the pests of pansies, these bugs are not prevalent during winter months.

As mentioned above, pansies and ornamental cabbages enjoy full sun, moderately watered soil, rapid winter growth and very few pests. There is one trait of which they are opposite, however. Aroma! I actually did not realize just how wonderful pansies smell until I entered a greenhouse one year that was full of them. The scent was absolutely intoxicating. I hope you can partake of the aroma of pansies on your patio sometime this year. In contrast, ornamental cabbages smell, . . . well . . . like cabbage! I discovered this by accident too. When making a purchase of a six-pack of varied cabbages on the fly one day after work, I inadvertently left them in my car overnight. If you’ve ever cooked boiled cabbage at home, you know the odor. Needless to say, as pretty as cabbages look in pots, it is probably best that they are left to adorn your outdoors!

Well, this past weekend (prior to Thanksgiving) I took advantage of the mild weather and planted a couple of flats of deep purple pansies in my hanging baskets, flower beds and pots. In one of my larger pots, I added a few ornamental cabbages of varied hues to the mix, along with a bit of white alyssum and wandering traveler for a drapery effect.  See far above and below.

Top View - Pot of Winter Flowers

As I sit admiring my “masterpiece” I know it will only get bigger and better with the cold. -And, there simply aren’t many plants you can say that about!

I hope you, too, find time to plant a few of these winter wonders this season.

Until next time,

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Blooming Texas Sage – A Sign of Rain?

Texas Sage Abloom Just Prior to a Rain Shower

Texas Sage Abloom
Just Prior to a Rain Shower

As I drove to work a couple of weeks ago, I noticed the Texas Sage shrubs in my neighborhood were ablaze with purple blooms. At first, I thought only a few were blooming along the right-of-way, but as I meandered deeper into my neighborhood toward the highway, I found just about every sage bush I came upon was abloom. When I arrived home that afternoon, I went out to my mailbox as usual and noticed my own 6 ft sage bush was also adorned in purple! This was the first time it had bloomed all year.

Texas Sage is an evergreen shrub with silver to silvery-green leaves and infrequent purple, tubular-shaped blooms. It can grow up to 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide, but you may keep it trimmed to your desired size as a specimen plant or utilize it en masse as a hedge. It is native to Texas and is very drought tolerant and tolerant of poor, alkaline soil. It can endure the full, hot sun but will also survive with part shade. The only negative with the shrub is it can develop root rot if it receives too much water. It is attractive when used as a backdrop or specimen in desert, xeriscape and native planting beds. It thrives in the arid areas of Zone 7 and southward, i.e., the southwestern United States and Mexico.

19 Year Old "Old Variety" Texas Sage

19 Year Old “Old Variety” Texas Sage

There are several varieties of Texas Sage available and newer types may bloom more vibrantly and more often than the older varieties. My sage pictured above is an older variety and its blooms are more sparse and lighter in color than those planted along my neighborhood street shown in the pic below. Regardless, last week they ALL appeared to be blooming in unison. When such finicky bloomers all join in to bloom at the same time, something interesting must be going on, right?

Texas Sage Hedge Along Neighborhood Screening Wall

Texas Sage Hedge Along Neighborhood Screening Wall

Well, I’ve always known you can expect Texas Sage may go into bloom a day or so after a rain shower. However, there hadn’t been rain in our area for months prior to these shrubs bursting open.

This led me to research Texas Sage a bit more in depth. What I discovered is Texas Sage has many names, including Purple Sage, Phoenix Sage, Cenizo, Wild Lilac, Texas Silverleaf and Texas Ranger, however the one name that caught my attention is Barometer Bush. And thus, I learned that while Texas Sage does tend to bloom a day or so after rain, it can also begin blooming when conditions are merely optimal for rain to occur. This apparently has to do with the plant’s extreme sensitivity and ability to detect high humidity in the atmosphere.

Bee Enjoying Texas Sage in Bloom

Bee Enjoying Texas Sage in Bloom

An old wives’ tale states you can count on rain within 7 days of seeing a Texas Sage burst into bloom.  Indeed, shortly after my shrub was ablaze with purple, we were fortunate to have had a couple of days of sweet, steady rain.  Considering our recent very dry summer, here’s to seeing a little more purple in our landscapes this fall.

Until next time,

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Pink Muhly Grass

Pink Muhly Grass photo compliments of

Pink Muhly Grass
photo compliments of

We have a couple of nice-looking medium-sized terra-cotta pots situated on either side of our patio.  The pots are in front of two columns that provide the “entrance” onto our outside dining area.  The pots receive full sun year ‘round and have the unfortunate case of being placed atop cobblestone that truly heats up beyond words in the summertime.  Just ask me about the mistake of walking around the pool barefoot in mid-August!  The only relief this area has is that the pots are placed in iron stands and so they do not receive 100% of the ambient heat from the stones beneath.

The pots are in a high traffic area and thus, we struggled with finding something to grow within them that could take both the heat and the side-swiping of passersby.  One year we planted periwinkle and while we needed to water it almost daily in the summer, it actually did fairly well.  Then, we made a huge mistake one spring and tried orange dahlias.  They were the perfect color for our patio and were indeed gorgeous for a while – until the Texas summer burned them to a crisp!  Last year, we planted purple fountain grass and it was a big hit although it eventually got a bit too tall for the size of our pots.  The purple fountain grass accented the columns very well in the meantime, however, and when folks walked by there were no blooms to be knocked off, which was a bonus.   With the grass being a success for most of the year, we decided ornamental grass was probably the best solution for this tough, potted plant location.  We needed to find a smaller variety and preferably, a perennial.

This is when we started looking around the landscapes of the freeways in the north Texas area.  The various state and local highway organizations are really good sources to look to for tough, but attractive, plantings that will naturally thrive in your area.  This is when we discovered Pink Muhly Grass.

Pink Muhly Grass is a compact ornamental grass that has an attractive clumping growth pattern.    It sends out rays of green spikes of new blade growth while the older blades turn a bit hay colored and cascade downward.   The overall look of Pink Muhly Grass fit our outside décor very nicely (which is 1/3 Texan, 1/3 Mexican and 1/3 tropical.)  I tease my husband from time to time as I’d like to focus on one theme eventually.  He claims since all three of the above have borders with a beach we already have one theme!

At any rate, the Pink Muhly Grass gives us the desired look to our exterior dining area.  It took the heat very well all summer, yet still grew to the suggested 3.5 height and width range. And I can attest it has been quite drought tolerant.  A bonus is that it is a perennial to those of us in Zones 6 and warmer so we can enjoy the grass in subsequent years.

The only issue we had this first year is that one of our plantings received a little more foot traffic surrounding it than the other, so quite a few of its erect spikes became bent or broken.  We even went so far as to switch the pots around to see if the “damaged” one would sprout some new growth and catch up to being as perfect as the other one. It indeed sprouted new growth, but it remained just a tad more unkempt than the other. Don’t get me wrong – it didn’t look bad, its form just didn’t look “as good”.

Well, I had actually forgotten about the pink part of the name of the Pink Muhly Grass until about three weeks ago when the unkempt plant suddenly began to bloom.  I don’t think my pictures below capture its color very well, but the plant is amazingly frilly and vibrantly pink these days – as though there are tufts of pink clouds atop it.

Perfect grass in foreground and pink-clouded one in background.

Perfect grass in foreground and pink-clouded one in background.



The other, “perfect”, plant?  Well it isn’t doing anything yet!  It has a fine form but there are no signs of blooms on it.   What is interesting is the two plants’ environments were identical except for one thing – the unkempt plant received more people brushing up against it, resulting in bent or broken stalks here and there.  And guess where the blooms are originating?  You guessed it – from the damaged blades of grass!

Pink Muhly Grass Bloom on Bent Stem

I must admit I could find nothing in writing that states Pink Muhly Grass will bloom more heavily on injured stems, but that indeed seems to be the case with our particular plant. I still have faith our “perfect” plant will eventually bloom, although perhaps not for as long or as brilliantly as the distressed one.  And next year, I certainly will not be so obsessed about the grasses looking identical or worried about them being located in a high traffic location.

In conclusion, I can’t help but think of several metaphors applicable to this experience.  I think the most relevant of these are:

  • Sometimes the greatest fruits are borne of those who have experienced the deepest injury.
  • Never give up, no matter your circumstances or setbacks, for everyone has the ability to achieve great things.

Until next time,


(As a side note, it is recommended that you leave intact the resulting pods from the blooms of Pink Muhly Grass to provide a natural seed source for winter birds in your area.  Afterwards, you can cut Pink Muhly Grass close to its base, as rapid new growth forms predominantly in the springtime on this grass.)

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The Language of Flowers


The gifting of plants and flowers to represent love, honor celebrations, and soothe those in mourning has its roots in ancient traditions. In Victorian times, when public display of affection was frowned upon, suitors would send specific messages of their “blooming” love in the form of flowers. (See for an interesting description of the meaning of the various colors, mixtures and quantities relating to the gift of roses.)  It is thought the Victorian practice of using flowers to speak that which should not be spoken, actually derived from the “language of flowers” originating in 15th century Persia. This floral language was so refined during this time that flower arrangements were routinely dispatched as secret military messages to allies and unsuspecting enemies throughout the Middle East. With regard to the practice of funeral flowers, archaeologists have uncovered flower petals and garlands in tombs of many ancient burial sites, including the tomb of the Egyptian king, Tutankhamun. It is thought by some that the ancient ritual of presenting flowers at death was in part to assist with alleviating the odor of the dead. The practice may have also been done to provide the soul of the departed an offering to take with them into the afterlife. Then, there was the thought that blooming flowers signified renewal, thus by sending flowers to the bereaved you were honoring the re-birth of their departed loved one.

Jumping to present times and continuing to speak of funeral flowers, I typically opt to send a potted plant combined with a few mixed blooms to those in mourning. In my mind, this practice ensures the family has a living memorial to their loved one once the initial flowers have faded. However, when a loved one lost is very near and dear, you may find you have intense emotions when selecting flowers for their services (indeed the “language of flowers” kicks in and runs deep in times of great love and great loss.) As in the case of a dear nephew I lost far too young a couple of years ago, I opted for a spray of “white as snow” roses. Their meaning of purity and innocence and their symbolism of heaven was the perfect final earthly gift I could present to him.

In addition to honoring our departed, we often send flowers to friends, colleagues and relatives upon happy occasions – such as to rejoice in births, birthdays, anniversaries, promotions and retirements. You can certainly research the language of flowers and find the best flower for the exact occasion, including the very flower which represents a child’s particular birth month (see On the contrary, no matter the occasion, if you know a person’s favorite color or favorite flower, the arrangement will be greatly appreciated no matter its floral meaning. This is especially true when sending a Get Well bouquet.

Of course, we are often reminded of how red roses epitomize romantic love and, as such, we honor our sweethearts by presenting them with bouquets of these beautifully hued flowers. While other colors and combinations of colors of roses represent other sentiments, don’t fret if your sweetheart mistakenly sends you friendship roses on Valentine’s Day. I would venture to say that although 90% of the male population knows it is best to stick with red roses, most do not consider 15th century or Victorian floral symbolism when they spot a “bargain” mixed bouquet!  Keep in mind, though, there are geographical exceptions to some meanings of flowers. For example, in Texas, yellow roses also signify true love (versus friendship) and in fact, are my very favorite.

So – now that you know a little more about the language of flowers, I urge you to explore and research a bit further and buy yourself a meaningful bouquet now and then.  See There simply are times in our lives we may not have a sweetheart or a reason to buy for another and these circumstances shouldn’t prevent us from partaking in this ancient tradition for ourselves. Whether purchasing from the florist or taking cuttings from your own backyard, I encourage you to become fluent in the language of flowers – all the while keeping in mind that while ancient floral symbolism is quite fascinating and can certainly add meaning to a gift, every flower – whether sent or received, picked or still on vine, is truly a miracle to behold!

Until next time,

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Rapid Radishes

 Radish Seeds

I believe the quickest and easiest germinating vegetable, by far, is the radish. You can plant the seed one day and three days later you will have a nice row of tiny green sprouts. Not only is the radish fast germinating, it is also fast maturing. You can harvest a large crop of fresh, crunchy radishes in just three weeks!

The radish is a cool weather root crop that can endure a mild frost and thus, can be sown in early spring or mid to late fall.   Radishes enjoy full sun and somewhat loosened soil, so pick a sunny spot and simply till the top crust of your garden by hand. You may also sow radishes in containers if you’d like. Next, take a small spade and draw rows in the soil at about 1/2 inch in depth (or draw circles if using a pot). Scatter seeds in a line inside the rows and very lightly tamp soil over the seed. Water carefully, but amply. In just a few days you will surely see sprouts – too many sprouts in fact! Give the sprouts about a week to establish themselves and then carefully pull up every other one – or more if there is an area where they are obviously too crowded. You will need to allow each plant room enough to create an inch-and-a-half round radish underground – although some radishes are shaped like traditional carrots!

Speaking of . . . there are indeed several varieties of radishes available today relative to shape, color and taste. The most common radish is perfectly round and is red on the outside and white on the inside. It is crisp, juicy and can be a little spicy at times. It is thought the hotter the weather while growing, the hotter the harvested radish will be. Round varieties also produce pink, purple, bicolored and white fruit. And, as I mentioned, there is the White Icicle variety that simply looks like a white carrot. There is even an Easter Egg seed packet you may purchase that is a mixture of the varieties mentioned above.

Colorful Radishes
Although most kids and some adults do not care for the taste of radishes, they are a colorful and nutritious bonus to salads. In addition to adding color and texture to a salad or meal, radishes are high in Vitamin C, folic acid and potassium. They are also a good source of magnesium and calcium. And best of all, they are filling yet have almost no calories!

Because radishes are quick developing plants and are not in the soil for long, fortunately they are not attacked by many pests and have no known diseases that I am aware of. I have grown radishes almost every year for the past 25. Only once did I have an issue with insects on my radishes and that was just an odd gardening year all around. I had developed a root maggot infestation. It literally grosses me out to think about it even now. That particular year, the root maggot fly (which looks like a light gray house fly but a tad smaller) infested my radishes, turnips and carrots. As I pulled them out of the ground, little white wiggle worms were all over the veggies. Sadly, once a garden is infested with these pests it is hard to salvage any of your root crops. The best thing to do is to discourage the adult fly in the future by placing row nets over your plants and leaving beneficial beetles (that eat the fly) in the garden. Nematodes can also be added to the soil to deter the larva of this pest and others. Well, although I spent a lot of words describing this situation, chances are – you’ll be able to grow many crops of radishes without ever having this very undesirable issue.

So – if you’d like to spark a child’s interest in gardening, I highly recommend beginning with the rapid radish. (It is also the best veggie to begin with if you are attempting to green the thumbs of some of your impatient adult friends and family members too!)  Not only is the radish easy to sow, and fast to grow, it is extremely fun to harvest. You might consider it an underground Easter egg hunt! Kiddos love pulling up the little multicolored balls from the ground – although, again, I admit they may not like to eat them. But the good news is, if you sparked their interest in gardening with the radish you may have challenged them to grow longer-season fruits and veggies like strawberries, watermelon, squash, cucumber and tomatoes. -And we all know there isn’t anything more delicious than a home-grown tomato right out of the garden with a “shake” of salt!   They’ll be hooked –

Until next time,

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Colorful Coleus

Mexican Petunias, Caladiums, Coleus, Impatiens and Shasta Daisies

Mexican Petunias, Caladiums, Coleus, Impatiens and Shasta Daisies

Most of my blog posts this year have been dedicated to the topics of heat and drought. I spoke of helping our feathered friends during the summer, of bringing prized plants indoors during 100+ degree days and about the amazing plants that were indeed hanging in there against all odds. Today, I’d like to add Coleus to the “amazing” category. Not because it has done extremely well during the heat, but because after being munched to the ground by what I think was a pack of thirsty rabbits, it is now re-sprouting from its original roots in my flower bed!

Blurry photo of resprouting coleus plant after being eaten to the ground by rabbits.

Blurry photo of sprouting coleus plant after being eaten to the ground by rabbits.

Coleus is a “fleshy” plant of the Lamiaceae family, or mint family. (I think its moist, fleshiness is what attracted the thirsty bunnies to eat mine.) The mint family is typically characterized by having square stems and aromatic leaves. Speaking of leaves, Coleus is grown as an ornamental because of its vividly hued variegated foliage.

Coleus derives from the tropical areas of Asia and will not tolerate temperatures consistently below 50 degrees – thus it is grown as an annual in the United States. While it is a shade-loving plant, Coleus does require some sunlight to perform at its best. My flower bed in the pic at the top of this page is under a tall live oak and receives dappled sunshine. You may indeed find relatively new varieties of more sun-tolerant Coleus in the nurseries these days. These new varieties will enjoy a shady environment just as well, but can tolerate quite a bit more sun than earlier Coleus varieties. All prefer fertile soil on the moist side, but not soggy. Coleus can be overwintered as a houseplant, however it will need to be near a sunny window and you should take caution not to over water. While relatively pest and disease free, Coleus can be prone to mealy bugs, white flies and fungal conditions if allowed to get too wet.

Back to my recent Coleus experience: With regard to the  heat spell we had this past summer, even in a dappled sun/shade environment, my Coleus was wilting very badly on a daily basis. It was hanging in there, but was unattractive and obviously struggling.  And, after the critters munched it to the ground, I just didn’t get out in my flower bed to tidy up. Thus, multiple chewed-up Coleus stalks remained imbedded there for quite a while.  However, I feel very fortunate that I left the stalks in the ground even as bare and unattractive as they were. I expect as a result of my avoidance, I may surprisingly reap a full bed of beautifully colored foliage by the end of the fall season!

Perhaps there are a few positive horticultural tips we can glean from extreme weather. Witnessing the re-birth of my Coleus plants reminded me just how very easy they are to grow, especially from rooted cuttings. It also reminded me to mention to you – before it is too late – that if you have summertime Coleus in your landscape now and it has become lanky or unattractive, instead of getting discouraged and pulling it completely up this fall, just consider giving it a “haircut”.  It may not look great immediately after, but it will soon reward you with much thicker growth and more vibrant color than ever before.

By the way, some folks enjoy the dainty look of the spires of tiny purplish flowers that Coleus sends out at maturity. En masse, flowering Coleus looks pretty good in my opinion, although the plants certainly become lanky when left to flower. If you want your Coleus to remain colorful, strong and stout, you really should pinch out their centers from time to time so that leafy off shoots are promoted. In other words, Coleus benefits from a haircut now and then no matter the circumstance!

The Many Colors of Coleus

The Many Colors of Coleus

And, if you did not have Coleus in your landscape this summer, you may wish to visit your nearby nursery in time to gather some up and create a striking fall foliage display. The vibrant burgundy, magenta, rust, cream and chartreuse colors look especially attractive in pots next to haystacks, scarecrows, gourds and pumpkins!

For a few tips and beautiful pics regarding arrangements of Coleus in pots, see


Until next time –

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The Great Fall Monarch Migration


There is something amazing happening in the North Texas area right now:  The annual fall monarch butterfly migration into Mexico.

Last weekend, I saw multitudes of monarchs making a pit stop at my home, which is about 3 miles east of Interstate 35 in Carrollton, Texas.  The butterflies were partaking of our vitex tree which still has some sparse blooms left over from summer.  As most of you in tune with nature already know, there have been many articles and news reports following the migration lately.  In fact, I have found a wonderful interactive website that answers just about any question you may have regarding the monarch butterfly, among other migratory animals.  You can track sightings and input your own to the site, if you wish!   See:

As such, today I’d like to share a couple of personal photos and just a few tidbits of information I find fascinating about this migratory event and will leave the in-depth information to the website above and others listed within this post.

  • Monarchs are the only butterflies known to make up to a 3000 mile, two-way migration.
  • All monarchs east of the Rockies will funnel through the state of Texas to their destination in central Mexico. A smaller number west of the Rockies will overwinter in coastal and southern California.
Monarch on Vitex, Carrollton, Texas, Oct 2015

Monarch on Vitex, Carrollton, Texas, Oct 2015

  • Monarch larvae (caterpillars) feed exclusively on the milkweed plant, which is toxic to most insects and animals.
  • The toxicity of the milkweed stays within the monarch larvae and adult butterflies – making both phases of the insect unpalatable to most of their predators.
  • As I learned a long time ago in my elementary school science class, the viceroy butterfly is a great monarch mimic, taking advantage of fooling predators who may believe they are bad-tasting monarchs!
  • The slight differences between a monarch and viceroy:
    • There is a horizontal black line across the hind wing of the viceroy which is not present in the monarch,
    • there are no dots on the back of the body of the viceroy, and,
    • the viceroy is generally a little smaller than the monarch.


  • It is thought the number of monarchs is declining due to the limited availability of milkweed host plants subsequent to overuse of weed herbicides and sprawling urban development.
  • An effort is underway to re-establish native milkweed plants through federal, state and municipal roadside plantings and by encouraging citizens living along the monarch migratory path to integrate native milkweed into their landscapes. See
  • Milkweed is actually a somewhat attractive “weed” that tends to bloom longer and under circumstances when other plants may not (drought, poor soil). In addition to the species pictured below, there are also pink and bright white blooming varieties.   Another bonus to milkweed is it is a perennial so after it is established you shouldn’t have to re-plant.  If you decide to plant milkweed in your landscape or garden it is important you find seed or seedlings native to your specific area of the US, as some non-native species are actually thought to be detrimental to the monarch and its migration. See
Asclepia Viridis, Green Milkweed or Green Antelopehorn Milkweed Photo courtesy Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center

Asclepia Viridis, Green Milkweed or Green Antelopehorn Milkweed Photo courtesy Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center

In conclusion, although rain is forecasted this weekend in North Texas, I hope you find a chance to sit outdoors within the next few days and observe the monarch migration traveling through our area this month.  You may be surprised at just how many of these delicate, but resilient, flying jewels you will see!

Until next time,



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Fairy Lights



I am absolutely in love (my husband says, obsessed) with solar landscape lights. What is not to like about solar lights?  As long as they get a good bit of sunshine during the day, they are maintenance free, wire free and relatively inexpensive.  And, there are now so many varieties of lights to choose from that any size, shape, theme or other landscape desire can be accommodated.  We’ve actually become skilled at reusing panels from worn or broken devices and adept at replacing batteries in dimming items – allowing our inexpensive solar purchases to last even longer.   (See the below pic of the perfect fit on a beer glass of a solar panel that used to be on a now-shattered, ceramic dish.)

beer glass solar

One of my favorite types of solar décor is the spotlight that doubles as a rock during the day.  Most I’ve found come in gray and that’s wonderful if it fits your brick or color scheme.  If not, there is a cheap, fast and easy way to make these work.   Simply tape up the panel and lens using shipping tape, spray on a little paint to match your soil or mulch and the fake boulders will magically disappear into the landscape.  The pictures below show how our fake rocks  are very inconspicuous during the day, but at night, spotlight our potted palm and cow skull/bird bath beautifully.





My obsession – umm I mean – love has now migrated over to fairy lights.  Fairy lights are strings of lights that have bulbs much smaller than twinkle lights.  And, by the way, solar fairy lights do exist and you’d think I’d be in heaven over that fact, but, for recycled kitchen jar projects there simply isn’t enough space to fit the needed solar panel!    For the most part, I’m using the fairy light jars to decorate indoors (or on the protected patio) anyway – although I admit they’d look really great placed around outdoor areas too.  If using outdoors, I’d be sure to bring them inside when not in use to avoid water seeping in from rain or sprinkler systems.

I have decided to work with the tiniest of fairy lights that are displayed on silver strands and are powered by coin batteries.


First of all, I make a point to save any and every glass jar that we use in the kitchen – including those that hold spaghetti sauce (my favorite because they offer a wide mouth), hot sauce, ketchup, jelly, cold drinks, etc.   I also have a second favorite recycled jar (sweet tea container) that has the shape of Texas embossed on it.  I haven’t quite figured out my plan with the Texas embossed jars, but most likely they will have a western flare to them.

Next, I use a product to help take off the label glue from the jar.  You can also try dish soap and a scratch pad if you want to use some elbow grease.  I then wash the jar and lid in the dishwasher.  Once sparkling clean and dry, I store the jar for a few days while I spray paint the lid a color to my liking and let it dry.  And you guessed it, I like oil-rubbed bronze!

I then go to my favorite online shopping site – – and order a few packs of small, inexpensive fairy light strands.  Consider paying about $6 – $8 a strand.  Sometimes you can find a 2 or 3-pack for less, so be sure to shop around.   I’ve stayed with white lights, but you can find red, blue, green and other colors as well.    You will find the battery pack on these types of lights can be stacked or side-by-side.  Tip:  Although it can be a tight fit depending on the way the battery pack is designed, the battery conceals pretty well if you use Velcro, super glue or otherwise to adhere it to the underside of the jar lid.




After the above steps are completed, it is time to get creative!

There are an infinite number of things you can add or do with a recycled glass jar to personalize it or give it a theme:

  • Nothing but lights! I must admit I like clean glass jars with simply fairy lights enclosed.  The light strands are very pretty on their own.



  • Paint the interior with glow paint. This is a little tricky, because it is hard to paint the interior of a jar, especially small-mouthed ones, but I managed to easily make a polka-dot design using glow-in-the-dark paint and a very small, narrow paint brush.  I recommend abiding by the “less is more” adage when it comes to painting jars – after all, you do want the light to shine through.  What is really nice about this project is after the fairy lights are turned off, the jars continue to glow for a while.  I think this would be an awesome night-light project for kiddos.


FullSizeRender (002)

  • Add marbles, decorative stones, medallions and/or seasonal glass shapes. I layered stones and lights and created a couple of really nice fall décor pieces.  I gave one to my mom for her mantle and I kept one for myself.  It adds a touch of the season to my office!


  • Add natural items, such as sticks, rocks, stones, acorns and leaves. This idea is really inexpensive!  Simply find some natural jewels around your yard and intersperse the fairy lights around them.  If you need assistance, I’ve found using a plastic knife or a pair of chopsticks helps direct the fairy light wires into the jar.   On this one, let me add caution – I picked up a few acorns for my “au naturale” display and it wasn’t long before I found a little worm had emerged and was wiggling toward the light!  I’m all about nature, but I don’t wish to raise worms inside my house and I doubt do many of you!  I’d suggest baking the acorns for a bit before using them (this is my own acorn advice I didn’t take) or simply realize that you need to check your display from time to time for issues.  Be prepared to dispose of it once the season is over.


  • Same as above, but paint the natural items. Probably an easy way to avoid bringing worms, bugs and mold into your house is to first, spray paint the natural items you wish to display in your jar.  A colleague of mine suggested painting twigs white before placing in the lighted jar to create a serene, wintry scene. Sounds beautiful to me!  I would venture to say metallic or glittery paint on the natural items could create an instant holiday theme if you wanted a little more sparkle.
  • Lightly glue photographs and/or announcements to the interior wall of the jar. The lights would simply be placed in the center to provide a glow.   I haven’t tried this yet, but I think it would be a great a wedding, anniversary or new baby gift.   Of course, I suggest the larger mouth bottles/jars for this one!
  • Super glue or hot glue glass stones to the exterior of the jar/bottle. While researching what to do with the interior, I came across an article describing how to create a beautiful candle holder from a recycled jar by hot-gluing glass medallions to the exterior.  I admit, it does look beautiful.  I would think a strand of fairy lights would look exceptionally well inside!    P.S.  The blogger predominately uses mason jars and found solar lids for one project!  Double bonus tutorial!

I commend any and all of you that recycles glass to the bin.  However, you might think about storing up a few recyclable glass jars in the garage or under a cabinet for when that creative urge takes hold next time.  For me, the urge comes near the holidays and/or when the weather keeps me indoors.

As I said prior, there are a number of ways to decorate glass jars with fairy lights.  Above are just a few ideas.  I believe if you give recycled glass jar fairy lights a try, you’d be surprised to find just how creative you truly are!

Until next time,



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Now is the Time to Plant Bluebonnets – Oct/Nov

  •  bluebonnets

Taking pictures of kids and grandkids in a blanketed field of bluebonnets has become a favorite annual springtime event for most families in Texas. Actually, the state flower provides a flattering background of blue for all generations – young, old and in-between. It is also the perfect backdrop for pics of our frolicking pets.

When I was a child, my mother and grandmother practiced this ritual. We usually trekked out to Mountain Creek Lake in far west Dallas and there, my two sisters and I would be sat in a field of flowers, usually adorned in frilly Easter petticoats. Most memorable to me of these occasions would be my mom scolding us when we’d reach down and innocently pick a flower or two. Heaven forbid we pick the state flower of Texas! It was thought by my family for years that it was “against the law” to pick bluebonnets, but I’ve discovered that it isn’t, and probably never was, so. This rumor was so rampant that in 2002 the Texas Department of Public Safety actually published a press release explaining there is no such law! However, be warned that if you come across the perfect picture location, you need to keep in mind it is against the law to trespass on private property. It is also against the law to cause damage to (dig up) public property. Not to worry. Last year I saw plenty of bluebonnets at nurseries and, from two very healthy plants I purchased, I have seed to share. Just send me a note with your mailing address via comment below (which I will not publish) and I’ll be happy to send some to you. This leads me to the title of my post – Now (October/November) is the time to plant bluebonnets. As with most wildflower species, fall is the time to sow bluebonnets in order to enjoy their color come spring.

More bluebonnets

Once established, bluebonnets are prolific bloomers. These above bloomed from March – June.

Although native to Texas, bluebonnets can be grown in Zones 2 – 10. They enjoy part to full sun, are drought tolerant and prefer slightly alkaline soil. Unfortunately, they can be a tad ornery when it comes to germinating. You see, their seed coat is quite hard; impenetrable until optimal growing conditions are present. Scarifying, or sanding, bluebonnet seeds assists them with germinating in flower beds that will be manually maintained (watered) and groomed (weeded). You’ll recall my favorite vine, the moonflower vine, requires its seed to be scarified for best germinating results as well. If you buy your bluebonnet seed in a commercial packet, you may find they are already scarified – just check the label. Once a bluebonnet seed successfully germinates, the plant will enjoy slow, steady growth throughout the cooler temperatures of winter; eventually setting blooms in the springtime for our picture-taking pleasure. Another bonus to growing bluebonnets in your beds is, as part of the legume family, they actually place nitrogen back into the soil. What a wonderful combination – flowers and fertilization!

bluebonnet seeds

Before I go on, let me say that there are times during my research of a topic that I come across a website that simply says it all and says it well. This is one of those times. To read one of the best articles I’ve found regarding bluebonnets, including better explaining the above, please follow the link below. –And afterwards, I hope you come back and take advantage of my free offer to spread a little bluebonnet seed now so you can enjoy a bit of Texas in your landscape next spring!

Until next time,



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