Road Trip: Zilker Garden in Early March

Before what some call “shelter in place” went into effect in Austin, Texas, due to the pandemic, got some snapshots of Zilker Garden when there to give a talk with Suzanne M. on judging photography and what makes a good photograph.  Must have already been anticipating not being able to visit for a while as spent more time than usual enjoying the garden. Each visit to the garden brings new discoveries and delight for favorite things. Hoping a virtual tour via a few pictures will bring you hope and healing and strength and appreciation for the plants and nature you do have access to during this time. If you have a favorite thing from your visit(s) at the garden, leave us a comment.  And may you and your loved ones have many opportunities in the future to safely visit many public gardens again together.

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Do Spiders Smile?

Yes. Spiders smile.

Yesterday, the spinning compost bin had a spider web with an orchard spider in it attached. Even though I will get compost quicker if I spin it, I hesitated and finally decided against giving it the usual 10 spins after adding some veggie kitchen scraps and some shreds of paper. Lately there seem to be a whole bunch of orchard spiders around my yard and the pattern on their bodies seems to vary and maybe even varies based on what the vegetation surrounding their web is. This suspicion is based on observation, rather than fact. But…

Today when I went out to add a few kitchen scraps to the bin what I saw stopped me in my tracks. I knew I would not be giving the compost bin a spin until this spider moved on.

smiling spider

Nature continues to awe me, even in my own backyard.

May you also find such wonders in your garden, whether it is a potted plant, a yard, a farm, park, or wild land.

Gardening is Good

After bringing home an armful of dill to dry for storage, a singe lacewing insect egg is seen delicately hanging from a small branch. Into a vase of water the branch goes to be observed over the next few days for what comes next before releasing this tiny part of the future back out into the garden.

Finding such things in the garden brings hope and joy.

Ah, gardening is good.

Pruning for Peaches

In central Texas it is a good time to prune fruit trees in mid-February. Attending a workshop led by experts hosted by a local nursery, agricultural extension service, Master Gardeners or public garden is recommended. Gaining more knowledge and seeing it done can help with the confidence it takes to do the aggressive pruning best for peach and plum trees.

Some tips from a recent workshop at Gardens at Gus Garcia in Austin, Texas for peach in Texas led by Master Gardeners:

  • consult area experts regarding good varieties for where you live before planting
  • when planting bare root trees, prune the above ground growth to match the amount of roots
  • clean your tools before starting
  • wear gloves and long sleeves to protect skin from injury
  • spend time assessing tree growth and potential cuts before cutting
  • cut leaving the branch collar at the tree trunk to speed healing
  • do not use pruning paint. Allow the tree to use sap and its natural healing to repair wounds from pruning
  • adjust tree height to match how high you will be able to reach without getting on a ladder
  • okay to prune even if already started blooming (from personal experience: watch out for bees!)
  • prune with 3 to 5 main branches in a bowl or wine glass shape, leaving lots of open space between branches for air circulation and to allow light to reach all the leaves
  • prune branches at an angle to allow water to run off
  • Once fruit starts setting, thin to one peach between a hand measured distance which means one fruit, hand in between, another fruit, hand in between, etc. (adult hand, not a baby hand, although it will be tempting to keep more fruit as we are all greedy when it comes to delicious peaches. But you’ll get bigger peaches if you thin)
  • remove branches that are rubbing or will grow to rub against other branches. continue to remove any rubbing branches throughout the growing season
  • remove downward growing branches
  • watch videos on how to prune on the internet
  • expect an every other year abundance of fruit
  • after around 10 years, expect peach trees to slow down fruit bearing and seriously consider removing low bearing trees
  • pick and enjoy the fruit when it is ready
  • keep grass, mulch and other debris well away from the root crown of the tree. At least a foot away.
before peach trim 2020 smallest
Before pruning 2020 day of workshop
after peaches 2020smallest
after pruning peach trees day of workshop 2020
peach blossum 2019
one variety of peach blooming in 2019

Growing fruit trees can be rewarding with lovely blooms in the Spring and delicious fruit with unmatched homegrown flavor. Growing healthy fruit trees can be labor intensive and requires commitment. What tips do you have for fruit trees in your area?

Make a Unique Petite Floral Container

Small floral design is a favorite of many garden club members. Just like fairy gardens and small animal breeds, there is just something about small things that delights. Small designs call for small containers.

Petite floral arrangement containers can be what you find or make. Creativity is your friend for re-purposing what others might throw away, such as a cap off a perfume or shampoo bottle. Or you can make your own containers. Cut PVC pipe can be glued using a water resistant flexible glue to a base of plastic cut to the perfect size from a produce container and then painted to match your imagination.  Testing containers for water tightness is recommended before using a container in a show. If your perfect container does leak, find a smaller waterproof container to hide inside the leaking one so you can keep your design idea intact and still use a container that may have a crack or hole.

pvc glue and plastic container

Oven bake clay can be shaped into whatever you can think of and baked and then painted. Oven bake clay allows for quickly moving from container design idea to the final product ready for your plant material. If you have used the kind of clay needing a bisque fire and then a separate glaze fire before the finished product can be used, you know the oven bake clay technique will be a time luxury. Oven bake clay requires no specialized equipment beyond a household oven. Using a wax paper covered piece of cardboard and a piece of small PVC pipe as a rolling pin, the clay can be rolled out and then easily shaped into a container. Designs can be imprinted on the clay before baking, although too much design on a container can be distracting and cause judges to take points off a design. 

Oven bake clay can also be used to make a base for a container that does not have a flat bottom.

For garden club floral designs, painting white oven bake clay clay after it has been baked is recommended because the color white of the clay tends to draw the eye to it and you want the viewer to mostly be looking at the plant material in the design and having their eye move throughout the design, not focusing just on the container, which might happen if you have a white container. Colors in all parts of a design matter and painting your own gives you absolute control over container color in the design.

Making your own petite containers are easy and fun and allow for more flexibility. Is your garden club looking for a workshop idea? Making petite containers from oven bake clay could be just the thing to energize your members and inspire them to enter a flower show to show off their containers made at the workshop.

Tool Time in the Garden

Favorite garden tools have been a hot topic at local Texas Garden Clubs meetings. While talking about tools, many garden club members from both clubs and their guests shared some gardening tips. You are invited to share in the comments what your favorite tool or garden tip is or one we left out.

Favorite tools:

  • Ratcheting loppers


  • Pruner: many had their favorite, so ask around. Sanitize with alcohol. Keep sharp using a whetstone and condition with oil.
  • Leaf picker uppers
  • Gloves: many gardeners have their favorite brand, so ask around. The gloves sold to work on roses going all the way up to your elbow were a favorite of many.
  • Whetstone for sharpening tools. Learn to use it correctly.
  • Cooking oil spray to put on tools before use for easy shaking off of dirt if you are not big on cleaning tools. Keeping your tools clean is recommended.
  • Bucket or bag of sand with a little bit of motor oil mixed in to clean and sharpen larger tools like shovels or pitchforks
  • Wooden Clothes pins: handy for things like pinning covers over tomato cages
  • Really long tweezers or long needle nose pliers to reach in between cactus to help with grooming cactus beds
  • Long jaws pliers to pull young tree seedlings
  • Garden cart to sit on that has storage for tools
  • Shuffle hoe for weeding
  • String, yarn, those stretchy lingerie straps on women’s clothing used to help secure shirts onto hangers in retail stores that have little use when you own the shirt and seem to forever end up flapping about outside of your shirt causing embarrassment. All can be used to tie plants, like tomatoes. Gardeners are pros at re-using things, which ties in well with the mission of National Garden Club “National Garden Clubs, Inc. provides education, resources, and national networking opportunities for its members to promote the love of gardening, floral design, and civic and environmental responsibility.” And the Conservation pledge “I pledge to protect and conserve the natural resources of the planet earth and promise to promote education so we may become caretakers of our air, water, forest, land, and wildlife.” – accessed January 24, 2020.
  • Japanese weeding sickle. Be mindful there are ones best used by left handed people and ones for right handed people, so shop carefully
  • Plastic flying discs can be used as sliders to help move heavy pots inside and out
  • Kneeling pad/kneelers to increase knee comfort
  • Books! Consult local gardeners for their favorites
  • Reusable leaf bags and the plastic things that hold the top open of bags
  • Use plant labels
  • Plant rosemary in a different location if one dies and you want to replace it
  • Old pill bottles can be used as shakers for small seeds by putting small holes in the lid
  • Heavy duty ice scoop from a restaurant supply store is great for scooping soil, bird seed, etc.
  • Doggy poop bags (unused of course!) are a great size for small amounts of trash or gathering plant material
  • Small plastic bags can be used to protect you from poison ivy oils by putting bag over the ivy and pulling out and turning inside out to close just like surgeons do when removing gloves or like dog owners do when picking up doggy poop in bags.
  • Use bright tape to mark your tools and to make them easier to spot in tool bag or on the ground
  • Use tea bags, coffee grounds, and crushed eggshells in the compost or directly added to soil to feed the garden microbes and improve soil health.
  • Use pecan shells as mulch.
  • Keep a gardening notebook or notepad and always have a pencil handy. Peel off information stickers on pots of plants purchased and put in the notebook for future reference.
  • Store an old sock with powdered sulfur in it in a plastic bag and before going into garden, take the sock out of the bag and bump it around your ankles before going out in the garden in warm weather to discourage chiggers, which are definitely a problem in Texas. Sure, you’ll smell like sulfur, but it beats those itchy chigger bites.


    Be mindful of your health when gardening:

  • Use gloves
  • Wear a hat
  • Wear sunglasses
  • Wear a long-sleeved shirt and pants. Cover up that skin with clothing or sunscreen
  • Protect your back. Use proper lifting technique. Get help to move heavy objects. Use tools such as plastic discs to move heavy pots.
  • Stay hydrated, take a reusable bottle of water with you
  • Carry a dose of aspirin (3 to 4 of the 81 mg tablets of aspirin, or a 325 mg tablet) with you. Many serious gardeners are of, ah-hem, mature age, and if the signs of a heart attack come on, one gardener said taking a dose of aspirin is what helped her husband save her life, in addition to emergency medical help, which you should definitely get if you think you are having a heart attack. I recommend discussing this recommendation with your physician or pharmacist to make sure it is right for you, including a discussion of the other medications and medical conditions you have. I will add a recommendation to keep your aspirin supply in good dating, store it in a cool dry place, and discard when it is past the expiration date on the bottle. I suggest if you carry a dose with you out in the heat and humidity to garden regularly, go ahead and rotate it out with a fresh batch regularly to make sure it will do its job and will be safe to take. If it smells strongly like vinegar, it is time to rotate it out and discard the old ones. Give your in-date aspirin a whiff so you are familiar with what the normal smell level is.

Botanical Arts for Indoor Gardening Fun

Did you  know there is a whole chapter on Botanical Arts in the National Garden Clubs Handbook for Flower Shows?  The chapter is a treasure of ideas of ways to enjoy plants outside of the garden beyond simple cuttings and floral designs.

The National Garden Club Vision of Beauty Calendar has many botanical art examples, including garden landscapes, bonded designs such as plaques and collages, hanging designs such as wreaths, jewelry made of plant material, and hats and dresses. Members can submit images for inclusion in the calendar.

Artistic crafts includes objects with a use which could be just for decoration, but can also be packages, jewelry, things to wear like hats or dresses or shoes, cards, candles, decorated trees, and the list goes on for items the flower show schedule could include. Fresh plant material, dried plant material, pressed flowers and leaves can be used, as well as flowers preserved in a more whole form such as by using desiccant or glycerin.

An artistic craft such as a napkin ring could be included as part of a show in a design section of table settings and add a layer of sophistication to the design for both the viewer and the designer.

Pressed plant material can also be used for artistic crafts and for bonded design types which include collage and plaque. Flower presses can be made with inexpensive materials, including just putting flowers between the pages of a phone book and putting a heavy book on top of it. There are plans for easy to make and inexpensive flower presses on the internet. Seeing how flowers you pressed a week or more ago turn out is a big part of the fun. A bright red flower may turn into a sophisticated looking wine color, like the oxblood lily did in my flower press my father made for me from wood, inexpensive parts from a hardware store, cardboard and paper to absorb moisture (thanks Dad! and thanks Mom! for talking him into making it and for contributing examples for Botanical Art for this blog). Orange and yellow cosmos flowers hold their color especially well when pressed. Experimentation and quantity are encouraged with pressing flowers. Some of the flowers will end up getting pressed in odd shapes or just not turn a good color for what you want to do or get damaged when you make your craft, so try a variety of flowers, press more than you think you will need and include different types of leaves to give you more options. Having a design or two in mind can help you decide what colors you want to collect and how much. Once pressed, their natural form can be used or they can be cut if needed to meet your artistic vision. Making a note of what plant you are pressing on the paper the flowers are pressed between is recommended because sometimes flowers are not as recognizable when pressed, especially if they change color during the process. Collecting when plant material is at its best and dry is recommended, such as late morning when dew is dry and flowers have not faded yet. Collecting for pressing is another way to enjoy the garden and get up close and really look at what you are growing. Protecting your pressed flower art from air exposure will slow down flowers from fading, usually to browns.

Photography is also included in Botanical Arts, and needs to be judged a little differently than most sections in flower show. Details can be found in the Handbook for Flower Shows.

Many of the guidelines and qualities assessed during judging are the same as those for horticulture or design entries. Using design principals will help you with your final product.  The scientific name of the plants are used as part of the entry. No artificial plants are allowed. Plants used should be in good condition and typically damaged plant parts are removed before use in a botanical art piece. With the exception of a category called Exploration-Freedom of Style, treatment such as paint or dyeing is not allowed for fresh plant material, but is for dried material.

Botanical arts are yet another way for us to appreciate plants and nature.