Lazy Gardener & Friends for May 15, 2020

By: Nature's Way Resources | Published 05/22/2020





“There are certain, very stabilizing forces in gardening that can ground us when we are feeling shaky, uncertain, terrified really. It’s these predictable outcomes, predictable rhythms of the garden that are very comforting right now,”
— Andrew Keshner

"WOW NOW!" flower photos being sent in by readers are turning me into a regular grinagog. Nothing could be a better antidote for what we're all going through. Silver linings appear in every cloud and, in this one, it's smiling down on our local independent nurseries -- lifeblood for us gardeners.

So many folks are finding comfort and new healthy food sources in their gardens. Nurseries somehow seem safer places in which to wander around, to more easily maintain recommended distances from other folks.

Also, just maybe, we're getting a little "high" out there? We humans breathe in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. Plants do just the opposite. Could it be just a tad of an oxygen high can be found in the garden? Folks do PAY to go to "oxygen bars." This "high" is free!

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INTERESTING TWIST ON WHIPPING PLANTS. Former Houston Chronicle Fashion Editor Linda Gillan Griffin noted: "Momma and my grandmas always told me plants perform best, that is, put out more seeds or whatever it takes to propagate their species, when they feel threatened, like they might die."

In her own garden, Linda notes her red buckeye puts out lots more seeds after a severe weather stress. It's true many flowers, such as crape myrtles (left), produce unexpected second or third bloom periods after having spent flowers "amputated." Do they fear eradication?

Linda's curious to know if other readers have seen specific flower/fruit production differences (besides dying, that is) after natural (as opposed to gardener-triggered) life-threatening forces?
DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO! I bought this beautiful, albeit unlabeled plant (below right), sure it was a tibouchina . Friends wanted cuttings. PlantSnap app identified it as a Melastoma, along with terrible warnings, horribly invasive practically the world over.

Wow! No sharing if that's true! It told my friends no cuttings. Then, howwever, having second thoughts, I sent a picture to plant guru, former Mercer Botanic Garden Director Linda Gay. Linda confirmed it is a tibouchina .
What I didn't know -- but she did -- is that tibouchina is in the Family Melastoma, a very broad-range family that includes some dangerously-invasive members, mostly in very tropical areas. Tibouchinas are fine here, Linda assure me, adding "Princess flower is common name. Winter causes freeze damage but returns if roots are healthy."

PlantSnap is a relatively-reliable plant ID app, but not always. I almost refused to share and then remove a delightful plant because I didn't follow my own advice: Always check with a LOCAL source.

Oddly enough, this week's flower of our "Have You Tried . . ." recommendation (below John's column) looks almost exactly like this one, but it's a Thunbergia a cascading-branch shrub named for our own fabulous plant info resource: Mercer Botanic Garden.

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Talk about an eye-catching headline! The British website Brinkwire claims it's a penstemon. Texas has around two dozen native penstemons, including our own pink-purple, spring-blooming Gulf Coast penstemon (above). Unlike most of Texas' native penstemons, this one actually likes our heavy rains or moisture-retaining gumbo soils.

What really caught my eye in this article, however, was this fascinating quote by Celebrated British gardener Alan Titchmarsh: "... it seems to me that there is an interesting correlation in that the broader and softer the leaf, the less hardy a particular variety will be.” Think that's true?

Back to the perfect lazy gardener plant, I'd pick kalanchoes (right). They can go straight from decorated pot to garden and bloom for years with almost no help at all! (Thanks, Randy & Georgie for these Mother's Day kalanchoes!)

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Best news: all three sent in this week are major attractors of hummingbirds, butterflies and many other beneficial pollinators.

(Justicia carnea)

DONNA ZAPATKA's Justica is several years old. She can't remember where she bought it, but just bought another one at Natius Nursery. It's in a container and gets mostly shade with a tad of afternoon sun at their Atascocita home.

(Quisqualis indica)

Donna's fragrant, mass-summer-blooming Rangoon creeper is 15+/- years old, 8' tall & 15' wide, On a lattice trellis, its an effective screen for a hot tub. If it dies back in hard winters, she prunes to ground. It always returns.

(with purple coneflowers)

Also known as golden dewdrop (for its gold seed pods), this duranta thrives in JAN FISH's Kingwood garden, along with drift roses, lantana, alyssum, zinnias, snapdragons, verbena, plumbago and cuphea

Email WOW NOW! flower photos with your name, area of town
and info about the plant to:
They should be in full, SPECTACULAR color right now

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are free — email request to:

Brenda's column in the LAZY GARDENER & FRIENDS HOUSTON GARDEN NEWSLETTER is based on her 40+ years as the Houston Chronicle's Lazy Gardener

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Something to think about, I know I did not. I was reading a research article published in the journal Environment International (May, 2020) by the University of Stirling in the U.K, that may affect some gardeners. 

They found that the COVID19 virus can be spread by sewage sludge (also called biosolids for marketing purposes). This virus has been found in human feces or sewage up to 33 days after a patient has tested negative.
For gardeners, several compost companies in our area use sewage sludge in their products. The researchers also believe that the virus could be transmitted in the waste water from sewage treatment plants. This wastewater is sometimes used to water gardens, golf courses, sports fields, etc. and is commonly referred to as “purple pipe water”.

We have often talked about the use of cover crops to improve soils, control weeds, control erosion, and provide habitat from insects to birds. Another 5-year study by New Mexico Sate University has confirmed these benefits even in a hot, dry, semiarid environment.

For homeowners, if one has an area with very poor soil, where one eventually wants to build a garden, they can use a version of cover cropping to improve the soil. Why not plant a native wildflower garden for a few years and let the plants build humus in the soil, breakup up hardpan, increase microbial life, etc. While the plants are doing their work, one has a beautiful wildflower meadow to enjoy and a habitat for the butterflies, birds, and other life.

We have talked about the problems caused by tilling the soil many times in this column. Tillage destroys organic matter, kills off soil life, creates erosion, and destroys soil structure. The only time tillage should be used is to mix materials together in a brand-new garden bed.

The results of another study continue to support the advantages of not tilling. The University of Nebraska has an ongoing study for the last 40 years. They have found that No-Till farms have the highest yields and are the most profitable.

I love a good cup of organically shade grown coffee. Studies have shown that not only do they taste better, shade grown coffees have more bioactive chemicals that help our health. A study published by the American Phytopathological Society in the journal Phytobiomes found that coffee plants have a core microbiome. They discovered that coffee plants have 26 bacterial and 31 fungal species in their biome. Many of the species have been previously recognized as having plant beneficial properties. It is suspected that this biome influences the coffees flavor.

In previous issues I have mentioned that gardeners have more vitamin-D in their bodies than non-gardeners.

Several previous studies have shown high levels of this vitamin are inversely related to the severity of covid-19 infections. Two more studies have been published on this issue. A group led by Northwestern University did a statistical analysis from 10 countries and found that countries with high mortality rates had low vitamin-D levels compared to those with lower death rates.

Another study in the Journal Aging Clinical and Experimental Research by Anglia Ruskin University has found an association between low average levels of vitamin-D and high numbers of covid-19 cases across 20 European countries.

These are great reasons to get outside, work in our gardens and enjoy the sunshine!

Another study that supports the health benefits of being a gardener and raising one’s own food has been released by Tufts University Health Sciences Department published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2020). 

The study conducted over 20 years found that older adults whom did not consume enough flavonoid rich foods had increased risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. 

Flavonoids are natural substances found in plants such as fruit and vegetables and in some plant-based beverages like tea and wine.

Many flavonoids are produced by microbes living in the soil and on the roots of plants. Mycorrhizal fungi on the roots of grape vines have been found to produce flavonoids that the grape vines absorb and is transported into the grapes giving them a better flavor.  

Standard toxic chemical agriculture kills off much of the good biology needed to produce the health benefits. This is another reason to be an organic gardener and grow one’s own vegetables, fruits and berries. 

Gardeners in Houston and along the Gulf Coast are blessed with a climate that will allow us to grow a wide range of fruits and vegetables. The best source of information for those wanting to start their own food gardens and fruit orchards is the book by Dr. Bob Randall titled “Year-Round Food Gardening for Houston and Southeast Texas”.

This great book is available at Nature’s Way Resources and many other private nurseries. 

A list of places carrying this book can be found at:

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(Thunbergia battiscombei)

Also known as clock or blue glory vine, this is actually a shrub with up-to-6' arching branches that can be trained to a trellis or fence, or work great in hanging baskets and containers. Its brilliant blue trumpet-shaped flowers with yellow throats bloom spring through summer in full sun or partial shade. It loves our summer heat!

Mercer Blue thunbergia is carried by Nature’s Way Resources (Map).
Or . . . contact our sponsor, Montgomery Pines Nursery in Willis, our other
sponsors below or your neighborhood nurseryman for possible sources.

At Nature's Way Resources we have uploaded our Master and Native Plants inventory online to implement a curbside pickup for orders. Any questions and orders for the plant nursery can be directed to Carol at

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