Tag Archives: Gardening

The Drought Continues

Yesterday, I visited the home of new clients. The couple moved to Montgomery from Albuquerque, New Mexico a while back and recently decided to construct a swimming pool in their back yard. My father was from New Mexico, and we had much to talk about. The newly excavated pool space and the resulting mounds of dirt, combined with this heat and drought, reminded us all of the New Mexico landscape. Our conversation turned to what we can do to prevent this temporary mirage from becoming a reality.

If you are getting tired of dragging garden hoses and sprinklers around the yard every few days, or even hours, there is an economical solution, far short of installing a custom irrigation system. A hose timer can be added to your outdoor water faucet for under $50.00. A hose timer has several settings which will turn on your sprinkler without you having to be there!

Hose timer

Hose timers are available at EWING IRRIGATION, 5890 Monticello Drive.  They carry the Calber 8444 Logica hose end timer, which is the one I often use for my clients and myself. A nine-volt battery operates the clock.

Timers are simple to install and set. But remember two things:

1) Do not use the timer in the winter, when freezing conditions occur.

2) Check your faucet for leaks before buying a hose timer. If your faucet leaks, you cannot connect the timer, because it requires an open faucet valve at all times. It is the timer that controls the flow of water.

If you still need a hose for hand watering and clean up, buy a hose splitter and put your timer on one side. Each side has its own control valve, so the main faucet valve can remain fully open for the timer while you operate the secondary hose as needed.

Hose splitters

Hose timers are also great for watering potted plants when you go on a trip. For more information, simply google hose timers, and get ready to be less stressed about your garden in this drought. Your plants will be less stressed, too.

Mark Montoya, the Practical Gardener, is a Montgomery native who first learned gardening from his father. He has designed, planted and nurtured gardens in our city’s neighborhoods — both old and new – for twenty years.


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House Plants for the Soul

What a world! What a world!  What a world! In this messed-up world — and this horrible drought we are in, bring yourself some joy with house plants. The green in your home will soothe your soul.

Some people feel that they must wait for someone to be ill or die before they can have a beautiful house plant. I say to them, indulge! Plan to spend about fifty dollars on a variety of house plants, and they will be happier with this heat wave, living the lush life up to the holidays.

I recommend a few plants that can be picked up at any home improvement store or garden center: Bromeliads, Dracena, Calathea, Orchids, Spathiphyllum, Sedums, Succulents and Sansevieria. No ferns, though, because ferns are not a house plant.

On bringing the plants home, wrap the bottom of the pot with aluminum foil, then place it into an attractive container. I have used baskets, decorative bowls, and urns. For best results, place plants in a north or south window. To water, place about six ice cubes on top of the soil around the plant three times a week — it’s easier and less messy than trying to water from a can or pitcher. Don’t worry about fertilizer unless you want to spend the rest of your life with them.

And, don’t stress out over the plants — enjoy them! They are meant to be an alternative to the horrible conditions in the outside world. Throw them away before they die. Just say ‘goodbye’ before the holidays begin, and you will truly enjoy your interior world for the next few months.

Mark Montoya is a Montgomery native who first learned gardening from his father. He has designed, planted and nurtured gardens in our city’s neighborhoods — both old and new – for twenty years.

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Maintaining the Future

By Mark Montoya

HOT!  That is what I have to say about gardening this week.  Do as little as possible right now.  This is not the time to be digging and planting in your garden, but to enjoy what you planted months ago…and maybe pluck the occasional weed or two.  Maintenance, which includes watering, mowing, edging and blowing, is about all you should do.

Since less gardening may give you some extra time, you may consider reading or just looking at pictures.  Carole King and Karen Pell have just put together a glimpse of Montgomery’s historic neighborhoods in a book published by Arcadia.  Charming and nostalgic photos represent a southern paradise of pleasant houses and tree-lined streets.  How could those people have lived in this heat without air-conditioning?  That they did so, and created a lovely environment as our inheritance is something to be thankful for.

For the more adventurous, the care and maintenance of your garden doesn’t have to stop at your property line.  Simply maintaining your own garden takes time and a lot of water, so everyone in our older neighborhoods should take time to admire and thank the ‘keepers of the trees’.  These folks spend their extra time and energy watering many of our younger trees.  Karen Benton, with the help of the Old Cloverdale Association, organized a small army to keep trees, newly planted by the City, alive in this hot weather.  During the past 3 years, this army has included Joe Lenoux, Chris Harnady, Michael and Rosi Smith, Jean Smyth, John and Nancy Hartsfield, Bill Stone, Willemijn Kenzer, Joe Petranka, Michael Conden and numerous others.  These folks have embraced their neighborhood as their own garden.  Thanks to all of you for keeping our City’s investment alive.

Mark Montoya is a Montgomery native who first learned gardening from his father. He has designed, planted and nurtured gardens in our city’s neighborhoods — both old and new – for twenty years.

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Grasses in the Garden

By Mark Montoya

If you have not yet discovered the beauty and usefulness of ornamental grasses in your garden, now is the time to start looking. By planting grasses now, you give them an opportunity to take hold and flourish up until the first frost.

Dwarf zebra grass provides a backdrop to cleome.

Taller grasses – four to six feet high – can make great screens. One of my clients in Old Cloverdale allowed me to use grasses that are making quite a show right now.  You can check it out at 1875 Galena Avenue, and see a healthy display of miscanthus sinensis variegates (Zebra grass—the tallest variety).

Grasses add wonderful contrast to shrubbery and are easy to grow. However, some need to be contained in pots so they won’t get out of bounds. Horsetail (equisetum hyemale) is one. This plant can grow in hard, dry soil, or in a pot placed directly in a pool of water. Purple fountain grass is very popular in Montgomery, and is perfect in pots surrounded by contrasting flowers.  However, it cannot survive a cold winter.

Grasses need sun (or part sun), make problem areas vanish, and look great when massed together. When planting any grass, I wear gloves and a long sleeve shirt, because some of them are itchy and others can cut your skin. For the most part, the good outweighs the bad, because grasses generally require little water and grow in any soil. Grasses are also very nice in a vase indoors, alone or mixed with flowers.

Check out these other grasses online – all can usually be found locally:  leymus arenarius; cordyline; Mexican feather grass (nassella tenuissima); scirpus cernuus; and liriope muscari variegata.

Mark Montoya is a Montgomery native who first learned gardening from his father. He has designed, planted and nurtured gardens in our city’s neighborhoods — both old and new – for twenty years.

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Mixing Hydrangeas With Trees

By Mark Montoya

The two most desired features in any landscape are large trees and mature shrubbery. When it comes to gardening, living in older neighborhoods has both these advantages. When planning your garden, consider these two features gifts from previous generations — gifts which are priceless.

Equally important in the quest for the perfect garden landscape is the art of observation:  noticing which plant materials seem to flourish effortlessly in your neighborhood. Unless you are willing to make the proper (and often costly) adjustments to the environment, don’t try to force plants to live in situations that are next to impossible.

One of the most common situations I see that attempts to challenge this wisdom is the desire to have a mass of hydrangeas, planted under trees which have roots that have grown into an impenetrable grid. Granted, it can be done, but it will require about a foot of new soil, some sort of edging to contain it, and lots and lots of water. Water means WATER, even when no one is at home! And after only a few years have passed, even with a sprinkler system, those tree roots will grow up into the new soil and start drinking all of that extra water at the expense of the hydrangeas.

So, if you don’t have a perfect place in your garden for hydrangeas (or other flowering plants), consider buying them as cut flowers, or placing the potted ones from the nursery in decorative containers. Hydrangeas can usually be found, in some form, year-round. Put them in a spot, inside or out, where you can enjoy them — where you can see them “up close and personal.” And, buy another variety later on — just as you would orchids or other seasonal flowers.

Hydrangeas are well worth having, whether you love the deep purples, lime greens, whites, pinks, or multiple shades of blue. And this alternative to ‘ground planting’ is a lot less expensive, more flexible, fun and stress-free, compared to creating the proper micro-climate in your garden for plants which don’t want to be there in the first place. Sometimes the most practical gardening can be in a vase.

Mark Montoya is a Montgomery native who first learned gardening from his father. He has designed, planted and nurtured gardens in our city’s neighborhoods — both old and new – for twenty years.

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Garden Therapy

By Mark Montoya

There is a lot of talk these days about the healing properties of plants: herbal remedies, infusions, salves, as well as the health benefits of organic gardening. But I’d like to point out the one healing property every type of garden can provide — relaxation. There’s a lot of truth in the old adage: Take time to smell the flowers.

Do you ever bend at the waist or get down on your hands and knees to find out what your flowers smell like? Try it, and get to know your flowers better. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Here is another thing you might want to try; it may seem very strange to many of you, but just try it. Find a pleasant spot in your garden, on the lawn, or even under a tree. Then, lie down and look straight up toward the sky or at the foliage of a tree, shrub or flower. Now, here comes the important part — lie there for at least ten minutes.

It is very relaxing … and habit forming.

Mark Montoya is a Montgomery native who first learned gardening from his father.  He has designed planted and nurtured gardens in our city’s neighborhoods— both old and new, for twenty years.

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Grow Your Own Lemongrass

By Kate and Stephen

Lemongrass is one of the key ingredients (along with galangal, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce and tamarind) that gives Thai food its distinctive flavor. It has a unique sweet/citrus/herbal taste that you really can’t get anywhere else. And lemongrass is hard as heck to find in Montgomery. They don’t sell the fresh stuff at Winn-Dixie or Publix or even Fresh Market out on the boulevard. What those stores do sell is a grotesque “substitute” that comes in a tube and claims to be lemongrass puree but has the unfortunate side effect of tasting both metallic and bland — and not in the slightest like lemongrass. Do not buy this stuff.

It turns out that lemongrass loves our climate here, is easy to root and grow and is super-prolific. It’s also fairly easy to get hold of. We buy ours once a year (lemongrass is hardy but will not survive in cold weather, much less freezing temperatures). We get it from the Oriental Food Mart, where Ann Street meets Madison. (An aside: the Oriental Food Mart may be poorly named, but in no way approached the flagrant false advertising of its neighboring restaurant, No. 1 China) The market has other good stuff including inexpensive baby bok choi, the good soy sauce (note: Soy sauce where “water” is not the first listed ingredient is always a million times better than the competition), big bags of rice and freezers full of various and tasty foods. But if it’s the lemongrass you’re after, just grab a bundle out of the refrigerator. This will cost $1.08. As long as the root ends haven’t been completely removed, you should be good to go.

Bring them home, trim off some of the tops, and put them root-down in a glass jar with some water. Put the jar in a sunny place and wait. After a few weeks they will root. Once there are well-established roots, all you need to do it take them outside and plant them in a group. Bury the roots a half inch or so below the surface and water ’em until the plants are established. By mid-summer your few lemongrass stalks will have morphed into dozens, and they will have leaves reaching four and five feet into the air. The leaves smell amazing and make great tea. When you trim them, your garden shears will smell faintly of lemon-scented Pledge. The tasty roots, as noted above, are used for cooking, and you can just slice them off at or just below the soil line.

Also, evidently lemongrass is a natural mosquito repellent, making it a welcome addition to any Montgomery yard, even if you’ve got no plans to whip up some tasty curries or noodle bowls anytime soon.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a dog, a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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