Everyday Gardeners

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Cocktail Herb Garden Patio Tile View Shawna Coronado

This year I expanded my front patio to include sedum lined tiles, more space for seating, and a cocktail herb garden. This spot is a delicious smelling niche that has become the focus of outdoor room entertaining in my front garden.  Many of my friends and family discover birds and other pollinators like bees and butterflies flitting all around the herbs while we are out on the front patio spending time together.The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

Inspired by Amy Stewart’s latest book, The Drunken Botanist, this garden design was intended to be a relaxing place that bathes you in delightful scents as you sip herbal cocktails and watch the wildlife. Pollinators love the plants that surround the patio. I planted basil, thyme, and plants from The Drunken Botanist plant collection such as, the “Old Tom Gin Garden” and the “Old Havana Rum Garden”. Sitting out front has become an amazing experience because of the bees and butterflies that dance through the herb garden as much as for the delicious herbal cocktails.

Bird watching is a part of this experience as well. We have a wonderful little hummingbird that flies in and out of the hostas and herbs. She loves the sage flowers, bee balm, cat mint, and my little red hummingbird feeder. I keep it stocked up with nectar just for her so she can entertain us with her antics.

Building an herbal garden with the goal of attracting the birds and bees and a few dozen cocktail aficionados could be just the fantastic late summer project you need to end your summer with a garden bang. Plan the lay-out, amend the soil, and then toss in a few perennial herbs such as lemon thyme, tricolor sage, and lavender. You can enjoy the herbs this fall and be surprised by new growth in the early spring for the first outdoor garden cocktail parties of the season.

Herbal Cocktail Garden Patio Shawna Coronado

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Lovely Lavender

Lavender is one of the most beloved perennials around: It offers beautiful looks, has an outstanding fragrance, is a good food source for bees and butterflies, and offers exceptional drought tolerance. It can also be one of the most challenging if you don’t have the conditions right.

I can’t tell you how many gardeners I’ve talked to who have asked me to reveal the secret to growing this plant. Happily, it’s an easy one: Pick the right spot. In order to thrive, lavender needs a spot that sees full sun and has very well-drained soil.

The first place a lot of gardeners go wrong is planting it in wet clay. That, unfortunately, is a death sentence to lavender. If you only have heavy clay, don’t despair, though — there’s still hope. Growing lavender in containers, raised beds, or even elevated mounds of soil will help increase drainage tremendously.

Lavender is a pretty low-maintenance plant, so be cognizant not to give it too much love in the form of water and fertilizer. Give lavender more water than it needs, especially if you live in a climate with humid summers like I do, and it will sulk. I’ve had good luck with lavender near the edge of the eaves of my house — it gets less moisture than other plants in my yard because of the overhang. It doesn’t seem to mind one bit.

So there’s my secret to growing lavender. Comment below and let me know if you have any special tips for success with this plant!

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Poinsettias-Texas style

Sharon Asakawa standing in front of Texas-sized poinsettias at Ellison's Greenhouse.

Sharon Asakawa standing in front of Texas-sized poinsettias at Ellison's Greenhouse.

Even the poinsettias are larger than life in Texas. I discovered that on a recent press trip to Brenham, Texas, hosted by the Washington County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. Along with 15 other journalists, I spent several days in the “Birthplace of Texas”, exploring such sites as Ellison’s Greenhouse, where the photo at left was taken. Sharon Asakawa, host of GardenLife radio show, is a petite woman, but these 6-foot-tall plants towered over nearly everyone. (I’ll be a guest on Sharon’s call-in show on Sunday morning, December 12. Check the station list for times in your area.)

In addition to mammoth poinsettias, Ellison’s Greenhouse grows standard-size plants in colors ranging from traditional red to pink, white, burgundy, orange, and bicolor. One of my favorites was Iced Punch (pictured below), a two-toned cherry red and white variety with distinctive markings reminiscent of stained glass.

IcedPunchwebWashington County also offers many other horticultural wonders. Antique Rose Emporium, gardens at the Round Top Festival Institute, Chappell Hill Lavender Farm, Lavande olive and lavender farm, Windy Winery, and Pleasant Hill Winery were some of the additional stops on the tour.

For those more interested in history or food, the trip included the Washington-on-the-Brazos Historic Site, where Texas declared its independence from Mexico, a tour of the Blue Bell ice cream factory where we were treated to Homemade Vanilla fresh off the line, plus stops at several fun and funky restaurants, such as Royer’s Round Top Cafe with its Carnivore Platter and “Pie for Life” program; R Place, which serves up BBQ and family-style fixin’s, along with homemade cobbler and Blue Bell ice cream; Must Be Heaven Sandwich Shoppe with its unique Sawdust Pie; and the Funky Art Cafe, which is part gourmet restaurant, part art gallery, and part gift shop. The fabulous food didn’t stop at the restaurants, however. My hosts at Texas Ranch Life guest ranch and Lillian Farms Bed & Breakfast also treated us to delectable meals. (Did I mention that I gained 5 pounds on this trip?)

One regret that I had on the trip is that it didn’t happen during spring when the Central Texas hillsides are covered in bluebonnets, the native wildflower lupine. Of course, that’s just an excuse to return to Washington County for another helping of Texas hospitality!

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