Welcome to Rob's plants
How tender is tender - plant survival through the 2021 freeze
Attack of the Huisache Girdlers
A page about our Houston-style rock garden
Where on earth have I landed?
The proper question is: What two places on earth have I landed. This website
originally described our garden on a plot in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley,
an hour north of Philadelphia, in the suburbs of Allentown. We
jokingly referred to our piece of zone 6 paradise as "The Lush Gardens of
Allentown", and lovingly tended it for the nearly twenty years we lived there.
Through that time, it grew from a bare patch of newly developed land into a
richly landscaped garden with many dozens of trees and other mature plantings,
two ponds, and a boatload of memories.
When time came to move from our family's first home, we lifted our roots and
planted them in the southwestern suburbs of Houston. Our tiny slice of Richmond TX
is part of the brand new Harvest Green subdivision (see a pattern here?) with
only institutional landscaping installed in between big homes and bermudagrass
front lawns. After settling in for a few months, we started back in on gardening,
developing plans for creating a new garden to enjoy around our new home –
albeit at a smaller scale than our original one (lots are much smaller around
We'll always have a soft spot for our first "lush garden", so I intend to
keep the pages we built to describe that garden up here. But of course I've
retooled the site to also showcase our fledgling efforts here in
Houston. So if it seems like this website can't quite make up its mind what
it's all about – that's why. I hope you'll take some time to explore
both aspects. Please feel free to let us know what you
Read more about gardening in the Lehigh Valley.
Mostly me (Rob), as much as I can, and sometimes Amy (as much as our own
kids as well as the ones she attends to as a fifth-grade teacher let
her). All three of our kids are off to college now, but they occasionally
mow the lawn in exchange for room and board when they revisit the homestead.
Even though back in Allentown
they all had their own little back-yard
gardens, they haven't quite caught the gardening bug. That's OK, I
didn't catch it till I had my very own garden – hopefully some of my
love for plants rubs off or osmoses into their bloodstream just a little, so
that they can recognize their own opportunities to develop a green thumb
when they arrive.
Our senior cat Bear spends a good bit of his time outdoors, no doubt
terrorizing the bird population (in Allentown he liked to behead voles
too, but he hasn't had much luck catching things in Texas yet). Our junior cat
Milo isn't supposed to go outside, but he's sneaky and fast, so he does manage
to get some outdoor time in as well. The latest addition to our gaggle is our
muttpuppy Hippie, a clueless husky-shepherd mix of sorts who thinks life is not
worth living without digging – to the detriment of both lawn and border
areas. We're trying to train her to focus her attention on less destructive
activities, thus far without much success.
As for wildlife – back in Pennsylvania we had resident squirrels,
chipmonks and rabbits, along with frogs and fish in the pond, an occasional
toad, and even a fox and some deer on the odd occasion. Around Houston, we
haven't found much animal life beyond insects, birds, toads, and
(delightfully) lizards. There be snakes in them thar fields, but we've only
spotted one transient visitor on our plot as of yet. On my bike rides, I
see plenty of flat armadillos and possums (and even the occasional wild
hog), but those haven't scaled the privacy fences surrounding all back yards
in our neighborhood. On the bird front, we've been happy to see a pair of
cardinals frequenting our garden, and hummingbird sightings are far more
frequent here than they were in Allentown. With time, we hope this garden
will support a wide and growing variety of local fauna.
What's going on?
You can read about the latest musings about what's happening in the garden
in my garden journal. I'd write more right here on
this page, but I was always forgetting to update the information, and found
some embarrassingly out-of-date statements - so I'll just try to keep my
thoughts in my journal from now on. I'd call it a blog, but I'm an old-fashioned
kind of guy.
Latest entry: 'Plant responses to the big freeze' on December 31, 2021.
What does it look like?
We're not sure what our Pennsylvania garden looks like right now –
we left it to a new family who we hope will appreciate its many treasures,
while making it their own. So I can only describe what it looked like when
last we gardened there... Our almost-one-half-acre plot had plenty of
garden space – the lawn area was constantly shrinking. Our
smallish front yard was strewn with trees, with
mixed borders along the front of the house, a
rock garden, and a "Lane" leading from the front doorstep to the
side garden, which at one point was our most display-worthy garden (we directed
guests to our back-yard wedding through this garden when it was quite new), but
it became a little sloppy over the years, working through the transitions as the huge weeping cherry cast shade
where there once was abundant sun. Meanwhile, the other side of the house was
flanked by a driveway with a narrow strip of perennial border, which always got
parched in summer – we really valued perennials that could survive our driveway bed! The back yard was more
free-form: relatively demure plantings near our
patio and around the patio-side pond, a
cutting garden turned 'curve garden'
which became a wild playground of annuals, tall perennials, and
boisterous herbs. The pièce de résistance was our big pond, which along with its waterfall and
filtration bog took up a major swath of the backyard, and ran into our original back yard island with trees, shrubs, a hill, a
Dutch windmill and lots of perennials with a concentration on
prairie-dwellers. And then there were the vegetable garden and the orchard (which doubled as plant
nursery/holding area). For a map leading to more information and photos,
visit our Allentown garden page.
Our Houston garden is very different. Much smaller, for one, and much
younger of course. When we started shopping around for a home in the Houston area's many
'master-planned communities', we quickly realized that everything is bigger in
Texas – except for lot sizes. Many homes we considered had views of a
privacy fence six feet from the walls both left and right, and a backyard just
big enough for a patio and some shrubs. Since we knew we'd be looking for
an opportunity to build a new garden, we selected our lot accordingly: our
cul-de-sac home has a narrow front yard, but more space in the back and on the
left side than is typical in our section. That gives us some room to play with;
the backyard is steadily losing
lawn area to flower borders, and a waterfall pond
sits smack in the middle of the space, providing the sound of cascading water,
views of fish, dragons and damsels, and a (mostly illusionary) sense of cool
in the heat of the Houston summer. The backyard is fully enclosed in
6-foot cedar slat fences; somehow, we got the 'ugly side' all the way around,
which suits us fine – they're better for mounting trellises on! That
provides a very well-defined canvas, compared to our previous experience in
Pennsylvania, where backyard lawns flowed seemlessly from one lot to the other
until one or both neighbors decided to put up hedges or fences. The front yard
is small and the homeowners' association places heavy restrictions on what can
be planted there, so it won't be the focus of our gardening efforts, although
it does need some sprucing up – the landscaping package installed
(without any input from us) by our builder is quite uninspiring. So lots to do,
and plenty of opportunity to experiment in our new climate and environment.
I haven't tried to keep track of the number of different plants we've grown
over the years, but it has to be over a couple thousand. Every year, new ones join the fold,
from various seed trades and exchanges, mail-order, and local nursery purchases.
For a good number of plants, I've collected some general information and
added my comments, and in many cases photographs from our garden. Access
these plant portraits from:
Because these pages have different purposes, the plants described don't
completely overlap. Look around, and see what you can find!
I even have a page dedicated to our weeds!
The plant portraits below are the ones most recently added or
Other garden essentials
When I think of the garden, I mostly consider the plants and the
hardscaping. But this business of presenting my garden to the web wide world
has given me a new appreciation for some of the other things, living and
inanimate, that complete our garden. First, there are the many animals scurrying,
buzzing, creeping, and fluttering around. I hadn't an inkling of the sheer
variety of flies that populate the premises - let alone bugs, bees, wasps, and
caterpillars. To celebrate their colorful diversity, I put up a series of
wildlife pages filled with pictures taken in our garden.
You can also take a peek at the most recently added critter photos.
Then there are all those fungal lifeforms that rear their heads at various
times of the year (but especially in fall). Some are dainty and frail, others
odd, and a few just plain disgusting. But it makes for an interesting collection,
which I have documented on my fungus page.
Now that we've covered the lively and the merely alive, the last (so far)
category of garden essentials is garden art. One can debate whether the
eclectic grab-bag of objects that constitutes our "collection" has much at all to
do with art in the finer definition of the word - that's why I've titled the
page showcasing it all ¿Garden art?.
To get through the winter, I spend a lot of time growing plants from
seed. That means I collect seed from the garden in summer and fall,
and have plenty to trade. I used to do most of my trading through
GardenWeb, but since they changed hands, I set up my own trading website, at
PlantLinks trading. I also
participate in the annual HPS/MAG and NARGS
Note: I haven't quite gotten into the swing of seed-starting since moving
to Houston, and our garden offers little in the way of seeding plants – so
seed trading is on hiatus for now. I do still start my own seeds – in winter
and early spring, you can check on what new-to-me varieties I'm growing on
this overview page.
Keeping track of the many seed varieties and trades in progress can get
to be a nightmare. To help with this, I put together an Excel utility
that does a lot of the hard work. If you'd like to give it a try, go
to the seed tool page.
October 30, 2021