Hometown Gardener

Paul and Nila Dowlearn-Owners of Wichita Valley Nursery.  Paul’s recent books, “The Lazy Man’s Garden” and “Touch the Earth” are available at the Nursery, 5314 S.W. Pkwy, Wichita Fall, Texas.

Here we are in mid-June and dry as a bone. June is by average our highest rainfall month. The last two systems that passed through did not make mud or mark the rain gauge at our house. We did mark less than 1/10th at the nursery once. Those in Texoma who did get wet from these last fronts should consider themselves lucky.

This is what I detest about “averages.” In June we should get 4” and some change (Lawton averages 5”). This gives us a false security that June should be a great time to plant any warm season plant. Your linear thinking mind breaks that down to an “average” 1” a week. Perfect…. Right? All too often what really happens is the summer heat cranks up and we get that 4” in one or two big storms. You may recall that in May we got more than double our average in the last two weeks. Early May was also abnormally hot and dry.

No standing water exists in our “mosquito pond” road ditch. I feel sorry for the frogs, tadpoles, minnows, etc. who live in that shallow bog. The crawdads will build their mud castles and survive. So, there is a silver lining to this lack of clouds for some critters including us.

The mosquitoes went away quick. The lawn maintenance guys are usually working overtime in June just trying to keep up with the rapid growth that rain and warmer temps create. So, they catch a break for the time being. The water levels in our lakes and ponds remain high so we do have resources to tide us over. The forecast for this week is highs near or above 100 (f) and rain chances at slim to none. We will persevere but I have noticed a few “Pray for Rain” signs already.

I write about two kinds of gardening that are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Vegetable gardening has always been about intensive care. Soil building (compost) and mulch are our two best resources from now until September. Backyard veggies are yielding good returns at present but very soon this will be about survival, blackeyed peas, okra, and a few others. Shade cloth can help extend your harvest. Wichita Valley is sold out of shade cloth, row cover, and getting low on our bulk mulch. Thankfully, the Wichita Falls landfill is backlogged on raw materials. There should be plenty of compost to last.

On the other hand, ornamental landscaping is not so much about building highly productive soils and certainly should not present constant problems with insects or diseases. Your goal here should be low maintenance, low water use plants from your lawn grass all the way up to the trees you plant. For sure, one can wind up with a high maintenance landscape if they choose a bunch of tropical plants and over-bred hybrids and that choice still remains popular, but the price and availability of fresh water will change that. In reality, this is already happening in Texas and most of the Western U.S.

The main goal here is about choosing the right plant material. You can’t beat local native plants for resistance to drought combined with heat. Our local natives (emphasis on local not just a “Texas native”) have been surviving our in our soils and climate for hundreds if not thousands of years. With no human intervention whatsoever the 5,000+ true native species (about half that number in Texoma) were here to greet, feed, and provide medicine not to mention tools and/or shelter plus clothing for the Native Americans and the settlers from all over the world who would come later. Surely you can find some of these colorful and interesting enough for ornamental displays.

In addition, we have an equal number of plants that were imported by these same groups of humans as seed and/or roots to start in this New World. Many of these heirloom plants are not to be found in today’s nurseries but the plants themselves are still with us. They are still handed down and shared by families, avid gardeners, and herbalists. We at Wichita Valley are quite proud to have some of those and remember some of the history and uses. Truly, your grandparents and those who came before them had the good stuff. Only men and overbreeding can render a plant sterile and useless or continue to produce good looking hybrids that have no chance of survival in the real world. Seek out the well adapted heirlooms. The older parts of town are a good place to start.

In the beginning I personally travelled all over Texas and Oklahoma seeking nurseries and hobbyists who had native plants to sell. I hired Martha Davis whose main job was to reproduce plants. Gradually we both began collecting local plant material. Some came from vacant lots right inside the city limits. Others were found a short distance away. So as native plants become available at most nurseries and garden centers we say, “That’s good but we grow the one from Jacksboro, etc.”

Martha has been with us near thirty years and has no equal as far as propagating plants. Meet her and learn to preserve the good stuff from Granny any weekend at Wichita Valley. Bring us some cuttings!??

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