Barrels Full of Periwinkles

Barrels Full of Periwinkles
Barrels Full of Periwinkles

Another thing Glenn really wanted to do when he first moved here, was to fix up the yard. One day he was walking around the property and he found some half-whiskey barrels back behind the building.  They were quite old, but still serviceable.  There were 7 in all. Mom had once planted them with roses, but no longer used them. They were just laying around, so he loaded them on the truck and brought them to our yard.

The first year, we planted marigolds and zinnias, and arranged them kind of in the middle of the yard.  And each year, we tried something a little different.  We tried petunias and even poppys.  On the third year, we decided to line them up in a row on the edge of our yard, bordering the road.  They looked really nice like that and though we have replaced them with new ones and added four more to the number, we have kept them in that same general configuration, ever since.

The flower we have had the greatest success growing in these barrels, has been the periwinkle (scientific name – Vinca).  These flowers are very well adapted to our Central Texas climate.  They are beautiful, prolific bloomers that begin in late spring and finally slow down with the first cool spells of late fall.  They thrive in the extreme heat, just be sure they get their water.

It has been an ongoing experiment, figuring out how to best care for these whiskey barrels.  They need to be kept moist to ensure a long life.  The first ones were over 20 years old and after a winter dry spell, they fell all to pieces.  But in other years, we have lost our flowers due to poor drainage.

Last year, we began addressing the drainage problems.  We lifted the heavy barrels with a log and an iron pipe and placed 5 retaining wall bricks under each one.  This reduced the problem, but did not eliminate it.  This year, we filled them half-way with rocks, but that has not been very desirable.  The soil sometimes washes through the rocks and when that happens, the water runs off. To remedy this, we filled the washed out areas with peat moss, which stabilized things. We have also used pea gravel.  The next time we do this, we will fill the bottom half of the barrels with sphagnum moss.  This would keep them moist and there would be no wash outs.  And I think we would still have good drainage.

Despite our difficulties, the barrels did really well this year, the best they have ever done.  Those rocks provide excellent drainage.  We used a soil mix of half sandy loam and half mushroom compost.  And they billowed over the sides of the barrels with vibrant color.  Not a single barrel was lost all season.

Watering these barrels on a regular basis has also been an experiment over time. After all, there are 11 of them and they sit up off the ground.  This year I used 3 – 50 ft. sections of hose.  I began with a leader hose that was fitted with a solid brass quick connect. And I placed the same quick connects between each 50 ft. section and at the end of the furthest one.  This kept me from having to drag heavy hoses.  I used a tiny little sprinkler with a quick connect on the end and would just disconnect the hose and place the sprinkler along as needed.

I would start watering on the south end one time, and the the next time I watered, I would start at the north end, which saved me lots of steps.  And I left the hoses on the ground and wrapped the ends around the furthest barrels when finished. It worked quite well.  I used very low water pressure and watered each barrel between 5 – 8 minutes, depending on how hot it was outside.

Barrels full of periwinkles have become a tradition at our home. They are so, very beautiful!  When I walk down to Mom and Dad’s house, I don’t take the shortcut through the grass during periwinkle season, I go out on the road and enjoy my flowers!

Periwinkles (Vinca)
Periwinkles (Vinca)

Glenn’s Garden

Glenn's Garden
Glenn’s Garden

When Glenn first moved here, he built a fine garden with a good fence and drip irrigation.

He had to work with rocky soil, but he manipulated it and developed a great growing medium. He worked the soil thoroughly with the tractor, until the hard dirt turned into something soft and manageable. He plowed it with a large tiller, laying out his garden in standard rows.  He walked over every square inch, removing all the rocks he could find. Using aged turkey manure  that he got for free from the nearby turkey farm, which he believes was mixed with mostly pine needles, he added about a 4 to 5″ thick layer, right on top of each row, then worked it into the soil.

Piggyback tubing is very durable. The little water holes do not get clogged. This is what he used for the drip irrigation set up, and he put a brass shut off at the end of each row.

It was a big garden.  He planted cantaloupe, black eye peas, yellow squash, zucchini, butternut and acorn squash, cucumbers, beets, radishes, brussel sprouts,  broccoli, bell peppers, okra, watermelons, sweet potatoes, onion, tomatoes. The sweet potatoes were his only failure. The end where they were planted was a little low compared to the rest of the garden, and it caught all the run-off.  So they were over-watered.  The slips grew, but the potatoes were all twisted and gnarly.

He checked his garden every morning. Early in the growing season, if he saw any sign of bug damage, he would sprinkle a bit of sevin dust on the tiny little seedlings. He made a habit of pulling the weeds up by the roots, and casting them into the isles between the rows.  Thus, overtime the dead weeds provided a perfect carpeting, which kept the mud off his shoes.

The plants grew to be huge, lush, and prolific. We had so much good food, that we froze and canned all we could, passed it out to family and friends, and still had plenty for the local food pantry. Of all the gardens we have grown over the years, this one was far and away, the best.  More than once, the spring rains have come like a deluge, washing up our seeds, or newly sprouted plants. Other years, the garden got so wet because of too much rain, that the weeds totally got away from us before we could get in there to clean it up.   Nothing like that happened this particular year. It was as though God was in that garden.

Glenn worked very hard, and made it into a thing of awesome wonder! We’ve had other good gardens, though some years it hasn’t worked out. We always hope for a chance at one like this again. And for that reason we keep trying, year after year.


The Garden Stone

Stephen and Charlotte 1-1-11
Stephen and Charlotte 1-1-11

This is the story of two people who were destined to be together nearly 100 years before they ever met.  A love story, replete of hometown history and family.

Charlotte, a fiery, petite beauty with dark hair and big, brown, almond-shaped eyes, and  Stephen, a handsome Greek, a brave US Marine , met 10 years ago after Stephen had returned from his first deployment to Iraq.  Both living in the Dallas area at the time, they were introduced by a mutual friend. Their relationship flourished and when Stephen left for his second deployment, Charlotte waited for him.  By the grace of God, he returned.  They were reunited and spent much of their time together.

Their story is beautiful, alas, it is a private affair.  I will just say that they found out they love each other.  And when Stephen asked Charlotte for her hand. She accepted, happily.

Charlotte’s grandparents have almost always lived in Milam County. They had a farm in Cameron during the early years of their marriage, and moved to Rockdale later on. About 15 years ago they decided they would spend their golden years at their nearby property in the country. There is an old school here. They built a nice home on the old playground, amidst a grove of tall oaks.

Charlotte is my daughter.  I live here also, with my love, Glenn. We actually reside in the old school.  It was built by the local men as one of FDR’s work projects back in the era of the Great Depression.  It burned to the ground before they ever held a class and they built it all over again. They carried on the business of education here for many years, but eventually the old school closed down and they began busing all the children to Rockdale. It changed hands a couple of times before my Dad acquired the building at auction about 45 years ago.  He converted some of the classrooms into living spaces, and Glenn and I have a comfortable home here.

Charlotte lived in Rockdale until she was four, when our family moved to the Dallas area.  But the first time Stephen came to visit and met the family, we learned that he too, has roots in Milam County. His grandfather actually grew up in Cameron.  Furthermore, Stephen and Dad compared military records, and found many similarities. Both are marines from the 4th division, who specialized in communications and reconnaissance, and proudly wear the purple heart medal. It was a great visit.  We all liked Stephen, and I felt very happy for Charlotte.

Now, Glenn likes gardening and one day he decided to make an asparagus bed. There was a row of huge old piers bordering a flower bed in our front yard, probably 10 of them.  Dad had put them there soon after he bought the building. They came from the foundation of the old gymnasium which had been sold off separately and moved before he ever acquired it. That spot is now home to our vegetable garden.

The piers really didn’t look that great in our front yard. So Glenn decided to make a raised bed with them for the asparagus.  It required a tractor to move them. So one by one, he picked them up, carried them to the garden and sat them down at their new resting place.  He made a rectangular border and filled it with rich, black dirt that he found down by the pond. We bought nice, big crowns and he planted them just exactly how his research told him to, by digging a trench and making hills for them to rest on. We had ferns in no time. And now, this garden produces a lot of asparagus.

Luckily, my Dad is a very observant fellow.  One day he was out watering the asparagus, when he looked down and discovered that on the right, front cornerstone of the border that Glenn built, there was something inscribed in the cement.  He splashed water on it, as to read it more easily.  Written on the stone was “YA Gjeddi 1929”. He thought about this for a minute and recalled that Stephen’s mother was a Gjeddi.

So we asked her about it.  It turns out that YA, also known as Yancy Gjeddi, was Stephen’s great uncle!  There were eight Gjeddi boys that grew up in Cameron back then.  They were all adopted and all went by their initials. My mother went to school with these boys. And Stephen’s grandfather was one of them.  It’s been said that the Lord works in mysterious ways, I believe this!

Almost 100 years ago, Yancy must have worked at the place where that cement was poured.  I wonder if he knew it was important that he inscribe that stone? Glenn never saw it, he just stacked the stones at random.  But this wound up on the right, front corner, facing outward!!  And was discovered around the time of Stephen and Charlotte’s wedding, two people who met in a totally different part of the state, and never knew before, of all these amazing coincidences. Perhaps Yancy wanted to express his approval of this union.  I find it amazing and beautiful.  I wish I had a photo of Yancy.  If I ever find one, it will go here.

My Incredible Aloe Vera Plant


A couple of years ago, I stumbled across a great way to grow Aloe Vera.  I bought a small start from the local garden center.  It was only about 2” around and maybe 6” tall.  I brought it home, potted it, and that small start grew into an enormous plant.  I just went out and measured it.  At its widest point, it is 56” across, and it is 3 feet tall.  Some of the leaves are 3 ½ inches across at their base, and the largest leaves are 1 ¼ inch thick.  I didn’t even know what I was doing but I just really hit it right on this one.

One issue with Aloe Vera is the sheer weight of the plant.  It’s really not suitable for a plastic pot.  Another thing about this plant, is that too much rain, or over-watering will cause it to get black spots all over the leaves.  I did not want these 2 things to happen, and that was my basis for the decisions I made regarding how to go about potting it.

First of all, I chose a heavy pot.  I felt like neither the weight of the plant, nor the wind would be causing it to tip over, that way.  Also, we had a bunch of compost ready, so I decided I would include that in my mix.  What follows is my method for potting this plant:

  • I chose an 8” terra cotta pot.  I cleaned it and placed a curved shard from a broken clay pot over the drain hole.
  • I put a layer of about 3” of pea gravel down in the bottom, hoping the good drainage would keep away the black spots if we had a lot of rain.
  • I made a mix of 50% homemade compost and 50% sandy loam, I moistened the mixture a bit and added it to my pot.
  • I hollowed out a place for my little start, and placed it down in my mix, still packed in the soil it was rooted in.
  • I made a thin top-layer out of pea gravel, reasoning that it may act like a mulch and keep the plant cool.
  • The best sun I could get for it was a west exposure that was protected until noon.  So that’s where I put it.

This plant took off immediately.  Very quickly, it was very beautiful!  It did not matter how much rain we got, this plant could not be over-watered and has never had a black spot on it!  After the first year, I had to put it into a 12” pot.  And I used the exact same method that time too, except I probably had a 5” layer of pea gravel at the bottom.  It’s been moved to the sun room and enjoys a south exposure now.  Since it is extremely heavy, I don’t plan to take it out again.  It has been magnificent, so beautiful, and perfectly balanced!!  Recently, it has gotten so big, that the leaves are wanting to break down a little.  In the prime of its life, it gave me only one baby, which is still pretty small.  I plan to make a fresh start with that one.