Friday, June 1, 2012

Gruene Gardening

Sad Cactus.
Caring for plants and flowers can be an intimidating task, especially if you’re not a natural green thumb.  Some of us, (cough cough – me) have a hard time keeping a Cactus alive – which really says a lot. Luckily, Gruene’s Head Landscaper Ken Raba volunteered his time to give us tips to keep our plants at home looking like the picture perfect ones in Gruene Historic District.  

Ken, who is also a local musician and actor, has a simple philosophy – let the plants tell you what they need. Be observant, pay attention. There are no magic tricks, no secret fertilizer recipes or special processes going on in the small potting shed that Ken and his two team members operate out of. Yes that’s right, all of Gruene is taken care of by just 3 dedicated grounds keepers. Derek Schnitz has a vast knowledge of all things green in Gruene and has been Ken’s protégé for years. Last but not least is Gruene’s newest addition Tony Taylor, who gardens by day and is a talented local troubadour by night. 

Since Ken makes it all seem so easy and effortless, I thought I might learn a thing or two by hanging out with him for a while. So we hopped in his trusty green golf cart, and had a chat about caring for our lush and lovely grounds

The Badlands of South Dakota - Photo Credit Jeff Clow
Gruene Texas Blogger: So Ken, inquiring minds would like to know – Have you always loved to garden and take care of plants?
Ken Raba: No. Not exactly – growing up on the farm, in South Dakota, I loved to eat out of the garden. I suppose we were in there helping to pull weeds – so we ate the potatoes and other vegetables right from it. That’s where I learned most of what I know.
GTB: So how did you end up here?
KR: I found a job that allowed me to pursue music and acting, and I am good at it. (Insert slight smile here.)

Ken is a star on our website
GTB: I see, well that always helps. I have a hard time keeping anything alive for more than a week – HELP!
KR: There is no excuse for that – really we don’t do anything special. Anyone can do what we do here; it just takes time and attention.
GTB: Ok, you keep telling me that, but maybe I don’t plant when I should – so explain to me and the readers – when is the best time to plant for the Spring/ Summer and for the Fall/ Winter in Central Texas.
KR: Once you see what is available you can begin to plan for the season. Each season it can be different – sometimes you can’t find the plants you are looking for. Once you can see what’s out there you can begin to plan your season. For Spring/Summer – early March may be too soon, you could get hit by a frost – frost is your enemy in Central Texas. Normally the 1st week in April works out best for us here in Gruene, but sometimes we wait until early May depending on plant availability and weather conditions. For Fall/Winter, November is best. We shoot for either well before the first frost or quickly after.
GTB: Good to know – but what exactly are you planting? For example what flowers have you found last the longest during our HOT Texas Summers?
KR: Ok – for perennials I suggest Salvia Greggii – we plant a lot of it here in Gruene and it looks great for a long time in the Summer.  Pintas are great annuals – they can take the heat.
Beautiful flower bed right next to Gruene Hall.

GTB: How about the best flowers in the sun and the shade?
KR: Sun – Basil, Vinka, Blue Daze, Slavia, Pintas, and Cactus. Shade –Holly Ferns, Foxtail Ferns, Asparagus Ferns – Any Ferns really.

This Grande Hibiscus lives under the water tower
GTB: What is your favorite plant here in town?
KR: I love the Rose bush that grows by the water tower, that’s my favorite hands down.
GTB: Why is that one so special?
KR: (SMILING) It’s really spectacular and dynamic; the way it grows up the leg of the tower – and it is maintenance free!
GTB: It is pretty, so are all of the barrels you have filled with flowers and plants! I noticed you use a lot of herbs in them such as Basil. Why?
KR: Herbs look great year round, we use a lot of Thyme and Regular Sweet Basil in with the flowers– they are really durable in the heat.
GTB: I love the Basil – it looks so yummy!  What about the soil – you must do something special to it, can you share your tips on soil maintenance?
KR: Compost. Compost. Compost. Soil maintenance is important here in Central Texas where the soil is mostly clay and has a high PH.
GTB: Do you have any tips for beginners about gardening in general?
      KR: Sure! 
          1. Pay attention to your plants. 
     2. Know what they need in the location they are in.      
     3.  Keep them trimmed, don’t let them get too big and get rid of the dead heads.
     4. Maintain your soil – fertilize and compost.
     5. Deal with problems appropriately, whether you have a bug problem or a drought.
This bloggers personal favorite in Gruene.
GTB: Great tips! I think that paying close attention to your plants is the best one, you really have to care about them don’t you?
KR: Absolutely. If you don’t care, you won’t take good care of them, and if you don’t take good care of them, you have no garden to enjoy. Just be perceptive and you will notice problems early on, before they become a big hassle.
GTB: One last question – what is your biggest challenge out here in Gruene when it comes to keeping everything, well, green?
KR: Deer. Plain and simple; we can’t stop them, and we’ve tried it all…
Maybe we should post these around town. Thoughts?

And that’s where Ken and I left it. Those deer can be hard to deal with and it was evident on Ken’s face that they are enemy #1, but who can blame him. These guys spend hours and hours out here, in the early mornings and on hot days, watering and caring for all the plants in Gruene. Then the deer treat it like a buffet! Ah well – I suppose they have just as much right to be here as we do.
Hopefully all you fellow gardeners out there have learned a thing or two from Ken’s tips – I know I did. Gardening is actually like most things in life – if you pay attention and put in the hard work you will reap the benefits. We are certainly thankful for all that Ken and the guys do around here; everyone just loves the landscape in beautiful Gruene, TX!

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