A double treat for area gardeners
  Annual garden tour and plant sale planned for Saturday

April 29, 2004
DIANE ALEXANDER
Victoria County Master Gardener

This weekend garden enthusiasts in Victoria and surrounding communities are in for a double treat. The Victoria County Master Gardener Association will sponsor its Spring Plant Sale on Saturday. The sale is being held in conjunction with the Annual Garden Tour, Nature's Beauty Beyond the Gate, an event co-sponsored by the Master Gardeners and Trinity Episcopal School.

The plant sale will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Victoria County 4-H Activity Center, 259 Bachelor Drive on the Victoria Regional Airport grounds.

The master gardeners have held such sales for several years, and as in the past, featured plants are propagated and grown by association members from seed, plantings or cuttings. Additionally at this sale, there will be available some highlighted plants from the Annual Garden Tour sites. One such plant is the crown of thorns.

With the recent passing of the Easter holiday, there is not a better time to accentuate both the beauty and the historical implication of the crown of thorns (Euphorbia milii). This plant is also referred to as the Christ plant or the Christ thorn, an allusion to the crown of thorns worn by Jesus at his crucifixion was made from its stems. These stems are woody and spiny, and this succulent shrub can produce shoots up to 6 feet. Most leaves appear on new growth and can fall off easily under moisture or temperature stress.

What appear to be flowers are actually brightly colored, modified leaves called bracts. The true flower appears at the center of these bracts and is almost inconspicuous. Most crown of thorns produce red bracts, however, there are also yellow, orange and pink varieties.

The Christ plant is a member of the Spurge family and, like most others, its stems produce a sticky, white sap when cut or broken. This sap, called latex, can cause a severe rash on susceptible gardeners. Subsequently, careful handling with gloves is suggested. However, the poisonous nature of these plants is also what protects them from herbivores, such as deer and other plant-eating animals, according to one academic source.

The Christ thorn requires porous soil and full sun for successful growth. Here in the Victoria area, it is best grown in containers and can even be trained on a small frame or trellis. It will bloom all year but should be protected from freezing temperatures. It can be seen in several of the gardens on the tour planted in pots, and of special note is a thriving crown of thorns planted in the cactus garden of David and Joyce Goris. In cooler climates, this evergreen is best grown indoors or in a greenhouse. Additionally, because of its salt tolerance, it is an ideal plant for bay or oceanfront landscapes, something pertinent to many area residents.

The crown of thorns is only one of several highlighted plants that will be available for purchase on Saturday. Others include the dwarf bottlebrush and new knock out rose, the passion vine, the firecracker fern, the shrimp plant, cigar plant, ixora, jatropha, Dahlberg daisies, and the showy angel trumpet.

The plants propagated and/or grown by association members include a variety of annuals, perennials, tropicals, natives, and herbs. Favorites like society garlic, esperanza, and sweet potato vine, along with foxtail, sword, asparagus and firecracker ferns, exotic banana trees and possibly mounted bromeliads, can be found at the sale. Sweet Italian pepper and variegated pepper plants, as well as spicy global basil, purple basil and cilantro will help supply culinary desires. Ivies and lilies are possibilities as is the mounding blue daze. All plants are labeled with name, variety and proper growing information, and many master gardeners will be available to assist shoppers by answering questions, helping in selection and transporting purchases to vehicles.

An added delight to this year's sale is the "Pick of the Crop - A Garden Gift Shop." This special shopping section will spotlight specialty plants, garden art, and quality, homemade gifts. Many items are crafted by association members and special friends of the organization.

The proceeds from both the highlighted plants as well as those grown and donated by master gardeners benefit Victoria Educational Gardens (VEG), the foremost ongoing project of the master gardeners. Located next to the 4-H Activity Center, Phase I of VEG was completed in May 2003 and includes the Children's Garden, the Vegetable Garden, a greenhouse, a composting area and a storage building.

Phases II through VI are now in the planning and fund-raising stages, and members hope to begin work by the end of this year. Victoria Educational Gardens is also one of the featured sites on the Annual Garden Tour, showcasing a butterfly habitat, birding area, Texas native plants and garden art, a sensory garden and a producing vegetable garden. A framed greenhouse is in construction stage.

Beginners and avid gardeners alike can add beauty to their home landscapes by visiting the VCMGA plant sale this weekend. But one need not be a seriously skilled gardener to enjoy the wonderful sights of color and design being offered on the Annual Garden Tour. Come shop, look, listen, dream and plan at both events. It's sure to be a double treat.