A lot has happened since our last River Oaks Letter. At the same time, almost nothing has happened. Every day we get up early (the dogs don’t know we have a stay-at-home order), make the coffee and toast, read the news in The New York Times and online, listen to Morning Edition and then … what?

If you’re like us, you rarely go anywhere or do much besides plan the next meal. We spent the early weeks of the shutdown cheerfully completing numerous home chores. We cleaned and reorganized the garage, attic, third floor and guest bedroom. Cameron drilled even deeper into the honey-dos, changing out one of the garbage disposals for a newer more powerful (and much quieter) unit with an air switch. He finished installing the drip irrigation along the driveway garden and rewired three lamps.

Then we realized that if we continue at this pace, there would be no fun projects left for May or, God forbid, the summer. So, we’ve slowed our rate of home-improvement. We spend more time at the computer taking webinars and meetings on Zoom.com. We’ve also made it a point to call or text friends – an obligation I’m sorry to admit is too often overlooked when we’re busy with “real life.”

The gorgeous dry and sunny California-style weather earlier this week has spawned another behavior: I go outside every few hours and just stare at my plants. Do you do that, too?

I study the yellow flowers and marble-sized green fruits on the tomato plants. Cut back the shell ginger and bring some of the fronds into the house for a big vase. Imagine what the new “Red Sister” ti plants will look like when they really get going. Speculate when the wisteria will complete its entire twisting/curling way over the garage doors. (My bet is July 15.) Curse the leaf-miners on the Meyer lemon.

The garden is a work in progress, a little changeable every day. Would you like a quick look? Please come in.

The miniature water lilies (the floating leaves) are not yet blooming, but when they do it will be small deep-red blossoms, about two inches across, that last just two or three days each. They will bloom off and on all summer. In the meantime, our “girls” from Cameron’s beehive often stop on the edge of a lily pad to have an evening drink before heading home for the night.

I planted three varieties of tomato this year – Dona (which you see here), Creole and cherry tomatoes. I bought them at Wabash Feed & Garden. The Donas are now about six feet tall and took a beating in the winds of last weekend. We lost several branches. But there are many fruits hiding within the foliage. Last time we grew Donas, probably 10 years ago, Cameron and I thought they were the best-tasting tomato ever. We’ll see if we still agree with that assessment when we harvest the 2020 crop.

This angel is the center point of the back garden and is under the pretty vine-covered trellis that our friends Sam and Dorothy Crocker gave us when they sold their River Oaks home and downsized to a townhome. He/she is always calm, never vengeful. The blooming plant with pink flowers is Dombeya x seminole “Pink Cloud,” a kind of rose hydrangea that I bought at Zone 9 Tropicals in The Heights. It’s a weekend-only nursery at a private home with many crazy rare tropical plants. (Check their hours online.) You can’t see them yet, as they have not broken ground, but around the base of the angel is a big patch of flowering curcuma. Its ginger-style tropical foliage is crisp and elegant, and the flowers last several days in bouquets. It’s quite easy to grow and becoming more widely available. I bought mine at Home Depot.

Don’t you just love the chenille plant with their furry little red droopy flowers? The name, chenille, comes from French for caterpiller, and that’s what they look like. Children are fascinated by them, and I’ve had several grown-ups stop and ask me about them. The flowers you see here are new this season, and they will get bigger and longer as the weather warms. This is the third year I’ve had chenille plants in pots – this is a dwarf type – and they continue to do very well. I’ve paired it with a variegated hibiscus called “Salsa Dancer” that has red single flowers later in the summer.

Green shell ginger has practically exploded since we developed the rear garden and improved the soil. We didn’t plant this, mind you; it came in under the fence from the neighbor’s yard and made itself at home. During a recent heavy-duty cut-back, I brought in an armload of fronds for the dining room side table (photo above). Out front, we’ve planted the variegated variety of shell ginger. Both kinds are currently loaded with flower buds.

Knock Out roses sure don’t get much respect, it seems. But isn’t that the misfortune of anything that is too easy to grow? Our friends John and Suzanne Fain gave us several double Knock Outs two years ago when they were disassembling their large pots in order to move. I really tore into those plants, hacking back the tops and the roots and, to my delighted surprise, they thrived. Here are a few in an old silver sugar bowl from The Guild Shop. I love the way they look on my bathroom counter.

Finally, here’s a nighttime view of the back garden from our bedroom balcony. Cameron installed these beer-garden lights for me over the Christmas holidays, and I love them. They make me feel like I’m in New Orleans or Mexico.