Friday, February 29, 2008


It is currently 77 degrees outside. It feels much (MUCH) warmer in the direct late afternoon sun.

For somebody who characterizes herself part lizard, as I do, afternoons like this are a wondrous affair.

Apparently, anoles agree.

For those with the time to spare and the attention to detail, everywhere there are glimpses to serve as a reminder that rain or no rain, life marches forward in Central Texas.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Climatic Menopause?

Last Spring we had an uncommonly wet year. This Spring we've had precious little measurable precipitation. The mercury already climbed to an afternoon high of 92 degrees recently, while one morning later we woke up to a brisk 29 degrees.

It struck me - the weather this year with it's wild temperature swings and lack of reliable moisture is essentially menopausal. A climatic reenactment of some of the indignities visited upon the females of the species when we reach a "certain age".

That's OK. I will hand water my not quite established plantlings. I will keep the temperature tender veggies in pots for a few weeks longer and move them in and out of the sunshine until the evening lows stay reliably above 40 degrees.

Gardening, like surviving menopause, is a whole lot about accepting and accommodating the local conditions. You can't always hope to defeat certain lasting changes, but you do what you can to get past mere survival towards actually enjoying whatever you've got going. There are always hidden advantages in every situation for those with the patience to consider the potential there.

Fertility and beauty, as it turns out, are similarly in the eye and mind of the beholder.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Changing View(points)

As the seasons shift, the view changes.

Sometimes, as your ideas shift, the same thing happens.

My daughter, who spent several weeks in Brazil as part of a study abroad program that qualified her as a Certified Permaculture Assistant, has been on my case to get and read two books as part of the massive reorganization project otherwise known as "taking our yard out of St. Augustine".

The two books reoriented my approach after only browsing through. Every few paragraphs or so (and I am only shallowly into the first one) I am presented with an approach or idea or rationale that reminds me of how much I still have to learn.

I'd suggest you take a look at both books for yourself - they will most certainly change the way(s) you think about land management, consumerism and stewardship.

The first - Gaia's Garden: A guide to Home Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway.

The second - Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison with Reny Mia Slay.

I am busily moving plants into spots that will not only accommodate their needs more fully, but will serve in various other ways to provide shade, allow more sun, avoid deer nibbling problems, etc. When the oak pollen counts rise I will be here more often, with photos and reports on the books and our evolving plans.

No need to wait for my reports however. Purchase and read the books for yourself, and discover what it looks like when you take the longer view. Find out for yourself how to design a system to create a "sustainable human environment", how to take fullest advantage of a "cultivated ecology". Working with, rather than against nature. I am already relieved just at the sound of that.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Photo Pre-Project: Our front bed with trimmed back firebush stems (just barely) visible in center close to driveway's edge.

In the summer before 4th Grade my parents moved us from Tarrytown to BrykerWoods, causing me to attend a new school that September.

Although my new school was not itself all that different from my previous one, the kids were all strangers to me while quite familiar to and with each other. I was an interloper, a transplant, and far from being one of those "cool new kids" I seemed to suffer from every form of shock that typically comes with such an uprooting.

Which gives me deep empathy for my latest endeavors in the reshaping of our landscape.

I have attempted to move two mature Mexican Firebush plants (hamelia patens)- that were originally placed too close to either our driveway for one, and the front sidewalk for the other. Because they demonstrate fairly exuberant growth habits, well outstripping the predicted 3 foot height by a good 24 extra inches even during the hottest months of summer, we were forced to constantly trim and prune them back, often to the loss of most of their brilliant clumps of orange red flowers.(Photo at left is one of the firebush plants gearing up by the sidewalk - it always ended up two to three times this tall by the end of each summer.)

This business of trimming the plants at the height of their glorious display always made me a little bit sad to do. It was necessitated so we could do nothing less important than get a car into the garage or approach the front door with comfortable access to the sidewalk. The Flame Bush was only doing it's job, it was just doing it too well and in a bad place that we'd chosen for it. All those deeply red blooms,appealing to hummingbird and butterfly alike, were also an unfortunate nuisance to navigation.

I'd talked about and even attempted to transplant both bushes before, but each time was quickly thwarted or dissuaded as I discovered and re-discovered how firmly rooted they were, especially up against the immovable slabs of drive and/or sidewalk.

This year I decided to take the plunge. Either the firebushes would find a new home where they could fill out and display their flowers without risk to navigation, or one of us would die in the attempt to get them OUT from where they were so firmly lodged.

So far, and from the safety of the other side of the brute force required, this has gone reasonably well. I have managed, after hours of patient labor and some few spurts of impatient SHOVING!! to get both plants uprooted and moved to a new location.

I did my best to honor the plants in a process that may have actually killed them as a result of uprooting them in their maturity. I chose the new spots carefully, dug the new holes with room to grow, watered the plants in thoroughly, and I have mulched them generously.

As we routinely trimmed them down to woody stems each winter, only Spring will tell if the rudely uprooted plants will take to their new surroundings, and reward us all with yet another season of brilliant red blooms.

As part of a general redirection for the two beds closest to our door and front porch, moving the two firebush plants was the largest piece to tackle. Cutting out several volunteer laurels and at least one on it's last leg juniper bush was child's play compared to trying to move two equally large bushes in a way meant NOT to kill them outright.

I survived 4th grade in a new school. I even made new friends that year. I hope the firebushes will forgive this last insult and spread new roots and enjoy their new home as well. The margin of error between two successful transplants and two candidates for the chipper/shredder pile is not all that large. The photo shows a cleared out front bed, with the two clumps of stems - the trimmed back firebush plants - in their new places.

I'll be keeping an eye out for signs of new life. Stubborn Texas plants are a lot like stubborn 4th grade girls, I hope. It will take more than an uprooting to do them in.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


Some might say gardens do not observe the seasons of the church - only the seasons of the sun.

I disagree.

If you look around my garden this morning, with fresh burns from the latest dip below freezing, there is a very penitential feel to it. A sense of gathering energies, of considering, of regrets for past excesses and hope for joys to come.

In light of that, I share one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems, one she is perhaps best known for, and I hope my confidence in God's forgiveness will be borne out by blooms yet to come.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

~ Mary Oliver ~

( from Dream Work)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Saving Paper

It has taken several seasons now, but we are finally in the more active phases of moving most of the remainder of our St. Augustine lawn towards beds serving other functions.

As a nod to who we are and how we grew up, we've preserved a rectangle of lawn that will be easily trimmed with a reel mower. We've replaced gas powered motors with electric blowers/trimmers to try and cut down on secondary emissions and noise pollution as we garden.

At the moment we have rocks piled here and there waiting to delineate some raised beds I hope to use to establish some culinary herbs. The herbs will be used in meal preparation as part of our attempt to eat more sustainably. We are using a Farmer's Market when we can, are on a waiting list for a community sustainable agriculture (CSA) share, and are trying to eat less meat, especially red meat.

A problem in our case is a lack of areas receiving several hours of direct sunlight that are also protected from local herds of deer who would happily devour many herbaceous plants. In the protected back yard, we are surrounded in large part by tall oaks, cedar and until we get their removal arranged, trashy hackberry trees.

Taking down trees - even trash trees like hackberries, is not something we do lightly. In our situation we need to add to rather than take away from the balance of open area to trees. We do so knowing even beautiful desirable trees will only thrive if they are not too crowded. Still, cutting down a tree just feels like moving in the wrong direction.

In order to try in some small way to make up for a relative short term loss in our arboreal canopy here are some paper saving hints:

1. Switch to paperless bank statements. This will also help deter identity theft.
2. Say no to the ATM receipt. If everyone did we'd save 2 billion feet of paper a year.
3. Pay your bills online. Most monthly bills can be received and paid online.
4. Double side your copies. If 1 in 4 of us did we'd save a stack of paper the diameter of the earth.
5. Bring your own coffee cup to Starbucks. Americans use 14 billion paper cups a year!

About Me

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Rollingwood, Central Texas
Family historian by default. Oldest surviving matriarch on my branch of the Family Tree. Story teller, photo taker, gardener, cook, blabbermouth.