Monday, April 28, 2008

Walking in the Garden

It struck me the last time I heard the story of Adam and Eve read aloud from the book of Genesis...after their little fruit eating episode they heard "the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day".

What a lovely little picture that is (well, as along as you aren't Adam or Eve). The Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.

Around here that will usually be late in the day, right after the sun has set but before it gets too dark to fully appreciate the view. Or perhaps, as happened today, early in the morning, when the suns rays had not fully warmed the air or the earth, but the light was breaking through the tops of the trees to illuminate all that lay below.

This morning I took my camera, rather than my cup of coffee, out into the garden. There was a lot to appreciate, and rather than tell you more about it I will simply show you. One last quick note - I do NOT confuse myself as being any sort of creator, much less an Almighty Creator, when I walk in the garden. I won't take credit for doing anything other than bringing plants and seeds and soil and water together. They do the work and I am simply enjoying the results.




Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Not SO Empty Nest

We are empty nesters, my husband and I. Our two offspring are grown, adults both by chronology and demonstrated capability.

Last year about this time, I reported to anybody who would listen of my ongoing encounters with Carolina Wrens who had nested in a shopping bag hanging in our garage. These wrens are notorious for rapidly building nests in unlikely and inconvenient places.

Growing up I remember my Dad leaving his garden work boots hanging for a season (he kept them off the ground to keep scorpions and spiders out) because wrens had nested in one. The next year when the wrens began to hunt again for nesting spots he wisely kept his boots inside the back door.

At our house over the years I've been kept busy discouraging wrens from building a nest in the bumper of my daughter's car the weekend before she was due home from college for Spring Break, and we spent most of one Saturday morning another year carefully helping newly fledged baby wrens that had hatched out of hanging planter on our back deck to fly up to the table and rafters - high enough to avoid the curious ministrations of our labrador retriever who typically shared that space.

The nest the wrens built last season was in a cloth shopping bag that had hung in the garage for part of a weekend when my husband emptied my car to take it to be washed and vacuumed out. I spent many adrenalized days dodging the anxious parents as they exploded out of the nest every time I entered or exited my car. We had balked at the idea we'd need to keep the main garage door up, finally arriving at a somewhat uneasy compromise where we left a back garage door window open just enough to allow the Momma and Poppa birds constant access.This year the wrens were trying to build a nest on top of the soil in a planter on our front porch, right behind a small clay St. Francis figure. The planter contains a bromeliad, and when I was forced to bring it inside due to unseasonably late freezing temperatures, I figured the empty nest that remained there had been abandoned. We left the nest alone however, because we'd read birds will reuse the materials from year to year, and it was small and sweet and certainly not harming the plant.

Earlier today, I was talking to my daughter on the phone while returning plants in their planters to their usual tables on our front porch. My husband had carefully moved them down to the sidewalk so they'd be watered by the automatic sprinkler system which was set to run to water the garden beds and yard last night.

I always try to remember to put the planters back up under the overhang before the sun gets too high in the sky to avoid sun burning the leaves. As I spoke to my daughter she remarked she could hear over the telephone the angry sounds of some Carolina Wrens, fussing away at some intruder, real or imagined. I told her I hadn't figured out where they had nested this year, but I was glad it was NOT in the garage right next to my car.

As I bent down to pick up the large bromeliad planter I noted a flash of white inside the nest that I didn't remember. I bent over closer to see and WHOOSH! Out exploded an angry wren, flying to a safer perch on an overhanging oak tree. I looked again and sure enough, some enterprising wren couple had relined the nest with what looks like hair, and there are 2-3 tiny spotted eggs inside.I am optimistic the parents will return to continue incubating their baby wren eggs. I am fairly sure they will. They continued their parental duties last year despite the ongoing insult of my taking my car in and out of "their" garage. My husband and I have agreed to leave the planter in place now and I will carefully hand water the bromeliad in a way that ought not overly disturb the nest. This also means we will have baby wrens at some future point hopping all around our front porch, learning to fly, while their anxious parents hover close by, calling and fussing and warning away all intruders.

For just a while here, we will be at least sharing a full nest. What a pleasant way to start out the day after Earth Day!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Reports from the Battle Front

My battle against the tree rats is going fairly well so far. It has been nearly a week since I installed Rat Baffle Number One and no sightings of rats on the bird feeder since then.

I am not silly enough to think this is the end of the matter. Rats are too smart and too persistent to write off so blithely. I am hopeful however, that if I leave the baffle in place they will simply revert to other easier sources of nutrition. There are lots of ways for a rat to get what it needs nutritionally this time of year. My bird feeder just does not have to be one of the easiest resources.

Other than that, the oak pollen counts are still high, but I was able to enjoy some time out in the warmth of April in Central Texas this afternoon. I took several photos of this and that, the crickets that have been serenading us every day, blooming flowers here and there.

This is my favorite photo from the last batch.Bulbine Frutescens, not a Central Texas native but beautifully well adapted to our warm dry days.

I am content this evening, knowing I harvested some of our loquats to make jam for the first time. This might not loom large to anybody else, but for me it is another move towards becoming the kind of person who grows and preserves food, who lives in ways to support a version of life that is less detrimental to the world at large. It is a baby step in a good direction, and that is good enough for today....

Sunday, April 13, 2008


I have been engaged in a couple of different types of warfare recently.

First, chemical warfare against what I thought were poison ivy plants.

I try not to look at very many plants as "weeds". As my daughter keeps telling me, in permaculture, NOTHING is a weed.

As I keep telling my daughter, in my eyes? Some plants simply aren't welcome in my little corner of the earth.

Poison ivy is one of those plants.

Poison ivy, among other tricks, does not always appear identically from plant to plant.

This means, bottom line, I spent hours on the internet this weekend comparing a photo from my back yard to various photos on various web sites, trying to discern if what I was so carefully trying to kill/remove was actually poison ivy, or perhaps the vastly less pernicious peppervine.

Turns out, the consensus finally weighed in that the questionable plants I am trying to remove (aside from two confirmed poison ivy specimens)are peppervine. But you have to be careful, yes? Poison ivy is just not anything to play around with.

Then there is my bird feeder. In the past year or so, I have been incessantly annoyed by the intermittent presence of rats perched up on my bird feeder eating the seed. Squirrels can't outwit the counterbalanced weight bar, but rats? They are smarter, and often smaller, and have learned how to hang from the front ridge of the top and/or redistribute their weight other ways so they can munch on all the birdseed they can hold.

My bird feeder is for the birds. Hence, the name. If I wanted to feed rats I would.

So, I have been asking around for advice and got plenty.

"Put vaseline on the pole and rats can't climb it" I was told. Ick! I am NOT going to go out and grease the pole. So I came up with an alternative. WD40 to the pole every other to every 3rd day seemed to be doing the trick. The rats couldn't (or wouldn't ) climb, and my bird seed was in fact, feeding the BIRDS.

"MOM!" my daughter fusses. "Get over it!" "You can't be putting petrochemicals on the bird feeder pole!".

My husband looks at me gravely "The over spray from the WD40 might well kill the surrounding plants" he pronounces.

I know they are right. I ask Mr. Smarty Plants from the Wildflower Center. He has already helped me out once this weekend with the definitive plant identification for my peppervine intruders.

As it turns out - this incarnation of Mr. Smarty Plants is not only a plant identification whiz but an ex-Navy man. In the Navy, they had to put Rat Baffles on the lines securing their ships to keep the rats off. He sent me a link to a Florida Dept. of Agriculture article about keeping rats off of fruit trees.

Hence my latest invention/tweak which I have dubbed "Rat Baffle Number One".It might not be perfect. It might not work at all. Time will tell.

In the meantime, I have found a non-toxic, re-cycled way to (hopefully) discourage the rats from treating my bird feeder like an "all you can eat" way station.

Time will tell if the peppervine will give up its attempts to find an open spot to dominate my garden beds.

Time will tell if I can discourage/kill the poison ivy that keeps trying to reappear in my back yard.

Time will tell if the rats will leave my bird feeder alone and allow the BIRDS to feed there unchallenged.

Time will tell and I will blog. Stay tuned.....

Thursday, April 10, 2008

April Showers

It rained this morning, providing a brief respite for those of us battling the live oak trees over who will be allowed to thrive during this, their pollination period. The raft of pollen casings floating up against the sinuous line of the pool sweep bear mute testimony to the overwhelming abilities of the trees to have their way with the air this time of year. For just now, the air has been swept clean, raked through by fingers of rain, and the ground has been rinsed of the yellow green powdery residue that coats our area every Spring for weeks.The ability to enjoy being outside, even for just a little bit, reminds me of why April is National Poetry Month. In honor of that, and this morning's shower, I share this:

Before A Departure in Spring

Once more it is April with the first light sifting
through the young leaves heavy with dew making the colors
remember who they are the new pink of the cinnamon tree
the gilded lichens of the bamboo the shadowed bronze
of the kamani and the blue day opening
as the sunlight descends through it all like the return
of a spirit touching without touch and unable
to believe it is here and here again and awake
 reaching out in silence into the cool breath
of the garden just risen from darkness and days of rain 
it is only a moment the birds fly through it calling
to each other and are gone with their few notes and the flash
of their flight that had vanished before we ever knew it
we watch without touching any of it and we
 can tell ourselves only that this is April this is the morning
this never happened before and we both remember it

W. S. Merwin

Friday, April 4, 2008

All Hail!

When it comes to gardening in Texas, there's often something to complain about.

I look at other gardener's blogs, see the photos of their well established beds (as opposed to our brand new areas that are just barely past being dead grass) and I am envious of their ability to rest in the surety of a successful venture.

I'll see photos of, say, some other blogger's bed packed with fully flowering plants providing a sea of color in front of a statue and rather than simple admiration, I find myself experiencing Bluebonnet Envy.

I have two bluebonnet plants in a front bed that had grown from seed (something I am apparently willing to somehow take extra credit for) and both of them have been routinely attacked by snails/slugs and a lack of rain and/or sun at the times they needed both and have subsequently failed to thrive.

I have other plants I bought at a nursery (why does that seem like admitting failure in this context?) in another bed in the back that are doing well, but are just beginning to show blooms.

I know in my head that this little patch of bluebonnets in the back will become a sturdy lake of blue in their own time and will provide me with a fair stand of seeds to take back out front and try again for next year. But in my heart, I keep looking at those puny plants out front and somehow using them as the measure of me as a Texas gardener.

On top of all that it hailed this morning. Not for long I am grateful to say, but with a ferocity and size that helped me realize I ought to be grateful to have any plants doing anything interesting anywhere. AND that I ought to spend less time fretting over two plants that aren't going to make much headway this year and be happy I have so many others, variously from seed and from nursery and from their own reproduction, that are not only surviving the insults of a Texas Spring, but thriving.So. Here's to all plants! Here's to Spring! Here's to Texas!

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.