Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Out of the Way

We all have our own ways to let others know when we need them to do something to satisfy us.

When I am wanting somebody else to do something not because they want to, but because I want them to? When I know they know this is mostly about me and not so much them, I will generally phrase it thusly: "Please clean up/move/take care of (fill in the blank) right now. It offends mine eye."

That King James Old Testament style speech is meant to send the accompanying message of "humor me - we both know I am asking you to do this for me...".

The Hub on the other hand, feels more a need to justify his request that we arrange some portion of our intersecting lives to satisfy his sense of what is salutary and right, so he will say "It is in my way".

This "in the wayness" applies to any clutter that is "not his". And honestly, clutter that "is his" is not considered clutter in his mind, so you get the drift of how the "in the way" designation is selectively applied.

And for better or worse, when things get to the point where the Hub is telling me that something or other of mine is "in his way", then I know it is time to do something about it. For him. Because I love him and he loves me and that is how it is supposed to work. We are not only about the life going on in between our own ears, sometimes we do things not for our selves, but for others.

So it was interesting to me recently the way the frozen gray and brown messiness of the tender plants here and there in our garden beds finally got to be too offensive to mine eye, so offensive they actually morphed into visually getting in my way.

I could not look out the windows without seeing flashes of morbidity everywhere I glanced. It looked to be a huge job and I typically avoid huge jobs like the plague. But enough was enough. Yesterday I took a deep breath, shrugged on a jacket and went out the door, clippers in hand.I spent 90 minutes working steadily and there is still a fair amount of work left to be done but over all, the results of much judicious pruning and removal have returned my exterior vistas to a more pleasing state. For winter.

How is your tolerance for wintry messiness? Are you lessez faire with regards to freeze nipped foliage? Are you motivated by plant health concerns or a sense of untidiness that must be addressed? I'm not looking for justification to leave the rest of the messiness outside untended to (really - I'm NOT). I am just curious as to what constitutes "the line" for you. What you can see and leave as opposed to what motivates you to get out and get it done? We're all friends here. Feel free to weigh in with your comments. I promise they won't be in the way.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hanging by a thread

I consider myself a fairly busy person this holiday season although I took every precaution I could to space out obligations in order to keep stress to a minimum.Regardless, the other morning I was feeling stretched a bit thin when I noticed....

My "Good Morning" spider, the one with the web in our kitchen window I watch routinely as I pour my coffee, was busily respinning her web.

This was not due to damage so far as I could tell, but a choice made after she'd moved previously trapped and web silk encased food sources from the perimeter of the old web to a spider sized contrived pantry she'd built over by one side of the windowsill.It struck me. Here I am, thinking of myself as "taking care" of a patch of earth, while all the usual occupants are busy taking care of themselves, with no real help (although occasional hindrance) offered from me. How very human of me to believe I was in charge.

I raised my cup in salute to this busy webby wonder, and felt a certain lightness as I realized how very little I am truly responsible for in the larger sense.

I am hopeful you will each experience your own version of lightness and wonder this holiday season, in whatever form it may take.

May peace and joy find you wherever you live.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

How Low Did You Go? (DialUppers Beware:Loads of Photos)

Considering the interweb is the "new fence" over which we all lean and compare notes, for those of you here in Central Texas, who along with me yesterday stood and shook your heads over some 40 to 60 minutes of intermittent snow flurries as you realized the worst to get through would be however many hours of bitter cold we faced last night, well now I'd like to know.

How cold did it get at your place last night?

Around 8AM it is already back up to 31 degrees but here in Rollingwood our low was 28 degrees according to our digital thermometer. Although it stores that information, it does not specify when that low occurred or how long it stayed below freezing here. However long that was, it was:Long enough for the bird bath out back to form a thin sheen of ice on top.Long enough the water in the rain barrels froze a little up top under the screening.Long enough for the redbud tree out front and the hackberry tree out back to be losing their leaves, a few at a time, simply dropping them in a neat circle round their trunks.Long enough to frost the grass.Long enough to rime the uncovered kale babies and mint.Long enough for some typical suspects to die outright, like the poke plants. The collards, along with other broad leafed plants may lose a few leaves, but typically they don't die outright. Typically it doesn't freeze hard this early either so......

All that remains now is to wait until the temperatures are safely above freezing to pull the improvised coverings off the various beds and survey potential damage. Some may not turn up for a day or so, but hopefully, most of the covered plants have survived to thrive in the more typical above freezing winter weather here. Fingers crossed.....

Friday, December 4, 2009


It took until nearly 1 PM and nothing is sticking (thank goodness!) but they did get it right....today, in Austin Texas, it is S N O W I N G....

Share a thought for all the teachers in this area trying to get anything close to what was on their lesson plans accomplished now.

Naturally, I now have an errand to run to help ChefSon pick his car up from the dealer after repairs which means I have to drive in this rather than getting to brew up hot chocolate and enjoy the view out the window. Still, it is the elementary school teachers I feel for in all this. Good luck everybody!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Will it...or Won't it?

Gorgeous skies out this morning. The clouds moving East as briefly backlit in spectacular fashion by the rising sun reminded me of this old saw, which was a favorite of my father's...

Red sky in morning, sailor take warning.
Red sky at night, sailor's delight.

Supposedly this predictive capacity of the sunrise and sunset skies is based upon the idea that a red sky results from the sun shining through clouds filled with dust and/or water, and if such clouds are to the West of a viewer that indicates a dust filled sky with newly stabilized air after a front has already passed through (most fronts moving from west to east riding the Westerlies according to this theory), while a red sky in the morning indicates either dust, or with a "fiery red" situation, moisture laden clouds with unsettled weather yet to move through the area.

So what's up with the red skies in Austin this morning? Maybe your life is not filled with weather geeks the way mine is, but whether or not you've been paying attention, buzz has it in meteorological circles that Austin is due for a hard freeze and potentially the first snow of the season, Friday, December 4th.

That's Austin, Texas, not Austin, Minnesota.I usually don't take such talk very seriously but was given pause when I heard they had thundersnow in San Diego a few days ago.

All of which highlights the need to understand we are not simply dealing with warmer temperatures alone so much as we are experiencing a more widespread climate disruption. I mean, snow in Central Texas before Christmas? Look in the dictionary under "disruption" and a copy of this week's weather forecast could be the illustration for the definition.

And I wouldn't care at all except for what a hard freeze could do to folks trying to earn a living growing food around these parts. Growers on a larger than back yard scale may not be able to arrange row covers for entire fields. Bad weather plus a recession can equal no profit for struggling farmers.

Not to mention what this might mean for trees already heat and drought stressed. Good news is the colder temperatures might put a damper on the nasty insect populations, but that will depend on the length of time spent below 32 degrees, of course, and unfortunately, the freeze doesn't differentiate between "beneficial" and "mosquito".

We have a new greenhouse here thanks to Hub's efforts but it seems not to provide any insulation other than protection from winds. The temperatures inside the plastic sheeting are currently running even with the temperatures outside.We will have to provide a heat source if we want this structure to do more than isolate certain plants. Which is almost as frustrating as the random early freeze predicted.

Gardening, especially with an eye to providing edibles, is certainly not for the faint of heart.

So.... What do you think about the snow in Austin in early December buzz? Typical, drum up advertising dollar weather forecast hooraw or might this be a serious freeze threat for our area?

And, how do you cope with the random hard freezes we have in this area? Do you duck? Let nature self select what will survive?

Cover? Throw protective layers over the tender stuff and hope it holds the temperatures higher?

Haul everything inside? Do you have room in your spaces for planters that ordinarily live out of doors? And if you do pull things in - do you leave them in for the winter or take them in and out depending on the forecast?

We do what I have come to think of as the WinterTime HodgePodge around here. Some plants will fall by the wayside if it gets too cold, others will get wrapped up a bit with fingers crossed, still others will do the in/out dance from the garage while a couple will start their wintering over inside the house stints.

At least the rains stopped for a bit so we can get things in without getting soaked for our troubles. Ah....winter......

Thursday, November 19, 2009


After weeks and weeks of waiting our two Meyer Lemon trees were finally ready for harvest.

To read about my plans for this long anticipated bounty, check out my other blog, Austin Agrodolce.

As a bonus for your trouble at the end of the post is a link to a wonderful recipe for Pumpkin Ginger Nut Muffins. (yes, they are every bit as yummy as they sound...).Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

End of the Line

[click on photo for larger version]
I am recently returned after having been away, but cannot resist adding my two caterpillar's worth to the wonderful series of photos already entered into Gardening Gone Wild's current Picture This Photo Contest for November.

The theme for this month is "The End of the Line" and the thoughtful responses sent in so far are well worth your time spent visiting the blogs represented.

As is typical after being away from hearth and garden, I have a long (LONG!) list of chores demanding my attention, so I hope you will forgive my lack of an accompanying post this go-round. I am optimistic the photograph will provide its own context.

In the meantime I am hopeful you are enjoying the wonderful November light. I find this one of the most beautiful times of year here in Central Texas and with that said, out I go to enjoy more of it.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Martha Stewart Moment

First things first. I know we don't get a spectacular amount of fall foliage change here in Central Texas, but because of that I think I am more appreciative of the flashes of color we do get.So hooray for hacienda creeper and Happy Fall, Y'all!

Earlier today I was enjoying a post by Society Garlic about weeding she has done recently in her lettuce beds. I am a horrible procrastinator when it comes to weeding.

I rationalize I am letting the weeds get large enough to make it easier to get a good grip on them, but really I am just ducking the chore until I can't stand it any longer or there is some apparent threat posed by the encroaching weediness to the plants I am actually trying to grow.

Besides, as long as I leave my glasses in their case, everything looks all lovely and green.

With corrected vision however, the truth is out there. Our beds are currently nutgrass and bermuda havens, training camps for all sorts of invasive behaviors in waiting.

Along with weed removal, the idea of digging out our invasive nandina bushes has been a task I have delayed to the point of ignoring. I console myself with the knowledge that if I keep the berries cut off, at least I am not feeding those berries to birds who will then fly all around the neighborhood, cheerily depositing the seed materials along with a little dose of fertilizer for good measure.

Problem is, I really like the way the berries look. It is not unheard of for me to leave them on the bushes way too long, only to finally head out with pruning shears in hand to discover most of them already long gone. Consumed and presumably sown.So today I got busy and took all the berries off the nandinas but rather than putting them safely into the trash this year I instead channeled the Great Martha and arranged them into two displays for our front porch.I am keeping a close eye to make sure these stay decorative and don't turn into freeform bird feeding stations, but am optimistic that most of the birds around here are so used to our regularly filled feeders with water close by in the back that they'll skip a visit to the front porch to gnosh on berries.If we do get a Hitchcockian assault out front, I'll go back to Plan A and in the trash they'll go. In the meantime, I think the arrangements look pretty durned spiffy.Totally festive, yes?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More, tell me more (updated)

Update: To make more sense for those who might visit here from out of our "viewing area", here is a video clip featuring one of Austin's mover/shaker garden bloggers/organizers, Pam of Digging, as her garden was featured on Central Texas Gardener, the show I mention later in the body of this post. Enjoy!

Besides doing trimming to provide better sight lines around the bottle tree, I finally got all the corks together I'd been saving for "something someday" and decided they constituted "enough" to mulch the area right in front of the doing its best to imitate a still growing hackberry bottle tree.

Kids, don't try this at home. Safely accumulating corkage of this quantity requires the efforts of seasoned swillers.On my way over to the bottle tree I noticed an amusing moth settled in on my pre-munched collard plants.I cannot say what this moth is rightfully called, but if there is any sort of justice in the moth naming world, it would have to be called something along the lines of the elephant-snout-nosed-lays-eggs-that-hatch-into-larvae-that-eat-your-collards-moth. "Snouty" for short.

While wrestling with my own definition of whimsy lately (whimsy is like pornography perhaps - hard to define but you know it when you see it) I did spot an idea that was so genius I had to steal it to use in my own surrounds.Cheryl of Conscious Gardening's bottlecap snakes (that's her photo above) were the long sought after answer to a question I've been previously unsuccessfully fielding from my family for a couple of years now, that question being with regards to my own stash of caps "but what are you going to DO with them?!?". My answer prior to recently being "I don't know - something!".

Seeing as thiswas the slightly less than grand extent of what could be considered seasonal decor at our entry way I thought to press the upcoming candyfest into double duty as a raison d'snaktre, and et voila!

Cheryl - you are my hero(ine) and yes I totally have stolen this idea directly from the photos of your garden but I promise to always give you credit for coming up with this first. Pinky swear. Your garden is wonderful and I would clone it if I could.Oh - and while I'm on the topic of "Stealing Ideas from Cheryl" yes, reading about her garden is what got me thinking "now WHERE did I put those two buckets filled with corks?!" to anchor my bottle tree with cork mulch.

Fair is fair - I already had my bottle tree and had idly thought previously that putting the corks in around there as mulch might be cool but truth be told....I did not find the motivation to pour the corks out there until somebody else led the way.

And yes I guess I am that person Mom. If everybody else threw their corks off the edge of a cliff I suppose I might do it too.

Anyway, besides it not being pouring rain today (Yay! and a bigger hooray that we've had enough rain that I am not moved to grateful tears just at the sight of precipitation promised in our forecast) I was dragging my camera around because I love morning light here.Which led me to thinking about ESP's upcoming stint on Central Texas Gardener and while I'm in the booth, padre, I have another confession to make.

At times, especially when I have my camera in my hands and the morning light is just so, I totally fantasize about having my spaces featured on CTG.

I walk around,framing shots,cropping them to keep the weedy and nongorgeous parts hidden,while in my head I hear the calmly seductive voice of producer Linda Lehmusvirta saying things like "the seemingly impossible task of managing to keep a sense of humor while dealing with Central Texas weather makes leaping tall buildings in a single bound pale by comparison, but this West Austin gardener manages to do just that and take whatever Mother Nature dishes out in stride.."while Smash Mouth's "Walking on the Sun" blares out in the background.What's that you say? CTG doesn't play music with lyrics while touring a garden? Well, all right Mr. Fantasy Crusher - there will be something very much LIKE SmashMouth's song only a lot quieter and without lyrics then. Jeepers. Keep your garden gloves on.

So yeah, the camera is panning around and Linda is murmuring, "Preserving a place for wildlife to peacefully coexist is one of the main goals in this suburban backyard where native plants are in abundant evidence to provide food and....SCRRTCH! Sound of needle scraping across record as the tell tale evidence of my lifelong romance with the (dun dun dunnnnhhhh) totally invasive, every gardener worth her trowel has torn these all out already,nandinas in the back yard.

Linda's voice suddenly takes on an uncharacteristically stern and scolding tone "Here and there are signs there is work yet to be done in this evolving paradisiacal space". The camera cuts abruptly to me as I begin to squirm in my chair and whine about how charmed I have always been with the lore that if you plant a Nandina at the entrance of your garden and whisper to it all your worries and cares, your life and your garden will be trouble free.

I mumble guiltily about how I've always admired Nandina for doing something interesting year 'round, producing colorful leaves or white flowers or gorgeous berries... I glance around furtively, failing to make eye contact with the camera as I mutter about how forgiving Nandinas are to being trimmed to display stems or to being cut back, how they accept any soil, any amount of water, care, or total abuse and yet continue to put their best face forward, no matter what.The camera begins to do a Brian DePalma like swirl, quickly taking in whatever else redemptive there might be to look atas the segue music swells up, playing at 5 times regular speed.

Cut back to a startled and slightly frowning Tom Spencerwho is actually atypically flapped and speechless for a moment having not prescreened my segment prior to airtime. Now caught totally unawares that this featured garden served as an invasive plant training camp of sorts for the really terrible, if I don't tear them all out by the roots soon then the terrorists will already have won Nandinas, he struggles valiantly to find some positive way to end the segment.

"And that wraps up our tour of the good, the bad, and the ugly as we are reminded once again there is always something more to do in a typical Texas Garden".

And, cut to Trisha Shireywho will be demonstrating how, with a little plant based dye turned spray paint, you too can use elements from your compost pile as economical Christmas decorations in these, our troubled economic times.


Good luck ESP with your segment and especially with your stated goal to set Linda to giggling live on camera. You carry on your shoulders the hopes and aspirations of so many of us for whom being featured on CTG will remain only a dream......

I do have plans on getting all the Nandinas pulled out by their roots one of these days. Really, I do.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Doing the Math

Take watching Central Texas Gardener's show on the Master Gardeners Tour, add reading various blogs featuring wonderful photos of their favorite vignettes on the tour, take that total and add the extremely prolific's EastSide Patch's announcement of pre-taping jitters for his own appearance on CTG and what do you get?

Inspiration enough to get me moving on a long list of small jobs and a well considered but continually postponed project for our bed out front closest to the house.

You don't believe me? Here, I'll show you my work....

In the back, I trimmed overgrowth back to clear out a better line of sight for the bottle tree. Seeing as temps are dropping into the 50's overnight regularly and another cool front is on the way tonight, I went out to enjoy and capture the tropical bloomers for what may be the last time this season.

I checked on the sloooowly ripening Meyer Lemons and I wove the rambling rose into the trellis.I also poached two large rocks for my front bed project.

And speaking of the front bed, here it is in its BEFORE state.There was nothing wrong with this bed per se. As a matter of fact, some people will probably look at my after shots (be patient, I'm getting there!) and be thinking to themselves "she calls that an improvement?".

I'd shifted it over to nearly all herbs because it is close to the door (a must I've discovered for last minute herb harvesting in inclement weather) and small. This allows me to give it extra water as needed and cover it to protect the plants from any hard frosts or freezes we have to face in our increasingly sketchy Central Texas weather.

I could have bought a couple of bags of bark mulch, tossed them on, and let it go at that. But. This bed just didn't really fit with the other areas in the front of our house. And slowly but surely, despite my apparent intentions to be as haphazard as humanly possible with regards to any sense of overall design for the beds around our house, there has been the excruciatingly slow evolution of what I think of as Central Texas Eclectic.

What do I mean by that? While not a completely native landscape, there are mostly native plants in use. There is liberal use of native stone and xeric plantings and not a single blade of St. Augustine left (except for the persistent strands that occasionally crop up in out of the way places). I have not spent much on the plants or hardscape, using loads of passalong plants and seeding in areas from packets and harvested sources both.

And this little bed close to the front door just hadn't gotten with the program. Until today. I think the bed with rocks is simply more interesting than without. See? Boring: And then interesting:My bed, I get to say. Deal? You want all mulch you do that in your yard. Okay then.

I went to my favorite local nursery, scored the requisite three bags of rocks, some chervil seed (the one herb I was missing to serve as a replacement for tarrgon which won't grow well here), and as mentioned before, poached some larger rocks from other beds that had maturing plants no longer requiring the stony interest pieces in place.

And...voila! Now this bed is much more like the others.As is typically the case, getting the horizontal surface into shape only underscores for me now how much I despise the side wall of the rising driveway in the background there. But, as I was sitting sipping water and enjoying the new look, I had a brainflash about what to do to transform that fugly wall into a Central Texas Eclectic Charmarama.

I am going to gather and assess the materials already on hand for this magical transformation to be, and hope to start work on it as soon as the showers predicted for tonight and tomorrow pass through. So stay tuned folks. The transformation of this bed might not rock your socks off, but you will either love - or hate - what I have planned next.

While I was out working, I tweaked the shelves a bitand took another bit of time to stop and enjoy the orange and purple going on in another bed, a look I had actually planned for and then had to wait through the hottest most hellish summer imaginable to see.One final note. This little bit of whimsy - a marble planted in the nook of a rock?This one is for you, ESP. A teensy tiny vote of gardener's thanks for all the inspiration you provide through your blogging. Gracias, amigo!

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.