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!

Friday, October 9, 2009

It takes a storm system this big....

I was out watering my vegetables and certain tender seedlings last night just in case.

I realize we had a 100 percent chance of heavy rain forecast for today but somehow I couldn't bring myself to trust the tired looking, wind beaten babies to what still seemed fickle fate. Plus we'd had several similarly high percentage forecasts revised down (WAY down) regularly lately as the storm systems moved to the North, East, South, or West of us. It was raining predictably anyplace but here.

I read reports of substantial rain all around us this past Sunday (for instance), but we didn't get drop one on our beds. This was great news for ACL Festers (we live close to Zilker) but no so great for the wildflower seedlings that are optimistically springing up here and there. I was happy for the Festers, sure, but they are not my concern. The seedlings are totally mine to fret about. As are the vegetable starts out there promising cool weather harvests to make up for the Summer of No Home Gardening Success To Speak Of.

So I watered a few choice plants late yesterday just in case. Which now I superstitiously will claim actually triggered the long lasting watering they are getting skywise today.

I can take a scientific stance about many things but rain? There I get very "shake a rattle at the sky" for some reason. Go figure.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pardon my saying so but....

The above is my entry for the October Picture This! contest. It is an arrangement from our mid-June '08 CSA share from the wonderful folks at Tecolote Farms.

This month's theme for the Gardening Gone Wild Picture This photo contest is "Abundant Harvest".

According to the judge for the contest, Saxon Holt, his friend and fellow gardener, Rosalind Creasy along with photographer David Cavagnaro invented the style - that of a basket spilling seemingly artlessly arranged produce.

I am not one to argue with judges as a rule, but I'll offer the suggestion that "abundant harvest style" is just as likely one previously planted in all our subconscious image storage bins seeded by years of viewing Thanksgiving Cornucopia arrangements.

No matter. Rosalind Creasy is a longstanding heroine of mine so I'll stop my quibbling. At the least it could easily be said Creasy and Cavagnaro perfected the Abundant Harvest look, OK? Onward.

While the artlessly-spilling-from-the-basket format was precisely where I began with photographs of our CSA baskets from Tecolote Farms last year, (the following shot from March '08) what I ended up with after playing with the photogenic produce a bit, gave me what I think of more as a still life style.

And maybe that was the intended takeaway - that artless look - which means I've missed the point of the assignment. D'oh! I decided not to overthink this - the contest is supposed to be fun despite picayune nattering from entrants like me.

Whether or not you are contest minded, do be sure to check out the Gardening Gone Wild website itself along with the typically stunning contest entries. There is a wealth of information and an embarrassment of photography riches there all ripe for your picking. Reading there is a ton more fun than weeding, and potentially just as beneficial.

One final reminder, click on any photo in the post to get a larger view and enjoy the details.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

There were bells...

[Headnote: This is a bit of a shout out to the lovely Iris of Society Garlic. She posted recently about Reliable Ruellia and it got me nodding my head as I was surveying with satisfaction the ruellia in my own yard. Appreciating them got me to looking around and noticing with new eyes some of the other heat/drought hardy performers around here. I wanted to shine a bit of blog light on them in case I get all rain reliant and distracted when it comes time to buying new plants next year. Under the kindler gentler conditions of Spring some years my gardener's memory seems to get pretty short.]

In the hills,
but I never heard them ringing.
No I never heard them at all,
'til there was you.

Substitute "guitars" for "bells" and that is what its like around the Agrodolce this weekend. Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker is in full swing which naturally, means a lot of different things to different people.
Photo of Bright Light Social Hourby Matthew Taplinger,courtesy ACL photo stream for Friday

For some it means they can't get to here from there. The Bee Cave Road on ramp to MoPac is closed for the duration. Others won't get their walks around the river due to parking snarls and competing foot traffic. Some of us, living just west of the park area, will be treated all weekend long to a muffled version of the music as the sounds float to us over the intervening hills. Especially with windows opened to welcome cooler air.

I've heard a few complain of this but it mostly reminds me of when my kids were younger, living at home (insert deep, slightly pathetic, old geezer sigh). Hearing slightly muffled music emanating from their rooms or their vehicles as they pulled briefly into the drive for a pit stop at home, was not all that different from overhearing the music in the park this weekend. My kids' music wasn't playing specifically for me either, my hearing it was only an indicator of their proximity, an instance of somebody enjoying their tunes, a prospect I generally encourage.

This is the first time since the introduction of Fest that no part of our family will be part of the milling throng. With LawSchoolGirl away at school, and ChefSon scheduled to work all weekend, our two likeliest candidates are well out of the fray. As the Hub is not a fan of musical experiences featuring the inability to control volume, ambient temperature or comfortable seating options, ACL is not his style. As for me, I won't go alone. I don't enjoy huge crowds so only ever tolerated Fest in the company of 1-3 others so I could hunker down, enjoy the music, and watch the crowd flowing by like they were on some sort of (really!) big screen.

That said, Friday's weather must be taking a prize for all time Fest Perfection, yeah? Cool temperatures, slightly overcast most of the day then clearing for a great sunset and an awesome nearly full moon. Won't ever get much better than that around here.

And Saturday's weather certainly started well. Cool, overcast, and I was out the door figuring to get to Wheatsville early so I could do my grocery shopping and get back home before most of the fest traffic and hooraw was underway. That's when I got stopped dead in my tracks and had to go back in the house to fetch my camera.

A volunteer Datura bloom had opened and was just begging me to take its picture. I am captivated by these flowers, in form so close to a morning glory but with enhancements of larger size and those curlicued flourishes to recommend them. I cannot begin to describe to you how enchanting I find these. They look to me like piped icing confections.I'll grant you my admiration for this plant was first attracted by their appearance on canvas by Georgia O'Keefe. She didn't pull any punches, calling her work "Jimson Weed".

Yes, the plant is Jimson Weed, but Datura is a better match nominally for how I react when I see these spectacular flowers. I don't have livestock to worry over and if a careless deer suffers from unwisely gnoshing on this plant my sympathies will extend only to offering them the advice to keep their teeth off my landscaping. Ahem!Exotic? In appearance only as it turns out, proving to me for all time that "weed" is ever only in the mind of the beholder.

Predictably enough, once I got out there with my camera I slowed down, took a look around, and was struck by several other beauties that had patiently waited out the summer's heat only to bounce back with an assist from the rain and cooler temperatures of the past two weeks. I'd been taking them mostly for granted.

Once recognized, that sort of callous approach didn't sit well. I wanted to document the sterling performers for the stars they truly are and I needed to do it immediata!

There is the majestically exuberant Queen's Wreath, called Coral Vine by some. Antigonon Leptopus for long.The bees just love this, and I love that it bloomed through the heat, through the drought, with little indication that it heeded either.

Then there are the Four O'Clocks, Marvel-of-Peru, or Mirabilis. These beauties kept it low and slow this year and I thought I'd lost many of them but once the rains started back up and the heat index dropped back down properly into two digits they were all about making up for lost time.

Many consider these weeds because they crop up in ditches and along fencerows locally, but I remember them as one of the first flowering plants I ever successfully raised from seed when we lived in Salt Lake City. I held on to that, my first seed packet, for quite a while before I could bear to part with it. The ones in my yard at the moment are from seeds I gathered on walks in my neighborhood. They set seed profusely and I simply pull out the ones that grow where I don't want them, tossing the plant into a spot where they'd be more welcome. As often as not, next season, they'll reappear where I tossed them. Mirabilis, indeed.

Finally for today, my sweet little Potato Vine, Solanum laxum. This plant, growing in fairly deep shade, is not nearly as bloomtastic as the Queen's Wreath but it is evergreen throughout the winters (so far) and does keep offering a few flowers nearly year 'round.The small blooms hang in clusters, starting out a light purple then brightening to white. Tiny beacons of light in the shade of the oak trees and welcome there no matter how few in number they might be. I've seen photos of these loaded with flowers when grown in sunnier spots which makes me even more grateful for the persistence of the smattering of blooms mine gives me in lower light.

And there you have it. A Fabulous Four of bloomers that have hung tough through what was certainly the worst Texas summer I've gardened through. Add in shared admiration with Iris for Ruellia, and you have yourself the start of a nice hardy, well adapted to the area plant list to give you ideas for addition to your own spaces should you have some gaps or a need to replace more persnickety species.

Texas, bring your worst. Deer, drought, heat, ice storms or flooding rains, these potentially lesser appreciated plants have survived it all like the tough Lone Star Ladies they are, with beauty and grace.

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.