Sunday, December 30, 2007
This morning jonesing for some garden action, I swung by Shoal Creek Nursery and Lowes to see if there was anything interesting or inspiring. SCN had some bluebonnet bedding plants which I briefly considered for the front. But I’ve had such heartbreak with bloobs in the past and let’s face it, they belong in a meadow not an urban border.
At Lowes I bought four more Rainbow Knockouts for the sidebed. I may have a serious addiction here. This plant makes me happy. Love, loave, LURVE the color, even the rosehips are divine.
Spent the afternoon playing scrabble and Blokus on the deck with daughter, her BF and his pal. They finally left to go play Chicken Bingo at Ginny’s Little Longhorn and I immediately got busy planting.
This space is just a rectangle sandwiched between the deck and some paving and the wood privacy fence, where my neighbor’s English ivy creeps over. I like the fact that it will be a display spot you can gaze down on from the deck. In my Vale house the yard was so big that you really couldn’t see the perimeter beds from the house or patio. Now that I’ve got the roses situated, I need to figure out some kind of edging, either liriope or maybe miniature boxwoods since the space is so angular. I’m not sure how big the roses will get, so I’ll have to go slow on adding fill-in plants. I have a beautiful pale pink salvia at Vale that would be lacey and pretty amongst the roses.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Can’t remember a winter with more bouts of howling winds. I’ve no sooner raked up the leaves in the street gutter and dumped them on the compost, when the entire contents of a neighbor’s red oak or sycamore tree has been blown onto my curb again.
Not complaining, mind you. More leaves for mulching, etc. Plus, daughter Grace, home on holidays from Providence, RI, showed me the pix she took right before leaving. A very scenic whiteout blizzard covering every house, hill, and dale. Very pretty, as long as you don’t have to drive, dig out, run errands, etc.
Today I cut back the cannas, which had finally got a bit froststruck. The front yard, which is sheltered and southerly, seems still fairly unscathed with the Blue Daze intact. Everything in the new front bed looks pretty tatty except for the Iceberg roses. I probably should just cut everything back severely, but I’m waiting for a hard freeze to force my hand on this.
The only other gardening news is the appearance of Sleeping Princesses in the backyard on the afternoon of Christmas Day. These rare bulbs are a delightful addition to any garden and do best in a patch of lawn where there's sunlight and mild temps.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
This morning before dashing off to work I took this happy little snap of one of the rosebushes I bought in Luling that were supposedly Knockouts. Neither the leaf nor the bloom color look like the standard KR. The KR website lists a variety called Rainbow Knock Out Rose that “covers itself with coral pink blooms painted with rich yellow at the base.” Maybe that’s what these are. They’re throwing off buds and blooms like crazy and seem to be immune to the blackspot that’s rampant with this on/off hot humid weather.
I’m in the process of digging up my side yard for a new bed that sits along my patio. A coral-based showcase might be interesting: The Rainbow Knockouts, flame acanthus, a hot pink and orange canna or two, some tangerine impatiens along the border, old reliable pavonia, that orangey zinnia. Oh, and some four-o’clocks, the mutant ones that have yellow streaked with cerise.Some giant purple/green leafy things mixed in, banana, ginger or something.
One of the side benefits of gardening is coming into regular and intimate contact with the insect world. Pam at Digging has mentioned the recent influx of ladybugs in our neighborhood. In my yard, this was a passing flux. More enduring has been the presence of Gasteracantha Elipsoides, or the Spineybacked Orbweaver, the spider that has established its tiny but ornate empire in several corners of my garden. Shaped like a crab, with spiky horns, and decorative spots, this spider spins a large ornate web every evening, suspended by whatever stanchions it can find: eaves, porch railings, tree branches. The one over my head at this very moment has woven its web daily in the same corner of my deck for the past 3 months. Though miniature, this spider is quite as beautiful as any flower in bloom, and a welcome companion—especially since, despite its prickly appearance, it is harmless to humans. Thanks to nickspiders.com for the photo; my camera cannot do justice to the closeup.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Pam at Digging was kind enough to point out that my Comments function had disappeared. It made me realize how fragile this electronic blog was; dependent upon my nonexistent html skills and haphazard blogspot support. I turned back to my hardcopy journal wherein I paste plant sticks, sketch plans, and add random notes of freezes, drought, personal data. I still keep this notebook, which is messy, dirt-stained, and something you can hold on to.
Here’s a page showing a sketch of Gus, our golden, who was put down in July. I called him my gardening buddy, as he would insist on accompanying me in my toil, doing his dutiful fenceline perimeter checks, snuffling among the esperanza and pavonia, getting myriad wild carrot burrs stuck on his fur. No blog could possibly hold the magic of Gus, but this drawing comes as close as I’ll get. He was like my journal, a muddy and steadfast companion in the garden. Many will miss him.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Yes, they were overplanted in years past. It’s true they’re subject to unsightly mildew. And my own patio has been the victim of the purple shit-astrophe that occurs every spring when packs of cedar waxwings descend on their berries. Most grievously, many consider them an invasive scourge.
But when the holidays come around, ligustrum is the best freebie decorating resource around. Their bay-leaf shaped foliage is ramshackle lushness writ large. And the dusty blue berries, are gorgeous pendants of autumn abundance. Cuttings of ligustrum can be stuck in any container and look great.
I have no ligustrum in my current yard, a rarity in a home built in the 40s. But it’s easy enough to find them in empty lots, alleys, and byways. Harvesting ligustrum for the home keeps berries from the birds (preventing them from being disseminated in poop and germinating new plants) and also fills your home with a beauty that rivals anything in the pricey floral departments at Central Market or Whole Foods.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Nine days ago I was dragging a wire trellis to the garden shed when I tripped on it and fell splat forward. The trellis banged off the top of my ankle instantly raising a golfball-sized swelling. This was two hours before I was to get on a plane to
I’ll spare us all the posting of the gory photos. But it got me thinking about the health hazards involved in gardening: poison ivy, wasps, toxic thorns, cactus spines, sun exposure, lower back pain, and of course, the classic Green Thumb. My mother spent several years struggling with this fungal infection; it was a painful and stubbornly persistent.
Perhaps the most potentially lethal of all is the ladder-related mishap. I cite the hilarious passage from Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, wherein the narrator, after putting away several scotches, is out on his deck barbecuing and is suddenly seized with the notion that the Hedges Must Be Trimmed, never mind the fact that it is night. He gets out the ladder and begins shearing the bushes. Being drunk, he decides that rather than climb up and down to move the ladder along the hedgerow, he’ll grab hold of the ladder and “jump” it sideways. A trip to the emergency room ensues.
So no drinking and trimming, unless it’s eggnog and a Christmas tree.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
Now even with a dolly, there has to have been some lifting involved. I have a 90-year old aunt, so I know what 90 looks like and Bertha looks around 75. Yet even most 75-year old folks would hesitate before manhandling an unwieldy and heavy piece of concrete. I have a hard time righting my own birdbath after the squirrels knock it over.
Bertha’s lived on the street for more than 50 years, since before it was paved. Her garden is very minimal but charming; her son dug up all the Sabal Minor palms in Beaumont and brought them to Austin. I can’t wait til my Sabals get as big as Bertha’s.
It’s nice to think about sleepy little Austin in 1941, the year my house was built. In this picture presumably taken that year, you can see the house and garage, the unpaved street, and what appears to be a cedar break beyond. What amazes me is that the spectacular liveoak that shelters my front yard is nowhere to be seen in this photo. I always thought of liveoaks as slow growers, but apparently in 60 years they can become giants.
I found this photo in a box with old mortgage papers; the house originally cost $2300.
Friday, December 7, 2007
I purposely set out to make the espalier pattern not symmetrical, preferring to let the vine’s natural curves be the guide. My own affinity for curlicues and scrollwork admittedly was also in play and the result is decidedly unconventional. Some might say even weird. Passers-by would ask what kind of plant it was, thinking that you could buy a plant that grew that way.
I used the Wayward Vine support sold at most nurseries; it’s a little concrete button with a wire hook that you cement onto your masonry. The early picture was taken in 1998 after I first planted the pyracantha; the second picture is four years later in 2002.
Monday, December 3, 2007
The Chicago retaining walls reminded me of interior designer Rose Tarlow’s house in Los Angeles. She lets some kind of vine actually grow into her windows and climb up her living room walls. Apparently she periodically tears off parts of the vine, leaving the vegetal sucker material as a ghostly tracery on the walls. (Anyone who has ever torn English ivy from a wall, will know a similar residual pattern.) Amazing, yet I'm not sure I'd want to endanger my property value by “trying this at home.” Also, I have a hard enough time just keeping a pot of ivy alive indoors.
Meanwhile before I left for Chicago, I took all the tender babies into the shed.
Saturday, December 1, 2007
Meanwhile this funny little plant I got at Shoal Creek Nursery keeps on churning out its buttercups. Somehow I managed to not write down the name of this plant, which has a woody stalk and small almond-shaped leaves that are not particularly attractive. But the yellow flowers make up for the blah foliage. Anyone know what this is is?
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
The Thanksgiving trip reaped its own bounty of garden treasures. While taking in the plantings around our condo, I noticed that the striped yucca was sending out pups into the lawn which were being routinely mowed down. So I dug up and brought back 6 of the chopped off plants, another variety for my front bed.
This one is giant starburst shape. In a few years, my front bed will be a health hazard of spikes, if not a burglar deterrent.
Then in Luling, we stopped at Castros, one of two fabulously funky and idiosyncratic fruit & vegetable stands that do business directly across the street from each other, selling produce, plants, and pots. This summer I bought a Knockout Rose for $15 in Luling, cheaper than I have seen them in Austin. This weekend they were $7, so I bought two more. I don't know where I'm going to put them.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Thanksgiving on Mustang Beach was the usual meld of pies, long walks, board games, pies, gin & tonics, and conversation. Rachel asked her traditional question (is the world getting better or worse?).
This year was very cold but the beach was beautiful in its winter garb. The seagrasses apparently due to the historic annual rainfall, have never been more lush and delicately colored. Outside our condo was a bit of landscaping that could be a blueprint for my desert-tropical garden.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Today I left work headed home to bake pies. But the late afternoon was so beautiful, I decided to go for a walk while the sun was still out. The cold front, such as it was, had blown through. Sycamore leaves the size of dinner plates were whirling through the air, it was cool but hardly the bitter front predicted.
On my last leg of the walk on Grover, I saw a pretty front garden with a profusely blooming lantana, a creamy banana yellow color, not the normal screaming marigold yellow that is so overplanted everywhere. The lady of the house was out front digging in a patch of yuccas and and I stopped to ask her if she knew the name of the lantana. She didn't, but after we talked gardens for awhile she gave me all her yucca castoffs. Score! They are a larger variety than my blue-green soft leaf cultivars. And from the robustness of her colony, they look to be pretty prolific, possibly even invasive pests. Rather than the drape-over style of my yuccas, they form radiant starburst and look like they get about 4-ft tall.
I rushed home and crammed them into the front bed before dark. They are on the own for the next few days. We're off to Port Aransas for Thanksgiving.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Sunday I got the front bed planted. I had already tilled abono de lavaca in to the topsoil, so the ground was ready. I love how every piece of merchandise is labeled in Eng/Span these days; I’ve learned quite a lot of terms including, now, cow manure.
So I dug holes and planted:
3 Iceberg roses
5 stands of blue-green spineless prickly pear
1 stand of blue-green asymmetrical prickly pear
3 upright rosemary
4 gray-green Russian sage
3 blue-green soft leaf yucca
2 small blue-green agaves
1 dark green with yellow stripes agave
1 clump of Mexican oregano
5 root clumps of white lantana
4 root clumps of white salvia greggi
1 Mexican fan palm
1 windmill palm
Mid-day I took a break and headed to the Home Depot for six 40-lb. bags of mulch which was as many as would fit in the Accord's trunk. Stopped at DSW to look at shoes, a clever technique to pace myself and not overdo it in the yard. Sadly, could not find a single pair of shoes that I wanted. Headed home and back to stoop labor.
While I was working, two neighbors, Mark and Sarge, stopped in passing and shouted words of encouragement and praise. And my sweet neighbor Joe, dream date were he not 78 (architect, funny, amazing home interior filled with art and beauty) crept out from his lair to see how it was going and add his two cents. He really is quite charming but he always rushes off, either shy or not wanting to wear out his welcome.
I finally finished up around dusk and felt great: worn out but good worn out.
Tonight Stephanie, across the street came over to remark on the garden and tell me that she’s finally getting around to hiring someone to do front landscaping at her house. I hope that her landscaper will chop down the nandina which is all leggy and has completely robbed her front foundation planting of any joy.
The white salvia, which I wrenched from Vale only 2 weeks ago, is already leafing out. I’ve lucked out with the weather.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Today by some miracle the landscaper came and did what he said he would do: removed the sod, tilled the soil, and dry-stack edged my front bed. I bought 240 lbs of cow manure and managed to dig some of it into the soil before dark. I won't get back to this project until Sunday. It's 9p.m and I hear an unfamiliar sound out my window--a hoot owl.
It happens overnight. The almond-shaped leaves of the cedar elm turn goldenrod and begin to flutter down in drifts.
Rachel and I sat out on the deck and caught up matters large and small while butterflies twittered around us. Lots of sulphurs and Gulf fritillaries and a red one that Rachel aptly described as looking like a Persian rug. Even though it's November 3, this weather still counts as October perfection
Monday, November 5, 2007
We are facing another disease problem in Central Texas that looks to be a major challenge for the nursery and landscape industry. I first encountered it in the Lakeway community where it is devastating oleanders at an alarming rate, and have since seen it all over the greater Austin area. The symptoms include scorching of leaf edges and tips, leaf drop, and death of entire branches on the plant. Death of the entire plant often follows. Plants will often attempt to send up new shoots from the base, but these usually follow the same fate.So my plan for lush oleanders is on hold. I must do some more thinking and planning.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
In preparation for the new front bed, I bought 3 Iceberg roses today. I decided to bail on putting in Knockout roses, despite their wonderful qualities, I just don't want that screaming magenta going on out front.
The Iceberg seems to be universally considered the best, most disease-resistant white shrub rose. It looks gorgeous that's for sure and also smells great, which Knockout doesn't. Here are my pots sitting in the back awaiting their debut. I've placed them along side their soon-to-be BFFs, the blue-gray spineless prickly pear.
Saturday, November 3, 2007
Now that fall planting season is almost over, I've finally got my act together on the front bed. I have a worker coming to dig the new bed and install limestone drystack edging on Tuesday (or so he says).
The picture shows the front yard with white line delineating the flower bed; it looks lumpier in the picture. In reality it's a nice undulating curve that roughly follows the current chinchbug lawn decimation. My technique is to lay a garden hose on the ground and shape it into the pattern I want, then spray paint directly onto the grass.
Here's a before picture of the house; maybe be next weekend I can actually start some planting.
Also let's just take a moment to savor the relentless joy that Blue Daze (Evolvulus Glomeratus) has brought to the front flower bed. The rare flower that is truly blue, this plant is just about perfect: thrives in heat, blooms non-stop, has perky and pretty gray-green foliage. And it is supposedly evergreen and can survive light frosts. We'll see.
Monday, October 29, 2007
I recently spent a day (on my company’s dime) at Lake Austin Spa, getting massage, facial, pedi, and sunning at the pool. It’s a very beautiful place; the grounds are spectacular but there’s something a little New Age-agey about its food and spiritual ambiance. In between “treatments” I was at the pool, reading Eat, Pray, Love, the summer phenom, recommended to me by a colleague. I felt like a complete cliche. A woman, who had been off by herself under an umbrella meditating and doing yoga, stopped by my chaise lounge afterwards, and said “I’m reading that too!” (No, really?) I felt I was in my own private Oprah special (and this was before O did her show with the author, Elizabeth Gilbert). While ogling the amazing gardens there, I rustled a root from an interesting plant; it looked like a bamboo with a cornstalk leaf. I finally found this at a plant nursery: it’s called Buddha’s Belly. Thus completes my trip to Nirvana-on-the-Colorado.
Good news is that the plant has rooted. It's in my nursery waiting for the long-heralded front garden.
Here is a photo of one of the two loquat trees that I dug up from Vale Street and brought with me. These are being trimmed to grow straight up and have pom-poms of foliage at the top. It’s something I saw done at Cornerstone Hardware's nursery (a Westlake store that tried to go mano a mano with Breed and Co. directly across the street and is now out of business; the wonderful plant guy has moved to Great Outdoors in case you're wondering). I thought how striking they were. After crossing off my life-list the act of espaliering a vine on a wall, I felt this was the next challenge: topiary trees In about two years, they'll make a smashing statement on my deck. Loquats grow ferociously fast, thrive in heat and while blooming in Nov/Dec give of a gorgeous smell of vanilla-cinnamon.
My daughter Rachel does not approve of rigorous plant control. She was horrified to see that I had bound (with cruel twist-ties!) some stalks of an indoor Ficus to turn it into a tree. Every gardener is always bending growing things to their will and we do this in complete imitation of Mother Nature, who is hardly a benevolent or hands-off force herself.
Witness the crossvine seen here when it was first planted in mid-August and the second picture taken this weekend, October 29. Filling in the privacy fence wall quite nicely, huh? I hope neighbor Leslie appreciates this b/c it almost looks even nicer when the vine is creeping over a fence and tumbling down from above.
Crossvine can be seen throughout East Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi growing in road culverts where it is just a shapeless low-growing rambler in a ditch. But given something to grow on it will latch on and climb up and up. It turns into something quite lovely and different from its ditch-persona. And what's the harm in that?
Not to mention it's evergreen.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Blue and gold days and no end in sight. The only sound today is that of the nuts and acorns clattering down in historic proportions. After global warming is all done, here where I stand will evidently be a giant liveoak forest.
It was not silent the first part of the weekend. On Friday Leslie had her Halloween party and to set the tone she mounted an inflatable Harley being driven by a skeleton in front of her house. She invited me to come by for a drink; but after I got back from neighbor Mark's regular martini gig, I was done. What a shame as I missed the party's highlight: Beer Pong. I'm not sure of exact rules but apparently insane bellowing is a crucial component. Today Leslie told me that the police came, surely the sign of a successful bash. I suspect Lisa on the other side, as she told me she's called the cops on loud parties somewhere else on the street. And then last night there was another Halloween party across the street, but this one was 100% shrieking banshees of 10-year girl variety.
At top is a little picture of Aurora after its recent paint job. And the fuzzy shrub is the Bush Honeysuckle--I'm looking forward to its winter bloom cycle. That fragrance! I cut it back some in the spring and it's got lots of new growth so hopefully, lots of blooms too.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Sometime during the summer I threw down cosmos seed in the front bed and and now one is actually blooming. It's only about 8" tall; they really must be the most hardy of annuals.
Monday, October 15, 2007
So I tried my best to keep my nursery plants okay because I need them for my front bed. I have baby soft-leaf yuccas, flame acanthus, oleander, hypericum, and numerous agaves, all propagated from either my former Vale Street garden or rustled here and there. When I was at Lake Austin Spa I dug up a baby plug of this really neat 6-ft tall bamboo-cornstalk thing. It's doing well.
It's been very frustrating to not be healthy during the best time of year for planting. But I went swimming at Deep Eddy on Friday, not a very long swim, but it was good to be back.
Monday, September 3, 2007
The house is finally painted. It turned out well. It’s going to be a great background for the deep evergreens and subtropicals that I’ve put in.
Saturday I went to downtown farmer’s market and got a really beautiful and beautiful-smelling ginger which I put on the north corner. The grower said it will get 6 – 8’. The dwarf palmettos are slow-going but a really wonderful blue-gray green and eventually will anoint the walls with their tropical fans.
I still have a windmill palm that I haven’t planted. I think I’ll hold off and eventually put it on one side of the front path with the oleanders, rose, cactus and yucca that I have planned for the big street-side front bed. I propagated a super-white oleander from a cutting over on Arroyo Seco, but I think it will be a year or two before it’s large enough to put in ground. The shrub on Arroyo Seco is very dark blue-green foliage and milk-white blooms. I could buy another oleander but the nurseries don’t have this variety and you never know what you are getting. Most of the white oleanders in the stores have yellow-green foliage and white flowers with yellow centers.
Another 1-1/2 inches of rain!
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
So I decided to rectify this by making a treacle pie for my co-workers. Logic, along with baking, not being one of my strengths.
Almost every one of the online recipes was identical, so I thought I was safe. I went to Central Market and got the essential Lyle's Golden Syrup. It's been a long time since I have done a lattice top pie, but I figured it would all come back. While the pie shell was doing its prelim 10-minute bake, I cut a batch of pastry strips. I vaguely remembered draping the lattice strips over halfway and alternating them. I do know that I never worked with pastry strips on top of a hot-from-oven pie shell that has been filled with a simmering pool of molten lava filling.
Suffice it to say, I gave up attempting to do a legitimate lattice. Let's call it a plaid piecrust, shall we?
The dark side of baking is not something we like to confront.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
A remark I overheard today made by a man carrying a floatie and a tote bag, climbing up the steps with his young son. I second that emotion. Other than the off year when the cottonwoods were dropping giant limbs due to age and had to be taken down, there’s not much wrong with Deep Eddy. In lieu of a photo, here’s a gouache done last summer. Nothing has changed; all the people are still there in the same position.
Friday, August 17, 2007
A related oddity is that there is another doorbell button on the kitchen pantry door. It’s clearly an old button, many times painted around, and when pressed, activates nothing. Again, it’s on the inside of the house, leading to the pantry closet. A mystery that has no ready explanation.
Today the carpenter came to the house to lower the microwave, and after it was all done we talked about the broken doorbell. He said it might just be transformer problem, easy to fix, and where was the doorbell chime? I suddenly realized I’d never seen the usual ceiling-mounted doorbell appliance anywhere in the house.
But there was an odd little metal box in the hallway close to the floor. Again, like the pantry doorbell button, this metal box looks like something from the 50s; it's that funky old dull aluminum or tin material they used to make pie pans out of. I hardly even noticed it unless I was sweeping the floor and it caught my eye and I’d wonder what the heck, and then forget about it. The carpenter took the box casing off and there it was: a loose wire and some strange looking mechanism. He reconnected the wire and voila! Doorbell works.
Although it’s not actually a doorbell—it’s a buzzer, in every respect a relic from another place and time. Imagine Ethel standing at Lucy's door and hitting the button--that's the sound we're talking about. The wire may have been disconnected on purpose because it’s loud as hell. I’ve found a wav file that approximates the sound.
And one final bizarre note: the button on the pantry door is LIVE as well.
Why would anyone have a doorbell on the inside of the house? Even if this were once the back door it makes no sense. A friend mentioned possibly it was to summon a servant or to get people to come to the dinner table--again, rather idiotic in a house this small.
I'll have to ask Bertha, my 90-year old neighbor. She may have some insight into the past.