Sunday, January 20, 2013

Hi! This is my first post in my brand new garden blog. I started it at the end of September, and I'm just now getting around to posting it.

I hope you'll forgive me for rambling and being disorganized here in the beginning. I've been reading some impressive garden blogs that are stunningly photographed and organized. I am not there yet.

Pictured at right is the new fall garden box my husband built for me at the end of August. I direct-seeded way too many things, and threw in a couple of cucumber transplants just for instant gratification.

I am very much an amateur gardener. I have never had a real garden box before. A few years' experiments with a few tomatoes, peppers and herbs in pots never yielded much success. The few successes I could not take credit for--volunteer Juliette cherry tomatoes that went wild with fruit for the past two years, and serrano peppers that didn't give up even after I did. Once I noticed that they were thriving, I started watering again.

I've diligently watered our St. Augustine lawn since we moved into this house 6-1/2 years ago, and gradually come to the conclusion that I don't like caring for such a boring and thirsty plant. In the meantime, we planted a row of 9 (!) crape myrtles of varying sizes along the back fence, to serve as a privacy screen. This has been a mixed success at best, for several reasons. Crape myrtles are deciduous, so that screen is only up for about 8-9 months a year. We didn't know anything about the varieties we bought--just that they were on sale at Red Barn Garden Center and we liked the colors and wanted a few different heights.

I enjoyed what little gardening I did, while it was also frustrating and I felt like I never knew enough to really get into it. I was intimidated by the vast amounts of information out there, and my success rate at winging it was pretty lousy. I probably killed 3 out of every 4 plants I cared for, before they could produce flowers or fruit, or get to the proper height, or other measure of success.

 My husband, Rob, built a beautiful covered deck in the backyard, finishing right before our first daughter was born. We were working hard to great a lovely and functional home, and loved the deck right away, but still lamented that our yard wasn't what we wanted it to be.

I knew I wanted a beautiful yard, and didn't know how to get there.

I had a demanding job, which I traded for life as a busy stay-at-home-mom when my first daughter was born. It wasn't until my second daughter was about a year old (and my oldest was 2-1/2) that I caught Garden Fever.

I started watching Central Texas Gardener, which stoked my interest and faith in gardening here in challenging Austin. I saw an interview on CTG with David Meeker of Porthole Design, and contacted him to come help us craft our vision for our yard. I knew I wanted something relatively low-maintenance and drought-tolerant, with added privacy around the fence line.

 This week, one month after starting that fall garden, we had Porthole Design carve out, level and install pea gravel pathways around the house.

They excavated a huge amount of dirt and sod, which we were able to donate to our girls' school, the Joyful Garden, for an upcoming hugelkultur project. I love it when things work out like that!

 After day one, there was nothing but bare dirt.
 At the end of the following day, the guys had installed landscape edging, brought in 3-mix and road base and tamped/leveled it, and topped it with almost an inch of pea gravel.

We have walkways. Some of them are plantable--I'll probably hold off until spring for that, though it is so tempting to start now.

 David Meeker assures me that the relatively loose pea gravel will tamp and pack down with time. We had a big fall rain just following installation, and I was pleased to see that we barely had to rake or sweep any rocks back into place.

We particularly love this backyard area, which for now we are using as a gathering area around our previously neglected fire pit.

Here's a little Butterfly Garden nook along the back fenceline. I'd like to expand it in the coming years. We've seen Monarchs lingering on the Tropical Butterflyweed, and Swallowtails on the Bougainvilleas.

Top-of-electrical-box experiments. This can't be the safest place to have these little guys.

The Japanese Yew I planted in the front yard kitchen window bed isn't going to make it, sadly. I think I either overwatered when it was in the ground, or left it in the container too long and underwatered it then. Oh well! The Turk's Cap is taking off like gangbusters. In my mind, it was supposed to be the shorter plant in between the tall Yew and Mountain Laurel (such a slow grower... maybe in 15 years?)

Recently, I fell in love with Caradonna Meadow Sage and bought one, along with a charming Blackfoot Daisy. I planted both in the front yard death strip, but I'm not sure it's their permanent home. It's so much trouble to weed, and I can't seem to get the upper hand on the bermudagrass there. Someday I'll dig it all out, transplant the perennials, and backfill it with decomposed granite and yuccas and succulents. I want to get to where I neither have to weed nor water this area more than a handful of times a year.

We bought a lovely loquat bush/tree at the Natural Gardener in January of 2012, and it has been reliably attractive and low-maintenance. In 100+ degree weather, I watered it weekly, slow-dripping the hose for an hour. In hot but not scorching weather, I backed off to every two weeks. It gets some water when I water the cursed St. Augustine. It seems happy with this routine.

Cenizo, esperanza (yellow bells), plumbago, a Texas Redbud and wild garlic chives fill the informal bed on the SE side of the house. Note the TreeGator on the redbud. This is probably what saved it in 2011. I planted it March 9, 2011, as the worst draught year in history was just kicking off. It survived, but barely bloomed at all in 2012. I'll be watching carefully as bloomtime 2013 approaches.

Here's Natalie at Barton Springs Nursery, along with me as I picked out some ginger, flax lily and liriope to replace the dead Japanese Yew in the kitchen window bed.

I attempted to grow vegetable seedlings in the garage. After about three weeks, they looked like this. They didn't last more than a few days in the garden--I think maybe squirrels ate them. Maybe transplants should be a lot bigger. For now, I'm going to give up direct-sowing and buy transplants.

January garden update

 Yesterday while Rob took the girls to Natalie's dance class, I spent some quality time in the garden, for the first time this year. Cedar fever and cold weather have kept me indoors so far this year. I was thrilled to get back outside.

Amazingly after all the freezing nights we have, the ginger and Turk's Cap I planted last year are still going, as is the row of plumbago that seem to be indestructible. All look a bit faded, and there are some browned leaf edges and a few ugly stems I'll prune away in February.
I'd like to transplant at least half of the Plumbago Jungle to a couple of beds in the backyard. I might break it up in the front yard with evergreen Japanese Aralia, as David Meeker of Porthole Design suggested.

The plumbago looks okay this year, but in several recent winters, it has died back to the ground. It always comes back, but leaves an ugly bare spot for a few months until it does. For 8-9 months, it is covered in pretty periwinkle blue blooms. Natalie and Rachel are fond of picking these and giving them to me. It's a good thing we have an inexhaustible supply.

 The loquat we planted at about this time last year (2012) seems to be thriving in the sunny spot formerly occupied by a diseased Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin) that Rob cut down the year before. It hasn't bloomed or set fruit, and perhaps it's too young--the ones I've seen blooming around the neighborhood are considerably bigger. 

 It's almost invisible in the photo above, but there's a Texas Redbud (Cercis canadensis var. texana) nestled up against the fence on the east side of our house.
 In the backyard, in Natalie's garden I ripped out a dead Cherokee Purple Tomato and a depleted and frost-damaged sweet basil and transplanted an overgrown oregano to make room for bare-root Brazos blackberry and a Heritage raspberry. I don't have high hopes for the raspberry, especially after I waited so long to plant it that the roots probably dried out.

The remaining green in this garden comes from an overgrown Buttercrunch lettuce, an artichoke in the back left corner that has yet to bloom, and a couple of garlic plants and shallots.

Natalie and I harvested a nice, fat Danvers carrot that she grew from seed. We had decent success with these carrots this year, which is saying something, considering I've never attempted to grow carrots before, and Natalie is 3 years old.


I opted to dig up a Snowflake leucojum bulb I had planted in November to make room for a Blanc du Bois grape along the NW fenceline, facing SE. I don't know if it'll make it as a potted plant, but I thought I'd give it a try. Here it is against a wall on the SE side of the house.

I gave the Senecio succulent hanging basket a haircut, and stuck the cuttings in some leftover potting soil from last year's long-gone plants. It's probably not the ideal potting mix, but this is such a hardy plant, I figured it was worth a shot, and besides, I have nothing to lose.

I added a cut stem of Kelanchoe, from one I stuck in the ground last year. It originated as a grocery store potted plant that Rob gifted me for a birthday one year. This little Kelanchoe has survived my worst neglect, even lack of water for several months during the Summer from Hell of 2011. We'll see how it tolerates cutting and replanting.

I trimmed back an overgrown Catmint and my little Butterfly Garden nook along the back fence -- Bougainvillea and Tropical Butterflyweed. I don't know whether they'll come back this year. Bougainvillea has always eluded me. I thought some pruning and a sprinkle of fertilizer might help. I cut back the Tropical Butterflyweed rather severely, after noticing that it has buds forming all over the stalk. I figured it might bush out if pruned drastically, and a bush form would be lovely.

 Rob gave me a couple of Cyclamens for Christmas. Plants are a favorite gift, of course, but often present a new challenge. I have nothing to do with his selections, and he often comes home with a plant I've never attempted to grow before. So it is with Cyclamens. I kept them on a windowsill and watered them sparingly for the three weeks or so since Christmas. They were looking so puny, I figured I'd have to repot them. I found this rectangular clay windowbox and it seemed like an attractive option, so now I am trying out the Cyclamens in the backyard, in a semi-shady spot near the Kelanchoe.

One of my experimental spots in the backyard is an impromptu bed I made from some languishing Vinca hanging baskets and wild Morning Glory that started as a weed when this was the trashy part of the yard. I bought the flower trellis, and last year the Vinca/Morning Glory combination was delightful. A few of the Vinca branches succumbed to recent frosts. The Morning Glory has died back completely, as I suspected it would. I hope it'll be back in the Spring.

Rachel loves to pick the Vinca flowers, which are white and pink and always blooming in hot weather.

 I have 2-3 cinder blocks I may repurpose as a sturdier border for this bed, until I can afford something nicer. Right now old chopped up roots and trash logs are doing the job.