Monday, March 18, 2013

March Backyard Garden Update: I Can't Help Myself

Ah, the backyard... where all the vegetable and herb gardening experiments, and lots of other experiments, take place. It's where our kids play, and sometimes pick at plants. Rachel once pulled out an entire cauliflower plant, to my dismay. I tried not to be too mad at her.

It's March 18, my brother's birthday, and I went crazy buying veggie and herb transplants at Red Barn this morning to celebrate.

The backyard garden is chock-full of herbs and veggies now. I don't know what will survive the heat, the shade, the squirrels, the bugs and the kids yet, but it'll surely be a lot less than I have in there today.

The biggest (1-gal) Jalapeno seemed to deserve its own space. I gave it this pot of leftover dirt from a number of sources. Should be good stuff, I think. I hope it likes this sunny, SE-facing wall, but I guess I can move it if it doesn't seem to like it.

 Here's the funky mini-garden by the chimney. I love this tiny bed. It is so easy to maintain, because it's so small. Last year the Vinca and a volunteer wild morning glory vine just loved it here. This year I added Purple Heart, which the squirrels chewed down to the dirt. It is already showing signs of returning. Amazing plant, that Purple Heart!

I also added the Leucojum bulbs that I had planted elsewhere in the yard, but that ultimately weren't going to work there, due to my changing my landscape plan. I dug up the Oxblood Lilies from the front strip and dropped them in here, too. I bought a Crossvine transplant to take over the pretty trellis. Cinder blocks, a rectangular terra cotta planter and a couple of limestone blocks replaced the rotty chopped up roots and limbs. Still funky, but a little neater-looking, I think.

 The asparagus ferns are still thriving. They're some of the oldest plants I have. The first one has been with me since 2005, when it started in a hanging basket at my crappy apartment at Tallwood. I added the second in 2006, after we'd moved here.

 I couldn't pass up a lovely basket of Impatiens at Randall's a few weeks ago. I tell ya, I'm addicted to plants.
 Now that the Eastern fence is fixed (Thanks, Rob!), I am starting a Carolina Jessamine. So far it seems happy here. I was afraid there wouldn't be enough sun.

 My butterfly mini-garden is perking back up. I am watching those dead-looking Bougainvilleas for any signs of life. There's something on that dried-looking wood that resembles a bud... I am praying...

 Here are a couple of shots of the backyard. The pea gravel area along the E side of the deck. My kids love it. I love it.
 The Crape Myrtles are leafing out again, in spite of my neglect last year. I didn't get around to transplanting any of them this Spring, and I don't think I will until they lose their leaves in the Fall.

 The Blanc du Bois Grape (I love speaking those French words!) is leafing out in earnest now. No grapes for a few years, I'm told, but it's fun to see this very first growth. Vines are very new territory for me, and now I have three!

 And finally, our beloved Cedar Elm is covered in new leaves. This is a beautiful, tough-as-nails tree, and this time of year is one of my favorites for this tree. I think it looks stunning covered in a lacy hazy of bright new green. Fall is another favorite--these leaves actually turn yellow, giving the Cedar Elm a graceful autumn glow.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

March front yard update: If you can't get it to grow, try killing it.

 Finally... Spring has arrived. It easy to love our mild Austin winters, but the scenery gets a bit dull after three months. Most of our native plants are resting, and while evergreens can be lovely, and naked branches can be sculptural and mysterious, the return of the deciduous trees and perennials is always welcome.

Two years ago on my birthday, March 9, Rob bought and planted a Texas Redbud (Cercis canadensis var. Texensis) outside our kitchen window. When we first moved in, there was a thriving Hackberry in that spot. Though Hackberry is considered an invasive trash tree, I had enjoyed having some shade and attractive foliage to see from the kitchen table.

It had just a few blossoms the first year, followed by a thin covering of heart-shaped green leaves. I kept it irrigated through the scorching summer drought (2011) with a Tree Gator.

Every year, redbuds all over town burst into bloom three weeks before this one does, so every year I fear the worst. Last year, the blooming was so late and so minimal that a lanscape contractor that was bidding on some projects asked me if I wanted him to remove this dead tree.

About a week later, it bloomed, very sparsely.

This year I pruned it for the first time, about a month ago, and sprinkled the ground in the freshly cleaned-up bed around it with Rabbit Hill Farm Buds-and-Blooms fertilizer. I don't know whether it was the pruning, the fertilizer, or something else I did or didn't do, but this tree is exploding with beautiful blooms this year.

Cenizo, February 2013
Cenizo, March 2013
 I gave its bed neighbors a deep pruning, including a Cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens) that had grown to an unruly size and shape for my tastes. Here it is, chopped to the ground. I don't see any new growth on the thickest trunks, but the water shoots are growing and may become the new Cenizo.

Pruning so drastically is a big leap of faith. I do remember that Rob and I tried to kill a shrub by cutting it to the ground one year, and it reemerged stronger, thicker and taller. I have read about the benefits of pruning. Still, it was emotional. I worried that I was going to kill the Cenizo, Esperanza, Pavonia and Lantana that share the SE wall bed with my birthday Redbud.

So far, it appears my faith will be rewarded. There is new growth on all of these plants. I imagine it will be even more vigorous as the temperatures rise and the days grow longer.

Here's a before-and-after of the Esperanza, a.k.a. Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans).

Here's the Lantana (Lantana involucrata) in front of two Rock Rose/Pavonia (Pavonia lasiopetala) that I planted at the same time, last fall. Just a week ago, there were few signs of life on the Lantana. Now there is a promising cluster of leaves and stems.

Behind the Pavonias sits a Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) that I had to cut back drastically to keep it from choking out these other, new plants. It is still tall along the white brick wall, and from my kitchen window, I can see its lovely sky blue flowers along with the magenta blooms of the Redbud.

 In front of the SW-facing kitchen window, the ginger I planted in the fall did suffer a little bit of frost damage. But it is sending up new shoots and rebounding heartily, along with Turk's Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. Drummondii), Variegated Flax Lily (Dianella tasmanica Variegata) and Liriope (Liriope muscari 'Big Blue' and 'Aztec Grass').

The one remaining Pigeonberry (Rivina humilis) is beginning to leaf out and green up for Spring. This particular one has thrived since I planted it, but the two I planted next to it (in spots now occupied by Liriope) never thrived, and died off after the first frost.

Our Texas Mountain Laurel, sadly, did not bloom this year. I think we're past the bloom window now. It still has black seedpods attached to it, and I wonder if I should have removed those to stimulate new blooms.

I do see a little bit of new foliage growth on it, which, I hope, won't get devoured by caterpillars this year. I have Bt (Bacillus thuringensis) ready to go, just in case.

Elsewhere in the front yard, things are beginning to bounce back. I gave my one-year-old Martha Gonzales roses a conservative pruning in February. One of them was already starting to bloom, and kept right on blooming after pruning.

The other has stubbornly refused to bloom, and I started to worry that it wasn't getting enough water, as drought conditions continue this Spring.

One good rain and a liberal soaking with the hose later, it has one or two blooms on it.

The bare-root Methley plum tree I planted in the rock bed back in February (or was it late January?) is finally greening up, to my daughters' delight, and mine. Natalie keeps talking about the plums it will make. It'll be a good lesson in patience, I bet.
 I transplanted some of the plants from the parking strip to the rock bed back in February, too. So far, everything is surviving, and gingerly putting out some new growth.

This Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii) doesn't seem to have lost a single bloom, in spite of windy days and wild temperature fluctuations.
 This Caradonna Meadow Sage (Salvia nemorosa 'Caradonna') isn't showing any noticeable change since I transplanted it. It wasn't thriving where it was; I hope it will enjoy its new home more and give us some stunning purple blooms this year.
 I planted a couple of Mexican Feathergrass a couple of weeks ago. I can't help myself. I set out to have a very planned landscape, and I end up collecting plants.
 This Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is on its second transplant. The roots were so infested with Bermudagrass roots and runners that I picked them clean--no dirt at all. I figured this was a gamble, but the Rosemary didn't even flinch. It is settling into its new home nicely.

I have plans for the area at the NW side of the house, in front of the HVAC/recycle/trash cart area. I'm not exactly sure what will go in it yet, but there will be a bed bordered in limestone blocks, generously donated by my mom, who lives in Dripping Springs.

Rachel already tested out their climb-worthiness.

This morning I was inspired at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, by this lovely groundcover with pink-red berries, Coral Berry (symphorocarpos orbiculatus), that seemed to like its shady spot. I might have to include it as a border in this limestone bed, or in the backyard around the Cedar Elm.