Monday, April 30, 2012

Hope Springs Eternal

A year of graduate school has taken its toll on garden time, and garden blogging, but I'm still at it.

It did rain eventually, in the winter, from what I remember. Then this year, we had several cracking thunderstorms in February and March, and by middle of March had had more rain in 2012 than we had in all of 2011....

So here are a few updates:

It's easy to dismiss the whole horrible summer of 2011 and claim that Everything Died, but of course it didn't. Texas Tough plants mean what they say, and an impressive number of last year's projects have returned.

Herbs lasted beautifully; parsley, rosemary and cilantro all weathered the drought and the cold.

February 2012

In February we planted mustard (late, yes, I know but we got some), carrots and Swiss chard.

September 2011

And if it hadn't been for the drought, we might not have realized that the swimming pool was leaking! That suspiciously green patch was due to nasty cracks just under the pool coping. Fortunately the warranty was still in effect.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Drought continues

All of Texas is suffering, so I can't feel particularly put upon here in Austin, but it is easy to get discouraged. I would not mind the heat, and it's been over 100F now for I think, 25 days straight, if it would just rain every now and again.

We are fearing for our live oak trees, and are watering the canopy area intensively every 10 days or so. The lawn -- such as it was -- is brown except for a few alarming green spots around the pool, which I am hoping are just leaking sprinkler valves, and not problems with the pool itself.  Water restrictions in our area allow us to use the in-ground sprinklers two days a week, but you can water with a hose anytime, which does not seem to be much of a restriction to me...

I am concentrating my plant survival efforts on the handful of things I managed to plant earlier in the summer, including the five pumpkins my son and I planted on June 23. Amazingly, they sprouted and had leaves by June 26!  They are holding on admirably but have no flowers yet, which concerns me.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gardener's Block

I've been feeling paralyzed in the garden for the last few weeks. I made a decision two months ago to miss the warm veggie season, just because the veggie garden is so fun and manageable and distracting, and would keep me from addressing the bigger, more boring landscaping that really needs to be done everywhere else. That was a gesture of love to DH.

And so in the other areas, around the pool, in front of the house and on the large embankment, we have made progress, thanks to some wonderful local stone masons and two big rainstorms in the last two weeks, which have helped to green  things up.

However, my problem is over how to move on. I know this is supposed to be the fun bit, but my problem is that I just don't know the plants. I stop and admire things, I ask people in nurseries and garden centers, but for the last 10 years in the UK, I was just about able to name any common garden plant in most people's suburban yards. And here, even into my third summer, I still feel lost.

So I've dug out my Texas file, which consists of the Garden Guide for Austin and Vicinity by the Travis County Master Gardeners Association, and Native and Adapted Landscape Plants - An Earthwise Guide for Central Texas, which is given out free at most nurseries and garden centers. These two are fantastic guides; stern evangelists of the Plant Natives religion. I'm going to leave the books out, so I can browse them at odd moments and start soaking  up plant names and pictures. And I've reminded myself that really, it took several years of walking up and down plant aisles in English garden centers, reciting to myself common and Latin names-- Cistus -Rock Rose; Cytisus,-Broom -- and deciding what I liked and what would work in different spaces, followed by several seasons of trial and error.

My wonderful in-laws liked nothing better than wandering around their own garden pointing out small triumphs and disappointments, and digging up  and handing over their spare plants to me. "It wants breaking up," my mother-in-law would say, stamping on her spade and then hand me a clump of earth and plant-- forget-me-nots, phlox, love-in-a-mist, michaelmas daisies, valerium, London Pride, columbines. etc.

Here are a few photos of their wonderful garden, which they started in 1962.

I have noticed that I am beginning to learn the cycle here. Redbud followed by Chinaberry followed by Mimosa. Where are those Crepe Myrtles that were so spectacular last summer after two years of drought? Oh, here they come, end of May. And those fabulous Mountain Laurels that are in our front yard? I'm sure they were blooming by Memorial Day last year. No, still budding.

So I need small steps. If I just start -- move compost onto the beds, find a few plants I like and stick them in -- the block will lift and it will all become easier.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Texas Stars

This is going to be an occasional series on some of the spectacular plants I have encountered since I've been in Texas.  Some of them may be familiar to you if you're a Southerner, but they were all new to me.

Redbud (cercis canadensis).

I had never seen this tree until I came to Austin. It comes out early here and the first spring I saw it I actually stopped the car to admire a few of them in our neighborhood. They have a similar effect I suppose to various prunus that come out every spring in England, but somehow the redbud looks more magical here in Austin. I think the prettiest ones are the thinner, uncultivated younger trees with silvery bark an comparatively sparse flowers. The early ones especially stand out like purple smoke against the bare trees around them.

The redbud is :"a frequent, native understory tree" according to my planting guide, and that's how I like them.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Free trees?

It seemed too good to be true, but The Arbor Day Foundation gives you 10 free trees with membership. I got a mailer from them several weeks ago and was going to discard it, but with our bare yard and need for screening, I wondered if it was legitimate. Plus my husband loves trees.

One google later, it seemed on the level. Some people complained that the trees had died, but others said the foundation sent them replacements, and the best comment was, "Hey, 10 trees for $10 for a charity. If even one survives you are still money ahead.". The foundations also promises to send them at a suitable planting time and to ensures that they are suitable for your area.

Ours arrived while we were away over spring break, so we hurried to put them into pots yesterday. I am still not sure where they're going to end up and pots seemed an easier way to ensure they're watered regularly.

We have four White Flowering Dogwood (cornus florida), three Goldenraintree (Koelreuteria paniculata), three Eastern Redbuds (Cercis Canadensis) and a bonus of two Crepemyrtles (Lagerstroemia indica). 

Fingers crossed.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Good News for Rollingwood!

Rollingwood City Council has last week approved the creation of the Rolllingwood Community Education Garden. This project has taken months of hard work and inspiration from a dedicated team. Here is a copy of their letter which appeared in the Westlake Picayune shortly before the big council meeting.

Plan for Rollingwood Community Education Garden blossoming

Dear Editor:
More than 15 years after a community garden was first included in the Rollingwood Master Park Plan, a group of aspiring green-thumbs are proposing the creation of the Rollingwood Community Education Garden.
Although the proposed thumbprint is a mere 20 feet by 40 feet, the ambitions for the project are much broader.
The desire is to create a small communal garden that will become an essential component of a livable and sustainable city. The goal is to provide an outlet for city residents, both young and old, to interact with each other and learn about sustainability, self-reliance, water conservation and gardening that actually produces results in the Hill Country.
This garden is not modeled after traditional community gardens, where each gardener maintains individual plots that frequently appear untidy, consume enormous amounts of precious water, are difficult to maintain, and produce uneven yields.
Garden plantings will be designed by local permaculturist Dick Pierce, utilizing the “square-foot-gardening” method. This method continually yields produce while consuming 20 percent of the space, 10 percent of the water and 2 percent of the gardener’s time. A garden using this method is well organized, easy to maintain, attractive year round, and produces roughly 10 months out of the year in Austin. The garden will be dormant during July and August, thereby saving precious water resources.
The proposed garden will be located on the north end of the lower playground field. Included in the design is a rainwater reclamation system that will allow the garden to be virtually self-sufficient.
Proponents of the garden will rely on donations and volunteerism to build and maintain the garden. The Parks Commission will oversee implementation of the garden’s construction, maintenance, and educational components.
Participation in the garden will be open to all residents. For more information about this project, stop by City Hall to view the design rendering and information packet. 

Such exciting news. It promises to be a great asset to Rollingwood and an enthusiastic addition to Austin area community gardens. Congrats to Veronica and her team!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Starting Again

House remodel project, yard destroyed by Bobcat (the mechanical kind), vegetable garden overrun with weeds and neglected. But the sap is rising and January is to Texas what March is to England, so here we go again.

I'm going to be going to: 

Central Texas Gardening 101
January 15, 2011, 10am-12pm
Zilker Botanical Garden  
2220 Barton Springs Rd., Austin TX  78746

If you’re a newcomer to Central Texas or need a refresher on the basics for gardening in our area, join us for tips and tricks to making your Austin garden a success!  Included will be our seasonal growing calendar, how to work with challenging soils, maintenance schedules for pruning and planting, valuable information about giving new plants a headstart and much more.  Join us to get all the gardening facts you need and ask questions of your own.

This seminar is free and open to the public.  It is presented by the Travis County Master Gardeners, a volunteer arm of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Travis County.

Hope to see you there!