Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Nut grass has balls

Admit it, you admire the will to live that nut grass demonstrates. This one takes its job as a pernicious weed seriously by growing up out of 3” of gravel. Underneath that is a layer of filter fabric, and under that, soil which was scraped and pounded level and compact, and was pretty poor to begin with. Some of its nut grass companions are also hooking a couple hard turns to grow up from under the flagstones.

I pull them up, but their tubers stay under the filter fabric and send up new shoots. Sometimes the nodules do pull up out of the flower beds, and I stop to nick one with a fingernail and smell it. Did you ever notice what a delicious rootbeer scent a nut grass nut has?

You may not believe it from the unappetizing photo here, but finding a recipe for nut grass was on my garden geek to-do list. Somehow I associated it with the drink horchata so recently, I checked that. The internet provided a selection of informative and conflicting facts or factoids about nut grass (actually a sedge, not grass) which I’ll summarize:

The delicious nut grass tubers come from yellow nut sedge or chufa / Cyperus esculentis. The ones I have growing are different--purple nut sedge / Cyperus rotunda, described as ‘bitter’. I’m a little disappointed. I thought I might cool off some day after weeding with a glass of home made horchata. However, the aromatic oil is extracted for ayurvedic medicine (alas, not one of my projects) and the nuts are eaten in Africa as a last resort famine food.

So famine is one method of controlling nut grass. Times are not that bad at my house, thanks. A 20% vinegar solution sprayed down into the gap where the stalk was just pulled will get results too. But it will be on the second round, because nut grass is pretty determined to survive that, as well.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Seedlings, no tag

These shorties sprouted from the pits of some exotic fruit eaten 3+ years ago. Cherimoya? Mamey? Sapotes? Canistel? Weeds? The tags are long gone.

Both seedlings were in a pot which was plundered by squirrels, haphazardly shifted around the garden whenever our construction site encroached, stowed in the dense shade of a tree and rarely watered, abandoned outside all winter, then repotted. It is amazing that they have survived my plant propagation 'technique'.

Maybe someone will recognize the leaves and if so, tell me please! I think it might be nice to know what I am growing.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Unkind words about sagos

In California, apparently you lock down a good specimen of sago / Cycas revoluta. In Houston, the issue has not come up--at least not for me, because I don’t design with them. I do get asked to pull out badly placed specimens where an eye-gouging mammoth has grown from a Boston fern-sized charmer.

Dare ya to walk through there.

The reason they don’t get filched is that we are near sago saturation here, with a dull stiff cycad in almost every yard and landscape. Besides looking ‘tropical’ (though they hail from Japan), I reckon sagos’ popularity is supported by their easy propagation, durability and fast growth, for a cycad. (They flush out yearly with an increasing number of fronds. Compare that to the mingy frond per year on a Dioon edule). With the ease of making more sagos, filching them should be irrelevant.

Recently a subcontractor who works with me was telling about a job he’d been hired to do: relocate a sago that had a cable running through the trunk and into a subterranean concrete footing. He tripled the price. We shook our heads at the wonder of it.

It would be too much to hope that California would come and take these sagos away.

What am I missing here? What is the crazy appeal of this plant? Do they actually get pirated away in Houston, too?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What has flowers on it right now?

I'd like to break the dry spell in this garden blog with the simplest of topics:

Plants That Have Blooms On Them Today.

I have no commentary, just springly, slightly fuzzy photos.

Crossvine / Bignonia capreolata 'Tangerine Beauty'

Altas pear

Nun's orchid / Phaius tankervilliae

Cherry laurel / Prunus lauroceracus

A precocious little Meyer lemon

Cilantro going to seed

Carolina jessamine /Gelsemium sempervirens

Monday, February 9, 2009

Yes, The Alamo is in a garden

You just can’t miss an opportunity to go to San Antonio for a vintage Airstream trailer rally with friends. So I went. But while in town, I also stopped in at the former Mission San Antonio de Valero, better known as The Alamo.

I had a personal reason for wanting to visit. Boning up on genealogy I recently learned that some of my antepasados married there. Although I came 285 years too late for the wedding, I enjoyed taking in the botanical garden feeling of the Alamo compound.

A succulent bed of many textures, all of them prickly. My phone's camera did its best with these images but it was an overcast day.

Cherries flowering by Sabal palms…an odd mix. They used a mulch of pecan shells in this bed:

A closeup of the pecan shell mulch. I like the stuff. It looks good and useful to me.

The sleek trunks of Texas persimmon, Diospyros texana, below. Native Texas trees had a strong showing in the plantings.

An historical acequia, also known as an irrigation ditch, makes a water feature complete with koi. That is Yucca rostrata looking like a couple of Ziggy Stardust wigs. An out of focus Erythrina is behind it.

A well photographed cactus beside the chapel. After I took this picture, I noticed other tourists aiming their cameras at it, too.

Despite the arid impression given by the gravel and succulents in the photos, the overall feel of the grounds is to me one of lushness. Ancient live oaks shade hidden patios, and varieties of palm trees punctuate the planting areas. Never mind that I was at the site of a desperate battle and military shrine--I just wanted to sit down on a bench with a good margarita and raise a glass to my ancestors.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Rock out

Now the pile of piles is sold, sorted, donated, restacked elsewhere, gone. This load of limestone blocks is the last thing to go. Those blocks made mighty good bed edging in my old garden, and I brought them along when we moved here. I am a bit sentimental about them.

An elderly lady who gave me these blocks said they were from the demolished Houston High School. The name suggests that at one time this megapolis of Houston had a single high school. Now that is a mental exercise to contemplate! Unfortunately it's not hard to grasp that the school building was demolished—that is just what we do with our public buildings in this city.

An old photo of the Houston High School building can be seen here.

The historic rubble is still with me, in the new, relocated pile of piles. It may well sit there hosting a succession of geckos for another geological age, but I am hoping it becomes sculpture or garden bones again soon.

I kicked little animals out into the cold

Over yonder in the yard was a pile of piles which I called The Quarry. It was full of good useful stuff--salvaged bricks, leftover stone—but it looked bad and it sprawled across my best garden real estate. (A new neighbor saw it once and burst out laughing, ‘You said you were a landscape designer?’) Sure, the quarry was a blight, but it was full of potential and had actual dollar value.

It was also habitat. I didn’t realize that until one cold day I started dismantling the pile to sell and donate. I evicted:

An unhappy cold skink rudely awakened from hibernation. Immediately after the photo he and his kin won a vacation at the balmy compost pile.

A miserable leopard gecko. All geckos were compt an upgrade to the crawl space under the house. They share the accommodations again with numerous toads, unphotographed.

Earthworms. (Not pictured: slugs, wood roaches, all sizes)

A little frog. Where did it go?? It jumped, apparently into the ether. I could not find it again to bring it to safety. Remorse.

Since that cold day I began on the quarry, I’ve continued the sorting and dismantling on the occasional warm afternoon. Yesterday I finished! A great swath of future garden has been revealed. I hope the little animals will reposess it.