Thursday, October 30, 2008

The temporary Mt Muddy

This is my former concrete driveway. It was just about this broken up before it was pulled out and put into a stack. Did the demolition crew skive off and forget it? No, I have plans for it. Can you guess what this stack is going to be? (If you answer 'a nuisance', you are partially correct.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Planting a planter box

In previous posts I’ve alluded to some construction going on around here. We have a garage and patio that will be finished soon. After almost a year of building, I am so ready to do some landscaping in the construction site formerly known as the back garden.

First project up: the planter box. The box is formed by the patio’s banco seating and the steps to the garage apartment. It is 36” deep and 5 feet long. The interior masonry is covered with a sheet of rubber tucked under the coping, pond liner-style. There is a scupper at the bottom for drainage.
(I tried to eliminate the construction-related mess from the photos, reminiscent of Cultivating Paradise’s comments on photographing her garden amidst a building site.)

What is that wooden contraption? Why, it’s the railing that was to keep the hapless from tripping ass over elbow into the open planter box. The building couldn’t pass the final inspection without some railing around the planter, but I didn’t want to start moving dirt and plants until the permit was closed. So up went this temporary bit of carpentry. Anyway, it was accepted and the 2x4s can come down any day now. Any day.

So we passed the final, and then the planter box has been planted. The first step was to put a bit of mesh over the drain slot. (It makes an unimpressive view, so no photo.)
Step 2: Rocks were tipped in to provide a drainage layer deep enough to cover the drain slot. I chose this red volcanic rock because it is the lightest rock I found. I don’t anticipate needing to scoop it back out but I never want to be sorry if I do.

Step 3: Spun poly filter fabric goes over the drainage layer of rocks. It’s there to keep the rocks and soil from merging.
Step 4: Potting soil gets added. There are some very light soil-less planting media out there, developed for greenroofs and gardens over parking garages, etc. Nevermind. I just looked for the lightest bagged mix that I could find at Lowe’s hardware, which seemed to be Miracle Gro vegetable mix. Normally I want humus-y, wormy homemade loam, but in the planter box it might be too heavy, pack down, and sour.

Step 5: The plants go in. On the ends we have wooly stemodia / Stemodia tormentosa, a Texas native which likes the well-drained condition it should find in this planter. Beside those, purple heart / Setcreasea pallida which were started from potted plants in the front garden. The puny lemon grass in the center came from a community plant sale. I would like to stick in Manfreda variagata next to the purple heart, which made an appealing combo in Digging’s container gardens. I see Manfreda from time to time in the nurseries here, but now that I am shopping for them, I haven't been able to find them. I guess the lemon grass will go into the (currently non-existant) vegetable beds when the Manfreda is good enough to turn up. That makes it a place-holder plant.

Coming soon: a follow up showing the whole completed patio and planter box...minus the 2x4s.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

kalanchoe aglow

Pancake kalanchoe/Kalanchoe thrisyflora and terra cotta pots...the true colors are beyond the ability of my camera or camera skills to capture. Imagine.

Pancake again with a prickly pear friend.

Live, oaks!

This sounds like cautious good news for Galveston, our sister* city down on the coast. After Hurricane Ike, the old live oak allees along Broadway are not looking so live.

Galveston would be a different city without their year-round deep green intermingled canopies. They tie together the city’s signature mix of the god-awful tawdry with the timelessly elegant.

But it sounds like most of the live oaks will recover, with care. The browning was mostly due to windburn, not salt water poisoning, and some new growth is emerging.

Scorched live oaks visible beyond the palms. This is not autumnal color! Photo thanks to Mr Nelson.

*My friend Ms Alex says Galveston is more like an old auntie to Houston. Galveston is gracious, slightly stinky and half-mad, born into class but with shocking bad taste. Gotta love her.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Praise for a giant swamp thing

Rudbeckia maxima, aka swamp coneflower and giant coneflower, grows in roadside ditches all over East Texas. Here they are in late May, surging forth gloriously along a country road south of Tyler. If I was standing out there in the photo with them, you’d see the bloom stalks over my head—they are about 6’ tall (but I am not).

As spectacular as the blooms are, my favorite part of the plant is the leaves. Here is the rosette of a swamp coneflower in the garden today. The big leaves are blue green and they will stay this lush and cabbage-colored through the winter. This is different from other Rudbeckias which go dormant as miniscule and miserable-looking rosettes during winter.

Swamp coneflowers do have a period of looking seedy in the late summer when they are all about the stalky old flowerheads. I want to attract finches so I tolerate the gangly seedheads. Post Hurricane Ike, I cut them back and new growth sprang up soon after. Sorry finches, wherever you are.

Though it grows in low wet spots in the wild, swamp coneflower will do just fine in regular garden soil. My five are in an un-irrigated, slightly built-up planting bed. Louisiana iris, switch grass, and native crinum lilies are also dual citizens of the swamp and flower bed. If I had a big raingarden in a sunny spot, I would happily add them together with more swamp coneflowers.

The driveway is in

(Continuing the fertile theme of mistakes I make...)
This is the lower portion of our new driveway! And that is my car barely straddling the great divide. My big plan was to grow a rainwater-absorbing lawn down the center of the drive. I did measure the span between the tires to come up with the design. However I did not realize how hard and annoying it is to line up the car with the available concrete if you have 4’ between the runners and you do not drive a Humvee. Usually one set of tires is on the dirt between. In this setting, I'll probably get more wallows than grass.

So I am going to gravel the gap. It won’t be as nice as the grass, but will still serve the purpose of taking in rainwater instead of shunting it down to the storm drains. My flood-prone city needs all the unsealed ground we can give it.

Heed my poor example: If you put in a divided driveway like this, don’t make the gap as wide as I did!

Friday, October 10, 2008


Being wrong is just this quirky little thing I do sometimes.

To set the record straight, the annoying little trees that were next door are not Tree of Heaven/Ailanthus, but Golden Rain Tree/ Koelreuteria paniculata. I want to slander them in exactly the same way (a rose by any other name, huh?). Yes, they have gorgeous flowers but Golden Rain Tree is so invasive. Too many volunteers crowded together in a monoculture, or forcing their way between sidewalk and building, have led me to think they are not attractive or desirable.

And another thing: I thought the Cuban brown anoles and the local green anoles had different ecological niches but now that doesn't seem to be true. Young Cuban brown anoles are scuttling over everything! I hope that this little guy is not the last green anole left in the garden:

By the way, the surprise mystery bloom opened out into a bract of the Golden Spider Lily/ Lycoris aurea. I remember digging some bulbs where a bungalow in my neighborhood was demolished, and the Golden Spider Lily must have been one of them. What joy.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Peace Place

The day that Hurricane Ike landed, I was at Vallecitos Mountain Refuge. It’s a retreat center high up in the Carson National Forest of New Mexico, many miles from a paved road. Besides creating a little community with a remarkable set of folks from around the country (and Japan!), I simply love being there. Every autumn, Vallecitos is my bee-loud glade. A few images:

A warm hug on a frosty morning, with Wendy Johnson, one of the retreat leaders. A hint of how amazing Wendy is: she composted the manuscript for her book Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Se blah blah Espanol

Living in Texas and working in the landscape industry, the pressure is on me to be fluent in Spanish. Alas, my Spanish stinks. Often when I launch into a conversation with a nursery worker, for example, I get the kind of look that means, "We must humor her, but what the hell is she trying to say?"

Spanish is an easy language to learn, some say. I am proof against that. Oh, why didn’t I learn when I was a young thing, before my brain filled with woody tissue?
Ever hopeful, I am taking lessons at Ole School of Spanish. In that spirit, here’s a mini Spanish lesson with plants which go by their Spanish names as often as English around here. Photos were taken at the marvelous nursery The Arbor Gate in Tomball, Texas.

Esperanza (meaning ‘hope’)/ Yellow bells in English/ Tecoma stans in Latin:

Chile Pequin (‘little chili’)/ Bird pepper/ Capsicum annuum:

Hoja santa (‘holy leaf’)/ Rootbeer plant/ Piper auritum:

Yerba Buena (‘good herb’)/Mexican mint marigold/Tagetes lucida
Well, I don’t have a good photo to post but you can see yerba buena here.

Hasta luego!