Saturday, November 29, 2008

Holiday Road Trip, Part 1

Eventually we get to Shiver Me Timbers Millenium Park in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Best playground I ever played on. You have your Lord of the Rings-evoking style which is a hallmark of Leathers and Associates. You have your alligator in pirate drag up on the entry gate. (See him again here.) You have splinter-free composite-lumber bridges and contraptions, all built by the community. This is so cool that I want to be a playground designer, too.

Random kid, not mine, in photo.

Photo not so good, but hopefully you get the idea.

The next leg of the journey brought us to Avery Island for the Tabasco Factory and Jungle Gardens.

We arrived in time for last tour of the factory. The Kid actually wanted photos taken, as conspicuous Tabasco consumption is currently ‘hot’ at school.
Some tour gleanings: The seeds of the peppers not selected for next year’s crop are sent to Wrigley’s. Wrigley’s extracts the oil and uses it in Big Red chewing gum. Peppers are picked when the color matches the red on ‘le petite baton rouge’, and you can get a baton of your very own in the factory store. (Why? For wannabe hot sauce contenders?) I stocked up on Tabasco Cheez Nips, Tabasco Slim Jims, Tabasco soy sauce, but not petite batons.

The Tabasco factory was calculated to soften up the Kid for a dreaded garden tour at the adjacent Jungle Gardens. But dark came and we retired to Lafayette till morning.
And then...

Dwarf palmettos (Sabal minor) and bald cypress (Taxodium distichum):

A fine, 900 year old statue of the Buddha sits inside this hilltop shrine:

Camellias were literally humming with bees. Not possible to show on film. Note to self: Get a real camera.

Home hole in the foot of a massive oak named ‘Cleveland’:

Another camellia, festooned with blooms and Spanish moss:

There were an absurd number and variety of birds in the Jungle Gardens, not just the white egrets the Gardens are famous for hosting in nesting season. This kinglet, a cartoon-like bird of eyestrain-inducing size, cheerfully came closer and closer, to within a few feet of us:

Then it was on to the business of locating the husband in the city of New Orleans, and navigating into the woods of Mississippi where the GPS unit goes blank. We will say nothing of the distant banjo music. Check back soon for our adventures there and back…Holiday Road Trip Part 2.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bromeliad on a Stick

There is something appealing about the weird sputnik shape of ball moss/Tilandsia recurvata . Although I have never seen them used I am sure that branches with ball moss colonies would make a very mod, very cool floral arrangement or sculpture.
When I find the balls on the ground I take them home and put them to a more mundane use. They make good ‘mulch’ over the soil in pots of bromeliads. Ball moss is itself a bromeliad.

Now don’t that look natural?

There is no consensus about what ball moss is doing up there in the trees. Some say that it is a true parasite that will suck out the life of the tree. This scary-looking crepe myrtle has a bad case of ball moss:

Some say it is a benign epiphyte which simply prefers the more open canopy of a sparse tree. I am not an arborist but I have an opinion anyway. Ball moss is not a murderer or a sunbather, but gets established on a tree that can’t thwart it because it is already weak or sick. For example, here is the root flare of the same crepe myrtle above:

It looks like damage from a line trimmer used to cut the grass next to the trunk, followed by an infection in the wound. I would bet my Felco’s this happened before the first ball moss showed up.

Some healthy looking trees have a small stable ball moss population. But the association of prolific ball moss and really sick trees looks as if ball moss is not merely using the branch as a perch. Science, anyone?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Right now, other gardens are more fun

Now that it is finally cool enough to do some major garden work, there is no sunlight for it in the evenings. Contrast this with the summertime, when there is no shortage of light, but it is so hot that you can die gardening at 7pm.
Lately I have been landscaping at night, installing the hardscape in the back garden. While I would like to put up a blog post or two about it, it is coming along so slowly that no one should be squirming with anticipation. In the meantime, enjoy some scenes around town that I found diverting...

A garden of culvert tubes:

Infestation of ceramic fungi at The Arbor Gate:

Sign seen on leaving the soil supplier Mulch King:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Summer concedes

Once in a while we get vibrant autumn colors here, if an early cold snap drops in. But usually the fall season is indicated by subtler things: the color of the light and shade, the declension of the sun, and the reluctant tapering off of summer produce. There is something so poignant about the sweet vestiges of summer hanging on well into fall. Seen in the garden today:

Celeste figs in November

A small second crop of Hunt muscadines (or maybe they are Fry muscadines).

Sweet basil beginning to lose its vigor. Pesto time!

Monday, November 10, 2008

The need for integrating my pest management system

So my next door neighbor told me about a new garden pest. One recent night while she was writing, she heard violent rustling in the shrubs behind her fence. She said she wondered what kind of animal was back there, and decided to go see.

A man came out of the shrubs through a gap in the fence. He had some lame explanation about searching for his lost dog but he looked like he had either been sleeping back there or taking a dump. He bummed a cigarette off my neighbor and asked her about her marital status. She’s married, but he asked to see her ‘coochi’. [Oh, you mean my ‘chichi’ ruellia? There’s a good patch blooming in a garden down the street and around the corner. Bye.]

My neighbor is very brave and played it cool till he left. By the way, she didn’t describe about her garden dweller much but I don’t think he fit this appearance:
A guy I saw at the Texas Renaissance Festival

I have a management system for garden pests like my neighbor’s. It is 75 pounds of mutt named Plue. We did not bring him in for homestead security but he takes it upon himself. From time to time he makes himself a key pest. For example, I feel like nannies pushing strollers do not need to be evicted from our street but he does. A mail carrier told me Plue has the loudest bark he has ever heard from any dog, and I would guess that he is an authority on barking dogs.

(Photo taken by the Kid)

I don’t know how other people do it, but gardening with a dog this size and varietie(s) can be such a drag. He is not a puppy anymore so maybe I shouldn’t tell tails but I have not forgotten that he tore up 7 bags of fine compost directly over the new French drain. I haven’t forgotten that he excavated the drip irrigation system and added many, many more perforations. Part of the reason the back garden is nearly a wasteland is the recent garage construction, but part of the reason is Plue.

As I get the garden going again, I will be considering ways to integrate it with Plue. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure I can learn from the dog vs garden experience of the many garden blogs writers out there. And I will post my successes, if any.

Meanwhile, I have yet to find garden-lurking, cigarette-mooching pervs in my landscaping, and for this I say: Good Boy, Plue!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Taste test: Turk's cap hibiscus

Today I tried the berry of Turk’s cap hibiscus (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) from a shrub I passed while walking the dog. They are a common native hibiscus here, but I heard only lately that the fruit, which about the size of a big blueberry and the color of a ripe persimmon, is edible.

It tasted exactly like a red delicious apple from a school lunch: mealy and vaguely apple-flavored. Also, it’s packed with seeds. I’m glad to have the experience, but the rating I give Turk’s cap berries is: bird food.

Tasting a new strange fruit is a great pleasure of mine, and I will pay stupid amounts of money to try something that may not even be ripe. Ah, but I am even happier if I found it and picked it myself.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

At Last Organic Outpost

Having meant to go for years, I made a visit to the urban community farm Last Organic Outpost yesterday. I stayed a little while to see Dan Phillips demonstrate how to prepare a cork floor, using wine corks. In a slight error of judgment I followed friends away to an early dinner when I really just wanted to hang out amid the greens and community farm folk. Here are a few images right off the cell phone (I am comfortable in the knowledge that no one comes to this blog for the fine photography).

Summer and autumn merge gracefully here and heat-loving crops like okra keep producing alongside the fall plantings of greens. Unexpected combinations of volunteer plants and crops made exploring interesting.

For example, spearmint and broccoli raab...

Squash, lettuce, and mustard greens...

Kabocha squash, I think.

One of several eggplant varieties I saw, here cosying up to okra:

Mint corrals...

Edible and ornamental coexist:

Children tried their hand at the cork floor and bottle cap wall model. Dan Phillips designs and builds houses together with the house’s future residents. The building materials are reclaimed to keep costs low, and so inventively recycled I urge you to see some examples at the website.

A few parting shots...