Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Midway through major modifications

In 2008 I referred here to a construction site formerly known as my garden. I’ve got some progress photos to show you the new back garden. It's fledging from its nest of hoarded plants and rock piles amongst the former construction site.

A view of the patio. The little tree by the tank is a Mexican orchid tree (Bauhinia mexicana). All summer it flaunts lacy white flowers that pollinators love. I too am partial to bauhinias and I want to grow at least one of every make. Sadly, one can not eat them, otherwise they would be true favorites. In front of the column is a night blooming cereus to enjoy while lounging on the patio of a summer eve.

The steps to the garage form a bench and the planter you see here. Those vintage patio chairs need cushions before they get sat on again. In fact, as I look at these photos I see a dozen more projects staring me down.

For example, there is the raw field of dirt you see beyond the walkway here:

I have been visualizing a kitchen garden there so long that I sort of ceased noticing it is really bare. The bamboo hastily jammed into the beds in the foreground remains there to hold sheets over the little citrus trees if it should freeze again.
I love to see a garden’s ‘Before’ photos, and I do have some to show. I’ll post those whenever the garden is closer to looking like a proper ‘After’.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bamboo at MAC

I went up to the Margaret Austin Center to see if they needed another volunteer to wrangle bamboo at their grove-thinning wingding today. They did.

This stand of green-streaked gold culms is Painted bamboo/Bambusa vulgaris vittata. The organizer of the bamboo maintenance assault, Jill, thinks it makes the best sounding flutes. She says that Margaret Austin came back from a visit to a monastery in Thailand with two rhizomes. Now look at it, thirty years later:

Here is bit of the other bamboo grove, of a species I don’t know. The architecture dominates the scene, no? If I have the history straight, that building was designed and constructed by University of Houston architecture students who later became part of the Ant Farm Collective. The Ant Farm doesn’t ring a bell? Maybe you know one of their projects, Cadillac Ranch, in Amarillo, Texas:

The cars were painted pink for breast cancer awareness, summer 2006.

Another funky building, the meeting hall at the Margaret Austin Center:
These canes will be crafted into flutes, fences, and furniture.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

On vintage trailers, landscape architects

I’m a lazy blogger this month. But my girl Ms Alex has been quite industrious with her new project: restoring a 1950 Spartan aluminum trailer as a camp house. Such an endeavor would be incomplete without a blog of its own.

Today, Ms Alex posted kind words about my landscaping work. Not content to let her blow my horn, I’ve got to direct everyone’s attention to it, here.

I must clarify one thing. She calls me a landscape architect, although I haven’t sat for my licensing exams, or passed, to become said landscape architect. I tell that to her and to everyone, but do they listen? It’s sweet of my friends to want to give me a career promotion. But the difference between a landscape designer (me) and a landscape architect is a not a minor distinction, legally and in practice. That could well be another posting soon, which may be July at the rate I’ve been writing lately.
[Steps down from soapbox]

Someday, when I am truly a landscape architect, Ms Alex and I are going to sit out by that fine old trailer, survey our work with satisfaction, and crack a bottle of Veuve Cliquot.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Back to the earth

We had a marvelous shelter dog named Thorn. Even people who didn’t like dogs liked Thorn. Like a good friend of the human sort, she was intelligent, trusting, and light of heart. When I think of her, she is running for joy in wild circuits around the Kid, with her big smile on. You may wonder why the Kid named a lovely dog ‘Thorn’. Well, he was calling himself Spike then, and in need of a sidekick.

Thorn died far too young, but that’s a story for another time, or for another blog.

Her ashes were returned to us in a box, which has been stored in a container with Halloween decorations (!?) under my bed for five years. From the perspective of feng shui, or even voodoo, this was probably not the best location. It was always my intention to scatter Thorn’s ashes in the back garden. But the monumental construction project, the garage apartment, was impending.

On January 1st, at last, I set Thorn’s ashes free in the new garden.

It feels like a proper send off for a loved companion. It feels auspicious to have done it on the first day of a new year.

For the record: I would also like to have my ashes set free. When the time comes, you friends and family will get a little sachet of my grit, a party favor from the funeral. Toss me out somewhere in the wide world. For someone who loves the garden and the outdoors, it is fitting to become a soil amendment.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Putting in pawpaws

The pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba) has so much of what I like in a plant. It is a good looking ornamental tree with big tropical leaves. Although something of an oddity, it is native to these parts and is host to the zebra swallowtail butterfly. You can grow it in part shade. And on top of all that, it makes an edible, creamy fruit.

photo Wikimedia

I think I have a perfect location for a row of pawpaw trees. Our garage apartment on the north and the neighbor’s on the south create an alley. It gets intermittent or dappled sun from miscellaneous trees and the neighbor’s garage. The soil is damp there longer than anywhere else in the garden. The soil was not as rich or well draining as needed, so steps were taken to fix that.

Ms Brenda, garden lady, dug the 8’ by 60’ wasteland along the back fence. All I asked was that the ground to be broken and weeds removed, but she likes to dig down as deep as the fork and to turn the soil over. All manner of corroded metal and concrete chunklets were removed. A plastic horse, aluminum fence post finials, and a buckle that may be silver turned up.

To build up the bed for the pawpaws, I mined some mounds of soil created during the garage construction project, and wheeled loads of it around to the new bed. In one area I found a Neapolitan confection of soil: a layer of bright white leftover mason’s sand, over the deep black of a former compost pile, on pale brown clay.

The builders had excavated some clay in clods up to the size of a basketball. That’s a representative chunk sitting on top of the load (photo below). Now those clods have been hacked to pieces and worked into the rest of the soil.

I didn’t do a soil test here, but I had some granular sulfur already and I tossed it over the piles. Our soil tends to be alkaline and pawpaws prefer more acidic soil. Some Microlife, an organic fertilizer, was also tossed on. The last amendment added was the ashes of sweet dog Thorn (Read about her here). The pale yellow of the sulfur and the blue-white of her ashes made a strange visual.

When the bed was leveled out, it had a nice crown in the center. Digging holes for the 7-gallon container sized rootballs was as easy as playing in sandbox, thanks to Brenda. The soil is so well prepared back there, it feels like brown sugar on the shovel.

The trees are 10’ on center. They don’t have much presence in this photo, being leafless. The vines being trained to the fence are Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), also native.

Pawpaws must cross pollinate, so I picked several varieties of trees. For a fruit no one ever seems to have tasted, there are a lot of varieties available. Several of mine are an ungrafted ‘native’ variety. They are younger, yet taller, than the two grafted varieties I chose. The grafted “Wells’ matures later than ‘Rebecca’s Gold’ but both have large fruit. (Memo to self: Wells is on southeast side and Rebecca is on southwest) In the nursery, they expected the trees to be temperamental producers throughout their youth. We’ll see. The pawpaws that grow wild on a piece of land we own in Nacogdoches are very small but fruitful, like this one below. There is a small green pawpaw about mid-photo:

The small fig-brown flowers of the pawpaw are pollinated by flies. I recall that the speaker on fruit trees at the Master Gardener class said his trees’ productivity increased when he brought home some roadkill! I'm hoping funky old sandwich meat hung on the fence will work, instead.