Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I'm trying to work on my resume, but I keep getting distracted by gardening-related things.

Like, showing my good friend Colleen (who just happened to stop by) around my garden. "See my ripening tomatoes? Yes, please, I insist, go ahead, eat one!"
Ripening tomatoes
'Jaune Flamme', a French heirloom tomato

"See my black raspberries, either drying on the vine the moment they ripen, or half-pecked by drought-stricken grackles? Yes, please, I insist, go ahead, eat one!"
Ripening black raspberries
'Black Hawk' black raspberries

"See the freshly harvested garlic bulbs laid out on the patio table? Forty bulbs from a half pound of garlic planted last October! Now, they say 'Red Toch' is mild enough to eat raw. Yes, please, I insist, go ahead, eat one!"
Homegrown garlic
'Red Toch', 'Inchellium Red' & 'Lorz Italian' garlic from Gourmet Garlic Gardens

"No, I'm serious! Just one clove...just be careful and don't get 'Asian Tempest' by accident, that one's hot as fire. Look, I'm popping a clove in my mouth now! Just one, I'm going to... [tear falls down cheek] eat... [eyes widening] one... [pant] Wow! I mean, OW! WOWOWOWOWOW! HOT! HOT! OMG! WATER! HOT! HOT! HOT! Ohhh...!! Big Noisy Sigh! WHEW! That was garlicky! [wiping sweat from brow] BOY! I don't think that was 'Red Toch'! Breathlessly intense, then all mellow--hee, look at how endorphin-flushed we are. Now we hardly even notice that on May 25 it's already 99.99 degrees Fahrenheit with 1000% humidity, ha ha ha! Now we hardly notice that we've been bitten by 249 mosquitoes in the last 17 minutes, thanks to fresh homegrown organic garlic. You know, garlic is sooo good for you..."

All this while she smokes Her Last Cigarette EVER, in my garden.
Colleen's last cigarette ever

Like, all the kind comments to my Gardening Gone Wild photo contest entry that pop up on my computer screen the minute they come into my emailbox, even though I think I boosted the contrast a bit too much on the photo and there's much more prize-worthy entries than mine, but it's not about The Win, is it? It's about The Process, which I am admittedly enjoying. Immensely.

Like, the reason for working the resume itself--to try to get a job with fewer hours (one extra lousy 8 hour work day off a week! That's all I ask! Here, take 1/5 of my salary, free to use as you choose!) so I can learn more about gardening and have more time to play in the dirt and have more time to 'network with other gardeners" (meaning, hang out in their gardens and talk about plants and bugs and design and life and work and family and plants, and actually making comments about all the wonderful interesting things they're blogging about instead of the "reading and running" I've been doing lately) and take some writing workshops and do some volunteer work...daydream...mmm hmm...

Focus, focus, FOCUS.

Words and photos © 2009-2011 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Gardening Gone Wild "Picture This" Photo Contest - May 2011

This month's Gardening Gone Wild "Picture This" photo contest is being judged by garden, nature and landscape photographer Alan Detrick. The theme is ‘Lighting: A Closer Look’--light in the macro or close-up world.

This is the image I've chosen to enter: a group of King Humbert canna leaves lit by the setting sun. I shot it using a Nikon D700 camera and a Nikon 105mm f/2.8 AF Micro lens.

'Another Green World"

I was struck by how the light illuminated the various shades of green and the fine veins in the leaves, and edged each leaf in a pale greenish-white. Oh, to be a green anole in the midst of these leaves.

The contest closes at 10:59 p.m. Central Time tonight, so if you want to enter, do so quickly! Thanks to the good folks at Gardening Gone Wild and judge Alan Detrick, and good luck to all the participants.

Words and photos © 2009-2011 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Foliage Follow-Up: May 2011

These photos were taken near the end of what professional photographers refer to as "The Magic Hour" -- the hour before sunset, when the sun is low in the sky and its light magically illuminates everything in golden hues as it changes from second to second. (There's a second "Magic Hour" each morning after sunrise.)

'Bright Edge' yucca (Yucca filamentosa 'Bright Edge') catches the setting sun on its tips.

The fronds of purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum') bathe in the light. This grass isn't even in the ground yet; it's sitting in a pot on my back porch. I replace it after every freeze.

Even Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) tried to catch some golden rays on its leaves. This specimen is in mostly shade near the bird bath. I have another specimen in full sun on a chain link fence. Neither has ever bloomed.

Thanks to Pam at Digging for hosting Foliage Follow-Up. Visit Pam's blog to see more photos of foliage playing in sunlight, shade and everything in between.

Words and photos © 2009-2011 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - May 2011

Here's what's blooming in my garden this GBBD. Except for a gullywasher on May 12, spring in Central Texas has been as dry as a longhorn skull in the middle of the desert, but oddly, temperatures have been cooler than normal. These plants seem to like it cool and dry.

In the backyard garden:

This is the first year I've had a decent number of sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus). The fragrance is intoxicating. These are "Wedding Blush" from Botanical Interests, in pastel shades of pink, yellow and purple, and the blooms have been very long-lasting. They're starting to go to seed.
Sweet pea "Wedding Blush"

Sweet pea 'Wedding Blush'

Sweet pea 'Wedding Blush'

Sweet pea 'Wedding Blush'

I decided to plant brightly colored single-petaled portulaca in the cinder block-edged bed around the round ball squash plants. Both are blooming.
8 Ball squash, portulaca

The red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) is still blooming and starting to form seed pods.
Red yucca

The purple blossoms of Mexican oregano (Poliomintha longiflora) brighten the herb garden.
Mexican oregano

In the garden in front of the house:

Gregg's mistflower (Conoclinium greggii) is blooming near the Whale's Tongue agave (A. ovatifolia). Yes, I've gone back to referring to this agave as a Whale's Tongue. I had my doubts when it offset a pup shortly after I planted it. But today I read on the Yucca Do website that A. ovatifolia offsets "rarely or not at all." I'm thinking one pup in two years qualifies as "rarely", and the older this agave gets, the more it looks like A. ovatifolia.
Gregg's mistflower, Whale's Tongue agave

White autumn sage (S. greggii), mealy blue sage (S. farinacea) and esperanza (Tecoma stans) make a colorful trio. The few larkspur that flowered are going to seed.
White 'Autumn Sage', 'Mealy Blue Sage', esperanza

A close-up of 'Mealy Blue Sage':
Salvia 'Mealy Blue Sage'

Another colorful trio: 'Indigo Spires' salvia (S. farinacea x longispicata 'Indigo Spires'), four-nerve daisies (Tetraneuris scaposa) and rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala).
'Indigo Spires' salvia, four-nerve daisy, rock rose

Pink gaura (Gaura lindheimeri), a passalong plant from Annie at The Transplantable Rose.
Pink gaura

Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Visit her site to see flowers bloomin' their heads off, all over the globe.

Words and photos © 2009-2011 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Preview of the "Inside Austin Gardens" Tour (Part 2 of 2)

As promised, here's part 2 of my preview of the Inside Austin Gardens Tour, hosted by the Travis County Master Gardeners Association in cooperation with the Travis County Agrilife Extension Service. The tour is this Saturday, May 14, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., rain or shine, featuring open houses at six private, waterwise gardens and the LCRA's Redbud Center, plus garden demonstrations and speakers at each site, all for only $10.

Three. The one word I heard most often while previewing Sue Nazar’s garden? Lush. No, the native plants aren’t drunk (unless they’re tipsy from the compost tea and foliar seaweed that Sue applies regularly), but their luxurious layers might lead you to think you were in a tropical paradise instead of dry, rocky Central Texas.
Lush and textured foliage

Just look at the little piece of heaven that Sue’s created out of what many gardeners refer to as The Hellstrip--that patch of weeds between the street and the sidewalk in front of the house. Sue’s front garden is full of drought-tolerant sages, agaves, yuccas, skullcaps, and herbs like rosemary, oregano and mullein—plants that like it dry. It’s so beautiful that she’s inspired her neighbors to convert their hellstrips into mini-gardens as well.
Sue Nazar's heaven strip

The sloped driveway along the side of Sue’s house is lined with compost-rich beds containing plants that prefer a bit more moisture. These beds act as a rain garden to lessen runoff; what doesn’t end up in the beds runs down this dry creek bed to a ravine below. Drip irrigation underneath the beds keeps the plants happy during periods of severe drought.
Garden beds surround a greenbelt runoff

Sue’s back yard is huge and filled with garden paths, decks, a pool, and a small vegetable garden, all just as lushly landscaped as the front yard. I must have taken 100 photographs—way too many to display you here—so you’ll just have to experience it for yourself this Saturday. I’ll tease you a bit more with a shot of one of the many variegated cannas in pots around Sue’s pool,
A varigated ginger in bloom

a bright green garden shed, punctuated with red trim and red ceramic ornaments,
A brightly colored shed

and this peaceful space near the back door leading from the house to the pool. The small vitex tree you see stubbornly growing through the slats of the wood deck resisted all of Sue’s attempts to eliminate it. Ultimately, she decided to let the vitex do its thing, accenting the space with ceramic urns in colors that complement the shades in the stone wall, and a statue of Buddha in a contemplative lotus position. Now that’s what I call Zen.
A contemplative spot

Four. Sheryl Williams’ garden blew me away with its Austin-like audacity. A recent transplant from Oregon, Sheryl quickly realized that USDA Zone 8 Oregon was nothing like USDA Zone 8 Austin. So what’s a Master Gardener to do? Why, kill off every last bit of St. Augustine turf, of course, and install waterwise Texas sedge instead—a native grass that required zero irrigation during 2009, the Year of the Death Star. Varigated liriope adds further interest and texture. A large rainwater collection cistern to the left of the house and a sizable rain barrel on the right provide irrigation to the side and back gardens. The yard is trenched and bermed around the perimeter to prevent flooding, and planted with perennials like blackfoot daisies, salvia and lantana.
Sheryl Williams' lawn of native sedges

Looking at Sheryl’s backyard organic garden, you’d never guess that she lost every last vegetable to Austin’s 48-hour-long hard freeze in February. With courage and aplomb, she replanted the very next day. The result: fresh produce from the garden in May. Just look at these blackberries, some already ripe enough for sampling, mmm. (OK, I didn’t, but I was tempted to. I did eat a snap pea at Sheryl’s urging, though.)

A seating area on a stone and gravel path offers a pleasant spot to enjoy the view. Sheryl’s husband Ed built the raised bed frames (and the compost bins, not pictured) from repurposed fence wood.
Seating near backyard vegetable garden

Hardy shrubs and perennials like cenizo and yarrow grow among the raised vegetable beds.
Vegetables and native perennials

Colorful yard art provides a bit of whimsy in a patch of pink evening primrose.
Pink evening primroses and yard art
This adorable dish of succulents caught my eye as I reluctantly took my leave.
A dish of tiny succulents

But Wait! There’s More! In addition to the four gardens I’ve previewed, there are two additional gardens on the tour, belonging to Master Gardener Joe Posern, and Austin Cactus and Succulent Society President Jeff Pavlat (eeeee!). In addition, the LEED-certified LCRA Redbud Center will be part of the tour. That’s right--six waterwise, neighbor-friendly gardens, the Redbud Center, speakers and demonstrations on a variety of gardening topics at each site throughout the day, all for only ten dollars.

For more previews, check out my post from yesterday featuring the gardens of Rebecca Matthews and Wendy Brennan. The Austin garden blogroll at the sidebar to the right is chock-full of more tour previews. And, visit the official Inside Austin Gardens webpage for oodles of information about all the gardens on the tour, an interactive map, plant lists, and a complete schedule. Come on out Saturday and show these Master Gardeners some love!

Words and photos © 2009-2011 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Preview of the "Inside Austin Gardens" Tour (Part 1 of 2)

I was honored to be invited on a preview of the Inside Austin Gardens tour, hosted by the Travis County Master Gardeners Association in cooperation with the Travis County Agrilife Extension Service. The tour is this Saturday, May 14, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., rain or shine, and a mere ten clams gets you into six gardens plus the LCRA's Redbud Center. For the budget-conscious, five bucks gets you into one garden--but I ask you, how on earth could you choose just one?

This is just a snippet, a taste, a mere soup├žon of the glorious garden delights that await those that embark on this tour. You simply must see these gardens in person, as photographs do not do them justice. A Master Gardener designed each of the four gardens on the preview, each of which features waterwise gardening techniques and neighborly cooperation. Here's a peek at two gardens, with two more to follow tomorrow.

One. Rebecca Matthews' garden welcomes visitors down a gravel path under an arched wrought-iron arbor. A small front lawn is hidden within, shared with her neighbor, and surrounded by beds chock-full of cacti, yuccas, herbs and native perennials.
Rebecca Matthews' garden

In the back yard, Rebecca removed loads of dead Bermuda grass, Asian jasmine and English ivy to create a garden filled with shade-loving, drought-tolerant plants: salvias, ornamental grasses, and flowering perennials.

Interspersed throughout the garden are little vignettes:
garden rooms (one with a chandelier!)
An outdoor room with chandelier

casual seating areas,
One of many seating areas

and a pond, a testament to Rebecca's perseverance against the raccoons which have tried to dismantle it on multiple occasions. (The rocks are now mortared rather than dry-laid.) The garden is wildlife-friendly; I spotted houses for owls, bees, butterflies and birds, as well as seed and nectar feeders.
Rebecca's raccoon-proof pond

Rebecca's garden uses color fearlessly and effectively, and yard art, garden ornaments, and found items decorate each space.
A colorful back porch seating area

Gravel paths tie the various sections of the garden together, creating a space that encourages visitors to wander and explore.
The back yard

Two. Wendy Brennan's garden was designed by Master Gardener Link Davidson, who lives right next door. An eye-grabbing red iron sculpture marks the garden entrance, accented by plantings of Texas sage, giant lamb's ear, cannas and cacti. (Actually, the sculpture is an old hydraulic press--a bit of "found art".)
Wendy Brennan's garden

Link's property slopes down towards Wendy's, so a creek bed edged with xeric plants channels runoff between the two.
A view of a dry creek bed

Near the home's front entrance, a small wrought-iron cafe set adorns a small deck under a pair of shade sails. To the right, five rusted tanks provide visual interest ("like Grecian urns," says Link). The stone path to the left of the patio is actually the former concrete driveway, which Link cut into large rectangular shapes and rearranged.
Seating areas

Who knew that the edge of cut concrete had such an interesting texture?
The cut edge of driveway concrete

Further back, a series of fence panels made of steel posts and painted air-conditioning screens marks off another small deck with seating for two.
A/C screen panels make a nice fence

The overall effect of this design is funky but chic, with modern, clean lines and a generous sprinkle of subtle Austin weirdness.
A front yard patio

Tomorrow, I'll show you a bit of Sue Nazar's and Sheryl Williams' gardens. Visit the Inside Austin Gardens tour home page for information on the other gardens on the tour, an interactive map, plant lists, and a schedule of educational sessions and demonstrations to be held at each garden site on Saturday.

Words and photos © 2009-2011 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.