Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Front yard overhaul, three years later

Against my better judgment, I'm posting long shots of the garden in front of my house. I've had several requests to do so, and I've been putting it off. It's actually looking pretty darn good right now, and that's the problem -- in three long, hard, hot, dry years, this is the absolute very best it's looked. Dear readers, I share with you now the good, the bad and the ugly, and throw myself upon the mercy of the gardener's court.

Exhibit One: photos of my yard before and during the overhaul.

Exhibits Two through Eleven: the garden as it exists today. Doesn't look half bad from a distance. But don't look too closely at the home's 'boxwood mustache' -- it got an extra-close shave in January and hasn't fully recovered. (In fact, don't look too closely at anything.) We've done nothing with the hell strip. (Good thing, too: the city dug up our neighborhood's easements in 2010 and 2011 before resurfacing the streets with fresh asphalt.) The large tree in this photo is a Texas Red Oak and the smaller tree is a Bur Oak. (Yeah, I know Bur Oaks get huge. That'll be someone else's problem, long after I'm gone.) Our neighbor's Arizona Ash is hanging over the driveway.
Front of the house

A little closer look from a slightly different angle. Everything in front is blooming except the large mound of Lantana montevidensis 'Pot O'Gold' on the corner. (It's got buds, though.) The 'Whale's Tongue' (Agave ovatifolia) on the right is barely visible from this vantage point.
Front garden

Northwest side of the garden. Bermuda grass is growing all throughout the perennials, and nutsedge surrounds the bur oak, Big Noisy Sigh. (Your Honor, please refer to Exhibit One to see how thoroughly we removed the weeds before planting and installing the flagstone path...)
Front garden beds

After seeing this photo, I dug out all the Bermuda from around this grouping in a disgusted, sweaty fit. Mark my words, it'll be back in three weeks. Digging it up doesn't kill it, covering it with corrugated cardboard and burying it in three inches of mulch doesn't kill it, covering it with a giant boulder for a year doesn't kill it, and (please don't ask me how I know this) scalping it and painting it with glyphosate doesn't kill it. I'm considering tilling it up and annihilating the roots with an acetylene torch next (not really joking). Front to back: purple trailing lantana, Salvia greggii 'Lipstick', Yucca filamentosa 'Bright Edge', California poppies.
Perennials and Bermuda grass

I love this grouping from this angle. Front to back: Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima), Englemann's daisy (Engelmannia peristenia), a lone 'Wedding Blush' sweet pea, Salvia greggii 'Lipstick', purple trailing lantana, and across the flagstone path, a white Salvia greggii.

I think I'd like this grouping better if the salvia wasn't so woody; I'll whack it back to the ground at the end of next month and it should fill out with soft, new growth before fall. Orange Gray globemallow (Sphaeralcea munroana incana) on the left, Salvia greggii 'Velvet Violet' on the right, blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum) in front.
Globe mallow, 'Velvet Violet' salvia, blackfoot daisy

Looking east to west, you can actually see the agave in the middle of this shot; Bur Oak to the agave's left, the neighbor's Arizona ash in the rear. Front to back: Salvia greggi 'Cherry Sage', four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris scaposa), 'Indigo Spires' salvia, rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala), white Salvia greggi, purple trailing lantana, Salvia greggii 'Lipstick', California poppies, Englemann's daisy, Mexican feathergrass.
Front garden beds

Northeast side of the garden. Front to back: white Salvia greggii, rock rose, 'Indigo Spires' salvia, dwarf Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens). The perennials look full and lush from this angle, but they're really rather spindly (check out the next photo). If you look closely, you'll spot some iris foliage to the right of the 'Indigo Spires'.
Front garden bed

This shot was taken from the front door looking to the northeast. Horseherb and weedy grasses are growing amongst the flagstones in the path, making it less of a trip hazard; the grasses are dying in the heat and need to be dug out. Clockwise from the front: pink Salvia coccinea 'Coral Nymph' greggii 'Teresa', Dianthus 'Bath's Pink' (very low to the ground, near the egg-shaped rock; not blooming), pink Gaura lindheimeri (not flowering), 'Yellow Bells' esperanza (Tecoma stans), blue Plumbago auriculata, white Salvia greggi, pink rock rose, 'Indigo Spires' salvia, dwarf Texas sage, iris foliage, fall Aster oblongifolius (not flowering). In the center of the garden are two tiny mounds of Salvia farinacea 'Mealy Blue Sage' (not flowering) and a ginormous patch of Bermuda grass. The rock edging and the perennials make it extremely difficult to mow this area (but I did, after taking this shot).
Flagstone path, perennials and Bermuda

To the right of the fall aster lives this 'Peter's Purple' bee balm (Monarda fistulosa). It was looking a bit peaked a few weeks ago, but a mid-May rainstorm convinced it to bloom. I'll cut it back to the ground after it blooms and see if it recovers from whatever's turning its lower leaves yellow, droopy and spotty. Behind it is a large patch of red 'Cedar Sage' (Salvia roemeriana ).
'Peter's Purple' monarda

A close-up of 'Yellow Bells' esperanza (Tecoma stans) and blue Plumbago auriculata amidst the Bermuda. Esperanza and plumbago

Our Austin garden blogging group has a monthly get-together where we hash out design ideas for our garden "problem areas". I signed up to host in March 2013, but I don't think I can wait! My "problem areas" are obvious: 1) BERMUDA H. GRASS (the H stands for HADES). If anyone has an idea for taking it out without killing the trees and the perennials (or installing 4' x 4' x 4' concrete planters in my front yard), I'm all ears! 2) Lack of maintenance. I could use a recommendation for an Austin landscape maintenance company with a crew that can tell the difference between nutsedge and wildflower seedlings. 3) Assuming the Bermuda can be eradicated, I may actually have space on the northeast side for a) walking paths, b) additional plantings and/or c) a sitting area -- but can't decide between on what (pea gravel? decomposed granite? more flagstone? something else?).

I'd love to hear what you think! But be gentle...

Words and photos © 2009-2012 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, May 28, 2012

I think I know where the fairies live

Carol of May Dreams Gardens has spoken of her garden fairies quite often. Sometimes, Carol's garden fairies even do guest posts on her blog. I didn't think I had any fairies in my garden. That is, until I found these, nestled underneath the santolina, next to a clump of horseherb.
Now I think I might, actually, have garden fairies lurking about. If not fairies, then pixies or elves, maybe. Or perhaps a toad that was once a prince?

Words and photos © 2009-2012 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Gone to seed

In my garden, the larkspur has gone to seed.
larkspur seed pods

The foliage is browning and the spider mites are moving in. Time to pull 'em up!
larkspur seed pods

The pods are starting to open to scatter the seeds within. Before I pulled up the spent plants, I ran my gloved hand along the stems to collect the pods and seeds.
larkspur seed pods

The seeds are lined up in two neat rows inside each pod. Even the tiniest pod has at least a dozen seeds; the larger pods, three or four dozen.
larkspur seed pods

I then began the task of separating the seeds from the pods. (Those with climate-controlled space and patience can hang the pods in paper or net bags and let the pods open and release the seeds naturally.)
larkspur seed pods

A standard kitchen strainer is helpful in separating the large plant material from the seeds.
larkspur seeds

The end result is a nice collection of larkspur seeds to keep for planting next year, or passing along to friends (that's how I got my seeds!)
larkspur seeds

Words and photos © 2009-2012 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

"Ya win some, ya lose some"

I'm calling it -- 2012 is definitely my garden's best squash year ever. I've never managed to get more than a couple of squash out of my spring garden, so the fact that I've harvested four 'Tatume' squash this week puts this year's crop in first place.
'Tatume' squash

'Tatume' squash are quite firm, even when harvested small -- which is quite a challenge, because they produce so prolifically and the leaves are so huge! (This one is roughly baseball sized.) Huge bonus - zero sign of squash vine borers. The stems of 'Tatume' are solid, so they're considered more resistant to borer damage.
'Tatume' squash

Jack just asked me, "Um...so, what are we going to do with all these squash?" Why, eat them, of course! There's oodles of recipes in my Victory Garden cookbook for squash -- stuffed, sauteed, fried, stewed, roasted, grilled, and baked. Of course you can also grate them and bake them into breads and cakes.

Sadly, I can also say this is so far my worst tomato year ever. The plants look healthy and are blooming, but I've got really poor fruit set; the flowers just fall off. All I have to show so far are these two small 'Green Zebra' tomatoes (and a 'Sun Gold' that didn't make it into the house for photos). These tomatoes are about the size of those Campari® tomatoes from the grocery store.
'Green Zebra' tomatoes

Oh well - ya win some, ya lose some. Not that I've given up on the tomatoes altogether, but things aren't looking promising. I didn't plant Cherokee Purples this year, and now I'm regretting it. So, how is your veggie garden doing? I'd love to know!

Words and photos © 2009-2012 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - May 2012

rain lily

I haven't had the time to photograph my garden for a proper Bloom Day post, so I'll have to keep it short and sweet this month. As this budding yellow rain lily testifies, we've had a lot of rain this year - seventeen inches in my garden so far. This means we've had more rain in 4 1/2 months than we had in all of 2011. I thereby proclaim 2012 to be the Year of the Rain Lily!

¡Viva Zephyranthes!

Thanks to Carol of May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Visit her blog to see what flowers the world's gardeners are celebrating this month.

p.s. y'all are sweet to ignore my glaring typo! Naturally I meant in "all of 2011" (not "all of 2012") -- correction made!

Words and photos © 2009-2012 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Christmas in May?

This serrano pepper plant seems to think so. Planted last spring, it survived last summer's drought, bloomed and fruited last fall, successfully overwintered, burst into bloom again a few weeks ago, and set oodles of peppers I never used or harvested. Serrano peppers

Suddenly I have a hankering for a Kung-Pao-style chicken. Who's got good recipes for ripe serrano peppers?

Words and photos © 2009-2012 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Minty goodness

You know the old saying, "When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade?" Well, I don't have any lemons (yet -- fingers crossed the potted Meyer comes through) but I've got mint. Spearmint, to be exact. It's growing like gangbusters, thanks to our wet winter and spring. (Putting it on drip irrigation last fall didn't hurt.)

It's getting lanky and starting to go to seed, so I decided to harvest a bunch and whip up a batch of mojitos.

Here's my current recipe:

6 mint leaves
3 sugar cubes
The juice of one large, fresh Persian lime (1 1/2 - 2 oz)
2 oz. Treaty Oak rum
4 oz Topo Chico sparkling water

Place the mint in the bottom of a Collins glass. Add the sugar cubes and lime juice and muddle. Fill the glass with ice; add rum and sparkling water and stir. Serves one.

What home-grown goodness is garnishing your beverages this spring?

Words and photos © 2009-2012 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The race is on

In the Three Sisters garden, 'Tatume' squash are running strong in first with pole beans ('Trionfo Violetto' and 'Scarlet Runner') a close second and 'Country Gentleman' sweet corn bringing up the rear.
'Three Sisters' garden

No sign of the 'Sugar Pie' pumpkins I planted, but I've got several baby 'Tatume' squash. 'Tatume' vines are solid and less prone to the evil squash vine borer. When harvested young, 'Tatume' is similar to a summer squash; when allowed to mature on the vine, it's more akin to a winter squash.
'Tatume' squash

As warm as this past winter was, I expected to be harvesting tomatoes by now. Normally the Sungold and Juliet cherry tomatoes would be ramping up production and the larger tomatoes setting most of their fruit. But as I snapped photos this weekend, these two smallish Green Zebra tomatoes were all I had so far. Maybe it's been too warm?
'Green Zebra' tomatoes

A late cool front has brought with it more than two inches of rain this week and slightly cooler temperatures. The tomato plants themselves have seemingly doubled in size and are flowering, so perhaps I'll see a few more tomatoes set this week.

It's gonna be a great year for limes. I've got at least three dozen baby Persian limes and they're getting bigger by the day. 'Bearss' limes

What's going strong in your garden race and what's lagging behind? Tell me about it!

Words and photos © 2009-2012 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Weekend harvest

I harvested the last of the fall-planted veggies this weekend. Here's my haul:


carrots (three varieties),

and chard.

In their place I planted watermelon ('Sugar Baby and 'Moon and Stars'), cantaloupe ('Hale's Best') and honeydew ('Sweet Delight'). I also cleared out a bunch of Bermuda grass (a never-ending chore). I have two more beds overgrown with the stuff...a project for another day!

What are you pulling out and putting down in your garden?

Words and photos © 2009-2012 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Hollyhocks in bloom

It's hollyhock season in Central Texas. These beauties are offspring from a package of from Renee's Garden 'Indian Spring' hollyhocks I planted three or four years ago. They reseed like crazy and bloom the second year.

The stems are seven feet tall. Usually the blossoms are various shades of pink but this year they are all yellow. Usually the blossoms are single-petaled (like these) but year before last I had a few that were double-petaled. hollyhocks

Hollyhocks are very prone to rust, an orange-colored fungus that can overcome the entire plant. I battle rust spores by cleaning up all the old spent leaves and flower stems in the winter, and pulling up two-year old plants; everything goes in the trash. Then I lay newspapers underneath the one-year old plants and cover the papers with a fresh layer of compost. This seems to keep the spores buried so they can't splash up onto the lower leaves when it rains. In the spring, I ruthlessly pluck off every leaf that shows even one spot of rust. The plants don't seem to mind the defoliation and will sprout new, rust-free leaves.

Words and photos © 2009-2012 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.