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Copyright © Sheryl Williams - Yardfanatic 2016. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Big Bend National Park - The Jewel of Texas


View from "The Window" in the Chisos
I spent Christmas day hiking in Big Bend National Park in west Texas.  I can think of no better way to celebrate all things spiritual than to stand in the Chisos Mountains and gaze across the Chihuahuan Desert.  I lost my heart out there while discovering this absolute gem of a spot along the big bend of the Rio Grande.


The ash deposits at Cerro Castelan
The amazing thing about this place is the distinct and different ecosystems all contained within the same area.  You have the flood plain of the Rio Grande, the desert plain of the Chihuahuan, and the cloud-brushing reach of the Chisos.  Our visit was very brief but we tried at least to drive through each area to appreciate its beauty and wonder.  We saw volcanic ash deposits that looked like they were dumped just yesterday.  In fact the interpretive sign compared the area to a photo of Mount Saint Helens.  The difference is that the ash piles in Big Bend are millions of years old and are as hard as a rock.  It reminded me of Crater Lake in that respect.

The Chisos Mountains are volcanic in origin and reminded me a lot of the steep rock faces of the Columbia Gorge.  The mountains form a basin that has kept a little Eden away from the desert.  There is more rainfall in the basin than in the surrounding plains, and as a result the prickly pear and agave grow along side my old friends the Madrone and Douglas fir.  The plants are remnants from millennia past when the area was more temperate.  Black Bear and Cougar roam these parts along with Javelina.  I felt so at home in this area because it was a little Texas and a little Northwest – just like me!

Of course the soaring landscape was only part of the show.  I had my nose to the ground most of the time looking at plants and cool rocks.  As we hiked along the Window trail we traversed over a rainbow of scree.  It was only a 6-mile round trip but I had to stop every few feet to take photos.  I rued my cheap camera but the truth is that no lens, or even the human eye actually, can capture the beauty and majesty of this place.  I bought the DVD at the gift shop to send to Oregon for family to see.  When I got home and watched it I felt a little better – because even the professional photos were crap compared to the real thing.


Snow on Agave flower stalk.
A storm had swept over west Texas and we actually got snow December 23rd and 24th.  We drove down to the park with snow on the ground.  We had our chains, snow shovel, etc that we always carry in winter, but didn’t have to use.  The snow was very dry and there wasn’t much ice.  This weather actually turned into a special treat because we were able to visit the park while it still had a bit of a covering.  There is nothing like seeing agave flower stalks dusted in white thrust up against that violet-blue Texas sky.  The Yucca, Sotol, and prickly pear were all decorated in a magical way.  We feel very fortunate to have been there.


It is about a ten-hour drive from Austin, but it goes quickly because of the scenery.  The arid Texas panhandle makes it possible to see all of the geologic formations.  Texas was covered in a sea at one time and the stratum of the seafloor is really beautiful.  The colors are in near perfect horizontal bands of red, orange, yellow and white.  You can just imagine the creatures that once swam there.
Purple prickly pear
 I love how the sea floor now sports colonies of prickly pear where the coral must have once grown.  Just outside of Marathon Texas we drove through an astrobleme.  It is a huge area and I can’t even imagine what type of meteor collision caused it.  Between Fort Stockton and hill country giant windmills have been installed atop the mesas to harness the famous panhandle wind tunnel.  What is interesting here is that oil wells are still active and wooden windmills still pump water into livestock water cisterns.  It is an amazing juxtaposition of new and old technology that people have employed to exploit the area.  Against that skyline the attempts seem puny.

We went through Marfa Texas to visit an art museum and to go to the observatory.  Unfortunately the McDonald Observatory was closed since it was snowing – something about limited visibility.  We went to the Chinati Foundation art museum, which occupies a former army installation.  It features modern art that we were told by other visitors that is very famous.  The art is in the form of minimalist installations of stainless steel cubes, neon lights, metal and concrete statuary, plus a vignette of an abandoned Soviet classroom.  Here is the link: http://www.chinati.org
I tried really hard but could not appreciate any of it.  It was too cerebral for me and it seemed so arrogant and small to have a bunch of boxes in a room when outside the window that magnificent landscape stretched far into the horizon.  There was no attempt by the artist (who created the whole place) to celebrate the stunning natural beauty around him.  I found the play of light on the spears of yucca and the cubist forms of the eroded landscape much more moving.  I guess I’m just a hopeless romantic.  Note to self:  don’t pay admission to modern art galleries in future (although I LOVE Jackson Pollock – just to show I’m not a complete cretin.)

In whole that part of Texas gets under your skin and you can’t shake it.  I am going to try to go back in April to try to see the prickly pear in bloom.  There are a couple of areas where whole plains are full of Sotol, Yucca, and cacti that stretch to the horizon.  I can’t wait to go back!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

In Search of the Perfect Rose

Ed is helping me build a trellis in the back yard next to the house.  It has an interesting design and will be painted white.  It needs a red rose. Not just any red rose. The color must be deep, it must produce hips, it must endure the Texas summer, it can’t be a water hog, it must be pest and disease resistant, and the scent must knock me down. Lucky for me the Antique Rose Emporium has just the thing.  It’s called a Crimson Glory climber.  Even luckier for me, they were having a gardening event with speakers and other activities. Ed and I decided to make a weekend of it.

We drove 90 miles to Brenham Texas.  It is on highway 290 – the road to Houston – and passes through some beautiful country.  When we got to Bastrop County, the live oak gave way to pine trees.  It was like seeing old friends.  The landscape reminded me of Southern Oregon where I grew up.  A little further on it was if we passed through a rain shadow.  Suddenly the roadside grass was green and lush and the wildflowers were in bloom.  Our cares immediately began to fall away. 
Brenham is a very old Texas town.  The Texas Declaration of Independence was signed near there on March 2, 1836.  There are lots of older buildings and craftsman style homes.  We stayed in the Ant Inn.  It’s a bed and breakfast located in an old mercantile building.  We booked the “Austin” room and lived in opulence.  They were very nice people and it was a lovely place to stay. 


The Antique Rose Emporium is an amazing place.  The display gardens are incredible and packed with roses.  Not the fussy Jackson & Perkins roses that I grew up with, but old-fashioned, tough as nails, real roses.  Both of us were constantly shoving our face into blooms to take in the scent. 


As part of the festivities, Mike had the Brenham high school drama club on the grounds doing Shakespeare vignettes. They were completely in costume and deep in character.  I was called “M’Lady” several times (so much nicer than “ma’am”.)
There was so much to see and do.



The trellises and gazebos were very inspiring.

 


They have several rebar Monet-like structures, one almost two stories high.
The talks were interesting too. Every time I went to one I discovered new roses that would go great in my home garden. Which meant I came outside and put more roses in my wagon that was parked at the checkout. I ended up with a dozen at the end.

I met a lot of fellow master gardeners and got to talk shop with several.  It was fun to talk about scents and growth habits.  Everyone had a favorite that they had to drag others to go and see.  Yes, more roses for my wagon.

The area around the Antique Rose Emporium was beautiful too.  Ed and I found a group of roses in the parking lot that was framed by the vista of a farmhouse on the prairie.

We came home today and I unloaded my treasures.  As I lined them up against the garage in the order they were going to be planted I made a discovery.  I had grabbed the wrong rose.  Instead of the Crimson Glory that had inspired the trip, I had picked up a Jacob’s Coat by mistake. Luckily I have just the spot for it - it will replace a passion vine that the caterpillars ate.

So what to do about my red rose?

I guess I have to go back.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Gardening With Gardeners


Gardening is not a team exercise. The solitude, for me anyway, is all part of the grace of having my hands in the dirt.  It is a way to relax and recharge while obtaining a sense of accomplishment and pride.  However, sharing my love of growing things with other like-minded people takes it to a whole new level.

This is nothing new.  People form communities around shared interests all the time – whether a dance club, antique cars, quilting, or furniture building.  My first foray into garden groups was when I lived in Portland, Oregon.  Portland has several intense garden clubs and societies that intimidated me immensely.  At the time there was a definite economic stratification that I couldn’t fit into and I was very much into edible landscaping and that didn’t seem to fit anywhere either. 

My secret weakness was still English cottage-style inspired by Gertrude Jekyll and I greedily absorbed every issue of Fine Gardening and Horticulture magazines.  In the late 1980s, Horticulture had a very robust garden symposium schedule and came to Portland or Seattle several times.  When I saw that they were bringing the “Cottage Garden” road show to Portland, I immediately signed up.  Several guest speakers were curators of large public gardens and one gentleman was an expert on grasses.

I was blown away.  The attendees were not the stuffy garden club members I expected.  These people were serious plant scholars.  Many were professionals in the landscape and nursery trade, but many more were educators, writers, and plant breeders.  Latin names of plants rolled off of tongues and well-thumbed volumes of Hortus were dutifully toted.  The speakers were absolutely amazing and I learned more that day then entire hort classes at Oregon State.  The grass expert was touting the use of grass as specimen plantings in the landscape and his insistence of replacing turf grass with low growing native sedges inspires me to this day.   It was really this experience that got me to thinking about becoming a Master Gardener.

But years had to pass before I acted, and it wasn’t until I moved here to Austin that I really pursued gardening groups in earnest.  Part of it was because I have never lived outside of the Pacific Northwest before, and I wanted to reach expert level really fast in my new home to try to avoid costly mistakes.  So I signed up for Master Gardener certification and accepted an invitation to join a garden blogger group.

Again I was, and continue to be, blown away.  Both of these groups contain a very diverse group of gardeners.  Most of them belong to several other plant societies or garden industry trade groups.  Everyone is passionate about what they do and are eager to talk about it.  Both provide the opportunity to visit each other’s gardens and to see how all those nursery plants are functioning in the home landscape.  Some have garden helpers, but all have their hands in the dirt.  I have more fun and learn more than I ever have about plant culture, site selection, irrigation, and pest management.  A few weeks ago I hosted a group of friends and it was such a treat to talk politics (organic or not), garden design, drought survival tactics, gripe about the weather, more politics (water restrictions, gray water regulations) and what was going to be planted in our gardens this fall.

Gardening in Central Texas is a huge challenge.  The onslaught of pests, the extremes in weather, the soil, and now the drought make it impossible for one person to stand up against it alone.  It has made me a better gardener – simply because I plan better, but more importantly, it has taught me to appreciate and seek out a community.   I am having more fun than I ever did in the plant paradise of the Pacific Northwest.  And while I’m still not a “latin only” speaker, I’m better informed and more open to new ideas.  Thank you everyone! 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Who Should Be Saved?


Recently there was a house fire in my neighborhood and it completely gutted the structure.  Thankfully no one was injured, but I can’t even imagine the pain the family is going through over the loss.  At times like this I reflect on what I would do in a similar situation.  If my house was filled with smoke and I had to get out, what would I save?

I’m facing something similar in my garden right now.  We now have had over 70 days where the temperature was 100 or more degrees.  Worse, in my yard, we have had only 5 inches of rain since January 1.  To say that it is an inferno out there is truly an understatement.  We are also on water restrictions and can only run sprinkler systems (including drip and soaker) once a week.  You are allowed to hand water with a hose as much as you want – for now.

I know some long time gardeners here in Austin who have had enough.  They are saying that they are going to let nature take her course and stop watering.  If the plant dies, good riddance you weather wimp.   I sympathize.  My husband, Ed, has been a savior and waters by hand in the morning.  We use the condenser water from the air conditioner and supplement with the hose.  But even my modest yard is too big to hand water.  I have to choose what to save.

Some of the choices have been easy because the plant has simply died.  My hibiscus was an early casualty, as well as nearly 80% of the perennials I planted this spring.  My vegetable garden has limped along, but now the heat stressed plants are being attacked by scale and white flies.  One by one I have pulled up tomatoes, okra, and eggplant and added them to the compost.  It makes me very sad to shut off the water to each raised bed as the casualties mount.  I don’t dare plant any seeds right now to replace them because they won’t germinate in this heat.

But now I have some harder choices.  I have native shrubs that are struggling.  My citrus trees are yellowing and curling in the heat.  Should I try to save them?  Or should I just walk away and let them burn?  They are just plants after all.  Someday the rains will return and I can replace them.  The smoke fills my nostrils and the light dims. I start to stagger and lean against my garden fork.  Who can I save?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Crazy In The Heat

Last week I flew back to Southern Oregon to visit with my family. Oregon is having the exact opposite weather that we are suffering through in Central Texas; it has been a record year for rainfall and cool temperatures. In the Rogue Valley, the peaches are at least three weeks behind, which means I didn’t get to eat myself silly on my favorite fruit during my visit.

It was great to be there. They finally had some summer and the temperatures were in the high 90s. My Mom had the AC cranked and everyone was complaining. Not me. Sure, it was warm in the afternoon, but the air was not laden with moisture and in just a few hours it would cool back down to the 60’s. Mornings were glorious. It gets light much earlier in the north, so I could get up early and go outside to garden. I did some tree pruning and compost building and it was sensational. My energy just soared through the roof and I could not breathe enough of that air. My family fussed over me being outside in the heat, but as I told them; hey, it’s like March in Central Texas.

And then I came home.

Right off the plane the blast of hot air reminded me that my little jaunt was over. Hurricane Don turned out to be a whiny little brat that didn’t provide any rain or heat relief, so I returned to the same sad state of affairs that I left. My heat stressed okra is covered in white flies and the squash is barely hanging on. Plants that I thought were looking okay when I left are spent and forlorn. Of course I am sure my eyes are still jaded by the lushness of the Oregon landscape.

This morning I slept in late, and by the time I got out into the garden it was already hot. And then something unexpected happened. I got mad. I was mad at the heat, mad at the sun, mad at my poor excuse of a vegetable garden. How dare you! There is no reason for being so hot! Knock it off this minute!

Crazy. Ranting at the weather is not very productive. I go back into the house and sit under the ceiling fan. The cat gives me a knowing glance and then heads off to the bedroom. Anna has the right idea. Just go with the flow and find a nice cushy cool spot to wait it out. I grab my Territorial Seed catalog and prepare a seed order.

Sanity at last.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Recharging


Turk's Cap Hibiscus

Geez I have been a zombie.  Not the flesh-eating kind (except for the stuff on the bbq), but a sit on the couch, sleep all weekend, have no energy, blob kind.  And it’s no wonder; I have been putting in some very stressful, long, and difficult hours at work.  This coupled with the heat that keeps me out of the yard means I haven’t had a good mechanism for blowing off the week.  I listlessly water, turn the compost, and then come back in the house.  I might stumble back outside to harvest what vegetables are still producing.  Then bump around the kitchen to fix them up for a meal.  Not much of a life.

Luckily things are getting better.  My major work projects are starting to smooth out and become more manageable, which means I sleep better.  I have been forcing myself to get more exercise, which always helps.  And I’ve been looking at seed catalogs.  This weekend I also did a little nursery crawling (no purchases, I was strong) and have started reading “Howards End”.  Nothing like a tale set in the English countryside to get one in the gardening mood.  Except it also makes me crave a cup of hot tea, which is not so great when the temperature is 104 degrees.  We’ve been drinking a lot of iced tea, but it’s not the same.  I digress.

The seed catalogs and nursery crawling, plus some good nights sleep have started to recharge me. Just in time too, because despite the blast furnace temperatures, it’s actually time to plan for the next gardening season.  September is our next “spring” where I can put in a full garden again.  Green beans, sugar snap peas, greens, kohlrabi, and tomatoes are all on the list.  Not only that, but I can add to the shrubbery and perennials.  I’m thinking Pigeon Berry on my front yard berms.  A Pride of Barbados in the midst of my Copper Canyon Daisies (the orange will just blast out of the yellow.)  I’m also going to put in some red Shrimp Plants and some Bat-faced Cuphea in my kumquat berm.  They will be nice companions to the Turk's Cap Hibiscus and Sea Oats that I already have planted.  I’m also thinking I’m going to plant a Pomegranate (the one I have just doesn’t get enough sun to fruit) and train it up the brick patio wall.

Ah, a girl with a plan.  I’m up and at ‘em.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Heat Seeking Green Missiles


Hello Texas summer.

Triple digits and high humidity, so much so that even the weeds are wilting. I scurry outside on weekends in the early morning to try to get something done before I am chased back into the house. I sit on the couch and look forlornly at the brilliant sunshine illuminating my wilting, gasping plants. Ed or I water everyday from the five-gallon recapture bucket attached to the air conditioner condenser, but the plants still suffer.

Well, not all of them.

Summer is the time that the heat seekers thrive.  I see my Anole lizard family and other wandering geckos more often. My citrus trees are putting out new growth like crazy, and my Bird of Paradise might even bloom for me this year.  I bought two Mandevillas and they are blooming and climbing up their trellis, the hibiscus is really putting on leaves and should be flowering soon.

The real stars are in my vegetable garden.  Peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, squash (wilting but still blooming and setting fruit), and black-eyed peas are all very prolific right now. And then there are the missiles.

The seeds I planted said “Okra”. The plants that grew resemble okra, right down to those lovely flowers. But what is that lurking down there in the dark? Tucked into the silo of leaves are huge, dangerous, heat-seeking missiles. Oh sure, they start out as four inch spears that are excellent on the grill, but five minutes later they become monsters that launch spines. Of course, what better revenge than to eat them – but they are so tough and fibrous they refuse to yield to heat.

I’m calling the Pentagon. Someone needs to warn them. Who knows, maybe I’ll become a defense contractor. Look out world, the green missiles are gonna git ya!

In the mean time, I am searching the Internet for more solutions. I wonder if I could weave a bath mat from their fibers? Or construct a fence? Any other suggestions?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Raging Insecurity

From Austin Yard  


Last month my yard was on the Inside Austin Garden Tour, sponsored by the Travis County Master Gardeners Association.  The theme was water-wise gardening and my place was chosen for my rainwater harvesting system and water run-off capture ditching system.  To me it is a huge honor to be chosen by fellow Master Gardeners and a great chance for me to share knowledge with the public.

But oh, the agony.

I’ve known for a year that I was going to be in the tour.  At first my panic manifested as absolute paralysis.  I knew I had to get busy doing something, but I had no idea what it was.  To my eyes my garden was raw and incomplete, not something people would pay money to see.  My yard lacks purposeful design; it has no restive place to view, any serenity or whimsy on display, no awe-inspiring vision.  I had to fix that.

I ended up putting in a granite paver walkway and stepping-stones with thyme planted in between.  I built a granite block planter and had Ed add some trellises.  I purchased some new plants for the landscape.  My vegetable garden became a little neater and I tried to vary the plantings so it was more pleasing to look at.  Weeds were dispatched, trees were pruned, and compost was turned.  But there was only so much I could do without bankrupting us.  My job became very intense and I wasn’t getting home until 7pm most nights.  I was exhausted on weekends from this schedule and had a hard time mustering energy to garden.  It got to the point where I just had to be Zen.  It is what it is I chanted to myself.

Then one week out the garden tour was featured on Central Texas Gardener, a local PBS show about gardening.  They showed pictures of each of the gardens and gave a brief synopsis.  I had seen one of the gardens before and knew what a lush landscape it was.  It was one of the reasons for my initial panic because being included on the tour with that yard was going to provide a huge contrast.  But as the show progressed and photos of the garden displayed, I began to sink.

They were beautiful, serene, whimsical, restful, and artistic.  They looked professionally landscaped and were stuffed with plants.  I turned away and cried.  And cried.  Then cried some more.  Then I found Ed and cried again.  Raging, tumbling, crashing torrents of insecurity drowned me.   As I looked up from my pity-party in the basement of my despair, my little voice said to me, “it’s not a contest.”  Then it said, “You have much to teach.”  And a lot to learn.

It’s about the journey.  The choices were mine; the labor was mostly mine (and Ed’s!).  I had help with the design but it was from my idea, I just needed help with the right native plant selection.  I bought the plants, installed them, watered and fussed over them.  It was me that dug those ditches, hauled the bark, and muscled the pavers.  While what I’m doing is not unique, it is most decidedly different in a neighborhood of St Augustine lawns and back yards of nothing.  I’m producing wildlife habitat in front and vegetables in back.  My yard is alive.

And so am I, despite the tour.  People were very kind and interested in what I am doing.  I helped them with their own dilemmas and had many, many awesome teaching moments.  Visitors ate their first green bean off the vine.  Ate a sugar snap pea.  Sampled the blackberries.  Pulled an onion.  They ran their hands through the herbs and the copper canyon daisies.  They admired the Gulf Fritillary caterpillars mowing down my passion vine and one or two got a glimpse of the Anole lizard patrolling the potatoes.  I showed them my crimson clover cover crop on my fruit berm and the under sowing of cowpeas to keep the nitrogen cycle going all summer.

So now how do I feel?  Better.  I love my yard.  It personifies who I am.  Maybe not a showpiece but you are guaranteed a good meal, some great stories, and a great wildlife show to boot.  I can live with that.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Trying to Adjust to My Own Climate Change

No matter what your opinion about global warming, I am struggling with my own private climate change. I am having trouble adjusting from Zone 8 Portland/Eugene, Oregon to Zone 8 Austin, Texas. It is hard to believe they are in the same USDA climate zone, but then it is hard to believe that I would ever leave the Northwest. Change. It happens.

The frozen pipes this winter in Austin and the brief heat of a Willamette Valley summer attest that the temperature variation is the same. The constant drizzle of the “Oregon Mist” as we natives call it adds up to the same inches of rain we have in Austin. Of course in Texas, it falls in three days – if it ever does. An exaggeration of course, but the deluge of water that falls out of the sky in Austin has no resemblance to the misty wetness of Oregon.

I suppose I could get used to the difference, but what really floors me is what is going on out in my garden. Please, someone explain. I have apple trees blooming, sugar snap peas coming on…and ripe eggplant. Huh? Eggplant? Okay, maybe I got a hold of some super early variety of Ichiban eggplant. Maybe the description “thrives in the heat of summer” means some other summer. That’s it.

But wait. The strawberries have just finished up, I have green tomatoes and peppers, I’ve started digging potatoes, and the blackberries are starting to ripen? Hold on there a minute little missy. Something is definitely up. These warm spring days (in the 80’s and 90’s now) have driven my plants to mature very quickly. I tour the garden every day and just shake my head at the wonder of it. Let’s see, what kind of meal can I make out of potatoes, snap peas, chard, broccoli and, oh geez, the garlic is nearly ready. STIR FRY!

I turn back to my apple trees. They are just now putting out leaves and a few blossoms are starting to show. It’s April after all, and it’s that time of year to show a little color. I guess I’m not the only northerner having issues!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Overly Optimistic in Zone 8

I pulled the plastic off my citrus trees and raised beds today. Devastation.

The salad greens are gone, the pineapples are mush, and even the kohlrabi is flat. But what sent me sobbing into the garage were my poor citrus trees.

I love those trees. To be able to pick a lemon, lime, orange or kumquat from a tree I have grown is the pinnacle of gardening. Never mind that it is a completely iffy proposition in Zone 8 Austin Texas. But somehow my love of citrus has crossed the line.

As I folded up the plastic covers and unwound the lights from the branches, my heart just broke. What I discovered is that I didn’t cry from disappointment, my tears came because I felt like I let my friends down. My trees barely weathered through last winter and I vowed that this year would be different. They would be safe from the cold because I HAD IT FIGURED OUT. But I didn’t. Our cold weather was unusual this year because it didn’t warm up during the day. Sadly, they were doing great until last week, but two days of not getting above freezing did them in.

What could I have done differently? Should I have added more lights? Doubled the plastic? Placed jugs of water around them? Or just move to Florida?

I live in Zone 8; the same climate as Portland, Oregon. What I am trying to do here in Austin would make the Oregon-resident Sheryl scoff. After all, I am the same gardener who stopped raising roses because they couldn’t fend for themselves. And now I’m stringing lights, creating plastic domes, and sobbing in the garage over some trees?

The rest of the yard is just fine. My native plants are already in bud-break stage and it’s only been a few days since the last hard freeze. The sedge even sat up today and waved in the sunshine. Green shoots are already appearing in the heart of the clumps of bamboo and gulf muhly grass. I tidied up the rest of the front by pruning back the salvias, copper canyon daisies and turk’s cap hibiscus. I cut back the mutabilis roses to ensure that they don’t take over the house. I planted potatoes in the vegetable garden and got my new Venus grape and some asparagus into the new planter Ed helped me build.

But my trees, my trees. What I really should do is cut them down and add them to the compost. They aren’t native, they are always iron deficient, they need a lot of water, they're heavy feeders, and I am doomed to be disappointed. I know better. This is zone 8. Be satisfied with the apples, pears, peaches and plums that I planted. Eat grapes and blackberries. Forget the citrus.

Not a chance.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Garden Envy

I get an inferiority complex every time I visit The Natural Gardener plant nursery.

It’s not the staff. They are the very definition of helpful and friendly. Nor is it the breadth of plant materials. I’m pretty knowledgeable about most kinds of plants and am getting better with native Texas flora. And it’s not the customers. I usually end up helping people while I’m there. It’s the Master Gardener plant-desk hot-line-answerer in me that dispenses garden advice when asked. I guess I either look like I know what I’m doing (is it the dirty clothes and the floppy hat?), or I’m just there and have a friendly face.

No, it’s their dang demonstration garden that makes me feel totally inadequate. All those lovely raised beds with the square-foot gardening planting method illustrated to perfection. The plants are huge, the colors are vibrant, and there isn’t a weed in sight.

Yes, I know they have “staff” to take care of this. Yes, I know that they actually get to see their garden every day – unlike me who has to leave and come home in the dark during the week. Yes, they have all that great soil and custom made fertilizer. It doesn’t matter. I still walk away thinking that I should have something just as stunning growing in my yard.

Yet when I get home and look at my patch, it’s really not that bad. My front yard is really nice, by my standards, and full of interesting things to look at. People stop all the time to admire it and tell both Ed and I how much they enjoy it. The back yard is less landscaped, but still orderly and purposeful. I explain to people that it’s my production agriculture space. I have it arranged in an interesting way with my raised beds serving as a crown around my herb bed. My trees are still young, but they will be stunning in a few years when they form my fruit orchard hedge.

And my vegetable beds aren’t that boring. I mass plant everything and forego rows and precision placement – I get more yield that way. I tend to rotate the varieties I plant and can have purple carrots, red yard-long beans and blue potatoes at any time. My Swiss chard is gorgeous, my citrus trees smell heavenly, and the purple kohlrabi looks like space aliens. I’ll have fat swallowtail caterpillars on my fennel and dill, orange fritillary butterflies plaguing my passion vines, and a regular patrol of mockingbirds, cardinals, doves, and blue jays very soon. The green anole lizards are going to love my rock patio and I should have toads hanging out in the compost, and chirping frogs living in the rain gutters. Hummingbirds and dragonflies buzz around the herbs so much that it can be hazardous to go out and harvest.

Hmm. Maybe the folks from The Natural Gardener should come to MY house.