Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Go Big or Go Home

Wow, I know it's been a long time since I updated this blog but I think you'll understand why shortly.

Besides raising the World's Cutest Baby™(who unbelievably just turned five), I've been working on some stone work in our yard.

For years now one of my favorite places in my neighborhood has been Jill Nokes's fenceThe rest of the yard is lovely too but the fence mesmerizes me. It offers privacy yet connection to the neighborhood and is a wonderful repository of all that matters to her. (Or did matter to her. I hear she moved.)

When I decided it was time to replace the chain link fence around our little yard, Jenny of Rock Rose suggested I build a fence like Jill's. Of course, Jenny would suggest that as if it were no big deal. Look at the stone work she's done in her own garden. But alas, my husband is nothing like her David (no offense, honey!).

I laughed at Jenny's suggestion--the time, the money, the hard, hard work. Little did she know though that I secretly harbored that same desire.

I've been collecting rocks and trinkets from my travels for years. In fact, the only souvenirs I brought back from a trip to Germany and Switzerland were rocks (coincidentally, they were about all I could afford on a grad student budget). Maybe I could finally pull those out of shoeboxes and display them.

After weeks of hemming and hawing, something in me suddenly shifted. I screamed at the top of my lungs, "YOLO!" and went for it.

Four years later, I'm ready for the big reveal.

The first step was figuring out the materials I wanted to use. Sure, I could've sourced my rock from any number of quarries and stone yards around Central Texas but I wanted to really make this fence my own. So first I learned how to build clay bricks using the soil from my own yard (and let's be honest, a little from my neighbor who really wasn't doing much with it).

I also had to learn the technique of dry stack, building a wall without mortar.

I made a few mistakes along the way,

and had to restart, but eventually I got the hang of it.

And boy howdy, once I got started, I could not stop. I experimented with every type of rock I dug out of my yard.

I added drainage holes,

a few decorative items,


then moved on the really tricky stuff: doorways.

I even figured out an ingenious way to let neighbors come visit without having to build a gate:

Having run out of fence line, I added a few outbuildings. Here's a close up of the roof inside one:

And after a extensive review of Austin city code on animals, I discovered that now that I had the proper fencing, I could finally get the animal of my dreams--a llama.

The boy loves him. Pear, the dog, is not so fond, but we've got her back in dog training to help her with her fear of large spitting animals.

I still have a few small projects to complete on this project (like some more roofs),

but that hasn't stopped my from starting on the next big project: agricultural terraces.

Did you know that the center of these terraces is in a completely different gardening zone that the top terraces? Imagine the possibilities! Maybe even raspberries or, dare I dream, lilacs in Austin!

I'd love to have you Austinites over to see the work I've done. (Well, really anyone can come but I doubt many of you would want to make a special, once-in-a-lifetime trip just to see my yard.)

I'll be serving Pisco sours.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Trip to Natural Gardener

This weekend's rain inspired me to think about gardening again. I would usually be planting a fall vegetable garden now, but with more rain not in this winter's forecast, I decided instead to focus on replenishing my herb garden.

So the World's Cutest Baby (who has now become the World's Cutest Boy) and I headed out to Natural Gardener this morning. I remembered it was Support Your Independent Nursery Month so I figured I could kill two birds with one stone--garden and blog.

Based on the boy's interests, it would appear that we were celebrating Support Your Independent Farm month (not a bad idea either, given Texas's drought). We saw the goats
and stayed a respectful distance away.We also checked on the chickens, which had the featheriest feet I'd ever seen on a chicken.We then went looking for the donkeys, who seemed to have a new home. We heard them before we saw them.Over in the butterfly garden we spied a snake in the firebush.Before we left we stumbled across some miniature longhorns who almost came home with us.At this point I'm sure you're wondering, "But where are the frickin' plants?!"

No fear, the plants are there, waiting on you to buy them. The Natural Gardener is a wonderful place to visit and shop but not the easiest place to take pictures and keep a toddler out of trouble. Most of my plant pictures look this one:I was able to corral him long enough to buy French thyme, English thyme, dill, bronze fennel, cilantro, Italian parsley, Greek oregano, and Mexican oregano. I also bought some Revitalizer Compost, which really has its work cut out for it.
I didn't buy any but there were lots of fall vegetable starts just waiting for more intrepid souls than I.

The Natural Gardener is just one of many places that make Austin unique. I'm happy to support it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Amazing Anole

Earlier this evening the World's Cutest Baby™ was exploding the meaning of cuteness as he splashed with his dad in the wading pool. I was able to tear my eyes away only because I spied the World's Cutest Anole™.Look how cute he is, stretching his legs, testing them not unlike the World's Cutest Baby™.
He's either stretching his legs here or trying to get away from me. (For now, I'm going to pretend I don't have enough information here to determine conclusively if World's Cutest Anole™ is in fact a he.)Slowly coming to believe that he really wants to get away from me.Hmm, okay, apparently flexing his throat fan is the anole equivalent of giving me the finger,and yet I can't pull myself away from the cuteness. I think his attempt to look tough makes him all that more adorable.He finally gives up and agrees to pose for his own "Hang in There!" motivational poster.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Gone Fishin'

If you follow me on Twitter, you already know that my husband, baby, and I recently spent 10 days in Puerto Rico. My husband has been traveling there for a few months now on business.What you wouldn't have learned on Twitter is that that trip was a dry run for a much longer stay. A two- to three-year stay, depending on my husband's project.While Puerto Rican beaches are not as beautiful as the sugar white sand beaches of Pensacola (even typing that sentence makes me feel spoiled), they are still Caribbean beaches with the smells and sounds that make my heart sing.The chance to walk out the door and walk onto a still very pretty beach is too irresistible to this island girl at heart, currently landlocked in central Texas.I'm excited to finally be forced to learn Spanish, to explore more of the island and other islands in the Caribbean, and to have the boy learn about a different way of life.

He's already shown us that he's a huge fan of the beach, that he loves Puerto Rican dishes like mofongo and ceviche, and that he has the flirting skills to ingratiate himself with every Puerto Rican he meets.I doubt I'll have much time or opportunity to garden while we're there. We haven't finalized our accommodations yet but if we have to choose between ocean view and garden space, well, there really isn't a choice. But we do plan to find a place with a guest bedroom so please consider this your invitation to come. Execpt for a few pesky hurricanes, the weather is near ideal, high of 80, low of 70, even in August and September.So I won't say goodbye, just à bientôt! (Oh wait, that's French; guess i better start cracking on the espanol.)

Oops, my husband just pointed out that I forgot to add my usual disclaimer to this post: I've done this before 2010, 2009,and 2008. An extended sojourn in San Juan is within the realm of possibility, but we have no plans currently. You can't get rid of me that easily!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Secret of My Tomato Success

Or, Why I May Never Again Give a Hoot About Spring Tomatoes
That's almost 15 pounds of tomatoes you're looking at, harvested two days before Thanksgiving from two plants. I only harvested them because I wanted to spare my Austin gardening buddies a freeze over the holidays. (While it didn't actually freeze, some gardeners did have some frost damage. I lost my green beans.)

MSS of Zanthan Gardens asked me to write a post about how I managed to get such a huge harvest. I warned her, as I'm warning you now, that my post would be frustrating.

Here's my secret for the Great Tomato Harvest of Fall 2010: nothing.

I did almost nothing, except get out of Mother Nature's way.

On March 9 I planted four varieties I picked up at the Sunshine Garden plant sale: Lemon Boy, San Marzano, Black Krim, and Celebrity. Being nine months pregnant, I barely got the plants in the ground. I wasn't mobile enough to mess with fish heads. I think I added some compost and maybe some leftover vegetable garden fertilizer from Natural Gardener that had been sitting outside for a year.

Exactly two weeks later I gave birth to the World's Cutest Baby™ and promptly forgot I had a garden.

At some point I must have remembered to water the garden (much of those early sleep-deprived weeks is forgotten), because I found these tomato pictures taken in May amidst the 2,000 or so of the World's Cutest Baby™.

Lemon Boys were the first to ripen in May, guaranteeing them the coveted first tomato ritual: to be slathered in olive oil and salt as part of my brekfast tostado con tomate y aceite.

This is one of two Black Krims I harvested, also in May. Despite the poor production, I'll grow it again for the taste.

I know what you're thinking, "Enough about the spring tomatoes. Tell us about the fall tomatoes."

Well, here's the thing: I have nothing to tell. I couldn't even find any pictures of my vegetable garden from May until now. Shameful blogger.

I know that I did not arrange for anyone to water the tomatoes while I was out of town over the Fourth of July. I expected to come home to toasty plants but I didn't. Some abnormal rain continued in August, and the dang plants kept growing.

I ignored the plants and the tomatoes on them once the stink bugs and leaf-footed bugs invaded. And yet the plants kept on growing.

At some point in the fall, I pulled the Black Krim, which wasn't getting enough sun, and the San Marzano, which was getting plenty of sun but was covered in tomatoes sucked dry by stink bugs.

I did trim dead leaves off the Lemon Boy and Celebrity, and then resumed ignoring them. Rain and warm temperatures did the rest, leading to my stupendous November harvest, which exceeded my cumulative five-year spring tomato-growing harvest.

So to recap my tips and lessons learned for successful fall tomato growing in Central Texas:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Garden Conservancy Open Days Tour 2010

My plan on Saturday for the Garden Conservancy Open Days tour was to get started early and tour as many gardens as quickly and efficiently as possible before the baby needed me the Longhorns played Nebraska. My plan was slightly foiled as baby slept until 9:15 (!), but I really wasn't complaining as that meant I slept until 9:15.And my delay fortuitously meant that I ran into Pam of Digging at the first garden, Utility Research Garden.(Here's Pam's post.) I loved this space as I do any that shows such creativity, in particular the use of the ordinary in unusual ways, such as these cast-iron plants:Or these agaves planted in a gentle curve:Or found objects reused in unusual ways: The center is an eclectic mix of art, plants, music, and even a small farm. Some of its fruits and vegetables were for sale, like these gourds:and these radishes:Next stop on the tour was the infamous East Side Patch, where I took no pictures because 1) I couldn't take any better ones than Philip already has and 2) I was too in awe. As wonderful as Philip's photos are, his garden is even more magical in person. One day, my backyard will look 1/100th as wonderful as his.

Moving on I headed to Pemberton Heights where I was transfixed by the neighbor's Halloween decorations before I even reached the garden on tour.This garden has an amazing view of downtown Austin and a delightful and gracious owner who shared with me the history of the house (her mother had it built in 1951; she moved in and remodeled after her mother's death) and the street (she pointed out the other original houses as well the ones that had undergone complete transformations) and offered ice-cold bottled water to all the tour guests.These windows in the rear of the house capture the view of the Capitol and a teensy bit of hte UT tower. The garden is primarily in shade so uses shades of green and different textures for variety.

The next house and garden had even more amazing views of all of downtown Austin from the front yard,
as well as from the side yard with the pool and hot tub: The side yards also had views of Lake AustinIn comparison to the front yard, the back yard up a hillside was relatively small but still contained a swing set, a playhouse, a putting green, two or three seating areas, and a pet cemetery: and a fountain: a basketball court and a driveway. Okay, so maybe it wasn't so small after all but relative to the front and side yards it was still bigger than my entire house and lot minuscule.

These four gardens were the only ones I planned to visit as I had already spent more time away from my son than I had since he was born almost seven months ago. I had seen the other two gardens on a previous tour. But DH assured me that he and the boy were fine so I continued on to James David and Gary Peese's garden.

Along the way I stumbled upon this flock of flamingos and wished I could have taken a few home with me:
Having been to this garden twice previously, I focused on the areas that were new to me, particularly the garden areas around the studio:
In a garden this huge, I'm sometimes overwhelmed and find myself focusing on smaller details like this orchid in the greenhouse:or this penta(?) bloomor these crispy okra:At Deborah Hornickel's much more manageably sized garden, I still found myself drawn to the details, probably because of sensory overload at this point in the day. And because the details are so pretty, like these shells: and this post decoration:
Probably my favorite garden novelty of the day was this bronze fennel trimmed to match the other shrub balls in the front yard: But the best way to end the day was with a sighting of Wally, looking slightly worse for wear, in Deborah's Russian sage.(Please resist any urge to disabuse me of any notion that this swallowtail wasn't in fact Wally. Or you will force me to stick fingers in my ears and sing, "La, la, la," until you stop.)