Thursday, January 27, 2011

Photo walk . . .

Frost on what I think is Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera) out on the septic field.
My daughter and I call frost "Texas snow," as the real thing is so rare for us!

Flame-leaf sumac bark (Rhus lanceolata).

Scary, eh? Prickly pear
(I think Opuntia engelmannii var. lindheimeri)
grows here and there on our acreage.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Jelly season?

I made grape jelly yesterday. It may not seem like the right time of year for this, but let me assure you – it is!

We adore mustang grape jelly. Mustang grape vines (Vitis mustangensis) grow all over our neighborhood. Our prior property (also in this neighborhood) hosted multiple fruit-bearing vines. When we moved to our current and larger property, we discovered only one fruit-bearer. How could this be? My theory is that we are up on a small hill with lots of Ashe juniper (or cedar trees, as we call them locally), so the soil is probably drier. This theory is borne out by the vine’s location – near the street’s drainage ditch.

By the way, the vine grows on the very corner of our property, overhanging our nice neighbors’ driveway.  Imagine their dismay as they pull into their driveway and catch sight of us hanging like monkeys over the fence under the hot July sun picking those terribly sour grapes: “Good lord, what are those crazy people doing now?”

If we want to make a huge amount of grape jelly, we have to track down other picking places. This year, however, we picked our lone vine bare, and harvested enough for four batches - eight to nine jars per batch.

If I don’t have time or inclination to make up the jelly after we've picked, I cook down the grapes and freeze the juice for another day.

Yesterday was that day. Making jelly on a cold, winter day is a wonderful and satisfying thing. Not only did it warm up the house (as jelly requires three pots boiling simultaneously), but it also added a delicious-smelling humidity to the atmosphere. I’m quite sure this is more enjoyable than sweating through the process on a hot July day.

This is definitely the right time of year to make jelly, and I'm sorry it’s taken me so long to figure that out!

Favorite spot in the garden today:

The spineless prickly pear caught my eye today. I planted it on either side of the front step, where it provides a lovely patch of pale green in the winter landscape and coordinates perfectly with the white limestone wall and cedar-toned porch behind. (Did I plan all that?  Hah! No!) I also like the light/dark variations created by the sun’s angle.

Monday, January 10, 2011

On apples

Salvia 'Indigo Spires' on left,
Oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida) on top.

I’ve been having a great time cleaning in the garden. You know, cutting back plants, digging up unwanted volunteers, and neatening my outdoor space.  This really is a lovely time of year to be outside in Texas. I actually worked outside on Christmas Day – 42 degrees F., north wind blowing, and bright clear sunshine falling all about.

All this work soothes the part of my soul that craves order, I realized one day as I watched my nine-year-old daughter rearranging the spice drawer. Apparently the apple has not fallen far from this tree.

I really like imposing order on nature at this time of year. I am proud to look out over a bed, neat clumps of plants surrounded by fresh mulch, limestone rocks lining the beds visible again. Perhaps I’m soothed by the shades of brown coordinating so pleasantly.  Plus, all this cleaning up and pruning will result in a more beautiful garden next season.

Ah, order in my universe.

But there is a contradiction in my soul and garden.  In the growing season, I tolerate – nay, embrace – chaos in my yard. Volunteer plants need not fear me, for the most part. My lovelies sprawl out of their beds, seed out willy nilly into the yard, erupt through the boards of the porch, encroach on walkways, twine about potted plants, tumble over into heaps. When I mow my yard, I wander this way and that, avoiding wildflowers at all turns.

Yarrow, limestone and live oak leaves - lovely!
This, too, makes me happy.

My father, who is an urban gardener, is sometimes dismayed by the unruliness of my beds and yard. In his environment, order is de rigueur. Beds are neatly edged, and mulch provides a palette against which the well-behaved plants display their wares. A lush green lawn surrounds all.  It is lovely and I admire his artistry and hard work.

At this time of year, as I happily cut and clip, rake and shovel, and revel in the neatness of my garden, I realize maybe this apple didn’t fall so far from her tree, either.

Favorite spot in the garden today:

My favorite spot today is anything green, as it is a gray, dreary, cold day in Hays County. Specifically, my daughter and I are cheered when we see the spring green of oxalis, a.k.a. pink woods sorrel. It is not blooming yet, but is flourishing with the cool weather. Surely spring is not too far away!

We do have native oxalis growing on our property – a yellow weed (Oxalis Dillenii or O. stricta – not sure which) and a lovely deep pink (O. Drummondii). The one in my garden appears to be O. crassipes, which is native to Argentina (according to Perennial Garden Color, William Welch), and has pink blooms in springtime and fall. It does seed out gently, but is not a pest. It fades in the heat, but reappears in the fall.