Tuesday, April 26, 2011

On the porch

After I put my daughter to bed last night, I went outside to sit in the porch swing. The sun had set, but it was light enough that I could look out over the Serengeti that is my front yard this year. Somewhere behind me in the trees I could hear a Chuck-will’s-widow repeatedly calling. A light breeze skittered about.
A mantle of calm settled over me.
We have had a stressful few weeks here, what with a family illness and the volunteer job from down under (and I don’t mean Australia). We spent a lovely Easter weekend with my husband’s family, and then returned home to attend the funeral of my husband’s friend, a good man who died at 48, leaving behind a widow with five young children.
But as I sat in the swing gently rocking, I felt a small healing of my soul. I told myself I need to do this every day.
This afternoon, I poured my coffee and headed out for my five minutes, a very different interval today. It is 91 degrees F (so far) today, with a hot wind sucking the moisture from everything it touches. Black butterflies hung from the mealy blue sage blooms; a grasshopper clattered across the yard; a helicopter rumbled past.
Then a neighbor commenced shooting. Our dog Iris is terrified of guns, and immediately clambered up onto the porch swing seeking protection. I’m always a little nervous myself when neighbors are shooting. Does the neighbor know I’m outside? Does he know where his bullets will land? I began whistling as loud as I could, took some pictures, and came indoors.
I am not deterred. As part of this new resolution I plan to experience whatever is happening out there, be it good or not so good. However, my next excursion to the porch will be with my morning coffee. Perhaps that will be a more peaceful time on the porch. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Favorite spot in the garden:
Despite the heat and drought, the standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra) are standing tall and proud out in the wild area in front of our house. These are native to our area, but were not growing on our place. At least, not until my mother-in-law gave me some seeds a few years back. This is the second year I’ve had blooms in this area – love it! Take note: the Jerusalem sage (behind the cypress) blooming in my post last week is dry and brown this week – too hot, too dry. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Earth Day Reading Project

Earth Day approaches! I kind of like the earth, what about you? To acknowledge the day, I was invited to participate in The Sage Butterfly's earth day reading project by HolleyGarden at Roses and Other Gardening Joys As I am an avid reader, I have been inspired to garden and live more lightly upon the earth by a variety of books.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett: this is my favorite children’s book of all time. When I read this as a youngster, I was captivated by the idea of a hidden garden, one that only a few children (and one adult) knew about and had access to. The garden emerging from dormancy before their delighted eyes, and mine, was exciting and beautiful. As an adult, I appreciate the idea of a garden as a healing, calming and spiritual place. I am a gardener today due to two influences.  This book is one of them.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau: I discovered this book in college in an American literature survey course.  For some reason, it struck a chord in me. Living simply in nature would be my path! I rushed out to purchase a copy, and still count it as one of my treasured books. We now live in the country, and try to live in sync with our natural surroundings. (Interestingly, my middle son read this several years ago and was equally entranced.) "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Passalong Plants by Steve Bender:  This book is not so heavy a tome, but it comes to mind when I think of garden books I have enjoyed. When I looked at for my copy, I realized I don’t own this book, but borrowed it from my mother-in-law – appropriate given the premise of the book. I love the idea that plants should be shared and enjoyed among friends and strangers. Many of the plants in my garden came from friends’ and family’s gardens, and I try to share my plants with others as well. This seems to me one fun part of being a gardener - being part of the community of gardeners.

And one final children’s book:

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney:  I love the message of this book: Make the world a more beautiful place. Gardening is a fine way to do that!

I was supposed to invite other bloggers to participate in this project, but I have run out of time. So if you are interested in reading more, check the links listed in the first paragraph here.

On closer inspection, I see the Jerusalem sage is a little droopy, but still lovely!
Favorite spot in the garden today:
Despite the drought, the Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa) is putting on a cheerful show out in the front bed. No, I have not watered it this year. Not once. Not a drop. I read that this is a Mediterranean plant. Hmm. Oh well, it is doing well, and is deer resistant, a good thing since this bed is away from the house. I think I'll keep it!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Survival of the fittest.

Pink or fragrant mimosa (Mimosa borealis) is one of my favorite shrubs, 
and grows in various places on our property.
What’s blooming today? Not much . . .

Our county is edging toward serious drought conditions – again. Here in Hays County we have two rainfall conditions: drought or flood. We have not had serious rainfall since January (when we had over 5 inches and it flooded), and we had no rain at all in March. According to local weathermen, this was the driest March on record - since 1895. Not only has there been no rain, but it has been warm and windy; the little moisture out there is rapidly wicking away. As a result, the wildflower crop is rather dismal.

Silver-leaf nightshade 
(Solanum elaeagnifolium). 
Apparently, this is a pest 
in some places, and is 
supposedly poisonous.

Antelope-horns (Asclepias asperula) is a funky milkweed,
named for its curving seed pods.
Last year we had a verdant wildflower meadow in the front yard. It was a beautiful riot of colors and forms. After the bloom season, it became a tangle of dried stalks as we waited for plants to drop seeds. My husband kept asking if we could mow. "Not yet," I said, over and over.

As with anything, a constant onslaught would numb us. The next time that beautiful meadow appears, we will be amazed and appreciative, as we were last year.

This year when I look out my window, I don’t see anything blooming in the yard, just scraggly grass and weeds, and a fair amount of bare dirt. Some stunted flowers are there, but you must be standing over them to see them.

Bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis)!
When blooms are few, however, the hardy species leap out. I feel I must stop and admire their beauty and stamina. These stalwarts are the very plants I need, because drought happens all too often here. I want these to survive and multiply. They are a physical manifestation of “survival of the fittest.”

So let's hear it for pink mimosa, antelope-horns, silver-leaf nightshade and a few determined bluebonnets! Hip, hip, hurrah!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I love/hate chickens.

I love chickens – when they are closed up in a pen. When they wander freely, I hate the little, feathery clucks! Chickens and gardens absolutely do not mix. We have 13 acres crawling with bugs hidden beneath leaf clutter and brush. But where do the chickens yearn to be? In my flowerbeds.

To the left, note craters left by dust-bathing chickens. The scattered rocks used to be
under the drip line. Bottom right is supposed to be a little morning glory bed. 
Open areas covered with nice, loose mulch to be scratched are irresistible to chickens. Flowerbeds also make lovely locations for dust baths, in which a chicken squats and flings dirt onto her feathers by scratching and flapping. It’s actually fun to watch a chicken bathing this way, but not so much when she is doing it in a flowerbed.

The chickens are really my husband’s and daughter’s pets, but I am wholly in favor of having them. We all like the idea of free-range chickens chasing down bugs and greenery. Their pen, dubbed “Gitmo,” was built with incarceration/protection in mind after dog depredations. However, 10 to 12 chickens make short work of any living organism in an enclosed space. Not a blade of grass survives in their pen, and any self-respecting bug long ago emigrated. We felt sorry our little darlins’, confined all day to such a barren place, so my husband began letting them out to roam.

I have fumed over the free-range chicken problem for months. I debated giving up on gardening (awww), weed-whacking everything (drastic), opening up my husband’s vegetable garden gate (entirely too mean). My sweet husband has tried to help, by putting poultry wire over a few beds. For birdbrain critters, chickens are remarkably adept at getting around such obstacles.

The iris bed seems to have exploded onto the sidewalk, 
courtesy of you-know-who.
One day last week I planted three purple oxalis in a bare area under the crape myrtle, and watered well. The next day the chickens came rampaging through, scratching up one plant entirely, covering another, and destroying the Moses’ boat that was just coming up. That was the final straw. 

Over breakfast the next day, I asked that the chickens be kept penned, except for a few hours in the evening. Gardening is my thing, I said, but every time I went outside to do my thing I became angry, and that’s not really how one’s thing should make one feel. We agreed to build a prison yard for the chickens so that they would have more room to roam.  Two postholes have been dug so far (no mean feat in limestone country).

Dan and I try very hard to accommodate each other’s interests, hence my long fume over asking him to contain the chickens. Figuring out how to live together peacefully while pursuing our own (sometimes conflicting) activities can be challenging. But we’ve been working at this co-existence for 25 years (as of March 22). No flock of featherheads will get the better of us!

Time to garden!
Favorite spot in the garden:

After the deep freeze of 2011, I expressed concern for the fate of my Anacacho orchid tree (Bauhinia lunarioides). I am pleased to report that it survived and is now blooming madly! Some dear gardening friends gave me this tree as a housewarming present. Dan hacked a hole in the limestone and we plopped it in five years ago. Astonishingly, it has survived and flourished. I have seedlings popping up here and there, and had considered transplanting some. Yesterday I resolved that instead of transplanting (not my best skill), we will harvest the seeds and go fling them out in the woods.  This plant is native to canyons in western central Texas, and is 6 to 12 feet tall (ours is nearing 12!).

Friday, April 1, 2011

Sacred cows

Several weeks ago I posted a picture of a black cow that had appeared in our yard. I thought she would meander home, as the two white longhorn visitors had done several years before.

I misjudged the allure of our property. She continues to stroll by our house almost daily. She has become such a familiar sight that we have given her a name:  Henrietta.

Henrietta is a wanderer. As cows do, she makes a circuit. She wanders out in search of grass, and then wanders back. Not many natural water sources exist in our neighborhood, but we have several water buckets situated on our property (for wildlife) where she drinks.

Over the past two weeks, her circuit has gotten larger. Last week I saw her about a quarter mile down the road. I thought perhaps she had wandered on, but she returned to us the next day. Last Saturday I saw her grazing over someone’s septic tank on another street – ½ mile or more from our land. She came back.

As Henrietta roamed, I hoped additional calls to the sheriff’s office would increase interest in finding her owner. A neighbor who is friendly with a county animal control officer said that they have indeed gotten many calls about Henrietta. Yet still she roams free.

Apparently, Henrietta really, really likes her new home and life. She likes it so much that she returned to her prior home and persuaded one of her friends to join her.  This morning, we looked out to see two cows grazing near the house. (By the way, cows seem to enjoy the Lindheimer muhly in my flowerbeds.)

In India where cows are considered sacred, they sometimes roam freely, grazing and drinking where they will. Perhaps these will become our neighborhood’s sacred cows, to be revered and protected, looked upon fondly and with tolerance as they wander by, eating, drinking and fertilizing the soil.

Or perhaps their owner will realize that he is missing two valuable animals and will come to collect them, putting to an end their lives as neighborhood sacred cows and returning them to their small pasture.

I know the outcome I am rooting for.

Favorite spot in the garden:

Looks like I did not have to order a larger appliance to get the other stand of persimmons exposed. I only needed to track down a poor college student!

My oldest son needed money, so he spent last weekend cleaning up the other part of the persimmon grove. The picture doesn’t do it justice, but I’m so pleased!