Monday, June 13, 2011

Cheap or resourceful?

How cheap is too cheap? That is the question for today’s post.

I live in a neighborhood where folks pride themselves on their ingenuity and make-do spirit. Self-sufficiency is a neighborhood motto. In fact, when one purchases property here he or she must prove self-sufficiency. But having someone else attest to that would defeat the purpose, so one must sign an affidavit swearing to one’s abilities to make do.

(Not really. In fact, the only restriction out here is that you can’t raise pigs, though I visited someone flouting this restriction over the weekend. )

Horticultural sand in my neighborhood.
This make-do spirit probably stems from two facts. One, we live 20 minutes from the nearest hardware store or grocery store. When the ranch was first divided 30 years or more ago, the distances were probably even greater. A trip to town uses up a chunk of a Saturday. Second, most people here don’t have a lot of scratch. Trips to town for one or two items are considered frivolous.

So when it’s time to do a job and you don’t have exactly what is needed, you look around your barn/shed/workshop/kitchen to see what might work. If you absolutely have nothing, then you reach out to a neighbor who might have the thing you need (egg? 3 foot length of PVC? 15/16” wrench?) and who likes you enough to loan it to you. (It’s beneficial to stay on good terms with the neighbors.)

If no luck there, you either give up on the job until you go to town for another purpose, or you bite the bullet and skulk out of the neighborhood, hoping no-one notices you are driving 10 miles to buy 50 cents’ worth of screws.

Sometimes making do leads to less than optimal solutions for your problem, but you forge ahead anyway and hope for success.

This spring, in the giddy relief of knowing that the chickens would no longer be wreaking destruction in my flowerbeds, I wreaked destruction on my pocketbook, purchasing many plants from various and sundry nurseries in my vicinity.

At a nursery in Blanco, I came across a nice assortment of succulents at a good price. I bought two despite the fact that I have killed many of their sisters and brothers in prior years. This time, I vowed to actually research how they should be planted.

Apparently the little babies require a mix of “horticultural” sand and organic material (I know succulent experts are out there cringing). I tackled this job on the weekend, and of course, don’t keep these types of specialized materials on hand. So I made do.

Sandbox sand ought to work, I told myself. When I approached the sandbox, I found standing water (for some reason, the dog takes the lid off) and an overpowering stench. Gutting up, I scooped out as much of the fetid water as I could, and then collected some of the swamp muck. (I hear you groaning.)

I mixed this stinky, soggy sand with peat moss, half and half, and planted my little succulents. Hey, they would be freshly watered and given some organic nutrients, right? I then trundled down the driveway to a gravel pile left by a previous resident, and collected the pot’s top-dressing.

It’s beautiful! Another make-do project completed! (I see you shaking your head in disbelief.)

So now we return to our original question:  How cheap is too cheap? The proof will be in the pudding, or rather the long-term survival of the succulents. So far, two weeks later, they seem to be doing just fine.

Favorite spot in the garden:

The flame acanthas (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii) is blooming gaily in the driest, hottest area of my porch beds. This area gets only porch roof run-off, of which there has been precious little this year. My dad tells me my grandmother grew this at her north Texas farmyard, but I don’t remember. It is a tremendous plant for Texas heat and drought and is native to our rocky, calcareous soil. The hummingbirds love it, and it never wilts.

My only quibble with it is that it has seeded out a bit too freely. I have pulled numerous seedlings out of the bed, but it is also spreading out into the wild areas of my yard. I hope this is a good thing. Those seedlings are not as vigorous as this plant; I’m hoping the harsher conditions will keep them in check.


  1. While I too love this plant, it definitely goes everywhere. Over several years I've figured out that it won't control itself, it's up to me to be vigilant. Not so easy to pull when I've let it go several seasons.

  2. Love the contrasts in the acanthus photo.

  3. @anon - I know, those roots head to China! I removed one of these from this bed, hoping to reduce the seedling population.
    @lona - glad you like!

  4. We live a ways out too & have your same aversion to driving.

    Great flame acanthus pic! I don't think it's possible to have too many hummingbird plants. We have these too and I love to find babies coming up nearby. My vision is eventually to have a solid hedge of hummingbird bush winding around the back and generations of birds flocking to it.

    Closest pie meccas to you are Wimberley Pie Co & Texas Pie Co in Kyle. Both worth the drive.