Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Windfall (not the monetary kind)

Wow, it was blowing dogs off chains a few days ago! If you live anywhere in the middle of the country, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  I’m not complaining, mind you. Compared to the blizzard conditions experienced in other places, we got off easy.

Wind gusts exceeded 50 mph in our area. According to the National Weather Service (From Jim Spencer’s weather blog on KXAN), Hays County’s highest measured gust was 53 mph.

I am amazed at how strong trees are, and how much movement and stress they can take. Looking out the window the other day at the trees thrashing about, I expected more damage. But those trees are tough. Our damage was limited to occasional broken Ashe juniper branches, though one of those was quite a large branch in a tree directly in front of the house.

Besides the woodpile, a few branches fell, also.
One unforeseen problem emerged. In a recent tree-cutting spree we stacked wood five feet high between several moderately sized cedars. When the winds started gusting, the trees started swaying – and a good bit of our woodpile toppled. Now we get to stack that wood twice. Live and learn.

Did you notice the noise of the windstorm? Even inside the house, I could hear a low sustained roar. Outside, the roar was intense:  an amalgam of wind whistling through branches, leaves rustling, limbs crashing against each other, and trees creaking and groaning – for miles around.

“Awesome” – though overworked – is just the right adjective!

Favorite spot in the garden:

The violets have begun blooming, few and sparse right now. These little darlings appeared without my help and began proliferating under the roof overhang and live oak tree. According to the Wildflower Research Center they are “Good for the moist but well-drained woodland shade garden.” Well, that’s not exactly what I’ve got, but I’ll take ‘em! I think they are Missouri violets (Viola missouriensis).

For some reason, I thought of poetry when writing about the violets, and I found this sweet little poem to share.

Who hath despised the day of small things?
By Cristina Rossetti

As violets so be I recluse and sweet,
            Cheerful as daisies unaccounted rare,
Still sunward-gazing from a lowly seat,
            Still sweetening wintry air.
While half-awaked Spring lags incomplete,
            While lofty forest trees tower bleak and bare,
Daisies and violets own remotest heat
            And bloom and make them fair.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Garden book review: Yard Art and Handmade Places

Today I am joining a garden book review meme hosted by Holly at Roses and Other Gardening Joys. I wrote a review for the first month of the meme, and have not participated since. There's really no excuse for this, as I love books, all sorts. This meme is made for me!

Several years ago, I received a gift book entitled Yard Art and Handmade Places, Extraordinary Expressions of Home, by Jill Nokes with Pat Jasper. Nokes is a family friend. Well, I don't actually know her, but other family members do. She is a landscape designer in Austin, and my brother-in-law, who is a landscape architect, worked with her for a while.

Each chapter features a different yard and gardener, from all over the great state of Texas. These gardeners use a wide variety of materials to make a personal statement in their yards. 

According to the book jacket:

"Yard Art and Handmade Places celebrates the fact that, despite the proliferation of look-alike suburbs, places still exist where people with ordinary means and skills are shaping space with their own hands to create a personal expression that can be enjoyed by all."

The gardeners use materials ranging from rocks to collections, statuary to junk. Some of the gardeners used plant choices to create an oasis. Other gardens celebrate a gardener's Mexican heritage or reflect the owner's religious beliefs. It's no slip of the pen when Nokes calls these gardeners "artists.'

One of my favorite chapters is about a gardener in San Antonio (pictured on the book's cover), Jesus Zertuche, who built a waterfall in his front yard from white limestone with black mortar, and decorated it with rocks collected over a lifetime working on a ranch in south Texas. He posed the animal-shaped rocks around the pond and waterfall. He also populated the urban property with trees and plants, to soften the hard edges of the limestone and provide shade on hot south Texas days.

Another chapter features Cleveland Turner's yard in the Third Ward of Houston. He has filled his yard to the brim with brightly colored found treasures and colorful flowers. From the book:  "Like many folk artists, Cleveland receives a lot of attention simply because his home and garden seem so wonderfully outrageous and free from convention."

I loved exploring these creative gardens; I often wish my garden was more whimsical, but it just may not be in my nature. 

The stories Nokes tells about the gardeners are fascinating, but I did wish for larger pictures, since I will most likely never see these gardens in person.

This book is pure fun. If you enjoy quirky yard art interwoven with beautiful and interesting plants, you might want to track down this book. To see more garden book reviews, click on this link.

Favorite spot in the garden:

Spring seems to be peeking out in my garden. I’m ready, how about you? The snowdrops (Leucojum aestivum) or snowflakes have begun blooming. I'd never noticed the tiny green spots at the base of each petal - very cool! Some of my snowdrops came from around an old house on property where my sister lived for awhile. My mother-in-law recently gave me more, from her grandmother's garden. Both of these were in southeast Texas, but they seem to be doing alright here in central Texas, too!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Cool plant #1: Twist-leaf yucca

Today I bring to you the first in an occasional series on interesting plants endemic to my area, the Edwards Plateau located in Central to West Texas. What characterizes the Edwards Plateau? I’m so glad you asked! From the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department:

“The Edwards Plateau is an uplifted and elevated region originally formed from marine deposits of sandstone, limestone, shales, and dolomites 100 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period when this region was covered by an ocean. The western portion remains a relatively flat elevated plateau whereas the eastern portion known as the Hill Country is deeply eroded.”

We live in the Hill Country sector. What an odd idea, that we live in what was once an ocean. Proof is all around us, however, with sea creature fossils decorating many of the rocks we find – and we find lots of rocks here.

Our featured plant today is the twist-leaf yucca (Yucca rupicola). This is a cool little yucca with - you guessed it - twisty leaves! Its leaves are one to two feet long, with a colored margin, which can be light brown, yellow, orange, red or white (depending on the source consulted). Tiny sharp teeth march along those leaf margins and thin white curly hairs cover the leaf. The bloom stalk shoots up in the spring (April to June), and can be up to five feet tall, with large, heavily scented white or greenish white petals.

If you look closely, you can see the tiny teeth at leaf's edge. 
Also, notice yellow leaf margin on the upright leaf,
and red margin on leaf at bottom right.

And boy, is it tough. The twist-leaf yucca grows in full sun or part shade and on shallow rocky soil, is heat and drought tolerant, and is deer resistant (except for the blooms). Some years the deer leave the yuccas alone, but when food is scarce they will top them all. This is a sad sight to a gardener, but part of the natural cycle, after all.

These yuccas grow fairly commonly on our property. One has popped up in a flowerbed.  This could be an unwelcome addition, but the plant only gets up to two feet in size and is manageable in its volunteer location.

If you live in the Hill Country, I hope you have some of these neat plants growing on your property. If you don’t, maybe you can find one at a native plant nursery.

Favorite spot in the garden:

Well, I haven’t added this feature lately, but today I have such a spot. This area is outside the living room French doors, and catches the sun so prettily (though it is cloudy today). Newly planted snowdrops (Leucojum aestivum from my mother-in-law's grandmother's house) surround the area, with rich purple oxalis (Oxalis triangularis) and wandering Jew (Tradescantia pallida, I think) in the middle, backed by a lush spread of yarrow (Achillea millefolium).  I love this color combination!