Friday, February 27, 2015

Progress in the Corner Garden

Our main focus for the last few months has been the corner garden, a spot at the back of our property that has been used for staging over the last few years.
Here is the view of  that corner, as seen from our neighbors yard, in December of 2011 when our house was under construction.

The large tree in the center is a bumelia (Gum Bumelia, Sideroxylon lanuginosum), a native to Texas, and one that we very much wanted to save because it's big and shady, and birds love the tiny sweet fruits.
In the spring the scissor-tailed flycatchers nest in its branches.

Visible in the right hand corner is the green "Save-Me" ribbon around its trunk.
The tree is growing in a spot below the grade of the house.
And it's the place that ended up being home to the geothermal installation, the pool equipment, the irrigation equipment, and the gas. 

 Here's the garden house going up. 
Poor tree - lots of digging and compacting around its roots!

Next came the decking and the trenching.
Notice how the shady spot under the tree has become a work area?

The photo below was taken in the fall of 2013.
Finally the decking is done and the raised beds for the herb garden are complete.
That's as far as we got on this part of the property until this winter.

Now here is the view from my studio balcony!
My in-house path maker laid a beautiful stone foot way connecting the sidewalk that runs along the seawall to the walk leading to the pool equipment.

Then he built a curved,  raised wall to protect the bumelia tree.  
The tree did not look good this past summer.  I think too much soil accumulated around its roots (along with all the other stresses).  Also, when the gas tank was put in, the builder failed to protect the tree, and a big chunk of bark was scraped from its side (see the white scar?).

I've started planting the raised area with a variety of shrubs in the hopes of creating a dense and woody cover for birds.  And of course, when the shrubs grow up they will create more  privacy and shade for us.

The lower part of the garden will have a small grassy area, and one of these days a garden swing!
I'm using sticks and twigs to hold the mulch and to discourage the dog from dashing through here until the plants take root.

The stones mark where the sprinkler heads are hiding.  It's so easy to lose track of them!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

In the Studio

The weather has been cold and wet, which makes it easier to leave the garden alone for a while and retreat back up to my studio.

The studio is on the second floor, one long, large room with a balcony overlooking the lake.
It's a great space, bright and peaceful, with lots of room to move things around and spread out.

This is one of the acrylic paintings I'm working on at the moment - a work in progress. 
The composition isn't right yet.  I'm going to break up the horizontal yellow band to find a better pictoral balance.  Also, because the final color glazes are not in place, the under painting colors read as much too strong.  So there's still a lot to do here!

This photo taken down on the beach shows some of the fall and winter colors I'm thinking of as I work. When the wind is hurrying the clouds, the sky can move from almost white to a sharp cold blue.  And the sun can suddenly catch bright yellow in the dry grasses.

There is a lot of gray and silver in the landscape as well.  Additional glazes of these toned down shades over the top of my bright base colors will leave a richer surface than if they had simply been applied as flat color.

The birds are barn swallows  They left in the late fall, abandoning their nests till next year.  But for six months of the year they are a common sight around the lake both morning and evening, swooping through the air in a circus-like display of flying as they catch bugs on the wing.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Yoyo Weather

The weather has been so erratic lately, plunging from highs touching eighty degrees, to lows in the thirties.  On top of that the winds have been roaring, and our irrigation system has been non-responsive since Thanksgiving when the lake levels dropped so low that sand blocked the intakes.  Naturally the repair people do not want to swim out into that too cold water until we can promise them at least sixty degree weather.
But inspite of these challenges, some plants are are looking particularly happy.

The rosemary repens is simply overflowing where ever it's been planted.

And it's in bloom, covered with tiny blue flowers.

The the Italian oregano has doubled up into handsome mounds.

Even the lavender plants (which I despaired of in the St. Fiacre circle bed and finally moved to another part of the herb garden), have suddenly found new energy.  And here I had written them off as probably past hope and hardly worth the effort to transplant.
That bit of fuschia color next to the lavender is a perennial dianthus.

I bought several in the fall, and they have continued to grow and bloom inspite of the yoyo weather.

I love these tiny daisy buds!

The lenten roses are just pushing their way up from under their blanket of leaves.

And the camelia is in full bud and flower.

Can spring be far behind in Texas?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Solving the Problem of Escaping Mulch

It's always frustrating to discover a cozy layer of mulch has been carried off by a good rain.
This stretch along our property line, where we planted a hedge Redtip Photinia, has continually lost it's blanket of shredded hardwood to our neighbors yard.

Our driveway is several feet higher than the property next door, 
creating a slope that won't hold a protective cover of mulch.
But I have come up with a solution that is working extremely well!

I started farther down the property line, at the back corner where the fence is now in place.  After settling in the hedging plants, and before laying the mulch, 
I started staking and layering dead tree branches along the slope. 
The stake pieces are placed in a rough cross-hatch 
with the straight horizontal branches woven in and out.  

This technique has now been downpour tested!
The rain drains through, and the mulch holds its position.
Eventually the wood will rot away and the plants will spread their roots and branches sufficiently to hold their own.

Creating a mulch catching weave of sticks has also worked here. 
Previously rain would carry the mulch across the sidewalk and down the seawall.
Fortunately, we have a seemingly endless supply of dead sticks and branches in the fields and woods around here, because I have quite a few places where I plan to use this idea.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Keukenhof Gardens

We had some amazing luck with the weather during our visit to The Netherlands.
The sun smiled on us during our morning at the Keukenhof Gardens.

Leaden skies suddenly parted, the sun came out, and there were ribbons of color everywhere!

It's hard not to gush.
The Keukenhof Gardens are a springtime dream of color.

Last year during this same week, there were no flowers.
A long and cold winter delayed the spring.

This year a mild winter gave way to an early spring, and so, lucky us (!), 
we saw these glorious gardens in full bloom.

Seven million bulbs are planted each fall for the gardens short, eight week open season.

The Kuekenhof was originally cultivated in the 1400's
 as a kitchen garden for Jacqueline, Countess of Hainaut.

(Wikimedia Commons)

In the mid 1800's landscape designer Jan David Zucher developed a comprehensive plan for the 79 acres of gardens around Castle Keukenhof.

Today the gardens are a showplace for growers and their hybrid bulbs.

The variety of color and form seems infinite!
I found it impossible to pick a favorite.

Around every curve in the path was a new delight.

I usually choose daffodils bulbs to spite the squirrels.

But after visiting the Keukenhof it's going to be even harder to resist those Dutch Bulb catalogs.

The growers planted classical combinations of color in some garden areas,

and more unusual combinations in other areas.

These dusky, grape colored tulips against the bright blue of the hyacinths caught my eye.

I might not have noted these lavender tulips in a catalog, but in combination with these other shades, thet suddenly have quite an impact.

If I lived in the Netherlands, I think I'd need a daily ticket for the Keukenhof Garden season!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Signs of Spring

It's blustery and nippy and wet, but we have Daffodils!
Amazingly, those papery brown bulbs planted last fall
  did manage to push their way out of that sticky clay. 

And there were other signs of plant satisfaction this weekend.
The Magnolia trees, undaunted by that late frost, have sent up large purple buds.

The Lady Banks rose is putting on an impressive show its first year on the back terrace.

The Jasmine vine around the corner was frost burnt.
But the leaves that browned out are being replaced by a flush of new growth.

The Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) plants survived under a blanket of fall leaves, and are sending out runners.

The Guara lindheimeri are bushy with new growth.

I love the rich red of  the new leaves.

The biggest disappointment in our plantings is the boxwood.
We have two types (Japanese and Winter Gem) in various locations. 
All of them failed miserably to deal with the cold and wind.
The bush below was 24" high before I cut it back to ground level to find green wood.

Nematodes might be contributing to the problem, 
but they can't be seen with the naked eye.
Either way, I suspect the ultimate answer is to rip the boxwood out and use a different type of evergreen.

The additional pallets of stone arrived, so our in-house Master of Paths and Patios
 was able to complete this beautiful stone circle.  
This is where our fire-pit will be located.
The courtyard drainage runs underneath the dry creek bed and the new patio,
 before continuing all the way to the lot line.

We centered this stone circle with the dogtrot 
(a screened porch which runs between the main house and the guest house).
A path connecting the patio to the porch entrance is the next step in the project.

While stone was being laid out front, I was planting tomatoes and herbs out back.

I remembered the marigolds this year.
Marigold roots release a chemical that kills the type of nematodes known to attack tomatoes.
(Maybe I should plant some around the boxwood!)
They are also thought to deter some nasty garden pests like tomato hornworm.

It rained and it rained, all Saturday night and all day Sunday, but the lake is still down eight feet.
I guess it needs to rain for a month!