Monday, April 29, 2013

Our Gardens Find Their Shapes

The upside of a very slow construction cycle is having an abundance of time to walk the property.  We've had two years to think about how we would like to shape our landscape.   

So it's really exciting to see those little shapes come off the graph paper and appear full sized on the ground!

This swath of grass in front of the pool is just right for a game of bocce. 

The grass circle will be a surprise someday, hidden from view and found by following a path of stepping stones through a butterfly garden.

 In thinking about these shapes, I reversed the usual process of starting with a lawn and "carving out" garden or foundation plantings.
Instead, I tried a more updated approach, geared toward minimizing the amount of high maintenance lawn area in favor of native pants.
Using graph paper to maintain scale, I started by drawing grass shapes only in places where we needed a flat green space either for activities to enhance a view.

Across the front the grass makes a neat barrier between the garden and the street.

Progress continues:
 we have a sidewalk to the front door (at last!)!

And inside the courtyard, the area for the dry creek bed is defined and waiting for the drainage pipe to be laid.

I've been looking at different planting ideas for this area.
There are some beautiful grasses being used in dry gardens.


I love how the light glows through these seed heads in this photo from
Below is another type of grass with a lovely fountain form (
I think I'll do more research on grasses...

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Texas Bird of Paradise

The other morning I was lucky enough to capture a few photos of one of my favorite birds:
the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher!

Standing at the kitchen window, my attention was suddenly caught by the flash of an unmistakably long tail!

They are so delightful to see in flight - amazingly fast and agile!
And when their wings open they flash red epaulets.
Scissor-tails (Tyrannus forficatus) are part of the kingbird family, catching insects in flight.

These beauties are also known as the Texas Bird of Paradise.
I think that's a much better name!

The Bluebonnets are amazing this year,
blanketing the the sides of the roadways with cobalt blue.

The Indian Paintbrush are just starting to show.

I found some that were a deep reddish orange,

and other plants that were a softer, peachy orange.

The Pink Ladies are showing their faces, too.

Pink Ladies are sometimes called Pink Evening Primroses (Oenothera speciosa).

Bright yellow Texas Dandelions (Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus) often grow in the worst looking ground imaginable, right between the roadway and its gravelly edges.
Fluffy and tough, they are not related to common dandelions.

 Prairie Fleabane has tiny yellow pompom centers fringed with white petals.

Unfortunately, it doesn't really repeal fleas.

Low growing Yellow Wood-sorrel (Oxalis stricta) is able to spread quickly because its mature seed capsules actually explode, sending seed as far as a dozen feet!

These small orange flowers are about the size of a pencil eraser.

Called Bristly Mallow (Modiola caroliniana), they are in the same family as okra and cotton.
So much for this weeks discoveries in the fields around our house.
We are hoping for more rain to keep the wildflower show blooming!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Landscaping from the Clay Up

Our new landscaper started last week.

I laid out the shapes for the grass,
and the garden crew followed behind, installing metal edging.
Now there's a clear line between the turf and the beds.
Inspired by this photo from my post on circle gardens,
I found a spot for a grass circle of our own.  It's above on the right.
Here's Kye surveying the change in his backyard.
The next step was tilling a soil amendment into the beds.
We have two distinct soil types on this property:
rock hard clay and builders sand.

We amended each with a 50/50 combination of compost and expanded shale.
Compost is well decomposed organic matter.

Expanded shale is basically puffed stone.
Small pieces of shale stone are exposed extreme heat, causing them to enlarge.
They become light weight granules riddled with lots of very tiny openings. 
Those minuscule openings hold both air and water.
Added to heavy or compacted dirt, 
expanded shale improves the soil structure,
 allowing roots to breathe and helping to retain moisture.

Once the beds were prepared, the watering zones were established, and the irrigation system was installed.  This week the sod will go down, and the mulch will be spread on the beds.
And then, at last, I can start putting plants in the ground.
This long bed across the front of the courtyard wall will be one of the first challenges!


Meanwhile, in the still unmown fields around us, the bluebonnets are in full bloom.

New piers and boathouses are popping up all along our little peninsula, so I'm not sure how long we will have these wild places.

Kye and I love to wander here.

The grass is as tall as he is,
and there are some fascinating burrows to check out.
Happy Spring!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Damp Streambed

We are planning to run a dry stream bed across the front of our property. 

However, it may be more of a damp stream bed in reality.
Our Easter canal did drain off the water around the tree,
but the ground is still a mucky, boot grabbing, clay pit. 

Here is a handsome example of a dry stream bed from Pam Penick.
This stony course runs through a dry garden, designed for a climate with infrequent rain. 
These are drought tolerant plants that do not want wet feet.
I had pictured our front area as predominately dry, very much like this garden.
But now, having slogged through it, I think we may need some rain garden plant types!

I just bought Pam Penicks new book, Lawn Gone, and it is a wealth of information.
 If you are interested in moving past old fashioned landscaping (lots of expensive, high maintenance grass and a collar of shrubs around your foundation),
this book is great place to start.

Once our sidewalk is in place (this week?), and the soil amendments have been tilled in, it will be easier to decide which plants will thrive in our front courtyard.

Another consideration is how to create a natural looking dry stream bed.

Some are quite deep and designed for serious run-off.

Other examples appear shallow by comparision.
The grasses along the edge must be beautiful waving in the wind!

This stream bed has a nice combination of rock sizes.

So does this one, and that variation in size seems to be a key element in designing a dry stream bed.

Stone color is something else to think about.
I really like this narrow, winding streambed.
It looks cool and damp.
Even when they are dry the dark colored stones have a more watery or wet look than pale hued stones.
If you are interested in dry stream beds, I've started a board on my Pinterest site!

Photos found here: