Sunday, March 29, 2015

Make and Use an Olla for Happy Tomatoes

What is an olla?
An olla is an excellent old-fashioned way to keep the soil moist around thirsty plants when you can't be with them every day.  Since we are only out at the lake on weekends, last year I made a couple of ollas to keep my tomatoes happy.

Here is what they look like - two unglazed ceramic pots sealed to each other with Gorilla Glue.
One drainage hole is left open, and the other is sealed closed with a piece of broken tile.
Ollas are always unglazed because they must be porous to work.

I have two ollas and three tomato plants going into this space in the herb garden.
Step one - the ollas are buried so that the tops are level with the soil.
Then the open drainage hole is covered with a stone.

Next the plants are settled into place. My tomatoes have basil and marigolds as neighbors.

Then comes the mulch and a thorough watering.
Finally I removed the stone from the top of the olla, used the hose to fill it with water, and put the stone back on top.

Now the ollas porous surface will either release or hold water, depending on the moisture level in the soil. The plant roots will grow towards the olla, sometimes wrapping around the pot!
I used these ollas last year with great success. Sometimes they were completely empty after five days, and other times if we had had some rain, they were still half full. The tomatoes were very grateful!

The showiest place in the garden this weekend was the trellis supporting our Lady Banks rose.

Lady Banks only blooms in the spring and is a wild crazy girl the rest of the season, sprouting long arms and climbing up through the studio balcony. But it's so pretty I find it worth the effort to continually super prune it just to have this display for a few weeks!

One of my other exuberant plants is purple verbena. Highly colorful, but as aggressive as mint!

Here's a spot in the strong sun and drying wind that I thought would tame it somewhat.
 Not a chance - I have to hack it back or move everything in its path. Still it's hard to dislike a plant that wants to grow.

Notice our rising waters?! Let there be boating this year!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

New Painting in Progress

Last weekend was rainy again, keeping the light in the studio pale and cool.  The fog on the lake erased the far shore all day Saturday, and muted the color outside. It certainly influenced my current painting.

This is 'Spring' in progress. 
Taped above the easel is the original sketch of color ideas made during February when the light was harsher, and I was seeing more rust in the grasses.

I'm not sure it's finished - I need to see it in better light!  My studio does not have a lot of artifical light. It's usually so sunny here that I haven't needed it.

Outdoors the little Shasta 'Angel' daisies opened up in the rain.

The yarrow was pushing up bright green fronds.

And seven new roses arrived from the Antique Rose Emporium. With such a great catalog selection it's always hard to choose, and this time I picked a variety of colors and types.

I did dig in the rain and get them all settled in their new mucky homes.

Here's 'Republic of Texas', one of their Pioneer roses.
It's a small shrub rose, a yellow flowered repeat bloomer that will be two or three feet high.
And it's scented. And it produces hips. Sounds like a winner!

Monday, March 23, 2015

In Praise of Magnolia 'Jane'

These are the beautiful tulip sized flowers of Magnolia 'Jane'. 

Undeterred by that unexpected snow, or the fierce winds that can sweep across the lake, Magnolia 'Jane' is in full glory. Here in north Texas (zone 8a), fat purple buds appear in February and the blooms continue for weeks.

A couple of years ago I planted two of them in the bed that fronts the pool deck. Full grown they will be ten or twelve feet tall and we'll be able to see them from the window seat in the dining room. Of course my mind's eye sees a full pool lake gleaming blue behind them - garden fantasies!

I planted a third 'Jane' in the front yard where it's just starting to show over the garden wall. 
There are more than a hundred different types of magnolias, some evergreen and some deciduous.

Once the flowers have passed 'Jane' will have thick medium green leaves about four inches long.
By the end of summer the leaves often show some fungal damage in the few weeks before they drop, but the overall health of the shrub has not be affected.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Adding Texture to an Acrylic Painting

We have had buckets of welcome rain this last week! The lake has been steadily rising, and water is back under the boathouse - it's shallow, but it's progress.

And I've been in my studio making progress of my own..
This is the now completed painting 'Swallows'. I wrote about this piece in a previous post, musing on some of the work I knew needed to be done with color and composition.
 And then I decided it needed texture.

Going back in time, here it is on the easel about two thirds complete, with it's bright under painting in full glow, and its compositional pieces floating around like untethered boats.

Before pulling the composition into line, I glazed the painting with subdued shades of gray and blue.
For those of you who don't paint, shades are colors that have been altered by the addition of black to reduce their brightness.
 It helped, but it wasn't enough. During the fall and winter months the dried beach grasses create a maze of subtle textures. So I decided to apply a variety of different papers to the surface of the painting to enhance that effect.

Made from natural fibers, these beautiful papers are largely transparent allowing the painting to show through.  They are applied by brushing under and over the torn pieces with the same acrylic medium that is used to thin paint to a glaze consistency.

Taped above the painting is the original color sketch.
The color is certainly dramatically subdued from my first quick strokes of paint!

Here's a close-up of the new texture before I continued to paint over the top of the papers.

And once again here is the final version.
The composition has been pulled into balance by eliminating some colors and using a gradation of color in other areas to guide the eye in a rough figure eight around the canvas.

The original and print editions will be available at

Sunday, March 8, 2015


Yes, Dallas has seen snow again this week.
We are about thirty degrees below our usual temperatures for this time of year.
Here's Kye hoping those balcony railings are just a bit too slippery for that squirrel up there!