Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Like life itself...

Late author (and gardener) May Sarton had this wisdom to offer:

'A garden is always a series of losses set against triumphs, like life itself.' 

As I've worked in my own spaces to take advantage of rain softened soil and cooler temperatures, I've been considering what my own losses and triumphs have looked like this past year.  Though it often felt like a year filled with battles and losses, there were indeed some bright spots.

As a starting point, I'm counting it as a huge improvement overall that I've made good progress in recognizing what I can and cannot pull off given the particularities of our sun/shade ratio and water access here.

For instance?  While I would love a large water feature, in our climate I must keep in mind the cost of evaporation that a long water sluice such as the one pictured below would suffer (this is from a garden in the San Francisco Bay area, not known for their heat/drought issues).  I also know to resist the temptation of complacency after our mild winter last year and realistically consider how large an area of succulents I am willing to cover against the possibility of hard winter freezes, which are predicted to be on tap for 2014.
So maybe I can't have this:
But I can have this:   
This triangular area lies between two large beds I routinely cover during freezes.  The pots will be easily removed to the greenhouse or garage either one.
The beds on either side are already showing multiple bluebonnet and evening primrose starts, so this coming Spring, while my succulents become better established they won't be surrounded by water but will be in the midst of a sea of blooms.  The strongly horizontal lines of the triangular bed provide a sense of order and and will offer visual separation from the massed wild flowers.  It should provide a study in contrasts I'm optimistic will be quite pleasing.

In our beds out front about the only truly sunny spaces all border the street.  I can't really enjoy that aspect of our plantings except when I am driving away or standing out playing chicken with traffic.  I used to rail about doing so much work "just" to enhance my neighbors' view, but eventually I realized I am setting a positive example of what a no-lawn space has to offer, and I routinely have the beautifully back-lit late afternoon view from my own front porch.

Losses?  We do have some.  Much of what we "lost" can be chalked up to the ongoing feeding and foraging by grubs, caterpillars, other insects, armadillo and deer.  We've planted all sorts of natives precisely to support and invite all sorts of pollinators and birds into our spaces.   I can't claim to be any kind of good hostess if I begrudge my invited guests their preferential meals.

Gulf Fritillary caterpillar feasting on Maypop vine leaves

Frankly, we chose to live outside city limits in an area wild enough to still boast roaming herds of deer.   While I rail at the damage from deer browse I do so with the reluctant understanding that they were here first (along with the armadillo) and will remain here long after I am gone.
I'm testing a deer repellent spray on these Jewels of Opar to see if I can get a colony established in a shady area out front.
Bambi here is fond of 5-6 varieties out front (and many more I've sequestered to the back behind tall fencing).
A particularly stinging ongoing loss comes from my willfully ignoring warnings about a particular plant's "invasive" nature.  The term "invasive" simply cannot be regarded as an invitation in disguise for me to quickly cover large spaces for a small investment.   The price I've paid in time, energy and loss of desirable plants while attempting to dig out large colonies of invasives I mistakenly employed as "quick-fire ground covers" is high and getting higher with every season's spread.

I've been particularly mule-headed in this realm, having made the same dumb mistake several times over.  My first misstep was with horsetail reed (Equisetum hyemale).  I followed that up with the  injudicious use of asian jasmine which in my situation qualifies as invasive because it sure enough spreads everywhere I don't want it and roots too deeply to easily pull out.  Most recently I topped off my layer cake of perilous plantings with the use of the tall variety of Mexican Petunia, Ruellia nudiflora, in both pink and purple.
I know where the "rue" in Ruellia is derived.  The tall variety, though offering up lovely pink and purple blooms in late summertime, is quite invasive by anybody's reckoning.
I spent hours digging Ruellia out here and have hours to go as I've barely taken one-third of them out.  They've dominated several salvias, out competing fleabane (Erigeron strigosus) and obedient plant (Physotegia virginiana) alike.
I'll count as a triumph that I finally realized we simply will not (and can not afford to) water in ways that will adequately support growing tomatoes in our spaces.  I am much better off buying the seasonally abundant tomatoes offered at local markets and sticking with growing less thirsty citrus, peppers, herbs and spices for my year 'round use.

I recently sent this mini-harvest home with my son who is a professional chef.   Lemongrass stalks,  marjoram, rosemary, thyme, Kafir lime leaves and Mexican tarragon. 

Perhaps a final victory I'll claim for 2013 is the fact that despite significant challenges, I have not completely lost my sense of humor when it comes to our garden spaces.  The careful observer will note the juxtaposition of a modern version of a bottle tree in the upper middle of the photo above, decked out with the requisite blue bottles.  Moving down and to the right please note its companion planting, a bottle brush tree, located in the lower corner of the shot.  It's my version of a garden pun and it pleases me no end.

On balance, I'm giving this year in the garden a check mark in the "more gains than losses" column.  I've learned some hard lessons (the only kind I seem to run up against unfortunately) but I'm putting them all to good use.  

I'm gardening smarter every season, so with a little cooperation from the weather, I'm looking forward to next year potentially being the best ever.  I sure hope you'll come along for the ride - good bad or indifferent - I'm looking forward to sharing it here with you.


Cat said...

I'm glad you're feeling there are more checks in the plus column than not. I've got my own ruella problem going on over here: I planted the trailing variety years ago to hang over a limestone wall. It doesn't hang over the wall but instead situated itself in the lawn and has since taken over the zoysia along the patio. Oh well, make lemonade from lemons is all you can do. I don't have the desire nor the time to dig it all out. At least the little flowers are pretty :)

Glad you're enjoying this nice wet fall. It's been a blessing for sure.

TexasDeb said...

Hi Cat! Wow - I didn't even mention my earlier goof up with planting trailing ruellia in amongst various groundcovers. I'd totally forgotten how long it took me to dig it out where it had taken over. As I mentioned - I was a really slow study about invasives.

It still pops up here and there but just in little bits and as you say - the flowers are really pretty... D'oh!

Anonymous said...

That quote is perfect...it really is. I should introduce myself to new prospective clients with that, partly to screen out those unable to absorb a dosage of realism.

The water feature, though also budget is a factor. Judicious water use as a feature is so good, though most end up wanting a big monument in the desert.

TexasDeb said...

David: I have no budget for a water feature at present. I'm looking for the perfect location - shaded to prevent evaporation - close enough to areas we frequent to provide a view and maybe white noise... I'm hoping my patience and good planning will make up for the waiting...

Bob said...

I have a ruellia that is an invasive as well. It gets over 5' tall. I haven't mustered the energy to do away with it if that is even possible. I also have a variegated vinca problem as well. I think I have it trapped to a small area by stone curbing now.We can only wait and see.

Are you going to the next Go Go? I can fix you up with some multi small ponds with creeks material for free. I will talk it over with you if your there. It would be cool and you would only need to buy a small pump.

TexasDeb said...

Bob! A variegated vinca? Ooooh (see how this happens? I hear about something that is invasive and automatically I start thinking it would be "just right" to fill in some problem area).

Um, the only kind of Go-Go I know for sure about are of the vintage white boot variety Bob. Where could I get the details?