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.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Before and After (s)

While I was growing up we openly acknowledged my Mom had a pretty substantial magazine habit.  She allowed herself a couple of subscriptions to tide her over, but most of the magazines at our house were the ones she bought herself as a "little extra treat" during her weekly trips to the grocery store.

My mother read her magazines like she read the daily newspaper.  Cover to cover. After her first read through she would go back and work any word puzzles and take any tests proffered.  She never tore them apart - that would have offended her deep respect for the printed word.

Having grown up during the Depression, my Mom was a saver by nature.  There was no paper recycling those days which meant rather than toss out something she'd paid for, she held on to most of her magazines indefinitely.  On the surface of it her rationale for keeping them was quite utilitarian.

Naturally she never knew when something she'd read in a magazine might come in handy.  Some periodicals had recipes she wanted to try, others had decorating ideas she might eventually want to implement.  She wouldn't be able to tell in advance when she'd want to put hands on a particular article, so she needed to keep them all.  Just in case.

Eventually, when the cast offs had drifted to the far back of our overstuffed magazine holder, I would casually, carefully slide a targeted magazine out to take to my room to read in private.  There was no real need for subterfuge - these were all mainstream women's magazines and they were benign as the day is long.  My stealth was a self imposed discipline because that's the kind of quirky kid I was.

Once I got the magazine to my room I'd close my door, hop up on my bed and impatiently page past the vast majority of the articles.  I ignored recipes and household tips alike. What I was after, what completely captured my imagination, was any article featuring a makeover.  More specifically I was searching for "Before and After" shots.

I would pore over the photographs for long stretches, examining them carefully, looking for the discernible differences large and small.  This was decades before Photoshop so aside from lighting, cropping and altering poses, it was much harder to fool the eye with after effects or tricks.  Most of the makeovers - women's haircuts, make-up, redone rooms, pieces of furniture - whatever the subject of the renovation might be - represented more a study in why this was not just different, but better than that.

Fast forward four decades and I'm still a sucker for the "Before and After" format.  One of the few regrets I have in doing my own gardening and landscaping is when I forget and don't get a "before" shot.  There's nothing I like better after my work is done than to critically review whatever changes I made, deciding whether they are merely different, or actually represent an improvement.  (I'm typically fine with either but the distinction still fascinates me.).

Here's a for instance.

Along our hilly curbside hell zone, the border between our mixed plantings and the neighbor's turf lawn spends most of the hottest months as a visual "oh so you think you're some sort of a gardener?" rebuke.  The overgrowth reminds me ten months of the year that so far the score is Bermuda Grass 99 : Gardener 1.  No wonder I typically head the other direction as I leave the driveway.  Going that way is uphill in every sense of the word.

But.  Every year once the temperatures dip into whatever passes for "workable" I dig out the area and remove every bit of Bermuda root I can find.  This limits what I can plant here, because candidates not only have to tolerate the strangling effect of the grass but also the disruptive effects of my digging it all out prior to replanting.

Here is what is looks like most of the year.  "Before", in spades.
I cheated - this is only a "sorta before".  This is actually after I'd pulled a lot of the longest grass runners off the top.
Unfortunate, I know.  I try not to let this area make me feel bad about myself.  But take a second look at how this corner appears "After" my Sisyphean Bermuda removal efforts.

Not everybody's ideal but better, yeah?
Ahhhh.  It's a nice view while it lasts.  
One of the handful of plantings that survives the extreme heat and occasional shut down of the sprinkler system over here is not a native or even a near neighbor, but an adaptive plant I bought one four inch pot of as an experiment many years ago.
These little pointers are Dyckia, a genus of the Bromeliad family.  One of the more ancient forms, these originally hail from South America where they reportedly form mats even at high altitudes.

I'm not aware of the species name.  If the pots at the nursery were marked I failed to make a note.  (I do that all the time thinking I'll remember after I get things in the ground and I so do NOT and always kick myself after.) I think they might be Dyckia choristaminae because they stay very small.  Granted, these dyckia are not particularly showy specimens.  They stay under six inches and don't display variegated color or send out bloom stalks either one.

In fact if you aren't looking for them they really don't catch your eye.  What they do and keep doing to win my respect however, is they stubbornly slowly multiply, no matter their situation.  They repel deer, endure heat, drought, cold, and stiff competition. Additionally and more important for this area, they survive my pulling them out by the roots annually.  Dyckia I salute thee!  Maybe not a native, but Texas tough to be sure.

Now, indulge me a moment for one other Before and After just to prove a little point.  This before and after photo set includes a shout-out not only to my Hub (love you sweetie!) but also to Kat, author of the ever delightful Hill Country Mysteries.  Happiest 17th anniversary to you and Denny, Kat!  He's a lucky guy.

Both Kat and my Hub warned me in no uncertain terms the deer would take my decision to un-pot and transplant a root bound flame leaf sumac from the fenced back into the beds out front as an open invitation to browse.
According to local experts I might as well hang a "Come and Get It" sign on this one.
So, just to demonstrate that I can and do (on occasion) listen to what I'm told?  Ta daaaa.  Fencing.  Of a sort.  It is the best I could manage with materials on hand to if not deer proof the little tree, at least offer the discouraging word.  
Keep it moving, keep it moving.  Nothing to see eat here, Bambi.
Browsing aside, I have significant doubts this sumac will survive the transplantation process, especially if we have a hard winter as predicted.  However, if it survives and gets well established in this spot, then even the occasional chomp back by deer ought not prevent it from being a bit of a show-off in its own right.  The red display this tree could offer every Autumn will be a distracting visual treat to pleasantly distract me while I'm up at that corner pulling Bermuda grass out.  Again.

That's an "After" shot worth waiting for.


Kathleen Scott said...

Bermuda grass is a noxious weed and should be stricken from the earth, football fields and golf courses notwithstanding.

Thanks, for the shout-out and good wishes. Your sumac looks well-placed. I bet with mulch & careful watering it's got a shot at surviving. They grow wild in my neighborhood, bushing out above the level of deer browse. So once yours grows a bit you'll be able to move the fence.

TexasDeb said...

I agree Kat - Bermuda grass ought to be acknowledged for the invasive pest it is and banned. It is the bane of my existence (nut grass serving as the sub-bane).

And thank you for writing such a delightful blog. Every time I visit you there I leave feeling educated and entertained both. You are, as we say around here, a keeper.

I've got fingers crossed I get to move that fence for reasons other than the sumac croaking! The deer spent time today reminding me why I didn't leave Jewels of Opar out front previously. Chomped it nearly to the ground but I'm hoping they'll move on now and it can try to come back. Deer! DEEEERRR!

Anonymous said...

Nice narrative on your seasonal riddance of Bermudagrass! I confess I specify it into area projects where I must use lawn (sports fields, etc), but it escapes into even natural areas that collect very little water...here, that's 8" rain / year. That first bed looks good with just the negative space of the rocky soil and the Dyckia mat!

TexasDeb said...

David! So good to see you here! I do understand there are applications where Bgrass is a first choice. I just hate how it has inserted itself into my spaces uninvited.

I appreciate your compliment on the bed (especially noting your strong preference for using natives which I embrace but not to the point of abandoning well established adaptives). I'm gradually getting better at employing negative space though it is a struggle not to simply fill-fill-FILL. Thanks for the encouragement.

Bob said...

There are hundreds of the sumac here on our place and the deer don't pay it much attention. It may be that there is so much other browse around. I'm betting that it makes it. Beware though, they can die at any time and for no real reason at all. I have several I need to push up right now.

Bermuda grass is the number one hay for horses and cows around here and there are quite a few different varieties. I think they all would be considered invasive around a flower bed. It has it's place but not around my place. That is a fight you rpobably will never win.

If you want some Thalia, I will be more than happy to pot you some up but it would have to be in the spring now. It will die back to the ground with the first good frost. There are pictures on my blog right now. I have the red stemmed variety.

TexasDeb said...

Bob! Always good to have you drop in. I'd love some Thalia but I don't have a pond. I'd also love a pond but don't think it will happen anytime soon. I'm trying to figure out if a barrel or other water tight container planted with Thalia might work instead. Maybe a large ceramic pot? Have you ever seen it grown that way?

Thanks for the heads up about the sumac dying mysteriously. That gives me permission (in case the transplanted one croaks) to simply chalk it up as a random act of nature. At least I'll know I did my best on its behalf. I know Bgrass has its uses, again, I just wish it wasn't so impossible to remove. I honestly bear no grudges against so-called invasives that are easily pulled out. But the grass it is most definitely a fight I cannot win. I wish the deer liked to eat it - that would at least be some use for it.