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.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

No sky lovelier

November Skies
Than these November skies 
Is no sky lovelier. The clouds are deep; 
Into their grey the subtle spies 
Of colour creep, 
Changing that high austerity to delight, 
Till ev'n the leaden interfolds are bright. 
And, where the cloud breaks, faint far azure peers 
Ere a thin flushing cloud again 
Shuts up that loveliness, or shares. 
The huge great clouds move slowly, gently, as 
Reluctant the quick sun should shine in vain, 
Holding in bright caprice their rain. 
And when of colours none, 
Not rose, nor amber, nor the scarce late green, 
Is truly seen, -- 
In all the myriad grey, 
In silver height and dusky deep, remain 
The loveliest, 
Faint purple flushes of the unvanquished sun. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

announcing your place in the family of things

Have you noticed lately how amazing the display has been each dawn when the rising sun hits our quotidian low clouds?  I've made it a practice this November to rise early enough to have coffee readied, allowing me to stir gratitude along with the cream into my first cup of the day, gazing out in quiet wonder at the shifting pink and gold tones of scattering light.

Occasionally I take my camera outside along with my coffee.  As part of my ongoing "we do SO get Fall color, only it looks like THIS" conversation with family members who live out of state, I try to capture in images the ongoing fireworks in our clouds.   

As I reluctantly turned away from the sun to go back indoors the other morning, I was surprised by the sight of a skein of geese migrating South in absolute silence.  I laughed to myself, thinking this particular flock must be populated with creatures who were simply "not morning birds", preferring to wing their way towards winter sanctuary sans the typical vocalise.    

Overcome with joy, I watched in appreciative admiration until they disappeared from view.  This flock did not announce my place in the family of things with their voices, but as I struggled to imagine their experience of flying through each glimmering dawn, their transit through my morning sky offered me kinship sufficient to the day.

Wild Geese
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
In the family of things.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Simple Precinct of Home

Yesterday I dodged a few raindrops as I dashed into a local polling place to vote.

Once inside, after both my identity and my vote were duly processed, I began a slightly more personal ritual that goes along with my election day experience. One of my precinct judges is an acquaintance I used to see weekly back when I was yet a living pillar in a worshipping congregation.

While this precinct official can still be found in the pews week to week, I can not.  So, if things are slow election wise, we step to one side and take a few moments to get caught up.  

She spoke of a trip they will take later in the month, and how it is the first time her husband has been out of the country since his High School days.  She and I agreed he was past due for a journey.

I've been thinking over that idea, that a person "must" travel, at least occasionally. As is often the case, I am of two minds.  While I thoroughly enjoy exploring "other" spaces, I also believe Dorothy and the Wizard had it right all along, though poet Billy Collins phrased it more elegantly...

How much better to command the simple precinct of home
than be dwarfed by pillar, arch, and basilica.

(from "Consolation", via Poemhunter.com)

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.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Dang it, Bambi!

I'd been testing out some deer spray recently in my front beds.  I was optimistic it would work just as well as the glowing testimonials on its website indicated.  I did note in reading that most of them were filed from the upper East Coast states.  No matter, New Jersey or Texas, whitetailed deer are whitetailed deer, right?


As of last Thursday I'd only had a chance to put out one first coating of stench.  It's how this particular spray works reportedly, coating the plants and leaving the area around them redolent of Eau de Run Away!

It worked on me.  As soon as I got the spray everywhere I thought it should go I knew I wanted to get away.  Far away.  If a deer nose is any more sensitive than mine, the deal would seem to have been sealed.

The back of the bottle promised the smell would fade to fall under human nasal reactivity levels but remain strong enough to repel the deer.  The instructions advised spraying should be repeated every week for a month, after which the protective effects ought to last out the season, rain or shine.

Just as promised, the morning after the afternoon I'd sprayed the residual smell was barely there, and by the end of a full day in the sun, I didn't notice any smell at all.

Cue our recent torrential rains.

I'd wanted to give the spray a fair trial which meant I needed to get out and re-coat all the areas I was interested in protecting.  I knew this would be especially crucial after getting between 4 and 5 inches of rain in the last round of storms.  Ideally I should have gotten that second coating of spray down yesterday (which was Friday) but life intervened.

"Saturday!"  I thought to myself.  "Tomorrow morning early I will get out and spray the beds.".

Fast forward to this morning as I was lying in bed idly trying to decide if it would be better to have my morning coffee  or go out and spray first before enjoying my coffee at leisure.

But it was Saturday morning, officially the start of a new weekend, and there was just no contest.  Coffee first won hands down.  As the drip coffee maker was chorgling out it's "I'm wrapping it up guys, get your mugs ready" noise, I glanced out through the glass insert in our front door at the areas designated for my apr├ęs-coffee Spray Session the Second.

And that's when I saw her.
So gardener lady, these are the areas you want to protect?  Right about here?  Here where I'm lying down right now?  
A large doe, situated not 18 inches away from the Jewels of Opar plant babies I was getting ready to spray, lying down actually slightly pressing up against one of two small pointy agaves I'd recently transplanted there in hopes of preventing exactly that.  She was calmly chewing her cud, looking like she'd been comfortably situated there for quite some time.

I opened the garage door, grabbed a broom and then whacked it on the driveway hard, making what I hoped was a noise close enough to the alarm the deer send each other by stomping when they spot anything that might present any danger.

It was only after the doe got up and ambled off that I noted this guy, who had also been bedded down, just a few feet away in the ground cover on the far side of my daughter's parked car.

He had been shadowing his lady, (or his lady-to-be?).  Far from being alarmed by my presence, he stepped carefully over to where the doe had been bedded down, and thoroughly checked out the scent she'd left behind, before moving down our drive.
I honestly believe this had nothing to do with the potential efficacy of the deer spray.  The instructions clearly stated it would take more than one application to establish a base coating even under dry weather conditions, and we've surely had the opposite of that recently.

The sad truth is, these beds have been hosting this doe (or others in her herd), and on occasion her babies,

OK they are cute, but they are cute eating machines.
and now apparently, her boyfriend wanna-be.  That grazing and associated bedding down out front has been going on for years.  I'm guessing it might take more than an intermittently applied bad smell to overcome that sort of natural history especially just now, in rutting season.

Actually?  According to the map (and yes of course there is one - you mean you don't follow the Rut Report?) our area is currently about half-way through the "pre-rut", and moving towards the "seeking and chasing" stage.  Which is pretty well supported by what I observed this morning.

Hope springs, however.  As soon as I got this post up I went back out with my spray bottle to apply another coat of Deer No More (not the real name) on the area.  So far there is no reason to think the spray doesn't work just as promised when it is used as directed.  Time will tell (and so will I).  Stay tuned....

UPDATE:  I did in fact get out and spray all the plants and the generalized area I wanted protected from deer browse.  For the record, not a single plant suffered further nibbling damage.  Yes, the deer were sticking around, but more importantly, while here they did not seem inclined to treat our landscape as an all-you-can-eat salad bar.

I put another coating on the plants I'd like to keep off limits, and though it is supposed to rain again next week, I'm going to continue using the spray at the recommended intervals and see if we achieve ongoing deterrence.  Frankly, Bambi and his lady friends are welcome to chill out here occasionally as long as they leave the leaves (and flowers and branches) alone!