Monday, December 17, 2012

Until the Freeze

For all you Black Crowes fans, sorry to mislead you.  This is a post about my new greenhouse.  For all of my gardening friends who had no idea I knew anything about The Black Crowes, we should probably talk.

In the meantime, here's a slightly tilted view of the new greenhouse after DH helped me move all of the "preciouses" in.  And yes, I did just see The Hobbit.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Israeli Frost Defense System

Back in July, I came home to 5 large cardboard boxes in the driveway - a lavish and much appreciated gift from my husband and mother-in-law.  It was a Rion greenhouse kit - designed and manufactured by those folks who have so much experience coaxing lush, productive vegetation out of harsh conditions.  

The weather was far too hot back then to consider an extended outdoors project, so the boxes sat in the garage until this month.  With the weather dipping into frosty numbers, construction of the greenhouse suddenly went from casual to crisis status.

Thanks to roof raising help from a group of friends, we got the majority of the construction completed just in time.  Over the next week I'll share more details; but for now, I just wanted to publicly celebrate being able to open and close its doors, roof vents, and side louvres, and to share my sincere gratitude for Tom Farley, Sheryl Williams and her husband, Ed, all of whom gave up valuable weekend gardening time to help with the heavy lifting on our project.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

What Really Matters

April 25, 2012 seems a long, long time ago.  I was posting about the hawks in NYC and thinking this would be the year I posted at least once a month, hopefully more.  Since then I've enjoyed some unforgettable gardens and the company of other garden bloggers at the Asheville SC Fling, said good-bye to two dear gardening friends who died far too soon, and lost two large trees that changed my primarily shady garden to one abundantly blessed with sun!  Caught up in the whirlwind of events, there never seemed to be enough time to post about any of it.

But today I'm planning the memorial for one of those dear friends, Becky Waak.  After constant wrangling of details for the past three days, I wanted to be still and consider some of those things that made her dear to me.  

First, and possibly foremost, was her crystalline honesty.  You always knew where she stood, and you knew just as clearly what you meant to her.  Becky was the only person I've ever known who made me pale by comparison when it came to speaking her mind.  There was also never a person more generous with her hugs or smiles.  But if you hurt her, you didn't have to wonder long about that either.     

She was an eternal optimist.  Even as breast cancer savagely fought to take her life, to the end she believed she'd find a way to beat it.  Each new course of treatment sent her back to the internet to read every medical paper or study available.  She never stopped wanting to know everything about everything.  When coupled with a desire to serve, the same insatiable curiosity that pushed her to get two college degrees also prompted her to become a Master Gardener upon retirement.  She always wanted to stay on top of current best practices for drought resistant gardening, rainwater harvesting, poultry keeping, beekeeping, propagation, and greenhouse management - then volunteer to teach others.

She wanted to change the world.  She never stopped believing fervently in helping anyone who might be less fortunate, perhaps because she had not come from privilege.  As a girl in rural Texas, she saw few options modeled beyond the traditional roles for women of the time but found a path of her own anyway.  As a young single parent, she created and taught a proud independence to her daughter.  As a wife, she built a real and loving partnership with Roger.  As a citizen, she worked and voted to ensure a better, safer, more peaceful world for all of us - not just a privileged few.  
She never forgot that life is a team sport. 

Becky was only 64.  She really thought she'd have more time.  Egalitarian to the end, whether you knew her or not, liked her or not, agreed with her or not, she's giving all of us the same gift.   She'd want us to love with awareness of loss, live with the gratitude that comes from having nothing, and make decisions with all the functioning brain cells available to us - and to make time to play outside more often.  
Thanks for everything, sweet friend.  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Red-tail Hawk Watching and Cheesecake

This blog leans toward gardening, but it rambles through a world full of wonder on the way.  My post today is the result of meeting some fun, entertaining folks on a similar journey.  If you've seen The Big Year, you've probably formed an opinion of birdwatchers.  No matter.  Having spent waaaaay too much time over the past couple of weeks hanging out with the other people glued to the New York Times hawk nest cam, I can attest to their broad range of interests and sharp wit.  Regardless of our different time zones and backgrounds, it seems that sooner or later the chat turns to the common themes of music and/or food when the objects of our adoration do a face plant and go into food comas after their parents, Rosie and Bobby, have served up a good meal to the little eyases.   (Go on, look it up.  Like poikilothermic, it's a good word to know.  Special thanks to JB for that one.)

Boo and Scout on April 23, 2012

This post is for my new nest watching friends.  I promised them my recipe for Ricotta Cheesecake,  the simplest cheesecake recipe  in the world and a perfect palette for those juicy, fresh berries and stone fruits that will soon flood our farmers' markets.  It's delicious made with a high quality ricotta with a rich flavor of its own, even better made with a complex homemade ricotta of the style found at Salvatore Brooklyn.  If you've the time, check out this recipe on one of the world's best food blogs and make your own, but don't feel pressured to do so in order to make the cake.  Really, keep it simple so you can get back to nest watching.

The basic ratio is one pound of ricotta to 2 large eggs, 1/4 cup whole milk, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 Tbsp.cornstarch, and 1 teaspoon vanilla.  Typically, I use a 9" springform pan and triple the ratio as shown in the recipe below.  But sometimes, I use a smaller individual springform and use the basic amounts.  Even if you're using an expensive pan that says it can't leak, my advice is to cover the bottom and up the sides with a double layer of foil.  Butter the inside of the pan generously and set aside.  Preheat your oven to 325 degrees while mixing the ingredients.

Ricotta Cheesecake
3 pounds full fat ricotta ("whole milk ricotta")
6 eggs, extra large or large
3/4 cup milk, 2% or 4%
11/2 cups granulated sugar, or less if preferred
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

Prep your pan as described above.  Whisk all ingredients together until smooth (or use an electric mixer if ricotta is very thick.)  Pour into prepared pan and bake for approximately 1 1/2 hours.  The center will puff up very slightly and the batter will be completely set.

Allow to stand at room temp at least one hour before refrigerating. I like to bake this the day before serving but it's not necessary.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Manfredas and Moths

As much as I enjoy watching the changes in my garden this time of year, this week brought a couple of real standouts.  The larkspur thicket is hosting a NectarFest for several White-lined Sphinx Moths, also referred to as hummingbird moths, and the Manfreda 'Chocolate Chips' is competing for attention nearby. 

The White-lined Sphinx Moth is one of three "hummingbird moths" species found in the Austin area. The shot above shows the wing colors, although in flight its wings seem to disappear.   These moths zip and hover just like their namesake bird, and in my garden are often spotted just before dusk rather than at night.  Although I'm not much of a photographer, I somehow managed to capture a close-up showing the long proboscis of this interesting creature.  

My other current garden standout is one of the most interesting pass along plants I've ever received.   A couple of years ago it migrated my way from Eleanor, another Austin garden blogger.  It's a Manfreda undulata 'Chocolate Chips' with strappy foliage so striking, it wouldn't matter if it ever bloomed; but bloom it does.  This year it produced four bloom spikes and enough scent to clear a large room.  If you've never had a close encounter with this alien bloom, be warned the scent is similar to burning plastic with just the lightest hint of frightened skunk.  But don't let that scare you off.  Its scent is more than compensated for by its beauty.  Having already established myself as a non-photographer, I refer you to the wonderful post on Pam Penick's blog "Digging" for more polished images of this amazing plant.

Having wasted much of my day (week, really) peeking in on the New York Times hawk cam, just wanted to share a few thoughts before turning in.  Please leave a comment - I'd love to hear about the strange and wonderful things showing up in your garden right now.  

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Moment

Every gardener's had one - that moment you see a plant that's irresistible even though there's no room for it, it's probably going to freeze dead its first winter, it's exotic and you now have a native plants only policy, or some other perfectly good argument that is somehow easily dismissed until you get past the check out area and are on your way home with the plant.   Of course, we have the willpower of an addict when presented with our drug of choice.

I experienced such a moment last summer when I stumbled upon some fairly pitiful 6 foot tall trees that were labeled Bauhinia mexicana and priced at a mere $5.  They had seriously outgrown their nursery pots, likely had circling roots, definitely had yellowing leaves, BUT they were only $5 and they were supposed to bloom pink!  How could I not?  My garden is already home to four other Bauhinias, all with fairly small but lovely white flowers.  Needless to say, within an hour my guilty pleasure had been lovingly and hopefully planted near its family members.

Yesterday I experienced another kind of moment - the one every gardener lives for.  I was taking pictures of the rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) in bloom.  This in itself was "a moment", as I love this plant but never had any success until the tiny transplants received from Jenny at Rock Rose established themselves over the winter and only yesterday popped into bloom.  As my family says this time of year, that would have been enough.

But then, oh my.  I turned around and literally gasped.  That pitiful specimen purchased last summer had produced this ...

Four inches across and spectacular, with many more buds poised to stun me again with beauty.  Now I know for certain why Bauhinia is called the "orchid tree".  And I'm unrepentant for my impulse buy in spite of all the reasons against it.   Yes, the tree may freeze next winter, I may not have rid it of all the circling roots, it was probably mislabeled, and it's not a native - but just look at that flower.  
Definitely worth the $5, wouldn't you say?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

March Bloomers

How is it possible there are still nay-sayers when it comes to global warming?  They can't possibly be gardeners!    Is there anyone with their hands in the soil who isn't learning to deal with warmer (or much colder) winters, a lot less (or a lot more) rainfall?  In my garden, I'm wondering when to prune back plants that never stopped blooming, where I can replace ever more turf with mulched areas, and how to make the most of the rainwater I manage to capture when it DOES finally rain ... but through it all I'm always so grateful to have a garden.  

Who needs yoga?  I have gardening to teach me flexibility!  Here's some of what I was enjoying out there today ...

Hard to see that bumblebee on the Meyer lemon bloom, but he's just one of several dozen that were buzzing around the yard this afternoon.  Didn't see a single honey bee, but the bumbles had the air humming.

 'Old Blush' rose providing the backdrop for some pass along Dutch irises from Lucinda's garden.  The rose was started from a cutting about 3 years ago and is now close to 5 feet tall.  The peachy-brown iris in the next picture is one I call 'Iced Tea' as its true cultivar name is long lost.

Coral honeysuckle (above) and almond verbena (below.)

This 'Martha Gonzales' is one of my antique roses that continued to bloom throughout the past "winter".  On Valentine's Day  I finally just bit the bullet and pruned the roses anyway - even if they were covered in blooms and buds.

Japanese keria's little golden puffs trying to outshine the spiderwort's blue blooms.

Not a great picture of the yellow Lady Banksia rose that has obviously rebounded from being cut to the ground a few years ago for a fence repair.

A small section of the thicket of larkspur I now enjoy annually thanks to seeds from MSS of Zanthan Gardens. 

And the tiny red poppies that return in the midst of native white irises each year in spite of my mulching and neglect.

Shrimp plants in 3  colors 
Not pictured, but also blooming, are bulbine, 18 of the 20 different antique roses, milkweed, culinary sage, gaura, Mealy Blue sage, yellow columbine, miniature ajuga,  Texas betony, and two poor struggling blueberry bushes.

The winner of the book giveaway will be announced 3/16/12, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Celebrating the Backyard Chicken

This coming Saturday, March 3rd, Edible Austin is launching its new Sustain Center with a day chock full of family friendly activities they're calling the Spring Chicken Fest.  (I'm assured that even though I'm no longer a spring chicken, they're not checking ages at the gate.)  Although we don't keep chickens (another story), it was inevitable that I'd be involved in this event as two of my volunteer "families", the Travis County Master Gardeners and the Wildlife Federation Habitat Stewards, are participating.

Come on out from noon to 6:30pm.  The Sustain Center is located next to Callahan's at 443 South Bastrop Highway (Hwy 183), Austin.  Check out their website for more event details.  How can you go wrong with kids and chickens and food trailers - well, let's not think about that.

As another way to celebrate all things chicken and gardening, Timber Press is giving you a chance to win a copy of their newly published book called "Free Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful Chicken-Friendly Yard".   All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog by the ides of March (3/15/12).  The winner will be selected at random and your book sent to you directly from Timber Press.  Whether or not you intend to keep backyard chickens, you'll find plenty of inspiration and design ideas you can use in this book by Jessi Bloom.   If you live in the Austin area, come by the Chicken Fest on Saturday and look for me to register for another chance to win!     

PLEASE NOTE: If you post anonymously, and there's no way to contact you, you can't win. Make sure we can find you by linking back to your blog or leave your e-mail address disguised a bit using "dot com" or something to prevent robo-spam

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January Summer Olympics in Texas

No, it isn't a typo - it's just Iris germanica 'Summer Olympics' behaving as though it's already spring rather than January.  With the recent rains and mild temperatures, I'm afraid my entire garden will be seduced into this irrational behavior only to be smacked down by a late freeze or two.  Such is gardening in Central Texas.

The foliage of this gaura has usually frozen to the ground by now. Not this year.  Instead it's putting on a show and feeding the occasional bee. 

Only this single bloom has appeared recently on the coral honeysuckle, but the foliage has remained thick enough to provide a hiding place for anoles, opposum,  and neighborhood cats.  Normally the foliage thins out quite a bit over the winter, sometimes even dying back to the ground.  The local wildlife seem to appreciate the warmth generated by the sun heated water in the rainwater tank underneath it, even if they may not like the company they encounter.

This milkweed (Asclepias) is covered with its usual "crop" of aphids.  Although it's in a container and we have had a couple of nights dip below freezing, for some reason it refuses to die back as it usually does.  The temperature must not have remained below freezing long enough to do its damage.  

The cinnamon basil even has new buds on last year's stems and hundreds of little seedlings coming up under the leaf litter.

Oh well.  "Da Boyz" and I are just enjoying the mild weather while it lasts because tomorrow could bring an ice storm or 80 degree temperatures.  We just never know.

(And as predicted, the next day we almost hit a record high with 83 degrees.   Stay tuned, there's no doubt a freeze on the horizon.) 

Purple Martin Party Time!

Travis Audubon hosted a Purple Martin Colony visit this past Saturday next to the historic home of Laura Joseph.  Laura started...