Thursday, November 6, 2014

High Anxiety

Now that it's aired, I will confess that my little suburban garden was recently featured on Central Texas Gardener.   Months of freaking out with every deep freeze, every plant that suddenly died, every arbor destroyed by freakish winds - in other words, every event that might naturally occur in the garden with the changing seasons -  all that nervous panic is finally over and I can go back to simply playing outside. 

Why a "confession", rather than being pleased as punch?  Something about having my garden on CTG feels like bragging.  And in my eyes my garden is messy, my own personal playground - not something worthy of a segment on that wonderful program.  It's where I go to test out new skills, like digging a pondbuilding a rainwater harvesting system, creating an insect hotel, making a vermicomposting bin, or putting together a greenhouse with the help of a few friends.  

Having my garden "go public" temporarily destroyed its tranquility.

My garden doesn't feature a lovely design where your eye is drawn to the next focal point, with decorative elements artfully placed and given space to shine, structural plants pleasingly accented with others of just the right shapes and colors.   

It's messy.  It's imperfect.  It's a rain-collecting, insect attracting, herb growing, pollinator habitat.  It's my own personal playground and quiet retreat.  It's where I get to be a kid.  And now I can remember why I love it rather than worrying about whether or not you'll like it.  Of course, I really hope you do.

In spite of my grumbling, I do want to extend my sincere thanks to Linda (producer) and Ed (photographer) of CTG, for doing their darndest to make me look good.

Please leave a comment and tell me how your garden makes you feel.  

All material © 2014 by Vicki Blachman for Playin' Outside
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

An Orb Game in Portland

Thankfully, we and our gardens have survived the worst of a summer and are moving into the cooler days of fall, and still I haven't posted about the amazing Garden Bloggers Fling in Portland I was fortunate to attend back in July.  As always, the writing and photography of our talented group have captured the best of our annual gathering so well I've preferred to simply relive the fun through their posts.  

However, I do want to play a little game with the many orbs I kept seeing in the various gardens.  Some were split open to form fire pits or planters or rain basins, some were stuck on fences or poles, and others simply sat on a table or on the ground.  Oddly enough, one of the plants I brought home was Cotyledon orbiculata var. orbiculata - yet another "orb"! 

There were so many, it became a game for me to find them.  Here's just a sampling.

Look up against the fence for the smaller one, too!

If you went to the Fling, please leave a comment matching the garden to the orb.  I'll post the correct answers at the end of this month (September.)

All material © 2014 by Vicki Blachman for Playin' Outside
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Tiny Dragons and Bottle Trees

The winter of 2013 affected my four "orchid trees" in different ways, not surprising as they were different varieties originating in very different climates.  Our native variety, Bauhinia lunarioides, commonly called an Anacacho Orchid, lost tender branches (about 2 to 3 feet of each limb), but has since fully recovered.   The Bauhinia blakeana, which produced enormous pink blooms that really did look like orchids, died to the ground.   A fourth, Bauhinia fortificata commonly called the Brazilian Orchid tree, also died.  I had high hopes for my favorite, Bauhinia mexicana, a tiny shrub with delightful split leaves, as it had survived freezes in other years.  But evidently our pattern of freezes alternating with high heat followed again by late season freezes was just too much -  and it too died.  The "native is better" movement may have gained support here.  Even so, we gardeners probably all have our guilty little collection of plants from some remote place with completely different growing conditions.

On the bright side, the dead trunk and branches of B. blakeana allowed me to make a bottle tree of sorts.  After trimming it back to highlight its form, the branches were decorated with Lucky Buddha beer bottles - each bottle sports a laughing, round bellied Buddha molded into the green glass who dares you not to smile.   In keeping with my pollinator friendly garden,  I also attached several bee houses then planted a Yellow Butterfly Vine at the base.  Oddly, the leaves of the vine look very much like the leaves of the Bauhinia it replaced.

As of today, 6 cells have bees and the Butterfly Vine is going crazy!  Two anoles seem to think it's their own little nirvana, and guard it ferociously.   All in all, the new activity is more than compensation for the loss. 

All material © 2014 by Vicki Blachman for Playin' Outside
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Little Things

Funny how the smallest things in nature can give us so much pleasure.  This past weekend I noticed that one of the new metalwork items in my garden had been blessed by the addition of  a line of lacewing eggs.


If you're not familiar with lacewings, click here to see the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension page on this fascinating and welcome garden visitor.  Delicate in appearance, they're fairly voracious and consume a long list of undesirable garden pests.  

Fun fact, that little "stick" from which each egg is suspended is likely designed to prevent freshly hatched baby lacewings from eating each other!

All material © 2014 by Vicki Blachman for Playin' Outside
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ligustrum Lament

If you want to get a gardener talking trash in Austin, just bring up the topic of ligustrums.  The botanical name is Ligustrum japonicum, but you may also know it as Japanese privet or Wax-leaf privet.  We just love to hate these highly invasive shrubs!  They easily grow from small plants into tall trees, crowd out local plants, and form dense thickets by developing tasty berries to entice birds to "drop" seeds miles away.  

What we don't want to remember is that bees and butterflies (particularly Red Admirals) love their fragrant white flowers and that their trunks can be truly beautiful when pruned and tended.

Our yard was home to a fully mature specimen when we purchased the house about 10 years ago, and I've constantly apologized for my ligustrum ever since.  Yes, I tried to be responsible by pruning immediately after it flowered so those little purple berries wouldn't form.  But challenged by how I might quickly replace a tall architectural element in the garden that also attracted swarms of bees and butterflies, I could never bring myself to cut it down.

Well, a leaky pipe has now fixed all that.  Seems the original owner of the house planted that sucker directly over the spot where a city water PVC pipe connects with the copper pipe to our house.  The very same spot where a majority of residential leaks develop.   By the time the leak was detected, 500 gallons of water PER DAY had been seeping out for who knows how long.  Ouch!  

My dear husband dug test holes all around the base, patiently showing me that the source of the leak was indeed directly under our 15 foot tall tree and that it really did have to go.

Patient husband digging 3rd pilot hole to find leak's source
Last branch to go

Broken pipe at the bottom of it all
 As soon as it was gone, brainstorming a replacement kept my mind racing.  What would be tall, perennial or maybe even evergreen, good in full sun to dappled shade, flowering in any color but bright orange, and in some way beneficial to local bees, butterflies, or birds?  So far, I've decided a nice metal trellis will be a good way to establish height right away and hopefully also update the look of our house.  That's already in the works.  Now I need your suggestions of a vine that will meet my criteria.  Tell me - what would you plant?

All material © 2014 by Vicki Blachman for Playin' Outside
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.  

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...