Sunday, June 24, 2012

Perpetual Prairie Projects

I have not had many posts lately because I have been busy trying to complete several projects before summer really heats up. Triple digit temperatures are expected this weekend, so my time may be up.

It is not easy to see my unfinished projects in pictures like this. (And I still have not run the sprinklers since last September.) It is more obvious when you zoom out and look at the edges of my prairie.

Last October, I removed the last strip of grass in the former front yard. I added some edging along the property line to keep the neighbor's grass out. The edging is actually two inches inside the property line. That means I have a two inch wide lawn that I trim along the edging. The plan is to create a decomposed granite pathway that will connect the public sidewalk with my existing decomposed granite pathway that runs across the front of the prairie. This area of decomposed granite will also serve as a buffer zone between my prairie plants and the neighbor's use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

This part of the project grew a little bit because I needed to relay the drainage line and relocate a few sprinkler heads. The drainage work is now complete. I have not added decomposed granite yet because I am making a similar pathway on the opposite side of the prairie and want to match the color of the decomposed granite.

I have a rain garden by the sidewalk on the opposite side of the prairie. This is a low spot on the prairie where I divert rain water from two gutter downspouts. The rain garden was nondescript, so I began adding large rocks around the edge a couple of weeks ago. The rocks help define the area and add a little structure. A couple of neighbors have already commented on how much they like the rocks. I am not sure if they really like the rocks or if they like that I removed my wildlife habitat signs so I could place the rocks.

This is the side yard of the vacant house next door and the rickety fence encloses my backyard. This house has been vacant for almost two years and was finally taken over by a bank a couple of months ago. 
I will be advertising for a prairie neighbor when the house goes on the market. My dream is to get a good neighbor that will maintain the house, remove all of the invasive plants in the yard, and build a native garden.

Now that the uncooperative woman that lived there is out of the picture, I am taking the opportunity to replace my fence. I usually like to perform any work that I am capable of doing myself, but this time I am going to pay a professional to install the fence. They will do in a week what would take months (years?) to do myself. The elevation of my property is over two feet higher than my neighbor's so in preparation for the fence work, I removed the slope and leveled the neighbor's property. This will improve drainage on the neighbor's property and allow my fence posts to be in more solid ground. The fence installers will include a wood retaining wall at the bottom of the fence to support the soil on my side of the fence. In this photo, I am about 1/3 of the way completed. I forgot to take a before picture.

It took a couple of weekends of hard labor to remove the dirt by hand. I piled up the excavated dirt near the alley and put "Free Dirt" posts on Craig's List. It was amazing how quickly the dirt disappeared. People will take almost anything if it is free.

I have some more work to do in the backyard before the fence is installed. Several plants are growing against the fence and they will need to be trimmed away from the fence to give the installers space to work.

There are also several small plants that will need protection from the workers. I have wire tomato cages and plant supports that should do the job. They can step on the horsemint if they need to. It should be finished blooming soon. I hope the workers are not afraid of bees because they love horsemint.

Speaking of tomato cages, I tried making tomato supports from rebar a couple of years ago. That idea did not work out well so I moved the structures to the center of the backyard prairie.

Since I call my garden a prairie, I refer to the three rebar structures as tipis (teepees). I used 15 pieces of 10 foot rebar to make three different sizes of tipis. I think I cut off about 12 inches for the medium tipi and 24 inches for the smaller tipi. The rebar was hammered into the soil and the top was wrapped with the wire that is used with rebar for concrete reinforcement. This project is not quite finished either because I am still working on the most aesthetic spacing of each leg of the tipi. I like the spacing of the pictured tipi. The other two are spaced a little too far apart.

More on tomato cages. I built these large cages from cattle panel. I cut sections of hog panel and assembled the sections using hog rings, which are used with chain link fencing. The hog ring construction allows the cages to be folded flat when they are no longer needed. I added another section to the top of the cage on the right and it is now over six feet tall. It looks like I need to add another section to the other cage.

One drawback of my design is that the plants slide down inside of the cage when they are weighed down with fruit. I added a couple of sections of rebar to support the vines and keep the fruit off the ground. Next year, I will try weaving a few vines in and out of the cage for support.

That is just the short list of projects that I worked on over the last few of months. There are several others, but I am tired just thinking about these. I also used up my 1GB of free photo storage space on my Google account with this post. I will have to figure out how to use Flikr for photo posting now. Well, that is another project for my list.

So many projects. So few weekends.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

National Pollinator Week 2012

I just found out that June 18-24 is National Pollinator Week. Pollinator Week was initiated by the Pollinator Partnership. According to their website, five years ago, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved and designated the last week in June as National Pollinator Week. Since then, it has grown into an international celebration of the important services that pollinators perform in the environment.

Most everyone recognizes that bees are pollinators. Not everyone realizes that butterflies, birds, wasps, flies, beetles and even bats are also pollinators too. Really, any critter that transfers pollen is a pollinator.

Back in the days when I had a lawn and fewer native plants, I was a pollinator out of necessity. I did not have many bees that came to my garden and my squash flowers were not getting pollinated. Since
 I wanted squash, I had to go out every morning and transfer the pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers. I felt silly in that bee costume.

I finally wised up and planted more native flowering plants and now I don't have to do the pollination myself any longer. I have many different types of bees eager to do the job for me.

The bees usually move around too quickly for me to photograph. I got lucky with this native bee collecting pollen on the flowers of Clammyweed, Polanisia dodecandra, a couple of days ago. It was interesting watching it hover above the flowers and collect pollen from the stamens that extend above the flowers.

The Pollinator Partnership website is full of interesting and useful information about pollinators that I am still exploring. They even have pollinator plant guides that you can download for your specific ecoregion in the U.S. I was happy to see that my garden includes many of the plants recommended for my region, which happens to be called Prairie Parkland (subtropical) Province.

In 2010, I had a post called Bees on the Prairie. I posted several photos of bees and wasps in my garden and a list of some of the favorite bee plants in my garden. A companion post, Butterflies on the Prairie, has several butterfly photos. And if you do not want butterflies to invade your garden, my post, Prairie Invasion, includes a list of plants to avoid. If you want butterflies in your garden, then it would be a good list of plants that you would want to include in your garden.

In closing, I came across this video this week. It is a musical remix of the wisdom of Mr. Rogers from PBS. I know I watched the show as a kid and I suspect he contributed, in some part, to my curious nature. I pretty sure he is the reason I had fish aquariums for many years. Now, the ideas that grow in the garden of my mind also grow in my prairie gardens. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Playing with Landscape Lighting

I have low voltage landscape lighting that illuminates the front of the house at night. I angled the lights to graze across the bricks and I am happy with the look. I hope it deters some of the mischief that often occurs at night. Unfortunately, some mischief still goes on.

My spineless prickly pear cactus is becoming a dominant architectural element in my front prairie, so I thought it might look nice if I illuminated it at night with a couple of additional lights. Here is the result.

It is not quite what I had in mind. All of the other plants around the cactus and the slope of the yard make placement of the lights difficult. It is also necessary to angle the lights so they do not blind anyone walking out of the house and down my sidewalk.

I will play with the lights a little more and see what I can come up with. I may decide to scrap the idea for now and try again later when the cactus gets larger.

Friday, June 1, 2012

2012 Water-Wise Landscape Tour

The 2012 Water-Wise Landscape Tour is Saturday, June 2 from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM. This is an opportunity to see and gather ideas from 19 private gardens and 7 public demonstration gardens throughout the Dallas area that are landscaped to use less water than typical Dallas landscapes. There are also micro talks at various sites. Links to photos, videos and plant lists for each are available at the main link above.

The tour is free and self guided. Click here for a copy of the tour map.

And, no, the Plano Prairie Garden is not on the tour. I applied three years ago when I thought I was almost finished with my garden. The judges said my garden was not ready and turned me down. Since then, I have started more projects and made the garden less tour ready than I thought it was three years ago. Maybe one day I will try again. I just want to show my neighbors that I am not nuts for not having a lawn. Or at least show them that I am not the only nut out there that thinks there are alternatives to lawns.