Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Finishing Touches

My garden is slowly coming into bloom this year. While the plants have been coming out of dormancy, I have been working around the edges to finally wrap up some projects and put "finishing" touches on the garden. Well, "finishing" for now. I already have a growing mental list of additional adjustments that I want to make. 

Here in the center of the front garden, Four Nerve Daisies, Tetraneuris scaposa, Winecup, Callirhoe involucrata, Bluebonnets, Lupinus texensis, and Mealycup Sage, Salvia farinaceaare blooming around Pale-Leaf Yucca, Yucca pallida, and a Spineless Prickly Pear, Opuntia ellisiana(?). The Coreopsis and Husker Red Penstemon will be blooming in the next couple of weeks.

The flower stalks on the Yucca are over six feet tall. This is the second time for this one to bloom. The first time it bloomed was two years ago and the flower stalk was only about three feet high.

So what have I been working on for the last few months? Pathways. Decomposed granite pathways. I moved the garden edging to the property line and removed the grass from the sides of my front yard garden a year and a half ago. I wanted to add pathways and a buffer zone from my neighbor's chemical lawn treatments and possible overspraying into my garden. Before installing the decomposed granite, I also had to modify the underground drainage pipes and relocate sprinkler heads because pathways do not need to be watered. This is the west side of the garden. The purple flowers are Gulf Coast (aka Brazos) Penstemon, Penstemon tenuis. The small tree in the center of the picture is Hercules Club, Zanthoxylum clava-herculis.

The thorny tree is just beginning to bloom. The flowers are very fragrant and remind me of the scent of honeysuckle. They are very attractive to bees and butterflies. There were not any around at this time, but I bet the trees will be covered in them by the weekend.

Up the side pathway is the pathway that cuts across the garden. I installed this pathway four years ago. Unfortunately, my landscape material dealer found a new source for decomposed granite and the new stuff did not match the old. In fact, every time I buy decomposed granite, it seems to be a different color. I have four distinct colors in my landscape. To get it all to match, I scraped off a layer of the older granite and used it as a base for the new granite. Then I replaced the scraped off layer with new granite. So, now, the pathway that bisects the garden is the same color as the pathways on the sides. 

Here is the view after crossing the pathway and looking back to the west. What a contrast from my neighbor's lawns. 

Here on the east side of the garden is another pathway/buffer zone. The challenge on this side of the garden is that parts of my property are over two feet higher than the neighbor's. After having a fence with a treated wood (yuck) retaining wall installed last year, I extended the fence retaining wall about 12 feet toward the street with concrete retaining wall blocks. I got a good price on the retaining wall blocks 5-6 years ago when the Home Depot Landscape Design stores shut down. I wish I had about 15 more blocks. The interlocking white concrete edging was left over from prior flowerbeds when I still had a lawn. I used steel edging to add three steps up the pathway. Another project from last year was to install the rocks on the right around the rain garden. 

This is a wider view of the rain garden. Rainwater from the house gutters is routed through underground pipes to the rain garden. The multi-trunk tree in the rain garden is False Indigo, Amorpha fruticosa. Also in the rain garden are Heartleaf Skullcap, Scutellaria ovata, Gregg's Mistflower, Conoclinium greggii, a couple of varieties of Liatris, and a few other miscellaneous plants that sprouted there.

Here is a close up of the False Indigo. The leaves sprouted out over the last two weeks and it will not be long before the purple flower spikes bloom.

I mentioned in the last post that I moved the stock tank. Here it is near the front door, surrounded by Blackfoot Daisy, Melampodium leucanthum, Four Nerve Daisy, and a Red Yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora, with yellow flowers. Horsetail Reed, Equisetum hyemale, grows inside the stock tank.

Along the front of the house, I created a decomposed granite porch. I have flagstone for this area, but I am thinking that I may find other uses for the flagstone and just leave the granite. The long snake against the house is a drip irrigation hose with built in emitters. I have this type of hose all around the house in a futile attempt to keep the foundation moist and prevent any additional movement during the dry months. One of the joys of being a homeowner on the blackland prairie. I suspect I use more water on the foundation than the garden.

On the other side of the sidewalk leading to the front door is another section of decomposed granite porch. Beyond the porch is a flagstone pathway leading to the side pathway on the west side of the garden. The birdbath is now where the stock tank used to be. 

It does not look like much, but it looks finished now. It took many hours on my hands and knees digging out dirt so it could be replaced with decomposed granite. The unneeded dirt was hauled to the side yard near the alley and given away to people seeking free dirt on Craig's List. Then there were about 10 pickup loads of decomposed granite that needed to be unloaded, wheel barreled around to the garden, spread, and tamped down.  Oh, my aching back. 

Well, now it is time to move on and apply some "finishing" touches to the backyard garden. Fortunately, there is not as much to do back there.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Re-post: The End of My Foolish Prairie Garden

Hello cyber gardening friends. It has been almost three months since my last post. It is hard to believe the time has gone by so fast.

You may have noticed that I added a page to the blog with a list of other garden and nature blogs. I still have not added my plant list that I promised in the last post. I have the list in a spreadsheet, but it will require retyping in a different format to get it posted.

Otherwise, I have been working on some landscaping projects. I am not ready to share any pictures yet. In fact, I don't have any. I have not taken any garden pictures in the last three months. I guess one good thing about taking a blog break is that I save computer hard drive space. Maybe I will take some pictures soon.

I thought I would re-post my April 1 post from last year. It was supposed to be an April Fools' joke about giving up on my prairie garden and going back to a lawn. Or was it? Maybe it was foreshadowing of changes to come? Maybe that is what I have been working on for the last three months? Maybe not. You will just have to wait to find out. 

So here is last year's April 1 post:

I have been thinking about the future of my prairie garden for a while and now on April 1, I have finally made the difficult decision that it is time to abandon this foolishness and declare my four year prairie garden experiment a mistake and a waste of time.

I know this will come as a shock to many, but I have thought long and hard about this and the truth of the matter is that I miss my lawn and I want it back. I wish I could have known how much I would miss my lawn before I went through the effort of digging out the lawn by hand and replanting with Texas native and prairie plants. Now I know how much I appreciate the uniformity and clean look of freshly mown grass. I suppose the stigma of being the only person in the neighborhood without a lawn influences my decision too. My prairie garden is out of place and does not blend in with the rest of the neighborhood. My garden is a cacophony of colors, shapes and textures in a sea of flat green grass, geometrically shaped shrubs and over pruned crepe myrtles. My prairie garden style even makes me more of a neighborhood outcast than the neighbors with traditional style lawns that are not maintained and are overrun with weeds. The planted stock tank in front of my house may not help matters either.

2004. The "before I removed the lawn" look complete with rectangular shrubs
and For Sale sign. Standard Plano landscaping. This is the look I want again.

2007. The beginning of the end for the lawn. I just could not control my urge
to expand that flowerbed and remove my beautiful carpet of St. Augustine grass.

2012. The neighborhood misfit as it is today with no lawn. 

Over the last couple of years, I have grown to miss some things about lawns, particularly their maintenance. For example, I love the smell of fresh cut grass. I even miss cutting grass every week. I miss the roar of a gasoline powered mower that drowns out all other sounds and gives you a few peaceful moments to think. You can also sing at the top of your lungs while mowing and no one can hear how bad it sounds. The same goes for gasoline trimmers and blowers. Oh, and don’t forget the exhaust fumes. Just thinking about the scent brings back so many memories.

Speaking of scents, this is the time of year that the air is filled with the scent of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. After working my way through college at a garden center, I can usually identify the chemical scents that the wind carries into my garden from several lawns away. Last weekend, while working in my front yard, I picked up a familiar scent of what I thought was the herbicide 2,4-D. A few minutes later, a neighbor a couple of houses down came around to his front yard spraying his lawn from a premixed hose end sprayer. I watched with envy as he, in shorts and bare feet, sprayed the chemical concoction on his lawn as his wife and two small children played nearby and sometimes crossed into the area he just sprayed. That is the picture of the American dream.

I found this news clip on The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center’s facebook page a few days ago. 
The video talks about how the invasive bastard cabbage from Europe is choking out native wildflowers. The weed has been popping up everywhere around here for the last couple of years. I even found one growing in my prairie. I pulled it out once it bloomed and I realized what it was. In the future, our lovely lawns may be the only zones free of bastard cabbage because we can easily kill the invaders with weed and feed fertilizers and other chemical herbicides. The availability of chemical herbicides is another advantage that lawns have over my prairie garden. You cannot spray herbicides in a prairie garden because they will kill all of the prairie plants. Weeds need to be removed by hand in a prairie garden. What a waste of time that is!

The header of this blog says that my prairie garden is low maintenance. Well, I lied. It is not low maintenance. Sure, I don’t have to do things like mowing every week, but the work never ends. I have been working on this garden since I moved into this house eight years ago and I am still not finished. Every time I think I am close to being finished, I think up a new project. That is the problem with this type of garden, it stimulates creativity. I can’t stop thinking of new things to do in the garden. New plants, flowerbeds, pathways, rain gardens, vegetable gardens, flagstone patios—the ideas keep coming and I am powerless to stop them. I am tired and getting too old for all of this manual labor and I am too picky to pay someone to do the work for me. A lawn would be a better option. After all, how creative can you get with a lawn unless you want to create a putting green or a crisscross mowing pattern like they have on baseball fields?

I realize that some nature lovers will argue that my prairie garden provides much needed wildlife habitat. I suppose it does to a degree, but my little plot of native plants cannot make up for the volume of native habitat that is lost to development every day. If native wildlife cannot adapt to our changing world of foreign, invasive plants, lawn grass, genetically modified food crops and concrete, then their eradication is inevitable. I am not going to devote my precious lawn space to native plants that support dying species.

After last year’s drought, spring rains have raised lake levels and our watering restrictions have been revised to allow watering once a week. This seems like the perfect time to plant a new lawn. Once I begin planting my lawn, I will have to rename this blog. I think the new header should read: Plain Ol’ Plano Garden - Returning to a generic, boring, high maintenance suburban landscape that is nothing special and just like all the others.

Below is one last look at the Plano Prairie Garden before I start ripping out plants and planting my new lawn. Click on the video below for mood music as you scroll through the pictures.

Autumn Sage, Salvia greggii, Husker Red Penstemon, Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red', Four Nerve Daisy, Tetraneuris scaposa, and Pale Leaf Yucca, Yucca pallida.

Gulf Coast Penstemon, Penstemon tenuis.

Morning dew on blades of Indian Grass, Sorghastrum nutans.

Monarch caterpillar eggs about to hatch.

A skipper on four nerve daisy.

Ladybug beetle on Elbow bush, Forestiera pubescens.