Thursday, April 28, 2016

Rain Gardens at Work

Since we had so much rain over the last couple of weeks, I thought this would be a good time to post about my rain gardens. A rain garden is simply a planted depression that collects rainwater runoff before it leaves the property and allows it to soak into the ground rather than entering the sewer system. A rain garden usually holds water for no more than a few hours, which is not long enough for mosquitoes to develop. Rain gardens are planted with plants that can endure brief periods of wet soil followed by longer periods of dry soil.

The first three pictures are of my front yard rain garden. It is situated on the lowest point in the front yard and built up on two sides with large boulders. To create a depression, I dug out several wheel barrels of soil. I used the soil I removed to grade the other side of the front yard. I did not do much to prepare the depression for planting other than mixing in a couple of bags of compost and expanded shale.

The gutters on this end of the house are connected to underground pipes that empty in the rain garden. It is recommended that you use plants that can tolerate moister soil on the bottom of the rain garden and plants that need drier conditions on the sides. My rain garden dries out quickly, so it includes some surprising plants throughout. I consider the shade from the neighbor's live oak to be a greater limiting factor than the amount of moisture in the soil, although I would never put a xeric plant like a cactus or agave in a rain garden.

The plants in the front rain garden include False Indigo, Amorpha fruticosa, Heartleaf Skullcap, Scutellaria ovata, Gregg's Mistflower, Conoclinium greggii, Blue Mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, Aromatic Aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, Gayfeather, Liatris mucronata and Liatris Spicata, Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium, Bushy Bluestem, Andropogon glomeratus, Green Milkweed, Asclepias viridis, and a variety of other plants that reseeded in the rain garden.

I also added a rain garden in the lowest point of the backyard. This rain garden is filled by underground pipes that collect rainwater from the gutters on the back of the house. Plants in this rain garden include Weeping Yaupon, Ilex vomitoria 'Pendula', Big Muhly, Muhlenbergia lindheimeri, Seep Muhly, Muhlenbergia reverchonii, Giant Coneflower, Rudbeckia maxima, Gulf Coast Penstemon, Penstemon tenuis, Cherokee Sedge, Carex cherokeensis, Frogfruit, Phyla nodiflora, and a few other miscellaneous plants.

And what do April showers and thunderstorms bring besides hail claims? May April flowers!

Most of the plants have recovered from the hail storms and are blooming away, like the Autumn Sage and Gulf Coast Penstemon in the background. The Gregg's Mistflower around the birdbath have yet to begin blooming.

The Bluebonnets are on the decline, but still look good. The golden flowers of Four Nerve Daisy brighten the scene.

More Bluebonnets and Gulf Coast Penstemon bloom around the prickly Toothache Tree. The Toothache Tree just finished producing its fragrant (in a good way) flowers.

My unidentified giant Hesperaloe will be blooming soon. 

I may have to get a tall ladder to get a good look at the flowers. The will be forming 8-10 feet above the ground. Unfortunately, the Hesperaloe is a little too close to the Toothache Tree and the flowers will eventually be in the canopy of the tree. I may have to try to move or divide the Hesperaloe one of these days.

The larger of the Pale-Leaf Yuccas is in bloom. 

The stress of being pounded by hail in mid-March may have attracted a new predator to my yuccas. The leaves of my Pale-Leaf Yucca and Yucca Gloriosa are covered with little beetles that I think are Yucca Plant Bugs. I will spray some light horticultural oil on them this weekend to see if that will get them under control. Has anyone experienced this beast before?  

A few more shots from the front garden...

The next rounds of blooms are getting ready to open. These are the closed flowers of Antelope Horns Milkweed.

And this is the first flower of Narrowleaf Coneflower. 

More rain and storms are expected throughout the day on Friday. It has been a stormy spring. Let's hope the weather begins to settle down soon.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

A Garden In Recovery

It has been two weeks since the hail storm.

To the casual observer, everything looks pretty good. 

But if you look a little closer, you can see some of the damage on the north side of this cactus. 

The damage is much more evident on the other side of the cactus. Most of the flat sides of the paddles face the east and west to maximize the amount of sunshine received. When the hail fell from the west, they hit the tender paddles like ice ping pong balls. This damage will never disappear. 

Most of the leaves on this yucca are shredded. 

This agave received more damage than I originally thought, but it still looks pretty good, especially surrounded by four nerve daisies.

The bluebonnets in the parkway were laying flat after the hail storm and many stems were broken. There are still large areas that look like a buffalo laid on them.

But overall, they recovered well and will produce enough seeds for a new crop of plants for next year.  

Friday, April 1, 2016

The End of My Foolish Prairie Garden

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.

This post was originally published on 4-1-12. In case you have not figured it out yet, it is an April Fools joke. Four years later, my prairie garden is still going strong, even after last week's hail storm.