Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ug. Death. Destruction. Despair.

Is it possible that we have to endure 2-1/2 more months of this?

We've lost one of the lovely red cabbagey mystery rose cuttings, and the baldcypress by the pond didn't make it, either. We missed just a few days' watering a week ago, and pouf! All gone.

The cuttings we took of that neat yellow vine are slowly dying, even though they're in the shade, watered diligently, and dipped in rooting hormone.

The few remaining patches of Saint Augustine leaves are curled into tight little brown tubes. Even the weeds that originally usurped the StA are dead--I crunch my way across the lawn these days. Only the bermudagrass survives, of course. After the apocalypse/nuclear winter/sun goes supernova, it'll be a bermudagrass lawn that the remaining population of cockroaches will cavort over.

This hardens my resolve to install buffalograss next year, at least on the front bit of the property. StA clearly can't hack it without lavish watering that I'm unwilling to provide. Buffalograss, on the other hand, is said to be all xeriscapic and rugged and responsible. And the bermudagrass has got to go. As I survey the desolate ruins of our garden, it smirks at me--smirks!--complacently. You'll never kill me, it thinks. I'm like diapers in a landfill, lady. I am eternal.

We'll see about that.

Not this year, though. This year, it's all we can do to save the plants we already have. (In some cases, it's more than we can do.) So we've been watering what's left every day. The transplanted pear--which had been having a rather dreary spring--is now oddly unperturbed by summer.

Oddly chipper pear, completely unfazed by having been transplanted in June. Check out all the new leaf buds.

The ginkgo is much happier here on the eastside than it was last year in the rose bed. And the magnolia soldiers on, serene in the knowledge that we love it so much--and we invested so much money in it--that it'll continue to get moisture even if one of us has to open a vein to provide it. Most of our other trees were freebies, cast-offs, and bargain counter refugees. The 'Little Gem,' bought new at full (wholesale) price, is the pearl of our collection. Don't get me wrong--we love our cast of misbegotten freaks dearly--but the magnolia is our pride and joy.

Meantime, it's 97 degrees now at 5:30 in the evening. It hasn't rained in... I'm actually not entirely sure what rain is anymore. There's none forecast any time this geologic epoch. When you go outside, even at 5:30 in the evening, it feels like the sun hates you and is hurling big, hot, malevolent spears at you. You feel a sudden empathy for Niobe's unfortunate boys--you know what it's like to have the full force of the sun's malice turned in your direction.

I'd take a picture, but it's too disheartening. Imagine a rectangle full of brown crispiness from which waves of heat rise up, and you'll have the general idea.

Here's a funny thing. When I was researching the diss, my supervisor suggested I start simply reading old 19c periodicals (which are still only partially and cumbrously indexed). In one, I found an article touting the wonders of the green and fertile land of the Republic of Texas--its mild climate, its rich vegetation, its fruits bursting from the vine--surely, the article exclaimed, surely this must be God's country!

I console myself with the knowledge that fraudulent advisers end up in the 8th circle of Dante's hell, each one encased in his or her own individual pillar of flame. Which means they feel approximately like I do, every time I step out of my kitchen door.

Less Repining
We waited a few more hours (till the temperature dropped to a brisk 93F) to do a little more work on the patio. We pounded in more edging, so now the patio is completely encased and the walkway is mostly done. However, we still need to bang the edging further into the ground so that it's level with the stones. This will have to wait till we buy a mallet and have given the ground a good, long soak, though.

...and now that I'm looking at this picture, I realize that the stone walkway (which connects the patio to the study door) is too skinny--it doesn't match the paver walkway (which connects the patio to the mudroom door). Bother. We'll have to move the edging out a few inches on both sides of the path. Bother.

I know I've mentioned this before, but in case you've forgotten, we'll be pulling up the stones, laying down sand and getting it nice and level (in contrast to the ground here, which slopes away from the house), then reinstalling the stones and capping with cement. And we'll be filling in the stone walkway with crushed granite or decomposed granite or similar little bitty gritty items.

But it was nice to see the progress. Our lawn may be shrinking, but our patio is growing.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

In Which We Visit Coupland, TX

Through some random spot of serendipity, I came across a website for the Huntington Sculpture Foundation, based in Coupland. Coupland (population 135) is a wee flyspeck of a town, about 7 miles north of Elgin on 95. It's got about 7 streets in the town proper, which sits on a little rise overlooking the farmland around it. It has a couple of churches, 3 or 4 old brick storefront buildings, and an old white two-story schoolhouse. It also has this sculpture garden, which seems just odd.

The sculpture garden contains the work of a guy named Huntington, who moved to Coupland from other, more glamorous locales, and it's fun stuff. It's made of large slabs of (what I take to be) granite combined in surprising ways with large curving sheets of metal, often pierced.

So it has a very elemental yet industrial look. It makes you think of silos and refineries and pipes and rock quarries and mines--things that are harsh and jagged and not at all snuggly or inviting or people-ish. They are the opposite of sofas, I guess is what I'm saying.

Except that he takes all these strong shapes and hard surfaces and makes crevices and flat spots at bum-height and little curled-in aluminum rooms. So even though the materials are so astringent, they call to your curiosity, and you can't help climbing on them and over them and in them. Which is probably the most fun I've had in a sculpture garden since... ever.

Of course Coupland is an agricultural town, so it does have silos and (maybe?) grain elevators. But on the whole, this seems like an oddly industrial idiom for this little town.

And it doesn't have very any mature trees yet, so you wouldn't want to visit when it's hot (we went in the evening during a blissful overcast hour). But I'm rather tickled to have it in my own backyard. I want to take breakfast picnics there with Matt and drink mimosas by the statues.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Global Warming SUCKS

Okay, a hot June in central Texas may not exactly be proof of global warming, but it's definitely a lot warmer than last year and I don't like it one bit.

I was getting my toes done with Cathy in belated celebration of her birthday (happy birthday, Cathy!) when Matt called to tell me, among other things, that every plant in our garden needed water and needed it bad. That one of my beloved red cabbagey mystery rose cuttings was crispy (but it was just fine this weekend!), and that the cypresses, so briefly stable, were in peril again. And it only got to 99.7 today. Imagine the struggle (and expenditure in water) come August.

I hate summer.

The 'Purple Robe' black locust is yellowing, and it's been happy as a clam since we planted it late this winter. The "stable" bald cypress is completely brown. The indigo, in deep shade, is drooping. The 'Moonglow' pear is crunchy. Matt's been moving the hose around all evening, giving each of our most troubled and cherished plants long, slow drinks. And we'd better get used to doing that every other day or (in the case of the cypresses) every day.

I feel a bit icky about this from several perspectives: Using lots of water is expensive. It's not environmentally responsible. It's not consistent with my personal ethic of laziness. On the other hand, I have no intention of doing this next year (well, except for the Magnolia x soulangiana, 'Forest Pansy' redbud, and bay laurel I plan to buy this fall). So it isn't like we're making this a lifestyle. Also, once these plants get established and start to grow, they'll be giving love to the planet--sucking down CO2, cooling the house, &c, &c. They'll also look pretty. So I think it's justified, even though it makes me cringe a bit.

And the good new is that the magnolia and roses appear unruffled. The former, we've been spoiling with water. The latter had a year to come to grips with life outside of a pot. Our fledgling oaks, all of last year's planting, are also unfussed. It's all about the roots, man. It's all about the roots.

I don't have any picture's of today's brown crispiness, but here are some pix of other recent happenings.

Matt & I got some cuttings of this neat yellow-flowered vine with long bean pods. We're trying several variants on cuttings--tip cuttings, woody cuttings, and serpentine cuttings. In this weather, I'm not terribly optimistic, but I've got them in the shade in the orangery.

Check out some of their interesting morphological features: leaves divided into just 2 leaflets, and strangely flat little buds.

Also, their tendrils narrow to a super-fine point that grab onto things very aggressively. They're able to cling to bare skin--they don't hurt, but they hang on tight.

Here are some tip cuttings.

And--wow, we're switching gears now--here's an olive salad I made to use as a dressing on a muffaletta salad for lunch all last week. Doesn't that look tasty?

...and back to the garden again: here's a better picture of 'Graham Thomas' (the David Austin rose).

Our Zephyranthes, tired of waiting for rain, burst irritably into bloom last week (rain lilies usually only bloom after a rain--hence the name). The crocosmias Mom & Dad gave us also put on a gracious show, especially accommodating of them as we just planted them this spring.

This is the now-sort-of-stabilized cypress on the SW corner of the house (a tough spot--but then, it needs a tough plant). Note how most of the leaves are still swept upwards. We thought they had just stuck that way as a result of having taken an hour and a half trip in an open trailer, but it's been a couple of weeks now and the leave are still upswept. I begin to wonder if we don't have a pondcypress (Taxodium ascendans) on our hands instead of a baldcypress (T. distichum). The one by the pond, inappropriately enough, appears to be a true baldcypress. I'm actually rather pleased about this development--owing to my great affection for the genus, I had hoped to grow both species. (Someday, I'd like to grow T. mucronatum--Montezuma cypress--as well, though we've pretty well filled our little almost-half-acre to the brim. We'd have to grow it up through the middle of the house or something.)

And finally, a little bit of Austin out here in Elgin. There is this one spot of the house that has remnants of a strand of Christmas lights from some long-vanished tenant still nailed in place. In Austin "Christmas lights" is a bit of a misnomer since people leave them out (and on) year round in some of the more bohemian sections of town. Our little patch of lights is not likely to be removed during our tenure in this house because they are between the house's power lines. So they stay up perpetually, like a little bit of Austin funk out here in the country.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Demonstrating Progress & Decline

It was another mulch-intensive weekend. The pole bed had an inadequate layer of mulch (and some very chintzy weed barrier--more of a minor weed stumbling block than a barrier--if you use weed barrier, don't get the thin stretchy plastic kind--it works as badly as common sense suggests it would) and had been colonized by bermudagrass. That stuff is inexorable.

The stripy rose bed was the last major existing bed to have no mulch whatsoever, so we fixed that, too.

Also, many of our trees were mulchless and needed little dirt levees built around them to hold water. The 'Purple Robe' black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), the 'Tuskarora' crape myrtle, and the two baldcypresses were of particular concern.

Here's why. This is the better of the two baldcypresses when freshly planted.

Slightly traumatized baldcypress by SW corner of the house

And here it is a few days ago.

Deeply traumatized baldcypress by SW corner of the house

Not good. We've been watering it every other day (sometimes more often), and when we water, we water deep. But the tree is miserable. It does still have some green leaves, and the stems are green under the bark, but overall, it's in a parlous state.

So I took down its old levees and rebuilt them farther out with a compost-dirt mixture (so it will hold more water and leach yummy nutrients into the root zone), and Matt mulched. We may stretch a shadecloth tent over it, too. This will look silly, but we do what we must.

The other cypress looked kinda sad from the outset, but it seems to be stabilizing. We planted it under the sugar hackberry that it will ultimately replace, and I think that protection from the sun has made all the difference. Still looks twiggy and emaciated, but I think it's going to live.

Scruffy but stable baldcypress under objectionable sugar hackberry--by pond

On the other hand, our oaks from last year are doing great. The picture below was meant to demonstrate how much more genteel our yard looks now that Matt has pulled down the hurricane fence and is able to edge along the fenceline. However, you can also see that our red oak (according to an arborist, it's Quercus buckleyi [AKA Q. texana], not Q. shumardii) has lots of nice, healthy green leaves.

Quercus buckleyi & gentrified back fence

We didn't mollycoddle those oaks at all last year--no little dirt levees, no mulch, no mini-beds to protect them from the depredations of the lawn--and they're all flourishing. The bur oak is covered in big, healthy leaves. The white oak (actually Q. polymorpha, not Q. alba) in our front yard has put on a second big flush of leaves this spring. This is the fruit of last summer's crazy nonstop rain. At the time, a mixed blessing--roses died, the abelia wasted, and these same trees got a whole panoply of leaf diseases--but those that survived it seem to have really robust root systems taking them into this (so far hot and dry) summer.

Our cottonwood is still blowing fluff all over the place. You can see how thick they are on the ground. Isn't it neat how the burst hulls look like little stars?

Cottonwood fluff in the crape myrtle bed

Other Follow-ups
I bought some Crinum macowannii seeds from a seller called bulbsnmore on e-bay. Click the link to see a picture of the flowers--pretty fabulous, no? Check out these crazy seeds, though. They're huge. And I can't tell which end is up. One end has a slightly pointy spot that is blackish, but I can't tell if that's for roots or shoots. I got 15 seeds, so I planted them in all different orientations, in the hopes that some of them will work out.

And at this point, two of the three surviving red cabbagey mystery rose cuttings have bloomed. The color is a bit off--it's much lighter than its parent. But that's probably just because it's young. And the main point is, The red cabbagey mystery rose lives!

Red cabbagey mystery rose cutting in bloom

And some of last year's shrimp plants are thriving--look at all those nifty apple green and pink flowers. (That's super-chic--and rather rare--cultivar 'Fruit Cocktail.') The ones in the rose bed aren't doing so hot. Three or four of them didn't come back after last winter, and those that have returned are much smaller and unbloomy than the ones pictured below, which never did die back, despite our many and hard freezes last winter.

Justicia 'Fruit Cocktail'
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