Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Progress on the Porch Glider!

We're finally getting some momentum under us on that porch glider (you'll remember that it was begun as a Valentine's Day project). At first, it was embarrassingly appropriate because it was to be red and it was Valentine's Day. Then it seemed like it might be embarrassingly appropriate because it's red and it was the 4th of July. Now it's looking more like it's going to be embarrassingly appropriate for Christmas instead. I guess it's a good thing we didn't stain it lilac.

Some context: we had rustoleumed the metal frame, used a pipe bender and some spare fence parts to create the seat brackets, painted the brackets, and stained and varnished all the new slats.

So we're left at the stage of drilling holes in the brackets and the slats. We started easy, attaching the arm rests to the frame.

Matt, attaching armrests.

Then we had to measure and re-measure all the holes for the brackets. Naturally, they are none of them exactly the same length nor precisely the same curve--pipe bending is not an exact art--at least, not when we practice it. Then we began drilling the holes, which requires a special kind of drill bit, of which we only had one. And we melted it.

It would seem that fence piping is kind of hard-core stuff. Which, I suppose, is good in terms of the longevity of the swing. But we have to drill about 45 more holes, and this drill bit melted after a mere 4 holes. So now I'm in the market for a metal-drilling drill bit made of kryptonite.

But perhaps it's a good thing this project is taking so long. If we had finished it last weekend, we'd have felt obliged to sit in the darn thing, and it's really much to hot for that. After several months of drilling a little, buying a new drill bit, drilling a little, buying a new drill bit, drilling a little... it'll be lovely and cool, and we'll want nothing more than to rock on our glider in the crisp autumn air, watching the leaves fall in that lovely, slanting, mellow autumn light (in Central Texas, the kind of weather I'm describing actually occurs in very, very, very late Autumn. Like January, in fact.)

Celebrating the little victories: we attach two of the swing brackets to the glider frame

You may remember that a week or so ago I posted a picture of our blackberry lily (Belacamda chinensis). I was, in retrospect, a little harsh, a little condescending to the good blackberry lily. Because my snottiness notwithstanding, it's still blooming bravely. You still wouldn't call it exactly a heavy bloomer, but it's putting out a few blossoms at once and it seems inclined to just keep on doing it, possibly indefinitely. In, I have to point out, July/August. It's plucky, that's what this blackberry lily is. An underdog. A trooper. Modest, yet determined. Here's to you, blackberry lily. Long may you bloom.

Blackberry lily, undeterred.

We also have this lovely thing, coming into its own in this unlikely season. It's a Clerodendrum ugandense, or blue butterfly bush. That common name represents a real failure of imagination. I mean, yes, I can see that they resemble butterflies. But lots of things are called butterfly plants or butterfly bushes--common, hard-working, slightly prosaic plants, for the most part. But this cool indigo loveliness, with its elegant elongated stamens and tiers of improbably dainty flowers deserves some more distinctive name, like porcelain flower or harlequin plant or, if it weren't already taken, love-in-a-mist.

In any event, when I took this picture, the plant was covered in inflorescences, while in full sun in July on the western side of the house and getting almost no supplementary water. Do you have a blue butterfly bush? Maybe you should go buy one.

Clerodendrum ugandense

And finally, here's a picture of my nifty Scadoxus, a week after its big bloom. It has interestingly broad leaves for an amaryllid, and the spent flowers look rather like the ghostly remains of a firework, after the light has faded. In a shady, neglected, slightly decadent garden, they would look pleasantly melancholy, I think. In full July sun in a partly empty bed with a bit of irrigating tubing sticking out, they just look matter of fact. Perhaps by next year, we'll have a few more plants in this bed to keep it company and give it that suitably decayed and deranged Southern look.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Patio, Soda Testing

Flower Report
We've got a few more blooms this past week from some of our more stalwart plants.

Here is 'Red Casacade,' growing on the trellis at the front of the house. It's finally begun putting on new shoots, getting taller, and blooming. It has weensy little red flowers, but when it really comes into its own, it will be completely covered in them.

'Red Cascade' in bloom

And our blackberry lily (Belacamda chinensis) has been putting on its hestitant little blooms--just a few at a time, not very large, a bit pallid. Still, it's trying. And in the middle of July, too. It deserves some points for that.

Blackberry Lily (Belacamda chinensis)

Meanwhile, our pinky-white Zephyranthes in the front bed have burst exuberantly into seed. There's a great big clump of them, all popping with papery, espresso-colored seeds.

Zephyranthes seeds

The Continuing Chronicle of the Shade Patio

Matt worked his special brand of concrete magic on the patio. He made a sort of thin sludge out of Kwik-rete (or however it's spelled) and used water and a wet broom to brush it into the spaces between the pavers. This will achieve
  1. No more weeds growing up between the pavers
  2. A sturdier patio, with fewer shifting bits (we never could get all the pavers to lie perfectly flat. And brother, we tried.)

Matt cementing in the patio

While Matt worked on the concrete, I finished sanding in the rest of the foundation for the walkway. Undoubtedly, someone has the knack to settle those stones so they won't rock or shift, but that someone isn't me. I'm hoping that adding the decomposed granite around the stones will help to stabilize them. They look nice, anyway.

The walkway, sanded (decomposed granite yet to come)

Soda Taste Test
And finally, we turned our attention to really serious matters and taste tested most of they sodas they sell at our little corner store here in Elgin.

Soda taste test

Inventory was limited, so we weren't able to compare Dr. Pepper to Mr. Pibb, for example, or Sprite to 7up.

We did have a bottle of Pineapple Jarritos, though, so that counts for something.

Here's Matt, sampling one vintage.

Matt sampling a soda

We had each tasted 13 different sodas to see which we were able to identify. Both Big Red and Big Red Peach were recognizable by smell alone. The others... were a little more of a mixed bag.

Here's Matt's response to Coca-Cola, a drink he's never had any problems with in the past:

Matt's reaction to Coca-Cola

He said, and I quote, "Bleaugh! What is this, pumpkin-flavored soda?!"

I got Coke right away, but I identified Pepsi (a drink I claim to loathe) as Dr. Pepper. Whatever. It tastes different when your eyes are open.

Other embarrassing snafus: I thought Pineapple Jarritos was Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper, and Matt said the Diet Coke was Squirt.

Yeah, you think you could do better? Try it. When you're blindfolded, they all taste like corn syrup.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Lots o' Pictures

...Not a Lot of Narrative

Despite the misery of midsummer weather in Central Texas, some of our more stalwart plants have been doing interesting things lately. I think the slight "cool spell" (highs in the low 90s) the week of the 4th helped, plus it's been sort of overcast lately.

In no particular order, here are the troopers.

My Crinum macowanii seeds are finally putting out their first, tenative little shoots. Took a lot longer than expected, but I'm still pretty happy to see them. C, macowanii is the this lovely confection, in case you were wondering.

The southwest baldcypress is bursting with little green spouts. These suggest that we are not dealing with a pondcypress (T. ascendens) after all, but rather with a standard T. distichum. Which is cool, too, of course. Apparently, all those upswept leaves were just permanently stuck that way as a result of the long drive home from Brenham--the new leaves point in all directions like a normal baldcypress.

'Graham Thomas,' our David Austin rose, has, after a rather hesitant beginning this spring, suddenly popped into jubilant bloom. The color and even shape of roses are greatly affected by climate. 'Graham Thomas' usually has a shape a bit like Duchesse de Brabant--a low, flattish, soup-bowl with the petals in a series of concentric circles (comment ça). But the heat is making the petals ruch up like this, giving the flower a completely different--but I think rather interesting--look.

The plumbago that came with house is plugging away. They're as common as bagworms these days, but I still like a good plumbago--their toughness, their lovely, glowy shade of periwinkle, their comfortably lush bush shape. Good plants, plumbagos. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

And now for the fireworks! The Scadoxus Scott gave me skulked for several weeks before finally popping up--and look at that! They're so fantastic, they deserve two pictures. Scadoxus, by the way, are members of one of my very favorite plant families, the amaryllis family. So they're actually related to Zephyranthes, Crinum, and (duh) amaryllis, among others.

Others, in fact, like this spiderlily (Hymenocallis)

And here's another amaryllid, in the middle of the lawn--it's one of the rain lily species--either Habranthus or Cooperia. (International Bulb Society to the rescue, of course: they say it's Habranthus texanus, AKA H. tubispathus var. texensis. And they should know--those are some hard-core bulb-lovin' dudes.)

And the mystery red cabbagey rose cuttings--look at them grow! You'll remember that we lost one in the June drought, but we have 2 left in the orangery, and they've both been blooming away blithely. Did I tell you that we've tentatively identified them? We're pretty sure they're also "Maggie." Last summer we were given two of these castoff mystery roses and planted them where the Mutabilis now are. They both succumbed to fungus. Meanwhile, we also had a much smaller version in rose garden that refused to bloom last year--we had no idea where that one even came from, let alone its name. But now the flowers on the cuttings match the flowers on the mystery rose of unknown provenance--so apparently we completely accidentally accrued this large collection of unmarked "Maggies". Odd, no? Anyway, we have 3 left, and it's a splendid rose to have a superfluity of.

And we've got a perennial morning glory. As I watch it try to strangle the entire tropical bed, I think, was this such a good idea? But then it seduces me again with those luminous indigo trumpets.

Matt planted some gourd seeds a few weeks ago to help shade the orangery, and they're getting to be all huge and rampant. They keep trying to grow in the orangery instead of over it, though, which is annoying. Here's one of their tendrils.

And here's one of their spooky, skeletal flowers.

They're big old beasts. And you can see the perennial morning glory devouring our nasty sugar hackberry in the top right corner. I wish it would back off the hidden lily and the black locust, but it's completely welcome to the hackberry.

Another tough old bird--the 'Tuscarora' crape myrtle we bought this spring is already blooming steadily, even though it's a wee spindly thing.

The 'Moonglow' pear that has been transplanted three times in the past year is covered in leaf buds (more have popped since snapping this picture). I was worried about the amount of shade it would get in its new (hopefully permanent) location, but I think it like the protection from that southern sun.

If we ever finish the patio and the porch glider, our next project is going to be a double-wide trellis for the rose bed (on which I'll grow lovely '4th of July' climbing roses. A modern, yes, but so perky! I first saw it a couple of years ago at the San Antonio botanical garden, and my acquisitive instincts immediately kicked into gear.) We're going to incorporate the bits of antique iron fence the Ks gave us into the trellises. How artsy.

The happy synergy of picnic umbrella and hammock. Now all we need is a mojito and a trashy novel.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Shade Patio: from Start to (near-) Finish

We reset the filler pavers in the shade patio today and filled in the cracks with sand. Given how hard we worked on this project just two days ago, I think returning to it today is a great testament to our perseverance and strength of character. Or, possibly, our stubbornness and bloody-mindedness.

In any event, I'm so enamored of the whole thing, that I thought I'd recap the patio's progress in pictures, so I can admire it in an orderly, chronologic way.

This was the beginnings of the beta version--lots of gaps, no border of little Pez-shaped pavers, no metal edging, and just the beginning of a walkway to the mudroom door.

Shade patio, Mark I.

Once we had figured out what size and shape the patio would be, given the miscellaneous collection of pavers at our disposal, we wrapped the whole thing in metal edging. Then we lifted all the pavers and filled the edging with sand.

Empty edging

Here's the pile of sand we used as a foundation for the pavers. It came from the former sandbox on the cement pad where the orangery now sits.

The contents of the former sandbox

Then we began to reassemble the pavers, starting with the 5 medallions.

Beginnings of the gold version of the patio

We capped this off with more sand to fill in the (many) cracks and gaps.

Partially sanded patio

We did not, unfortunately, have enough sand (or metal edging, for that matter) to complete the walkway to the study door, but we did get a sizeable chunk laid down. We shouldn't have to buy too many more bags of sand to finish the job. We will, sadly, have to buy crushed granite, however. The sand is the foundation for the walkway, but the mortar, as it were, that will go around the stones, will be crushed granite, which we will also use for the path out to the pond and to redo the driveway. I suspect we'll have to buy a whole truckload and have them dump it somewhere on the property. A proceeding that cannot possibly be described as "cheap," unless, of course, we're comparing it to the cost of paving in actual concrete. No telling when we'll get around to making that investment, in other words.

Our partially sanded walkway

And here's the (almost) finished product. Ta-da!

We will need to cap the whole thing with cement, and neither walkway is complete, but, still, this is basically a functional, usable, sturdy patio. Isn't it much nicer now that the holes are all filled in?

Shade patio: the gold version

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy 4th!

Hey! We had some nice weather today! And in July, no less. We got a bare smidgen of rain the evening of the 3rd--enough to moisten the grass a little on the west side, but not enough to penetrate the cottonwood's canopy on the east--but it seems to have brought cooler temperatures and pleasant breezes with it. Because we had a really, really nice day today. We had breakfast outside, which I always like, then dozed a bit and read in the hammock, then worked on the shade patio till 4ish. Then I hit the hammock again, and eventually we had a picnic dinner in Taylor (about 20 min. north of Elgin on FM 95) to watch the fireworks. Which were substantial, varied, and protracted enough to justify the drive.

And even in the middle of the day, the heat was bearable and there were cooling breezes. In the morning and evening, it was downright cool.

And just now Matt brought me a peach margarita while I blog in bed.

So, really, an awfully nice day.

The Shade Patio

Much progress was made on the patio, albeit of a two-steps-forward-one-step-back variety. We pulled up all the pavers and put down sand in order to level the patio out. (We used the sand that had been in the sandbox that was on the cement pad that now houses the orangery. There's plenty left over, so we'll be able to do the stone walkway from the study door as well.)

Leveling the sand was a bit of a bother. We didn't research it--just kinda winged it with a long 2×4 and a level. We hoed it an approximation of flatness, then used bits of board to level it further. And we used the 2×4/level combo to test it vertically and horizontally. While it's nothing like Kansas, it is more or less flattish.

Then we reinstalled all the pavers. But the problem is this: our collection of pavers is really miscellaneous--it's not like we have a set of matched pieces that all fit together in a particular way to make a shape--we just have a bunch of odds and ends. And while we got them to fit together fairly well for the beta version of the patio, this time it didn't work out so well. We were focusing on randomization instead of on seamlessness. Turns out, seamlessness is more important--randomization will take care of itself. So while the big central medallion and 4 corner medallions are fine, the filler will need to be pulled up (again) and re-laid. My back spasms in horror at the thought.

Brief Porch Glider Update
We also spray painted the three metal supports for the porch glider, so we're a wee bit closer to completion on that project, as well. If today's effort didn't sap us of all will, we may drill the supports and screw on the wooden slats this weekend.

Freshly painted swing supports

Plant Update
Also, while the 2nd baldcypress and one of the red cabbagey rose cuttings have remained stubbornly dead, the better cypress (on the west side) is putting out lots of little leaf buds all over.

Among the roses, the best so far have been the redoubtable 'Fairy,' 'Green Ice,' and, surprisingly, 'Autumn Damask,' which has completely recovered from its spring leaf fungus (after 2 apps of fungicide) and even had a blossom on it last week. What's so surprising is what an attractive, compact shrub 'Autumn Damask' has become. In a pot, it was constantly flinging out these ridiculously long, gangly arms. Now that it's in the ground, it's suddenly tidy and contained. 'The Fairy' and 'Green Ice' have both been obligingly blooming away, though their blossoms are small and sad and bleached looking.

'Wild Blue Yonder,' with its perpetual canker issues, and 'Lichterloh,' which just sits there, never growing, never blooming, looking small and scraggy and miserable, are the two worst. In their defense, even 'Knockout' is looking a bit chastened--only a few sort of washed-out blooms on it at the moment.
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