Saturday, February 28, 2009

Field Trip--Madrone Nursery

There is a nursery in San Marcos called Madrone Nursery that I've been meaning to visit for years. They specialize in native plants, but they're only open by appointment, so what with one thing and another, I'd never made my way down there.

I finally got my shit together this weekend, happily, and checked it out. And wow, the prices are good. His one-gallon perennials go for about $3.50! He's got a really big selection of trees, including some native oaks that are new to me, a weeping redbud, and a native crabapple that he's particularly proud of (sadly, Matt says I'm not allowed to buy any more trees--he doesn't think there's room. A needlessly defeatist attitude, I say.)

Madrone also has a number of nativey perennials, including a rare native Texas strain of Iris virginiana and the totally hip and unusual clover fern, which we first saw in the dinosaur garden at Zilker Botanic Garden.

The prices were so good, and there were so many things that would be striking and prolific, that I amassed quite the collection of pots. He's selling seedling Japanese maples for $25 for a 3 gallon. Because they're seedlings, if you buy them before they leaf out, you don't know if you're going to get charteuse, red, or purple leaves. In consideration of that fact, he gave me two for the price of one. So I paid $12.50 each for two 3-gallon Japanese maples! Holy cow! Those things usually sell for $50-$80! And they're a rare non-native exception in his inventory, but he's kept them because they grow so well, even in the limey soils and full sun of the hill country. They'll give a wonderfully eastern, lush quality to the bed. Every now and then, I'm filled with envy for those traditional southeastern plants that always look so graceful and elegant and faintly aristocratic to me: Flowering dogwood, Japanese maples, rhododendrons, mountain laurels, cherry trees... And now I'll have a little bit of Down East up here on the prairie.

I'm also particularly pleased about a couple of Dioon edules that I'm hoping will mimic ferniness without the tetchiness of actual ferns. The owner collected them on some limestoney mountain in Mexico that has comparable winter temperatures to Austin, so they should be cold-tolerant as well as alkaline-tolerant. They're also supposed to be resistant to some disease that's been affecting cycads in the east.

Here's the full list of my haul:

2 pint-sized satsumas (Citrus unshiu?)
1 slip of Iris virginiana (for which he charged me all of $1.00. Amazing.)
1 3-gal Mexican lime (Citrus aurantifolia)
2 3-gal Japanese maples (Acer palmatum)
4 1-gal Missouri violets (Viola missouriensis)
2 1-gal inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)
3 1-gal eastern columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
1 1-gal Penstemon tenuis (which he gave me free on account of its being in the wrong area)
2 1-gal Penstemon digitalis
2 1-gal clover fern (Marsilea macropoda )
2 1-gal Dioon edule
1 1-gal cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
1 1-gal white boneset (Eupatorium havanense)

The owner is a real character. Not to the extent of Grumpy Dave, the Ron Paul-loving conspiracy theorist who runs Garden of the Ancients, locally renowned for its inventory of the hallucinogen Salvia divinorum. But the Madrone Nursery guy is clearly part of the spectrum of eccentric horticultural characters--he's full of opinions and interesting--even cliff-hanging--stories of the seedy side of the local hort biz. He's also very generous with his expertise and very willing to give tips and back story on his stock, most or all of which he has collected and propagated himself. He's a shotgun-toting anti-establishment environmentalist plant nerd and antiquarian. Apparently, after college he donated his peyote collection to Kew Gardens.

I've planted everything but the citrus in the shade bed, though I tried to give the clover fern a little extra sun. Will add pix tomorrow.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Some posts I have more difficulty being sprightly than others. I'm tired, I'm grumpy, and the universe is exhibiting a certain lack of sparkle that I am incapable of manufacturing on my own.

This may be one of them. Sorry for the lack of sprightliness. I'll try to be more interesting next go round.

In the interim, what we have here is more on the order of a report.

Item the First: More Fascia.
We bought some exterior paint (aside: Lowe's has already discontinued the paint color--Dune Breeze--that we used on our interior trim. There are colors that are almost identical, but they have different names. What purpose does this serve exactly? "Golden Beam," for example, has been replaced by--I kid you not--"Gilded Endive"--because what could be more reasonable than applying molten gold to a salad green? Anyway, I get the allure of the nonsensical new name, but I actually, oddly, choose my paint colors based on the color, not the name. End digression.) and some new pieces of fascia to replace the rotten fascia behind the defunct gutters.

Item the Second: Paint the Fascia.
I primed the new bits of lumber and painted everything the new shade of faintly lemony white ("Betsy's Linen," it's called. This name brings to mind the story of the origin of the color "isabelline," a short of yellowish taupe. Princess Isabelle's dad, King Somebody of Somewhere went off to war, and in a gesture that is distressing from both a Freudian and a hygienic perspective, the princess swore not to change her underclothes until he returned. The war dragged on, and isabelline is supposedly the color her underwear was by the time her father returned, years later. Story is almost certainly apocryphal, but still: Ew. Moral: don't name yellowish things using words that are synonymous with "underwear."). We now have enough lumber for one long and one short side of the house.

Item the Third: Scrape the antique closet doors. Again.
Cleaning the last remaining traces of paint from the corners of 2 of our antique doors is taking FOREVER. For-FREAKIN-ever. That old paint was formulated with kryptonite or something. I'm using the gel paint remover that turns to a powdery solid when it's done lifting the paints, and we're scraping it out of the crevices with a metal spackling spatula and these little stiff-bristled brushes. Basically, imagine us vigorously and repeatedly scrubbing every inch of the trim with toothbrushes until the caked-on paint remover gives way. Fun, no?

The good news is that I finally stumbled upon a Technique. DIYers, take note:
When clearing crevices with a spackling spatula, do NOT hold spatula parallel to the door itself--much too easy to accidentally pare off pits of trim that way. Instead, hold spatula perpendicular to door and pull towards self. Spatula is much less likely to jump from one crevice to another and less likely to damage wood.

Item the Fourth: Paint kitchen door.
You may remember that we had to install a new kitchen door during the Weatherstripping Surge. Sadly, it was filthy and painted forest green on the inside and beige on the outside. Have been meaning to paint it for weeks now--since I was already in my special painting outfit and had a paintbrush full of paint, it seemed like time to divert that road to hell that I'd been paving and take care of the darn thing.

All in all, a profitably spent day, but now I'm backachey and funny smelling and--inexplicably, as I was in the workshop most of the time--I feel sunburned to boot. Bleh. I'm going to shower and go to bed. Perhaps tomorrow--while tackling 4 or 5 major cooking projects--I'll feel more chipper. Peace out.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Garden Bones

Oak-leaf hydrangea pic pinched from the NY City Parks & Recreation Dept.

I finally bought some of those trees I've been yammering about since November. We got a good-sized weeping yaupon from Matt's old nursery, a Cordia from Plant Escapes, and an oak-leaf hydrangea from The Great Outdoors. Also, tomorrow morning I plan to fulfill a decade-old ambition and finally order a farkleberry for my very own. Farkleberry, baby!

All three of our new purchases provide what I think of as essential bone structure in the garden. As you may know, there are landscape architects, on the one hand, and landscape designers/horticulturists on the other. The principle difference is that landscape architects view plants principally as three-dimensional shapes which can be arranged in various striking and artiful ways to create a powerful overall effect. Those with more training in plants and less training in architecture tend to be less alert to the structural possibilities of plants and more alert to their intrinsic interest as specimens. It's a continuum, of course. A place like Peckerwood, in Hempstead, excels at combining intrinsically fascinating plant materials in very artful, sculptural ways. And many very plant-oriented people are also capable of arranging those plants in an effective and beautiful way. But there is an underlying tension between the two tendencies, and I, as a horticulturist and not an architect at all, definitely lean toward the lumpish accumulation of beloved cultivars.

But even I can't help but notice that my rose garden is basically a row of bumps. It needs bones. It needs some strongly defined verticality to break up the monotony of similar shapes and sizes and also to provide boundaries.

Last year we took our first step to remedy the problem when we bought our 'Little Gem' magnolia for the corner of the house. It was just what I wanted--a tall, columnar, dark green exclamation mark. But then west of the magnolia the rose garden just sort of dribbled on. This summer we added our rather massive trellis--more to provide privacy than for aesthetic reasons, but it did vary the shapes and heights in the rose bed. Still, the western corner of the bed was dangling about unanchored, plus we still wanted more in terms of privacy. Thus the weeping yaupon. It's not terribly tall, but it's pleasingly dense. And we know it can handle drought, which is, sadly, a required feature.

The Cordia boissieri will also provide bones--in this case, it will replace the creaky old ligustrum on the corner of the study. The ligustrum, for all its many faults (ligustrums are deprecated for being invasive non-natives, and the trunk on this particular specimen is partly hollow) does provide a nice, heavy shade to the study, and it's everygreen. It puts the "shade" in our shade garden in the winter, when the cottonwood is leafless. The Cordia (sometimes called a Mexican olive) is nativish, evergreenish, will get to be about the same height, and has showy white trumpetty flowers. Once the Cordia gets big enough, we'll whack the ligustrum, and its replacement will anchor the corner of the shade garden.

The oak-leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) is the first installment in the enlarged shade garden that will encircle the shade patio. It will feature lots of lovely, cool, woodsy plants, with a heavy green-and-white theme. There'll be a couple more hydrangeas, some American beautyberries (Callicarpa americana), the farkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum), two white Crinum macowanii, and some white cemetery iris (Iris albicans). Some day, if I'm feeling very ballsy, I may attempt a little Japanese maple in there (!)

So we've made good progress on the bonesiness. We do still have an urgent need for a chitalpa on the southwest corner of the house to anch0r the impending blue-and-purple bed by the kitchen, and we need some tall, wide thing growing up the west-facing wall by the rose bed to break up the giant, blank emptiness. And maybe a Magnolia × soulangiana by the driveway. But then our garden will have pretty much all the bones it needs.

Happy meteorological news, by the way--we've been getting some light rain for the past week or so. Sad news: I need to uninstall and reinstall my rain gauge--it isn't reading the rain, probably because it's not level enough. Probably because I attached it to our drunken sailor of an old, warped wooden fence. Judging from surrounding areas, though, I'd guess we've got between 0.6" and 1" all told. The ground was soft when I planted my new trees/shrubs.

Farkleberry pic pinched from

Saturday, February 7, 2009

First Radishes

My first home-grown D'Avignon radishes. Aren't they pretty?

And now, suddenly, my radishes are ready to eat.

And I have abruptly learned something about radishes. You know how they sell them in clusters in the grocery store? They don't actually grow in clusters. 1 radish seed = 1 radish bulb. I'm pretty sure that as a horticulturist, I should have sussed this out somewhat earlier in the process, but I actually only just figured it out this morning.

This, as you might imagine, rather changes the mathematics around how many seeds you should plant, and when.

So my awesome, guerilla, recession-busting garden currently boasts 6--yes SIX!--whole radish bulbs. Well, actually, 3. I ate some.

Yep, this is going to be a huge savings in my weekly grocery bill.

So that's the sad news: radishes are lazy, underproducing bums.

The other sad news: radishes are not very filling. Three radishes for lunch, even with butter and sea salt, leaves you thinking, "That was great! Now where's my cheeseburger?'

But there is happy news: Boy, those squirts grow fast! I'm harvesting less than a month after seeding. And because they grow so fast, there just isn't much time for them to develop diseases or succumb to pests. Easy peasy.

To distill: if you want to have radishes for breakfast, like the French do (or so the radish lobby would have you believe), aim for at least 10 plants per seeding, and seed every 5 days. Also, buy a baguette, because radishes all by themselves, however crisp and refreshing, are like eating air. Unless you're either a chameleon or a monk, they don't make much of a meal.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Sash Locks and Garden Goings On

Installing Sash Latches
One of the results of our recent bout of weatherizing (which we totally have covered now, Mr. President. Can I interest you in replacing our HVAC system, though? I totally promise to blow the savings in a consumerist frenzy at Lowes. Hugs and kisses, your faithful constituent, Melanie) is that with our windows no longer painted shut, we needed to install some form of lock or latch on the newly liberated sashes.

Old-school windows like ours require old-fashioned sash locks (see pic below). However, the bottom piece of the top sash wasn't really designed to have a latch attached to it in the way shown in the picture--it's a narrower, beveled piece of wood--not strong enough or wide enough.

Package showing typical sash lock installation

I knew there was a way to make the darn things work, but for some reason, I had trouble figuring it out. I felt like a toddler who can't figure out the shape-holes game--I kept twisting the pieces around in different configurations and they kept not fitting together right.

The shape-holes toy

Anyway, for anyone as spatially challenged as myself, here's a pic showing how you do it:

Yeah, I know, we need to scrape the paint off the glass. Mañana, mañana...

Works like a charm. And so wonderfully antiquey. Seems like something we would have had on the camp on Grand Isle that was built by my great-grandparents. (Actually, I think the hurricane-optimized windows operated by crank, but they could have had this kind of latch. Would have matched the cracked brown linoleum with big bunches of roses and the claw-footed bath tub.)

In other weatherizing news, I added more closed-cell stripping around the windows in the living room, and that seems to have made all the difference--am now warm and snug. I also installed pieces of foam behind a bunch of our faceplates and caulked around the electrical boxes. Not sure that's really going to make much difference, but I was on a tear. Leave no faceplate uncaulked. That was my motto.

Now all that remains is to finish installing quarter round in the living room and dining room and caulk it in.

Movement on the Gutter Front
Meanwhile, we've taken another step towards gutterdom. We bought almost one whole side of the house worth of fascia (with a gift card from my mother-in-law's BFF, Lucy. Thanks Lucy! It arrived just when we were feeling motivated, which was great.) We put down one coat of primer Monday. And once again (how?! how, I ask you?!?) I got paint in my hair. I keep picking at it (and washing my hair), but I keep finding new little streaks. Anyway, I expect to get the priming done this week and maybe start on the painting next week. At which point, my hair will be completely white.

Needless to say, there is no real urgency around this project. Here's my weather station's graph of this year's rainfall, as displayed on the wunderground. That one tiny 0.4" spike of moisture? That's where I was testing the rain cup to see if it was actually in operation.

Seedlings Galore
My Recession Veggie Garden--which is entirely in containers in the greenhouse this year--is starting to look like it might add up to something.

My lettuce, for example, is looking kind of lettuce-like.

Lolla Rossa' lettuce seedling

I've got a number of artichoke seedlings coming up that are nice and stout.

'Violetto' artichoke seedlings

I have a plethora of spindly little lemon basils.

'Mrs. Burns' excellent lemon basil seedlings

And while the peppers have been very shy about popping up, I do have at least one sprout of each variety. The guajillos have been the least petulant so far.

Guajillo pepper seedlings

But my pride and joy is the radishes. Look how big they already are! I recently received a shipment of watermelon radish seeds, so we'll see if they do as well. It's probably a bit late in the season, but I'm going to try a few seeds since the D'Avignons are being such good sports.

D'Avignon radish seedlings

Other Garden News

The Meyer lemon is still blooming away, smelling lovely, and making weency little green baby fruits. I love the colors on this plant--the cool, ivory-mottled green of the leaves, the flush of purple on the buds, and the buff-colored anthers.

Meyer lemon flowers and embryonic fruit

We've also got some sort of kalanchoe coming into bloom. Not a huge fan of kalanchoe foliage, but these shiny, shell-like flower buds are really cool.

Kalanchoe flower buds

And finally, Matt has propagated something he's tentatively calling 'Louis Philippe.' It's a dear little thing, whatever it is. Like so many chinas, it manages to look spunky, dainty, and tough all at once. So endearing.

Possible 'Louis Philippe' rose cutting
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