Sunday, February 28, 2010

Shiny Brown Fireplace

Ta-da! It's finally finished: the fireplace!

Completed fireplace

I think those shiny brown Mexican tiles give it the vaguely turn-of-the-century look we were going for.

I can't wait for the grout to dry so I can casually drape--something, I'm not sure what--on the hearth, to insouciantly highlight the fact that we have a hearth!

And--oooh!--next Christmas, we can hang stockings on the mantel! I've never had a mantel of my very own before.

The room suddenly feels incredibly different--better, cozier, more civilized, more interesting.

Matt, pondering.

Also--it's been a weekend of much progress--we finished digging the pond. I dug by myself yesterday, and we finished it off together today. Whew.

Matt still has to get the rest of the ligustrum stump out, but the major dirt moving--that's done. We both think (hope?) that this represents the hump of this project, and that it's all downhill from here.

However, there is still potential for pain and catastrophe...

Matt's frustration overcomes his prudence. That's one tough ligustrum--it didn't budge. Fortunately.

Next steps in constructing pond:
  1. Procure and spread sand on horizontal surfaces--1-2" thick.
  2. Lay carpet remnants given to us by kind neighbor (Ms. D) as underlayment
  3. Water in the carpet so it fits snugly
  4. Peel back sod from edge of pond ~6-8"
  5. Procure and install sheet of plastic pond liner. At its widest points, the pond is 16 feet long and 16 feet wide, so that's going to be one substantial piece of pond liner.
  6. Hold liner very loosely in place with a few rocks, and fill with water.
  7. Trim liner edges and cover with rocks.
  8. Get fountains hooked up.
  9. Buy fish! Buy lotus! Buy waterlilies! Buy a duck! (Oh, maybe not that last one. But we would so like a dear little tiny duck.)
  10. Create crushed granite terrace, flower beds, &c., &c.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dear Weather Gods...

...Thank you for sending the blizzard the week
after we got our fireplace hooked up.

So I stayed home from work today with an upset tummy (PSA: Kids, don't eat undercooked chicken. Bad, bad idea...)

Turned out to be a good thing, really. Because it SNOWED!!!

Fortunately, the intestinal weirdness was not sufficiently severe to keep me from going out and documenting. Aside from the stimulation of seeing everything covered in white, I also learned some stuff. For example, snow is wet. When it's falling steadily, it will build up in your hair, melt, and make your head cold. Also, snow is sticky (who knew?). It sticks to the bottom of your shoes like clay, then suddenly drops off, leaving one foot 2 inches shorter than the other. Startling.

I persevered, nevertheless.

The Demesne

Snow-covered back yard & greenhouse

As you can see, it was never cold enough for the snow to stick to pavement--it just piled up in the grass.

Kitchen patio looks a lot better with the snow covering all the weeds

Snow highlights the contours on half-dug pond

10th Street in the snow

Shade patio in the snow.

Unfortunately, the snow coincided with garbage day, so a lot of my pictures feature bright blue trash cans that stand out beautifully against all that white.

Maybe I can fix that... Lemme just--wait a sec--there! Much better!

Chilly Flowers
We had a handful of early bloomers this year, and now they're being punished for their initiative, poor things.

Remember that nice iris from 2 days ago?

Frosted iris

Snowflake with snowflakes

Chinese sacred lilies weighted down with snow

And then I went back inside, curled up in my wool blanket on our squashy sofa in front of a cheerfully crackling hissing fire, lit a candle, and felt smugly snug. It was fun, but I'm glad we only do this once every 10 years.

Still working on the tile. Ordered it last week--just need to pick it up and schedule appointment with tile dude.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Further Pondification

Iris albicans (Cemetery iris)

It was another shovel-centric weekend. We started digging the deeper levels of the pond, shaping and compacting the 1-foot shelves as we went. Strangely, even though we'd had a week to recover, this shorter round of pond-digging seems to have hurt more than the initial dig. I guess our muscles haven't hardened off yet.

The pond--getting deeper

Matt did the bulk of the digging (that shapely hole to the back right is his), while I roundup'd the future pond bed, grass-n-roses bed, WTF bed, driveway bed, and A/C bed. That also hurt. The roundup spray backpack is really big! (God, I'm soft. I've been reading up on Cajun history, and my forebears were out there clearing mature live oak forests all by themselves, and draining marshes and building levees. THEY wouldn't balk at one puny pond, and they probably weeded their plots on their hands and knees--not with some chemical. I'm reclining indolently on the shoulders of giants.)

Matt's admirable shovelwork

Although the beds aren't really prepared yet, we went ahead and put the Bauhinia mexicana we bought in the ground. Now that we've cut down the ligustrum, we need something treeish to provide a backdrop to the pond--so we need our little Bauhinia to haul ass, growth-wise. So that it will look like this specimen from Zilker Botanical Gardens ASAP.

Bauhinia mexicana at Zilker

The cemetery irises are still in the early stages of blooming. I am SO pleased with these plants. Their foliage is evergreen, and they form tidy light green clumps that help to create year-round greenness in the shade bed. And now that they're blooming, I like them even better.

Cemetery irises

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!

Happy Valentine's To Us! (What's Wrong with Us?)
So Matt (who hates Valentine's Day--"It was invented by Hallmark"--"No it wasn't--it was an ancient Roman festival."--"Yeah, an ancient Roman festival to sell flowers"--Sigh) and I, who have never been a huge fan of the V-Day myself, decided to celebrate Valentine's Day by digging ourselves a pond.

Happy Valentine's to us! Go us! Power to the pondsters!

...What the hell were we thinking? A bouquet, some chocolates, and some lamb chops--1 hour's effort, several day's enjoyment. Would that really have been so hard?

Instead... God, I hurt. I'm not sure if I'll ever walk again.

Anyway, for the record (the medical record?), here's what we did.

1. Use a hose to determine the shape of the pond.
The original pond came with the house, and while we're grateful (especially for the rock structure, which must have been a chore and a half), it really is too tiny for the size of the yard. It's more of a glorified puddle than a pond. So Matt & I dinked with the hose for a good half hour--I wanted it bigger--he wanted it smaller. We both wanted it to create a sense of embracing and enclosing--he also wanted a screening effect. Part of him kept trying to design for a sitting area, while part of him kept arguing that we have too many sitting areas (I agree with Personality #1, by the way, but then "Too much is never enough" may well be my gardening motto.) We finally settled on a shape and dimension that more or less accommodated all our combined criteria--even the contradictory ones.

2. Dig a small trench around the hose.
We also dug up the ligustrum, whose aggressive root system killed the liner on the previous incarnation of this pond. In a way, we're sad to see it go because it provided much needed shade and coverage. The tree-less pond area now looks like a war zone. But it's a pond-slayer, an invasive pest, and it was right in the middle of where I plan to put the new fountain. So. Adios, ligustrum.

3. Dig like a mofo.
You should first dig the entire pond to the level of your highest shelf--usually 1 foot. This shelf is for any boggy/margin-dwelling plants you want in your pond.

Lucky for us, we've had a sopping wet week, so the soil was all loamy and fluffy--like digging a chocolate mousse cake. Or possibly a chocolate pâté. A very heavy, muddy, back-breaking chocolate pâté.

4. Bask in the glory.
Then realize that all you have achieved is a giant mud pit that will stay there until you expend several dozen more hours of work to dig the deep spots, lay the underlayment, install the pond liner, fill the pond, dig away the top layer of sod from the edge of the pond, create a rock border covering the edge of the pond liner, create a crushed granite terrace/walkway, and create the surrounding flower beds.

Well. It's a very nice mud pit.

5. Dream of the future.

A. Small yellow rose propagule--identity unknown. (B) Chestnut rose (Rosa roxburghii) (C) Bauhinia sp. (D) Crinum 'Ellen Bosanquet' (E) Montezuma cypress (Taxodium mucronatum) (F) 'Purple Robe' Blacklocust (Robinia pseudoacacia) (G) new copper fountain to be ordered from England--ooo-la-la!

On the subject of fountains, you have no idea how difficult it is to find a nice (affordable) pond fountain. All the inexpensive mass-produced stuff is spitting dolphins and small Belgian children fondling themselves while relieving their bladders. Ick. When I was at the Chelsea flower show, I had seen a lovely copper fountain shaped like a Fritillaria imperialis. I was sure we'd have plenty of similar items available over here, but no. Expectorating waterfowl, yes. Copper botanical sculptures--alas, no. Anyway, I eventually found this lovely, simple, elegant thing by a guy named Gary Pickles in the UK. Pretty, no?

On the Weather
It turned out to be a beautiful day--the perfect temperature for digging: mid-50s. But it started out cold and rimy. (I don't get to use the word "rime" anything like often enough). Here's a very chilly Texas red oak (Quercus buckleyi).

And here's out Mutabilis hedge, edged in frost.

Monday, February 8, 2010


Superbowl XLIV: Saints 31 - Colts 17

When I was a kid growing up in New Orleans, they used to call them the Ain'ts, and fans would show up to games wearing a paper bag over their heads. I'm no football fan, but this one was a long time coming, and damn it was a good game. Geaux Saints!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Brave Little Winter Buds & a New (Old) Table

Some of our spring-flowering bulbs--just planted last year, and therefore not well established--have already started blooming.

One of the cemetery irises (Iris albicans) that Matt found for me last winter is putting on its first flower. Unfortunately, I didn't catch it at its peak, so it looks a little squashed.

Our first iris

We planted green-dotted snowflakes (Leucojum aestivum) among the roses, and most of them are blooming confusedly on abnormally short stems.

Snowflakes (Leucojum aestivum) have an endearing modesty and primness

A particularly ambitious but confused little snowflake--all of 2.5" tall

The iris and snowflakes are the only bright spots in an otherwise desolated garden. Those cold snaps in the 20s really put the kaibosh on the usual staple winter plants in Central Texas. Our rose garden looks especially grim.

Amidst the general devastation in the rose garden, I do kind of like the arching, looping structure of this 'New Dawn' climbing rose

Meanwhile, at least we do have a nice green lawn... of a sorts. The St. Augustine--loathesome stuff--is all browny-grey, but we have large patches of this pretty ferny unknown. It's like a zillion little carrot seedlings. No idea what it actually is, but it's a nice bright green, and it's unfazed by frost, so I'm happy enough to see it.

Our "lawn"

New Table
Someone on a listserv I belong to (called "HerDomain"--for women in technology in the Austin area) offered this table from the 1920s for sale for $200. Now's not the best moment for us to be buying furniture, what with the ongoing fireplace project, gutter project, pond project, and an upcoming professional development training session I'll be attending, but the price sounded pretty darn good to me, especially for a table made out of real wood that is period-appropriate to the house. And we've been wanting to replace that tile-top table (such a pain to clean, and wobbly to boot) for ages.

So I ignored my checking account's indignant squeals and... voila!

I like to think that this is more or less how Spiderman would protect his furniture during transport, if he had a trailer.

Braced for highway travel

It's a bit small, but it's in very good shape and has nifty draw-leaf action. Looks good, no?

The new table in its new home
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