Sunday, May 30, 2010

Fountain & Fluff

The fountain

I went outside today--what was I thinking? It was at least 95 degrees F! Not ninety-five whiny-girl degrees, which is a measure of temperature I sometimes use and translates to about 89 degrees F--but ninety-five real degrees. Because it's now really and truly and irrefutably summer, which means I get a couple of good hours in the morning, a couple more in the evening, and I spend the rest of the time hibernating. And so much showering is required!

However, it was worth it: I had to break out the soldering iron, but the fountain is now hooked up and running! So much prettiness.

As a side note, the person who advised me on plumbing parts and flux and whether or not to use pipe cement at Lowes was this cute, round-cheeked little blond girl with a pixie cut, and then I (also a girl) came home a melted metal pipes together. I'm not sure if this is what Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Barbara Bodichon or Millicent Garrett Fawcett or Mary Wollstonecraft or Alice Paul or all of the rest were fighting for exactly, but the little 8-year-old version of myself who lives in my head was like,"Whoa! You know how to solder?! You know what soldering is?" She was very impressed. I think, all things considered, they would have been pleased too. And Amelia Bloomer would have been happy to see that I did it while wearing jeans. So that was nice.

A half-open Easter Lily

The Easter lily from a couple of years ago, which we transplanted to make way for the pond, is flourishing a bunch of heavy, fragrant, lemon-creamy trumpets. It's not exactly Easter now, but since many of our flowering plants have pooped out in Great Post-April Broil, I don't mind.

Other than the lilies, what is blooming now are some of our ass-kickingest roses ("Georgetown Tea," 'Belinda's Dream,' 'Cramoisi Superieur,' '4th of July,' 'Souvenir de la Malmaison,' 'Duchesse de Brabant,' 'Ducher,' and of course dear little 'Green Ice'), and our new pond plants.

I don't know how long they plan to keep this up, but both water lilies are blooming, some of the water poppies are blooming, one of the pickerels is blooming, and so is the biggest of the Thalias.

'Colorado' water lily in bloom

Water poppy in bloom

Two blooms at once on 'Colorado'

I am, however, a little worried about our 'Mrs. Perry D Slocum' lotus, which has a lot of chlorosis and even some necrosis (see in background, 4 pictures up). Web searches haven't brought up much. Could it be a pH problem? Will have to get a pH tester and see what that reveals.

The "Fluff" part of the blog title comes from our venerable old cottonwood tree, currently releasing waves and blizzards of aggravating white fuzz blobs that get up your nose and stick to everything and, as you can see above, litter the surface of the pond. Cottonwood, we adore you and we love what you do for the east side of the house, but for the love of Mike, please stop with the fluff already!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fish & Fountain

Exciting news! Bob at Draco Gardens graciously offered us some of his spare water plants and fish, which was terrific in and of itself, but also meant that we got to meet Bob & Lyn, who were delightful and interesting and charming, and we got to visit their garden and pond. Their pond is lovely--several long interconnected pools full of plants and fish, with a bridge made out of a giant monolith. They used local stone, so that while it's clearly man made, it harmonizes really well with the landscape. And I thought the massive rectangular shapes of the border rocks gave the pond an interesting whiff of modernism.

I was (secretly) feeling pretty chuffed about myself for digging my own pond (technically, half a pond, since Matt dug at least half of it, but still), until (1) I saw them gardening out of what appears to be bare limestone, and (2) Bob told us about his mom and dad, who dug a much larger pond than ours by hand several times over (there were technical difficulties) at the age of 70!

To which I can only say: Wow. People. They just don't make em like they used to.

They gave us a pink lotus, some blue pickerel, a red-stemmed Thalia, some (what I think is) water poppy, some anacharis (or hornwort? not sure), a great big arrowhead plant (Sagittaria montevidensis?), some huge bulrushes, and something with calla-like leaves that I think was called oar-plant. And they gave us two goldfish, whom we have named Bob & Lyn, which we thought made a nicer gesture than, for example, designating a "Bob & Lyn Memorial Bulrush."

In addition to all of that excitement, the fountain I ordered finally came in, and I love it. I had been having second thoughts about the scale--I worried it would be too small--but it's actually just right: big enough to make a striking accent without dominating.

It's got a half-inch pipe connector thingummy, and the pump's hose is (I think) 3/4", so it's not hooked up yet. But even just sitting there, it looks lovely.

Fountain in the foreground, bulrush and arrowhead behind

The new and lovely fountain

In addition to the niceness of the fountain, our nameless tropical water lily has begun to bloom, and, much to my pleasure, it's purple! I probably would have preferred a more bluey-indigo rather than neon pinky-purple, but that's a minor quibble.

See that tiny speck of pinky-purple? That's it. Presumably, it's just warming up.

This is pretty close to the actual color, though it took some diddling in Photoshop

It looks a lot like either 'Kathy McLane' or 'The Queen of Siam.'

And if all that weren't enough, the Thalia has put on its first bloom, too. I think these flowers are so awesome--I love the deep purple against the powdery lavender. It's a shame no one has found a way to breed these for bigger flowers.

The tone-on-tone purpleness of Thalia dealbata

All in all, the pond has been the gift that keeps on giving. I can't tell you how much I'm enjoying it. There was an initial investment of time and money, and we have to skim out the cottonwood fluff and top off the water every now and then, but for what seems like very little ongoing work, we're getting a great deal of pleasure.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

My, How You've Grown!

Well this is a happy post.

I was admiring the linden/basswood/lime/tilia the other day, and trying to remember just how small it was when we bought it two autumns ago in Medina, TX. And it struck me that it would be rather instructive to do before-and-afters for a lot of the features in our yard.

So, here's that crazy, fast-growing tilia. Planted in fall 2008, photographed in April of 09, and just updated this month.

There must be some reason that I don't know about why people aren't planting these things left and right. Because look how handsome, how quickly it grew in just one year, how much potential it has to produce shade quickly, how little water it requires, and how sturdy and uncomplaining it is. So far I can't help but think, what a terrific, under-utilized tree. But perhaps it attracts the souls of the dead on Halloween, or releases a terrible smell upon reaching sexual maturity, or has a taste for human blood?

The tilia's bedmate, Sophora affinis (Eve's Necklace), it another survivor. It has inexplicably thrived despite really gross abuse. We originally planted it in our short-lived, sand-filled succulent bed, where we didn't water it. Then there was a drought that killed off all its above-ground parts. Then Matt demolished the succulent bed to build a greenhouse, so we transplanted it. Then we had more of a drought, and we still practically never watered it. Now it looks like this. Eve's Necklace: the tree that can't seem to bear a grudge.

May 09 versus May 10. The redoubtable Sophora affinis.

When I flipped through my old garden photos, I was amazed at how much the bur oak has grown--I hadn't realized what it little twig it originally was--and that picture was taken after it had been in the ground for a year. It still hasn't managed to settle on a central leader, but at least it's growing out nicely.

2008 to 2010. Quercus macrocarpa.

This one isn't quite so triumphant. We were given this nice little baldcypress in June 2008, just before the drought hit. We tried to coddle it through two years of scorching dryness, but it never managed to be more than half alive. Finally, we moved it to the east side of the house and replaced it with a weeping baldcypress. In its new location, our stunted little stepchild is... still only half alive (on left below).

Left is current location; right is in 2009, after a year of tender ministrations

In terms of whole beds, check out how much rosy charm has accumulated around the gazebo since 2007 (most of the roses were only planted in 2008, by the way):

The gazebo, 2007-2010

And wow, that trellis really was a good idea. I had forgotten just how public the rose garden used to be. Check out the tininess of the Mexican white oak (Q. polymorpha), too. And now it's so big!

The front bed, 2008-2010

And here's the rose bed from the other side. This "before" picture is even older--spring or summer 2007. The "after" pic was from April of this year--believe it or not, the '4th of July' rose (on the trellis) is even bigger than it was 1 month ago.

The rose bed, 2007-2010

And lastly, our already-beloved pond. On the left, you can sort of see the rim of the black liner at the foot of the ligustrum. On the right--aaaahhh, beautiful bigness.

Pond, Jan 08 - May 10

It's so easy to get stuck in the moment with gardening--to wonder impatiently when your trees are going to start giving shade, when your vines are going to fill in their trellises, and when your flowers are going to start blooming.

Patience, young grasshopper. It will happen. And in a space of time that will only feel long.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Pond Plants

Top right: aquatic mint, water clover. Left: sweet flag, Thalia, creeping Jenny. Bottom right: blue pickerel, waterlily, Louisiana iris.

Got paid Thursday. Halleluja! Time to buy some pond plants!

You'll remember that we already had one pond plant, a 'Full Eclipse' Louisiana iris.

Now we've also got some for filtering and oxygenating (the workhorses) and some for prettiness (the divas).

Shelf plants:
-- Variegated sweet flag - Acorus calamus 'Variegatus'
-- Aquatic mint - Mentha aquatica
-- Creeping jenny - Lysimachia nummularia
-- Water clover - Marselia mutica

Submerged filter plants:
-- some handfuls of water poppy - Hydrocleys nymphoides
-- some handfuls of hornwort - Ceratophyllum sp.
-- some handfuls of Elodea canadensis

-- Blue pickerel - Pontederia chordata
-- Thalia dealbata (2. Because they're so pretty.)
-- a nameless tropical waterlily (d'oh! I had meant to only buy hardies-$$-but I pulled from the wrong tank-$$$)

Foreground: Louisiana iris. Middle: tropical water lily. Back: creeping Jenny, variegated sweet flag, Thalia.

This was not a cheap trip to the pond store (especially not when one accidentally buys a tropical waterlily--they're $40 a pop!), but I doubt I've even got 10% of the surface of the pond covered with foliage. The internets (especially the sellers of pond plants--imagine that) recommend 50-70% coverage.

Well, it's quite handsome, anyway. No idea what the flowers will be like. $40 worth of loveliness, I hope.

In other news, the Crinum x powellii is loaded with flowers. I like the decadent dangliness of its spent flowers. It makes me think of an antebellum lady of impeccable breeding with a habit of surreptitiously stepping out of an evening and returning in the wee hours with a rollicking hangover and love bites that she has to cover with her shawl. Refined yet simultaneously raffish. Elegant, but disreputable.

Crinum x powellii and oak-leaf hydrangea

Sunday, May 9, 2010

In Which the Pond Finally Freaking Works

Duck stands proudly astride functioning waterfall above (mostly) level pond

You may remember that we had a great deal of difficulty finishing off the pond. We dug it, sanded it, carpeted it, lined it, and filled it, only to discover that when the water was at the very edge on the east side, it was still 10 inches from the top on the west side. It seems we have a little sloping problem, which we had somehow never noticed before.

Fixing the problem necessitated building a levee on the low side, draining the pond, removing the rocks, shifting the liner, and re-filling the pond. This took a while, but this weekend we finally got it done and miraculously level-ish.

Let's pause a moment to bask in it: ahhhhhh...

Isn't it nice? And the soft splashing sounds all moist and cool and fertile. And it's BIG.

We've even put in our first water plant, a dark indigo Louisiana iris called 'Full Eclipse.'

(See bottom right of pic below.)

Louisiana iris in the pot in the bottom right corner

As you can see, however, the whole thing still isn't done. Matt got the waterfall running again this morning, and he began placing rocks around the edge, but we have a LOT of rockwork left to do/buy.

The really difficult bit is figuring out how to get the horizontal rocks on top of the levees to stay put. Since they're sitting on top of rubber liner, I don't think mortar or glue will work. My folks were in town today, and Dad (the engineer) recommended that we rest long, narrow rocks on the underwater ledges, and set the horizontal rocks on top of them. You obviously wouldn't want to step on this arrangement, but that's probably as secure was we're going to get. I wish I knew how other pond makers solve this problem.

You can see around the waterfall that Matt had kind of tentatively begun doing that. But of course, it will require buying one whole hell of a lot more rock. Not a project we will be finalizing anytime soon. But really, what is "final,"anyway? Nothing's ever done until it's dead, right? By which measure, our entire property is positively luminous with green and vibrant life.

Vertical rocks resting on the underwater ledge; horizontal rocks resting upon them

But even in its infant state, I think this pond contains much awesomeness, and I'm just itching to get some waterlilies and a lotus or two--oooh! and a Thalia!--to provide even more awesomeness.

On other topics, I'm throwing in some more pix of oak-leaf hydrangeas because I've waited so long for these to bloom, and they look so very pretty. In the picture below, you can see the difference between the (unnamed) Peckerwood cultivar on the left and the (unnamed) Great Outdoors cultivar on the right. HUGE difference. Caveat emptor.

Cultivar from Peckerwood on left; from Great Outdoors on right

And one more pic, just for the sheer joie de vivre of the thing. You may be wondering, "what's with all the fuzzy ivory stuff behind the flowers?" Interestingly, those are the actual fertile flowers. The showy bits that look like flowers are infertile pseudo-flowers with bracts instead of petals. Bizarre arrangement--not sure where Mother Nature was going with that one, but I suppose there must be some good reason for it.

So much pretty...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Oak-Leaf Hydrangea Blooms

The oak-leaf hydrangea is finally blooming!

Isn't it pretty?

The Peckerwood cultivar of oak-leaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia)

And look how big it is--the flower heads are ~8 inches long.

Peckerwood specimen in back; Great Outdoors in front

Interestingly, our two different OLH specimens produce vastly different flowers. The big one above came from Peckerwood (seems appropriate, somehow), while the older shrub below came from Great Outdoors.

Little bitty oak-leaf hydrangea flower

Astonishing difference, no? The one from GO is half the size or less than the one from Peckerwood. Unfortunately, neither was labeled by cultivar--just "Oak-leaf hydrangea." So all I can recommend to future OLH buyers is to buy them in late Apr/early May while they're in bloom.

This is very nice, and very cool and green and pretty--but imagine what they'll look like next year, when they're (I hope) twice the size!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Weekend in Castroville

The Place
We took a mini-vacation in Castroville (west of San Antonio) this weekend. We had visited 5 years ago, and were pleasantly surprised--at the time, it had just seemed like a convenient and inexpensive place to stay near San Antonio. But the town was settled by Alsatians back in the 1840s, and is full of trim little Alsatian-style houses whose gardens are brim-full of deep blue larkspur and bright red poppies (California poppies, I think, but I'm not sure).

Also, we stumbled on this charming little Alsatian restaurant last time called The Normandie, which introduced us to the pleasures of jägerschnitzel and salade niçoise. Also, it offered a cheese course after one's dinner, so we rounded the occasion off with a lovely stilton.

So, back to Castroville we went, to wander the historic district, admire the poppies and larkspur, and reacquaint ourselves with jägerschnitzel.

The Poppies

Happily, we hit Peak Poppy once again.

A poppy at the Landmark Inn

I don't know why, but there seems to be a town-wide conspiracy to grow these guys. I'm not sure if the poppies/larkspur have some kind of Alsatian roots, or if that's just part of Castroville's branding effort, but they grow all over the historical district, and they look wonderfully crisp and bright against all those stuccoed fachwerk houses.

More poppies and larkspur

The Houses
And the houses are as idiosyncratic and adorable as I had remembered. Alsatian houses apparently had a very characteristic silhouette, which was employed both on little bitty houses...

Tiny Alsatian house
...and on great big ones.

Much bigger Alsatian house

I think most surviving colonial houses have since been embellished with front porches, which in this climate is the only sane thing to do. Because the original houses were often quite small--1 or 2 rooms downstairs plus a sleeping loft above--layers of additions have accumulated on to most of the buildings, in many cases adding to their whimsicality.

Alsatian house + porch

The B&B
As before, we stayed at the state-run Landmark Inn, which is a historic property itself and includes a colonial grist-mill-turned-electric-mill on the grounds.

The old mill and a 1920s-style light bulb it would have once helped to power

Mill parts. Way, way down there is the water that traveled several hundred feet underground to turn the mill wheel

The room was nice and antiquey (we stayed in #4, the "Ebro", which is their only en-suite), but we rather missed having a television. We don't get cable at home, so when we travel, we get very excited about watching the History Channel and the home improvement channel and the old movie channels. Especially now that, in our dotage, we've become addicted to having a nice, cool siesta during the hottest hours of the afternoon when we vacation. I also wasn't able to get wifi in our room, which rather shocked and appalled me. I forgot to inquire, however, so that may have just been a temporary snafu.

The Plants
Plant-wise, Castroville was also bursting with the orangey-coral blooming aloes, fruit-laden loquats (Eriobotrya japonica), and fragrant Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), as in this arbor on the grounds of the St. Louis cathedral.

Confederate jasmine

We took a hike at the Castroville Regional Park, which has a nice walk up to a scenic overlook (called, I think, "Cross Hill" because of the--frankly rather unattractive--cement cross at the top). The entire trail was lined with great bunches of coriopsis, and you had to press your way through them to follow the path.

The path. Somewhere in there.

It was really rather magical--I've never been so lavishly encased in flowers before. Above were blooming acacias, and mixed in with the coriopsis were Indian blankets, blue curls, purple lantana, scarlet flax, and a sort of centaurea/thistle-looking flower, among others we couldn't identify.

Matt amongst the coriopsis

Coriopsis bud and calyx

We also visited the local Medina Valley Greenhouses, a retail nursery in a really pleasant setting--in the valley right next to the Medina river, amongst mature pecans that have grown to giant heights in the river bottom. For some reason, they built a whole string of greenhouses into the hillside. They're low-roofed, cool, dim, and green, with an awesome rock wall built into the hill. Regulating temperature must be a doddle with all the rock and the insulation provided by the hill. It's one of those fertile, cool, and protected places that just feels good to be in. If I ever have the chance to build a greenhouse into a limestone hill, you better believe I'll take it.

A Medina Valley greenhouse

So, plant-wise, the trip was pretty satisfactory. We both bought various plants, and we enjoyed examining the local plant palette, which is a little more tropical than our own, despite the overall aridity of the region.

The Food
Culinarily, it was a mixed bag. We really enjoyed both the grounds and food the the Welfare Cafe on the way down (in the remnant of a settlement called Welfare, close to Boerne). Matt had a phenomenally good jägerschnitzel--cubed portobellos in a delectable--if rather rich--buttery sauce, and we shared some very good "kartoffelpfannekuchen" (potato pancakes--do smear with applesauce--it's remarkably tasty--much better than any potato pancake/applesauce combo I've ever had before).

But--and this is so very sad--The Normandie in Castroville closed down some years ago. Now there are two upscale-ish restaurants, called--with a peculiar lack of originality--The Alsatian and The Old Alsatian, which despite their names focus on Cajun and Italian food, respectively. WTF? We ate at TOF, which is walkable from Landmark Inn, and ordered from the few Alsatian items on the menu--a couple of local sausages, a noodle dish reminiscent of fettucine carbonara ("nouilles alsacienne"), and more
jägerschnitzel. The sausages and noodles were good, but the jägerschnitzel--drowned in a tasteless brown gravy--was really, really not. And there was no cheese course. :-(

It wasn't a complete wash, food-wise, however. We stopped at Dziuk's meat market (pronounced "jukes") and got some peppered bacon, pork-and-quail sausage, and bacon-and-jalapeño-wrapped quail breasts, all of which sound very enticing.

The Recipes
But best of all, the Landmark Inn sells a cookbook compiled by locals in 1977 called Old Favorite Receipts. It has a fair representation of the cream-of-mushroom-soup school of cookery, but it's mixed in with some seriously crazy shit--6 different versions of a sort of steak tartare ("parisa"), all made with Velveeta cheese, wine made from jalapeños, wine made from parsnips, several recipes calling specifically for Pearl beer, a recipe for moonshine, 2 blood sausage recipes, a recipe for beef ragout for 50 people, "potato fluff," flapjacks made from cattail flowers, fried rattlesnake, and even--heaven help me--stuffed armadillo. It's awesome.

A window in the old mill at the Landmark Inn
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