Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cemetery Irises in Situ

Design on the top of a gravestone in Littig
Something about winter makes Matt & me want to visit cemeteries.  This turns out to be a good impulse, since it means fewer brambles and better visibility.  Interestingly enough, it's MLK weekend, and we ended up at two historically black cemeteries by coincidence. So that seems sort of seasonally appropriate.

The first was Littig Cemetery on Bitting Rd in Littig. Reportedly, it was created on land donated by a former slave. It's located in a pretty valley of pastureland beneath a ridge that I assume was carved out by Wilbarger Creek, which runs through the area.

A pool of irises in Littig Cemetery

Clearly, some folks have recently put a lot of work into maintaining the cemetery--they've been chopping down the (many) trees that died in the drought and gathering big piles of brush. Nicely, however, they've left the big drifts of irises (presumably Iris albicans, commonly known, for reasons that will become obvious, as "cemetery irises") that are gathered in pools around the cemetery--it will be lovely in a month or two.  So many cemeteries are tidy to the point of sterility, but it's so much more interesting when they let a little wildness in.

Littig is a tiny community that has dwindled since its heyday in the 30s and has seen (or is seeing) tough economic times, something that is reflected in the improvised tombstones on many of the graves.

This homemade headstone reads "HUS P. THOMAS DIED 25"

 After Littig, we went to Parks Creek cemetery in Manor.  From the road, it looks pretty small, and I had assumed it was fairly recent, which doesn't really interest me.

Interestingly crooked tree and irises among the graves in the newer section of Parks Creek cemetery

But Matt was intrigued, so I said, "Sure, okay, whatever."  ...And then it turned out to be a wonderful find.

Like Littig, it has a lot of handmade grave markers.  The one below is cast of concrete and stones with a decorative border made of steel wire in a green casing.

A headstone at Parks Springs cemetery

But the most interesting thing about this cemetery is that it goes on and on back into the woods. It is apparently grew slowly over the years, the older sections becoming overgrown while the new sections were being used.  So if you press your way through the brush, greenbriar, and other inexplicable thorns, you find little pockets of graves surrounded by irises, cacti, refuse, and drought-killed trees.

You have to scramble through scrub to reach this clearing

This interesting thicket contains a huge clump of agave.  It's a little macabre, but throughout the cemetery you can see colonies of plants presumably thriving on... people.  Yum.

Honestly, though, if there's one thing touring small, old cemeteries teaches you, it's the impermanence of most grave markers. It only takes a decade or two of neglect to topple obelisks, shatter stones, and efface lettering. A giant agave cluster  or a pool of irises makes at least as good a monument as stone.

A huge clump of Agave (americana?)  Somewhere under that tangle is the remnants of a small metal grave marker.

The plants also make a nice permanent bouquet.  What's interesting is that some of the graves back in the woods are only from the seventies (others go back at least to 1900).  It doesn't take at all long for a cemetery to be overrun.

In both cemeteries, many of the best-preserved headstones are those of veterans; this one from 1975 is in good shape, but it's fairly deep in the woods.

George L. Allen's headstone
 ...Where you reach it by wading through irises--hundreds and hundreds of irises.

A glorious glade of irises (presumably, I. albicans)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Holiday Garden Additions

It was a good holiday for the garden.

I got a new pair of my favorite gardening gloves, which are stretchy and close fitting, so no bulk hanging off the ends of one's fingers, but with nice leather on the palms and insides of the fingers for dealing with thorny roses.

Mom and Dad gave me a bird feeder with pole for my birthday.  It's made by a company called "Droll Yankee," which they assure me is the best.  So far, it seems to have defied the squirrels and doves, so it's an all-round success.  (Also, I've switched to safflower seeds, which are said not to appeal to S & D and which fit better in my existing bird feeder anyway.)

New bird feeder in G-n-R bed, embellished with new baby grasses
 The climax, of course, was the awesome new Savio 2050 pond pump, which is currently sending gushing torrents of water through our waterfall. It's so strong, it picks pebbles up from the bottom of the pond and sends them through the waterfall. Yowza.

The amazing pumping power of the our new Savio 2050.  Actually, the camera doesn't really capture the full volume.  It's like this, only more.
 Then the denouement was my birthday present from Matt--eight (EIGHT!) new 'White Cloud' Muhlenbergia capillaris (the grass we saw at the Atlanta Bot Gar that almost made me miss my cousin's wedding) and a sample pack of 12 more grasses that Matt picked out for me from Dove Creek Gardens in Tennessee.  (Why isn't there a major grass nursery here in Texas???  We have lots of grass. And not a lot of water. No brainer.)

Matt's sampler of interesting grasses
Here's what was in the sampler pack:

Andropogon scoparius 'Prairie Blues' (little bluestem--some debate as to whether this cultivar is in Andropogon or Schizochyrium)
Carex buchananii (leatherleaf sedge )
C. pendula (weeping sedge)
C. testacea 'Prairie Fire' (sedge)
Eragrostis elliotii 'Blue Eros' (blue lovegrass)
Festuca actae 'Banks Peninsula Blue' (blue fescue)
Miscanthus sinensis 'Nippon' (maidengrass)
Panicum virgatum 'Heavy Metal' (switchgrass)
Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Moudry' (fountain grass)
P. messiacum 'Red Buttons' (fountain grass)
P. villosum 'Cream Falls' (feathertop)

We're using the 'White Cloud' as the background matrix for the Grass-n-Roses bed, studded with the various sampler grasses.  So far, everything is tiny little dry tufts, so it's a little hard to tell what it will ultimately look like.  I imagine some fine-tuning will eventually be required, just as it was for the Mexican feathergrass (Stipa/Nasella tenuissima), 'Dwarf Hamlin' fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides), and 'Blonde Ambition' big grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis) we had already planted.  Oh, and the cute little nimblewill (Muhlenbergia shreberi), sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), and big muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri).

Pennisetum messiacum 'Red Buttons,'
glowing in the sun

 All told, that makes 18 kinds of grasses in the G-n-R bed.  Plus inland sea oats in the shade bed: 19!  Not bad.  It's not quite the Grass Garden at Kew, but still--not bad.

Another view of waterfall & G-n-R bed
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