Sunday, February 3, 2013

Fall Color, New Herbs, Bathouse!

Considering that this is Texas--and not Vermont--our yard actually had some decent fall color.  The only problem is that is doesn't have it till mid-January.

Here's one of our Lacey oaks turning a nice blend of golds, oranges, and browns, making a radiant backdrop for Lewie, our pop-eyed berserker chessman.


And here's our Montezuma cypress (Taxodium mucronatum), finally turning russet, with another Lacey oak to the right.

The Montezuma cypress is basically green 11 months out of the year, red-brown for three weeks, bare for 1 week, and then in starts over again.  At least, that seems to be its pattern so far. It's still only about half bare, but it's already sprouting tiny spikes of green all over.

It's been a pretty mild winter, as you can tell by our rampant umbrella plant.  We've had, oh, 10 or a dozen nights dipping below freezing and even into the 20s, but never really with much conviction.  Only quite tender plants have been knocked back, and of those, only the ones that aren't sheltered.

We have a white Crinum powellii (sort of visible in the top pic behind the potted plants), that is between a 'La Marne' rose and a fence with 2-inch gaps between each slat.  And it doesn't have a bit of freeze damage anywhere.  And roses 'Red Cascade' and 'Burgundy Iceberg' are actually still blooming (weirdly, on the north and east sides of the house--apparently, this year's cold winds came from the south/west?).

Naturally, when the weather is this balmy, one has no choice but to plant things.

For some reason, I got a bug to finally track down two of the particularly interesting plants from the gardens at Festival Hill in Winedale: 'Goldcrest,' the lemon-scented cypress, and dittany of Crete, a kind of fuzzy, silver-leafed oregano relative.

The company I ordered from (Mountain Valley Growers--check out the adorable 1950s typeface on their box!) has a minimum, so I rounded things out with a 'Pink Lemonade' thyme, a lemon bergamot mint (Mentha piperita cv citrata), and an Egyptian mint (Mentha niliaca--I don't actually remember ordering that one, but what the hell. Sounds fun and exotic.)

The cypress will be growing up the back corner of the house, in the mint/lemon balm/pink C. powellii bed.

But the most exciting thing we planted was the bathouse Matt gave me for Christmas. 

We (loosely) used the instructions put out by Bat Conservation International (based here in Austin, thank you very much!) to prep the box and mount it on a pole.

Per the bat folks, we bought a 16' "schedule-40 stainless steel pole with a 2" interior diameter (which I procured from the obliging folks at American Fence & Supply in Georgetown--who with much trouble--and some misgivings--fastened it to the top of my little Insight using 2 foam kayak mounting doohickies. They tied that sucker on tight, but the 30-min drive home on 130 was nerve-wracking all the same.)

The fence guy recommended the mounting hardware you see in the pic rather than the items in the PDF, so that's what we did.  We cut up a 2x6, screwed it to the bathouse using 2-inch #8 wood screws (careful to avoid penetrating the body of the house itself), and then attached it to the pole.

(As a side note, the fence guys also sold me a cap for the pole, which I think the bat folks should consider adding to their instructions).

Then Matt used post-hole diggers to dig a 3-foot deep hole--which, being Matt, took just about no time at all.  We raised it (definitely a 2-person job--you could really hurt yourself trying to do it alone), filled it halfway with dirt, tamped the dirt, applied a level, and filled it the rest of the way with a bag of kiwkrete.

Handsome, no?

A few notes:
  • While the bat folks recommended a sort of medium-tan paint job for bathouses in our area, Austin bat forums all seem to agree that unpainted/unstained was better for hot climates.  So we are leaving ours as is.
  • Some instructions recommend creating a 3'-diameter concrete pad around the base of the bathouse.  Since ours is in a bed (practically on top of 'Burgundy Iceberg'), we did not do this.  It's buried 3' down, though, so I'm not too worried.
  •  Bathouses should be a minimum of 20' away from branches where birds of prey might lurk.  Ours is in one of the less-tree-infested spots in the yard, but even so I'm going to have to do some trimming stat (it needs to be ready before the bats return in the spring).
  • The bat folks recommend 6-8 hours of direct sun, with morning sun being preferable.  As it is also possible for a bathouse to be too hot, I decided to err on the cooler side and install the house on an east-facing wall.  In the summer, I think it will get 6+ hours of sun, but I'm not perfectly confident about this--it might be more like 5-1/2.  But the west side of our house is just a horrible furnace in Jul-Aug-Sept, and the south is too tree-y.  
  • A little way up the street there is a street light.  Instructions say the bathouse shouldn't be lit up at night.  I'm hoping the light is far enough away not to annoy, but close enough to offer a tempting all-night buffet.
  • That window by the bat pole?  That's our bedroom window.  If we get bats, we'll be able to lie in bed at night with the lights off and watch them flitting about!
  • Matt says not to be disappointed if no bats move in.  He's right, of course. It's a gamble.  But it would be so cool if they did.
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