Monday, December 29, 2008

Cautiously optimistic

My father is opening his eyes and responding to questions. I'm not usually one to believe in miracles, but I have to say that this certainly resembles one. Maybe it was all those good thoughts and prayers all of you have been sending our way that did the trick. I have not responded to your comments on the blog, simply because I felt inadequate to do so. But let me say thank you now. You are all very kind.

He is not out of the woods yet, but I am starting to feel a little bit optimistic about his prospects. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Taking some time to reflect on a fellow gardener

Many years ago, my father was one of the very first people to plant a xeric garden in his west Texas town. It was partly forward-thinking on his part, and partly simply because liked gardening and tinkering with new projects. I got my love of both from him.

He hasn't been able to do any gardening for a few years now, so I have been driving down and tidying things up for him every so often. This is a photo of his side yard hell strip, in which I spent the earlier part of this past week clearing out weeds and winter kill. I love the contrast and play of negative space of the river stones against the buffalo grass, and tried to make it look the way he would have.

On Christmas Eve my father slipped into a coma as his kidneys began to fail. Yesterday, there was some small improvement in his condition, but the prognosis still does not look very good. I am back in LBB for a couple of days; I need to take care of a few things here before returning to be with him and the rest of my family. I think I'll spend a little time in my own garden between my chores and errands today, since I always find it easy to think about him when I'm there.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Stone settled

I have always liked the tidy look of raised beds. I don't really need them here, as the soil is pretty good and fairly easy to work, but even so, it seems like I've hankered for one for the farm ever since I first thought to plant a veggie in the ground. And now that it looks like I plan to stick with this business of backyard crop raising, I thought this winter downtime would be a good time to put one in.

I decided to use stone, since it feels permanent and solid. Wood is nice and probably would work just as well, but stone speaks of commitment.

I bought it in three separate trips to the nursery/stone yard, filling the back of the wagon with ~350 pounds of rock on each go-round. On the third trip, the guy taking my money said, "Building a raised bed, are you?"

Well, it turned out not to be so raised, which is fine. As I said, I don't really need it to amend the soil, nor, thankfully, have I gotten so creaky yet that I find it uncomfortable to kneel in the garden. But I've realized that it is not really these things that I am after, but that sense of orderliness that a solid border brings to what can be a disorderly world. It feels permanent and settled. It says I plan to be here for awhile, growing things.

I set it all yesterday--over a 1000 pounds of rock--carrying, digging, and shoving my way to a pleasant fatigue.

And at the end of the day, I thought it looked pretty good:

I had to build it around the cold frame, but that will be moved to another spot once the carrots are harvested. Once that's done, I'll spread the remainder of the composted soil across the bed. Come spring I'll scratch some buffalo grass/blue grama seed in the paths that border the bed. I think that the contrast between the softness of the prairie grasses and crisp edges of the limestone will be very pleasing.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas cuttings

It all started when my friend Jill called and suggested going to lunch at a favorite TexMex restaurant, Picante's. I said, "Great idea! It's just down the street from ------- Nursery, and I've been meaning to drop by there to see if they have any Christmas cactus."

"Ha! You don't need to do that," she said. "We've got more Christmas cactus than we know what to do with at the greenhouse. Come take some cuttings."

That's a picture of Jill up there at the top, coaxing some babies from a maternity plant. She teaches biology and botany at a local community college, where they have a greenhouse. For many years she and the other biology teachers have had students grow plants from cuttings, and now she was offering to let me do the same from their huge stock.

I felt my heart do a tiny little skip.

"Besides," she added. "Using cuttings instead of buying the plants fits in with your way of doing things."

(Hang on. My way of doing things? What the heck would that be? Cheap? Well okay, maybe I am, but what do I care? Quelle fun!)

So today we drove over there and she turned me loose. All I had to provide were the pots and tray (an excellent way to recycle all those leftovers I had lying around). Here are some pictures from my Very Fine Morning:

O! The plantmanity! Who could stop at just a Christmas cactus when faced with such bounty? So many choices...

I was really taken with all the succulents. I took a lot of photos for upcoming "garden blogger bloom days."

Here I am, looking like I know what I'm doing--which, as it turns out, I do, having been tutored by Jill only moments before. The procedure is simple: cut with a sterilized razor blade, dip the end in rooting hormone, stick it in the potting soil, add water. Easy. As. Pie.

In addition to the specimens I took, there were some already-rooted cuttings remaining from the just-ended school term, summarily abandoned by students whose interest waned once grades were posted. Naturally, I had to save them. It was my duty.

Here they all are, safely tucked away in a kitchen window. There is a Christmas cactus in there somewhere, I swear...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Salsa Casseroll

I don't have any garden shots today, but I haven't had anything about bikes for awhile, and this blog is, after all, also supposed to be about bikes and bicycle commuting (hence the name: "The Bicycle Garden"). So I thought I'd do a little post about my commuter, a Salsa Casseroll built by moi, from scratch.

I bought the frame and fork on closeout on ebay. I got the used Ultegra components there, too.

Here are a few shots of the build-up, and the finished bike as she is now. She is a sweet bike, and just about perfect for commuting around town when I have light loads. (For heavy grocery loads, I use the Xtracycle.)

My commuter runs are confined to trips to school during the school year, largely for time reasons. But during the summer break, I road the commuter everywhere in town. For those of you familiar with the Hub City, yes, that means I rode the bike from Tech Terrace to Barnes and Noble. It can be done. (You should have seen how nonchalant the people at Rudy's BBQ were every time I rode up to the take out window, on my way home, to pick up a sausage sammie. Bueno.)

Here's the build:

Cutting the fork to size. (If I had to do it over, I would leave it longer and use more spacers.)

The fork and headset, seated.

Installing the bottom bracket.

The chain ring and brakes.

More or less finished.

As she stands now, fully kitted out for a commute.

As a side note, perhaps of interest, The Bicycle Garden got its name for a garden concept I once proposed to the campus landscape architect. I thought maybe we could install a garden that celebrated and honored people (and their trusty steeds) who used their bikes to commute to school. The garden never got onto the drawing board, but I thought the name had a nice ring to it, so when I was looking for a title for the blog that would reflect how I felt about both, I resurrected it. The photo for the blog title is a picture of the Xtracycle by the rose arbor, carrying garden tools, as well as some pass-along plants I'd picked up from neighbors earlier in the day.

Monday, December 15, 2008

O! those birds!

I love to take photographs of birds--both in the wild, as in this photo of sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache:

...and in my backyard, like this one of an evening grosbeak:

The grosbeak was snacking at a platform feeder in my backyard, when I snapped this pic. I was seated behind a portable blind I'd constructed, one that served me for several years. That blind is gone now, however, torn down so that I can use the wood to make a potting bench. But the blind has not disappeared completely. I'm starting a short series, to be posted every Monday over the next month on the Country Lifestyle garden blog, about what is happening to the bench/blind. Check it out: A project for the birds

(BTW: I had trouble adding copyright text to the image of the cranes--does anyone know how to do that when it won't let you? It was a scan from a slide, if that makes any difference...)

(Update, thanks to Karen from An Artist's Garden, I learned a new text trick in photoshop!)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Let it snow. Please.

Feeders are filled. Carrots tucked in. I'm tired of waiting.

Bring it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Secretary of Food

Okay, I think the NYTimes redeemed themselves (a teeny little bit) for their silly article on "frugal dining," with this op-ed:

Secretary of Food

Cormorant frippery

Tomorrow is commencement, and thus we will all be parading around in our academic frippery, looking as sober and stuffy as cormorants...

If tomorrow is commencement, that means that today I'll be attending meetings and banquets --not to mention trying to finish all my grading, which is due Monday. All of which means, in turn, that the bike garden may be entering radio silence for a few days.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Er, file this under "not on the same planet"

OK, not really gardening related, but I read this article in the Times tonight and am still reeling a little bit from it:

File under:
I don't live on the same planet as these people

They think that $100 for a meal for two people is a bargain. For that matter, they think a ceasar salad for less than $10 is a big steal. Do you know what's in a ceasar salad? Lettuce and stale bread with some creamy dressing.

Is it just me, or does anyone else think they could make a pretty tasty meal for two for a lot less than than a $100? I mean, you should taste my Frito Pie. Granted, I make it with my home-grown poblano peppers, so maybe that's why I could get away with charging less than $38.50 for a bowl of it...Heck, I'd probably charge less than they charged for the ceasar salad.

But lordy, that savory, spicy bowl of Frito Pie will fill you and warm you on a frosty winter's night!

Also granted, they say this:

"It was an experiment for lean times, but not an exercise in cheap eats. After all, even many of the most keenly cost-conscious diners can still afford — and still want to enjoy — food of some distinction in full-service restaurants with some coddling."

But still. An experiment for lean times? I'm thinking that if I'm cutting back because times are lean, I'd start with ditching a restaurant that sells a minimalist ten dollar salad.

Now wine--that's a different matter.

I would totally pay 10 bucks for a bottle of wine.

But is a plate of lettuce worth 10 Washingtons just because you get some fancy lighting along with it? What say you, dear readers? Do you think there are meals genuinely worth this much (or more), or is it all hype and/or cost of living in NYC?

And if you disagree with me, if you think that there is a price to be paid to support art--including culinary art--speak up! I don't bite.

Ah, the blogging life!

Pamela Price (Red, White, and Grew), an editor for the Texas-based Country Lifestyle magazine (CLM), has been going around tapping a few Great State bloggers to be regular contributors to CLM's new blog. And guess what? Yup, I'm over there now a couple of times a month with two other new contributors/team members, the wickedly funny Casey Kelly Barton (Redneck Mother) and the terrific locavore food maven Beth Goulart (Texas Locavore).

Why am I excited? Well, certainly there are a lot of reasons to be happy about working with an editor like Pamela, and to be associated with writers like Casey and Beth. Mainly, though, I'm tickled because Pamela wanted to hear about gardening from my part of the state. Now, those of you outside of Texas might not realize this, but it's a big place--so big that sometimes we get overlooked up here. Even in Texas, people often think the panhandle plains are just flat, dry, and boring. This is a chance to speak up for a landscape that is quiet.

Plus--and this is the very best part of all--I get to talk about another subject dear to my heart: gardening while keeping a sense of place in mind. Yes, that's right. Pamela specifically requested this. Let's see...Casey Kelly Barton has a blog about eco-living, Beth Goulart writes about being a locavore, and Pamela does her own blogging on the resurgence of Victory Gardens and sustainable living...hmm, could all this be a sign that Pamela and the folks at CLM have a different sort of magazine-based blog in mind? Maybe one that talks about more than when to plant the petunias?

Mosey on over to the CLM blog if you get a chance and give it a gander. Maybe we can kick up some dust together.

Oh, and here's a picture of a cedar waxwing, just 'cuz I like 'em, and I await their return.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Loving an Ugly Landscape

Susan Harris has published an excerpt from one of my essays over on Garden Rant today. The essay, "Pentimento," was published this fall in the literary magazine, Isotope. Check it out: Ugly Landscape

And just in case you don't know what an ugly landscape looks like, here is a photo to help you with the visual:

This is a challenging place to live; it doesn't have an obvious beauty. But over the years I have grown to love it so. Just the other day (while in the garden, in fact), it hit me hard out of nowhere, just how much I do love this open, sprawling, grassy landscape, and I realized that I can't imagine being anywhere else. In large part, that love has grown up as a result of learning to garden with a respect to place. In trying to make a garden that pays homage to the prairie, I've had to learn more about it and the people who have lived here before me, and this in turn has made me feel a part of the landscape itself.

I'd like to thank Susan for giving a nod to the essay.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Prairie Weather

This is what a mudstorm looks like when it rolls into town:

A cold front kicked up some dust west of town and moments later the wind was rocketing through and the sky was raining big ol' drops of mud.

Like "awesome," the word "sublime" has been watered down by overuse. But the original meaning of the word described a terrible beauty, something that filled us with fear and trembling. I think that there are days that the prairie is truly sublime.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Looking up

A few years ago I had a head injury that left me with a condition called "benign paroxysmal positional vertigo"--I look up and to the right and the world I see begins to spin. It comes and goes, and I've gotten used to it over time, so it rarely limits me. These days I seldom notice it at all, except when I am trying to find birds in the canopy of trees, or high in the sky. Birds are worth it, though.

Today I was looking for them in the pecan trees--goldfinches, mainly. I went out to the garden with the camera and waited for them to come to the thistle feeder so I could get a good shot. I could sense them flying into the trees, staging there while they decided that it was safe to approach the feeder with me standing so close. I waited, too, until my curiosity got the better of me and I looked up. The branches shifted and twirled as the vertigo was triggered, but I stuck it out. By and by the dizzyiness settled down, and thus I stood there, watching them watching me.

The goldfinches come to my yard every winter, part of a larger, seasonal cycle of bird migration that has gone on for millenia, and will, hopefully, continue ad infinitum. Seeing them return always reminds me that there is a whole world that spins out there--constantly, faithfully--even when I am not looking up to see it doing so.

Thursday, December 4, 2008, Thursday

I know that Wednesdays are the traditional wordless days on Blotanical, but I've been feeling a little wordless all week. So here's a photo from my pyracantha, taken this fall:

I like pyracantha's other common name, "firethorn"--it's easy to see where it comes from.

Monday, December 1, 2008


We had to put both of my parents in a nursing home over the Thanksgiving holidays. I guess that's enough to say about that.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Winter feeding station

I was out in the garden a day or two ago and heard a white-breasted nuthatch ank-anking as it fed in one of the pecan trees. I ran inside and got my camera, but when I aimed it at the nuthatch, he went behind the trunk, only to be replaced by this lovely female downy woodpecker:

I took the arrival of both birds to be a sign that it is time to set up the winter bird feeding station. So on Wednesday I bought the seed, scrubbed and sparkled the feeders, and hung it all out:

It's a bit hard to see, but I've got two tube feeders (one with thistle seed and the other with black oil sunflower seed), one platform feeder (black oil), a nut cake in a cage, and water in a pan. And yesterday, among the usual house sparrow/white-winged dove suspects, I had already had my first goldfinch, so what with the woodp, nuthatch, and g-finch (plus a heard Carolina wren this AM), it looks like it's already shaping up to be a good winter. I disassembled my old blind this year, so I need to get cracking on replacing it with my combo potting bench/bird blind that I plan to build with the recycled lumber.

No pics yet of this year's crop, but here's a lovely one from last year of a red-breasted nuthatch:

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Woohoo! Recycle those political yard signs!

My two commercial rain barrels came with screened lids, but they have been completely useless for keeping out mosquitoes (and yes, I use dunks, and no, they do not work). So this summer I taped plastic over the tops of them in an attempt to thwart my arch nemesis, the wily (and pesky) Asian Tiger Mosquito. (O! Asian Tiger Mosquito, how you torment me!) I am very pleased to report that it worked. But it was ugly, and I thought I could do better.

So after the fall elections, I saved two of my yard signs, which were the sturdy, corrugated plastic kind, with the intention of recycling them into festive lids for the barrels. Today, while waiting to start the holiday cooking, I went out to the shop to catch up on that little chore. Here are the very satisfactory results:

Though the average observer will be unable to deduce my political leanings from them (since there is not a party designation on either), the careful and astute follower of Texas politics might be able to do so. Suffice it to say that in my part of the state, it is not politically healthy to advertise on your sign the fact that you are running on the Democratic Party ticket. ;-)

In any case, I think they are as cute as button and very frugal, to boot.

Fie on you, Asian Tiger Mosquito! Take your business elsewhere.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

On being thankful

There are few bright spots in the story that is Alzheimer's. About the only one I can point to is the way trying to deal with an impossible situation has drawn me closer to my siblings. My sisters and I got together on a recent weekend to try to figure out ways to help my parents, who steadfastly refuse to be helped. Any assistance we give them has to be surreptitious, and (compounding the problem) if we all arrive at their home at the same time, my father immediately becomes suspicious, certain we are there to bundle him off to the "home." So keep him calm on this occasion, my sisters and I announced that we were getting together for a quilting weekend. One of us would work on a quilt in the front of the house, while the two others hid in a back bedroom going through bills and making sure they were paid. We rotated in and out on the quilting, so that my parents always saw one of us working. Here I am, looking like I know what I'm doing:

Of course, we didn't start and finish the quilts while we were there, but each of us had a one in one stage or another of completion. I hadn't done any quilting for years, but this little parent/quilt-project (and one like it this summer) started me up again. That is a photo at the top of my finished quilt, out in the garden with my tool trug and squash. It is a simple, traditional four-square pattern, with homespun fabrics.

And then, just before it was time to go, we got together for pictures. Here's a picture of my sisters with theirs:

And a sweet photo of Mom and Dad:

My sisters and I live in different places, with different lives, goals, priorities, politics, and religions. But this thing we're dealing with has brought us back together and strengthened our bonds, and I guess that's a little tidbit of joy in the middle of the nightmare.

So what am I thankful for this year? All those little tidbits, the bright spots that make life bearable.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

All good things must come from an end...

...and the "end" in this case is a horse's behind. Here's a pic of me looking peppy, having just shoveled three yard waste-sized bags full of manure and loaded them into the old wagon:

All I need is a pair of cowboy boots and I might look like a Texan.

The photo was taken by my friend Jill, who owns a few horses. Jill is also a gardener, as well as a biologist, and she understands just how valuable manure really is. So when I asked her if she had any to spare, she didn't bat an eye.

Here are two of the bags, ready to go into the bin (the other is already in there):

This all took place about two or three weeks ago, in anticipation of the big leaf drop. Since then, I've added some leaves and started turning the compost every day or so. And may I say that there are few things as cheery as seeing steam rising from a compost heap on a blustery autumn day like today?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The origin the word of "treen"

Karen at Greenwalks was asking about the etymology of the word "treen," which is used to describe a wooden utensil, door handle, latch, etc.

According to my Compact Oxford English Dictionary, the word is Middle English and derived from the Old English treowen (wooden), which in turn comes from treow (wood).

Here are a couple of examples from my gates:

I like using treen for things like handles and doors--it adds a little character and it costs nothing (frugal is good!). The handles last a long time, too. I have one on a screen door that are probably close to a decade old and shows no sign of wearing out.

Other portals and arbors in my garden

Just because I like making them and showing them off...

You should recognize this climbing rose arbor/portal from the blog title (only it's flipped there so that the words will show up better).

This one is really a chin-up arbor (no kidding!). I open the gate, put a rod through those eyelets, and do partial chin ups (I am a wimp and can't do full ones) when I am training for triathlons. It's also there to hide a utility area...

I'm running out of room for arbors. Anyone have an arbor or gate they'd like me to build?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A prairie portal for the farm

My weekend suddenly and unexpectedly became free, so I used it to make a new entry to the farm. Here is the old one:

This looked pretty boring to me, and I thought it would be nice to have something a little more inviting. Even so, I wanted it to be simple and rustic, something you might find outside a prairie homesteader's kitchen garden.

Here is Harold giving me a hand in the construction:

I put the cross pieces together with half-lap joints:

I gave the posts cement shoes for support and to keep water from pooling around the base:

Once the cement for the posts had set overnight, I made a new gate for the entry:

I gave it a little treen (wooden) handle:

And then I made a little bird house out of scrap from the old gate:

There is a antique climbing rose (Trier) just to the left of the gate, and hopefully I'll be able to train the canes to grow along the fence and over the portal. All those roses and structures at the Fort Worth Botanic garden must have really made an impression on me...