Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Re-thinking the back garden, and a project teaser

This summer's extraordinary drought has got me doing some serious re-thinking about the back garden. I thought I had solved the dry shade problem by planting some shrubs, but about half of them have died. I've also noticed across town that even established shrubs are dying off, so these may not be the answer I thought they were at the start of the summer.

The trouble I'm having with designing a sustainable, water-wise back garden is not one of planting for arid conditions--it is that of planting for arid and shady conditions. With five pecan trees providing more or less all-day shade, I need plants that will thrive without a lot of sun, but without having to be extraordinarily irrigated. I've planted many of the standards of drought-tolerance (artemesia, Apache plume, Russian sage, purple sage, succulents, etc) in the back beds before, but they've all gone generally spindly and weak in the shade, and have eventually died. What to do, what to do?

I've also got a problem with the lawn area. The only part that gets enough sun to plant a drought-tolerant grass is small and beaten to bits by four rambunctious dogs. After a summer of no water, it is, in fact, nothing but dust. I'd post a photo, but it's just too depressing.

You see? That's how I'm different from Fox News and MSNBC. I refuse to alarm you about the state of my lawn purely for entertainment and ratings.  I'll show you some "before" shots eventually, but until I can get some "after" shots to alleviate your anxiety upon seeing it, I'll hold off.

Fox News and MSNBC might do well to be reminded of the tenets of mindful speech, as I was yesterday when I stumbled across this lovely post on Sweet Pea Bicycles. As the post says, here are three tenets of mindful speech:

1. Is it kind?
2. Is it true?
3. Is it useful?

While the author of the post says that "no" to all three keeps the silence, I think it would benefit us all if the news services had an automatic shut-down of a story if numbers 1 and 3 ever raise their heads simultaneously. Imagine, for example, an entire summer without having to hear about Charlie Sheen or Casey Anthony.

It would be well for me to have an automatic shut-down of my mouth, too, but I'm still working that.

Anyway, given the challenges, I'm trying to talk Walu into putting a large stone courtyard in the back garden. He's worried about re-sell value, however, thinking that people will want a lawn. I'm thinking that by the time we sell this house, LBB will be under such strict water conditions that people will be grateful there isn't any lawn back there...

I'll keep you posted on how all the planning and designing is going as it develops. Not much is actually going to take place until this heat breaks.

In the meantime, I was casting about for a short summer project that I could complete before school starts in a two or three weeks and have settled on building up a new bike. I'll post more on that as it develops, too. The new frame and components should be shipped by the end of this week.


  1. Does Prairie Nursery have plants for dry shade that might inspire you? Still, may be that a gravel area would work--a zen garden? Eh. Bike is the better option. I feel moderately liberated not living b the academic doomsday clock this year.

  2. Benjamin--the nurseries here have not caught up to the concept of "dry shade" yet. When I ask, I get puzzled looks.

  3. Oh, my mistake. I think you mean the company Prairie Nursery...I'll check it out. :-)

  4. Good post. Very wise three rules for mouths to live by. But now it's got me questioning if what I'm writing right now is useful and then what the meaning of useful really is. So today's thought for the day I guess.

    The bike idea sounds cool - is your MacGuyver shed air conditioned??

  5. Eileen--It doesn't have to be useful. But it should at least be true and kind. Or true and useful. Or kind and useful. Yes, I think that's the ticket: It must be two out of three to count.

  6. And no, the MacGyver shed is not air conditioned. Sigh.

  7. I would high recommend James Berry, landscaper. He doesn't charge for consults. He is very xeric and gave me some good ideas. If you want his number, text me at 786-8207. No he isn't my relative:)))).

  8. Dry shade is tricky for sure. Someone mentioned a patio in your dry shade, which is a great idea so long as it won't impact the root zone of your existing trees. But gravel would work in that case, plus you'd have the benefit of a shady place to sit.

    You are probably drier and colder than Austin, but for my dry shade I like to use cast-iron plant, 'Winter Gem' boxwood, liriope, purple heart, pale-leaf yucca, twistleaf yucca, Turk's cap, Texas persimmon, dwarf and standard yaupon holly, and inland sea oats.


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