Saturday, July 27, 2013

Random garden resurrection photos, 2013

Try as I might, I can't make a case that heat and drought are good things, but it is true that when they combined to kill most of the back garden a couple of years ago, I was left with more or less a blank canvas. I tried replanting last summer, but the heat simply overpowered everything and it was a struggle to get things established. Nevertheless, a few things made it, and I used them as a base on which to build. I also added most of the hardscape last year, but a few things were finished off this summer. For all practical purposes, this is a two year old garden. Here are the results of the garden's resurrection, in no particular order:

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Espalier madness and one proto-topiary

It all started with this fig, which I thought might be fun to try to espalier:

I planted it last year and then watched it die back to the ground during some hard frosts this winter. In spring it came back, but I put off constructing a trellis until I figured out how the espalier thing worked. In the meantime, I have a Bartlett pear that has not borne fruit in the two years it's been planted in the farmlet. It's probably the late hard freezes we've had, but I also have been wondering if I needed a second tree to act as a pollinator. The trouble was, I had no room for another tree. But wait! What if I espaliered another pear in the farmlet?

I planted it (more on that story here; it involves explosives, just like a summer movie) and pruned it according to some instructions I found on the interwebs, and it doesn't seem to have killed it. This makes me the most knowledgeable and experienced espalierer I personally know in the Hub City, and so when I ran across an already-started espaliered Fuji apple tree at a local nursery, I decided I had to have it. I've always wanted an espaliered something-or-other to line the fences of our bicycle allée.

The trouble is, as I found in the research I did after purchasing the tree, apple trees not only are not self-pollinating, they won't even pollinate with another of their variety. Worse, they won't even pollinate with just any old apple of another variety, it has to be specific varieties matched with specific varieties. For goodness sake. So I bought a Gala, which gets along with a Fuji, only I couldn't find a Gala already espaliered, so I bought a sapling, which, come winter dormancy, I will chop off mercilessly at the trunk to start the process. Because, as you know, I am now an expert at this (see above).

Mind you, I don't even like apples.  This is all about the espalier. Plus, I figure I can trade whatever apples Walu doesn't eat for some neighborhood chicken eggs.

All this training limbs to wires has been rather thrilling, so I decided the that next logical step was topiary. I've never been a fan of shrubs pruned to look like meatballs* before, so I have no idea were this is coming from.

Well, maybe I do. I've been reading about Nicole de Vésian's garden in France in Louisa Jones' book, Modern Design in Provence, and she was big into doing that. For her, it worked beautifully. I don't recommend that any of the rest of this try it at home...unless you find out that there is a lime tree for sale at a local hardware store and you start thinking, "Wouldn't it be really, really cool to grow your own limes for summer margaritas?" but the only problem is, as I've said before, there is no more room for trees. Good news! You can plant a lime tree in a container (which you should do anywhere beside s Zones 9 or 10 anyway, since lime trees don't like the cold and you will be bringing that little maragrita-maker inside come winter), and then you can prune it into a topiary shape! I am so excited to try this now. Nicole de Vesian's got nothing on me.

Ironically, the fig tree has yet to be espaliered.

*I'm sure I'm not the first person to point out the resemblance between meatballs and topiary.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Wherefore the Fling: In which I don't talk about a single garden

I've been putting off writing about this year's Fling, partly because I've been busy, but also because every time I sat down to say something, I had a hard time trying to fit it all into one post. There were simply too many things I came home thinking about. So I'm throwing that plan out the window and I'm going to take it one idea at a time. To start, though, I want to talk about something besides specific gardens.

I'm sure that six years ago, when all those Austin garden bloggers got it into their heads to invite a few fellow bloggers to come on down for a visit, they never dreamed it would turn into this. What this is, of course, is approximately one hundred garden bloggers/designers/writers descending on a different city each year for a few hectic days of fellowship and garden touring. There are buses, and sponsors, and lots of schwag, and a fancy dinner, and a swishy hotel, and catered lunches...

And of course, there are the gardens, which are the lodestones around which we revolve for three or four days. They are glorious and inspirational, and because the Fling is in a different part of the country each year, they are wide-ranging in their styles and plant palettes. Most of the time they are gardens I can't re-create here on the Southern High Plains, but that's okay, because above all, a garden is about place. When I first started going to the Fling, this frustrated me a little, since I was hoping to get ideas for my own garden. Now I understand that my landscape is unique and challenging--just as all landscapes are--and my garden will necessarily reflect that. We have triple digit summers, winter temperatures that are frequently in the teens, and rainfall that in the past few years struggles to top 10 inches in a year. So, yes, challenging, and I would argue that it is also difficult. But isn't that the best thing? Don't challenge and difficulty push us toward originality? Of course my garden will not look like one in Asheville, or Buffalo, or Seattle. But is looks pretty damn good, and more than that, it looks like it belongs here. It is odd and quirky, and the beauty of it kind of sneaks up on you; it is found in the soft breezes, the wide skies, the spare and gritty plant life, and the balmy summer evenings. Just like the Llano.

You have to sit in my garden for a while on one of those lazy summer evenings, a cool iced tea or Shiner in hand, talking to neighbors, or listening to the fountain, or maybe watching the grasses drift in the wind, to really get it. But isn't it that way with all gardens? That is also one of the things that frustrates me about garden tours--that I don't have the opportunity to sit a while and feel the essence of the garden soak into my bones. It is impossible, of course, to do this; the gardens are often private and small, with few places to seat fifty or so people at a time. And besides, there are more gardens to see! But the miracle of it is that the Fling organizers are very good at picking out the gardens for the tour, and even without some quiet, measured time in them, they linger with me. I am still thinking about gardens I saw this year--they are fresh in my mind, and keep popping up in my thoughts as I work in my own. Two in particular do so, and I'll write about them in a future post. But I also find images from the gardens of previous Flings showing up in my thoughts, too, so the impact of these is immediate and profound--there was apparently no need to sit a spell in order to "get" them. Could I say the same for my own? Is it necessary for a garden to do this in order to be great? Or, like my landscape, can it be subtle and unknown to the casual observer, and be sublime because of it? I don't know, and I'm left to ponder that question.

That the Fling stirs up these questions for me is, to my thinking, its greatest value. It doesn't happen in a vacuum, though. Supposing that I had the wherewithal to see each of the Fling gardens on my own, sans all those other Flingers, would I have come away with as many things to think about? I don't believe so. The real work of the Fling occurs between gardens, on the buses and in the restaurants, and waiting with fellow Flingers in the hotel lobbies. Sometimes, of course, we are discussing the gardens we have just seen, but more often we are talking about life--our families, our jobs, our illnesses, our triumphs. In mixing our conversation with everyday matters and gardens, we are affirming what they are really all about, which is, of course, life and all that goes with it. They are not separable. So when I come back to my own place in the world, I understand, in a way I did not before I started attending the Flings, that my garden matters. I knew this on some level, naturally; it is hard to work in a garden and not understand some big things about the Universe. Gardens teach us humility, impermanence, and hope. But, at least for me, it takes being with other garden people to know that my garden matters because the act of gardening itself matters. It is impossible to be around so many thoughtful people, talking about life and gardens, and not come away with that feeling. I haven't quite got the why of it figured out yet--that is one of the questions that lingers for me.

Perhaps this is part of the answer: When you toil in your garden alone, it is easy to start thinking that it is a selfish folly. Oh sure, maybe a spouse says he or she likes it, or perhaps a neighbor expresses a friendly envy. But all too often, one is left thinking, "It is silly to spend this much time, energy, and money on something that, really, only I can see and appreciate."

When you meet up with others who are as moved by gardens as you are, though--when you find your tribe--you realize that yours is not a solitary endeavor at all. Indeed, it isn't even a solitary garden. It is part of a vast, ever-ranging landscape, and because of the interconnectedness of the tribe, in that vast landscape are all of the elements of life.

I thank the Fling organizers for bringing us together. It takes countless hours of hard work to find gardens, bring together sponsors, arrange for buses and catered lunches, put together packets of info--all of it done for non-profit. We participants recognize just how monumental and meaningful your efforts are. I hope that you know how valuable it is to us.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Some before and after of the outdoor kitchen (and the Troy Bilt giveaway result)

I've been busy, busy, busy, what with school, the Fling, and finishing up our outdoor kitchen so that it would be ready for a Fourth of July cookout. The result is that I haven't been posting my progress on the backyard as much as I should, but all that is about to change. First, however, I need to announce the winner of the Troy Bilt string trimmer giveaway. I put all the names in a hat and let Walu draw one out, and the winner was Zoe Ann Stinchcomb. If you don't know Zoe Ann, you should, as she is a lovely, lovely human being, and, among other things, winner of the 2008 Wildlife Forever Educator of the Year. All of you who entered were deserving of the trimmer, but you can be pleased that someone as fine as Zoe Ann won it.

And now, for some before and after photos of the outdoor kitchen.

Here is the area in 2012, when we were starting some house renovation:

Here it is again a couple of months later, when I improvised an outdoor kitchen that we used during our complete kitchen remodel. I added an umbrella for shade, and a temporary sink so we could have a place to wash our dishes:

I enjoyed cooking outside so much that I vowed to build a more permanent structure this year.  All of the wooden structures (including the sink) are made of redwood recycled from an old deck we tore down as part of the renovation. Click to enbiggen:

 I'll do a more detailed post later about the construction of the sink, but for now, here is a closer view. (The granite slab on top is for rolling out pizza dough):

The grill is enclosed by a redwood screen. I dithered for a long time before deciding on this approach, rather than a fully enclosed counter, which I felt would be too "heavy" for the space:

Instead of an umbrella (which kept getting in the way), I have hung shade sails:

The deck has been recycled in other ways, too, and I'll post some before and after pics of those in the future. I'll also post something about the Fling, which I am still busy processing. It was powerful and has given me a lot to think about. It was also inspirational, since it was seeing Rebecca Sweet's most excellent garden that motivated me to come home and finish the outdoor kitchen. I'll have photos of Rebecca's garden and more coming up in a few days.