Hand me downs

Last fall my wife’s grandmother asked me to help her transplant some amaryllis bulbs from her old house to her new house. So I grabbed a shovel and filled two boxes full a bulbs. As payment she let me take a few bulbs home for my own garden. At the time I didn’t really have a spot for them but needed to get them planted soon since winter was quickly approaching. I ended up just putting them in a cedar barrel sitting near our front door.

This past week they finally went into full bloom! They are a nice deep red and much taller than I expected.

image

image

The best part about these bulbs, my wife’s grandmother informed me that they originally came from her grandfather’s garden and she has planted then at every house shes lived in. Whenever she moves she leaves a few for the next owner and takes a few for her new house. So I was excited to finally get to enjoy my hand me down bulbs and their long family lineage now in my own yard.

Advertisements

February foliage

Taking part in my first foliage follow-up. After grabbing a couple of quick pictures I noticed a few things. My garden/yard as a whole is still pretty sparse, but it’s still in the beginning stages. Also, for “winter” I found a good amount of green and flowers.

1-IMAG0187

Right out the door, a nice bright green splash of color from one of my fox tail ferns framing my front door. You can even see a couple of slim spears of new growth that sprang just a couple of days ago.

2-IMAG0188

These wax leaf begonias were a surprise. I planted them last spring and expected them to just freeze up and die during the winter. Once the autumn leaves started falling, I left a six inch pile of leaves on this bed just to help keep any weeds from taking root. Last weekend, while doing some yard clean up and prep for the upcoming spring, I pulled back the leaves and found the begonias thriving and blooming! I guess it just shows how mild this winter has been.

3-IMAG0190

One of my newest salvias I planted just a few months ago, in October. It’s already starting to show it’s color.

7-IMAG0200

Another salvia, this time in white about ready to go into full bloom.

4-IMAG0192

A great shot of a bed full of trailing lantana. I planted these last spring and watered them, maybe twice? They are loving the enormous amount of sun in this spot. Also, I’m pretty sure they’ve been blooming since I planted them. In the background you can see is a nice clump of “wild petunia” that came with the house. As I researched, just now, to see if that’s really what it was, I discovered I may actually be an invasive species (Ruellia caerulea) here in Texas… In fact, I came across this in the Austin Grow Green guide about ruellia, “taller types are invasive; do not plant near preserves.” Luckily, I don’t live near a preserve, but as you can see they are tall. Much taller than the 8″ – 1′ drawf variety that is recommended. I guess I will need to take a further look at that bed.

6-IMAG0199

These pansies have been thriving thanks to some recent rain and the mild winter.

5-IMAG0195

Finally, a crimson clover cover crop getting one of my raised beds ready for the upcoming spring planting.

Hope you enjoyed some of my February foliage. Check out Pam’s blog Digging for even more great foliage.

Seedlings

This year I decided to step up my game in the garden. Now I’ve grown things from seed before, but it has always been direct seeding and fairly easy to grow plants. Things like lettuces, green beans, radishes, cucumbers, etc. This year, like a true master gardener (not that I consider myself to be in those ranks, yet), I’m starting seeds inside for the first time. Usually in the spring time I go to the local nursery and find a few tomato and pepper plants to plop in my garden and call it a day. About two months ago I received a huge seed catalog from Burpee and decided I’d go ahead and order some supplies and give the indoor seeding a shot.

1-IMAG0160

Since I had nothing I was going to need to start seeds indoor, I thought one of the seed starting kits would be a perfect purchase. This seed starting kit from Burpee looked great because it came with a 36 cell seed tray, and came with seed starting pellets. All you do is add water and the pellets expand into seed starting soil. Plus, the kit was only $10! Next it was time for some seeds. For my first attempt I just wanted to go with tomatoes and peppers.  I found a great Heirloom tomato seed pack. The pack comes with Black Krim, Burpee’s Supersteak (not sure if that is really an heirloom…), Big Rainbow and Brandywine Pink. I also found some great looking jalapenoes called Big Guy. These peppers are suppose to get up to 5 inches long and 1 inch think. Yes please! My final seed purchase is a bit of an experiment. If it works, awesome! If not, hey at least I tried. It seems like every time I catch Rick Bayless’s show, he’s doing something easy and delicious with tomatillos. So why not, I’m going to try and grow some tomatillos. Luckily, Burpee has some tomatillo seeds.

Now I was ready to go, once my supplies got here I immediately opened them up and started planting. The pellets ended up being much smaller than I anticipated, but they did just as they were suppose to. I poured some warm water over them and they expanded into nice seed starting soil. My one grip though, the pellets were a little inconsistant in how much soil they ended up being. Some filled the cell nearly to the top, while other hardly filled half of the cell. Since I don’t have a huge garden I decided to only seed two of each, so 8 plants total. That’s still a good amount though for a household of two.

2-IMAG01613-IMAG01624-IMAG0163

 

For lighting, used a simple work light from Home Depot along with a little 60 watt grow light I found there as well. Not sure what makes it a grow light over a standard light bulb, maybe the color of the light, but I went ahead and went with it. Going with some recommendations on various articles and videos, I placed my light only a few inches above of the seeds. As you can see in the picture below, I used an old lamp we weren’t using to clamp my grow light to. I’m sure there’s a redneck joke in there somewhere. “You might be a red neck if your working lamp sit on top of your non-working lamp.”

6-IMAG01665-IMAG0164

 

I did run into a couple of unforeseen issues. First having the light so close to the seed tray kept the soil nice and warm, but it also dried out the soil very quickly. I was having to refresh the water in them on a daily basis to keep them from completely drying out. Which leads to the second issue. At first I was using a simple measuring cup to just pour water over the top of the soil. This ended up disturbing the soil to much and causing the seeds to get move all around in the cell. Sometimes the seeds even ended up on top of the soil once all the water finally soaked into the soil. I needed a less intrusive watering tool. This is where a simple medicine syringe I found laying around in a closet became a life saver. It now takes longer to water them, but after 2 or 3 syringe fulls in each cell the soil is nice and moist and nothing is being violently mixed up with each application.

8-IMAG0183

 

It’s now been two weeks since I started my seeds, and everything but one of the jalapenos has sprouted. If all goes well they should be ready to go into the garden hopefully by early – mid march. So far in the process, I have to admit starting seeds indoor is such a fun way to garden. Every morning and afternoon when I come home from work, I’m like a little kid on Christmas morning as I run into my office to check on their progress. The best part is, each time I check on them there is always a noticeable change as the seeds sprout and grow at an incredibly fast rate. Now to decide what my next indoor starts are going to be.

7-IMAG0182

Austin Modern Home Tour

This year my wife and I decided to take part in the Austin Modern Home Tour.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect, even in a trendy city like Austin, modern design is still in the minority when it comes to homes.  Usually while driving around, without expecting it, you’ll spot a random modern house just plopped in the middle of a neighborhood.  So, for us at least, it’s not a common occurrence to get to tour someone’s house that was built with steel I-beams, glass walls and roof top decks.  My wife and I are both fans of modern design, and would love to one day build one of our own.  Even in our current suburban home, we look into ways to replace the frilly with more clean modern lines when making and planning any upgrades.  We were excited to see a few of the homes were decorated with the same art we have on our own walls by local artist Jake Bryer.  We recently discovered his work at the Blue Genie Art Bazaar this past Christmas.

One thing that surprised me right off the bat, was that some of these homes didn’t really have much going for it in terms of landscaping.  Maybe a stone and gravel pathway, a line of mexican feather grass that was about it.  Although some of these homes were fairly new builds.  In fact some I think were just recently completed and still on the market.

One of the surprises on the tour ended up not being a house at all.  When we got to the fourth “house” on the tour and couldn’t find it, I recognized a few people from the previous houses and noticed they were wondering around Cesar Chavez as well.  All we could find was a real estate office.  Well, turns out that was the fourth “house”.  Looking at the standard downtown store front and feeling a little skeptical we went in.  They directed us to the courtyard.  Outside they had crated an entier outdoor office area.

IMAG0169

 

Instead of building on to the current building, they built little mini buildings/pods around the edge of the courtyard, each to act as a single office or conference room.

IMAG0172

 

This vine covered tower is actually the bathroom for the courtyard offices.  Anyone know what that miniature pine tree is?  I was mesmerized by it and once I find out what it is, I might have to find a spot for one in my own landscaping.

IMAG0170

 

And who wouldn’t love a nice shady hammock to take a short break from work stress?

Another house that caught my attention, well it was actually the previous house on the lot that I found really unique.  As we approached the house you actually had to walk through what looked like the stone walls of a previous home.  Inside there was a simple column water feature.  It created an outdoor space that was literally an outdoor room.  The designer built the house for his parents and I suspect the stone structure could have been a house they lived in for years and wanted to keep it around as a homage to the past.  Either way it was very unique entrance.

IMAG0176 IMAG0174

 

Sometimes the simplest things make a huge impact.  A simple potted plant caught my eye as I was walking through the kitchen.  There was nothing fancy about it other than it had nice green foliage and was planted in an interesting looking pot.  Then after a second look, I realized it was a sweet potato that had sprouted!

IMAG0175

 

And finally just some random things that caught my eye enough to make me take out my cell phone and take a picture.

IMAG0173

 

A nice second story deck with a fun design, and a fan.  I’m always a fan of decks with fans in Texas.  Below the deck they had a chicken coop.

IMAG0178

An Austin classic, a sprawling live oak.

IMAG0179

 

Here I just like the simple oversized square pavers used as a pathway and border for a planting bed.  This house was still on the market, and had some of the most extensive landscaping when it came to the newly built homes.  I guess home builders leave the landscaping up to the home owners.

IMAG0180

 

When I first took this picture I liked it for the use of cacti.  But after I looked at it again, I realized there is a lot going on here, mostly in terms of color.  The rust color metal border, the green of the cacti and then the blue gray rocks really add a lot of color interest.  Then to bring it all together hand rails and banisters are painted the same blue gray color to match the rocks.  I guess that’s how it caught my eye, but I didn’t realize it until after taking a second look at the picture.

All in all, it was a fun unique event to take part in.  I’m now thinking I should have taken many more pictures, but for most of the houses I don’t even think pictures would do them justice.  The Austin Modern Home Tour website has lots more pictures and information about the homes.  Now to see where I can add some of those elements to my own home.

 

Path to somewhere

So I guess it’s about time to start making use of this blog. Since it’s been “winter”, for the most part the past month or so, not too much has been going on in the gardens. My garden has a few fall/winter veggies growing, but a good part of my my garden has a cover crop of crimson clover in preparation for the spring garden. I have to admit the last two days of 60 – 70 degree weather already has me thinking it’s time to start planting for spring, but in my experience I know February usually has a couple of wintery surprises.

There is one project I wanted to show off. This actually took place back before winter really took hold. I’m a big fan of reducing the lawn with flowers, natives, hardscapes and even some yard art. Not only does it mean less lawn to take care of and usually less maintenance in general when using the right plants, but it also means a more interesting looking yard. A true garden escape.

When we first purchased our house, there was pretty much no landscaping going on. The “side yard” as I call it, a decent sized yard between us and our neighbors, was pretty much a few crape myrtles against the house, weeds and some more weeds mixed in. I decided that would be my first focus since my neighbors on that side had a nice looking yard and that was worst looking part of our front yard. I promptly cleared out all of the weeds from the flower bed and filled it in with some salvia.  Then I threw in an esperanza and trailing lantana in a circular flower bed that was occupied by a large stump. For the most part everything did great, except most of the weeds came back…

pathway-01 pathway-02

My wife and I had talked of adding a paver pathway from the front of the house, through the side yard and into the backyard. Just so happened her parents had a palette of pavers sitting in their driveway they had no use for. So it was decided. I’d use the free pavers, and who doesn’t love free, to create a pathway and extend the current flower bed. Also taking the opportunity to  clean up the flower bed, add some more salvias and put down some weed block and mulch to hopefully at least help with the weeds.

First step was to dig down a few inches to make a nice even base for the pavers. Already off the bat I was beginning to hate clay soil.

pathway-03

After digging out the pathway I realized it wasn’t deep enough so I went back over it once more to be down another inch. Overall, I was able to get the pathway about 2 to 3 inches deep.

pathway-04

Next I put down some weed block to help prevent anything sneaking up through the pavers. Then I added a thing layer of sand just to help level things up and give something to seat the pavers into.

pathway-05 pathway-06

Now the fun part, laying the pavers. I started in the corner instead of at one of the ends.  This way I could make sure pattern would have a smooth transition through the corner and the two pathways would mach up correctly.  You can also see I used a simple pattern to try and avoid too many seams, and help lock the pavers in place.

pathway-07

Thanks to the age old proverb, “Measure twice, cut once”, and with some luck, the pavers ended up fitting perfectly.  Really I measured about five or more times.  I even measured each new row to make sure I was going straight along the side of the house. I’m not a pro, so any little bit of OCD to make sure it comes out right is fine by me.

pathway-08 pathway-09 pathway-10

After a full weekend I got the entire pathway laid. I used a couple of bags of sand to sweep into the seams to help lock to bricks in place. I’ll probably have to go back with more sand every few months until it all settles into the cracks.

pathway-12 pathway-13 pathway-14

Here you can see our dog Jake wasn’t happy about being stuck in the backyard as we finished the last few rows. You can also see we ran out of bricks. There’s still about a hundred more bricks that we need to transport to our house.  Those should finish off the pathway perfectly.  For now though, there’s just a little awkward and abrupt end to the pathway.

pathway-11

Finally, all that was left was the finishing details. I pulled up parts of the old metal border and replaced it with new bordering material that would extend the entire length of the larger flower bed. Under my soil, about six inches down, I have limestone. Some of the old rusty stakes were nearly impossible to pull out of the limestone. I even broke my wooded hammer trying to pry them out!

pathway-15

I also pulled up all of the weeds… again. This time though I added weed block and some mulch help keep them in check. The new extended parts of the flower bed got a couple of new salvias to fill it in. And the pathway was done.

pathway-17 pathway-16

There’s still a small section by the back gate that needs some landscaping but I’ve got a fun idea that possible involves some cacti for that area.

pathway-18

Overall though, it was a big success I think. I have a few additional ideas for landscaping the side yard but this is a huge improvement.  I cannot wait for spring and summer for all of those salvia to start blooming agin.

Background

Welcome!

First things first, I’m Chris. As this blog progresses I’m sure you’ll get to know me even better but I thought quick introduction/background was in order. Something to just explain what this blog is all about, or at least what I intend for it to be all about.

I live in the Austin, TX (a few times referred to as “The People’s Republic of Austin”). Austin, the capital of Texas, is pretty much located in the middle of Texas. It’s a growing city, with an established music scene (Google “live music capital of the world”), delicious food and a technology epicenter. Lucky for me I love music and enjoying my city, I love good food, and well… I’m a software engineer. Plus, I’m always learning about new things around Austin that make me love the city even more. Recently I would have to say that has been biking.

After moving to Austin and buying my first house, there was one passion that I’ve had my entire life that I was surprised fit right in here, gardening. Gardening is my main hobby that allows me to be creative and in many ways it’s therapeutic. Soon after breaking ground on my own gardens I discovered Austin has a thriving gardening blog community.

This brings me to what this blog is all about. As you can guess, the main focus will be on my gardening adventures, but I also don’t want to leave out any of those other adventures around Austin. To sum up, it’s three parts gardening, two parts Austin, and one part whatever else inspires me.