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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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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.

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An Austin classic, a sprawling live oak.

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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.

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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.