Monday, December 1, 2014

Sowing Seeds on Top of my Head

I hope that everyone enjoyed a wonderful and bountiful Thanksgiving. 

I'm not sure that "bounty" is a relative term, but it can certainly seem so in the eyes of the beholder.  And what we behold often -- usually(?) -- depends upon our state of mind.  Can you recall a time that you were not as thankful as you should be?  How about distinctly ungrateful and graceless?

I wish I could say that I've spent the better part of a year struggling with a bad habit.  I've spent an entire year doing so!   It's the habit of "whys and what-ifs".  For me, the problem with this habit is that I do not find it entirely without merit.  I happen to agree with Plato.  "An unexamined life is not worth living."

So, we moved.  A somewhat radical change of lifestyle does give cause to pause, especially if done swiftly and suddenly.  If you're an avid (obsessed) gardener, it's not necessarily fun to move from a generous, park-like setting to a postage stamp lot.  That's to say nothing of the difference in houses, not that the new house is entirely without its own charms.  But the what-ifs were fierce and plenty: what if we had waited until we had found something more suitable, what if we had selected a different property from the options available, and what if we don't stay?  Why did we choose this property knowing its limitations and our preferences and the great gulf in between?

I think it's okay to analyze questionable decisions.  But to never be satisfied with the answers, especially if they are reasonable ones and especially when we have so much to be glad and grateful for, is surely the sign of a restless, ungrateful soul.  That is not what I expect or accept of myself.

The uncertainty and constant questioning certainly put a different spin on my gardening.  Why improve a basically acceptable outdoor space if we are not going to keep it for a good length of time? How much time, money, and heart should we invest in the landscape?

Yet I cannot not garden.  It is part of who I am.  I love the outdoors, I love flowers and, if I am honest, I really do appreciate our new space for what it is.  But until very recently, I wasn't sure I could ever embrace it as my own. 

What's a gardener to do?  I decided early on that I would not lavish lots of money on this garden.  We would make basic, necessary improvements, I would treat myself to some favorite roses, and for the rest, I would mostly sow seeds.  There's been very little seed-sowing in my gardening life.  Why not sow seeds, I asked myself (acerbically)?  I should be able to keep an eye on them; I can see almost the entire back yard from the kitchen door. 

I did not realize, in my dejectedness, that I was beginning to experiment and learn in my new, little garden just as I had experimented and learned in my big one.  I ignored the voice reminding me that all gardens and our very lives are ephemeral and that we should make the most of our time and every situation.  I brushed aside every zen-like thought I'd ever had, every Christian admonition to be joyful and grateful, and, boy, oh, boy, did I sweat the small stuff!  It's funny, what the brain will allow.

This time last year, we hardly celebrated the holidays even though we were surrounded by loved ones, we were all in good health, and we could look out our windows and enjoy a parade of golfers in their struggles and victories.  We did not decorate.  Not only were we tired from our move, we were having improvements made upon a house we were already rejecting.  The golf course took on a brown hue.

I tried to write a few optimistic posts during the year, but I think we all suspected that I was still trying to convince myself.  I really didn't feel much like writing even though there was a lot I could write about.   I like to believe that most of us struggle with control issues every once in a while; it lessens my embarrassment at least a little.

After a full year with this house and garden, I am only just beginning to sincerely lighten up. Where did my sense of adventure go, my sense of humor, my sense of balance, my sense in general? What happened to my joy in the challenge?  It's just a house, after all, and a nice house with a pleasant garden at that!  I don't know how many days or years I will have with this garden any more than I know the number of my days on this earth. I would welcome plenty of both.  But I do understand that right now is the only time I can be sure of.  I've always known that it's not all up to me and I thank God for that. These recollections have finally washed through me.  I feel cleaner and lighter of spirit and can laugh at my own silliness.

I hope you are okay with this flat-out confession!  It does show signs of growth, doesn't it?  Much like those seedlings that now line my beds. . . . 

I haven't told you about the squirrels, the "yard guys", the hilarity of the golfers, of our oak tree fiasco.  But I will!  I'm back.

It's time to have fun.   Happy Holidays!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Creating and Awaiting Opportunities: Timing Counts

Isn't Autumn wonderful?  Here in the Houston, Texas area, as in many other warmer climes, it is not the harbinger of cold, dark days.  On the contrary, Fall is the herald of gentler, kinder weather, a time when heat and vicious insects are less intense.

We've been preparing for our fall garden.  My new planters box is finally filled with a rich mix of garden soil. 

We've also improved some of the existing beds, enlarging them and adding more soil.  We will probably add more soil to different areas of the garden.  We noticed that the beds we ignored suddenly appear lacking in comparison with those that have been tended to.  That's a life lesson, isn't it?  Fortunately, it's not too late (which is also true in life more often than we think).  We still have time.  It is yet awfully warm for planting or sowing seeds for cool weather plants, especially herbs and vegetables. 

A few before (top two) and afters of one particular area:



They aren't the best comparison photos; I realize that.  But I think they are sufficient to show that the beds are less skimpy, that the planting space is improved.

Some cool weather plants, like Swiss chard and radishes, will grudgingly accept warmer, though usually not hot, conditions.  But some seeds, such as lettuce, might not even germinate if the soil is even just a little bit too warm.  So I think I will give it another week or two in hopes that the temperatures improve for both the garden and the gardener!  In the meantime, we'll probably order that extra soil and draw up new plans for a little hardscaping.  There's never a dull moment in our ever-changing landscape.


Friday, August 29, 2014

A Short Vacation Break

I love the mountains.  My husband loves the coast.  But we both love nature and outdoor recreation, so any vacation that affords us rest and relaxation in the great outdoors is usually fine with both of us.  We just returned from a trip to the Florida Keys.  Alpine dreamer or no, I must admit that seeing avocado and mango orchards, coconut groves, sea grapes, and a variety of fragrant, flowering trees warmed this gardener's heart.  

I didn't take nearly as many photos as I should have/could have/might have.  We were just too busy snorkeling and fishing and were hardly ever on dry land during the day.  But I have returned from vacation with a renewed energy and interest in my garden.  I also have a new appreciation for its diminutive size; it affords us more time to enjoy other activities as well. 

I love gardening and gardens, but I am finding, to my surprise, that a small garden is plenty enough to make me happy.  I am sure that not everyone feels the same way.  In fact, I can well understand the opposite, that some would prefer to spend to spend most of their time working and playing in their own gardens.  But it is not a bad thing to understand our limitations, whatever they might be, and simplicity can be splendid.  

Friday, August 15, 2014

My New Planter Box

I'm so excited!  Finally, a raised vegetable bed!  My back is already celebrating!  I have realized that that it's north/south configuration isn't ideal.  I don't know what I was thinking -- even my last patch was east/west, which would have been the preferred option had it been available to me.  But I'm not worried.  It's so very hot here and a four or five hours of sun will likely go a long way.  I will try to plant strategically. 
Now that my "patch" is so convenient, I am eager to make it as productive as I possibly can.  I've been reading everything I can about intensive gardening.  I was glad to discover an excellent article by Linda A. Gilkeson on the Mother Earth News website, comparing Mel Bartholomew's square-foot gardening and John Jeavons'  biointensive method.
Gilkeson recommends "customizing" one's intensive gardening system.  The best approach is to employ common sense, of course, blending the two methods as necessary for what works best for the gardener and space.  Certainly that goes for gardening of any kind.
My concern for now is soil quality.  We are going to have a few yards of soil delivered to spread in the box and certain, needy areas of the garden proper.  It will be a vegetable garden mix and of course I should be able to see, smell, and feel the quality and texture  But while I would rather not take a soil test, I am worried about nutrients.  I have only just started composting again and have nothing "homemade" to contribute at this time.  Should I buy ladybugs?  Can I purchase earthworms?        
I will probably follow Jeavons' approach and use the soil I (will) have, as is, amending it over time.   As for the good bugs, I think I will hang onto the hope that they will find their way to the patch one way or another.  
If anyone has recommendations or suggestions, please, I'm begging you, speak up! 
As for flowers, we don't have too many right now in the garden. We have a long way to go as for as our ornamental beds are concerned.  That's not a complaint, by the way.  I love the challenge.  I have not yet planted many stalwart and fairly ferocious perennials.  Most of our plants seem to be resting for now, as is the gardener!
We do have some lovely purslane.  We enjoy it in both salads and the garden.

Happy Gardening!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Small Being a Relative Matter

This was my vegetable patch at my old house.  It was pretty pitiful, considering the space I had.  It was too wide, up against the property line, right next to an open field.  Weeds were a nightmare!  But there was no way I would abandon it.  It had been created by a loved one as a surprise for me.  The grass and weeds had been painstakingly removed, the soil turned, and various edging materials placed.  I was happy that it ran North-South and that a pecan tree shaded it from the worst of the afternoon sun.  It was more than my husband or I had managed and it was more than enough space given my time constraints.  I had a lot of ornamental beds and an orchard to consider!  But I while I loved my little patch, I never particularly liked it.  

In my new garden, I have very little room for a veggie-specific bed.   The only space that seems somewhat promising is the very narrow strip between our house and the fence.  I've been debating for quite some time as to what I might do with that area.  The windows are those of our kitchen/breakfast area and I wasn't sure if I wanted to look out and see flowers and more flowers or a raised vegetable bed.



Another issue is privacy.  At first I thought that I just had to have tall ornamentals to at least conceal a part of our backyard from passersby.  But I think a nice, fairly tall cedar box and, hopefully, some healthy vegetables will suffice.  

I 'm looking forward to my new little vegetable patch!  I've always wanted a raised vegetable bed filled with rich, wonderful soil.  The configuration will again be north-south and now the plants will be protected from the elements.  It should be eighteen feet long and two feet wide, which I think will be enough for a nice, cool season salad crop.  I was reading about raised beds and one writer referred to a "small, raised garden of 250 square feet".  I started laughing.  Clearly, "small" is in the eyes of the beholder.  What would that writer call my thirty-six square feet?

If you're wondering if I mind, considering the space I used to have, I don't blame you.  As for my future vegetable patch, I can honestly say that I'm feeling very optimistic.  I will be able to gaze outside my kitchen window and watch my edible garden grow, which I've never been able to do in any house we've lived in.   I'm happy that it's going to be a raised bed in a protected area.  Since I'm not very experienced at growing a food crop and life has gotten rather busy, I have hopes that my little vegetable garden will be just right for me!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Last summer:


 This summer:

The top photo is a view from our old side yard (the North Garden) as it stretched towards the back orchard and field.  The second photo is from the back porch of our new house.  I have not taken measurements, but I believe that our new backyard might be no larger than the front flower beds of our previous home.   It is a startling and, at times, shocking change, but since it's almost August and a zillion degrees out there, I have absolutely nothing to complain about.  My gardening activity is always at a minimum in  August, whatever the size of the garden. 
The move honestly felt like a mixed blessing at first.  I was absolutely thrilled to be closer to those I hold dear, but the house and garden did not seem to be a good choice or fit for us.  Now that two thirds of a year have passed, I no longer have mixed emotions.  It's all good.  My life has changed, my garden has changed, and so my gardening has naturally changed.   These days, I have much less time to dig than I used to and my tiny, new garden perfectly suits my new agenda.  Where I used to spend lots of time moving plants around and experimenting, I now focus on a few of my very favorite things. 
Of course, I had to decide just what those might be.  The short list:  a prayer garden, antique roses, herbs, a lemon tree, a sweet bay tree, native flowers, a gardenia, and a vegetable patch.
The first thing we added was a prayer or Mary garden.  I was able to incorporate both roses and herbs and will continue to add and amend as time passes.
We have yet to decide if we want one bench or two and whether we want them to be concrete without backs or wooden with backs.  On either side of the statue we planted climbing roses, Sombreuil, and created two beds for Marie Pavie and her sister, Marie Daly.  These are all hardy, fragrant, old garden roses and amongst my favorites.  I don't mind that a neighbor's oak tree shades the statue.  If it wasn't there, I would have planted a tree in that corner myself.  The only thing that I must get used to is the occasional sound of golfers enjoying themselves beyond my garden while I'm praying or meditating.   
I've been reading about monastery gardens and culinary or kitchen gardens.  If I only had one bed in which to plant, it would have to be for herbs.  I have several basils, tarragon, parsley, purslane, a good variety of thyme, mints, lemon balm, lemon grass, three different oreganos, rosemary, and sage.  We have a bay tree, too, a gift from a loved one when she learned I was in mourning for the one I left behind.
I am excited about my little garden.  I will share many of our challenges and all of our garden in future posts.  Although I might wish to have room for a few more fruit trees, we really don't mind its diminutive size.  My husband used to mow and edge four acres every week or two all summer.  Now, he doesn't own a lawnmower.  While we miss having a pecan grove for our front yard, we don't miss maintaining it and our view is actually pretty open in front.  As for the back, it's an improvement on many counts.  I'm pretty sure that my husband would say that the best part is that it's nice, vast, and he doesn't have to maintain it himself.  The back view rather reminds me of favorite book illustrations from childhood, the ones that featured a green expanse (usually a hill), a town, and a train far off in the distance.  That's what I see when I look past my backyard -- the golf course being the green, slightly hilly expanse, homes comfortably situated around it, and the train out there far away but still within sight.  It's pleasant, it's comfortable, and so far, uncommonly  simple.  
What I wouldn't change at all, not one tiny bit, are our nephews showing up at our back door unexpectedly, my brother and his kids stopping by on their way to the grocery store, coffee with my sisters-in-law, weekend breakfasts with our children, and our granddaughter toddling through the front door as fast as her little legs can carry her.  Such precious flowers as these can be nurtured, appreciated, enjoyed -- the more, the better.  But they cannot be replaced. 
I'll be back soon.  I have a lot to show, tell, and ask!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

This Time We REALLY Did It!

"Move?  But we just agreed that we love this and want to stay!  We just planted all of those crape myrtles! I haven't divided all of the lilies yet!  I have no rose cuttings!  Are you serious?"

I looked at my husband and I saw that he was.  More than that, he was tired.  Between his business, a large extended family, a full social life (blessings, all) and a four-acre lot to maintain according to somewhat stringent deed restrictions, he was drained.  If I were honest, I was, too.  I knew that we were not giving anyone or anything the attention they deserved and that we were missing much.  We are not getting any younger.  Once thoroughly considered, the idea of living closer to family and friends became a tantalizing one.  While the moving process was exhausting and perhaps we made some hasty decisions, I am convinced that it's all for the best. 

Once we sold our house, we did not want to keep our belongings in storage until Spring; we determined to choose a house from whatever was available and came closest to meeting our requirements at the time.  My husband was moving his office, too.  Everything happened quickly and all at once.  It is the settling down and adjusting that has taken some time. 

Moving from four acres in a quiet, rural subdivision to a house on a golf course, zero lot-line, has been an adventure we will not forget any time soon.  But I am not here to talk about life in the fast lane.  I am here to talk about my garden, our drastically ever-changing landscape. 

I do not have access to all of my photos at present, unfortunately.  < I am not at all sure I like external hard drives at this moment.>  To compare the front and back yards in the same season isn't possible today and to use what photos I have access to really is terribly unfair to the new property.  For now, I shall limit myself to a short, one-paragraph comparison. 

Between the properties, there are two major differences that will affect my gardening.  One, of course, is that the old garden was expansive in all directions and the new garden is tiny in all directions.  The other is the configuration of the house.  Our former house was situated east/west while our new one is north/south.  All of this means that I will have to be very choosy about what to plant, whatever I plant will have more protection from the elements, and suddenly I have a tall, north-facing wall and very little "full sun".  A difference that will affect my garden, if not my gardening style, is the fact that I will have much less control of what surrounds my plantings (neighbor's yards).  It will be an entirely different gardening situation and I admit that I'm looking forward to the challenge.  I've already decided what plants must go to make way for plants I want.  There is so much to do!

But not today.  We have an unusual day of snow and sleet.  Yesterday, the temps were in the 60's and they will return to them later this week.  I hope that you are all warm and well and that 2014 has been good to you so far.

Oh!  There is one rather amusing difference!  We are now the caretakers of three very tall, hardy palms.  They sound lovely in the wind.

I'll be back soon!