Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Driveway

As I made the corner in our half mile long driveway I had to stop abruptly. A doe and her fawn were standing in the driveway, eating blooms off of a Twisted Leaf yucca. Man those things must taste good. The deer eat all the blooms off all of them every year. I've never tasted one but I can only imagine that they taste like candy, albeit deer candy. It reminded me of the hard work that my wife and I put into making the driveway a more pleasant course through the woods. This started after the driveway was bulldozed in, and long years before we actually lived here. I still remember driving it the first time, thinking that this was going to be the ugliest driveway in the world. The Twisted leaf yuccas were the only plant with a bloom on the entire eight acres. There was nothing but cedar and rocks with a few oaks and cedar elms scattered around. Did I mention we had lots of rocks.

There is a highway dept. historical sign down the road from our place that says this area along the North San Gabriel river was called Draco, a multi-tribal Indian word for good camping. It is beautiful country but it was ranched heavily for over a hundred years. After it was grazed off so bad that a cow couldn't find anything to eat then the ranchers ran goats and sheep. That finally finished it off plant wise so that all the dirt either washed off or blew off. And you see what is left.

I'm lucky that my job takes me onto many farms and ranches. I started looking at the plants that were either interesting, attractive, or bloomed and most of all were native, drought tolerant and didn't require much soil. I didn't buy any of these plants. Some came from around here and some from ranches in west and south Texas. Even some of these need some dirt added to the hole or watering for the first year. I've never had a rancher turn me down when I asked to dig up plants. Most would give an answer like "I've got a rule about digging up cactus on my place, you can dig one if you take ten." These are some of my favorites.

This is a sotol that I got on the Marshell Ranch close to Lago Vista. Mr Marshell was typical of ranchers. He told me to dig up anything a cow wouldn't eat.

This next is an Ocatillo cactus from a ranch in west Texas. These things cost close to a hundred dollars at nurseries. I try to wait patiently every year for it to bloom. For such a scraggly looking plant for most of the year it is a beauty to behold when it finally blooms. The rancher told me to dig all I wanted. I`ve never been turned down ever when asking for plants or rocks. I don't know why other people don't try this.

Here`s some more. This is a normal spineless pear cactus.

This is a Cholla cactus. When in full bloom it is truly awesome in it's cloud of wine colored blooms.
This, the Nopallito cactus is the one Mexican people skin and fry to eat. I must say they don`t seem that palatable to me. The blooms are simply gorgeous and a purer yellow you won't find anywhere. Even without blooms they still look good.The pads get to around 18" across with wavy edges.

Also from Mr Marshell I was able to aquire this Spanish Dagger. It was only about a foot across and a foot high when it was dug. I remember that I didn't get a lot of roots, but I knew it would be okay. Yuccas and Agaves just have more desire to live than other plants do. It is now close to 15' high and marks my SE corner property pin. I'm sure any surveyors that have to locate that pin will despise it.

Next I worked on getting wild flowers planted as I knew any kind of flowers would have to be native as I simply did not have the time to water them. But even natives need dirt and I had little. I started asking at construction sites and was able to get several trailer loads through the years. I would simply spread it several inches deep over the rocks, sow seeds and spread a little more dirt over them. I've had mixed results with this but have enough flowers and variety to keep me happy. My favorite is the Standing Cypress and it has taken the gathering of literally millions of seeds to get my little crop. But it was worth the trouble as they are simply gorgeous. And it is the only bi-annual that I know of. The first year it is nothing more than a rossette of spindly leaves, only an inch off of the ground. But the next year it makes up for the wait. It shows off with spectacular appeal. And some attain heights of over six ft.

My favorites are plants that I know have a long bloom period, draw butterflies and hummers and have the desire to eke out a living and possibly thrive on my not so hospitable land. I keep adding more as I can find the plants or the seeds. Any body know where to find a Texas Musk Flower? I really want one of these. Blood red blooms, long bloom period and very hardy. What more could you ask for? And I can't find one any where.

Every one likes a Lindhiemers Senna. I guess it's okay but it's not hardy enough to live on the Driveway. I like the Two Leaf Senna. Lots of blooms, blooms on and off from May to frost and it grows on the Driveway.

I started with none of these Mexican Hats but now they are every where and they meet all my criteria for wild flowers. I transplanted the first few and they took care of the propagation part. Boy, are they good at it. They come in several colors and combinations. I have the all yellow and the maroon and gold.

Most people that are into native plants seem to think that Lantana has been over done. I like to say a place without Lantana is a place without all the butterflies it could have. Butterflys just love it and some types seem to like it above all other plants. I`ve got the two main types, both dug from ranches I've hunted on. It will tolerate almost any conditions and looks good on Texas' hottest days.

This is another one I wanted badly. It's Blue Curls. Very hardy, over four ft. tall, butterflies love it. But it reseeds voraciously, so be prepared. I don't care, I like it anyway.

Here's a couple more pictures and I better close this out. But a word of caution about getting your own wild plants. Always ask permission, you probably won't get turned down. And never dig a plant and go home and plant it. It probably won't make it. Pot it in the field and let it get accustomed to life in the pot first. When it's growing good in the pot then you transplant it. You would probably need that time to decide where it will want to live anyway.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The start

Well here it is,my gardening blog. As a computer neophyte this is quite mind blowing. This wouldn't be possible without help from my very understanding wife, my sister[the computer whiz],my two nieces and my brother in law. I`m the computer dummy in the bunch but hey they don't garden. I'm not a writer or a poet but I do garden and I just plain love plants. This just seemed like the perfect extension to what must be the perfect hobby.

I garden because I have to. I don't really have a choice. For me it is one of those must have things in life for that life to be complete. I've never watched a sports game all the way through, never been to a concert in my life and only have three TV shows I really like to watch. But let me get in the garden and time just stands still. The only relevant time is dark. But even after dark you can watch the Daturis blooms open up or the Sphinx moths flitting around. Now that's just too cool.

My mother knew the value of the garden well. It kept five kids busy gardening as well as providing food for the table. Our gardens then were huge.The smaller crops were at our house and the row crops like corn and beans were at my grandmothers house in Govalle on Springdale road. The ground there was perfect sandy loam. My step dad would say the dirt was so good it smelled like you could eat it,and he was right. When he was roto tilling early in the morning and the steam was rising out of the ground it smelled like raw potatoes. We would all line up, seven across with hoes, taking out the weeds. The Mexican families that lived across the road would line up, leaning on the fence, watching the white folks work their butts off.They must have thought we were crazy and they probably also thought we didn't notice where they were picking vegetables at night when we weren't there. It didn't bother my mom or dad as they knew we would have more than we could use anyway. Mom would always say it would be nice if they would just ask. As kids we didn't think about it any as we knew we would get to walk the two blocks over to Bruce's Fried Pies and buy a couple dozen broken pies for a nickel a piece as a reward for helping out in the garden. It wasn't much fun working in the vegetable garden but it put food on the table. The fun was in the flower beds at the house.

Mother had flowers all around the house. She hardly ever bought any because they cost money. Instead most of her plants were pass-a-longs and gifts. Even when she got a plant she didn't particularly want she would plant it and take care of it just the same. She would hold up a plant and look at it and say "I think you want to live over here", and it usually did. I always loved it back then when she would ask my opinion on what to plant where. If I was wrong she would act like I might have forgot that this one might need a little more sun than that spot. That would give me a chance to change spots and still be right.

With these little stories I've tried to show why I must garden to be complete. It came from my mother and her nurturing of my interests, knowing it would serve me well as a lifelong hobby. A hobby that would keep me healthy physically and yet mentally serene. My wife, Lyn, says I am truly my real self when I`m in my garden. I think my mother knew the gift she was giving me and I don't think I ever really thanked her for it. In her later years when I would call just to check on her we would talk for hours about gardening. There is always a new plant to talk about you know. The "Garden Queen", as I liked to call her, passed on to the bigger gardens she knew she was supposed to tend a few years ago. One of the last things she said to me was to take care of her plants. I hauled seven truck loads of plants away. I gave plants to friends but most I gave to my favorite nurseries, to sell or keep, as they seen fit. I gave Trish, at my favorite nursery, Forever Gardens, mom`s gigantic Brugmansia. Now when I go in there I see it, with it`s "not for sale" sign on, and think of the Garden Queen.