Sunday, December 1, 2013

West Texas Excursion

My neighbor down the road recently asked me to go to their ranch in west Texas, close to Dryden, to help with some ranch work that needed to be done. His wife didn't want him to go alone as he is under going some chemo treatments right now and is short winded and not his normal manly self. I've been there before and it is usually not all that pretty of country to ride through. This time it was different. The fall rains had made for lots of plants blooming and lots of green grass. I was also lucky to hit it when there was a pretty good cenizo bloom.

Right off the bat we ran into a rattle snake at the steps going into the cabin.
Then we found a bee hive in the eave of the house. I'm fairly certain it was Africanized bees as they were very aggressive and I got stung several times. I was so glad they got me and didn't get Billy as they hardly bother me a bit and it could have been bad for Billy with all the medication he is on. There was an owl decoy on a tripod to help scare the rodents away. It obviously didn't work as there was a cactus wren's nest right under the owl and the snake was probably at the house because there was rodents around.
Sunset on the first evening was typical west Texas great.
We started out that morning with beautiful scenery in every direction. 
The sotol stalks looked like telephone poles jutting out of the brush here and there as far off as you could see.
I was lucky enough to hit it on a pretty good cenizo bloom. The fall rains had triggered it, I'm sure. There was every shade imaginable. They made for quite the stunning back drop to a normally desolate land scape.

We rode off into one draw that had quite a few with white blooms. I had never seen them with white blooms before other than in a nursery where they were advertised as some kind of hybrid. It looked like nature had hybridized her own here.

 The ocatillo were in full leaf. I wished they were in bloom as it is stunning. Wrong time of the year for that. There were so many different shapes, sizes and structure that it made for a bizarre scene indeed.

I thought of my own ocatillo at home that was in full leaf as well. I had dug it up on this ranch about 7 years ago. It looks a little different than these as it has sugar pumpkins hanging on it.
I did take time to dig up some perennial wild flowers that I had seen the last time I was here and did not have time to get. I had to look them up just to find out what I had. The ones I could find in my books are Stiff Stemmed Flax, Linum berlandieri, Jimmy Weed, Isocoma pluriflora, Mexican Poppy, Eschscholtzia mexicana and Snakeweed, Gutierrezia sarothrae. I brought home a few others that I haven't found their identities yet. I'm glad the rancher didn't mind me getting them as they are like trophies to me. I looked long and hard for Zinnia grandiflora for a friend but didn't see any. There is always next time.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Sky Forest of the Thalia

That sounds like some thing from the movie Avatar and really, it's kind of close. Thalia was one of the first plants we bought when we built our first pond. It provides a taller plant scene to the water garden. We just didn't know how tall. The plant's leaves give it kind of a canna look, maybe just a little taller. The bloom stalks, on the other hand, look almost out of this world and can get to 15' tall.

The blooms are hardly even noticeable, just a couple of little folds of pink tissue like petals. The bloom stems are zig zags with pointed little pods.

 The thalias are a real, small forest that attracts all kinds of small critters like snakes, frogs and birds. This little tree frog stayed on this thalia stalk all day long.

As more stems reach skyward, it starts to look like a giant spider web. Even though the stems must be cut back in the fall, they are not very strong and very easy to cut. When the winds blow it is a real show to see with the hummers trying to feed on the tiny, little blooms. Try thalia, I think you will like it. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Hazards Of Country Gardening

Woke up a couple mornings ago to the sound of my dog going nuts. I hollered at Lyn to see what was wrong. She hollered back that there was a cow in the front yard. I got up, got dressed and went down to assess the damage as we had just planted a bunch of new plants in what used to be the front yard.

I find not a cow but a bull in the big bed of Greg's Mist Flower, munching away. Seeing me he started toward the back. He turned around and came back to the bed of Lariopes and started eating them. When he walked between Lyn's car and the air conditioner, he knocked the corner of the air conditioner off, exposing all the wiring.

He started trying to drink the water that was dripping out of the air conditioner so I figured he was thirsty. I got two buckets of water and took him one. He drank it all and came to me to drink the other one. I led him to the back gate and set the bucket down out side the gate. He went through and I shut the gate and was rid of him.........I think.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

More Progress on the Back Yard

The bed that was started in the last post is all done now. The two layers of rocks make for a very natural looking ledge. The dirt depth behind the rocks is about fifteen inches now and there were two holes already there that I had dug with a backhoe for fruit trees. Those holes were about six feet in diameter and three feet deep and filled with good blended garden soil. Not wanting to waste those holes and wanting to replace the fruit trees that we had lost in the drought, I planted fruit trees back in those spots. The fruit trees will just have to be part of the look for these beds, a mix and match with ornamentals. We will just have to wait to see how it will look, I think just fine.

Here is the same picture from the back porch as in the previous post, with the bed finished and some plants in it.
We started right in on the next bed. It is where the swing is at the left of the picture. This was going to be harder to do as it was almost impossible to get the Bobcat in there with out messing things up. The large gouge on the oak tree is where I hit it with a fork while putting the first rock in. After that we just put all the rest of the rocks in with the dolly. You may also notice that there is a faucet in the next picture and it is not there in the following picture. Oh yes, there was plumbing work done.
While it is almost impossible to get all the rock perfectly level, it is nice both aesthetically as well as being better, construction wise, to get them close. I don't actually use a level but just eye ball it as I have a pretty good eye for it after so many years of building things. Visitors have asked about the cracks under the rocks and the likely hood of snakes being in there. When I bed these big rocks and get them exactly like I want them, I foam the cracks with the expandable foam. I made a special long flexible applicator where I can get way back under them and foam almost all the way out, just back enough you don't notice it. It also helps keep the dirt from washing through. There is enough room for toads and rusty lizards as I've already seen both go in the cracks.
I consider myself lucky that some plants that I like came up in the granite gravel. It would have been nice if they had come up in the beds but I will take these where ever they come up. They are Scrambled Eggs, Corydalis curvisiliqua, and they are beauties. I've never seen them growing in the pastures here so I guess they came in with the gravel. You can see them in the very back ground in this next picture.
With dirt in the bed and a few plants it gives an idea of what it will look like some day after it matures.
Now on to the next project. I've already dropped the bigger rocks close to where they need to go.
We will post this next time.


Monday, March 25, 2013

A Yard With No Lawn.

It's been a busy winter with lots of hard work and many decisions made on major garden design changes. A few years ago, when we had fifteen inches of rain in two days, the entire back yard washed completely off. The yard had been covered in several loads of dirt that had been spread by hand. The grass was a native grass blend that we had gotten from Native American Seed in Junction, Texas. It had made for a nice, water stingy lawn and I was very happy with it. I knew there had to be changes or the wash out would just happen again.

Shortly after that I had been talking to a garden blogger friend, Pam Penick that has the blog Digging about her ideas about doing away with lawns all together. I had already done away with the front lawn after seeing other blogger friend's front yards with no grass. Lori Dawl at the Gardener of Good and Evil and Cheyl Govea of Conscious Gardening have stunning front yards and I went with a similar design for mine. Pam has since written a book on doing away with lawns, it is called Lawn Gone. I knew it was time for me to do the same.

The amount of work that it would take was rather daunting but I had just bought an old but good Bobcat skid loader that would make things a little easier. I started looking for big rocks to scrounge and was lucky enough to hit pay dirt a couple of times.
We had gotten a smaller batch the year before and made a bed around some trees. We filled in behind the rocks with good dirt to get a better planting depth and put the plants in. It looked so good that I knew we were on the right path. The idea behind this build was to make level beds to take some of the slope out of the yard and give more planting depth as there is so little soil. This was before I got the Bobcat but was certainly a deciding factor in getting it. Lyn was just too much of a light weight to handle the rocks by hand so I had to put most of them in place.
That bed had been completed for a year before I got the big load of rocks. We started by pulling up the dead fruit trees and grading the ground to shape. Bonnie did not like me being on that machine with out her.

While I was clearing some brush out side the gate I happened to notice a rat snake going through the trees. I pulled up until I was right under him and got my camera out of my shirt pocket and took a picture.
I was about to back up when I noticed what he was up there for. He had killed a half grown cottontail rabbit and dragged it up the tree while trying to get away from me.
It didn't take long to realize that my ground was too rocky and hard and my new found rocks were too big for my little Bobcat. I was lucky enough to find another, bigger Bobcat for a steal of a price and bought it. Digging out the new beds was a snap with it.
When I started to move the rocks around, I could tell the bucket just wasn't the right tool. I built a set of fork lift forks that would attach by way of the Bobcat's quick detach system. It made moving the rocks a breeze. You can see them on the front of the machine.
It started to look like I was just making a big mess.
After the first row of rocks were down, I could start to see that my plan was going to end up like I wanted it to.I not only dug the ground level where the rocks would sit but had dug the ground level to the back of the bed. Once filled with good soil, it would make for much more depth for the plant's roots. Here is a picture from the back porch. The first layer of rocks are down and you can see the dug out area where I will fill in with dirt after the second layer of rocks goes down.
 This bed is planted now and all the gravel walk ways are in and it looks great but this post is getting long and I will show the finished project next post.