Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanks for the Lessons Learned! So Long!

I fell into this little part time job almost two years ago after finishing the Travis County Master Gardener course. 1/3 of my volunteer hours had been spent at the Green Garden, I have a deep interest in native plants and responsible ecology so I put my time in at the Watershed's demonstration garden for the city, which was created to help teach people about clean water conservation. The following summer I took over that garden from the woman I'd been volunteering with, another Master Gardener who had taken the job for the very reason I was interested in learn how the natives respond throughout the year and for the experience of managing a large public garden. That was the first of two record breaking summers of drought and heat. The second part of the job I didn't know about, was also tending the Howson Library garden in Tarry Town. Watershed had decided to locate the second water-wise garden where the highest water use in the city occurred annually. My girlfriend Elizabeth Drozda had designed the garden so I was very excited to carry on her legacy, as she is one of the people who fostered my knowledge and love of plants since moving to central Texas some 13 years ago. So, I found myself in a position that I knew virtually nothing about and I was thrilled to have the challenge. That first summer was trying. At both locations there seemed to be endless problems with the water systems and I quickly learned that neither location was a 'priority' considering it was supposed to be "Low-Water." Well, as those of us who have survived the summer of hell #2 know, even water-wise plants need a little water and TLC when dealing with triple digit temperatures. Still I soldiered on, naively transplanting and taking chances on small plants, I never did get a budget but figured out that if I spent less than $100 at a time, no one seemed to take notice. So I puttered on, fixing the sites as I saw needed. I fell in love with the roses at Howson Library. Justin, the rose-man at Zilker, who I'd met years before at the former beloved Howard's Nursery on 2222, helped me understand natural rose care with the 8 Martha Gonzales and 1 Mutabilis rose. I am now, no longer afraid of roses...but love them and put in 5 rose beds at my house and a huge rose garden at the church across the street last year. This is one thing that I learned and will carry with me from now on.

The first thing I did at Howson was dig up these signs, clean and re-paint them!

The hell-strip at Howson.

When I got there, the previous gardener had put in a hand full of Leadwort plumbago that were hanging on. I transplanted Bulbine from Zilker to compliment the deep blue and help stop the bus traffic from trampling the beds...they look lovely now! I also added Katie Ruellia, not knowing for sure if it would be able to stand the heat and Gregg's Mistflower for some height. Surprisingly, the Ruellia is thriving in full sun, against the road.

This is the semi-circle of Martha Gonzales' Roses...the toughest Rose I know!

After taking the City's Green Garden Certification class, I happened to be at Howson when the project manager showed up to visit with the roofer. I asked if a water collection system was in the plan, which it was not, and so began a long discussion about having one set up. I feel very proud to have pushed this through, even though the construction and choice of material were not mine, the project is in place and collecting water presently! This makes it easier for the new gardener who should have plenty of water to last through the winter, when the city shuts the water off.
This is the Children's Meadow, well...that's what I call it, next to the empty birdcage in the Green Garden at Zilker. I was told that the land had previously been an Indian burial ground, though I was unable to find any real documentation of such...and was probably told to me to avoid lending a hand. Never the less, with that in mind, I didn't remove the rocks in the area but put them in 3 mounds for interest. The planting was to highlight the new plants on the New Grow Green Guide released last Christmas.

Here are just a few of the very dedicated volunteers that helped clear, plant and tend the little meadow...which was inspired by my then, 2 year old niece. The layers and textures when filled in should be a textural wonderland to a young child standing around 3ft. high filled with butterfly's and bees.

Notice the size of the Lions Tail and it's hard to make out, but at the base of the upper rock mound are 3 tiny transplants of Polygunum that I pulled up from the floor of the Master Gardener Green House.

Here's Suzie putting down compost and mulch in and around the mounds.

The biggest plants came from my garden at home, the Blue Agave in the glass mulch rings. The glass comes from the city's recycling plant off Todd Lane in South Austin.

After several tries, the only thing that has thrived in the full shade of the entrance sign is Tropical Sage.

This is the meadow now, the Polygunum suffered through the summer, but I was there 2 and 3 times a week fighting for the little starts that were planted the previous November.

I lost one Gulf Muhly, otherwise, the Little Meadow is filling in beautifully.

A view from the entrance walkway.

Engleman's Daisy, Firecracker Fern, Polygunum, Gulf Muhly, Aloe Vera and Spanish Dagger in the corner away from tiny hands.
I passed this job onto a dedicated volunteer who has been working with me off and on for a few years. It was a lot of work, and the main thing I learned is that I don't want to be someone else's gardener. I'm too sensitive and care too much for each and every plant and tree that suffered or was lost. I disagree with the idea that Natives aren't important because other plants have a higher dollar value...especially considering what it takes to keep exotics alive in a virtual desert. I believe they are the most important plants because they are sustainable to our wildlife and the deep roots of the grasses hold down the soil. In the long run native plants cost less because they generally use less water and are better adapted to the climate so they should need less care by way of pesticides and fertilization.
It was an honor and privilege to work in these public gardens, they are beautiful places to visit and learn about responsible planting.
Thank you to all my wonderful volunteers and Happy Gardening!


Pam/Digging said...

Well done, Cheryl. Boy, you have a lot of energy to have kept those gardens going for as long as you did. I'm glad you have found dedicated volunteers to take over.

ChrisG said...

Hi Cheryl - you said 'so long'.... are you leaving your post?

ConsciousGardener said...

Thanks Pam, and yes Chris, I left last month, the new GG is Tina Huckabee...I believe an old friend of yours, Pam. She does a great job!

Sande said...

Very nice! You done good. I sounds like a very rewarding experience where you were able to give something to your community.

mss @ Zanthan Gardens said...

What a lot of work and a great hand up you gave the garden. They plantings look so lush and lovely...not at all what many people associate with "waterwise" gardening. You've demonstrated that "waterwise" doesn't mean settling for less; it's doing more with the appropriate plants.

catmint said...

wonderful post Cheryl, what a great contribution to the community, and as you say, satisfying and teaching you a lot. I think native plants are really important for the reasons you give. I also adore the meadow look, and the idea of designing a garden with children in mind.

Gail said...

The gardens are terrific looking...and congrats on a job well done and to moving on to your next adventure. gail

azplantlady said...

Hello Cheryl,

I love how much we have in common in the type of plants we can grow. Your little meadow is just beautiful. Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope the weather clears up for you. We got a lot of rain, but had sunny skies today :0)

shirl said...

Hi there Cheryl, what an inspiring posting :-D

I can truly see why you were sorry to have missed the Tree O’Clock planting. The plan with it also (as well as a record attempt) was for each tree planted be native.

Thank-you for your comment which led me to this posting. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about and seeing photos of your work in these gardens. They really do look very impressive to me and I can appreciate the time and work yourself and volunteers have put in :-)

Wishing you all the best with future projects… be they big or small :-D