Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day April 22nd, 2009

One year ago today, on April 22, 2008 a few of my neighbors and I decided to cross the street and meet our other neighbor...the Crestview Baptist Church and offer up a beautification project.
I had recently finished the TreeFolks "Citizen Forrester" program and was excited about planting trees as I'd watched 5 die in the 12 years I'd lived in my house. I'd done this before and was met with some harsh judgement but decided to try it again as there was a new pastor with the title "Neighborhood Liaison." His name is David Tobey and sadly, he no longer lives here but he was the first person to listen and agree that something needed to be done. The property was all St. Augustine and the sprinkler ran in the middle of the day half the time and often had water running down the street due to broken heads.
I applied for free native trees, and got it! We were given 17 trees and were able to rally some 20 neighbors and several Church folk to join in. The Church provided a delicious taco and Iced Tea luncheon. The event took place the first Saturday in November and we were able to get 8 cubic yards of free mulch from Davey's Trees and I pitched in the organic fertilizer. My next door neighbor Dana pulled out free T-shirts for everyone who stayed to the end and we all made new friends. It was wonderful

Melvin installing the Solitary Bee Habitat, gift of the 2009 CAMN graduating class.

This man, Melvin Sawyer has become my friend and hero. He's 81 years old and can work any man I've met this far in my life, under the table...without complaint and only a Dr. Pepper or two to keep him going.
On Valentines Day this year I offered to put in a rose garden for the church. Melvin and his wife JoAnne showed up to help, as did my lovely French neighbor Regine. My husband Greg, myself, Regine and Melvin installed 9 Martha Gonzales roses after digging out and prepping the beds. JoAnne made us coffee as it was freezing that morning, I made Melvin's favorite cookies, oatmeal raisin.
A few days later I was walking by with my dogs and noticed he'd made a concrete sign that reads "Thanks 2009" with a heart, he told me later he didn't know how to spell my name. To say Melvin is a man of few words, is an overstatement.
About a month later, Melvin built a few benches and sunk them in concrete for the folks walking by. When I caught up with him I told him how much I loved them, the following day I found one for me on my front porch.
Melvin digging a hole for the roses on the Pergola
A few months later, Melvin and I had a conversation about building a pergola...for more roses. Melvin spent 50 years as a carpenter and loves a challenge. He build the Pergola along with 4 benches in a few days. He then added benches across from all the neighbors houses so they could sit and watch the trees grow.

Melvin's Pergola with Cecille Bruner climbing roses.

Yesterday, for Earth Day he and I worked 5 hours straight. We pulled weeds, fed and watered the roses, repaired a trellis for a tree that was leaning, and planted climbing roses along with natives on two islands in the parking lot.

This is the ugly little island...

Here's Melvin turning the soil..."we don't need a tiller" he said.

Here's Melvin attacking the other abandoned island.

We left a spot at the end, but planted Salvia Greggi and Mexican Feather Grass on the other end. I had been telling Melvin about the Purple Martin Habitats and how I thought the empty parking lot would be a perfect place as the birds could see it in the clearing. He said, I can build that...can you get me a pattern? Yes, I can do that.
When he finishes, we'll put it in the center of the grassy end of the island, then we're going to plant Bulbine and Hymenoxis around the pole.

In the afternoon my friend Jennifer who lives at the end of the street came strolling down and joined in the clean-up efforts! Thanks Jenji!

The Bee Habitat on my front pergola faces south and is about 8 feet from the ground.
And, like the good neighbor Melvin is, after he finished at the Church he helped me put up two Bee Habitat's at my house. I couldn't have imagined becoming such good friends with Melvin, we at first seemed to come from polar opposite ends of understanding the spiritual world...but with that shelved, we realized that we have a world of things in common. I truly enjoy his old school gentlemanly nature, his love of all things "good n' tasty", and things Texan. We both have a hard time understanding folks that prefer to sit on the couch and watch TV rather than actually doing something and have a work ethic that says, no problem...I can do it, quickly and correctly. I've learned that even though he says he doesn't know a thing about flowers, Melvin has a beautiful yard, that I'm helping him care for and have installed the things that he likes in my yard...I put up signs so he could learn the names of the flowers, and he likes that. He's got lots of bird houses and bird baths and his yard is nearly a wildlife habitat now. Melvin has helped me build an extension to my pergola, that he built with just auditory need for a drawing, he just waved his hand and got to work. We've been exchanging plants and projects, talking about the future of the property, our kids, how Austin is doesn't matter what, it's always kind and gentle and I genuinely love spending time with him. Earth Day has become my favorite holiday for many reasons. I love devoting a day to someone else's space, knowing that my neighbors and passersby will enjoy the changes they see. I like the lack of material responsibility: buying gifts and tacky repetitive songs...that it's not about who gets what or who might feel left out, if you choose not to participate...then that's your choice. We all live on this planet, some folks believe that we're destroying it, others don't but we can all get out to make it better... and if we all did, imagine the sense of community we would be creating.
I asked "How did you spend Earth Day" on my face book page and got some great answers...from swimming at Barton Springs to planting a vegie garden, to taking my kids to the park...awareness is the first step and I'm open to hearing your ideas about next years
Earth Day.
Happy Gardening

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Wrapping up CAMN

It hit 90 degrees today, which was my cue to stop gardening and get inside to some iced-tea, air conditioning and write. It's been several weeks and three classes since I wrote and that wraps up the 2009 Capital Area Master Naturalist program, which ended...not in volunteer hours and duty, but in classes on Saturday. 3 weeks ago we had our class at LCRA's Redbud Center which is a lovely work of architecture, with beautifully planned grounds and stunning lighting. My "nursery crawl" partner Randy and I took the city of Austin's first "Green Gardener Certification Course" there, meeting each Wednesday for a few months so I was familiar with the property, it's something to see if you find yourself on Lake Austin Boulevard, west of Mopac, it's an LEED Sustainable Designed Green Building...Gold Stamp Certified.

View of Tom Miller Dam from the walkway at LCRA Redbud center

The coolest part of the building as far as I'm concerned are the models of all the dams on the Colorado River, and they can turn the water on and watch them run through the models and if I had a kiddo interested in "how things work" a little engineer...I'd have them there as quick as you can snap. My little brother would have loved this place when he was small...probably still would.

Isn't this just awesome?

Anyway, you get the point...I didn't include them'll just have to go there yourself. So the class was on water, hydrology and aquatic ecology. We had several speakers, of which I thoroughly enjoyed the herpetologist who loved snakes, Dr. Travis J. LaDuc. He was wonderful and spoke so fast I hardly had time to take notes. He brought tons of slides and wonderful taping of frogs singing and it was baffling how one could train their ears to identify species in such a fashion. If you're interested you can get a Frog Call CD for $5 from the Texas Amphibian Watch at

He also showed up with several live snakes, I didn't include any of the photos of the snakes because when I saw them, they made me sad. I don't think there is anything sadder than seeing an animal in a cage than seeing one in an aquarium or plastic jar...those snakes were not happy.

He went on to explain about the various poisonous and non poisonous snakes, apparently we have only 4 poisonous species in Travis County...but lots of cool salamanders, frogs, turtles and other aquatic animals and insects. The class was interesting, the models of the wells and pollution were depressing, the lack of public knowledge astounding and I left wishing I'd savored the fresh glacial mountain lakes of Alaska more when I was a kid...and wondered why we couldn't just take better care of the earth...for our own sake.

This is Patty, our class president :) She's marvelous and I'm so happy to have met her in this class! One of the best parts of the CAMN program is the camaraderie and the awesome people you get to know, spend a whole lot of time hiking, learning, eating and just having new experiences with like minded souls. I don't know if I have what it takes to hike the AT, but she's done it twice...and that is just utterly amazing to me.

Baker Sanctuary is another brand new location for most of us in the class. It's an Audubon Society site, the first local chapter to purchase land for a species habitat, that species would be our very own...Golden Cheeked Warbler.

Sometimes you just come across an experience that your not likely to forget and this is one of them. Mike Quinn is an Entomologist, the second one we had...the first class was an Introduction to Insects taught by Dr. Al Hood at St. Ed's U, Dr. Quinn is a freelance bug guy fascinated with beetles and is currently doing a study here in Texas. He showed us what you get when you knock a tree...all these critters came falling down onto the catch sheet and he was grabbing 'em up and putting 'em in bottles and talking all the while and I'll never forget the frenzy and excitement. I can't see myself doing a backyard insect survey anytime soon but I will take my time before rushing past the little guys from now on.

Baker Homestead

The front porch...I snuck off from the crowd to peek inside the house to find just one room with an old iron stove inside, apparently the Bakers were a brother and sister who wanted their land left alone. According to the survey, the land looks pretty much as it did in the 50's...same trees and such...just a lovely outdoor pavilion has been added.

This is the spider guy...Joe Lapp, who is curiously looking at a Pirate Spider he picked out of my hair! I was glad to have been up front:)

A centipede they found on the first hike! Yikes!

Okay, here's the mystery...what the heck is growing on this plant? Any disease experts out there...please don't be shy, leave me a comment so I can learn something! It was fuzzy, but dry and looked like raspberries.

Prairie Verbena was growing all over the fields, as was Blackfoot Daisy and milkweeds.

One of the many spiders found on Joe's hike...I can't remember the name but I remember the story...the gob of stuff to the right is to fool the birds. A study was done on GCWarbler stomachs and they found that they mostly ate do many small birds.

This was a fun class and the location was so remote and quiet, you could hear the birds singing and I so hoped to catch site of the Golden Cheeked Warbler...that's on my list!
Our last class was at Shield Ranch, and covered Conservation and Restoration.

Kevin Thuesen was our energetic speaker and the tone was clear...get out there and do something...anything to help clean, restore, educate, inform...whatever your calling. Just do it.

After his lecture we took a hike through the fields to have a look at the Ranch, which is working and beautiful. I loved the hikes...all of them and it made me realize that that's what was missing in my life. I grew up hiking as a kid in New Mexico, Germany, Alaska...anyplace we went, we saw it on foot and my life has gotten just too busy. On the few classes where weather didn't permit or the speakers took their time, I felt jipped. The information was phenomenal, the resources invaluable but putting me back in touch with my inner spirit...I can't go there...oh well, priceless.

Here's my people...amazed by an empty dwellers, craving nature. After lunch, which was lovely, Thank you :) we all had to do a presentation and more than once my eyes welled up.

Purple Milkweed Flower blooming on the trail.

Antelope Horn milkweed...we kept coming across the buds and then finally the blossoms!

Pearl Vine elegant. By the last few classes it was obvious who the flower hounds were and I found myself navigating toward in hand I needed someone who was quick with the field guide and passionate about the beauty of wildflowers.

Mike and Debbie opened up their lovely home for the graduation party and class project later that afternoon. Beer and Bee Habitats...we were all happy! I take classes all the time...each year I end up racking up a few certifications and learning some new stuff. Sometimes it's good riddance, some good stuff and some of it... just a hoop you have to jump through...this class was different and I chose to write about it from the beginning because I could tell that it was going to stick with me forever. I'm not sure how I's something in the genuine spirit of one who has reverence for the outdoor cathedral...there's a particular glint in the eye, well worn crows feet from squinting in the full sun and smiling unconditionally...a deep satisfaction that cannot be explained only experienced.

This is my last post about the CAMN class. I'm sad to say it's over, I will miss each and every teacher and new found kindred spirit, but know I'll bump into you again someday...yanking out invasive species, clearing trails and hopefully 'round a campfire looking at the stars.

Our final for our teachers and Preserves that graciously allowed our class space and time to learn. On Sunday we made Screech Owl Houses that will go to yet other locations and some are for sale. I encourage anyone out there who understood this endeavor to research and consider taking the class and or volunteering your time. New applications will be available online August 1st and I encourage you to get it in on time, though that's not the only requirement and the class size is limited to 30 so not everyone makes it. I didn't make it in the first year I applied. Also, I have to mention Noah, the 14 year old home school student and budding Eagle Scout who added such spark and delight to our group...teens you are welcome! It's been a joy writing about this class and now...I must get out and do something!
Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tax, Bloom Day!

Welcome to my garden today. It's been awhile since I've's been a very busy spring and one that clearly puts me in the "gardener first" category...I'd clearly rather be outside on a day like today. Cecile Bruner is magnificent...the Lady Banksia last month was unbelievable, this is a year for roses...and so much more.

Carol of May Dreams Gardens started us all on this monthly blog and to her, we are all grateful. I've decided to organize my photos not by front and back yard, new or standard but by color...several things blooming today didn't make the post because I feel like I've seen to much of them, but I've kept the images for further reference...I wonder when Spring will be so glorious again? Thank you for dropping by.

The backyard entrance...please come in for a spell...

Morning light on my onion patch

Onion flower

Isn't she lovely in her smallness? I can never remember her name...some kind of African succulent that literally grows wherever I put it...

The last of the Arugula flowers, so simple yet hot and spicy!

Barrel Cactus buds, a gift from my friend Tom

Seeds are up!

White Lantana

Boysenberry flower (not pictured is the blackberry)

Blackfoot Daisy, I don't care that it's just a Daisy...they mean Spring to me.

I just couldn't resist a few annuals this year...

Oxalis, simple clover

Mexican Sage in front of the upright Rosemary

Spanish Lavender, my favorite of the Lavenders...

Provencial Lavender

This is the first year my Sage bloomed! It's blooming all over the yard...all varieties, I can't tell you how beautiful they smell and how happy it makes me.
Cue the music... XXXX Deep in the heart of Texas...
Purple Lantana, so tough and dependable

This is my newly planted Sky Flower or Duranta, the butterflies love her and the shallow bath.

SpiderWort, still going strong!

Check out the sugar ants on this Sage early this morning!

Cherry Sage

Guara in the morning sun

Volunteer Larkspur, my next door neighbor for many years was a tiny old lady named Freida and she planted them every year...they're only living in my yard now.
Texas Betony and Cosmos...for Buckley.

Fuscia from my friend Elizabeth and the most fragrant of my roses...Cecile Bruner

Old Blush going to town on the front pergola

Belinda's Dream

Scarlet Sage

Salvia Greggi in the warm sunshine

It may be poor form to show such an out of focus shot...but this color combination reminded me of's Firecracker Fern in front of Powess Castle's Artemesia.

Crown of Thorns with spider webs...don't they look like lips?

And, the last of the reds...

The oranges...Red Yucca flower, Nasturtium, Butterfly Weed, Patrick's Abutilon...which is new to my backyard and I can never get a good shot of because it's so low to the ground...still...and the garish orange of my Mini Pomegranate.

The only blossom on the tipity top of my Ocotillo!

The delightful Bulbine

My first crush was on the Pride of Barbados, I still think she's magical with those spitting red ribbons!
New Golden Lantana

Last year, this pokey agave got me good when I was working and I decided that was the end...I didn't want things that hurt people...little people especially in my yard. So, I chopped her back and she was too big for me to pop the pineapple shaped orb out of the I instructed "Spouse" to do the duty...Spouse was busy. This spring, she bloomed from the stump! Thank goodness he had better things to do!

I love Nasturtium...they are the seed that I can't mess up! and, they're tasty!

This is my second lilly from Randy's yard to bloom...I wonder how mine are doing in his yard?

Had to sneak another shot in...becuase this is my favorite bright yellow...happy face yellow.

These Snapping Dragon ladies wintered over in the window box!

Hell zone Hymenoxis doing her cheerful thing. I think yellow flowers are my favorite, and they remind me of my love.

She spills over nicely, hiding the cracked pot!

And, lastly...a volunteer squash flower with a drunk bee. This bee was here when I began my rounds and an hour later was still at it! You go! Thank you for visiting my garden in Zone 8b, a snowbirds paradise, and my favorite place to be.

Happy Gardening!