Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Grow Green Classroom at Becker Elementary School

Hopefully, today was my last day to substitute at the Green Classroom. It's not the kids, 5th graders from Title 1 schools all over Austin, I love the's just that that chapter in my life finished two years ago and the sound of my own voice repeating the obvious has simply lost it's charm. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed helping out this year and would like to share some of the idea's behind this project and perhaps encourage someone else to step up and help out. First off, the program is grant supported and was awarded to the Watershed Department of Austin. It's a 3 day "Earth Camp" that covers the cost of field trip, education, supplies, T-shirts for the kiddo's and a day at the Green Classroom after learning about the aquifers, clean water ecology and the nitrogen cycle. It supports their science curriculum and the kids love it.

Welcome to the Green Classroom across the street from Becker Elementary, on the Bouldin Creek you know your Watershed? That's a question we always ask the kids of their home school and their homes.
Where Sunflowers grow wild!

The pond has papyrus, Aloe, yarrow, among others as well as minnows, mosquito fish and a few frogs. It's maintained by the Pond Society and a few civic minded neighbors.

Two of the beds belong to Earth Camp and the rest are kept by various classes at Becker.
The garden was founded in 1989 and teaches children about the 4 major aspects of the environment: water, waste, energy and sustainable agriculture. I've tried on several occasions to find out who and how the beautifully sculptured walls, pond and herb garden were built...if you know, please comment!

Today I noticed that the starlings have taken over the Purple Martin Habitat! Oh no!

There are two 1,000 gallon water collection tanks that the kids use to water the gardens.

And, one of the best compost plans I've seen! The Soup Peddler brings their leftover veggie matter in the big plastic buckets so the entire garden is made from organic matter!

Isn't it magical? I mean's so Dr. Seussian and the kids are really drawn in.

I didn't get photos of the's a typical 1940's bungalow but they've got tons of city models that help explain water flow when it rains...really cool stuff!

They use colored water to demonstrate the effects of fertilizers and the time they leave, we've educated an army of organic gardeners!

The signs and artwork could use some sprucing up. The sign on the carrot reads: "This is a Chemical Free Garden." The garden-teacher position is a set 4 station curriculum where the kids compost, plant a seed, collect and investigate insects and garden.

I'll leave you with one last image...the mandala of the artichoke plant! So perfect. Anyway, I know they'll need helpers for the next school season...retired teachers, this is a nice way to stay in touch, college students...the pay isn't shabby and it's only 20 hrs a week. The city may be on a hiring freeze, but this is grant money and children can't teach themselves. Contact Susan Wall at the Watershed Dept. of Austin if interested.
Happy Gardening!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Crestview Garden Listserve Tour

Crestview, my neighborhood is the only place I've lived for any length of time in my life. I've been in my house for 13 years this August and it is the only home I know. As time goes on and I meet more people in the neighborhood I am overwhelmingly grateful to share my time on earth with such innovative and conscientious beings as these gardeners that I've been meeting on our weekend get-togethers. We've got a list serve where folks post questions and share plants. Last year Paige, another gardening friend organized a tour of a few homes and it's taken off! For the past month we've visited 3-5 gardens, at a slow-meandering rate...several folks have graciously listed plants they would like to have removed to a good home, so we came with trowel and pot in hand. This is Sunday's tour of 3 lovely ladies' gardens.

A view of the front yard.
Beverly, the gardener and her partner Rock actually live in Allendale, but are very active on our list serve and come to the tours. Beverly is a fearless experimenter and inventor. I'm going to show you her 'wild' space and garden first then share with you some awesome observations of a green saint or potentially the truest conscious gardener I've met thus far.

Bee Balm

The space to the right of the photo is recently removed, water loving St. Augustine that she layered 10-15 sheets of newspaper over, covered with leaf litter and then planted with natives.
Textbook responsible.

Looking toward the Veggie garden in the far corner.

Another view of the fairly small back lawn.

Again, the lawn strip separating the gardens that surround the back porch area and separating us from the functional space.

This is Beverly, explaining her plan.

The veggie and herb garden. Notice that the beds are recycled material, and the walkways leaf litter. The various trellises are handmade from her own bamboo, properly planted I might add with various twigs from surrounding trees and vines. They all had a sense of curvilinear wonder and she said she just added pieces over time.

This is her home-made tomato cage!

The recycled cardboard compost containers with stick framework.

I have seen this before but didn't know anyone who actually went to the time and effort to cut and wrap newspaper for seedlings. I've also seen folks use toilet paper and paper towel tubes for this purpose.

Arugula, on it's way out...but more important...the shoes! Back in the 80's we all duck-taped our shoes along with the grungers but without asking, I know this is just making sense...why buy new gardening shoes to ruin them in the dirt! As I looked around I was noticing more and more that nothing in this house goes to waste...I forgot to ask her how full her recycle bin gets?

Here's another composter which makes so much sense it's almost embarrassing that I bought one! I actually gave mine to my friend Randy because it was too big for me to maneuver and the door was too small! No problem here and probably not a quarter the price of mine!

You guessed it! The old tent became a greenhouse! Last summer on vacation we realized...quite expectantly in the middle of a storm that our tent was leaking and I've been wondering what to do with it ever since! Hmmmmmmm.

I had to ask her about this looked like the form of some Death Star and I hadn't seen the containers before. She told me that they were the microwave Healthy Choice meal containers and she just couldn't see throwing them away so she was trying to invent a tumbling composter.
I was really amazed...I wanted to break into her house to see what this woman had done with her doop! But, I held back and simply dug up a few sages from her backyard hoping that the sageness would rub off.

Not to deter from her plant growing ability or charm, she's got that too!
Thank you Beverly for the lesson in ecology and for being the concerned citizen and inspirational steward that you are!
The next garden belongs to a fellow Master Gardener friend of mine who spends every moment in her garden, and collecting species. The Crestview lots are notably smaller than Allendales and Elaine seems to be packing a few garden stores into her tiny jungle!
Elaine is a hoot! She has one of those scientific minds and can pull the correct botanical name out of her bum at any given moment, so it was fun to see her yard full of people firing questions as fast as she could answer!

I hadn't seen this before and still don't know what it is!

The Front...not
You have to walk slow and step light. There are collections of all sorts, baubles, pottery, things that alone might seem like junque but in groups are quite charming. Elaine's got a collectors mind and I'll bet she never said no to a free plant and she seems the type to pull off the road real quick on big trash pick-up day, seeing the treasure with an eagles eye.

I have been nursing this plant at my home for a few years now and had no idea it bloomed!

If I didn't have two Boston Terriers, I'd collect gargoyles!

Looks like the side of my house!

Mulched and leaf litter pathways with birdbaths made of found objects and art pepper the cacophony of green and blooming foliage!

I love the rusting wagon planters and baby greens growing everywhere!

Here's Elaine, doing what she does best...recalling the exact name! Impressive!

Here is one of two eclectic home-built greenhouses that sit adjacent to the sprawling plant collection and art garden area.

A view from inside.

Like I said, bird baths and houses were everywhere! I tried, but failed to get a good shot of a sparrow feeding it's young a huge grasshopper! Nice IPM!

Looking East in front of the house.

It was virtually impossible to capture the magnitude and lush texture...what I hope you can see there in the middle is her blooming Brugmansia loaded!

This is the view from the back of the yard looking toward the house. In it you can see some of my favorite friends and neighbors and both of Elaine's greenhouses.
Notice the potted lime in the foreground!

I'm having green-pot envy!

I just love these cheerful blossoms! So tiny and sweet!

I showed this sign to my daugher last night when she was complaining about doing the dishes!

I took several pics of her hen-house but really wanted to get this Americana I think she called her, I just loved the architectural arch of feathers coming from her nether-region!
My how faaaancy!
Karen on Pasadena was last on the list.
I've noticed this yard for's caddy-corner from my Ex. Oh yea, cue the music; sometimes you get more than a regular ole' garden blog...whether you want to or not!
Beautiful blooming natives tumble gently toward the front door.
Karen's another chicken enthusiast and had a huge outdoor space for her four-fat-girls!

A few years ago I had the same bunch, before the Boston Terrorist got a few of 'em. The Barred or Blacklaced Wyandott is one of my favorite gals (she's the stripy hen to the right.)

This is looking through the Hen yard (Dove cote on the right) to the seriously raised beds leading back to a secret swing and the compost area.

The pond!

The pond was roughly 7x9' with several waterfall steps down creating a lovely trill.

Had to catch this sunning beauty, the emblem of the Capital Area Master Naturalists!
He (I'm presuming...) let me pet him!

Here's the secret seat!

And, as in all the yards seen today...composter!

The delicate lavender blossom of eggplant.

The Crestview Garden Listserve is open to everyone in North Central Austin, I believe...we've got folks from Brentwood, Allendale, Wooten, Highland, Shoal Creek and Crestview neighborhoods. We have plant swaps, seed gathering hikes, weekend tours...this coming weekend will feature one of my favorite neighbors' yard. She and her husband are artists and art collectors who have relocated from New Orleans. They grow veggies but also have designed and built a beautiful secluded Japanese garden off of their home office. The nice thing about Crestview is that it's a transitional neighborhood with all sorts of housing, one of the few remaining free pools in Austin and our very own 1953 shopping center with a great "Little Deli" and an IGA with a walk-in beer cooler!!! Yep, I don't think I'm going anywhere all too soon!
If your in the 'hood...sign up!
Thank you to the gracious-gardeners of Crestview!
Happy Gardening!