Thursday, August 28, 2008

Rock My World!

Like many other gardeners I've met, I collect rocks. I like having little pieces of other parts of the earth on a tabletop, in my garden or on a bookshelf. Some years ago, I asked a friend who was traveling to bring a rock or two back for me from her trip. Then I asked another and yet another ... now I don't even have to ask. My friends arrive at their destination and immediately go on the lookout for interesting or unusual rocks to bring me. My 50something memory being what it isn't ("what, you mean you were gone?"), I'm always happily surprised that they remembered.

The rocks above came from Vancouver, BC and Orcas Island; they were a gift from my wonderful friend Genny (whose oldest daughter brought me rocks from Santa Barbara earlier this year). Actually, two of those rocks are shells: the tiny one at the top and the funky one that looks like it has horns. Actually, that one kind of reminds me of an owl, which is fitting since Genny and I are both Rice grads. Merci mille fois, Genevieve!

The rocks below are some I picked up on my recent visit to Colorado. They're in a pot of Texas Betony that didn't get watered while I was away, which is why you don't see much of the Texas Betony! Drought tolerant as it is, it resents being totally ignored. I can understand that.

See, doesn't that shell on the left look like an owl?

Rock on!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Return With Me To Colorado ...

The things a gardener notices when she visits Colorado are doubtless much different than those noticed by the Mile High city's current influx of visitors.

Flowers along the highway to Vail ... I'm thinking they're some sort of Penstemon. Anyone know? Whatever they are, I am much enamored of them.

I followed this tidy brick path up the hill (and nearly broke my foot yet again when I missed a step while trying to get one of these pictures!).

Off to the right of the path, The Wildflower Inn is tucked away behind the shops of Vail.

A closeup of the Monarda and Liatris. Who'd have thought those colors would work so well together?

Delphinium in August ... just one of the reasons I fell in love with Colorado.

Ligularia, Hostas, a daylily and something with lovely sky blue blooms (I don't think they intended it to artfully echo the blue of the dangling cable to the right.)

Hollyhocks with nary a spot of rust or mildew: can you say low humidity?
A river runs through it ...

These colorful plantings bordered a cafe on the main street of Vail Village.

A view of the magnificent mountains, taken from the passenger side window as we sat in a traffic jam just before the exit to Vail. One local told me she'd never seen anything like it in her years there ... it turned out that an 18 wheeler was on fire. The driver escaped unscathed, thankfully.

The following day we drove from Denver to Estes Park. Imagine my delight to find along the way a beautiful nursery and greenhouse awaiting my visit ... if you're ever in Lyons, you should make time to stop at Gwynne's Garden Shoppe. One of the unique (at least to me) features of her business was a "cut your own flower" garden. Her gardens and the plants for sale were healthy and lush, the kind of plants we gardeners dream about.

OK, so this is why people love Joe Pye Weed! What a beauty.

In an uncharacteristic display of self-discipline, I only bought one plant to bring home with me, a pot of Lobelia cardinalis 'Fan Blue'. I'm cautiously optimistic about its chances of making it here. Here it is planted at Gwynne's:
We got a later start than we'd hoped and not long after we arrived in Estes, it started raining. So we chose not to go into Rocky Mountain National Park and instead ambled along a county road that loops from Estes Park through Glen Haven and then back to the highway. In Glen Haven, a tiny but charming shop with colorful gardens beckoned us to stop. Leah's, owned by Leah Simmons DeCapio and her mom Carol Simmons, had all sorts of funky, unusual and fanciful art, jewelry and gifts ... that's where I found the piranha pictured in my previous post. I loved this planter in the gardens outside her shop. It was as colorful and welcoming as Leah and her mom.

I could have taken far more pictures of the mountains, rivers and rock formations than I did. I told EM that literally every second presented me with another photo op! I'll leave you with a couple of shots from along the road.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I've Been Pondering Other Things ...

There are several reasons for the abrupt cessation of my reports from pondside. The day after pond completion, I boarded a plane bound for Denver to join Essence Man for a long weekend in the Mile High City. (EM recently changed jobs and his new company needed his talents in their Denver office for a couple of weeks.) This was my first trip there and only EM's second trip (the previous visit was in the company of his male relatives for their annual "baseball trip", which comprises in effect a few innings of a baseball game and many, many rounds in bars and restaurants. I mention this to explain why he didn't really see much of the area on that first visit). Having several friends who rhapsodize about Colorado and the Rocky Mountains, I was eager to learn for myself what all the fanfare was about. Not only did I come to share their passion for the mountains over the weekend, I found myself fantasizing about ways we could get back there more often. I'd heard from some people who love Colorado but aren't so fond of Denver, finding it too smoggy, busy, whatever. I'm a city girl, born & raised, so I felt quite comfortable there. When a fellow visitor to the Botanic Gardens heard where I was from, she commented that the unseasonable humidity that day probably didn't seem that bad to me. I had to laugh and tell her that no, for someone used to Houston's weather, Denver was anything but humid! More on the amazing and inspiring Botanic Gardens in a future post ... for now, suffice it to say that I spent hours there and feel like I barely scratched the surface. Here's a shot of the native plantings bed near the front of the gardens.

With me being a gardener, obviously the things that got my attention were mostly garden related. We stayed in the Denver Technological Center area and I was absolutely wowed by the plantings I saw around the office buildings, at the hotel, and in the medians. True, they are spiffing things up in preparation for the Democratic convention, but I didn't see so much attention to other areas of Denver, including the convention center. It was a delight to see artfully arranged rudbeckias, verbena bonariensis, salvias, petunias, sweet potato vines and more gracing beds and planters. Kudos to whoever designed them! I'm still ticked at myself for not getting any pictures of them, although it would have been kind of hard to do so from the car.

The most ubiquitous plant in Denver would have to be Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia). On every residential street we traveled, I'd see at least a couple of homes where these plants were growing, more often than not unaccompanied by other plants. They frequently seem to be placed just at the corner where yard meets driveway or sidewalk. I got the feeling they're pretty much have to fend for themselves, and they like it that way. The picture is of one at the DBG.
One of our favorite things to do when on vacation is eat breakfast out. Thanks to a recommendation from one of EM's co-workers, we visited Lucile's Creole Cafe on Saturday morning. Although we'd been told to expect crowds, the sheer number of folks waiting for tables was daunting. Since we wanted to drive up to Vail afterwards, we didn't want to spend valuable time waiting for a table. Fortunately, there were two seats open at the bar. Not only did we enjoy a scrumptious breakfast, our fellow diners at the bar were gregarious and entertaining local residents. Our delightful and vivacious bartender was the crowning touch on our experience: she makes an awesome Bloody Mary and is a great conversationalist. (Turned out she was a veggie and herb gardener so it's no wonder I liked her! I encouraged her to join the blogosphere and tell us about her garden adventures at the foot of the mountains.) As for the food, it's authentic as well as excellent: the beignets were every bit as divine as those at Cafe Du Monde. EM is a New Orleans resident and Lucile's has his endorsement. So if you're ever in Denver, go to Lucile's, sit at the bar and take Kia's recommendations on what to order! The picture is from a home you can see from the front porch of Lucile's: I loved the exuberance of all the roses and how they stood out, yet worked with, the house.We also ate at Denver's oldest restaurant, the Buckhorn Exchange. EM being of an adventurous nature, insisted on ordering rattlesnake in a light cream sauce as an appetizer, with buffalo and elk as his main course. I did NOT try even a tiny bite of his rattlesnake. Uh uh, no way (and I made him brush his teeth and rinse with Listerine before I'd kiss him!). A thunderstorm hit Denver just as we arrived at the restaurant and the rain was so torrential that even the wait staff was shocked. On our way back to our hotel, traffic slowed to a crawl on I25: it turned out that the freeway had flooded and traffic had to move left into 2 lanes VERY slowly. This was the first but not the only time I was absolutely stunned by the courtesy and consideration of Denver drivers. There is no way you would ever see Houston drivers moving over hundreds of yards before the lane closure, in polite and orderly succession, no one attempting to speed their way to the front of the line. It was mind-boggling (sadly).

More on the trip later, including pictures from Vail and the Estes Park area. As I mentioned, there were other reasons for my not having reported on the pond status or my trip sooner. Probably due to the changes in climate, I came down with sinusitis shortly after I returned home last week. Within a couple of days, the infection had moved into my chest and I had bronchitis. This is the usual course of things for me, due to an inherited tendency to respiratory problems. Not many people are aware of a disease called Alpha-1 Anti-Trypsin Deficiency. My dad was
diagnosed with the disease at age 43 and despite the dire predictions of the doctors at that time, he lived with it until age 66, although not ever easily. Because it is an inherited deficiency, I was tested during my pregnancy with my daughter. Although I did not inherit Alpha-1, I do have a combination of genes that makes me more susceptible to lung problems. I urge y'all to read about it and if you have any reason to believe it might be a problem for you or someone you know, get tested or urge them to do so. Not only did we lose my dad to Alpha-1, we lost my cousin Larry at an even younger age to cirrhosis of the liver caused by the disease. So I have good reason to be emphatic on this particular subject and I thank you for listening. Now, back to my health issues: I've spent most of the last week lazing about on the sofa or bed, or puttering on the computer, but I haven't felt well enough to string more than a few Twitters or Plurks together. I put blogging about my trip and my gardens on the back burner until I felt better. And I do, so I am.

As for the pond, I have yet to make it to Nelson Water Gardens for plants and fish, due to absence and illness as mentioned above. I'll probably wait until next week to pay Nelson's a visit since EM has big plans for us in the days to come. I'm kind of enjoying the anticipation: it's as much fun for me to think about choosing plants and fish for the bog and pond as it will be to actually do it! One thing that I decided last Tuesday morning, the first chance I'd had to see the pond upon my return home: the messy species vitex next to it had to go! The pond and bog were riddled with leaf litter from the vitex ... not a pretty sight. I managed to get all the branches
removed and hauled away before the sinusitis, etc. felled me. I still have to saw off the rest of the trunk and then dig out the stump. Here's how the pond looks now that the water is clear.
Oh, yeah, that fiercesome creature pictured at the top is a Colorado native who insisted upon being expatriated from the Rocky Mountains to take up residence here in Texas. Since one does not argue with a piranha, I acquiesced to his demands that he be allowed to reside at pond's edge. He has not yet deigned to tell me his name ... perhaps when I bring in more plants and create a more hospitable environment for him, he will see fit to share that information!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

As The Pond Fills, Day Four

Today was the final day of The Great Pond Renovation of 2008. Justin arrived just after 8 this morning and got busy shoveling gravel right away. Owing to another plumbing emergency, I was unable to get out to Nelson Water Gardens to choose plants for the bog. Since I have big plans for the weekend and won't have time to do any gardening, I'm practicing delayed gratification and waiting until next week to visit Nelson's. The good thing about waiting: I can buy plants AND fish at the same time! What kind of fish should I get? Goldfish, comets, Shubunkins? I'm partial to the latter because the name amuses me and I've already thought of several fish names that play off Shubunkin. I had 3 fish in the old pond for a very brief time several years ago: their names were Lester, Pearl and Earl. I'll bet no one guesses where I got those names. First one who does wins a prize!

Here's two views of the pond just after gravel installation.

Justin trimmed the liner, mulched around the edges, and put the water lily and hornwort back in before filling the pond and turning on the pumps, flushing the mud and dirt from the gravel bog into the pond. That muddy water should clear by tomorrow afternoon. Here's how it looked a few minutes after the pumps were turned on.
Obviously I've got a lot of planting to do and it's going to take time for the empty spaces around the pond to fill in and soften the edges. I'll admit to one misgiving about the design and that is my decision to make the back wall of the bog 2 blocks high. I do take full responsibility for that: Justin asked and I decided it needed the extra height. Now that it's all done, I'm not so sure! I think I'll be able to get creative and make it work, though. It's such a big change from what was there that it's taking me some time to adjust to the new vista.

I spent a couple of hours after Justin left, repositioning some rocks here, adding a rock there, starting the process of making the pond my own. I did run into a problem as I was watering a pot that I'd placed behind the electrical box. The spray nozzle was set on JET. Evidently water got into the outlet because the pumps stopped working. I had to let the outlet dry out for a few hours before it was ready to work again. Is this going to happen when we have one of our torrential rains, or was it just due to a freakish angle of the water stream from the hose? Will I have to come up with some kind of shield or cover for the electrical box? I guess time will tell.

I have to say that although it wasn't inexpensive to have this done, it was worth every penny to me. There's no way I could have accomplished anything like this on my own, or even working with a friend (NOT Essence Man because we don't work well together on such projects ... he gets cranky). I can recommend Justin and Pond Pros of Houston without any hesitation. Thanks for making one of my garden dreams come true, Justin!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

As The Pond Fills, Day Three

Monsieur Eduoard having come and gone with much less fanfare than expected, we were able to recommence pond renovation activities this morning. Justin arrived just after 8 with a load of moss rock and got to work arranging them around the pond. Within no time at all (compared to how long it would have taken me!), the pond looked like this:

I'm going to be very interested to see how I feel about my checkerboard path once the pond is done. The paths through the garden started out as crushed granite but the weed problem was horrific. I have two large concrete patios at the back of the house, both nearly square, and all the curves in the paths seemed to overemphasize that squareness. I hit on the idea of using 12 inch square concrete pavers, set on the diagonal from each other, and filled in with rock (they call the size I used river rock here). As I'd hoped, the square pavers tied the path and the patios together. I used iron sulfate to stain the white concrete pavers so they'd blend in with the rocks. I have a sneaking suspicion that once the pond is finished, I'm going to want to switch out the pavers with flagstones to make the path and the pond blend better. Then I'll be back to the problem of the un-hip patios. I'd dearly love to have those redone with flagstones, too, but I think Essence Man will balk at that.

Justin found some very cool moss rock and I am really happy with how he's used them. I only made one correction to his placement of the rocks and then told him to go ahead and mortar them in. Too often I get caught up in trying to make things just so ... experience has taught me that I'm usually just as happy with the results when I don't overthink the process.

Justin spent most of his morning mortaring in the rocks and this afternoon found him trimming the liner, adding some rocks around the edges, and creating planting pockets amongst the rocks. I'll plant those with some kind of ground cover to help soften the edges of the rocks, perhaps some type of thyme.

Tomorrow Justin will return with gravel to fill the bog area. I still haven't chosen plants for that area so that's on my to do list. Once the bog area is filled and planted, we'll be almost done! Justin has some spots he wants to fine tune, and the clean-up work to do, including a few more cuts to the liner. We might add a rock here or there ... we're still discussing whether to add a few rocks around the electrical box to further camouflage it. I might be able to get away without them if I plant judiciously.

I'm happily surprised by how much more substantial the pond is than I expected. I think it's due to the size of the rocks used ... I love the large flat stones at the front and on the left. I'll be able to stand or sit on those to feed the fish that will soon be calling the pond home. What kind they will be, I haven't decided. I want to consult the fine folks at Nelson Water Gardens first. It's too late for me to make a trip today but first thing tomorrow morning, that's where I'm headed!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

As The Pond Fills, Day Two

Can you spot the difference between yesterday and today? Look closely ... it's very subtle.

Still trying to figure it out? Does this close-up help? Here's a hint: what's making those little bubbles and ripples on the water's surface?

Eduoard? C'est vous? Bonjour, monsieur ... bienvenue a mon coin de Katy!Justin called this morning to confirm that today's episode of AS THE POND FILLS would be cancelled thanks to the expected visit by Eduoard. At the time he called, we weren't sure that the Katy area was on Monsieur's itinerary since he could easily have chosen a different route for his tour. However, Eduoard is indeed gracing us with his presence, even as I type. As storms go, he's being fairly polite thus far: he brought heavy rain with him but left the wind behind. Will he continue to exercise such admirable restraint? These one named celebs can be mercurial, you know. We can only wait and PONDer that question (sorry, sorry, I couldn't resist).

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Great Pond Renovation of 2008, Day One, Parts One and Two

The Before Picture ... in which I reveal to you just how bad the current pond looks and ask that you not think too poorly of me ... (and in my own defense, I did remove some of the moss rocks covering the edge when I needed them in another spot)
This pond was installed in 2000 or 2001 (I can't remember which and the invoice doesn't show the date ... this is why keeping a garden journal is a good idea!). Since it was my first foray into ponding, I was hesitant to commit too much time, energy and money to a "real" pond. So I bought a pond kit from Wal-Mart and had it installed by my then favorite landscaper. (He'd still be my favorite if he hadn't moved halfway to Dallas and semi-retired.) Over the years, the gumbo clay soil has shifted and settled numerous times. As a result the pond liner had heaved and was no longer level. The last couple of years I've been very unhappy with how it looked. I knew I wasn't up to doing the renovation myself, though, and other projects/problems took higher priority over the pond ... little things like replacing air conditioners, fixing leaky pipes in the attic, making car repairs, sending our eldest to college. Yeah, no biggie.

Now, though, number one son has graduated from college and is gainfully employed. Essence Man, as my superhero spouse has been known since his youth, changed jobs recently and was handsomely rewarded for doing so. It was clear to me (maybe not quite as much to EM) that the time had come to undertake the pond project. I called upon the experience and talent of Justin Bristol, formerly of Nelson Water Gardens in Katy, and now the owner of his own small business, Pond Pros of Houston. He paid a visit to MCOK to take a look at the existing pond and go over my ideas for the renovation. He came up with some great ideas of his own, including installing a bog filter and rock spillways. A few days later, he e-mailed a very professional and detailed proposal to me; I called to accept; and he put me on his schedule for this week.

Today is Day One of The Great Pond Renovation. Justin arrived just before 9 and got right down to business. After emptying the pond and moving the plants (of which there are a pitiful paucity: one water lily and some hornwort) to a holding tank, he pulled up the old liner and wrestled it out the gate. He called me over for a consultation on the size and layout, agreed to my request that we make it just a little bigger, and then started digging. He's hoping he'll be able to get the entire pond dug and the liner installed today. Normally he wouldn't attempt to get that much done in one day, but the projected arrival tomorrow of a tropical storm/hurricane in the greater Houston area changes things a bit. Forecasters predict 100% chance of rain although that doesn't necessarily mean it will rain here on my corner of Katy. I offer as evidence the failure of even one drop of rain to fall here during Hurricane Rita's visit. Not one, people. Zero zip zilch nada rien niente. Not that I'm bitter about that or anything.

Progress! The hole is dug and what a beautiful hole it is. Those concrete blocks on the back side are the retaining wall for the bog filter. We decided after some discussion to stack the concrete blocks two deep, making the wall a bit higher. That means I'll probably have to lift some of the plants in the area behind the wall and raise the level of that bed a bit. That's a good project for fall. The bog filter will help keep the pond clean and also give me an area for planting some moisture loving plants. I have Louisiana Iris galore that I dug up a couple of months ago when I decided I was over my LI obsession. Some of those might go in the bog . More likely, I'll take the opportunity to add some new plants to the garden!Justin's gone to Nelson's and Lowe's to pick up a liner and other supplies. With rain being forecast for tomorrow, he's not going to mortar the blocks or stone in yet. Stay tuned for Day One, Part Two, in which we celebrate the installation of the liner!

2:45 PM, August 4, 2008

It's beginning to look like a pond, don't y'all agree? This is the main view, what most people will see as they stroll along the garden path.Below is the view from the east side. The bog filter will be on the west side of the pond, just to the left of the tree trunk. If anyone has ideas or suggestions regarding a way to camouflage the electrical box, I'd love to hear them. I'm thinking maybe ornamental grasses. It needs to be something that won't scratch, itch, or otherwise maim me!
This concludes today's episode of AS THE POND FILLS. Our hardworking hero Justin has departed MCOK. We'll have to wait till tomorrow's episode to learn whether he'll return to continue his efforts to build the pond of our heroine's dreams, or will be thwarted by the tempestuous and temperamental Eduardo.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Garden Bloggers' Muse Day: Morning Glory

The Morning-Glory
Florence Earle Coates

Was it worth while to paint so fair
Thy every leaf - to vein with faultless art
Each petal, taking the boon light and air
Of summer so to heart?

To bring thy beauty into perfect flower,
Then, like a passing fragrance or a smile,
Vanish away, beyond recovery's power -
Was it, frail bloom, worth while?

Thy silence answers: "Life was mine!"
And I, who pass without regret or grief,
Have cared the more to make my moment
Because it was so brief.

"In its first radiance I have seen
The sun! - why tarry then till comes the
I go my way, content that I have been
Part of the morning light!"

Carolyn Gail at Sweet Home & Garden Chicago hosts Garden Bloggers Muse Day on the first of every month. This is my first time to participate ... thanks for inviting us to expand our poetical horizons, Carolyn!