Saturday, December 31, 2011

Through the Garden Gate: One Last Look at 2011

I'm not sorry to see the end of 2011, a year that brought extremes of both temperature and drought to my corner of Katy.  The Head Gardener and I were frequently at our wits' end here at Wit's End.  Thankfully, the last month of the year brought both rain and blessedly cooler temperatures to south central Texas, refreshing both gardens and gardeners.

The HG and I count ourselves not just fortunate but blessed by the friendship, support and camaraderie of our fellow gardeners, around Texas, across the country and throughout the world.   We are grateful for all y'all did to help us get through this often hellatious year.  2012 is dawning and with it, new hope for both gardens and gardeners.  May it be a year of bountiful blooms, not just in the garden but in your hearts, minds and lives.   

Happy New Year, y'all!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Still Blooming On My Corner of Katy: Bloom Day December 2011

Take a virtual walk around my corner of Katy and see what's still blooming!

Thanks to Carol of May Dreams Gardens, our Bloom Day hostess with the mostest!

Three for Thursday: The Eggman Cometh ...

Yesterday afternoon, as I was puttering about the front yard, a car pulled up to my house and I saw the smiling face of my good friend and fellow Houston garden blogger, David of Tropical Texana. Now I won't say I wasn't delighted to see him just for the pleasure of his company but my delight was greatly amplified by a most welcome gift!

Custom packaging, no less!

Feast your eyes on these beauties ... I'll feast on their goodness!

And feast I did ... don't they look beautiful in my egg-yolk yellow Copco pan?  This pan was a gift from my grandmother almost 30 years ago.  It came with a note that said, "Merry Christmas! Eat more eggs!"  

Thank you, David and flock, for enabling me to fulfill Grand's wishes both healthfully and beautifully.  I hope the girls enjoyed their thank you gift from me ... I sent David home with a gallon pot of chickweed we pulled from around the beds!  (Come back any time ... no, seriously ... ANY time!)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mulch Ado About Something: A Lesson, Part Two

Sifted mulch
Anyone care to guess how I've spent my time since my last post?  

This is one of two mulch heaps created by my efficient team of workers.
With rain predicted for both days last weekend, and the Head Gardener uncharacteristically optimistic about the forecast, on that Saturday we dragooned the the Executive Producer to help shift the piles of mulch into containers.  I'd already gotten a fair number of bags of Black Kow composted manure and Micro-Life organic fertilizer spread in the beds along the south fence.  It did rain on Saturday, which watered in those amendments nicely.  Since then, I've been working to spread the mulch and tidy beds as I go.  It's slow going but only one bin of sifted mulch remains.  While I was working in that area, I decided to screen the contents of the half whiskey barrel which has been serving as a compost bin. Oh, mama, did that produce some gorgeous fluffy compost!  Sorry I can't show y'all but my gloves were too dirty to handle the iPhone.

Now comes the next challenge: planting that long stretch of bed that's empty.  There have been various and sundry annuals and perennials in that area but I never seem to have found the right planting scheme for that area.  I think I'm getting a handle on it but we shall see.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Mulch Ado About Something: A Lesson

I know I've posted very little in recent weeks and there's a reason for that, totally unrelated to the holidays or my mother's health.  I have spent what I consider to be an inordinate amount of time undoing that which was done in spring.  To review, after years of NOT putting down mulch in the back gardens, I decided this spring that a nice layer of mulch on the beds was indicated.  I knew it meant I would have to reseed the annuals that bring such beauty and grace to my cottage garden planting scheme in the spring.  Since the summer of 2010 was so hot and dry, though, I felt mulch would help the perennials, trees and shrubs make it through the summer of 2011 with less stress, should it prove to be as hellatious.   I could not have been more wrong, about the mulch OR the summer.   

I'd asked my friend and garden guru Otahal* and his crew to do the heavy lifting and spreading.  Because they had an unexpected opening in their busy schedule, I had to scramble to find a soil yard that could deliver on short notice.  I had used a soil yard on Saums Road previously - for products other than mulch - and so I called them to see whether they could accommodate me.  When they said yes, I placed an order for 6 yards of hardwood mulch and they promised to have it here within a couple of hours.  Did I have any idea of the source of  their hardwood mulch?  Had I ever made a visit to their soil yard to view - and FEEL - the product I was buying?  Friends, I had not ... and it was a grievous error on my part. 

Only after the driver of the dump truck had unloaded the mulch on my driveway and I felt the first stirrings of concern, did I query the origins of the mulch.  It was not reassuring to hear the driver say that shredded wood pallets were amongst the materials used to make the mulch.  As Otahal and I surveyed the mulch, my concerns grew.  At that point, there was nothing we could do but soldier on and hope for the best.  

Y'all know what kind of summer we endured here at Wits' End.  As the mercury climbed over 100 day after day after day after day after day after day after day, as the days rolled by (a little Sondheim moment there) - and rain failed to fall - I despaired as I watched the mulch mat together and form a barrier to repel my watering efforts.  I fluffed the mulch where I could, when I could but my paltry efforts weren't enough to make a difference.  

A few weeks ago, as I began planting some of the newly purchased shrubs and perennials I'd bought to add more structure to the gardens, each time I pulled back the mulch layer, I was  horrified to see just how dry and lifeless the soil beneath had become.  The most significant indication of its lack of fertility was the absence of the earthworms that grace other areas of the gardens.  I decided there and then that something had to be done.  

I'd seen a compost sifter/screener on Pinterest that I thought would work for screening the mulch.  I talked to my home improvements guy, Brent Cook**,  and he agreed to build a similar one for me in exchange for some of the computer assistance I've given him over recent months.  Within a couple of days, I had a sturdy screener***, with notches on front and back so it could fit on top of the wheelbarrow.  And for almost three weeks now, I've spent most of my time in the garden removing and sifting mulch, placing the discarded chunks and shreds in empty pots and tubs.  The picture below is most but not all of them.

It doesn't look so bad in that picture, does it?  Let's take a closer look:

After telling myself for weeks that I really should hire someone to do this job for me, and continuing to slog on by myself, this past Monday I looked at the remaining bed along the south fence and conceded that I couldn't go on.  Since Otahal and crew are swamped with bigger jobs, I called upon a local landscaper to assist me.  His crew is here today and they are making much shorter work of the sifting process than I could on my own, as you can see below.  In fact, they're almost done! 

When it comes to mulch, my friends, please learn from my experience!   First and foremost, know what you're buying: take the time to visit the soil yard and check out their product(s).  Some soil yards have samples of their offerings in their sales office but after this experience, I would ask to view the actual pile from which they'll scoop before committing to a purchase.  If they balk at letting you do so, walk away and find another vendor.   Save yourself time and money and a dump truck load of regrets!

* Otahal and I went to junior high together and he was one of my late friend MB's great loves. A lifelong love of plants caused him to ditch his job as an industrial pharmacologist and become a garden designer/grower/installer.  He and I collaborated on the front gardens last year.

**If you live in the Katy/West Houston area and need a reliable contractor, I've been very happy with the work Brent Cook has done for me over the last 14 years.  E-mail me if you'd like his number.  

***The compost screener was built from 1x4's and 1/2 inch hardware cloth.  It took them all of 20 minutes and it should last me for years.