Glass, Cactus, and Chlorine

It’s rained a few times recently, which is a nice change from last summer.

The backyard- at least in the areas without imported soil, or plantings, or now covered by the brick patio- turns into saturated heavy clay after a rain. slowly most of it is getting covered up but previously we’d have to hose the dog’s feet off before he could come inside because it would pack up on his feet. You could ruin a pair of shoes by walking on it for any length of time.

I do NOT miss the mud.

I DO kinda miss the things we’d find in it though.

Glass from the backyard

Our backyard might as well be an archeological site- the mud was always giving up something after a rain. You’d expect it to be pull-tops from 70s beer cans, but it is most often shards of really thick glass. Luckily they are never sharp, so it isn’t dangerous, but I did always find it interesting to wonder what all the glass was used for and how it ended up all over the backyard. We found other things as well:

We found 3/4 of a doormat once- green plastic with the daisy in the corner- 80s? Before? It was completely grassed over and an inch deep in the soil.

My husband found a teeny bottle, 1 inch tall, that was intact.

Countless pieces of glass.

And then this thing:

Sheer pins

It’s one of the few metal pieces we’ve found back there. Sheer pins are designed to break once a certain level of force is reached as a failsafe to protect other parts of an engine. From a quick Google search I see them most often listed for use in snow blowers, but that surely wasn’t what they were used for here in Central Texas.

Just one of life’s mysteries and a cool benefit to living in a house from the 1910s I guess. The more we cover the less we find after rains though. Such is life?

In other news I found this picture of a cactus I got last August:

Cutest little thing!

And decided to show one year’s worth of growth:

Kapow!

It’s starting to thin out at the tips so I will be fertilizing it soon. Here’s the thing- even online cactus forums can’t definitively tell me what this is! Everyone says it looks like a rat tail cactus… which is what I was told when I bought it, but it’s too thin as well as too upright for that- rat tail cactus are trailing plants. Is a mystery but I sure do love it- it sits on my desk in front of a south facing window.

A fairly new addition to my “funny signs” list:

I’d be more concerned I guess if it was: Danger “Chlorine”…

Gots ta run, houses to clean, pets to feed, cluttered closets to continue to ignore…

The Texas Garden in February

*This is, I promise, not a thumb in the eye to everyone dealing with something rhyming with “bee molar cortex.”*

Winter in Texas is different. We still have to mow- not because the grass isn’t mostly dormant- it is- but because the weeds aren’t.

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It’s only MOSTLY dormant- which means it’s slightly alive!

So the yard is still green, just don’t look too closely because the lushest thickest greenest parts in winter… are the patchiest St. Augustine grass in summer thanks to all this crab grass that looks so great right now.

And in winter I have to weed more than in summer- like I did last weekend in the driveway bed. Seeds are coming up thanks to all the rain (it’s raining now actually)- thing is I didn’t like, plant many seeds, you dig? Most of the emerging plants and seedlings were weeds and got the ol’ heave ho. But there is returning coreopsis and mexican hat- so I’m happy about those old friends returning again for another year.

There are also about 20 reseeded larkspur, which I am so thankful for- they’re one of my favorites and I’ve been trying to grow them for over 15 years! There are gardens right here in Texas full of larkspurs- I’ve seen with mine own eyes 50′ beds of larkspur… but here all I get are a few small stragglers. I am a gardener on a mission though. So while the larkspur are spotty, there are at least some of them, and more than there were last year. In classic “of course they are” fashion- the seedlings are almost all hugging the far side of the bed next to the neighbor’s house. Do I smell or something, larkspurs? Like, rude.

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The one seedling that is on our side of the bed, so it’s the one that got it’s picture taken. We reward good behavior around here, larkspurs. (Also- groan with all the acorns this year…)

I actually do know what the deal is- larkspur like sandy well drained soils- and I’ve almost always been on clay. I’m working on the tithe, constantly, so maybe one day. One day.

It is obviously winter though- so it’s an odd juxtaposition all around- dormant grass and green lawn weeds. Cut back perennials and blooming annuals. Leafless trees and roses in bud and bloom. Dead leaves and new seedlings.

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Give me violas to pansies, any day

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Love me some cyclamen. I always wait till they’re out of bloom at Lowes and then buy them for $1 instead of $4.99 for a quart sized pot- sheesh that people won’t buy something if it isn’t in active bloom is CRAZY to me. To my benefit on the sales racks though, so I shouldn’t bitch. They always start reblooming within mere weeks of buying them.

I should say the trees are mostly leafless (that means they’re slightly in leaf! I’m gonna overuse that quote I swear to god). While all the reasonable trees on the street are bare, our red oak out front is still shaggy with dead leaves- and will remain like that all the way until the new leaf buds start.

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Get a haircut, hippy!

There are new cultivars of red oaks that not only have better fall color (ours is more purple/maroon/brown than red) but they are also better at self cleaning. We’ll continue to have a slow shed of brown leaves all winter, so will never be without piles of leaves on the ground, but the tree will still look just like this. (If it was oil and not leaves it’d be Hanukkah.)

But even with that annoyance- I love the tree. At our old house the entire neighborhood was  Arizona Ash trees- just the trashiest tree the world has ever known- they shouldn’t even count as real trees! So to have a red oak and a nice pecan to call our own… I’ll take them even with the shaggy winter look.

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Seriously though, Red Oak- you see those OTHER trees? Being GOOD trees? I’ll give you a cookie?

The roses are all blooming and setting buds… which poses it’s own conundrum. Like I mentioned, it is extra warm and wet this winter, so the roses haven’t really gone dormant. And while lovely, the deadline for pruning is coming up quickly. Texas rose pruning deadlines are easy to remember- it’s mid February. Roses. Valentine’s Day. Easy peasy. But I’m just going to have to wait till after blooming this year.

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Look at all those buds on the Belinda’s Dream! And a stealthy cat.

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And the Marie Pavie is in full bloom- such a lovely little thing- one of my favorites. It’s a small shrub rose and doesn’t need any heavy pruning. Was a birthday gift from my husband and replaces the one left at our old house when we moved.

As for the rest of the driveway bed, the snapdragons are coming in nicely. Though they are unfortunately in the same spot as some daffodils I forgot about and with a nicotinia that is coming back. I’d call it the french intensive method of packing plants, but the truth is I just forgot the daffodils were there and the nicotinia was a survivor when I pulled the rest out thinking they were dead. D’oh!

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Dead leaves… is like mulch. Soil nutrients, yes yes, that’s the ticket!

And while, if timed correctly, the blooms of all three of these would be lovely together, the daffodils are sure to go first and then the snapdragons will start just as soon as the daffodil leaves start to yellow- and are sure to look like nose hairs sticking out of the snapdragons. And then twenty bucks while the green or white or maroon nicotinia would look lovely with the all pink snapdragons, I just bet this survivor will be the weird dusty pink that will be the only color that’d look weird with the bubblegum pink snapdragons. I guess time will tell and we shall see, won’t we?

And thanks to a question in the comments for a previous post- a taste test has been done to determine if decorative kale tastes the same as edible kale.

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Stop. Standing. In. Your. Own. Light.

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Decorative kale

The results are in:  all children preferring the decorative kale (who wouldn’t want to eat a Dr. Seus plant, amiright?) My take is that it is very bland, but lacking in bitterness entirely, so has a future as a garnish. Maybe a leaf floating on a cocktail served in a coup glass if I was up for that kinda thing? (the garnish, not the cocktail in the coup glass- I am very much up for that.)

And so it may be February, but here is to more wet weather, warm houses, and the coming spring… good things to come!

 

 

So Long and Thanks for All the Tomatoes

We had our first freeze this past week, and some dry days… so this happened:

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No mas tomates

So the tomatoes are done for- we pulled them out and piled as many as we could in the fire pit. We let them dry out a few days and then torched them this weekend, quasi viking funeral style. The youngest actually toasted marshmallows on a dry tomato stem, improbable as that would have seemed before witnessing it with my own eyes.

When I pulled the plants out there were only two quite unhealthy looking tomato tobacco hornworms left; both were yellowish, a little translucent looking, and hadn’t moved for a day- I think the cold got to them. All the others are gone- so what that means for them I don’t know- all I know is I wasn’t the cause nor means of their destruction, so I’m okay with it. (The unhealthy tobacco hornworms got moved to the leaf litter around a climbing rose. I’m sure they’ll live long, healthy lives.)

I have some parsley, Toscano kale, and a new English thyme plant in the spot where the determinate tomatoes (Bobcat and HM1823) were. I put in three decorative purple kale, another thyme, two roses, and a loropetalum shrub in the side of the bed the cherry tomatoes were in. MUCH too crowded, but I’m using it as a nursery bed to carry the plants through the winter easier than the collection of smaller pots in the pot ghetto at the back of the driveway slab.

As I look at the varieties for a final review: I’d grow Bobcat and HM 1823 again- if I had to pick a favorite I’d go with Bobcat- it cracked less, but taste was the same between them. As for the cherries- I will definitely grow Sungold again, but I might finally be moving on from my Sweet 100s for a red cherry… I’m open for trying a new one next year.  It lagged so far behind Sungold and got a bit leathery and less tasty in the hot weather.

Ah my tomatoes… till next year, buddies.

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What a pain in the ass these things are when not in use though! I can only imagine it’s similar to those big light up deer you then have to store year round aside from Christmas…

Speaking of the first freeze, as I’ve mentioned when discussing our old tub and old windows here – we live in an old house. It is crazy cold in the winter, especially in the front of the house- luckily the bedrooms are okay. And we had only yesterday because of wet weather and it getting dark right after work due to daylight savings (thanks, Ben Franklin- I hate you) to finally get some insulation in under the floor in the living room and front room before it rained again.

It was… not an enjoyable job. And yet, I loved every minute of it? It’s hard to explain but these dig in and be capable moments are some of my favorites. My elbows are killing me from abrasions due to army dragging myself around in the 18″ crawlspace- I probably still have fiberglass in my face (is like microdermabrasion?), and I 100% know I have to go and reinforce it more with more supports so it doesn’t sag- but I have to make the damn supports myself because our house having been built in 1910, the joists aren’t the standard 15″ or 23″ spacing so standard store-bought supports won’t work- the jerks are only 22″ spacing on the main house and 24.5″ spacing `on the front/ dining room. Thanks a damn lot, Ebidiah, kinda a pain in the ass there.

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This is actually from a couple of weeks ago when I got under the house to try to fix a broken hot water line. We didn’t fix it and ended up having to call a plumber on a Saturday- but damn we tried first!

Anyway, my husband and I spent the late morning/early afternoon dragging ourselves around under the house stapling up insulation, it was great. I love doing this kinda stuff with him, its fun- even when the job has your nose in fiberglass and your back on cold clay soil that hasn’t seen the light of day in 108 years. Fingers crossed it’ll make a difference because I can’t STAND not feeling warm! Oh well, you know the thing they say, the one thing they aren’t making more of is old houses!

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Pic from when the paint was getting finished… I should take a new picture but its raining now and this bed is warm and the cat is asleep next to me and this coffee is hot…

 

Of Wallpaper, Water Closets, and Womatoes

So, wallpaper. No wait. So, water closets… no. How do I intro into a thing about things I generally don’t like but now have both?

So in the master bath we have a water closet- which I hate for various reasons. First- why? Look, no one is showering while their spouse in pooping at the same time… at least not around these parts, so I prefer a more open concept floorpan for these sorts of things. But no- privacy prevailed to the previous owners so now to use this toilet you have to shut yourself in a 4′ by 3′ space… but hey, it’s 10′ tall sooo… yay? That’s how spaciousness works, right?

On top of the fact that I’d have never built this standing coffin in the first place it was builders’ beige with a cheap light fixture that has a fan you can’t turn off when the light is on. I slapped a small watercolor print and a stick on the wall and literally called it a day for 3 years.

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OH MY GOD NO ONE ZOOM IN ON THAT TOILET OR FLOOR- TODAY WAS CLEANING DAY I F-ING PROMISE.

SO..I think you can see why I was sick of it. Not shown are all the gaps to be caulked and trim that was never properly painted… it sucked. And I tried to never go in there. And it’s been a disaster from day one in this house.

And yet… I knew it wouldn’t take much, it’s such a small space. I thought about shelves across the back… but it really is so small I worried that no matter how they were hung my husband or I would hit our heads on it. And then I’d just have to dust everything on it… so no. Gallery wall? You know, I’ve never actually been great at them, and then there is still all the dusting. Instead I decided on… wallpaper!

Now look, I’m wallpaper conflicted. The house I grew up in had wallpapered bathrooms, flowered and striped wallpaper, to be exact, that replaced, and I’m not kidding here, gold foil inappropriate (read naked figures) cartoon wallpaper. It’s seared into my memory. Mom replaced that gross gold foil stuff on like day one of buying that house and I was only 4… but I still remember. So needless to say, in all the years, and all the wall options… I really thought this day would never come.

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I almost opened it so you could see how clean it was. Almost.

The look I was going for was a 30 years from now “Oh my god that’s hideous what were they thinking?!” Because really, with wallpaper it has to be go big or go home. So I only did one accent wall (if I had painted an accent wall red it would have been very 2001, no?) because I didn’t want to feel too overwhelmed by that pattern. Also, I know you can’t really tell, but the walls are now painted a light grey. It’s… it’s white. I broke my cardinal rule of trying a paint swatch in the room itself first and just picked a color and bought it at the same time. It was supposed to be light mousey grey… but even “white” it’s an improvement. I’m hoping when I get the trim repainted the contrast will be more apparent? Oh well. Also, the wall sheen has now gone from WHY DOES ANYONE DO THIS flat to satin and the trim will go from WHY IS THE TRIM FLAT TOO???!!! to semi-gloss. All the gaps are caulked. The floor was scrubbed with CLR and a toothbrush which I assure you I am never doing again. And look- a handy basket of spare rolls of toilet paper rolls- because in this bathroom no one can hear you scream.

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Wait, could those be… cactus and palm trees together in an impossible landscape? You bet your ass they are, bub.

So, I’m pleased with myself and covered head to toe in paint and caulk and wallpaper paste and it might all finally come off after the 3rd or 4th shower. On to the tomatoes.

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ARE YOU SEEING THE SIZE OF THIS TOMATO PLANT?!

The Sungold is now taller than me. Taste test wise… it’s a good cherry tomato, but nothing beats my old trusty Sweet 100s. Which contrary to their name are the tangier of the two.

We’ve relented and let the toddler start harvesting tomatoes. She very carefully takes a bowl outside to fill… and then not a single one makes it back inside, ever. That’s okay kid, you get the tomatoes on the bottom 3 feet, I’ll take the ones from the top 7, deal? The older girls are smart enough to sneak out without the toddler to snag some for themselves a couple of times a day.