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.

Spring

A blog you say? I have one, do I?

The Tile:

So spring has sprung and what that means is that I’m less apt to sit here on the weekends and more likely to be found gardening or cleaning. (It’s a “yay” response to that statement. I know that seems unlikely, but it’s true.) A few weeks ago I hand scrubbed 40 square feet of white subway tile from a stepladder on my counter.

I’d always hated that tile. It runs from our stove all the way to the 12’/ 16’/ “I should really measure this one day” ceiling. And it sounds like I shouldn’t have hated it. It, in fact, sounds right up my alley. But oh how it wasn’t. The people who flipped our house (aka Those Jackasses) did a pisspoor job on everything. Painting. Floors. Exterior Painting. Installing Cabinets. Wired in fire alarms that were wired wrong so THEY were a fire hazard. Jesus don’t get me started on the incorrectly installed french door that’s molding or the bathrooms that are going to have to be a complete tear out. So the Jackasses installed this huge counter to ceiling swatch of subway tile in the kitchen, and thanks to the open concept of our house there it was, staring me in the face every time I sat on the couch, ate dinner, cooked dinner, or peed with the bathroom door open when no one else was home.

And what was the problem with the tile? Well, as I mentioned it’s really hard to reach. Which explains why they never properly scrubbed the grout off. There was a mattifying haze of it left all over the top 4 feet. And just a badly cleaned job on the areas that were reachable. My husband and I had installed tile at our last house. We knew how to do it correctly. This was not.

And I CLEANED it before, don’t get me wrong. The thing got half assed wiped down a few times in the 2 years we’ve been here, we’re not monsters. But one recent random Saturday I just grabbed a bucket and a scrub pad and I LAID into those tiles. It honestly took hard scrubbing EVERY damn tile, all the way to the ceiling. And almost working by feel- you can feel the tile turn from gritty to smooth. I grabbed a butter knife for some excessively gritty corners. And I have NO idea how long it took to do. An hour? Two? Shorter than the two years I’d been hating it though.

And what do you know, I like that tile now. It no longer is a testament/monument to “you live in someone else’s house/ they did this” and made it ours. I felt that same feeling at the last house too- it took touching and changing literally every surface before it felt “us.” This is the same, just a dauntingly bigger place, and the beginning started out hugely pregnant and then dealing with an infant so we had no choice but to let it lie for a while. But now? We’re on a roll.

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SOOO carefully cropped to not show dirty counters…

And that has been what these past weeks have felt like. We’ve reorganized our bedroom. I cleaned out and organized my closet. We’ve gardened and gardened and gardened. We’ve put up a fence that almost caused an international event. (good fences make good neighbors my ASS, Frost. It’s fine. Yes a lawyer were briefly involved.)

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Texans be serious ’bout them property lines. Bless that we had a handy copy of the survey at the ready…

 

And now, there the tile sits, way up there. Gleaming. And I smile at it, because it is mine.

The Garden:

And… that felt like the end of the blog post actually. Bt the gardening… I just want to say we’ve gotten the side garden/ Japanese maple garden rocking these days. The husband and I got each other Japanese maples for our 14 year anniversary this week- brings the total to 8. We’re close to running out of space in the perfect high dappled shade of the pecan trees over there- but if conditions allowed the entire yard would be Japanese maples.

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We hang out here a lot talking about how nice it is. Might be why the neighbors sold there house and moved. It’s better looking in real life.  *bare patch in the front left is a Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow shrub that we cut to the ground when we transplanted it in the fall. It’s coming back. (Yes, that actually is it’s name)

A few weeks ago we dug up the entirety of this awkward triangle section of yard between the carport slab and house and made a garden of it- antique rose, white mistflower shrub, dinner plate dahlias, pineapple sage, coreopsis transplanted from the wildflower area, rosemary, a different colored may night salvia (not the standard pink or two shades of purple. This one’s fuchsia with flower stalks twice their normal size)…

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Put up or shut up about the May Night Salvia, I know, I know.

native monarda, spirea, a Mexican Olive Tree, Mexican Mint Marigolds (aka Texas Tarragon aka not related to any plant in it’s common names…), and bronze fennel (my FAVORITE ornamental herb). The husband has a gift for rocks, so there is a cool stone border and a nice walkway through it. It’s a very “us” garden… what predominates is it better not have any of the standard garden center bedding plants we see around here. We like the unusual or old fashioned, or at least unusual for TEXAS (sure other regions do NOT consider pineapple sage or may night salvia unusual… I get it. They make the cut ’round these here parts though).

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Did I oversell it? Because I feel like I oversold it…

But having worked in a garden center for a while, I HATE all the plants that are on the market for no reason other than that they’ll flower in six packs. Plants should do well in the GARDEN not on the shelf… I am very anti-standard plant offerings- if there was some kind of a walkout or march, or plant hat to crochet I totally would- this is an issue that speaks to me, dig? What I’m saying is if you EVER find a petunia or salvia greggii in my garden it’s because I’m DEAD and the next wife has no idea what she’s doing, the whore.

In the backyard this weekend the husband planted a new pomegranate tree, the needle palm we’ve had in a pot for years, and a vitex tree. They were big pots. They were HUGE holes. The toddler fell in one and almost couldn’t get out, if that conveys the concept… And I dug up a three foot by twelve foot section of the yard to put in tomatoes. I don’t think writing that out quite conveys the hours and hours we spent yesterday fighting the hard ground to accomplish those tasks… it was way more difficult than it sounds, promise.

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Is that a 6′ T post driven into the middle of that 4′ tomato cage? You bet your ass it is. Sweet 100 cherry tomato is a BEAST. The T post still won’t be enough… grow my pretty, GROW!

Weirdly the section I dug up for tomatoes was super sandy (still rock hard? Not sure how that works, but it was). I feel like maybe it was the floor for some old pigeon coop that had been torn down or a sand floored shed. There are a couple of cut off to ground level cedar posts close by to give credence to that theory. And I unearthed a 70s astroturf doormat while digging. WEIRD to think there we were, mowing over a welcome mat buried 2 inches down this whole time. But again, it’s the same feeling: we’re slowly making it ours through blood, sweat, tears and the occasional demolished lower back. And FINALLY we can see the shape of the garden coming together… we’re well on our way.

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Picture of front porch pots for no reason related to narrative whatsoever. Mint, Italian Parsley, and a tuberous begonia

Linked up with Samantha @ Fake Fabulous HERE!

On Flu Shots and Stuff

Ah my last flu shot- I remember it like it was yesterday… I was at my doctor’s office getting some blood work done for yet another thyroid check, and therefore had blood drawn from one arm and a flu shot in the opposite shoulder. Never one to miss the opportunity for this sort of thing, I waxed poetic about the unfairness of it all to my husband; my arm hurts, it feels like someone punched me in the shoulder, and here I am super pregnant and miserable already. *Needle scratch* Hold up. The baby’s now 1… so that means what? It means that I have the god damn flu right now because I THOUGHT I got the flu shot this year when in fact I got it LAST year.

Get your flu shots, folks. This shit ain’t fun.

On the plus side (Desperately Seeking Silver Lining) I have plenty of time to blog or write my local paper (already checked that one off the list, actually. I make such a good shut-in!) and letters to my aunt and uncle.

Let’s see, what else?

The baby had 4 teeth come in at once, but one of her front teeth is coming in MUCH faster than the others… I’ve started calling her Fang. Still not walking, but my grandmother is of the opinion she could if she wanted to. She’s awfully close though. It’ll be any day, methinks.

The new windows are in and this is the first time we’ve set the thermostat to 72 and actually had it be 72 when we wake up in the morning They look sharp too.

My house is trashed but I can’t muster the energy to put the Cheerios box away, so I’m taking the opportunity to fight any occasional OCD tendencies. I do like a clean house though, even if I don’t often mop the floors.

There is a woodpecker that comes to the bird feeder multiple times a day (hour, really) for (I think) the shelled peanuts in the mix we use. I have the perfect vantage point on him from the couch.

I see that my master plan to use this time to write extensively will be foiled by the fact that I have no energy to keep moving my fingers over keys… bummer.

Until next time.

GET YOUR FLU SHOTS! GAH

The Battle of Vicksburg… Monday Morning in a Central Texas Town Version

So. It’s EFFING cold in this house. Worse than last year? Maybe. I have cold weather plastic over the windows in the baby’s room- and that is JUST about the only thing getting us through. That and the belief that this is fleeting and is therefore romantic in an “Oh it’s cold, let’s all cuddle up” type of way.

So therefore know, when I told my middle daughter that “I need you to bundle up and go play outside.” I wasn’t being cruel… hell, it’s probably warmer outside. Besides. Character building.  But how was I to know THIS was the hill I was to die on? Did Johnny Reb know the Battle of Vicksburg was the turning point in the war when it happened? Did they know it was a slow, inexorable slide from that point to defeat? Because I can sure as hell tell you I knew the SECOND she replied with a not impolitely phrased: “That sounds like a want more than a need” and walked out of the room- that this war was lost.

They’ve won. Oh lord. The children have won.