29.10.14

2013 - October GLINDA'S GARDEN DAY

This post, 2013 - October GLINDA'S GARDEN DAY, was written by Annie in Austin/Glinda for the Divas of the Dirt Blog.

I
n 2013, October was my chance to have the Divas of the Dirt come over and do their magic. No one date was good for everyone... and every Saturday was bad for someone!

We went for the "least-worst" date and I started getting the menu together.

The decomposed granite needed for the October project was delivered to the driveway on Friday morning and some light rain followed.
 

Would we be rained out? Saturday brought off-on sun and humidity, but no showers. Game on!

Someday I'll figure out how to be hostess while taking photos. By the time I remembered the camera, only the gourd centerpiece remained along with Buffy's plate - she had a schedule conflict, but we hoped we might see her later on.

Unphotographed but pretty darned good were coffee, Paradise juice, Peach Mango juice, a fruit salad of black grapes, pineapple & watermelon, a bowl of sectioned grapefruit, and a Potatoes, Eggs & Swiss Cheese Casserole with Shallots and Sundried Tomatoes. The Pear Bread made from a Smitten Kitchen recipe was a hit - even better with a little blueberry or raspberry preserves. 

Mattie's sweet dog Barbie found her favorite place on the back of the sofa (actually, this is the favorite place of every small dog that visits here) and waited patiently until we'd caught up on conversation and were ready to go outside.



A little backstory: our boxwood hedge was quite mature when we bought this house. We clipped it lightly, letting it grow dense, at a level just above the iron porch rail.


The unsheared hedge worked well for years, but the lush life was over once the gutters failed and needed to be redone. In order to get the old gutters down, paint the wood underneath and then install our new Rainhandlers, the poor boxwoods had to be chopped. And once the boxwoods were cut back enough for ladders to fit, the mess under them was revealed and for the first time we could reach the ground underneath.


A previous owner had put down black landscaping fabric, swirling it around the base of the boxwoods. It had ripped and buckled with time, making the area impossible to rake.
What I asked from the Divas was to pull out all the black plastic, rake out all the accumulated leaves, twigs and junk, and then we could add the decomposed granite under the boxwoods.

Diva-Annie charged right in.



The plastic came up pretty easily, revealing an assortment of long-lost, battered children's playthings, sort of like an archaeological dig. Did the dad put the plastic over the toys or did the kids hide the stuff under the edges?


Once the ground was clear under the hedge, we could use the wheelbarrow to transport the granite from the driveway pile to the nearby boxwood hedge.


Mattie decided the best way to get the granite exactly where she wanted it was to fill a bucket, then stand on the veranda to pour the decomposed granite behind the hedge.



Once in place, the granite needed to be smoothed and tamped down. Sugar stepped in.


OK! The weedblock and junk is gone and new granite is in place.



A second, smaller project was to redo the area with tiles in granite under a big brown pot. Karla and Sophia went after this one - it looks great reset with new granite.



Sophia approves their work!



and Karla shows how she was able to move that pot.




As long as we're up in front, let's see how the woodland garden is doing... the Asters divided by the Divas of the Dirt in 2012 have settled in and are in bloom.



The salvias planted by the Divas in 2012 are also becoming established.



Things now looked not only cleaner, but more grounded, connected, purposeful - whole front yard just looked Better! Let's go inside.

We nibbled on baby carrots, cherry tomatoes & red-pepper hummus while everyone visited and played with Barbie, and the hibiscus-mint tea steeped.
Then to the dining room for Meatballs in red sauce, Spinach with 4 cheeses lasagna, green salad with avocado dressing and Onion/Asiago bread from the Cedar Park Farmers Market. 


To celebrate the October birthdays, we enjoyed Henrici Tunnel of Fudge cake with chocolate fudge frosting decorated with pecans.



Another year of our Divas of the Dirt garden projects was done, and I was tired. Does anyone else know this old bricklayers' trick? Tip a wheelbarrow down and you can use it as a temporary chair.



Just a few days after the Divas of the Dirt put down the decomposed granite, the entire system got a test... 5" of rain in one storm!

The Rainhandlers worked great and the granite stayed in place, looking good from inside the veranda...


And also looking good from the front walk.



But the boxwoods? They had finally begun to recover by early spring 2014, full of new growth and covered in flower buds. Then something the local meteorological community called "Thundersleet" hit, followed by a sudden plunge down to 14F.
Most of the new growth froze off. A year later, the boxwoods are alive, but may never fill in again. With sunlight now reaching under the hedge, I've added bulbs of rainlilies and am now trying to get bluebonnets to sprout there, too. I'll let you know if it works!

This post, 2013 - October GLINDA'S GARDEN DAY, was written by Annie in Austin/Glinda for the Divas of the Dirt Blog.

13.6.14

2013 - September MINDY'S GARDEN DAY

This post was written for The Divas of the Dirt blog by AnnieinAustin, writing as Diva Glinda


Diva Mindy thought up a different kind of project day for the Divas of the Dirt in September - she'd seen an Empress of Dirt blog post on making decorative garden glass flowers from dishes and servingware and thought it would be fun for all of us to try it. Mindy had quite a few old dishes that she'd acquired over the years. She asked up to bring whatever we could find for the project. The default assembly technique would be bolts, nuts and washers, but fancier door pulls and knobs could also be used as flower centers.

Two tables were set up in the garage - here's part of what we started with.

Some of the dishes brought to the project were garage sale/resale store finds or odds and ends left over from some old set. Other dishes had meaning for the Diva who brought them - full of memories of happy times with family and friends. We took a long time to try out combinations, stacking and restacking the pieces until we each had a couple ready to go. Tape covered the area to be drilled with the center point marked.



Mindy had ordered a special diamond cylindrical bit for her drill and she set to work drilling the holes. We were surprised at how much time and effort it took to drill each piece. No wonder dishes can be used day in, day out for decades - those materials are hard! A few of the pieces started smoking as the drill went through - good thing we were outside


Other Divas also tried their hand at drilling, and progress was slowly made. Mindy's husband Warren did a great deal of the drilling - he also fabricated copper pipe holders that could act as 'stems' for the flowers when used in a border. This was not a speedy project - it took long, hot hours.

 But the results were delightful -  Mattie looks pleased with  these two beauties.


Dish flowers covered the dining room table.


DivaAnnie liked the flower-on-a-stem idea


This is how Dish Flowers with stems will look when used in the ground outside



A few asymmetrical plates resulted in exceptionally artistic flowers.




In order to get my two dish flowers to hang straight on a board fence, I used washers & coated wire to make hangers.




This technique worked on the board and rail type of fence.



But Karla had another idea: her fence is lattice, so springs-and-wire plate holders worked just fine.



Thanks for making this Divas of the Dirt project happen, Mindy!

This post was written for The Divas of the Dirt blog by AnnieinAustin, writing as Diva Glinda





21.2.14

2013 - June SOPHIA'S GARDEN DAY

This post, "2013-June SOPHIA'S GARDEN DAY" was written by Annie in Austin/Glinda for the Divas of the Dirt blog.
We in Austin do like the idea of local food, by supporting Farmers Markets for example. Some of us also try to grow some of it ourselves. But in heavily wooded neighborhoods like the one where Sophia, Karla and I live, planting vegetables is often a statement of support for the home garden rather than an action resulting in food for humans.

Sophia & Roger had given growing vegetables a good try after we installed square raised vegetable herb beds for her Divas of the Dirt project a few years ago. They produced the odd pepper or cucumber and some herbs, but not enough to equal the water they used and it was impossible to keep weeds and tree seedlings from growing in the beds and the entire area around them.


Sophia reluctantly decided the square beds would have to go. She wanted to reuse the square stepping stones already set in that area and she hoped we'd have some ideas on how to make that side of the drive better. If possible, Sophia also hoped we'd help her with the usual weeding, grooming, mulching and adding color to existing beds in front.

On a hot June day we gathered for her project. Mindy and Sugar weren't able to come at all, and Buffy told us she'd arrive late and then would pop in-and-out for the rest of the day.

When we arrived we could see that Sophia had taken advantage of some deep markdowns on plants - some plants were practical, some just for fun. She'd found a 'Bubba' Desert Willow on sale - quite a good find!


There were a couple of nice abelias and some native plants. She also found some inexpensive baskets of annuals that could be taken apart and used to add color to existing beds. We looked the plants over and plotted how they might be used... but some were very exotic - none of us had ever tried growing a Dragon Fruit!



Because Sophia's work schedule had been very heavy she was glad that Roger has major cooking skills! Sophia planned a Pancake Party for breakfast with the dining room looking a little bit country.


We were offered eggs and sausages and a big fruit salad along with three... count 'em... three kinds of pancakes- these are Jalapeno & Corn.



Also on the menu, Lemon Pancakes with Lemon Zest and Oatmeal pancakes. It's impossible to choose so we had to taste each one - served with raspberry sauce.



After breakfast we went out and surveyed the front garden. The vegetable frames did look sad!

But the Golden Leadball tree Leucaena retusa had delighted Sophia by becoming more established. The Artemesia in front of the Leadball however, was a little TOO happy... pruners, anyone?



The project started out rather smoothly with ground-workers tackling existing beds and tiller-wranglers pulling up the wooden frames for reuse by another garden friend of Sophia.

The tiller has been a great tool for getting an area dug over but not this time - oh, no! Some kind of metal post was poking up from the ground, smack in the middle of the area where it needs to be smooth and level for the stepping stones.


After digging around the pole, what looks like concrete is exposed. The best guess was this was once the pole for a basketball hoop, installed by some former owner.



Mattie and Karla worked on the whole bed, but that post annoyed them so they kept going back to attack it. 

The sledgehammer didn't budge it.


Finally Mattie and Karla were able to crack the concrete in half, but the darned pole still would not come out.


As the hot day wore on, the neighbor came out to see how we were doing, saying he appreciated Sophia making what would be an improvement in his view, too. A little while later he came back with a Cobra mister - a very nice thing to do!

I went home (just a few blocks away) to get my breaker bar, hoping it could help. The 6-foot metal bar is so heavy and I was so hot and tired that I asked Ozz to put it in the car for me.

Only a few minutes after I returned, Buffy the Queen of the Breaker Bar, arrived. She was fired up from a very successful meeting & raring to go to work!
When Buffy first moved into her house her entire back yard was rock - she spent months prying up and moving boulders to make the raised borders of her garden. Apparently she hasn't lost the knack because with all that preliminary work done, it took just ten minutes after her arrival for success!


With the obstacle removed, the bed redo moved along. It quickly became apparent that more decomposed granite and more of the red blocks were needed so Roger headed off to buy more.

The long front border now had attention from Mattie, Annie and Karla... soon some of Sophia's bargains were planted there.


We were called in to a country-style late lunch/early supper. Inside the air-conditioned house, Chukster was so excited to see us that his photo was a blur. I turned him into a poster. 


Chukster had been low dog until a few weeks before our meeting, when top dog Tedster died. Chukster would be a lonely only for a while, but Roger and Sophia intended to add another rescue dog to the family later in summer.

Roger & Sophia had become intrigued by recipes in an Appalachian-style cookbook they'd bought called Cider Beans, Wild Greens and Dandelion Jelly by Joan Aller. Using some recipes from the book and some from other sources, they'd put together a down home kind of menu for the afternoon.


Cookbook author Joan Aller said that sitting down to the main dish, Chicken Noodle Casserole, was like going to your mam-maw's (Grandmother's) house in mountain county. The sides were Cider-baked beans and a crunchy green bean salad  with Best in the West Berry Cobbler for dessert. And for parched, hot gardeners, Rosemary-Mint Lemonade was the perfect drink.


We went back out and managed to get almost everything done, using every bit of the additional granite and every square block that Roger brought back.

Buffy is really good at setting stone


By the end of the day the artemesia had been tamed in the corner bed, giving room for Ixora, verbena, petunias & one Dragonfruit plant (the other went into a patio container).


The left front bed soon had a mix of native and adapted plants with one off-the-wall hollyhock in bloom, just for fun.


The right front bed got some plants that are tough and will last, some annuals that will live for the season and some experiments from the bargain table. The weather here in Austin is so variable from year to year that even the most solid native plant is a bit of an experiment, and odd pockets of soil, shade and microclimates can allow a plant to live that by all the rules should fail.


The main project, removing the vegetable beds and replacing them with some hardscape and tough plants, succeeded beyond Sophia's hopes. It was, as usual, more expensive than originally estimated, but it's also much more permanent looking, adding structure to that side of the house. In addition, the plantings help minimize the presence of the oh-so-necessary but oh-so-clunky looking utility boxes.


We headed home for showers and cool drinks, pleased that we'd been able to help Sophia, feeling a little nutty and ready to stretch out and relax after our long Divas of the Dirt garden day.


This post, "2013-June SOPHIA'S GARDEN DAY" was written by Annie in Austin/Glinda for the Divas of the Dirt blog.