Monday, September 21, 2009


For my previous turn as hostess the Divas of the Dirt made the big native and adapted flower bed around the birdbath in the front yard. That was 18 months ago, in March of 2008.
It was exciting when this year's turn approached:

Sunday, September 13: "It's been a long, hot dry summer since we were chased by rainstorms at Karla's house last May. My Diva day is scheduled for next Saturday...[hope we don't] have to work around another rainstorm...thank heavens, avoided having it scheduled for yesterday!
Sophia ..wont be able to work with us [maybe] she can come to visit and eat with us...Oz & I have been gathering plants and supplies...[want a] drought-tolerant border in the part of the front parking strip that has the mailbox...went from being a part-shade Liriope bed to a mostly sunny, hot & dry area. After seeing the transformation of the parking strips at Karla's, Buffy's, Annie's and Sophia's my biggest wish is that we'll be similarly inspired once we're together! ...didn't water that part of the parkway at all this summer - let it get crispy - figured it would be easier to dig if most of the St Augustine grass was dead. Mindy, maybe you could bring the diamond hoe?..."

I had a yen to cook something French ever since seeing Julie & Julia but in recent years "Talk Like A Pirate Day" has become a kind of modern folk holiday, celebrated every year on September 19th. Combining these ideas led me to declare "Eat Like A French Pirate Day". After 5 years of decorating indecision the dining room finally had curtains and the table had new French-style placemats: The Divas arrived and we caught up on all sorts of interesting events (none of which belong on this blog) before breakfasting on Quiche Lorraine, Whole wheat French Toast, Paradise Juice, extra bacon, pineapple, strawberries, blackberries, watermelon and grapes -then aaarrgghh! It was time to mosey out into the pitiful front yard where the "hellstrip" awaited us.
Back in February 2005 we Divas had removed a sprawling Spiraea that swamped the mailbox, moving it to the Batbed. We added native Pavonia lasiopetala/Rock Rose, an Artemesia, Texas Betony/Stachys coccinea and native Scuttelaria suffrutescens/Skullcap to the existing liriope and a Salvia greggii on the south side of the mailbox. The Betony and Skullcap didn't make it, but the Rock Rose and Artemesia survived, a multitude of tree seedlings sprouted and the liriope grew thick. When an Arizona Ash died in early 2007 this area became hotter and sunnier, but it never looked that bad until the drought settled in during midsummer 2008. Now the liriope is burned from the western sun. The Divas decided to make the weed trees walk the plank, used a few swipes of the cutlass to cut back the perennials and then attacked the Liriope. Good grief! Once Mattie and Karla started digging the Liriope kept coming like a magician's endless string of handkerchiefs...some could be replanted along the sides of the street walkway where it was shadier, some could go home with whoever could use it, and some could go under the trees in full shade.Mindy's diamond hoe cleared the top of the bed, then hours passed as the long bed was dug and the soil sifted. Sophia had decided she was not well enough for even a short visit, so Mindy & I went to pick up the Mantis tiller at her house. Decomposed granite and Ladybug Revitalizer compost went into the cleared area and the tiller mixed it up. Plants were ready and waiting: a Texas mountain laurel, a Germander, Mexican Feather Grass, Gulf Muhly Grasses, Lilac-colored lantana, purple skullcap, Blackfoot daisies and creeping rosemary plants that are supposed to stay under 1-foot tall. A big stepping stone and a couple of smaller ones were set aside for a path. Oz and I had also picked up a wheelbarrow full of free rocks on Friday, thinking we might want to Rock This Bed. Buffy and Mindy gave it a try, but it just didn't look right with our housefront - guess the pink-toned rock will end up somewhere in the Pink Entrance Garden.
The main planting was looking good, with only mulching left to do so I went in to get the very late lunch onto the table.My only other request had been help with a new container ... but the other Divas were not satisfied with that! They thought the new bed looked so good it made the big oval bed they'd made in 2008 look shabby - soon Annie and Karla and Mattie had the edges of the birdbath bed trenched, the plants cut back and the whole thing was mulched. Our 3 PM meal followed the French Pirate theme, too: a concoction of Poblano sausage, chicken, tomatoes, rice, beans & the Cajun holy trinity was now " Jean Lafitte Stew", there was a loaf of homemade bread baked in my grandmother's bread pan, spicy French cheddar rounds were rechristened "Pieces of Eight", salad (or should that be Salade?), my husband's contribution of "Outer Banks Hot Pickles", iced tea with Meyer's Lemons picked fresh from the patio trees, as well as a family recipe for Chocolate Shortbread shaped into coins and Historically Correct Key Lime Pie for dessert.

There are many ideas about what constitutes Real or Original Key Lime Pie... some sites insist it must be graham cracker crust and have nothing like whipped cream or meringue on top. I'd found some cool historical sites that told of a man named Gail Bordon inventing safe & stable canned, sweetened condensed milk in the 1850's so people would not die from contaminated milk. Supposedly, people in the Keys had no cows - thus no milk or butter in those unrefrigerated times. The invention of canned milk let them use their limes for pie. Google the man and be amazed at his life story ~ then read this post from the Online Pastry Chef, discussing why a historically accurate pie would have been a pastry crust and why a pie made by thrifty people had to have meringue! My pie was made from the recipe at this site and we all agreed it was astounding!
The Divas quickly helped clear the decks (that Diva Annie insisted on washing dishes, too!) and then went back out to finish up - dollying bags of decomposed granite and Rose Magic Soil to Buffy along with some Saltillo tiles and the new pot. A dwarf Barbados cherry and a plant of culinary Marjoram were ready to plant, completing the Pirate theme. Did you know the island of Barbados was home to historical pirates and the herb Marjoram was the crop favored by "The Condensed Pirate", a tale found in my childhood's beloved Better Homes and Gardens Second Storybook?

Buffy got the tiles settled into the granite, then she and Mindy showed it who was captain of this garden! In the 5+ years we've lived here the center of this little bed has been amended and planted over and over without success - an Abelia, a Sago Palm, Spiderwort, Lambs Ears, Salvias, verbena and a hydrangea all failed in its tree-root choked soil ....maybe a big container can succeed. Around the outer edges some Oxblood Lilies from MSS of Zanthan are doing well, which makes me think other bulbs (like Texas-tough Grand Primo narcissus) should be added, too.
Next to the steps is another problem area - failures since 2004 were chrysanthemums, Japanese Aralia/Fatsia japonica, the usually tough Amarcrinum(!!!) and Hawaiian White Ginger. I bought a couple of dwarf yaupons/Ilex vomitoria and the Divas gave them a chance. They also decided to use the remaining bags of granite here - we need to get more but even this thin layer looks good!
Now when I come down the driveway the grass is still summer-killed, but patient Divas with rakes (thank you, Mattie) took off the top thatch, so when rain comes it can sink into the ground. This area needs another tree and perhaps a path. The remaining St Augustine can survive with a surprisingly low amount of water if it gets some shade. And when the plants in the beds are so interesting - who cares about grass anyway? Instead of wasting water trying to keep lawn alive in the sunbaked parking strip, less water can make the right plants grow and thrive, looking good while supplying habitat for bees and butterflies.
If the bird-attracting dwarf Barbados Cherry settles in happily I might be able to lurk on the veranda with my camera and snap feathered visitors coming for the fruit.
And every day when I stand on the steps I'll think about how wonderful it is to be a Diva of the Dirt, who has friends to change the view with layered plantings that make even a walk to the mailbox an adventure...the 'Mutabilis' rose they planted in 2008 is making new leaves and flower buds right now!
From the first Diva project here in October 2004 through last weekend, my wonderful garden friends have helped to make this house feel like a garden cottage.
Next up will be Diva Annie!

1 comment:

  1. Dear Glinda, your newly planted parking strip looks wonderful. Those are two of my favorite grasses and the rest will fill in nicely. How wonderful that you all can help each other like that and enjoy some fine meals! Yum!



Thanks for saying hello!