Better Water Wise than Ground Foolish

I wish I could call myself a wise woman, but the closest I can get is the effort I’m putting into being water wise this summer.

Being in the middle of one of the worst droughts in Texas history has brought out some odd behaviors. People water their front yards during their designated days of the week, and then set timers to water under cover of darkness — or, worse, brazenly water the back yard during the day, mistakenly thinking no one can see them. Others, like my neighbors, water 24/7 to try without trying to hide this, rationalizing that it’s okay to do this because it’s a personal well and thus is not covered by the water restrictions enacted just over the city limits.

I must seem very odd to them. I do not water my grass at all. (Which must be why there is none found in my yard right now, or much of my pasture.) Usually this works out all right, because Nature does her wonderful thing with the rain clouds and the grass (and my neighborhood) is happy. Right now though, with just under five inches of rain at our place since last October, it is becoming quite clear that we are not going to achieve balance between keeping our farm alive and being conservative with our water use.

Currently at our place, talk over the fence with the neighbors generally starts with a “Howdeedoo” and progresses rapidly to, “Did you hear they got rain over in Tomball?” Or, worse, “Did anyone get the forecasted rain?” Underlying these conversations is the quiet desperate feeling about the water table level in the aquifer under our feet and how that relates to the depth of our well pump.

Those neighbors who water 24/7? Not considered smart right now, because we’re all much more concerned with having running water than whether there’s grass in the field.

Conservation measures:

Don’t water landscaping just because it’s pretty.

Use soaker hoses rather than areal spraying. (Less water loss due to evaporation before the water hits the dirt.)

Water during the cooler hours of the day. (Ditto above.)

Use water from dish washing to water beloved landscape plants. (Check what kind of dish soap you’re using and try a mild form that is biodegradable.)

Flush less often. Seriously, low flow toilets only save so much water. If you flush ever other time rather than every time you’ve doubled your water savings.

Turn off the water while you brush your teeth.

Ditto while you shampoo your hair or soap up in the shower.

Don’t install a backyard pool — use the neighborhood one instead. This provides a social outlet as well as a place to exercise and cool off.

Help keep my well flowing — be water-wise. My family and my critters thank you.

Why Garden?

Photo of Wind Chimes
Gaga Kate's Wind Chimes

Gardening appeals to every sense. It invigorates you mentally and physically. Gardens provide soothing vistas to look at, yummy food to eat, and habitat for animals, birds and insects. Why on earth wouldn’t you garden?

Just the sensory stimulations is worth spending time outside — or at the very least, inside with a potted plant. Touch any plant and it provides you with an instant and visceral response. I love to run my fingers over the velvety petals of the Belinda’s Dream rose in my back yard, even though I have to squeeze past the Red Yucca to do it. (Warning, Red Yucca is sharp and pointy when it pokes you in the calf!)

Visual texture is akin to touch. The adorable fuzziness of the Lamb’s Ear invites you to stoop and rub a leaf between your fingers. My neighbor’s cat finds it a comfortable bed on which to curl up for a mid-afternoon nap.

Color abounds in the garden, even when it’s limited to shades of green. Celendon…Chartreuse… Forest… Fern… Emerald… Grass… Pea… Pine…Sea Green… Shamrock… Kelly…Mint…Teal…Grey-Green…Olive. Notice how many shades of green are named for plants? Yep, many of them are — with good reason. Plants, landscaping, vegetables all touch us in more than one way — and thus stick with us.

I love to watch the ripple of tall grass under the wind’s caress. It’s almost as if you can see the old man with his lips pursed as he blows the waves along the ground. Tulips bob their heads, trees whisper, and the birds and insects swoop and dive in the currents. The wind chimes Paul’s grandmother used to ring to call her grandsons to dinner tinkle happily on the edge of the porch. Plants may not have voices to sing with, but there is plenty of sound to inspire.

Nothing smells quite like Night Blooming Cerius, which I may have just misspelled in the worst possible way, but that’s what happens after an evening on the porch next to this plant. It gets you drunker than champagne in nothing flat. Intensely sweet, I’ve had guests actually close the windows in the Casita Sin Gatos because it was keeping them awake at night. Paul and I were clearing out the onion bed this morning and I brushed up against the fennel in the next row. Heaven on earth, so I picked some to have with my lunch. The sharp licorice taste of Fennel brings out the sweet flavor of the tomato in salad.

I did something that may have been brilliant or it may have been the silliest thought I’ve had all year. I planted asparagus in the side garden, along the path from the garage to the back gate. It is taking over, so I feel justified when I bend down, brush aside some of the mature fronds and find a spear just ripe for the picking. Crunchy nutty-tasting snack!

Sorry, have to go now. I’ve inspired myself into a walk in the woods, where I am planning a shade garden.

Happy Gardening!

Divide and Conquer

I have a lovely stand of Mailbox Pink Crinums in my side garden. (So named because the gardening friend who gifted them to me had them planted by her mailbox and she had no earthly idea what variety they really were.) I first planted this set of beds ten years ago and it is certainly grown into a welcoming place.

However, despite all the welcoming feelings, this past year I noticed a snake in the midst of my perfect paradise. (This actually literally happened, but I’m only speaking metaphorically for the moment.) My bulbs were in desperate need of more space. Since that meant that either I needed to dig up the Desert Willow and relocate it — or divide the bulbs, I picked the latter.

  • Outline the area. I used my shovel to put a line in the dirt around the area where the bulbs currently reside. This is more difficult than you might think when you have five different varieties of bulbs in one spot. Hint: Crinums are the big ones; narcissus are the small ones.
  • Decide how large a space you want the final clump to cover.
  • Dig up your bulbs. Some sources tell you to pull everything, some say just the outside areas. I pulled them all.
  • Amend your soil while you’ve got the space. I use compost from my pile plus a little organic fertilizer such as pelleted chicken manure or cottonseed meal.
  • Replace as many bulbs as will comfortably fit into the space you want your future clump to fill.
  • Pot up the rest. Share the wealth with friends.

Once the freezes are over, we can all exchange as many starts as we want! If you’re in Houston and want some of the Mailbox Pink Crinum, let me know.

Pushing Up Daisies

I just finished my fellow Master Gardener and landscape mystery writing author’s first book, Pushing Up Daisies. Rosemary Harris has delivered a delightful story with a solid lead character who knows her way around a Connecticut garden.

One of the things that frustrated me with the Three Dirty Women series was the fact that the publisher wanted to have the setting for the books be located somewhere I don’t actually live. This hampered my ability to get enough gardening into the books to satisfy myself. I was grateful to gardeners in the Carolinas for answering any questions, and I did get a trip in to do some on-site research. (No fun was had of course, as it was a business trip!)  As the series goes on, I fit more and more information in, but I liked the way Rosemary was able to make the gardening such a huge part of her story right from the get-go. If I were ever to go back to garden mystery writing, I would set the books on the Gulf Coast so that I could more easily weave in more plant lore.

One of the reasons I read gardening mysteries is to learn. Fellow Texan Susan Wittig Albert was the first such author I read, and I fell in love with her China Bayles series. Ann Ripley is a fine example of this section of the mystery gendre. Mary Freeman is another. Naomi Hirohara is a particular favorite of mine, with her gentle, complex weaving of tales about Mas Arai.

So while it’s winter outside, grab yourself a good read about your garden, be it one of mine, or one of these other fine writers, and dream.

Happy Reading!