Landscape “architecture” for everybody!

January 22nd, 2015 Posted in Texas A&M, flood control, garden art, garden design, garden designers, garden projects, garden rooms, garden structure, lawn replace, patios, pruning, trees | 8 Comments »

Often people ask me: what IS landscape architecture? So, this week, we’re thrilled to present Ixchel Granada and Aaron Kotwal, Texas A&M University landscape architecture students.

landscape architecture with Tom Spencer, Ixchel Granada and Aaron Kotwal

Enthusiastic, introspective and tremendously farsighted, they’ve got their hands on the future as they tell us how they’re integrating the built and natural environment. Watch now.

Certainly, one thing they face in their career is water retention and flood management. Here’s a simple idea CTG discovered in author Helen Thomson’s garden designed by Patrick Kirwin: a rill cut into lawn (or through garden beds).

rain rainoff control rill in lawn central texas gardener

And then, how do we get from here to there? Last fall, I stepped into two delightful designs on a San Antonio tour presented by the Gardening Volunteers of South Texas. Both allow water to stay on site.

garden path for water retention central texas garden

garden path for water retention central texas garden

As landscape architects, Ixchel and Aaron will consider how plants interface with architectural structure and site conditions. On the SA tour, I ran into this simple array of foxtail ferns that complements a semi-shady exterior wall. Gravel allows any runoff to gently sink in.

foxtail ferns foundation planting water retention central texas gardener

Tom Poth’s paths and patio in Austin clearly define spaces and direction while pleasing different plant needs. Again, gravel acts as rainfall retention.

stream-lined patio and paths modern garden central texas gardener

Another practical consideration: hiding things. Here’s a homemade design I spotted on an east Austin tour to wrangle trashy views.

how to hide garbage cans central texas gardener

Speaking of hiding, what about all that stuff we’ve shoved behind the shed? Since I know we are ALL about to embark on the annual shed inside and out cleanup, what about a cute wall with leftover limestone chop blocks to show off our containers?

limestone blocks wall for containers central texas gardener

I bet there are just three gardeners in the country without a stash of cinder blocks. Pick up some stucco mix, swirl in some paint, and bingo: a succulent planter!

stucco cinder block succulent planter central texas gardener

Now, this stucco wall enclosing an outdoor living room is rather glamorous, but gardeners never lack for ingenuity!

outdoor living room stucco wall and fireplace central texas gardener

On a more modest scale, a few lucky finds turn our patios into truly reflective spots to land.

charming patio mirror and recycled table central texas gardener

Living architecture lets us frame our spaces and viewpoints.

live oak framing big tooth maple weeping redbud understory central texas gardener

Structural native Mexican plum, Daphne’s Plant of the Week, is also among the first to bloom in February. Since it only grows to about 25’ tall and wide, it’s great for small gardens or accents.

native tree mexican plum in bloom central texas gardener

Its knobby bark always interests, but I’m on the countdown for mine to break into fragrant white flowers. Within minutes, it’s a beehive of activity. Find out more.

mexican plum flower bee central texas gardener

Over the next several weekends, my wild and crazy garden will get a little more structural as I whack back perennials and later, grasses. This week, John Dromgoole illustrates a few techniques, like for ornamental grasses.

pruning grasses the natural gardener

pruning ornamental grasses The Natural Gardener

In sculpting our land, we direct water, give it artistic notice, and personalize our connection. On tour, landscape architect Curt Arnette pulled it all together in this restoration.

limestone walkway contemporary home landscape architect Curt Arnette

To absorb water and allow air down into live oak roots, he designed the driveway with concrete pads grouted with gravel.

driveway with pervious gaps by landscape architect Curt Arnette

The family wanted to match their home’s resourceful design with equally resourceful plants. Curbside, Curt layered low-water plants for drama, including perpetual evergreens and seasonal food for wildlife.

front yard native plant drought tough garden central texas gardener

Architectural shoestring acacia anchors this section of the garden.

shoestring acacia central texas gardener

“Plants are something that draw people out and create an emotional response. And it makes them feel good,” he tells us.

mexican honeysuckle inland sea oats against water rill central texas gardener

Throughout, he terraced the hilly site to allow the family’s engagement.

terracing with steps and limestone blocks central texas gardener

firecracker fern on terraced slope central texas gardener

They left a lot of the property to its natural wildlife devices, merely supplementing its diversity.

habitat garden silver ponyfoot and yuccas to natural view central texas gardener

That’s just the “trailer” to this story, so see the whole thing now!

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

Taming Runoff, Gluten Free Caesar Salad, Habitat Meets Art

January 15th, 2015 Posted in Vines, flood control, garden art, garden designers, garden rooms, garden structure, groundcovers, habitat, lawn replace, native plants, rain catchment, recipes, recycling, succulents | 4 Comments »

We love the rain but not when it threatens our homes and erodes our gardens! This week, Roc + Solid Land Designer Elizabeth McGreevy joins Tom to wrangle rushing rainfall and keep it on site.

flood control with elizabeth mcgreevy central texas gardener

Elizabeth explains a few simple things we can all do. One is piling stones under down spouts to slow things down.

control runoff at down spouts elizabeth mcgreevy central texas gardener

Another: add pathway slabs, raised above the soil, to tame water into pervious gaps.

control rain runoff with paths elizabeth mcgreevy central texas gardener

She tells how to make cuts into existing sidewalks and driveways to trickle water into gravel gaps. Also to divert sheeting action, avoid mortar when building new sidewalks and consider a charming driveway ribbon.

control rain runoff driveway and path design elizabeth mcgreevy central texas gardener

In another design, she arranged concrete “curbs” in stylish food and ornamental beds to retain water on a gentle slope. The bordering pathways are crushed ¼” minus limestone (aggregate used in asphalt). Over road base, she lays 1” of the limestone, creating an alkaline base unfavorable to weeds.

control rain runoff design elizabeth mcgreevy central texas gardener

Rain gardens (shallow depressions surrounded by berms) are an easy way to capture and retain water. Watch now!

Native sedges are good rain garden candidates, since they can take dry and moist conditions. Daphne explains how to grow Texas sedge (Carex retroflexa var. texensis), CTG’s Plant of the Week. In one spot in my garden, native Gulf penstemon popped up to join it.

Texas sedge (carex) with native gulf pensemon central texas gardener

Elizabeth McGreevy used ‘Scott’s Turf’ sedge as a low-maintenance textural frame against a patio, paired nearby with silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea).

'Scott's Turf' sedge Austin patio

‘Scott’s Turf,’ named for horticulturist and author Scott Ogden, derived from native sedges in a form of Carex retroflexa.

'Scott's Turf' sedge central texas gardener

In landscape architect Christy Ten Eyck’s garden, sedges and bamboo muhly dot terraces of limestone slabs and decomposed granite to slow down and retain water.

Christy Ten Eyck flood control garden central texas gardener

To conserve water, many of us are growing cactus and succulents for the first time. Daphne answers: What’s the difference between cactus and succulents?

difference in cactus and succulent central texas gardener

Short version: All cacti are succulents but not all “succulents” are cacti. As Daphne explains, “succulent” is an adjective that refers to a plant’s ability to store water through stems or leaves as well as roots.

That includes cactus but also many other plants, commonly clumped together as “succulents,” like agaves, aloes, yuccas, sedums, sotols, and bromeliads.

agaves and aloes bob barth garden central texas gardener

Lack of water, as in drought, fells our trees. Gardeners roll with the punches, though, like Jack Young in Bryan who turned his dead crape myrtle into a morning glory trellis. His granddaughters call it the flower tree!

annual morning glory over dead crape myrtle central texas gardener

Morning glories clamor over Katherine Carrington’s Dallas crape myrtle that declined.

annual morning glory over dead crape myrtle central texas gardener

Native cypress vine joins it to feed bees and hummingbirds.

annual morning glory and native cypress vine over dead crape myrtle central texas gardener

Personal note here: I met Katherine, a bank manager for Comerica, when my Dallas dad passed away last fall. By the time I reached her desk to deal with Dad’s account, I was physically and emotionally exhausted and actually shaking. Even in her professional efficiency, she quickly picked up on that (along with my gardening interest). While waiting for things to process, she pulled out her phone to show me this.

Purple morning glory central texas gardener

I’m not kidding: in 2 seconds I went from miserable to intrigued! As garden photographers, we love when we catch the light like that! But the big deal is how gardens—and kindness when we need it most—helps to heal. For sure, I’ll plant morning glories this spring!

So, we’ve all made those healthy eating New Year’s resolutions and vowed to eat more kale. Now what?

How about a Caesar salad with creamy non-dairy dressing and gluten free toasted chickpeas instead of croutons? Top with edible garden flowers for bit of extra punch.

kale Caeser salad with gluten free chickpeas Lake austin spa resort

Lake Austin Spa Resort’s Executive Chef Stephane Beaucamp joins Trisha to put this tops on our recipes!

kale Caesar salad Lake Austin Spa Resort

He shows how to strip and chiffonade kale plus whip together a nutritious (and yummy) dressing with flax seed meal and walnuts. Here’s the recipe.

kale Caesar salad Lake Austin Spa Resort

On tour in Temple, meet Sarah Munro who returned to her hometown to build a house with her dad on wild land she played on as a child. Rather than plant grass in the new development, she wanted to preserve the native wildlife’s habitat.

Art and habitat restoration garden Temple Texas Central Texas Gardener

It’s a young garden and we taped when some perennials hadn’t recovered from a late freeze. But her first mission was to re-direct rainwater that swooped down the incline to the house.

flood control habitat restoration garden Temple Texas Central Texas Gardener

Working with artist Brooks Gist, he mapped out curving pervious paths lined with limestone blocks to channel water and let it slowly sink in.

flood control habitat restoration garden Temple Texas Central Texas Gardener

flood control habitat restoration garden Temple Texas Central Texas Gardener

For vertical structure, Brooks designed trellises. This one sports native coral honeysuckle for pollinators and hummingbirds.

Coral honeysuckle trellis Temple Texas Central Texas Gardener

Along the fence, trellises support native crossvine and evergreen wisteria.

Custom metal trellises Temple Texas Central Texas Gardener

In the vegetable garden, vining crops grow up his recycled metal and ashe juniper structure.

Vegetable metal trellises and ashe juniper Temple Texas Central Texas Gardener

Again with recycles, he crafted the charming gate and fence. To the left, more ashe juniper hides the air conditioner. Beyond, note the shallow rain garden and collection barrel that trickles overflow into it.

ashe juniper fence and decorative metal gate central texas gardener

Sarah didn’t want to banish wildlife, like this Texas spiny lizard, when she moved into their territory.

Texas Spiny lizard

Instead, she’s actually pumped up wildlife diversity with a broader range of plants, drinking spots and cozy habitats. This tipi offers shelter to local possums below, lizards on its limbs, and birds at the top. And to boot, it hides a utility box!

Ashe juniper tip wildlife shelter central texas gardener

Sarah values art in all its forms: “I think art is what redeems us a species.” So, on a birthday, she commissioned this globe from Brooks’ brother, Aaron Gist. “I like the tension between more structural formal pieces or hard pieces against soft lines.”

Aaron Gist metal globe garden sculpture Temple Texas Central Texas Gardener

To celebrate Sarah’s process and philosophy in the land’s new birth, Brooks designed a fertility goddess in front, again from recycled materials.

Fertility garden sculpture by artist Brooks Gist Central Texas Gardener

Watch their story now!

Thanks for stopping by and see you next week! Linda

America’s Test Kitchen + Family Growing Together

January 8th, 2015 Posted in children, fruit trees, vegetables, young gardeners | 2 Comments »

Here’s to new starts, dreams and rain that reigns this year!

clouds la grange

To snag Trisha’s tips for winter vegetables, director Ed Fuentes and I headed out in November to her Lake Austin Spa Resort garden.

Trisha Shirey Lake Austin Spa Resort

Isn’t it gorgeous? It’s not too late to pair leafy lettuce, kale, broccoli and others against tasty multiplying onions (get Trisha’s tip for keeping them multiplying).

Lake Austin Spa Resort vegetables and flowers central texas gardener

That’s Mark Morrow steering the microphone as head gardener Dustin Mattson demonstrates how to cut leaf lettuce for lots of greens until hot weather.

Lake Austin Spa Resort vegetables and flowers central texas gardener

Dustin also shows how to harvest quick-growing kohlrabi, protected with bird netting to fend off deer.

Kohlrabi under deer netting Lake Austin Spa Resort

Trisha likes office supply clamps to anchor netting (and cold weather row cover) to her rebar hoops. To harvest, simply slip the netting/row cover back up.

office supply clamps on deer netting Lake Austin Spa Resort

Even though Trisha’s vegetable ensemble is pretty on its own, she mixes in flowers (many edible) to heighten her color wheel across seasons.

Flowers and vegetables Lake Austin Spa Resort

Flowers aren’t just for show, as this Eastern Black Swallowtail can tell you.

Swallowtail butterfly on plumbago

Fall blooming asters and milkweed invite Monarch butterflies along with lots of pollinators and beneficial insects to patrol and fuel her garden.

milkweed and asters butterfly plants central texas gardener

In winter, Trisha includes snapdragons, violas, and dianthus in her edible plant arsenal that also feeds bees, butterflies and tiny beneficials on warm winter days. See how she controls winter pests and lots more.

Daphne’s got the preventive tip to fend off some of those pesky critters that damage our fruit trees: horticultural oil (also called dormant oil).

horticultural or dormant oil preventive insect control fruit trees

By spraying in winter, these petroleum-based products suffocate overwintering pests, including scale. But it’s called dormant oil for a reason. Find out why we don’t want to use it in warm temps.

Now here’s a fun surprise! CTG meets Christopher Kimball, publisher and editor of Cook’s Illustrated magazine, and beloved host of America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country on PBS.

America's Test Kitchen

Last summer, Ed and I caught up with him at the Long Center to find out what led him down the kitchen path and the science behind memorable meals.

Christopher Kimball America's Test Kitchen on Central Texas Gardener

Through Christopher ‘s behind-the-scenes stories, discover how the Test Kitchen team turns bad food into good food. Like us in the garden, it can be try and try again. What works and why?

America's Test Kitchen

The “set” where they tape 26 shows in just 3 weeks is the real test kitchen, where Christopher asks the questions that viewers want answered.

America's Test Kitchen

And hear how his long term cohorts sometimes play tricks on his taste buds!

America's Test Kitchen

It’s not too late to plant trees, but do get them in soon while it’s still cool. For large gardens, what about deciduous Mexican sycamore, Daphne’s Plant of the Week?

mexican sycamore central texas gardener

You will need some room since they can mature at 50’ tall by 30-40’ wide. Those rustling silvery-backed leaves against stark white bark certainly are a standout!

mexican sycamore bark and leaves

In topsy-turvy Texas, many gardeners had spring flowers blooming this fall. Viewer Picture goes to Nelwyn Persky in Bartlett, whose bluebonnet has bloomed since September.

why Texas bluebonnet bloomed in September

His brother Kirk Marek near Killeen boasts an Indian paintbrush that geared up last fall.  And now Nelwyn’s got iris and springtime amaryllis blooming. What a year!

spring amaryllis blooming in winter

Experts at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center see this every year. One observation: “There are always a few individuals in a population that are phenologically out of sync with the norm. Could be genetic, could be environmental or some combo of the two. If it is isolated occurrences of just a few individuals, I would speculate micro-climate and look for a causative factor (like plants adjacent to warm pavement, especially good soil, etc.).”

On tour near La Grange, meet a family that’s growing together!

Bernsen family vegetable garden La Grange Central Texas Gardener

Home schooling parents Brianne and William Bernsen added homegrown organic food to their family curriculum. Brianne and the kids explain how they maximize space with trellises that multitask crops.

Bernsen family vegetable garden La Grange Central Texas Gardener

In this chemical-free garden,  wedding tulle fends off rambunctious grasshoppers.  Robert Avila on microphone monitors  blustery winds.

wedding tulle fend off grasshoppers La Grange Central Texas Gardener

When Brianne’s mom Lori visits, the children are always eager to show what’s coming up.

Bernsen family vegetable garden La Grange Central Texas Gardener

Bernsen family vegetable La Grange Central Texas Gardener

Bernsen family vegetable La Grange Central Texas Gardener

Bernsen family vegetable La Grange Central Texas Gardener

Fencing around the garden protects it from deer and errant balls!

Bernsen family vegetable La Grange Central Texas Gardener

Get their secret for healthy soil, which naturally includes compost turned daily by chickens.

Bernsen family vegetable La Grange Central Texas Gardener

What they don’t eat, share, can or freeze, they sell to La Grange restaurant Bistro 108.

Bernsen family vegetable garden La Grange Central Texas Gardener

With cattle feed containers from the local recycling center, each of the older children grows individual mini-gardens. And find out how they made their own stepping stones!

cattle feed vegetable containers Bernsen family vegetable garden La Grange Central Texas Gardener

And wouldn’t you love a secret clubhouse like this? The Bernsen kids built it themselves from recycled materials.

kids club house from recycles Bernsen family vegetable garden La Grange Central Texas Gardener

Meet them now!

Thanks for stopping by! Linda

Bernsen family vegetable garden La Grange Central Texas Gardener

Bringing Nature Home + Oak Hill Elementary

November 20th, 2014 Posted in bees, butterflies, children, destinations, fall plants, garden bloggers, native plants, perennials, raised beds, school gardens, wildlife, young gardeners | 6 Comments »

One of gardening’s biggest thrills is growing food for friends, like beleaguered Monarch butterflies, here on Conoclinium coelestinum.

Monarch butterfly on conoclinium (eupatorium) Central Texas Gardener

John Dromgoole takes us on a stroll through the Butterfly Garden at The Natural Gardener to explain why to plant for all seasons.

John Dromgoole in The Natural Gardener's butterfly garden

Isn’t this just gorgeous? It’s also bountiful with lots of grateful creatures on the firebush, Conoclinium and Mexican bauhinia.

butterfly garden eupatorium, hamelia, bauhinia central texas gardener

Red Admiral tucked into fall-blooming Mexican bauhinia.

butterfly Red Admiral on mexican bauhinia central texas gardener

In winter, annual pansies, snapdragons and calendulas (not pictured) feed bees and butterflies that show up hungry on those warm days we always get. Great container plants too!  Those background pentas may be frozen after this week, so replace with more cold weather plants.

pansies and pentas for butterflies central texas gardener

We’ve got to accept some chomping since the little guys have to eat, too! Here’s a Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar merrily dining on pipevine. The plant will recover and the adults will stick around to nectar and lay more eggs.

pipevine swallowtail caterpillar on pipevine central texas gardener

Make a mini spa for male butterflies who like to puddle around and soak up salts in the decomposed granite we’ve all got handy.

butterfly puddling spot on decomposed granite central texas gardener

Bringing Nature Home author Dr. Douglas Tallamy, University of Delaware Professor & Chair of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, joins Tom to make the essential link between native plants and wildlife.

Tom Spencer and Douglas W. Tallamy Bringing Nature Home

Beautifully photographed where Doug’s personal stories mingle with illuminating (and sometimes scary) facts, Bringing Nature Home makes a powerful statement about the damage we wreak on our future with exotic plants, especially invasives.

Bringing Nature Home author Douglas W. Tallamy

At the same time, Doug Tallamy encourages us with simple ideas, including lists of host plants and plants by region like winecup, which we can plant now.

native plant winecup central texas gardener

Our food crops, like okra, support wildlife through their flowers. Viewer Picture goes to Grow Where You’re Planted Andrea Fox, ASLA, of transplant studio, College Station. Isn’t this wreath a charming way to use okra stalks when the harvest is over?

Okra wreath photo by Andrea Fox transplant studio, College Station

A warm weather herb for next spring: borage, Daphne’s Plant of the Week. Along with lovely texture, this annual herb’s young leaves perk up salads and beverages with a cucumber taste.  Best yet, charming lavender flowers bring on the bees to pollinate your summer crops.

borage flowers for bees central texas gardener

On tour, this garden’s got it all: wildlife plants, pond, hand-made bird houses, vegetables and even an orchard. It sounds like a lot of work, but it’s really a ton of fun for its caretakers: the Gardening Club at Oak Hill Elementary.

butterfly garden at Oak Hill Elementary Gardening Club Central Texas Gardener

After school twice a week, teacher Paul Cumings, former teacher Sue Lagerquist and parent volunteers pass along adventures in food, wildlife habitat and conservation.

Gardening Club teachers at Oak Hill Elementary Central Texas Gardener

This student documented plant info on his tablet. Great reference tool!

Gardening Club Oak Hill Elementary Central Texas Gardener

The students really turned things around with a drought defiant perennial wildlife garden right out front.

Oak Hill Elementary butterfly and bee garden central texas gardener

On a scrappy patch of turf at the bus stop, they dug out Bermuda grass for a butterfly garden that fascinates everybody.

Gardening Club Oak Hill Elementary Central Texas Gardener

Things might slow down a bit on route when the children spy a chrysalis on the fence or butterflies floating among the flowers.

Oak Hill Elementary butterfly garden central texas gardener

In their pottery class, Gardening Club made water dishes to give little critters a drink.

butterfly and water dishes from Oak Hill Elementary pottery class central texas gardener

Building bird houses (22 of them, for different birds) really made a hit, since what kid doesn’t have fun with a hammer and paint? They’re hoping to raise money to install web cameras inside to see who shows up.

bird houses built by Gardening Club Oak Hill Elementary Central Texas Gardener

Gardening Club students voted on the design for the vegetable gardens they built. Each semester they renew them with compost and seasonal plants.

vegetable garden design built by Gardening Club Oak Hill Elementary Central Texas Gardener

With seed donations from local nurseries, they’ve even ventured into new tastes, like arugula.

arugula grown by Gardening Club Oak Hill Elementary Central Texas Gardener

In their commitment to wildlife habitat, they add native flowers that encourage pollinators to stick around to help with the squash.

rudbekia and bee balm for pollinators central texas gardener

A super important lesson the kids are learning: why we grow without pesticides. “It’s about as organic as it gets here. You do see lots of bugs munching on vegetables, but it’s not just for human consumption, we’re trying to support the whole ecosystem,” notes Paul Cumings.

Oak Hill Elementary Butterfly Garden Central Texas Gardener

In 2013, 5th grader Ian McKenna wrote and received a grant as seed money for the Giving Garden to help feed families.

Oak Hill Elementary vegetable gardens Central Texas Gardener

Gardening Club students also feel a lot of pride in beautifying their school grounds.

Oak Hill Elementary Gardening Club Central Texas Gardener

After watching their energetic weeding, I simply had to jump in!

Linda Lehmusvirta at Oak Hill Elementary Gardening Club Central Texas Gardener

Meet them all now right now!

Thanks for stopping by. See you next week, Linda