May 5 2012

The skullcap is blooming!

I posted earlier about our hopes that the skullcap we planted last year along the walkway would bloom this year. And look what I discovered coming home from work one day last week!


Now I’ve just got to find the time to get into the beds along the walkway and around the live oak tree and weed. It’s getting kind of crazy in there.

Apr 17 2012


Now, something not nursery related! (Although, we are very near completion of Nursery Phase 1… more posts on that in the near future…) This post is something I should have written up a year ago. But better late than never!

Do you remember when we dug up the ivy in our front yard? We found concrete planter boxes buried underneath the ivy and soil. Well, we decided to use them to plant some bushes in so that we had a nice line of plants along the walkway to the front porch. After consulting our garden expert (my mother-in-law) we decided to plant Skullcap, which is a flowering shrub which is native to this region. I had gotten a gift certificate to a local nursery for my birthday last February, so used it to buy enough Skullcap to line the two planters. Then, on a nice day in April last year, Kelly, my mother-in-law and the teenager got to work planting them.

First they got rid of all the weeds and roots in the planter beds

They lined them all up where they should be planted

Digging in

Jack helped

All planted and watered

Eventually, we’d love to break up that wide swath of concrete walkway with a more organic flagstone path. We love how wide the walkway is, it makes the house look so gracious.

Little did we know that when we planted them, we’d have a record-breaking drought over the summer, with over 100 days over 100 degrees and basically no rain.

But our little skullcaps were hardy plants! We didn’t water them a ton – just a good soak once every few weeks, like we did our Zoysia grass lawn (which is also adapted to high heat climates) – and they pulled through like champions. Only one plant died out of more than twenty that were planted.

A few months ago, my mother-in-law did a little guerrilla pruning and they began to bush out like crazy. Here’s hoping for some blooms this year!

All grown up!

Bushing out

Looking down the walkway

We only lost one plant over the summer

Apr 30 2011

Adding Color to Our Yard

It’s the promised gardening post!

So, when we first put down the grass back at the end of October, we left an area around the tree on the right hand side of the lawn grass-less. You can see that area in this picture:

We though that it might be nice to create a little flowerbed around the tree, as well as possibly create a path to the driveway – which there was when the ivy was in place, as you can see from this picture:

Front yard

(Ugh, that ivy!)

But we didn’t do anything right away, because, well, it was winter and not really the time to be planting flowers. So a whole lot of weeds decided they wanted to grow in that space instead:

But as the weather got warmer, gardening began to be on my mind more and more. One lovely weekend in early March, I went to Lowe’s on an errand and was struck by a particularly colorful display of plants arranged outside the entrance. The next day I went back and ended up buying a bunch of the plants I had seen – the begonias and the caladium, in their gorgeous purple and red and green – as well as some coleus, which had some more of the green and purple colors in it. I also got some mulch and potting soil.

Look at how gorgeous it all looks in the back of my car!

First I pulled out all the weeds, then I called my mother-in-law (the Texas certified master gardener) because I really had no clue what I was doing. She came over later, and along with Kelly and my brother-in-law Skip, we got all the plants in the ground.

Because the ground kind of slopes up on this side of the lawn, we discovered that we were going to need to create some kind of retaining wall on the side of this bed near the walkway. So Kelly and Skip hauled a bunch of the bricks from the pile in the back yard (left there by previous owners…) and created a little wall:

Look how much color we added to our front yard!

And now you can see how much it has grown after 3 weeks!

Jan 25 2011

Some pictures of our lawn

With the help of my parents, who are in town for a month, we are starting a new project – refinishing the wood stairs! However, as I came to the site to write about what we plan to do, I realized that we never did give you a post about how our lawn has turned out. So, here you go.

The left hand side of the lawn

The right hand side of the lawn

Way back down the left hand side of the house.

Just so you know, I took these pictures about a week or so after we’d put the lawn in, so it still looks a little grid-y. The lawn currently looks quite well set in and organic. (Well, *right* now it’s looking a little brownish from the cold weather, although compared to some lawns in the neighborhood, it looks quite verdant!) We’ve been diligent about attacking any vines that poke through the grass, and while there have been a couple dozen intruders, considering how extensive the ivy was, I’m pretty thrilled with now comparatively little has sprung back up.

So, now that you’ve seen the after pictures, we can move on to chronicling our next big project! On to the stairs!

Nov 7 2010

It’s Just Fun to Say Zoysia!

I [Kelly] asked a guy I went to school with (a friend from junior high and a classmate all the way through college) who is a landscape architect what he thought would be the best grass for our situation. That situation being about 70% shade and hot as the inside of a toaster oven in the fifth season in Texas, other wise known as August.

For those who don’t live here, August really starts in mid May and usually doesn’t end until the final bits of September and often runs right into October. It doesn’t get hot like Arizona hot. It just gets stiflingly warm and then stays there. Maybe a ten or fifteen degree difference between three in the afternoon and three in the morning. Temps during the waking hours average around 90-95 for several months on end. It works on you like a water torture or like adding a pound a day to a weight on your chest. The first cool breezes from the north are oh so very refreshing. We really love the coming of Fall around here. And, according to my state certified master gardener mother, Fall is the time to sod a yard in Central Texas.

Anyway… so I asked my friend about the best grass for the area and he said there are two choices. St. Augustine and Zoysia. He said that St. Augustine is a water hog and is prone to disease, even though you’d think with a name like that it would be perfect for the fifth season. I also remember as a kid that, even though it looks nice, it is kind of prickly and not pleasant for little ones to roll around on. And in case you didn’t know, we plan to roll around on some grass with some little ones some day, so you have to think about these things in advance.

The Zoysia (pronounced zoi-see-uh), has a silly sounding name but is a hardy grass from Asia and requires very little water. It is thinner and softer so it passes the crawling-through-the-grass test. The only caveat is that we were told to expect to pay one-and-a-half to two times as much for it. I called Barrerra Landscaping and Supply and they had it for only 50% more than the other stuff, so hurray! Ellen and I added three cubic yards of compost, since we got a deal, and I called my buddy Josh, who has a huge gas powered tiller he said I could borrow.

All of the stuff showed up on a Friday afternoon and Jack and I got to work spreading the compost right after dinner. Wanting to get the compost spread before morning, we worked until about 9:30pm by the light of the front porch and with headlamps strapped on. One of the neighbor guys said we were “hard core” for working in the dark. The thing is, once the grass goes on palettes, it has to come back off within a few days or it kills it. No time to waste waiting for light to come back in the morning.

Tilled and ready.

Thanks for the tiller, Josh!

After a mug of hot coffee the next morning, I filled the last low spots with the remaining compost and fired up the tiller. What a beast! That thing chewed through the ground like it was a stale Oreo cookie. The awesome thing is, in addition to several inches of fresh compost, the ground had been covered in leaves every year for over 25 years while that Vinca vine was on there. After mixing it all together with the tiller, we have tons of great soil just waiting for the sod to be laid down on it.

Next step? SOD IT! Sorry, couldn’t resist. Jack would bring me sod rectangles from the palettes and I would carefully remove any last debris from the soil and smooth it out level with my hands and then put the sod in its place. Really, that is about all there was to it. It is just that there was SO MUCH of it to put down! We spent the rest of Saturday getting the smaller patch of grass done and then had something or other to do that afternoon. As a result, less than half of the grass went down on the first day.

Sunday went about the same at first, but my brother Skip came over to help out, so things went a lot faster. Ellen had to work Saturday, so having her help as she lugged the grass patches over to me as I placed them was great. With a larger crew, we worked at a much better pace and most of the rest of the front was done by dinner time. A happy surprise was that we seemed to have about 25% more grass than we estimated it would take. I don’t know if the sod company just tossed on extra grass since the sodding season is pretty much over or if my math skills need serious revision. The upshot is that we had enough left over to do the side yard and the “tree lawn” as folks from Northeast Ohio call the little strip of land between the sidewalk and the curb. I love the term and have willingly added it to my vocabulary. Most of the extra sod went down Monday night after work.

We have been watering regularly, but not too much, for a couple of weeks now and it really looks nice. Some of the tips are starting to get higher, but I have been told not to mow for quite a while. It seems that the the roots grow about the same as the blades and stop growing when the blades are cut. The longer we wait, the better for the roots.

Lots of folks from the neighborhood say it looks great and they always ask what kind of grass it is. I smile and try to pronounce it properly, but I always get a puzzled look and a “What did you say?” in return. I don’t care what it is called, I’m just glad to have a pretty lawn and no more vines.

Oct 16 2010

Unexpected Discoveries

Yesterday, the landscaping company delivered a truckload of compost and 3 pallets of sod, so today Kelly and Jack are hard at work laying the sod on the newly ivy-free dirt lawn. While they are working, I thought I would post some pictures of an interesting discovery we made after the ivy was removed.

Do you see it in this picture?

Notice those two pieces of concrete bracketing the sidewalk? Yep! We unearthed some ancient planter boxes! They had been completely covered in dirt and ivy that we had no idea that they were even there.

Planter box - left side

Planter box - right side

Because we had already been thinking that we wanted to somehow flank the sidewalk with some kind of flowers or bushes (what we will do exactly is yet to be determined…) we will not cover them up with grass, but leave them as they are.

But eventually they will most likely be covered up with dirt again, as they’re buried pretty deep, and Kelly wants to make the border to the pathway be more organic, with curvy lines, not straight like the concrete planters.

Digging up the planters

It goes all the way up to the house!

Oct 10 2010

Front Yard Makeover, part 1

A few weeks ago, Kelly’s mother gave him her Texas certified master gardener’s advice: if you are going to redo your front lawn this year, now is the time to do so!

Indeed, we have been dreaming about a new front yard for quite a while now. The yard when we moved in was totally overgrown with ivy ground cover. Actually, according to some of the current and former neighbors, the front yard has been that way for at least 25 years.

You can see part of the yard in this photo

Right side of the lawn


Left side of the lawn

Ugly ugly ugly

The ivy, Vinca minor, I believe, is an invasive ground cover plant that will take over completely. While when we first moved in, it looked quite lush and Kelly was excited to only have half a mowing job to do, we quickly grew to really dislike it. For one, you really can’t use the yard at all – no one can toss a ball around in it, or play in it, or sit and relax in it. Also, during the heat of this past Texas summer, the ivy all turned brown, dry and ugly. While it started to turn green again when the weather got cooler, we still hated it. It just looked ugly and scraggly and pitiful.

This part never did get green again.

So this past Saturday morning, Kelly and I set out to attack the Vinca in the front yard and pull it out, roots and all. Kelly started pulling out the vines on his hands and knees, using an old steak knife to jab at the roots beneath the soil, and I used the rake to get the years and years of old leaves out of the way so he could see where the base of the plants were. After an hour and a half, we had cleared a section maybe 3 feet by 10 feet and began to despair that we would get the ivy removal done over the weekend.

Kelly working hard clearing ivy

That’s when we started to wonder whether someone might wander or drive by looking for work so we could get an extra pair of hands. Since moving into our neighborhood, we have occasionally been approached by some down-on-their-luck men who are looking for some odd jobs to do in exchange for money or food. We started to eye every truck that drove by to see if they were handymen.

Fortunately, not too long after that, a truck did slow down as it passed, and Kelly called out to the men in the truck to see if they were interested in work. They were, so after getting out and looking around at the job, we negotiated a flat fee for removing all the ivy and even scraping off all the overgrown brush along one side of the house as well.

They left to get their tools and when they got back it took them a mere 4 1/2 hours to bring the front yard back to dirt. This father/son team has a roofing business during the week and pick up odd jobs over the weekend. We were very impressed with the work they did and will most likely call them again when we need our trees trimmed, or when we tackle the jungle that is the back yard.

No more ivy!

In the end, we were very glad that we chose to give up doing the ivy removal ourselves, given the amount of time it would have taken us, and the great job that our drive-by laborers provided. We are hoping to lay the sod next weekend, so having the job done in time is a big relief.

Mar 6 2010

Backyard Work Day

Kelly took the afternoon and got a lot of work done in the backyard today. You might remember, that when we first looked at the house, the backyard was a jungle.

Back yard

Today, Kelly mowed and weedwacked and raked up some of the trash that had accumulated underneath the tall grass. The transformation is pretty amazing. You can actually tell that we have a backyard now! Here is a little video of what it looks like afterwards. Kelly also explains some of the future landscaping plans we have too.

Back Yard Cleanup from Ellen Filgo on Vimeo.