If it ever rains again, we’ll be in good shape.

Once upon a time, it rained in Texas. And when it did, our yard turned into a swamp.

Swamp city is not a great situation for anyone. After lots of planning and scheming, we decided installing a rain garden would be an effective and earth-friendly way to control the water flow. The idea is that by digging out a trench, you divert the water to a designated area, rather than letting it flow here, there and everywhere. Then, you fill said area with strategically placed rocks and native plants so it’s pretty to look at as well as being functional.

The Red Clay Valley Association encourages its residences to make rain gardens in small backyard depressions like this one.

From gardenfowl.com

Minnesota Public Radio did a neat feature on how to install backyard rain gardens, like this one, for its listeners.

Once again, we enlisted the help of my garden guru to figure out the best way to incorporate a rain garden into the back yard. Since the water seems pretty intent on puddling in one particular area, we thought, why challenge it? We opted to start there and then manipulate the existing landscape around it—making the rest of our yard accoutrement work with the soon-to-be rain garden rather than the other way around. Once that was determined, the only thing left to do was start digging.
Heath dug a few inches into the soil to make a clearly defined low area where the water could easily drain. From there, he tilled the soil to prepare for future plants.
Then we got to play architect, deciding on how and where to place the rocks that would exist in and around the garden.
A few rocks and plants later, we had a bona fide rain garden!
It’s functional, earth-friendly and it creates quite the precious backdrop to our entertaining area.
So far, I’m a big fan of our newest addition. Hopefully we’ll be able to give it a test drive soon.
Happy gardening!

Backyard blunders and bull’s-eyes

I can’t figure out what the heck is wrong with my Silver Cassia.

When I planted it back in January, she looked a-like-a-this.

She’s not a bad looking gal. Fast forward to today, and this is what we’re dealing with.

I don’t want to say it’s the saddest thing ever, but it sure is breaking my heart. I just don’t get it. We water her daily. She gets plenty of sun. We used top notch soil during the potting process. It just doesn’t make a lick of sense. I thought maybe we were watering her too much, but she’s dry as a bone. I’m flummoxed. If anyone has any tips on what to do with this once majestic beauty, I’m willing to try anything.

Fortunately, all is not lost on the backyard gardening front. This Sunday we harvested our first carrot.

So maybe we won’t have beautiful patio shrubs to gaze out at this summer, but at least we won’t go hungry.

Happy planting!


Good Eats

Usually it’s fall that has the reputation for being harvest time, but we’ve been chomping down on home grown goodies for a few weeks now. Here are updates on what’s happening in the back yard:

  • Lettuce season is pretty much over.There are a few stragglers, but for the most part we’ve accepted its demise. It’s partly due to heat and partly due to some free-range chickens who developed a taste for romaine. I’m sad to see the fresh lettuce go, but I’m thrilled to have had as much quality time with it as I did. RIP lettuce season. Your memory will live on forever.
  • The squash plant has started blooming. T-minus 3 weeks (?) until flower turns fruit.
  • Sugar snap peas are ripe for the picking! Not only ripe but the most delicious little green thing ever to be eaten in the history of ever.
  • Peppers are fruiting. They are growing slow but hopefully in two weeks we will be able to spice up a dinner or two.
  • Tomatoes. Also happening.
  • Onions & carrots: not close to bloomsville, but on track for harvesting by early June.

We’re pretty jazzed.


And so It begins

“It” being  the grand plan for the backyard. My genius landscaping mother (who I blogged about here) created quite the master plan for our backyard, and we have just now implemented step one…

This funky little space, before we moved in, housed a shed built by the previous owners, but it was demolished before we came into the picture, and we were left with rocky soil and lots o’ shade. We gave an herb garden a shot in the old space, but it didn’t quite work out. There was just too much shade from both the back patio and heath’s horizontal fence.

So we created what we are calling the zen garden…

Yes, nothing says “zen” quite like empty wine bottles and a whiskey barrel. Perhaps “The Alcoholic’s Garden” would have been more appropriate. (To be fair, we had help collecting the wine bottles for the border and the whiskey barrel planter was purchased elsewhere, though it still smelled of whiskey once we got our hands on it.) The new set up is perfect for the space. The rockiest parts were transformed into a mulch-covered path, and once the bay tree gets a little larger, we will have a spectacular shade tree paradise.

Fun fact: The bay tree has origins in Greek mythology. Legend has it, the roof of the temple of Apollo was covered entirely with bay leaves to protect the Gods from disease, witchcraft and lightening. The leaves of a bay tree are also the predominate leaf used in the laurels of olympians and poets. So…we’re in good shape when it comes to poetry and witchcraft and being Gods.

Things is starting to look real fine.


DIY Weekend Project: Galvanized Planter

This weekend was one for lots of little projects, but my favorite may have been creating a planter for an empty galvanized tank we have long been ignoring.

Sad, empty tank

For a while we debated whether to turn our tank into a fish pond water feature or to use it as a colorful entry planter. Some of these inspiration photos really pushed me over the edge when it came to deciding its fate.

Both options were appealing and had their pros and cons, but at the end of the day, a planter seemed more low maintenance. So we we went to work to make it happen.

Step 1: Fill the bottom with styrofoam packing peanuts. This helps with drainage. 

Step 2: Layer with peat moss and potting soil.  A lot of potting soil. We underestimated just how much at first, but those tanks don’t mess around and can hold a healthy amount. We ended up needing to make a few return trips to Home Depot for more. I think we ended up using something like 5 bags. 

Step 3: Once the soil is in, choose your plants and stage your area to figure out where everything will live before you get to digging.

Picking out the plant placement.

We knew we wanted a variety of texture, height and color in the planter to keep things interesting, and we knew we needed things that could do well in the heat and sun. Our final selections included:
– Heat tolerant pink geraniums (for color)
– Fortnight lily (for height)
– Ice plant (For drooping over the side and giving it a waterfall-ish look. We have had incredible luck with our ice plants, it’s one of the few that seems impossible to kill, even in Texas heat.)
– Sedum (for ground cover)

Step 4: Put them in the planter and you’re done! I love the end result.

Cost breakdown–

The whole project took less than an hour to put together, including travel time to and from the Home Depot to get materials, and it cost less than $100 to implement.  I’m embarrassed we let it sit empty for so long. Now we have a beautiful planter that makes a huge statement to our backyard visitors. I can’t wait to see how it changes and grows over time.


A little formality never hurt anyone.

I like a little formality outdoors. It’s odd, for sure. Especially when you consider that the rest of my house and design tastes are anything but fancy pantsy formal. Nevertheless. That’s the design I keep going back to as we continue to build our garden plan.

Straight edges and lots of symmetry in the vegetable garden.

Maybe I like it because formal gardens remind me of the garden where we got married…

The patio at Laguna Gloria is all about clean lines and symmetry.

Or maybe I just like socking it to nature. “Haha, plants! You will grow how I tell you to grow!” But whatever the reason, when it comes to my yard, I am prone to design outdoor spaces that appear clean and controlled but still creative and colorful.

The contrast of being in a natural space but retaining a sense of order is extremely appealing, and, for me, the straight edges and streamlined design help the different colors and contrasting textures appear more vivid.

I am not exactly sure how we will navigate our yard so that it appears formal and orderly, what with chickens and labradoodles romping around everywhere, but it’s certainly a challenge that has my wheels turning.


God made dirt and dirt don’t hurt—except when it does.

Whoever coined the expression “dirt cheap” was a little misinformed. As we’ve gotten our hands dirty in the world of gardening (pun INTENDED) we’ve learned that all dirt is not created equal, and the good stuff that makes things really grow will cost ya. In fact, good and fertile dirt is so valuable Heath actually packed up the soil from our old garden and brought it along to the new house. That’s commitment.

Happy Veggies

The run-of-the-mill dirt you’ll find in the average backyard in Austin (zone 8b) is high in pH, or very alkaline. That’s not so bad for veggies, but it will make it difficult if you choose to plant azaleas or blueberries and other acid-loving plants. So if you want to get creative with you’re gardening, you’ve got to outsmart Mother Nature because “you don’t put a $10 plant in a 5 cent hole.” Sometimes, in Austin, our holes are lucky to be worth that much.

So here’s what we’ve learned when it comes to soil solutions.

Sugar snap peas in freshly prepared soil.

Healthy soil, healthy garden

You don’t win the Kentucky Derby on a donkey and you don’t grow quality plants without well-cared-for earth. Even if you’re starting with soil that resembles a miniature pony more than a champion steed, you can do a lot to improve your conditions and be a real contender. Test your soil, add compost and soil balancing nutrients (like the iron potassium silicate Texas Greensand) and you can easily be off to the races.