A Garden Bouquet For Valentine’s Day

Spring isn’t exactly in bloom here in Austin, but we still have plenty of buds that are brightening up our yard this February.  In honor of the flower-givingest day on the calendar (well, maybe Mother’s day would have something to say about that) I bring you the bouquet of buds we have opening up this winter/spring.

knock out rose

knock out rose

Globemallow (This thing is about to burst!)

Globemallow (This thing is about to burst!)

Snapdragon. One of my favorite annuals.

Snapdragon. One of my favorite annuals.

Echinacea

Echinacea

Silver Cassia

Silver Cassia

Geranium

Geranium

Salvia

Salvia

Ice plant

Ice plant

Ranunculus

Ranunculus

Happy Valentine’s Day from the doodle house!


Seasonal and Sensational

I think it’s safe to say my favorite thing about having a vegetable garden is eating the veggies. But I’m fairly certain my second favorite thing is observing how much it changes not only from season to season but also from week to week. It’s constantly evolving and Heath has become a champion at monitoring its progress, knowing what’s in season and being able to prep the soil for the future.  We have not yet been through a complete year with our ever evolving garden, but when I look back at pictures of our veggie sprawl from the day it was born to now,  I’m tickled by how much it has morphed.

Early Winter: the “garden” last December when we first put together the raised beds though at this point, it was more dirt than anything.

Early spring: the garden is full of lettuce.

Early spring

In March: no leaves on the trees, few greens in the garden.

Early spring: sugar snap peas from seed. We planted late February and harvested late April.

Mid spring: Heath picking the sugar snap peas.

Early summer: peas are still growing, but we added baby amaranth and New Zealand spinach to the mix.

Today: corn, amaranth, New Zealand spinach and lima beans

Today: corn and lima beans are in season.

Today: lima beans.

Today: corn

Today: amaranth and New Zealand spinach


Happy Blogiversary!

Today marks two years of blogging from the doodle house!

Documenting our lives and sharing the things that have entertained and inspired us has been tremendously rewarding. The blog has been a place where I can be creative and goofy and honest, and I’m so happy to have found such joy in this little hobby.

Some highlights of what we’ve done and seen in the last two years…

We added chickens to our family….

And we took some chickens away…

We got married!

And honeymooned…

We got our feet wet with gardening…

We bought a new house!

We traveled…

And traveled…

And traveled a little more…

It’s been a thoroughly eventful two years. There’s no telling what the next two will hold.


Love Thy Neighbor

Enough with this internet googling business.

When I need ideas for landscaping and home design why am I not drawing more inspiration from the other homes in my neighborhood? After all, most are from roughly the same time period (1950s-1960s), the neighbors are all dealing with the same soil and vegetation issues, and I would assume our budgets for creating a gorgeous front garden and entryway are probably in the same neighborhood (literally). So armed with Heath, the doodles and my Nikon, I decided to capture some of my favorite neighborhood images to stash away in my idea bank.

Idea One— The colorful front door.
Nothing says both “welcome” and “I like to party” quite like a splash of vivid color right at the doorway to the home.

Lime green door peeking out from behind the blue bonnets

I adore this turquoise color and will most definitely be painting our door a similar shade.

Not only a red door, but matching accents too. Job well done, neighbors.

Idea Two—The natural privacy fence.
Obviously building a fence or some other permanent structure is one way to create separation between you and your neighbor, but getting creative with plants is appealing as well (and probably cheaper). The only drawback is it takes patience for the plants to grow to appropriate privacy height…and patience is not one of my virtues. Still, I can admire the patience of others and appreciate what they have done to create privacy with plants.

Stare at the street? No thanks. I'd rather create a beautiful view of bushy greenery to gaze at from my side windows.

I like the idea of having an evergreen vine to separate you from your neighbor's car. Cost effective and very attractive.

Idea Three— The unconventional details.
I’ve already implemented this in my backyard with wine bottles and a repurposed pallet, but having an unconventional element in the front garden has it’s bonuses, too. It generates interest and sets your house apart from some of the others in the hood.

I don't necessarily picture us having bowling balls in the garden, but it's still an interesting concept.

Artichokes in the front yard. Super neato.

It's a small architectural detail, but the tiny structural slant and mini windows on the front porch brick is incredibly appealing to me. It's a little detail that makes a huge impact on this house's curb appeal. It's not every day you see slanted walls, but I'm smitten.

Idea Four—The curbside garden.
In the past, I tended to think of frontyard landscaping and gardens as existing closer to the house, hiding the foundation and framing the structure. But dozens of our neighbors have built their gardens all the way out to the street and I love it. It’s less lawn to deal with and its visually appealing too.

One of the deciding factors that led us to choose our house over others we were looking at, was the neighborhood. The streets are wide and wonderfully walkable. The trees are towering and mature, and each house has its own unique features. We adore our hood and hope to draw dozens of more inspirations from it in the future.

Yep. The doodle house is right at home here.


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.


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.


Honeysuckle

Honeysuckles we planted this fall are slowly starting to creep up our fence. I’m placing bets for how long it will take until the entire side fence is covered.


Barrels be Gone!

Remember when I posted here about the eye sore created by rainwater barrels, and then here about wanting to create a planter out of an old wooden pallet? Well this weekend we killed two birds with one stone by repurposing a pallet to hide two functional, yet frightful barrels. (For the record, I LOVE collecting rainwater and know the barrels–which combined hold more than 200 gallons of water–are a great, Great, GREAT thing to have, I just don’t love looking at them.)  I am wildly pleased by the end result.

I put Handyman Heath to work yet again to help me construct this fun creation that will hide our barrels and enable us put to good use a bit of the garbage we’ve been hoarding since the move. The entire project was actually pretty easy to put together.

It started with a pallet…

From there we used wood scraps leftover from other projects (like the fence and chicken coop) to create enclosed boxes within the pallet to harbor the plant life. After 30 minutes of drilling and sawing, the boxes were complete and ready for step 2–lining.

We lined the interior with leftover chicken wire (for extra support) and landscape fabric. Usually landscape fabric is used as a weed blocker, but in this case it serves a different function–helping the roots to breathe by allowing water and air to pass through more easily. This way, even in close quarters, the plants can get the aeration/ventilation they require. It’s sort of like the flowers are tenants in a ritzy but terribly small high-rise studio apartment. Sure there isn’t a lot of room to move around and the neighbors are obnoxiously close, but the central air is superb and the views are to die for.

Once the wire and fabric were in place, the fun part (gardening) could start. This is where I get to step in. Heath’s the master of carpentry, I am the master or color coordination. I know, I know…If we’re stranded on an island, my skill set is clearly the more useful and preferred one. Matching your coconut bra to your coral earrings > Building a shelter.

I’m happy the rain barrels are installed and doing their thing, but I’m even happier I don’t have to look at them. Hooray for Handyman Heath and resourceful garden makeovers.


The need for seed

Blast those nincompoops who told us, as children, that gardening is as simple as dropping a seed in a hole and splashing it with water. Maybe that’s the case in the Northwest, but here in Texas it’s just not that simple…especially when you’re talking about seed starting.

Heath’s been itching to start gardening from seeds (rather than transplanting) for quite some time now. For one, it’s a pretty stellar way to feel somewhat God-like. Taking a tiny pebble-like object and transforming it into leafy, nutrient providing green. It does wonders for the ego.

Secondly, if the seeds grow to maturity, it’s a much, much, much more economical way to garden. Think about it: a single 3-inch tall tomato plant usually costs around $3.50 and will probably yield around 15 pounds of fruit in a good (“good” being the operative word) season. Not too bad considering what you pay in a grocery store for organic ‘maters. But a package of seeds, which usually has a count around 100 or so, is less than $2. I’m no mathematician, but based on those numbers, if you can do it right, seed starting is the way to go.

No problem except that when you start getting into it, seed starting is tricky business. Conditions must be perfect.

The caring and handy individual he is, Heath spared no expense creating the perfect environment to start our seeds. Well, I guess he spared some expense, considering seed starting paraphernalia can retail in the hundred dollar range. We spent a grand total of about $30, but the top shelf of our laundry room is now Seed City. The spectacular shelf-top community features scenic views (of our washer and dryer), superfluous sunshine (16 hours of florescent lighting) and a cool and breezy climate (a circulating fan rigged to dangle from the ceiling in lieu of an actual ceiling fan). It might be a little makeshift, but dammit if it didn’t get the job done.

By summer, we should have a truck load of tomatoes, kale, chard, lettuce, peppers and broccoli to keep us satiated. What’s more, seedlings are not the only thing growing beneath the light of the laundry room. We have new chicks as well.

It’s going to be an exciting spring.


Bring it, Rain.

Rainwater collecting is a good idea for 242835345234 reasons. I’m going to list two of them.

ONE: If you haven’t spent any time in Austin, you should know it doesn’t rain here in the summer. At all. At least not in the past two years. It gets so dry that the city must sometimes authorize water restrictions that are so harsh, restaurants have to stop serving water to customers unless requested. I’m not joking. It’s a real thing. So collecting precious rainwater while we have it is sort of like drilling for oil. It’s a valuable commodity that will soon be gone forever (or at least it feels like it during the middle of August).

TWO: After a big rain our yard is transformed into a swimming pool. It’s not as fun as it sounds because puddles = mud, and mud + labradoodles = disgusting carpet mess. So, it’s in our best interest to keep as much of that water off the ground and into buckets as possible.

In the end, all that water goes back to nourish the plants and the earth, helping us to be a little more sustainable and do our part to save the planet.

Sounds pretty good except for the part where most rain harvesting barrels are ugly as [expletive]. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.

Not. Cool. We have four of these puppies that, once the gutters are installed, will have to live in some very prominent places in our backyard. Egh. At least if they were being ugly in the front yard, all of our neighbors could see how awesome and planet friendly we are.

“Oh look, those rain barrels aren’t very attractive but look at that young couple doing their part to help the earth. I want to be just like them…so earth conscious and attractive and thin!”

I am clearly taking liberties here, but the point is, the barrels are in the back yard, they are numerous, they are large and they are not good to look at. So, of course, I’ve been scouring the web to find some solutions.

OPTION ONE: Paint it.
I’ve seen a few folks adorn their barrels with picturesque scenes of the countryside or  bright and charming flowers. It’s a big step up from white plastic construction site we’ve got going now.

It’s a pretty great alternative, but the problem is that I’m no artist, whatsoever. So if I tried my hand at painting the barrel, I imagine it would end up looking something like this.

That’s a rain barrel. It says, “I Heart Rain.”  This is not an improvement over the current situation, so I think we will pass on option one.

OPTION TWO: Put a plant on it.
This is the not-so-distant cousin of Portlandia’s “Put a Bird On It” campaign, but it make a little more sense. The barrels are in the back yard, there are plants there already, why not throw one, or two, or ten on top of (or around) the barrels?

Ok. Option Two, you’re still in the cards, but surely there are other things to consider as well.

OPTION THREE: Use a whiskey barrel.
It’s a cute idea, whiskey barrels are rustic and vintage-looking. That totally fits in with our little hipster masterplan. Maybe a whiskey barrel could work.

I really REALLY love this idea, but Heath already purchased four rain barrels that did not at one point hold whiskey, and I’m pretty sure it’s counter productive to the whole “earth friendly” thing to throw out perfectly good rain barrels because they weren’t “cute” enough. Option three, I hate to see you go, but you just won’t work for us.

OPTION FOUR: Build around it.
As usual, Instructables had some neat ideas for using lattice to surround a water barrel set up that seem fairly doable.

And I saw some really neat ideas from Living Rainwater Tanks that I think we could emulate, and I do know a pretty handy fellow who could make it happen.

In the end I think it will be a combination of Option Two and Four that go down, a decorative structure of sorts, combined with a little greenery.

Yes, I think that will work nicely. I can’t wait to reveal the before and after photos…