Savannah. Charleston. New Orleans. San Antonio. These colonial-era cities inspire the courtyard garden ideal: green and lush, with beautiful plants, pools and fountains, paved with stone, tiles or bricks, & protected by sheltering walls with gates that reveal a table and chairs for cocktails or an al fresco meal...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Upcoming Project: Suggestions, Please!

OK, it's been in the one hundred degrees here. I have not been thinking about my garden, I have not been out in my garden, (except at night to water) but the temperatures have dipped back into the double digits and I'm thinking about my garden projects again. Oh, and consequently, the blog. The next project I want to tackle is my garden gate.

I'm loath to show you pictures of my garden gate in its current state. It looks much better when Zéphirine is blooming her heart out in spring and early summer. A picture of her in bloom is shown above. The gate is nondescript almost out-of-the-box-look iron. I have added a cast brass door knocker in the shape of a classic woman's head. Now remember, the wise women of Garden Rant say they are "bored with perfect magazine gardens." Here is the "Before" picture taken this weekend.

Now, I have always loved gates with an arch of flowering plants over them, particularly roses, so a few years ago, I lashed together two pieces of green bamboo and created the arch over this gate. Rosa 'Zéphirine Drouhin' grows up each side and meets in the middle. Some years here in San Antonio, she is not quite in the mood, but other years, with cooler wetter springs, she really shows off. Her moods may be variable, but she has no thorns, and therefore is particularly appropriate near gates and other paths. She also has a divine perfume.

In New Orleans and Charleston, and above, Scotland, the wrought iron ornamentation of the garden gate often continues to a stationary wrought iron arch over the gate. These provide added security and decoration and I've always admired their old-world charm. I bought one at Shades of Green, my local independently owned garden center, which I love. Well, I wasn't specific about loving the arch or Shades of Green, but it doesn't matter, because I love both. My goal is to have the arch installed over my gate, with an added arch of rebar over the antique portion, on which to tie Zéphirine. Perhaps for propriety's sake I shouldn't say tie, but instead afix or fasten. You know she's French and very particular. If I offend her, next spring may be an "off" year. The arch  will need to have to downward portions on each end to fit into the upright outside sides of the gate, and then be welded together.

In the future, look for AFTER photographs. I will try to install it without offending Zéphirine's sensibilities. Perhaps next spring she will reward us!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

New Plant Find: Christia obcordata!

This gardener just returned from his gardening mecca, Naples, Florida. Seriously, I dream of gardening there. I guess that relegates me to the "Tropical Gardener" status. Hey, maybe that's why I like courtyards so much...they provide micro-climates in my 8b - 9a garden which are more 9b-10a-ish. But I still may have to create a temporary greenhouse to protect my coddled ones during San Antonio's rare freezes. Oh no, another project to add to the list!

Anyway, I was with the Missus, and it was before the 10am dress shop opening bell was sounded, so we went to my favorite nursery in Naples - the one where I first saw my wall fountain, Driftwood Garden Center - and skulked around.

The first thing I saw was this Heliconia "Andromeda," oh, if only...

Then, I saw a plant I had never seen, nor heard of before on the way in. It looked like green butterflies with chocolate stripes. At first I thought it was a weird Oxalis, or something. I was intrigued. There were six 1.5 gallon pots, at only $8 each. Hmmm.

Next, I came across this artfully arranged vignette of plants in front of their beautiful terracotta selection.

They also had a huge selection of bromeliads, and not the usual suspects, either. I imagined placing them in the nooks and crannies of old leaf bases on my palms in my future garden in the "almost tropics" once I win the lottery.

So, after sauntering about, daydreaming about my future canal-side tropical garden paradise, I finally asked one of the staff about the chocolate butterflies I had noticed on the way in. "We just got those in, They're called Christia obcordata, and we've only had them once before. If you want one, you'd better pick it up now, we'll probably sell out today."

Well, you can't wave a redder flag in front of this bull! I hightailed it back to the front of the greenhouse to find a family carting one off, and a gentleman picking up another one! Only four left, and it wasn't even ten o'clock yet! I quickly evaluated the remaining four plants for the one I thought had the best chance of surviving modern airline travel and nuclear body-scanner attacks, and snatched it up. The Missus even wanted me to get one. She knew I could manage to get it back somehow, and appreciated its weird appearance and the fact they were disappearing like hotcakes.

I potted my new baby down to a pot which is about a half gallon size and didn't have to prune too many roots. I wrapped the pot in a grocery bag and tied the top to keep the moisture and soil in. I pruned some of the branches so she would fit into a large shopping bag and stuffed bubble wrap strategically so the pot would stay upright in the shopping bag. She made it through security twice with only one raised eyebrow, but I really don't think I could have hijacked a plane with one tropical plant, no matter how showy.

Well, she's going to be another true tropical which will have to be brought inside for our short "winter," but I'm sure she'll be worth it. From what I can find, Christia likes to be kept moist, enjoys part sun to light shade, and "prefers warmer temperatures." She may be placed in a hanging basket, because I read somewhere that nematodes love them. I'll let you know how she does!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

So-called "Weed Blocking" Fabric

I do not use "landscape fabric" also known as "weed blocking fabric" below mulch or gravel to "block" weeds. One is supposed to apply it below the mulch, overlapping well, and securing the fabric with multiple long wire landscape staples. And yes, it blocks plants which germinate below the fabric from growing through it and springing up where you do not want them. So far, so good.

However, it does NOT prevent plants which germinate above the fabric from growing at all. Grow they will, and eventually their small feeder roots will penetrate into and through the fabric. Then, when you come along and pull that weed, its roots hang on tenaciously to the fabric and it pulls and tents up off the ground sending your gravel or mulch flying, pulling up the staples, and creating a huge mess.

Mulch and gravel mulch do an admirable job of discouraging weeds all by themselves. The rare weed can quite easily be pulled the old fashioned way, or chopped off effectively with a "Hula Hoe,"

also known as a stirrup hoe, or other such tool with a horizontal blade. The mulch can simply be tamped back down. And no cursing will be necessary, (even under your breath so the neighbors won't hear.)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Barbed Quatrefoil

If you've taken my humble courtyard tour, you noticed the area on the east side of the garden, in the shade created by the live oak and the house. It was once a small patch of St. Augustine, but it was requiring too much work to keep it alive in the shade. I converted the area to a pea gravel "patio," and no, I did not first lay down "weed-blocking fabric." (But more about that later.)

I knew the expanse of gravel would require something on it or in it to "break it up," and make it more interesting. A bench, or a table and chairs would have been nice, but I had those elsewhere. I decided on a small planting bed, placed along the axis I had already created between the end of the pavement patio and the large blue Mexican urn. But what should the shape be? Round would be nice, but I decided it needed a little more pizazz. Besides, my garden is made up of both curved and square shapes.

In the Southwest, and in San Antonio in particular, you see a certain ornamental quatrefoil shape everywhere. I saw these in Dallas, at Highland Park Village:

In San Antonio they are everywhere. They are common in Moorish and Spanish art, and when used in heraldry, they are called barbed quatrefoils. A quatrefoil is any shape made up of four leaves or petals, and they are often found along with trefoils and cinquefoils in gothic tracery. The triangles in between the four circular elements could have originally been sepals peeking out between four-petaled flowers' petals.

The shape has always been very popular in Spanish Colonial and Mission Revival architecture. When used for this purpose, the "barbs" usually form the corners of a square, making the shape a quatrefoil superimposed on a square. I find it everywhere in San Antonio, which of course was originally a Spanish city of missions. It is found on churches:


Highway overpasses (?) :

And, come to think of it, one side of the shape even forms the top of the well-recognized pediment of our most famous mission, the Alamo:

Which is probably the reason that the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau chose this shape as their logo for the city:

All of which is a long way to explain why I chose the barbed quatrefoil as the shape for my bed for shade loving plants. It had to have a high edge, to keep the gravel from being kicked up into it, so I chose old D'Hanis bricks in a rose color for contrast. First, I played with the shape in the garage:

I eventually made the "barbs" more prominent. I lined the shape up with the view to the Mexican urn and after much measurement and fiddling, placed the bricks on end,  "bad sides down" in the garden. I tamped them in with a rubber mallet, leveling their tops. Here is the finished work:

I placed a cast-stone birdbath in the center for height, and surrounded it with miniature hostas (blue lollipop,) trailing cinquefoil (the plant,) and a little variegated needlepoint ivy in the middle (Silver King.) What do you think? I think it adds a little San Antonio flair to the courtyard!

Here is a long shot, showing in the distance how the birdbath inside the quatrefoil is aligned with the large turquoise urn.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Gardening Trip to Houston

Well, the Missus decided it was once again time to do her part to support economic recovery, and to do it at various retail women's clothing stores in Houston. Instead of complaining, I knew it would give me a chance to see and snap some pictures for you of my favorite garden stores and nurseries in Houston. Why don't you come along with me while she's in The Galleria.

First stop, Thompson + Hanson. It's off West Alabama, south of River Oaks. What a great garden design concept store! They have plants, too. I think I bought my black liriope here a few years back, before it ever made it to San Antone.

Here is a view into their spacious, orderly, outdoor area with unique plants and containers you will not see anywhere else.

As you walk all the way toward the back you begin to see their trendy & tasty cafe:

It's called "Tiny Boxwoods," and has great lunch and brunch food in an atmosphere sure to delight anyone from the casual gardener to Frederick Law Olmsted. Unfortunately it's too early for lunch. I'm sure we'll find somewhere else to eat later. On the mini lawn which abuts the cafe, there are large cement fruit.

Next, we're off to Houston Heights, which is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Houston. It is like a little New Orleans in the middle of Houston. Antiques, nurseries, local coffee shops, independent retailers, stately homes, tree-lined boulevards, what's not to love?

We'll first stop in at Buchanan's Native Plants on 11th.

It's full of natives and exotics, and has a great selection of garden decor items which I do not see at home.

I bought a standing head planter and a female classical head wall planter. I just can't help myself. They have such neat things. I'm sure I'll find a place for them when I get home. I may have to move a few things around.

Next, down the street to Another Place in Time, also on 11th. It's called, "Your Uncommon Garden Center," and they're right.

They have an uncommonly large selection of bromeliads and staghorn ferns. It was here that I first bought a "Rangoon Creeper."

It sounds like "crab rangoon" crossed with Virgina creeper, but is actually a tropical vine with sprays of dark pink to white blooms which smell exactly like watermelon. I had one at my previous house. Maybe it's time to get another one...hmmm. (Quisqualis indica)

OK, well, it's time to go down the beautiful Heights Boulevard to Ben's Antique Gardening, which I wrote about before as the source of my fernery's BVM. Look below at the great entrance. Doesn't it just call to you?

It appears to be all junk, but in reality it is a treasure trove of garden paraphernalia just waiting to be rescued, brushed off and placed in a prime garden location.

See the awesomely detailed owl? I saw several of them all over town and couldn't remember having ever seen a cast stone owl before. Finally, it hit me, The Rice Owls! (Sometimes it takes me awhile.) But seriously, don't you think you could find something in there for your garden? I know you could.

Now we're off to Joshua's Native Plants and Garden Antiques. Their selection is much more impressive than their sign, which shows a bit too much patina. They're found at Nicholson and 18th, in the Heights, and they are chock full of random and wonderful juxtapositions, in addition to their wonderful plant and antique selection. How about the Buddha and a giant crawfish?

How about Napoleon and a Texas Longhorn?

It looks like Bonaparte has his nose out of joint from being placed between bromeliads and longhorns. He'd much rather be found in an interior featured on Côte de Texas. And check out the extra security atop the fence provided by old saw blades!

This is a more sedate combination. Apollo stares down benevolently at the colorful tropicals.

Succulents are found in front of a cast-stone plant plinth that The Grackle should purchase immediately.

Seriously, if you can't get creative in your garden after a trip to these wonderful gardening meccas, you are beyond help. Come with me to lunch at Lola's and drown your gardening decisions in fried chicken and waffles, and a lot of other locally grown and raised delicacies.

I've really enjoyed our whirlwind tour of my favorite Houston gardening sources. Thanks for coming with me, and if you know of others in Houston that I need to check out, by all means comment and tell me. I need something to do tomorrow instead of heading with the Missus to another clothing boutique!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Parlez vous du drainage?

I’m sweaty and exhausted! I really wanted to be blogging in air-conditioned comfort, but instead have been hard at work outside digging a French drain. I know, I know, my best friend asked me the two obvious questions. 1) Why didn’t you hire someone? & 2) Why did you pick July? The answer to question number one is that it is located right next to my driveway and had to be dug by hand anyway. Number two? Because I was tired of looking at the corrugated pipe in my garage.

Why are French drains French? Do they come from France? Do they require cufflinks? Or are they cut at an angle like the green beans and bread of the same name? Should we call them “Freedom Drains?” They actually sound more Dutch or German to me, but it turns out that they are not French at all. Experts report that a man named French first described them as an open-trench drain filled with gravel. Read about it in Wikipedia or in this interesting article.

Courtyards, being surrounded by at least a couple of walls by definition, will usually have some drainage issues. The drainage should ideally be planned for well in advance and before any pavement is laid ~ unless you enjoy spending more money after replacing your living room’s parquet. My courtyard drains well and away from the house, but my mini-lawn gets waterlogged during heavy rains due to my driveway blocking the water’s egress toward the street, which is on lower ground. Hence, the French drain along the edge of the driveway.

I am using black plastic drainage pipe which is corrugated and perforated. The perforations allow water to flow in wherever necessary, and also to seep out anywhere to deeper soil, keeping all of it from being simply dumped unused into the street. The pipe is covered with a landscape fabric sock to keep it from filling up with sediment. So far, I have also installed three receptacles with grates:

along the way to allow for future high pressure garden hose cleanout. The protected pipe is finally covered with gravel, and massive quantities of diet cola beverages are consumed. Preferably TaB™.

For adequate drainage, the recommended slope is between 1:100 and 1:200, which translates to between 1/8 and 1/16 inch drop per one foot run. I could have carefully measured this out, but since my lawn’s elevation is fixed, and the level of my street is fixed, and the driveway naturally drains down to the street, I am simply keeping the depth of my trench stable in reference to the edge of the drive. If the tube does dip slightly lower in places, the resulting puddle will simply drain out the perforations. By the way, it is functioning really well! (It’s much more fun to test than to dig!)

I didn’t want the end of the pipe to be visible to my neighbors, so I disguised it with the help of some large, loosely placed river rock. C’est magnifique, n’est pas?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

More Heads from my Courtyard

Isn't this fountain beautiful? Unfortunately, it's not mine! I found this picture while looking up the link to my fountain and had to show it to you. It consists of an antique stone trough and a lead lion spout and is from a website in the UK called "House to Home."  Look at all that moss and lichen! It would all die within minutes in San Antonio...

Sorry, anyway, while I was out in the yard, mowing and watering (and admiring my new water lilies) I looked up and realized I left out five (yes, 5) heads  from my previous post which live above my wall fountain! (picture below) I first saw this fountain in Naples, Florida at a garden center, and had to have it. Since it exceeds all airline weight limits and carry-on regulations, I began searching for it in San Antonio.  I finally found it at Home and Patio. It is called the "Parisian Wall Fountain," and is manufactured by Al's Garden Art. The six spouts make a great sound that is deceptively refreshing in our hot summers. By the way, Naples is my DREAM garden location. Tropicals, subtropicals, seafood and shopping! Oh, and beaches, too.

The large planter head is obviously Bacchus and he is cast in high relief of fiberglass coated with stone dust. A "Ming" asparagus fern sprouts from his head, Asparagus myriocladus. I cemented a copper spout through the drainage hole with silicone, so excess water wouldn't run down the wall and leave a stain. Instead, it pours into the fountain itself. The tall wrought iron candelabra is from an estate sale, and was too wobbly, so I bolted it to a piece of rough-cut limestone from Keller Materials, a gardener's candy store of all stone products here in San Antonio. Now the hose won't tip it over.

Back to the heads. Four smaller beings surround Bacchus. The upper two are cast stone cherubs and the bottom two are reproductions of two "Riverine Heads," which are heads of Irish river gods which adorn the Dublin Custom House. I believe the male on the left is the Shannon and the female on the right is the Liffey. This finally completes the "head count!"