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...

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!"

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Some Courtyard Blooms

Adenium obesum, desert rose, in a pot on a side table in my back courtyard. This gets sun most of the day but only blooms once a summer, usually in late June. What about yours? I wonder if it would bloom more than once with the right treatment...

An extremely long-lasting bloom from my Jatropha podagrica, or Buddha-belly in my courtyard. The blooms are a florescent red-orange which was almost captured in this picture by my iPhone. I bring it in for the winter with the desert rose, above. The buddha belly immediately drops all of its leaves but starts blooming its little heart out all winter. The orange is so bright, it always commands attention, like a weird pointsettia.

A mauve-rose water lily at the McNay. I am trying my hand at two tropical water lilies from Water Garden Gems, east of San Antonio on I 10. It is an awesome water garden resource! Mine are in the syrup kettle, and seem to be doing well, pictures are forthcoming.

A smaller hybrid of Canna indica, this one only about 2.5 to 3 feet tall, including bloom spikes, from the outer garden at the McNay Museum of Art, San Antonio, Texas. The smaller blooming cannas seem more natural to me, with their narrower blooms. What do you think?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

New Address: www.VerdantSanctuary.com

N.B. "Verdant Sanctuary" will make a small move to www.VerdantSanctuary.com from www.verdantsanctuary.blogspot.com . It simplifies the address and Blogger will kindly redirect you should you go to the old site. It will make finding us easier and be easier on people's memories. 

A tropical water lily blooming in purple-blue splendor at the McNay. Thank you for all of your interest and your e-mails! (verdantsanctuary@gmail.com)
                             - Fougères

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Courtyard at The McNay

Probably the best "Spanish Courtyard" in San Antonio is the one surrounded by the Spanish Colonial Revival mansion built by Marion Koogler McNay in 1928. Mrs. McNay donated her home, its courtyard, grounds and artwork, and they have now become The McNay Museum of Art on the corner of North New Braunfels and Austin Highway. The paintings and sculpture are magnificent but I will leave them to the fine art bloggers. For me, the highlight of any visit is the courtyard. Come see!

This is the front of her original home, designed by Atlee & Robert Ayres. The museum sits on 23 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds on a corner between Alamo Heights and Terrell Hills. 

One enters the museum through the new modern addition to the rear of the original house. It connects through to Mrs. McNay's home, and I entered the courtyard through the first side entrance that was open to visitors. This first glimpse of the courtyard is offered through a decorative wrought iron grate.

The courtyard contains many of these antique olive jars, which are now fitted with up-shining landscape lights hidden within them.

There are bronze sculptures throughout the courtyard. Here is one framed by a potted  but not-yet-blooming plumeria.

These two views, taken from the upstairs balconies, show the layout of the courtyard. An upper fountain with a lions-head waterspout and shell-shaped basins leads to a narrow rill which empties into the center tiled lily pond.

The lily pond, looking across the courtyard.

Bougainvillea adds a shock of color.

Mrs. McNay loved peafowl, and kept some on the grounds. These peacocks are permanent specimens in tile.

Stairs to the second floor, with different rows of tile on each riser.

The upper fountain.

A tiled doorway with carved stone corbels supporting putti.

Views from the upper level balconies.

This is the last view as I reluctantly exit and look back across the courtyard through some sago palms to the outdoor hearth. What a great place! If you've already seen the riverwalk downtown, come see the McNay. A future post will visit the new and beautifully landscaped "Museum Reach" of the Paseo del Rio. Photographed on the grounds of the McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas.