31 October 2012

Evolution of a Community Garden

Earlier this year, while spending a few days in San Francisco (more about that here and here), I stumbled upon this more-or-less empty lot around the corner from the symphony hall:

Had the sign not identified it as a community garden, I wouldn't have known what was in store for the lot.

It was obviously still in the early stages, but it was exciting to know that a community garden was going in right in the middle of the city.

We were back in the city recently, and we passed by the same community garden, but this time it was thriving.  (That's a pumpkin!)

I'm really digging the repurposed-pallet chairs.

A day or two later, I was on the bus and noticed an ad for the city's composting services.  It said, "We compost in San Francisco because we love community gardens.  Toss in the leftover pizza.  Local gardens will thrive with the compost generated from the green bin."

The next bus I rode had another ad with the same theme, but referring to the environmental benefits of composting (specifically, that keeping organic material out of landfills reduces methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change):

San Francisco is obviously a green leader, but I'm happy to say that Austin is about to unveil curbside composting services as well.  I received e-mail this week saying that my neighborhood is part of the pilot project that will start in December.  I look forward to sharing all of the details as soon as I have them.

25 October 2012

Inside Austin (Edible) Garden Tour

Last weekend was the Travis County Master Gardener Association's garden tour, which I've been looking forward to since the last tour eighteen months ago (they plan it that way to alternate between spring and fall gardens).  This year's tour featured edible gardens -- not necessarily traditional vegetable gardens, but mixing veggies in with other kinds of plants in the garden.

Here are some of the highlights:

I love this brick walkway.

These square beds edged in stones are so simple!

This horseshoe shape may be appearing in our yard...someday.

We'd never seen this fun fall plant before (Gregg's mistflower), but it was everywhere. 

Apparently butterflies like it, too. 

Although our weather lately has been confusing a lot of plants, the fall aster seemed to know it was autumn.

I hope our front walkway turns out as well as this one. 

One of the stops on the tour was the Travis County Master Gardener offices.  Among all of the interesting plants and veggies they have growing (including the stone-edged beds above) was this lacey oak -- the same variety we planted in our front yard.

I was happy to see a lot of autumn joy sedum on the tour... 

...and yes, the silence of growing things is lovely, indeed.

14 October 2012

Landscape Design Before and After

This spring my friend Michelle asked me to help her redo her front yard.  I did some drawing, we did some shopping, she and her husband did some planting...and the rest is history.



After a couple of drafts and meetings with Michelle, we finalized the plan, which uses all native and/or drought-tolerant plants:

They were waiting until summer ended to plant the crape myrtle at the left corner of the house, and now they have a newborn, so I'm not sure when that's going to get done (soon, if I can help it), but even without it, the yard is vastly improved.


became this...

I think my favorite part is the lamb's ear/lavender/gaura mix along the sidewalk.  Or maybe the roses, which anchor both corners of the lot.  I would have loved to raise the bed along the sidewalk with a 1-2' tall retaining wall, but that would have blown the budget.  However, Michelle ended up finding a bunch of free limestone, so she did put in a small retaining wall after all.

We removed the "horrible bush" that was (mis)placed to conceal two tiny electrical boxes:

It's been replaced by a mutabilis rose (my favorite kind) that will grow to disguise the boxes without totally overwhelming the yard like the horrible bush did.  (It has already grown a ton since she planted it in June.)

Michelle estimates that she and her husband spent about $3,500 on their new yard, including an irrigation system with sprayers for the lawn area and drippers in the beds.  Based on my experience with the cost of landscaping, this would probably have cost about $10,000 if she had hired it out, so I'd say it was well worth the effort to do themselves.

11 October 2012

A Fly Ash Foundation

The foundation was poured last week at the new house around the corner, and while it may look grey, it's as green as the rest of the house.

What makes it a green foundation is the use of fly ash in the concrete.  Fly ash is a by-product of burning coal, so it's readily available as long as coal-fired power plants are still operating, and using it in concrete saves raw materials, energy, water, and landfill space.  According to Austin Energy's fly ash fact sheet, it also reduces pollution, makes concrete easier to pour, and results in a stronger final product than plain old cement.

We first learned about fly ash back in 2009, when we attended Austin Energy's Green by Design workshop.  Upon hearing about it, I thought we were going to have to ask for this exotic new kind of concrete, but apparently it's pretty much how foundations are made these days.  (And sure enough, we didn't get green building points for ours.  That's how you know that a "green" practice has become mainstream or is required by current building codes -- it doesn't qualify for green building points, since there's no other legal or practical way to do it.)

With the foundation complete, framing is underway, and I dare say Mr. and Mrs. Austin Cubed (also known as Bubba and Mrs. Bubba) are as excited to see their house begin to take shape as we were nearly three years ago when ours was at this stage.

02 October 2012

A Foot a Week

My estimate, based on online research, that the agave's bloom spike would grow about a foot a week has proven pretty accurate.

Here it was two weeks ago, when I first discovered the bloom spike:

And last week:

And, once again, today:

And as an artsy close-up:

And, for kicks, looking like a palm tree (the same picture, but upside-down):

Although the blooming portends death for our beloved agave, I have learned that the bloom-and-die process could stretch out as long as a year.  So, although I won't bore you with updates every other week, there should be plenty of time to document this miracle of the plant world.